Saturday, March 22, 2008


I've been thinking more about details. In my writer's group, we were each to write a story for one member to fill in the details. When offering critiques of our writing, Josh often comes up with convoluted backgrounds for characters. We were joking around the last time we met and decided that each of us had to write a story for him to fill in the details.

This is what I wrote. Of course, it is missing all the details. Go ahead and fill in your own!

Mumbai could hear his women below, their cries prickling the soles of his feet, pressed hard against the cold planks of the ship’s deck. He was powerless to prevent the fate about to befall Kantha. Mumbai thought of the promise he’d made, regretting it once again. Now it was too late to take it back. It might be too late for everything. Sighing, Mumbai broke his contact with the deck before he was caught.

These self-important pale men, fair of skin and eyes had no right to chain him like this. They were like demonic ghosts. The tallest white devil strode back and forth down the rows, tapping a whip against his thigh in rhythm to the chanting--chanting he could not hear.

Beside Mumbai sat three others. On the bench beside him were four more. And behind him—an entire crew pulled in rhythm, their chanting heard only in Mumbai’s head. His manacled arms clanked an offset beat. Chant, stroke, clank. Chant, stroke, clank. On and on. He thought the sound would never end.

Kantha cried again, screams of agony disrupting their rowing. The rhythm faltered, and the white devil raised his whip in threat. Growling, Mumbai started chanting again, and the rhythm quickly resumed. The white devil stayed his hand, scowling at Mumbai in anger. Once again, the whip beat in rhythm to the unheard sound.

Mumbai risked a glance at the shore, hazy in the distance. It was at least two days away. He shivered, partly in anticipation and partly in dread. Inside, Mumbai could feel its pull, chanting to him in time to the rhythm in his head.

“Do you think to stop it?” The devil leaned in and whispered in Mumbai’s ear. Mumbai hissed in shock, and the devil laughed. “You are powerless to stop it. Don’t even try.” A whip across his back emphasized the devil’s point.

The cries from below stopped abruptly, the silence eerie. Mumbai splayed his toes flat against the deck of the ship, trying to feel what was below, but nothing reached him.

“Don’t.” One word was all that was spoken, but it was enough. Mumbai curled his toes inward in recoil. Chant, stroke, clank, the sound continued. Dread built with each stroke of the oar. It wouldn’t be long now.

“Yes, good. Good,” the devil whispered in his ear again.

Promises made, promises broken. If it wasn’t for his promise… Glancing furtively at the devil, Mumbai placed his toes flat against the deck once again. This time, Kantha’s shallow breathing whispered through his toes, fueling Mumbai’s resolve. The whip came down hard on his back, breaking the chanting to a million fragments in his mind. Breaking his connection to Kantha. At least he knew she was alive. For now.

Mumbai smiled inwardly. He’d bought them a small amount of time, but it might be all he needed.

“Again,” the devil ordered. Rather than risk another whip across the back, Mumbai started to chant again. The devil watched the shore, appearing disinterested. Mumbai knew the truth. The marks on his back proved the devil’s interest.

Turning abruptly, the white devil stared at Mumbai, chilling him to the core. “Do it now,” he ordered. It was time. Mumbai had only one chance. One chance to save himself or to keep his promise, a promise he did not want to keep.

Splaying his feet flat, Mumbai started to chant out loud. The noise roared around him, evil, noxious. Bile rose in Mumbai’s throat and he choked it back. Kantha cried in agony below him, and Mumbai wept, bitter tears of anguish. He’d kept his promise, but Mumba wondered if he would miss his soul.