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The Free Boys: Chapter 1 (3539 words) (1 Viewer)


Senior Member
Friendly critique would be much appreciated! :)
Lately, Jude had been getting worse. She pretended she didn’t notice, and he pretended he didn’t care, but she’d been trained as a medical professional, and she knew full well that he was in pain. She could see it in his walk when they moved, limping and stumbling and then joking about it the way he joked about everything.
Anastasia was a sensible woman, often described as ‘somber’ and ‘serious’ by others. Her beauty intimidated people, and the severity of her being downright scared them away. Everyone but Jude. It was ironic to her, because he’d always been the type that was particularly frightened of her. Short but sweet, with auburn hair and a sunny attitude about absolutely everything.
She thought briefly, climbing over a fallen tree trunk and pausing to make sure Jude was alright. Now that she thought about it, it was really more of the opposite. Jude had been the type that she disliked, not the type to dislike her. The thought was pushed away, as she helped him gently over behind her. He was her friend either way, and he was going to stay that way for as long as she could get him to.
As they moved forwards, she heard his breath catch in his throat. Back when the world was still alive and well, Anastasia had been training to be a war doctor. When the first bombs came, she was there, under qualified but willing to help all the same. When the second wave came, there was nothing she could do.
Jude tripped slightly, his grip tightening violently on her arm. The air around them was cold and harsh, and she could see her breath in clouds before her, thick as smoke and not half as yearned for. “I’m alright,” he choked out, probably more to himself than to his friend. The sound of his voice had snapped her out of her reverie of thought, and she caught his arm again as he tried to remove himself from her, tottering worryingly on his good leg. Anastasia pulled his arm over her shoulders, putting her other arm around his waist.In all honesty, she could probably carry him if she wanted, but even a person as willing as he had some pride, and she knew for a fact he would refuse her offer.
The woods were deep, freezing and unpleasant. The sounds of birds had long since died out, most of them with the first coming of the nukes. By the second wave, all of them were gone, as were the footsteps of people, and their voices, their fires... Anastasia shook herself again, as Jude spoke. “Ana.” His voice was weak and trembling, and she could feel his arm slip down her back. Anastasia tightened her grip on his waist and hoisted him up, twisting him back around her shoulders. “Hey,” she whispered soothingly, “Hey, we’re almost there. We’ll rest soon, I promise.”
He paused, then nodded, swallowing thickly. Anastasia wasn’t sure where ‘there’ was going to be. She knew that Jude understood that, and said nothing. Still, it was worrying, the kind of worry that needled slowly away at the corner of her mind, whispering abuse into her ear. You’re going to die in these woods, and you both know it.

The stopped only when even Anastasia was too exhausted to take another step. She walked Jude carefully over to a log- the least rotten one she could find in the sea of grey dead leaves and angry looking black mud- and set him down gingerly, returning his shaky smile with a chaste nod. He shuddered involuntarily, and she took her cue, beginning a search for kindling and firewood.
As she collected the driest sticks she could find from the blanket of sludge created by odd chemicals in the air, Jude began to rise. “Sit down,” she snapped, without turning around. “Your leg-”
“I’m fine. It feels fine,” he interjected, extending it precariously towards her. “It’s not fine, Jude. Sit down, I can do it myself.”
“Ana,” he started again, and she felt rage boil suddenly, making her empty stomach churn painfully. She turned, and her expression alone seemed to be enough to send him back to a seated position, looking slightly ashamed. But it wasn’t enough to quell her temper.
The trees shivered along with Jude, whose shaking had become more violent as she approached him, one finger extended accusatorily. Anastasia set her jaw and began.
“Listen here, boy.” She jabbed him once square in the chest. “You have a raging infection in your leg, you can barely walk, and it’s my responsibility to take care of you. If you start trying to be all noble and help me, you’re going to make yourself worse and, consequently, you’re going to make me worse. So I suggest you just sit down, and keep your pretty little mouth shut.” She poked him once more as she finished her speech, and then, the silence was suddenly deafening.
Anastasia stared, Jude stared back. Then she turned, and began collecting sticks again. It was the most they’d said to each other in weeks, and honestly, it hadn’t gone well. The pressure Anastasia had been under had started in the military hospital nearly a year beforehand, and it had only gotten worse. Jude was under her care until she had the means by which to cure him, and she had to remind herself daily.

