By Joe Moore
Today’s first-page critique is from a story called HAIR TRIGGER. My comments follow.
They were going to cut my hand off.
When I came to, I was tied to a chair. It was dark in the print shop and, like a character in a 1940s film noir, I could see the distorted silhouettes of a tall man and short man standing in the shadows. I was dizzy and felt sick from the blow to my head. The two figures swam in and out of focus.
Leaning over as far as I could, I barfed on the floor at their feet.
“Feeling better?” the short one asked in a strained high-pitched voice that reminded me of Peter Lorre.
“Please don’t say ‘fuck you’,” the tall one added.
I didn’t. I just vomited again.
After I finished whooshing whatever cookies were left inside me, I noticed my right hand was trapped under the clamping rail of a paper trimmer. This type of machine is commonly called a guillotine and has a razor sharp blade with thousands of pounds of pressure behind it. It can make very neat cuts through thick reams of paper.
The short guy stood next to it but I still couldn’t see him clearly.
“It says here this thing can trim up to a thousand sheets of paper at a time,” he read off the metal tag on the side of the machine. “Apparently, the operator must have a hand on each of the side switches for safety.” He looked straight at me. “Gee, I’d like to see how it works. Wouldn’t you?”
The big guy walked to the wall and pulled down the breaker handle on the electrical panel.
Machines around the shop started to power up. I could feel the vibration of the cutter humming through the metal surface under my hand.
The trimming blade gleamed wickedly.
“Now this is the part of the James Bond movie where I ask you to tell me what I need to know. If I don’t get an answer I like, you’re going to have to learn to jack off southpaw.”
I have very few phobias. One, however, is my fear of dismemberment. I get queasy just thinking about it, let alone imagining what my life would be like without a vital appendage such as my gun hand. In feudal Japan it was considered a sign of dishonor if a samurai lost a limb in battle. It showed everyone that he had failed in his duty as a warrior.
I liked this submission, and would keep reading. It starts, just as we so often suggest here at TKZ, with a life-changing event. The protagonist is in trouble and the author presents the reader with a big question: how is he going to get out of losing his hand? The bigger question, at least so far: what did he do to get into this situation?
The voice is not quite solid but it does take on enough character to intrigue. The scene is cliché – two bad guys, one tall, one short, but it does have forward motion and kept my interest.
A bit of line editing and cleanup would help, but it reads like a decent first draft. Nothing wrong with that.
I’m not sure who said the line starting with, “Now is the part of the James Bond . . .” That need clarification.
I would suggest not using the word “very”. It is meaningless. What’s the difference between few phobias and very few phobias?
There were a couple of places where the story slowed down while the writer explained how an industrial paper cutter works and what it means to lose a hand in feudal Japan hand. I would suggest avoiding those type of speed bumps at this stage of the story.
Lastly, even if it’s appropriate to the story, I recommend not dropping the f-bomb on the first page, or anywhere in the story for that matter.
Overall, not bad. I want to know what happens next. Thanks to the brave writer for submitting.
Now, Zoners, what do you think. Would you keep reading or does this guy losing his hand not grab you by the throat? Hold up your hands.
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