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The Follower Chapter 4

by Steerpike`s sister 

Posted: 02 April 2006
Word Count: 2254
Summary: Hoping for some more of your very useful feedback! I'd like to know if you're enjoying it,how the pacing is going, whether you're confused, anything that strikes you really. Having given it space for a bit, I am just looking through the draft in hopes of sending it to the agent soon, does it seem "agent-ready?" Thanks in advance!

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She was not hungry, but she was thirsty. It came and went in waves. She went into the kitchen, looking for water. She found a jug of it, and was about to drink when Gaby, behind her, said: “What are you doing in here? You’d better not break anything. Come on, out you go.”
She bundled her out. Looking at Mariposa coldly, she said: “I’m going to sleep now, so if you want a share of the bed you’d better come along. I don’t want to be woken up by you coming in later.”
“Share your bed?”
“You can sleep in the stable with the horses if you’d rather,” sniffed Gaby, turning her back. “There’s nowhere else.”
“But it’s still - “ Mariposa looked out of the window, not knowing how to describe it: light was not the word, the sky was as dark as ever.
“It’s as dark as it’s going to get. Hurry up.”
Mariposa followed her, into a small room where there was a solid, broad bed and not much other furniture. A shallow covered pan of hot ashes heated the room and there was a small wooden chest. Gaby opened it and took out two nightdresses, one of which she threw to Mariposa.
“It’ll be far too big for you, scrawny,” she said, turning away and pulling her own over her head.
Mariposa got changed and got into bed reluctantly. She lay quietly, trying not to disturb her companion. But Gaby did not sleep. She lay quietly, breathing, then she sat up sharply, with a muttered complaint, and got out of bed. Mariposa heard her dressing, and the door creak open. Later she heard noises from the kitchen, as if someone were sweeping the floor with an angry hand.
She drifted off to sleep. She dreamed of nothingness: a flat, grey, empty space. It was the most terrible dream she had ever had. She felt empty and bare and broken, a seed that could not grow, a bird that could not fly. In the dream, nothingness tasted like salt. She woke up with tears on her cheeks.
She swung her legs out of bed, and sat on the side of the bed, listening. The only sound was her breathing, her heart beating. And the other breathing, the other heart beat. She listened carefully for it. It came so close to her own that she could barely separate them, at times, did not know whose breathing was whose.
She got up, her bare feet curling on the cold boards, and walked through the quiet house, to the door. The nightdress was huge. She had a sudden, brief, etched image of herself in a dress too large for her, laughing, running over winter-hard fields. She was much younger. The dress smelled of happiness, smelled of the person who was running after her, laughing too, unseen. A game of dress-up and chase.
Where was I when that happened? she wondered. Did it even happen? Or did I dream it?
She wondered if anyone else was really sleeping. The door was not locked. Outside, the clouds in the sky writhed and twisted, like an unquiet sea. She watched them, their stirring, troubled colours, the ugly shapes they formed, and listened to the quiet heartbeat and the soft breathing of the person who seemed always to be standing behind her. She tried to forget the terrible feeling of emptiness that had stayed with her from the dream.

“This is where we keep the devils.”
Mariposa followed the policeman nervously through the door, but it was a room like any other, lined with chests and shelves on which boxes were piled and scattered.
“Are they dead?” she said.
“You can’t kill a devil. But they have rest states, hibernation, I suppose you could call it. They’re not dangerous right now.”
He lifted down a box from the shelf, opened it and showed her the contents. She stared at them in amazement.
“These are devils?”
The box contained some gravel, the sort you might find in your shoe at the end of a day’s walking. There were a few bigger, white pebbles, and a child’s tooth.
“They can look like anything,” said the policeman seriously, taking the box back from her. “Sometimes they get into your shoe, like a little stone. You don’t think anything of it, and by the time you’re home they’ve worked under your skin, under your nail… They nest in you.”
He put the box back on the shelf, and opened a large trunk. Mariposa looked inside. She saw the hide of an animal. It looked like a horse’s skin. In the box was another, smaller jar, in which was some clear liquid. It looked like water.
“If I opened this jar, the devil would come back to life,” said the man. “This is a big one. They are the ones we have most trouble with. It has a terrible cry. It can drive you mad with it.”
“I think I heard one in the forest,” said Mariposa.
“You were very lucky to escape.” The man put the jar back carefully in the box and closed the lid.
“All of these must be reported to the City,” he added, almost to himself. “I want you to deliver some papers for me. We will set off tomorrow morning.”
“Are you going all the way with me?”
“I can’t do that. I am not allowed to be away from my post for long. There’s a way station half a day’s ride from here. I will take you that far and the police of that state will take you onwards. It may take a long time for you to get to the City. But rest assured you will be in good hands. The Police are reliable. After all, it is our job to help the vulnerable.”

