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View Full Version : Deadman Dent (Post-Apocalyptic thriller. 3730 words. Some language and mature themes)



ash
February 13th, 2013, 10:33 PM
Hey guys, just wanted to drop the first chapter of my book here for some critiquing. Be tough. I know you will. I hope you enjoy and thanks for checking it out.




Chapter 1


“Do you think you’re going mad?”

The questions broke Dent's gaze on the campfire. His eyes burned and he tried to blink away the pain, his right hand was stiff and smudged with what appeared to be soot. In his left he held a picture, which he released into the fire without even giving a second look. He rubbed his dirty hand on his pants, then held his palms out, allowing the fire to lap at them until his fingers regained their feeling.

Night had settled in and brought with it a bitter wind that complimented the six inches of snow left by a storm earlier that afternoon. The glow of the fire lit the forest around him giving his shadow a place to play.

“I doubt that’s the case”, Dent protested as he wrung his hands together, “course, considering who I’m talkin’ to, I’m certainly not far from it”.

“Can you imagine what it would look like if someone found you here talking to me?”

Dent produced a tobacco bag from his military coat tattered from years in the wilderness, and fed the bag's contents into a rolling paper.

“If’n it were a carin’ fella, he’d put me outta my misery I suppose. But I doubt this part of the world has seen a carin’ man in a long time.”

“None so much as yourself, anyway.”

The paper and tobacco rolled easily in his fingers, fluid and without thought.

“I’m not sure who you remember, but a carin’ man wasn’t it.”

“I know you would have stayed if you could have, if that’s what you were referring to.”

He grimaced, part from the assumption and part from the heat, as he leaned toward the fire to light his cigarette. The flames exposed his weariness. His face looked sculpted from paper mache, and his eyes, sunken and pale, fought through his squint. His beard scruff added years and his smoking and drinking didn’t help. Already in his upper fifties, Dent was a rarity. A couple of decades past the life expectancy of the times, he felt every minute of it.

“Are you trying to ignore the comment?”

His words mixed with smoke as it fell from his mouth, “You wouldn’t let me if I wanted to.”

He adjusted where he sat, but the chill on the back of his legs wasn’t going away. Between his thighs rested a bottle half filled with brown liquor.

“And you think that will keep you warm?”

Thinking for a moment, he pulled the bottle free from it's place and took a large swig. “That oughta,” He mumbled, tucking the spirits away.

He took a drag from his cigarette and could feel the disappointment aimed at him through the silence.

“And I suppose you think the smokin’ is bad for me too?”

“Well, there are more efficient and less painful ways to kill yourself.”

Dent reached for the side of his leg and ran his hand across his Colt Single Action Army. He unsnapped the leather strap on the holster and his thumb found the curve of the hammer. Gripping the handle tight he slid the gun free. He took a moment to admire such a pristine piece of military hardware.

His Grandfather, Thomas Alexander Sr., carried it all the way through World War I, in the trenches of the Western Front. He used to say, “This gun’s sent more Germans home than a Meissen dinner bell”. Of course he also used to swear the gun still smelled of the dead in the trenches. The older he got, the less people listened to him and the more he started talking to himself. That’s how Dent remembered him, and now an older man himself, he related.

Just before Thomas Sr. died, he passed the gun on to Thomas Jr., who stored it away in the attic for years. It wasn’t until his father lost his job and the family fell on hard times that Dent saw that gun again. He watched his dad spend weeks trying to sell it to feed the family, and it may have been the economy or the smell of the dead, but no one ever bought the damned thing. It eventually defaulted to Dent after his father used it to put a bullet through his own head. It was a family heirloom unlike any other. Death followed it and Dent made sure the tradition continued.

“I’ve lived this long,” he said as he slid the gun back into the holster. “I see no sense ruining a good streak.”

“Well, if anyone is going to get you, it will be you.”

Dent snatched up his booze, “I’ll drink to that.”

“Of course you would.”

The alcohol coated his insides, stinging on the way down. It felt warm, but it wasn’t a real warmth. Confusion set in, along with anger. Dent had forgotten his purpose.

“The bag.”

The suggestion startled him, but sure enough at his feet sat a duffel bag.

“Thanks,” he said with a grunt, leaning forward. Tucked deep in the bag he found a picture of a young girl, eight years old, green eyes, a button nose and few missing teeth showing through a large grin. Also from the bag he produced an aged teddy bear.

“How’s Ivy?” he asked, though he knew the answer.

“You can talk to her, you know?”

He looked the bear over, rubbed some dirt from it’s face and flicked his finger over where an eye used to be, before tossing it back down next to the duffel bag.

“No, not right now.”

He studied the picture as he had done thousands of times before. It was his favorite. His daughter, whose smile beamed adoration, sat on a rusted swing completely unaware of the world and what it had become. The sun behind her glared in the photo, lighting her imperfect face and blurring it all the same. She was genuinely happy, but it was her innocence that made him jealous. Carefree meant pain free. He released the picture into the fire.

“She keeps asking why her daddy won’t speak with her. It’s been a few weeks since you have.”

Dent picked up a stick and poked at the photo, burying it deeper into the fire. “She’d be what, sixteen by now? Think she’d still call me daddy?”

“Yes.”

Indecisiveness cut into his chuckle, he swirled the stick around in the fire stirring up sparks into the air.

“Think she’d remember what I done?” Dent asked.

