Home > Fantasy, Writing > Stuck in the muck in the rut

Stuck in the muck in the rut

I submitted a flash fiction piece to Freeze Frame Fiction and it was rejected. The letter I received was one of the best rejections I have ever received. Freeze Frame included a few of their slush reader’s comments.

This brings up a few things that have been bothering me recently. One, this is one of the only finished pieces that I have for this year. I am working on editing a couple of stories, but I haven’t been writing enough new stuff. Can’t make it without writing it. I have to start finishing more of what I start. Now, this is something that only I can address. I can’t ask for help and I have to buckle down and be a professional. I need to get off my ass. In that spirit, I did just finish a new short that I will be submitting this week.

The other thing was the content of the comments. Tired, overdone, not tight enough and forced were all words that were used. After reading the pieces that they accepted for their inaugural issue, I have to agree. My piece wasn’t up to par.

But how do I address this? I post stories on this blog as a way to practice and try to foster a positive work habit. It is an exercise.

When does it stop helping?

At some point, just writing a small story a week isn’t doing me anymore good. How should I approach improving my writing from where I have gotten too?

I have had a few stories that I believe are professional quality, but I don’t think I have developed my style enough to do it consistently. I need to improve on this.

I would appreciate comments from anyone with an idea. I don’t need words of praise or a pep talk. It isn’t a matter of being down on my work. This is an issue of not knowing the best way to proceed from here. I can see the gap between my work and the selected works, but I don’t know how to get off the plateau that I think I have hit. If you have any ideas for someone who can’t afford to take writing classes at this time, I would love to hear them.

Today’s story is an older one. One that has been submitted a few places but never accepted. It has holes, but I think it is better than what I had. The piece I was trying to write for today just came out like sludge. It isn’t good, it isn’t interesting and it doesn’t deliver any punch at all. Lackluster is the only word I can think of to describe it. Therefore, it gets thrown into the bin.

Thanks for reading

L. E. White

The Clockwork Angel

We stood there looking at it with our mouths hanging open. Considering how long we stood there, every one of us should have choked on a fly. Stunned by the beauty, complexity and sheer size of it; not one of us could have formed a coherent thought; we just stood in silent amazement. Staring as our lights glinted off of the smooth surfaces of the prize we had discovered.

Neither Indiana Jones nor Benjamin Franklin Gates had anything on us. We had found the clues. We had made the connections and we had surrendered jobs, family, money, blood, sweat and tears to stand here. In a sense we had given our lives to be here.

We were in a room that was hundreds of feet tall and hidden below a little church in Greece. We were about three quarters of the way down the wall on a stone platform. The church was old and said to have been built on top of the site of an ancient shrine. The tunnel we had used to get here had been a carved spiral staircase that was connected to a crypt in the cemetery beside the Church. The platform had been carved out of the rock as the chamber had been cleared, a polished nightstand for a sleeping giant. There were a variety of metal bands laid into the floor and wall, forming an intricate pattern that looked similar to a modern circuit board.

The clockwork angel was enormous and made of something that looked like bronze. It knelt on the ground as if in a silent prayer. Spider webs as thick as a down comforter stretched over it, almost as if the arachnids had tried to hide this marvelous work of art.

“Are you ready to start it up?”

The other three looked at me with a mix of confusion and surprise. They had been in such awe of what we saw that it was as if they had forgotten what we planned to do in coming here. In an instant their confusion was replaced with excitement and anticipation. This was what we were here for. Each of us pulled out our key and began looking for its lock.

I looked at the tiny thing in my hand. An intricate metal disc with ancient writing carved into it. I had found this in a flea market in Indiana almost ten years ago. It was the pendant in a necklace that consisted of a leather thong that someone had threaded through one of the holes in the top. The seller had said he found it in a storage unit when he had cleaned it out. I gave the guy two bucks for it and started trying to figure out what the symbols were. From the moment I had looked at them I had thought that they were more than just pretty squiggles. So much time had been spent looking before I discovered that they were written in what was supposed to be Olympian. The Greeks had believed that their gods lived on Olympus. What almost nobody knew was that they had their own language that was unique from ancient Greek.

