(Urban, Occult) Fantasy Prologue


Author and Social Media Ninja
Feb 1, 2022
Pacific Northwest (USA)
Hey Everyone!

I'm looking for all kinds of input: high-level, line-by-line, style, tone, etc. It's only a short prologue, so there's not much plot-wise to discuss. It is (technically) the second book in a series, although readers of the first will have no advantage when it comes to this excerpt.

The only test that matters for a prologue is: Would you keep reading? Why? Why not?

I'm also interested in contrasts between those who favor various genres. These novels have been described as "genre-bending" by other authors—which, of course, means they're not very marketable. But, these are the stories I have to tell. Also, unfortunately, since I use a signature I cannot add back in my formatting (italics, etc). But I hope you can intuit when you're listening to internal dialogue, unique proper nouns, and so forth.

I'm excited! Thank you very much to anyone taking the time.

Best Regards,

p.s. For the Mods ~~> It's 1,479 words. It was a few words over 1,500 originally, but I checked the rules and trimmed a bit more. Even with the emdashes, I'm pretty sure it is under the limit. {thumbs up} ;-) Thanks, again, Chrons!!


“Why is this world good for me?”


2038 A.D. Two years ago. The other airshifters, the idiots, ignored the gangly, elder black vagrant who so often slept on the couch in the greatroom. He paid them no mind; except he was proud that, at one point or another, he'd overheard nearly all of 'em repeat his latest adage: Community Radio made quite the comeback—all it took was a few nukes.

He didn't see well and he was nose-blind to his b.o.—but his ears worked just fine. He always made sure of that. He never let himself lose the music. The voices. Language.

Wiping sleepy sand from eyes that perpetually squinted, the old, old black man did what he did best: lived in the moment. Glancing around the room, he enjoyed seeing the old CDs on walls of shelves, their array of colors, and their tiny text. Jewel cases. That's what they used to be called. Few people knew this abandoned bank lobby held such antique riches—the music of the ages.

When he first arrived at the station seven years before. he scooted the greatroom's couch to just below the "World Music" section of its library. That was his station-approved genre: World Music. Ever since, he'd perpetually perched there, like a dragon guarding his hoard.

He sat up. The couch's creaks matched those of his joints. At his age, any movement was just trading one pain for another. My joints could use a joint.

He reached for a blunt, but then remembered—the new ownership frowned on lighting up indoors. Damned holier-than-thou Blue Churchers. He almost cackled out loud, Don't I know it?

He stole a moment, imagining the smell of burning marijuana, and effortlessly entering into a sort of trance state without it. He could smell the sickly sweet savor of weed, growing near the shed where they slept, the burning bodies of his fellow slaves, their sweat propelling his golden palanquin. He was their God. A shining knight, fighting for freedom, while The Mad Angel laughed. Then that time he forgot to register his latest shopping cart with the authorities...I am the authority! he spat at them.

He blew his nose in a Wendy's napkin, then gently folded it back into his pocket.

He knew this: Master or slave, it didn't matter. Death was a gift he could only give, never receive. Not until he was done.

He leaned back against the wall and started to mentally gather the energy for his show—the show within a show. Every day, between the music tracks, he sent veiled messages over the airwaves. Every night. Seven years. Sooner or later, The Nembrot would come. A girl. He had felt her presence so many times in his dreams.

Dreams. He wasn't subject to the effects of Marshall's banishing, but he might as well have been. The old man's mind was at home in his dreams. Quare hoc mundo mihi bonum est?

Another of his adages. He was still surprised that one never caught on.

Despite the spells, anticipation was his only real fuel. He really. couldn't. wait. for The Nembrot to find him. Take the gift. So he could finally be done.

Done. He rested his gnarled hands in his lap as he let the warmth of the thought run through him.

“—Hey, JC, I'm talking to you! You up?”

Without changing his expression, the old man cringed. It was idiot Barry, gently shaking his shoulder. Barry was a chubby, twenty-something townie whose shift was right before his. A trust fund baby of nouveau riche rednecks who'd done well in the uprising, Barry rebelled against destiny by dressing like a street raider and playing non-traditional music—random sounds, mostly—from one to three AM. This was instead of studying for his college exams. He took the attitude that doing well in college was pointless since there were no jobs, which was wrong in every possible sense.

“Hrrrm?” the old man said.

"I said it's time, JC. You're up. It's time." Barry was pointing back, over his shoulder, to the LCD clock above the booth door. It read 3:33.

Barry shrugged: “Sorry, man, I ran over. I was on the phone with my girl, y'know? Plus, you were sleepin', so...”

The old man looked around, ignoring Barry. He lifted himself and his knapsack pillow and shuffled into the booth. In the bag was the future of mankind and a few CDs. In his head, the message.