“Did you really do it?”

He shook his head. “You can’t answer a question with another question.”

“Fair enough, but until you figure out the answer to my question, I can’t really give you an honest answer. Besides, you can’t really trust what I say after all, or maybe you can. Do you think you’re going mad?”
Dent smiled as he laid back on the ground trying to find the stars through the smoke, the snow and the trees.

“What do you think?”

“Well, you are talking to your dead wife. So, probably.”

With that, he gave up searching, pulled his collar up over his ears and drifted off to sleep.

Snow melted and dripped from the trees into small pools on the forest floor. The fire from the night before was nothing more than a hand full of embers smoldering in a puddle of black mud. The mix of smoke and fog began to give way to rays of sunlight. The woods were alive with animals running back and forth, some stopped to cock their heads at Dent as he lay motionless on the ground.

The Sun had been up an hour before he bothered opening his eyes despite the soggy ground beneath him. He sat up and rubbed his temples. The excruciating headache refused to subside and the bottle of liquor that turned on him over night was the only solution. It still had a few gulps in it but he finished it in one before he tossed it off into the woods. With eyes closed tight, he held his breath for as long as he could before releasing.

The wind picked up, and with no fire to keep him warm, or dry him off, Dent started to shiver. He bundled up the thin mattress on the ground and wrapped it with a rope, then tied it to his bag. A quick scan of the area satisfied him that nothing was being left behind, so he stood and hoisted the bag onto his shoulders. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a lump, matted and soaked by the muddied campfire. He nudged it over with his foot. The teddy bear that never made it into the fire starred up at him with one eye, helpless.

“Bad night?” Dent asked as he scooped up the mess of a bear. He looked it over for a moment, “Me too,” then he tucked it between the mattress and the rope.

After spending most of the day trekking through the woods he reached a clearing, the Sun began to disappear behind the trees on the other side. A large pond sat as a reservoir in the center of the field, the water, no doubt chilled from snow melted in the afternoon sun, made his dry mouth hurt at the sight of it. His stomach growled another reminder that he had yet to eat, but it mattered little now that he was home.

His cabin, built by an old carpenter’s hand, sat back in the opposite tree line. It was nearly impossible to spot by anyone who hadn’t built it with that idea in mind; Dent himself sometimes missed it by twenty or so yards to the right and left. Not today though, and the pond would have to wait as well, the promise of honey wine and salted meats that awaited him inside was his top priority.

He stepped onto the porch, exhausted, nearly starved and hung-over, which put him in no mood for what awaited him. A paper wrapped package bound with twine and covered in writing leaned against the base of his door.

He pulled his gun and thumbed back the hammer as he spun and scanned through the trees toward the open field. He squinted as he looked for movement, listening closely for any sounds around him. He knelt down and picked up the package as his eyes darted from tree to tree. With his foot, he nudged the door open and slipped inside before dropping a large piece of lumber across the door.

Tunnel vision and base senses overwhelmed him as he secured his small cabin. He checked the only other room where he slept to make sure no one was waiting for him to drop his guard. Then the back door. It was still locked. By now it was too dark outside for the constant window checking to be effective. The panic and the paranoid thoughts wrestled for his attention, beating around in his skull. Had they come for him? How could anyone find him here? Who would know where to look? He’d been here nearly eight years without so much as seeing another human being. This was by design. He had no intentions of anyone finding him.

Hours passed. The light under the door suggested the Sun was coming up. Dent sat in his chair fighting the urge to sleep, constantly having to retrain his gun on the front door. Eating or drinking were luxuries left in the past; his head pounded with every heart beat. There wasn’t a muscle in his body that didn’t ache, or a limb that didn’t tremble. He gripped his gun so tight, his forearm felt like it was on fire. He couldn’t let his guard down. It’s just what they would want, he thought.

He glanced at the package laying on the floor. Was this even real? Maybe he had gone mad. He thought about the night before with his wife. Talking to her like she was still alive. Ridiculous. It wasn’t the first time either, and most definitely not the last. And it was the same with his Daughter. The stress, the guilt of their deaths, paranoia, the solitude and alcohol, all working together to drive him over the edge. The silence was deafening. He could feel the blood coursing through his body, his eyes burned and he began to lose focus. His eye lids drooped and the last time he let them close, he wouldn’t open them again for two days.

A heave brought him to. Then another. He was so dehydrated and without food that nothing came up. His lips were cracked and caked with blood. He heaved again. The light from outside was blinding and felt as if it was cutting through his skull. He trembled to stand then staggered into the kitchen area.

The water and meat he found brought back some of his strength. He began to work the stiffness out of his body and gradually the pain faded to make room for the memory of the other night. The package. It was nowhere in sight. Groaning, he knelt down and laid his head on the floor for a different angle. Across the room, underneath the chair, next to his revolver, the package sat. At that distance he could still make out the writing; A name he hadn't seen in a long while.

To: Denton Alexander.

He shut his eyes and smacked his head against the floor, hoping it would shake lose whatever connection inside made this a reality.

“Is something wrong?”

Dent rolled onto his back, “What do you want from me?”

“You know,you're much nicer to me when you're drunk. Quite the opposite of most people.”

His wife knelt next to him, the sunlight behind her cast a glow around her tracing the white dress, flowing in a breeze that didn't exist. Dent couldn't see her face from the Sun.