For lunch, as Mariposa supposed she had to call it, they had vegetable soup. It arrived cold and half-congealed from the kitchen, brought in by Gaby, who slammed the pot down on the table without a word and then went back to the kitchen, from where they heard her violently washing up.
Mariposa skimmed her soup with the spoon. She didn’t feel hungry. She hadn’t felt hungry since she came out of the forest. She just felt empty inside, as if her stomach had folded up until it was needed again. None of the others - Jack, the police chief and the two policemen - seemed to be eating either. Jack pushed a potato moodily around his bowl with a piece of dry bread. In the silence, the heart-beat and the breath in her ear sounded so loud she could hardly believe no one else could hear them.
There was a terrible crash and a scream of fury from the kitchen. Mariposa jumped and dropped her spoon. She looked around the table. No one else seemed to have noticed.
She wondered if she should go and see what was wrong. It’s not as if I owe her anything, she thought. She hates me. Maybe I shouldn’t care. She sat undecided, wishing she could remember what kind of person she was, if she was the kind who would go, or the kind who wouldn’t. Then she put down her spoon, and, unnoticed, slipped off to the kitchen.
She found Gaby sitting at the kitchen table, her big red hands pressed into her eyes, shaking with silent, angry sobs. The shards of what had once been a jug were scattered across the floor like a broken star. The walls were greasy and oily, and a pan with stew relentlessly burned onto the base stood in the sink, a nasty mess of burnt food and water in the bottom of it.
Mariposa looked around, found a broom and began to sweep the bits into a pile in the corner. Gaby looked up, her eyes puffy with tears.
“What happened?” asked Mariposa.
“Oh, I’m just so clumsy, aren’t I,” she said bitterly. “Here, you’re doing that wrong. Let me show you.” She got up and took the broom from her, and began sweeping crossly but efficiently.
“You’re not clumsy. You’re not clumsy now.”
“Yes I am, what would you know about it? I’m clumsy and stupid and ugly. And a bad-tempered shrew,” she added, bending to sweep the bits into a dust pan.
Mariposa smiled.
“Things get broken sometimes, it’s not your fault.”
Gaby laughed shortly.
“I don’t know whose fault it is. Everything breaks here. And I can‘t seem to keep the place clean.” She tipped the fragments into the dustbin, and said “You’re going to the City tomorrow? You’re lucky. I wish I could go.”
“Why don’t you?”
“Me? Go to the City? Oh no, thank you, I think I’ll just stay here burning food for men who don’t eat it and think it’s their blessed right to be waited on hand and foot. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been doing this forever.” Her voice broke, and she sat down at the table again. “Go along now, go on, off you go, or I’ll get angry,” she added, as Mariposa moved towards her. Mariposa looked at her uncertainly, and, seeing that she meant it, went.

Jack was waiting for her when she came out of the front door onto the porch.
“How did you like the stew?”
“I didn’t feel hungry,” she said guiltily.
“Nor did I. You know, no one eats much around here. As a matter of fact - “ he looked at her sideways “-we don’t eat at all. We can. But we don’t.”
“You have to eat something or you’ll starve,” she said.
“You’d think, wouldn’t you?”
He waited for her response. When there was none, he said:
“You’re going tomorrow. I want to show you some of my work.”
He handed her a piece of paper. She looked at it. There were black marks on it, like writing.
“I can’t read this.”
“No, nobody except me can. This is what it says.” He cleared his throat and began to sing, without self-consciousness. His voice was hoarse and flat. “La la la laaa, la la laaa, la la…”
Mariposa listened politely, and when he had finished, said: “It sounds nice.”
“No it doesn’t!” He laughed bitterly, and took the paper back from her. “It sounds wonderful. It sounds incredible. It sounds like the sunrise, and the mountains, and the wild rivers, and the first snow of winter. Except my voice sounds like a dog being thrashed senseless.”
“Can’t anyone else here sing?”
“No. Anyway, no one can read it except me.”
“You could teach them how,” she suggested.
“What, this stupid lot?”
“They’re alright. Gaby’s alright.”
Jack shrugged.
“Besides,” he said, “it’s not meant to be sung. It’s meant to be played.”
“Well, can’t you play it, then?”
“I’ve tried! Come and look at this.” He jumped down from the porch, and set off towards the forge. He had a fast, rolling walk, and Mariposa had to hurry to keep up with him. She said: “Don’t you sleep, either?”
“You catch on, don’t you?”
“But everyone sleeps. Everyone eats, too. You have to.”
Jack nodded, batting at the long grass with his hands, knocking it out of his way.
“So why don’t we?” Answering his own question, he said “I think it’s something in the Borders, in the air here. Do you think a whole area can be infected with a devil?”
“I don’t know,” she said.

