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Under a God Playing His Guitar

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Under a God Playing His Guitar

Postby angolafool » Wed Mar 07, 2007 1:29 pm

Comments welcome. Good or bad. I want this to be as good as it can be, as good as I can make it. So please mention anything you feel needs to be looked at. Appreciate it.

-

Faint snatches of distant music began to fill the air. The road Thom walked ran its winding course through the low hills that rolled across this land. The little birds and little insects that had kept him company for so long had left him as he came further and further into the hills of the north. All life had fled before the plague.

His destination was still out of sight. The road went around hills rather than over them in a mess of turns and roundabouts. There were great humps of yellow grass between him and the coming mile of road, and so the town of Lewis remained hidden. All that told him that it was near was the soft music.

As Thom made his way along the meandering road north, the music grew louder and more distinct. He could soon make out the tune. It was a quiet song with little rises and falls, much like the land through which he walked. He smiled at the fit.

It was late in the afternoon when he came to a tunnel boring through a large hill. The hill was tall and wide, stretching away on either side so that he could not see its ends. There were patches of bare, sharp red stone cutting up out from the grasses that grew long on the steep slopes. The tunnel was not much taller than a mounted man and wide enough for a wagon and was long enough that Thom could not see through to its other end. The music that had grown louder and louder as he had traveled north was coming through the hole in the hill with such force that the man could feel it beat at his chest.

Thom stood regarding the tunnel for a moment. He took a breath and entered the hole before him. With nothing to light his way, Thom walked on with care. He was soon in complete darkness. One hand trailed over the rough walls as the other searched out before him. The tunnel was straight and well made and so the going was not difficult. Not difficult save for the pounding of the music, which shook the walls and set Thom’s ears to ringing. After a handful of minutes a soft light began to glow up ahead. Thom’s steps grew more and more confident the closer he came to the end.

The tunnel opened a little ways up from the floor of a large valley. The slopes of the hill rose high behind him and stretched around before to circle the whole of the basin. The sun sat low, nearly touching the tops of the walls of the valley. Its golden light lit the scene that rolled away from Thom. Low stone fences split the land into small, vaguely square plots. Each was a garden of green and was looked after by a small stone cottage that sat in a corner of each little farm. A road led from the tunnel out of which Thom had just come and wound through the farmland, snaking around the valley several times to touch each parcel. In the middle of this stood a town, a cluster of taller stone buildings. These formed a circle around a huge stone embedded in the ground, jutting up to rise high above the packed earth of the bare area around its base.

Against this massive stone leaned Lewis. He, like the other gods Thom had seen, was an enormous figure. Even sitting cross legged as he did, his head reached the top of the huge boulder against which his back rested. In his lap he had a guitar that he played with slow picking fingers and lingering touches of the frets. There was something so easy and careless in the way he played. The music he made was as easy and careless. The thudding in the tunnel had been caused by some quality of the stone walls. Here in the open it was as pleasant as it had been on the road leading north.

The walk along the path took Thom round and round, passing all of the small homesteads that lay scattered around the valley. As he made his way along, he noted that the gardens were untended and choked with weeds. The cottages were in the beginnings of disrepair as well. Doors swung on moaning hinges and there was no sign of life in his glimpses inside. The sun had sunk below the hilltops before Thom had come half the way. As the light of the sun died, another could be seen in the center of the basin, the bright, limited light of a large fire. His progress took him around the far side of the boulder in the midst of the town and blocked the firelight. After a few minutes of walking, it showed again.

He found himself before the town proper as the last of the colors in the sky yielded to the dark blue of night. The road led straight through, though branches reached out here and there. Past the last of the buildings before the open space in their center sat Lewis, intent on his instrument, face lit by the flickering of the flames before him. At his feet were scores of people situated around the bonfire. The town folk sat rapt, staring up at their god playing his music. Their heads bobbed with the tune and some tapped their hands or feet. Thom started forward, picking his way through the seated figures. He looked down at their upturned faces as he passed and saw on them the masks of ecstasy of the swooning.

Thom stopped in the midst of the audience. Turning around, he looked at all these people in worship. Dropping his head, he walked with care back the way he had come. When he reached the buildings once again, Thom entered through the first broken door. The room was dark save the bar of dancing red light that lay across the floor and led back out the entrance. A few broken pieces of furniture lay where they had been left. There was an apple far gone in rot near the remains of a table. Thom moved to the corner and curled up on the floor to go to sleep.

Morning was stealing into the room when he woke. There was still much gray in the light that eased through the bare doorway. Thom smoothed his clothes before going out.

