As I said a few weeks ago, I am looking at some rewrites of the beginning of my book. Part of the process is what is referred to as ‘killing your darlings.’ That is the process of cutting large chunks of writing that you are really in love with but that ultimately don’t fit the story, aren’t adding anything or don’t go with the intended readership.
This opening was the first thing that I wrote, back in May 2015. It was designed to be a prologue to the book but set about 15 years after the events of the story. It would tease the eventual fate of the characters and set up an intriguing story arc that would play out over several books. As it happens, it doesn’t work. It is written in a completely different style than the rest of the book and will put off young readers. I feel a bit strange, like I’m cutting off a toe. However, this is the process. I hired an editor to make my story better; not to agree with everything I think. This is my first ever book and this is the first bit of it that I wrote. Why am I surprised that it’s the least effective?
Anyway, here it is for you to have a read of, if you have the time. I’ll be starting on the new opening as soon as I can. Leaving this part here is the first step off square one.
Hope you enjoy it.
I look up at the Sun, glowing hot in the night sky, thinking of home; a place that is as distant in memory as it is in time and travel. I wonder if I will ever be there again; if it even exists as it does in my mind. Are the images I keep real or tricks; the desperate attempts of a heart trying to find something to cling to that is real, beyond all that has happened? So much time and distance. A river flows beside me, clear as a flawless diamond, moving slowly, inexorably towards a mouth I have never seen. Somewhere in the distance beyond the strange, forbidding forest in which I am enclosed must lie a sea. An ocean. A place as vast in reality as the gap between my dreams and what is here and now. Or maybe nothing. Maybe it simply discharges into a fathomless chasm filled with the dreams and wishes of everyone who has set foot in this place.
In the river, creatures go about their business, pursued by the scant shadows cast in starlight. Life and death, death and life. Those swimming against the current and those flowing through. All together in the same clear water until they scatter, vanish as swiftly as hope. Then a larger shadow. The one I have waited for.
First comes the long promontory of its head, slender as it slips through the water. Delicate, one might think, like a porcelain needle. As with all things in this place, we have learned that delicate does not equate to gentle. Concealed within the needle are a thousand more waiting to give death to the unwary. It took us a week to discover this. A week, an engineer and the woman who tried to save him. She took longer, the poison within those needle teeth acting more slowly upon her than its usual prey. I shudder as I remember her screams from the tent. Howls of regret for her selfless act. In her final moments, she would have fed the man and ten more like him to this thing rather than endure another second of the torture its venom wrought upon her. That is what this place does to good people. It takes the goodness and twists it into malevolence; a kind of sick humour if it were possible to ascribe such a thing to a place.
Next, its hulking body appears, the size of a manatee’s but with none of the charm or playfulness. Dense muscle and powerful fins propel it along in its search. For me the search is over and, from my crouched position, I jump into the water. Wrapping both legs around its back, I clasp its jaws shut with both hands before it can react. The coldness of the water shocks me but I have seconds only. Like an untamed horse, the thing will throw me off and shred me if I make a mistake. Without warning it rolls over, carrying me beneath the water. I am surrounded by bubbles escaping from my mouth, the only things that tell me up from down. For an instant, my thoughts hang on the long-forgotten sensation of being immersed in water. My hands are growing tired and the hardest part is yet to come. I must get a hand back. I must lock its jaws to free a hand to reach for my knife, which means transferring the hold to a facelock. The needle head is slippery as glass and it thrashes about more and more desperately. It rolls over again and I surge out of the water, gasping for breath. My legs are near exhaustion now. Not long until I have to let go. Must have it locked by then. I slide my arm around and press the head between it and my torso. The slightest loosening and it will end me. With a hand free, I search for my…
Knife. Not on my belt. It must have come loose in the struggle. I should have known not to unfix the clasp before jumping in. It was supposed to save me seconds but now it would surely kill me. My arm, pressing the thing to my side, is weakening. I am surrounded by a thick lemon yellow mist, blocking my view. Fear of loss, not now, not now. I need a new plan or a variation on the old one. The target is still the same. Its anatomy is much like a fish, with wide gills and, inside them, a beating heart. With all the remaining strength in my free hand, I reach for the gills, tearing at them desperately. Sensing this, the thing starts to thrash even more violently. I slide off its back and into the water, maintaining my hold on its head only by fluke or sheer will. It must be now. I reach back to the gills and plunge my hand inside, puncturing membranes and reaching through slimy, sinewy mass for its heart. Where is it? Where is it? My fingers probe deeper and reach a thick, muscular mass. I pull and pull, screaming through the pain as I rip it out through the gills, still beating. I wrench it free and push the body of the creature away as it convulses and thrashes its last. Killer and prize float gently down the river and all is quiet. I look up once more at the Sun, a recognisable pinhole amongst others in the night, and it reminds me once again of home, of childhood, of Dad.
I grab a fin, careful not to go near the needle head and its deadly contents, and painfully make my way to the bank of the river. Pulling it out is not easy but eventually, we both lie on the moss next to each other. Back in the river, the multitudes of small creatures resume their lives in the wake of our carnage. Congealed membrane is stuck beneath my fingernails: a piece of the creature fastened to me. A long time passes and maybe I sleep. Sleep dreams or daydreams I cannot tell, but when I come back to realisation, I am surrounded by cloudy red mist that lingers through I try to wave it away. Can’t have my thoughts betraying me. They remind me of my purpose, however, so I set about retrieving my knife from the river bed and cutting open the head of my prey. Fighting against the rotting fish stench of the thing, I harvest some of the needle teeth and several venom sacs, and then I really do sleep. Ready in all things if not in mind now to do this thing that has been forced on me by a million chance happenings. No red mist. I must sleep and be refreshed. I must be calm and happy when I meet Dad; when I kill him…