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Brigit's Flame Entry- Week 3 February

Title: Down to the Filter
Author: keppiehed
Rating: R
Warnings: language, character death
Word Count: 1718
Prompt: “snapshot”
A/N: Written for week #3 at brigits_flame.








“Please? I heard you're the best.”

Beau took a drag from the last cigarette in the pack. Damnit. He had been trying to make these last. “I don't do that anymore,” he said, watching the smoke mingle with his words.

“But Greg sent me! He said you could help!” The woman started to cry. But then they all did, eventually. It was just a question of when. Fucking Greg.

Beau waved the smoke away. “Well, that isn't my problem. Take it up with Greg.” He couldn't even muster up the 'sorry' that seemed only polite. It would sound forced, anyway, so why bother?

“I'm desperate. I'll do anything.” The woman dug a frayed tissue out of her purse and blew her nose, disgusting Beau further. “Don't you care at all?”

No. Beau shrugged. “You've got it all wrong, lady. I just can't help you. That's all.”

“What is it? Money? I can pay.” The woman started talking faster. “Name the price; I'll get it for you.”

It was all so predictable. Was there a script for this sort of thing that they handed out to parents of missing children? It sure seemed like it, because it was all the same damned thing. Beau took one last regretful puff of his cigarette before he had to admit that there was nothing left of it. He stared at the dying ember, his weariness as visible to him as the line of ash crumbling at the tip. The smoke left his lungs in a sigh he couldn't hide, and he crushed the butt in the filthy ashtray he hadn't emptied in days. “You came on a lucky day, Mrs. ...”

“Newbury,” she supplied, the hope in her eyes unmistakeable.

“Whatever. Let's be clear: I need cash from you. This is a business arrangement. I'm not your friend, and I am not helping you to solve this case. I am supplying you with a one-time service, you get that? And in exchange, you are going to give me money. Agreed?” Beau hated himself for letting himself get to this place again, for being such a screw-up that he had to do this. He kept his eyes on the wood-grain pattern of his desk. He didn't want to see her eyes. He'd seen them before in every other mother that had ever sat in that chair.

“Yes, yes. Thank you so much, Mr. Burgess!” Her gratitude was sickening.

“Just Beau. Bring me one thousand, cash. And three snapshots of your choosing. Drop them in my mailbox with the first name of your relative and a return address and only that. Do you understand?” Beau ignored the tendril of tension that was twining its way around his temples. It was beginning.

“Yes, but how—”

“I'll be in touch with you. If you contact me or break this arrangement, our agreement is off. Is that understood?” Beau just wanted her gone.

“Yes. How long do you think it will take you?” Mrs. Newbury stood up.

“As long as it takes. Does it really matter, at this point?” Beau jiggled his knee. He was dying for another cigarette.

“Yes, Mr. Burgess, I believe it does. Or else I wouldn't be here,” Mrs. Newbury said. “I'll see myself out.”

*


Beau wasn't surprised to see a fat envelope in his box by the end of the week. They were all the same. She wasn't kidding when she said she was desperate. Well, he was, too. He counted the money first, then went out to buy smokes. The rest was for rent. He was behind a few months. This would at least get him some goodwill with the landlord, even if it wouldn't pay off his debt. Maybe he could find a real job in the meantime. He hadn't had much luck with steady work, but he would be damned if he was going to rely on this kind of business forever. It was just a matter of time, that was all. He just had to keep looking, and something was bound to turn up.

The rest of the contents of the envelope were a different matter entirely. There was a way he had to go about things. He didn't like it one bit, but he had been doing this for long enough now to know that he had to follow the procedure. Beau wished that he could conduct this business as if he were adding a column of numbers. Yet this was not just any task. He could not simply apply his energy and get a result. He had to wait for the right time. And in the meantime, there was a price to pay.

He read the name on the envelope. Rachel. It had been written in careful script, most likely by a woman. A mother. Beau took out the pictures and laid them in a row.

