As I’ve discussed previously, I completed a draft of my third book, Alive. I am now in the process of editing it. This edit encompasses everything from spelling and grammar, to fleshing out some characters more and making sure that I am showing, not telling.
Another part of the editing is ensuring that the book doesn’t start too slowly. The one time I was able to get an agent to review my work, her only criticism revolved around the novel’s pace. Her two sentences of feedback made it clear she took months to give my work a cursory glance, but I still want to acknowledge the feedback I was given.
Alive begins with an origin story of sorts, detailing my character coming to terms with the new abilities that his werewolf bite gives him. Although these parts were interesting to me, I realize they represent a slow start for my potential audience. With that said, I have begun to think about what I want the book to start with. Below is an excerpt I am considering moving to the front of the book, before using flashbacks to fill in the gaps.
Mason’s head was pounding as he rose from his slumber. The sensation reminded him of nights where he drank himself to sleep, waking dehydrated and red-eyed. Mason eyes weren’t open yet, they felt like they were weighed down with miniature sandbags. He tried to bring his left arm to his head, but it was being held down by something. Mason tried again, but was barely able to move his arm an inch before it was pushed down again. It was the same story for his right arm, and his legs. He could feel the surface beneath him, definitely not a cot. His senses were slowly waking up as his brain did. He could feel stiff, cold metal on his skin, it reminded Mason of an unpadded stretcher.
Keeping his eyes closed, Mason tried to listen to the world around him. He was sure that six days of drugging would dull his senses, but he needed to start using them as soon as possible to escape his mental rust. The room felt colder than his Torville cell. He was likely underground again. Sounds came first. Like the Torville cell, there weren’t many to speak of yet. Mason’s headache worsened as he tried to focus, picking up on the sound of water dropping somewhere behind him. He heard one drop at a time, with each one sounding like a firecracker going off. It was likely a tap with a leaky faucet.
As Mason thought of the water he realized how dry his throat was. He tried to lift his arms again, exerting more force this time. He felt the resistance again, probably leather straps. The straps slowly stretched on either side of him as he continued to push. He didn’t feel as strong as he did six days ago, but it seemed like he was still stronger than the average man. His body wasn’t immune to drugging, but perhaps its rapid healing was helping him to recover faster.
Mason opened his eyes, seeing a concrete ceiling about ten feet above him. The concrete extended to the surfaces all around him, forming a cage that was about fifty feet wide. There was a metal door ahead of him. Metal bars, which allowed someone on the other end to peek in, broke up the last few feet of the door. There was no one there now but Mason was sure that there would be soon. Mason’s red uniform contrasted with the brown straps that were holding him down. Craning his neck, Mason could make out the gold crest on his left breast and the golden belt across his waist. He was a soldier now, being sent to do someone else’s bidding.
There was an opportunity to escape now; nothing was tying him to this cell. He had no loyalty to Torville or Alexandria. He and his mother travelled to Alexandria when he was fifteen. For his mother it was a vacation, for Mason it was the possibility of a new life. Mason was at the age when his naiveté was quickly being assaulted by reality. He started to realize the real reason that teachers advised him to aim for a realistic career. By this time he already suspected that it played a part in having few friends and no girlfriend. Even his few friends were never comfortable inviting him into their home. He and his mom were always given the worst seats at restaurants, even when others were free. People crossed the street to avoid them whenever possible. Mason went to Alexandria hoping that things would be different. That idea alone demonstrated his naiveté. For some reason he thought that a location was enough to change people’s beliefs.
The only thing Mason was sure of now was that he was going to transform again. Actually, Mason couldn’t even be sure of that. It was the council’s educated guess at this point, educated by folklore. If that guess was wrong Mason could be in for days of torture before he was beheaded. The problem was what he would do even if he escaped. If he got away and transformed in the wilderness he would still be as mindless as if he transformed in Alexandria. Of course there would be more casualties in Alexandria, but Mason didn’t really care. He found that there was normally a tendency to romanticize strangers, imagining that they have the personality and values you admire. Mason learned to stop doing that long ago, mostly because his fantasies rarely came true. William was one of the few exceptions, but Mason didn’t want to overestimate how many Williams there were in Alexandria. It was easy for his anger to justify casualties, especially since he wouldn’t remember, but Mason’s conscience was more powerful. He knew he wasn’t a murderer. Let alone a mass murderer. He had to escape.
