If you have been following my blog this week, I have been showing a few examples of my editing process using the prologue to a paranormal thriller I’m working on (currently called Unleashed).
On Monday, I posted the working prologue in the post, “The Writing Process: Find & Eliminate Stupid Words“. Throughout the week, I posted showed a few of things I do when I edit and gave examples of how I used them to change my prologue:
- Writing & Editing: Find and Eliminate Useless Verbs
- Writing & Editing: Find & Eliminate Words You Overuse
- Writing & Editing: Find & Eliminate Undescriptive, Empty Words
- Writing & Editing: Find & Eliminate Cheesy Clichés
- Writing & Editing: Find & Correct Common Grammar Mistakes
This prologue is not complete yet. I will still need to give it a few re-reads to eliminate awkward sentences, make sure it flows, and possibly add in an item or two more in order to make it connect more to the story, which actually takes place in modern-day Ascension Parish, Louisiana. However, it’s much better than it was when I started, and in a pinch, I can give it to an advance reader without much worrying.
Unleashed [working title]: Prologue
Sogne d’Auvers, Provence of Gévaudan, France, June 19th, 1767
A hogtied wolf, deformed and tinier than most, swung back and forth as it dangled from the gallows in the village square. Blood trickled from its abdomen, which the villagers had ripped open, down to its snout and onto the ground below. It dripped on a collarbone that once belonged to a small child—a collarbone the villagers recovered from the wolf’s stomach.
Cries from the villagers rang out across the town and into the hills. “La Bête! La Bête! La Bête!”
La Bête du Gévaudan, the beast that had terrorized the French province, mauling and killing over one hundred people since 1764, hung limp and lifeless. This beast was not a loup garou, as many first suspected when the attacks first occurred, nor was it the wrath of God pouring out on Gévaudan as the Bishop of Mende once declared. La Bête was real. She was a wolf. And the wolf was dead.
Only one man refused to share the crowd’s joy. Gustave Géroux leaned against the tavern wall with his hands thrust in his coat pockets. The coat looked a few sizes too big and hung limply off his shoulders. His knickers, once faced with clothing more of him, now buckled under his belt. His gaunt, sunken-in face made his cheekbones protrude more than normal. A large pit formed in Gustave’s stomach as he listened to the villagers rejoice. Each cheer nauseated him.
A twenty-two-year-old nobleman who wore a silk, navy waistcoat with gold trim stood near the wolf’s carcass and addressed the crowd. Marquis Jean-Joseph d’Apcher had spent every Sunday for the past three years organizing battues, hunting parties, to search for the beast. Gustave, and many others, suspected the young lord used the beast as an excuse to avoid attending mass, but they still admired and loved their lord. Their respect for him would only grow, now that his fierce determination to find the beast finally produced results. The members of his hunting party stood behind him.
“I am not your hero,” said the Marquis d’Apcher. He pointed to the roughened, burly man with a large face and prominent cheekbones standing next to him. This man wore no dainty wig, as the Marquis did. Instead, he kept his coarse hair tied back with a ribbon. The wind and the action from the hunt had pulled some of his hair out of the ponytail, but he had not bothered to retie it. A rust-colored bull mastiff sat obediently at the man’s side.
“Here is your hero. La Bête’s killer, Jean Chastel!”
As the marquis stepped aside to allow Chastel take the stage, his gaze fell on Gustave. Gustave looked away and shifted his weight from one leg to the other. The marquis’ gaze had often fallen on Gustave for the past four months.
Chastel, oblivious to the marquis and Gustave’s exchange, stepped forward, and the crowd roared. He raised his hands to quiet the crowd and began to tell the story of how he shot la Bête.
Gustave barely listened. The rumors about Chastel had already begun to spread. Some said his son, Antoine, teetered on the insane and owned a unique menagerie of animals including such exotic species as hyenas. Some accused Chastel of poaching, insisting he spent time in prison for it. Others dismissed the accusations, claiming he spent time in jail for a prank he pulled on some of the king’s soldiers. Whatever the rumors, Gustave didn’t trust the large country bumpkin. Not that it mattered. None of this actually mattered.
Chastel held up a book of litanies to the Holy Virgin. “I was reading this,” he said, “when I saw her!”
The crowd hushed. They had already heard the story, but Gustave knew they wanted—no, they needed to hear it again. The retelling made it feel real. If this beast was La Bête, their terror would end. Their woman and children, the beast’s main targets, could finally walk through the woods and mountainsides in safety. The king’s soldiers would leave Gévaudan, allowing them to return to their farms and work the fields instead of seeking out the beast. This year’s harvest would be plentiful, and the people would not starve. Yes, the villagers needed to hear Chastel’s story once more.
