Printed from WriteWords -


by  wouldiwas

Posted: Tuesday, May 19, 2020
Word Count: 3018
Summary: Please read my sample and provide feedback on the following: 1) Does everything make sense? 2) Are the slang terms easy to understand within the context? 3) Does the dialogue flow well and seem real? 4) How can I make it more engaging?

Chapter One

The sign read “Giraffe Steaks: 100% Ethically Sourced.” On it was an electric cartoon animal with a long yellow neck, which faced the street with a broad smile, apparently content with being killed as long as it was killed ethically. Then the creature blinked, sensing motion in the otherwise empty night, and its animated eyes glanced towards the building across the street.
On the roof sat a young woman with straight dark hair, face wrapped in a mask, dangling her feet over the edge. A security camera several feet away was pointed at her, zooming in and out suspiciously. The woman tilted her head back and coughed, swishing spit around her mouth until a warm sticky gob had formed at the tip of her tongue. She spat, and the security camera whirred, focusing and refocusing, smearing the slime around its own lens. Across the street, the glowing animatronic giraffe seemed to be laughing. The woman flashed it a thumbs up. At least someone, or something, could appreciate her aim.
As the camera gave up and turned downwards, the woman pulled the mask off, and raised a strip of dried meat to her mouth. She grimaced. They could grow giraffe in a lab, but they couldn’t even figure out how to make it any texture other than shoe. The woman choked down the rest of the jerky, and flicked the wrapper off the building. The glowing giraffe across the street lit up the tiny identical giraffe on the plastic wrapper, which turned somersaults as it fluttered into the night air.
The plastic giraffe shrank and disappeared, while the electronic giraffe narrowed its pixelated eyes at the woman. “Do you mind?” it seemed to say. Whether it was judging her for littering or being so careless with a copy of its own face, the woman didn’t know.
The street was still empty. The woman kicked her heels against the wall of the building, and pulled out a black device, rereading the same message for the twentieth time that hour. Straining her eyes, she glanced between the device and the street signs down below. She bared her forearm, where a glowing tattoo read 02:00.
There was a flutter by her side. Another empty wrapper, from a candy bar, had slipped out of her pocket. The woman grunted, diving to the side and slapping the plastic against the roof.
As the woman righted herself and brushed hair from her eyes, the giant giraffe stared at her in disbelief. “Was littering twice in the same minute too much for you?” it seemed to ask.
“It’s sentimental!” the woman called out to the advertisement. She held up the wrapper. On it was a drawing of two stick figures: one with long black hair, and the other with only one leg and holding crutches. In a young boy’s messy handwriting was written: “Can we go to the park tomorrow?”
“Park’s a bright idea,” the woman said to herself.
The light shifted. The electronic giraffe changed its gaze from the woman and the wrapper down to the street, where three young men had appeared, singing loudly and strutting like peacocks.
The first man had teeth of silver, which glinted whenever he smiled. The second man had shaved only half of his head, with a greasy ponytail dangling from the other side. The last of the three men was apparently under the impression that his face would be incomplete without a dozen metal fixtures pierced through his nose, ears, and lips.
“Silver, Ponytail, and Piercings,” the woman said, surveying the men. Some said that giving your targets nicknames made it easier to keep track of them. Ponytail was the biggest, and appeared to be the leader of the trio. Silver and Piercings both held glass bottles. If they were drunk, that was to her advantage. But that advantage came at a cost: the bottles themselves, which could be too easily smashed into shards.
The woman pulled her mask back on and chewed on her lip, letting the sharp pain focus her attention, kicking her heels faster against the side of the building. Hit Ponytail first, then Silver, then Piercings. Don’t worry about the bottles. Those goons are high on puke-cheap beer and testosterone; they won’t even see you coming.
She closed her eyes, imagining herself knocking out Silver’s fake teeth, grabbing hold of Ponytail’s oily hair, ripping out the metal bits from Piercing’s face.
The flavor of the giraffe jerky was still on her tongue, and as she bit harder, another taste, red and juicy and metallic, trickled through her mouth. It was time.

