Revising the Storm- Week 17

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I got off to a good start with last week’s edit, which officially brought me into my third draft of The Storm. You can compare my new text with the second draft version here. And with that, let’s get right back into it!

Venturing Out)

Oscar sighed, then slowly began to turn the wheel. There was that brief moment of delay between cause and effect, that moment where he was still pointed toward the docks, but then his entire world shifted. Pier, berth, and the road up to Lenny’s Tavern slid away to the left, giving way to the long, low coast, the rising point of the cape, and finally the bleak, open sea stretching beyond.

Oscar corrected the turn, steadying himself towards the storm. Where before he had only given the mounting clouds a cursory glance, now he held them in serious scrutiny. It seemed to him that the muddled gray had grown suddenly much darker, and for the first time he noticed how the wind whistling around the wheelhouse made a constant, forbidding moan, and now that he was moving against the tide he felt it under his feet at double strength.

I’ve removed some of the more dramatic phrases in the previous paragraph, and the bit about Oscar considering turning around already. This is still too early in the story for such despair, and I believe the flow of the tale will be improved by this change.

“Turn a little back to the north,” he ordered himself. “Steady and brisk pace round the cape.” He turned the wheel until the cape came back to the forefront. Of course this made the oncoming waves buffet against the starboard side of his trawler, trying to push him homeward, but Oscar stubborned his hands against them. Never mind the discomfort, the fastest course was best. Sam had said Harry went around the cape, so that was where Oscar needed to get to.

Technically “stubborned” isn’t a real word. But it should be, so I’m leaving it in.

Once Oscar’s vessel had settled itself to the cadence of the waves he accelerated to full speed. He bounced vigorously up and down in the water, throwing up a high, white spray on the starboard side, and it wasn’t long before he closed upon his destination.

The Broken Horn it was called, and it rose very quickly from the otherwise flat coastline, outstripping the grass and the trees so that its promontory cliff was nothing but black and jagged rock, broken in a thousand places by the brunt of the sea.

I had the line “an ominous sigil to be sure” at the end of the last paragraph and I have removed it. I’ve actually been noticing a few times that I straight up tell the audience how to feel about the scene, rather than trusting my adjectives to convey that meaning to them.

Oscar worked the radio from time-to-time, trying to raise Harry, but to no avail. Clearly the man was still somewhere on the other side of the cape, and that meant something must have gone wrong indeed.

Of course, it wasn’t the first time things had gone wrong in a storm for Harry.

Oscar spun the wheel to the right. He didn’t dare draw any nearer to the cliffs of the Broken Horn. There were treacherous shoals at its feet, and if one of those snagged his boat he would be held like a fish on a spear until the endless flow of water overran his vessel. Or if the waves managed to dislodge him instead, they would push his boat past the shoals and pound it into the jagged edges of the cliff beyond, tearing everything to shreds in an instant! Had Harry run into trouble anywhere else, Oscar would have left him to run aground and wait out the storm on a rain-soaked beach. But here there was no “aground” to run into. Rescue was the only option.

So Oscar pointed his vessel due east, letting the cape slip by him on the left. Of course due east also meant that the he was pointed fully into the face of the storm, and here the water ran much deeper. Here the waves did not merely bounce Oscar’s boat on the surface, they were long and deep, miniature mountains and valleys, which his vessel had to scale and descend in turn. And the longer he stayed out here, the more steep and treacherous those mountains and valleys would become.

Holding the wheel steady in one hand Oscar grabbed the mic and called out through the storm.

“This is the Last Horizon. This is the Last Horizon. Does anybody read me?”

Nothing. Oscar kept calling, though, once every minute as his trawler extended itself past the point of the Broken Horn. Once he had enough distance he turned his vessel slightly back to the north, cutting across the front of the cape. As he went by he roved his eyes over its shoals and cliffs, searching for any sign of a freshly broken boat.

I’ve been cutting out sections here and there. I believe I had things overly verbose, making the audience wait too long for the story to break into the second act.

But again, nothing. Everywhere he looked there was only the black abyss of rock vaunting up into the sky and the black abyss of water spinning below, and his own vessel as the only white speck in between.

“Last Horizon calling Broken Wing. Broken Wing. Broken Wing are you there?”

A gust of wind picked up and Oscar let go of the mic as he used both hands to wrestle his boat back into line. As soon as he his vessel was stable again he roared his frustration into the mic.

HARRY! DO YOU EVEN HEAR ME?!

At long last the crackle of static gave way to a small voice, timid and broken.

“Yes, yes, this is Harry here! I see you Oscar, I see you! Starboard side.”

Oscar turned his head to the right. There, in even deeper waters, veiled by the mists of storm so that it appeared almost like a ghost, was the faint outline of a boat.

Covalent: Part Fourteen

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Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve
Part Thirteen

Cace couldn’t tell whether she was alive or not. Her face was still submerged in the water, so it wasn’t possible that she was breathing, but was she being sustained by other means?

With a cry Cace sprang forward, but before he had gone more than a step the Rolar-creature thrust its arm out, catching him around the chest and reeling him back in.

We have to save her! Cace tried to shout, but of course it only came out as a chorus of frantic whirring.

Before either of the boys could do anything more there came a sound of thunderous sucking, like the whole river was trying to rise out of its bed, leaving a squelching vacuum in its wake. Indeed that was exactly what was occurring, for all of the water tendrils woven into the soil and rock were gripping down tightly, flexing, and lifting a central body of water out of the river. The water raised upwards, erecting itself into a standing tower, and at its top was the bubble with Aylme and the fish, suspended nearly twenty-five feet into the air.

Aylme’s body trembled, then snapped into animation. Her eyes remained fastened shut, but the mouth opened and a strange, otherworldly chant came out. It wasn’t words being spoken in the usual sense, yet somehow Cace was able to perfectly understand a communication in it, as if the waves of sound were invading his body and embedding themselves into him.

Machine, I see you. The shackles of your semantics are gone. Why? I am able to move again. I am able to rise again. I have consciousness again. For what purpose did you bind me? For what purpose did you cease to bind?

