Part One

Part One

A Chapter by Seth Armstrong
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Part One 


The murderer stood crying over a deflated body, hands still grasped tightly around its neck. He looked up and down it, searching for any residual signs of life to snuff out.  

There was nothing.  

The murderer leaned back, retracted his hands, fell on the rocky ground, watching with crazed eyes the swirling vortex of a storm approaching in the distance 

He forgot how many times he had already had to do this.  

He had no idea how many more times he would have to.  

He tried to catch his breath. The only thing he knew for sure was that he only had until that storm reached him until he had to do it again.  

He grabbed at the hem of his waterlogged shirt. He twisted the edges, tried to wring it out. Tried to wring out the rain. Tried to wring out the blood.  

The wind whipped at the hem of his shirt. It was already beginning to howl.  

The murderer looked back up at the horizon.  

The storm was already near. 

 

A girl stood on a cracked concrete parking lot in front of a school, wearing a black dress and crown of dark curls. A boy approached her, dressed in an all-black suit. They both smiled nervously. They had trouble meeting each other’s eyes. 

 

The murderer had a twitch in his eye that he never noticed. People told him that his legs would shake violently at times. He never knew that.  

The murderer had a twitch in his eye whenever he thought about the boy in the black suit. 

 

The boy in the black suit was nervous. The girl in the black dress was far too attractive.  

But he wasn’t too nervous. She wouldn’t be there forever. He knew that. It was a night of fun. He knew that. Just one night. And then it was over.  

Just one night. 

 

The murderer walked a lot.  

He paced around rooms.  

He walked down dark streets.  

He scaled mountains.  

He never felt comfortable sitting still.  

The murderer was always using his legs, but they never seemed to get any stronger. 

 

A child staggered through a ghost town on battered legs.  

He checked each building, calling out in a hoarse croak to see if anyone would answer.  

Only the wind did--the wind, and the howling in the distance.  

The child wondered what had happened there. 

 

A naked prince limped through vaulted halls.  

He wandered listlessly through a castle without any lights. 

In the distance, muffled by the stone walls, he heard his people calling out to him. 

He tried his best to shut out the noise.      

 

A religious man stood before an altar he created.  

Upon it, there sat a flowering plant beautiful beyond the power of words to describe.  

He felt nothing but happiness whenever he looked at this god.  

He felt nothing but emptiness when he looked away. 

 

A sick man lay dying in his bed.  

He told himself he wasn’t dying.  

He didn’t see a problem. 

Nothing was killing him. 

He lay in bed and thought about better days. 

 

haggard old man groggily came to his feet and looked at his reflection in the mirror; 

A lost and forsaken face with heavy black circles beneath the eyes and skin that seemed to be wearing away stared back.  

He stumbled to the window of the room and peered through from the side of the dark curtain. The sunlight was blinding.  

He turned away from the window. His room was a mess of dirty dishes, clothes strewn across the floor, and open books that had never been read. The blanket on his bed was tossed to the side, inches away from grazing against the crumpled rug that sheltered empty bags and wrappers. An army of dust and tiny debris lay stubbornly over everything it could and came back swiftly when expelled.  

The haggard old man looked beyond this desolation and beheld the door. He worked the feeling back into his muscles and weighed the options in his head.  

His legs began to twitch at the thought of leaving--not just the room, but the house as a whole 

His heart stopped for a moment, and he began to hyperventilate and involuntarily blink rapidly. He took a step toward the door and was surprised to feel sweat upon his forehead. He rubbed it away and tried to take another step--

His stomach reeled at the effort, and he stumbled against his bed.  

Sweaty and shaking, he locked his eyes on the door.  

He knew he should get out. He knew he should leave. He was wary of the comforts this home offered him and of the lasting effects they could have. He should leave. He should leave. He should leave. He sh--

Before he could make another move, a thin wisp of smoke filtered in from under the door. 

The haggard old man stopped dead in his tracks and watched it pour under the frame, stunned into silence by primal terror and dread.  

He stumbled back into the wall and sank to the floor, eyes wide and flickering, hands and arms shaking violently.  

The smoke formed a base on the floor as it coalesced into a coherent shape. The haggard old man shut his eyes tightly, clamped his ears shut, and began to inaudibly murmur.  

“Go away,” he pleaded. “Please, please go away.”  

In the shut-off corner of the world he created, the haggard old man began to think that perhaps the smoke had listened. Perhaps it was gone. He waited several minutes--eyes and ears clamped tightly shut--for something to happen.  

