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Aepyornis Ch4 First draft

by andinadia 

Posted: 10 July 2013
Word Count: 1596
Summary: As much feedback as possible would be very welcome. This is where the action begins to heat up, and where we first meet the ... well, read on!
Related Works: Aepyornis (working title) • Aepyornis Ch3 redraft • 

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‘I can see masts!’ Alice shouted. ‘Come on grandpa.’ The rain had stopped and the cobbles of the street glinted in the morning sun. Alice took Harriet’s hand and they ran the rest of the distance from Gravesend station down to the quay. Alice’s grandfather followed some way behind.

Alice recognised the Retriever among the ships. Her grandfather caught up with them.

‘You lookin’ for the gen’lman from this ship?’ queried a heavily bearded man who was sitting on the base of a quayside crane. ‘In that ‘otel, over ther.’

When Alice’s grandfather had explained at the hotel who they were looking for, the porter yelled through to the breakfast room, ‘Mr Jones! Visitors.’

‘Alice, I hardly recognised you!’ Jacob said, as he entered and threw his arms around his little sister. Mr Jones stepped forward, and gripped his grandson by the shoulders. ‘Welcome back, Jacob.’

‘Jacob. This is Harriet,’ said Alice, beaming. ‘I told you about her in my letters.’

‘It was your letters that kept me going all these months, sis! Hattie – if I may call you that – it is a pleasure.’ He gave a small bow that pleased Harriet. ‘The good constable suggested the captain and I put up at this hotel for the night and enjoy an English breakfast. He said he would look after the ship.

‘Sir, I hope I have done the family proud,’ Jacob continued, to his grandfather.

He placed Alice’s arm through his own, with Harriet on the other side, and they walked – step for step – out of the hotel and down to the ship.

A man was darting about on the quayside, ordering people to set up a table and chairs and to prepare iced drinks.

‘Mr Mayor, did you receive my message?’ Jacob called to him.

‘If only I’d known,’ the mayor replied, in a flap. ‘You caught me fair unawares. Normally, now, I’d ‘ave laid on a proper spread, seeing as how I’m the mayor and it’s highly important people that we’re welcoming. A Sir’s on his way, you say. A proper Sir?’ He darted off again.

‘There is something I would like to show you, grandfather, before Sir Bartleby arrives,’ said Jacob. ‘It is unique. Only Alice and the crew know of it. I paid the men a handsome bonus yesterday, in recognition of their discretion.’

‘Can you bring it onto the quay?’ his grandfather asked. He was settling onto one of the chairs, and eying the iced lemonade. The walk from the station had been too quick.

‘It will need to be unloaded with the rest of the stock when we reach the port of London,’ Jacob replied. ‘For now, you’ll have to be content with Alice’s account! Follow me, sis!’

The girls followed Jacob up the slippery gangplank. The sails whipped above their heads. Jacob was surprised to see no-one on board. The captain was probably still in the hotel but none of the crew were on deck and he could not hear any sounds of the usual morning routines. Perhaps they had all been in the town the previous evening, celebrating their return, and were enjoying a late start to the day. Even the constable seemed to have vanished.

As he was wondering aloud to the two girls, a growl came from below deck. Harriet jumped.

‘The cargo’s getting restless!’ Jacob joked. He crouched and headed through a low doorway. They descended some narrow wooden steps. After so many months at sea, the smell below deck was pungent. Alice wondered how she would have coped if she had been on such a voyage. Jacob led them further inside. The girls’ eyes took time to adjust to the dimness. There were screeches, calls and grunts from here and there, and another growl that sounded very close.

Harriet was the first to see it. A thickly maned lion, lying just a few yards away from them, in front of the open door of a large wooden cage. Harriet’s attempt at a shriek was interrupted by Alice’s hand over her mouth. Although her heart was pumping so hard she could hear its rhythm, Alice found herself thinking that the lion was lying as a cat does, its legs splayed to one side, not rigidly upright like the statues. The girls froze. There was no possibility of making a dash for the staircase.

