Beginnings & Endings
Welcome to our April issue!
The first and last impression a reader holds. Arguably, they are the most important pieces of any work. What do the AMBR members think of Beginnings and Endings? Continue on to see.
The Amuse Bouche Review Team
Feature: Beginnings and Endings (Louise Sorensen) Writing Advice
We End at the Beginning and Begin at the End (Crystal L. Kirkham) Writing Advice
The End of All Things to Begin (A.P. Miller) Writing Advice
Solid Beginnings (Renée Gendron) Writing Advice
Author Interview: Maya Svevak Author Interview
Withered Love (D.W. Hitz) Fiction
Team Showcase from AMBR Contributors (April 2021)
by Louise Sorensen (@louise3anne)
Beginnings and endings are tough. Not only in life, but also in writing.
Here, we’ll deal with writing.
If you cram in too much information at the beginning of your story, in order to tell the reader right away about this wonderful world and terrific characters you’ve created, the story will start overloaded and boring. Why boring? Because despite all the information you’re throwing around, nothing is happening. There’s no action. Even if you’re describing a huge battle scene, the reader at that point has no investment in the characters. Doesn’t know who they are, doesn’t care. Unless it’s a sequel, then you might be okay. But that’s not really a beginning. It’s a continuation. If it’s a true beginning, and you’re throwing details left and right at them, you’re apt to lose all but the most determined reader.
You have to give out, that is, spread out the details of your world/story frugally along the storyline. When you crowd all the details into the first part, sometimes even the first few pages, that’s called an information or exposition dump.
Having avoided the dreaded exposition dump, one way to start a story is with everything normal; establish normal, then ease into the story little by little.
Another way is to jump into the action, continue from that point, and then give comments and details of how your characters got there as the story continues.
I’ve done both. I generally prefer diving into the action, but it depends entirely on the story.
A way to actually start writing the story, is to type/write down everything you know about the story in point form. For example:
Beginnings and endings are tough
There are two ways to actually start writing the story
And then expand on those ideas.
When I start a story, I don’t think of beginnings or endings at all. I think of the ‘what if.’ The what if is the basis of your story.
What if a person couldn’t die? Every time they died, it took a while, but they would wake up sooner or later, hale and hearty, whether they wanted to or not. I wrote a story on that premise; about how that person felt about not being able to die. Never dying sounds like a good thing at first, but when you look into it …
Or what if Aliens invaded Earth, and took over the minds of most of the people, but not all. Who were the Resistors? What happened? I wrote a novelette about that, working title ‘Piper.’ Currently under beta.
One more. What if something left pieces of something in an old barn? That would be okay, wouldn’t it? But what would happen when that something came back for the pieces? Working title ‘Moonshine.’
In ‘Moonshine,’ I originally started the story by describing the barn for two paragraphs. These details were important to me. I love barns. But a very good writer who beta’d the story said that the first paragraph had too much exposition. So I got rid of it and spread that information into the rest of the story where appropriate. That first paragraph had been sort of like a prologue.
I’ve read thousands of books. In them, I remember only a handful of prologues. Of those, I remember only two good prologues. The rest were exposition dumps (the writer tells everything they know about the story to set it up or describe the world they’re building.) One memorable prologue was a long-winded battle that happened ten thousand years before the present time of the story, and had no relation to the story that followed. I find most prologues are like that. My take was that the writer really loved writing battle scenes and indulged themselves. Don’t be that writer. If you must write a long-winded prologue, have mercy on the reader and take it out before you publish.
So, beginnings and endings.
I’m somewhat lucky, in that I found out fairly early from writing a novel, that I don’t like writing novels. I like writing short stories. That is, in my writing journey, I wrote a novel, didn’t enjoy doing it, and contrary to what I believed was expected of a writer, allowed myself to write short stories instead. In the course of that journey, my stories are getting longer, and my most recent story is 18K. Longer than a short story but shorter than a novel, it’s a novelette.
Another thing I’ve discovered is that stories often don’t conveniently fit into word count requirements.
