Wednesday, September 22, 2010

September Secret Agent #39

TITLE: The Opposite of Magic
GENRE: Contemporary fantasy

Emily stared at the gargoyle, mystified and a bit amused. She'd never seen one indoors before. In a basement, no less.

Eyes bulging, mouth gaping, hands rending its face, the small statue looked not only horrible but also reproachful, as if it knew she felt sorry for herself and its definition of misfortune did not match up with hers. It crouched beside the arched door at the bottom of the stairwell, above which--she now noticed--was taped a message straight from Dante's Inferno: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

Good God, nobody was going to visit her during office hours. Shaking her head, she opened the door, anticipating cardboard cutouts of tortured sinners or something equally silly.

Instead, an empty passageway made entirely of stone stretched ahead, deeply shadowed. Bare-bulb fixtures clung to the ceiling, casting small islands of light. Torch brackets--empty ones--dotted the walls. Even for a Gothic Revival building, it was over the top.

"This isn't a basement," she said, appalled. "It's a dungeon."

"Isn't it great?" a male voice called out, startling her so thoroughly she dropped her bag.

The man popped out of a connecting corridor and strode over with hand outstretched. "Bernie Ballantine, medieval lit. You must be the history department castoff."

"I'm afraid so," she said, wondering if the professor--who looked to be about sixty--was colorblind or had donned a neon-yellow fedora on purpose.

18 comments:

Elena Solodow said...

I like "small islands of light".

The ending's great.

Author of #39 said...

Oh dear -- author here, and I must have messed up the formatting, because I don't actually have every sentence as a standalone paragraph. Sorry for subjecting you to the writing equivalent of Captain Kirk.

Sher said...

I liked the voice here. Has a quirky feel to it. I didn't think the bare passageway was too over the top for a Gothic Revival building, they do often preserve the original trappings.

Courtney said...

This one is my favorite so far. You've got a great "inner eye" for describing things deftly and uniquely. Nice work! And for the record, Captain Kirk, I actually like the spacing. I typically prefer dialogue set apart from descriptive paragraphs.
I know I'm in good hands as a reader when I read: "... reproachful, as if it knew she felt sorry for herself and its definition of misfortune did not match up with hers." Nicely put in a wordsmithing way.

Author of #39 said...

Thanks so much to Authoress, who fixed my paragraph problem!

And thanks, readers, for bearing with me. :-)

Bluestocking said...

Thought the description was really great and illuminated the inner workings of the POV character very well. Not sure where all this is headed, but assuming some sort of fish out of water scenario/discovery of fantastical artifact... Would definitely keep reading.

Ashley Girardi said...

I initially thought the gargoyle was real - little disappointed it's just a statue. :) I really like the voice in this, it's a little quirky and offbeat. I'm definitely expecting a funny take on the fantasy. Well done.

Mary said...

I'm definitely hooked! ;)

caitpeterson78 said...

Well I'm hooked. Great descriptions and set up, and the "Inferno" quote was a particularly nice touch. I'd read more!

Joel Q said...

Really good descriptions, except for one..."small" gargoyle. I don't have clue how big/small the thing is.

Great voice.

Only other issue I saw, dropping the bag... the way it was written was more telling then showing.

Other than that, great entry. Nicely done.

Marilyn Peake said...

Hooked. I really like this! In places, I think your wording could be tightened up a bit; but, overall, this is awesome. In the first sentence of the second paragraph, I would shorten the part that begins "as if..." - because that part’s so long and somewhat cliché in wording, it takes away from the awesome mystery of the basement. Good luck with this! I’m intrigued, and would read more.

Guinevere said...

Absolutely love your title. That would make me pick up the book! The description of the gargoyle contrasting with the neon yellow fedora would keep me reading. Intriguing. I was a bit confused over who felt sorry for himself? The gargoyle or the MC? Maybe re-work a bit.

Angela Robbins said...

I liked the voice. I liked the title. I liked the quirky professor in his neon fedora. Good god, nobody was going to visit her line was funny.
I'd keep reading on.

S. Kyle Davis said...

I was very intrigued here. I wanted to know why this school had a gothic revival building.

I agree that I did expect the gargoyle to be alive. It threw me off.

Other than that, the only thing that was weird was her reaction (or lack thereof) to the sign. Rather than have her tell her reaction to it, show it through a sigh, snort, roll of her eyes, etc.

All in all, though, great work!

Secret Agent said...

I love the concept of your opening. It's a little "tell" rather than "show" but it's still catching.

The description in the second paragraph though seems a little long and also a little stiff. And the pacing slows down here. After the Dante quote, we get the idea, we need to get to the dialogue quicker.

I know a ton about the setting, but at this point, I hardly know anything about the main character. WIth the last line, I'm more interested in Bernie because he seems unique. We need to know more about Emily.

This didn't hook me yet.

Divawrites said...

Anything that starts with a gargoyle has my interest. I love the "history department cast-off" comment and the fedora.

Definitely itching to turn the page.

Author of #39 said...

Thanks very much, everyone, for your feedback and suggestions. Back to the drawing board!

Author of #39 said...

This cuts out the description that was tripping up the SA:


Emily stared at the gargoyle, mystified and a bit amused. She'd never seen one indoors before. At the bottom of a stairwell, no less.

The small statue crouched beside the arched door into the basement, above which was taped a message straight from Dante's Inferno: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

Perversely, this made her want to go in.

"My hopes for this job were pretty low already," she told the sign, and pushed the door open.

A stone passageway stretched ahead, deeply shadowed. Bare-bulb fixtures clung to the ceiling, casting small islands of light. Torch brackets--empty ones--dotted the walls. The perfect backdrop for a rip-roaring adventure, delivered about fifteen years too late.

She groaned.

"Hello?" a male voice called out, startling her into dropping her bag. The man popped out of a connecting corridor and strode over with hand outstretched. "Bernie Ballantine, medieval lit. You must be the history department castoff."

"I'm afraid so," she said, wondering if the professor--who looked to be about sixty--was colorblind or had donned a neon-yellow fedora on purpose. "Emily Daggett." With sympathy she added: "Are you an English department castoff?"

His mouth twitched behind his aggressive salt-and-pepper beard. "I insisted they put me here. It’s the perfect place for my gargoyle."

Not colorblind, then. Just strange.

"My specialty is magic and mythology," she said, offering up her equivalent of a neon-yellow hat.