Thursday, June 2, 2011

Lake Argo

by Matthew MacNish
The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment

Lake Argo

He watched the grey mist fall languidly off the glassflat surface of the cold, dark lake, its twisting vapors the only thing that moved in the silence. Morning stalked still and secret through the trees as dawn approached, nothing more than a subtle, desperate lightening of the far domed firmament.

Ancient. Timeless. Infinite.

The lingering dew awoke every sleeping odor held within an earthen mouth: dirt, worms, decay, fungi, wet leaves, pine, life. The world stirred.
A ripple on the water. A fluttering of leaves in the trees. The whistling warble of a nearby songbird. A gentle waft of warmer air against the skin.

He stood, stiller than a statue, his hand firm around his bow, his toes cold and stiff in the chilled leather of his boots. His breathing was slowed to a pace that rivaled hibernation, but his mind was sharp and focused. He drank the world in through his senses as he stood, and watched, and considered.

It had been a long night, spent in vigil, the threat of danger never far away. This was the frontier, and his people knew of the coming enemy. They were resigned against it.

His duty was to watch, and then to warn. Perhaps to fight one day, if, Mother of the Forest forbid, it came to that.

He shrugged, stretched his neck, and spat. His people were peaceful, but they would defend their land with determination. Damn the horde to the stony depths of the deep black wastes. They could choke, and writhe, and wither into nothing there for all the care he gave them.

Suddenly he heard a cry, a ghostly call so ethereal in the lifting fog of the charging morning that it begged the question: am I still within this life or have I crossed over into some Other World where time and matter are but rumors of their former selves.

And then he knew.

It was the lakebird of the boundary waters, heralding the breaking dawn with a call as clarion as the horn of a rider diving headlong into the great red battle at the end of history.

Yet, for him, it was but the beginning.


Matthew MacNish said...

Thanks so much Bryan! There's nowhere I would rather display my short fiction than on your blog.

Unless someone wants to pay me for it.

Jessica Bell said...

My breath has just stopped. This has to be the best short piece I've ever read of yours, Matt. I feel a heavy weight in my chest from the pleasure of it! It's a good thing. Don't worry :o) The weight is satisfaction.

And wow. Fave line: "where time and matter are but rumors of their former selves"

Jeffrey Beesler said...

Matthew: Keep writing like that and you will surely find someone willing to pay you for your work! Outstanding stuff, man!

Laura M. Campbell said...

Great piece! It immediately reminded me of the summers I spent in Maine on Lake Rangely. Granted, I never aimed an arrow at an enemy.

The beautiful description of the lake and scene had me whispering in my head, afraid to move in case I might make a sound and expose the man with the bow and arrow.

I could smell the wet earth and see the placid lake. Oh, I wish I was there right now! Sweater, hot tea and a good book. *sigh* Thanks for sharing!

Stephanie M. Lorée said...

Some great imagery and use of alliteration here. I really loved, "whistling warble of a nearby songbird" and "great red battle at the end of history."

The play on colors and sensory information was beautiful. Nice work, Matt.

Old Kitty said...

Aww very poetically and dramatically done!!! As smooth and luxurious and creamy like chocolate!!!

Yay! take care

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You have a way with descriptions, Matthew!

mmshaunakelley said...

Pretty phenomenal!

K. M. Walton said...

Beautiful and crisp imagery, Matthew. Nicely done.

Some day someone will pay you for it. No doubt.

Cynthia Lee said...

I like it very much. Good job.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

So evocative! Beautiful, Matt. :)

Ishta Mercurio said...

"...a call as clarion as the horn of a rider diving headlong into the great red battle at the end of history."

I love this.

Wonderful imagery, Matt. Well done!

Michael G-G said...

Nice job, Matt. If we're doing favorite lines, mine was "morning stalked still and secret through the trees..."

And "Mother of the Forest forbid" is a splendid oath. In fact, I intend to use it today.

Matthew MacNish said...

Feel free, thanks Mike!

Anita said...

Favorite line: Ancient. Timeless. Infinite.
I like the way this line broke things up, while still contributing to the color of the piece.
Thanks for sharing this side of you!

Munk said...

Layers. Excellent job MM.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Oh wow, Matt! This is SO cool, the tension was incredible, I couldn't stop reading, I felt my heartbeat slow down almost like it was saying, "quiet, we have to be quiet." Which is weird, but also awesome. Super beautiful and tense. :)
By the way, how do you increase tension through description? You do it so well - normally description is something I skim, but this was fantastic.

mshatch said...

very evoc! I could see, hear, even smell the place! Nicely done.

Suzie F. said...

Well done, Matt. You drew me right in.

Thank you for sharing your writing with us.

