Sunday, November 6, 2016

1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Cauthron

Name:  Kyle Cauthron
Genre:  Young Adult fantasy
Title:  The Salter's Son

Even in the dark, finding the house hadn't been any bother. Seven days of smoldering tallow and sage had left the air thick with a sharp, woody smoke. But all I smelled was rot. I ducked my nose into the arm of my jacket, desperate to cut the smell.

The home was like all the others in the Squalors--all of them made of adobe and barely clinging to the cliffside. Its window didn't have any glass. There were only skins stitched together and sewn with stones to stop them flapping, but there wasn't any breeze that morning. There rarely was when I needed one. My breathing was coming in fast and shallow, making me take in more and more of the stench. Bile splashed against the back of my throat. I tried swallowing it down, but my mouth had gone dry.

Damn those Nazra and their superstitions! I ripped my arm from my nose. I might be Nazra, but at least I had the good sense to know you don't leave a body out of the vat for a week. Not in Secco. I knocked on the door harder than I meant to. The thing wasn't more than a few sticks wrapped in hide, and it rattled something fierce. The shaking released a fresh wave of stench, and I had to brace my hand against their wall.

My body was trembling and the ground of that little terrace had begun shifting on me, except I couldn't tell if it was actually swaying or if it was just the memory coming back. Because I had been struggling to breathe then as well. Down below decks and in the dark, the air had been hard to hold on to. The wooden hull around me hadn't ever stopped swaying, and the hammock with its body wrapped inside rocked and creaked along with it. There hadn't been any smoldering sage or spices then. There had only been death.

"You're early," the man said.

I jerked away from his wall and tried to look composed. I smoothed the front of my jacket, but I doubt he noticed. His eyes were vacant, his voice hollow. I nodded, but I didn't offer him my hand. He wouldn't have taken it anyway--not even with me wearing gloves. The room behind him was lit by a dozen tallows burned to nubs. They were spaced around the boy-sized shape wrapped in burlap. An earthen bowl held the lock of hair they would burn when I left.

Please let this be fast.

The man shuffled out of my way. His body stooped like there wasn't anything left holding him up, and I regretted cursing him and his Nazra ways. I nodded at his wife sitting in the corner by the dung fire. I considered explaining myself for being early, but I didn't reckon I could manage. The stench of death was as thick as the smoke.

"It ain't right that you come so early," she said. "We get until dawn." As she spoke, she didn't lift her eyes from the burlap sack.

She was right, but it had taken a double measure of will to get me to the door the first time. I couldn't manage it again.

"I told him not to wander," the man said. His voice sounded strained. "I told him you don't leave the ropes. I told him, 'It's the mines, Son. You don't leave the ropes.’"

Bile inched up my throat. My stomach clenched in mini-heaves, but I couldn't duck my nose into my sleeve. It wouldn't have been respectful.

"We get until dawn," the woman said. "It's custom.”

I sank to their bare earth floor as far from the body as I could get. It wasn't as refined as what the Salter would have done, but it was better than fainting.

I hadn't known the boy--not well at least--and I did my best not to remember how he had looked when he smiled. It was said he had been in the mine four days before they found him, then another seven in that room. I knew his insides would be squirming with bugs, and I knew I was going to have to carry him on my back. It was easier to think of him as just a body.

Dawn. I breathed through clenched teeth, trying not to retch, trying not to curse those people for their ways, because I could feel the ground pitching again like it had on that ship. I knew what it was to sit vigil.

I couldn't keep doing it. That I knew for true. If I didn't escape, there would be another. And another. Because this was Secco, and I was apprenticed to a Salter.


Near the bottom of the ladder, I felt it coming. I dropped to the muck and rolled the body from my back, but I wasn't sprightly enough. My stomach emptied before I got to my knees. I sat back on my heels to breathe and spied the sick splattered across my shirt.

"You don't care much for the ripe ones, do you?" asked a man behind me.

I leapt to my feet and tried pretending like I hadn't been doing what he'd seen. I wiped what I could from my shirt.

"I don't expect we'd catch the Salter doing that. Over a little stink?”

It was Bento. Even in his boots his forehead barely reached my cheekbones, but height wasn't what defined him. That man was as dried out as a chili and twice as mean. For whatever reason he had never taken to me, and he grabbed every chance he could to drop me a peg or two. He leaned over the body. He pressed in so close I couldn't help but step back. As it happened, Bento was also missing an ear. While most folk would wear their hair long to hide it, he kept his razor short. At the precise end of his lean he cocked his head so that his empty ear hole stared at me from under his hat. I took another step back despite myself.

