Sunday, November 13, 2016

1st 5 Pages November Workshop - Cauthron Rev 1

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

Even in the dark, finding the house hadn't been any bother. The air around it was thick with smoke. For seven days they'd burned tallows, sage and whatever they could find for incense. But all I smelled was rot. I ducked my nose into the arm of my jacket, desperate to cut the smell. I nearly backed myself off that narrow terrace of a street just to escape, except that wasn't how I was raised.

The house I stood before 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 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. Damn those Nazra and their superstitions! 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.

Beneath my feet the ground had set to trembling, but I knew it wasn't true. It was the memory coming back. In my mind I wasn't any longer on that cliffside. I was below decks and in the dark, struggling to breathe. The air was hard to hold onto. Around me the wooden hull didn't ever stop swaying, and the hammock with its body wrapped inside rocked and creaked along with it. There wasn't any smoldering sage or spices then to cover it. All I smelled was death.

"You're early," the man said.

I jerked away from his wall and tried to look composed. Lacking the adobe I'd been leaning against, it was hard to appear steady, but I doubt he noticed. His eyes were vacant, his voice hollow. I didn't offer him my hand. He wouldn't have taken it--not even with me wearing gloves. Behind him was a room lit by a dozen tallows, all of them 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. They had had to flee their home, same as me, and now they had lost their boy. 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.'"

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 told myself. 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 in the street 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 always taken an interest in 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. Thank you all very much for your comments on my original pages. It was obvious that you put serious thought into them, and they were very useful in guiding my revisions. Thank you.

  2. I had to go back to the original because I didn't even recognize the changes as first. They were subtle, but they worked. I liked being in his head more. I need to go back and work on mine in that respect.
    Still like the dialogue.
    In your original with formatting, is there a differentiator between inner dialogue and normal? I see a few places where he's talking to himself and they have the same formatting. Is that on purpose?

    1. Thanks. Yes, there is a difference between dialogues, but Plain Text formatting strips out the italics. Here are the lines that are in italics:
      "Damn those Nazra and their superstitions!"
      "Please let this be fast."
      "Dawn," I told myself.
      "Breathe, Paolo," I told myself. "He's just trying to goad you."

  3. Subtle changes, but I noticed and I liked, especially this one "They had had to flee their home, same as me, and now they had lost their boy." It gives me more details about Paolo and brings sympathy to the parents of the boy.

    Also noticed the effort to make the memory on the ship more clear.

    I am however having trouble getting a picture of the scene in Chapter 2. The ladder -- where is he climbing down from? Is it the cliffside?

    Again, I quite like this.

    1. Thank you. I'll try and clear that up for the next revision.

  4. I too had to go back to find the changes and was surprised to find my first comment that said I wasn't drawn in, for this time I definitely was. You've made a number of small changes that just help it flow better. The shorter sentences where needed really help. I've also noticed that this revision does a better job of showing as opposed to telling.
    The description of Bento, with the ear, is disgusting. I want to say it's not needed because it does seem to be a bit much, but if disgusting is the goal you've achieved that well.
    Really great job. I want to keep reading.

  5. Hi, Kyle! I agree with the above comments ... your changes are spot-on! The narrative flows beautifully.

    My only comment, and this may be because I haven't had my morning coffee yet and am confused ... but I still trip a bit going into the second scene (with Bento, etc). The way I read it, the MC is dumping a body onto the street, and maybe it's the body of the boy in the previous scene? It's not clear that it's a flashback with a different body, different circumstances. And it's not clear it's a ship.

    Also, the lines: "... because I could feel the ground pitching again like it had on that ship. I knew what it was to sit vigil" seems to imply that the ground had only pitched for him that one time (on the ship), and that he had only sat vigil that one time (on the ship). Or has he done this job with bodies more than that one time? Again, apologies if I missed something.

    Terrific work! I'm really eager to keep reading!

  6. Thank you all for your comments. I really appreciate them.