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Belief

by LukeStarkiller


It was chilly, even for a November morning, in the center of Concord, New Hampshire.  The library had just opened when the man strode out of its double doors.  He wore his bowler hat over his face, obscuring his features, and his dark trench coat was completely unremarkable.

He turned a corner, and his destination came into view.  Uncharacteristic for a Saturday, the stone building was alight, but outdoors the American flag seemed forlorn.  Only a hundred feet left until he was safe.  He glanced around furtively, wondering if the man who was after him had arrived yet.  He knew his chaser would stop at nothing, and he also knew that if he knew the truth his chaser would be subdued.

-------------

The governor was rifling through some papers when the man entered.

He wasn’t tall or burly, but he cast an imposing shadow silhouetted in the doorway, and the governor felt compelled to look up when he appeared. Acknowledging the governor with a slight nod, the man removed his bowler hat and strode towards the governor’s desk.

“I’m so glad we could finally meet.”

The governor searched the man’s face for any familiarity as they shook hands. “I’m . . . not sure I know who you are.”

"For this interaction, I’d like to remain nameless.” He turned and pulled up a chair to the front of the governor’s desk. “Please sit down. I have something urgent to discuss with you.”

Not about to refuse a potential voter, the governor grunted and looked at his watch. “You have five minutes.”

“Very well. Now – suppose I asked you what you think the most important quality for a successful political candidate is. What would you say?”

"Honesty," he said, without hesitation.  "Voters have to believe you."

"Yes, belief is certainly important.  You can say you are going to end poverty, but that means nothing without belief.  But honesty?"

The governor leaned back in his chair.

“Well, in this climate I suppose it's much more important to have the illusion of honesty, and that is all about belief.  Honesty isn't a requirement anymore, I'm afraid."  He looked wistful.  "I would say it’s about being likable, speaking the language of your constituents. It’s hard to put into words. Sort of a vibe –”

The man had a very self-satisfied look on his face as the governor rambled. “I think the word you are looking for, governor, is charisma.”

“Charisma, yes.”

“And how, do you think, does one develop charisma? You’ve been re-elected once already; you must have some experience with this.”

The governor smiled. “I don’t know about that second re-election, but we’ll see soon enough. I think it’s a matter of trying and failing, being put into hard situations, that kind of thing.”

The man leaned forward now. “Precisely. It’s a difficult and long process. But is it possible to artificially boost charisma? Sort of a charisma switch one could flip at any moment.”

“It might be possible, yes. But it sounds very fantastical. Like a bad science fiction novel.”

“I had a similar reaction myself. But my company has been investigating this for years, ever since the election of 2008, in fact, and we have finally hit upon a so-called ‘charisma drug.’”

“And you’d like to give it to me for a few million?” The governor’s voice was distasteful.

He chuckled. “You don’t believe me, of course. I can understand that. But how do you think I was able to get into this building? I had to make it past four guards, and I never made an appointment with you.”

The governor fell silent as the man revealed a vial of blue liquid from his suit pocket.

“S-some people are very good with words, as you clearly are,” he finally said. “I don’t find that to be convincing.” Despite this, he leaned forward and rested his elbows on his desk, as if searching for more vials elsewhere on the man’s body.

“I didn’t think you would.” The man stood up and looked around the room, finally reaching over and picking up a TV remote from the coffee table. He aimed it at the television mounted on the far wall and pressed a button. As it flickered to life, a news reporter could be heard.

“– Up sixteen percent in the polls as of last night. One poll from Monmouth University shows Wilcox up a full twenty-one percent. Opinions on the school funding bill, which Wilcox spoke out yesterday in support of, have improved drastically as well. This is historic for the 2nd Congressional district of New Hampshire, as their seat in Congress has been red for almost a decade now.”

The governor looked back at the man. “Is he –”

“He’s been on it for almost a week.”

“No, that isn’t – I mean, look at it – it’s, it’s blue, for God’s sake, it looks made-up . . .”

“Food coloring. You wouldn’t want to misplace this, would you?”

The governor sat down, flustered. “I can’t believe –” He finally gave up trying to understand this turn of events and slumped his shoulders. “How much?”

