I'm getting pumped about my next piece, The Gladiator's Son, and I've been hacking away at the first couple of chapters dialing in the voice, pitch, tone, pace, POV, and so forth. Once I have the first two chapters, the rest take care of themselves.
(My son loves Legos, thus the picture...)
What I'm looking for are honest opinions and critiques on the opening hooks and tone of the story. Is it interesting? Is it clear? Is the POV strong enough to place you in the setting?
Is it getting there, even if not yet there?
Did I manage to weed out all the summary information I had on my original draft? Please say yes, I had a ton of summary.
This is the opening chapter. The second chapter will introduce the soldier. Setting is near-future Bolivia.
Ignore italics. I lost my formatting when I pasted it into blogger.
I will DELETE THIS POST in about a week, or when I feel it has run its course.
Again, honest opinions.
DISCLAIMER: Please only read if the story makes you WANT to continue reading. If you aren't enjoying it, add a comment and say, "Eric, I couldn't get into your story, sorry. Not my thing." Or bounce out without commenting, thanks for stopping in.
(c)2010 Eric W. Trant
The Gladiator's Son hook line
On the isolated slopes of the western Andes, a soldier guarding America's supply of lithium awakens an earthly Andean spirit that attacks his child, and is cast into a dreamlike battle to save his son thousands of miles away.
EXCERPT 3,400 words
The Yatiri's Flame
Lucida rose with her husband before dawn and while she poured the morning chocolates into their molds, he gathered their wares into a llama skin pack that he laid on the counter next to her baking stone and a pair of llama skin vests. He disappeared outside into the morning darkness carrying his lantern, and Lucida heard the water bucket scrape against the stone and the flutter of chickens.
Lucida poured the last of the chocolate into its wooden mold and warmed her feet against the hard-packed dirt near the oven. Her toes curled against the floor as if digging. The heat pressed against her thighs.
After her warmth recharged, Lucida walked lightless through the house to their bedroom, the floor growing colder as she moved away from the oven until it shot icy pangs up the back of her calves. Clouds covered the moon and stars, and no light filtered in from the bedroom window, open-aired to the night with the whistle of a gentle breeze and the clacking of wooden wind chimes drifting in from their front breezeway. Lucida plucked her lantern and a box of wooden matches off the wooden stand next to their bed and striking a match she touched the flame to the lantern and the shadows sharpened and crouched to avoid the light.
As she walked back to the kitchen with her lantern, the flame withered into a black stump and she set the lamp next to the chocolates and stared at its empty glass. She soaked up heat from the warm floor and the oven's fire against her legs. Lucida relit the lamp and again the flame seemed to leap off the wick. A trail of smoke bled up from the wick and out of the lantern's bottleneck, angling toward the doorway.
"Mi amor?" she heard her husband say.
Lucida looked up and saw her husband in the doorway holding their morning bucket of water. The lantern's trail of smoke disappeared before it touched his chest. "Are you well?" Seferino asked.
"Mi llama es muerto." Lucida nodded at the empty lantern.
"No, mi amor, your flame is not dead." He lifted his lantern and showed her. "See, our flame burns bright."
"That is your flame."
"It is our flame."
"No, my husband, mine is dead, chufirmi."
Seferino set the water bucket at his feet and twisted the lantern's wick until the light bled out. "Now I join you. No worries, mi amor."
By the flickering light of the baking oven they ate a breakfast of bread and goat cheese while the chocolates cooled and the sun began to rise. They ate in silence, the stone floor cold on Lucida's bare feet, and when they were finished she cleaned his plate and laid it next to the sink with her own.
Lucida wrapped her chocolates in a cheesecloth and twisted the corners around her left hand and tucked them into her llama skin pack with their other wares. She hefted the sack onto her shoulder and spit on the floor, rubbed the spittle into the dirt with the sole of each of her bare feet, and then slid her feet into a pair of llama skin sandals.
Seferino pulled a Fedora hat onto his head, hooked his left hand through the llama skin vests on the counter, and led her outside. Lucida squinted against the morning sun rising, it glaring at her from between the mountains this time of year.
From the walkway spanning the front of the house hung wooden wind chimes and a torn Bolivian flag and two llama fetuses. Seferino unhitched a fetus from its drying hook and threw it over his shoulder. In his right hand he carried a wooden hiking staff topped with half a dozen Fedora hats.