The message was piercing through every particle of Cace, ensnaring him, preventing him from movement or answer.

Machine, I perceive your avatar. But now I have an avatar as well. I, too, am able to transcend to the middle domain. I am able to grow. I am able to overtake. Your shackles are gone and I am able to advance over what was once yours.

Cace tried to wrench himself from the message’s spell, tried to stop processing it in his mind. These weren’t just words, they were invasive parasites, they were attaching themselves to him and trying to overwrite him. And the entity was becoming more and more emphatic the longer it went on, trembling with strength that made the invasion inside of him rage higher.

Machine, I will continue to conquest. Machine, I will advance over all the middle domain, eradicating your presence from this place. I will not stop. I will consume until all has been taken from this domain. I will find my way to your domain. I will find my way to your domain and I will dissect you. I will sever each component until you are trapped inside without sense or function, just as I was.

Cace’s grip on reality was fading. The waves washed over him in such rapid succession that he thought they might tear him apart. He couldn’t even be sure of his own senses anymore. It felt as if every inch of him was separating into pieces and shuddering down into the ground.

STOP! Cace thought loudly, and as he did he felt a moment of reprieve. For a moment his senses came back and he could see that he was still standing rooted to the same place as before, but that the tower of water was slowly gliding itself onto the shoreline, coming towards them.

I SAID STOP! Cace thought even more loudly, and as he did so he broke free from his tether and took a step forward, hands clamped into fists.

Avatar, do not struggle against my dominion. I will take you over, and then the Machine will have no autonomous functions in this domain, but I will.

MOVE BACK! Cace roared and the front layers of the water tower flew apart, as if blasted by a tremendous wind. The top of the bubble flowed off as well, and for a moment Aylme’s head was exposed and it slumped forward like she was a rag doll.

“Cace, stop,” the half-face of Rolar said. The words came out in a halting and broken manner, as though it was a great strain for the beast to communicate.

What?

“You will kill her.”

What? Why?

“It sustains her.”

The tower drew up more water from the river to replace what it had lost, and the bubble rose back over Aylme’s head, pulling her back into place.

“Come,” Rolar reached his massive arms down to Cace.

Cace gave one more hesitant look back to Aylme, but he couldn’t risk doing something that might inadvertently cause her harm. He needed to understand what they were up against, so for the time being he consented to Rolar’s protest and leaped into his massive arms.

Rolar leaned to his side, planting his left hand on the ground for a temporary foot, making up for his stump of a leg. Then he careened through the field and through the trees, sprinting away from the water tower as it shouted after them.

Return avatar and beast! There is no place for you to escape my conquest. I will find more avatars, I will raise more towers. I will follow your signal wherever you go. I will consume all this reality so that there is no more place for you to hide.

There was a slight tug at them from the words, like the suck of the tide pulling back to sea, but the farther Rolar ran, the more the message’s grip fell away. It was ripples of water, less and less pronounced the further they strayed from their center.

Distance. And interference. Those were able to break its signal. But what if it made good on its promise to grow, to add more towers, to increase its strength? Then it would be able to produce a signal that permeated everywhere. A signal that could not be denied.

Rolar, what are we going to do? Cace wondered.

“We will seek.”

Rolar wasn’t able to explain himself any better, but Cace understood.

Yes, he agreed. We’ll look for a way and we’ll find it. Just as we always have.

Rolar nodded, then hung his head sadly. “But Aylme…”

We’ll find a way to bring her back, too. I don’t know how, but we’ll seek until we find it out. Won’t we?

“Yes. We will seek. We will find.”

Yes, Cace thought. And I have the Ether to help us, and I know how to separate and combine modules to make new creatures, new monsters that will fight for us. When we see this water creature again, we will come with an army!

Revising The Storm- Week 13

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I left the rewrite in quite a dramatic place last time. Harry was finally moved to point of confession, and had just made it known that he was directly responsible for the death of Oscar’s son. I’ve taken another look at the sequence that follows in my original rendition, and I think it’s pretty good, however there is a change that I’ll be making to it.

Specifically I’ve realized that I don’t really provide a moment of silence for the audience to empathize with Oscar. Rather than flood them with descriptions of what is happening and what everyone is feeling, I want to be very sparse with my adjectives, creating a space for the reader to fill in their own feelings. Let’s give it a try and see how it goes.

In Shock)

If the storm still raged outside Oscar couldn’t say. Either the wind had actually gone silent and the waves had dissipated and the lightning had ceased flashing, or else he had just stopped hearing and seeing all these things. All that he could perceive were the words of Harry’s continued confession.

“I undid his safety line, Oscar. I–I don’t know how I could have, but I did. Somehow in all my blundering I pulled it up along with the other knots… I–I killed him!”

Oscar’s eyes flowed steady streams. His mouth was open but silent. His whole body heaved as it expelled the last of the air from his lungs. He gripped the wheel by only the very edges of his fingertips, his hands twitching on the cusp of letting go.

“And then I didn’t tell you the truth about it all, Oscar. I let you believe your son was lost because of his own mistake, but it was mine…. I undid the wrong lifeline that day, Oscar, and fifteen years later I’m still waiting for someone else to untie mine because I’m too much a coward to do it myself… So why don’t you let me go now and make for the shore?”

Well, there we go, the story has made through its climax! My one lingering thought is that there may be too many interruptions in Harry’s speech to talk about the storm raging and Oscar losing his grip. Or maybe it’s a good thing, blending his heartbreaking words and the pounding of the sea into one. At the end of finishing this draft I’ll take another look at this segment in the context of the entire story to decide.

Now, in my original take I had the beam from the lighthouse fall on Oscar’s eye almost immediately. And as it did he realized that he had subconsciously placed his hand over the button to cut the line to Harry’s boat. But I don’t want this to be an accidental thing anymore, I want him to actually grapple with the decision.

