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Sleepers - Prologue

by SteveB 

Posted: 21 July 2008
Word Count: 1182
Summary: This is the Prologue of my current work-in-progress novel called Sleepers

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The cold air froze his lungs. Every breath was gasped with a desperation borne of fear and panic.
He mustn’t stop; he couldn’t stop. His legs felt like lead. The muscles were knotting like jagged stones in his calves and thighs. He’d never run so hard in his life.
But he had to keep going. He had to keep running.
Beside him, Cally was furiously pumping her arms in time with her legs. Her cheeks were a vivid red. Tears of exertion squeezing out from the corners of her eyes.
They both sprinted across the field, racing past the heads of corn, their faces and bodies whipped by the tall woody stalks, their legs and feet scratched by stones and twigs thrown up from the ground.
‘We’ve got to get to the trees,’ gasped Cally. ‘We’ll get cover there. He won’t be able to follow us.’
Simon nodded, his eyes stinging from sweat rolling down from his forehead.
Behind them, a hundred metres or so back, at the edge of the field, they could hear the nasal voice of the Scarecrow. His horse, a whip-marked black stallion with deep scars running down its flanks, whinnied and kicked at the ground.
‘You won’t get away from me,’ the Scarecrow said. ‘You can run and run, but you won’t escape.’
‘Don’t listen,’ said Cally, ‘just keep running…’
The Scarecrow continued; his voice cutting through the field. ‘I’ve got a gun. You know that don’t you. I don’t care if I take one of you or both of you in. They’ll still pay handsomely for young ‘uns. If I’ve got to shoot one of you then I will.’
Simon looked back for a moment and in doing so lost both his concentration and his footing. He pitched forward heavily, his feet tripping on the uneven ground. He threw his arms out to break the fall as his body sprawled headlong on the dry, stony soil. Blood pinpricked on his hands and ran freely from an open gash on his right knee. He swallowed a cry of anguish and blinked back tears.
Cally stopped, her eyes wide with fear. She turned and dashed back to him.
‘We’ve got to keep going,’ she said. Her eyes darted around anxiously, waiting for the tell tale signs of movement through the field. She reached out her hand to Simon.
‘I’m coming in now,’ shouted the Scarecrow. ‘You’ll pay for running from me. I might just set the dogs on you before turning you in… they always like a bit of fresh meat.’
Simon scrabbled to his feet, his knees and hands smarting.
‘Let’s split up,’ said Cally. She pointed her arms in a wide V. ‘You go to the left, I’ll go to the right.’ She hugged him and kissed him on the forehead. He held onto her and squeezed tightly.
‘We’ll meet in the woods,’ she said, ‘I love you bro…’ She smiled uneasily, touched his arm, and set off running to the right.
Simon watched her go for a brief moment before setting off to the left. He ran as fast as he could, careful of where he was putting his feet, risking the occasional look to his right, watching his sister, one year older at thirteen, and 6 inches taller, running at an angle away from him towards the shelter of the trees. ‘Go on Cally,’ he whispered as they ran. He continued to say it under his breath, urging her onwards, as he approached the cover of the trees.
Behind them, the Scarecrow had seen them separate. ‘Damn,’ he whispered angrily to himself. He kicked his spurs irritably into the flesh of his horse. ‘Come on,’ he hissed, raising his whip and bringing it down hard on the horse’s flank. The horse started forward, his head flicking up, jerking the Scarecrow back in the saddle. ‘We’ll take the girl,’ he said. ‘I can just see her. She’s the taller one. I can’t see where the little runt of a brother has gone. We’ll get him later.’ The horse pulled to the right and set off through the field.
Simon’s heart missed a beat as he saw the Scarecrow head off after Cally. His stomach contracted painfully and he felt tears forming behind his eyes. A lump sat thickly in his throat. ‘Run Cally,’ he said. ‘For God’s sake, run…’
Simon was only twenty meters from the edge of the trees, He could see nothing beyond. In the woods, it was as dark as a moonless night. Light didn’t penetrate its depths beyond the first metre or so.
‘Stop or I’ll shoot,’ shouted the Scarecrow, the evil in his voice exploding menacingly as he closed the gap on Cally.
Simon slowed and looked over at Cally. She was still running as fast as she could but the Scarecrow was closing the gap. With every stride of his horse, he was getting closer. Simon could feel his body shaking. He had never been so frightened.
Just a few more metres… run Cally run.
The Scarecrow raised the shotgun to his shoulder. ‘Do as I say girl or I’ll shoot. You stop right now…’
Cally kept running. She dodged to the right and then to the left. If he was going to shoot, then she’d make it damn difficult for him. She could hear the Scarecrow behind her. She knew he was getting closer. All her muscles were screaming out in pain.
‘I will not stop,’ she repeated to herself. ‘I will not stop, I will not stop…’ Her heart was pounding like a machine about to explode.
‘I’ll blast you to hell…’ screamed the Scarecrow. ‘You’ll not get away from me. I’m the best Catcher there is. You’ll not escape.’
The Scarecrow fixed Cally in the sights of the gun. He held the gun in his right hand, his left hand gripping the reins of the horse. He hated it when he couldn’t take them in alive. But then again, there were some benefits. At least he could practice his shooting skills.
It was always better sport when the animals were alive.
‘One more chance little girl,’ he screeched, his voice becoming more hoarse and scratchy.
Cally ducked down and sidestepped to the right. There was only a few metres more. Surely she could make it. She willed her self on. She prayed Simon would keep going whatever happened. She was so close now. She could nearly reach the trees with her hands. She was safe, she must be.
The noise of the shotgun exploded across the field.
‘Nooooooooo…,’ screamed Simon.
Cally flew forwards, blown off her feet by the blast. She landed crumpled like a loose sack of grain on the edge of the forest, her body rolling into the trees on the boundary of the field.
The last thing she heard before darkness overtook her was Simon’s desperate shriek of horror. The last thing she felt was a pain like none she had ever experienced before. The last thing she saw was a pair of hands urgently reaching out to her from the woods…

