Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Nothing Personal"

Greetings visitors!

Welcome back to my humble abode. I hope the passage of time has treated you well. It's been a bland week for me. The Superbowl offered a nice distraction, but the commercials weren't nearly as great as years past, and I'm still having a hard run getting my schedule back on track.
I did, however, find some time to write this week, and I'm quite pleased with the results. Here's the backstory (skip down to the center title if you don't really care):

Junior Year at Linfield, I took a Creative Writing course on the art of Short Stories. One of the exercises went like so:
Write two pages (500-600 words) showing EITHER some kind of fight taking place in some kind of a museum, OR some kind of a love scene taking place in some kind of a factory. Use any point-of-view, any characters you want to. It can be romantic, comic, satirical, tragic, realistic, absurd, subtle, outrageous, set in past, present, or future, here, there or where-have-you--or any combination of the above. Write vividly and precisely. It may be an entire short-short-story or just a scene from some implied long thing. Suit yourself. Make it yours.
I chose the first topic, and wrote the following piece.

~~~

Differing Tactics

“There has got to be an easier way to do this.” A bead of sweat slithered its way down his cheek as he took in the sight of the ancient artifact for the second time that day. Having scoped out the museum during the day, making mental notes of every inch of that display and its surrounding area, there was only the mental preparations to worry about now. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and counted backward in his head from fifty. It didn’t take long for his face and body to show the effects of the exercise: his jaw unclenched, back straightened, fists released and hung at his sides, even his face seemed softer after only ten counts had passed.

With the initial phase complete, he began running over the plan step by step. 38 – make sure the lasers are still shorted out – 37 – take out knife and cut glass – 36 – lengthwise so as not to trip weight sensors – 35... Time was meaningless if he made a mistake, so he took as long as he needed, slowing down his counting as he reached the last ten. As usual, he put his mind to focusing on even the softest beeps and clicks, the slightest breeze of air, imagining the most irrational and fearsome implication of each. His breathing sped up; his blood pounded in his ears; his eyes snapped this way and that behind his eyelids. There were only a few counts left now – 5 – I’m not gonna make it out this time – 4 – they’ll be here any second – 3 – Ma always said I’d end up in the clink – 2 – why didn’t I move to Jersey? – 1 – DO IT NOW!!!

His eyes flew open and his hands raced to pull out his knife quick as a hummingbird taking flight. The adrenaline had done the trick, giving him sharper movements and reflexes that allowed him to work with twice the speed he normally possessed. His expression was neither fearful nor twitchy, but rather confidant and calm. The knife was up to the glass now, just about to begin its work…

…when a blast of air picked him up and sent him skidding sideways, whipping the knife right out of his hand and clattering to the floor. Coming to a stop in a crouch, he looked up toward where the gust had originated only to see a red haired woman standing in the doorway. Squinting to examine her more clearly, he could see her lips were pursed in a scowl, and one hand rested on her hip while the other hung at her side. Possibly the most surprising thing about her appearance, other than her being there in the first place, were her clothes. He, of course, had worn the protocol slim black clothing so as to reduce visibility, whereas this woman was dressed in somewhat baggy dark jeans and a red blouse almost as vibrant as her hair, which seemed aflame in the light streaming in from the window.

Raising himself up again, he whispered sharply to the intruder, “What’s the big idea?! Who the hell are you?! And where the hell did that wind come from?!” He hadn’t known that her eyes were not on him until now, their blood-red hue sending a shiver up his spine and stopping his breath inside his chest. Surely their glow was just a reflection of the moonlight from outside, but there was something about her smile that gave him doubts.

“Funny you should mention Hell… But my identity and the wind are of no significance to you.” Her voice sent another bout of shivers up his spine, but he was less aware of it this time as she approached him, heels clicking on the museum tile. “My, isn’t this a lovely sight for a first meeting? Surrounded by treasures of old, bathed in the light of the moon, and completely…alone.” She pressed a fingertip under his chin, drawing it upward and locking her eyes with his. He could have moved, could have resisted, but as he stood there, nearly limp at her touch, he felt like the happiest man in the world…

…and so he died with a smile on his face as, in one swift movement, the woman grabbed hold of his throat and snapped his neck. He was found the next morning, along with a smashed case where the Goblet of Aello had once been.

~~~

Years passed, and I joined the Writer's-Workshop group on DeviantArt (http://writers-workshop.deviantart.com/). Last month, the project was to write a short piece (600-800 words) involving a complex character and to make sure to "SHOW, not tell". I found the challenge intriguing, but decided that the above piece already fit the description fairly well. So I tweaked the ending a bit and submitted the piece under the new title "Nothing Personal".

At the end of the month, my piece was featured among three that the leader thought best utilized the workshop goals. I felt slightly guilty that I hadn't tried my hand at something new. But then I decided to take the critiques I'd gotten and re-work the piece to make it better - something that I'm sorry to say I have a bad habit of not doing.

