A few months ago I put the opening scene of Oneiromancer right here on this very blog. It was a first draft. It wasn’t very good. And that’s fine: part of the reason I posted it was because it wasn’t great. It’s part of the process – a fair reflection of the sort of shit I churn out as I find my way, as I walk that road towards – hopefully – publishability.
But that’s my rational brain talking. I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable about it; vulnerable, embarrassed. It wasn’t very good. Letting the great wide world see something so raw and incomplete is terrifying. Plus it’s counter-productive: I’m trying to build a following. Anyone who read that will think I’m an amateur. It will not get me a publishing deal. It will not awe people with my hard-earned skills. It will not make anyone eager to read the rest of the work.
Now I’ve completed the first draft and I’m on the rewrite. So I’ve decided to put the second draft here on my blog and to expose myself again. This is partly to do all the things I’ve just said: I want to impress. But I also thought it’d be interesting – for anyone interested in the process – for people to be able to compare and contrast the two versions. To see what I’ve kept, what I’ve cut, the ways in which the scene has developed or changed emphasis. If that’s you, the link above will hyperspeed you to the original post.
Or you could just want to read an opening salvo. In which case, read this version. It’s better. If you disagree then something’s gone badly wrong somewhere.
And please, please, please let me emphasise: this isn’t finished either. It’s closer, but two drafts are nothing. Many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip etc etc. Let me show the whole thing to my beta-readers first. Let me get serious, deep feedback. Only in context will we know if it works or not.
Comments, as always, are welcome.
* * *
“You’re ready?” Rosenkrantz asked. He held his sword by his side, handsome in his doublet and hose.
Guildenstern shivered, though the night was warm. The estate wasn’t silent – never was, not in the middle of London – but it was the quietest it would get, mid-way between the pubs closing and the rush-hour starting back up again. “Are you –”
“We’ve been through it how many times?” Rosie cut her off. “We want to make a difference, right?”
Gilly sighed and turned away. She looked over the concrete balcony at the half-lit plaza – more concrete, the occasional stunted tree failing to bring life to the yard. In the distance there was a scream and a thump, as of someone running into a wheelie-bin. She twitched back her long dress, unsure, now they were actually out here, just how to go about being a vigilante.
Rosenkrantz touched her arm. “There,” he said.
She focused on a ground-floor gap in the buildings. A woman, colour swamped by the amber of security lights and streetlamps, burst into the square created by the arms of squat tower-blocks in which they stood. She looked terrified; even from their vantage point – twenty metres away and another fifteen up – they could see her eyes were wide, her breathing laboured. She glanced behind her – and into the amphitheatre came a man. Broad-shouldered, well built with a black beanie pulled tight over his ears, he sighted the girl and made for her.
Gilly felt Rosenkrantz tense as he raised the sword again and turned for the stairs –
“Wait,” Gilly said.
“What? This is what we’re here for. Vigilantes, remember?” Below the girl was sprinting for the far exit, the narrow gap between towers on the east side. The man was catching her, though; easy loping steps that covered the ground deceptively quickly. “She needs –”
“Something’s not right here,” Gilly said.
Rosenkrantz shifted uncomfortably. The sword remained unsheathed.
Below them the girl finally realised she wasn’t going to make the exit. She turned at bay; seeing this, the man too slowed, adopted a stance more ready for combat. Gilly watched his empty hands flex. He said something – a question, maybe. By way of an answer the girl reached into her demin jacket and pulled out a flick-knife. Street-lights reflected off the blade.
Still the girl backed off, the man cautious, now, but still coming at her. She slashed the air between them.
Rosenkrantz was fiddling with his scabbard, rocking it back and forth. “Gil –”
“No,” Gilly said. “Just… just watch.”
The girl below them slashed again, skipped forwards as she thrust towards her opponent’s chest. But this time, almost faster than the watchers could perceive, the man’s hand shot out and crashed against the girl’s wrist. The knife skittered across the paving stones.
The girl had backed up against one of the bare trees that seemed so out of place in this land of concrete. She shook her head mutely – and then, and then –
Slowly she stood up straighter until she was taller than the man before her. The fear went from her expression, her mouth drawing tight and contemptuous. The man took a half-pace back and she laughed, hard and cruel, and there was something unhuman in it, some harmonic that rattled the fillings in the teeth. For a moment the background noise, the ever-present traffic, the nightbirds and night-dwellers were silenced.
Then the dogs started barking.
The woman held up her arm. Gilly watched as her fingers, her nails – they grew, sharpened, became talons. Her face darkened but there was no shadow on her now; as if a tattoo was only now coming to the surface.
The man stepped forwards and rammed the heel of his hand into the bridge of her nose. The snap echoed around the courtyard. She staggered back against the tree. And all the time she was changing, chin becoming pointed –
The man was on her before she could recover, grabbing a wrist in each hand and holding those horrible bladed fingers up and away –
“She’s not bleeding,” Rosenkrantz muttered. He was right. The nose seemed distorted but there was no splatter, no trail – and no sign of pain on the woman-thing’s face.
She tried to kick out but the man was ready for her, twisting his knees to deflect her legs away. She tried to angle her blades to scalp him but his grip was too strong, too rigid.
With a flexibility that Gilly knew she’d never have, the man calmly extended a foot and planted it in the woman’s neck. He pulled on her arms, stretching her, throttling with the dark sole of his boot. She let out a little gurgling sound, drool spilling down her sharp chin, head forced back against the tree-trunk at her back. She spasmed and shook, the gurgling turning into a keening wail. Still the man kept the pressure on.
“We should go down,” Gilly said. But before she could move there was a crunch of cartilage and the girl-thing went limp.
The watchers made their way towards the staircase as the man kept his boot on the throat. It was only as they reached the harsh grey steps that he stepped back, let go of the girl-thing’s arms and let her slip motionless to the ground.
“Follow him,” Gilly said. “We need to know who he is.”
The man was looking round now, face calm and controlled. As if he did this sort of thing every night. Rosenkrantz drew Gilly deeper into shadows. She didn’t think they’d been seen.
“Follow him,” she said again and he turned and started to stride back the way he’d come.
“So this is vigilanteism, is it?” Rosenkrantz muttered. “Not exactly as I’d imagined. What about you?”
“I’m going to dispose of that… thing.”
“What? Why?” he asked as they hurried, as quiet as they could, down to the courtyard.
“It’s not dead yet. Not dead enough.”