His head continued pounding, with the pain emanating from the center of his scalp. His throat and mouth felt dry. He licked his lips and felt chapped skin. He felt something pushing at the base of his throat, and tried to take deep breaths to alleviate his nausea.
Mason heard a door open somewhere in the hallway outside. There were footsteps now. Mason didn’t need his enhanced senses to hear boots making their way towards the gate. If someone saw him trying to escape while he was still locked in the room he would have to break the door down to escape. He doubted his strength would allow him to do that. He laid back and closed his eyes just enough to make out the doorway. Hopefully anyone looking in would think he was sleeping.
Someone appeared behind the bars a few seconds later. Mason could only make out a bearded face from his angle, someone who looked to be about fourty.
“Still sleeping,” the main said as he turned to his right.
The man lingered for a few seconds before Mason heard a key at work. The door swung open, with its hinges screaming in protest, revealing a stocky figure enclosed in a gridded leather uniform. The black, long sleeved shirt was stamped with Alexandria’s insignia, a red wolf’s head. Mason knew that was Alexandria’s military uniform. As the bearded man entered, two more followed behind him, who were likely prison guards. They were wearing blue uniforms with armoured chest plates comprised of a thin sheet of red metal that wrapped around their torso.
From what Mason learned in school, many armies no longer used such armour, preferring to craft their uniforms out of thickly padded leather. The armour posed too big a sacrifice for mobility in close quarter combat, and still left the head and neck too vulnerable to attack. It was possible to armour soldiers from head to toe, but even Alexandria probably didn’t have enough metal to afford that. In long- range combat, a hail of metal-tipped arrows could pick up enough velocity to tear through armour like butter. The armour only made sense for prison guards, who would only need an added level of protection as they attempted to restrain one unruly prisoner at a time.
The trio moved closer and Mason had to shut his eyes completely to make sure they didn’t realize he was awake. He could hear two people moving to either side of Mason, until they were both standing by his shoulders. The one to his right placed his hand on Mason’s neck, and Mason felt it rest on his pulse.
“Still alive, pulse feels stronger than it did yesterday.” The man said.
“It’s been a day now; I guess he’s in some kind of coma.” It was the bearded man’s voice; he was still standing close to the door.
“How long do they want us to keep him here commander?” The voice was from his left now.
“Don’t think they were expecting him to be unconscious this long. We’ll have to see what they say. Doubt it will be more than two days. Week’s almost done; any info he has on guard rotation won’t be much use after that. We don’t need much else from them at this point.” The bearded man said. He was in charge of this group, but it seemed like he still reported to someone else. The ranks were probably similar to the ranks in Torville, where commanders held rank over prison guards and a small group of soldiers, while also reporting to a Marshal.
“Are we done here then?” The guard on his left said.
“Almost, I want to rule something out,” The commander said.
Mason heard the commander walking over to him, with his steel-toed boots clicking off the concrete. There was the unmistakable sound of a weapon being unsheathed. It didn’t sound as loud as it did when Lance drew his. Maybe it was quieter because the commander was further away or because Mason’s senses were still recovering. However, he hoped it seemed quieter simply because the blade was smaller.
The commander got closer, Mason tried to isolate his heartbeat, finding it and tracking it until he was right beside Mason’s feet. The commander pulled up the left leg of his uniform, and Mason stopped himself from shivering as cold air hit his calf. He knew what was coming next, and braced for it.
The commander tore through his skin with his blade, making a shallow ring around the left side of Mason’s calf. Mason’s own experiments on his body caused him to barely feel the cut. The commander was convinced he wasn’t playing dead, but now there was a bigger problem. His body would start to heal itself in a few seconds, and he’d either be experimented on again or promptly burned.
“Rayner, get a medic to patch up this…”
Mason felt the burning itch spreading across his calf. The commander’s heartbeat was accelerating like a horse freed from its gate. A hand grabbed Mason’s ankle, and Mason could feel warm breath blowing on it.
“Everything okay commander?” The guard on the right said.
