Wednesday, May 16, 2018

May Secret Agent Contest #49

TITLE: The Fertile Clay
GENRE: Adult Weird Fantasy

A graveyard. Mausoleum maze embracing the main plaza, a painting in monochrome. Dark anthracite headstones, slate gray tombs, communal bonehouses of sand & plaster. Dashes of green from burgeoning weeds. Three important buildings: workshop & delivery hall at the plaza’s edge, crematory rising in the distance. All this surrounded by the City, cliffs of houses stretching without end: no outside, no exit, no border.


The dead made up his City, and his City had been disturbed. Mokun Ilhadem splashed soil over the plaza as he trudged back and forth. Overnight, something had changed on his graveyard, something he couldn’t pinpoint. Something with consequences.

The feeling had climbed up Mokun’s arteries and right into his brain stem, until his eyes snapped open and he sat in his bunk bed, wide awake. He had dreamt of a flowering darkness, of low spaces he slithered into, a City unmade in his image.

Something had happened, something terrible.

Mokun checked his workshop and toolshed, took a look at the lychgate, and surveyed the grounds. The mausoleum maze and the crematory’s metal tower appeared as they always did, the plaza lay silent, the perimeter wall untouched.

He clenched his fists and looked around. The graveyard trembled under his gaze, turned alien and incomplete. Mokun had taken a nightcap in the evening and slept deeply, but his helpers should have watched. He hadn’t specifically instructed them, but they should have. The old mortar around the plaza moaned, and some of the flagstones crumbled into gossamers of gray dust.


  1. So first of all, love the title! As for genre, you may want to cut the word "weird." Weird isn't a category--Fantasy is enough to let the reader know to expect something weird to show up :)

    I had to read this a few times to kinda process what was happening, and I'm still not sure except that something bad has happened. There's a lot of good description of the setting, but the next two paragraphs (beginning with "The dead made up his City..." could use a few more specific details/wording. It feels a little like vague dread instead of a concern the reader can invest in. In the paragraph "Mokun checked his workshop..." if see and feel what's happening, it's super clear. Just use that to inspire the the rest of the beginning and you'll be good :)

  2. You've got a great eye for description. The setting takes on a life of its own. There were a few moments that slowed me as a reader. I had the impression Mokun was a monster or zombie of some kind--until I reached "bunk bed," when I realized I had it wrong. Then I read, "slithered into" and started wondering again if he was human. Maybe clarify that? There's certainly a feeling of ominous unease, but my impression as he surveys the graveyard is that everything looks like it should. So I wasn't sure why he was clenching his fists and berating his employees...maybe a sensation of unexplained dread would be more in order?

  3. I agree with the other two people who have already commented. I love your description and how you have set the world up. I'm getting the feeling that Mokun is the keeper of the dead from the fact that he keeps watch over this place and he can feel when something is wrong. I think that's really good and can feel this might be a zombie novel that's more fantasy than not.

    That said, I feel this could be tightened up. Like AJ, I was wondering who or what Mokun was. Is he completely human or he a monster that's been put in charge of this place? What are these helpers that he has? Are they ghosts or spirits? Also, I know he's wide awake because his eyes have snapped open. I don't need that little bit of extra description. I also think that you could end the second sentence of everything being okay after the word did. You could then break up the third sentence with a semicolon.

    I do think you have something here. It's something that, for me, I would be interesting in giving it a try if I picked it up in a bookstore or on the Kindle. Do drop the weird for your genre. This as just fantasy or horror with zombies, if that's your route, is a lot stronger.

  4. I love the title,too!

    I don't think you need the italicized opening paragraph. Maybe Mokun's hand could brush against the "anthracite headstones" as he walked by "slate gray tombs" so the description is worked in as part of the story.

    You've got an interesting beginning!

  5. The italicized paragraph at the beginning was odd to me. It reads almost like set descriptions for a play. I agree with Tilley that you do not need it, and could instead weave those descriptions in through what Mokun sees and does.

  6. I think Megan is right about that first paragraph, it does sound like descriptions for a play or screenplay. Also echoing Megan and Tilley that it would be better to describe the scenery as Mokun sees and interacts with it. I also don't like the paragraph where he wakes up, and thinks about his dreams...I think that is not needed and just slows things down. In fact I think you could scrap the beginning and just start with "Something had happened. Something terrible." and just go from there. But I like the atmosphere here and I feel the story will be interesting!

  7. The first paragraph gets in the way. The actual story starts with a dream, and I'm not sure you want to do that--or am I confused? Is Mokum looking around, seeing something off, and recalling that he dreamed this previously? Or did he fall asleep on the job, which probably happens a lot among people working in graveyards--on the graveyard shift! In any event, I'm not comfortable with my confusion.

  8. I'm not a big fan of disorienting poems or prophecies to introduce a story, and I normally skip over them. This one doesn’t feel like foreshadowing to me, and I had no idea if this was coming from the MC or an omniscient narrator.

    However, when I got to the story itself I found the story-telling smooth, the character motivated toward a goal (protecting his ‘City’), and a strong conflict. There were some points when the writing bordered on purple simply because the metaphors referenced a vague idea I didn’t know anything about, however generally it was an intriguing read.

    Thank you for sharing!