Thursday, December 08, 2011

New Beginning 909

Whoever thought sending a bunch of high school seniors to a graveyard for a field trip was a good idea, had to be crazy. But, crazy or not, it was mandatory.

The local graveyard was an area of rolling hills surrounded by a thick forest. Mr. Weston, my high school English teacher, boasted that over one thousand people were buried here. I wasn’t so sure that was something to be proud of.

I sighed as I wandered from stone to stone. Some were so old the engraved words were unreadable while others were so recent grass hadn’t grown over the plot yet. A large pillar caught my eye and I walked over to it. Some kids from my class were bent in front of it, rubbing the tombstone engravings onto their paper while others lined up behind them.

“Whose grave is that?” I asked Katie, a girl who stood at the back of the line.

She pushed her glasses up on her nose. “That’s Lucinda Sutton’s grave.”

“Lucinda Sutton?”

“Do you pay any attention in history class, Emma?” Katie rolled her eyes. “Lucinda is the big mystery of the town. They say she disappeared on her wedding night.”

"Oh, right!" I said. "The woman who went mad and cut off her groom's--"

"Yes, yes." Katie rolled her eyes.

I shuffled my feet for a while. "How long must we wait in line?"

Katie sighed. "Emma. Don't you pay any attention in math class? w=C(s,a)*(1/1-p)*(t/s), of course!"

"Oh, right," I said, little the wiser.

Staring at the long queue ahead, I realized people had cameras instead of paper and crayon. "Why are they taking photographs of it?"

Katie huffed. "Really, Emma? Do you pay no attention in economics class? Because of its unusual design, they can sell photographs of it on e-Bay for ten bucks a piece!"

"Oh. OK."

We shuffled a couple paces further forward.

I studied the pillar in front of us and tapped Katie on the shoulder. "What's so special about it, then? What's it meant to be?"

"Jesus, Emma! Did you sleep all the way through biology class?"

Opening: Emily Feustel.....Continuation: anon.


Evil Editor said...

I'm not clear on the line: They say she disappeared on her wedding night.

If she's buried there, either she didn't disappear, or she came back, in which case she could have explained where she'd been and it wouldn't be a mystery.

The first three paragraphs aren't grabbing me. I think we can get to the pillar faster:

A field trip to a graveyard was not my idea of the perfect way to top off my senior year. But it was mandatory, so there I stood in the midst of a thousand headstones, some of them so old the engraved words were unreadable. I noticed a crowd of my classmates gathered around a large pillar, and walked over.

After Lucinda hooks us you can work in Mr. Weston and the crayons if they're important.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

This is refreshingly well-written. Love them nice clean sentences.

Just two quibbles-- the Hermione-style info dump which is so deftly lampooned in the continuation is one. ("Really," said Katie, "aren't you ever going to read Hogwarts, A History?")

The other quibble is, well, it's not that strange to have a bunch of high school kids go to a local cemetery, if there's an educational objective. It's certainly not crazy. You'd think the kid would know why they were there; the teacher would probably have mentioned it.


"To give you a better understanding of the number 1000, we're going to go look at 1000 tombstones." (More suited to say grade 2.)

"To better understand the tragic effects of the Hangnail Plague of 1892, we're going to visit a cemetery and look for tombstones from that year."

"Since this is teh teen zombie lust novel, we are meeting at the cemetery tomorrow. Please show up no later than midnight."


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Cd be a cenotaph.

Anonymous said...

Not bad start. Funny continuation.

My own two quibbles:

1. First sentence is a mouthful and hard to scan. Do change it. Reader shouldn't have to work or trip on the very first sentence.

2. "Katie, a girl who stood at the back of the line." That doesn't seem how your protag would think of her. Knowing her name means knowing her or knowing of her already. So either it's just Katie, or it's Katie the history nerd or Katie from chem lab, etc. If they're really strangers, take out the name.

Anonymous said...

Start with the ghastly spookiness or teen crush or murder mystery or whatever plot you plan to develop. We don't need so much descriptive set-up.

none said...

This opening seems to be feeling its way a bit, trying to decide where to start. Probably needs work.

vkw said...

I didn't think this was too bad. I would read a bit further to find out what was going or flip to the back cover.

I agree with a nit or two. I don't think sending seniors to a graveyard is a bad idea. There is tons of great reasons to go to the graveyard.

Put flags on the graves of veterans from WWII. Now that is a sight to see. I saw it. I did it. It was sad to see an entire bunch of graves of young men - several rolls - buried togethe - all younger than 25.

Visit a cemetary to note how many children died as infants and then graft the numbers on a timeline. Write a speculative report on why and when infants' survival rate appeared to get better in Mayberry. Does this seem to correspond to national changes?

Count the number of young men who died in WWII in a decade. Count the number of men who died in car accidents this decade. What's more dangereous to the town's youth?

Lots of things to do in a cemetary and some of them would be interesting and perhaps sobering to high school seniors. Pun intended.

If Lucinda is so well known, she is mentioned in history class then one must wonder why the narrator doesn't know about Lucinda. In my experience, local mysteries are pass down verbally amongst the youth and old timers. Official histories are taught in school. It's so much more important to known when a state constitution was ratified than to speculate why someone disappeared on their wedding night.

