Would you make a pact with the devil!

st-p   tartini2

One of my short stories in my book Flight of Destiny is called “The pact” it is about a desperate man, whose wife is dying, who is forced into making a pact with the devil.

History is littered with people who have taken this dramatic step.

There is even a Pope, namely Pope Sylvester II, who seemingly was way ahead of his time, and of high intellect. This French pope is credited with inventing the hydraulic organ, pendulum clock, and introducing Arabic numerals to Western Europe, on top of this he also wrote books on mathematics, natural science, music, theology and philosophy. Due to his incredible intelligence, highly tuned scientific mind,  and ingenuity  people suspected he had made a pact with the devil. He is not the only senior church figure to turn to the devil. Saint Theophilus the Penitent turned to the devil to make a deal, in order to gain a high ecclesiastical position. The contract signed in his own blood proved to be a heavy burden for Theophilus. German alchemist Faust also  is supposed to have made a pact with the devil, in order to pursue his “boundless desire for knowledge” for the next 24 years.

It seems a recurrent theme that if you are highly talented, it seems there is the possibility you have formed a pact with devil, this was the case of virtuoso violin musician Nicolo Paganini. His great virtuoso performances led people to believe he had formed a pact with the devil, and that it was the devil who was aiding him during the course of his performances. He was  refused the last rites,  and it took a while before he was finally laid to rest.  Paganini was not the only violinist to come under the microscope. It seems to be an Italian thing, Giuseppe Tartini, claimed that he dreamed that The Devil appeared to him and asked to be his servant, not only this, the devil composed piece for him, which Tartini transcribed when he awoke.  The devil is also accredited for turning Robert Johnson  a noted American blues artist into a genius. Rather than quash rumors he encouraged them.  There are quite a lot of modern day musicans who it is claimed have a made a pact with the prince of darkness, Bob Dylan, Jay-Z? Led Zeppelin, to name but a few.

Below is an exert from Flight of Destiny as Jarret encounters a man who says he can save his sick wife and unborn baby and Jarret is forced into making a pact with the devil.

pact-2014

Suddenly, he became aware his was not alone. A well dressed

man with shiny patent leather shoes was walking purposefully

towards him, as if he had something important to say.

“Jarret Lamb?” the dapper man asked in a sweetly scintillating

voice, pausing before the distraught Jarret.

Jarret froze, astonishment momentarily replacing pain.

“I can see you’ve a lot on your mind just now,” the man said

calmly, examining Jarret minutely in profile.

Jarret eyed him suspiciously, not knowing what to say.

“It’s your wife and child, isn’t it? They’re in mortal danger,”

declared the man.

“And how could you possibly know that?” demanded Jarret,

stunned.

“I just know,” the man replied matter-of-factly. “And, what’s

more, I can help.” The man’s eyes had a chillingly hypnotic draw, as

did the mesmeric tone of his voice. The man’s clothes, posture and

demeanor echoed confidence. He also emitted an enchanting aroma,

rather like an orchard of ripe fruit trees.

“How?” faltered Jarret.

“Your wife and child will survive,” avowed the man, resting a

hand gently on Jarret’s shoulder, like a father might when consoling a

son. Then his voice dropped and took on a more cautionary tone. “But

only if you do something for me in return.”

“And what exactly might that be?” asked Jarret confused, but

desperate for any shred of hope.

“You need only shake my hand, and everything will be righted. In

a few days you will receive a letter with instructions. In exchange for

your wife and child’s lives, you must carry out the instructions exactly

as written.” The man’s voice lowered to a rasping whisper. “You have

no alternative, really.”

“I see,” replied Jarret. Though trembling, his heart racing, he

couldn’t help but think, What do I have to lose? This man is probably

just a lunatic, but regardless, he’s seems more purposeful and sincere

than the doctors, who’ve thus far offered no concrete solutions or hope.

Crazy or not, he’s all I have at the moment. Jarret shrugged his

shoulders and slowly offered the man his hand. The man’s hand felt

strangely cool, and Jarret felt an icy-cold electric spark jump from the

man to him as they shook.

“There. Done and agreed,” said the man with a sense of agreeable

formality, like some of the businessmen Jarret dealt with at work.