He slid into the chair and put on the headphones. The booth smelled of Barry's cologne over the dusty tang of soiled lowpile carpet. He tried and failed to imagine the sorts of people who were awake at this hour listening to the sounds of moose mating calls being broadcast from their connected low-power FM transmitter.

He brought down the track's volume and turned on his mic as he vomited up his chest voice:

“Good evening, children. JC with you. Welcome to Tenebris Sonos, music for the the despicable and their despised. The ur-dead. The outsiders...” the old man grabbed a CD from inside his bag and queued it.

“...This is your future.” he continued. “You feel their power. You hear their voices. You have no need of the empty visions of The Church or their feckless political flunkies. You aren't like the rest! You are drawn to the Truth. It's okay. Come to it. Follow your fears. Let the vibrations touch you and you will find me...

“This is a cello meditation from Vassily Kordmann. Think about time. Is it real? Are you?”

This song was the accompaniment to a 1940s two-act theater play first performed in what used to be called Latvia, in response to their democratically elected government being overthrown. That show was, in turn, cropped from a cabaret of Romani folk tunes that had been widely performed three hundred years before. And the tale of those tunes was largely based on a true story of a famous Baghdadi caliphate's daughter who was tragically killed during the Dark Ages. It still made him sad.

This track was over twenty minutes. That time was real enough for him to go to the bathroom to sponge bath in the sink.

Just as he was about to close the bathroom door, there was a sudden knock on the front door.

Then another.

Barry must already have left. He walked back into the booth and buzzed the visitor in. He wasn't afraid of being anyone's victim.

But, instead of a water raider or some other vagrant, his tired eyes made out the shape of a teenage girl striding in—looking all around as she walked.

He forced himself to stay calm. Could it be?!

She wore an expensive hand-me-down overcoat over ratty leggings and a brown t-shirt that read "meh" in big white letters. Her eyeliner and fake choker tattoo matched her black stocking cap, while the one real tattoo she had, a small barcode on her left cheek the size of a birthmark, indicated that she had been born in the offshore Amazon camps. He thought for a moment. She looked to be about fourteen. Only three camps were in existence that year.

Her bearing was the unearned confidence of a youngest child. Her doe eyes blinked overly fast, betraying a life that had already seen its share of horrors and so, therefore, needed to divide them up into smaller pieces, so's she could handle them.

He sensed something else about her, too. Something familiar. At that, he reached behind his back to firmly grip the bouy knife inside his waistband.

If she was another possessed cleric he'd slit her throat. Like all the rest.

She marched right up to the glass of the booth window and gazed in. She wasn't scared or troubled, just curious. She saw him but didn't register him in any major way. Instead, she just kept shifting her gaze, side to side, all around, looking for something.

Eventually, her eyes settled on his duffle bag.

At that, the old man's own eyes finally opened wide, but not as wide as his smile.

She met his gaze. Reflected his relief and his smile, she knocked on the glass and said knowingly, “WE LIVE IN A SOCIETY.”

The old man, still smiling, released his knife and flipped a switch on his control panel so his voice boomed out throughout the great hall in response: "DO YOU ALWAYS SPEAK IN MEMES?!"

The girl looked all around, startled for the moment, and then regained her composure with a smile, one hand akimbo. “I think I'm supposed to be here!! To do something with whatever you've got in the bag!!” She was still shouting through the glass.

The old man emerged from the booth, waiting patiently.

The girl looked at him, fidgeted a while, and finally said, "Um, I'm Angie. What's your name?"

And then he told her.
I only read the first few paragraphs - they seemed to suffer from "author has no idea how to open this story syndrome" which is actually really common. The result is that irrelevant telling occurs for a string of paragraphs at the start as the author tries to figure out how to get to the point they really want to by explaining something of the setting to the reader - don't do that.

Having a quick second look, this might be your story actually starts:

“—Hey, JC, I'm talking to you! You up?”

We don't need anything that comes before this.

However, also try to get into the character experience, otherwise the danger is that you're simply writing a list of physical actions and stage directions and pointless dialogue. We want to know how the scene's main character feels and what motivates them, and ideally some sense of internal conflict to hook our interest.
I think that perhaps you should straighten out whose POV this is. The man isn't a vagrant unless that's what he thinks of himself as and he's been there long enough to make himself comfortable. Maybe narrow it down so that the narrator only mentions what he would know, especially since it's peppered with his inner dialogue.

I get the sense that he's hundreds of years old, old enough to have been a cotton-picking slave. The mystery of why he's waiting for her has gotten me hooked at least.
I think that perhaps you should straighten out whose POV this is. The man isn't a vagrant unless that's what he thinks of himself as and he's been there long enough to make himself comfortable. Maybe narrow it down so that the narrator only mentions what he would know, especially since it's peppered with his inner dialogue.