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Comments by other Members

mafunyane at 13:45 on 21 July 2008  Report this post
Steve, this is page-turning stuff. I felt quite exhausted and tense just reading it - which shows how well you can bring a scary situation to life. It does a great job as a prologue - just bringing in enough detail (and fear) to get you interested but leaving plenty to the imagination, encouraging the reader to want to know more.

My only criticisms would be:

1) overuse of the word 'explode', 'exploding' or 'exploded':

"the evil in his voice exploding menacingly"

"heart was pounding like a machine about to explode"

"noise of the shotgun exploded"

I'd try alternative descriptions for the first two - especially the heart one which I thought was probably the weakest line in the whole thing.

2) at times you lose some of the momentum:

"still running as fast as she could but the Scarecrow was closing the gap. With every stride of his horse, he was getting closer"

could be even more urgent if you deleted 'the gap' and replaced 'was getting' with 'drew'.

But these are minor quibbles - I want to read more!

Steerpike`s sister at 14:06 on 21 July 2008  Report this post
I agree that this has page-turning tension and you bring the situation to life really well. I love the final image of her rolling into those mysterious hands...
I think you could increase this page-turning power by some careful editing, especially in the first lines. For example:

The cold air froze his lungs. Every breath was gasped with a desperation borne of fear and panic.
He mustn’t stop; he couldn’t stop. His legs felt like lead. The muscles were knotting like jagged stones in his calves and thighs

It's not clear that he's running until the third sentence. The first two lines could be moved to a little later on, and I'm not sure you need both sentence 4 and 5. Stones don't knot, so maybe you need to rephrase that.

‘You won’t get away from me,’ the Scarecrow said.

He's more likely shouting, or they wouldn't hear him - they're running, you hear only your own breath and body when you run, and he's far away from them.

watching his sister, one year older at thirteen, and 6 inches taller,

This doesn't work in here - feels shoe-horned in and breaks the pace. 6 inches doesn't mean much - it would be more effective if you described how she has a longer stride than him and is out-stripping him (or maybe, dropping back to help him keep up?).

I felt there was lots of energy and would be keen to read on and find out what happened next.


