As I've been catching up on a belated editing assignment, a manuscript I've read and re-read over the last few years, I've been working on a couple of my own projects, a sequel in a fantasy cycle and a modern urban something-or-other. Some might call it "paranormal", some might call it "dark fantasy", but it doesn't really have a category yet.
Anyway, as I was editing the fantasy, one part made me laugh, as if someone else had written it and I was reading it for the first time. It's dark humor, and told from the point of view of a captain who is going mad; although he doubts the crazy things he sees, they are—unfortunately—really there:
Beyond this point, Nelek's madness increases, but his "faithful" sidekick, Teague, is with him all along the journey, exacting a measure of revenge merely by being alive. I hope to play up some of their conflicts, as long as the story isn't sidetracked or bogged down as a result.Nelek stepped forward, but a flicker of warning—perhaps the tug of his own imaginings—pulled him up short, and he stood, uncertain.It was an uncomfortable thing, uncertainty.He did not have to endure it for long.A ghost stood before him. “You look well, Captain Nelek.” The familiar voice was strong and mocking, scarce to be expected of an apparition. “Would you not say the same of me?”Nelek tightened his grip on the hilt, wondering if his sword was any defense against a phantom. He had already dispatched the man once with a blade.Perhaps a pike this time? Flail? Battleaxe?“You are but the fabric of nightmare,” Nelek declared, shaking off fear with laughter. “I see you not.”“Oh, but you do. You do.” The ghost smiled. “I am solid as your own flesh, though no longer as mortal.”It touched a livid slash across its cheek, and the corresponding cut on Nelek’s face pained him anew. The cold wind of foreboding blew across his skin. “You are dead. I killed you. Your soul escaped with your breath. You abide in the Otherland now, or howl in the Highlands. The Dragon has conjured you to frighten me.”The shade replied, “On the contrary. I still draw breath. And will continue to do so after you are long sped to the Otherland.”
This re-read / edit has not only helped me tighten up the story, it has also reoriented me regarding plot threads that need to be followed. I'd forgotten, for instance, that a major character had started on a journey that was sidetracked in a big way; although all of that wandering played to the plot, he needs to get back to his original journey, which is also important to future events.
In this scene from the as-yet-unclassified manuscript, Brygid and her adoptive brother Yasha are taking an ancient truck for maintenance at a "classic car" lot—not exactly the grand stuff of literature, but it plays to character and plot, and made me smile when I wrote it:
A man in blue coveralls and only slightly taller than me wipes his hands on a red grease rag as he approaches. "What can I do for ya?"
Yasha offers the crumpled slip of paper, and the man hesitates before plucking it from between my brother's bandaged fingers, but he doesn't ask the question that raises his eyebrows.
"Hey, you on the Benz, knock that off and come over here. Priority customer."
The kid under the Benz rolls out and gives the truck a doubtful look.
"It's a classic, kid," says the man I take to be Carmine. "Don't knock it."
Then he gestures at me and Yasha. "Come in, have a soda, put your feet up. You can watch the whole thing from the lounge." He grins, and his teeth are a brilliant white in his black-streaked face. "Windows. Only way to keep some of these boys honest."
Not exactly inspiring. I nevertheless accept his offer for a cold soda and the shade of "the lounge", but not even the promise of air conditioning can compete with spectacle of cars with fins or sideboards or rumble seats. Yasha drinks his soda outside, and peppers the mechanics with questions, peers under hoods, then uses an abandoned dolly to roll underneath an impeccable Mustang. Carmine sees his legs sticking out from under the car, pulls on his feet, slaps a wrench across the gauze-wrapped palm, and—I interpret from the gestures—tells him to loosen something under our truck. Then Carmine kicks the dolly backward. My brother sails across the concrete, one hand over his head, catches the front tire then guides the dolly under the truck.
I shake my head. Boys.
It's after four o'clock when we pay the bill and leave. The truck is washed, the oil changed, the tires checked, wiper fluid topped off, new spark plugs installed, as well as a fresh oil filter and windshield wipers. I lose track of the other maintenance. All I know is that, compared to the way it sounded when we first arrived, the truck almost purrs.
Carmine puts his hand through the open window, and I shake his grubby paw. He slides a folded piece of paper into my hand. "Next time you see Vinny."
"Might not be for a couple weeks, maybe longer."
He shrugs. "Next time."
"I'm not running something illegal."
"I wouldn't insult Vinny like that."
All right, then. I push the note into my jeans pocket.
Carmine waves as I back out of the space and into the street.
With a grease-blackened bandage, Yasha tosses him a wave and calls a good-bye, then sits back against the hot vinyl seat and sighs. "Did you see all those cars?"
"Maybe I'll call Carmine next week and arrange a play date."
I hope to have both manuscripts ready to submit soon. If life permits.
all material c. 2010 Keanan Brand