Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sleeping Boy excerpt

I decided to go a little different this week. I wrote this a few years ago as the beginning of a novel and never finished. It's still an idea I'd like to develop in the future. This was the whole first chapter. Please let me know what you think.

The monks and nuns had carefully positioned his body so that it looked like he was sleeping, which in a way, was exactly what he was doing. His hands were on his chest, but not clasped as if in death, not laying one on the other, but simply placed as though he had fallen asleep with them resting loosely on his torso. They had even positioned his head so it tilted to one side-- to his left, so that those who came to the sanctuary to look upon his body wouldn't be able to look directly on his face. To look straight on at his face, even with him in sleep, would undo the church. The monks and the nuns had covered their eyes with strips of cloth when they had first bathed and dressed him two years ago.

Two years, and still people were lined up to see the young man-- no, the boy-- who lay motionless on the simple duck-down mattress in one of the back chambers of the sanctuary. They came in a few at a time, under the supervision of one of the monks-- lest someone disturb the body. Some wept at seeing the boy's stillness; he didn't even have the steady rise and fall of breath. It was a symptom of the drug the highest priests gave the boy every third day, when he began breathing again. The drug was a powder, placed under his nose so he inhaled the fumes and promptly slept again.

There were visitors who held up children to look on him; some even held up infants and mewling newborns, no doubt to tell them they too had looked on the Sleeping Boy so carefully kept in the sanctuary. There were those who brought candles and lit them in his room. Most were left to burn away on the floor or given to the watching monks as a gift to the sanctuary. Few were taken away. Some fell to their knees or prostrated themselves on the cold stone floor, praying what were probably the most feverish, desperate, pleading prayers of their lives.

It was Harion, a young monk of only sixteen years-- not too much older than the Sleeping Boy-- who first spoke words of fear and doubt to the highest priests. What if those who fell and prayed were not praying to the god, but to the boy? If those who came had plans to bring out the boy's body and set him out against the church? Surely there were those out there with evil in their hearts that would dare enter a place of the god only to see his enemy; to plot and plan the unleashing of the one who could bring about the end of the church's society, or even the church itself.

Peace, the highest priests told him. No fear. The unrighteous cannot enter any place dedicated to the god and therefore cannot take away the boy's body. Peace, and have no judgment, have no doubt that the ones who come by on your watch are the pure, the good, the devout. They come in the unspoken name of the god to conquer their own fear and confirm in their minds that all is right in the world.

Harion slept uneasily, his dreams full of people trying to take the Sleeping Boy from his place. They days when he drew the watch over the cell where the boy lay seemed unending, the people all sinister. He became edgy, twitching whenever anyone knelt or rose, or leaned over the body to get the tiny glimpse of a cheek or the side of his nose that was permitted anyone who dared. His edginess carried over to his time away from the cell, and he began to snap at the nuns and other monks, and even some of the priests. It was as if his senses of calm and peace, friendliness, and humor had gone and been forgotten. All the virtues that the god taught and valued had been sucked out of him.

In less than three months from the time he first spoke of his fear, Harion was sent away from the sanctuary with all the church could provide him: a knife, a hammer, a stout walking staff, a waterskin, and a sack with bread, cheese, and the last of the orchard's apples. He didn't look back at the sanctuary when he left; the open doors mocked him. They were closed to him now. He would never come back.

The day after Harion was sent away, the Sleeping Boy showed his first sign of breathing again. The highest priests had expected it and ushered away the visitors and the watching monks. They closed the doors to the cell so they could administer the drug. Their own noses and mouths were covered with thick wool so they wouldn't breathe in the fumes themselves. The boy breathed them, and his body settled, the steady rise and fall of his chest prevented for another seventy or so hours. At a glance, it was as if he had never moved at all.

The priests left the room, and the monk who was supervising waited the standard ten minutes, counting each second himself, before opening the door again to take up his watch and allow others in.

He stopped abruptly in the doorway, his rather bulky frame blocking the way so he was the only one who saw. The Sleeping Boy was not in his usual position. He was on his side, his back to the door, mercifully. No one would accidentally look on his face. His left arm was flung out on the bed, his right arm pulled tight to his body.

The monk screamed. As it echoed through the sanctuary, it sounded to all who heard it like the voice of the god himself.

1 comment:

  1. Intriguing opening, fraught with possibilities. I'll look forward to seeing where this goes.

    A couple observations...

    It wasn't until the seventh paragraph that it becomes clear this isn't a contemporary setting. Having read that far, the mind is already forming perceptions and conclusions about the characters and setting. Then you undo all that wonderful engagement.

    It's not a huge deal, but I found it a little jarring. If it's not your intent to lead us down that road, then maybe a stronger cue in the first paragraph or two regarding the setting would guide us down the correct path.

    I noticed you shift focus three times, orienting on the monks and nuns, then on Harion, and then on a single monk. It kind of blurs the "voice" of the chapter and doesn't allow us to really hook in to anything. With the chapter as brief as it is, maybe narrowing the focus on the monk would allow us to have a clearer perception of what's happening.

    Also, I'm assuming the reason the monk screamed was that the boy had somehow moved from his customary position. The fact that he screamed seems to indicate that this is a cataclysmic event, but the passage doesn't convey that.

    Maybe if the monk is the primary source of information in the chapter, we could get a glimpse as to why the boy moving is such a horrifying event. Just a glimpse, of course... you're clearly setting up a mystery to be unraveled and I'm sure you have a pace in mind for the revelations to come.

    Write on, my friend... write on! : )