Today we have another first chapter, this one from Hope Robertson's novel MY PROTECTOR: THE CALLING. My comments are in purple and I hope you'll all tell Hope what you think in the comments below. Also, what genre do you think this is? I'll be posting a third first chapter tomorrow.
Going to the river was forbidden. I knew this, yet it didn’t keep me from stepping off the gravel path or walking into the field. Why, I wonder? What is causing her to break the rules now? You don’t necessarily have to reveal any of that here but you should know the answer.
My heart banged against my ribs. The space in my lungs folded in on itself. I sucked in a shallow breath, enough to nearly taste the crisp grass beneath my feet. I’d choose just one of these descriptions. All three is too much – imho.
Stop your feet, Eri.
The early moonlight sparkled off the few remaining patches of snow, and
even it knew better than to dwell there. A gong sang out across the village, ringing through my insides. The warning bell.
Half way between the nearest cluster of cabins and the safety border, I glanced over my shoulder to find the dark smudges of people fleeing for refuge, their shouts dying across the distance growing between us. I should have turned back. But the charcoal sky and inky river invited me forward. I’d shorten this up because this should be a very tense scene. Maybe like this: I should have turned back. Behind me people were running, their shouts dying across the distance between us.
An overwhelming need tumbled and collided like the rapids crashing against rock. Conflicting thoughts swirled through my head and I reached up to steady myself, squeezing my eyes shut against the confusion. I pressed my hands over my ears, begging the pounding inside to leave me alone. “Please stop, please stop, please stop, please stop, please stop—” Again, here too, I would cut words. Things are happening quickly here so make your words reflect the pace.
A current of adrenaline flooded my core. The blood tsunami in my veins propelled my legs faster, rushing through the forbidden, content (I'm not sure if 'content' is the right word here.) to ruin me. My brain searched for one sane thought, something to stop my muscles from carrying me out there.
Suicide. This is suicide.
Something broke through the tree line. Blurry with speed, eerily dark within the dusk, features impossible to decipher.
A blanket of anger draped over my world, muffling sound, wrapping me in rage.
Logic told me to turn and run for my life, but my feet rooted to the frosty ground, waiting for it. From somewhere deep inside the fibers of my being, I knew I belonged there.
I crouched into an aggressive stance. Knees bent, primed and eager to spring forward, waiting. Ready.
The nightmare sped toward me, instantly closing the gap. Moving more like water than animal, swift and fluid in the gloom, seconds separated us. I had to do something. I tried to let my senses guide me, to give way for the adrenaline and hatred to force me into motion. On the verge of running directly at it, my actions no longer mattered.
As if descending from flight, the beast crashed into the ground like a meteorite falling to Earth, digging an elongated hole, mounding the dirt around itself as it slid to a halt inches from where I stood. The creature’s head advanced, rolling past my earth covered feet, coming to rest somewhere behind me. From my last comment to this point, I’d cut the word count in half. Make this beginning scene tense and short. Then when this next part happens, we’ll be happy to take a little breather and learn more about this world and our mc.
The evil we all feared lay before me. Dead. The most abhorrent thing ever. The it that only moments ago bared down on me with the sole intent of killing me and feeding on my flesh. Despite this revelation, fear did not fill me. Instead, I teetered on the brink of elation and curiosity.
Though I wasn’t sure why I was still alive, my eyes devoured every feature of the devil at my feet, relishing each detail: its enormity, the dark sheen of its hide, the absence of fur, four powerful legs, thin tail, and no wings though it seemed to fly a second ago. My brain starved for information, needed to fill the gaps from the stories before the evening light ran out.
I turned away from its body in search of the head and found the inside of its skull. Blood and gore held together by a ring of thick, leathery skin. Its eyes stared toward the village, away from my view. I stepped over the beast crater still deciding if I wanted to get a better look at the atrocity when I caught the whisper of movement. I was a little confused by what happened here…until I read on. I wonder if there’s a way to make it a little more clear?