“Having trouble remembering what I look like?”

Dent pealed himself from the floor and made his way to the chair, sending dust into the air after collapsing into it's welcoming cushions. He reclined with his eyes shut, hoping the sunlight, and his wife, would disappear.

“That really hurts,” she said, holding back no sarcasm.

“Would you please just leave?”

“Not until you open in.”

Dent swept his hand under the chair, feeling for the package. “Then you'll leave?”

“Well, yes, after you read it.”

He was so worried about who dropped the package off, that he neglected to think about it's contents, passing over it's distinct shape and size as a book.

“It's a book. You know that,” she mentioned, swaying out of the sunlight to give him a brief glimpse of her face, then falling back into it's luminescence.

Sure enough within the wrapping was a journal, and a note with it that read:

It is with much luck and prayer that this find Denton Alexander, my father.

“Ivy?” he asked, expecting his wife to still be in the room, though she was not. He hesitantly flipped the cover back and read.

April 6, 2007
I decided to date this entry in the year 2007 because Sister Constance told me that’s the closest year anyone can figure it really is. Something about people losing track of time after some big war from before I was even born. She said they figure it’s close to April and I like the number 6 so I picked it. I been at the church for awhile now and still haven’t made no friends. Probably because I don’t like talkin to no one. Sister Constance says I should write about things that happen to me and maybe I’ll find my voice. I don’t know what she means, but there ain’t nothing else to do. I don’t know what to write about so I’ll just start from when I came here. Sister Constance said some man found me curled up in a barn and brought me here. She says I looked half dead with no meat on my bones. I don’t really remember much. She said the Sun got to my brain. I don’t know, I still remember some stuff before I got here. Sister Constance said it’ll come back over time. I’ll write more later.
-Ivy

If the date is close to accurate, that’s four years after she died, Dent thought, but it couldn’t be.

April 34, 2007
I don’t even know if that number is right. It’s been a few weeks since I wrote my first entry so it sounds right. The things Sister Constance said about no one keeping track of the days got me interested, so I been countin. Today I was thinking about my mom. I miss her.
-Ivy

May 2007
Sister Constance said I did my days wrong, so now I’m only writing the month and the year. The other stuff is too confusing. I had a bad dream about my mom and dad last night. We was running through a field full of flowers, but the flowers kept growing taller and taller until I couldn’t see my folks no more. I cried but no one ever came for me. I couldn’t sleep after that. I’ll try to write again tomorrow.
-Ivy

The further on he read, the more legitimate the journal seemed. Ivy wrote about things too consistent with their lives to be coincidence. This had to be from his daughter, though he didn't want to accept it, it was nearly impossible to dispute.

Around mid-2008 the journal entries started to became jumbled. Some made no sense at all. Words were interlaced with symbols and a seemingly made up language. Other entries trailed off or were interrupted by random things remembered.

June 2008
Today in class we learned about Saint Joan of Arc. She really interested me. Who can imagine a girl so young being so strong? a far, to the space. wrong. afectionnn, [email protected]&aaagm63yyN 9not a thing0.ha2W after my mom was murdered, the men who found me said my daddy did it but I never believed them they fixed me up made me feel better gave me a place to live they kept asking me questions about him a lot of questions they kept telling me what a bad man he was i know he wouldnotever hurt me or my momshe trained up a military and led armies and crowned a king.

So many of her entries seemed more like scribbles. Some were as normal as can be, often giving a glimpse into the life of a girl growing up on her own, yet some seemed to be written by another person all together. Like twins separated at a young age, one moving on to a normal life and one living a life undesired by any rational human being. A hand full of pages around 2009 had been torn from the book.
Later entries were more difficult to read. Filled with emotions and pain so detailed and vivid, Dent could almost feel it himself. Ivy spoke of her mother less as the years went by, and even less about him. The jumbled mess also seemed to stop, allowing for clear entries that disturbed Dent none the less.

By the final entries dated 2011, Ivy grew into a very different person than the girl writing back in 2007. She traveled from town to town, stealing to survive, even selling herself if she was extremely desperate. It was hard for Dent to read any of the details, especially of when selling herself took a turn for the worse. She became bitter and scared. The final entry was marked:

2011
At this point I have very little to live for. I’ve fallen into business with some people that are not likely to let me leave unless I’m dead. New Saints wasn’t what I was promised and I’m in over my head. I care as little for myself as the men who use me. I talked to my mom the other night. She said it was OK to let go, that she was waiting for me. She said that desperation will eventually give way to acceptance. I miss her. I miss my daddy too. I wish they were here to take me away from this.

Who would send this and why? Dent thought. Before he even set the book down, his gun was slipped into the holster. He grabbed his bag, still strapped to his sleeping mat and the old bear, and stuffed in the last bit of salted meat, followed by a blanket, his only other shirt and pair of pants and then the book. He pulled on his jacket and took a lantern from the wall. He found a box of matches in the table in kitchen. He also made sure to take the last two bottles of liquor before he left. Everything else in the cabin would stay.

Outside, Dent lit the lantern and held it up, illuminating the treeline in front of him. It was still too dark to see anyone, but he still couldn’t shake the feeling that he was not alone. He smashed the lantern on the porch. The dry cabin was engulfed in flames in seconds and the woods were as bright as day. He drew his gun and took cover behind a nearby tree, checking for movement.