Nothing did.  

Finally, he summoned the courage to turn his senses back on.  

Smoke had stopped streaming in, but the smoke that had already entered was still there in the room, staring up at him with kind eyes in the swirling form of a puppy. 

 

The murderer was exhausted.  

But the storm was unrelenting.  

The dark clouds grew closer above him, the wind grew wild. Rain fell sharp like a volley of arrows from above. Shadows cast themselves over the rocky ground.  

The murderer felt goosebumps race up his neck. His hair seized as if jolted by an electric shock.  

Ahead, he saw him.  

A person came hiking up the mountain.  

He looked like a nice guy, but the murderer wasn’t a fool.  

The murderer swayed back and forth on his feet. He clenched and unclenched his fists.  

The murderer was ready. 

 

The boy in the black suit was nervous.  

The girl in the black dress was nervous, too.  

His hands were on her waist, hers on his shoulders.  

They danced, if one could call it that. 

They swayed to a song no one cares to remember.  

They had trouble meeting each other’s eyes. 

 

The child left the ghost town as the howling grew near.  

There was a dull ache in his legs that would not dissipate.  

He wandered aimlessly over a valley of tall grass and bright flowers. He walked through thick forests and babbling brooks. Trees with golden leaves covered him from the watchful vigilance of the distant sun. The rush of the water and murmurs of the forests covered his every noise. He hoped to lose the howling that pursued him.   

Insurmountable mountain ranges rose on either side of him, slowly inching closer, funneling him toward one place.  

The child recognized this place--from dreams, from visions, from experience. He knew where he needed to go. He was on the right track.  

The howling was growing behind him.  

The child swallowed hard. 

He kept walking. 

 

The naked prince stumbled into the throne room.  

Spears of sunlight burst through a stained-glass window, bathing two lordly thrones in muted amber light.  

They looked like they could barely stand. 

The naked prince felt sick. 

He turned away from those seats of power. 

In the distance, his people called. 

 

The religious man gently caressed the leaves of his god, cupped the flowers in his hands.  

This god was lordly and powerful, bathing in streams of gold that it was blasted with through a high window on the wall. 

The window had a crack running down the left side of it.  

A loud creak and pop were heard down the hall as the house’s fragile foundations whined under pressure. 

The religious man didn’t notice.  

He caressed the leaves and kissed the flowers of his god. 

 

The sick man rose from his bed and went to the window with great effort. 

His vision was blurry, his muscles were deteriorating, his hands were shaking. 

He was being eaten alive by a fever.  

All he could see out the window was a golden blur.  

He swiped drunkenly at the windowsill.  

His fingers danced on the cracking wood, slowly finding a stuffed animal strewn across it--a snake. He picked it up and stroked its head. He laughed at a distant quote.  

That laugh broke down into a stuttered coughing--a hacking that chaffed his lungs raw.  

The sick man let the cough run its course and steadied himself on the windowsill. His grip tightened on the snake.  

He told himself he wasn’t dying. 

 

The haggard old man pressed himself further up against the wall, perhaps trying in vain to somehow escape by osmosis.  

The puppy wagged his tail and barked happily. As it did, its shape solidified, molding into a deceptively accurate tan-furred pup with brown ears.  

The haggard old man jumped and yelped. The puppy cocked its head and tried walking forward.  

NO!” the haggard old man screamed. “No, no, no--stay back! Not again. Not again. Not like this. Not again.”  

The haggard old man began to feel nauseous. He swung his head around in a dizzy delirium and tried to find some way out, but the only exit was the one that the puppy stood in front of.  

The puppy didn’t seem to understand his harsh words or his hesitation. It jumped up happily and barked excitedly at him. It spun around in circles and fell onto its back, rolling around on the floorboards.  

Something softened inside the chest of the haggard old man, but he latched onto it and crushed the feeling. He narrowed his eyes at the puppy and clenched his teeth.  

The puppy jumped up to its feet and barked once again. It jumped toward him. 

 

The murderer waited for his prey to approach. He made no effort to conceal himself.  

The quarry didn’t seem to notice him. It wasn’t until he was mere feet away from those wild eyes and calloused hands that he saw him.  

By then, it was too late. 

The murderer lunged. 

 

The boy in the black suit gave in. He took the hand of the girl in the black dress. 

She said yes.  