Dread fluttered through me for the first time. I shrunk into a defensive crouch as a form emerged from the end of the beast.
“Are you all right?” the man asked.
I gawked, wide-eyed. In three long strides, he latched a hand on my arm.
“Are you okay?” he demanded.
A large presence towered before me, face angled down toward mine.
“Um, yeah,” I stammered, still piecing together what he was, where he came from, and why he was there.
The handles of his swords protruded from above his shoulders, out from behind his back. Sweat streaked his uncomprehending face. Blood covered the back of the hand gripping my elbow. His blue eyes pierced into my brain, probably trying to figure out why in the world I was out there.
I thought I was dreaming. It had to be a manifestation of distant memory and dreary dramas the grown-ups delivered at dark. The inexplicable spike of emotions, drawing me toward the place we were never to go. Watching the monster emerge from the obscurity of the trees, witnessing it fall to the ground, head sliced off by one of the Protectors.
He shook me with both hands. “What in the hell are you doing out here? Didn’t you hear the bell?” His tone grew harsher, eyes turning from concern to irritation.
I hadn’t noticed we were walking, more like marching, back toward the village. I tried to stop and turn back, but he held firm to my elbow, forcing me to jog along beside him in order to keep up with his long strides. Even then I lagged a little.
Merely following along in a stupor, I caught myself staring at him. I had seen him before. I think everyone noticed him. He embodied all myth and legend shrouding the secret guardians. Plenty of rumor and speculation circulated around who held the elusive title of Protector. No one knew for sure. The only people who could identify a Protector were the Protectors themselves. Only men could be Protectors, we knew that much, and they were not exactly like us. He belonged with the Protectors.
With the space stretching between us and the dead creature, his persistent rescue infuriated me. I wanted to go back there, relish in the moment a little longer. I needed it. Moreover, I wasn’t ready to face my parents. Wandering to the river after a warning bell wasn’t exactly a light infraction. It wasn’t like I forgot to collect firewood or ripped my one decent pair of pants. I could’ve died.
I tried my hardest to plant my feet in a futile attempt to stop walking, as if I could come remotely close to holding my own against him. I was about to throw my weight in the other direction when he wheeled on me. Here is where I might like some explanation as to why she’s behaving this way, why she’s defying the rules.
“Listen kid, you don’t belong out here! You know the rules. That beast could have mutilated you. It would’ve liked nothing more than to pick you up and take you back to his friends to have some fun with their little snack.” His face hovered inches from mine, his sneer mocking me. He leaned in close enough for his breath to heat my cheeks. “They do like to play with their food, you know.”
My head filled with images of the beasts tossing me around, from one to the other. Ripping little pieces of my flesh bit by bit, trying to make their snack last as long as possible. Until there was nothing left except blood on their snouts and uneatable scraps on the ground. Those details never made it into any of the stories I heard.
A faint chill shook my body. His sneer turned into a teeth-bearing smile. I stuck my chin out and tried again to head in the opposite direction of his handhold.
I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go back to see the slain creature, but his condescension challenged me. I was bent on going back there. Maybe it was curiosity, maybe I realized I might never get a chance to see one again. More than likely, if I ever came across one of the monsters, it would be right before it ate me.
“All right then.” He turned so swiftly it took me a second to figure out he led me in the direction I wanted to go.
In less than ten forced strides, I smelled it clinging to the inside of my nose, tasted it in my mouth. Something akin to the scent of wet dog, mixed with the metallic smell of blood and fresh dirt. Thankful for my lack of a gag reflex, I swallowed hard against the stench saturating the night air as he held me over the mutilated predator.
“Have a good look, kid. Are you happy now?” He pulled me closer than I ever dreamt I’d get to a beheaded creature. “Is this what you wanted?”
I flinched, closing my eyes tight and tried to pull back.
“Look at it! Remember it,” he seethed.