But like EE said, Lucinda didn't disappear. She's right there - in that grave. How she got in that grave is the mystery, it would seem.


Tamara Marnell said...

Personally, my history teacher in senior year was more concerned about stuff like the Civil War than local ghost stories. But maybe that was just my overcrowded, underfunded public school...we would probably have been much better prepared for college coursework if the lectures had been devoted instead to random, iffy legends :p

Dave Fragments said...

I think that you could get away with an opening as spare as this:

I thought sending high school seniors to a graveyard for a field trip was crazy. Crazy or not, it was mandatory. Mr. Weston, the English teacher, boasted that over one thousand people were buried here.
"That's something to be proud of," I sighed. I wandered from stone to stone and a large pillar caught my eye. Kids from my class were bent in front of it, rubbing the tombstone engravings while others lined up behind them.
"That’s Lucinda Sutton’s grave," Katie announced.
"Lucinda Sutton?" I asked. Katie rolled her eyes.
"They say she disappeared on her wedding night.”

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing Mr Weston is a serial killer, which is why he's boasting?

batgirl said...

Just as a data point, my first guess on why it was crazy to send high school kids to a cemetery is that it would give them a chance to plan out their vandalism for Halloween.
And then we'd have a vengeful ghost story.

I liked this, but agree that it could move a little faster to where the story starts.

Zachary Gole said...

Agreed, for what it's worth, on both the main points brought up so far.

Yes, it bothered me too that someone who supposedly "disappeared" had a grave. And yes, it did occur to me that it could be a cenotaph, as AlaskaRavenclaw suggests, but that's not what the story says. The story calls it a grave. (Granted, it's possible that the kids don't know the difference and refer to it as a "grave" even when it isn't, but if that's the case I think it needs to be made clearer so it's not so confusing. Maybe just a line about how there's not a mound of earth in front of it like the other graves, or how it's too close to the wall for a body to be buried there.)

And yes, too, I second (or third or fourth or whatever) those who've noted how odd it is that "the big mystery of the town" would be covered in history class. In my experience, too, history class in school focuses on national and world mythology; it doesn't touch at all on local history. Maybe some schools are different, but I have my doubts; there are, after all, national standards that accredited schools are required to cover, and it's hard to believe that many schools would take time out from covering the required topics for digressions about local mysteries.

Zachary Gole said...

Er... when I wrote "national and world mythology", I meant, of course, "national and world history". Not sure how that "mythology" got in there... that was an odd typo. Sorry.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

ZG, a few points:

1. When I was in school we spent half a year in 7th grade on the history of our village. Our village of 375 people. It was in the curriculum. We learned the history of every damn house in town, among other things.

2a. If the story is set in the United States, then, no, we do not have national standards nor a national curriculum. If it's set in some other country, then yes, that could well apply.

2b. US schools do follow state standards, but these tend to be so loosely worded (focusing on skill areas rather than specific facts) that local history could certainly be fit in. The schools I have taught in have used local history extensively in various courses, often with the students as investigators of same.

3. I assumed, actually, as soon as I heard that she disappeared on her wedding night, that at the wedding reception everybody played hide and seek and she disappeared and was never seen again until her widower, 50 years later, found her skeleton locked in a trunk in the attic.

So she could both disappear and have a grave.

Zachary Gole said...

I'm a former teacher, and and I just finished writing a GED science workbook for a test preparation company (for which job I was required to familiarize myself with the national standards and make sure to cover all the topics included in them), so I wasn't just talking out of my hat when I spoke of national educational standards. There most certainly are such standards... when it comes to science education, which is the subject of my own educational background. (They're called the National Science Education Standards; while state standards aren't technically required to conform to these national standards, in practice they mostly hew pretty close to them.) I guess I'd assumed that this was true of all subjects, but I'm unable to find anything on the web confirming this, so apparently it's not. Perhaps science is unusual in this regard for some reason. Huh.

Even so, I'd expect state standards to be detailed enough to preclude spending much time on local history... but if your own history class spent half the year on the local history of your village, I guess that proves it does happen. Huh. (I know when I was in school, there wasn't any talk of local history in history class at all, let alone half a year spent on it, but I guess it may vary regionally.)

So, I guess I stand corrected.

I'm still not sold on the disappearance and still having a grave bit, though. The scenario you outline could happen... but it doesn't seem at all consistent with what the kids say about her. If her skeleton had been found in a trunk in the attic, why would she still be "the big mystery of the town"? I guess one could argue there might still be some mystery as to what she was doing in the trunk, but then that would be what the kids would talk about ("They say her skeleton was found in a trunk"), not her disappearance.

D Jason Cooper said...

I kind of assume it's a cenotaph and that, somehow, there's still a clue to what happened in the empty grave. I had more difficulty with why they were stenciling what was on the stone (why not copy it down or take a picture on your phone?).
As to curriculum, history is a bit of a football and it only takes one marginal seat for some district to decide to include some new/old overlooked group or local history or gay black metallurgists against the bomb or unrepentant friends of Senator Thurmond or some such.
Part of the issue (not just in this case but in others) seems to be that I (like anyone else) would bring different assumptions to reading this if it appeared in Reader's Digest, Analog, Necrotic Tissue, or Teacher's National Post.

D Jason Cooper