Chapter 16: Ansel

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Another day another chapter. And just a short intro because I have some moving to do. Enjoy.

< XV. Haley     [Table of Contents]    XVII. Russ >

XVI. Ansel

“I never should have trusted you, Pidgeon! I knew it.” Ansel wanted to hit him, but he was too far away.

“No, Ansel,” Pidgeon said, shaking his head. “That’s not true. I helped you!”

“Helped me? You think knocking my friend out and kidnapping me is helping me?”

“No.” Pidgeon shook his head. “We didn’t kidnap you. We rescued you. And he’s not your friend. He’s a protector.”

“He was a better friend than you ever were. He gave me jerky, and he didn’t run away at the first sign of danger.”

“He was the first sign of danger!”

“He wasn’t dangerous! He said he could find my dad. He was trying to help me!”

Ha! Yeah right.” Pidgeon scoffed. “More like he was lying to you so he could arrest you.”

“Arrest me for what? You saw that gun he had. You said they kill whoever they want, whenever they want. If I was in danger, I would have been dead already. And now I’m never going to meet anyone with a better chance of getting my dad back. You took that away from me, Pidgeon. You and your stupid friends.”

“I—I didn—I’m sorry,” Pidgeon said, almost too low for Ansel to hear. “I was trying to help.”

Rosa came out of the room where they were holding Tom. She had a big smile on her face. “Whatever you said to him did the trick,” she said. “He’s actually listening to what we have to say, at least. He may end up doing what’s best for you after all.”

“What are you making him do?” Ansel asked. “He should be getting my dad back!”

“We told you, girl,” Rosa said. “It’s not in his power to do that. He can aim a gun, though. And thanks to you, we might be able convince him that doing just that is his best way of protecting you. So you did well, child. I appreciate that. Now you and little Richie here are going to have to leave until we’re done with him. Come back tomorrow morning, and he’ll be waiting for you. You got it?”

“But, she doesn—” Pidgeon protested.

“I’m not going anywhere!” Ansel stomped her foot.

“Now I mean it!” Rosa stomped hers back. “You have no investment in that protector, girl. He’s no use to you. We thank you both for leading him our way, and you have our food in your stomachs to show that gratitude, but we’ll be doing business with Mr. Pardy overnight. He’ll be in one piece tomorrow morning if you still want him, but until then, I’m going to have to ask you to leave. Thank you.”

“No, but you sai—” Pidgeon was going to go on, but Ansel grabbed his arm.

“You won’t get away with this,” she said, looking Rosa in the eyes.

“Oh, ho ho, girl.” Rosa laughed. “Get away with what?”

“Whatever you’re making him do. Whoever you’re trying to kill.”

“That, girl, is far enough,” Rosa said. “I’ll have you leave now, and I hope not to see your face again. If you do decide to come collect your friend tomorrow, make sure I don’t see you when you do it. Do you understand me?”

“I understand better than you might think, ma’am,” Ansel said, nodding. “Thank you for the soup. Let’s go Pidgeon.”

Pidgeon tried to protest, but Ansel dragged him out under the stern gaze of Rosa. Neither of them said a word until they had burst out into the open air.

“What was that Ansel?” Pidgeon said, tearing away from her grip. “You can’t treat them like that.”

“And why not?” Ansel asked, grabbing him again and dragging him into the first alley they passed. She let go of his arm and peeked around the corner.

“Because they’re—they’re—old,” Pidgeon said, scrunching up his nose. “And they gave us food, they helped us. And they’re my—my fri—”

“Helped us?” Ansel snapped. “You mean kidnapped.”

“I told you. That was—”

To protect me. Yeah. I know. But did you ever stop to think that maybe I don’t need protecting?”

“I didn’t—I wasn’t—I just wanted to help,” Pidgeon said, lowering his eyes. “We do nothing alone. Remember.”

Shhhh. Of course I remember,” Ansel whispered. “But shut up.” She pulled him behind a dumpster and sat on the dirty ground, leaning her back against the cold metal trash can.

“Wh—What are y—” Pidgeon tried to say.

Shhhhh!” Ansel put her finger to her mouth.

“What are—”

Shhh.”

She waited a few more heartbeats then started to breath.

“What are you doing?” Pidgeon whispered.

“I’m finding out what they’re making him do.”

“But how?” Pidgeon said, shaking his head. “And why? They told you to—”

“Whatever they want him to do, they can’t do it from in there, right? So I’m gonna wait until they come out then follow them to wherever it is they are going do it. That’s how.”

“No. But Ansel. You don’t understand—”

“Pidgeon. If you don’t shut up right now—you know—I’m glad you ditched me. You would suck at hunting. You’d scare all the prey away.”

“But—”

No buts. Okay. That protector was my last chance, Pidgeon. Even if he couldn’t get my dad out, he might be able to get me in. Or—I don’t know—get a message in or something. I have to try. You know that don’t you? You would do the same thing if you were in my situation.”

“Of course I would. That’s why—”

“That’s why I need you to shut up. So we can follow them without being noticed. That’s how hunting works, Pidgeon. Or I guess you already said you didn’t know anything about hunting. Well this is lesson one. Shut up so the prey doesn’t run away.”

“If you would just shut u—”

“Wait.” Ansel held up a hand. “Look,” she said, pointing down the alley. “It’s the cat!”

Back toward Anna and Rosa’s place was the black cat licking itself on the sidewalk.

“No way,” Pidgeon said.

“Let’s get it,” Ansel said.

“But what abou—”

She was already gone, and he had to sprint to catch up. The cat bounded down the street straight toward the building they had just come out of. Ansel thought she had it when it stopped right in front of Anna and Rosa’s apartment, but it jumped into the door and disappeared. Ansel stomped to a stop, and Pidgeon ran into the back of her.

“Where’d he go?” he said.

“Did you see that?”

“What?” Pidgeon said, looking around for the cat. “What happened?”

“It went through the door.”

“Did they see you?”

“No. I mean it went through the door. The door wasn’t open. The cat just disappeared.”

“Like in the alley?”

When you ditched me.

“He disappeared then, too,” Pidgeon said, ignoring her.

“I’m going in.”

She had already reached out to touch the doorknob, but her hand disappeared before she felt it, cut off in a straight line along her wrist like the clouds behind the invisibility screen in the sky. She pulled her hand out and laughed when it reappeared.

“Ansel,” Pidgeon said, taking a step back. “I don’t think you should do that. You don’t know how it’s going to—I don’t know—affect you.”

“Pidgeon,” Ansel said with a grin. “The Curious Cat just jumped through there. You know what that means.”

“No, Ansel. I don’t think that’s the Curious Cat. I think—”

She didn’t hear the rest of what he had to say, because she jumped through the door into a big, dark closet with clothes piled up all around her. The cat sat on a particularly high mound of clothes in front of her, licking itself.

“I found you,” she said.

The cat meowed.

She took it as a challenge. “Oh, yeah? Well I will then.” She pounced toward it, but it ran out of the open door which provided the only source of light in the room. She chased it and lost all her senses in the blinding white lights that she ran into. She was defenseless, and the cat was gone for sure. When her eyes finally adjusted, she saw a giant in a white uniform, pointing a gun at someone behind the lights. Her first instinct was to flee, but then she heard what the giant was yelling, she recognized the voice. He was telling them that he was doing this for her. She never asked him to do that.

“Don’t!” she screamed as the gun went off. She tackled him to try to stop him before he fired again, and they landed in a tangle on the floor.

“What are you doing?” Tom pushed her up off of him and pointed his gun at her, the gun he had just used to shoot someone in what he claimed was protection of her. She had never seen a gun until she met him, and she had certainly never had one pointed at her. She put her trembling hands in the air and saw his finger flinch, but he didn’t pull the trigger. Instead he pulled off his helmet and looked at her wide-eyed. “Ansel,” he said. “I…”

She didn’t want to hear it. She didn’t care anymore. She squirmed away and ran toward the costume closet in the hope that it would let her pass back through the other way.

“Ansel!” Pidgeon grabbed her and hugged her on the other side. She broke away from him and ran down the alley to sit behind a dumpster and cry into her hands.

“Ansel!” Tom called.

When she heard his bootsteps getting closer, she swung her fists towards his face, but only got high enough to hit him in his padded stomach. “Get away from me!” she cried as she swung at him again.

“No, Ansel,” Tom said, holding her at arm’s length. “You don’t understand.”

You don’t understand! You pointed a gun at me. A gun!”

“I didn’t know it was you. Why’d you stop me? How’d you even get there?”

“You said you were doing it for me.”

“I was doing what you asked me to do.”

“I never asked you to shoot anyone.” Ansel scoffed. “Who’d you kill anyway? You fired two shots.”

“I don’t—”

“You don’t even know?” Ansel shook her head. “Then how could you know you were doing it for me?”

“I don’t know if I hit him, because you interrupted me. I was shooting at the person who owns the protectors. They have to do what he says, so ultimately, he’s responsible. Right?”

You have to do what he says,” Ansel reminded him. “He owns you.”

“I—No.” Tom shook his head. “I tried to kill him, to free us.”

“Like you freed my mother”

“No. I didn—”

“But you did. You did, and nothing you can do will ever change that!”

“No. But I—”

“No!” Ansel stomped her foot. “Leave me alone!”

She sprinted out of the alley and down the street, grabbing Pidgeon along the way. He protested a little, but not much, and soon they were running as fast as their feet could take them down the Green Belt. Pidgeon begged to stop not far along, but Haley wasn’t going to stop ever. She didn’t care if he did. She didn’t care if he left her like everyone else. He had already done it once, and he would probably do it again: lie to her just like Tom did and disappear when she needed him the most. She was stupid to trust either of them in the first place. She would get to the end of the Belt by herself if that was what it took.

She heard his footsteps drop out from behind her, but she kept on running anyway. She would run far and fast enough to leave it all behind, Pidgeon and the stupid Concierges that he said were after her, Anna and Rosa and whatever plans they had to kill more people, and especially Tom with his attempts to put responsibility for murders he had committed on her. There was no one left in the world who cared about her. No one at all except for her…dad.

She slowed to a jog, then a walk, then fell to her knees in the middle of the sidewalk. Her dad was the only thing she had left in the world, but how was she supposed to get him back? How could she do it when she was all alone? We do nothing alone.