Sorry, forgot to add that 'borne' should be 'born'.

SteveB at 14:50 on 21 July 2008  Report this post
Anna / Mafunyane,

Thanks very much for those comments...

I seem to have exploded the myth that you cannot explosively use an armoury of literary explosions in creating some descriptions... I will most definitely review (as the current repetition obviously bombs - damnit, there I go again - another explosive theme - must be a boy's thing)

Your comments on pace are very apt as well and I will review.

The interesting thing about this is that I haven't done the normal rewrite after rewrite for this novel - as it is effectively work in progress - there has been some tidying up along the way but no major review yet. It is interesting putting something up that is not as polished as I would like it to be...

Your comments are very much appreciated


SteveB at 14:57 on 21 July 2008  Report this post
Leila / Steerpike's Sister,

Thank you very much for your comments...

All of them are very relevant and helpful - I certainly agree there will have to be some judicious editing done to this.

I am still on draft 1 of this novel so will focus for the time being on the laborious slog of completing the first draft - then I will head into editing mode... it will definitely need polishing...

Btw - I totally agree that borne should be born - how I missed that I don't know...

Again, thank you very much for your comments


Steerpike`s sister at 17:17 on 21 July 2008  Report this post
I think you're right to concentrate on finishing the first draft before editing. Good luck!

ShellyH at 15:43 on 22 July 2008  Report this post
Hi Steve, thought this was really good. I read it so fast because it had such pace and excitement. It left me wanting to read on, so I hope you post some more of it. I don't have anything negative to say, which must be a good thing.

SteveB at 15:47 on 22 July 2008  Report this post

Thank you very much for your comment...

Nothing negative to say is hell of a positive to me (if you know what I mean)

Glad you enjoyed it


SarahT at 11:09 on 26 July 2008  Report this post
Hi Steve!

I agree that it was very exciting and it has a very definite hook as I was left wondering which planet they were on or when it was.

The others have made some good comments about editing and the words that you used. I will just make a comment for you keep in mind as you proceed with your first draft - I think that perhaps you need to rein in your point of view switches a little.

At the beginning, you start with Simon's pov but then there is a brief interlude with the Scarecrow: 'Behind them, the Scarecrow had seen them separate. ...The horse pulled to the right and set off through the field.' Then you switch back to Simon's pov, followed rapidly by Cally's pov, the Scarecrow's pov and ending on Cally's. All of this makes it feel a little disjointed by the end.

There have been huge debates about whether to write in a single or multiple pov on this site. Others think that you have to keep to one pov but I think that it's okay to switch but it's all in the writing and, in my view, switching between three povs in such a short chapter doesn't quite work.

I suggest that you take out the Scarecrow's pov - he's quite scary enough, thank you very much, without having to actually listen to his thoughts! I think you could actually remove the para starting 'Behind them, the Scarecrow...' without losing anything and then just tweak the second section where it is his pov.

I don't know where the next chapter is going but I got the impression from the opening paras of this chapter that Simon was meant to be your main character so maybe it should be his pov by the end of this chapter. I think that the last few sentences could be revised to show him watching what happens to his sister, which is almost the way it reads anyway.

Hope this is useful! I'll be interested to see what happens next.


SteveB at 15:40 on 26 July 2008  Report this post
Thank you very much for that comment - interestingly, it is something I have never thought about - I'm sure I probably should have but it has never crossed my mind when I have been writing...

...in reality, there is not actually a main character as this will be one of those books that follows a number of parallel stories - it is always a risky approach as it can appear choppy and or lack cohesion - but it is what I am attempting at present...

I will certainly think more about povs as I write in the future...

Thank you very much for that


Kristian at 20:48 on 30 July 2008  Report this post
Hi Steve B
Fast and punchy stuff, enjoyed this and was imnpressed by the way you immediately made me care for the two protagonists in such a swift and sparing way.

The Scarecrow as bad guy, though used in everything from scooby doo to dr who, (and also by me I must admit) was effective and scary, certainly made me want to read on.


