This is How Wars are Started – a short story

This story/scene is a continuation of an ongoing plot which can be found here: PART 1PART 2


“Pay heed to the tales of old wives. It may well be that they alone keep in memory what it was once needful for the wise to know.” 

With the press of a fingerprint, the old wood styled door slid open with a hiss. Storm Hamilton glanced inside the apartment, watching the inner lights slowly come to life, revealing the jagged shape of the thickly-furnished central room. He ushered Ross Abernathy in with the push of a hand and sealed the door behind them. He hung his fedora on the top of the old coat rack that stood near the door.

This apartment was one of the few perks of being a member of the police that Storm actually accepted. It was a small apartment; only a single bedroom which adjoined the side of the main living chamber. It was modern, but only in construction and technology. The interior was filled with prewar furniture as much as was possible. The kitchen had come pre-installed with modern ovens and a metallic bar that had electric blue lights running along its sides—Storm kept those permanently disabled. To the left of the kitchen was what looked to be an old-fashioned reading room, with a large leather chair, a cloth sofa, a large bookcase, and a simulated fireplace which put out more light than the dimmed ceiling lamps.

Storm had been able to get on an early-buyer’s list before the complex had even been complete. He had known it would be the perfect place for him. The complex was located to the eastern side of New London, near what was previously the town of Reading, and close to Reading Abbey which somehow still remained standing despite all that had happened in the recent decades. That was one of Storm’s favorite places to visit, and was usually empty of tourists who no longer saw the value in touring historical sites.

New London did not actually occupy much of the past territory of its namesake since the former global hub had been one of the first victims of nuclear strike during the war. Everything inside the M25 had been turned to wasteland, and the surrounding areas had not fared much better. The Seraphim christened their city New London more out of notoriety and necessity than location. Though there did seem to be a bit of homage in the choice as well, which was odd for the history-averse aliens.

“You’re welcome to the sofa for the time being,” Storm said to his guest. “It’s soft enough.”

“This place is…amazing,” Ross said, peering around like a child in a toy shop. “It’s like a museum in here…well if we still had any of those.”

Storm was aware of the man’s eyes drifting towards his cherished bookshelf, much in the same way a mother noticed the eyes of strangers on her children. The dark wood shelf was as tall as a man and just about as wide; it was almost full of worn books.

“I don’t think I have ever seen a bookshelf this large…and so many books,” Ross said, his face filled with wonder. “It’s like a prewar library!”

The detective pitied the man’s naiveté. Storm had actually seen real libraries, had visited ruins in the safer areas of former London. Digging through the rubble, he had found many volumes of his current collection there, where they had laid forgotten for decades.

“I wonder,” Ross muttered, “why do you have these books? Aren’t they available in the Archive?”

“Some are, yes. But for how long? That database is controlled by the Seraphim. And…well, I just don’t trust their hands with the words of our past. A push of a button could erase them forever.”

“So, you’re a conservationist.”

“I guess you could say that.”

“What’s this big one?” Ross said, reaching out a finger to touch the black spine of a disproportionately large volume. He read the title out loud, “The Lord of the Rings…what is that one about? Is it a history?”

“In a way,” Storm replied. “It’s about finding heroism in unlikely places.”

“May I?” Ross asked, indicating his intention to remove the book from its resting place. Storm had to fight his reluctance, but managed a shallow nod.

“I see you have some tabs stuck in here,” Ross said, opening to one of the pages.

“I marked some of the passages that resonated with me,” Storm said.

“Like this one,” Ross said. “The writing…is a bit strange to me. It says ‘Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.’ You found that important?”

“It’s the story of my life. Those well-dressed greys in the world government  don’t care what happens every day on the street. I bet the New London mayor doesn’t even know about Kirney and the cult violence. Even if she did, she wouldn’t care. If it doesn’t affect the economy…”

“That’s pretty cynical.”

“Says the cultist who’s now running for his life?”

“Good point.”

“Past experience shows us much of what to expect with the human creature. No amount of Seraphim education or conditioning will completely change what we are. These books…this history gives me an idea of what to expect when things go bad. Just the place we seem to be headed right now. The greys can’t see it, but I can.”

Storm turned towards the kitchen, intending to pour a pair of drinks for himself and his guest when the electronics of the apartment door started to beep and buzz. The door slid open with a groan. A shadow stood in the frame, the glint of metal revealing the weapon in his hand. Storm reached out and grabbed Ross by his loose jacket, dragging the man down behind the metal bar as rapid green energy pulses shot through the room. Bits of cloth and leather and paper flew into the air.

The bar shook with impact of energy shots, but for now appeared able to withstand the onslaught. The air quickly became thick with the smell of burning history. Storm’s face contorted with fury. The shots continued pelting the metal bar, and some flew over into the kitchen, shattering glass and breaking open cupboards.