After years of searching, I had stumbled across a book that told of an ancient medium that had been given the language. His book had proved to be difficult to find. After months of searching I had discovered that the only known copy was in a university museum in France. While I was there trying to decipher the disc I had met Paul, the owner of another key. Paul’s family had been collectors of old crap for generations. I was looking for other old books when he saw my necklace. The discovery of the second puzzle piece had kept me going when I had been ready to give up. Over the years we had met Sam and then Emily. Each key held more clues to the nature of our quest. We continued researching for years with little success until about six months ago when Emily had found our breakthrough. The old map had named this hill the Daemons Perch.

Now I was here with the owners of the other three discs. We had pieced the riddles and clues together to get here. Each key was unique, meaning that there would be four places to put them on this platform to trigger the machine. According to what we had translated from the keys this was the daemon of hope; a gift from Hephaestus, the Greek god of the forge, to his people centuries ago.

I was following one of the metal bands set into the wall when Sam found the first of the key holes. There was a slot in the floor that separated one of the metal bands. Beside it was an inset metal plate with an etching of my disk.

We all helped him to wipe the dust and grime away from the spot. Once the crack was cleaned out I slipped the disk in and heard a click as it fit into place. There wasn’t any of the key above the floor for me to get a grip on if I tried to remove it. Just like that, it was gone.

It didn’t matter. Now that we knew what we were looking for we were all on our hands and knees searching for the places to put the other keys.

Sam’s key was the last and he smiled at all of us as he dropped it into place. After a moment or two of nothing happening a low vibration could be felt in the floor. There was a hum in the air that sounded like electricity in an old radio. Another minute and we could see the metal bands beginning to glow. We were all standing at the edge of the platform. The others started shinning their lights around to see what else was changing but I decided to turn mine off and get a better look at the glowing symbols.

As I peered into the darkness I could see the glow spreading along the metal bands that had been set into the walls. It was like watching water run down a window. The light crawled around and down the walls. As the minutes passed I moved to the wall to get a better look at the bands while the others stayed near the edge, watching as the light reached its way down to the angel. The bands in the walls were covered in the same cryptic writing that the disks had been. The symbols themselves were glowing brighter than the rest of the metal. I pulled a notebook out of my pocket and started to make a rubbing of one of the bands when we heard the shrieking of metal rubbing against metal and I dropped the paper from hands now slack with wonder.

I joined the others at the edge but was driven back by great jets of steam that sprayed up as the angel began to awaken. Grinding metal and clicking gears produced a deafening cacophony that could be compared to hundreds of railroad cars all crashing together. How the other three stayed at the edge of the platform I will never know, but I was pinned flat beside the entrance to the stairs as if I had been crucified right there on there that wall.

The great thing began to rise up. A single glowing symbol, Omega, stood out from the center of its massive forehead. As the magnificent winged machine stood the plates that made up its surface shifted, as if a shiver had caused goose flesh to spread across its skin. At every joint, great wheels and gears could be seen moving against one another. Springs, as small as my arm and as great as a bus, joined to the feathers of its wings to make hundreds of different angles to catch the winds. Everything about the giant was beautiful. The glowing light of the chamber even caused glinting lights to dance across the angels lines like lightning in a summer sky.

It stood straight, placing the platform at waist level. Wind and dust and great sheets of spider web buffeted us as the wings twitched a little. Watching this, you would have sworn that it was preparing to spread them out to fly. The mystic glow kissed its wings, sending a kaleidoscope of lights around the room. I was mesmerized to the point of paralysis. So fixed that I had forgotten to even breathe; gasping for air when my body demanded it.

Sam broke from his stupor at the edge of the platform and had the presence of mind to raise his camera and start snapping photos. The flash reflected off the angel and then again off the bands in the walls. The great head creaked and groaned as it turned to look down upon the platform where we stood.

The angel bent its knees to lower its great head closer to us. The idea of having this bronze titan looking down upon us was as terrifying as it was inspirational. After all these years we were face to face with a machine of legendary stature. This moment was humbling in a way that was beyond description.