She caught her breath and wiped her eyes, then turned to see if Pidgeon was still chasing after her. Her heart dropped into her stomach when he wasn’t there. She had run too fast. She had gotten too far ahead of him. He hadn’t ditched her this time, she had ditched him.

The tears came back at the thought of it. Now she really was alone. Before, with him chasing after her, there was still someone driving her on, there was still someone who would be there if she tripped up or lagged behind. But now she had gotten so far ahead that he had given up on her. Now she had less hope than ever of finding her dad. She didn’t even know where to go anymore. She didn’t know where she was. She found herself turning this way and that with tears in her eyes, and the people walking around her couldn’t even spare a second glance.

Then she thought she heard her name. She wiped her nose—and sniffled and coughed—and it came again. It was her name. It was Pidgeon’s voice. He hadn’t given up yet!

“Ansel!” he called. “Ansel, wait up!” He was jogging and out of breath when he finally caught up to her to sit on the ground in a huff. “I thought—I lost you,” he said through deep breaths.

Ansel chuckled a little, her eyes watering again, and said, “You lost me?”

“Yeah.” Pidgeon shrugged, still breathing heavily. “You’re fast.”

“Pidgeon,” Ansel said, working hard to keep her voice from breaking. “Why’d you keep chasing after me?”

“Well.” Pidgeon shrugged. “Because. Besides…You needed me, right? I mean, you need me.” He nodded hopefully at her.

“But you don’t need me, Pidgeon,” Ansel said, scrunching up her eyebrows and wrinkling her forehead.

Pidgeon looked hurt, sitting on the sidewalk, searching for a piece of grass to tear to pieces. “I do though,” he said. “Unless you don’t want to take me along anymore.”

“Take you along?” Ansel frowned.

“Yeah, well.” Pidgeon stood up and brushed himself off. “I guess that was a prank or something. I’ll—uh—I’ll just get back to the orphanage then.”

“No!” Ansel cried a little too desperately. She composed herself and went on. “I mean, you still want to do that? You still want to come with me?”

“Of course I do. I wasn’t lying when I told you what they did to me. I have to get out of there, and I need your help to do it.”

“But Pidgeon,” Ansel said, crossing her arms and looking away from him. “I can’t leave yet. I have to try to get my dad back. Tom may not be able to get him, but I believe him when he says my dad’s still alive.”

“Tom?”

“The protector.”

Ansel. He killed your mom. He admitted to that. How could you trust him?”

“I don’t trust him,” Ansel said, turning back to Pidgeon and shaking her head. “I believe what he’s saying. There’s a difference.”

“How can you believe him, then?”

“Because he wouldn’t admit to killing my mom and lie to me about my dad being alive.”

“Unless he wanted to arrest you.”

Then he would have already.” Ansel sighed. “You saw how big he was. He could have picked me up with one hand and carried me away. Haven’t we been through this already?”

“Yeah, well…”

“Well I’m not negotiating. I’m gonna get my dad back whether you help me or not.”

“But how?”

“I don’t know.”

“So what are you going to do next?”

“I don’t know.”

“So you want me to agree to nothing, then.” Pidgeon scoffed. “What’s the point?”

“I just want you to know that’s what my goal is, that’s all I care about. I’m getting my dad back and nothing else matters.”

“Well, let’s do it, then,” Pidgeon said, finally standing from the sidewalk and looking ready to go.

Ansel rubbed her forehead. “Pidgeon,” she said. “You do understand what this means, don’t you.”

He didn’t answer. Ansel could tell he wanted another blade of grass to tear apart.

“He was taken by the protectors, he’s being held by them, so we have to go to them to figure out how to get him back.”

“Ansel, we can’t,” Pidgeon said. “You don’t—”

“You don’t have to come with me. That’s why I’m telling you now.”

“But how are you going to get to him? Anna and Rosa. They can—”

“I’m not asking them for help,” Ansel said, crossing her arms. “You weren’t there, Pidgeon. There were people there that were bigger than the protectors, but they were a different kind of big, wide, too. And Tom tried to kill one of them, but I stopped him.”

“What are you talking about Ansel?” Pidgeon shook his head, confused.

“I’m saying Anna and Rosa aren’t my friends. You can go back to them if you want, and I’ll just find my own way to get my dad back.”

“But they can get him. When you disappeared I tried to tell you. That was them. They transported you. They can get your dad the same way.”

“I don’t care, Pidgeon.” Ansel shook her head. “I can’t work with them. It may be asking too much, but I’m asking it. Like I said, you don’t have to come with me.”

“I just don’t know how you’re going to get him without them.”

“I don’t either, Richard. But I will.”

“Well…” Pidgeon thought about it for a second. “If you’ll take me with you, I’ll still come, then.”

“You don’t have to.”

“Then if you’ll take me with you, I still want to come. I can’t go back to the orphanage. I won’t.”

She realized how selfish she had been. She realized that they were standing in the middle of the street with people walking all around them. She realized how vulnerable they were. “You’re right, Pidgeon,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“You don—”

“We need to get out of here, though. We’re not hunters anymore, we’re prey. What road are we on?”

“I don’t know,” Pidgeon said, looking around for any indication. “Roman or something.”

“Roman and what?”

I don’t know,” he repeated. “I was trying to keep up with you, I wasn’t taking the time to read every sign I passed.”

“Fine,” Ansel said. “Okay. Just follow me.” She went down the closest alley she could find in an attempt to set her bearings. She could almost see the street sign across the way when it disappeared along with Pidgeon and the rest of the city around him. She turned and made to go back to find him when someone grabbed her from behind, lifted her off her feet, and carried her back the other way. “Put me down!” she demanded, kicking and struggling to get away, but whoever it was didn’t respond.

They carried her through a short hall into a big room that had a lot of metal tables covered with glass tubes and jars which were filled with different colored chemicals. There were little flames coming out of metal tubes, heating some of the glasses of color, and the chemicals were bubbling and boiling with their essences all mixing together. It was the most interesting thing Ansel had ever seen. She stopped struggling, too busy gawking at the place to fight. She was still staring in awe at her surroundings when the person dropped her on the floor in front of a tall chair which was turned with its back facing her.

“Let me go,” Ansel said, standing and turning to find a big mechanical arm with its hand open and waving. “Who—What are you?”

It kept waving.

“You won’t get anything out of that one,” a voice said behind her.

She turned to see a woman sitting in the chair which was now facing her. “Who are you?” Ansel said. “Let me go.”

“Settle down, girl,” the woman said.

“I’m not a girl!” Ansel said, crossing her arms.

“We’re here to help you,” the woman said.

“Who are you?”

“I’m someone trying to get back what they took from me. Just like you.”

“You don’t know anything about me,” Ansel said.

“I know more than you think, girl. I know you were there at the Feast with that protector. I know you’re running away from home. I know you’re looking for something and we can give it to you.”

“You would have started with that if it was true.” Ansel scoffed.

The woman laughed. “You’re a sly little one, aren’t you? It’s partially true. We can get it for you, but we don’t know what it is.”

“Then how do you know you can get it?”

“We can get it,” the woman said with a grin. “Don’t you worry about that. Whatever it is, we can get it.”

“I want Pidgeon to be here, first,” Ansel said. “Can you get that?”

“You want a pigeon?”

“No.” Ansel sighed. “Pidgeon. Richard. He was following me, but he won’t come through the portal or whatever. He never does.”

“You’ve been through one before?” The woman raised an eyebrow.

Pidgeon,” Ansel said. “Bring him here. Prove you can get what I want when it’s simple, then I’ll bargain with you.”

“I swear,” the woman said. “You Sixers are more miserly than the owners. Fine. Popeye, you heard the girl. Go get Pidgeon and bring him in. What does he look like?”

“I don’t know,” Ansel said, shrugging. “A kid. Dirty clothes. Dark hair. Pimply face. He’ll probably be standing exactly where I disappeared, wondering if he should follow me or not. That is if he hasn’t run off already. You’re losing time.”

“Go on Popeye,” the woman said. The metal arm rolled out through the door they had come in. “There. Popeye’s fetching your pigeon. Now how did you get into the Feast?”

“How did you know I was there?”

“I’m not here to play games with you, girl. You interrupted an important operation. Tell me how you got there.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just saw a bunch of really fat people acting like babies. I don’t know how that could be important.”

The woman laughed again. “No,” she said, shaking her head and trying to suppress a grin. “That wasn’t the important part, you’re right about that, but I still need to know how you got there.”

“I’m not saying anything until I see—”

“Hey! Let me down!” Pidgeon’s voice cut her off. The big metal arm dropped him on the floor next to her. “Ansel,” he said. “How did you get here?”

“Alright,” the woman said. “Your boyfriend’s here. How did you get to the Feast?”

I don’t know,” Ansel said. “I tried to open a door, and I ended up in a costume closet.”

“The closet,” the woman said, more to herself than to Ansel. “Of course. I should have known.”

“So you already know about the closet,” Ansel said.

“Ansel,” Pidgeon said. “Anna and Ro—”

Shhhh!” Ansel elbowed him.

“Girl,” the woman said. “We’re going to find out one way or another. You might as well let your boyfriend tell us now. We’ll be more likely to help you if you cooperate.”

“I’m not her boyfriend,” Pidgeon said, crossing his arms.

“That doesn’t matter, boy,” the woman said. “Shut up. Now, your Pidgeon is here. I held up my end of the bargain. So tell me, how did you get into the feast?”

“I told you!” Ansel stomped her foot.

“Where did it happen?”

“I don’t know,” Ansel said. “Pidgeon?”

“St. Roch and St. Claude,” he said. “That’s where it—”

“You heard him,” Ansel said. “Now how are you going to get my dad for me?”

“And you say you tried to open the door, but you went through into a costume closet?” the woman asked.

“Am I here all alone?” Ansel said. “Yes. Then I heard the protector say he was doing what he was doing for me, so I tried to stop him. I never asked him to shoot anyone. He was supposed to help me get my dad back just like you are now. Right?”

“Right,” the woman said. “But you’ll have to wait for the Scientist for that.”

“Wait for the what?” Ansel said, losing her temper. “Listen lady. Tell me how you plan on getting my dad back, or we’re leaving.”

