Monday, February 21, 2011

New Beginning 835

She lay there, naked, her long dark hair her pillow and cape. She was beautiful, once.

“Do you have a cause of death, Doctor?”

“No, Detective, I do not.”

“How long will it take?” asked Detective Martinez.

“That's the thing. There is no known cause of death. I've checked: there are no wounds – not even needle marks – no toxicology, no diseases, and every significant organ is in perfect shape except one...”

“That must be the cause,” said the Detective.

“Oh, come, Detective. What kind of fool do you take me for? Do you think I don't know what can cause a death and what can be caused by a death? No, the problem is the heart. Take a look.”

Doctor Martinez leaned over the corpse and withdrew her heart. He held it up, one side face to Detective Kowaloski. It had been carved with a strange, angry figure in it.

“What is it?”

“Near as I can tell, Detective, this is some kind of demon's mark carved into the heart.”


“Carved into it postmortem – after death – and without opening the body at all. Whatever killed this young woman was carved into her before she was cut open, too,” said the Doctor.

“That's impossible.”

"Not as impossible as us switching identities halfway through our conversation."

"What?" asked Detective Kowaloski.

"You came in here, pretending to be Zack Martinez. Well, sir. I know Zack Martinez personally, and you, sir, are no Zack Martinez."

"What--what gave me away?"

Doctor Martinez sneered. "Well, for one thing, he's my brother. For another--" the physician snatched the mask from Kowalski's face--"he's not a demon."

Kozzwalllskyky slumped to the floor. How was he going to survive this humiliation back in Hell?

Opening: D Jason Cooper.....Continuation: Khazar-khum


Dave Fragments said...

I like this but I first thought I was at the crime scene, her bedroom perhaps and the two men have just found her. But in the middle of the excerpt, I realized that we are in a morgue and the autopsy is well underway. You need to fix that. You need to set the scene a bit better.

Instead of the ambiguous "there" in the first sentence, say morgue table or marble slab or autopsy table. BTW - The TV show NCIS gives a good look at an autopsy room or morgue. There are so many repeats of that show, you can easily watch it.

Evil Editor said...

Besides the documented fact that both characters are named Martinez at various points, I think there needs to be more clarity in the heart discussion. The Dr. says only one organ isn't normal. The Det. says Then the heart must be the cause of death. The Dr. seems to say, the heart isn't the cause of death, the heart problem was caused by the death.

As far as I can see, it was the carving of the heart that caused the death, not the death that caused the carving to appear. If I'm confused, it's unlikely I'm the only one.

I also seems weird that finding a carving in a heart would lead the Dr. to assume it was a demon's mark, unless this is a world in which demons are known to exist. Otherwise he might think it was done through some kind of surgical procedure that involves entering the body through an orifice and making it's way to the heart.

Evil Editor said...

And since Dave brought up TV shows, internal carving by demons without opening the body has been done on Supernatural. On ribs for sure, I don't remember about hearts.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

Maybe it's just me, but I don't particularly like the opening lines and they're symptomatic of a cliche a find rather annoying. Consider if the opening read like this:

"He lay there, naked, her long dark hair his pillow and cape. He was beautiful, once."

Now if you think this sounds utterly ridiculous and that there's no point to discussing how lovely this man may have looked at some point before he was a corpse, then it doesn't belong when the victim is a woman either. I don't see why some writers feel the need to tell us immediately whether female characters in their stories are beautiful or not. I have no clue what Martinez/Kowaloski and Kowaloski/Martinez look like, yet I know this corpse is naked and beautiful. Surely it's more important that she's a corpse? And why is it being assumed that she was beautiful, but isn't anymore. I initially thought it was because of the state of her body, but then I learn that she doesn't have so much as a bruise on her. So is it just that being dead makes her less attractive? Or does she look like somebody who was beautiful at oe time, but isn't any longer?

I agree with all of EE's and Dave Fragment's comments. I also thought that the characters were at the scene of the crime at first. The line about the doctor knowing what causes death and what's caused by death is confusing, as it makes i sound like the problem with the heart must either be the cause of death or something caused by the death and we don't have much reason to believe it's either. And if demonas aren't a regular part of life in this story, the characters' reactions to the mark and the doctor's knowledge that the carving is probably a demon mark both seem odd.

Anonymous said...

An autopsy is a very extensive dissection in which the brain & other organs are removed for microscopic examination. Nobody looks too good in that state and they certainly do not have a pillow or a cape. If you want to talk about a romantic lovely corpse, a scene before the morgue would be the place to start.

vkw said...

I agree with Dave about the scene. It was hard to visualize.

We have a problem with the dialogue too. Count how many times the word "detective" is used. No one says, "Yes, doctor," "No, detective." The author may want to read the dialogue out loud a few times.

