It’s week 2 for the Writer in Motion event, where we self-edit our drafts from last week. I’m excited to polish what I have, and see where I can improve it. Next week we’ll get feedback from critique partners, and the week after that we’ll get feedback from the editors!
It’s been great to really break down the writing and editing process on a short piece of flash fiction, and I’ve enjoyed having something else to work on while I struggle my way through (yet another) revision of my WIP. I’m hoping to query it next month, and I’m on track to finish my revision just in time (fingers crossed), but for now let’s dive into the edited version of my story!
Sulphur & Smoke
Living in a big city means you see all kinds of strange things. And me, well, I’ve seen and done even stranger things in my several lifetimes. But when this man stopped in front of me and smiled, it set my teeth on edge.
“Can I help you?” I asked, trying to shuffle around him.
As smoke pooled around his face and under his hood, ice flooded through my veins. He reached up to catch the tendrils, to shape them, and in the process remake his features.
For that’s what his kind did, and had done, for centuries.
I didn’t know how he’d found me here, since I’d spent years covering my tracks and never staying in one place for too long. Yet as that unmistakable stench of sulphur and acrid burning filled my senses, I instinctively tensed.
I didn’t wait to see what new form his face had taken. I turned and sprinted down the block, pumping my legs as fast as I could and dodging anyone in the way. He was not so considerate. People screamed and shouted behind me, and the sour smoke somehow still reached my nose as he gained on me. My chest ached, but I pushed harder, willing my legs faster. His voice found me next, its silky tenor shivering down my neck.
“After all these years, this is the greeting I get?”
One of the smoke tendrils caressed my cheek, and I shuddered, pulling away. I turned a corner, my shoes skidding on the pavement, and plowed through a tour group marvelling at the surroundings. The Louvre was always a formidable sight, but it was nothing compared to the shifter on my heels. His hand closed around my arm and yanked me to a stop.
“Come now,” he whispered, his voice resonating deep in my core, “I only wish to speak with you.” His face had morphed into a different man’s, all sharp angles and dark stubbled jaw. But the eyes—the eyes were the same—a deep brown with blazing embers at the center.
I tried to twist out of his grasp. “So you can ensnare me again, and spellbind me?”
He unfurled a slow smile. “That was a fun few decades, wasn’t it?” His fingers brushed aside my hair, and I flinched away.
The tour group was gawping at us now, probably convinced we were a street theater troupe. His grip tightened on my arm as he led me down a side alley, away from any onlookers, from any mortals. My pulse throbbed against my ribs, and I still tasted the bitter smoke on my tongue, but try as I might to pull free, he was too strong. Too consumed with purpose, which I wanted no part of. Amongst the bins and trash bags, he stopped, his eyes softer than I’d ever seen them.
“I’ve been searching for you for so long,” he said.
I couldn’t look away, couldn’t escape the fathomless depths of those brimstone eyes. But my age-old anger flared within me. I’d been running from him for so long, I wasn’t about to lose myself to his charms so soon.
“After what you did to me,” I hissed, “I never wanted to see you again. Ever.”
“Now, now,” he said, the wryness creeping back into his voice, his smile, “I’m sure you didn’t hate every moment. You took to your magic with great enthusiasm. And I could still teach you so much more. I could teach you this…” He trailed his long elegant hand in the air between us, conjuring more smoke, the gentle iridescence hinting at its feature-morphing capabilities.
A spark of yearning flickered in me to learn all of his ways, to be able to change my appearance at will, as he did. But I knew that madness lay that way, and I needed to end this conversation and flee before I lost all reason.
“What do you want?” I asked, gritting my teeth.
His hands found mine, his skin cool and soft. He stroked my palm with his thumb, and the burning embers in his eyes softened again.
“I need your help.”
I mentioned last week that this story is partly inspired by an idea for a novel I’ve had for a while, and I wanted to try out a scene with a character who could be the potential antagonist. I’m still noodling on whether I want to pursue this angle, but I liked playing with a thriller/chase atmosphere, and hinting at these immortal and magical beings living in our world. I tried to add a little more background and context in the beginning, and tighten up some of the prose throughout the rest, but I also kinda like leaving the end as it is? A cliffhanger where we don’t know if the MC is going to help the shifter or not? (Or whether they even want to?)
If I ever expand this, I know I’ll need to answer these questions, so I’m already daydreaming about where it might all lead…(And hey, hooray for new plot bunnies to chase!)
I know there’s always room for more improvement, so I’d love to hear what you think, and I look forward to getting more feedback next week from CPs too. Let me know if you’re participating so I can read and support your stories!
Thanks for reading, and stay well.
4 responses to “Writer in Motion Week 2: Sulphur and Smoke”
[…] M. E. Crosby has a unique take on shapeshifters in her contemporary fantasy piece Sulphur and Smoke (read her second draft here). […]
I particularly loved this line: “I couldn’t look away, couldn’t escape the fathomless depths of those brimstone eyes.” *shivers* great antagonist vibes here!!!
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[…] the latest version of my short story, after incorporating their feedback! (And see Week 1 and Week 2 here to see how it’s […]
[…] and now here’s my new and improved story. (You can see my earlier versions here for Week 1, Week 2, and Week […]