I wiggled against him holding me less than a foot from the monster. I tried to control my feelings, knowing what would follow. It came anyway. He relinquished his iron clutch on my arm, I struggled to stand upright, staring at him as the tears spilled over my lashes. I turned, heading back home, hoping he wouldn’t follow, knowing I wasn’t that lucky.
I threw back my shoulders, telling myself over and over I wasn’t scared. Just because the dead thing back there barreled down with an intention to feed, I wasn’t scared. Just because a Protector sliced its head off so deftly I hadn’t even noticed his presence a nanosecond before the monster sank its teeth into me, I wasn’t scared. Just because I had broken the holy rule of our people by going out there in the dark, I wasn’t scared. And just because I was about to get hand-delivered to my parents by a Protector, whose identity would no longer be speculation because of my selfish actions, I was not scared.
He granted me a five step head start before following, never trying to catch up, although I knew he could have if he wanted to. At least he afforded me that dignity.
I longed for the hatred from earlier. Instead, the closer we got to my house, the dumber I felt. I swiped at the tears the best I could without making it obvious I still cried. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
The chill of the winter air seeped into my thick sweater by the time I made out the porch light burning next to my front door. The light grew brighter with each step, amplifying the guilt consuming me.
The scenario with my parents played out in my head. I heard their perturbed words, saw the disappointment on their faces, felt the embarrassment that was sure to come. It was going to be awful, humiliating because he would be witness to my shame.
I paused at the threshold of my house, wishing for something, anything, to keep me from having to enter. I reached for the handle, holding my breath, ready to face my punishment when my father pulled open the door and yanked me inside.
“Thank God!” my mother said as both parents engulfed me in their arms, smoothing my hair, grateful for my safe return after a warning bell. Their fears of losing me fell away with every thankful tear.
Wrapped in their devotion, I forgot about the man watching until he casually cleared his throat from behind us. My parents released their hold, staring back in shock at the stranger filling our doorway.
My nightmare continued.
It was my turn to explain where I was, what happened to me. “Umm, I heard the bell, umm,” I stammered, unsure how to start the story.
“I saw her running over by the main well.” He took over with his version of my rule breaking. “She was so terrified, and I was far from my home, so I took her with me as I ducked into the Chamber’s house—they’re friends of mine—until the safe bell rang.”
My mouth hung wide open as his words filled my parents’ ears.
He covered for me. Why?
I snapped my mouth shut when my parents shook his hand with grateful appreciation. Surely they would notice the blood on their hands after touching his. There wasn’t any. My eyes darted to his back for the telltale sword handles jutting up from his shoulders. They were missing as well.
What in the world? Had I dreamt it? Maybe he did grab me and pull me into safety where I bumped my head, knocked unconscious long enough to dream up the unimaginable evening. Maybe. I guess it could’ve happened.
As my parents turned to embrace me again, I saw the look in his eyes. I saw the expression from when sweat streaked his face and blood covered his hands.
It happened. I knew it was real. The steel in his eyes told me so. He must have ditched his weapons and cleaned himself up on the way back to my house. Somewhere along the way, while I bawled like a baby, he was busy de-Protectoring himself and figuring out what story to use on my parents.
Then it occurred to me. He didn’t do it to cover for me. It was necessary to conceal his identity as a Protector. I was the one who unearthed his secret. He was the only one who knew where I ventured to and what I witnessed. Interesting. Love this turn. You had me convinced she was in trouble but instead you’ve given her a secret. Nice.
My overall suggestion is to cut words. Especially in the first part when things are happening. Make the words reflect the pace. Skip the flowery prose/description. Use active verbs. The second part can move a little slower and have more information but I still think the word count could be reduced a bit by rearranging sentences. Now, as far as the story/character goes, I am definitely interested. I want to know why our mc is breaking the rules. Is this the first time or is she/he a habitual offender? I want to know more about the monsters, too. What exactly are they? And I want to know more about the Protectors and their role in this society. But most importantly, I want to know what’s going to happen next.
Now, what do you guys think?