One was, predictably, a baby. Indistinguishable from any other, the baby was wrapped in a swaddling cloth and seemed only a few hours old, at most. The next was the requisite school picture that most parents selected. It showed a pretty girl with long brown hair and a red sweater. She was smiling politely in front of the universal blue background. She must have been about fifteen. The last shot was a candid photo, a group snapshot of three people together. Beau recognized Mrs. Newbury and Rachel herself, and there was another girl there who resembled Rachel enough to be her sister. They were all laughing at something off-camera. They looked happy.

Beau couldn't guess the significance of these particular photos, but he'd given up trying years ago. He simply held them. He stared at them, looking into Rachel, her eyes and her smile, the way her eyebrows quirked and the way the sunlight caught her hair. He stared at the plumpness of her baby cheeks, gazed at her little fists they clutched the edge of the blanket. He looked upon her staged junior-high portrait until no detail was unknown to him, until the red of her sweater bled into his eyeballs and her essence was burned into his brain. Rachel …

And then it began, his fever dreams of her calling to him in the night. This part could last forever, it seemed. He would wake in the pre-dawn with her name on his lips, with the sound of her voice in his ear. Beau hated what he called the in-between; the time between studying her and being able to do anything about it. The dreadful wait.

It started with a few interrupted hours of sleep, but it would continue until he was driven half-mad with visions of her. There was nothing Beau could do to rush the process; they would reveal themselves when they were ready. He would sit, every day, with pen in hand, but his paper would remain blank until the time was right. One boy drove him to distraction for weeks until he revealed himself. Beau always swore it was the last time he would do it, but there was always some poor schmuck who needed “closure”, some piteous family who couldn't – wouldn't – leave until they'd found the truth. But Beau knew they didn't want the truth. He'd seen it, and it wasn't ever what they came for.

Beau's hand trembled as he tried to light the cigarette. He'd been seeing flashes of her for days, so it shouldn't be long now. He drew the smoke into his lungs, and exhaled, enjoying the

trees

Beau blinked. The first breakthrough. It was time. He set down his cigarette and concentrated.

trees

evergreens

forest

she was hanging, from an evergreen.


It was time to sketch. Beau picked up his pencil, the pencil that had been waiting for days, and he drew. He had lost of sense of time, but he knew he was done with a sense of finality that accompanied these moments. He set down the pencil and looked at his work.

Beau wasn't often surprised, but he was sure he'd glimpsed Rachel, hanged. His sketch showed a grove of pines, the ground thick with fallen needles. The only sign that anything might be out of place was a slight disruption near the base of one tree. Beau narrowed his gaze. It looked like the tip of a bone, maybe a femur. He shrugged. It wasn't up to him to guess what had happened. He had been paid to provide the whereabouts of the loved one in question, dead or alive. This was Rachel's final resting place, of that he could be certain. The fact that it was indistinguishable from any other grove of trees and that it opened up as many questions as it answered was not his problem. He had performed his part in this exchange.

As Beau packed up the three photos and the sketch to return to Mrs. Newbury, he knew that she would be unsatisfied with his service. They all were. They all seemed to think that he owed them the civic duty of leading them to a body if was wasn't going to provide them with their live child. Beau licked the envelope and dropped it in the mailbox. He only wished he was so easily rid of Rachel's ghost. She would fade out in time – they all did, eventually – but they seemed to leave a little bit of themselves behind. He was sick of doing this.

Beau was going to look for a new job, starting tomorrow. To hell with these ghosts and their parents. Their sorrow stained his soul even after they had departed, and he was tired of it. Beau lit another cigarette and smoked it down to the filter. That was the last one, he promised himself. The rest he would save. He'd make them last this time.

The knock on his door startled him. “Mr. Burgess? Greg sent me. I heard you're the best. Please let me in.”

His eyes strayed to the half-empty pack. What could one more hurt? He'd savor this one and get a job tomorrow. He ignored the flash of long hair that still haunted his vision and got up to answer the door.

Comments

( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
eyedsofmarch
Feb. 16th, 2011 01:55 am (UTC)

You know, that's not anywhere near a typical image of a psychic, but when you really think about it, when you really think what that kind of thing can do to someone's life and how it must make them feel - seeing death all the time - Beau comes out so vividly real.

Your characterization is amazing. I was sucked right in, I want to read more stories about Beau and get to know him better, though I feel like I already know everything I need to know about him.