He first noticed that the people gathered around the fire were still where he had left them the night before, though lying in sleep or only just rousing from it. All that remained of the fire was a circle of black ash and burnt wood. Lewis sat with his guitar. As the sun rose, the god’s playing seemed to pick up all the different colors and sights revealed by the brightening morning. The life and feeling that came into the music with these changes in the valley woke more and more of those worshipping at the feet of their god. Thom frowned.

He came to the edges of the gathered people. His eyes wandered across the crowd, searching for something. He stood for near an hour before a figure, dressed in the same dark uniform Thom wore, came out from behind the boulder and made his way to stand between Lewis and the worshippers. He carried a small wooden crate. When he had set it down in a spot where the mass of town folk could watch, he took a deep breath and climbed atop it. The figure looked out over the people. There seemed something so tired and beaten about him. Thom began to walk toward this man, whose face lit up when he noticed. He hopped off of the little pedestal and rushed to meet Thom.

When the two had come close enough, they embraced. Thom held the other out at arms distance for a moment. He studied his face and posture. “Jeod. You look tired.”

Jeod smiled a weak little smile. “I am. So tired. Come. I have some food and wine in my room.” He turned to lead Thom.

“Don’t you have something to do, Jeod?” He cast a glance at the crate before the crowd.

“They don’t listen. Haven’t heard a word I’ve said since I brought news of the plague. We can talk when we have a bowl of stew and a little drink before us.” Jeod made another attempt at smiling before setting off around the boulder.

“Why do you live so far from these people,” Thom asked as the two walked.

“I can’t bear to be near them. You see they’re swooning.”

“Of course. Even in the face of that, you should not neglect your duties.” There was the same matter of fact tone in this criticism as had been in everything that Thom had said. Jeod shrugged.

Thom fell silent and followed his guide to the edges of the town. Jeod led him into a small house. Inside were a bed and a little table and a couple of chairs. Heaped in the corner were a few casks and a number of sacks full of lumps. Burning coals sat in the hearth, an iron pot hung inches above them. There was a nice smell in the room.

As Jeod checked the pot, stirring it with a wooden spoon a couple times, Thom took a seat in one of the chairs and watched. Jeod turned to look at him and smiled. This time it came easier as he filled two beaten copper cups on the table. Thom could not help but return it.

“The food will be ready in a little while. I thought I’d be longer in the square.” Jeod sighed and sat down across from Thom. He took a long drink. Thom did the same. ”It’s been so long since I’ve spoken with anyone. It’s good to see you, Thom.”

“It’s good to see you as well. I must say that I am not pleased that it must be here though.” Thom stared at Jeod. There was no edge in his voice, but that his point was clear could be seen in Jeod’s face.

“It’s not my fault. Went swooning on me.”

“How did it happen?”

Jeod got up and paced, one hand rubbing at his worried face. “I don’t know. I came to town and told the people of the coming plague. Told them it was coming and that safety could be found in the south.”

“What else?”

Jeod swallowed. “Well, a few asked if they would truly be safe. I couldn’t lie to them. I told them that the south would only be safe for a while, that it’d be bought time more than anything else, but that we would find a way to keep the plague at bay. Then some of the older folk told the people that only Lewis could keep them safe, that no heathen could. I thought it’d come to nothing. There are always some who curse us. You know that. So I left them to their decision. Went to the inn and slept. When I woke that morning, there they were, swooning like something out of the stories.” Jeod looked at Thom with worry. “Did I do something wrong? Is it my fault?”

Thom smiled in reassurance. “It cannot be that you caused the first mass swooning in hundreds of years. Don’t take this upon yourself.” The smile faded and his face grew serious. “What is important now is to do something about it. The plague can’t be far. I haven’t seen a moving thing for near a week.”

Jeod sat and leaned close to Thom. “It can be seen from the top of the north hill.”

Thom seemed taken aback. “So close? Show me.”

The two cut across the fields, hopping the low fences and trudging through rich soil and thick growth on their way to the northern hillside. It was midmorning when the pair had crested the hill. Thom took a sharp breath at the sight.

The hills ran bare of anything but grass and stone for a mile before the plague, a black mass, writhing and bubbling like boiling oil. It stretched off to the right and to the left further than either man could see. Behind it there was nothing. The plague devoured even the hills. Only blasted grey wastes remained in its wake.

“How long?” Thom’s voice was a whisper.

“Well, I first saw it about a week ago. I didn’t catch it right away. Another few days, I suppose.”

“I’d never seen it. I’d never been sent to a place so close to it.”

“I cried myself to sleep when I first saw it. There’s no hope, you know. No one could move those people out of their swooning. Not me. Not you, Thom. Gods, not even Josu come back from the dead. We’ll die here.”

Thom stood watching the plague for a long moment before mumbling, “Let’s go back.”

Jeod nodded and turned to lead the way back to his house.

