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Scars Beneath The Skin - amended Chapter One

by hopper2607 

Posted: 14 November 2007
Word Count: 514
Summary: Thus was first uploaded on 21/10/07. Comments from Lammi, lastubbs, Steerpike's_sister, susieangela and RT104 have greatly helped in producing this amended version.
Related Works: Scars Beneath The Skin - Chapter One • 

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There is only so much loneliness a human being can bear.

In his Munich apartment, in the dying days of September 2001, Karl Dresner waited. His hands were shaking. Salt from beads of sweat stung his eyes. A gun rested on the left hand side of the table, two bottles on the right: one of whisky, one of barbiturates. A coin glinted. The telephone across the room rang; once, twice, three times and then the answer machine cut in.

'Leave a message and I'll get back to you,' said a version of Dresnerís voice. 'Maybe.'

'Are you there, Karl? Itís Lucia.' Dresner picked up the coin. 'I'm going to keep calling. Pick up the phone please. I know you must be there. If you don't want to see me again, it's OK. But I want to know. I want to know you're OK. I need to talk to you, Karl. Please call me when you get this message. Let me know you're all right. Please.'

The tape spindles continued to rotate. The mechanism hummed. Dresner remained seated, turning the coin between his fingers: heads, tails, heads, tails ...

'I'm sure you're there. I'm sure you're listening to this.'

A click, like a safety catch being released, signalled the end of the call. A red light blinked, two heartbeats per second. One last time, thought Dresner, standing. His finger hovered over the answerphone controls. He pressed DELETE. The machine bleated in protest, the indicator continuing a pattern: dot-dot-dash, dot-dot-dash, dot-dot-dash. A Mayday, of kinds.

He flicked open the tape cover, held a spring clip back, prised the microcassette free and held it up towards the centre of the room. Why are you doing this? The lounge light shone through the gaps in the spindles. Why? He clipped the tape back into place and pressed PLAY.

'You have ... one ... new message.'

'Are you there, Karl ...?'

Three seconds of pressure on DELETE would erase every word; no bleating this time. His finger stroked the button. He brushed a speck of dust and it floated into the air.

'Are you there ...?'

No life, no sound. Perpetual dreamless night. Or give life one more chance? PLAY or DELETE?



There was no outside world any more; at least, not a world that mattered. All that remained was a woman's voice preserved on magnetic tape. Where have you come from? Why are you making this difficult for me? We're strangers - you have no right.

He was seated at the table again. The microcassette on the right. The gun, the barbiturates, the whisky on the left, forming a triangle. In the centre, between the two poles, the coin marked the borderline. Heads or tails?

It seemed like a lifetime's journey had brought him to this place, yet it was only five years. Five years since the event that started it all; less than a month since the attack in New York that had brought the memories back. He remembered a voice, a woman's voice, calling out his name, and water whipped into flecks of white.

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Comments by other Members

susieangela at 09:56 on 16 November 2007  Report this post
Hi Andy -
This feels much stronger to me. It lays out the bones of the situation in stark simplicity, with enough hooks to keep the reader interested in finding out more.
I didn't quite understand Karl's first attempt at deleting the tape. Why didn't it delete? Why did it still play afterwards? Did he take the tape out to ascertain why it didn't delete? Is he talking to the tape machine or to Lucia when he asks Why are you doing this? Or am I being thick?:)
Only one other thing: I felt that asking the question: Play or Delete? at the end of the first section was extraneous (other people may disagree!). I think you've made his predicament pretty clear throughout the preceding bit, and actually saying it reduces the strength of the piece. (I know I said in my previous crit that the whole thing could revolve around this dilemma - well, I think it does now and you don't have to hammer the point home).
A great opening.

Lammi at 12:20 on 16 November 2007  Report this post
This version is stonger, but I'd still suggest cutting the line 'No life....or DELETE' Like Susie, I thought by that point we didn't need Dresner's dilemma spelling out again, but you could still convey the sense of his being torn by keeping the moment where Lucia repeats 'Are you there...?'.

Other suggestions: I feel his thoughts (Why are you doing this? ...Why?) should probably go in italics, otherwise the change to second person feels slightly awkward. There's close repetition of 'picked up'/'pick up' in line 7. I suggest adding 'and' after the first DELETE to give a bit more variation to the rhythm at that point, and for similar reasons at the start of the penultimate paragraph I'd have gone for commas after 'again' and 'on the right'. I know minor sentences can give a dramatic effect, but your masculine style tends to the abrupt and choppy anyway, and you don't want to overdo it.