Chapter Two

The three men, Silver, Ponytail, and Piercings, sang loudly and with a disgusting lack of regard for any sort of harmony. Silver closed his eyes, swaying side to side, bumping into the men with each step. Then his foot caught on a crack in the sidewalk, and he stumbled forward into Piercings. Piercings shoved him off with a grunt, and Silver elbowed him back.
Within seconds, their fists were swinging into each other’s chests. The bottles slipped from  their hands and shattered on the sidewalk. Then Silver wrapped his veiny, tattooed arms around Piercings’ neck, squeezing until the man’s eyes bulged. Piercings’ gasped, spit bubbling out of his mouth, and flailed his arms arms around. His fingernails dug into Silver’s arms, scratching deep groove into the skin. Ponytail watched, nodding to himself.
Then something caught Ponytail’s eye.
“Hey—“ he called to the others, staring across the street. “Plug it. Plug it!” he hissed.
The two broke apart, Piercings massaging his neck, and Silver examining the scratches on his tattooed arms.
Ponytail grunted, pointing a finger across the street. A woman was standing by a wall, lit up by the light of the electronic giraffe. She had tangled blonde hair, smeared makeup, and thin shoulders that shivered underneath her jacket.
Silver smiled, his teeth clinking against each other. He looked at Ponytail, and nodded.
The woman eyed them, and walked away, her high heels clomping nervously on the concrete. Above her, a state security camera whirred, zooming in and out, trying unsuccessfully to focus on the scene. The only other sound was a lone rat lapping from a puddle of water by the sidewalk.
Piercings picked up his broken bottle, and the three men ran forward, their shoes slapping against the ground. Then a sound like a whip cracked through the air: one of the woman’s heels had snapped, and her flight was reduced to a chaotic hobble.
Piercings reached her first, slamming his body into hers. The woman smacked the ground, palms instantly scraping themselves into patches of pepperoni. Then Piercings was on top of her, flipping her on her back and pinning her hands underneath his knees. Silver grabbed her jacket. He tore it open, and buttons clatter on the sidewalk.
Ponytail leered, clapping his hands together, jumping up and down, grunting like a gorilla at a sports rally.
“Plug it! All of you, plug it!”
Another figure had approached, a man with a blue uniform and badge on his belt. His face was thick like a ham, and his eyes were tiny and suspicious. He whipped out a baton with a glowing white tip. “Plug it! The whole cucking block can hear you!”
Silver looked up. “Get cucked, Badge,” he spat.
The officer lunged, jamming the baton into Silver’s face. The man yelped and rolled backwards on the sidewalk, his throat gargling with curses.
Ponytail and Piercings stared at the officer. “We’re plugged, Badge. We’ll stay plugged,” Piercings promised in a low voice. He mimed zipping his lips shut.
The officer motioned to the woman’s purse, which had fallen off the curb. “Give that to me.”
None of the men moved. The woman breathed in short bursts of air.
“I said, give it to me!” The officer repeated, waving his baton again.
Ponytail tossed the purse to the officer, who shook it open. A stack of bills fluttered onto the ground.
“Share them, Badge?” Piercings suggested hopefully. His knees were still pressed down on the woman’s hands.
The officer gathered the bills into his fists. “5 Grams Gold,” he read on one of them, before stuffing them in his pocket. “Flash up, all of you. And stay plugged.”
The officer passed Silver, who was still laying on the ground, and aimed a kick at him.
“You heard the badge, flash up!” Piercings flicked a knife toward the girl’s waist, cutting through the fabric, baring her skin—
There was a loud crack, and Piercings slumped to the side, dark streaks trickling down his forehead. Ponytail and Silver looked around, seeing it only moments before it connected with their own faces: a brick, swinging on the end of a rope.
All three men lay whimpering on the sidewalk.
“You shielded?” A woman with straight black hair and a mask approached them, coiling the rope around her arm, and approached Ponytail. She pulled open his shirt, and felt his bare chest.
“No shield…” The woman held out a vial, and placed it into his nostril. Ponytail went rigid, then limp, as spit fizzled across his cheek.
She went through the man’s pockets, removing a wallet with more plastic bills, then moved on to Piercings. Ripping open his shirt, she uncovered a copper medallion, and tapped it on the sidewalk. It made a hollow, emasculated sound, like fingernails against an empty can.
The vial squirted a second time, and the metal piercings shook on the his face.
The woman rifled through his pockets, then moved to Silver, turning him on his back with a grunt of effort. Another copper medallion slid out from his shirt and landed on the ground with the ripe clank of solid metal. When the woman went through Silver’s pockets, she stole nothing, but rather wiped the drool from his metal teeth, and helped him to his feet. Murmuring, the man stumbled into the night, leaving his two friends where they lay.
Up the sidewalk, the rat stopped lapping water, and disappeared into the sewer.
Then the woman took out a small black device, beeped it several times, and turned towards the blonde woman on the sidewalk, gently brushing blood from her cheek.
“This complimentary rescue is sponsored by Balkon Death Insurance Agency.”

