Short Story scene 1000 wds.

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Well-Known Member
Oct 2, 2015
Atlanta, Ga
This is a second short story I'm writing. I'm one of those types who have to work on at least two projects at the same time because I become too bored with one.
The first scene sets up the "why" of the story, but still needs tweaking. Of course, the opening is fairly vital, but instead of letting it hold me back from continuing, I kept moving. So this piece is the second scene where I begin to get in stride a little better (I hope).

Briefly, Varak's wife has left him and that put him in a numbing depression, so he's desperate enough to try a magical outlet even tho he's not crazy about it (sort of like Derwood in the old Bewitched reruns). He talks himself into giving it a try and goes to the den where he keeps his uncle's magical tome. It's a contemporary setting.

We always kept the den dark. Those black curtains haven't been opened or changed in years. Sunlight and the Tome just weren't a good match.

Me and Emily took Uncle Morty in during his final years and he rarely left this space. Aunt Mary's homely, flower-designed couch sat in the corner next to the Tome's desk. She loved that couch, and Uncle Morty refused to get rid of it after she died. It's funny, I always tried talking Uncle Morty into letting me get him something more modern, maybe one of those pull-out bed couches since this was where he slept, and now that he's gone, I feel the same way about the ugly thing as he did.

I pulled the chain on the desk lamp and long shadows brushed across the Tome. I hesitated before waking it, shaking the same way as when I'm over-the-top angry, but rage wasn't the problem here. I glanced down at the dozen sleeping eyes spread over the Tome's front binding. They were an eerie enough sight when closed, but when they opened, they gave you this barren stare that made you cringe.

I lifted the leather cover slowly, as if to give myself enough time to change my mind. If I made it to the first page, I'd consider myself committed and go ahead and follow through. I let emptiness from just minutes ago flash back, the feeling that seemed worse than being gutted. That made it easier, so I made a quick flip to the first page.

The Tome awakened and spoke in a musical sort of language Uncle Morty taught me when I was kid, a little like Chinese. I never knew its real origin. "Well look here. So you realize I do still actually exist," it spoke aloud with the voice coming from its general position. "You have a fairly good knack for making a soul feel useless."

It was to me until now, but I couldn't bring myself to tell the truth, so I avoided the subject and explained about Emily instead.

" now this depression feels mesh in, stupidly overpowering. Trying to work, the very thing that brought this on, is a joke. Friends try to help, but I'm not interested in sympathy. I just want my wife back. You know I'm not crazy about all this mysticism stuff, but sometimes you get desperate enough to bend a little. I thought maybe you could suggest something?"

The Tome thickened, as though somehow it took in a deep breath. I think it disapproved of the ungratefulness toward my friends; it could be judgmental that way, but I think deeper it understood. It should. It's known me for thirty-five years.

"Let me think on that, though I don't see why I should have to spend my talents on someone who sees me as a pariah."

I didn't respond and took a seat in the rarely used, squeaky chair. It's sort of strange to say, but I think of the Tome as an extension of Uncle Morty, like family in a way. This is why I trust it despite my uneasiness. Like Auntie's couch, it wasn't going anywhere. Emily always stood by my decision.

The Tome slanted slightly to the right, its version of a thoughtful head cock. "You need something else to occupy your mind, a re-balance of disposition. If you can afford the time away, I could send you to Altere again. How do you feel about that?"

I remembered that name, but not as clearly as the Tome assumed. I visited there with my uncle when I was about five or so. I don't recall much except it was like home, but not quite. I forget the details, but I do remember that child's fascination, not so sure how I'd feel as an adult though. I stared into the Tome's wordless pages, then looked away.

My first inclination was to think of a reason I shouldn't go and try a different, more mundane route. But then again, maybe the trip wasn't too bad an idea. I do well as a graphic artist, but money and clients were falling off. Something had to change, and a major distraction just might give this sickening mood a rest. Couldn't hurt.

"I'll go, but only for a couple of days. If I don't feel any change, I can at least say I gave it a shot." Just to be willing was more positive than anything I've done in weeks.

"You were just a tyke the first time I sent you. You do recall it to be unusual, yes?"

"All I really remember is dullish, tacky colors, different-looking buildings and people, not much else."

"I want to be sure, in your present emotional state, that you're not caught too much by surprise." The Tome was always the concerned type, every bit as much as faultfinding. "I will send you for forty-eight hours. You can stay longer if you'd like, but it has to be at least the full two days. Turn to page 146."

I did, and a silver ring appeared in the page fold. I picked it up.

"Place it on, and go stand by the couch."

I did so, and a yellow plate-sized disc formed in mid air near the window. It floated upright, about a foot above my height, and rotated at a lazy but constant speed, similar to a spinning coin except in mid air. It made me drowsy, like one of those hypnotist pendulums, but it quickly passed. Gradually, the outline of a large, faded oval took shape below the disc, and the fuzzy backdrop of a rocky tunnel formed inside. The room filled with a humming that grew louder as the tunnel's image solidified.

The noise softened, and the Tome instructed, "Walk through, and go about four yards towards the light at the other end. You will step into Altere."

Now that this was happening, I wavered. I knew I wanted to try for my sanity's sake, but I've never been comfortable with the unexpected. Emily always teasingly said I was boring that way, but deeper I knew she was serious.

"Where in Altere?" I asked. "Suppose it's on an ocean or somewhere otherwise dangerous?"

