I just can’t seem to leave it alone. It’s like a pimple, or something.
And I know . . . I was meant to be finished. I was meant to be happy with the state of things. But then I looked at it again. And two people have questioned whether my story should start a little sooner (I know! Usually it’s the other way, right?). So, for the sake of an exercise, I wrote a new opening. Not to replace what’s there, but to go before it. So here goes . . .
*NB: My characters swear more than I do . . . if it’s not your thing, skip it.
Hands deep in pockets, Llew didn’t break stride to kick the empty glass bottle aside. It was a common hazard of walking Cheer’s streets at night. The town’s men hunted gold by day, oblivion and pussy by night.
Llew walked with her head down. In sepia trousers and off-white linen shirt, she blended in with the evening’s wildlife. But with hair in dire need of a trim, there was always a risk that the guise wouldn’t hold. It only had to hold until she got home. She would cut the offending locks in the morning.
A commotion broke out up ahead at Camille’s Cathouse. Some potential john lacking the financial means to sate his desires by the looks and sounds. Perhaps he should have thought about that before buying such a large bottle of whisky.
Llew took a wide berth as she approached the still cussing man. At this time of night one didn’t need to be so cautious on the dusty streets; all the horses were asleep in their stables or paddocks, or tied up outside a bar or brothel.
“Out for a good time, boy?” The old fart stepped in front of Llew, stopping her in her tracks. “I’ll share one wi’ yer.”
Llew tried to side-step him, but he moved with her.
“It’s still five miras each. Two men, ten miras.” The half-dressed lady on the porch folded her arms across her chest.
“You said five miras per girl. We only need the one.” The man’s arm looped around Llew’s shoulders and he drew her in to him. If she hadn’t already been cursing staying late with Kynas, she would have started now. “What d’you say? I’ll let you go first. I won’t even watch. Sure you won’t mind me listenin’, though.”
Llew was struggling to find her voice, especially her deeper, more boyish one. She shook her head.
“Five miras per . . . service.” The woman’s eyes narrowed. “You want cheap, you go down see Hedy’s girls. They’ll look after you real nice.”
“Aw, but Hedy don’t have your wee Tamra.” The man pulled Llew closer to his mouth. His breath reeked like it was at the wrong end of his body. “Wee Tamra’s my favourite,” he half-whispered, not very quietly, filling the air with putrescence.
“Tamra’s busy, anyway. Now scoot.” The woman waved the back of a hand at the man, affording Llew only the briefest sympathy. “And don’t come back till you’ve got some cash.”
Still clutching Llew, the man waved his bottle about in front of and above them, miraculously not spilling any.
“Oh, you’re a hard woman, Cammy.”
“Rather be hard than a limp dick any day, Renny.” The woman flashed a white grin. She really did look after herself. “Maybe next time you’ll rethink the whisky. Or at least buy it here. Then maybe we can talk discounts. Loyalty is rewarded here at Camille’s.”
“Oh, aye. Point taken, Cammy.” The man started turning Llew with him to dawdle back the way she’d just come. “Women, eh? Never give nothin’ for free.”
Llew didn’t know much about other women, but she didn’t know anyone who gave anything for free. She didn’t see why the brothel girls should be any different.
She leaned into the hand on her shoulder to see if it would relax its hold. It didn’t.
“Shall we try Hedy’s lad?” Renny squeezed again.
Llew tensed the second his step faltered.
He regained his composure almost instantly and squeezed her shoulders once more, this time looking down at the way her shirt bunched across her chest. Two small but distinct peaks appeared as her shoulders rounded under the applied pressure.
“Well, well. Looks like my luck is on the up ’n’ up.” His arm reached around her shoulders so that his hand could take an experimental pinch of the soft flesh beneath Llew’s shirt. He made an appreciative sound and tried to bring her around in front of him.
Llew wasn’t having any of that. She pushed against him and ducked under his arm. But he was quick and grabbed the loose waist of her shirt.
“None o’ that. We was just gettin’ to know each other.” He tugged and Llew bounced against his chest.
She used the momentum to break free of his grasp, turned and ran, but the whisky mustn’t have kicked in yet, because he was on her heels. She tried to keep her line straight down the middle of the road, well aware of what veering either way might bring, but a group of men leaving another bar farther down the road made no moves to let her pass, instead finding the spectacle of a young boy running from an older man quite humorous.
Without knowledge of who was the wronged party, arms reached out from the group to slow Llew, but they didn’t go so far as to stop her.
Fearing that the men would only turn on her as a group, Llew didn’t plead for their help, she just pumped her limbs even harder, trying to make up for the hindrance.
Renny ran into her, knocking her into the deeper darkness of a narrow alleyway between a bar and a barber’s.
The crash of the partially full bottle of whisky against the corner rang through Llew’s ears as she reached for the ground. Regaining her feet, she stood to face the jagged edges of the glass bottle and Renny looking pissed off.
“That bottle cost me a night with wee Tamra. Come ’ere.” He swung both arms at Llew in some sort of drunken embrace. He missed, but the bottle swung dangerously close and Llew had to hop back out of its way, deeper into the alley. She had to get out. She was vulnerable. “You owe me the price of a bottle o’ whisky, girlie.”
“You broke it, you drunk bastard.” Finding some courage, Llew dodged the man’s next lunge and made a pass for the alleyway’s entrance.
But Renny wasn’t so drunk yet that he would let her pass. His arms flung out to block her path, then he brandished the bottle’s jagged end at her. “That ain’t the language of no young lady.”
“Who said anything about being a lady?”
The pair of them was hopping side to side, Llew looking for a gap, Renny blocking.
“Oh, you like it like a boy, eh? Well, I ain’t picky. Turn around, you won’t even have to take them pants right off.”
Llew made a lunge for freedom and Renny blocked her path yet again. He threw her back on the ground and made a go at getting her trousers undone. But Llew wasn’t letting him win that easy. She kicked, she punched, she clawed, and when he hit her back she grabbed his flesh, passing the injury right back to him. She’d never fought so dirty, but she’d never had to.
Renny slashed her with the bottle, slicing her shoulder. Llew pressed against his chin, pushing him up and closing the wound.
Renny screamed in agony and slashed again. Llew grabbed his wrist, healing the new scratch.
Renny cried out again and swung the bottle wildly, cutting Llew’s cheek, neck, chest, forehead, shoulder, ear, nose, eye, throat . . .
Somewhere in all the chaos, a strange peace overcame her. Llew relaxed and let it take her.
So, thoughts? Opinions?
Now my biggest thing is . . . does this basically disqualify me from the competition I entered last week? It was meant to be a finished manuscript. At the time I believed it was. I really did. I’d edited and edited it, and had other eyes run over it. And I’m still finding a few typos – gah!
You see, there is another competition I’d like to enter – to win a cover design. It’s run by the same people as the manuscript competition. So, if I enter this opening, for the same novel . . . hmmm. What to do, what to do?
I really will stop playing with it. I need to get to work on the next one. The ideas are there. I need to get brave about writing another first draft (they’re just so crappy after getting a second-third draft together . . . )
OK. Away from procrastination central.