Almeroc and Ell (Short Story)
#1
Almeroc and Ell: Chapter 1
            The cold dampness of the earth and the things that crawl and wriggle beneath pulled in Ell from his deep sleep. He laid there for a minute or so, dazed, his head throbbing where a bump was left by the stone he fell on. Something on his right knee rubbed behind his other leg with the texture of a hardtack. Bending his knee in an attempt to finally stand up, a stinging pain mixed with soreness at once unfurled from the pink and black-encrusted layer of exposed dermis on Ell's knee and gripped his leg. Tears began to well in his eyes as he whined in pain. 
            Moonlight breaks past the shadowed Dunskol Mountains in the east, brightening the morning fog with deep orange light. Ell used the stone he fell on to prop himself up carefully. He was alone, save for the creatures that made it seem as if this forest was one breathing giant. The blurry red and orange tones of the forest shifted with every movement of some insect or animal and conversed with itself in birdsongs and the gentle trickling of far-off running rivulets. This giant was idle and pensive, very much different than those who inhabit those mountains in the east. And just like Ell would be, were he to find himself in those mountains, he was deep in the belly of this giant, his unfamiliar bearings allowing him no easy way out. The scatter of dead leaves and turned mud inferred to Ell that the city of Thenosia trailed that way, but, after last night, he was not going back there. So, he limped southwards down the wooded alley between the great city of Thenosia and the home of the giant tribes. 
            Rheum crusted his eyes, which he wiped away with his sooted brown linen sleeve, along with his fresh tears and snot. The idea of how alone he was hung over him with the swaying thick pitch black branches of the aulper trees. What would he do without Myge or Nehdir or any of the other older kids he knew as his family? His stomach rumbled as he wished Nehdir or Ollo were here. They could hunt with ease, almost pluck from thin air, maybe a fat mosset to skewer over a nice warm fire. A noontide breeze gusted through the trees with an inhospitable bitterness, causing Ell to draw in his arms from his sweater’s oversized sleeves and hug his chest. The only consolation the forest offered him was the sweet yet slightly spiced fragrance that the aulpers emit from their sap.
            "Myge," Ell called as he continued straight. He expected nothing more than his echoes; his calls for who he has grown to consider a mother stemmed more from disoriented despair rather than the hope that she was hiding, along with the other waifs, behind one of the many aulper trees. And so many aulpers there were. They appeared innumerable, disappearing far into a mist gold and thick as honey. It was as if a scattered row of trees were caught between two mirrors that endlessly reflected each other into obscurity. Occasionally, a moss-ridden boulder or a small hill disrupted the illusion and helped Ell in marking his surroundings, or, at least, his pretending to know where he was. No matter if he knows he travels south, he was still not sure how long he would be walking before he might need to part from his path to hunt or avoid someone or something. I have to learn to hunt now, the thought sank into him. I have to learn to start a fire. Nehdir is gone. I have to learn to cook the meat and gather plants and herbs. I have to know which are safe to eat. I have to learn to wash my clothes like Myge always did. I have to...
            Ell slowed his limping pace. The woods shimmered behind a wall of tears he wanted to let collapse. Maybe it would wash away this impression of a bad dream complemented by the forest's mistiness, his aching head, and waking drowsiness. His breaths grew heavier as his pace grew slower. He paused in his footsteps. Lips quivering, nostrils flaring, he looked around. Trees. Bushes. A boulder. A rotting log. It was all the same for hundreds of leagues. Ell began walking again with a quickened pace, but he began to backtrack more often. A rotting log. Trees. A boulder. Bushes. "Myge!" Ell began to scream, running now. Bushes. A boulder. A tangle of brambles. Trees. "Myge!" Tears streaming down his face, sobbing, Ell slid down onto his palms and knees into leaves and mud. Harshly reminded of his wounded knee, pain shot through his leg and he fell hard on his side and wailed. 
            Even though his group took care of him, the level of freedom he had under their guidance still distanced him from the fact that he was only seven. Now, he felt seven years old more than ever. He missed Maswin’s foul jokes, and though he hardly ever understood them, it was the scornful reaction it roused from Myge that was more of the punchline. 
            He missed joking and playing with Faydri, who was only two years older than him, and listening to her sister Lillyn retell the stories she would read at the library the two used to live by. The sisters joined their group a year ago after running away from their mother. Lillyn said their mother was a Korfeldian who tried to sacrifice her to the Moon-God, Ilyeh. Ell had heard stories of these fanatics and how they practiced human sacrifice. The cult of Korfeld that Lillyn's mother was a member of distort the teachings of Ilyeh's unnamed prophet from ages ago, known as the Kalvyr. Ell would wonder how a being as nurturing as Ilyeh would have worshippers so willing to harm their own kin in His name. They can't be His, he once thought. Today, amid a golden afternoon sky, storms that swirl across His reddened face comprise an eternal grimace, evident of His struggle in keeping the people of Eune fed and well. Deep hues of orange moonlight shone upon the aulper limbs and left the hanging moss with its tinge as the day traveled westward. 
            Ell curled up on his left side upon a rather large stick, too taken by distress to care, and began to close his eyes as his sobs softened. Whatever bloomed from the black soil of his unconsciousness was watered by his tears.