‘Not a sound, and don’t take your eyes off it,’ Jacob whispered.

From the corner of her eye, Alice saw Jacob reach out slowly, towards the wall. With a movement of his hand, two wooden grills fell to the floor, in front of and behind the lion, enclosing the animal and offering it only one route, back into the cage.

‘I installed these devices so that we could let the animals out while we cleaned the cages every week. Otherwise the stink would have been unbearable.’ Although Jacob’s explanation was matter of fact, Alice saw the concern on his face. He disappeared for a moment and returned with a piece of putrid meat that he threw to the back of the cage. Reluctantly the lion stood and padded over to inspect the meat, allowing Jacob to shut the cage door and swing the locking-arm into place.

‘It seems not to be hungry,’ Jacob said. He was trying hard to look calm.

‘How did it escape?’ Alice managed to say. Her mouth was dry.

Before Jacob could answer that he was as puzzled as she was, Harriet noticed a piece of rope, one end of which was tied to the cage door while the other end lay by the steps they had descended. The door to the cage had not been left open by accident.

‘I need to find the captain, and the constable,’ Jacob said. ‘But first,’ he added brightly, ‘I must show you the crown jewels.’ He guided them further into the dark hold and stood in front of another cage that was much taller than the lion’s. The two girls edged forward until they could touch the wooden slats. From a nearby porthole the morning sun projected a beam of light into the back of the cage. The girls became aware of a large mass, huddled in the corner. The three of them saw the creature lift its head. Its thick neck seemed to go on forever. It blinked and rotated its head slightly, this way and that, as if quizzing the girls. Then it shook its body, like a chicken fluffing its wings, and stood. It was the height of Alice and Hattie combined. Taller.

‘What … is it?’ Alice whispered.

Aepyornis maximus,’ Jacob replied.

‘An Elephant Bird!’ Hattie exclaimed. ‘But …?’

‘I know, it’s supposed to have died out hundreds of years ago.’

It was gigantic. It was impossible to think of it as a bird. Each claw was the thickness of Alice’s arm. One blow from such claws … Alice took a step back. But it was beautiful. Its neck feathers were a golden yellow, while even in the darkness its body feathers had a deep blue sheen. Alice looked at Hattie and saw that she too was staring wide-eyed into the jewel-like eyes of the creature.

‘How … where?’ Alice said, just loudly enough for Jacob to hear.

‘Madagascar. It’s an extraordinary story, which I’ll tell you. But later! Now, prepare yourselves again.’

There was a second cage, some distance but from the first, but with the same tall dimensions. It appeared to be empty. The girls saw Jacob’s look of concern return. As he opened the door and stepped inside, something moved at the back of the cage. The girls did not follow him inside. The shape was still. Then it spoke: ‘Naroansay.’

‘Who are you?’ Jacob shouted, as he leapt forward.

Naroansay, naroansay.’

Jacob pulled the man by the arm. He was dark-skinned, African, and younger than Jacob. His tattered clothes covered a thin body that seemed to be made almost only of bones. He had a severe wound to the head, and fear in his eyes. The wound had partly dried up, but Alice could smell the congealed blood.

They took the man up on deck. The Elephant Bird was forgotten for a moment.

‘Grandpa, we need a doctor,’ Alice shouted from the side of the ship. Alice’s grandfather was sitting with the mayor and a constable in uniform. The constable bounded up the gangplank. ‘Who’s this, then?’ he asked Jacob, indicating the stowaway. ‘I’ll have to take him to the station for questioning.’

‘He needs a doctor … urgently,’ said Alice.

‘Constable,’ Jacob said. ‘Sir Nicholas Bartleby, the President of the Zoological Society of London, will arrive at any moment and we are expected to sail to London with him. If you leave this young man with us, we will ensure that he visits the metropolitan police. And incidentally, what happened to the constable who was on duty here last night? By the name of Parsons.’