Chapter Three

The street was no longer empty. People from every door and every dark window emerged and approached the bodies of the man with the ponytail and the man with the piercings. First with caution, then with purpose, they sifted through pockets and shoes like vultures picking at meat. Then they retreated, disappeared as quickly as they had come out. A dozen state officers had arrived, examined the bodies for themselves, looting jewelry and bracelets before leaving.
“That would have been me.”
It was the first thing the blonde woman had said since being rescued, and her voice sounded like she had swallowed a mouthful of chalk. She was sitting in the Gyro Valley restaurant across from the alley where the men lay, the cut on her face slowly drying. A cold gyro sat untouched on a plate in front of her.
“You don’t have to look at them. They’re not your concern.” The person who had rescued her was a woman in her mid-twenties, with tan skin, dark eyes and darker hair. Her gyro was already finished, the only remains were under her fingernails and in the corners of her mouth. The brick with the rope lay on the table next to her, as did the fake copper medallion and the two wallets she had stolen. “Hey, look at me, not them. You have a name?”
The blonde woman tore her eyes away from the alley, and stared at her rescuer. “Harriden.”
“Harriden. Solid name. I’m Lemma Quartz.” Lemma wiped her hands on a napkin, and then again on her own jeans, before reaching out. Harriden did not return the handshake.
“Why did you help me?” Harriden asked.
“Balkon Death Agency likes to be a good neighbor.”
“But why were you there?”
Lemma pulled out the black device she had used on the street. “Balkon intercepted a message. Someone was planning to attack one of our clients. Said they’d be on this street at 2 in the morning. So I came to scout around, and lucky for you. You going to finish that?” Lemma asked. “Because if not—“
Harriden pushed the plate toward Lemma.
“Don’t look at them,” Lemma warned as Harriden turned to face the window again. “You’ll make yourself pukey.”
“I’m already pukey, I just saw two goons get ghosted.”
“No,” Lemma shook her head. “I didn’t ghost them. I dropped them, but they’re not dead.”
“What’s— what’s going to happen to them?”
“Balkon will lift them,” Lemma checked the black device. “If they’re on our list, then we’ll ghost them. If not, we’ll loose them back on the streets.”
“What list?”
“You know what a Death Insurance Agency is, don’t you? If someone ghosts one of Balkon’s clients, we put them on a list, scout them, and ghost them back.”
Harriden whimpered like an injured dog.
“If you want—“ Lemma gagged, spitting out her first bite of Harriden’s gyro onto the table. “Sorry,” she apologized, brushing the clump of food to the floor, and gargling water from her cup. “Has yogurt.”
“You don’t like yogurt?”
“You’re allergic?” Harriden’s full attention was on Lemma, only the absurdity of such a remark could make her forget what she had just experienced in the alley across the street. It was as if a Doctor admitted to using blood leeches.
“Yeah,” Lemma nodded. “Since birth. One in a billion, probably.”
“They cured allergies, didn’t they?”
“Mostly. I’m a special case. Used to be allergic to near everything. Would have starved if they hadn’t invented labbed food. That’s food grown in a lab.”
“I know that.”
“Without labbed food, I’d have starved. I remember the first time I could eat broccoli. Thought it tasted delicious. Thought it was dessert.” Lemma chuckled at her own joke, but Harriden had gone back to staring at the two men.
“You have family?” Lemma said, hoping the conversation didn’t feel forced.
Harriden shrugged. “A brother. No one else. You?”