Pidgeon didn’t look as sure of himself as Ansel was. He was still staring at the mechanical arm, afraid it might grab him again. The arm didn’t seem to be paying any attention to him, though. It was sweeping up something on the floor. The woman laughed and turned her chair around so Ansel could only see the back of it. “Well leave then, girl,” she said. “See if I care. We already have what we want. You should have held your cards closer to your chest if you wanted to negotiate.”

“You’re lying!” Ansel rushed at her, but Pidgeon grabbed her arm and turned her around.

Uh…Ansel,” he said, staring at the door they had come in.

A dark-faced man that was even taller than Tom walked into the room. He was wearing a black suit, with a black piece of cloth tied in a bow around his neck, and a tall, black hat on his head. He looked down at them, took the single gold-rimmed lens out of his eye, and said, “Ahem. Rosalind. You didn’t tell me our visitor—or should I say visitors—were here. Hello, ma’am. Sir.” He took off his hat and did a little bow. “My name’s Huey. It’s so nice to finally meet you.” He held out his hand and bent over at the waist so Ansel could shake it.

She looked at it, not sure what to do. She didn’t know what to think of this giant. Why was he being so nice? And was that woman in the chair as big as he was? It was probably a good thing that Pidgeon had stopped her before she could hit the jerk.

“Go ahead,” the giant said. “I won’t bite.”

She put her hand in his, and when he closed it around hers, her hand disappeared. She drew it away as soon as she could, and he extended his hand to Pidgeon.

“You, too, sir,” he said. “Even though I know less about you than I do about our mutual acquaintance whose name I don’t even know.”

Pidgeon took his hand. “Hi, sir,” he said. “I’m Pidg—er—Richard. And this here’s Ansel—Ow!”

Ansel elbowed him. “I can speak for myself.”

“Well.” The giant looked between the two of them, studying their appearance. It made Ansel feel self-conscious so she started kicking at nothing. “Ansel and Richard. As I said, I’m Huey. And you’ve already met my sister, Rosalind.”

“Sister?” Pidgeon said.

“She said you could get my dad back,” Ansel said.

“Rosalind,” Huey said. “The lab? Really. We couldn’t find a more comfortable place for our guests to wait?”

“I’m plenty comfortable here, Mr. Douglas,” the woman in the chair said. “Thank you.”

“I’m sure you are,” Huey said. “But I imagine our guests would prefer a soft seat and a nice view.”

“Then why don’t you take them to a more comfortable location,” the woman said. “Popeye and I here need to get some work done anyway.”

“Work?” Huey scoffed. “If ever there was a time to take a break, it was now.”

“A break?” The woman scoffed back. “You always want to take a break, brother. And, like always, you will. So go ahead. I’ll get my break when my work’s done.”

Huey sighed and shook his head. He turned back to Ansel and Pidgeon. “Her position is so much more difficult than mine,” he whispered to them. “It’s a shame she can’t enjoy these small victories like I do. Anyway. Let’s go then. The Scientist has a little more business to tend to, but she’ll be right with you. Let’s go somewhere more comfortable to wait. Shall we?”

He led them to a door, opened it, and showed them through. They walked out into the little hall she had come in through, and Pidgeon kept walking for a bit, but Huey said, “Uh—ahh—Richard. This way, please.” He reopened the door they had just come out of, but the lab was gone, and in its place was a room with a big desk and a table surrounded by several tall, puffy chairs which Ansel forgot all about when she saw the view out the window making up the opposite wall. Pidgeon ran up to it and put his face against the glass to get a closer look. Ansel looked up at Huey first.

He nodded. “Go ahead.”

She ran after Pidgeon and put her face on the glass, too. There was more green grass and blue skies than could be found in the entire Belt. There were hills, and trees she had never seen before, and she couldn’t count the number of animals that were standing out in the open for anyone’s taking.

“What is that?” Pidgeon asked.

“How do we get there?” Ansel asked.

Huey sat on one of the puffy chairs, putting his hat and lens on the side table. “That’s a wilderness reserve,” he said. “And getting there isn’t hard, if that’s what you decide you want.”

Pidgeon kept staring. Ansel took her attention away from the view and sat in the chair across from Huey. She had to jump and struggle to climb up into it. Huey smiled as he watched her. When she was comfortable, she said, “That woman said you could get my dad. Can you?”

“Oh ho. No, Ansel,” Huey said, shaking his head. “Not me. But the Scientist can. I have no doubt about that.”

“The Scientist?”

“Yes,” he said with a smile. “You’ll meet her soon. She…She can give you anything you desire. Or at least she can tell you how to get it yourself.”

“Whatever I want?”

“Within the bounds of reality, of course,” Huey said with a nod.

“And you’re sure she’ll help?”

“Certainly, child. Just you wait and see.”

#     #     #

< XV. Haley     [Table of Contents]    XVII. Russ >

Thanks for reading. I gotta get back to work. Peace.

Three Act Structure: The Most Basic of Basics

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Find the original /r/writing post here.

Today I realized I had been going over all this story structure theory for beginners and I hadn’t even touched on the most basic of basics, three act structure. I’m sure everyone here already feels like they have three act structure pretty well understood, but it never hurts to do a little refresher every now and again.

One of my favorite places to start with studying three act structure is the often trusty Wikipedia. Particularly, I like the plot line graph they use in the article, which includes a few extra points (pinch 1 and pinch 2) that aren’t often included in images illustrating three act structure.

Three Act Structure Plot Line Graph

Here’s a short blog article from Karen Woodward that talks about pinch points, with some examples from Star Wars. To quote it:

First Pinch Point:

The first pinch point reminds us of the central conflict of the story.

Second Pinch Point:

The second pinch point, like the first, reminds the audience of the central conflict of the story, but it also is linked to the first. It shows the audience the threat (whatever it is that still stands in the way of the hero achieving his goal). The pinch point scene lays out what the hero has yet to conquer/overcome/accomplish.

To put three act structure more simply, however, we need only turn to the always trusty TV Tropes:

“I took a master class with Billy Wilder once and he said that in the first act of a story you put your character up in a tree and the second act you set the tree on fire and then in the third you get him down.”

Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back Producer Gary Kurtz, LA Times interview

The entire article is a pretty useful simple explanation of three act structure as well, so be sure to give it a read. That, along with this little rehash of everything you just read (found on the College of DuPage website), should get you feeling comfortable with the most basic of basics and ready to go over the previous tips again (especially Miéville’s) if you didn’t feel comfortable with three act structure already when reading them the first time.

[Click here for more writing advice for beginners.]

Chapter 15: Haley

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Today brings us Haley’s last point of view chapter and the beginning of the end of the novel. Enjoy yourself, and think about picking up a full copy of the novel here.

< XIV. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]     XVI. Ansel >

XV. Haley

Did she want to know the answers to Mr. Douglas’s questions? She wanted to know the answers to her questions. She could hardly remember his questions, and his rushing away without waiting for her response didn’t help the situation.

What did she know now? She knew that Mr. Douglas and Rosalind were both suddenly interested in Lord Walker. Of course they would be, he was the richest owner in all of Inland, the greatest producer of all time. Never before had anyone amassed as much wealth as Lord Walker and to want to know everything about him and how he got to be where he was seemed only natural. So that was a dead end.

What else did she learn from the meeting? That she was right about Rosalind’s attempts at manipulation. Mr. Douglas had admitted to as much. He didn’t care about her answers to his questions, he only wanted to ask them. She knew they were manipulating her, but for what? She hadn’t told them anything. She didn’t answer any questions about Lord Walker or their business. They didn’t even care if she did. If anything, everything was making less and less sense.

She looked up from her thoughts, and she was at the front of the kitchen. She had passed by all the secretaries who she thought were so nosy before, but not one as much as glanced at her—or she hadn’t noticed if they did. Her counter was covered in fresh-cooked turkeys, pots of potatoes, and three cheesecakes. The whipped cream was still in the bowl, so she could tell that Rosalind had whipped it by hand. Rosalind had even mixed six old fashioneds. Haley felt bad for doubting her and vowed to do something to make up for it as she stacked the food onto the cart. She looked around one more time to see if Rosalind was there so she could thank her but sighed when she wasn’t and pushed the cart out into the Feast Hall.

The party was in full swing now. Third Feast was the halfway point, the hump they had to get over before they could start slowing down on alcohol and filling their stomachs with two more feasts to convince themselves they weren’t drunk. She saw that the owner who had molested her was back to eating, though he was going slower than everyone else and looking around with a dazed—not drunk—look of terror on his face, like he was afraid he might get hit again at any second. She chuckled to herself at the sight of it.

Haley didn’t notice Lord Walker’s empty plates until she reached the head table. He had a bored look on his face as he stared into Mr. Loch’s mouth. Mr. Loch talked and talked at him through the food he was eating with loud wet smacks. She thought Lord Walker was going to snatch the food right out of Mr. Loch’s mouth to eat it himself, but the sound of three turkeys hitting the table at once made him jump and turn to Haley who kept piling more and more food in front of him.

“Haley, dear?” Lord Walker said. “I thought you were lost and gone forever. Don’t you ever do that to me again, you hear! Gimme.” He wrenched the gravy boat out of her hand and poured some directly down his throat before dumping the rest over his turkeys and potatoes and starting in on them with his bare hands, disregarding his platinumware. “Ughughm—More—OmNughm—Gravy,” he forced through the endless torrent of food.

“Yes, sir,” Haley said. She set the rest of dessert and the old fashioneds on the table and couldn’t help but wonder if it really made a difference whether the food was handmade or printed. The way Lord Walker poured it down into himself, it didn’t seem like he could even taste it.

“Locky,” Lord Walker said. “Ughmnum. You introduce—ughmnomnughm. The speaker. Ughmnum.”

Mr. Loch scowled. He started to complain but thought better of it and stood to address the Hall. “Owners of Inland!” he called, and half the owners kept eating. “Owners of Inland!” he repeated, but it was no use, it was third feast, they were more intent on eating than they had been for the entire night so far.

Mr. Loch scowled and yelled, “Well here’s the scientist, then! We all know what the technobabblers will say. Technology is advancing, but we need more money. Ha! And what do we say to that?”

