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Racine - Part Two

Racine - Part Two

Continuing the story of Racine. Still at the mercy of Roberto and others, Racine continues with his struggles in the orphanage. His wounds are tended by the beautiful nun, Lunetta, who provides him with a keepsake.

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Literary fiction


Author Image

Dreyfus (Australia)


The stone rolled out of Roberto’s hand as he advanced towards his prey. Upon reaching Racine, the menacing devil grabbed him by his hand-me-down shirtfront and the waist of his ill-fitting pants, lifting him so that they faced each other eye to eye.
One, the bitter and bleeding Racine and Roberto, a suppurating boil of hate and resentment, looked at each other like two alien species meeting for the first time. Roberto licked his lips, examining Racine as a leopard might a tethered goat. He leered at the spectators and defiantly up to the nuns lurking in the dark shadows of the balcony. Was he hoping for pollice verso, the ancient signal of the thumb? We shall never know, but with great relish Roberto began to swing the hapless little fellow around 360 degrees, pivoting in the hard gravel. The crowd of boys, who were now spread out in a wide circle, watched the spectacle with intoxicated horror. Roberto determined an adequate speed for his impromptu merry-go-round, when Racine’s flailing legs became parallel with the ground; releasing him so he flew briefly before tumbling onto the gravel. To further elucidate his displeasure Roberto kicked the now prone and crumpled Racine, hard in the abdomen with his deformed foot; his prey vanquished, if not put to the sword. A faint rustle of a nun’s tunic from above was the only sound for a few seconds, and then, as the dust settled, Racine expelled a prolonged and ghastly wail.
Roberto sidled away in search of other prey. Bruised and bloody Racine looked to the billowing firmament rising above the orphanage walls and noted the mountain was angry today. He painfully raised himself from the dirt and swore to avenge himself. He prayed to the summit, to the white ghost of vapour that poured from its cauldron. He prayed there would be a day when he would call out to Vesuvius and the mountain would respond with a mighty roar and shoot forth its avenging angel to rent Roberto from limb to limb.
It was the beautiful and kind Sister Lunetta who greeted Racine as he limped into the orphanage infirmary. She examined his bruised and lacerated body, cleaned his wounds and patched them up with plasters and gauze. She settled the sore and whimpering child in one of the infirmary cots, tucked a blanket around him, and stroked his forehead. If anyone knew what it was to be frightened and lonely it was Lunetta; to feel as if all of life seemed a cruel and unforgiving burden. She too had grown up within the dim cloisters of the convent, abandoned by her mother at birth. It was she and Fortunata who had first laid eyes on the distraught Racine, swaddled in his thin blanket squirming, like a dying chrysalis at the bottom of the revolving basket. She tried to do her best for the tiny creature; a boy so small and neglected and of such poor health he was not expected to live. In his first year he had not even been afforded a name and Lunetta’s act of providing him with one, had in some small way, bound her to him. She reached within the folds of her tunic and withdrew the only thing she owned. Twenty six years ago it had been placed beside her in the basket before it was turned into the convent. She knew it was not her destiny to be Racine’s protector, but perhaps this one small possession might sustain another as it did her.
Racine slipped in and out of consciousness, but before he finally submerged into sleep, his hand brushed an object propped on the pillow beside him. It was a small doll, worn by age and made of linen gauze carefully sown to keep it from unravelling. A smile was roughly stitched across its tiny face, and with eyes of two faded shell buttons in the middle of the floppy head. Lunetta passed this small relic onto him, and at once he cherished it as she had. He grasped the doll close to his dispirited breast and fell into a dreamless sleep. Lunetta could not have known what terrible consequences were to be rendered from this small act of kindness.
The doll became a small compensation on these lonely nights as Racine grappled with his terrors and anger. He kept it clasped to his breast at night and hid it beneath his mattress. He could not conceive of any favourable outcome for the violent events on that fateful day in the courtyard. It seemed to Racine so arbitrary and unfair. A child would not have known what he was capable of achieving. A child of ten barely knows he exists. Without doubt revenge was an unrehearsed thought and at his tender age he would not have been able to conceive that venom can kill the prey and poison the host simultaneously.
Two more years passed and Racine, more or less, became immune to the privations of orphanage life. He was accustomed to being overlooked by those in search of children they could not themselves beget. One look at the small-framed and unappealing Racine was enough for most to move on to other, more agreeable orphanic produce. As he watched the nervous hopefuls, the chosen children being prepared for their brand new parents, and lovely new lives beyond the high walls of the orphanage, he concluded he had reached an age where any dream of such an outcome for him, was merely a chimera and he put it behind him.
Apart from the usual crying, wheezy snoring and furtive onanistic grappling one might hear in any orphanage at night, bedtime was a relatively safe haven. Usually a novitiate nun was perched close to the dormitory door ostensibly to prevent escape or mischief. The reality was that the novitiates, already exhausted by administering to the continuous and mostly unmet needs of their charges, fell asleep at their earliest convenience. Equally, bed-time was a respite for the orphans who dreamed, as one might expect, of absent mothers and dauntless fathers, of waggish siblings and doting aunts, presents at Christmas, indolent bicycle rides and swims in the bay during long warm summers.
One evening, when the children were marched off to the dormitory with barely enough in their undernourished bellies, Racine's hand furtively crabbed-walked beneath the mattress to retrieve the doll. He was shocked to find his prize missing. A species of horror gripped the boy that only the perpetually disenfranchised can muster. He tore the mattress from its iron springs, entangling himself within the sheets like a frantic apparition. A moan of such wounded depth was so alarming to the smaller children, they started screaming and crying out in terror at the horrible spectre of Racine and his ghostly, flapping bed-sheets.
Racine was barely restrained by the terrified novice, all but a child herself, and it wasn’t until Sister Beatrice arrived that a modicum of decorum could be had in the dorm. Having been abruptly ripped from her dark prayers she was in no mood to be trifled with and launched herself into the fray. She was a recent transfer to the orphanage, from a convent in Benevento. The reason can be found in the mouldering archives of San Annunzio, and if a person had a mind to engage in such research, that person may be alarmed by what they found. In Benevento they made exceptional salami and occasionally bad nuns.
Beatrice took control of the situation by roughly pushing the novice out of the way, and slapping the distraught boy so violently across the cheek, he was sent sailing into the lap of the boy in the next bed. Not wishing to be implicated in any way, Racine’s neighbour pushed him off and cringed back against his headboard, his blanket rumpled just below his fearful eyes. The muscular Beatrice lifted Racine by his pyjama collar with one beefy hand and threw him back onto his bed as one might throw a dead rodent into the trash bin. She had not uttered a single grunt during these activities but stared down at the miserable boy with such malice as to send a sharp chill down his spine. You might think that such relentless ignominy would outweigh the will to live but he vowed that night, he would find a way to escape this nest of vipers.
As the sobbing and fearful whispers dissolved into silence, Roberto turned his eyes to the drab ceiling in wonder, delight dancing like fire in his eyes as he clutched the rag doll beneath the sheets. What a delight it was to create such mayhem and despair. He believed much awaited a person who displayed such talent. Two months after this evening, Roberto, having come of sufficient age, was released to fend for himself on the oily streets of Naples. He made his way to the infamous Spanish Quarter and set about ingratiating himself within the grim embrace of the Camorra.


