The Stars Did Wander Darkling

Heavy footsteps and laughter interrupted the quiet and I glanced back. A group of men swaggered up the sidewalk a few feet behind me.

“Hey, baby!” one yelled, his speech slurred. He made wet, kissy sounds. The others laughed and there were slapping sounds as they gave each other high-five, congratulating their machismo.

They were just immature drunks, but I couldn’t help quickening my pace. Their laughter pursued, their footfalls coming more rapidly, echoing off the buildings, as they matched my gait.

You’re fine, don’t overreact. They’re just trying to scare you. What could they really do in the middle of the Pearl District? Half of these buildings were condos. Someone would call the police if things got out of hand. Not to help me of course, but they could be counted on to protect their quality of sleep.

“Yo! Girl! What’s the rush?” More laughter exuded from the pack.

They were closer now.

I bolted for Jamison Square, weaving through the skeleton trees along the strip of wet grass, but they were faster. I discovered a moment too late, the group had divided. I was being herded.

Two men leapt out in front of me and I skidded to a halt, slipping on the slick grass. Three others fanned out around me, their arms held wide like I was a rabbit in the brush they hoped to catch.

“What’s the hurry? We just wanna talk,” said the first man. He was large with a blonde crew cut and small, mean-looking eyes. The others tittered around him, an unsettling, wild sound.

I squared my shoulders and tried to put as much super-bitch on my face as possible. It worked in clubs maybe it would work now, but they advanced anyway.

“Look, it’s one of those fucked up goth bitches,” said another, looking to Crew Cut for approval.

“You ever had a real man?” Crew Cut asked.

I tried to ignore his words, to cut off the cold fear that bloomed in my stomach. The stench of beer reeked from their skin as they circled closer. The road was only a few feet away, but it might as well have been miles off. I was surrounded like a gazelle on those wildlife shows—see how the hyenas surround their prey.

I wished I was stronger, faster. I wished I was anywhere but here.

One of the men lunged at me and I dodged aside, but there was nowhere to go. Strong arms clamped around me. I screamed and tried to elbow my captor, but the leverage wasn’t there and his arms tightened.

“Shut her up,” whispered Crew Cut. He glanced nervously at the mostly dark buildings towering above us.

A sweaty hand clapped over my mouth. I drove my boot down hard on the man’s foot and, squirming out of my coat, twisted free. I managed a few shambling steps, only making it as far as the sidewalk before rough hands found me. I clawed at them, pulling away strips of skin, I didn’t care whose. I had forgotten about running. I had forgotten everything. All that mattered was this; I would keep clawing until they stopped coming.

A fist collided with my face, and my nose broke with a sickening crunch. I sprawled to the pavement, my face a searing mask of red agony. Shakily, I climbed to my hands and knees. Blood pattered to the grey sidewalk in garish splotches. Would the morning commuters and mothers with their strollers see this bloody puddle and wonder who it had come from? Or would the police scrub away this stain of violence from the civilized world with a ho-hum, how awful, but boys will be boys, all the while secretly thinking: she must have done something to provoke them?

A foot crashed into my side and the ground rushed forward. I swung my hand around just in time to avoid a face plant.

“Stupid bitch!” Crew Cut yelled, “You scratched the shit outta my arm.”

I screamed again as another foot caught me low in the back. Something cracked inside, and a hot chill ran up my spine. Then feet lashed out from all directions, and I curled into a ball, covering my head.

The kicking stopped. I allowed myself a moment’s hope and peeked out from under my arm. Crew Cut stood at my feet, as I watched, he drew a knife from his pocket and pried it open. My blood went cold.

“Let’s see if you look any better without clothes.” Grinning, he bent toward me.
It seemed like he bent forever, his face inching closer and closer. I waited, ignoring the pain crawling along my entire body.

My hands flew at him, aiming for his eyes. My fingers tore at his face and bits of him lodged under my nails. He slashed at my arms, the knife a swinging silver blur, but I felt nothing. Blood ran down my arms, pooling in my armpits. His blood? Mine?

He jumped back and pinned me to the ground with one giant foot between my breasts. I went for his leg.

“Try it and I’ll crush you,” he said, applying pressure.

Blood oozed from several deep scratches on his face. I had missed his eyes, unfortunately. They gleamed down at me, a murky brown-green, like swamp water. He wanted to crush me. I held my hands up in surrender.