He waited for a reply but there was none. Mr. Loch was third in line. He was nothing. If Lord Walker wasn’t saying it, no other owner cared. Haley chuckled to herself again then glanced over at Mr. Douglas. He sat, as always, statuesque and facing the symphony. She thought she saw a grin playing on his face as Mr. Loch continued.

“That’s right!” Mr. Loch said. “That’s right. You get what we give you, and you’ll get nothing more. So work a bit faster, or get out the door! Ha ha!” One or two owners close to the head table laughed. Haley shrugged and pushed her cart on the way back to the kitchen.

“Well, here she is,” Mr. Loch said. “Now get back to feasting. This food won’t eat itself. Ha ha!”

Everyone was already eating, and Mr. Loch started in on his own food again. The symphony didn’t even stop playing as the woman in the white coat climbed onto the hovering platform, and Haley didn’t look up when it flew over her head toward the head table.

“Owners of Outland,” the woman said. Haley heard it, but she knew none of the owners would, they didn’t care, they had third feast to gorge on. Haley herself wouldn’t have heard it if it didn’t so strange. Owners of Outland. Didn’t she mean owners of Inland? They were from Inland, not Outland.

Owners of Outland,” the woman repeated. This time her voice boomed so loud the entire Hall dropped their platinumwear and looked up at her. The symphony stopped playing, and Haley stopped in her tracks close to the back of the Hall to turn and listen.

Ah,” the woman in the white coat said with less volume. “Do you see that? If you speak loud enough, everyone has to listen. Now. You brought me here, like you do every year, to give you the scientific facts behind what keeps your society running, and every year you let the symphony play over my presentation, and you go on eating, drinking, and generally ignoring me.”

A few pockets of laughter broke out in the crowd. Not at the head table, though. They were all staring in awe or ire, and Mr. Douglas was smiling.

“Yes, it’s quite amusing,” the scientist said with a smile. “Isn’t it? I see how it gives you joy. BUT DO YOU GET JOY OUT OF THIS?”

The last sentence was so loud Haley put her hands to her ears to block it out. The scientist didn’t yell, she used a machine to amplify her speaking voice. The owners must have been deafened by it, and the scientist waited a moment for them to regain their hearing before going on again at a reasonable volume.

“No,” she said. “I didn’t think you would. But that’s exactly what you’ve brought it to. I come here every year, and every year I tell you that the system is in crisis, it needs restructuring. And every year you eat, and drink, and laugh, and kick the can down the road again. You leave me to deal with it, and I always have. I put my nose to the grindstone, and I invent the schemes, and band aids, and whatever you want to call them that get us over every hurdle in your way so far, but still, you ignore the source of the crises. Still you let your music play, and you eat your feast and drink your drinks, but you ignore where it all comes from. You ignore the contradictions in the system, and every year they get worse and the next hurdle gets bigger because of it.”

Haley looked around the room. Everyone was still staring up at the scientist in awe. They didn’t dare look away after she had deafened them once already.

“But, owners,” the scientist went on. “The hurdles are catching up to you. They always do. The next one always comes. Reality won’t give up on destroying your idealism, and science is only concerned with reality. My voice amplifier here is a metaphor for that. Do you realize that, or are you so drenched in your own propaganda that not even you can think straight?”

The scientist waited for a response, as if she actually wanted an answer. No one gave one. “No?” she said. “You have nothing to say now? You laughed about your ignorance before, but now you have no response to it? That’s exactly what I expected from you. That’s exactly what I knew would happen when I came here tonight. I examined the historical record, and that has allowed me to predict all of this. Yet still, every time I tell you the system is broken, you ignore me. What does that say about the sustainability of your empire?”

Haley realized she had been staring at the speaker for a long time now and remembered how she had left Lord Walker’s plates empty before. She looked around the hall one more time and everyone—even the secretaries who were supposed to be serving food—was staring up at the scientist as she spoke. Haley almost got caught up with them again, but she broke away and pushed her cart out into the kitchen.

She was well underway with preparing four new turkeys when the sound of echoing footsteps alerted her to the fact that the kitchen was empty except for her and now Rosalind who was jogging toward her with an urgent look. “Haley,” Rosalind said. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“But I have to prepare fourth feast,” Haley said, still cooking.

“Fourth feast?” Rosalind scoffed. “Weren’t you out there when the Scientist started her speech?”

“I—uh—yes. But what does that matter?”

“And you’re still in here now?”

“You’re talking to me aren’t you?” Haley said, shrugging. What was Rosalind getting on about?

“Yes. I—well…Yes,” Rosalind said. “You are. But y—we shouldn’t be here right now. Come on.”

“Here is exactly where I should be.” Haley went on cooking.

“No, Haley,” Rosalind said, grabbing her arm. “You don’t understand. You can’t be here. You need to be out there listening to the Scientist with everyone else. Now come on.” She pulled Haley toward the door.

Haley pulled her arm away and stopped. “No,” she said “I have to do this. I was late for third feast already because of that useless meeting with your Mr. Douglas, and I’m not going to waste any more time.”

“You don’t understand,” Rosalind said. “The world’s about to end and this is ground zero. Look around you. Why do you think there’s no one else here?”

Haley looked around at the emptiness again and realized the oddity of it. She had ignored it in her zeal to be the first secretary out with fourth feast. “They’re all probably out there listening to that scientist,” she said with a shrug. “She’s really loud if you hadn’t heard.”

“I didn’t hear. Why do you think I’m back here? But you heard and here you are.”

“And still you’re amazed by it.”

“Not amazed,” Rosalind said, shaking her head. “Comforted. It is as it’s supposed to be. Now please. Let me get some old fashioneds for you, and let’s get out of here. Lord Walker’ll thank you for as much.” Rosalind ordered the drinks from Haley’s printer.

Haley didn’t trust her still. As usual, Rosalind was telling her less than she knew. She was somehow behind the emptiness of the kitchen, and Haley wouldn’t be manipulated by her anymore. Rosalind picked up the drinks and started on her way out to the Feast Hall, saying, “C’mon.”

“No.” Haley didn’t move.

Rosalind stopped. “Haley. You have to.”

“I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do. I’m not moving until you tell me why it’s so important that I leave.”

Ugh. Haley. Now is not the time to assert your independence. I mean, yay—that’s exactly what we were going for—but if you don’t leave this kitchen right now, you’ll never have another choice to make in your life.”

“That’s just another way to manipulate me. That’s all you’ve done this entire time.”

“No, Haley,” Rosalind said, coming closer to her. “I haven’t. Lord Walker has. I’m not the one who’s doing it, I’ve been showing you how the manipulation works.”

“And there you go again,” Haley said, stepping away. “Driving me away from my duties. Driving me away from Lord Walker. Further proving that you’re trying to manipulate me.”

“No,” Rosalind pled. “You don’t understand. We want to help you. We want to free you.”

“I am free. You want to take me away from Lord Walker.”

“You’re not free, though. You only think you are because you don’t know any better. But you won’t be alive to figure that out unless we get out of here soon, so it doesn’t matter either way.”

“You keep saying that, but I have no reason to believe you.”

“Look,” Rosalind said. “In a matter of moments, all the printers in here are going to explode. That’s a fact. That’s why we cleared the kitchen, and that’s why I stayed behind, to get you out. Whether you think I’m manipulating you or not, you’ve seen me do some extreme things, and I hope that’s led you to believe that I will continue to do them. So, please. Come with me.”

“Go on then if you’re telling the truth,” Haley said. “You don’t want to be here when the kitchen explodes, do you? I’m getting back to work.”

“No, Haley.” Rosalind shook her head. “I can’t. It’s my duty to protect you, and I won’t leave this kitchen unless you leave with me. If you die here, I die here.”

“Right.” Haley gave her a thumbs up, nodding. “As if you’d die for me.”

“I would, Haley,” Rosalind said. “I will if you don’t come with me right now. I’d rather not, and we don’t have to, you just have to come with me until the end of the scientist’s speech. Can you do this one last thing for me? Then I won’t ever ask you for anything else.”

Haley wanted to protest, but she remembered how Rosalind had handmade all of third feast and that she still owed her for that. She sighed and said, “Alright. But when the kitchen doesn’t explode, we’re even, and I’d rather not speak to you ever again.”

“Fine,” Rosalind said, smiling. “Whatever.” She shook her head. “As long as you get out of here, I don’t care. Here.” She handed Haley the old fashioneds. “Take these and bring them to Lord Walker. The Scientist should be done after that, then you can come back to the kitchen—if you still want to.”

“Fine,” Haley said. “Whatever.” She took the drinks. “Let’s go.”

Rosalind pushed her out of the kitchen and up toward the head table. She almost spilled the drinks because of it. The scientist had just finished her speech, and the room watched as her platform flew over their heads and disappeared behind the symphony. Haley thought she saw a little black fur ball run by the Scientist’s ankles, but Rosalind shoved her again and Haley had to focus instead on keeping the drinks full and her clothes dry.

Then the explosion came. The entire Hall rocked with the force of it as Rosalind pushed Haley down under the head table. Gasps and screams echoed through the Hall, and the sound of footsteps shuffling toward the front of the room was made louder by Haley’s proximity to the floor and the acoustic characteristics of the table above them.

“Do you trust me yet?” Rosalind said, smiling.

Haley struggled out from under the table and away from her. “Trust you? How?”

“Haley!” Lord Walker said from behind her. She turned to see his arms outstretched for an embrace. “Oh, dear,” he said, smelling her hair as he hugged her close. “You’re here! Thank the Hand. I thought I had lost you.”

“No, sir,” Haley said with a curtsy. “I’m fine, sir.” She handed him the drinks, still full even with her dive under the table.

“Sweet, beautiful dear,” Lord Walker said, wiping a tear from his eye. “You see to everything, don’t you. You’re my savior. My savior.” He downed one of the old fashioneds in one gulp then threw the glass to shatter on the floor.

Haley looked around. Rosalind was nowhere in sight, Mr. Douglas wasn’t at his seat, all the owners were pushing closer and closer to the head table, and the remaining four of the Fortune 5 backed slowly away from the encroaching mass. She couldn’t believe that Mr. Douglas and Rosalind had actually done it, but how could it be anyone else? Neither of them were there, and Rosalind all but told her that it was them. But then why did she save Haley? And clear out the rest of the secretaries? And how? It was all too much to process with the action going on around her.