You write so beautifully and the take on the prompt is perfect! Well done.


keppiehed
Feb. 16th, 2011 01:58 am (UTC)
Oh, thanks very much! That is just exactly what I was aiming for: everything you said! So I got it right!

However, I have a feeling that I am going to be tipping my hat to you this week in the polls. Not only was that the perfect embodiment of the prompt, but you had the emotional punch to go with it. If you don't win, it won't be from my lack of vote, that's for certain!
eyedsofmarch
Feb. 16th, 2011 02:23 am (UTC)

Oh, I don't know about that.

I think your take on the prompt is better and there is no lack of emotion here either, it's just not the same one. You went at something from a very original angle and your character is so well drawn he might as well be walking around in my living room right now, chainsmoking.

I'll be cheerleading you this week.
leticiae
Feb. 16th, 2011 05:39 am (UTC)
Don't get me wrong, this was very good, but I couldn't help wonder at the end of the story if Greg was some sort of supernatural, pimp wannabe. ... I guess that's just the slanted sideness in my thinking.

I've had a few encounters with ghosts.... it's ok if you know the person, but if you don't, they can be a bother. ... dead people are not nearly as bad as actual demons and other more powerful spirits.... but that's just what I've seen.... and now, I'm just babbling.

Great use of the prompt-- snapshot. :)

Edited at 2011-02-16 05:40 am (UTC)
keppiehed
Feb. 16th, 2011 03:01 pm (UTC)
I would love to hear more about your ghostly encounters. How very interesting! It is a truly fascinating subject. I am not ashamed to admit that I would love to be in your shoes, but I don't have the constitution for it; I'm sure I'd never sleep again. I hope you tell me some stories. I would love to hear more from the real expert!
hereticalvision
Feb. 16th, 2011 12:29 pm (UTC)
Ooh, interesting concept. I kind of like the reluctant-detective aspect of the psychic here. Seems kind of like Matt Damon's character in Hereafter? Interesting take.
keppiehed
Feb. 16th, 2011 02:56 pm (UTC)
Oh, Hereafter is on my list, but I haven't seen it yet. I hope it is good.

Thanks for stopping by to read my original work! Hey, you're at the Flame sometimes, right? I hope we see you back there. It's always good to see a fellow fanficcer brougt over to o-fic!
hereticalvision
Feb. 16th, 2011 03:17 pm (UTC)
I dunno, when I tried it I wasn't overly taken with the prompts. Maybe it was just a bad batch? But I would like to write more O-Fic, just need to finish my fest fics and find the time!
keppiehed
Feb. 16th, 2011 03:38 pm (UTC)
Oh, I hear you. This isn't the best batch of prompts I have seen. And OMG, I am always swearing that's the last fest ... and yet I'm in another Snarry. HAHAHA. Isn't that the way it goes? I think RL needs to step off so I can write. Damn RL for always getting in my way all the time!
hereticalvision
Feb. 16th, 2011 03:47 pm (UTC)
IKR. Frickin work, interfering with my writing time.
w_x_2
Feb. 16th, 2011 02:51 pm (UTC)
I love how you ended it.

Th first time you sent it to me it wasn't complete and therefore I could only guess at what he was actually doing.

I am so proud of you, this is spectacular ^^
keppiehed
Feb. 16th, 2011 02:58 pm (UTC)
Aw! *hugs* You are my best cheerleader! I didn't want to make you read it through again a second time; it was bad enough for you to have to deal with all of my angsty insecurity the first time. I don't think it's spectacular! You are always so nice. Thank you so much for being so good to me! *twirls you*
w_x_2
Feb. 16th, 2011 04:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you ^^ But I did tell you I wanted to see how it finished :)

Well, you're opinion doesn't matter when it comes to your writing and you're flushed and flustered :P

You're welcome ^^ *claps*
(Deleted comment)
keppiehed
Feb. 17th, 2011 03:16 pm (UTC)
I have not read Red Dwarf , though I know it is very famous. I'm glad you thought it was different! It was a fun one to write, even though I think I might have rushed the end a bit. My pacing always leaves something to be desired. Thanks for always supporting me and taking the time to read!
hbart
Feb. 21st, 2011 04:53 am (UTC)
Well this was interesting. To me, it reads like a story about a junkie and his addiction. He has no job, and is behind on the rent. Seems to have no real purpose in life except that he IS going to quit, dammit. But these insistent dealers of missing children just dangle it in front of him and he is too weak to hold to his "no." So he feeds his demons with their demons and it becomes cyclic. He's no more going to kick this than his smoking habit.