But, short stories? They’ve given me a lot of experience writing beginnings and endings.
How to start?
Sometimes I write the regular ‘la la la life before all hell broke loose,’ sometimes I dive right into the hell. I don’t like spending a lot of time on how wonderful life was before said hell. I confess I’m not a big fan of normal.
If you’re a beginning writer, all I can say is read a lot, write a lot, and get your stories beta’d a lot. If you’re an experienced writer, you’ve encountered a lot of the situations I describe. Yes. I realize I’ve written a lot a lot.
My writing method.
When I start a story, regardless of whatever length it will end up, (I have no idea when I start out. A story will be the word count that best tells the story) I have the what if, and either the beginning and ending, or the beginning and middle. I do not plan, nor do I plot. I am a pantser. When I start a story, the details have been rattling around my brain for at least a day, and I simply vomit everything I know onto the page. That gives me either the beginning and end, or the beginning and middle. After that I rest, and think about the parts I’m missing.
When I used to write flash fiction from @ChuckWendig ’s Twitter site, I finished a first draft in six days, polished it on the seventh, and posted it to his site. Granted, most of the flash fictions were a thousand words or less, but it was a learned process and took discipline. He assigned different topics, genres, and word counts, and in the two years I did this, I learned a tremendous amount.
For me, story details come in dribs and drabs, so it takes me a long time to finish anything.
Despite that, I’ve had stories published.
If I have a beginning, I write the story to the middle, and might find myself painted into a corner. It can take a while to find the ending.
One editor’s comments on a magazine’s submission requirements were, “The outcome of the story cannot be that it was all a dream, or the character was insane.” That makes a lot of really great ideas challenging to write. I went through three different endings to one story in order to avoid dream and insanity. Three full endings! The first two satisfied me for a while, and then I figured out they didn’t qualify. Not didn’t work. They worked fine. They just didn’t satisfy the experienced editor’s requirements. I think he also added that if he saw one more story that was all a dream or insane, he’d tear his hair out. So don’t do that. Or if you do, make sure it’s the best story of that kind ever written.
If I have a beginning and an ending in mind, all I have to figure out is how to get from A to B. You have to watch out for saggy middles. That is, they’re boring, long-winded, go on too long.
Do you dive into the action, or do you give a few, brief pages of how wonderful life is before everything changes?
That’s up to you.
Read, read, read, write, write, write and have as many eyes (betas, and even before you publish, an editor) on your work as you can get. When a beta reader says they don’t understand something, or that they forgot where the characters were, pay attention! Explain briefly, or reiterate the characters’ location.
Having many beta readers will help you judge which of their comments are valid. I got a beta back recently that found all kinds of fault with a story that had been critiqued and beta’d to pieces. I will consider the beta reader’s points, but I won’t necessarily act on them. You can’t please every reader.
I hope this article helps you in your writing journey.
Writing is a craft. It takes practise.
I have come to the conclusion that the most important requirement for a writer is that they enjoy writing or storytelling. Everything else can be learned.
by Crystal L. Kirkham (@canuckclick)
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
–From ‘The Four Quartets’, Little Gidding by T.S. Eliot
In four simple lines, the connection between beginnings and endings is perfectly summed up by this poem. A great story is more than the sum of its parts. A strong beginning, middle, and ending is only a small part of what makes a story memorable. These three parts must be interconnected in the most integral of ways, but today I am focussing on the importance of reflecting your beginning in your endings.
What I mean by this is that the beginning of the story gives you a theme, goal, or a question and that needs to be reflected—either directly, twisted, or reversed—in the ending. Though this doesn’t always apply to every genre or some of the extremely short stories it will be a key factor to creating great and memorable speculative fiction stories.
The ending of a story should always give you a new way of looking at how it started as well as bring the reader back to the goals and expectations that you set in the beginning of your story. Even taken in a literal manner, this portion of the poem also perfectly demonstrates the commonly used story structure of the hero’s journey in its most basic iteration. To leave, to explore and come back to where you began—changed and with a new perspective.
