“Artefacts exist through which a skilled Mage can direct the thoughts of others. If done well then the person possessed need never know.” The Amanuensis, extract from Guild Letters.
This time I’ve started mid-story. As the Amanuensis said a skilled Mage might possess the mind and direct the actions of others from afar. An unskilled one, on the other hand, can cause mayhem. This is where we are in an unfinished novel started many moons ago. The artefact is a mirror through which the seeker can find people they know. Archie is an unwitting antagonist controlled by another who is skilled. It is John Smith, formerly Octavian, that Archie is overseeing here.
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John Smith was oblivious to being watched through a mirror in someone else’s bedroom. He was preoccupied by a blackout where, he knew, he’d decreased the surplus population by one. He also knew the vagrant had been found and a police investigation had been launched. It said so on local radio. They were asking for witnesses and people who were in the park. Had a few leads apparently and that would, eventually, bring them knocking on his door. Then they’d find out about the skeletons in the closet and game over.
That said, he was on a death sentence anyway. Steroid abuse catching up. His blood tests said so, change that lifestyle or things will break. Hey ho, life’s a bitch and all that. His hand hovered over a mouse whose pointer sat on top of his countdown program. If he clicked then events were irrevocable, the train would be off and racing toward a bridge that was no longer there.
Madness, he thought and backed away from the screen. Quite when he’d rigged it to ignite a waste paper bin loaded with flammables he wasn’t sure. However, the jerry cans, sitting next to his computer station, he did remember filling. Just after watching the sun come up a few days back. The cleansing fire in the sky.
There was one last walk to make, one last library book to return and then a trip round the park. He liked it there. Maybe sit on a bench and feel the fresh air. Thing about considering death was how it made you look at life. How precious and intricate it was. When it all boiled down it was humans that made it all wrong, made his life wrong at any rate. Parents first then nerdy kid that everyone laughed at or poked fun. Octavian had to go. No one laughed at John Smith, steroid hunk and master programmer. Then again no one really knew him either. Solitary upbringing, lonely teen and murderous student. Fire wasn’t that new after all. He kept that under wraps though.
Thing was, for all his great plans, part of him was now appreciating life for what it was. It was never about people when you condensed things out. They were the current bad custodians on a planet that was billions of years old grazing in a solar system that was a grain of sand on a beach. That was before you got into Einstein and relativity. Or the possibility of multiple dimensions, even clone ones running parallel to this where, no doubt, Octavian was top dog, appreciated and liked. Life, he concluded, was possible anywhere conditions let it ascend. Simple in complexity, hard wearing and fragile. Weaving a thread through evolution to ensure something adapted and carried on. Excising the surplus species without so much as a cheerio.
Second thoughts began creeping in. If he cleaned up his act he could get a few more years. The cops might never find out who topped the tramp and chalk it down to not that important on the grand scale of crimes. Wishful thinking, but Ebenezer would approve. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. One thing both Octavian and John shared was a hatred of indecision. Then again they were both part of the same schizoid mind.
Archie listened in through the mirror in his bedroom. Not quite discharging the static buzz that would wrest control. This was stalking the prey, profiling the doomsday engine and figuring out the weak spot. That, he decided, was uncertainty. The downside was this man was disturbed, a loose cannon. One that knew how to use fire.
There’s a thing Octavian, your parents died didn’t they? Not quite the accident was it?”
Archie smiled, given the right push this chap could bring half the town down. Not to mention his house. That was rigged to burn, with the right push of course. Then there were the arson packages. Four of them stacked inside a backpack, just waiting for him to conduct the orchestra. The man was walking a tightrope, on one side was talk and on the other action. He figured murdering the tramp had, more or less, pushed him to the edge of a cliff. A cliff built on his past failings from childhood misery to steroids and a name change trying to create a new persona.
”Didn’t work did it Octavian, or John as you call yourself now. Shall we take a walk?”
John was sweating. Inside his head there was a battle going on. Everything to this point had been with autopilot engaged. A life course wandered through with not much conscious thought running things. Sure there’d been big moments, but the driving force was out of control. It moved day to day and stuff came and went. Like the vagrant. He still had no idea why that had happened or if it had really been him in control. Sure he’d seen it happening like some distant event unraveling beyond his capacity to change. Was that what his life was? A series of things drifting by, one after the other in some big daydream state.
He sighed and leaned forwards over his keyboard. Then watched as his hands picked up the jerrycans and started to pour petrol around the room. Inside his mind there was a short buzz and his conscious moved backwards. It was just like the tramp. Stuff was happening and he was merely witnessing events.
After emptying the cans, he went into the living room and picked up his backpack. On a coffee table were three more of his fire starters. These he placed around the room before going into the kitchen. There he turned on his gas appliances and shut the door behind him. Back at his computer desk his hand tracked the mouse over an application tagged “Checkmate.”