Thom ate little of the stew Jeod had made. He dipped the spoon into the rich broth and traced designs, the trails remaining for a second before the thick liquid filled them in. Jeod said nothing as he ate. When he had finished, he looked at Thom for a long moment before leaving. Thom didn’t look up.

Giving up on eating, Thom sat back in his chair. He stared out the window that looked north. He stared for a long time. His face was still. His body was still. There was nothing but this unnatural stillness to suggest what he might be feeling and thinking. Changes in the light and the colors in the room as the day passed went unnoticed. The light was fading when he finally got up out of his seat.

It was a strange sight that awaited him in the square. The town folk were milling about, bumping into each other as they stumbled like brainless toddlers. Jeod sat defeated on his little crate. Thom stood behind him and placed his hand on his shoulder. Jeod looked up.

“What’s this?” There was a little bit of hope in Thom’s voice.

“They are going to get wood for tonight’s fire. The swooning seems to take all sense from them, so it takes them a while to figure out how to get around.”

Thom nodded. Following those who had disentangled themselves from the confusion brought Thom into the shaded streets of the town proper. The sounds of cracks and crashes both near and far came floating out of the open doors and windows. Bodies moving without thought wandered from building to building, emerging with bundles of wood.

People were filtering in through the streets that led back to the square when Thom returned to Jeod. The town folk all had broken pieces of furniture. These were dropped, one person after another, in the circle of black where the fire was built every night. After all of the wood had been gathered, a large pile of broken chairs and tables, the people sat around it, looking up at their god.

Soon the sun vanished behind the hills. Lewis struck a discordant note. As the strange note rang out, the heap of wood burst into flames. The fire burned so brightly as the echoes of that note hung over the square. Then, as the echoes died, the fire settled into a more natural burn.

Jeod turned and started back to the cottage. Thom followed, deep in thought. When they finally came to the house, Thom had made up his mind. He sat down and gestured for Jeod to do the same. Jeod filled his cup with wine first and took a long drink. “What’re we going to do?”

Thom scratched at the stubble on his chin. “You’re going south.”

Jeod tried to hide the light that came to his face. “What?”

“You were right. There is little chance of breaking this swooning. It wouldn’t matter if every heathen in the Sans were here. I have a better chance than you do, but that chance is made no better or worse by your presence here. If this town is to be devoured, it might as well be with as few of us here as possible.”

“I cannot leave my post, though. If these people die, I am to die with them.” Jeod made this statement with a tone that betrayed that it was a token. Thom couldn’t help but smile.

“Would you disobey my orders?”

Jeod drained his cup. “Are you sure about this?” Thom nodded. “I’ll be gone in the morning.”

“Good. Tell the Sans of the failure here. I’ll give you something with my seal so that there are no… misunderstandings.”

Jeod fell to his knees in front of Thom and kissed the ring he wore. “Thank you, Thom. Thank you.”

It was early in the morning when Thom woke. He sat at the table eating some cold stew that had been left over. Jeod snored on the floor. Thom watched him sleep, a blank look on his face. When the bowl was empty, he nudged his side with his boot. Jeod was slow in coming out of his slumber. A face still fogged with sleep stared at Thom. “Time to go.”

The two stepped out of the cottage into the bright morning. The trip along the edges of the town to the place where the road met the settlement was made in silence. Jeod struggled under the weight of the bag across his shoulder and they had to stop now and then so that the burden could be adjusted. At the skirts of the town, Thom and Jeod embraced briefly.

“Good luck, Thom.” A smile touched Jeod’s lips. Thom nodded, unable to bring one to his own. “I’ll tell the Sans of your courage.” He clapped Thom on the arm. “I’ll tell my wife, too. She’ll be even more grateful.”

“Goodbye, Jeod.” There was a note of finality in Thom’s voice.

A pained look came across Jeod’s face. “Goodbye, Thom.”

Thom watched Jeod go for a few moments. With his head down, he turned away and made for the center of town.

The following days were spent on that little crate before the swooning mass of town folk. Thom stood before them, breaking as little as his body demanded food and sleep. He worked every angle his time at the Sans and in the field had taught him. He attacked the gods, laid out their failings for the people to see. He painted the people as victims of mean, petty, powerless beings. He called on every picture of suffering and death that had touched their lives and the grander ones of the coming plague. He told them of the advances the Sans had made since coming out from under the gods and told them of its power to stop the coming plague. In all of this he used every bit of rhetorical cunning that laid in his heart and mind. From early in the morning to late in the night he talked. He slept little, tossing and turning.

On the morning that he saw that the plague had reached the crest of the hill surrounding the valley, had indeed started to crawl down its face, Thom broke down and wept. He wept for a long time. When he finally pulled himself together, he made his way to the square and began his speech.