Here is the finished (for now) product.

~~~

Nothing Personal

“Hold on just a minute, m’ dear, I’ll have you out shortly.” The ancient goblet sat under its protective glass, just as it had been, looking quite…well, bored. Surely it must be, sitting in a museum all day with the occasional tourist giving it half a glance at best. To coddle it against dust and dirt like an invalid––why, it was an insult! Soon it would be out among its admirers, taking chance in its existence like everyone else once again. And he would be the one to free it.

The last echoes of his footsteps faded, leaving him in silence. The whirring of the cameras had already succumbed to the power-cut he’d implemented. Now, only the moonlight and his tools remained as his accomplices. He took one last glance around the hall, making sure nothing was out of order among the other residents since the last time he’d visited. Tapestries hanging limply, paintings posing stiffly, marble and tile looking on coldly––yes, they all seemed to be in order. Not happy, perhaps, but complacent enough.

Turning back to his prize, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. At first he focused on even the softest noises––a cricket’s chirp, a whine of worn brakes, his own breath whooshing in and out––imagining the most irrational and fearsome implication of each. Then he forced himself to block out each of those petty annoyances and turn his attention inward. Internally, he began at fifty and counted down from there. It didn’t take long for his face and body to show the effects of the exercise: his jaw unclenched, back straightened, fists released and hung at his sides, even his face seemed softer after only ten counts had passed.

With the initial phase complete, he began running over the plan step by step. 38 – make sure the lasers are still shorted out – 37 – take out knife and cut glass – 36 – lengthwise so as not to trip weight sensors – 35... Time was meaningless if he made a mistake, so he took as long as he needed. A bead of sweat slithered down his cheek as he continued counting, his thoughts ranged from specific processes to what he would do with the goblet once it was in hand.

As the numbers grew smaller, it seemed as if all his hard work had been for naught: his breathing sped up, his blood pounded in his ears, his eyes snapped this way and that behind his eyelids. There were only a few counts left now – 5 – I’m not gonna make it out this time – 4 – They’ll be here any second – 3 – Ma always said I’d end up in the clink – 2 – Why didn’t I move to Jersey? – 1 – DO IT NOW!!!

His eyes flew open and the knife was in his hand almost faster than their shadows could follow. The knife was at the glass, slicing horizontally with the speed and precision of a practiced surgeon. And perhaps he would assume that title himself; for a surgeon used cutting to remove objects of harm from beauty, and he used the same technique to remove objects of beauty from harm. He allowed himself a grin as he separated the top of the glass case from its four walls.

“Just stand still, love, this won’t hurt a bit.” Moving his blade to his teeth, he passed the glass top into one hand and reached for his prize…

…When a shadow fell across his hand. He snapped his eyes upward, but a blast of air picked him up and sent him skidding across the room, whipping the glass out of his hand and shattering into a tapestry. Coming to a stop in a crouch, he snatched his knife from his teeth, nicking his cheek in the process, and scanned the room for his attacker. When no one met his eyes in the moonlit hall, he refocused on the shadow and followed it upward, finally finding its owner standing in one of the upper windows.

It was a woman. It had to be. Her red hair stood out clearly, not orange at all, but a bright red that flowed down around her shoulders. And if that weren’t loud enough to set off all the alarms in here, there were her clothes. He, of course, had worn the protocol slim black clothing and black hat so as to reduce visibility and evidence, whereas this woman was dressed in jet black pants and a red jacket almost as vibrant as her hair. Her face was in shadow, but her outline––right hand on her hip, the other at her side in a fist, weight shifted to one side––suggested that she was as happy about company as he was.

Raising himself up again, he glanced toward the exit, shifting his weight from foot to foot. When he returned his eyes to the woman, she was already on the ground, heels clicking on the cold tiles as she approached him. He took a step back, holding his knife––unimposing as it was––in front of him. He whispered sharply to the intruder, “W-what’s the big idea?! Who are you, and what the hell was that?!”

Now that she was on the same level as he, he’d thought she would look less imposing, but her clear features and cocky gait only served to unnerve him more. Her skin was flawless; her lips curled into a smirk; she had a slight crook to her nose, as if it had been broken once, but it only heightened her beauty; and then there were her eyes, their crimson hue stopping his breath inside his chest. Surely their glow was just a reflection of something––the moonlight from outside bouncing off some glass, perhaps––but there was something about her smile that gave him doubts.

“Funny you should mention Hell… But my identity is of no significance to you.” Her voice sent his heart pounding faster. He shouldn’t still be here. The crash would have attracted the guards. They’d be on him any second. And this woman––this admittedly gorgeous woman––shouldn’t be here. This was his prize, his trophy, his damsel. What right did this woman have to it? She was ruining everything. How’d she even get in here? He hadn’t heard a thing. And was that window even open? Who was she? She was an obstacle, that was all, and one he’d have to deal with quickly. He could feel his skin flush with another round of adrenaline…but there was a heat in this blood that was not caused by fear or hate.

“My, isn’t this a lovely sight for a first meeting? Surrounded by treasures of old, bathed in the light of the moon, and completely…alone.” Suddenly she was in front of him, placing a fingertip under his chin and drawing it upward so their eyes could lock. He stood there, his mind barely registering the thoughts of fear and alarm that had filled it a moment before. His efforts had all been for this moment. His prize was her unwavering gaze. His knife was for… Wait, wasn’t that for something else?

That flicker of recognition was enough to snap him out of his daze, but it was also enough for the woman. Even his adrenaline-fueled speed wasn’t enough for, before he’d even had time to tighten his grip on his blade, she had moved her hand from his chin to his throat and snapped his neck.

He fell limply to the floor, blackness flooding his vision. But just before he vanished completely, he heard a low chuckle and two final words:

“Nothing personal.”

~~~

If you have any comments or critiques you'd like to offer, I'm always open. Feel free to either comment on this blog or on DeviantArt (http://stormywolf.deviantart.com/art/Nothing-Personal-151407489).

And I believe that's quite enough for one week. Until next time,

~Vicki