The heat was intense and he had to move whether he was alone or not. But he waited. He needed the cover of smoke. Once it was thick enough, he sprang up and ran at a pace that was impressive for his age.

Keeping an Eastern orientation as best as he could, Dent made it to a part of the woods that the light from the fire couldn’t reach. The smoke was a different issue. He coughed hard into the fold of his arm. It felt like there was glass in his lungs, but at least there was little chance he could be followed.

He took one of the bottles of liquor from his bag. It was going to be a long walk to New Saints and he didn’t want to make it alone.

###

The Rust on the Razor
February 13th, 2013, 11:24 PM
Oh oh oh and just oh. I am a sucker for a good post-apocalyptic tale and this is the start of a good one! I did not notice the writing at all, it flowed so well I was pretty much lost in it. Have read it once for the story and to see what jumped out at me and will go back and read again with more care- but just wanted to post quickly to say how much I enjoyed this. Can't wait for more!

The Rust on the Razor
February 14th, 2013, 12:50 AM
A couple of comments- mostly tiddly little nitpicks that are nothing in the overall scheme of this. As I said above, I enjoyed this hugely. It feels to me like the start of a good book rather than a piece of writing on an internet forum that has been offered up for critique. So bear that in mind if some of the points I raise below seem petty- they are observations of a reader and someone with more writing experience than me (er, that's just about everyone on this forum) will no doubt have totally different opinions. I've added my comments in bold to the first part- will come back to the other bits.

“Do you think you’re going mad?”

The questions broke Dent's gaze on the campfire. His eyes burned and he tried to blink away the pain, his right hand was stiff and smudged with what appeared to be soot. (does Dent not know whether it is soot or not? This suggests maybe he doesn’t) In his left he held a picture, which he released into the fire without even giving a second look. He rubbed his dirty hand on his pants, then held his palms out, allowing the fire to lap at them until his fingers regained their feeling.

Night had settled in and brought with it a bitter wind that complimented (complimented or complemented? Both could work but think the ”e” version sits better for me, the “i” one stood out like a sore thumb which interrupted the flow for me as a reader ) the six inches of snow left by a storm earlier that afternoon. The glow of the fire lit the forest around him giving his shadow a place to play.

“I doubt that’s the case”, Dent protested as he wrung his hands together, “course, considering who I’m talkin’ to, I’m certainly not far from it”.

“Can you imagine what it would look like if someone found you here talking to me?”

Dent produced a tobacco bag from his military coat tattered from years in the wilderness, and fed the bag's contents into a rolling paper. Loved this line.

“If’n it were a carin’ fella, he’d put me outta my misery I suppose. But I doubt this part of the world has seen a carin’ man in a long time.” I’m not a fan of dialogue being written exactly as it is supposed to sound, i.e. in dialect, as for me it takes more reading to work out how it should be said. Unless of course the strange words themselves have significance. Dialogue written in normal English with good characterisation that the reader can use to interpret the written conversation makes for much less clunky prose in my mind. So I think you dilute the good flow of this conversation by interrupting it with the apostrophes and non standard spellings.


“None so much as yourself, anyway.”

The paper and tobacco rolled easily in his fingers, fluid and without thought.

“I’m not sure who you remember, but a carin’ man wasn’t it.”

“I know you would have stayed if you could have, if that’s what you were referring to.”

He grimaced, part from the assumption and part from the heat, as he leaned toward the fire to light his cigarette. The flames exposed his weariness. His face looked sculpted from paper mache(what does this mean though? Were they pocked and uneven? Or lumpy and grey? Or something else?), and his eyes, sunken and pale, fought through his squint. His beard scruff added years and his smoking and drinking didn’t help. Already in his upper fifties ("late fifties" would have worked better here for me, but I'm in the UK and get the feeling you're in the US so not sure whether this has an impact) , Dent was a rarity. A couple of decades past the life expectancy of the times, he felt every minute of it.

“Are you trying to ignore the comment?”

His words mixed with smoke as it fell from his mouth, “You wouldn’t let me if I wanted to.”

He adjusted where he sat, but the chill on the back of his legs wasn’t going away. Between his thighs rested a bottle half filled with brown liquor.

“And you think that will keep you warm?”

Thinking for a moment, he pulled the bottle free from it's place and took a large swig. “That oughta,” He mumbled, tucking the spirits away.

He took a drag from his cigarette and could feel the disappointment aimed at him through the silence.

“And I suppose you think the smokin’ is bad for me too?”

“Well, there are more efficient and less painful ways to kill yourself.”

Dent reached for the side of his leg and ran his hand across his Colt Single Action Army. He unsnapped the leather strap on the holster and his thumb found the curve of the hammer. Gripping the handle tight he slid the gun free. He took a moment to admire such a pristine piece of military hardware.

His Grandfather, Thomas Alexander Sr., carried it all the way through World War I, in the trenches of the Western Front. He used to say, “This gun’s sent more Germans home than a Meissen dinner bell”. Of course he also used to swear the gun still smelled of the dead in the trenches. The older he got, the less people listened to him and the more he started talking to himself. That’s how Dent remembered him, and now an older man himself, he related.

