Untitled SciFi

A proud, scrawny papa balanced his three-year-old son on his shoulders. The boy held onto his dad’s forehead as they bounced down the eroding stairway of the favela. Chunks of old crates, fiberglass panels, and other repurposed debris spared the locals’ feet from crevices and rivulets of dingy water. The pungent odor of sewage and rotting fruit rinds permeated the humid afternoon. Fabiano hummed a medley of half-forgotten tunes. His boy hummed along with him, alternating between two notes, keeping time with his father’s steps. Fabiano smiled, an ivory moon upon his dark face, punctured by the black hole of a missing incisor.

He carried no weapons; the guards at the casino would confiscate them anyway. He usually played with neighbors or junk yard skimmers. This would be his first casino game. Not a big-city casino. Just an old building the South Siders had converted. But they ran it like the real thing. One of the card room attendants who lived a few shanties downhill had put in a good word with Guaso, the floor manager. Fabiano was no longer a full-time loser. Lady Luck had favored him recently. This made him a wild card contender, known to the local players, not respected, but of interest. Guaso agreed to let him in at the starter table, for low stakes amateurs.

With luck—well, there was no luck about it—they would win enough to buy a meal at the bar. Then maybe Guaso would invite him to play another round with the real patrons, the evening crowd. He had spiked Alaban’s milk with rum in the morning so the boy had napped an extra couple of hours. He might stay alert until midnight. That’s when they could win some real money. Maybe enough for a new set of clothes, or if the pot was big enough, a pair of shoes for Mama.

The men at the casino made disparaging comments about Fabiano bringing the kid, but everyone in the favela knew they were inseparable. Mama worked two jobs in town. Fabiano recycled scrap metal. Alaban was good for picking up the little pieces. Kids started running in filthy herds at about his age, but Fabiano had no intention of letting his treasure go awry. He never let on about the boy’s mental abilities, not even to his wife. Certainly not to the South Siders. As far as they knew, Alaban was his baby, his companion, his pet.

In a dim room that smelled of hard liquor, cologne, and other cheap attempts to conceal human imperfections, Guaso pointed Fabiano to a wooden bench at the nearest table. He let Alaban stand on the bench next to him. The boy leaned on his shoulder, barefoot and shirtless, threadbare briefs protruding from the top of hand-me-down shorts. Men heavier and grittier than Fabiano filled the better seats around the table. He smiled warmly at them, told a couple of dirty jokes to lighten the mood. They chuckled genuinely enough. He had a reputation for entertaining bullshit.

Near the end of the first round, Fabiano folded, lost half his money. In the second round he threw in his remaining cash and bluffed his way to a win. The third round, he raised the bet to win twice the amount he’d arrived with. At the fourth round, Guaso capped the bet. Fabiano took a chance and won again. He bought each man a drink, a hearty bowl of beans and rice flavored with a little sausage for himself and the boy, and still had enough left over to bet the ante in the next game.

Guaso said they’d have to leave before the night crowd came in. It would look bad for the casino. Fabiano was dressed well enough: white collared shirt with pants whose poor condition didn’t show in the dark room, but the half-naked slum urchin had to go. This was men’s business, no place for a kid. Fabiano thanked him excessively. Guaso dismissed him with a sneer.

Alaban asked Fabiano if after this game they could buy some more sausages for Mama so she could cook for them and save some for tomorrow. Fabiano beamed, gave the boy a gentle shake.

“Now you are thinking like a man with a big stomach,” he said.

Alaban thrust out his stomach and patted it like a drum, his hearty grin the mirror image of his father’s. Fabiano tickled the boy briefly.

He said quietly, “Remember we have to lose a little to win big.”

Alaban giggled, nodding jerkily.

They returned to the table. This time the ante was twice as much as in the first game. Fabiano called more often than he bet, folded twice, came close to bowing out of the game altogether. Then a reckless bluff in the third round. A win. Fabiano laughed and kissed his son’s pudgy cheek.

During the fourth round, he deliberated a long while. Men’s chairs creaked.
The man with short dreadlocks, chewing a toothpick drawled softly, “Make your move and lose so we can get on with it, man.”

Fabiano grinned, picked at the corner of one of his cards, waited.

Alaban bobbed up and down. “Go,” he said.

Fabiano set down his cards and tossed in an extra chip.

A thin-lipped man with facial tattoos said, “You take advice from a toddler?”

Fabiano tensed fleetingly. The grin reappeared. “He’s my lucky charm.”

All eyes went to the boy, narrowed at him, focused on his fist and index finger which had been tapping Fabiano’s shoulder periodically during the game.

Chairs creaked louder as the men shifted, the man with facial tattoos leaning toward them.

In unison, father and son beamed their friendliest smiles, worthy of billboard advertisements.

A breeze of curses wafted over the table.

“Hey, boy,” the toothpick man said, “You help your old man win that last game?”

10 thoughts on “Untitled SciFi

  1. edgett2014 says:

    This intrigued me, even if it’s not the type of story I would want to continue. The reason I read on was because I was worried about the toddler being taken to such a seedy place, and wanted to know why. By the end, I was less intrigued.

    The fact that he is being challenged by tough guys at the end seemed obvious from the beginning. I wondered why it didn’t happen earlier.

    My only suggestion would be to have more stakes. I didn’t know enough about the character to care whether he won or lost. In fact, I think he deserves what he gets for bringing his son into such a dangerous place. So, I guess it’s sympathy/empathy with the protagonist that is missing for me.

    Also, the psychic toddler is an interesting idea, but I wonder whether it can be sustained because the toddler wouldn’t be able to have much dialogue.