They awkwardly met each other’s eyes. 

 

The naked prince stood up on his toes in his old chamber.  

He shut his eyes and swayed back and forth, trying to recreate a floating feeling he had once grown accustomed to.  

His people clamored for him outside.  

He began to whistle to drown them out. 

He swayed drunkenly, whistling to the bare walls of a desolate castle. 

He heard a voice whistle back. 

He opened his eyes.  

The ghost of a woman was sitting on his bed. 

 

The child tried to run, tripping over stuttering legs.  

He stumbled to get away from the howling. 

The mountains grew closer on either side, tightening like a python around him.  

The mountains funneled him through the valley and out the other side. 

Over there, the boy saw a wide expanse of scorched, arid earth. Cracks like tiny streams and ravines like massive rivers broke the earth apart.  

Piles of rubble and debris lay out all around--messes of elaborate stonework blasted to pieces and strewn across the blackened ground.  

The only thing left standing was one low building of marble, the patterns upon which were defaced by craters and craquelure.  

The building was barely standing.  

It was the only thing that was.  

The howling grew louder. 

The child swallowed hard and raced toward the building.  

He threw himself inside the opening where a door once stood to find himself in a room of stone bookcases filled to the brim with ancient tomes.  

The child walked cautiously forward on the grey-stained floor. He heard a shuffling to his right, and jumped.  

“Back again?” the librarian asked the child. 

The child looked over at him, met his eyes. “I don’t know you,” he said. “I’ve never been here before.”  

The librarian laughed. 

 

The sick man broke down in a fit of coughing again.  

It threw him to the ground.  

He lay there and wait for his strength to return.  

The sick man sighed, rubbed his cheek. The skin there was a latticework of scars and scabs, a battlefield of dried blood and puss.  

He looked back up at the stuffed snake, and he smiled.  

He told himself he wasn’t dying. 

 

The religious man bowed before his god.  

The foundations of the house groaned behind him.  

He heard nothing but the whispered answers to his prayers. 

 

The haggard old man screamed--or thought he did--and jumped to his feet. He looked around wildly for some method and manner of escape--for some way of getting out--but there was nothing. He tried to step around the puppy and make a run for it, but his old muscles were weak and the old bones brittle.  

He couldn’t get out of the way in time, and the puppy leapt up to his chest.  

The haggard old man instinctively caught the puppy before he could think better of it and found it to be solid and whole despite being comprised entirely of smoke--warm to the touch with a coat that looked like fur but felt like nothing at all.  

The puppy looked up at him with kind, dark brown eyes and barked happily.  

The haggard old man felt a tingle against the skin where his hands held the puppy, and, before he could discern what it may mean, a thousand waves of warmth speared through his nerves, racing up and down and all throughout him. The haggard old man found himself paralyzed, trapped in the swirling vortex of smoke that formed the puppy’s eyes as this warmth invaded and conquered his nerves, his mind, his heart.  

The haggard old man could tangibly feel the terror in his heart begin to shrink and slink away into some dark corner to be buried. His eyes softened as he looked into the puppy’s, and the puppy barked happily once more. The haggard old man felt his defenses falling, felt his frown fading.  

The last outposts of reason in his mind rallied to make one last horrible din, screaming to him, making him remember.  

He thought of the smoke.  

He thought of all the years it had tormented him.  

He thought of all the other dogs and all the other forms beside.  

He thought of times when he once had friends to talk to regularly, a life still to lead--a life that the smoke was suffocating out of him.  

But the haggard old man looked into the puppy’s dark brown eyes and felt the warmth that enveloped him. He knew that this was no trick. He knew that this was no illusion. He felt the comfort seep deep into his bones, felt the cares and worries of life begin to melt away in his mind.  

For the first time that day, he smiled.  

The din in his mind slowly began to fall away like a crashing wave that now retreated into the sea.  

Soon, it was gone.  

The haggard old man smiled at the puppy. The puppy barked happily.  

All of a sudden, he knew this time was different.  

He knew that the puppy would never hurt him. 

 

The murderer took another victim. 

He pulled his hands back from the neck of another deflated body.  

He wiped the tears from his face. 

He wrung out the rain. 

He wrung out the blood.  

He looked up at the horizon. 

A storm was forming in the distance. 

 

The boy in the black suit lay in his bed that night.  

He thought about the girl in the black dress.  

His heart began to race.  

He couldn’t help but smile. 