This is part one of a short story I'm writing. I plan on there being 3 parts.

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#2
This is very rich in images and sets the viewpoint character's mood and state of mind very effectively.

Although it's Miscellaneous, I do have two comments that could be considered critical, so take them no more seriously than appropriate.

First, there's good mood-setting here, but also a tremendous amount of information. I'm old and easily distracted, but I think better readers would also have some trouble keeping track of the characters, attributes, places, and tribes. There's enough information here to take up three chapters (not necessarily the first three) of a fantasy novel, which would probably be organized around events rather than the viewpoint's internal stream of consciousness. All I'm saying is, it's challenging.

Second, and pardon my grammar hobgoblin, but a few things you may want to look into as you edit:

"he laid there for a minute" (past tense of "lie" is "lay")

"with the texture of a hardtack" ("hardtack" is an adjective - he broke open a hardtack biscuit - or commodity - they feasted on hardtack and bacon, not "a bacon," either)

"Moonlight breaks past the shadowed" (this is present tense, the rest of the story is past tense)

This has promise of an interesting story.
feedback award Non-practicing atheist
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#3
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Hi Alex.

Also not sure if you're looking for a critique, but if you are ...

This is vastly overwritten - One of the key elements of a short story is 'story', and you've a thousand words here and no hint as to what that story might be (you travel from dawn to noontide in the first three paragraphs, but the narrative hasn't moved an inch).

If there is a story here it's crushed beneath the weight of extraneous detail. 'unnamed prophet from ages ago, known as the Kalvyr' seems particularly irrelevant.

There is an inconsistency of detail, wayward grammar (taken by distress), misused words (that is not what 'inferred' means) and it reads like a data dump in a bad fantasy novel. You could, most likely, reduce it all to

Seven year old Ell woke up alone in the forest.


Best, Knot

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#4
Hi dukealien and Knot,

Thank you both for your critiques. I didn’t mention it in my original post but feedback is highly encouraged here.

I’m starting to wonder if posting this in installments was a good idea because I find myself going back and renaming things and changing small details. I’m considering either staggering the next two parts or just posting the whole story here once it’s done.

Knot,

I will go over the story again with your words in mind. The inconsistency in detail is an important thing for me to know of and I’m really glad you pointed that out, but the extraneous amount of detail is a point I’d like to talk about. I could rewrite this as “Seven year old Ell woke up alone in the forest,” but why did he wake up alone in the forest? How does he feel about being alone in the forest? What forest did he wake up in? I think these are necessary details to build upon in the story’s continuation that “Seven year old Ell woke up alone in the forest,” wouldn’t lay any foundation for. Not only that, how could any reader invest themselves in “Seven year old Ell woke up alone in the forest”? Still, that is not to say that there are details that can be pared away.