“Oh, I’ll give it to you for free. I’ve always wanted you to keep your position, and I’m considering it an experiment for now, until I’m sure of the effects. And –” he interjected, seeing that the governor was about to speak. “To prove that I’m not trying to poison you, I’ll drink from it first.” He uncorked the vial he had been holding and poured a little into a ceramic cup sitting on the governor's desk.  In an almost comical display of entitlement, he raised the cup to his lips and drank.

“I, I . . . suppose it isn’t dangerous, then.” The governor reluctantly took the vial, looking thoroughly confused. “And will you be giving me more after this?”

“I’ll come back every other day.” The man smiled and ducked out of the office, leaving the governor to try to make sense of what he had just discovered.

-------------

On the way back to his car, the man was pulled roughly behind a bush.

“Where’s the drug?” came a demanding growl.

The man was calm as ever. “I just ran out of stock; I’m so sorry about that.”

“Where is it?” He pulled out a knife.

“You should really be searching Wilcox. I gave him extra vials, you know.” The man looked defiant but kept his eyes focused on the knife in front of his face.

“Don't you think I've tried that?  He's finished all of his.”

“Search me if you want. I have nothing of value.”

A pause. “I have ways of getting the formula out of you.”

The man laughed. “Formula?”

“Of course. You’re a full-time employee; you’ve got to know the formula.”

“I’m sure I have no idea what formula you are talking about. Our drug has only one simple ingredient: belief."


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Wed Sep 27, 2017 6:02 pm
BluesClues wrote a review...



Hi there!

I can see you've put some work into this after previous critiques - I think the part where the governor talks about honestly and then the illusion of honestly definitely comes across less sleazy and off-putting to voters, for example, than it appears to have done in previous drafts.

I have one major confusion and then one slightly more minor criticism.

1. The active ingredient is belief, which is to say nothing at all. As you say, it's a placebo effect. But if belief is all there is to it, why is there a big operation going to make this drug? Why are there full-time and, presumably, part-time employees for something that depends on the user believing it will work? If the man who attacks the main character at the end is to be believed.

Granted, I can think of plenty of homeopathic remedies that are sold where the main ingredient is, arguably, belief...but the people who make and sell them would never admit that, even if they actually thought the product itself was a crock. (I like to think most of them really do believe their products work, beyond the placebo effect.) So it's just sort of an odd idea to me that these people "making" this "drug" that really depends on the placebo effect have a big operation, such that someone would know who their employees were and attack one of them.

I lied, that brings me to another question.

2. The placebo effect doesn't work on everyone. I mean, that's how they test new medication - medication vs. a placebo to see if the rate of cure/treatment is equal among the groups or if more people are cured/treated with the medication. On that note, how new is this drug? Because if it's put out on the market as a legal drug, someone at some point is going to test it against a placebo. It's sort of surprising that wasn't required before it was put on the market, but I guess that's not always the case, depending on the product in question.

3. The end felt a little weak. I'm cool with it being a belief thing, that's fine. (I know, it doesn't sound like it from my earlier comments I'M SORRY.) But the actual ending falls flat. I think it's because this attack comes out of nowhere, the main character doesn't seem remotely concerned about being attacked, and it's very dialogue heavy. Although there are some subtle hints that belief might be the case - for example, the governor saying it doesn't look real, the man mentioning food coloring - the last line almost feels like it was just kind of tacked on. It doesn't feel like an ending, if that makes sense.

I don't think it's the last line so much as the lead-up to the last line.






For starters, thanks so much for these great criticisms. I'm glad that you didn't spare my feelings, and I think you hit on some pretty important problems with this story. I have some rebuttals to your critiques, but I don't want to grasp at straws trying to defend a work that clearly needs a little reworking. I wrote this in less than a day, not paying nearly enough attention to the actual logic of the storyline, so I'm glad you drew attention so that so that I can improve this going forward. Thanks again!



BluesClues says...


Anytime! I used to write rebuttals to reviews ALL THE TIME which makes me super-cringe in retrospect, but I definitely know how you feel. Although, hey, sometimes you might have a point. Especially when you write something longer, where something the reader is questioning will be resolved later on and they're just not there yet.



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Mon Sep 25, 2017 3:38 am
PastelSlushie wrote a review...