For a frightening moment the pressure increased, and I was sure my ribs would crack. I imagined my ribs breaking, their broken edges stabbing into my soft inner tissues. How long could you live with a punctured lung? Three minutes? Ten? His foot eased off a little and I was able to take a shallow, aching breath.

“Hold her arms,” Crew Cut said.

Two men broke the circle, and each took one of my blood-slicked wrists, the sweat from their hands stinging my fresh cuts. How much blood had I lost? I resisted the urge to look.

Crew Cut dropped to his knees and sat astride my hips. He leaned forward, crushing me into the cold pavement. “I’ll bet you taste sweet.”

His breath was hot against my neck, and I could smell his aftershave―Old Spice. The same kind my father had used. I shuddered. The light seemed to shift and Crew Cut’s blonde hair lengthened and darkened and his eyes changed. They were no longer mean, swampy pits; they had become his eyes—my father’s green eyes.

His eyes had always seemed brighter when he’d been drinking, and they were always bright when he’d come for me. I hated their brightness. I hated him. I hated the astringent smell of the alcohol that baked from his too hot skin. At the same time, part of me loved him, loved that he noticed me. It validated me, proved I existed. Part of me was so starved for his affection, it latched on to anything and sucked it up greedily. Even if it hurt and was confusing, and the wounds were too deep to heal. Even if it killed me inside.

I squeezed my eyes shut. When I opened them again, my father was gone. He had never been there, of course, it was Crew Cut on top of me. His weight was unbearable, and I could only manage small sips of breath. Black dots danced in front of my eyes . . .

19 thoughts on “The Stars Did Wander Darkling

  1. calgal says:

    This is really visceral, suspenseful, and well written. For me personally, the violence goes on too long, and I would’ve stopped reading and started skimming the text about the the time her nose is broken. But well done! I’d read this book!

    • anastasiapoirier says:

      Thanks for the feedback, I agree that it does go on a bit too long. I hated writing this scene, I even hate reading it, haha, which is why I wanted to get feedback on it. This is the “inciting incident” in my novel, so it is an important scene. In order for what follows to be believable this scene has to be brutal. I ran out on the word limit, so I trailed off, because (unfortunately for the reader haha) this scene continues for a few more paragraphs, but those paragraphs have a different feel (exposing a snip of her back story and also hinting at the reason for the title.)

  2. sam says:

    I certainly feel weird saying i “Like” this. So let me say this, it made me feel really upset and sad, which i “LIKE” as a reaction. you want me to feel that way and it worked. This was really well edited I think, and well written… it made me jealous!

    There were a few places here or there, where i might have worded something differently, but those aren’t really worth mentioning.

    I have no idea what this story is about, but since this is labeled Sci-Fi… this could go anywhere…and a Sci-Fi story with a main character who has this sort of profile, really really has me interested.

    Good work… if you ever need anyone to beta read some chapters I’d be glad to get more into this story!

    • anastasiapoirier says:

      Thanks for your comments. I needed this scene to be horrifying and believable in order for the reader to follow me into what happens next. I ran out on word count and had to cut this scene a bit short, but it’s good to know that it’s eliciting the response I was after and it held your attention.

      I will most certainly be looking for beta readers, and soon! Find me on facebook. I think that’s the linky thingy.

  3. allisonnewchurch says:

    I’ll echo the remarks above. Well written. I could feel my own heart beat quicken as I read. You elicited a visceral response in me that I really wasn’t expecting from the rather odd title and the fact that it’s a sci-fi.

    I want to read more, but you’re going to have to explain the title.

    Well done and good luck with it.

    • anastasiapoirier says:

      Thanks for reading and sharing your reactions. That’s helpful. As for the title, the scene continues for a few more paragraphs. I think by its end the title makes some sense (It gets reinforced throughout, stars are a major theme).
      I got this title from a poem by Lord Byron called Darkness. I love Byron and the tone of his poem matches my book pretty well. However, I have changed the title just a bit. I found this one too long and slightly pompous sounding, but I posted under it anyway for cohesion, as I’d already used this title for the first few rounds of workshops. The new title is probably just as confusing, but shorter it’s: Like Stars. By page 22 of my MS that should totally make sense.