‘We have no constable Parsons in Gravesend, sir.’

Jacob had survived months at sea and encounters with creatures of all sizes, but a few hours in Gravesend had etched lines on his face.

‘Jacob, what was meant to be in that second cage?’ asked Harriet. Jacob looked at Harriet as if he had not thought she had understood that anything was missing.

‘It was a second bird,’ Jacob answered, as he walked back down the gangplank towards his waiting grandfather.

At this moment, the captain of the Retriever appeared from the hotel. ‘Wonderful breakfast, Mr Jacob. I hope you didn’t miss it!’

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Comments by other Members

Freebird at 11:23 on 11 July 2013  Report this post
Hiya, I'm just nipping out so haven't got time to comment properly - will try to do so later. But can I just say that I can so picture this as an adaptation on the BBC for Sunday night family telly Even on a skim read, it is intriguing me - love the mysterious word from the man,and the Elephant Bird (thus explaining the title). I want to gobble it all up and read it cover to cover.


although I did just want to say one thing:

I would lost the last sentence. The impact to end the chapter is Jacob saying 'There was a second bird'. Why not stop there and let the reader absorb the implications of that?


sorry, that should say lose the last sentence

Issy at 12:07 on 11 July 2013  Report this post
Wow - now I am excited.

Yes, this needs editing and tidying up, losing phrases and words here and there, and rephrasing, but this story is opening up. There are the animals, the mysterious and beautiful elephant bird, the mystery disappearance and the injured man.

Not to mention Alice is now coming alive - she is clearly someone who understands animals, living as well as stuffed, and bearing that in mind, and that this is a story about animals, I would reiterate my suggestion that we see Alice from the very first with her parrot so sets her up.

A few minor comments - I did a double take about the mayor as I couldn't picture a man of his standing being there organising things in this way.

I think we need the transition to the hotel, something like "They crossed the road to the hotel where Grandfather asked..." I needed to go back and read that part several times before I understood.

I didn't pick up that the lion was supposed to be in a cage until the cage was let down. I assumed that he was just loose, maybe need Jacob to whisper something earlier about this.

The meeting between Jacob and Alice seems brief for someone who has been absent for a long time. I know that the story needs to keep going, so perhaps Jacob promises they will catch up on the news later, and is excited at the things he has to show her which she must see now.

There are several instances where the view point shifts to Jacob, (I'd quite like a brief description of him.) It would add to the continuity of this chapter to have absolutely everything from Alice's POV. This would also help her character development (which is coming across now as a lively, informed young lady) as we would get her reactions to all the events. I was glad that she had a role here - rather than just observer - in stopping Harriet from speaking

You have certainly upped interest and tension and made Alice stand out more, and I am very impressed that this is a First Draft. My first drafts are nothing like this.

andinadia at 13:21 on 11 July 2013  Report this post
Sarah, Issy - thank you both. It's fantastic to have other people's brains to think with.
Sarah, it's funny, when I drafted my outline, I had a starting and ending point for each chapter. Very often an actual ending line. The line that I'd prepared for Ch4 was the reference to there being a second bird. And then I went for a bit of cheap humour - the captain coming out, wiping his mouth on his shortsleeves maybe, and saying how much he'd enjoyed his breakfast, having missed all the action. But I'm going to go right back to the original idea. And thankyou so much for the TV comment. I try to see the scenes in a filmic way, and I'm glad that's coming across. Would love further comments if you have time.
Thankyou, Issy, for great observations. I can see them all, now you've pointed them out. Spot on!

a.m.edge at 21:05 on 11 July 2013  Report this post
Agree with lots of what Issy has said.
Why have them spot the ship so dramatically, only to detour to a neighbouring hotel? Can't the brother come up from the hold with the drama about the missing creature? More on the brother in terms of physical description - not reams; a few choice details - needed I think.
And best make your decision on POV now. Will you be have an omniscient narrator who can see what everyone is thinking or a close third POV, focussed on Alice? The latter would have us more engaged with Alice, I think.
Still loving the texture of this, the setting as well. Great stuff.