He looked up at Lewis during a point of emphasis on the god. Suddenly he stopped talking. Abandoning his unhearing audience, Thom hopped off the crate and walked to the boulder. He ran his hand over the surface, looking up at the stone and the god who rested against it.

A brief moment of doubt washed over Thom. He took a breath to regain his composure. He began to climb the great stone. There were many footholds, the surface rough and ragged. He made his way carefully up the boulder. The going was difficult and slow, but he kept on. After long minutes he was above the tallest of the town’s buildings. Soon he was atop the flat summit of the miniature mountain. Facing north, he could see the barren land left behind the plague. The skies themselves seemed to have dimmed in its wake. Thom turned and approached the bobbing golden head of the god. His ear was almost level with the platform on which Thom stood. Kneeling down beside the giant ear, Thom pleaded with Lewis.

“These people will die. That is certain. You know as well as I do that if you continue to hold them, the plague will come and take them as it has everything else. I know the gods. I know that begging like this will do nothing. It is in fact against everything I have learned. I am beyond caring. I care only for these people. People you could save if you just let them go. Please. I don’t want to see them die. And if asking you like this, a heathen on his knees before a god, will move you, could possibly move you, then I must try. It is my last hope. Please.”

Lewis did not change his tune, did not change the bobbing of his head, and his people showed no signs of breaking from the swooning. Thom laid down on the top of the stone and whispered, “please, please, please,” over and over again. He whispered until his throat grew raw and his voice croaked. He whispered into the night until sleep came and stole the words form his mouth.

Clacking, like the feet of a horde of giant insects crawling across stone, woke Thom in the middle of the night. He crawled over to the edge and looked over to see the mass of black writhing and roiling as it climbed the stone on which he had slept. The buildings to the north, and the farms beyond, and the hill beyond that, all were gone. Only grey earth remained. The fire lit the blackness with insane flickering red and orange, the plague shining in the light. On the god’s side of the stone, the plague had wrapped around and washed toward the people swooning at his feet. The plague moved so swiftly now that it had tasted life. Thom watched, helpless. As the plague rolled over the first of the town folk, Thom groaned in defeat and sank to his stomach. He could not look away. As it continued up the stone, the plague also surged forward over more of the people. Not once did the music Lewis played change. It kept its lilting melody.

The plague soon flowed past the first of the people it had devoured. As the blackness crept on, it revealed that first town folk, still sitting and staring up at his god. Unhurt despite all the devastation around him, the sight brought Thom to his feet. Already the plague had come most of the way up the stone. Before it reached him, the advancing plague revealed more and more of the town folk, all unharmed as if nothing had happened. There was nothing left around them, but they remained. Thom fell to his knees at the sight. Then the blackness grabbed at his legs and pulled him under.

There was a great deal of pain. Then nothing.
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Re: Under a God Playing His Guitar

Postby Bmat » Wed Mar 07, 2007 2:10 pm

angolafool wrote:
Faint snatches of distant music began to fill the air. I think that faint snatches aren't going to fill the air. The road Thom walked ran its winding course this is awkward through the low hills that rolled across this the land. The little birds and little insects that had kept him company for so long had left him as he came further and further into the hills of the north. All life had fled before the plague. This last sentence is effective and attention-catching.

His destination was still out of sight. The road went around hills rather than over them in a mess of turns and roundabouts. There were great humps of yellow grass between him and the coming mile of road, and so the town of Lewis remained hidden. All that told him that it was near was the soft music. I think this paragraph could be eliminated.

As Thom made his way along the meandering road north, the music grew louder and more distinct. He could soon make out the tune. It was a quiet song with little rises and falls, much like the land through which he walked. He smiled at the fit.

It was late in the afternoon when he came to a tunnel boring through a large hill. The hill was tall and wide, stretching away on either side so that he could not see its ends. There were patches of bare, sharp red stone cutting up out from the grasses that grew long on the steep slopes. The tunnel was not much taller than a mounted man and wide enough for a wagon and was long enough that Thom could not see through to its other end. The music that had grown louder and louder as he had traveled north was coming through the hole in the hill with such force that the man could feel it beat at his chest. This is wordy and slow. Perhaps omit most of it.

Thom stood regarding the tunnel for a moment. He took a breath and entered the hole before him. Perhaps omit this. With nothing to light his way, Thom walked on with care. He was soon in complete darkness. One hand trailed over the rough walls as the other searched out before him. The tunnel was straight and well made and so the going was not difficult. Not difficult Perhaps omit this repetition save for the pounding of the music, which shook the walls and set Thom’s ears to ringing. After a handful of minutes this makes the reader stop and try to figure it out. a soft light began to glow up ahead. Thom’s steps grew more and more confident the closer he came to the end. This whole incident of the tunnel is boring.