I get the sense that he's hundreds of years old, old enough to have been a cotton-picking slave. The mystery of why he's waiting for her has gotten me hooked at least.
Thanks for this. Quick question: What did I write that would be beyond what the Old Man would know?
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Mark, I also posted a prologue in critiques and discovered some issues that I wasn't aware of. I think there are some similarities here.

With my prologue, I really wanted to establish a sense that there are exciting events within the story, and some mysteries to be answered. The aim was to excite the reader's curiosity...to encourage the reader to continue. But there is a danger of overwhelming the reader with multiple snippets of information without context; causing frustration as much as anticipation.

So, in your prologue we learn that some nukes were used in the past, there is something/someone called an 'airshifter', something called a 'Blue Church', a flashback to slavery, a need for shopping carts to be registered with authorities, a 'Nembrot'......and so on. It is like insisting the visitor examines every exhibit in the museum before agreeing to explain a single one.

Apart from arousing curiosity, the other function of a prologue might be to bring the reader up to date, remind the reader of a previous installment, or to establish a starting point for the story by providing background information. You prologue doesn't really do this, which makes me feel it should simply be part of Chapter 1.

I do like your writing, although in this extract I think you dart around a bit too much (trying to slip in too many references). Maybe focus on less things at a time. For example, only mention the Nembrot when you are ready to explain it more fully. Bringing it up in the prologue - just to mention the word? - has no meaning to the reader.
Thanks for this. Quick question: What did I write that would be beyond what the Old Man would know?

The one that stuck out the most for me was "blind to his own body-odor." I suppose that he could be aware of this if he was told at some point, same as if he was aware that people assumed that he was a vagrant. (Or maybe technically he is, despite how long he's been there, because it's not his home.)
This piece seems to be going for a stream of consciousness effect. Though this is not my favored style, it is certainly a valid choice.

From a technical aspect, I did not feel a continuous flow; there seemed to be a lot of arbitrary paragraph breaks. The tense also felt like it kept wanting to break out of past tense into present tense, which is another distraction from the intent.

I am little unsure as to whether this is intended to be the entire prolog or whether this is only the opening part of the prolog. A prolog, however, should be a complete story on its own. The plot seems to be that an old man opens a door to a stranger and ends with a cliff hanger on providing the name of the protagonist.

Consider what key piece of information should be conveyed to the reader. If that is that the old man is a pirate radio broadcaster of some sort, focus on conveying that. Consider dropping the references to Barry and the introduction of the girl (it sounds like she would be part of the main plot line).

This was all over the place. I got lots of information but it was like finding apples but having no idea where they came from or what their purpose was. The short answer to your question is "No, it would not make me want to read more." But that isn't to say that there might not be a great story hidden behind the maze. I think I would have liked this so much better if the introduction had simply done one thing; introduce the story in some way. Perhaps it introduces the main character (I'm assuming the sleeping DJ is the main character) or sets up the beginning of the conflict. (Perhaps he's fighting with the Blue Churcher's?). Maybe it introduces the setting. (I'm assuming some sort of post-apocalyptic view here.) I've even enjoyed introductions that described a central piece of technology. (Take that with a grain of salt, because I'm a hopeless nerd about tech. I even like David Weber's epic info dumps.)

Long story, short; I feel this intro needs a ton of work if it is to serve as the door into your story.

I'll be happy to look at whatever comes next.
I like the character. I feel like there is too much punctuation throughout. The quality is not Delaney, but I feel Delaney would be the best author to look for as an example of this kind of stuff done right. Nova or Babel-17 maybe.

The "we live in a society' had me laughing though. I like the character.
I got a good sense of what the place and the character were like, both old and still going, still serving a purpose and seemed like a good pairing in what looks to be a recovering post apocalypse hellhole. I also liked what little we found out about the young girl, somehow I can see a kid in 2038 talking in memes, after all there are kids today actually trying to make words out of abbreviations that didn't make a word, like LOL.

And I liked where the story seemed to be heading and I would be interested in reading more at some point.

I didn't get the wandering POV sense that some others had, except maybe in the opening line. But there were a couple of times the tenses got mixed up but I assumed that at least some of those were down to the old man thinking about things in his own head. When I do that I tend to write those sections in italics to help it stand out, and that might help clear things up a little. Of course if you have done that and copied pasted, formatting tends not to carry over... That's all stuff that can be cleaned up pretty easily though.
Small comment - it is distracting that you refer to the character twice as black. That emphasis followed by "slave and master" makes a weird emphasis.