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TheGreySentinel
August 23rd, 2010, 08:13 PM
The snow fell, thick and silent over the city streets as Sarah walked through the falling flakes. The winds were cold and the city was uncaring, the glass windows glaring down at her like so many accusing eyes. She always had felt that way. The city seemed to have a sort of sentience, a chilling, uncanny kind that clawed at her and left her cold.

She tried to appease the gods of the city- and her own growling stomach - by stepping off the sidewalk and into a small diner that huddled between two mammoth buildings. The bell above the door jangled as she stepped in, causing a waitress to glance in her direction, the woman's eyes tired and her ankles swollen over the edges of the tight shoes she wore. Her name was Hope, or so the chicken scratch tag pinned to her grease-stained shirt proclaimed.

Hope gave her a smile that didn't reach her eyes, "'Ello, dearie. Pick a table, I'll be with yeh in a moment." The girl nodded once and looked out over the mostly empty tables. In one corner was a man sitting hunched over a newspaper and a mug of coffee. A trenchcoat was draped over his shoulders and it hung down over the bench onto the floor, the bottom hem caked with slush and salt from the streets. Sarah watched him a moment, picturing him as some kind of angel with ratty grey feathers, thick with dust and falling snow.

A long sigh and she pushed deeper into the dimly-lit room, the scent of grease and eggs clinging to her skin and filling her lungs. It was a comfort, a familliar scent. For all she'd never been in this particular diner, they were all the same.

The booth welcomed her, the thick, red vinyl covering sinking down and enveloping her in its softness. How many people had sat here, eating their eggs? The man with the newspaper was to her right, his head still bowed as he studied the text below him. Or seemed to, anyway. Sarah couldn't help but wonder if he saw the words at all or if he was staring straight through them and at the floor. Or deeper than that.

"'Ere's a menu, lemmie know when yer ready, dearie." Hope's voice jarred her out of her contemplation of the stranger and into the world of breakfast platters piled thick with bacon and potatoes. "Thanks," she smiled up at the waitress who had already turned away and was refilling the man's coffee.

The menu unfolded before her, spreading itself out on the table like a porn star, revealing all its secrets. Why did the pictures always look so much more appetizing than the actual food? Perfectly arranged plates of hash browns, stacks of pancakes topped with strawberries so ripe she half wanted to lick the page, waffles brown and crisp and drowning in maple syrup... Her hand fished into her pocket and she pulled out her wallet, pulling open the leather flaps to peer mournfully into the darkness within. A lone five-dollar bill winked back at her, Abraham Lincoln chastising her for not giving him company.

A sigh and she set the wallet to the side and turned the page, looking at the sides. Coffee and toast was just about all she could afford so she silently said goodbye to dreams of pancakes and bacon. Sarah leaned back against the seat and looked back towards the door, watching people pass through the smoky, yellowed windows. From here the snow looked like falling ash.

"Got'cha covered, kid." The voice from beside her was quiet and gritty, like a throat left raw from screaming. Her head turned and she found the man looking at her, his blue gaze finally having lifted from drilling holes into the newspaper. "Get yer pancakes." For some reason she didn't ask how he knew that's what she'd been drooling over. It just seemed fitting that he would. Squinting, she tried to picture the wings again, but found that it was harder to do with him staring at her.

Hope came limping up the aisle then and stopped at Sarah's table, looking down at her expectantly, "Uh... pancakes?" she asked quietly, eyes still on the man that had spoken.

"Strawberries and bacon too, Hope."

The waitress turned around as the man spoke, "Pulling your tricks again, Deacon?"

"Just do it."

The exchange was rapid and familiar and Sarah was left wondering just what sort of faerie tale she'd stepped into as the woman headed away towards the kitchen, the notepad clutched in her hand and the pen hanging limp from her fingers. "Don't mind her, kid, she's a little downtrodden these days. City wears on ya, ya know? Just kinda happens." The newspaper was folded and jammed up against the wall along side the ketchup and salt and the stranger, Deacon, was drinking his coffee. "Lots of people forget her."

"How did you know? About the..."

"Strawberries? Just a guess. You hang around long enough, you learn to read people."

"But..."

"You'd turned the page already. I could tell by the look on your face and the way you were scowling at your wallet, kid."

"But..."

His hand slid over to his newspaper and he pulled it back over to him, looking down at the printed surface. With him staring back at the tabletop again she could picture the wings, curled up over his shoulders. Why couldn't she see them when he was looking at her? Sarah realized she was staring and looked down at the table, following the faux-wood grain with her eyes. There was a metallic chink from Deacon's direction near her and she glanced up, catching a flash.

The man's lips were pressed around the smooth cylinder of a cigarette, the end lighting and glowing a brilliant red as he drew in a lungful. "What are you doin' in here, kid? Ya don't belong in a place like this," the words were accompanied by a rush of smoke as he exhaled.

"I just sort of came in," she said, shaking her head a little. Fingers slid up the sleeve of her jacket and she peered at her watch. She was probably going to be late for work but somehow she didn't think it would matter all that much. "I was hungry."