    • Stephanie K. says:

      Hey, thanks. I really appreciate the feedback. Your comment about the protagonist was an eye-opener, because the real protagonist is the boy, not his father. The story is something of an epic about the life of this kid, but as you’ve pointed out, any reader would not know that based on this first page. I agree that the dad’s character needs to be developed further more quickly to make him more 3D and likeable. I can see now where a lot of extraneous info can be cut. THANKS very much. You’ve given me a lot to mull over. Best wishes.
      Steph K.

  2. Julie Griffith says:

    I read the whole excerpt. There was nothing remarkable about the opening lines that immediately sucked me in, but I appreciated the quality of the writing and the descriptions, so read on. When the boy’s psychic abilities were mentioned-that’s where you had me. Since the father needed to be very careful to keep the boy’s abilities a secret, I was surprised they were being so obvious about it and that things escalated so quickly. From this opening, I assumed the father was the protagonist. As far as making the father more likeable, if it’s made more clear that he is not the protagonist, maybe we don’t necessarily need to like him. Overall, it sounds like an interesting concept. Your writing style is very readable and easy to follow. Hope this is helpful. 🙂

  3. Eliza Worner says:

    You really painted a vivid picture with words. I was truly engrossed in the seedy world and I wanted to keep reading. I see what other people are saying about not feeling for the father, but I have to say I was too engrossed to think about it.

    I was a bit surprised they stayed for more after they’d been asked to leave. It seemed like this was something they did often and would know when to quit. So when they get caught, that surprised me. Surely their system would be perfect by now.

    Reading that the story is about the boy, I wonder if you could focus more on him, his pride at helping his daddy, his fear perhaps of the big men, his desire maybe to be able to get out with other kids his age.

    You’re a fantastic writer. Wow.

  4. Stephanie K. says:

    Gosh. Thanks so much to all of you for your responses. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your feedback. Your perspectives are so enlightening. I assume this happens to everyone, but when I’m writing and editing my own work, I get absorbed in one set of details while accidentally missing others. It takes a fresh perspective to point them out. Thanks a mil!

  5. Briana says:

    I really liked the writing. Smooth, just the right amount of detail and flow. Though from the book, I don’t feel science fiction. Is this book on another planet or on a spaceship? I think if I’d picked this book up, expecting some epic science fiction book, the blandness of this first scene would turn me off. Not that the scene is bland in writing, just bland from action and the feel of science fiction. What, no laser guns or big bulking aliens or anything? Also if this book is about the boy, I fail to see how this scene would progress the story. All we have is a gambling father, a boy, and someone accuses the boy of cheating at the very end. So are they partners in crime? That part comes out of nowhere too late in the scene, i feel. My suggestion is to begin the scene in more of a climatic point- forget detailing us with the entire play by play of when they arrive and gamble for food. Begin with the accusation.
    “Hey, little boy, you help your father win?”
    Then how does he feel, why do they think that?

  6. cpcurty says:

    I really like your style but I think that overall the story could use some tightening up. It would help bring out your voice by selecting a few key descriptions and focusing, zooming in on the main characters more.
    Also you need to have something at stake(literally) You could hook me with this right off, first sentence or two. Maybe have the little boy ask what they are going to do if they lose, (maybe he took the money from his wife without her knowing and he is going to throw it all down. These are just suggestions of course I’m not trying to write your story.
    But your M/C needs to have something at stake in order to create suspense and really put the hook in the reader and drag them into the story. If you can work revealing the M/C’s motivation, and character traits that led him to this place in his life. Most Dad’s wouldn’t take there little boy into a ritzy casino much less a place like that.
    Good stuff, keep writing, I didn’t mean to seem like I was being harsh but I really think this story has a lot of potential and I would like to see it shine.
    Chase Curtis

  7. dlodes1 says:

    Remember this is all my opinion only. Ignore what you don’t like.
    I guess I don’t know what a favela is.
    This made him a wild card contender, known to the local players, not respected, but of interest. Guaso agreed to let him in at the starter table, for low stakes amateurs.
    You said this was his first casino game. How does he have a reputation if this is his first?
    I assume they are playing poker, but we don’t know for sure.
    Why does the father have good clothes, but the boy is in rags?
    Alaban thrust out his stomach and patted it like a drum, his hearty grin the mirror image of his father’s.
    This might be a POV issue. It’s in the POV of the boy.

    Just wondering where he got the money to play if he is that poor.
    I agree with some of the others. Something at stake would make this more exciting. Perhaps he is down to his last few dollars, or he borrowed the money and will be in debt to some bad people. Right now it seems if he loses, he will be just out of a little money.

    Be careful with the adverbs. You have quite a few.

    Guaso said they’d have to leave before the night crowd came in. It would look bad for the casino. Fabiano was dressed well enough: white collared shirt with pants whose poor condition didn’t show in the dark room, but the half-naked slum urchin had to go. This was men’s business, no place for a kid. Fabiano thanked him excessively. Guaso dismissed him with a sneer.

    Guaso tells him to leave here. They return to the table later. Just wondering how he gets back into the game with his kid still with him. Perhaps he did let him in, but perhaps the reader should be told how.

    I would like to see a little more about the boy’s gift. If he is just a smart kid, that may not be intriquing enough to satisfy the reader. What ability does he have?

    Sorry about all the questions, but these are what I’m asking myself as I read. Maybe you didn’t want to answer them thus far. If so, that’s okay.

    The story is well written and I would continue to read.

    Good luck and keep writing.


  8. English Tim says:

    If Alaban is the MC then I think a rewrite should bring him into focus within a larger, scarier world. I was engaged by your storytelling, gripped really, but spent too long trying to work out what everyone was doing, partly because your sentence structure jumps around and you’re using too many extraneous words. This can turn Shows into Tells, which are harder to read and slow pace. Good, though.

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