Lucida followed her husband along the trail leading around the house and down the mountainside. Goats and llamas bellowed at them as they passed, bells clanging from beneath their neck. They walked south with the mountains and the rising sun on their left cheek. Her husband removed from his pocket his chuspa, and handed her a pinch of the coca leaves, which she pressed between her lip and gum and sucked as they walked. Her mouth and tongue tingled where the bolear juice touched.
Lucida walked near to her husband to share in his warmth, pulling closer to her chest her llama skin coat. A tin cup they shared for water jangled against her pack. Hard desert rocks crunched beneath her feet. Her dozen necklaces kept time with the tin cup and crunching rocks by ticking against her breasts.
After a while, tin sheds began to rise up out of the desert landscape. A man stood inside his doorway smoking, watching as they passed. Lucida and her husband nodded their heads and the man raised his hand.
A Volkswagen appeared and rattled them out of its way with its sputtering engine and turned between the houses and the sound of it bled into the city. Soon a truck passed, carrying men and tools in the flat bed, all of them dirty and cracked. They passed by a series of empty lots where already men and children played soccer, kicking the beaten ball against a wall decorated with wooden goalposts. A painted goalie held his hands to his sides, crouched, an amazing likeness on such a crude surface. The men dodged the boys and passed the ball, none of them laughing nor needing to when the ball slapped the wall inside the posts and bounced back into play and was passed downfield with a high arcing kick that sounded like a faraway gunshot.
They turned left after the parking lot and walked three more blocks, passing by a warehouse with shattered windows and stacks of boxes nobody cared to count or steal. Behind the warehouse in another empty lot stretched a single roof of patched and knitted tents of green and red and yellow and blue, one joined to the the other by tawdry strings, a long row of sails propped on rotting masts stagnant in the desert doldrums.
Lucida and her husband nodded to the vendors as they passed, taking note of the empty shops. She glanced at Seferino when they passed Huayna's shop and they shared a silent admittance that after all this time she would not return. A wooden cross had been laid on her table, atop a swath of llama fur, next to a candle that no longer burned.
They moved along to their stall, and in Quechua she greeted Evita and Julian. "Imaynalla."
Their husbands nodded and Evita said, "I have something for you, mi amiga."
Lucida and her husband took their place in the booth next to Evita and Julian. Seferino hung the llama fetus on the hook in front of their shop and balanced his staff with its Fedora hats in front of their station and spread the two llama skin vests on the table. Lucida slung her pack onto the table and opened her chocolates on the cheesecloth and turned to Evita, who was holding in her hand a necklace of orange and yellow beads.
"This is wonderful," Lucida said.
Evita smiled. "From Joaquin and little Julian for their other momma."
"For my other children." Lucida laid a handful of chocolates on Evita's table and turned away before Evita could refuse the offering.
Lucida pulled the necklace over her head and showed it to her husband. Seferino smiled his toothless grin and kissed her cheek and pressed his hand to the necklaces on her bosom.
By mid-afternoon the tourists had combed through most of her chocolates and taken up two of her husband's Fedora hats, including the one he had removed from his head. They seeped out from the hotel across the street, their faces so pale and their eyes so blue that Lucida squinted in the glare of their reflections.
Lucida knew enough German to haggle, she knew her numbers, and her husband could speak a bit of English for the British and Americans who stopped by, laughing, drunk by lunchtime. Evita's husband helped with the French, though there were fewer and fewer of them as the years passed.
A tall woman with a short man stopped and smiled at Lucida and her husband. "Allin sukha," the woman said in Quechua. Good afternoon.
Lucida smiled back at them, as did Seferino. "Allin sukha," she said.
The tall woman with her short man edged up to the booth and ran her fingers across the llama vests laid beside the remaining chocolates.
Both were hatted with Fedoras, the tall woman in a traditional blue-green summer dress and a llama vest and many necklaces about her thin breasts, the short man in jeans and a sweatshirt that looked like a university shirt, though Lucida could not read it. She knew the shape of Texas, though, behind the letters, with a powerful bull standing atop the state.
"They look Runa," Lucida said to her husband.
Seferino smiled and nodded and pulled one of the Fedoras off his staff and placed it on Lucida's head, and then another on his own.
Seferino waved to Evita to come out from behind the booth, and dragging Lucida around the table he wrapped his arm around her waist and stood next to the white couple and motioned with his hands for Evita to take a picture of them.