“Woah ho ho ho!” Lord Walker boomed over the crowd, almost as loud as the scientist with her voice amplifier. All the owners stopped in place at the sound of his voice. The fighting and shoving died down. “Look at yourselves owners,” he said. “Look at yourselves!”

They all looked back and forth at each other, and down at themselves. They would do anything he told them to do.

“Now,” Lord Walker said, twirling his cane. “Who here’s been hurt by what happened? Anyone?”

They looked at each other again. None of them were hurt personally—maybe their eardrums—but they weren’t about to bring that up to Lord Walker.

“Our printers are hurt!” a brave voice called from the back of the crowd. Haley couldn’t make out who it was. “Our property!”

Oh ho ho! Property schmoperty,” Lord Walker bellowed. “Those are Feast Hall printers. They’re common property. We’ll all share in the costs of repairing whatever damage was done, so what damage could there really be said to have been done?”

This time there was no brave soul to answer.

“No, my friends,” Lord Walker boomed. “This is the work of terrorists. They seek to strike fear in your hearts. They want you to be afraid. Don’t you understand that? And you…” Lord Walker chuckled. “You’re fighting one another, pushing your way towards us—the Fortune 5—when we had nothing to do with it. No one was injured, owners. Or are you court jesters? Your actions peg you as such. You’ve let them win already. Do you see that? You’ve let them win!”

Still no one answered. But a good lot of them looked embarrassed and made their way back toward their seats.

“Now,” Lord Walker said. “If you’ll all just wait until the pro—”

The entryway doors burst open, and rows of pounding white boots came marching in to circle the room. The owners cowered into the center of the hall, and the protectors—in their screaming, unnatural face masks and white plate armor—formed a ring around them, in between the Fortune 5 and the rest of the owners. It was an awe inspiring display of discipline. Haley had never seen a protector in real life—much less an entire platoon of them in one room—but she was somehow happy for being caught on the side with the Fortune 5, or at least the four of them who were still there.

“As I was saying,” Lord Walker went on when the protectors had all gotten into place, their guns pointed in at the owners who they were surrounding. “If you’ll all settle down and wait until the protectors get here, we’ll get this sorted out in no time. Is everyone okay with that?”

The owners in the ring were cowering as close together as they could, their bulbous stomachs touching one another. Haley pitied them a little bit.

“Now,” Lord Walker said, looking up and down the line of protectors. “Is the Chief here with you, or are we going to have to find a new one?”

“Sir, no, sir,” the nearest protector said, turning to address Lord Walker and putting a gun over her shoulder. She took off her helmet—which, unlike the other protectors’, had a mustache and goatee—to reveal the same dark face as Mr. Douglas. She looked eerily like him. “Chief Baron, sir,” the protector said, saluting. “Awaiting your orders, sir. We wanted to secure your safety and let you control the situation first, sir.”

“Good,” Lord Walker said, smiling wide. “Very good, Baron. Leave the decision making to your employer. That’s the proper way to handle things. Now. You have the situation secured. Proceed with your investigation. I don’t want anyone leaving this Hall until we find out who’s responsible for this heinous action. Do you understand me? We will get to the bottom of this terrorist attack!”

“Sir, yes, sir.” The Chief slipped her helmet back on, shouted out orders in a distorted voice which was lit in green, red, and yellow by her screaming face mask, then marched back into the kitchen with a group of protectors, leaving the owners cowering in their ring of guns.

“Do you see that owners?” Lord Walker called over them. “That’s why we have these protectors. To protect us. Now they have the opportunity to show us firsthand their gratuity at the living we allow them. Isn’t that right, protectors?”

“Hoo-ra!” the ring sang in unison.

The owners all cowered closer together. Haley thought she saw some of them starting to cry. She wouldn’t be surprised if the whole lot of them had peed themselves at the sound of it, but the pneumatic pants took care of that, too.

“Hoo-ra,” Lord Walker repeated. “Did you hear that owners? Hoo-rah. Can you do it again for me, protectors?”

Hoo-ra!” This time it was louder and more fearsome.

“And this, my friends,” Lord Walker said, “is only a small section of a behemoth machine. Back there, studying the evidence left by the explosion, we have the best forensic minds money can buy. I assure you.” He winked. “I paid for them myself.”

Mr. Loch and Mr. Smörgåsbord chuckled, but the owners in the ring were still having a hard time seeing the humor in the situation.

“That’s right,” Lord Walker went on. “I paid for most of this protector force, and I own more than that. That means they’ll do exactly what I tell them to do. Doesn’t it protectors?”

Hoo-ra!”

“What are your vows, protectors?”

“Property! Liberty! Life!” they sang back. The precision of their chorus was inspiring, though it was made eerie and unnatural by the modulation of their voices.

“Property, liberty, life,” Lord Walker repeated. “Their vows coincide with our ideals, they reinforce each other. We are nothing without them. They are nothing without us. Or, more precisely, they are nothing without me. I give them the property they need to exist. They depend on me. And they will have justice!”

The Chief burst out of the kitchen with her menagerie in tow. The owners in the ring went between watching her march up to the head table and staring in fear at the protectors who still surrounded them with drawn guns.

“Look here now,” Lord Walker said, grinning. “Already they come with information. We’ll have this straightened out in no time, no doubt.”

The Chief marched all the way up to Lord Walker, taking her helmet off, and whispered in his ear. “It looks like it came from the other side,” she said, but only Lord Walker and Haley could hear.

Lord Walker shook his head. “No. I don’t think so. Not possible. If so, you’re in deeper trouble than if it came from this side. I’ll have you look again, please.”

“But, sir—”

No buts. You heard me. Don’t make me say it again.”

“Sir, yes, sir.” The Chief turned and shepherded the crew back into the kitchen, mumbling under her breath.

“Now now,” Lord Walker addressed the owners again. “We’ll get to the bottom of this yet. A minor complication, that’s all. We’ll find a way over this hurdle, no doubt. In the mean ti—”

“In the mean time you have another complication to deal with.” The voice came from on the stage. The orchestra was long gone, and a lone protector, wearing an older model helmet—with a dark visor instead of a facemask—stood pointing a gun—but a smaller version than the one the other protectors were holding—at the Fortune 5. The owners all pushed away from the stage, and the larger guns, held by the protectors in the ring, pointed at the lone protector on stage.

Ho ho ho!” Lord Walker laughed. “Woah now, son. You do understand what you’re doing, don’t you? Threatening the life of an owner, threatening the life of the richest owner in all of Inland, the owner who also happens to hold a majority share in the protector force that surrounds you now. I see you’re wearing the protector’s pure white. Do you want to mar that any more than you already have, son? A retainer threatening his master. Tsk tsk tsk.” He shook his head. “Just don’t do anything dumber than you’ve already done, son.”

“The only dumb thing I’ve ever done was put on this uniform and pick up a gun for you,” the protector onstage said. “I know what dumb is. Believe me. This here. This is the exact opposite of dumb. I’m protecting people. Just like I took this job to do. And who else do they need protecting from but you?”

“Now, now, son,” Lord Walker said, pointing his cane at the protector. “At my word, every one of these protectors will fire on you. Do you think you can kill all of them before they kill you?”

“I don’t want to kill them, sir. I don’t have to. I only have to kill one of you, and—I’m sorry to say—I think you’ve just elected yourself. Sir.”

“Fire!”

The room erupted in a torrent of gunfire. The sound was louder than the scientist’s amplified voice. It went on and on and on, and when it eventually ended, the protector was still standing unscathed on the stage. One of the protectors in the ring closest to the rogue protector ran to tackle him but disappeared as he climbed onto the stage. Two more followed right after and disappeared just the same.

“I told you, owner,” the protector on the stage said. “I don’t have to worry about them. This is between you and me.”

“Alright, now,” Lord Walker said, waving his plump hands. “Alright. I get your point.” His voice was starting to falter. He was taking on the voice he used when he wasn’t confident in his power. “I get your point. But I don’t see why we have to bring guns into this. Why don’t you just put that down so we can talk about it like civilized men.”

Ha ha!” the rogue protector laughed. “Me put the gun down? After you had your entire army unload their guns onto me? The only reason you’re asking me to put my gun down now is because your guns didn’t work on me. Welcome to the Hell we live in everyday, owner. How does it feel?”

“Now, now,” Lord Walker said, his voice cracking. “Don’t get angry with me,” he added in a deeper voice, overcompensating. “I’m sure there’s a reasonable middle ground compromise we can find here.”

“No compromises,” the protector said. “This isn’t for me. I’m doing this for her. I have to. I have no choice. I’m sorry.”

Haley saw a childlike form appear from backstage, running toward the protector and yelling, “Don’t!” She knew she had to act but didn’t know what to do. Her legs did, though. They sprung her into action before the gunshots rang out. One, two. Just like that. She was in the air between Lord Walker and the bullets when she felt the malfunctioning in her chest. Her fluids weren’t flowing right, and her electrical system was shorting out. She thought she heard Lord Walker call her name before her auditory sensors ceased to function and her memories stopped writing themselves.

#     #     #

< XIV. The Scientist     [Table of Contents]     XVI. Ansel >

Thanks again for reading. If you liked that, think about supporting the cause by picking up a full copy of the novel here. And have a great weekend.

Nail Gaiman’s Advice for Beginners Who Just Can’t Get Started

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This one is short and a bit tongue in cheek, but it’s worth the read for aspiring writers nonetheless. Enjoy.

This is taken straight from Neil Gaiman’s tumblr:

joseph-the-mopasked: I have been trying to write for a while now. I have all these amazing ideas, but its really hard getting my thoughts onto paper. Thus, my ideas never really come to fruition. Do you have any advice?

Write the ideas down. If they are going to be stories, try and tell the stories you would like to read. Finish the things you start to write. Do it a lot and you will be a writer. The only way to do it is to do it.

I’m just kidding. There are much easier ways of doing it. For example: On the top of a distant mountain there grows a tree with silver leaves. Once every year, at dawn on April 30th, this tree blossoms, with five flowers, and over the next hour each blossom becomes a berry, first a green berry, then black, then golden.