The tunnel opened a little ways Not sure about this word up from the floor of a large valley. The slopes slope? of the hill rose high behind him and stretched around before to circle the whole of the basin. The sun sat low, nearly touching the tops of the walls of the valley. Its golden light lit reword the scene that rolled away from Thom. How about omitting the low sun nearly touching the etc.Low stone fences split the land into small, vaguely square plots. Each was a garden of green and was looked after the cottages look after something? by a small stone cottage that sat in a corner of each little farm. A road led from the tunnel out of which Thom had just come not sure you need this and wound through the farmland, snaking around the valley several times to touch each parcel. In the middle of this stood a town, a cluster of taller stone buildings. These formed a circle around a huge stone embedded in the ground, jutting up to rise high above the packed earth of the bare area around its base. All of this description is not very interesting. It needs tightening.

Against this massive stone leaned Lewis. He, like the other gods Thom had seen, was an enormous figure. Even sitting cross legged as he did a bit awkward, his head reached the top of the huge boulder against which his back rested. also awkward In his lap he had a guitar that he played with slow picking fingers and lingering touches of the frets. There was something so omit easy and careless in the way he played. The music he made was as easy and careless. The thudding in the tunnel had been caused by some quality of the stone walls. Here in the open it was as pleasant as it had been on the road leading north.

The walk along the path took Thom round and round, passing all of the small homesteads that lay scattered around You used round and round just before, this around is a bit repetitious the valley. As he made his way along, he noted that the gardens were untended and choked with weeds. The cottages were in the beginnings of disrepair as well. Doors swung on moaning hinges and there was no sign of life in his glimpses inside. The sun had sunk below the hilltops before Thom had come half the way. As the light of the sun died, another sun (?) could be seen in the center of the basin, the bright, limited light of a large fire. His progress took him around the far side of the boulder in the midst of the town and blocked the firelight. After a few minutes of walking, it showed again. This long slow trek is not very interesting.

He found himself before the town proper as the last of the colors in the sky yielded to the dark blue of night. The road led straight through, though branches reached out here and there. Past the last of the buildings before the open space in their center sat Lewis, intent on his instrument, face lit by the flickering of the flames before him. At his feet were scores of people situated around the bonfire. The town folk sat rapt, staring up at their god playing his music. Their heads bobbed with the tune and some tapped their hands or feet. Thom started forward, picking his way through the seated figures. He looked down at their upturned faces as he passed and saw on them the masks of ecstasy of the swooning. "he" is used many times, and it causes the reader to stumble figuring out which "he" is meant.

Thom stopped in the midst of the audience. Turning around, he looked at all these people in worship. Dropping his head, he walked with care back the way he had come. When he reached the buildings once again, Thom entered through the first broken door. The room was dark save the bar of dancing red light that lay across the floor and led back out the entrance. A few broken pieces of furniture lay where they had been left. There was an apple far gone in rot near the remains of a table. Thom moved to the corner and curled up on the floor to go to sleep.

Morning was stealing into the room when he woke. There was still much gray in the light that eased through the bare maybe another word here- open? doorway. Thom smoothed his clothes before going out.

He first noticed that the people gathered around the fire were still where he had left them the night before, though lying in sleep or only just rousing from it. All that remained of the fire was a circle of black ash and burnt wood. Lewis sat with his guitar. As the sun rose, the god’s playing seemed to pick up all the different colors and sights revealed by the brightening morning. The life and feeling that came into the music with these changes in the valley woke more and more of those worshipping at the feet of their god. Thom frowned.

He came to the edges of the gathered people. His eyes wandered across the crowd, searching for something. He stood for near nearly an hour before a figure, dressed in the same dark uniform Thom wore, came out from behind the boulder and made his way to stand between Lewis and the worshippers. He carried a small wooden crate. When he had set it down in a spot where the mass of town folk could watch, he took a deep breath and climbed atop it. The figure looked out over the people. There seemed something so tired and beaten about him. Thom began to walk toward this man, whose face lit up when he noticed. He hopped off of the little pedestal and rushed to meet Thom.

When the two had come close enough, they embraced. Thom held the other out at arms distance for a moment. He studied his face and posture. “Jeod. You look tired.”

Jeod smiled a weak little smile. “I am. So tired. Come. I have some food and wine in my room.” He turned to lead Thom.

“Don’t you have something to do, Jeod?” He cast a glance at the crate before the crowd.

“They don’t listen. Haven’t heard a word I’ve said since I brought news of the plague. We can talk when we have a bowl of stew and a little drink before us.” Jeod made another attempt at smiling before setting off around the boulder.

“Why do you live so far from these people,” Thom asked as the two walked.

“I can’t bear to be near them. You see they’re swooning.” They are fainting?

