Sunday, July 25, 2010

Forties Club Finalist #44

by B. Nagel

Qwentin, a Fifth, believed in fate and hope. His days depended on it. Marooned to die at Ward Hollow, that prison at the end of the shifting world, according to law, according to custom. The alluvial plain spread its arms around him, enveloped him in fens, washed the grit from beneath his swollen feet. The ropes that held him, faced him westward, would not yield but he had faith.

Not in Humanity or God but in poetry.

He recited the lines, lifted from the out-of-favor Book of Prophets:

"I found you in the waste land,
valued beyond measure,
hidden and forgotten.
I quested for you,
a jewel to sparkle around my neck."

Though the writer sank to a handful of dust before Qwentin's mother's mother passed; though Fifths never returned; Qwentin scanned the liquid sky for sails.

Jael would search for him. She and Qwentin shared a mother, shared a room, shared a plan to shatter the Rules. Strictures binding mothers to birth and children to task. Except for Fifths.

Firsts shall fight,
Seconds shall sail,
Thirds shall trade,
Fourths shall farm,
Fifths are never born.

A dimlit drowninghouse, to be born a Fifth.

Waters rose to swallow the sun, baptizing her parched skin. Qwentin closed his eyes.

A hand on his face awakened him to the night sky. Jael's eyes, a water jug to his lips. The ropes behind him loosened. A woman's voice in his ear.

"Come, son. Let us remake the world."


JR's Thumbprints said...

I'll have to read this a "fifth" time. I love the imagery, but the main character, in my interpretation, is reduced to a fetus. I could be wrong, but I know one thing for certain: I'll return. Very memorable piece.

Oddyoddyo13 said...

Loved how poetic this is.

Loren Eaton said...

Dense, mythic and poetic. Reminds me a bit of the myth of Prometheus. Nicely done, B.

B. Nagel said...

JR, Oddy(x2)o13, Loren -

Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. I'm glad you all found it worthwhile and I can only hope that other folks do as well.

I look forward to seeing what everyone has to say.


Anonymous said...

I suppose you could say that he IS a fetus, as he was 'never born.'

Sarah Laurenson said...

Wow! Nice, nice, nice.

I feel like I'm still breathing this one in. Wonderful voice. Poetic to the core - even the prose.

Is Jael a second?

It's an amazing beginning to something much larger if you ask me.

B. Nagel said...


I hadn't meant to write it like that, but you are more than welcome to read it that way. He's just a tied-up dude faithing that his rescue will come.


Wow. Thank you! Jael is a second, and half-sister to Qwentin. Though Q is the narrator, I think J is my favorite.

PJD said...

I love this. You've done a great job building the world for us with just a few snippets, all of which lead us through the moment.

The way I read it, either the MC was hidden and eventually discovered and sent off to prison, or Fifths are allowed to grow to a certain age before they're sent off. Born might be a euphemism for coming of age, or it might be an actual statement that Fifths would be aborted if discovered. The out-of-favor (LOVE that description) Book of Prophets tells us that we're in for a big story.

This is terrific.

B. Nagel said...


I toyed with reasons for his age, but never could settle on one. For as short as this is, I didn't want to try and explain everything. The description of The Book was a trial, so I'm glad to hear the end result works.


Anonymous said...

Whatever you do, B, don't remake this world. Leave it just as it is - perfect.

Lee said...

That was excellent! Hard to pack so much detail into 250 words or less, but you did it.

B. Nagel said...

Aerin, Lee-

Thank you so much! There were a lot of tempting rabbit holes to fall down, but I had to keep it tight to meet the limitations. Now I get to chase those rabbit trails!


Jade L Blackwater said...

A pleasure to read, and I especially like the poetic qualities of this piece.

You cover so much ground that I feel equipped for a much bigger story.

Aniket Thakkar said...

I too was just stuck on the age part. For Quentin ought to be at least close to ten for him to recite such good lines. ;) But your comment explained why you chose to kept so. It has such a brilliant setting. Great job B.

Michael Morse said...

A very complex tale in so few words. The story made me fell a lot smarter than I actually am when I finally "got" it.

Katherine Tomlinson said...

Dense, in a good way--crammed with gorgeous words. Lovely read, thank you.

Unknown said...

Hi B.

I too love the mythos I found while enjoying your piece, nicely done!

Dottie :)

JaneyV said...

B, you've captured so much in so few words - this incredibly complex dystopian future, loyalty, love and family versus authority, hope in the face of damnation. And that's before I mention the incredible beauty of the words. I loved this line:

Waters rose to swallow the sun, baptizing her parched skin.

Well done B - beautifully written.

Laurel said...

This is stunning. The tone is as much a part of the world building as the bits of poetical lore inserted into the narrative. You've set up a world, a conflict, and a quest in 250 words.

Beautifully written and I love the optimistic ending.


AidanF said...

Wonderful, poetic world. You do a superb job of getting across so much of the world in so little space and actively moving the story forward. I wish Qwentin & Jael luck on remaking the world.

B. Nagel said...

Jade, Aniket, Michael, Katherine, Dottie, Janey, Laurel, Aidan-

*puff, puff* Whew, that's a lot of people to thank. Which I do. Very, very much.

I'm so glad you liked the story. This went somewhere completely different than I ever planned and I'm glad I took the ride.

Else, I'd still be carting around a scrap of paper with some vague phrases about a lonely librarian, fifth son of a fifth son, in an abandoned river town.

Deb Smythe said...

Wow. An epic fantasy in 250 words. The age thing did make me pause and think, but in a good way. I like pondering and learning the rules/ways of a world as I go.

Vincent Kale said...

Rich imagery, thorough world building and efficient word choice. Not sure how you managed all that!

The mention of Qwentin as a "fifth" reminded me of Andrew "Ender" Wiggin, who was a Third. It seems your world is slightly more lenient in population but more strict on the punishment. I only hope Qwentin gets a chance like Ender did!

B. Nagel said...


Thanks for reading through the confusion. If this gets expanded, I'll spend some time setting up the rules and Q's age.


How'd I manage it? Practice, revision and several sets of willing eyes to look it over.

I really hadn't made the Ender's Game connection. Oops.

Catherine Vibert said...

B, LOVED this. A whole world, felt somewhat like an old celtic world. Wonderful.