Anastasia managed to start a fire, using one of the last two matches in the box procured from an abandoned military base a month before. It was really a miracle they had been able to find even a single box, considering the base had very obviously been broken into, with scraps of paper and scatterings of rice and beans here and there on the floor. However, it was going to be winter soon, and while Anastasia was accustomed to Russian winters, Jude, the tiny British private who managed to get shot in the leg during the first week of combat, was not.
“Ana,” he asked through a mouthful of the flavorless gruel from one of the army-provided food packets found in Anastasia’s bag. “Do you think there’s anyone else left? On Earth, I mean?” She didn’t look up from her own packet, but she answered all the same. “Of course. Don’t be stupid.” When she glanced up again, she noticed his face had fallen slightly. Her heart frowned disapprovingly at her. You know damn well he didn’t do anything wrong. She reached out to touch his arm gently, and when his face lit up slightly, she scooted a little closer over on the log, and linked their arms.
“I’m sorry, that was unnecessary.”
“That’s alright.” The fire popped, sending sparks into the dark. “I guess it is unlikely that we’re the last people left.” Anastasia nodded. “After all, people survive nuclear bombs. They may be powerful, but they’re not guaranteed to wipe out all of the life. Remember when we heard that bird a few months ago?” She nodded again. Letting him ramble and staring into the fire. His voice cracked as he spoke. “I still remember watching the ladies fall.”
‘The ladies’. That was what everyone called the bombs dropped on England. There were five of them dropped at one time, an explosion that engulfed the whole country, presumably killing everyone but those on the very borders. No one had ventured into England to check. No one had time.
Anastasia patted his arm sympathetically. “I know, Jude. There was nothing you could do.” He shook his head fervently, and removed his arm from hers, crossing them tightly across his chest instead. “I was a soldier, I should’ve...” He cut off short, tried again “Should’ve...” Anastasia snaked her arm back around his shoulders, pulling him closer to her body for warmth. “You were only a private, there was nothing you could do,” She repeated.

The next day was as grey as the the one before it, and, at that, as grey as the one before that, and the one before that, and so on. At one point they had to turn back, as the black ash in the air began to get so think Anastasia worried about their white paper surgical masks being able to hold it all back. Already black phlegm came up every time she coughed, and she was sure that Jude was probably worse off because of his weak lungs and ruined leg.
Once, she had asked him why they allowed him to become a soldier with sensitive lungs and a bad heart, and he just shrugged and gave his trademark grin. “I guess they didn’t have a lot of options,” he mused. It had been warmer back then, and while they were still shocked and grim-faced, they were at least a little more vital. Often, Anastasia had been horrified at how happy her companion could bring himself to be, after all that they’d been through. Eventually, however, she learned that his happiness was more like denial.
Anastasia gave Jude a painkiller before they left, and by the time they’d been walking an hour, his eyes were glazed over and his mouth hung open slightly. The real painkillers were precious, and often made for high-maintenance traveling companions, but the pain from his leg was beginning to get worse as they ran out of antibiotics, and it was obvious when they started to walk again that he was in a fair amount of agony.
Now, doped up on painkillers and the promise of new resources in the near future, they set out again. Anastasia still had a GPS from her army doctor days, and because of the satellite positioning, it still worked fairly well. For the past few weeks of walking, they had been making their way towards a medical warehouse. If they were lucky, the warehouse would still have cures that were uncontaminated by radiation, and if they were luckier, they would have one that matched Jude’s odd infection.
Anastasia turned to him. His limping gait was slightly lesser than usual, with the help of the painkiller she’d given him, but it still didn’t look pleasant for him. “How’re you doing?” she asked, returning her gaze to the endless expanse of grey-brown woods. His answer was quiet and slightly confused, muffled by the paper mask strapped over his mouth. She heard the medicine in his voice when he spoke. “I’m alright, Ana.” He stumbled slightly, righted himself hastily and repeated it: “I’m alright, Ana.”
“Of course you are.” She resisted reaching out to steady him as he swayed once again, but again, he managed not to fall forwards, and he kept walking almost steadily. Anastasia checked the GPS, keeping Jude in her peripheral vision. On the tiny, scuffed screen, she could make out the number twelve. Twelve miles to the warehouse. Twelve miles to the cure. Something in her chest moved slightly. Relief was probably what it would have been under normal circumstances, but she quickly remembered that they would still be alone and cold once they found the cure, and the feeling went away. It was instead replaced with a grim sense of obligation. She would fix Jude’s leg because it was one thing that they could fix, and as broken as the world was, every fixable thing was a miracle.