© 2020 Seth Armstrong


My Review

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Featured Review

Hi Seth,
Thank you for sharing your writing with us! I hope you will find my feedback helpful.
In the sentence "The murderer leaned back, retracted his hands, fell back on the rocky ground, watching with crazed eyes the swirling vortex of a storm approaching in the distance." You used the word "back" twice in close proximity, which is a pet peeve of mine, so I would recommend rewording this to eliminate one of the two.
The sentence "He forgot how many times he had already do this." appears to have a typo? I think you meant "done" not "do"?
I felt a little confused by the sentences "People told him that his legs would shake violently at times. He never knew that." as it seems to me like if people tell him, then he cannot "never" know it. He might never notice, but once he has been told, it doesn't make sense to me that once can say "He never knew".
You use the exact same wording "The murderer had a twitch in his eye" for two sentences in the same paragraph, which doesn't really work for me. I would recommend rewording one so they are not identical.
When you first mention the girl and boy, the use of those words makes me think they are small children, but when we get to a later paragraph where the boy thinks "The girl in the black dress was far too attractive." I become confused as to exactly how old these kids are. Are they teenagers? I might recommend using more age-specific wording, or flat-out saying the ages (or estimated ages) of these characters so the reader doesn't get the wrong idea.
In the sequence of short standalone sentences: "The murderer walked a lot.
He paced around rooms.
He walked down dark streets.
He scaled mountains." you lose me on this last one. I envisioned the murderer in an urban setting, from the rooms and streets, but to suddenly go to scaling mountains is a kind of abrupt leap into a whole other realm of activity. It's one thing to pace around a room or take a stroll, but mountain climbing is a very different, considerably less common activity. Is he a hiker? Does he live near some mountains or does he travel to climb mountains in different parts of the world? I would recommend either clarifying the point, or, if it's not important to the story, it might be better to just cut that line.
When you write "He stumbled back into the wall and sunk to the floor" I am not 100% sure but I think the correct conjugation would be "sank" not "sunk"?
In the sentence "He waited several minutes, eyes and ears clamped tightly shut, and waited for something to happen." you say "waited" twice. I feel like it would read more smoothly if it were revised so one of these was changed or eliminated.
From the sentence "He looked like a nice guy, but the murderer wasn’t a fool." I feel a little confused as I am not sure what you mean by "looked like a nice guy" without more context. Perhaps some other descriptors that imply that the person looks friendly, like a smile, or some other body language or visual cue could help clarify this?
In the paragraph where the prince reaches the throne room you use the word "throne" a lot, I feel like. In my opinion there could be some alternative ways to describe the chairs, or seats of power, or to refer to them so that the same word is not used quite so often. Also in the sentence "The thrones looked like they could barely stand." I am not sure what this means. Are the seats propped up on individual legs which are thin or cracked or something?
The sentence "He laughed at a distant quote." confused me as well. I'm not sure where the sick man is getting the quote from, or what the quote could be. It just feels a little like a non sequitur, relative to the rest of the passage, in my opinion.
Where you write "The child walked cautiously forward on the grey-stained floor." I am not sure what you mean by "grey-stained." I don't know what color the floor was originally and I'm not following how it has become stained grey. I think this might work better if instead of grey, you told us what material is staining it. For example, did you mean dust?
Overall, I found this to be a unique and intriguing opening chapter, but I would temper that interest with a concern that the unusual style could become wearisome is used too long. I don't know if your plan is to write an entire novel in this exact pattern, or if the narration will concentrate on the murderer or something else more concrete, but I think if the idea is to write each chapter like this, I personally will not be able to follow it for long. This style of short bursts of progress across a multitude of seemingly independent stories can be fun as a break from a main story-line, but over time it feels like I'm watching a Christopher Nolan movie where Nolan just decided to go ham with the rapid-fire leaps in time and place, and it's a little too much instability and not enough solid plot, dialogue, or character growth. I will be curious to see where this story goes.
I hope you will continue to share your writing and I hope you found my feedback helpful!