andinadia at 22:52 on 11 July 2013  Report this post
Many thanks, Annie - I think I've failed to give enough of a clue that the brother has been 'removed' from the ship for the night (along with the captain) by a bogus constable, so that the theft of the Elephant Bird can take place. I'll need to look at that again. (The entire crew have also been bought off.)
The sighting of the masts was to give period flavour mainly - that these ships would have been very prominent in provincial port towns like Gravesend. But also to show how Alice and party knew where the port was, once they emerged from the station. I also wanted a sense of rush as they ran down to the quayside, to build the energy level of the chapter up from the start.
I'm going to revisit these first chapters to flesh out Alice's character particularly, and will need to look at the point of view issue at the same time.

Buzzard at 20:47 on 12 July 2013  Report this post
Hi, Andy
Cranking up plot really well. Tension rising, new characters introduced and all at a cracking pace. It's certainly a story with legs. Enjoying very much. I know this is a first draft, so you're probably just intent on propelling the story along at the moment and won't necessarily want to visit these. But my first thoughts are:

As far as the writing goes, I think you could afford to conjour up Gravesend a little more vividly. I think the impression it would make on the girls could be considerable and a good way to deliver it without being overly descriptive. Smells, noises and such like adding to their excitement and anticipation.

And I think you could make more of the lion. Jacob's trying to look calm and unaffected, but it's potentially terrifying and I think should be. And it could be just for starters given the size and surprise of the bird. That could be really unsettling too. And THEN the wounded man. I just think the girls' and Jacob's equilibrium could be shaken a little more.

I think I mentioned before an unsettling change to Hattie's POV. It happens here again with Jacob and their grandfather. I think we should probably stick with Alice, but even then in a more limited way. Having her notice the rope and see the expression on Jacob's face has a bit of a distancing effect for the reader. Better, I think, if we're just told that a rope was hanging and that Jacob was trying to control his anxiety rather than filtering through Alice's perspective so that it feels more first-hand and immediate for the reader.

A couple of other points: I'm afraid I wasn't convinced by the mayor. Would a mayor not be a little grander than he is - or at least have pretensions to grandeur? And I wondered about the iced drinks, i.e. how they would have made the ice mid-19th century.

But all easily remedied and obviously the stuff of rewrites. The story is cracking, and I can't wait to see how it unfolds.

Cheers for now,

andinadia at 22:18 on 12 July 2013  Report this post
Hi Clay
I'll look at what I can do to add detail re Gravesend. And of course you're absolutely right about the need to heighten the impact of everything on the girls and even on Jacob.
Isn't describing that Jacob was trying to control his anxiety a shift to Jacob's point of view? I think this is an aspect of fiction writing that doesn't come easily to me!
Yes, the poor mayor. I made him a bit of a clown. I need to have a word with him.
Good point about the ice!


Just looked at what I wrote, which did not come across at all as I intended: I meant I find this aspect of fiction writing hard. (And sometimes it's hard to say something clearly!) Sorry for the wrong tone.

rescuedonkey at 15:21 on 08 September 2013  Report this post
The story really gets interesting here, there's a lot going on and its fantastic fun to read.

I agree with a.m.edge about the jump to the hotel right after seeing the ship, it interrupts the flow a bit.

It also seemed odd to have Jacob specifically say he has something to show the grandfather, for the grandfather to then sit sipping lemonade? I'd suggest either having Jacob invite just the girls- Alice already knows about it, so it's just continuing the secret, or have the grandfather join them.

andinadia at 19:36 on 08 September 2013  Report this post
Thanks again. More good points. The father is getting a rough deal in terms of my attention to him as a character, and I need to work on him and his relationship with Alice.

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