“Rayner, go get Marshall Talbot. Tell him this is an emergency.” At this moment, Mason missed William’s curiosity and excitement. The commander barely made it through his sentence, pausing and stuttering like a toddler trying to read a book. Burning or beheading seemed like a more likely fate by the second.
There were footsteps to Mason’s right as Rayner ran to the door. Mason focused on the footsteps and heard Rayner make a left turn. If Mason wanted to live much longer, he’d probably have to follow Rayner soon. He tried to follow the footsteps for as long as he could, but they disappeared ten steps outside the door, and his headache intensified to thank him for his effort.
“What’s happening commander?”
“Raleigh, come here.” The commander said.
Raleigh walked over beside the commander, and Mason now had two people staring at his calf.
“Do you see a cut?” The commander said. His voice was a little steadier now.
“No, but I saw you make one. I saw it bleed.” Raleigh said. Now his heart was joining the race.
Something cold touched Mason’s calf, likely a sleeve. It wiped away the blood and left his calf truly bare again.
“I saw the cut heal, right in front of my eyes.” The commander said.
“How’s that possible?” Raleigh said. Now his voice was starting to shake.
“These people like witchcraft, probably learned how to do it from his parents.” The commander said.
“I’ve heard that too, we can’t keep him here.” Raleigh said.
Raleigh was giving orders now, but the commander didn’t seem to notice.
“Of course not, I’ll convince the Marshal.”
“How do we kill him though?” Raleigh said.
“Beheading, fire, maybe both.” The commander said.
Maybe the marshal would insist that Mason be kept alive, but that was a long shot now. Mason couldn’t play dead anymore. Either he tried to escape now or risk getting killed when the Marshal and more soldiers made their way to this room. The straps felt like they could break, but if they didn’t the two men with him could panic and end his life.
He was tired, dehydrated and nauseous, but he couldn’t let that stop him now. Mason clenched his fists, pushing himself up from his torso. The straps went taut as his arms pushed against them.
The commander and Raleigh both stepped back, with their gaze averted from Mason’s legs to his face. The commander stood a few inches taller than Raleigh, and he still had an unsheathed knife in his right hand. It was Mason’s turn to panic as the straps around his arms held taut for a few seconds before they mercifully snapped. As they did, the commander rushed forward, with his long arms guiding the knife toward Mason’s neck. Mason legs tore through the straps and his right leg connected with the commander’s elbow. The knife sliced through Mason’s left shoulder, grazing flesh but missing bone. As the commander’s arm followed, Mason grabbed the wrist and twisted it as hard as he could.
The knife fell to the floor but Mason barely heard it over the commander’s scream. Looking at the hand, Mason realized that the palm was now facing the opposite direction. The bones in the wrist were shattered, leaving the hand flopping around like a dead fish. Mason grabbed the commander’s graying hair and slammed his head against the stretcher. He could hear the commander’s nose break and caught a glimpse of blood spatter on the stretcher before he threw the man aside, hearing the body crash to the left of the stretcher.
There appeared to be a reason Raleigh was only a guard. Mason’s eyes darted back and forth between the commander and Raleigh for the past few seconds, and Raleigh stood rooted to the spot, with his hand on his sword’s hilt. He probably wasn’t even used to having a sword; it could be a liability when dealing with some prisoners since they could try to take it. Whenever Mason was brought to a cell in Torville a squad of unarmed guards, who basically served as glorified orderlies, accompanied him.
Now Raleigh was in a situation where he needed to be a soldier, and he was struggling to make the transition. Once the commander’s hand was broken, Raleigh finally sprang to life, unsheathing his sword. Mason grabbed the sides of the stretcher, using it to anchor himself as he pulled his left leg free. He jumped off the stretcher before a blade came crashing onto it. While Raleigh raised the sword again, Mason rushed towards him and tackled him to the ground.
This time, Mason heard bones breaking in Raleigh’s chest. Raleigh didn’t scream but the air rushed out of him, sounding like a draft from an open window. Raleigh collapsed, with his arms around his chest and Mason stumbled to the ground. It was already obvious to Mason that he wasn’t going to cope with sound well if he got outside. Not to mention the nausea and fatigue that was still plaguing him.