"We're all hungry, kid. Lookin' fer something to fill that emptiness right here," he tapped his chest. "Hope's got it bad. She's tryin', but it ain't always so easy." Why the hell was he telling her this? Sarah cocked her head at him and tried to figure him out. The wings twitched and shuddered in her mind's eye, shaking a little and sending some of the layers of soot peeling from the feathers.

The plate clanked softly as it hit the table, the pancakes arranged just like the picture had been and heaped high with sparkling berries so red she wanted to lick them. Crisp strips of bacon glistened and shed heat, that warm, thick smell filling her nose. Hope dropped the silverware unceremoniously and set down a mug of black coffee on the edge of the table. "Stop it, Deacon," Hope intoned, her back turned towards Sarah, "Yeh don't have to drag 'er into this. Yeh do this to everyone that walks in 'ere and the boss'll get pissed again."

"Let him get pissed. A man's got a right to talk, doesn't he? Hell, I'm not doin' any harm." Deacon all but slammed his mug down on the table, "She's got a right to know."

The fight brewing had Sarah inching over towards the wall, dragging her plate with her as she pulled the fork close. Things were getting weird. She could feel it in the pit of her stomach so she tried to drown out the sense of impending strangeness by cutting a piece of the pancake and shoving it into her mouth. Man, it tasted better than the picture. Sarah made herself an oath that she'd come back here again. What was the name of the place? She'd get it on the way out. Weird or not, these pancakes were heaven.

"If the boss wanted 'er to know he'd tell 'er 'imself."

"Well where the hell is he, then?"

"I can't do this right now, Deacon." Her voice wavered a little as she turned from him, her eyes shimmering with tears.

"Sorry, Hope."

She didn't respond, bustling up the aisle and out of sight into the door marked "private." Sarah finished up her pancakes quickly and downed the coffee, suddenly feeling a guttural instinct to get the hell out of there. "Kid... keep the faith close. Dark times are comin'." He was standing at the end of her table, looming over her like some kind of messenger. His shadow seemed bigger than it should be and Sarah flinched. There was a clatter and he dropped a lighter onto the table. The zippo had a feather on it, engraved on the shining steel.

Deacon turned away, his coat dragging behind him across the floor as his heavy footsteps took him out towards the door. Grabbing the lighter, Sarah dropped her five-dollar bill onto the table and went bounding after him, "Wait!" her hand outstretched and she all but ran into him when he turned back to look at her.

"What were you talking about with Hope, just then?"

"Kid, there are bigger things than us in this world. I'm just a messenger."

Sarah sighed, "Bunch of weirdos."

"It's probably easier that way, kid. C'mon. Time to go. You'll be late for work."

There it was again, that strange knowing and he opened the door, pushing it wide. The wind blew in, sharp and cutting like the edge of a knife. Deacon stepped out first, blocking the worst of it while he waited for her. Sarah paused for a second before she turned back to look at the table with the empty plate. "Yeah." And she followed him out into the thick flakes of falling snow.

(This work is (c) E. Harvey, 2009)

Sonofjoe
August 24th, 2010, 08:56 PM
Hi TGS
My first real critique of a story - apologies if I don’t mention things like imagery, tone, mood and show a clever knowledge of short story construction, it’s just that I don’t feel confidant or experienced enough to do so. I’m sure other more learned members here will see more in to it than I have.
Anyways here’s what I thought.

I liked this – a lot! Bit of a cliché I know. I even read it three times I liked that much. I know why I like it but I don’t know how to put it in words. It reminded me somehow of some stories I’d read a while back written by Janet Frame or Tobias Wolf.



The menu unfolded before her, spreading itself out on the table like a porn star, revealing all its secrets.

Love it :wink:


Hope I get to read more of your writing TGS.

TheGreySentinel
August 25th, 2010, 01:23 AM
SonOfJoe:

Thank you so much. :D Whether you post a detailed critique regarding all the writing mechanics or just a simple note, everything is appreciated. I'm very glad that you like the story, and I definitely will have more writing up. I have more on my DeviantArt account, but don't be expecting TOO much from me in terms of writing since most everything I post publicly I can't publish (it eliminates First Serial rights, which are a major source of income for a book). But I do intend on posting first chapters and teasers of my books here and there.

The Backward OX
August 25th, 2010, 02:17 AM
I both enjoyed this, immensely, and disliked it, intensely.

It’s a wonderful story, as far as it goes. That sentence explains the reason for my dislike. The unanswered question(s) about Deacon would be fine if this were part of a longer piece or an anthology or something, something where answers would be found.

I found two small flaws in the writing itself.

In the opening sentence you use the verb “fall” twice. I don’t like repetitions of this type within a sentence, although that might be just me.

In the second paragraph you have Sarah stepping off the sidewalk and into a small diner. Usage over the years of “stepping off the sidewalk” has accustomed us to reading this phrase when someone is about to walk in front of a car that’s just run a red light, or perhaps is simply crossing the road. We don’t expect to come across it as an antecedent to entering a building, and when we do it makes us stop and reconsider what we have just read. The first few words had us forming a mental picture of Sarah stepping down and now that image in our mind has to be readjusted to Sarah stepping up. As a very general rule, readers disapprove of hiccups that force them to stop and think.



Keep up the good work.