  4. John Dawson (@johnsonofdaw) says:

    This language is graphic without drawing attention to itself, the pace suits the desperate nature of the scene, the visual images well chosen for the horror – it’s polished writing – maybe it could be a bit shorter. I would definitely want to keep reading, if only in the hope of some satisfying vengeance, but I suspect for more.

  5. anastasiapoirier says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting on the graphic language. I’m not certain if you are referring to swearing or just the bloody graphic nature of this scene, maybe both. I know a lot of people have strong feelings about graphic language in fiction, but I think sometimes it is necessary. Fiction is supposed to be a reflection of the world. Forcing everyone’s language and actions to conform with one’s own view of the world, makes for limited writing. I know you didn’t have a problem with this haha, I just had to vent as I read a comment on this site earlier where a reviewer was offended by someone’s language.

    But coming back to topic, I agree this scene could be a bit shorter there may be a few spots I can cut back. My only concern is the scene has to be awful enough for the reader to believe what happens next as this is the “inciting incident” of my novel.

    Oh and yes, much vengeance shall be had.

    • johnsonofdaw says:

      I meant graphic in a good way. Some writers, in the search for originality, draw attention to the words to the detriment of the action. If you can achieve the appropriately graphic effect without using profanities more power to you, but I don’t know how you would do that – I’m glad you didn’t find it necessary to use the c word though.

      On second thoughts, given that it’s your inciting incident, I don’t think it is too long. One of its best effects is the way we keep thinking she might get away, then a new phase of the chase dashes our hopes, that sets the scene apart from other such scenes, you wouldn’t want to lose that effect by shortening it.

  6. cpcurty says:

    I would tighten it up, you could really focus in more on the action and the violence it you want, it is supposed to be a rape scene. Rape is a violent and horrible act. I enjoy your writing for the most part, but I find that it feels a little bit overdone. I’m not trying to be mean but the girl walking home alone that gets hemmed up by a group of young ruffians. The ringleader of course rapes her and the trauma awakens something within her is something that I have heard before. Of course everything has been done before but it is how we do it that makes it unique and our own. You need to make it feel more real, are all the boys so into committing this horrible act. All people are human beings, yes young males and in fact anyone can get carried away in a group. Groups remove the personal responsibility factor and make it easier to commit atrocity, but there are always going to be dissenters within a group. Also this guy Crew Cut he just whips out a knife and dices her up, does he know her, or hate her? Why is he doing this to her? How badly is she hurt you describe a lot of blood so how badly does he cut her, and why does he stab her its hard to intimidate a person with a knife after you have already stabbed them (shock and intense pain tend to make a person intractable.)
    I would remove the flashbacks as well I like the backstory but this scene is intense enough that you need to stay focused a hundred percent, if you want too I would say you could allude to the fact. Maybe have her say that when Crew Cut held her down or whatever that he reminded her of her father. Since crew cut is raping her even having her being reminded of her Dad at all sort of makes a person draw the conclusion that she was molested without even needing a flashback.
    Like I said earlier you are a good writer, you have a lot of talent and a really good voice. I’m just offering my own personal thoughts here, in the end I don’t know anymore than anyone else about this stuff.

  7. anastasiapoirier says:

    Thanks for your feedback. I understand that ‘girl jumped at night’ is cliche, but it’s also a reality in our society, unfortunately.

    Women’s issues, specifically victimization and overcoming the intense feelings of oppression and worthlessness that come about as a result of victimization (and also breaking the cycle of abuse) are huge themes in my novel. So even though it’s cliche, it is a cliche that is thematically important in the book.

    I do like your comments about dissension within the group. I may work some of that in. I was a bit confused on your comment to focus on the action and the violence since it’s nearly 100% violence. I will say though, she does not get raped (yay for her!). This event gets interrupted.

  8. edgett2014 says:

    This is really engaging. I broke concentration when she started thinking about the blood on the pavement. It stopped the action, so if you want to shorten this, or tighten it up, I’d recommend removing the passage:

    “Would the morning commuters and mothers with their strollers see this bloody puddle and wonder who it had come from? Or would the police scrub away this stain of violence from the civilized world with a ho-hum, how awful, but boys will be boys, all the while secretly thinking: she must have done something to provoke them?”

    Other than that, it’s a great read, intense, but good.

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