Accomplishing this means starting off with a strong beginning: a hook, a promise of more to come, a question to be answered, and a character arc to be explored. From these elements arise the ingredients for the ending. Each word in this beginning is a chance to start setting the reader up for the inevitable end. No word should be wasted, and nothing should be random; this is the firm foundation on which your story must rest.
If I want to use my own novel, Feathers and Fae, as an example, then I would point out the corners of the foundation that are reflected by the ending. In the first act, we are faced with a longing for freedom and an unwillingness to grant it (a constant theme throughout the book), a journey to return home, and a once close friendship at odds. In the end, we have an unwillingly accepted freedom, a home unexpected and their friendship cemented in an unexpected way.
From that example alone, you can see how a strong, well-written beginning will flow into an equally great ending. Had I tried to take any of those items out of the ending, I would have left the reader feeling cheated.
Even if I were to look at a more literary example such as ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ by Ernest Hemmingway. Here we have an opening that seems simple enough. Being literary, there isn’t as much focus on a character arc as there is the art of the words and the message given; however, the reflection aspect is still evident in this short story. In such a short story of this genre, any reflection shown is almost unexpected.
In the beginning we are introduced to two characters sitting at a train station in Barcelona, staring out at a barren countryside and drinking beer. Here the reflection is simple, the story starts with a focus on everything other than the two characters from the point of view of the female character and it ends with the focus shifting to her even as she wants it to be deflected still. Between that, a struggle (and failure) to truly communicate brings the two parts together with a distancing shown through description and then voiced by the character at the end.
In the end, how you approach the reflection whether you twist it, reverse it, or even reflect it more directly, what you write and the journey taken by the reader should shed new light on the foundations laid in your beginning. If they were to read it again, then they would see those scenes in a whole new way… and know that scene for the first time.
by A.P. Miller (@Millerverse)
I am a Pantser. Even when I plot, I’m a Pantser. I will plot, with the greatest of intentions, only to have the creative center of my brain say “get in the car, loser, we’re going for a drive.” When I sit down to write, I am certain of two things: the beginning and the end. Everything else is happenstance.
If I’m only going to be certain of the beginning and ending, they better be good, right? Art is subjective. I think my stories are good, like parents of bullies think their knuckle-draggers are angels. When I sit down to write. Allow me to take you through my thought process to give you an idea of what I’m trying to say.
Let’s agree on the Millerian skeleton of a story:
- The normal
- The catalytic incident
- The resulting conflict
- The resolution
- The new normal
As an example: “I was sitting on my couch, watching Netflix like I do on every Tuesday night (the normal). The doorbell rings and I get up to answer it (the catalytic incident). When I open the door, there is a stunning brunette with gorgeous blue eyes and she’s crying. It was my ex-girlfriend — her boyfriend had been cheating and she was heartbroken beyond belief. She says the last time she really felt appreciated was when we were dating (the resulting conflict). I’m not going to let her stand at the door, crying her eyes out. I invited her in, put on some tea — I remembered she loved Chamomile — and we talked and laughed for hours (the resolution). After all those years, we remembered why we were together to begin with. We’re a couple again (the new normal).
The way I structure my stories, I’m getting from one normal to another. Everything in between them can be a chaotic mess, but the normal is the beginning and the new normal is the end. A lot of other writers like to open up with a big-bang beginning and are having a lot of success in it. My style of storytelling relies on a strategy of getting you relating to the characters in their element to begin with, shake their snowglobe, and have the smoke clear.
by Renée Gendron (@ReneeGendron)
Beginnings carry a lot of weight. The first sentence starts a cascade. A reader must be hooked from the first sentence to make it to the first paragraph’s end. The end of the first paragraph must compel the reader to make it to the end of the first page, and the end of the first chapter must present a strong-enough conflict or plot to last an entire book.
If you fail to hook the reader at any of these beginnings, they’ll never make it to the ending.
The function of a beginning is to present an introduction to the world, character, or problem. A strong beginning contains all three. For a bonus, the beginning must present a plausible scenario to introduce your reader to your character and world.