Chastel held up his rifle. “I loaded it with silver bullets, in case it was a loup garou,” he said.
The crowd clung to his words. A wolf—not a werewolf—hung before them, but Chastel enjoyed reveling in his own forethought. “I knelt on the ground and prayed. When I finished, I looked up, and I saw her: la Bête!”
Chastel shook his fist in the air. His dramatic intonations had become more fantastic with each retelling of the story, noted Gustave. Next time, he might even jump in the air and land on the ground, imitating a werewolf.
The mob gasped on cue. They had memorized their role by Chastel’s fourth retelling earlier.
“I knew it was a sign from God,” continued Chastel. “I took my rifle; I aimed; I fired.” Chastel acted out the sentence, pretending to hold a rifle made of air. He paused for a breath. “And la Bête fell!” He raised his fist to the air again, and the crowd roared.
Except that’s not la Bête. The thought made Gustave’s stomach churn. The crowd should have known as well, he mused. The eye-witnesses had described a much bigger monster with a flatter snout and a more ridged back. This wolf was probably a scavenger that had eaten the true Bête’s last victim.
Gustave turned away and trudged home, feeling sick to his stomach from listening to their short-lived joy. What would happen to the villager’s joy when la Bête killed again?
Gustave stopped as he approached his home and saw something that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Under his door, someone had tucked a folded piece of paper. He reached for the note. His hands shook as he unfolded it. He stepped closer to the door to examine the contents without anyone noticing. The violent trembles made it almost impossible for him to read it.
He glanced at the message, but he paid little attention to the words. He already knew what it said. He intended to burn it later, as he had done with the others. He started to hide the note in his pocket when he heard the click of a musket near his left ear.
“What time does it say to meet?” The voice belonged to the Marquis d’Apcher.
“Ten o’clock. Tonight.” Gustave stared at the ground. He had avoided eye contact with the marquis for months. Why start now?
Gustave said nothing. He had stopped reading before he reached that part.
The marquis snatched the note out of his hands and read it. “La Ténazeyre forest? Interesting. The same forest where the wolf was shot. Appropriate, don’t you think?”
“Yes, my lord,” said Gustave.
The marquis motioned to the villagers. “They’ll be celebrating long after that, Monsieur Géroux. And I would hate for you to miss your appointment this time.” He shoved the nose of the musket closer to Gustave’s face. “Move.”
A few hours later, the Marquis leaned against the tree with his hunting rifle pointed at Gustave. “There’s still time,” he said. “I can get you a priest to perform last rights.”
Gustave stared at the ground, still refusing to look the marquis in the eye. “No priests.” He might have deserved absolution for his sins before the attacks, but not now.
Every passing moment brought them closer to ten o’clock. Fear—mortal fear—now replaced the guilt that had seeped into Gustave’s bones and eaten through his soul. He had seen what happened to la Bête’s victims. Sweat dripped from his forehead, down his chin, and onto the forest floor. “My lord, please have mercy.”
“Mercy?” The marquis’ face remained emotionless. Noblemen knew how to maintain control. “This is mercy. You allowed others to die so you could cling to life, only to be reduced to this.” He prodded Gustav in the ribs with his riffle. “Hiding from la Bête has reduced you to a skinny mass of bones. It’s not good for your health,” he added, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “This ends tonight. And we will let the people think they have their Bête.”
“Kill me now. Please.”
“Taking your life is not my decision to make. It is la Bête’s.”
“You won’t escape it either,” said Gustave, trying another ploy to escape.
The marquis threw the note Gustave had found earlier at his feet. “I’m not the one it’s after.”
The temperature started to drop, and the clear, yet humid air turned into mist.Nearby, bushes and underbrush rumbled and creaked. Something much larger than a wolf approached.
Gustave’s heart beat increased. He felt numb. He considered running, but the marquis kept the rifle aimed at his heart.
The rustling in the bushes grew nearer, and Gustave could see the dim outline of the creature that had haunted his every movement for three years. He fell to his knees, terrified. Behind him, Gustave heard the marquis let out a cry of horror and his rifle hit the ground with a thud. This bête was no beast.
The darkened form stepped into the clearing. It pounced, and the forest of Ténazeyre echoed with Gustave’s tormented screams.
On the ground lay the original note stained in blood. Along with the Ten O’clock and La Ténazeyre Forest, it contained the words:
Fantasy novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. Weston speaks to children, teens, and adults about writing and the process of getting published. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. Find out more about The Elysian Chronicles at www.elysianchronicles.com.
Your day of reckoning has come.