“Now finish your walk, and return to your wife and child.”

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W is for what makes a great story?

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Confronted with a blank screen, poised to  tap away,  how to go about creating that great story. Perhaps one primary consideration is the theme.  Maybe the theme should  be a ghostly shadow within the confines of the story, not screaming at the reader, but there none the less.  It may make the reader think about their own lives, there might be a moral to be learned, but a writer should not take on the role of a preacher.

Then there has to be a plot, all the conflict or struggle that the main character or characters go through. The conflict should develop in intensity and excitement, reaching some kind of climax.  If you are writing a novel there may be a number of conflicts interspersed, but a short story will have only one principal conflict.

Moving onto story structure,  the story has to entice the reader, right from the first sentence.  Equally then ending has to round things off perfectly.  You may have your theme and an outline of the story, but how are you going to tell it… a writer needs to decide about writing the story either in “first person” or in “third person.”  Will you be using “he,” “she,” and “it”—so writing in third person means telling a story as if it’s all about other people., or will you be writing using “I”—so writing in first person means telling a story as if it happened to you.  If in your head you have a rough idea of the theme,  you will also know which tense you are going to use,  either “present tense” or “past tense.” Writing in past tense means writing as if the story already happened, which is typical  manner in which most stories are written. Writing in present tense means writing as if the story is happening right now.  Normally you can’t mix the  two.

An important consideration is the characters.  I like to “live” with characters in my head, before committing to write about them.  For me the name of the character, says a lot about the character, for example in my short stories, I have a character called “Bugeyes” and the story revolves around the fact that he is person who suffers intensely, due to his oversized eyes.  Lead characters should be someone readers can feel something in common with, or feel empathy. In my stories I love to create evil characters.  My characters are far from perfect have flaws, and idiosyncrasies.  Characters are interesting if they are not too one dimensional,  even evil characters have to have some kind of redeeming feature, or perhaps they have been victims themselves in one way or another.

Settings are also paramount. In my book there is quite a range of different settings,  some are set in America, for example my story “Opium” is set in America, post-civil war.

Then there is the question of language,  it has to really correspond with your story.

A writer will tend to use actions and speech to let readers know what’s happening. Shoing , rather than telling, using  direct more “real life” quotes like “Go away!” instead of indirect quotes like “She told him to go away.”

You don’t have to write over elaborately to write well. Don’t shy away from using simple words and simple sentences, so you words and sentences cut through easily.

I often spend a long time mulling over what is the best word to use, glued to a thesaurus. Each sentence and paragraph should resonate, I often spend a lot of time, writing and rewriting so as to get the optimum sentence. Some sentences or paragraph can be redundant. You can get carried away, lose sight of the story, or go off on tangents.

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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O is for Opium

Serpent and Apple
Serpent and Apple — Image by © 68/GK Hart/Vikki Hart/Ocean/Corbis

“Opium”  is another of my short stores in my book Flight of Destiny. A town called Jacksonville has fallen into disarray, many under the influence of the celestial drug opium. A preacher (known as Preacher Moon) is sent to stop the town falling deeper into the mire into moral collapse. He is a pious man, a kind of John the Baptist figure, who believes his strong voice and powerful words putting the fear of God into the inhabitants will bring the town into line.

A town council meeting was called by the church elders. A new force needed to be summoned to counteract this seemingly unstoppable slide into moral iniquity, and, at their behest, that force arrived the next day on a spavined, overworked, mangy-looking brute of a horse, scarcely able to navigate the town streets. The rider didn’t care about appearances. He put his trust in God to provide for all his earthly needs, including those of his horse. With his wild, shoulder length hair and scraggly beard, he looked a wild man, eyes full of zeal, capable of digging deep within a person’s soul. In other rail towns he’d proven a bastion against any evil that stood in his way. His fire and brimstone sermons were legendary, and he had a reputation for smiting even the most heinous of sinners, those acting as consorts of the very devil himself.

The preacher finds himself confronting an adversary, who he deems responsible for the evil that is prevalent in the town.

And before the day was out, there was one man in particular he had placed his sights on: the local gangster chief of the Green Triad Gang, known to everyone simply as “Gecko.” The preacher’s first move would be to locate and confront this source of all the evil scourging the town. Once he encounters Gecko he finds him to be somewhat different to what he imagined, in that Gecko, is wise and witty and more than a match for him verbally. 