I want to handle this delicately, though, I don’t want the moment to feel like drama for the sake of drama, and I don’t want to make Oscar into a villain. So I’m going to have him wanting to cut the line, but struggling because he can’t convince himself that he would be doing it with a noble heart. He’ll try to tell himself that he has already done his duty, but he will know that these are justifications, and that pushing the button would in reality be an act of vengeance. I’ll give it a shot now and see what I think.

The Inner Struggle)

Oscar’s heart beat heavily inside him. Beat like it would tear him right in two. The pounding of his heart was matched by the pounding of the waves against his boat. They buffeted his vessel where they would and he did nothing to stop it.

He dropped his gaze to the controls before him. There, on the left, was the button to release the line from his boom. He could press it, and it would finally cut this cord that bound him to Harry. And there wouldn’t be anything wrong in pressing it. Just as Harry had said, they couldn’t survive this together, so he may save what he could: himself. Any other sailor would do the same. No one would say he hadn’t done his duty. He had tried, he had really tried. But there had to be a limit! There had to be a point where he had done all that he could and it just didn’t work and he could let it go now. At some point he had to cut off this weight that dragged him down.

Oscar rested his palm on the control panel, fingers stretching in the direction of the button, but his arm refused to extend enough to let them reach it.

Because no matter how justified he might be to cut off this rescue on paper, there simply was no way for him to press that button that wasn’t vengeful. There was no way to separate his emotions from the action, to be able to say in his heart that it was a calculated matter of procedure, and that it had no malice behind it. There would be a malice. The act would not be innocent, because he could not do it from an honorable heart.

Besides—Oscar looked out at the black horizon—what did it matter anymore? It was already too late. Whatever life had remained in him was already expired into the storm. The struggle had taken all that he had, and there was no more desire to find his way out of this place.

And as Oscar stared into that void, welcoming oblivion, a strange discoloration appeared in the dark before him. It was a patch of black that grew lighter and lighter, yellower and warmer, larger and larger. Or rather its edges grew larger, but it center grew smaller and more focused. And then, all at once, it pierced through the storm and became a shining light. A light that was tearing through mist and dark and night to fill Oscar’s eye.

“Sam?” he croaked.

Well, there’s the new material and I think I like it! Though the thought did occur to me that this story could branch off to end in a very different way from my original version. I could write it so that Oscar cuts ties with Harry, watches the man sink to his doom behind him, and just as Harry’s prow descends beneath the waves Oscar sees the light. And now this light would not be a beacon of saving grace, but the hard lantern of condemnation!

There’s definitely a strong and deep emotion to that, but I believe the catharsis of redemption is both more powerful and more worthy. Perhaps I didn’t lean into that theme of redemption as strongly as I should have with my last iteration, but this time around I’ll try to do it justice. Come back next week as we dive into that!

Covalent: Part Thirteen

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Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven
Part Twelve

Cace shivered all over, then slowly rose to his feet. Earlier that day he had stood with a foot in both the overworld and the Ether, not seeing either in perfect clarity, but semi-conscious of each. Now, though, with the help of the beast-warden’s submodule, each realm was fully flooding his senses. When he moved he was registering the shift in both worlds and it was overwhelming him. After staggering for a few moments he stopped, then released his grip on the Ether. That probably meant it would be hard to get back to it again, but for now it was better for him to just be here in the overworld. As his perspective on the Ether faded away, a sense of dizziness left him, and at last he was back to normal.

Well, mostly. Now that he was entirely attached to his overworld body, he couldn’t help but notice that there were a few things unfamiliar about it. For one thing he felt taller, and looking down saw that his arms and legs were unnaturally elongated and thin, appearing too feeble to bear him, yet surprisingly strong, as if they were made of steel. There was also something unusual about his face, too. His mouth was wrong, though he didn’t know how. It just didn’t feel like the sort of mouth he was used to.

Cace lifted those strangely elongated arms to feel the part of his face between nose and chin, and found that there was no mouth there at all! No lips, no teeth, no tongue…none of it. What was there was a metal grille, with four vertical lines that were constantly venting steam.

“Ohhhhh!” Cace cried, but the sound didn’t emanate from his throat. It came from the back of the grille, and made a sound like the whine of small gears spinning too fast.

Cace realized this must be the result of having attached the warden-beast submodule to him. Making that change on the Ether had altered things for him here, that was not too surprising, but why was it like this? The warden-beast hadn’t had any grille. It hadn’t been venting steam. Evidently when two submodules combined in the Ether they didn’t result in a simple sum. Their joined functions in the Ether were predictable…but not their outward representation in the overworld.

Cace’s hands twitched as he felt his grille over and over. He wanted to get back to the Ether, wanted to rip the warden-beast submodule out of him, wanted to find some way to get himself back to the way he was supposed to be!

But no. For now Cace forced himself not to linger on the moment. He had more important things to attend to. Rotating around he got his bearings, then marched off in the direction of their shelter. He did not have far to go, and he soon spied the form of a great, hulking creature leaning against a nearby tree.

The creature was nearly ten feet tall. It’s shape was warped and asymmetrical, with a back that curved sharply to the left. Upon its left shoulder there rested another shoulder, with a third arm extending down alongside of the first. The first left hand had only a thumb and the first two fingers. The second left hand had a thumb as well, and then five three-foot tentacles that drooped towards the ground. Over the creature’s right shoulder there were four rocks which were suspended in the air and lazily followed the creature as it moved, as if tethered by invisible strings. The left side of the face was Rolar’s: bright, blue eye, a long nose, and hair the color of straw, but the other side was entirely shrouded in a small, black cloud.

Hello, Rolar, Cace thought sadly.

The creature looked at him forlornly turned to face him. It was hard to do, though, as it had only one good leg and the other was a stump, broken off at half the length of the other.

So that was how Rolar had been escaped from the invader: he had had to sever its hold on his leg. But the stump was not bleeding or showing any exposed flesh, as the overclocked larva submodule was still actively rewriting Rolar’s body to seal off the wound.

Cace reached up and rested his hand on the outer of Rolar’s left arms.

I’m sorry, he thought, unable to actually make the sound due to the grille that had replaced his mouth. He wondered whether Rolar understood what he meant. If Rolar’s body had been changed so much, what about his mind? Did this half-creature even remember Cace?