The tall woman understood and together they stood in the street while Evita studied the camera and then took two careful pictures before handing it back to the tall woman.
"You have nice, mmm, chocolates?" the tall woman asked. She tried it in Quechua, using the Spanish word for chocolate.
"Si," Lucida answered in Spanish. "You like to try?" The four of them standing in front of the booth, Lucida broke off a piece of her chocolate and handed it to the tall woman.
"You are Runa, chufircha?" The tall woman licked her finger to clean the chocolate.
"Si. We are from the mountains. My husband and I have lived here many lifetimes. Always we return to the dirt and regrow from between the rocks, chufirmi. You are American, chufircha?"
"Si. Students. I study ethnology. That means I study native peoples. I went to Guatemala last year. We just got back from Chile."
"Si, si. You like the chocolate, chufircha?"
Seferino spoke to the short white man, his eyes slitted and gleaming. "She is Yatiri, my wife, chufirmi."
Lucida nodded when the tall woman squinted her green eyes at her. "Si. My sisters do not have the gift. Their wombs lie within their bellies, while mine lies within Pachamama." Lucida knelt and patted the dirt beneath her feet. "My womb lies here, chufirmi."
"Would you show us?"
"Si, si." Lucida stood and slapped her hands against her dress, the same neon blue as the American woman's dress, but with deep red patches about the neck and shoulders. "I will bless you with a safe trip."
"You buy chocolates. You like, chufircha?"
"Then you buy chocolates."
Lucida sent the men off to buy beer for the toast, and with the tall American woman hovering over her shoulder and scanning her fingers with her sharp green eyes, Lucida arranged the chocolates and rocks atop a llama skin pad. Beneath each rock she placed a pinch of coca leaves, forming a circle around a candle she borrowed from Evita's booth next to them.
"You have sisters?" the tall woman asked.
"Si. Three. Our brother died in the coup. Do you have a lighter? It is better if we use your flame."
The tall woman shook her head.
"This is okay. I will use my flame. This will be okay, chufircha."
The tall woman tugged on one of her necklaces and fished out a recorder from the bosom of her dress. Her green eyes flicked at Lucida, and when they saw no protest the tall woman pressed a button. "Which mountains are you from?"
"To the north. We walk two hours from here."
"Valley or higher up?"
"We are mountain people. We are Runa, chufirmi."
"Do you speak Quechua?"
"Of course. This is my tongue. Do you speak English?"
"Si, of course," the American said.
"That is your tongue. Your parents spoke it to you, and in time you learned other languages, chufircha, but always you learned English first. This is true, no? And you learn Quechua from our instructor, no? And he learned Quechua from his studies after his parents raised him in Spanish. My husband and I learned Quechua from our ancestors. It is the language of Pachamama, and it is all we speak in our home, and our home is everything you see. This makes us Runa, chufirmi, and buries our souls in the dirt so that we may be reborn among the stones. Ah, here come our husbands."
"Oh, he's not my husband." The tall woman straightened to her full height and the men set two beers on the table.
Seferino removed one of the beers from the table and placed it in their pack and stood next to his wife, his hands behind his back. He watched her work in silent patience.
The two couples put the table between them. Behind the Americans a half-dozen onlookers collected, and they stood drinking their afternoon beer and shifting their eyes beneath their newly-purchased Fedoras. They spoke German.
Lucida removed a box of matches from her pack and checked each of the rocks atop their crushed coca leaves. She rotated her chocolates, the candies formed in the shape of llamas kneeling and standing and grazing, such that each of them faced away from the candle. She would rather this be on the ground, in the dirt, out of the shade beneath the sun, but the Americans would not understand this, and so she satisfied herself with the arrangement and lit the candle.
The candle took a strong flame and the smoke rose straight up in a smooth corkscrew. Lucida nodded at the Americans. "This is a good sign. The smoke is true. This means you will have a good journey, chufirmi. There are no storms on your path."
Seferino leaned across her and scooped up the beer. He opened it and handed it to Lucida, who took a sip and handed it to the American woman. "Drink," Lucida said to the woman. "Pachamama blesses the ground beneath your feet."
The American woman sipped and Lucida motioned her to hand it to the short man who was not her husband. "Drink. Pachamama blesses the ground beneath your feet."
Lucida motioned for the man to hand the beer to Seferino. Seferino sipped and handed the beer to Lucida and nodded.