“Of course. Even in the face of that, you should not neglect your duties.” There was the same matter of fact tone in this criticism as had been in everything that Thom had said. Jeod shrugged.

Thom fell silent and followed his guide to the edges of the town. Jeod led him into a small house. Inside were a bed and a little table and a couple of chairs. Heaped in the corner were a few casks and a number of sacks full of lumps. Burning coals sat in the hearth, an iron pot hung inches above them. There was a nice smell in the room. The structure of a couple of the sentences is weak. Instead of "inside were" and "Heaped in the corner were" a more active description might be more effective. "nice smell" - instead of this explain why it is nice, what is nice about it.

As Jeod checked the pot, stirring it with a wooden spoon a couple times, Thom took a seat in one of the chairs and watched. Jeod turned to look at him and smiled. This time it came easier as he filled two beaten copper cups on the table. Thom could not help but return it.

“The food will be ready in a little while. I thought I’d be longer in the square.” Jeod sighed and sat down across from Thom. He took a long drink. Thom did the same. ”It’s been so long since I’ve spoken with anyone. It’s good to see you, Thom.”

“It’s good to see you as well. I must say that I am not pleased that it must be here though.” Thom stared at Jeod. There was no edge in his voice, but that his point was clear could be seen in Jeod’s face.

“It’s not my fault. Went swooning on me.” (what or who went swooning?)

“How did it happen?”

Jeod got up and paced, one hand rubbing at his worried face. “I don’t know. I came to town and told the people of the coming plague. Told them it was coming and that safety could be found in the south.”

“What else?”

Jeod swallowed. “Well, a few asked if they would truly be safe. I couldn’t lie to them. I told them that the south would only be safe for a while, that it’d be bought time more than anything else, but that we would find a way to keep the plague at bay. Then some of the older folk told the people that only Lewis could keep them safe, that no heathen could. I thought it’d come to nothing. There are always some who curse us. You know that. So I left them to their decision. Went to the inn and slept. When I woke that morning, there they were, swooning like something out of the stories.” Jeod looked at Thom with worry. “Did I do something wrong? Is it my fault?”

Thom smiled in reassurance. “It cannot be that you caused the first mass swooning in hundreds of years. Don’t take this upon yourself.” The smile faded and his face grew serious. “What is important now is to do something about it. The plague can’t be far. I haven’t seen a moving thing for near a week.”

Jeod sat and leaned close to Thom. “It can be seen from the top of the north hill.”

Thom seemed taken aback. “So close? Show me.”

The two cut across the fields, hopping the low fences and trudging through rich soil and thick growth on their way to the northern hillside. It was midmorning when the pair had crested the hill. Thom took a sharp breath at the sight.

The hills ran bare of anything but grass and stone for a mile before the plague, a black mass, writhing and bubbling like boiling oil. It stretched off to the right and to the left further than either man could see. Behind it there was nothing. The plague devoured even the hills. Only blasted grey wastes remained in its wake.

“How long?” Thom’s voice was a whisper.

“Well, I first saw it about a week ago. I didn’t catch it right away. Another few days, I suppose.”

“I’d never seen it. I’d never been sent to a place so close to it.”

“I cried myself to sleep when I first saw it. There’s no hope, you know. No one could move those people out of their swooning. Not me. Not you, Thom. Gods, not even Josu come back from the dead. We’ll die here.”

Thom stood watching the plague for a long moment before mumbling, “Let’s go back.”

Jeod nodded and turned to lead the way back to his house.

Thom ate little of the stew Jeod had made. He dipped the spoon into the rich broth and traced designs, the trails remaining for a second before the thick liquid filled them in. Jeod said nothing as he ate. When he had finished, he looked at Thom for a long moment before leaving. Thom didn’t look up.

Giving up on eating, Thom sat back in his chair. He stared out the window that looked north. He stared for a long time. His face was still. His body was still. There was nothing but this unnatural stillness to suggest what he might be feeling and thinking. Changes in the light and the colors in the room as the day passed went unnoticed. The light was fading when he finally got up out of his seat.

It was a strange sight that awaited him in the square. The town folk were milling about, bumping into each other as they stumbled like brainless toddlers. Jeod sat defeated on his little crate. Thom stood behind him and placed his hand on his shoulder. Jeod looked up.

“What’s this?” There was a little bit of hope in Thom’s voice.

“They are going to get wood for tonight’s fire. The swooning seems to take all sense from them, so it takes them a while to figure out how to get around.”

Thom nodded. Following those who had disentangled themselves from the confusion brought Thom into the shaded streets of the town proper. The sounds of cracks and crashes both near and far came floating out of the open doors and windows. Bodies moving without thought wandered from building to building, emerging with bundles of wood.