Five minutes later he was on his way to the park on sun up side. There he’d wait for dawn and listen for the engines signifying his old life was over. If things went boom then there was a fair chance of collateral damage to the houses either side.
He knew he was screwed, probably always had been. Well, apart for odd moments of proper clarity where he challenged his actions. Not that he could motive out of it and change things. This time was not much different. Coasting along in a dream state. He knew what he’d planned. After all, years of frustration were good directors. Besides the ball was rolling now and part of him didn’t quite know how it had happened.
Such an interesting story. I liked how it started out. Very engaging.
Thank you Rakayle. I’m trying to follow a sort of stream of conscious type of writing method for these prompts. Sometimes it works, often it doesn’t! I use it to try and hone first draft writing on longer projects.
Many thanks for taking the time to read it too!
Aha! Success at last! And that goes ditto to you on getting your story out! While I’ll never be able to duplicate my earlier attempted comments, I did like how much we get a glimpse into John Smith’s psychology. I would think the fact he blames others and doesn’t take responsibility for his own actions sort of primes him for Archie’s interference. Toward the end I did wonder if Archie hadn’t interfered, could John have turned a corner and changed the route of his life? Changing his name from the ostentatious Octavian to common John Smith makes another interesting glimpse into his mind, although as a Whovian I must confess I imagined him as looking kind of like a buffed out David Tennant! Nice work!
I feel your pain Abe! I’ve had a few comments bumped in the past so now when I write a lengthy one I select and copy it before submitting just in case!
The ditto must be referring to Joshua’s conversation. It’s also had an alpha reader emailing me to get on with it too! This prompt kicked me to get in touch with the characters again. I guess that’s another good thing about prompt writing…a kick in the proverbial.
You’re spot on too. Everyone Archie engages with has an issue they are dealing with. At the risk of a spoiler Archie is also being controlled via the mirror too. Octavian has a long history of self destruction starting as a child. He’s mentally unbalanced and blames everything and everyone for who he is. I feel his self abused tendencies would, without Archie, be passive and aimed at himself. He may have turned a corner when hitting rock bottom yes, but his past isn’t innocent either. Perfect tool for Archie to infiltrate and bend to his purpose.
Love the Whovian admission! I’m there too. The Tennant comparison is not a bad one. I also believe it was his “human” teacher name in The Family of Blood too. Hadn’t linked that until now 🤔
Yeah, I think from now on I’ll do that select and paste thing. I wasn’t sure why it seemed to be picking on me … *sniff-sniff* I’m pretty sure I don’t offend…. 😉
Glad to hear you’re thinking about getting the traction going on this again. You’ve obviously gone deep inside these characters’ heads, and you’ve already got something started. I’d say go for it!
I remember Tennant used that John Smith alias in a few episodes, including Midnight, one of my favorites…!
I think it does that to a few of us with no rhyme or reason Abe. I learnt the hard way to copy long replies 🙄
I’m intending to do all the NaNo camps next year too in an added attempt to generate a stronger writing habit. Pretty sure Joshua is in for that too so might be good to fill a camp with BB writers for added support and moral sustenance. I’ll write a post on the BB site nearer the time and see if anyone else is interested.
You’re right too. I’v lived with these characters for a few years now. Even featured a few here way back and again in an A to Z challenge themed at interviewing my whole cast from 4 manuscripts. I’m getting a few people saying get back on the horse and finish it now too. That’s the beauty of writing communities IMO. If chips are down they rally round.
So many Who episodes have been on my favourite list over the years too. That said I’m struggling with the current set up as the script seems weaker than it was for both Tennant and Matt Smith. Which has just word associated to possibly my favourite non doctor doctor in John Hurt. Day of The Doctor ranks high with me 😊
This is a test, this is only a test. WordPress has been throwing me out all week….
Wow interesting use of clone.. a different world.. I do hope no one is watching me through my bedroom mirror..
Interesting how Archie controls, John /Octavian.. the story makes you think..
Ha, ha! Nothing like using common objects to make you think! I was taking this originally from a Jewish thing about covering mirrors in the home of the deceased so the souls of the dead can’t come back…or worse still demons that have a portal in via death. That might still feature in a future prompt now.
This is a bigger story than this makes it seem. It’s spun off a novel that I started a few years ago then put off ending. Then wrote the sequel that gave me the first ones ending in the prologue. This is them (characters) saying “Isn’t it time you finished out story?” 😳
Interesting thoughts, portals in mirrors has never occurred to me, interesting that it is from the Jews. Sounds like an interesting novel…
There’s quite a lot of symbolism in mirrors. That said Alice Through the looking Glass is a good one going way back now. My takes are often eyes as windows to the soul. I use mirrors in that context too. If you consider the images as alternate worlds looking back it creates loads of fiction concepts to grow.
I really enjoyed this one, Gary! The claustrophobic feeling of John/Octavian slowly winding down to the (almost) inevitable conclusion had me breathless. I really like the sensation of fates almost being inescapable.