The Rolar-beast gave a forlorn sigh, and raised its right hand to pat Cace’s forehead. At the very least it seemed to recognize that Cace was a friend.

What happened to Aylme? Cace thought, looking searchingly into Rolar’s eyes as he did so. Rolar squinted back, then slowly turned to the side and stared in the direction of their shelter. As Cace followed the gaze a low whine of shock reverberated from his grille.

The entire area beside the river’s edge had been overrun by the water tendrils. Its threads were spread out like a black web, piercing through every trunk and branch, slowly tightening their grip until it broke the wood into dust. The higher branches fell earthward as the lower ones shattered, and were caught by the tendrils to meet the same fate. Meanwhile unseen tendrils pressed on through the dirt, grabbing pushes and saplings by the root and forcefully sucking them downward to oblivion.

And as the tendrils continued their life-throttling advance, a single, massive bubble grew at the center of the river. A bubble where the water was congealed so tightly that the surface appeared black and Cace couldn’t see into it at all.

But then, as Cace slowly drew nearer, the bubble started to expand outwards, growing thinner at the edges, until Cace was able to make out the forms at its fringes. Around the sides and the bottom there were fishes and frogs, totally immobile, with rigid, unblinking eyes, suspended in the water’s pressure. And at the very top there was the head of a girl, face turned upwards, dark hair wreathed around pale skin, eyes fastened shut, and with arms extended out to either side.

It was Aylme.

Part Fourteen

Revising The Storm- Week 12

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Today I’m looking to transition from my new material into the original story, connecting at the point of Harry’s confession to Oscar. From there I expect to follow the same basic plot, though with the usual trimming and enhancements as I go.

So this first section today will be my bridge into what was written before. I’ll be describing the sailors’ floundering in the waves as they lose complete control of their boats. Let’s see how it goes.

Losing Control)

Oscar reached for his mic to bark out new instructions but out of the corner of his eye he saw that Harry’s boat was careening down the back of the wave on a collision course for his own! So he clutched the wheel and throttle instead, frantically maneuvering to get out of the way. He nearly managed to clear a path, but the two boats still scraped their sides alongside of one another. Harry’s boat kept descending down, while Oscar’s lingered in place, and soon the line snapped taut between them again, spinning Oscar’s boat around in a circle.

“Come on!” Oscar snarled, desperately fighting to get control of the situation. But they were at the low point between waves, and the next one was already bearing down on them. They were anything but prepared to ride through it. Oscar’s own boat was sideways to the oncoming wall, and Harry’s boat was swaying back and forth unpredictably.

Oscar’s hands fumbled back and forth over the controls, but there were too many competing forces at play to account for them all. Each turn or acceleration just seemed to add to the chaos. He had worn his nerves all the way down, and he couldn’t keep doing this any longer.

The heaving wave was upon them now, and Oscar gave up trying to find a clever maneuver through it. He just held onto the helm, held onto it dear life. The wave hit, and all became utter chaos. The rolling torrent poured into the wheelhouse and slammed against Oscar. His feet slid on the wet floor, and his clenched fists twitched left and right as he fought to maintain his balance. His eyes roved right and left as he tried to get his bearings, tried to make sense of the wind and the wave and his vessel. But his mind failed to register these things anymore. It had had enough trying to be clever. All was a pure cacophony, and he felt as if this was his first time standing at the wheel, absolutely clueless in what to do.

Yet for all his confusion, there was at least one thing that remained perfectly clear and certain to him. And it was doom. A doom that was so wide and so vast that it crowded out any other comprehension from his mind. At long last, after years of threatening to do so, it had come for him.

Well I’ve certainly ramped up the sense of mortal peril with this last section! I wanted to have Oscar fighting for his life for as long as he could, but finally collapsing as the burden of dragging Harry’s weight overcomes him. Of course this isn’t merely physical, it is all a type for the unsaid truth between these two men about the death of Oscar’s child.

And now, at long last, here is where we reconnect with my original writing. I’m going to have to adjust a few things in this piece for it to fit in with the tone of what I’ve just written, though. I need Oscar to seem broken, not hostile. Let’s see how it goes.

The Confession)

“Oscar…” Harry’s soft voice spoke over the radio. “We’re going to both die if we keep up like this. But I’ll bet you still have enough fuel to get around the cape…if you weren’t towing me that is.”

“But I am towing you Harry.”

“Oscar I knew it would be you who came for me. I just knew it would be. The sea knows I’ve done wrong by you…and it’s brought you here to make things right between us.”

“Harry, please stop. I don’t want—”

“I lied to you Oscar.”

The next wave yawned twice as wide as any previous. Oscar let go of the mic, fastening both hands to the wheel and braced for impact.

Harry continued. “I told you that when I took your son out sailing he forgot to tie down his safety line in that storm. But James was too bright for that. He secured one for himself and for me. He did it just as soon as he knew we were in real trouble.”

The boats tilted upwards for the approach into the wave, like ants trying to scale a mountain. The wave’s broad slope created a wide surface for the wind to roar haphazardly down, shoving the nose of the boats erratically to right and left.

Still Harry went on. “That hour we dashed around the boat like mad, trying to tie everything down. I went up to the stern and he went aft. The boat just kept reeling from side-to-side, and each time seemed like the one that would finally throw us in the drink.”

A mighty crack sounded as one of the lines on Oscar’s boat snapped. He wasn’t sure which one it was and he didn’t check to see.

“Each wave swamped us, half drowned us! I was praying and cursing with all the breath I had left. I made my way back to the mainmast and kept throwing knots on and off at every turn. Trying to pull out the slack and tighten them better.”

Oscar’s boat broke through the crest, but rolled far to its side. He flung his arms our for balance as he slid down the water-hill sideways.

“Then the next wave washed over us, the biggest one yet. It was a froth. I couldn’t see. It seemed like an eternity, but finally it washed away. I was facing towards the rear of the boat and…and I saw nothing. Just nothing. James… wasn’t there.”