People were filtering in through the streets that led back to the square when Thom returned to Jeod. The town folk all had broken pieces of furniture. These were dropped, one person after another, in the circle of black where the fire was built every night. After all of the wood had been gathered, a large pile of broken chairs and tables, the people sat around it, looking up at their god.

Soon the sun vanished behind the hills. Lewis struck a discordant note. As the strange note rang out, the heap of wood burst into flames. The fire burned so brightly as the echoes of that note hung over the square. Then, as the echoes died, the fire settled into a more natural burn.

Jeod turned and started back to the cottage. Thom followed, deep in thought. When they finally came to the house, Thom had made up his mind. He sat down and gestured for Jeod to do the same. Jeod filled his cup with wine first and took a long drink. “What’re we going to do?”

Thom scratched at the stubble on his chin. “You’re going south.”

Jeod tried to hide the light that came to his face. “What?”

“You were right. There is little chance of breaking this swooning. It wouldn’t matter if every heathen in the Sans were here. I have a better chance than you do, but that chance is made no better or worse by your presence here. If this town is to be devoured, it might as well be with as few of us here as possible.”

“I cannot leave my post, though. If these people die, I am to die with them.” Jeod made this statement with a tone that betrayed that it was a token. Thom couldn’t help but smile.

“Would you disobey my orders?”

Jeod drained his cup. “Are you sure about this?” Thom nodded. “I’ll be gone in the morning.”

“Good. Tell the Sans of the failure here. I’ll give you something with my seal so that there are no… misunderstandings.”

Jeod fell to his knees in front of Thom and kissed the ring he wore. “Thank you, Thom. Thank you.”

It was early in the morning when Thom woke. He sat at the table eating some cold stew that had been left over. Jeod snored on the floor. Thom watched him sleep, a blank look on his face. When the bowl was empty, he nudged his side with his boot. Jeod was slow in coming out of his slumber. A face still fogged with sleep stared at Thom. “Time to go.”

The two stepped out of the cottage into the bright morning. The trip along the edges of the town to the place where the road met the settlement was made in silence. Jeod struggled under the weight of the bag across his shoulder and they had to stop now and then so that the burden could be adjusted. At the skirts of the town, Thom and Jeod embraced briefly.

“Good luck, Thom.” A smile touched Jeod’s lips. Thom nodded, unable to bring one to his own. “I’ll tell the Sans of your courage.” He clapped Thom on the arm. “I’ll tell my wife, too. She’ll be even more grateful.”

“Goodbye, Jeod.” There was a note of finality in Thom’s voice.

A pained look came across Jeod’s face. “Goodbye, Thom.”

Thom watched Jeod go for a few moments. With his head down, he turned away and made for the center of town.

The following days were spent on that little crate before the swooning mass of town folk. Thom stood before them, breaking as little as his body demanded food and sleep. He worked every angle his time at the Sans and in the field had taught him. He attacked the gods, laid out their failings for the people to see. He painted the people as victims of mean, petty, powerless beings. He called on every picture of suffering and death that had touched their lives and the grander ones of the coming plague. He told them of the advances the Sans had made since coming out from under the gods and told them of its power to stop the coming plague. In all of this he used every bit of rhetorical cunning that laid in his heart and mind. From early in the morning to late in the night he talked. He slept little, tossing and turning.

On the morning that he saw that the plague had reached the crest of the hill surrounding the valley, had indeed started to crawl down its face, Thom broke down and wept. He wept for a long time. When he finally pulled himself together, he made his way to the square and began his speech.

He looked up at Lewis during a point of emphasis on the god. Suddenly he stopped talking. Abandoning his unhearing audience, Thom hopped off the crate and walked to the boulder. He ran his hand over the surface, looking up at the stone and the god who rested against it.

A brief moment of doubt washed over Thom. He took a breath to regain his composure. He began to climb the great stone. There were many footholds, the surface rough and ragged. He made his way carefully up the boulder. The going was difficult and slow, but he kept on. After long minutes he was above the tallest of the town’s buildings. Soon he was atop the flat summit of the miniature mountain. Facing north, he could see the barren land left behind the plague. The skies themselves seemed to have dimmed in its wake. Thom turned and approached the bobbing golden head of the god. His ear was almost level with the platform on which Thom stood. Kneeling down beside the giant ear, Thom pleaded with Lewis.

“These people will die. That is certain. You know as well as I do that if you continue to hold them, the plague will come and take them as it has everything else. I know the gods. I know that begging like this will do nothing. It is in fact against everything I have learned. I am beyond caring. I care only for these people. People you could save if you just let them go. Please. I don’t want to see them die. And if asking you like this, a heathen on his knees before a god, will move you, could possibly move you, then I must try. It is my last hope. Please.”