His shoulder burned as the cut sowed itself back together. As Mason got to his feet again, he felt his stomach squeezing its contents upwards. He kneeled forward and a stream of green, acidic vomit hit the floor, splattering onto the door and the walls. It was as if a pair of hands was wrapped around his stomach, desperately trying to wring out its contents. The vomit continued pouring out in one painful burst after another.
When it stopped Mason collapsed backwards, with his hand on his stomach. There was pain there now; making him feel like his stomach was stepped on. He probably only lost a minute or two, but every second counted now. Mason realized he was barefoot, and tried to tiptoe through the puddle of his own making. He felt the acidic vomit on his toes as he reached the door and turned left.
There was a dead end to Mason’s right, but the concrete labyrinth continued for about one hundred feet to his left. The concrete was jagged, and threatened to cut his feet as he ran, but Mason knew that a few cuts were the least of his worries now. As he came to a stop at the end of the hall, Mason felt his head spinning. The hallway looked like it was doing a cartwheel. He rested against the wall on his right, trying to regain his balance.
Peeking around the corner, he saw two guards flanking a single stairwell about fifty feet ahead of him. Both guards were armoured from head to toe. One sheet of armour wrapped around each leg, another around the torso, the arms and a helmet for the head. The helmets had metal flaps at the front, which were currently raised as the two guards talked to one another.
Despite their mundane conversation about food, their costumed figures still filled Mason with fear. The dark red metal evoked the image of a bloodied knight. Even though the armour would hinder the guards’ mobility, the narrow hallway wouldn’t offer Mason much room to maneuver either. This was the type of environment where such bulky armour would give someone an advantage.
Mason thought back to his escape from his cell. The commander looked like he was at least two hundred pounds, and Mason remembered how he was able to toss the commander to his side. He remembered the commander’s feet actually leaving the ground before he crashed to Mason’s right.
With that memory in mind, Mason took a few deep breaths, relieved to see that the hallway stopped spinning in front of him. There was no more time to waste. Mason planted his legs and bolted around the corner, feeling like he was running faster than he ever had before. He was three strides in before the guards turned to face him.
The flaps on their helmets went down and their swords came out of the sheaths. One guard held his sword out to his left, the other to his right. If they were to swing, the swords would create an arc that would cover the entire length of the hallway, cleaving Mason’s torso from the rest of his body. The stains on the concrete made it clear that some unlucky prisoner met that fate previously, and Mason was determined not to join them.
Even with his enhanced vision he could barely make out their eyes staring out from above the metal flap, four orbs encased in metal. The stairway behind them led to a closed door. It would be another hurdle for Mason if he got by the guards, but it also prevented them from calling for backup.
The swords were about four feet long, so Mason waited until he was just out of their range before leaping. His jump took him over the swords, leaving them sweeping through the air, and he landed at the foot of the staircase as the guards tried to reorient himself. A quick look at the door showed there was no way to open it from the inside. Before the guards turned around, Mason grabbed the top of their helmets, hooking his fingers in the eye slit and pulling the helmets off. The guards turned to face him as their helmets hit the ground. Their swords started to swing in his direction but the swords fell to the ground as Mason slammed the guards’ heads together.
As their bodies hit the ground, Mason grabbed the man on the left, hooking his fingers under the armoured torso and lifting the man onto his shoulder. Another bout of dizziness hit him and Mason’s knees buckled for a few seconds, but his balance returned and he started carrying the man down the hallway and back to the cell. The soldier probably weighed at least three hundred pounds with the armour on, but he only felt slightly heavier than a bag of wet concrete.
Turning the corner, Mason dropped the body on the floor, where it wouldn’t be visible from the doorway. He then ran back to the other soldier, and repeated the process. By his count, his whole escape took about ten minutes so far.
Mason stripped one of the soldiers of their armour, and then grabbed one of their pairs of boots. The boots were too small for him and felt like they would crush his toes with each step, but they would do for now. Between the armour’s weight and the boots, Mason was forced to slow his pace as he walked towards the door. With every step, he was worried that the door at the end of the hall would swing open and reveal the Marshal with a squad of soldiers behind him. That thought got Mason’s heart racing more than anything he’d done in the past ten minutes.