It took a few seconds but then the moment was gone and the titan stood straight again. With one smooth and terrible motion the clockwork marvel raised its right hand up above the platform and swatted down like it was trying to kill a fly. To it, we may well have seemed like flies, there is no way to know, but in the second that it took for the monstrous mechanical marvel to slap the platform we were on Sam turned and looked at me in shock, not fear, but shock. I saw his face and realized what was happening with just enough time to take a step along the wall so that I stood in front of the doorway. One step in that one second was all the time that any of us had.

The gigantic hand hit the stone and knocked most of it off of the wall. My companions did no more than start to raise their voices before the sound was stopped and replaced by what could sounded like the god’s hammer breaking a stone. I was deafened by the noise and thrown backwards by the force of the blow. I hit the stairs and felt a single sharp blast of pain shoot down my legs before I felt nothing in them at all. I could see the odd angle between my knee and ankle. A bend in the leg where there was no joint but at that moment it didn’t matter. I was much too concerned with looking out at the metal monster that had just squashed my companions.

The angel didn’t seem to notice me so I drug myself the few feet to the edge of the doorway where the platform had just been. I could not stand so I lay down on the floor and turned to look up at the beast without poking my head out of the door. My fear was that it had seen me evade it but I had nothing to worry about. It did not bother to look back down; instead, it turned to look up the shaft. I watched in morbid fascination as it took hand holds on the other side of the chamber and began to climb towards the surface.

I drug my worthless carcass back to the stairs and started the long and exhausting climb to the surface. The light from the glowing metal wasn’t bright enough for the glow to extend into the stairwell so I climbed up through the suffocating darkness with no idea of how long it would be before I saw the sky again.

When I at last saw the light seeping in around the edges of the door at the top of the stairs I began to cry. A new burst of energy pushed through me and I struggled up the last of the steps. I drug myself out of the old crypt and thanked god when I saw the rising sun. We had broken into the crypt at night to try and avoid detection which meant that it had taken me all night to climb out of that hole. I pulled my way to the edge of the cemetery and propped my back against a stone so that I might see the town where we had rented rooms.

What I saw though was smoke and rubble. A few small fires burned in what had been the village but now there was nothing to speak of. Standing in the middle of that tiny hamlet was the angel. The clockwork beast towered over the remnants of the little town. It looked around as though it had lost a pen on the floor before its head to the side as though listening. The great bronze monstrosity drew its fist back and punched the ground. The strike came down with such force that it made ripples on the surface of a puddle a short distance away. Whatever, or whoever, it had heard was no more.

It spread those unbelievable wings and beat down with them. The force of the gale that those wings created was so strong that I felt it in my hair despite the distance that separated us. Rubble and what looked like bodies flew out in a great rolling cloud as the angel’s wing beats did the impossible and lifted its massive frame into the air. The sun reflecting off of it was blinding to the point that I had to close and shield my eyes. A moment later the glare was gone and I could look at the thing as it raised high into the air before flying to the east; towards the next closest town.

I sat there in shock at what we had done. The machine that was supposed to be the angel of hope from an ancient Greek god was now destroying everything in its path. I looked in brainless fascination at my bloody pant leg for few minutes before I realized that my blood was still leaking out. I had no idea how much blood I had lost and was too tired to care. I knew that my actions had caused this destruction. That I was responsible for all the lives which that thing would take before someone destroyed it. I was getting cold. I felt like I had been out camping in the morning frost. The last thing I thought before a sleepy darkness claimed me was that the symbol on the angel had been appropriate in its irony.  Omega was the end.


Categories: Fantasy, Writing
  1. July 27, 2014 at 10:56 PM

    To start off, copy and paste your stories into this site (http://www.hemingwayapp.com/). It will give you a base to help clean up your use of language.

    Granted perfect language and following the rules aren’t always the answer, but they are a place to start.

  2. July 28, 2014 at 11:09 AM

    That is a great idea. Thank you for the link and for leaving a comment.

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