Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Experimenting with the opening

I usually go through several opening sequences when starting work pages. Sometimes I'm just trying to find that perfect moment to start the story off and running. Other times I'm also experimenting with tone, vocabulary, rhythm. The results are not always very good, but frequently interesting to look back at.

The following three segments are from one of those sessions. They are, in some ways, remarkably different. But they also show why I tend to have consistency problems from day to day.


It was a small port; quiet and generally well-mannered. One of the few places Simon had no expectations of trouble. Yet somehow it was the place he found himself a prisoner in his own ship, facing two deranged individuals apparently bent on cutting him into disgustingly small pieces. Or perhaps that should be small and disgusting pieces. Whichever, he would be in pieces and therefore dead.

He did not fear death. Rather he did not fear the state of being dead. It was the process of becoming that was unsettling. Especially the process being proposed by the strangers facing him with knives in their hands and a certain madness in their eyes.

“I’m sure,” said the one on the right, “you’ve heard of us.” She paused, twisting her head to and fro to allow him the opportunity to recognize her.

“Er…no,” Simon said reluctantly.

The one on the left gasped in a theatrical manner, fairly staggering in his amazement. Simon frowned again. If the figure on the left were actually a he. The clothing was that of woman, there were even curves in the places appropriate for a woman, but the inordinate amount of hair visible between the cleavage suggested maleness.


“Are you not curious to learn the true depravity of your fate?”

Simon murmured incoherently, the two gaudy figures swimming hazily in front of him. The stunner had not been kind and the pain he was in now did nothing to improve his mental faculties.

“Good,” said the figure on the right. “We shall be delighted to tell you.”

“First we are going to cut you into disgustingly small pieces,” said the figure on the left.

“Small and disgusting, yes.”

“It will be a delicately executed procedure in order to keep you alive as long as possible.”

“Long and delicate,” the woman, and he was sure this one was a woman, said eagerly.

“Then,” said the man, and he was fairly certain, despite the slinky dress and suggestion of cleavage, that this one was a man, “and this is the part I’m sure you’re most curious about for at this stage you will be quite dead.”

“Painfully dead, but quite dead, yes.”

“Then,” the man continued, “we will make a fantastic pie from your disgustingly small remains and send it to the governor with our most sincere regards.”

Simon looked up at them, momentarily speechless. The ache in his head, the numbness in his limbs was beginning to fade, but the sharp pain between his shoulder blades was growing more persistent. “You’re quite mad,” he said finally.

“Yes, yes!” The woman clapped her hands together delightedly. “Oh, my darling, he’s figured it out!”

“Most of them do,” the man said with an attitude of satisfaction.


Night air lay thick in the streets, tendrils of mist creeping from the drains to cloud the wan light from the streetlamps. The murmur of voices rose and fell as tavern doors swung opened and closed, spilling patrons into the damp street in a fume of smoke to stagger on to the next bar.

Here and there a pale flash of skin marked a girl-for-hire, propped languidly against a wall or peering out of the privacy of an alley. Passersby would be gripped for a moment or so with a questioning hand and then released or pulled deeper into the wet and clinging night depending on their answer; yea or nay.

Two men strolled the uneven pavement, already listing slightly from the first few stops on their route, but not so deep in their cups they stumbled or babbled or fought. Dressed in the fashion of shiphands, loose-legged pants, soft shoes and woven shirts, they still had the uneasiness of those only recently come to ground; their gait anticipated the pitch and roll of the deck and made their steps awkward as the ground remained solid and unmoving. One eyed the mysterious women in the shadows curiously but made no sign of interest in the services being offered.

“How do you feel?” one said to the other. “One more?”

His friend considered, eyes still probing the darkness idly. “Sound about right.”

They walked a bit further, stopping at a corner to consider their options.

“Pardon.” The voice was light, a woman’s. “I’m looking for the docks.”

“Eh?” The two looked at the stranger thoughtfully.

Tall and slim, with silvery strands of hair slipping free from the knot wound on the back of her neck. She was dressed like someone familiar with port life, breeches tucked into tall boots, woven shirt with lace at throat and wrists, a neat vest and long coat, but there was a keenness in her eyes that spoke of a different purpose.

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