The outside of the warehouse was rusted grey metal, nearly the exact shade of the sky. The building was large, shaped like a rectangle just like the few others Anastasia had seen in her years of medical training. There was a door on one side, open slightly. The sight immediately sent a feeling of dread over Anastasia’s whole body. An opened door often meant that someone had plundered the place already, an activity that took place often during the first few waves of bombings. She took Jude’s arm, leading him forward towards the building. If there was even a chance of finding a cure she wanted to find it before the wound really started to fester.
The door had melted into the patch of poured concrete underneath the frame somehow, and she tried not to think about what they might find inside. They stepped forward. The inside of the building was even colder than the outside had been, and Jude’s slender frame began to shake violently as soon as they set foot through the door. Anastasia took a flashlight from the side pocket of her backpack. The batteries they had were nearly as precious as the painkillers, but the building was also pitch-black, and even after staring into the room for nearly a whole minute her eyes refused to adjust.
She tugged on her companion’s coat sleeves, leading him behind her in a daze of narcotics. As far as her beam of light could reach, she saw shelves. It looked almost like the inner bowels of a post-office, or perhaps a hardware store from her childhood, before the sirens forced everyone inside to grow older on books and silence. The only difference was that the shelves were shorter, and made of white metal. The metal was dirty and smelled like iron, aged just as unfortunately as the building’s exterior- but the shelves still held rows and rows of medicine, and that was all that mattered.
Right away, Anastasia began reading the names of cures. They were all in Russian, and quite a few of them were hastily handwritten, like the people labeling the tiny pots of medicine had been working up until the very end. As she looked, she felt Jude wander off. “Stay with me, my friend,” she whispered absentmindedly, her eyes flicking faster and faster through the names. She recognized quite a few of the names- vaccinations for hepatitis and tetanus and whooping cough- but they all seemed jumbled and out of order. She would find a bottle marked with a cure for infectious disease but when she looked down the rest of the row, it would be filled with soft painkillers and nutrient injections. Frustration was welling in her throat, making her want to scream, and then suddenly, she remembered Jude.
He’d removed himself from her grip as she started to poke through the bottles and vials, and ever since then, she hadn’t heard a thing. Anastasia stopped dead and put her head up, listening. The room was deadly quiet. She couldn’t even hear another person’s breath in the room with her. Her frustration was gone, and replaced with cold fear. The silence made a dark roaring sound against her eardrums, and she shuffled her feet slightly under her body, just to make a noise. “Jude?” she called hesitantly into the dark, starting when her voice made a louder noise than she’d expected it to. There was nothing but the ringing of her voice, and then once again, nothing. “Jude?” she called, getting up from her crouching position and pointing the flashlight beam into the air. She was about to call again, when she heard a noise.
It was a noise too similar to be foreign, but at the same time, in the moment, it was too foreign to be similar. The noise in the far corner of the room was voices. Not just one, but four or five. They were faint, as if they were far away, and Anastasia couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, but the voices sounded excited and rowdy. She narrowed her eyes in confusion, pointing her flashlight and squinting.
At first the beam of light looked as though it had fallen on a framed picture, hanging on the wall. Then, she realized, it wasn’t a picture at all- but a window. She could see nothing through it but blackness, and she moved closer, curious in spite of herself. As she walked through the rows of shelves and cabinets, she found herself averting her eyes, as though the thing in the corner was another human she was particularly shy of.
The voices were getting louder, but no more clearer, like a staticky radio slowly being turned up. Once in a while she would catch a word or two through the unclear chatter seemingly dripping straight from the wall. As she neared the wall, the uneasy feeling in her stomach became almost painful. She remembered what she was supposed to be looking for, and she remembered Jude, and then she looked back at the window- because that was definitely what it was. A window. A double hung window with twelve cut-ups- the kind they had in her house before it happened.
Anastasia stood next to the window and felt a cool, fresh breeze rolling in off of the frame. The window was open, it’s and outside of it, there was darkness. Darkness, and then stars, fading into Anastasia’s view. She couldn’t even bring herself to gasp, or scream, or do anything but breathe in the clean air and stare into the endless abyss before her. After a few minutes, she managed to come to her senses enough to realize that the voices had stopped and it was once again deadly quiet in the warehouse around her. She looked over her shoulder into the opposite corner of the vast building, and out the door they had come in, she could see the tainted light of the midday streaming in onto the ground. It was too strange. Her head was spinning and yet still, all she could do was stare out of the window.
Then the voices started again. Clear they were this time, and Anastasia could hear children’s voices, chuckling and taunting and teasing each other. Even without any sort of visual she could tell that one mouth was filled with something, food or sweets perhaps, and another little voice pronouncing “think” as “fink”, and a third was cackling at a fourth that was cussing proudly at nothing in particular.
She turned one last time to the corner of the room to look at the patch of light created by the door- and the patch blinked out just as she looked to it. When she tried to look back at the window, she found nothing but blackness, the same blackness where the light had been, and then, finally, she remembered nothing.



