Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Eyes On The Prize (Part Six)

Nothing alive could have moved like that. Head tilted to one side, neck clearly broken, Claire McKenzie’s body shambled a hesitant step forward. In the moment between death and re-birth the corpse seemed to have forgotten how to walk: but it was learning fast and picking up speed.

Templar darted forward and down, fingers stumbling across the butt of the shotgun and scratching for purchase. The gun clattered a few inches towards him, the impact of the movement sending the one remaining shell loudly into the wall of the plane, leaving tiny dots of light where the fragments broke through the metal. Templar uttered a silent prayer and stepped back from the advancing figure, eyes darting around the interior for some kind of weapon. Somehow in that moment his arm brushed against his pocket, connecting with the crucifix within. He shoved a desperate hand deep into the gap and rescued the object, holding it in front of him. The corpse hissed, its breath already rank, and slowed but did not stop in its advance.
‘Claire’ Templar tried desperately, ‘do you know who I am Claire?’ Templar stepped back again, dislodging some crates. The angry hiss from the creature was all the reply he needed. Templar climbed onto the nearest crate, feeling its wooden frame groan underneath him. He scrambled even higher, aware that he was being forced away from the one exit that might save his life. Desperately he tried to clear his mind, to remember what items McKenzie had been examining earlier: had there been something there that he could use as a weapon?

McKenzie’s corpse stopped following him now, seeming to recognise that he was cornered. All it would take would be one touch and he too might become like this; dead, and yet still alive. Templar tried the crucifix again, knowing that it would be useless in his hands. To make the creature retreat you had to have faith: and he knew all to well that he had lost that a long time ago. No, not lost – he thought in the panic of the moment – things like this in front of him had been too much proof to bear and with that proof had come the gradual loss of hope.

Angry at himself now Templar threw the crucifix at the creature, taking a moment of pleasure in its temporary retreat. He took another step backwards, the connection between his arms and the back of the plane telling him two things: one that the creature had moved out of the inanimate object into something it could mould into new shapes and two that he had no chance whatsoever of escape.


There was a banging from the doorway of the plane, the metal first denting and then giving way to the impact before the door slammed off its hinges and rattled to the ground. The creature turned now, sensing a new enemy, and Templar’s eyes widened in surprise as he saw first one of Fisher’s men and then, behind the hood, a face that he knew all too well.

There was a roar of an explosion and the corpse rocked on its feet as a shotgun shell pounded into the head of the body. Blood and brains exploded everywhere, spattering across the walls.

The body fell, arms still flailing. The sky turned blue again as the energy left McKenzie’s body and flashed towards the nearest possible host.

Templar was already moving towards the door before John Fisher’s corpse had the chance to stand. He pushed his way out into the snow, taking cover with the other five men as they retreated from the plane. As he ran into the snow Templar thought he caught the whiff of paraffin – then he saw the flames.

A few seconds later he saw that each man had removed their hoods and unzipped their jackets to reveal the crucifixes below. Now, as he dove into the cold snow, Templar saw each man raise their cross as one.

Fisher’s corpse stumbled out of the doorway towards them, his advance held back temporarily by the flame. Again there was the roar of a shotgun, but this time the creature was ready and raised a hand to deflect the bullet. As Fisher reached the wall of flame Templar watched it regarding the smoke and knew it would only be a moment before it was strong enough to advance towards them again.

That was when the chanting began. Words so familiar, and yet almost forgotten to him through the mists of time. In the hands of each man the crucifix began to glow: white hot as if caught by the sun and reflecting its power. Templar stood slowly, watching the familiar ritual, and was surprised to find himself mouthing the words in time.

The first of the flames were going out now, the paraffin exhausted, but still the creature seemed driven back by the words until it was forced into the plane. Then, just as the words began to hum in his brain, Templar saw one of the men drop the crucifix and draw a flame thrower.

It was all over surprisingly quickly after that. Even so, as he watched the fire take hold of the plane and begin to gut it, Templar couldn’t help but feel that it had all been too easy. Finally the flames subsided and he turned to face his five saviours
‘So’ he said eventually, ‘You came then?’
‘We did what was necessary’ one of them replied
‘And I suppose that it was you that killed the dogs?’ Templar asked
‘We did what was necessary’

Templar shook his head, ‘You had to draw it out, force it to reveal the location of the artefact, am I right? And the only way you could do that was to give it the chance of life?’
‘We did…’
‘What was necessary’ Templar completed bitterly, ‘Yes… so you said’

One of the men approached him now, gazing at him with something approaching concern, ‘Brother Gabriel’ the man said, ‘We do not understand your reluctance to this action
‘That’s not my name’ Templar replied, ‘And my reluctance is that three people died because of you’
‘It was unfortunate but necessary Gabriel’ the figure replied, ‘you should know that’
Templar shook his head, ‘No – there should have been another way’
‘There was no other way’

Templar looked at the remains of the plane, ‘So now what? Will you kill me?’
The figure shook his head, ‘That is not our way Gabriel,’ he replied, ‘You should know that’
‘Look’ Templar replied, his anger rising again, ‘Stop calling me that. My name is Charles Templar now…no one has called me…that name for a very long time’
‘But it is your given name Gabriel?’
‘And therefore mine to refuse’ Templar responded. He sighed, ‘The artefact must be destroyed…you do know that?’
The figures shook their heads in unison, ‘It must be taken back’
‘It is necessary’

Templar was fuming now, having to fight to restrain himself, ‘But if one single person gets infected then it will spread until no-one is left’
‘It will not happen’
‘But it can’t be risked’ Templar tried
‘It will not happen’

Templar let the last of his anger go. There was no point fighting them: not here, not now. Maybe once he would have tried, but now…He turned to the nearest figure, ‘Leave me a sled, enough supplies to get to base…I’ll do the rest’
‘But Gabriel…’
‘I told you’ Templar replied through gritted teeth, ‘DON’T CALL ME THAT GODDAM NAME!’