Just before Thomas Sr. died, he passed the gun on to Thomas Jr., who stored it away in the attic for years. It wasn’t until his father lost his job and the family fell on hard times that Dent saw that gun again. He watched his dad spend weeks trying to sell it to feed the family, and it may have been the economy or the smell of the dead, but no one ever bought the damned thing. It eventually defaulted to Dent after his father used it to put a bullet through his own head. Like this sentence- putting the suicide at the end of the sentence gave it massive impact. It was a family heirloom unlike any other. Death followed it and Dent made sure the tradition continued.

“I’ve lived this long,” he said as he slid the gun back into the holster. “I see no sense ruining a good streak.”

“Well, if anyone is going to get you, it will be you.”

Dent snatched up his booze, “I’ll drink to that.”

“Of course you would.”

The alcohol coated his insides, stinging on the way down. It felt warm, but it wasn’t a real warmth.What was it then? Confusion set in, along with anger. Dent had forgotten his purpose.

“The bag.”

The suggestion startled him, but sure enough at his feet sat a duffel bag. Was it there before? Sounds like maybe not but if not then it has been introduced without any notion that this may be surprising.

“Thanks,” he said with a grunt, leaning forward. Tucked deep in the bag he found a picture of a young girl, eight years old, green eyes, a button nose and few missing teeth showing through a large grin. Also from the bag he produced an aged teddy bear.

“How’s Ivy?” he asked, though he knew the answer.

“You can talk to her, you know?”

He looked the bear over, rubbed some dirt from it’s face and flicked his finger over where an eye used to be, before tossing it back down next to the duffel bag.

“No, not right now.”

He studied the picture as he had done thousands of times before. It was his favorite. His daughter, whose smile beamed adoration, sat on a rusted swing completely unaware of the world and what it had become. The sun behind her glared in the photo, lighting her imperfect face and blurring it all the same. She was genuinely happy, but it was her innocence that made him jealous. Carefree meant pain free. He released the picture into the fire.

“She keeps asking why her daddy won’t speak with her. It’s been a few weeks since you have.”

Dent picked up a stick and poked at the photo, burying it deeper into the fire. “She’d be what, sixteen by now? Think she’d still call me daddy?”

“Yes.”

Indecisiveness cut into his chuckle, he swirled the stick around in the fire stirring up sparks into the air.

“Think she’d remember what I done?” Dent asked.

“Did you really do it?”

He shook his head. “You can’t answer a question with another question.”

“Fair enough, but until you figure out the answer to my question, I can’t really give you an honest answer. Besides, you can’t really trust what I say after all, or maybe you can. Do you think you’re going mad?”
Dent smiled as he laid back on the ground trying to find the stars through the smoke, the snow and the trees.

“What do you think?”

“Well, you are talking to your dead wife. So, probably.”

With that, he gave up searching, pulled his collar up over his ears and drifted off to sleep.

ash
February 14th, 2013, 02:29 AM
Thanks for kind words and the great critique. I misspelled complemented, so thanks also for pointing that out as well. The bag on the ground and the soot on his hands are meant to be introduced to the reader as Dent sort of "re-discovers" them. He's a bit drunk and out of sorts, plus, without spoiling anything, it'll be explained further in a chapter much later on. You've pointed out a few mistakes that I intend to fix, so thank you for that! I may be posting some other chapters too. I'm kind of in that spot in the novel where I feel bad about what I've written and there are only so many times my wife can tell me it's fine. I appreciate the unbiased opinion of strangers ;)

CharlieParker82
February 14th, 2013, 02:43 AM
There was some great description in here. As far as the story its not my kind of thing. It reminded me of Battlestar Galactica or lots of other post-apocalyptic. I feel it needed a edge that said 'hey i'm different read me". of course this is only a snippet and the writing is really good.

ash
February 14th, 2013, 03:33 AM
Thanks, for the input. I'm making sure my characters don't fall into a post-apocalyptic cliche as it were. If it makes it any better, the world didn't end because of a nuclear war! It was a second US civil war cause by the 1972 oil crisis. If steampunk or westerns appeal to you, hang around ;)

The Rust on the Razor
February 15th, 2013, 03:18 PM
You are brave sharing it with your wife, I can't bear to let anyone I know in real life read my stuff. Online strangers just fine, but the idea of baring my soul to REAL PEOPLE? <runs screaming from house>

I hear what you're saying about dent "rediscovering" the soot, the bag etc-perhaps it could be clearer for the reader that this is what is happening? It didn't come over particularly strongly to me as a reader and I was a little confused.

Another comment I'd make is that whilst I knew from your thread title that this was a post apocalyptic tale, there was nothing that suggested this until we got to Ivy's diary. Dent could have just been a man hiding out in the woods, or even just living rough, in the present as we know it.

One thing that I was really pleased with was that I had him in mind as being like an old soldier from the US civil war- (think this was the miliary coat- that was a strong image) then when I read your post about the whole story being based on the idea of a second US civil war I was pleased. Glad I got the picture in my head right!

Here are a few more thoughts about the text:

Snow melted and dripped from the trees into small pools on the forest floor. The fire from the night before was nothing more than a hand full of embers smoldering in a puddle of black mud. The mix of smoke and fog began to give way to rays of sunlight. The woods were alive with animals running back and forth, some stopped to cock their heads at Dent as he lay motionless on the ground. This paragraph doesn't flow as well as some of the other- it feels like a collection of sentences, statements, rather than a picture I can "see" in my mind. Others go well together but for some reason, this one was not so fluid.