In the end, I sort of wonder if Greg is meant to be one of the more damning spirits who won't let him quit, or just a person trying to help these parents. Well done, my dear.
(Deleted comment)
keppiehed
Feb. 21st, 2011 02:21 pm (UTC)
LOL! And I don't smoke, so I was hoping I got it right!
keppiehed
Feb. 21st, 2011 02:20 pm (UTC)
First of all: YAY for you and your new icon pic! *cheers* (That's why I gave you MY icon thumbs-up)

I love that your review was exactly what I was aiming for. In fact, everything you said was entirely perfect. You always say you don't get these things, but you got it spot on. So even if it was kind of dark, and I know you don't really like that, you really cheered me up to see your review. I haven't been doing too well in the polls lately, so it is good to see when people (and you, especially) like and get my work. Man, this is a tough business, isn't it? *sweats bullets*
(Deleted comment)
keppiehed
Feb. 24th, 2011 08:57 pm (UTC)
You know this was halfway decent because it isn't week #4, when I commence shooting myself in the foot. ;) Thanks for reading it. I didn't mean to strongarm you into it!
(Deleted comment)
openedlocket
Feb. 26th, 2011 12:05 am (UTC)
Editing Time! :D
Hey! So I'm finally returning the favor and am here with your edit :D This was an interesting way to approach last weeks prompt. I love how creatively you did it and the characterization of Beau. I agree with everyone, you made him really realistic. You did a fantastic job.

Here are just a few tiny edits:

This is a pretty small thing but I was thinking you can combine these two sentences-

“The woman started to cry. But then they all did, eventually.”
You can also take out the ‘but then’. This isn’t necessary but it’ll make the sentences sound less cut off.

“Newbury,” she supplied, the hope in her eyes unmistakeable [should be spelled ‘unmistakable’].


“I'm not your friend, and I am not helping you to solve this case.”
Removing the ‘to’ here might help the sentence flow a bit smoother.

“Beau hated what he called the in-between; the time between studying her and being able to do anything about it.”

Is it just me, or was this a sneaky reference to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar? Maybe it’s just me but great job on that anyway. :-bd

“…of leading them to a body if was [he] wasn't…”

And that's it. Hoped this helped even slightly. See you at week four!
keppiehed
Mar. 2nd, 2011 01:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Editing Time! :D
I am so sorry for the tardiness of my reply. It in no way indicates my ungratefulness for the work done on my behalf. I have been ill, but I want you to know that I appreciate the thoroughness of the edit you sent. Thank you so much for your work, and good luck to you in the polls this week!
openedlocket
Mar. 3rd, 2011 12:28 am (UTC)
Re: Editing Time! :D
Oh no problem, I understand completely :) It's no problem at all, you didn't need to worry. Good luck to you too :D Hope you had fun this month.
mermaidbia
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:23 pm (UTC)
Hello, dear, I'm your other editor, a little late, as is starting to become my routine...let's rock!