Storm reached a hand under the inner-side of the bar, opening a long but slender compartment, and pulling out an old snub shotgun. He pumped the first round into the chamber. The blaster fire ceased. Loud steps entered the room. Storm leaned the shotgun over the bar and pulled the trigger. The godly noise echoed of the rattling metal of the kitchen.

Hearing the sound of a man scream, Storm pumped the shotgun again and rose over the bar. One man lay in a bloody heap on the floor, a second stared down at his wounded comrade from the doorway. Storm took aim. The man noticed him in time to begin ducking out into the hallway before the blast ripped through the door. The attacker had been almost out, almost. A frantic scream indicated at least a partial hit. Storm pumped the shotgun again and dashed around the bar to the door.

While he moved, shotgun at the ready, he activated his comm implant and send a distress call on all channels and to all his contacts. He knew they wouldn’t be able to help, but he would need them to help clean up and start running the traces to figure out where these men had come from. No one attacked the home of a police officer. It just never happened. This was an act of war and Storm was already drawing his line of attack.

Storm ducked at the edge of the door and peeked into the hallway. The assailant was halfway down the hall to the stairwell, bypassing the elevators. Neighbors were staring to open their doors, adding to the dangerous chaos.

“Stay inside!” Storm yelled. He turned back to Ross. “Abernathy, seal the door behind me if you can and stay here.” Then he leapt out into the hall and sprinted after the fleeing attacker.

The clank of heavy steps on metal stairs rose in a cacophonous symphony, like the loud music that plays during the chase scene in old movies. Storm struggled to keep from tumbling over, skipping steps as he flew down the half dozen flights of stairs. He heard the electric beeps of the building’s main door and knew he had caught up.

Storm swung into the ground floor hallway with his shotgun raised.

“Freeze, asshole!”

The man’s hand stopped pushing buttons on the door’s control panel.

“The building’s on lockdown,” Storm said, trying to steady his voice while catching his breath. “You’re not going anywhere.”

The detective saw the attacker consider this, looking first at the control panel then glancing back at Storm. The man’s left hand held an automatic blaster; it trembled. The gunman closed his eyes for a brief moment—a visual sigh—then he screamed a terrible warcry, lifting his gun arm up and towards Storm. The earsplitting blast of the shotgun was followed by deadly silence.

“Detective Hamilton,” an unfamiliar voice buzzed in Storm’s ear implant, “this is dispatch, units are on their way. Are you okay?”

“The situation is under control,” Storm said, staring down at the second dead man.

Jasper Smith had crossed the line. One way or another, Storm was going to put the mad dog down.


*More stories set in the world of Storm Hamilton and the Seraphim can be found here:

Old Bones

Signs of a Past Life

Some Things You Can’t Let Go

That Which is Not Displayed

Green Food

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14 thoughts on “This is How Wars are Started – a short story

  1. I promised to look in on you and maybe offer a few suggestions. I find this sentence hard to untangle:
    It may well be that they alone keep in memory what it was once needful for the wise to know.
    How about just saying “they alone keep in memory what the wise once needed to know.”

    And in a sinister-type tale people are on edge, so reduce adjectives and adverbs to bare minimum:
    “A wood door…” omit styled. “The lights came to life,” omit inner. Omit “thickly-furnished”; readers will assume the room is furnished and “thickly” is confusing. Unless you want to say the cluttered room.

    the jagged shape of the room Jagged?? Is this like the unusual shape…or like the L-shaped room? And he shut the door, he didn’t seal it.

    Storm had been able to get on an early-buyer’s list before the complex had even been complete. It’s sufficient to say, Storm had put his name on the list to purchase before the complex was even completed.” I don’t think you need the “had been” twice in this sentence.

    I hope these comments help you out. Descriptive adjectives are great in relaxed writing, talking of new places the characters are enjoying, but in drama & tension, too much description slows the action and can annoy readers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the input. The first sentence you mention is a quote from Tolkien, that that’s why its dense. The other comments I will keep in mind as I revise. I’m throwing this whole little series into one regular sized story. This will help me tune it up a bit.