The Sun is this capitalised for a reason? It is on other parts of the story but not sure whether this was because it is important later on? had been up an hour before he bothered opening his eyes despite the soggy ground beneath him. He sat up and rubbed his temples. The excruciating headache refused to subside and the bottle of liquor that turned on him over night was the only solution. It still had a few gulps in it but he finished it in one before he tossed it off into the woods. With eyes closed tight, he held his breath for as long as he could before releasing.

The wind picked up, and with no fire to keep him warm, or dry him off, Dent started to shiver. He bundled up the thin mattress on the ground and wrapped it with a rope, then tied it to his bag. A quick scan of the area satisfied him that nothing was being left behind, so he stood and hoisted the bag onto his shoulders. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a lump, matted and soaked by the muddied campfire. He nudged it over with his foot. The teddy bear that never made it into the fire starred up at him with one eye, helpless.

“Bad night?” Dent asked as he scooped up the mess of a bear. He looked it over for a moment, “Me too,” then he tucked it between the mattress and the rope.
After spending most of the day trekking through the woods he reached a clearing,"a" clearing or "the" clearing? "a" sounds like its any old random one that he just happened to come across, "the" sounds like its one he intended on reaching. Meaning is not obvious. the Sun began to disappear behind the trees on the other side. A large pond sat as a reservoir in the center of the field, the water, no doubt chilled from snow melted in the afternoon sun, made his dry mouth hurt at the sight of it. Really nice line, I can feel his pain at being so thirsty. His stomach growled another reminder that he had yet to eat, but it mattered little now that he was home.

His cabin, built by an old carpenter’s hand, sat back in the opposite tree line. It was nearly impossible to spot by anyone who hadn’t built it with that idea in mind; Dent himself sometimes missed it by twenty or so yards to the right and left. Not sure you need to add that, just to say he missed it by twenty or so yards is enough. Not today though, and the pond would have to wait as well, the promise of honey wine and salted meats that awaited him inside was his top priority.

He stepped onto the porch, exhausted, nearly starved and hung-over, which put him in no mood for what awaited him. A paper wrapped package bound with twine and covered in writing leaned against the base of his door.
Its not immediately obvious from the story so far that Dent should be alarmed by this- it doesn't have enough impact for the reader to be accepting of him pulling his gun in response. It's not clear that the two events are linked, ie that he was alarmed that there was a package on the step and so got the gun out.
He pulled his gun and thumbed back the hammer as he spun and scanned through the trees toward the open field. He squinted as he looked for movement, listening closely for any sounds around him. He knelt down and picked up the package as his eyes darted from tree to tree. With his foot, he nudged the door open and slipped inside before dropping a large piece of lumber across the door.

Tunnel vision and base senses overwhelmed him as he secured his small cabin. He checked the only other room where he slept Something like "the only other room, where he slept, " might work better here for me- otherwise it sounds like there are more rooms but he just sleeps in these two to make sure no one was waiting for him to drop his guard. Then the back door. It was still locked. By now it was too dark outside for the constant window checking to be effective. The panic and the paranoid thoughts wrestled for his attention, beating around in his skull. Had they come for him? How could anyone find him here? Who would know where to look? He’d been here nearly eight years without so much as seeing another human being. This was by design. He had no intentions of anyone finding him.

Hours passed. The light under the door suggested the Sun was coming up. Dent sat in his chair fighting the urge to sleep, constantly having to retrain his gun on the front door. Eating or drinking were luxuries left in the past; his head pounded with every heart beat. There wasn’t a muscle in his body that didn’t ache, or a limb that didn’t tremble. He gripped his gun so tight, his forearm felt like it was on fire. He couldn’t let his guard down. It’s just what they would want, he thought.

He glanced at the package laying on the floor. Was this even real? Maybe he had gone mad. He thought about the night before with his wife. Talking to her like she was still alive. Ridiculous. It wasn’t the first time either, and most definitely not the last. And it was the same with his Daughter. Is Daughter capitalised on purpose? The stress, the guilt of their deaths, paranoia, the solitude and alcohol, all working together to drive him over the edge. The silence was deafening. I think you can do better than this line, its perhaps too oft used? He could feel the blood coursing through his body, his eyes burned and he began to lose focus. His eye lids drooped and the last time he let them close, he wouldn’t open them again for two days. Think this last sentence could do with a little polishing, it didn't read quite right for me and I noticed it for the wrong reasons.

A heave brought him to. Then another. He was so dehydrated and without food that nothing came up. His lips were cracked and caked with blood. He heaved again. The light from outside was blinding and felt as if it was cutting through his skull. He trembled to stand then staggered into the kitchen area.

The water and meat he found brought back some of his strength. He began to work the stiffness out of his body and gradually the pain faded to make room for the memory of the other night. The package. It was nowhere in sight. Groaning, he knelt down and laid his head on the floor for a different angle. Across the room, underneath the chair, next to his revolver, the package sat. At that distance he could still make out the writing; A name he hadn't seen in a long while.

To: Denton Alexander.

He shut his eyes and smacked his head against the floor, hoping it would shake loose whatever connection inside made this a reality. Nice line

“Is something wrong?”

Dent rolled onto his back, “What do you want from me?”

“You know,you're much nicer to me when you're drunk. Quite the opposite of most people.”

His wife knelt next to him, the sunlight behind her cast a glow around her tracing the white dress, flowing in a breeze that didn't exist. Dent couldn't see her face from the Sun.