Matthew MacNish said...

Bethany, I could talk about that probably FOREVER, and I'm really no expert. Bryan, I'm seeing maybe a blog post or a forum thread?

I will say this: What I do, and this differs in different types of fiction, b/c what you can get away with in FF is not equal to what you can get away with in a novel, is this: focus on a minute detail, describe it through a microscope, whether that microscope magnifies sound, sight, touch, smell, whatever. This will slow the reader down as they picture this detail, and they will (hopefully) pause as they read, which will slow the narrative.

Then you switch to something else, dialog, action, SOMETHING that moves the story forward. You can go back and forward several times, or repeat either element as I did here, but it's this switching of gears that I believe "increases tension" as you put it so well.


Jessica Bell said...

I hope you don't mind me butting in here, Matt! I just want to point out to Bethany that it's likely she gets bored with description that is primarily about what one can SEE. If we use ALL of the senses, and I mean the 6th sense, too, then descriptions will come alive as they should. And Matt, you do this very well.

Matthew MacNish said...

Butt in any time, Jess! You're one of the best at this, so your advice is sage, and appreciated. And you're absolutely right, there are way more than 5 senses, but even writing about 3 of them is more than you usually "see."

Jessica Bell said...

Absolutely! :o)

Michael Offutt said...

Your writing is exquisite.

Sara McClung ♥ said...

You had me at "Morning stalked still and secret through the trees as dawn approached." Seriously. Matt, I love how vivid your descriptions are. You totally threw me into the scene, and I was disappointed when it ended! (Because I wanted to KEEP READING.)

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

I'll second what Matt and Jess said about description, and add two things.

1) Mood. Pretty descriptive prose for the sake of being pretty doesn't get you anywhere. Description that controls mood and sets a scene, however, does get you somewhere. It builds a sort of charge or tension that is released in the following action.

2) Relevance. A lot of writers use empty description and empty details. They write about what's there simply because it's there. But why is it being selected? Details that are relevant to the story and the character are meaningful and create tension. Matt, above, sets the scene of this world, but it's not empty, as the land is just what the character is willing to defend. The description sets up the conflict with the invaders. And then the description of the call he hears is important, not because it's beautifully described, but because it means something to the character.

I think a lot of story description is boring because it's random. It doesn't serve a purpose outside basic visualization. Pull that description into the thematic depths of the story, however, and you have something more profound.

Matthew MacNish said...

I told you guys Bryan was the man. I consider him a dear friend, and a writing mentor, even if he's younger than me.

If you like my stuff, please take the time to check his archives, using the World in Miniature label, there are some truly amazing pieces of short fiction on this blog, and I'm honored that three of them are mine.

Wait. It is three, right, B?

Sarah said...

Wow, Matt. This is the first chance I've had to read your writing, and I'm really impressed. You have a gift for description and made every word count. Fantastic.

Beverly Diehl said...

Let me make everyone hate me now. I liked this very much, but the first line: "the grey mist fall languidly off the glassflat surface" - mist rises from the surface of a lake, it doesn't fall. It made me mentally trip, a little, though when I went back and reread, I could get past it. Very sensual piece, lovely textures and scents and feelings, down to the feet inside the leather boots.

Matthew MacNish said...

Hah! You have every right to speak up, Beverly, and thanks for doing so. Bryan actually gave me the same note when he helped me with edits.

I kept it that way on purpose (fall ... off, instead of rise ... from) because it is supposed to be a subtle hint that this is not our world (not necessarily literally upside down, though). Also, the mention of a scientific concept like matter, when the rest is kind of a fantasy setting.

But thanks so much for speaking up! As writers we're all in this together, and honesty is always best. Also subjectivity is a given, and I would always prefer intelligent debate to pandering.

So no one is allowed to hate you.

storyqueen said...

Very sensory.


And I can pay you one of the highest compliments I know: I would read more.

Steve C said...

I'm coming in late to the discussion, but that just gives me even more notes to take.

Very well done, Natty Bumpoo. Makes me want to get up early and hit the nearest lake.

Michelle Merrill said...

Wow! I gotta say I love the ending. It makes me want to read on since it's just the beginning. Great job at using the senses and making me feel like I was really there :)

LTM said...

Me Likey! Very descriptive and beautiful. Is this one of our warrior monks mentally preparing for battle? ;o)

D.G. Hudson said...

Congratulations Matt! Your descriptions defy the imagination. I see you have a love of eloquent writing, as does Bryan. Enjoyed reading Lake Argo very much.

Thanks, Bryan for hosting such a great feature as your 'flash fiction stage' on your blog.

Slamdunk said...

Descriptive but not wordy.

I enjoyed this Matt, and best wishes with your entries.