Lemma pulled out the candy wrapper with the drawing of the one-legged boy with crutches. “He’s not mine. But I help take care of him. And if anything happened to me, or him, or his parents… I’d want justice. I told you I’m from Balkon. Death Insurance,” Lemma continued. “You shielded? Because after tonight… it’s bloody out there. But if you’re shielded—“
“I don’t want it.”
“You should. If goons see a medallion around your neck, they won’t touch you. That third goon who attacked you? I had to let him go, because he was shielded. Don’t want his Agency coming to ghost me.”
A vehicle that read Balkon DIA Ambulance had stopped, and workers in white uniforms emerged and lifted the two men onto stretchers.
“Or the badges could just do their job. Cucking badges,” Harriden spat, shaking her head.
Lemma snorted. “That badge didn’t help you tonight, did he? He lifted your purse. How much?”
Harriden looked at the table.”Twenty-five grams gold.”
Outside, the Balkon ambulance drove away.
“Sorry,” Lemma said. “That’s really cucked. But if you had Balkon, we could scout him and make him give your gold back. If you don’t have Balkon, you really shouldn’t be out at night.”
Harriden glared at Lemma, and pulled out a card with her own name and face. On the top it read: State Issued Intimate Contact License.
“Intimate contact. You’re a conk?” Lemma asked.
“I’m a sex worker. A licensed sex worker.” Harriden said.
“If you’re a conk, you need Balkon even more.”
Harriden ignored this, putting the conk license back in her pocket. As she did, a food wrapper slipped out, and Lemma reached for it, reading the words that were scribbled on it.
“This a list of your chads?” she asked.
“Don’t—“ Harriden pulled the wrapper away from Lemma’s fingers. “Don’t look at that—“
“If you give referrals, you can win gold. Or silver. Or whatever you want.”
“I’m not telling you who my chads are.” Harriden stuffed the wrapper in her pocket. “And you can go. Leave me alone.”
“I want to make sure you’re safe.”
“Safe?” Harriden scoffed. “All you care about is pitching me Death Insurance. And this is just sick.” She grabbed the candy wrapper with the drawing. “Using a crippled kid for advertising.”
“That’s… not true.” It was true, but Lemma would never admit it. She rose, and set out two plastic sheets of currency on the table. The first read: “Balkon: 10 Grams Silver,” and the second: “Balkon: 10 mL Human AB positive.”
Before she left the restaurant, Lemma called out, “I hope you change your mind, Harriden. It’s bloody out there.”


Back in her own apartment, Lemma sorted through the two men’s wallets, pulling out several contra bills, then checked the black device she had used to summon the Balkon ambulance. She reread one of her messages:
[Intercepted communication. Parties claimed to be scouting and sketching Balkon member residence, made plans to meet by Gyro Valley on 83rd street 02:00]
Lemma sighed. She had certainly found the three goons on 83rd street, but their wallets had contained only currency, nothing to suggest which Balkon member they had supposedly been scouting. She scribbled some notes in red nail polish on a Gyro Valley wrapper, and stuffed everything under a loose corner of the carpet.
Massaging her own neck, she lay down on a pile of sofa cushions which served as her bed.
The walls of Lemma’s apartment were bare, except for two items. There was a framed newspaper article from sixteen years ago, titled: “Lions, Tigers, and Giraffes, Oh My! Labbed Exotic Meat to Hit Markets.” Next to it was a photo of a young girl, mouth full of broccoli and giving the biggest smile her stuffed cheeks would allow. In the corner of that photo was the label: Licensed by the State Department of Electronic Images.