“Having trouble remembering what I look like?”

Dent pealed (peeled?) himself from the floor and made his way to the chair, sending dust into the air after collapsing into it's welcoming cushions. He reclined with his eyes shut, hoping the sunlight, and his wife, would disappear.

“That really hurts,” she said, holding back no sarcasm.

“Would you please just leave?”

“Not until you open it.”

Dent swept his hand under the chair, feeling for the package. “Then you'll leave?”

“Well, yes, after you read it.”

He was so worried about who dropped the package off, that he neglected to think about it's contents, passing over it's distinct shape and size as a book.

“It's a book. You know that,” she mentioned, swaying out of the sunlight to give him a brief glimpse of her face, then falling back into it's luminescence.

Sure enough within the wrapping was a journal, and a note with it that read:

It is with much luck and prayer that this find Denton Alexander, my father. Think perhaps "...that this may find..." or "...that this finds..." might work better?

“Ivy?” he asked, expecting his wife to still be in the room, though she was not. He hesitantly flipped the cover back and read.

April 6, 2007
I decided to date this entry in the year 2007 because Sister Constance told me that’s the closest year anyone can figure it really is. Something about people losing track of time after some big war from before I was even born. Would she really not know what the war was? If it's truly apocalypic then even if it happened before she was born she would know what the event was. She said they figure it’s close to April and I like the number 6 so I picked it. I been at the church for awhile now and still haven’t made no friends. Probably because I don’t like talkin to no one. Sister Constance says I should write about things that happen to me and maybe I’ll find my voice. I don’t know what she means, but there ain’t nothing else to do. I don’t know what to write about so I’ll just start from when I came here. Sister Constance said some man found me curled up in a barn and brought me here. She says I looked half dead with no meat on my bones. I don’t really remember much. She said the Sun got to my brain. I don’t know, I still remember some stuff before I got here. Sister Constance said it’ll come back over time. I’ll write more later. Having this last sentence follow immediately on from the rest of the entry dilutes the impact of the previous one- perhaps put it on the next line or leave it out?
-Ivy

If the date is close to accurate, that’s four years after she died, Dent thought, but it couldn’t be.

April 34, 2007
I don’t even know if that number is right. It’s been a few weeks since I wrote my first entry so it sounds right. The things Sister Constance said about no one keeping track of the days got me interested, so I been countin. Today I was thinking about my mom. I miss her.
-Ivy

May 2007
Sister Constance said I did my days wrong, so now I’m only writing the month and the year. The other stuff is too confusing. I had a bad dream about my mom and dad last night. We was running through a field full of flowers, but the flowers kept growing taller and taller until I couldn’t see my folks no more. I cried but no one ever came for me. I couldn’t sleep after that. I’ll try to write again tomorrow. Again, for me this last line makes impact of previous one weaker.
-Ivy

The further on he read, the more legitimate the journal seemed. Ivy wrote about things too consistent with their lives to be coincidence. This had to be from his daughter, though he didn't want to accept it, it was nearly impossible to dispute. This sentence didnt scan properly in my head when I read it.

Around mid-2008 the journal entries started to became jumbled. Some made no sense at all. Words were interlaced with symbols and a seemingly made up language. Other entries trailed off or were interrupted by random things remembered.

June 2008
Today in class we learned about Saint Joan of Arc. She really interested me. Who can imagine a girl so young being so strong? This sentence sounded very formal, not sure if it was supposed to be or not. a far, to the space. wrong. afectionnn, [email protected]&aaagm63yyN 9not a thing0.ha2W after my mom was murdered, the men who found me said my daddy did it but I never believed them they fixed me up made me feel better gave me a place to live they kept asking me questions about him a lot of questions they kept telling me what a bad man he was i know he wouldnotever hurt me or my momshe trained up a military and led armies and crowned a king.


So many of her entries seemed more like scribbles. Some were as normal as can be, often giving a glimpse into the life of a girl growing up on her own, yet some seemed to be written by another person altogether. Like twins separated at a young age, one moving on to a normal life and one living a life undesired by any rational human being. A hand full of pages around 2009 had been torn from the book.
Later entries were more difficult to read. Filled with emotions and pain so detailed and vivid, Dent could almost feel it himself. Ivy spoke of her mother less as the years went by, and even less about him. The jumbled mess also seemed to stop, allowing for clear entries that disturbed Dent none the less.

By the final entries dated 2011, Ivy grew into a very different person than the girl writing back in 2007. She traveled from town to town, stealing to survive, even selling herself if she was extremely desperate. Do you need both words? Desperate is already extreme, I think. It was hard for Dent to read any of the details, especially of when selling herself took a turn for the worse. She became bitter and scared. The final entry was marked:

2011
At this point I have very little to live for. I’ve fallen into business with some people that are not likely to let me leave unless I’m dead. New Saints wasn’t what I was promised and I’m in over my head. I care as little for myself as the men who use me. I talked to my mom the other night. She said it was OK to let go, that she was waiting for me. She said that desperation will eventually give way to acceptance. I miss her. I miss my daddy too. I wish they were here to take me away from this. This doesn't feel like a diary entry- it feels like it is written by someone who is quite detached from the events and is just describing them without much feeling. Not like my teenage diaries anyway ;), all the angst and misery and unjustness of being 16!