"You've been there before, so you always appear at the last visited place when you return. It is consistent, and no, you cannot appear inside a wall; it doesn't work that way. Still, I do realize some years have passed, and things may have changed. So if there is any danger, that will be your only chance to return before the two days are up. Just twist the ring counterclockwise and you will reappear back here, safe to ignore me again. If I receive no immediate notice, I will assume you are fine. You'll be on your own from that point. You will automatically return when the time is up, but I will send you back if you decide to stay longer."

"On my own to do what exactly?"

"Altereans are generally friendly. Strike up a conversation; ask about the sights, arts, recreation. Turn to page 543 and take the Alterean cash there. It should be enough for a room and any other activities."

I pocketed the money and made short strides through the rocky tunnel, taking a breath with every step.
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This is interesting, if not at all exciting or enticing. Sounds like he's entering Second Life.
That much said; hopefully the issue of his separation is settled well ahead of this, because as it is I'd have been confuse or disappointed had you not mentioned that in your prep.

Hopefully the things necessary to make this interesting are in the earlier portion that's not here.

Now to the possible error at the beginning; unless, since this is written in first person, you intend on giving your character come colloquial slang.
Me and Emily took Uncle Morty in during his final years and he rarely left this space.

Usually I test this by doing this.

Emily took Uncle Morty in during his final years and he rarely left this space.

Me took Uncle Morty in during his final years and he rarely left this space.

So it would be I.
I took Uncle Morty in during his final years and he rarely left this space.

I know:
I and Emily took Uncle Morty in during his final years and he rarely left this space.
::just sounds weird.

Emily and I took Uncle Morty in during his final years and he rarely left this space.
::sounds better.
I know (now) you've done it deliberately but I also tripped over the "Me and Emily" and it actually made me reluctant to read on. Since it came in only the second para and I knew nothing of your writing, my first thought was this was an authorial mistake, rather than a reflection of demotic speech. It's always a difficult balancing act when you've got a first person narrator, and therefore no way of showing that you, the writer, know the proper form and it's your character who's at fault. As it's in a second scene, so readers of the whole thing should already have caught onto the narrator's voice, you may well be OK, but it still might be worth reconsidering.

A couple of things I found a bit confusing:
  • It was to me until now -- I had to re-read this a couple of times before understanding he was carrying over the "useless" from the Tome's comment ie it was useless to him. I'd suggest repeating the "useless" to make it clearer
  • this depression feels mesh in -- I have no idea what "mesh in" means, but if it's synonymous with the "stupidly overpowering" is it needed?
Nit-picking wise, also a couple of things:
  • flower-designed couch -- this to me means a couch designed to look like a flower. If that's the case here, fine, but I suspect you mean it's covered in a fabric of floral design, so I'd suggest rewording
  • still actually exist," it spoke aloud -- since it's not a proper dialogue tag, and it feels odd using it as one here, I'd suggest full stop and capital for "It"
  • the that will be your only chance to return before the two days are up appears to be a sentence or so ahead of where it should be (or I've misunderstood what is meant) since the "that" presumably refers to his twisting the ring, but he hasn't been told about it at that point.
A bigger issue for me is the tense changes. You start in past tense with We always kept but then immediately go into present tense perspective Those black curtains haven't been opened and then back into past with the third sentence Sunlight and the Tome just weren't. It really should be kept... hadn't been... weren't or keep... haven't been... aren't. The second para appears to start in past, but in fact that "took" is again written from a present tense perspective -- if you're dealing with a past tense narrative it should be "had taken" -- and ends with straightforward present tense with now that he's gone, I feel the same. Present tense for the latter -- and perhaps some of the former -- might be OK since this is a first person POV, and he could be narrating both in past tense (what happened on that occasion) and in present tense (what he thinks now, at the time he's narrating this). However, it's jarring to say the least, so you might want to reconsider using it if it is deliberate. There are one or two other occasions where the tense usage is iffy to my mind, so it's worth going through it and checking.

Overall, while I like the idea of a talking magical book, I wasn't wholly taken with the scene, though I'm having trouble putting my finger on why. I'm never interested in reading about people whingeing, so while Varak's depression may be real and painful for him, he didn't elicit any sympathy from me, and I didn't particularly want to spend any time in his company, so that didn't help. While I'm not one to insist on smash-grabby openings, and I'll happily read something slow moving, it has to hold my attention, and for some reason this didn't, perhaps because of Varak's mood which communicated itself in the prose. Certainly, the beginning of the scene seemed somewhat lethargic and all the backstory felt like too much padding for my taste, and I'd suggest pruning it to make it read a little tauter. I wonder, too, if the dialogue might be pepped up, with the Tome being a bit more interesting in his voice, bitchy or condescending or grandmotherly or something -- for me, it's all a bit lifeless and characterless at present.

So while it's not a bad scene or badly written, it's not quite working for me. Sorry I can't be more helpful. Good luck with it, anyhow.
Thanks Judge. The missing "useless" was an oversight and I added it in right after reading. Thanks!
This char would not use the word "floral."
Also, everything after "It's funny..." has been deleted in that second paragraph. It really wasn't needed. Thanks again.

The tenses are intentional because of the very reason you stated. It seemed logical to me, but maybe I should reconsider if it makes things too complex.

No prob with the not working for you thing; we all know what that's like.

I really appreciate the insights.
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