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I Will Return: Chapter 3.2

by charleslee

*Note: This used to be Chapter 2.2, in case anyone was confused.

Chapter 3.2: The Stars Shuddered Pt. 2

— — —

“Trista… Trista!” Someone knocked hurriedly on the door. “Trista, it's time to change out of your nightgown—Moon Dance is in one hour!”

Trista hated the persistent sound of her mother’s voice calling out to her, like she was still a little girl who couldn't care for herself “Trista, do you hear me?”

“I’m coming, Mum.” Sleepily, Trista rolled out of her bed and stepped indelicately onto the worn floorboards. She’d slept the morning away, then taken a walk in the woods, and spent the late afternoon reading from a box of old fairy tales she’d heard when she was younger. All in all a restful way to spend the holiday.

“Put your dress on and make your way to the washroom so I can fix your hair. NOW.

A blossomy, pinkish dress hung grandly in the corner, taunting her like the school boys did when she was little. It was marvelous, the tailor’s finest, framed with little golden specks and made of the finest material--and only to be worn once per year at Moon Dance. Yet looking at her gown gave Trista a sickening feeling at the thought of putting it on. The boys and men only needed to don an acceptable pair of trousers and a collared shirt— why should the women need wear such formal and uncomfortable dresses?

Rolling her eyes, Trista took the dress in her hands and placed it on her sagging bed, then undressed and pulled the gown over her head. It squeezed her skull like a snake as she slid the knit fabric onto her roughened body, which resisted the clenching pull of the tight satin.

“Trista, I haven’t got all day!” her mother called impatiently from the washroom.

With reluctance, she tied a white bow tautly round her waist—it nearly came up short. She’d have to tell her mother she’d need a new dress for the next summer.

Yawning, Trista opened the door. Her two younger sisters playfully darted around their little living space, chasing each other with their mother’s brushes and combs. An eager hand pulled Trista quickly to the washroom. She met her mother’s stern, piercing green eyes. “You’ve slept the day away, haven’t you?” she snapped, repulsed at her daughter's unkempt appearance and retying the bow around her waist in a perfectly delicate knot. 

Briskly, she pulled a black brush through her knotty hair. A clump of reddish-brown locks lay rejected on the floor beside her, growing larger with each stroke.

“Now Trista,” began her mother, pulling recklessly on the remaining strands of hair hanging from her head. “This year’s Moon Dance is an important one.” Trista had seen this dreaded conversation coming since last summer, when the girls a year older than her had spent their Moon Dance trying to woo the boys from the capital city who came because there weren't enough rich girls to marry all of them. 

“There will be young men from the capital city in the Upper State at the celebration. There are few of them, and many young girls to join them when they return home next month.” She began to vigorously pull at sections of Trista’s hair, braiding it into a tidy pattern atop her head.

“Be kind, be graceful, be prudent, be polite, and most of all…” She stole a glance at Trista’s necklace, the one Malachi had given her at the last Moon Dance celebration. “Don’t be yourself.” With a final tug at her braids, she spun Trista’s chair round and shooed her off.

Trista paced back to her bedroom. The sun was setting and the dance would soon begin. But for once, she didn’t want to go. If what her mother had said was true… and if she were to disobey her mother’s suggestion… a much worse fate could await her than marrying a rich city boy.

— — —

Purple liquid bubbled grossly on the ground beside Hawthorn’s limp, defeated corpse. A great knot began to tie itself up in Malachi’s stomach—folding, pulling, wrenching, shaking. He felt like he might vomit. The wells in his eyes teemed with tears, but beneath his sadness he wanted nothing more than to punish Hawthorn for the crime he'd committed. Suicide was taboo in Vagor, the most dishonorable death one could die. The only man he’d ever trusted, dead by his own doing. Tomorrow there would be newspapers delivered all over Vagor reading: LOWER VAGOR PROTECTOR HAWTHORN, FOUND DEAD ON 302nd MOON DANCE. The public would talk and gossip--some would even rejoice. Very few men and women, the old ones who’d grown up in the 3rd Age, would quietly mourn the news in their homes, then die off themselves in a few years, leaving Hawthorn’s legacy to be forgotten. The others would laugh, spitting on his vacant tower, burning it to the ground. The city folk wouldn’t care—but atop their highest towers, capital officials would find themselves in secret distress. For they knew of the power Hawthorn took to the grave and the threat his death imposed.

Malachi grimaced at the rotting body on the ground. The deepest part of him hungered for justice, and within him rose a monster, who suddenly hated the man who lay before him.

Coward!” he yelled, his call echoing yonder. “You bloody old coward!” A tear crept sluggishly from his reddening eyes and joined the pool of purple liquid on the ground. With a heaving yell, he thrust his foot mercilessly into his teacher’s side, then again, again, and again, til a trail of poison and blood streaked the floor. Malachi knelt and wept before him. Hawthorn’s mouth hung open like a cave, his eyes shut in solemn loss.

When Malachi thought of having a father, he thought of Hawthorn. His entire life was centered around his wise teaching, his elegant ways. What had he done to deserve this?

He curled a shaking fist, breathing heavily, tears falling generously onto the ground, and thrashed at Hawthorn’s throat like the madman he’d suddenly become, all the while screaming in painful sadness. Hawthorn's skin ripped open at Malachi's violent touch and poured out a river of stagnant blood, staining the floor.