At the moment the five berries become golden, five white crows, who have been waiting on the mountain, and which you will have mistaken for snow, will swoop down on the tree, greedily stripping it of all its berries, and will fly off, laughing.

You must catch, with your bare hands, the smallest of the crows, and you must force it to give up the berry (the crows do not swallow the berries. They carry them far across the ocean, to an enchanter’s garden, to drop, one by one, into the mouth of his daughter, who will wake from her enchanted sleep only when a thousand such berries have been fed to her). When you have obtained the golden berry, you must place it under your tongue, and return directly to your home.

For the next week, you must speak to no-one, not even your loved ones or a highway patrol officer stopping you for speeding. Say nothing. Do not sleep. Let the berry sit beneath your tongue.

At midnight on the seventh day you must go to the highest place in your town (it is common to climb on roofs for this step) and, with the berry safely beneath your tongue, recite the whole of Fox in Socks. Do not let the berry slip from your tongue. Do not miss out any of the poem, or skip any of the bits of the Muddle Puddle Tweetle Poodle Beetle Noodle Bottle Paddle Battle.

Then, and only then, can you swallow the berry. You must return home as quickly as you can, for you have only half an hour at most before you fall into a deep sleep.

When you wake in the morning, you will be able to get your thoughts and ideas down onto the paper, and you will be a writer.

Click here for more writing advice for beginners.

Chapter 14: The Scientist

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Today brings us the Scientist’s second chapter, and it marks the day that two thirds of the novel are available on the website. Next week we’ll start reading the final chapters from each character’s point of view, and at the end of week seven, you’ll all get to know the conclusion of book one of the Infinite Limits series. Or you can find out sooner by purchasing the novel on Amazon.

Today I’m including an illustration I did of Popeye the mechanical arm, who you might remember from the Scientist’s earlier chapter. I hope you’ve enjoyed everything so far, now go and enjoy this one too.

Popeye< XIII. Pardy     [Table of Contents]     XV. Haley >

XIV. The Scientist

Every day different. Every day the same. Only change is constant. Reality is contradiction.

She stood in front of the printer—as she did every meal—and imagined the people who grew, reared, harvested, and collected her food, the ones who built the things to make it all possible, and those who sent it along so she could consume it. She ordered everything as raw as it came, but that meant that she had to order the sandwich she wanted fully made. Still, they were forced to do as little of her work as she could help, and soon she would be helping in a more efficient manner. It was Christmas Feast Eve, and Mr. Kitty should be on his way.

She carried the plate of food into her office, and when she opened the door, he was there. “Mr. Kitty!” she said, setting her plate on the desk next to the cat who went over to eat the meat out of her sandwich. “Finally, Mr. Kitty. Red! Eat all you want. I’ll make you more if you’re here when I’m done.”

The cat meowed.

“Oh. You have no idea, Mr. Kitty. Sic bo shines down on you. I’ve been waiting for you to come in with that beautiful red collar for you don’t know how long.”

He meowed again.

“Alright, Mr. Kitty. I’m gonna get to work,” she said. Mr. Kitty went off on his way, ignoring the rest of the meat in her sandwich, and she started the macros going which would set the work schedules across all the Outlands as needed for the operation. She moved the repair bots around to fix only the holes she didn’t need and set a few to creating some holes that might come in handy in emergency situations. With everything she could do before her lunch meeting done, she went to ride the elevator to the bar and get on with her meeting.

Trudy was already in the corner booth with two beers. The glasses were still frosty, and Trudy’s drink was mostly full, so she hadn’t been there long.

“Trudy, dear,” the Scientist said, sitting down and taking a sip. “You know me all too well.”

“More than anyone in the worlds, I’d say.” Trudy smiled.

The Scientist loved her smile, it was so genuine. “I didn’t keep you waiting long, did I?”

“Oh, no no,” Trudy said. “Just sat down. You’re as punctual as ever, dear. Don’t you worry.”

“Good,” the Scientist said. “I was a little distracted, you know. The roses are red.” She smiled.

“No kidding,” Trudy said, sipping her drink.

“Would I kid about this?”

Trudy shook her head. “That you wouldn’t.”

“Trudy, you do trust me, don’t you? I could tell you more, but it would only put you in more danger.”

“And I’m not in danger now?” Trudy said, shaking her head.

“No. Of course you are. I didn’t—I didn’t mean that. I meant that you’d be given added danger for no need.”

“Not me, dear. I know enough already. I’m in plenty of danger no matter what else you tell me. The more I know, the more danger for you, though.”

“No. Well…I—Not just me.”

“Right, right,” Trudy said, smiling and nodding. “Back to the circular argument. It’s not just you, it’s the plan, it’s too dangerous to tell me about a plan that I’m a part of.”

“It would put you in—”

“I’m already in danger, dear.” Trudy laughed. “We’re going around in circles. That’s why they call it a circular argument. Let’s end it here before I get dizzy. I know you’re not going to tell me everything, and you know I’m not going to stop asking, so let’s just get on with what really brought us here.”

The Scientist sighed and took a sip of beer. Trudy was right. She couldn’t be put in any more danger, but it would put the operation as a whole in danger if the protectors could get more information out of her. Still, Trudy deserved to know more. She had been with them for so long, and her work was so valuable, that she had a good argument for it. An argument which she never pushed too far. The Scientist promised herself that, as soon as this operation was over, she would tell Trudy everything. Well, at least she would tell her more.

“Trudy,” the Scientist said. “You deserve to know more.”

“I know it.”

“You’ve done more for this revolution than anyone has. Myself included.”

“Oh, now don’t say that,” Trudy said, blushing. “That’s not what we’re about and you know it, dear. Solidarity. Without any of us, none of this would be possible.”

“Solidarity, dear,” the Scientist said, raising her glass.

They took a drink in unison.

“Trudy, sometimes I think—no—I know that you know more about the revolution than I do, even if I know more specifics about what plans are in action.”

“Oh, honey,” Gertrude said, shaking her head. “Now I know you’re wrong on that. I know more specifics than your computers could hold. Who’s infatuated with who, and which coworkers are possibly parents of the same children, Hell, I could tell you what most of the workers in my hall eat for every meal every day of the week, but you try to tell me you know the specifics.”

The Scientist shook her head. Trudy was right again. The Scientist knew what food they received, how often, and in what proportions, but she didn’t know how they cooked it or who they ate it with. She knew nothing in comparison to Trudy. “Like I said,” she said. “I know you know more about the revolution than I do.”

“Not so fast, dear,” Trudy said, raising a finger. “We know different parts of the struggle. You know as much as you know, and I know as much as I know, but together we know what we both know. We do nothing alone, remember. Without any of us, none of this would be possible.”

“Again you prove your worth,” the Scientist said, smiling wide. “Day after day. You will get what you deserve, Trudy. Mark my words.”

“I hope you’re right, dear,” Trudy said, shaking her head. “If it’s not too late for that already. Either way, the worlds don’t seem that just to me.” She sipped her beer.

“No. They don’t,” the Scientist said, taking a sip of hers. “Which is why we have to make them that way. Right, Trude?”

“Right as rain, dear. Just you and me. Huh huh huh.”

“Now tell me,” the Scientist said, ready to get down to business now that the pleasantries were out of the way. “Do you trust Ellie?”

“I trust her to do what she wants.” Trudy shrugged. “You said that’s what you wanted.”

“Yes. Yes yes. That’s what I said. But sometimes I wonder if that’s what’s really for the best.”

“For whose best, dear? Your best? Ellie’s best? My best?”

“Yes. Yes, yes, and yes. All of them. The best for all of them.”

“All of us, dear. You are included in that. You’re one of us, aren’t you?”

“Am I?” the Scientist said. “I created the Walker-Haley fields that keep us apart. I created the printers you fill with commodities. I created the androids who forced all the service workers of Inland into Outland 6. I am responsible for all of that, Trudy, responsible for propping up the entire system that keeps you down. How am I supposed to be one of you if I’m the one doing this to you?”

“Now, now, sweetheart,” Trudy said. “We all do what we have to do to survive, and sometimes that ends up in some of us keeping others down. That’s not you, dear. That’s the system. As long as you recognize what you’re doing, and you do all you can to stop it, you’re one of us. And who’s done more to bring down the system than you?”

“Well, you, Trudy. I just said that.”

“And I just said that’s not true. You keep talking us in circles, dear. Is there something you’re getting at, or are we just here for a drink and a ring around the rosies?”

Trudy always knew when there was something. But first there was business. All play and no work made Jill a happy jerk. “You know there is, Trudy,” the Scientist said. “But first let’s get back to Ellie. You say you trust her. How far does that trust go?”

“As far as anyone I’ve ever brought to you,” Trudy said. “She won’t tell anyone anything. I can guarantee that. She never tells anyone anything. Which leads me to suspect that she might take the opportunity to drop out if you give it to her, but she’ll be sure to do what you ask of her first. She wouldn’t want to live knowing that she owed you.”

“And you’re sure of all that from having talked with her so little?”

“It doesn’t take much,” Trudy said, taking a sip of her drink. “Like you’ve said before, they usually tell you everything they want with their first words. Well, with me, one conversation reveals a person’s entire character. I couldn’t tell you how I do it, I just know that I do.” She took another sip. “And I’d say that you know it, too, with what you have me doing for you.”

“What I ask you to do for us.” The Scientist winked. “But I do know it works, and every day it amazes me more.”

Trudy blushed. “So what do you have in store for her?” she asked. “Info finding mission? Meet her favorite propaganda star? One-on-one with an owner so she can show him how she feels? What did she ask for?”

“The beach,” the Scientist said.

Ugh.”

They both drank at that.

“I told you I trusted her to do whatever she wanted,” Trudy said. “But that’s not where it stops. I know better than that, dear. There are always conditions. So what are they? What did she say?”

“Well, I…” The Scientist sipped her beer and looked around the bar.

“You haven’t told her yet, have you?”

“The roses only just turned before I came to see you,” the Scientist said. “I had to set the scheduling macros. I have more still to set. I thought I had more time.”

“With the Christmas Feast tomorrow, you thought you had more time?” Trudy said, shaking her head. “Be ready for the blooming every day, dear. That’s what you taught me. It’s what you taught all of us. Especially with the field yellow as it is. Or rather, as it was.”