Again, thank you both for your feedback.

Alex
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#5
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Hi Alex,
happy to discuss 'extraneous detail'.

How about I start with this point.
You ask the question 'why did he wake up alone in the forest?' - I asked myself the same thing, and having read and re-read you piece I don't know the answer. And I should. Over 1000 words, and no explanation as to how he came to be in the forest, alone and injured - but I know the names of prophets, deities, other children, a mountain range (how would Ell know its name?) though not who Almeroc is, some other child's mother, but not Ell's. You mention a city, Thenosia, but not why Ell choose to head away from there. Was he from there, were his friends? No idea, except that it is north of his position. A detail of no narrative value whatsoever.

You ask 'what forest did he wake up in?' - Again, I don't know, I can't find the name anywhere in the text.

These were two question you identified as important. But the answers aren't in the piece. Until they are, I'd say pretty much everything is extraneous. Whether you add them later in the story doesn't matter,no-one is going to care by then (assuming they read that far).

Consider, if the piece begins
Seven year old Ell woke up in the [name] forest, alone.
you achieve an immediacy of scene setting that you don't with the current, 'poetic', opening.
But if you don't then start explaining how he came to be there, you're not telling a story (you are, I think, trying to paint a picture).
He's got a bump on his head, but doesn't wonder how it got there? ('He fell on a stone' isn't an answer to this question. Does Ell know he fell on a stone? Why did he fall? Was he pushed, chased, what? His leg hurts, but he doesn't wonder why? Incidentally, I don't think 'dazed' is the right word to use in this context. Fuzzy, sluggish?)
His head hurt, he remembered falling, the pain, but he couldn't remember why he fell. His knee felt angry and he saw he'd torn his trousers, the skin beneath was bloody black and starting to scab. He thought he must have been running, and fallen. Had someone been chasing him? And where was Myge? He struggled to get to his feet, holding on to the aulper tree as he did so. Whichever way he looked, all he could see was the forest. He felt himself start to cry.

As to 'how does he feel about being alone in the forest?' There's a lot of telling, rather than showing - more on the 'how he feels about being alone' than on 'how he feels about being (alone) in the forest, which I take to be two different things. And since I don't know much about his circumstances before he woke up I don't attribute much significance to either.

One last point. Can you tell me who you think the intended audience is? Children, YA, adult?  It would help to know.


Best, Knot


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#6
Knot,

Thanks for clearing that up. From what it sounds like I have my work cut out for me Smile

It's great you're asking this question about my intended audience because, aside from your feedback, the question has me reevaluating how the story should be told. I would like the story to be told as if it was a folk tale, but one that originated from the world I described. I'm thinking it's one that could be told to the children on that world and maybe the charm of that idea can reach an audience on this world of all ages (lmao). Maybe the idea behind the narration and my intended audience is convoluted, but I hope that the next draft I post here won't be that.

Do you know of any short stories or authors that demonstrate this quality of storytelling that I could study?

Alex
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#7
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Hi Alex,

'reader across all ages' - not sure that will serve you well in linguistic/stylistic terms. Story aside, what works for a seven year old may not for a twenty-seven or fifty-seven year old. A phrase like 'exposed dermis' isn't going to mean/appeal to a young child, I think. I would suggest you pick a target audience and aim for them. Don't try and please everybody.

'folk tale' - if you're going for that, I'd say read whatever folk tales you can get your hands on (try project Gutenberg - and be prepared to be depressed about how much of what you like isn't in them Smile )

'a folk tale, but one that originated from the world I described' - I think that's very ambitious, and runs the risk of leaving the readers of this world scratching their heads. Most folk tales serve a purpose, what is this one's?

'authors' - pick your favourite and see if they written short stories. Though you could give this site a go (it has some examples/links)




Best, Knot.



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