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      1. I suspect even Tolkien’s editor would ask him to him trim that one a bit if he were writing nowadays. 🙂
        I’ve been listening to Jerry Jenkins’ How to Become a Ferocious Self Editor — and he really CUTS the excess! But he explains each necessary change.
        For example, where you say “The man noticed him in time to begin ducking out into the hallway he’d probably say, “forget the begin to, get to the action. Just have him duck… and skip the double preposition out into.
        You’re left with the much tighter: The man noticed him and ducked into the hallway.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I understand very well that writing gurus love to say “cut, cut, cut” but it’s an oversimplification (like the aversion to adverbs). The often do not talk context or meaning, which are critical for any editing. Applying overly simple rules to your writing will conflict with desired meaning and can hurt you as much as helping. That’s the problem with writing, it’s an art not a science. For example, take the sentence you use here as example. Simply saying the man “ducked” suggests that he made it all the way out of the door. But that is not what happened. He made it part way out of the door and then was shot. Thus he “began to duck” out the door and then something happened. Sure it could be rephrased, maybe a few of the sentences could be combined, but dropping the adverbs and prepositions also drops the meaning. That is clearly not the right way to go. The cult of cut is also a stylistic movement, perhaps more than anything else. I’d love to meet the modern editor who would tell Tolkien to trim his prose. Remember, even when he was writing The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was a successful writer with The Hobbit and also a renowned academic and linguist. He knew language better than any modern editor, I imagine. Hell he created his own languages. There’s a reason why people still buy Tolkien’s works en masse, long after those efficiently trimmed modern novels have fallen into obscurity. I do get your point, but I think it’s risky to apply simple rules to your writing without context or an examination of meaning. That all being said, keep pointing out things that jump out to you as a reader. It does help for me to see these bits and have to think about them a second or third time. A writer should be forced to justify his lines. If you can’t defend them, they probably should be changed.

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    1. Same problem with meaning. This sentence does not convey the meaning I intended. Also, “dive” suggests jumping rather than more subtle movement. Also, “escape” conveys a finality or level of opposition that is not apparent at this point. We do not know yet that the man will run, he could hop out and return fire again. The word escape limits the possibilities of the immediate future.

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  2. I will admit that I am not a obsessive reader, but I am struggling to think of a short-edits, efficient snub sentence writer who has stood the test of time. Dan Brown, and most modern suspense books lose their popularity shortly after they come out. Yes, writing this way might give you some good initial sales, but I wouldn’t mark that as a long-term sign of success. That’s not to say that I intend to write like Tolkien or Hemmingway or Melvile–just to reinforce that the modern obsession with cutting is as much a stylistic idea than anything else.

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    1. I totally agree that this is the style of our day. Likewise deleting most adverbs. I do hope there will come a day when they’ll be acceptable again. That said, I gather there are two main objectives: know your audience and write what they want to read; know what sells in today’s market. (Assuming you want to sell your manuscript.)

      I believe if we have buyers for our writing, whatever the style, go for it. Self-publish if needs be. However, when it comes to traditional publishing, we’re not submitting our writing to 100-years-ago editors. Publishers aren’t buying for pre-movie, pre-TV, pre-internet readers. Hoop skirts and bustles are out. Blue jeans are in. And editors nowadays would probably tell Charles Dickens to “trim the fat.” 🙂

      I’m running into some of this style-of-our-day because my story for teen boys is written in the omniscient VP and writing gurus say, “No, no!” ONE MAIN CHARACTER, ONE viewpoint. But I don’t intend to change my story because I believe it will sell to the audience I’ve intended it for. I’ll publish it on Kindle, but I have absolutely no hope it would sell to a traditional publisher.

      Apparently James Patterson is THE top selling author today. I haven’t read much of his works, but enough that I can see he’s a master at tension and tight writing. Well worth studying. I can see how he creates high drama spots can be created by short sentences and short paragraphs. (And he probably doesn’t care if his books are selling 50 years hence; he’s living in the cream right now. 🙂 )

      It’s your call what you do with your story. I’m only glad if a few of my suggestions make sense. You’re absolutely right: we have to know what we mean and be able to defend our choices.

      And sorry, from your writing I initially got the impression the fellow made it into the hall and Storm shot through the door, winging him. But I see you did say, “Almost.” Behind the door but not clear out. I still would avoid the “out into” if possible.

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      1. And no need to apologize for your reading. If you didn’t get the meaning, it is as likely my fault as yours. I think that’s another key point. Authors should assume that if the reader isn’t getting the meaning, it is likely our fault. I will take a second and third look at that section. Regarding Patterson, I don’t think I have actually read him. I will have to take a look. I would reverberate though that how many of his old books are still being passed around? Is he as prolific as Stephen King (whose older works still get bought and read by new readers)? King is a cutter, too, though. So just more evidence for your argument!

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    1. Well, I don’t want to knock encouragement, yet I think we writers can get into “Oh, this is super” and avoid anything helpfully negative. I had to think recently about the line from a song years back, (The Mamas & the Papas. The main refrain was: “Nobody’s getting fat except Mama Cass.”) The line was about musicians: “And after every number they’d pat backs.” Writers can get a bit that way, too. 🙂

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      1. I fully agree with you. There is a fine line between reasonably protecting your craft and being stubborn. I think the most important thing is taking every criticism and bit of advice as sort of “innocent until proven guilty.” Take a second look at the prose and force yourself to think about the comment. I probably accept 70-80% of the specific feedback I get, but never without thinking about it.

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