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Seth Armstrong

1 Year Ago

Wow, thank you for the very in-depth review! I didn't expect to see anything like this, honestly. read more
Dugarte

1 Year Ago

Glad you found it helpful! I will be happy to continue reading when you post more! If you would like.. read more



Reviews

Hi Seth,
Thank you for sharing your writing with us! I hope you will find my feedback helpful.
In the sentence "The murderer leaned back, retracted his hands, fell back on the rocky ground, watching with crazed eyes the swirling vortex of a storm approaching in the distance." You used the word "back" twice in close proximity, which is a pet peeve of mine, so I would recommend rewording this to eliminate one of the two.
The sentence "He forgot how many times he had already do this." appears to have a typo? I think you meant "done" not "do"?
I felt a little confused by the sentences "People told him that his legs would shake violently at times. He never knew that." as it seems to me like if people tell him, then he cannot "never" know it. He might never notice, but once he has been told, it doesn't make sense to me that once can say "He never knew".
You use the exact same wording "The murderer had a twitch in his eye" for two sentences in the same paragraph, which doesn't really work for me. I would recommend rewording one so they are not identical.
When you first mention the girl and boy, the use of those words makes me think they are small children, but when we get to a later paragraph where the boy thinks "The girl in the black dress was far too attractive." I become confused as to exactly how old these kids are. Are they teenagers? I might recommend using more age-specific wording, or flat-out saying the ages (or estimated ages) of these characters so the reader doesn't get the wrong idea.
In the sequence of short standalone sentences: "The murderer walked a lot.
He paced around rooms.
He walked down dark streets.
He scaled mountains." you lose me on this last one. I envisioned the murderer in an urban setting, from the rooms and streets, but to suddenly go to scaling mountains is a kind of abrupt leap into a whole other realm of activity. It's one thing to pace around a room or take a stroll, but mountain climbing is a very different, considerably less common activity. Is he a hiker? Does he live near some mountains or does he travel to climb mountains in different parts of the world? I would recommend either clarifying the point, or, if it's not important to the story, it might be better to just cut that line.
When you write "He stumbled back into the wall and sunk to the floor" I am not 100% sure but I think the correct conjugation would be "sank" not "sunk"?
In the sentence "He waited several minutes, eyes and ears clamped tightly shut, and waited for something to happen." you say "waited" twice. I feel like it would read more smoothly if it were revised so one of these was changed or eliminated.
From the sentence "He looked like a nice guy, but the murderer wasn’t a fool." I feel a little confused as I am not sure what you mean by "looked like a nice guy" without more context. Perhaps some other descriptors that imply that the person looks friendly, like a smile, or some other body language or visual cue could help clarify this?
In the paragraph where the prince reaches the throne room you use the word "throne" a lot, I feel like. In my opinion there could be some alternative ways to describe the chairs, or seats of power, or to refer to them so that the same word is not used quite so often. Also in the sentence "The thrones looked like they could barely stand." I am not sure what this means. Are the seats propped up on individual legs which are thin or cracked or something?
The sentence "He laughed at a distant quote." confused me as well. I'm not sure where the sick man is getting the quote from, or what the quote could be. It just feels a little like a non sequitur, relative to the rest of the passage, in my opinion.
Where you write "The child walked cautiously forward on the grey-stained floor." I am not sure what you mean by "grey-stained." I don't know what color the floor was originally and I'm not following how it has become stained grey. I think this might work better if instead of grey, you told us what material is staining it. For example, did you mean dust?
Overall, I found this to be a unique and intriguing opening chapter, but I would temper that interest with a concern that the unusual style could become wearisome is used too long. I don't know if your plan is to write an entire novel in this exact pattern, or if the narration will concentrate on the murderer or something else more concrete, but I think if the idea is to write each chapter like this, I personally will not be able to follow it for long. This style of short bursts of progress across a multitude of seemingly independent stories can be fun as a break from a main story-line, but over time it feels like I'm watching a Christopher Nolan movie where Nolan just decided to go ham with the rapid-fire leaps in time and place, and it's a little too much instability and not enough solid plot, dialogue, or character growth. I will be curious to see where this story goes.
I hope you will continue to share your writing and I hope you found my feedback helpful!

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Seth Armstrong

1 Year Ago

Wow, thank you for the very in-depth review! I didn't expect to see anything like this, honestly. read more
Dugarte

1 Year Ago

Glad you found it helpful! I will be happy to continue reading when you post more! If you would like.. read more

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Added on September 21, 2020
Last Updated on October 1, 2020
Tags: guilt, until, the, end, of, time, muderer, boy, in, black, suit, religious, man, sick, child, naked, prince, haggard, old, girl, dress, fire, lightning


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Seth Armstrong
Seth Armstrong

Tuvalu



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A Chapter by Seth Armstrong