Suggestion re pauses: '...two bottles on the right, one of whisky, one of barbiturates. A coin glinted. The telephone across the room rang: once, twice, three times, and then the answer machine cut in.'

hopper2607 at 18:54 on 18 November 2007  Report this post
Hi Susie and Kate,

Thanks for those detailed suggestions. I've given them a try and I like the overall result.

I want the chapter to have a jagged feel, but to soften at the end and become reflective and haunting. Making the penultimate paragraph less abrupt appeals to me, but if I put commas after 'again' and 'on the right' I end up with a sentence that contains an awful lot of the things: 'He was seated at the table again, the microcassette on the right, the gun, the barbiturates and the whisky on the left, forming a triangle.' Or am I guilty of discriminating against commas?


Lammi at 19:10 on 18 November 2007  Report this post
It's a tricky one: what to one person is a moment of dramatic emphasis, to another reader is over-stating the case. In the end it's your work and you know, on the whole, what's best for it.

Sweep on with writing your novel, and see how your style develops. It may be that you come back to this opening and want to rearrange things, or it may be that you come back and see you were absolutely right.

hopper2607 at 19:49 on 18 November 2007  Report this post
I should've mentioned - the novel itself is actually complete (around 76000 words) It's doing the rounds at the moment, but I still like to revisit the first 3 chapters every now and then. So the advice here has been very valuable. When I get the 'Thanks but no thanks' letters back from agents I always ask myself if the first chapter might be a duffer. Now I'm a lot more confident that I've got a strong opening.

Meanwhile, I'm working (in fits and starts) on a radio play and other shorter pieces while I build up the stamina for another novel. At least I'm under no illusions about the amount of work involved now.


Lammi at 20:21 on 18 November 2007  Report this post
Oh, good luck, then! Let us know how you go on.

hopper2607 at 21:53 on 21 November 2007  Report this post
Hi Susie,

Sorry, just realised, forgot to answer your question about the answerphone deletion thing. I think most (or maybe all) answerphones won't allow a message to be deleted until it's been listened to. The two I've had have worked like that anyway. It can be a pain if it's a message from someone trying to sell double-glazing or life insurance. Or if it's a wrong number and the caller rambles on for ages Ė drunks specialise in it. I used to get a lot of wrong numbers for a hotel and I'd find all sorts of complicated booking requests left by people seemingly oblivious to their mistake. Wedding receptions, golfing weekends, a secretary in Rome trying to get an urgent fax to her boss... Probably a few extra-marital excursions being booked as well. Oh, and an American woman, unpleasantness seeping from every pore, demanding that I phone her back to tell her what number she should have called. I did phone her back, actually...

But I digress.

For the story opening, this answerphone feature seemed a handy little trick. Dresner's first instinct is to delete the message, to cut himself off and remain in isolation. The machine forces him to listen, and it's like a lifebelt thrown to a man who's determined to drown.

When he's asking 'Why are you doing this.' he's talking to the Lucia stored on the magnetic tape, not the real woman. Kate's suggestion of putting these words in italics should help make that clearer.

I could try to put more explanation about the answerphone in the text, but then I'd be back to an earlier (very valid, I thought) comment about parts of it reading like an instruction manual. So, I'm not sure what I can do.

I hope this explanation doesn't sound like gibberish.


susieangela at 22:55 on 21 November 2007  Report this post
Hi Andy -
No, it didn't seem like gibberish, and I do see your problem. You might get round it without it sounding like an instruction manual (!) if you started the next para after 'Mayday of sorts' with something like:

Fucking obdurate machine. He flicked open the tape cover...etc.

Or whatever he'd say. It would just point up that the machine hasn't functioned as he'd hoped. I wonder how many people are familiar with answer machines these days - a lot of us have the 1571 thing. Sounds like, from your experience, that's a good thing!

Look forward to hearing how you get on with submissions etc. and all the best.

hopper2607 at 07:11 on 22 November 2007  Report this post
Hi Susie.

I like that idea - makes it human without getting at all technical.
And one piece of strong language could add some edge without being gratuitous.

I did think about having him slam his fist down on the infernal device, but I actually want him to remain very physically controlled. So, a stong thought followed by a reflective action (taking the tape out, holding it up to the light) appeals to me.



Spelling- "strong thought" not "stong thought"

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