Hello, LukeStarkiller, PastelSlushie here for review number 41 for #RevMo ! Let's get right into it!

This seems to be pretty strong when talking about plot, but I feel there are some holes, however. Firstly, when the man getting attacked seems placed at random. That scene seems almost forced into this so that the reader knows what the drug is made of. Besides, most governors are in nice office buildings on busy highways, so wouldn't at least one person see the men in the bush?

I'm also confused as to how a drug can be made of belief. While this is categorized as science fiction, and it's kind of a free for all there, a drug made of...belief? That seems really weird.

Also, I feel there could be sort of a little stretch scene in between when the man leaves the governors' office and when the men in the bush ask for the formula. Maybe have a scene where he's walking to an elevator, or maybe having him have a side chat with someone? The two scenes were faced with seem to be cut off and begun again randomly and a bit forced - flow can go a long way.

Besides that, I really liked the interesting concept in this. It's a sort of a breath of fresh air as I've never read something with a plot like this. I feel the plot could use some polishing where it's loose and lacking a bit, but that's pretty much it!

Feel free to send me a message if you have any questions or disagree with anything in my review. Best of luck in your future pieces,

Pastel






Thanks so much for your critiques! I realize now that the ending can be a bit unclear. The point I was trying to make was that the drug doesn't actually contain any special chemical combination that will enhance your charisma; it just gives you confidence, and that makes you more charismatic. It is "made of belief" because the person's belief in its effectiveness makes them charismatic. Sort of like the Placebo Effect. I'll try to make that more clear in a re-write.





Thanks so much for your critiques! I realize now that the ending can be a bit unclear. The point I was trying to make was that the drug doesn't actually contain any special chemical combination that will enhance your charisma; it just gives you confidence, and that makes you more charismatic. It is "made of belief" because the person's belief in its effectiveness makes them charismatic. Sort of like the Placebo Effect. I'll try to make that more clear in a re-write.



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Sun Sep 24, 2017 10:15 pm
Mea wrote a review...



Hey there! I thought I'd drop by for a quick review today.

Honestly, this is a pretty solid short story. It's perhaps not particularly deep, but it makes its point well and is engaging in the the process. In particular, I thought your dialogue and the incredulity of the governor versus the sheer confidence of the man was done really well.

The governor leaned back in his chair. “Well, I don’t think honesty is very important. It’s much more important to have the illusion of honesty, and that’s all in the voters’ heads, really. I would say it’s about being likeable, looking as if you speak the language of your constituents. It’s hard to put into words. Sort of a vibe –”

This was my biggest hang-up with this story - right before this paragraph, you say that the governor doesn't want to "refuse a potential voter." Well, I can't think of anything that would be more likely to turn away a potential voter than saying that truthfulness doesn't really matter as an elected official. Seriously, if the man had been recording his words - and the governor has no reason to believe he might not be - and then sold the recording to the media, the governor's career would almost certainly be over. He's not just going to go saying that to any random person in his office - it sounds too sleazy.

Now, I'm guessing you wanted him to be more truthful partly as an effect of the man's "charisma" and partly because it sets up the later twist about the drug actually just being belief. That works, so I'm not saying you should take out this paragraph fully. *But* so far the man has said almost nothing. He hasn't had time to persuade the governor to be truthful to him, and there's not actually a magic drug in effect here, so he needs time to do it. What I'm suggesting is that you have the governor start out with the stock answer of "honesty and a drive to do good" or something, and then have the man prod him further for the real answer.

I think you should have (and probably meant to have) a scene break between when the man leaves and when he's outside getting attacked, but YWS always deletes extra spaces between paragraphs, so be aware of that. In the future, if you're trying to have a scene break, just hit enter, put a few dashes, and hit enter again, i.e.
----
like this. Having something there makes it so YWS doesn't delete the space.

“We took care of Wilcox. Now empty your pockets.”

This doesn't quite make sense - if they took care of Wilcox, they should have the vials the man gave him. So did they realize those vials weren't a real drug, or do they just want more? I think that clarification is needed.

And I'll leave it at that! I definitely enjoyed reading this. Keep writing!