As they entered the forge, he grabbed the little stool from the corner and sent it scooting across to the table, as nonchalantly as a skilled football player kicking a ball. Climbing up onto it, he picked up something from the table, and showed it to her. It was a long pipe, with holes in it. His broad-nailed fingers splayed across the holes, they produced little muted gasps of air as he covered and un-covered them, .
“It even feels dead.” He blew down it. It produced a rusty quack that wavered over seven notes and then died. “You see? Nothing works here.”
“But why not?” She took the pipe and peered down it. It smelled of metal. She tried blowing into it, but the noise she made was worse than Jack’s attempt.
He shrugged.
“I don’t know. They say everything is better in the City. People get things done, things work. Try and find out for us, will you, when you get there? Ask the angels why things don’t work. If I had proper legs, if I could walk or ride a horse, I’d go to the City. But I can’t. I’m stuck You’re lucky, you’re getting out of here. Try and find out, won’t you? Please?”
“I don’t know how,” she said, frightened by the edge of desperation in his voice. “I just want to find out who I am and where I come from. I can’t promise anything.”
He looked at her and shook his head and held out his hand for the pipe.
“Look, I’ll try,” she said guiltily, handing it back to him. “But I don’t know how.”
Looking down at the pipe, he said: “You know, I didn’t come from here, none of us did. But we’ve been here so long we’ve forgotten how we got here. Perhaps once the things we set our hands to worked and didn’t break. Perhaps once we were able to learn, to change things. You just watch you don‘t end up like us, Mariposa. Don‘t get stuck here.”

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Comments by other Members

shepline at 16:33 on 02 April 2006  Report this post
Hi Leila,

Firstly, when I saw that you had posted more of your story, I leapt at the opportunity to read it. However, you mention wanting to know how this is going regarding pacing and whether we're confused, and I wonder whether this is telling of your own thoughts? Whilst I love your writing style, and some of your images and scenes that you create are absolutely great - I find this chapter to be treading water somewhat.

I've already mentioned, and I think someone else also commented the same, that chapters 1 and 3 were my favourites, and I have to say I'm finding this a bit more of a chapter two. It may be that too much time has passed since my reading of chapter three, and I need to go back and read from the beginning (I probably will), but I'm finding that the momentum that I had felt in chapters 1 and 3 has got lost here.

I'm not sure if I'm being very coherent here, and I'm really not sure if I'm being at all encouraging so I think I shall leave my comments now until I have re-read the whole story.


Steerpike`s sister at 18:06 on 02 April 2006  Report this post
Hi Thomas, don't worry, those are quite valid comments! :) All the other chapters should still be in archive - go to my profile, click on work, and they'll pop up - so you can re-read whenever you like.
It is a slow paced story - that's part of the style. She is like a detective trying to piece together evidence to help her find out who she is and where she is.
This chapter is all about deepening her idea of the world she finds herself in. A number of ideas that are introduced here are essential clues to where she is - for example, the fact that these people never eat or sleep, the strange nature of the devil remains (are they real or is the Chief just faking it?), and above all, that "nothing works here". In this chapter she's presented with the other problem (apart from the question of her own identity)that she's going to have to find an answer to - why is this world so strange?
Hope this is helpful,

shepline at 19:26 on 02 April 2006  Report this post
Right! I'm going to come up with some more coherent comments because your work deserves that! :) I've copied and pasted your four chapters into a word file and formatted pretty-like to print out, and I'm going to read it in one go like I would a book (there's something about the way the text appears on screen on the WriteWords site that just kind of addles my brain... :\ )

I will return shortly!


shepline at 23:14 on 02 April 2006  Report this post
Me again Leila. I've gone back and read all four chapters, and the story flows much better for being read together rather than in the installments that I've read it before. Kind of an obvious thing to say really...!