General opinion:
Hm. This is a finely-crafted story, and the basic premise is delightfully ambiguous - I enjoy the idea of psychic gifts being a burden and having a character deal with it, it's an intruiging concept. However, Beau does not really appeal to me, personally. I know what you're trying to do, you're trying to paint the picture of a man who's sick with his lot in life in general, and in places it comes across as gritty and realistic, but sometimes I think you try a little too hard to make him come off as cool and uninvolved. Many authors try to pull off this brooding, streetwise and unsatisfied character in this sort of noir-ish, gloomy narration - mostly this is attempted by inserting a lot of gratuitious swearing, which you fortunately stayed away from, or by painting all the other characters as needlessly hysterical and effeminate in order to make the protagonist come off as all the cooler - but, I dunno, most of the time these attempts fail to make the character truly enjoyable to read. Sometimes the attempt to make a character look "cool" can come off as brash and unsympathetic, and I don't really see what we are supposed to relate with. I get the idea that Beau is disenchanted with the world because he continually sees death, yes, I get that, especially in the middle when you've got these delightful snatches of how the gift works, but it's not very much, and I get it mostly from the plot itself, not necessarily the character. My advice would be to try to ease up on the "cool". I'm not saying you should change the character - the character lives and breathes with you - but maybe imply reactions rather than spell them out, and perhaps show a little bit more of Beau's suffering, and illustrate why his character has become so detached and doesn't bother with sympathy anymore. A little backstory, perhaps? A little more insight as to what the visions do to him, mentally and physically? Remember, everything works to paint the picture of this character. Perhaps as a result of the character being so brash, I found some of your prose, especially in the middle, rather stilted and unengaging. You have many, many short, staccato sentences that are more like disconnected fragments than real narration, and many of your lines begin with "he" or repeatedly have the same subject, which tends to pile up in the reader's head and dull down the experience (readers have inner editors, too!) I dunno, after I've seen what greatness you can accomplish in prose, this left me rather unawed in comparison, maybe because this shorthand style doesn't really suit you - like you were TRYING to pull off a staccato flow but couldn't really fully get into it. But remember, this is all just my opinion and based on personal experience. But I believe you could improve a lot on this if you went through the prose and tweaked with some of the repetitive patterns.

Going paragraph by paragraph, as usual, to point out what occurs to me, both positive and negative. Again, these are suggestions, purely objective ones, since I belong to the "whatever works, works" caste of editors. Everything suggested should be taken with a grain of salt, you decide for yourself what you want to work with:
mermaidbia
Mar. 1st, 2011 09:23 pm (UTC)
i>“Please? I heard you're the best.”</i>
I'm not sure if I should applaud or critisize you for this opening line, because it's two-sided: On the one hand, it's a very classy line that perfectly sets the stage and introduces the style you're going for, on the other hand, this line is potentially so clichéd in itself that you're risking losing people early.

Damnit. He had been trying to make these last.
To me, 'damnit' looks kinda wrong - I've seen "damn it" as two words and "dammit" as a pulling together, but never the two right words pulled together...

watching the smoke mingle with his words.
NICE image there!

It was all so predictable. Was there a script for this sort of thing that they handed out to parents of missing children?
This, this - and Beau's "disgust" at the mother - it's somehow all laying it on a bit too thick, IMO. This has been done before, with the exact same technique (I should know, I have an assassin character like this myself!) and I don't see what exactly "softens" Beau up, why he doesn't just chase her out of his office. What makes him tick? What keeps driving him into these kinds of jobs, aside from the money? Money isn't everything. I think there's something deeper there, some fascination, and you're not telling it! ;)

the hope in her eyes unmistakeable.
"unmistakable"

He didn't want to see her eyes. He'd seen them before in every other mother that had ever sat in that chair.
I like this, because it implies a softer side of him, even if it doesn't outright tell about it. Again, there's something there.

“Yes, Mr. Burgess, I believe it does. Or else I wouldn't be here,”
NICE, surprising take on the mother here; she's not as weak as she seems! Good job!

He counted the money first, then went out to buy smokes. The rest was for rent. He was behind a few months.
This is where you start to slide into that staccato style, every sentence or fragment one piece of information exactly, and it left me personally kinda cold, because you could connect these sentences into slightly longer ones, add a conjunction here and there, to weave it all together more smoothly. In places, it reads like morse code and is grating on the mind.

It had been written in careful script, most likely by a woman. A mother.
This is unnecessarily stilted, because we already kind of gathered that it's a mother.

gazed at her little fists they clutched the edge of the blanket
Slipped your eyes here: "little fists that clutched the edge of the blanket" (nice image, though!)

until the red of her sweater bled into his eyeballs and her essence was burned into his brain. This is beautifully intense and physical, might be my favourite line in this.