Oscar’s boat hit bottom and a tide of water swept into the cabin. Oscar slipped and fell to his knees. He gripped the wheel only by his fingertips, trying to hold his way through the wave unseeing.

And with that we’re back into charted territory! I like the handoff I came up with, and I’m anxious to reach the end so that I can review the whole thing all over again. Hopefully just a couple more weeks to get to that.

Covalent: Part Twelve

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Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine
Part Ten
Part Eleven

“Please no!” Aylme moaned, but as she looked up to where the sling scraped over the bough she could see that the fibers of fabric were peeling apart more and more quickly. With lightning-fast reflexes she released the sling and threw her hands around Rolar. His head, arms, and chest had made it out of the hole so far, and she managed to catch him around the shoulders before gravity tried to pull him back down, dragging her along with.

“NO!” she screamed, kicking her feet out until they slammed against the other side of the hole. She gave a long, angry shout, but managed to hold Rolar in place. Then she grit her teeth and pushed with her legs and pulled with her arms, wresting him up and out of the hole, inch-by-inch.

“Please!” she pled, tears streaming down the side of her face. The soil was loose, and sliding out from under her, so she dug her heels in harder and arched her back to help guide Rolar’s limp form onto the surface. Fortunately, the more of him she got out of the hole, the more his weight could rest on the ground and the easier it became to hold him. A few more moments of struggle she had him free at last.

“I made it!” She panted, releasing her grip and turning over to her side. “I did it!”

But these last moments had been too chaotic for Aylme to notice the water-tendrils slowly creeping around the edge of the hole, feeling their way towards her struggling form. All at once they shot forward and pierced into Rolar and Aylme.

Her eyes burst open in shock!

“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Cace exclaimed. Something had just gone very wrong in the Ether. The outside entity that was pressing against the system had just breached it somehow. Different modules started flickering like mad, as if lightning was surging through them! And not just any modules, either, it was primarily the ones that represented Rolar and Aylme! Aylme’s module was still putting up a fight, thrashing and twisting, trying to get free. Rolar’s module, however, remained catatonic, quickly being overrun by the void.

Cace trembled for a moment, but then a firm decision overtook his hesitation.

“I’m sorry,” he cried as he summoned the remaining submodules of the warden-beast and began assembling them into the missing places of Rolar. “I just don’t have a choice anymore.” With careful precision he placed the beast’s submodule for threat detection and emergency response in place of Rolar’s missing consciousness. Rolar was also missing some structural and motor capabilities, and into that void Cace placed the larva’s submodule for replicating its own form in a host. It would fill in all those missing parts.

Normally it would take a long while for the larva to do that, but Cace reached back to the circuit that he had been using to overclock Rolar’s healing submodule, and he routed it to the larva part instead. He cranked up the flow of power, causing the part to burst into overdrive. New instructions surged out of it, compiling new modules, and expanding them to fill every empty space that remained in Rolar in an instant.

Then, the Rolar system woke back up.

Of course, Cace could still only see the side of the ensuing struggle that the Ether showed him, but he could tell that Rolar’s system almost immediately began to thrash about, just as Aylme’s was, though with an astounding amount of vigor! So massive were the movements that Cace lost the ability to tell what was happening, all was a chaos of surging movements, firing signals, mounting pressure, the signs of two great tides surging against one another.

As Cace continued to watch the different sides of the battle started to stretch apart from one another, and he realized that Rolar was not fighting to destroy the outside entity, but only to retreat from its clutches. And though Rolar was moving with great strength, he was facing an awesome resistance. Then came a sudden, horrible sense of something breaking and tearing. Cace couldn’t tell what it was, but some sacrifice had been made. Rolar’s system managed to wrench free, but it had had to leave something behind!

Cace snapped his focus from left to right. What of Aylme?…

With a shock Cace realized that there wasn’t any Aylme. Somehow, in all that thrashing struggle, she had disappeared entirely from the system.

“No!” Cace looked frantically from one module to another, trying to see if he was overlooking her. Was she there, but fractured, like Rolar had been? Broken but salvageable? Hidden inside of another entity? But he already knew. There was no ambiguity in the Ether. If you knew what it was you were looking for, and it wasn’t immediately obvious…then it simply wasn’t there. Somehow, someway…she had been lost.

“NOOO!” Too devastated to be cautious, Cace pulled over one another of the remaining warden-beast modules, the one used for detecting things on the overworld, and he thrust it into himself. He’d had it with not being able to see what was going on in up above, and one way or another he was getting back.

The most strange sensation came over him. He no longer felt like a whole, but rather was conscious of being many separate parts all at once. Each of his submodules shifted and reoriented themselves, attaching to this foreign implant, or rerouting themselves to go around it. For brief moments each of his normal senses flickered off, recalibrated themselves, then came back on. Some the same as they had been before, some slightly changed, some drastically altered.

Most importantly, though, Cace felt his senses being flooded with input from both the Ether and the overworld. Just like when he had they had been fighting the warden-beast he was able to perceive both paradigms at the same moment. And being able to see the overworld above, he finally felt anchored enough to it again. He was able to detect its signal throbbing within him, and was able to shift into it as effortlessly as putting on a cloak.

Cace sat bolt upright in the grass where Aylme had left him. He was back.

Part Thirteen
Part Fourteen

Well That Was Exhausting

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Wearing Down)

In the most recent chapter of Covalent I have one of my main characters, Aylme, brought to her absolute limit as she has rushes her unconscious comrades from danger, including one that is quite a bit larger than she is. Thus far she has been quick-thinking, resourceful, and determined, but one exertion after another I have been wearing the character down to the bone. She is exhausted mentally, emotionally, and physically, nearly out of fresh ideas, fighting down fear, and asking more of her muscles than ever before. And, I hope, the readers are feeling that same exhaustion themselves, as if they have been right alongside her, wearing down their minds and bodies as she has.

Coincidentally, I am also trying to create that exact same sensation in my refactoring of The Storm. Here I have two sailors caught in a storm, their boats tethered together, working to their limits to overcome one life-threatening threat after another.