I keep on harking back to chapter one, but in that you introduce a character so perfectly who knows nothing of who she is or where she is or how anything works in this world that she finds herself. Then in chapter two she suddenly remembers or decides upon a name for herself, but in chapter four, after being shaved of all her hair, she seems to be very accepting of what Jack and Gaby tell her. I think I would be expecting her to be more scared, and distrustful.

In each chapter, just as Mariposa comes to accept where she is, or might be, she seems to be thrown into another story almost, and has to find out something else. As a reader I think I'm probably hunting for a bit more stability. At the same time, she has been quite awfully treated (most notably by the border guards) and surely this would have made her more angry and frightened than she at the moment seems to be.

It's late now, and I'm tired, but if I come up with some better critique I will post again...


Steerpike`s sister at 09:21 on 03 April 2006  Report this post
quote: "after being shaved of all her hair, she seems to be very accepting of what Jack and Gaby tell her. I think I would be expecting her to be more scared, and distrustful. "
Yes, I see what you mean. I think the reason for that is I wanted it to have a "dream feel" to it, (you know, where you accept weird things naturally and without fear)and also, I felt that, as she doesn't remember anything of her past or how things should be, she accepts everything, no matter how weird, as normal. Does that make sense? Hence, she's only scared by things that seem directly threatening, like the monster in the woods. Thngs that are simply odd, like having your head shaved for devils, she just accepts, because she doesn't know she should distrust them.
I really want to keep the dream-like feeling of acceptance, especially as this is less a literal fantasy world and more an Alice in Wonderland/ Marianne Dreams style psychological world, but having said that, it seems it's making Mariposa come across as too passive. Maybe just more of an emotional response on her part is what's required? Or more of a hangover of fear from the beast she heard in the forest? Her fear, and her overcoming it, is very important to the story, so I think I should probably highlight it more.

BTW did you really think the border guards were horrible? I intended them to be seen more as "good men doing a difficult job".

nr at 17:34 on 03 April 2006  Report this post
Leila I'm still loving this, mainly I think because the atmosphere is so powerful. Like Thomas I feel I need to print off and read the whole lot together so I'll do that before I go into detail.

One thing that disconcerted me a bit was the jump from her getting up in the night and then being shown the devil material by the policeman. Is this happening the next day? Did Mariposa go back to bed or has she too been infected by the strange wakefulness that the others seem to experience? I may have forgotten something from earlier chapters about this - apologies if so.

A couple of things I particularly liked were these:
as if her stomach had folded up until it was needed again
. This was one of those sentences I wished I'd written

She drifted off to sleep. She dreamed of nothingness: a flat, grey, empty space. It was the most terrible dream she had ever had. She felt empty and bare and broken, a seed that could not grow, a bird that could not fly. In the dream, nothingness tasted like salt.
. I loved the flat strangeness of this. (Maybe drop the second 'empty' because it repeats from the previous sentence and takes the emphasis off the alliterative rhythm of 'bare and broken'. Maybe I'm treating this too much like poetry but one reason I like it is that is your lyrical handling for the language

Being really picky, I didn't care for the next sentence
She woke up with tears on her cheeks
because it seemed like a bit of cliche and less distinctive than the dream.

I can't wait to find out what happens when Maripose gets back to the city, if she does, and why the Borders are like they are.

Having only just started querying agents myself, I'm in no position to say whether the book is agent ready but it certainly is compelling.


Steerpike`s sister at 18:53 on 03 April 2006  Report this post
Hi Naomi, all those are good points, I'll fix them. I'm starting to think I'll hold off on sending to the agent till I've posted all chapters up here & got feedback. There seems to be a lot to do still! (more so in later chapters)

nr at 20:43 on 03 April 2006  Report this post
I've just re-read my post and realised that one sentence is gobbledegook. I meant to say that one of the qualities I like in your writing is your lyrical handling of language. There - coherence at last! Good luck with the rest of the book. I look forward to reading more.


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