He sniffed.

"I will admit it. That one is particularly ripe.”

He straightened. "You could have just dropped him from the ladder," he said, working a pinky finger around in his empty ear hole.

Breathe, Paolo, I told myself. He's just trying to goad you. I willed my jaw to unclench and forced my breath out slowly. As I did, he turned his attention to the tip of his pinky and wiped it onto his trousers.

I knelt to hoist the body from the ground and noted how little the burlap did to stop the stench. Bento stayed where he was. His eyes were greedy.

"You know I could get you out of this," he said. "I could get you out from under your Salter, get you away from all these bodies." He said it in our native tongue.

The switch of tongues threw me off guard. Was he making the offer sound genuine or was he showing we weren't so different he and I? Either way, I forced myself to shrug and wrapped my arms around the body to roll it onto my back.

Bento pinned it to the ground with a boot.

"You should come see me.”


  1. I quite liked it. I was pulled into the desolation of this place right away and felt the internal conflict of Paolo sick to his stomach and wanting to run away but having to stay and do his job.

    I'm not sure about the 4th paragraph, the concept is great but I had to re-read it to get that the flashback was his memory on a ship.

    During your 2nd scene, there's mention of a ladder and it had me thinking where's the scene located?.. a graveyard.

    Nice description of Bento, gives the impression this is someone to be suspicious of.

  2. I liked this. The first paragraph is good, showing where I am and what's about to happen. I think if we tighten it up somehow, kind of short and sweet... that would pull the reader in faster.
    I like your names for things, Squalor and Nazra. The Squalor tells me exactly what the neighborhood looks like, even without the description -- which I also liked.
    Nazra reminds me of playing World of Warcraft so yay there! Ah, memories.
    The dialogue was good. 'Ripe ones' made me chuckle. It felt right and natural. The last sentence would definitely make me turn the page.

  3. Hello Kyle! Thanks for submitting your pages. Okay, the opening lines are really good. You draw the reader into the where, the who (vaguely, but it's there), a few senses, and leave them questioning. One improvement might be adding another thought, reaction, or truth after rot.

    Somewhere within this beginning - 3rd/5th paragraphs - the world building breaks down a bit. I lost sight of exactly where he was, what he was seeing, and why. Simplifying and adding a few distinct details could help. Once your MC crosses into the shack/hut, I'm drawn right in again. The scene you're setting is quite cryptic and even a bit creepy. Makes me want to read on. Nice! The tension you've created toward the end of the piece works great to entice readers to keep reading.

    Hope this helped. Looking forward to reading your revision.

  4. The first bit I found slow. The first couple paragraphs are good and drew me in, but then there was so much hinting without clear explanation that I found myself almost not caring anymore. Why does it smell? Where is he going? What's this about a ship?

    I'm glad I did though because where it went was great. I like the idea and the setting. You do a good job of describing the scene within the story without being obvious about it.

  5. Hi, Kyle!

    This is really terrific! I was immediately mesmerized by the language, character, setting, and plot. I really liked “Squalors” and “Nazra” and “Secco” and the other proper names you chose. Also, lovely, rich descriptions!

    I agree with the above comments, including the ones that suggest some shortening and tightening. I agree, too, that the flashback (re the ship) was confusingly worded.

    A small thing re the paragraph that begins with: “Dawn.” At first I thought that single word meant we had transitioned time-wise to dawn. Now I realize (hopefully correctly?) that your character is just thinking about the concept of dawn and having to wait until sunrise because of what the parents requested. Just FYI re my slight confusion.

    Great work; keep going!

  6. I apologize for being so late, but better late than never and I will do my best to be extra early on the next round. I will add only a couple of thoughts in that case. My suggestion (since the writing is clearly well done and you seem to be great with world) is to remove a bit of the rotting and stench lines, since we get it and a little goes a long way, and add a bit more to the description. Obviously this is what's on your MC's mind and that should stay, however, if you can craftily weave in a memory flash or some other physical sense whether visually or what have you, it will give you opportunity to describe where they are on a larger scale and more clearly as well as give you more opportunity early on to have a reaction from him other than revulsion so we can see his character and want to follow him. I'm sorry to say that connection wasn't quick enough for me.