Who would send this and why? Dent thought. Before he even set the book down, his gun was slipped into the holster. He grabbed his bag, still strapped to his sleeping mat and the old bear, and stuffed in the last bit of salted meat, followed by a blanket, his only other shirt and pair of pants and then the book. He pulled on his jacket and took a lantern from the wall. He found a box of matches in the table in kitchen. He also made sure to take the last two bottles of liquor before he left. Everything else in the cabin would stay.

Outside, Dent lit the lantern and held it up, illuminating the treeline in front of him. It was still too dark to see anyone, but he still couldn’t shake the feeling that he was not alone. He smashed the lantern on the porch. This bit loses impact because it is not clear until later that he did it on purpose. The burning cabin could just have been an accident, it's only when you know he needed the smoke that you realise it was intentional.The dry cabin was engulfed in flames in seconds and the woods were as bright as day. He drew his gun and took cover behind a nearby tree, checking for movement.

The heat was intense and he had to move whether he was alone or not. But he waited. He needed the cover of smoke. Once it was thick enough, he sprang up and ran at a pace that was impressive for his age.

Keeping an Eastern orientation as best as he could, Dent made it to a part of the woods that the light from the fire couldn’t reach. The smoke was a different issue. He coughed hard into the fold of his arm. It felt like there was glass in his lungs, but at least there was little chance he could be followed.

He took one of the bottles of liquor from his bag. It was going to be a long walk to New Saints and he didn’t want to make it alone. Fantastic end line for the chapter, made me do an "oooooh" of anticipation at what might be on the next page.

You tell a story very nicely, I have so many images from this already in just one chapter and if I can weave a tale so prettily and without clumsiness at some point I will be a happy person indeed. You HAVE TO carry on with this, I'm intrigued already. (not saying that you should write it just for me of course :) but there will be a load of other readers like me who would want to hear more.)

ash
February 15th, 2013, 04:40 PM
Thank you so much for taking the time to go through this, it means a lot. I'm taking notes and going back as we speak to fix some of these errors. Honestly, the most embarrassing error for me is when I wrote "extremely desperate". ](*,) I try to keep adverbs and adjectives to a minimum, or at least find a way to insert them creatively. Another problem that I've been struggling with was giving the indication in the first chapter that this was post-apocalyptic. If I do try to explain that in the first chapter, I'm worried about taking away from Dent's solitude and "slight" paranoia. Also I'm worried that it's a lot of information in one chunk when paired with some of his history, his wife and daughter's death, and the journal from his supposedly dead daughter. However, If I don't explain it in the first chapter, I'm worried that the second chapter, where it's more obvious, might be jarring. Even in the second chapter though, it takes a good number of paragraphs to realize the overall setting.

There are a good number of chapters to this already, so keep your eyes open. I value any input I can get. In fact, here is a little sample from the beginning of chapter two (first draft of course). Sorry if it formats weird, the forums are a little tricky with that.

A brief flicker from the light hanging above the table shook
Eloa from her daze. She reached up and tapped the exposed
bulb.


“It’s not the light.” Torrence said, lifting his head from the his arms folded on the table. “Probably just a hiccup
somewhere in the steam engines.”


“Yeah, I know.”Eloa murmured.


The light flickered again, then went out all together. Had it not been for the sun cutting through an old sheet nailed over the window, the two would have been sat in the complete dark.The sheet, probably white at one point, wasn’t the most
effective curtain, but it would suffice for such a cheap
motel. The single bed in the corner added to the
room's ghastly charm with it’s mattress, browned and
smelling of mold. The box spring seemed no better, with more
springs poking out than supporting it. The wall paper was
pealed and the air, stale with an odor of sweat and sex, was
irritating to inhale.


“Nerves. I get it.They’ll be back on soon,” he rasped as he
crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his
chair. “They don’t stay out long in towns like these."


Without Torrence's weight on the table, it rocked on uneven
legs as Eloa's finger traced imaginary lines through the
names and vulgarities cut into the surface over the years.



“They pay maintenance crews top dollar to keep ‘em up and
runnin’.” He forced a snubbed out cigar in his mouth and
rolled it between his teeth. “I’d know, I used to work on a
crew like that several years back.”


The light flashed on. Eloa caught him staring at her and it
set her skin to crawling,thinking of what was going through
his mind. His physical appearance offended almost as much as
the thought of where his mind was. He was a large man, more
than twice her size, balding with what little hair left
matted to his head. His gut hung over his pants and his
shirt was unable to contain it. He looked like he hadn't
bathed in a week and smelled like it had been longer.


“Dangerous work too,” he chomped on the cigar, showing off
his yellowed teeth.“They got you runnin’ eighteen hour
shifts, six, sometimes seven days a week. You get so tired
and hungry, sometimes you forget what you’re messin’ with.”


He held up his hand and pointed into his palm. “Once saw a
guy burn all this skin off,right down to the bone. No shit.
Skin just stuck right there to the pipe.”


The light went out again. Torrence lit his cigar, not once
taking his eyes off of Eloa. He studied her. Her black curly
hair shot out wildly from her head and bounced with her
every move. Her green eyes shimmered in the dim light. The
bit of sun sneaking through the window behind her glistened
on her brown skin and accentuated her curves. He tilted his
head as he traced the shape of her slender body and she
could feel it. She felt dirty, guilty even, like she had
just done something immoral and now faced her accuser.

(edited for format)