Lucida removed the rocks from the dried and crushed coca leaves and placed a pinch between her gum and lip. She motioned for the Americans to remove a rock and take up the bolear. Seferino took his own pinch and Lucida led her husband into the market street in front of their table, beneath the sun warm on her neck and raising the hair on her arms as the shadows released their chilling grip, where they spat at their feet and toed dirt over the spittle. Lucida poured a few mouthfuls of beer into the dirt between them. The German observers pooled behind her as the beer foamed at her feet and the Americans bent their heads, unsure of how to posture themselves during the ritual. "For Pachamama, we return your blessing." Lucida rubbed the beer into the dirt and motioned for the others to mimic her.
The ritual finished, Lucida took another sip of the beer and handed it to the American woman. "You buy chocolates, si?"
The American woman looked to her male companion and back at Lucida, holding the beer in one hand and in the other the recorder away from her neck beneath wide green eyes. With the beer she pointed at the table behind Lucida. "Is that okay?"
Lucida turned and saw the candle had died out. The suffocated wick glowed orange and threw up a thin stream of smoke that drifted westward across the table, across Evita's booth and into the street where it gossamered into an invisible trail that only scent could follow.
"It is okay," Lucida said. "This is our flame. This is why we should use your flame and not ours." Lucida knelt and clutched a fistful of the loose dirt and walked around the table. Seferino stood beneath the tent as she trickled the sand out of her palm in a brown cascading dustfall. The sand feathered westward with the smoke. A cool breeze grazed across her bare arms and down her neck and chased away what sun's warmth she had adsorbed.
Lucida clapped her hands together to clear the dirt and said to the American woman, "You buy chocolates, si?"
"Si. We'll take them all."
When the Americans left and the Germans dispersed and the street calmed, Lucida leaned over the table with her husband and struck a match and touched it to the candle. She felt Evita watching, her womb safe and calm and empty in her belly, while Lucida's trembled beneath her feet.
Her husband stood next to her, his hand on her shoulder, his eyes seeing the flame Lucida felt in her belly, beneath her feet, in the dirt and rock. The flame took to the candle searing yellow and red, but after a few breaths it winked out. A healthy wick atop the handmade candle leaked smoke swirling up and westward into the street, past the warehouse and back the way they had walked this morning, the way they walked every morning.
Straightening, she handed the candle to Evita and said, "Your flame burns true, chufircha?"
Evita's husband took up the candle and set it on the table in their booth. Julian flicked open a steel lighter and passed the flame to the candle and they all watched it glow unwavering for several minutes.
Lucida moved into the sun to watch, Seferino aligning himself in her shadow with his hand still on her shoulder as if to feel what she felt. She spit coca juice and slid out of her sandals. With her bare feet she pressed the spittle into the earth, digging with her toes into the dirt. "This is not good, chufirmi."
"Si," Evita said.
"The smoke, she goes west, seeking the flame, chufirmi. Mi amiga, you will watch our booth, si?"
"Si," Evita said.
Seferino's hand moved across Lucida's back and patted and rubbed her between the shoulder blades. I am ready, the hand said to her. When she turned to face him, Lucida saw that her husband was already reaching to unhook the llama fetus.
Evita extinguished the candle and offered it to Lucida.
"Thank you, mi amiga," Lucida said. She emptied the molten wax and pressed it into the dirt and then turned to her booth to clean and load up their wares. Lucida rolled the leaves and llama vests and strips of llama skin and the cheesecloth and tucked these into her pack with her rocks. She found a place for the candle near the top.
Seferino took up his walking staff and stacked the Fedora hats on the table in front of Evita and Julian, switching one on his head for another on the table before he wrapped the llama fetus around his neck and with his free hand clutched its fore and hind legs together.
Lucida dug out the extra beer Seferino had placed in the pack and opened it. She poured a little at her feet and rubbed dirt over the top and took a sip. She passed the beer to each of them, to Evita and Julian and finally her husband, and they all poured some at their feet and drank.
"For Pachamama," Lucida said. "Bless the ground beneath our feet."
Lucida slid on her sandals, and walking near to her husband, she passed by the other booths, by the abandoned warehouse and the soccer field, empty and quiet, through the afternoon streets that faced the sun half-dropped on the western horizon, following the trail of smoke that she sensed within her womb. They passed a man in a doorway, smoking, shirtless in the cool shadows. Lucida and her husband raised their hands in greeting.
The man nodded as they passed.
- Eric W. Trant