I like the next paragraphs, these little snatches of insight into how the gift works through him. I stand corrected here, you do plunge into his psyche a little bit. And see, this is the kind of thing I think you should concentrate on, draw it out a bit more towards the beginning of the piece and the introduction of Beau. :)

He had lost of sense of time,
Whoops, slipped again:
[Error: Irreparable invalid markup ('<ihe'd>') in entry. Owner must fix manually. Raw contents below.]

i>“Please? I heard you're the best.”</i>
I'm not sure if I should applaud or critisize you for this opening line, because it's two-sided: On the one hand, it's a very classy line that perfectly sets the stage and introduces the style you're going for, on the other hand, this line is potentially so clichéd in itself that you're risking losing people early.

<i>Damnit. He had been trying to make these last. </i>
To me, 'damnit' looks kinda wrong - I've seen "damn it" as two words and "dammit" as a pulling together, but never the two right words pulled together...

<i>watching the smoke mingle with his words.</i>
NICE image there!

<i>It was all so predictable. Was there a script for this sort of thing that they handed out to parents of missing children?</i>
This, this - and Beau's "disgust" at the mother - it's somehow all laying it on a bit too thick, IMO. This has been done before, with the exact same technique (I should know, I have an assassin character like this myself!) and I don't see what exactly "softens" Beau up, why he doesn't just chase her out of his office. What makes him tick? What keeps driving him into these kinds of jobs, aside from the money? Money isn't everything. I think there's something deeper there, some fascination, and you're not telling it! ;)

<i>the hope in her eyes unmistakeable.</i>
"unmistakable"

<i>He didn't want to see her eyes. He'd seen them before in every other mother that had ever sat in that chair.</i>
I like this, because it implies a softer side of him, even if it doesn't outright tell about it. Again, there's something there.

<i>“Yes, Mr. Burgess, I believe it does. Or else I wouldn't be here,”</i>
NICE, surprising take on the mother here; she's not as weak as she seems! Good job!

<i>He counted the money first, then went out to buy smokes. The rest was for rent. He was behind a few months.</i>
This is where you start to slide into that staccato style, every sentence or fragment one piece of information exactly, and it left me personally kinda cold, because you <i>could</i> connect these sentences into slightly longer ones, add a conjunction here and there, to weave it all together more smoothly. In places, it reads like morse code and is grating on the mind.

<i>It had been written in careful script, most likely by a woman. A mother.</i>
This is unnecessarily stilted, because we already kind of gathered that it's a mother.

<i>gazed at her little fists they clutched the edge of the blanket</i>
Slipped your eyes here: "little fists that clutched the edge of the blanket" (nice image, though!)

<i>until the red of her sweater bled into his eyeballs and her essence was burned into his brain. </i> This is beautifully intense and physical, might be my favourite line in this.

I like the next paragraphs, these little snatches of insight into how the gift works through him. I stand corrected here, you do plunge into his psyche a little bit. And see, this is the kind of thing I think you should concentrate on, draw it out a bit more towards the beginning of the piece and the introduction of Beau. :)

<i>He had lost of sense of time, </i>
Whoops, slipped again:
<iHe'd lost his sense of time/He'd lost sense of time</i>

The ending is also enjoyably ambiguous, because Beau was so adamant about ending it a few sentences earlier. Again: SOMETHING THERE that keeps him at it, and I want to know what.

That's all I got, dear! Hope you could make something of it. Mermaid out!
keppiehed
Mar. 2nd, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC)
I appreciate the time and thought you gave to this edit, as you usually do. I have to apologize, as it is clear that you did not really enjoy the story, and I have been in a position many times, myself, of having to edit a story I did not enjoy, and it can be a burden.

You say that I have been capable of greater things in the past with a different style, that my prose was, perhaps, more elegant. I must say that while I agree with your comments concerning this story and its general gracelessness, I must say I disagree about any past level of talent. All I have is what is offered on the page before you, however clunky and staccato it might be. I do my best to learn from the edits of the people who offer their opinions, but I am not a writer of great talent, and I only apologize, again, if my style is one that offends the sensibilities of one who knows and prefers to read better things. We work to the best of our abilities, hoping to learn more, but sometimes the limit of capability is reached in some before others, and I fear that is the case with me. Still, I thank you for your time, and I only hope that your efforts are not misguided and that I may still have something to learn, however small, after all is said.
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