SteveB at 07:54 on 31 July 2008  Report this post

Thank you very much for those kind comments - I agree re the reuse of a fairly common 'bad guy' - although in this case I plead my defence that it is just a name he has got - which, of course, he may have chosen for himself by its common associations with bad guys.

Many thanks indeed


Kristian at 10:35 on 31 July 2008  Report this post
ahh I see. I had a vision in my mind of an actual Scarecrow on horseback - which worked pretty well.

Look forward to reading more.


KathM at 15:11 on 06 August 2008  Report this post
Hi Steve,

So this is what you've been up to!

Love this opening. Very powerful, very engrossing. It ticks all the boxes for an opening chapter as far as I can see; in starts in media res, you care about the characters, there is tension, action, and a whole host of story questions raised which the reader will have to press on to get answered. Great stuff.

I have read through the load of comments you've generated and agree with everything there.

The thing I would want to focus on the most is, like Sarah raised, the POV issue. There is, as she points out, a lot of debate over POV, whether and when it is okay to switch, but I think it's one of those cases where it's okay to deliberately break the rules once you understand them, but not before. I know of editors who, the minute they pick up a manuscript with POV switches in the first few pages, put it straight back into the envelope because they see control over this as one of the first dividing lines between professional and amateur. I think that by keeping with Simon's POV you would increase reader identification and demonstrate control to a potential agent/editor. There's nothing here that you can't cover through a single POV, even if the next chapter switches to an entirely new POV.

Also, the weakest sections are the bits when you are in the Scarecrow's head.

In the woods, it was as dark as a moonless night.

I realised at this point that I didn't have a fix on what time of day it was. I know it was cold but was it dark, light, dusk, dawn?

The only other comment is to say that I too thought this was literally a scarecrow. Young adult, I'm thinking SCI-FI, FANTASY? It was quite a disapointment when I had lose the image of his straw cheeks blowing out in the wind! The idea of a scarecrow riding a horse threw me too, but not enough apparantly to disabuse me of my misinterpretation!!! Maybe make that clearer?

Great stuff though, sounds like a thrilling read.


SteveB at 18:59 on 06 August 2008  Report this post

Thanks again for your comments - this is the unfinished novel - one of the 3 projects currently on the go.

I have been working away for a week or so so have not been very active on anything - need to start working on the novels and also catch up with the new postings...

Having thought about it, I can understand the PoV comments and will make some changes - maybe I will stay out of the Scarecrow's head... it sounds like his identity needs some work as he is obviously a slightly confusing character...

The time of day comment is very valid... I will try and bring some more sensory information into the opening...

People are very kind with their comments - it is so good to see how people are reading what I have written... it certainly opens my eyes to things I had not thought of, seen or realised...

Hope things are going well with you


mafunyane at 23:10 on 06 August 2008  Report this post
Steve - just wanted to add to the comments above that I was also a bit disappointed to find the scarecrow wasn't a real one.


SteveB at 07:33 on 07 August 2008  Report this post
Thanks for letting me know Anna - the input on this one has been fascinating - luckily this is in first draft mode - and not near completion yet...

I will have a good long think as to whether the Scarecrow could actually be a Scarecrow...

...it may be one of those 'shift of my own perceptions' moment that can move this somewhere even more exciting

Of course, when I say 'even more exciting' I am obviously hoping and presupposing that there is already some excitement in there - although it could be that many readers have thought this piece is as exciting as a day long tour of the Basingstoke roundabout infrastructure...

... and if there are any roundabout infrastructure enthusiasts out there - gosh aren't they so good

... did I sound convincing?

So, Scarecrow - to be or not to be that is the question (I'm sure I've read part of that line somewhere before :-))


mafunyane at 10:52 on 07 August 2008  Report this post
Sadly I know the Basingstoke roundabout infrastructure quite well (I used to work for Macmillan there). And your piece is definitely way more exciting. I don't think it NOT being a scarecrow would make it less exciting - I just think that because you've used the word quite early on we've all built a mental picture of a crazed Worzel Gummidge character o the rampage. They could of course be running from something or someone else equally sinister... and the tension of the piece would still be there. Good luck with your next drafts!

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