The thought of being controlled without being aware of it is quite a frightening one. “Quite when he’d rigged it to ignite a waste paper bin loaded with flammables he wasn’t sure.” That line was brilliant — the fogginess surrounding such an important event is quite terrifying. I loved how simply you dropped that fact on the reader!
I also really enjoyed: “They were the current bad custodians on a planet that was billions of years old grazing in a solar system that was a grain of sand on a beach.” Very nicely written — I love that “big picture” stuff that makes you zoom out and look at everything as a whole.
As we’ve discussed before, lots of questions are raised. Who is John/Octavian, and who is Archie? What are their pasts, and what are their futures? How did they arrive at this intersection which we find them in, in this short story? Questions, questions, questions…
Many thanks for the considered response Joshua. Sometimes I write and don’t really consider the sentences as anything too deep until they are pointed out or I’m re-reading much later. The latter is where I often say “Did I really write that!” It should tell me to have way more confidence in it than I do!
I’m also guilty of dropping bigger picture concepts to try and point out we are not the centre of the universe. Zooming out, as you put it, often draws out a sense of expanse to readers too.
Questions here are partly answered already in truth. This is actually an aside to that WIP I stopped working on a while back. All these characters I know really well. Oddly I wrote the sequel in a NaNo event where the prologue actually describes the ending to the one I swerved off. Five chapters short. Daft really!
I might even include this in it now! The fact that it has raised questions from you sort of tells me to flipping finish it!!
Thank you so much for this.
It seems to me that dropping gems into your stories without realising is the sign of a natural storyteller. You absolutely should have confidence in your craft!
Ah, you’ve definitely got to finish it now, Gary! If you’re that close to it being completed — no excuses! If this short story is anything to go by, I expect the full-length piece is bloody good, too. (Although, admittedly, I’m guilty of this same thing — my 2nd WIP is finished except for the conclusion…)
Thanks Joshua. My reader saw your comment and emailed me a kick up the backside because she knows I struggle with self confidence writing wise. I often go back, like I have with this recently and thought “I really wrote that??” I’m hoping BB is beginning to get the mind working in the right direction again.
I hear you! It’s stupidly close to an end. I finished it’s sequel too. I even know the blasted conclusion, really like the characters and…have about run out of excuses not to do it. Going to that formula thing before…five weeks is all it will take!
Seems we are quite similar wrt WIPS 😂😂
I think participating in prompts such as BB is a good way of keeping the creative cogs turning, even if you’re not fully working on a WIP. Keeps the motor running, and all that!
It does seem that we have similar approaches and are guilty of the same things! 😂 Well, who knows, if all goes according to plan, perhaps this time next year we’ll both be more productive writers? 😀 Bring on NaNo and the camps!
Spot on. No words isn’t going to do much to enhance the skill set! Besides prompts can often test ideas to see if there might be mileage in a concept. Also helps hone the art of story telling.
I really ought to listen to my own advice more 😳
Ha, ha, we ought to revisit this discussion this time next year and see if the plans have been accomplished too. It’s feeling like a Del Boy conversation, “This time next year Rodney, we’ll be millionaires!”
By my theory upon writing…. we should have four manuscripts to first draft at least 😂
Absolutely true — problem is, I’ve now got so many ideas that I’d like to explore in a larger scope. I’d like to chase all of those threads, at some point. So many stories I’d like to write, but not enough hours in the day. Well, one book at a time, and we’ll go from there! 😂
Haha, yes, we really should! 😀 Being a millionaire would be nice, but I’d settle for having a polished manuscript this time next year!
Ha, ha, that can also contribute to clutter minds torn in several directions. As they say in Worlds End, “You should write that down.” Ideas that is, not the name of a band! I’m guilty as charged too. I really need to stick on one task to completion at a time and not flick between things.
A polished manuscript would be an excellent target too. Might be more realistic than millionaires 😂
Haha, I love that movie! Edgar Wright can do no wrong in my eyes. Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and World’s End are all treasures.
“Everyone except old nutball and the shifty twins.”
“That’s a good name for the band, Gary. You should write that down.”
Very true, though! The freshness of new projects can be alluring… But I’ve committed to this project, so I’m seeing it through!
My OH sees me in Gary King from uni days…long coat, beer, gothic music…mind you it was Leeds and that scene was big then… oh and I am called…
Very coincidentally, I get my car serviced in Letchworth so I’ve actually wandered the places used as pubs in the film!
I think committing is an excellent way forwards too. Amidst a plethora of ideas it’s too easy to flit getting nowhere. Oddly, I know that beast well too sadly!
Haha, quite a coincidence, hm?
“There’s more than one Gary King.”
Agreed — I think the allure of a new project being easier or better is a bit of a flawed mindset. Grass is greener sort of scenario, when the going gets marginally tougher! So far, this WIP seems to be going pretty well (knock on wood…).