There are two mortal crimes when writing beginnings. The first is to start the book with your character running. You point to best-selling books that start that way. Yes, they exist. However, it’s a tired trope.
The second mortal crime is to start a book with your character looking at themselves in the mirror to show your reader what they look like. No character should look at themselves in a mirror, or a spoon, or a pond, or any other reflective surface so that the reader can know what they look like.
I’m guilty of both scenarios. Luckily, my beta readers and editors intervened before either story was made public. It was a slow recovery process, from not starting my stories with either of those scenarios, but with support, patience, and belief in myself, I’m overcoming it day by day.
To have a solid first paragraph, you need to combine emotion, characterisation, and worldbuilding. Let’s examine a few first sentences. How much emotion you add depends on your genre. Let’s look at the opening paragraph of Branded*, a romantic sci-fi short story I wrote:
“Sergeant Major Emerlynne Turner of the Diplomatic Corps watched the Jubliee’s docking clamps secure to Archimedes Station. Thirty years ago, when Archimedes was built, it had been an architectural marvel. Six massive, curved pylons attached by transport tubes and walkways nestled in a nebula. Half a dozen metal prongs stretched towards the stars, reaching to a brighter future. Nestled on the
edges of an asteroid belt long depleted of its biggest deposits, a steady but diminishing stream of income came from mining.”
What does the first paragraph tell us in terms of emotion? It’s a beginning without much emotion. She’s a Sergeant Major, a professional police officer. Most police officers are trained to be detached from their emotions, add a diplomatic element to it, and you can be sure this character knows how to keep her head.
I could have written the first sentence as Sergeant Major of the Diplomatic Corps Emerlynne Turner slid her viewport closed and sunk in her bunk, ignoring the chatter on the comms about docking at Archimedes Station.
A change in location during docking changes the reader’s perception of the character. Emmerlyne has gone from neutral observer to someone who is hiding or reluctant to dock. That change in emotion shifts characterisation and worldbuilding and can shift the tone of the story.
The opening paragraph shows us a bit of the world. You get a clear visual of the space station (six massive, curved pylons with transport tubes and walkways) and its geographic position in space (nestled in a nebula, nestled in an asteroid belt). They are approaching a space station that has seen better days (architectural marvel, diminishing stream of income). You get a sense of the space station’s slow but steady decline. You also get a sense that hope is fading with the diminished fortunes of the station.
Let’s look at another example from an alternative historical fiction short story called Frontier Love. It’s part of my collection of short stories and novellas in Heartened by Crime:
“One day of travel from her homestead along icy roads in a cart with a wobbly wheel, two days of waiting in drafty taverns in Sault Saint Marie for the next ship to Fort William, followed by two days of travel in the hull of a freezing ship along Lake Superior, and Andrée-Anne Lessard was in no mood for the games of this petulant guard standing in front of the regional office of the Hudson Bay Company—the largest fur trapping and trading company in the world.”
The opening paragraph tells us a lot about the main character, Andrée-Anne Lessard. She’s persistent, and there’s something the Hudson Bay Company has that is very important to her (or else why brave that kind of travel and cold)? The first sentence was excessively long to parallel the length of her journey. That’s a lot of hard travel in harsh weather. She’s also in a bad mood (who wouldn’t be after that journey to be faced with a petulant guard?).
In the opening paragraph, you get the conflict (Andrée-Anne versus a guard of the Hudson Bay Company). You get the world and period (she has a homestead, not a condo. She waited in taverns, not bars or restaurants. She travelled in the hull of ships, not by car, aeroplane, or train. You get a sense of distance between Sault Sainte Marie and Fort William (now part of Thunder Bay, Ontario). You get a sense of her; she’s a woman, francophone, in the hinterlands.
Every opening paragraph must have emotion, characterisation, and worldbuilding. When you balance the three, you invite the reader to experience your story through your character’s eyes. Hook the reader with a solid beginning, and they’ll stay with you until the end.
Thank you, @KLforslund, for the conversation on beginnings. Reach out to me on Twitter if you want me to continue this article on my blog.