“You will henceforth stop your activities, or be smitten by the Right Hand of God!” Gecko considered the threat calmly. “And what form would this punishment likely take?” he asked, as if the preacher’s answer might make a difference.

“You and your family will suffer the heat of Hell’s fire throughout all eternity,” he clarified, pointing the head of his staff menacingly at Gecko, who remained completely unruffled.

“Belief in a cruel God makes a cruel man,” Gecko sighed philosophically.

Ultimately  Opium is a story about temptation.  The Preacher is drawn into eating a piece of cake. He is also tempted by Gecko’s beautiful daughter.

Gecko smiled sweetly at the preacher, twiddling the dragon ring on his finger, then glanced at the cake.

“Will you not have something to eat with us, Preacher? I’m about to cut this cake,” Gecko said in a relaxed, convivial way, reaching for a gilded knife.

The preacher’s face soured. It was clear to him that Gecko’s offer was a gesture of hospitality rather than threat, and he was extremely hungry from the long ride. In truth, he’d lost count of the time since he had last eaten, and then, it had been mostly grasshoppers he’d come across on his travels. Still, how could he accept food from such a loathsome sinner?

“Food from the devil’s hand no doubt,” he growled in a bitter tone, shaking his head in the negative and averting his eyes from the cake and the exotic fruits the young girl had placed on the table.

“No,” contradicted Gecko, “A cake baked by my daughter, here.”

Gecko beamed proudly.

“Never,” replied the preacher, lifting his eyes and hands towards the heavens as if holding up a massive rock and waiting for God to cast it onto the tempter before him Gecko shook his head.

“Isn’t it equally sinful to spurn gifts provided by God. Surely this magnificent cake is such a gift. Wouldn’t it be wrong not to take advantage of an offer of food in order to keep yourself strong in his service? Even Jesus, if I’m not mistaken, indulged in local weddings and feasts.”

Gecko cut a large slice of cake and as he brought it to his mouth, a look of anticipatory pleasure and contentment swept across his face.

ENJOY OPIUM (the short story…I mean)

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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M is for Maggot

Serpent and Apple

Maggot is one of my short stories, it is about a circus owner, who has run into debt and is forced to sell his daughter in order to be debt free.  He is a buffoon, an oaf, with no evidence of any real likable traits. The story starts with him bargaining with Excellency, the cruel tyrant who he hopes will give him a good price for his daughter. His daughter is brought in, like some kind of merchandise.

The young girl beneath the veil might have been Cleopatra, except that but for a fine gold thong, she was entirely naked. Gold coins strung on golden chains hung from all four sides of the palanquin, making chinking sounds with each of her carriers’ steps

She has been coerced into being sell-able  goods, having been cruelly beaten by her father.

She couldn’t be more than sixteen. Her long black hair flowed  over her shoulders down to her waist, barely covering her adolescent breasts. Every male in the room stared greedily at her, none noting the smudged makeup highlighting her deep brown eyes, the result of a copious flow of tears at having been coerced.

After the young girl Apollonia is presented, some crude bartering takes place.

“Is she…pure?” demanded her would-be purchaser, shooting a quick glance in Maggot’s direction, as if this would have direct bearing on the “price” of the goods he was considering purchasing.

“Of course, Excellency,” said Maggot boldly. “She’s never been touched.”

 Finally the two men come to an agreement and Maggot’s greed is seen through the way takes the money.

 Maggot grasped the money in his gnarled fingers, trying his best to give the impression he really wasn’t interested, though, in fact, he undeniably was. His beady eyes drifted from the coins in his hand to the remaining ones flashing and glinting inside the treasury box.

 The unwilling merchandise makes one final plea to stop the sale…which will inevitable end up with the slimy tyrant violating her.

The girl’s fate decided, the four strong men shouldered the palanquin while Apollonia searched her father’s eyes a final time, beseeching him to change his mind. It was a useless gesture, as Maggot was busy counting and ogling the gold coins. To her dismay,he never gave her a second glance, and she was carried, wailing inconsolably, through the massive banquet hall doors and down a short hallway.