“I trusted you, Hawthorn,” he muttered. “I TRUSTED YOU!” He knocked out his dead teacher’s long, finger-like teeth and fell backwards, his fist carved with the marks of Hawthorn’s jaw.

He shifted away from the body like it had suddenly come alive, redeeming his consciousness and sanity, realizing what he’d done. “I’m mad,” he said through tired breaths. “I’m mad or I’m in some god-awful nightmare.” His fingers were tinted crimson like the floor he knelt on. 


Malachi froze. Someone had opened the downstairs door.

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1636 Reviews

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Reviews: 1636

Wed Mar 21, 2018 2:45 pm
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BlueAfrica wrote a review...

re: your thought that you want to separate the two Malachi scenes (since I read Megrim's review and your comment before starting mine) - you can always separate them with a chapter break, although admittedly that would make for a short chapter in this case. Anyway, just a thought.

I didn't mind Trista's part, although to be fair I haven't read the previous installments, so I don't know how it feels to go from a big cliffhanger to Trista (and apparently back in time with Trista?) I also found it jarring when you switched from the "a day in the life of" section to the section where Malachi freaks out over Hawthorn's suicide...but in a good way? Like it just felt kind of deliciously creepy that Trista is freaking out over a dress and marriage and her mother and then we switch over to Malachi and he's freaking out over his mentor's suicide.

This goes along a little bit with what Megrim was saying about over-explaining, but watch out with your description! It doesn't fall into purple prose category - you don't describe every single thing in loving, overly-figurative detail - but I do think you're giving us more detail than we need. Do I need to know the hairbrush is black? Do I need a description of Hawthorn's teeth? (On that note, "finger-like" gave me a really bizarre mental image that I don't think is what you probably intended.) Do I need to know the bow Trista's mother tied is "perfectly delicate," especially since "delicate" isn't a concrete adjective? Probably not. All the extra adjectives describing things I didn't really need described just kind of distracted me.

charleslee says...

Hi, thanks for reviewing! I have been working on this story quite a bit lately (though I haven't updated it on here in quite some time) and I decided to cut that scene but am possibly going to add it in somewhere else. I liked that scene and felt it was important to explain this aspect of their culture, so I added a few phrases elsewhere to hint at it without a full scene. Thanks for your comments on the descriptions and thank you for reading!

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264 Reviews

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Reviews: 264

Tue Feb 13, 2018 1:53 pm
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Megrim wrote a review...

Onto our latest and final entry!

On seeing we were getting Trista's POV, my very first thought was what if the previous section was combined into the first chapter, so chapter 1 ends on the big reveal of Hawthorn's suicide (which also looks like the inciting incident), and then we switch POVs for chapter 2!

I still think that's a good idea, but after reading Trista's section, I realize there's not enough substance here for a chapter 2 in and of itself - though maybe you have some stuff coming up, which you could move forward. In this hypothetical scenario, I'd want/expect her section to also end with a big shoe-drop moment at the end.

Strictly taking what's in this submission alone, you're not going to like my suggestion. That whole Trista section can and should be cut. For one thing, it was really jarring to rewind so much in time. But much more importantly, nothing actually happens. It's the classic "character wakes up, gets dressed, eats breakfast, and gets ready for the day" opening that we're so often cautioned against. It may not be the chapter 1 opening, but the principle still applies: the scene doesn't do much at all, other than giving a little bit of exposition. We see an insight into Trista's life and family, BUT that's all we see. You can show us all those things in other scenes, too. So if this one is cut, it's not like a major plot event has been lost. For her to deserve her own POV, her scenes need to show some active decision-making and proactivity.

Moving onto Malachi's section, it's really interesting seeing how he reacts to the sudden death. I like how overwhelmed with emotion he becomes. We also end on a great cliffhanger that begs the question: who's here and why??

I think some of the narrative is quite telly, and it's stealing the thunder from things that could be really powerful if shown. For instance, here are some straight-up tells:

Suicide was taboo in Vagor, the most dishonorable death one could die. The only man he’d ever trusted, dead by his own doing. Tomorrow there would be newspapers delivered all over Vagor reading: LOWER VAGOR PROTECTOR HAWTHORN, FOUND DEAD ON 302nd MOON DANCE. The public would talk and gossip--some would even rejoice.

His entire life was centered around his wise teaching, his elegant ways.

These things would be more powerful if implied/shown rather than stated in the narrative. That second example, I think, already is, and the sentence isn't even needed.

My take-away from these 4 installments is that one of your weak areas is over-writing. You can trust readers more than you think, to pick up on subtle cues and to build an image in their mind. If the narration tries to drive home a point too hard, it begins feeling repetitive, and the reader can end up skimming. I'd say in future drafts, keep an eye out for areas that can be trimmed and tightened.

Good luck and happy writing!

charleslee says...

Ah, I see what you're saying there. Fortunately I'm not particularly attached to that section, but I needed something to a) separate the two Malachi sections and b) reveal a few important things about Trista's character, but I suppose I can fit them in elsewhere. I have the next section written and will post it soon, do you mind looking at that as well once it's up? I've really benefited from your comments, so thank you!!!

Don't go around saying the world owes you a living; the world owes you nothing; it was here first.
— Mark Twain