* Branded will be released in April 2021 in the anthology Star Crossed
Question: How old were you when you got the story telling bug?
Maya Svevak: "I wrote my first poem when I was eight years old. But if I recall correctly, it was in German. I had just begun learning the language and felt inspired to express myself in iambic pentameter! In a similarly daring move, I began writing my first play in English when I was sixteen, shortly after I was first immersed in an English-speaking society as an adolescent. My stories, whether in prose or rhyme, revolved around cultural confluences and experiences of isolation and alienation."
Q: Who were your earliest influences?
MS: "Having moved around a lot when I was a child, my earliest influences were an eclectic bunch, and I strove to read their works in the original language. Gottfried Keller’s Kleider machen Leute ( literally translated to Clothes make people ) made a lasting impression on my young eight-year-old mind. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice helped me learn English when I turned twelve. Kalidas’s Shakuntala, a play about romantic love, written thousands of years ago in Sanskrit, helped root me to my origins, along with Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitabitan (a collection of hundreds of poem-songs) and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Parinita. William Somerset Maugham’s Of human bondage, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary had an immense impact on my maturing psyche. A few of my most favorite plays are those of Max Frisch (Andorra), Wole Soyinka (Death and the King’s horsemen), George Bernard Shaw (Man and superman), and Arthur Miller (Death of a salesman). And although by the time I discovered Paulo Coelho and Gabriel Garcia Marquez I was no longer a child or an adolescent, the mellifluousness of their writing filled me with a new kind of wonder. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t name Sri Aurobindo and Swami Vivekananda as two thinkers who influenced me the most with their astute intellect and grasp of the sophisticated and complex principles of the Vedic (from which Hindu thought is derived) conceptual framework."
Q: Coffee or tea?
MS: "Definitely tea. Isn’t that required of Indians (she asks tongue in cheek)? Honestly, I have never had even a sip of coffee. I loved the tea my maternal grandfather
( my Dadu ) would make. He had begun his career in the Indian civil service before the British quit India, and so he made tea like the English. A very specific blend of the finest tea leaves, for just the right combination of aroma and flavor. No milk. Steeping for a painstakingly accurate amount of time. Stirring first three times clockwise, and then one-and-a-half times anti-clockwise. And finally, served in delicate white tea cups with handles on matching saucers. But when Dadu wasn’t around, I would wander off to the nearest chai stall and buy myself a steaming hot khudi ( a small handle-less cup molded from sun-based clay ) of tea made in an oversized aluminum kettle that boiled tea leaf powder, cardamom, milk, and sugar for hours on end. The clay made the tea taste like a delicious elixir of happiness. And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I dipped a biscuit into the hot tea, let it melt until it almost fell into the creamy brown liquid, and then quickly slurped the soggy biscuit end with my eager mouth. Those tea escapades were the best kind of beverage adventure."
Q: What types of things inspire your creativity?
MS: "My day job is very demanding and leaves little room for imaginative thinking. From the moment I awake to the moment I lay my head on the pillow, I am on call, with practically every moment in between scheduled with work of some kind. I find that it is difficult for me to be creative when I am inundated with sensory inputs. Meaning incessant talking on the radio, arrays of words in a document open on my laptop, fast-paced videos on streaming services, and so on. I find that I need the emptiness of silence to enable my creativity to flow into and fill it.
"And achieving that silence means turning off my cell phone and laptop and going for a walk in the park with my dog. It means freeing myself from the constant barrage of auditory and visual stimuli that are generated by circuitry and electronics. Even half an hour of silence ( amidst nature or indoors in a room I have that is dedicated to creative endeavors ) can at times suffice to significantly advance the plot of my fictional work in progress or give me a new angle for a new non-fiction piece."
Q: Discovery writer or plotter?