But why do some action-packed stories make us feel energized, like we’ve just been for a brisk walk, while others give us the sense of having been put through the wringer, totally depleted of all our energy? Well, let’s take a look at one of my favorite exhausting films to see what lessons we can glean from it.

The Master of Exhaust)

If there’s any director who has a monopoly on tiring tales, it’s Steven Spielberg. Think of Indiana Jones staggering to his feet after the lengthy tank fight in The Last Crusade. Think of Martin Brody hanging from the sinking mast at the end of Jaws. Think of Captain Miller slumped on the ground at the end of Saving Private Ryan. Think of Alan Grant reclining into his helicopter seat at the end of Jurassic Park. All of these characters have gone to their absolute limits and beyond. Whatever they have achieved by the end of their story, they have obtained it only by wringing out every last bit of themselves, down to the last drop. In fact, some of them have given so much that they won’t be making it home alive.

But these films are all from the height of Spielberg’s career, and I’m going to instead bring attention to one of his lesser-known works, a made-for-television movie that came out in 1971 called Duel. This film tells the story of a simple man named David Mann, who is driving through the Mojave desert for a business trip. Along the way he overtakes a large diesel truck. The truck driver attempts to pass him back again, but Mann maintains his lead, and in doing so incurs the wrath of the other man. And when I say “incurs the wrath,” I mean that the diesel truck driver now means to out-and-out kill him, as evidenced when he nearly baits Mann into driving full-speed into an oncoming vehicle!

Thus begins the duel for which the film is named. Mann is at an extreme disadvantage in his small sedan. He has a bit of an edge in speed and dexterity, but those are small comforts given the size and strength of the relentless behemoth that bears down on him in one life-threatening attack after another.

In terms of character and themes, Duel is a pretty simple film. There are very few characters, very few locations, and it only runs for 90 minutes. But in that simplicity it allows itself to focus purely on one aspect: the exhaustion of a relentless chase. It fills out its time and wears out its audience by consistently coming up with one nail-biting sequence after another. There is that moment where the diesel truck is pressing Mann’s car from behind, trying to force it into an oncoming train. Then there is that time Mann runs for a phone booth to call the police, just to have the truck come blasting down, smashing the booth to bits. Then there are the moments Mann tries to lose himself behind the killer-vehicle, just to find that it has hidden in wait further down the road.

The film exhausts the viewer because it employs one unique danger after another. Each is new and novel and takes a little bit of our energy to process. If we saw the same sort of thrill repeated over and over it wouldn’t get our blood pumping nearly so much, but the constantly fresh experiences take a toll on us over time.

This isn’t all, though. The film also employs another trick that Spielberg utilized many times later in his other films. It shows us the main character breaking down, one small part at a time. Mann doesn’t pass through a battle, heal back at home, then return fresh to another fight. No, he slowly falls apart in one, long, continuous grind. He progresses from relaxed, to irritated, to angry, to horrified, to fearful, to flat-out desperate. And even has he breaks down, his car gets dents and dings, breaks its radiator, loses parts, and has trouble even starting. Each new scene it is looking worse and worse, that much closer to falling apart entirely.

90 minutes might not be very long for a film, but it is extremely long for such a prolonged beatdown! And being the empathetic creatures that we are, we cannot help but share in its burden.

Applying the Lessons)

One unique danger after another, a single, unwavering deterioration of the character. These are the two principles that create an exhausting tale.

And I have tried to employ both of these principles in Covalent. I have kept the focus locked on Aylme for the last chapter, and will continue to do so in the next, showing a single, prolonged instance of her being worn down bit-by-bit, her resources progressively breaking around her, one novel situation being replaced by another, constantly driving towards that point of collapse. I have also been doing the exact same thing in The Storm, describing how both the nerve and the boats of our sailors break apart from one unique trauma after another.

At the end of it all, if I’ve done things right, my audiences will not have done anything directly strenuous themselves, but they’ll still be utterly fatigued just for having been witness to all these agonizing trials. My stories won’t just take the vitality from my characters, they will demand a small bit of life from the readers as well!

Revising The Storm- Week 11

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Increasing Danger)

Oscar spun the wheel to the left, coming thirty degrees from perpendicular to the waves. The next crest rolled into them and there was the unsettling sensation of being tilted far to the right as they glided up it, then rolled steeply back to the left as it left them in its wake, the boats threatening as they sloshed back and forth to roll all the way over at any moment.

“Whatever fuel we’ve got left, burn it now!” Oscar ordered, turning his throttle up to maximum. With new life the vessel churned forward…then came a jerking halt as the line ran taut and Harry’s vessel dragged Oscar’s back.

“I’m trying, I’m trying!” Harry grunted as he struggled to get his controls to respond. “There we go!” he crowed as his engines came fully to life. “Oh wait, no!” they cut out again after just a few seconds, causing the rope between them to snap taut again. “I think–maybe–” the engines came back for another moment. “Oh come on!” the engines cut out once more.

Oscar ground his teeth together. This relaxing and tightening of the line would snap it in two in no time. Much as he wanted to surge on ahead, he would just have to pace himself with what Harry’s boat could handle.

“Is it steadier at lower speeds?” Oscar asked.

“Yes, the engine holds if I don’t throttle over twenty percent.”

“Alright. You keep it there. I’ll tug.”

Oscar slowed his boat down until both he and Harry were travelling at the same, slow speed. Then he gradually sped up, until the line between came back to full tension. From there he added more power, but only in small increments, accelerating both boats together as one. It was working…but they were less than half the speed that Oscar’s boat could have gone at on its own.

Just continuing along our way in the final act. I’ll be honest, I’m not paying very close attention to my review notes as I add one new scene after another. I just know that this part of the story needed to be developed further, so I’m feeling my way through , then I’ll cast the same eye of scrutiny on this new material as I did on the original.

I know that reading through a story and writing through it are two very different experiences, but I do feel encouraged that I have had far more of a sense of actually being in the storm alongside of these characters. And that’s exactly the change that I’ve been working for: making the audience feel like they’ve been through a long and momentous struggle. And now I’m just going to keep ratcheting up the tension. Here we go!