The words seemed to echo across the bleak horizon long after the figures had departed, leaving him alone to his thoughts in the wilderness. Finally, when he was sure they were gone he looked through the supplies they had left behind for him until he found a short-handled shovel. Then he dug three shallow graves.

He waited alone in the wilderness until the dawn came and he was sure the bodies would not rise again. Then he packed the last of the supplies onto the sled and headed away into the gathering clouds.


And that, I’m afraid, is that. Not perfect and a lot of room for improvement, but there were some nice ideas in there.

Make what you want of the ending – I don’t believe in giving the reader all the answers, as I think it’s far more entertaining for them to be left with a few things to think about afterwards.

Regular readers of this page will be glad to know that DFTP will be returning to its usual random influences and musings over the next few months, but at some point in the future I may try writing something slightly different – probably off-line and with re-writes so that I can assess which was more fun.

Finally – a couple of notes:

Firstly – when I was thinking about this story I had intended for there to be dialogue between Templar and the McKenzie/corpse, but abandoned this idea as I felt it would take away from the creature to give it a voice

Secondly – if I had been writing this off-line and actually planning the story a bit more then I would definitely have gone back and re-written some of the earlier scenes, especially in line with the final revelations which don’t quite work as well as they would have if I’d planned things a bit better.

Thirdly – the violence. I hope you didn’t mind this too much – I tend to believe that you should only show violence in a story if you are prepared to show the consequences: a subject I may return to in another blog.

Finally: thanks for staying with me – it’s been really great to have your feedback


Michael said...

I liked the imagery in this one. Time for a big picture edit, yes? Time to do some crafting. There's a pile of SF contests out there too...

Buddha said...

I didn't find the violence too much - and I don't like violence.
I wish the corpse was more diabolical. I found it a little dumb, a little too predictable.
I don't know if it is just me or if I have a point.
You should get "the clandestine samurai" to comment on it. He is really good

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Michael - yes. It definately needs some editing. Not sure if the idea isn't a little to derivative to really have legs - but might be worth a look around to see what's happening.

Buddha - i take your point and i think some of this results from the rush of writing in one sitting. I don't mind people pointing out the weaknesses as long as its constructive - the best feedback i usually get is people complaining about punctuation and sentence structure or just saying "Hm - great, idea what it was about but great" - so all actual useful feedback like yours is much appreciated.

Lydia said...

I agree with Michael that this one needs to be entered into SF contests. I was spellbound through the great majority of this story. No, the violence didn't seem over the top for me -- and I look forward to your future thoughts on violence in fiction. I'm glad that Claire didn't respond when he called out to "it." It may have been a bit too easy to put down the corpse, just to make it seem (as Buddha said) more diabolical.
I also agree that comments on the final chapter from Samurai would be interesting to read.
You are a VERY creative writer!

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Lydia - thanks: your feedback is very helpful. One idea that perhaps didn't come across so well in the final part was that with each body the creature was becoming more powerful: so the gun worked on Claire, but not on Fisher - fire wouldn't have worked on the next body and so on.

I hope Samurai does respond too

The Clandestine Samurai said...

I'm grateful for the compliments, but I agree with neglect the pixies: all comments are of equal value and each one has just as much validity as the other. I am only one perspective.

Of course, I liked it. Mysteries and the Fantastical always capture my attention. But I must give you my honest opinion if I'm to add anything substantial.

With the looming nature of the Creature and the power it visually portrayed before, I was expecting more animation or livelihood from it when it possessed Claire. I'm not saying it had to talk per say, but, especially considering it's past dealings with the "Brotherhood", I thought it would be more of a character, referencing (but not necessarily explaining) its personal history in the process. Here, I kept picturing it to be a zombie for some reason.

You said you wanted to leave the reader with questions and possibly their own analysis, which you did well. I was wondering if Fisher was actually part of the Brotherhood. He didn't come across as disciplined and moralistic as they did. If he wasn't part of them, why'd they choose to make pretend to be his henchmen instead of just going after the artifact themselves? It could be that they needed the cover, but then from whom? Claire and Brannigan? It could've been from Templar, but Templar only recognized one face (solidly stating, minus implications), and this was way after the fact. But then again, they move and act in unison, so perhaps one face can speak for them all.

I'm just rambling, and all of these things are probably already answered and I just forgot or misread. The violence was nothing, as in explicitness, it was nil by today's standards. I wouldn't worry about it at all.

At any rate, this is an engaging story. I hope to see a fully edited and more fleshed-out version.

The Clandestine Samurai said...

Actually, you've inspired me to start thinking about publishing a serial of short stories myself.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Samurai - thanks. i really appreciate all the feedback you've given (in fact all the feedback i've had)

you've picked up on some interesting things here - and i agree that in the end i let things down a bit with the corpse/zombie. Some things for me to think about with the next thing i write. Everyone has been really constructive - i look forward to seeing your serial

Honour said...

Pixie, Pixie, Pixie-Man - you delight me with your plot twists. I really liked it. You surprised me TWICE. hard to do in a short story.

This would have made a nice short story in an alternative genre anthology ... you should consider polishing it up and submitting. (as I see now that everyone else has suggested the same)

Great work :)
p.s. great characters - very realistic to me!