MS: "I will have to give a lawyer’s answer: it’s a little bit of both! I’m a plotter in the sense that before I begin writing a novel, I know the beginning and the end, and maybe a few milestones in between. It may sound strange, but the characters seem to write the rest of the story themselves. There are days when I begin writing a dialog that I had planned would evolve in a specific way. But as I write, the tone of the conversation suddenly takes a different turn, and I end up somewhere quite different than what I had envisioned. As I write more and more, I’m beginning to believe that this happens because there’s a part of me in each character, and so I become each character, with a will and a mind of her or his own.
"And this affects the plot as well. There was a time when I was writing about a sequence of events that I had planned out meticulously in my head. But as the words flowed through my fingers onto the keyboard, the story changed quite dramatically. Not only did the story change, but the motivations of a few of the characters turned out to be quite different as well!"
Q: Tell us a bit about your process
MS: "This is a tough question. Are necessities part of one’s process? If yes, then silence, solitude, and seclusion are an important part of my process. And optimally, I like to have a chunk of uninterrupted time to think and write. My best days of writing are when I wake up early in the morning, write for a few hours, take my dog for a long walk, then return and write for the rest of the day. At the end of such days, I feel happy. Sometimes I am so engrossed in finishing that dialog that I don’t make time to eat. I don’t recommend this by the way, because a growling stomach can be distracting!"
Q: What is your favourite kind of chocolate?
MS: "I try to buy fair trade, non-GMO, organic chocolate, preferably from a cacao growers’ cooperative. Such chocolate is usually single origin chocolate ( meaning produced from one species of cultivated cacao bean ) and one or two squares suffice for a whole day. I like dark chocolate, and most recently, I’ve been buying chocolate with bits of dried cherry or chilies. It’s most delicious and best eaten with a glass of milk!"
Q: Tell us a bit about your current WIP? When is the release date? What drew you to tell this story?
MS: "I’m currently working on a historical fiction novel that features the profound love and friendship between a male and a female character, who meet across six different time periods, one of them being the present. Amidst a tumultuous political revolution spanning the five time periods of the past, they meet and lose each other each time. Until the present, where their lives mirror the travails of the past. What inspired me to tell this story is one of my own special friendships, which sustained me through some very difficult periods of my life. My new novel is dedicated to that very special and unique friend as a token of my love and gratitude.
"The release date will probably be sometime next year."
Q: What advice would you give to new authors?
MS: "Write what you know and feel, so that the characters you create seem genuine to readers. My editor, Lee Parpart, continually reinforces that good writing enables the reader to feel the emotions ( or at least know the emotions ) that characters feel. It is through emotions that people feel drawn to a story. As a new author I feel that it’s important to oneself be able to relate to the characters one writes. Otherwise they might appear flat or disingenuous. And write a story that means something to you, so that you are compelled to finish it.
"As for non-fiction writing, I strongly suggest writing about topics that one knows about. In other words, topics related to one’s profession, or topics one has researched from multiple angles and with thoroughness. With the advent of the internet, a lot of content is mere opinion, sometimes with little factual basis. This is why I believe that in this age of rampant disinformation and propaganda, it has become even more important to write in a manner that is factual and with one’s point of view spelled out clearly at the outset.
Q: What resources do you suggest to authors?
MS: "One of the most valuable resources a serious author can have is a good editor. I didn’t realize the importance of an editor until after I had one. An editor is not only a person who reads one’s manuscript with fresh eyes; she is also a person who helps clarify and improve passages that may be clear in the writer’s head, but may be confusing to the reader. Finding a good editor is a result partly of luck and partly of hard work. I suggest refining one’s manuscript to a point where an editor will fall in love with it upon a first read-through and be eager to help improve and perfect it."
by D.W. Hitz (@dustinhitz)
The coffin opened to the humid summer air Ambrose had been expecting. The corpse he inhabited was sluggish. He could barely feel anything against his skin through its decaying flesh and withering nerves, but there was no mistaking the thick atmosphere that straddled the deep South.
The creak of the box’s hinges spoke of better days, and Ambrose agreed and wished to return to better ones himself. Once his task was completed. Maybe. This time he would catch her. This time he would end the chase.