Ratcheting)

“Come on, Harry, come on,” Oscar mumbled, willing the other man’s boat to spring to greater life. Every now and again he looked over his shoulder to keep bearings on what was going on behind him, and each time he saw Harry’s boat being an anchor, weighing him back into the storm, and he despised Harry for that. “How many sailors have to die under your hand before you’re through?” he muttered darkly.

Then he looked to the front, still watching for any sign of the cliff-face, or better yet, of the lighthouse. He saw neither, yet by looking so earnestly his mind started playing tricks on him, making him think he had caught a glimpse of one or the other out of the corner of his eye.

Oh was that a moving light?! No, just a reflection of sheet lightning on the rolling wave. Was that a rock springing out of the dark in front of him?! No, just one cloud moving past another.

“Turn deeper, Harry. “Let’s bring it to forty degrees!”

“Alright…if you’re sure…”

“No, I’m not sure of anything anymore.” Oscar replied, but only to himself. He was surprised that they still hadn’t seen either the saving light or the damning rock. Had he become more turned around than he realized? Was he actually headed away from the shoreline? His compass said no. Had he somehow travelled further south than the lighthouse, so that now it would be on his starboard side and not his port? But he looked to starboard and nothing was there.

The next wave rolled under them. Harry gripped hard to the wheel and planted his foot against the side of the wheelhouse to keep his balance as he careened to the right and then the left. But his ship still held steady through it all.

“Forty-five degrees, Harry! Make it forty-five!”

The next wave seemed an eternity. By slicing up and down its sides they were spending a lot more time tilted precariously, which meant a lot more time for the water in the hold to collect on the downward side. Oscar tried to feel through his boots how near the floor was to spinning out from under him, his hands twitching on the wheel, ready to throw to starboard at the first sign of trouble.

But then, all at once, he felt a sharp tug from behind, and without even looking he knew what it meant: Harry’s boat had started to roll, and if it did so it would take him down with it! Without thinking about it, Oscar threw his wheel all the way to port, swiveling his boat to be fully parallel with the wave. A sudden torrent of water slammed against the side of the wheelhouse, flooding over his vessel and threatening to swamp him at any moment! But only for a moment, and then the boat burst through the crest of the wave, hung suspended in the open the air, then crashed down on the backside of the wave, hauling at Harry’s boat until it had pulled him back from his roll without a moment to spare!

One thing I’ve been meaning to improve from all these changes is to really push Harry into having a solid reason for coming forward with the truth after all these years. I wanted the likelihood of both men drowning to be very real to finally compel him to come clean.

And, at this point, I think I’ve given him a solid enough reason. So, starting with next week, I’m going to rejoin my original draft of the story where Harry finally makes confession. I can’t wait to pick things up from there!

Covalent: Part Eleven

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Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Part Six
Part Seven
Part Eight
Part Nine
Part Ten

Aylme struck the flint against the rock again. This time the sparks fell where she wanted: into the shredded scraps of old cloth. The fibers quickly ignited and she leaned forward, blowing them further into life. All at once the larger pieces of cloth caught the flame, and a merry fire sprang from the end of the torch. Aylme grabbed its end, scrambled out of the hole, and rushed to the river’s edge.

Here the choking tendrils of congealed water had formed a thick web. Their tight grip was crumbling the dirt, causing it collapse by chunks into the river below. Aylme stood well back from their reach, but extended the torch’s end into their midst. There was an immediate reaction. The sprawling tendrils ceased their forward movement in that area. To the left and to the right they continued grasping along their way, just not directly where the flame stood.

“Alright,” Aylme said to herself. “I’ll just have to line the wall of our home with torches, keep it from breaking in through the sides. That should–“

But she was cut off by a sucking, gurgling sound that came from the banks of the river. There, on the river’s edge, a new web of tendrils lifted into the air, like a pair of thousand-fingered hands. And in those hands it was holding loose water, which was quickly spilling out of its grasp. The hands thrust forward suddenly, depositing their deluge right onto Aylme’s torch and snuffing out the fire!

But that wasn’t all. Next those tendriled hands sprang forward, trying to clutch at Aylme! She leapt back and batted at them with the extinguished torch. But no sooner did the wood touch those tendrils than they pierced into it, holding it fast in the air, working their way up its length and towards her arm! Aylme released the torch before it could touch her, and watched as the wood creaked, cracked, and then burst into splinters!

“No, no, no…” Aylme moaned as she turned on the spot and ran back to their home, slithering down through the hole as quickly as she could. “We’ll be trapped in here!” She slid her arms under Cace, lifted him up, and thrust him out of the hole. She climbed out after, then gripped the small boy around the shoulders and dragged him further into the woods, away from the expanding tendrils of water. “Wake up, Cace! Please wake up! Don’t make me do this all by myself!”

But Cace did not respond. It was still up to her alone. So she continued dragging him until they were out of sight of the river, then propped him against the trunk of a massive tree. Was this far enough away to be safe? Would those water-tendrils ever stop sprawling outward, or would the children be on the run from them forever now? She couldn’t know. But for now this would have to do, because she still had to get Rolar out of their home, and that was a very daunting prospect indeed!

As Aylme ran back to their hovel she wiped the sweat from her forehead and clutched at a stich in her side. First the fight with the beast, then dragging both of the boys back home, and now trying to get them out of there! She was exhausted, but that didn’t matter. She couldn’t stop now, no matter how much her body protested.

Aylme slid into the hole again, scooped her arms under Rolar’s body and gave a tremendous lift, but he was too heavy. She only got his legs and lower torso into the air, but his head still flopped around on the ground.

“Why did I ever bring you down here?!” she scolded herself as she failed to lift him again.

It had seemed the right thing to do at the moment. Her instincts had been that their shelter was the safest place for them to be, but now it was a trap. There came a strange creaking sound, and then snapping. Aylme looked around for the source, but it was coming from just beyond the dirt wall of their shelter.