I guess one could carve a demon symbol into muscle/heart, I think burning would be work better. But that would be my preference.

I also don't like how quickly the doctor was able to determine that the symbol he found was from a demon. Unless demons running amok is a common cause of death in the world, the author may want to try:

"You ever seen anything like that?"


"Well me neither. So I ran it through my super fast computer and this is what it is. It's suppose to be a demon symbol that cult leaders use to mark their victims. . except this one was burned inot the heart, post mortem, not branded on the forehead."

If demons running amok is common that could be introduced as well.

"You ever seen this before?"
"Well yes I have or something like it. The last time someone was killed by a demon but it wasn't carved into a heart it was stenciled onto a rib."

Or something like that.

Anonymous said...

Ink and Pixel Club, I agree with you 100%. That was exactly my reaction, and if I picked this book up in a library or bookstore I wouldn't read past the second sentence.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

EE, no one ever needs an excuse to bring up Supernatural.

This, I think, needs a solid edit in the redundancy department.

The first two lines of dialog aren't needed. The only thing they do is establish who's in the room. But really, if it's just them, would they be using each others' titles?

The doctor says he doesn't have a cause of death then repeats it in his next line of dialog.

The narrator tells us the heart has a carving in it, then the doctor tells us there's a mark carved in it.

A toxicology panel generally takes a few days to complete even rushed, so the doctor (though he's probably a coroner), at autopsy, isn't likely to have the results yet. He can speculate about disease, but he's not going to rule out disease or drugs until he has those reports back. Unless this story is set in a much earlier time, in which case maybe substitute "toxicology" for an older word, such as "poisons"?

A suggestion to sharpen it, though my voice here is different from yours (Your doctor sounds like maybe he's from turn of the century or so? I was having a hard time pinpointing it and the scene.):

She lay there, naked, her long dark hair her pillow and cape. She was beautiful, once.

"How long before you determine cause of death?" asked Detective Martinez.

The coroner shrugged. "It may be a week before I get the toxicology reports back. What I can tell you is this woman's clean. No wounds -- not even needle marks -- no gross evidence of disease, and every significant organ is in perfect shape. Except the heart."

"So she what, died of a heart attack?"

"No. The heart itself wasn't the cause of death. What happened to it happened after death." The coroner leaned over the corpse and withdrew the organ in question. He held it up for the detective to see. Carved into the muscle was a strange, angry figure.

"What the hell?"

"Near as I can tell, it's some kind of demon's mark. And whatever put it there worked its mojo between the time she died and when I opened her up 16 hours later. "

“That's impossible.”

none said...

Maybe this is some kind of quantum reality in which people exchange identities.

Ink and Pixel Club said...

Just noticed that I forgot to change "her" to "his" in my example of what the first few sentences would sound like with the victim's gender switched. Mea culpa. That was not supposed to be the ridiculous aspect of my version of the beginning.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

I think other people have covered most of it. I will say that dialogue, done right, can be a pleasant alternative to some of the more flowery, descriptive openings.

I do have one question. What is an "angry figure?" I envisioned something like this:

>: (

But I'm guessing that's not right.

Eric said...

Add me to the list of those who assumed this was the crime scene, not the autopsy room. Fix it!

Phoenix's rewrite is exactly where you need to take this, so for me to address the other problems would be redundant.

batgirl said...

Can you actually carve something into a heart and have it be readable? It's not like wood, after all, it's mushy and squishy. I'm trying to picture carving something into a piece of liver and having it distinguishable at all. Wouldn't it just squish into wrinkles?

It's like people have an idea of brains as being rubbery and coherent, because of what formaldehyde preservation does to them. In your head (and recently spilled from your head) brains are more like watery porridge.
Not that I know this from personal experience. *hides whittling knife*

Anonymous said...

Can you actually carve something into a heart and have it be readable? It's not like wood, after all, it's mushy and squishy.

I tried.
It worked!*

*I lied.

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuation:

“That’s what I thought, but then I found this”

Doctor Martinez withdrew his left hand from behind his back and detective Kowaloski saw he held a very tiny device.

“What’s that?”

“Read the fine print, here, use my magnifying glass.”

Kowaloski held the glass to his right eye, closed his left and leaned in close. The device looked like a very tiny rocket launcher, with a long needle at the end.


“What the hell”

Kowaloski exclaimed. Doctor Martinez looked at him knowingly and opened his mouth to speak. Suddenly his eyes went wide and his shoulders slumped. He toppled forward and nearly slammed into the floor before Kowaloski caught him. Still holding the magnifying glass to his eye, Kowaloski screamed when he saw a tiny creature, dressed in a workman’s overall, leap from Martinez’s back holding another HEART MARK CARVER ®. It was the last thing he ever saw.