He drew in a breath, not that his vessel needed to—more for custom or reflex, the way one would sniff a flower as they passed. He climbed free of the chamber and exited the mausoleum. He fought to see across the graveyard through clouded eyes. Mossy trees. Crumbling headstones. Overgrown paths. Once he gained his bearings, he stumbled across the grounds.
He slipped into the door at the rear of the factory. The workers had gone home for the day, and the building laid empty. The last rays of the day’s sunlight cast a rose hue through the immense windows onto the unmoving machinery and mountainous materials.
Ambrose crossed the room, the day’s activities appearing in his mind like faded holograms. This vessel’s brain was slow, but his link to the Central Neural Hub filled the gap. A woman had told another that she was pregnant. A man had nearly lost his hand in the leather press. Another man stole a wallet from one locker and a pair of shoes from another. The foreman had fired a teenage girl for letting a pair of defective shoes pass her in the Quality Control line.
He paused. That was her, Lisa Fox. She was only eighteen years old in this timeline, but it was definitely her.
Her trail led back into the locker room. He checked the lockers and found a hat and hooded sweatshirt, which he pulled over himself to disguise his decaying face and burial clothes. He followed her smell through the side exit. Her scent drew Ambrose along like a carrot on a stick. Once he had locked onto it, he had to follow, had to know where it went, regardless of what he’d have to do when he found the end of his search. She may have been the love of his life once, but not now. He pushed himself forward. He’d force himself to deal with that once he got there.
Ambrose shuffled down the side alley to the street that led into town. He walked on the side of the road, grateful for the darkening sky and the increasing cover of night. He reached Main Street. Her scent went left, over the road and into a fleabag hotel with a vertical sign reading The Victorian.
The lobby was as grimy as the gutter outside the building. A television blared from the office behind the front desk, but it wasn’t loud enough to conceal an argument between a man and a woman. Ambrose listened closely, enough to make sure they weren’t coming out. He caught the impression the man’s missing ten dollars from the woman’s job the night before was more likely to cause blood and bruises in the little room than anyone coming out to the front.
The stairs creaked as he climbed. He heard a fractured harmony as wood lowered and raised, threatening to alert guests of his motions.
On the third floor, Lisa’s scent guided him down the hall and around a corner. The second door on the right was cracked. The scent was coming from there.
He pushed the door open. On the bed laid Lisa Fox. Her eyes were shut. Her face was half-hidden in the hollow of a pillow, but it was her. No timeline or fracture of the slipstream could hide her essence from him. No matter the body she hid within or the failing senses of the one Ambrose was forced to inhabit, he would recognize her. And she would recognize him if he didn’t move quickly.
“What is that smell?” A blond-haired woman stepped out of the bathroom, her nose pinched. Her eyes fell on Ambrose. She focused on the cracked gray skin that hung loosely from his face. Yellow-green ooze dripped from his mouth and nose. Her screech would have burst his ears if they were alive enough to react.
Lisa’s eyes sprang open. They found Ambrose. Her hand darted under her pillow, returning with a .45 caliber pistol. She raised it and fired as Ambrose leaped onto the bed.
He felt a bullet crack the right side of his skull. He continued on. Another tore through his right ear, ripping it from his head. He landed on the bed, seizing Lisa’s shoulders with his bony hands. His crumbling flesh descended toward her.
Lisa fired again. The shot tore up into Ambrose’s chest, shattering ribs into shards in his front, then back. She fired again, the bullet soared behind him, slicing across the blond woman’s throat and exposing the inside of her windpipe to the outside world.
“Not this time,” Ambrose hissed through a dry, shallow breath. His face jutted downward, tearing into Lisa’s jugular. Her blood painted the dingy hotel sheets in dark crimson arcs. She would not escape justice this time.
Her gun fired. Ambrose felt his heart pop and hiss. The pistol went limp in her hand. His mind sank in despair at accomplishing his task; if only things could have been different. If only she hadn’t run. If only he hadn’t loved her so much.
Her eyes stilled. He watched her sink and become as dead as he was. He released his hold on his vessel, letting the rotten corpse tumble on top of hers.