Competition: The Pen Factor 2016, Round 1

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Read Reviews

Review 1:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • The grammar, typography, sentence structure and punctuation would benefit from a further round of editing to avoid distracting from the quality of the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • There needs to be more balance between narration and dialogue. Avoid overdoing the narrative and remember that dialogue can diffuse long claustrophobic text.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Character conflict
  • Your characters drew me into their world from the very beginning. Their goals, conflicts and purpose were clearly introduced and I wanted to find out more about them.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a challenging balancing act. The story had a clear and coherent progression with a structured plot.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line and hook
  • Your strong opening and compelling hook was a promise of wonderful things to come!
General comments from your fellow writer 1:
An excellent piece of writing: by sheer coincidence I read your previous piece, and this is all progressing well! It could become a successful novel I think - good luck

Review 2:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • The grammar, typography, sentence structure and punctuation would benefit from a further round of editing to avoid distracting from the quality of the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • There needs to be more balance between narration and dialogue. Avoid overdoing the narrative and remember that dialogue can diffuse long claustrophobic text.
Characterization
  • Your characters were multidimensional. I found them believable and engaging and they genuinely responded to the events of the story.
Main character
  • Your protagonist exhibited a unique voice and had original characteristics. Their actions and dialogue were convincing!
Character conflict
  • The reader’s experience of the story is heightened when the characters’ goals, conflicts and purpose are clear. Perhaps giving this aspect of the story further attention could be worthwhile.
Plot and pace
  • Maintaining the right pace and sustaining the reader’s interest is a difficult balancing act. Are you sure all the material is relevant to the plot, setting and atmosphere? Make sure each sentence makes sense to the reader, and each paragraph moves their experience forward.
Technique and tight writing
  • When writing is tight, economical and each word has purpose, it enables the plot to unravel clearly. Try and make each individual word count.
Point of view
  • The story successfully solicited the reader’s empathy through the clever use of the narrator's point of view. You show great deftness in handling point of view.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice.
Atmosphere and description
  • Your story was a feast for the senses. The atmosphere wrapped itself around me and transported me onto the page alongside your characters.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The scene needs to be vivid and realistic in order to hold the reader’s attention. Being concise and plausible at the same time is tricky. Giving this further attention could perhaps be worthwhile.
Opening line and hook
  • Great books, nowadays, start with a powerful opening and compelling hook in order to keep the reader engaged. Have you baited the reader enough?
General comments from your fellow writer 2:
I read this story twice. The first time I thought it was fantasy labelled literary. But on reflection it is a very well written piece. I did feel the action took place in the past, possibly ancient times, but then we have Raccine wishing for modern presents. The hook is good. Obviously Roberto is not who he seemed to begin with. I suspect he is the evil one that will show his true colours later on in the book. I felt very sorry for Raccine as he seems to be completely overlooked because of his physical appearance. I think you could look into using more punctuation. Some of the sentences read (I always read reviews out loud) very long without taking a breath. Hard to create an atmosphere if you are out of breath! Overall a very good piece. Your use of language is excellent - which is why I had to read it twice to get the jist of it. Well done.

Review 3:


Compelling hook?

Fresh?

Strong characters?

Entertaining?

Attention to mechanics
  • You demonstrate a professional quality of writing throughout the story.
Narration and dialogue: Balance
  • There needs to be more balance between narration and dialogue. Avoid overdoing the narrative and remember that dialogue can diffuse long claustrophobic text.
Narration and dialogue: Authentic voice
  • Your characters’ voices were convincing and authentic.
Style and originality
  • I loved your fresh approach. Creating a unique writing style while maintaining quality of prose requires both skill and practice.
Authentic and vivid setting
  • The setting was realistic and vivid. The characters’ mood and emotions were conveyed successfully through the believable setting.
Opening line and hook
  • Your strong opening and compelling hook was a promise of wonderful things to come!