Senior Member
In the warm spirits of making a constructive critique, I have a lot to say from the first two paragraphs. The beginning of a story can make it or break it, and I mean no offence when I say that your first two paragraphs were all I needed to read to know I had to go no further.

For this being a first chapter, you throw a lot at us right away with your first paragraph.
"Lately, Jude had been getting worse. She pretended she didn’t notice, and he pretended he didn’t care, but she’d been trained as a medical professional, and she knew full well that he was in pain." As the reader picking up your book, we have no idea who either of these people are. From just this sentence alone we are introduced to two characters, a he and a she, with only scraps of information to go on. You need to slow down and zoom out and give the reader something to hold onto.

As well, even though it is apparent your story is character based it does not mean you can shirk on the setting either. You jump right into describing characters without letting us know where they are or why. Even a small tidbit of info would be better. An example for your consideration would be something like this:

"The brightly lit hospital ward was often cheered up by its nurses, but today not even the summer sunlight could bring a smile to Jude as he sat on the edge of his white cushioned bed. His legs were in horrible pain as he attempted to stretch them out. He was getting worse, it was apparent, but he would never let his nurses know that he felt fearful..."

With that you introduce a character with conflict within a setting the reader can relate to. Just that small introduction gives the reader a foothold, they know where they are and who they are dealing with before you delve into character development.

In conclusion, slow down and really give us detail. Take your time! The beautiful part of a story is the mental image that the writer can give you, you have all the power in the world to put us exactly where you want us. Fill it to the brim with explanation, you dont have to get everything out of the way all in one go. The slower you unravel the storyline the more time you have to get us immersed in your world. Take advantage of that opportunity!

I mean this criticism in a professional manner, with no intent to slander or mock your work. I would love to see a second draft of this after a bit of polishing :]


Senior Member
Hey there! Read your story. And that review above me. Agreed with some of it, but perhaps the intentions were shrouded due to the last paragraph-ish disclaimer thing.

Anyway, getting down to it. This is a great start and I'm sure you're going to edit and revise because that's what every writer does. This place is for workshopping and getting insights (pardon the pun) by other writers to help make the best possible story possible. The first paragraph started quite confusing, I wasn't sure which he or she was Jude and which was concerned for whom and why and even what was happening. Maybe with a few paragraph switches or scene set up lines, it would work and flow better. At least until both characters are established in the reader's head and the logic of he and she can be followed.

You have several parts of good description, especially about the woods and the birds and I could imagine quite well because I have been in the woods before and can attest that it is indeed a weird, chilling place. So, I don't think that unnecessary descriptions shouldn't be thrown about all haphazard like. A writers style can often be judged by what is described and what is left to the reader to imagine. (that's part of the fun for the reader, isn't it?)

Going into reading anything on this site, I try and keep an objective view. Seeing the posts as if they are not final drafts and letting that drive how I see the story. Workshopping on this site can be quite rewarding and I suggest posting in that part of the forum for better reviews and more assistance if you inquire it.

Well, getting back to your story. I feel like there's a lot going on, maybe a little too much that could be spread out more. Not in the midst of filler, but maybe over the course of other chapters. Sometimes it's easier to get everything out first and then work on pacing and the timeline to be realistic and follow motions and not feel like we're getting thrown around in the back seat with no seat belts.

I'm sure you have a plan for where the story shall go and wear further plot points are and character development, so I can't really comment on how to flesh those out. All I can really propose is that re-working the beginning will do nothing but strengthen an already solid start to this story. Good luck with it and I hope you continue posting the future drafts.