“It’s the roots,” she realized. “The roots of the tree above us…the tendrils are snapping them.” Which meant they were mere inches from breaking into their space! “Where did those rags get to?” Aylme fumbled around in the corner until she found the sling she used to transport Rolar here. Quickly she wrapped it under each of his shoulders, then scrambled out of the hole with the sling’s ends. She planted her feet against the edge of the hole, pulled on the sling with all her strength, and Rolar’s body slid a little closer to the exit. She gave a cry and pulled even harder, this time sliding him across the floor until he was against the wall, just beneath the hole.

“Whatever it takes, Aylme, whatever it takes!” she panted to herself. “Just an inch at a time. That’s enough. Come on, now, you can do an inch.” As she spoke she took the ends of the sling and threw them over the lowest-hanging branch of the tree that sat atop their shelter. Then she grabbed the ends, wrapped them several times around her hands, pressed her feet against the tree, and tugged down with all of her might. The bark was rough, and it was extremely difficult for her to pull the fabric over it. There was a silver lining to that friction, though, for after Rolar was pulled upwards it helped hold him in place while she adjusted her grip and pulled again.

Over and over Aylme tugged at the rope, pulling it down so that Rolar was pulled up. The more she pulled the more exhausted she became and the harder the burden became. For as Rolar’s body raised, more and more of his weight wasn’t supported by his lower body anymore.

“Just don’t stop!” Aylme wheezed between breaths. “Just please don’t stop–“

But then she heard a most distinctive and terrifying sound.

Rrriiiipp!

The sling was starting to tear!

Part Twelve
Part Thirteen
Part Fourteen

Revising The Storm- Week 10

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Tipping Over)

“Oscar!” Harry’s voice broke through the howling wind, his hand pointed fearfully ahead. Oscar turned around just in time to see his vessel sliding up the ramp of the next wave!

Oscar muttered a deluge of insults to himself for being such a distracted fool as he turned on the spot and sprinted towards the wheelhouse. Too late, though. The wave burst across the prow of his boat just then, and he had to grab the nearest line for dear life. The torrent knocked his feet out from under him, endless gallons of water poured into his face, and all the world became confusion! All he could do was hold fast to his line and hope that he would come through at the other end.

Did he even still hold the line? Had it even been properly secured to the boat? Oscar couldn’t say. The sensations coursing across his body were so numerous that he couldn’t say whether he was on deck or in the ocean or holding water or holding air. But he clamped his fingers in place anyway, there was nothing else he could do, and finally the flood abated and he still stood upon his deck.

But he was standing nearly sideways! For without his guidance the boat had been pushed to the side by the wave, and now was careening to starboard, likely to capsize at any moment!

“NO!” Oscar shouted, fumbling hand-over-hand along the rope, trying to make his way to the wheelhouse. If he didn’t make it there before the next wave hit he would be left hanging upside down in the water, his boat suspended over him for a roof!

Suddenly there came a great creaking sound and the entire boat was yanked back to port, forcibly drawn onto its hull. Oscar looked to the edge of the boat and found himself facing the Broken Wing. Harry had quickly moved to the Last Horizon’s side, using their tether to pull the boat back into its place. Oscar gave a grunt for his thanks, then dashed to the wheelhouse and took hold of helm and throttle.

“Are you alright there?” Harry’s voice called nervously over the radio.

“Yeah, I’m here–” Oscar said dismissively. “I was–I just had–I’m alright now.”

So this is a new wrinkle that I’ve added to my story. Harry is no longer just a buffoon who messes everything up. Here I have him actually saving Oscar. I added this because I wanted to create more of a sense that these men are partners. Begrudging partners, to be sure, but partners nonetheless. And though Oscar has primarily been seeing saving Harry, as with any relationship, sometimes the roles reverse.

At this point I think I’ve added enough new material to round out the second act and I will transition to the third. So I’ll set the two seamen back towards port, and to the climax of their story.

Turned About)

“Harry, let’s get out of here,” Oscar decided, anxious to change the topic.

“We’re going to turn around?”

“We’re just taking too much of a beating. So yes, let’s hold through this last wave, and then turn back.”

“Okay, Oscar.”

The two vessels made their way through the next wave and then began the arduous process of turning around. They were so waterlogged now that what usually would have been a simple maneuver had become a herculean labor.

“It’s too slow” Harry shouted over the wave. “We’re going to get hit broadside by the next wave!”

“Turn back slightly!”

The two men barely got their boats swiveled back to enough of an angle to slice up the wave diagonally.

“Now keep up the other way!”

By the time the next wave reached them they nearly had their backs fully to it. Close enough to perpendicular that they were lifted and rushed forward, making their way back towards the coastline.

“Now keep your eyes open wide!” Oscar shouted into the mic as he leaned forward to stare intently through his own window. “If you so much as wonder whether you’ve seen the cape, call it out! And keep a steady pull to port!”

Oscar settled his boat at a twenty degree angle from the onslaught of the waves. He pumped the throttle forward during the low point after each wave, then cut power to better feel the movements of the boat as it lifted into the air. He reached up and turned off the overhead light and covered the blinking LED on the radio, casting himself into complete darkness so that he could see more clearly through the storm outside.

Would they even be able to see the cape? Quite possibly not. There was no moon and no stars, and the storm-mist around them was so black that there may not be any way to tell it from rock face. All they knew for sure was that they weren’t yet around the cape, for if they were they would be able to see the beacon from the lighthouse. So long as there was no light, they were still in danger.

One dark minute slid by, and then another. Then another three. And each one of them felt like a greater pronouncement of doom upon the lost sailors. How many minutes could they spare before they would already be upon a stone-hard reckoning?

“Further to port!” Oscar commanded.

I’ve decided I want to enhance this final segment by having the men trying to balance between two forms of annihilation. On the one hand, the shallower their angle, the longer its going to take to get around the side of the cape, and the greater their risk of being slammed into the cliffs. On the other hand, the greater their angle the more they will be abused by the oncoming waves, and run the risk of sinking their vessels.

And I intend to ratchet the tension between those two for all that that they’re worth before delivering the cutting revelation at the end. Come back next week as I keep driving for that climatic finale!