“Yes, well,” the Scientist said. “There was more to do. Besides, there’s plan B…”

Trudy rolled her eyes and took a big gulp of beer.

“You.”

“Yeah yeah,” Trudy said, waving her on. “Well now you have to tell me what you have in store for her. Is that the bush you’ve been beating around?”

No. It wasn’t. “Well, yes and no,” the Scientist said. “But, Ellie. You think she would be willing to use a disc?”

Trudy looked around the room then sipped her beer. She leaned in close and said, “A disc?”

“More to the point, would she be willing to use a dozen discs?”

“That many?”

“Her entire hall,” the Scientist said, nodding. “She’ll put one on each door, and I’ll direct the belts so the explosions target specific locations. Two birds with one stone. We have the misdirection of bombing the QA hall, and we render key printers in Bourgeoisville inoperable.”

Trudy laughed, spitting some beer up onto the table.

“What?” The Scientist didn’t get the joke.

Bourgeoisville,” Trudy repeated, mimicking the Scientist’s voice and adding an extra snobby accent. “You sound so bourgeois when you say it.”

“Yeah, well, would you rather I called it Inland like they do? Or Earth 2.0?”

“Now, now,” Trudy said. “Don’t get mad. I just thought it was funny. You can call it Donkeybuster for all I care. Soon we’ll see that it’s all the same anyway. Right?”

She wasn’t right this time. What you called it did matter. The name you gave it affected how you thought about it, if you believed you could change it, but how could the Scientist sit and argue against someone who knew the oppression of the system firsthand? “No,” she said, shaking her head, not wanting to argue the point any further with so much work still on the horizon. “You’re—You’re right.”

“Stop that,” Trudy said. “Now I’m not right. We both are. And Ellie will use the discs just fine. But what are you giving her?”

“The beach,” the Scientist said. “Like she asked for.”

“For how long?”

“Fifteen minutes.”

“Fifteen minutes?”

“Fifteen minutes during the operation,” the Scientist said. “Those are fifteen completely secure minutes. But after fifteen we need the holes to give other workers what they want. It’s the best I can do.”

“Fifteen minutes?”

“Fifteen minutes,” the Scientist said.

“I don’t know if that’ll be long enough.” Trudy shook her head.

“It has to be. That’s all we have.”

“You couldn’t send her over there then move the door back when she’s done?”

The Scientist shook her head. “Not on such short notice. And we need the operating power, anyway. Fifteen minutes for a beach trip is a lot, all things considered. She’s not the only one going to the beach, either. She’s just the most likely to return. Whether she does or not, though, she gets fifteen minutes to decide.”

“And discs,” Trudy said. “One on each door?”

The Scientist pulled a pouch out of her coat pocket and put it on the table. Trudy scooped it up and put it in her own pocket.

“Rip, stick, press?” Trudy asked.

“Rip, stick, press,” the Scientist said. “One on each door. If they’re activated, they’ll explode twenty-five minutes after her shift ends. That’s fifteen minutes on the beach, then ten minutes to set the discs and get out of there. She can do either, or both, or neither, and whatever she decides, I’ll be willing to meet with her again. You know the deal.”

“And when she blows up her own workplace?” Trudy said. “When she blows up my workplace. How do we support ourselves then?”

“She—and you—will be moved to another building,” the Scientist said. “There are empty QA buildings waiting for just such an emergency. Don’t worry. I know. Her, nor your, job are in any danger, only the owners’ infrastructure on one side and their party on the other.”

“And when they realize that she was the only one working before the building blew up, won’t they know she had to be the one to do it?”

“Technically she’s not scheduled to work.” The Scientist smiled. “Someone else is. And they’re already dead. The protectors will assume a corpse did it, and Ellie will be in the clear.”

“But if she does lose her job…”

“She won’t,” the Scientist assured her. “But if she does, then she’ll be added to the distribution list. Have you ever known me to let anyone I could help go helpless?”

Trudy shook her head. “You do everything you can.”

“And I will continue to do so.”

“So when do I tell her?”

“Tonight. At the bar. Her bar. She has to do it tomorrow or wait. The roses are red, Trudy. The roses are red.”

“They are, dear,” Trudy said with a smile. “And I’ll be sure Ellie knows it, too. But what are you going to do about it?” She sipped her beer.

Trudy knew what was really bothering the Scientist. She knew everything. “I’m going to help everyone, then get what I want,” the Scientist said.

“Everyone?” Trudy said, raising an eyebrow.

“I get what I want every day. I have a printer for that. It’s not my turn. I have to let the others get a chance before I take more.”

“It’s not anyone’s turn, dear,” Trudy said. “It’s all of our turn. If it wouldn’t take more than an elevator ride to get fifteen minutes of what you want, then it wouldn’t stand in anyone’s way, would it?”

“No. I—”

“And this is about getting everyone what they want, right?” Trudy said.

“Yes, but—”

“And you are a part of everyone, aren’t you?”

“Well, but—”

“But you deserve to get what you want, too, dear,” Trudy said, slapping her hand lightly on the table. “As much as any of us. You’re not like the owners, you know. You’re helping us, and you deserve the same window of happiness that you’re offering everyone else.”

“Fifteen minutes?” the Scientist said.

“Fifteen minutes,” Trudy repeated.

“I don’t know if it’s enough.”

“It’s all you can get.”

“It’s all I can afford.”

“It’s all we can afford, dear.” Trudy smiled and winked.

The Scientist shook her head. “But what if she doesn’t believe me?”

“If you never tell her, she’ll never have a chance to decide.”

“How could she trust me? I let this happen. It’s my fault.”

“It’s the system, dear. Let’s not get back on the merry-go-round. Without you, she wouldn’t be alive. You deserve to see her. For fifteen minutes at least.”

“I’m going to do it, Trudy,” the Scientist said.

“You should.”

“What do I say?”

“You say what you’ve been waiting to say. You’ve thought about it. I know you have. You already know what to say. Say that.”

“I know nothing, Trudy.”

“No one does.” Trudy shook her head.

“Right again,” the Scientist said. “Right again.” She sipped her beer.

“I always am, dear.” Trudy smiled. “You should get my advice for everything.” She winked and finished her beer.

“Oh. I do. Don’t worry.”

“Well,” Trudy said, standing from the booth. “I think you’ve got some work to do, then. I know I do, and I should be off to it.”

“You’re more productive than anyone, Trudy.”

“Oh. I know, dear,” Trudy said with a smile. “I know.” She laughed as she left, waving over her shoulder.

The Scientist sipped her beer. She had some time before her next meeting. She could play a game of pool. Trudy suggested that she attend to her own desires, too. But the game would go long. She was so out of practice it would have to unless the other player ran the table. Either way, her second meeting would likely be kept waiting, and there was still so much work to get done before the Feast.

No. Who was she kidding? She didn’t have time for that. Not even fifteen minutes. Did she have fifteen minutes to take what she really wanted, though? Her beer was empty, so she got another and sat back at the booth to watch the other patrons play. Her time was tomorrow if she wanted it. Just like everyone else. What was safe for them, was safe for her. If she ever wanted to see her daughter, Christmas was the time to do it.

The door to the bar opened and in came Anne, dressed in her coveralls still. She skipped the bar and sat in the booth with the Scientist. “What?” Anne said with a smirk. “Nothing for me?”

“I didn’t know you were off the wagon,” the Scientist said. “You can have some of mine if you want.”

“And get your cooties?” Anne said with a cringe. “I think not.”

“Cooties? What year is this? Are you a child?”

“We’re all kids compared to you.” Anne laughed.

The Scientist laughed, too, and took a drink of her beer. “You don’t know how true that is, dear. You have no idea.”

Anne looked around the bar and leaned in close. “I don’t know…” she said. “There are rumors,” she added in a whisper.

The Scientist chuckled. She leaned in close, too. “That I’m a robot!”

“How’d you know?” Anne laughed.

“I’ve heard them all, dear. I’m no robot, though. I’ll tell you that much. But I’m older than any robot that could pass for me. So there’s some truth to it.”

“But, how?” Anne said, shaking her head in disbelief.

“That’s not what we’re here for, dear. The roses are red.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Anne said, sitting up straighter in her seat.

“You know what you’re to do, then.”

“Yes, ma’am. I know.”

“Tell me.”

“First, I alert the other operatives in my sector, they have work of their own to do. Then I work my shift as normal. At the end of my shift, I set the discs and get out of there, ensuring the building is clear on my way.”

“Very good,” the Scientist said. “Very good. Are you ready for this?”

“I don’t know, ma’am,” Anne said, looking at the table. “After th—after the operation, when it’s all said and done, there are gonna be shortages, you know. I mean, how do w—how do we deal with that?”

“We’ll be working to direct the food to those who need it,” the Scientist said. “And to keep it out of the owners’ hands. There is a risk of shortages, but we’ll do everything we can to relieve those in need.”

“It won’t be enough,” Anne said.

The Scientist didn’t answer. She sipped her beer.

“It never is.” Anne took a deep breath, shaking her head. “Not even when there aren’t shortages. It’s gonna stay like this forever, isn’t it?”

“Unless we do something about it,” the Scientist said.

“And this is something? This will give us more food?”

The Scientist shook her head. “No. Probably not. Not right away, at least. You’ll have to fight for what you deserve. They’ll never hand it over without a struggle.”

“And this is how we struggle? By bombing our own food supply?”

“It’s not food, though. Is it? You work there, Anne. Coconuts, pineapples, saffron…Do you ever eat any of that? Do you know anyone who does?”

Anne shook her head.

“No. You don’t. Because it’s not food you’re growing. Those are luxuries, and you’re growing them for someone you’ll never meet, someone who does nothing for you in return but keep you at the bare minimum you need to survive so you can continue to grow their luxuries. You won’t be creating shortages. There will be more work than ever to get those luxuries up and running again. They’ll be desperate to be the first to do it. But the explosions also go through the transport tubes, and that will take out printers the owners can’t live—or steal what you create—without. This is just the beginning, Anne. There’s so much more to come. Can you help us get it started?”

“I can,” Anne said. She pounded her fist on the table then looked around self-consciously.