Maggot is a despicable man without scruples, what kind of man would sell his own daughter?

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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L is for laughter is killing me!

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I hope at least that there are some strong elements of humor in my book Flight of Destiny, sometimes humor naturally evolves in a story. If humor is evident, it is doubtlessly dark. I am British, so this perhaps accounts for a dosage of dark humor in my stories.  The humor is often surreal.

In my story Fire and Brimstone,  for some reason I came up with a Danish character called Helga, who is sent to a correctional school for delinquents by the Danish Bible society.  She is a very rotund young lady, who is seduced by a morally corrupt Night warden.

The story also seems to have an obsession with fish.  Jonathon Noteworthy (who is sent to the correctional school, arrives home to find his mother having sex with a local fishmonger).

The boy had been sent to the school following “a fire incident.” He’d come home early from school one day and noticed a distinct smell of fish. Looking about, he noticed a bloodstained striped apron, a white hat, an oiled sweater, a pair of heavy woolen trousers and two rubber boots scattered about the living room. Upstairs, he heard the repetitive sound of his mother’s beds prings. Running up the stairs three at a time, he burst into her bedroom, thinking somebody was attacking his mother. His eyes caught sight of Mr. Lucius Pike, the fishmonger, his thin sallow face with two tiny polka dot eyes, naked on top of his mother.The shock of this discovery, forces Jonathon to seek revenge on Lucius Pike. Retribution came exactly two days later, when Noteworthy broke into Pike’s Fish Mongers during the night and filled a large sack with every kind of fish he could lay his hands on. Bass, eel, haddock, mackerel, mullet, sturgeon, turbot, it didn’t matter. He dragged the sackto Pike’s house and peeked into the man’s living room window. Pike was curled up asleep in his favorite chair pulled close to the hearth for warmth, a woolen blanket draped over his skinny legs,snoring loudly, while the television across from him announced the latest fishing news.

Noteworthy rummaged about outside, located a ladder left by  some workmen, and climbed it, carrying the stuffed sack over his  shoulder like a coal miner a sack of coal onto Pike’s roof, and then began dropping the fish, one by one, down the chimney. The fish landed on the fire, and soon the living room was filled with the acrid smoke and the smell of charred fish. Just before Pike awoke, the sizzling, fire made a popping noise and leaped from the hearth onto the man’s blanket. As Pike’s living room burst into flames, a neighbor noted a boy on Pike’s roof stuffing a huge halibut into the chimney.

The image of a boy dropping fish down a chimney, might not appear funny to some, in the same way perhaps the famous Parrot sketch involving an irate  customer Mr Praline (played by John Cleese) and a shopkeeper (Michael Palin), who hold contradictory positions on the vital state of a “Norwegian Blue” parrot, while poking fun at the many euphemisms for death used in British culture, might appear lacking in humor or at least sensibility. This brings me onto the subject of “death”.  Would you like to die laughing?  Members of the Monty Python team were responsible (inadvertently)  for the death of a man named Ole Bentzen whose demise was brought about by the scene where Ken (Michael Palin)  gets chips up his nose that caused him to laugh into oblivion.  Imagine the indignity of dying from hearing a dirty joke…Pietro Aretino, an Italian author, suffocated from the hysterics that ensued after his sister told him a dirty joke. I guess the sister must  have rued killing her brother by laughter.

The British comedian/magician Tommy Cooper, may not have died laughing, but he died during the course of his penultimate show.  The audience were certainly laughing when Tommy suddenly

Slumped to the floor during an onstage comedy routine in 1984 at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. Audience members believing it was part of the act expected him to get up. When the realization that Tommy had passed away, they stopped laughing.

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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H is for how to write a killer short story.

 

 

h finished 2

To write a good short story, you need immediate impact, meaning your first sentence has to be a killer. You have to create an opening sentence like no other, that grabs the reader’s attention.   For example my story “Bugeyes” from Flight of Destiny  begins with… Bug-eyes was due a life of toil. Seed begins with Captain Spender’s wife was ovulating.  Cast from Hell begins with There it was: I was to be banished from hell.