Mason’s legs were shaking as he reached the top of the stairs and banged on the door. His metal covered fist hit the door three times before a portion of the door slid aside to show someone’s face on the other end. Mason noticed the sounds that filtered in, chatter all around him. There was wind coming in from windows, the shuffling of paper, the clicking of boots. The panel was a few inches below Mason’s face, and the majority of its length was taken up by a face leering up at him.
Mason took the armour from a guard who was about the same height, but he was worried his skin would give him away. The guard below would only be able to make out a thin sliver, but it could be enough.
“What is it?” The man said. He looked to be about Mason’s age, probably a young guard hoping that he’d be able to move up the chain soon. He’d be eager to impress, and Mason’s experience told him these were the worst guards to deal with. However, he realized he could manipulate the guard’s eagerness to impress.
If Mason had any luck left, the guard wouldn’t notice that his voice sounded different. The door seemed to block out most noise so maybe this guard didn’t hear the other two speak much.
“The prisoner’s up. The commander’s worried he might wear down the straps if he keeps pulling on them. He just wants a third person to help hold down the prisoner while he loosens the straps and reties them. You need to come quick though.”
The words barely left Mason’s mouth before he heard a lock come undone. The door swung open and the guard stood revealed in front of him, forcing Mason to look back down the hallway to hide his face.
“Just head down there, they’re waiting for you.” Mason said.
The guard rushed past Mason, nearly becoming a blur as he jumped down the flight of stairs. Mason quickly stepped out of the underground cavern and pushed the door closed. The guard looked back at him as he got halfway down the tunnel, but it was too late by then. The metal panel slip closed and the guard’s voice would be drowned out until the marshal came by.
As Mason turned to face the room he was greeted by another guard. The man was standing at a wooden desk about twenty feet ahead of Mason, staring back at him. The desk spanned most of the length of the floor, leaving only about ten feet on either side. Orange brick boxed it in, leading to an open door that was about one hundred feet away. Mason could make out doors on either side of him, leading to other areas of the station. Most of the chatter he heard before was coming from that direction. The regular holding cells were likely back there. It seemed like Alexandria also treated him like a special prisoner. He only had one hundred feet separating him from freedom now. There were two more guards stationed by the door ahead,
“Your break isn’t for another twenty minutes. Get back in there.” The guard said as he quickly resumed his review of the papers in front of him, making his sword bob in its sheath. He appeared to be in his thirties, with a fatigued voice that made him sound much older. Days of monotonous work were taking a toll on him.
Meanwhile, Mason’s senses were taking a toll on him now. Six days of drugging, six days without practice honing the senses. Everything was coming in a flood now, especially his sense of smell. There was the scent of vinegar from the mixture used to wipe the floors, onions wafting off of the guard’s breath. His stomach started to feel uneasy again, like he might festoon the station’s floors for a second time.
“The commander told me to send the other guy in and go on break now. You can ask him if you want.” Mason said.
Mason knew he made a mistake before he opened his mouth. This guard would definitely be well acquainted with the people working for him. He would know that the voice sounded different. The guard lost interest in the papers in front of him and quickly turned back towards Mason. Mason looked at the ground to hide his face but he could hear the guard walking towards him.
“Don’t hide your face when you’re talking to me,” the guard said.
Mason heard the guard snap his fingers, and soon there were two sets of footsteps coming towards him.
Three pairs of boots came into view as he examined the white tiles beneath him. There were three armed men less than ten feet away. Mason knew what he had to do. He rushed forward, pushing through the phalanx ahead of him. He heard someone’s bone break on impact, and heard two more cracks as the trio landed on the ground. Even if he didn’t have enhanced strength he doubted the three soldiers would stand a chance against his armour.
Mason realized how wrong he was as the central guard managed to slide his sword into the thin groove between Mason’s torso and his legs. It was what they were trained to do, another reason that heavy armour wasn’t that practical anymore. Mason wished he’d remembered that tidbit earlier.
All three guards were sprawled on the ground, one was clutching his arm, one was clutching his chest and the third appeared to be dead from landing on his neck. The damage was already done. The sword was nearly at a ninety degree angle, with the tip lodged somewhere in his chest, but fortunately missing his heart. Mason could see another foot of the blade hanging down from his torso, with the hilt hovering halfway down his thigh.