We can, dear,” the Scientist said. “None of us alone. And after this phase of the operation, we’ll move to getting those in need what they need, just like you want to do.”

“But why don’t we do that first? Instead of bombing the luxuries.”

“We have to do this tomorrow in order to do that in the future. This is only for you to know, but we’ll be retrieving a stockpile of printers for exactly that purpose. We’re using the explosions around different sectors as a distraction to collect the printers and take them to a safe distribution point where they can be given to those most in need.”

Anne nodded. Her hand motioned as if to grab for a glass that didn’t exist, and when she realized that there was nothing there, she brushed the hair out of her face instead. “That’s the only way to do it?”

“That’s the only way to do it with as few people as we have. The best thing we could do would be to stop producing for them altogether and start keeping everything for ourselves. But we’re all too comfortable in our jobs to do that.”

“You, too?”

“Me especially.”

“You’re really not that different from us, are you?”

“I eat better,” the Scientist said. “I eat every day. And I know I’ll sleep in a big, comfortable bed every night. In that sense, I’m different. But they exploit me the same as they do you. And I know that enough to do everything I can to help you stop them.”

“But who are they? How could they be so evil?”

“They’re mostly inheritors of wealth,” the Scientist said. “They were born into a role which they fulfill all too well. As much as they know what they’re doing, they have no idea what they’re doing. No more idea than anyone in any of the Outlands really. They’ve never experienced hunger or alienation, and they don’t interact with any humans who ever have. They literally live in their own world, in complete ignorance of what day-to-day life is like for the vast majority of people. They commit evils, yes, but not because they are evil. It might be more accurate to say that they’re possessed. Or possessive.” The Scientist shook her head. “I don’t know what I’m saying, though. Do you?”

Anne shook her head.

“No,” the Scientist said. “No, of course not. How could you when I don’t? Contradictions. Contradictions everywhere and I don’t understand them. But I won’t stop until I tease them out, you see. Do you understand that?”

Anne nodded and grabbed again for her non-existent drink.

“Good,” the Scientist said. “Because that’s the real point of all this. Even if you don’t agree with my methods and you want to walk away today without doing anything for the operation, you’re free to do that—I hope you won’t, of course—but if you do, you have to keep struggling to tease out those contradictions for yourself, you have to do it your own way.”

“You know I’m not walking away.” Anne shook her head. “I would have done that a long time ago.”

The Scientist smiled and sipped her beer. “Yes.” She nodded. “I know. But it’s important to remind you that you can, and that you’ll still be looked after, even if you do.”

“I know, ma’am,” Anne said, nodding. “I’m in it for the long haul.”

“Good,” the Scientist said, clapping her hands together. “Good good good. That’s good to hear, Anne. Thank you.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

“Now, I’ve got a lot of work to do before tomorrow, and I think you do, too.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Anne said, standing up and holding out her hand. “I won’t let you down.”

The Scientist took her hand and shook it. “I know you won’t, dear. Hopefully I won’t let you down, either. Now be careful out there. This is the real thing. These discs will be live.”

“I understand, ma’am. I’ll keep everything under control.”

“You do what you can, Anne.” The Scientist smiled.

Anne shook the Scientist’s hand one more time then went out into the world. The Scientist watched the rest of the pool game, finishing her beer in the booth. This was it. No more meetings. No more real work besides setting a few more macros before the operation was underway. Still, she did have to do that.

She set the empty glass on the bar and the bartender said “All’s well in the world.”

“Is it ever?” The Scientist didn’t know if it was a question or a statement.

“No” The bartender shook his head, thinking about it. “Well, the world’s a big place.”

“And there are so many of them.” The Scientist laughed.

The bartender eyed her with a squint. “You come in here with your white coat, and you order your beers and sit in your corner booth, and I know there’s something more to you.”

“Is that so?”

“It is.” He nodded.

“And how do you know that?”

“No one tips well,” the bartender said, tapping his head with a rag. “No one wears white coats. My customers don’t pay attention because they don’t want any attention paid to them, but I do, ma’am. I own the place. I rule here. That means my rules. And you follow them well enough—no questions being one of those rules—but I needed you to know that I know there’s more to you than that. That’s all.” He went back to cleaning glasses.

“That’s very observant of you,” the Scientist said. “Mr.—Uh…”

“Bartender.”

“Mr. Bartender.” She smiled. “And I appreciate your discretion.”

“Discretion’s the rule, ma’am. Be assured of that. But it’s more than that. My customers aren’t all as unconcerned as I make them out to be. You understand? If I noticed you, then they did. That’s all I’m saying.”

The Scientist nodded and signaled for another beer. “I appreciate that Mr. Bartender.”

“It’s called customer service, ma’am,” he said, getting her another drink. “I find it helps to keep my customers coming back.”

“Yes,” the Scientist said, nodding. “I’ve noticed it’s mostly the same people in here when I come in.”

“Mostly, ma’am,” the bartender said. “Especially when you come in.”

Huh.” She sipped her beer. “I see. And you wouldn’t tell them anything that could lead them to me, would you?”

“I don’t know anything to tell them, ma’am. I just aim to tell you that they come in every time you come in.”

“I won’t even ask who they are, sir. Thank you.” She left a hefty tip and didn’t finish her beer.

She knew they’d find the bar eventually. They always did. But so soon? And why did she have to learn about it just as the roses bloomed? Not that it mattered whether she knew about it now or not. There was no worrying anymore. The only thing she could do now was prepare for tomorrow.

The elevator took too long to get back to her lab even though it took only half a minute. She knew it was exactly thirty seconds because she oversaw the operation of every elevator in existence. She opened the door to her office and Popeye was typing on the computer. The big metal arm turned around in surprise at the sound of her entrance.

“Not today, Popeye,” she said. “The roses are red. The roses are red!”

Popeye waved and gave a thumbs up, then rolled out through the hall door to do who knows what.

“First things first,” she said out loud, even though Popeye had left the room. She set the last few macros and the computer went to work. She typed in the command to send Ellie’s conveyor belt to the beach for fifteen minutes, then she thought about her own wish.

Fifteen minutes with her daughter. That was worth at least as much as seeing the beach or meeting a famous celebrity, wasn’t it? Or was it worth more? Did she deserve it? But who was she to say that what they wanted was worth less than what she wanted?

No. Fifteen minutes of time through the holes was fifteen minutes of time through the holes, no matter where you went or what you did while you were there. That was the question, then, wasn’t it? Did she deserve the same fifteen minutes she offered the workers?

She thought she did. She was a worker, too. Technically. And fifteen minutes wasn’t much to ask. She had fought longer than anyone and had never taken her fifteen. Now was the time. This was
a major operation. There were so many distractions she could probably come up with a couple of extra fifteen minute blocks through the holes. Trudy was offered time that she didn’t take, she wanted the Scientist to take it instead. She typed out one more direction for the Walker-Haley fields to follow the next day and went straight to bed, trying to go to sleep like a child on Christmas Eve.

#     #     #

The day was long, longer than any day she could remember and she remembered a lot a lot of days. Christmas was never a thing that Fours looked forward to, but she had studied the history of the holiday and she knew the stories about how the children would react. She never understood it, though. Any Christmas she had as a child was too long ago to remember, and ever since she had discovered printer technology, anything she ever wanted was at the touch of a button. What presents could there be? But now she was about to get something a printer couldn’t give her. Well, technically it was the same technology making it possible, but it was something entirely different.

The Feast didn’t start until late into the afternoon and the operation until a little way into that. She spent her time waiting by going over every bot assignment and all of the hole placement timings and disc countdowns, imaging everything that could go wrong, any actors who would take what she offered and not do what she asked. She set redundancies for those who she thought might fail, and when she was satisfied the strategy would work as best as it could, it was time for her to take her fifteen. Or maybe she was only satisfied because she had to be, because she had no more time to obsess over every possibility. Either way, control was out of her hands now.

She left the computer to guide the process and went out into the hall. Mr. Kitty was there waiting for her. He meowed.

“Hello, Mr. Kitty,” she said. “Would you like to meet my daughter?”

He meowed again.

“Good,” the Scientist said. “She’s just an elevator ride away. There’s no time to waste.”

The elevator doors opened, Mr. Kitty meowed, and they both walked in for her fifteen minutes.

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< XIII. Pardy     [Table of Contents]     XV. Haley >

Thanks again for joining us. I hope you enjoyed it. And if you want to read the full novel without waiting another seven weeks, just click through here to purchase it on Amazon.

Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat Beat Sheet

Standard

This one was originally intended for screenwriters–especially those who want a decidedly commercial product–but it’s useful for novelists and short story writers alike.

Those of you who were afraid to give beginners something to shoehorn their plot into are really going to hate this one–from Blake Snyder, writer of the fabulous ’90s movie Blank Check among other screenplays–because it goes so far as to include specific wordcounts for each beat–originally page numbers for a screenplay which have been converted for our purposes.

All wordcounts assume a 100,000 word finished novel. Enjoy:

THE BLAKE SNYDER BEAT SHEET

Opening Image (1 – 1,000 words) – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.

Set-up (1 – 9,100 words) – Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.

Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up at around 4,550 words) – What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.

Catalyst (at 10,920 words) – The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.

Debate (10,920 – 22,714 words) – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.

Break Into Two [Choosing Act Two] (at 22,714 words) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.

B Story (around 27,300 words) – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.

The Promise of the Premise (27,300 – 50,050 words) – This is the fun part of the story. This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.

Midpoint (at 50,050 words) – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.

Bad Guys Close In (50,050 – 68,250 words) – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.

All is Lost (at 68,250 words) – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.

Dark Night of the Soul (68,250 – 77,350 words) – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.

Break Into Three [Choosing Act Three] (at 77,350 words) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.

Finale (77,359 – 99,100 words) – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!

Final Image (99,100 – 100,000 words) – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.

THE END

If you liked that, you can find a huge list of movies analyzed using this beat sheet on Blake Snyder’s website right here, or you can read the full Save the Cat book. Further, on Jami Gold’s website, there’s a page with worksheets for writers, found here, that also includes a Save the Cat spreadsheet for novels. [Click here to directly download the .xls version.]

I hope that helped. And click here for more writing advice for beginners.