Thanks so much for pointing those things out. I didn't realize the first time around how sleazy the governor came off as and the plothole with Wilcox, and I actually thought I was putting in a larger break towards the end. I'll make sure to add a bunch of dashes like you suggested.



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Sun Sep 24, 2017 10:10 pm
WyvrynScribe wrote a review...



Heya! Saw the title and decided this would be a good short story, and I'm glad to say I was right! Now, let's get into the real review.

So I found one typo near the beginning:
For this interaction, I’d like to remain nameless.” He turned and pulled up a chair to the front of the governor’s desk. “Please sit down. I have something urgent to discuss with you.”
I believe that you are missing a quotation mark here, just a simple thing. Now, there are several places where paragraphs and the flow feel off. For example:
Not about to refuse a potential voter, the governor grunted and looked at his watch. “You have five minutes.”
The potential voter part feels a bit out of place since there was no forehand knowledge that this takes place during election season. Perhaps you could add that into the first sentence to give us more context to the situation.
This part:
He uncorked the vial he had been holding, poured a little into his hand, and drank.
seems a bit impossible, as the liquid would fall out of his hand. It would make more sense if he put it into a cup or if the drug was made to be a pill, both could work.

Now for some praises!

This:
The governor leaned back in his chair. “Well, I don’t think honesty is very important. It’s much more important to have the illusion of honesty, and that’s all in the voters’ heads, really. I would say it’s about being likeable, looking as if you speak the language of your constituents. It’s hard to put into words. Sort of a vibe –”

The man had a very self-satisfied look on his face as the governor rambled. “I think the word you are looking for, governor, is charisma.”

“Charisma, yes.”
Gives us a nice insight into the mans' goal, as we can see he is clearly guiding the governor to the conclusion that will lead to him wanting to have the drug. And this:
“I’m sure I have no idea what formula you are talking about. Our drug has only one simple ingredient: belief."
Is an amazing ending line, that acts as a very good wham line to end the piece with.

Overall, this is an amazing short story, and you've done a great job with the descriptions and showing the stages of disbelief the governor goes through, however, certain things, such as the motive for the people making the drug are unclear, cause us to suspend our disbelief a bit too much. Nevertheless, this is a great piece that just needs some polish.






Thank you so much for your kind words and areas to improve. I'll make sure to include your comments in my edit.



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Sun Sep 24, 2017 8:46 pm
DragonNoir wrote a review...



Hello! DragonNoir here for a review!

Nitpicks first:

"The governor was rifling through some papers when the man entered."
Not a good place to start in my opinion. How do we know what the governor looks like? What is he dressed in? You'll find how surprisingly essentially details are in short stories like this one.

“I’m so glad we could finally meet.”
Any dialogue tags? Like, the way he said that, what he did whilst or after saying that?

"The governor leaned back in his chair. “Well, I don’t..."
Don't put a reporting clause on the same line as speech. At least that's what I've been taught.

"I, I, I . . ."
With repetition, there's a very slim difference between getting the right effect and just overusing it. This is an example of the latter.

"“Where’s the drug?” came a demanding growl from behind a mask."
Wait what? Who even is this? Why does he want the drug? How did he know where the man was?


Now, onto the overall comments:

I really like the interesting concept here. It's something new and fresh, but one thing bugs me: too many loose ends. A short story is what I'd like to call a "one-off" piece, meaning that what happens in it, stays in it. This also means that most loose ends have to be linked, otherwise it really annoys the reader that they don't know anything more than what they've got in front of them.

It's also pretty sudden for the man to be suddenly attacked and threatened. I understand you want to introduce the concept of the ingredient thing, but there are better ways than that. This seems very forced. Besides, assuming that the governor was in some kind of posh building on a main road, wouldn't a least one person notice the two men in the bush?

Overall, an interesting story and concept, but you could work on how you introduce some things into the story.
I hope my review helped! :D






Your review did help, actually! I realize now that I should include at least some characterization for the governor, and I will be sure to properly foreshadow the way-too-sudden appearance of the masked man with a section at the beginning. Thanks so much!




No, it's not that you didn't succeed. You accomplished a lot, but, if you want to touch people, don't concentrate so much on rhyme and metre. Think more about what you want to say instead of how you're saying it.
— LCDR Geordi La Forge