Your plot is going to be vital as to whether your short story is a success. Deborah Eisenberg states that “the plot of a good story is likely to be a stranger, more volatile and more evanescent sort of thing than the plot of a novel”. You can’t meander with a short story.  A short story,  can’t  evoke the expanse  and diversity of life, and takes the reader’s attention towards a more limited aspect.  With full novels, the author is forced to wrap things up,  whereas the short novelist can afford to be ambiguous.  So a novel and short story have different constraints.

With short stories, you face limits, you have  create characters, that the reader will immediately identify with.  You have to create strong dialogue.  An important element in writing  for me in writing a great story is to come up with a really nasty evil character, who during the course of the story does the most despicable things. Writers  might contrive a cocktails of character flaws (don’t create a one dimensional character) into their characters, to come up with an interesting and memorable deviants.   A mindless slasher killing for no obvious reason is not going to engage readers, whereas a murderer with a lot of previous baggage and an air of sophistication will.  Writers really need to delve deep to create their deviants. Readers love an evil character, literature is strewn with them.  I would say an interesting evil character is often multi-faceted,  never straight forward,  they themselves are often in a way victims.

Being short story writer, so I am constantly looking out for ideas for new stories.  My stories are dark and surreal,  so I rely on a supply of dark thoughts flowing through my mind, as well as other sources drawn from real events, read a newspaper, they are usually brimming with ideas for short stories.

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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G is for Gomford

G finished

Gomford is one of the longer short stories in my book Flight of Destiny.  Gomford is an ugly businessman, who arrives in a secluded village,  with a beautiful young girl on his arm.  This immediately causes the village to go into a hive of gossip and speculation.  The libidos of the men in the village are sent into overdrive, each desiring the young girl.  When Gomford  leaves for one of his regular business trips,  the men try to take advantage of his absence and  try to seduce the young girl, who is surprisingly willing, but at the same time far from being amorous.  She treats each with utter disdain, making each man feeling sexually inadequate, which causes the men to go into deep depression.  It is like the village is under the spell of this young beautiful woman,  which grabs the attention of a Reverend Salmon, who sets about to address this situation.  When he tries to perform a ritual on her doorstep, accompanied by the other villagers,  he falls foul to the young girl’s brusque tones  and is made to look a fool.  Despite being set in modern times,  the Reverend Salmon, chooses to use a method, long confined to the history books, namely dunking the young girl in the local river. The girl is abducted by the Reverend and a vigilante group.

Gomford is a story about somebody who is deeply wronged. Like in many of my stories,  Gomford in the end gets his revenge.

Gomford returned to the village with more than his customary ragged suitcase. Clutched firmly in-hand was the vision of an angel who went by the name of Clarissa Honeychild. A man with seemingly all the particularities of a businessman in his thirties, Gomford nonetheless cut an awkward figure. His face was perpetually bloated, and when he spoke, it was in sniffles and snorts. His eyes resembled those of a crocodile. His thick neck, likened by many to that of a tree trunk, gave him the illusion of massive strength, and left others feeling diminutive and anxious in his presence. Gomford, through no fault of his own, was shunned by his fellow villagers and ostracized by all.

Seemingly due to his looks, Gomford was condemned to a life of celibacy, and had shared his bed with only a handful of women, all of whom demanded pre-payment for services rendered. Some outright refused him, despite the fact that as a businessman he was extremely adept, over the years having amassed a considerable fortune, and always paid notoriously well for their services. The idea of this stumpyman smothering them, even for a sizable fee, filled most working girls with aversion. Even Glynnes Trout, the local prostitute responsible for introducing practically every male denizen to sex, an old pro inspired by abject greed and with a reputation of willingness to perform eve the most depraved of acts in any and all manner and with any and all manner of men, had disrespectfully declined Glomford, despite his waving at her a sizable wad of bank notes in each fist. The event, told, retold and by now highly embellished, became a favorite topic of social conversation in the local pub when conversation had run out.The fact that he had returned with a woman on his arm, and furthermore, a young woman of such incomparable beauty, sent the village into a frenzy of agitated speculation. When it was further revealed that he had married the woman, the whispering campaign hit an unprecedented high, drowning out every other possible topic.

Francis H Powell is a writer. His recently published book is Flight of Destiny, a book of 22 short stories.

http://theflightofdestiny.yolasite.com/

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