Lewis did not change his tune, did not change the bobbing of his head, and his people showed no signs of breaking from the swooning. Thom laid down on the top of the stone and whispered, “please, please, please,” over and over again. He whispered until his throat grew raw and his voice croaked. He whispered into the night until sleep came and stole the words form his mouth.

Clacking, like the feet of a horde of giant insects crawling across stone, woke Thom in the middle of the night. He crawled over to the edge and looked over to see the mass of black writhing and roiling as it climbed the stone on which he had slept. The buildings to the north, and the farms beyond, and the hill beyond that, all were gone. Only grey earth remained. The fire lit the blackness with insane flickering red and orange, the plague shining in the light. On the god’s side of the stone, the plague had wrapped around and washed toward the people swooning at his feet. The plague moved so swiftly now that it had tasted life. Thom watched, helpless. As the plague rolled over the first of the town folk, Thom groaned in defeat and sank to his stomach. He could not look away. As it continued up the stone, the plague also surged forward over more of the people. Not once did the music Lewis played change. It kept its lilting melody.

The plague soon flowed past the first of the people it had devoured. As the blackness crept on, it revealed that first town folk, still sitting and staring up at his god. Unhurt despite all the devastation around him, the sight brought Thom to his feet. Already the plague had come most of the way up the stone. Before it reached him, the advancing plague revealed more and more of the town folk, all unharmed as if nothing had happened. There was nothing left around them, but they remained. Thom fell to his knees at the sight. Then the blackness grabbed at his legs and pulled him under.

There was a great deal of pain. Then nothing.


You have done a fine job of showing the hopelessness and depair and destruction. The grim tone. The basic idea is well presented. I'd suggest chopping out about a third of it if you can. Nice work!

Welcome to Speculative Vision! Since you are new here, I should mention that I hope you aren't offended by my comments above. If I didn't like the story I wouldn't have spent so much time going over it. I am sure that other writers here would benefit by your comments on their stories.

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Postby angolafool » Wed Mar 07, 2007 5:32 pm

Thank you for the comments. I think part of the problem in the first section of the story, the part on which you commented most, is that I spent a little too much time trying to paint the picture. I could see each moment as I wrote it, and I might have fallen in love with what I saw rather than the words and structure used. After looking at your notes I see that strong description is still something I need to address. I felt good about the piece, and I still do, but the points you mentioned seem correct and are a little humbling. I appreciate the humbling, though. And I do think that the story would benefit from a tighter opening.

About the swooning. I see that you mention it a couple times and then not at all. Is this because it becomes clear? Or is it because you didn't feel a need to continue mentioning it? If it does become clear, do you still think that there needs to be some clarification when it is first introduced? I thought about capitals, but I wasn't sure if that'd be hack or not.

Again, Thanks.
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Postby Bmat » Wed Mar 07, 2007 6:01 pm

You are welcome.

I certainly did not mean for you to be humbled. You are a good writer. I felt sorry for Thom. I wonder, if all is devastation around the people, will they be able to survive now? - no shelter, no food? Or was the point that already they did not need food or shelter?

I never quite figured out about swooning. I'd think that capitalizing might help. Or coming up with a different word. Or not. :)

Something else I wonder about, I think of "folk" as being plural, yet you used it in the singular near the end of the story.
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Postby clknaps » Thu Mar 15, 2007 3:34 am

angolafool - Hi and welcome to the forum!

Bmat covered most of what I would have said. Please don't be humbled, you are doing well, and the only way to improve is write, write, and then write. :)

In the opening you do a lot of "telling" rather than "showing." I am guilty of this as well. Pull the description into your action and dialog more.

I too didn't get the swooning.


Thom ate little of the stew Jeod had made. He dipped the spoon into the rich broth and traced designs, the trails remaining for a second before the thick liquid filled them in. Jeod said nothing as he ate. When he had finished, he looked at Thom for a long moment before leaving. Thom didn’t look up.

This was my favorite paragraph of the story, I think you really nailed it here. It was visual and flawless. Just my opinion.

Overall I think you are doing well, I would like to read more.

Thank you for sharing this with us! CLK
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Postby angolafool » Fri Mar 16, 2007 6:45 pm

Sorry I haven't looked in on this. Started a new job.

The people don't need food or shelter anymore.

The swooning confusion is probably caused by poor word choice on my part. It is a word used to denote a specific thing in the story. Since it has meaning and usage outside of the story, people bring all that to the word in the story and there is confusion. My fault. The swooning in the story is a phenomenon where a person loses all sense of self and thought in a god. Sort of like the goal of devotional Hinduism or something.

I don't mean that I was humbled in a bad way. I just mean that I'd gotten a little carried away with what I thought I'd be able to do with the story and posting it here and having your comments sort of cleared my head in a way. Thank you for the support, though. Appreciate it.
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