The pain reminded Mason of the mauling that got him here, the pain of having chunks of flesh torn out of his body. However, he realized that the mauling was far worse. He could still stand, and as he made his way around the desk it was clear he could still walk. The sword missed his spine. Some of his organs were probably skewered but strangely, it didn’t hurt as much as he thought it would. Mason knew he could just be in shock, but he also knew that Torville’s testing increased his pain tolerance and his curse seemed to increase his pain tolerance. Each step brought increased pain, causing the blade to shift and tear through more veins and muscles.
Although the pain might be dulled, his body was still struggling to cope. He could feel another wave of nausea hitting him. The coppery taste of blood was haunting his throat, and he saw that the sword’s blade and hilt were being baptized by their new home. Looking ahead, Mason saw the open door. He couldn’t see any people ahead of him.
The stone path outside seemed forked to the left, where it likely led to the front entrance. Mason could make out horses neighing somewhere behind him, the stable would be too far behind to reach without being spotted. The horses were almost drowned out by the sound of footsteps and Mason knew that at least ten other soldiers were making their way towards him.
He grabbed the sword’s hilt, feeling it bury itself deeper as he leaned forward. With his hands on the hilt, Mason pulled downward, feeling the sword leave severed veins and punctured organs behind. By the time the sword crashed to the ground Mason could feel the burning itch running from his chest to his hips. The pain from the stab would be temporary, but beheading was permanent. Mason made his way over to the side of the desk, knowing that his blood was creating a trail right to the door. He looked back, seeing the door on the left side of the desk.
The brown tiles continued into the next room, where five guards were now running towards him. They were all armed, and they didn’t have bulky armour slowing them down. There were likely more men coming from the other side of the station as well. The hall continued down for hundreds of feet but it wouldn’t take the guards that long to cover the distance. Once they did, there was a good chance they would turn Mason into a kebab.
Mason tried to run again, even with his strength, the armour and the injury prevented him from getting anywhere close to his full speed. A light jog got him to the outside. The path forked to his left, where it led to a wooden gate where two more guards were standing in wait. The gate was about fifty feet high and continued all around the station, where the moonlight was reflecting off the barbed wire at the top. The doors on either side of him were held open by nails bolted into the earth in front of them and as Mason expected, the door could only be locked from the inside.
Going back wasn’t an option, and if Mason tried to go around to the stables the gate would still trap him. Trying to go straight through the gate would likely result in death, the guards at the door already had their eyes on him and trying to cover that distance would give the other guards more time to catch up and surround him.
The gatekeepers didn’t know anything was the matter now, but they would once they saw men chasing after him. The shortest distance to cover was to Mason’s right, where the gate was only about fifty feet away. Mason hurriedly started pulling the armour off, hoping to make a run for the fence and climb over. The torso would take the most time so he didn’t bother trying to remove it. His helmet came off first. Then his arms, boots and the armour over his pants. By this time, the guards could tell his skin was darker than theirs and they were making their way over. They would have about two hundred feet to cover.
The guards in the station were moving past the desk when Mason took off for the wall. The guards by the gate were about fifty feet away. He could feel muscles and organs in his body stitching themselves back together. The burning sensation made him feel like his heart was on fire. The blood flow from the injury was slowing down already, morphing from a spring into a leaky faucet.
Even without the armour, he was only able to muster a light jog as he made his way for the fence. His legs felt heavy, as if he was trying to run through wet sand. His wound was healing fast, but it seemed like it was stealing more energy from him in order to do so. There was little chance of making the gate in time and Mason didn’t feel like he had the strength to fight all of the men off.
Images started dancing through his head. His head flying after a slice to the neck. His intestines hanging loose after a slash across the stomach. After everything he’d been through, Torville still managed to send him to his death. He always thought he would go down fighting if a day like this ever came, but like a lot of his other dreams, it seemed like it would remain a fantasy. He might be able to fight off a few of the soldiers, but their numbers would overwhelm him quickly. He’d be hacked to pieces and likely follow in his mother’s footsteps.
Warm tears cut through the dirt on his face, cascading over dry skin before they hung off his cheek and fell to the stone path. They sparkled briefly under the moonlight before they splattered beneath him. The guards from inside the station were now outside, and the men from the gate were just a few feet behind them. Despite the danger in front of him, Mason’s eyes were suddenly drawn upward.