The longer you write, the more you begin. The more you begin, the more you accumulate false starts, mis-steps, and generally unusable fragments.
Writers are hoarders, at least of ideas: a good writer never throws anything away, and it can be years between writing a false start and finding the one perfect moment, idea, or circumstance that allows us to finish the story. My personal record is 11 years between abandoning an opening, and completing– and selling– the finished story (At The End There Was a Man, which appeared in the Coeur De Lion anthology Anywhere But Earth). I know of other authors who have gone more than 20 years between beginning and finishing a story. Ask around: we’ve all got one.
So, for your entertainment and education, here are five openings I’ve been carrying around for over 5 years, waiting for that spark to see them through to completion.
5 for Friday: Orphaned Openings
1. An Accidental Blow to the Head (1800 words written)
God knows who it was who first had the bright idea: some company smart-ass, probably, one of those lazy types who take a job below their intelligence so that it leaves them plenty of day-dreaming time. Just our luck that when whomever it was had the thought, they did so aloud, and in the presence of just the right (wrong?) supervisor with just the wrong (how the hell?) connections. An errant musing, no doubt, fueled by ambition and coffee and the dregs of last night’s speedball, leaning back in the real-faux-imitation leather seat and scratching blue balls through trousers he can’t afford and the memories of another failed attempt to lay another last-minute pick-up from another closing nightclub. God knows how it started. Could have been like I said . Could have been eight stoned fifteen year-olds on the beach at Margaret River, eyeing up the skinny surfer chicks and noodling thoughts around until the dope made everything a giggle. Whatever. Take your pick. Maybe it was me. One image is as good as any. Soon enough, nobody could remember how it started, and sure as hell nobody was stepping up to take the credit. Or the blame. Or the bullet.
2. Domitian’s Statue (350 words written)
I am, and always have been, and always will be, a poor artist. Though I carry my tools with me, my brushes and my parchments, I use them to conceal a lie, not to reveal the truth, as is the real artist’s lot. The parchments I stole from a shipment to Alexandria, hoping to sell them for a quick profit in the agora. The brushes belonged to my dead wife, who was an artist, and who learned the hard way not to sleep with the daughter of an Emperor. Sometimes I wish I was an artist, because it would make telling the truth easier now that I have to. Perhaps it is best that I am not, because the truth I tell is an unpalatable one, and I do not relish the company of the types of Gods my death would consign me to. In death, as in life, it is important to keep the right company.
3. A Fork In The Sky (420 words written)
Termagant came in towards the Aerie on the long northern wind swooping low just above the cloud base before sliding up the face of the cliff to land gently in the topmost landing ledge. The new long-range rig had justified its promise—he felt warmed by the long flight rather than exhausted as he usually did. He shimmied out of it, unbuckling and folding straps with practiced ease while he got used to the idea of weight once more, allowing his lazy legs as much time as possible to get used to bearing his weight. He folded his wings into their compact storage configuration, preened a few salt marks and scuffs from the wood and canvas, then stowed them in an unassigned basket and made for the depository.
Sparrow caught him as he was partway through sorting out seeds from his partitioned satchel into various small jars that filled the shelves of the seed storage room. She snuck in under his attention and grabbed his ribs in clawed fingers, causing him to cry out and drop the jar in surprise.
4. Where The Wadi Ran Dry (1300 words written)
Saddles sores were not my idea of a perfect holiday. But I had chosen last year, so when James said “Morocco” I had little choice but to smile, get my shots, and pack an extra tube or two of Savlon into my hand luggage. Two weeks of stinking heat and food that tasted like spiced twigs had not changed either mood. James, who had ancestors in the first, second and fourth crusades, strode about like he was finding his roots, inhaling every marketplace odour as if touching some olfactory hint of his long-lost family destiny. I could just about reach back as far as the late 1800s, where my great-great-great grandmother’s parentage is listed as ‘several possibilities’. That’s genealogist for “Your great-whatever-granny gave it to sailors for drinking money, get another hobby.” I followed behind James with a shut mouth, daydreams filled with fish and chips and half-decent beer. When he suggested a camel trek along the path Saladin had taken on his long journey to Jerusalem, I summoned a vision of our flight home in three days, and agreed with barely-concealed resignation.
5. The Sin-Eater’s Lonely Children (1000 words written)
Reavis came in just before dawn: a thin man bent over the reins of a Toyota hatchback that had been cut down until only the bones remained, then re-covered with whatever scraps of fabric could be found to make a hide. The horse that pulled it was just as thin as its owner, just as bent and silent as it plodded along at a steady walking pace so that the reins that hung loosely in his spotted hands may as well not have been there at all. For all they paid attention to the road in front of them, or the sick and withered landscape to either side, they may as well have been trundling along the inside of their own minds, and they probably were.
The walls of the town were set just down the rise where the roundabout had streamed visitors along the foreshore in one direction, or sideways to skirt the end of the water towards the theatre and sailing museum in one direction or back towards the train station and suburbs in the other, back in the days when there were trains, and suburbs, and sailing. Reavis may have remembered coming this way, back then. If he did, nothing in his posture betrayed the knowledge. He was imperturbable as the ossified tree trunks he passed on either side of the broken tarmac, as still and unmoving as the brackish water that filled mosquito-haloed puddles at the track’s edge. The horse plodded to a spot a strong man’s throw from the ramshackle town gate, then stopped with the slightest twitch of the reins. Reavis raised yellowed eyes to the space above gate, and waited as stolidly as the horse.
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