I thought it might be interesting to take the first draft of The Captive and revise it so you can see how I would alter it for a second draft.
When I originally wrote the story I had three objectives:
- The first was to pull a plot-twist (otherwise known as a ‘reveal’). I didn’t want my readers to realise what was happening until the very last paragraphs.
- I also had the goal of keeping the word count down around the sweet spot for short stories (approximately 1,500 words). I tend to be better at length than brevity, so that is a skill I need to practise.
- Finish the story within a two hour window, because I had to help prepare breakfast with my beautiful wife.
In revising this story I wanted to keep the word limit around the same and not substantially alter the content of the story.
The Captive (second draft)
A slither of daylight came through the shuttered window waking Mary from her restless sleep. With the new day came a resolution: she had to escape and return home to her waiting family.
She whispered to herself, afraid that he would hear her, but needing to get the information straight in her mind. The man – he called himself Frank – was obsessed with her and was keeping her captive. She looked around the room with revulsion: an apparently ordinary bedroom, but nothing about the situation was ordinary. On the wall was a wedding photo of her and Frank as bride and groom; only Frank wasn’t her husband. She was married to Sam and he would be worried sick for her.
Today is the day, she decided: I escape today. She climbed out of bed as quietly and as quickly as her ageing body would allow. Choosing functional clothing from the wardrobe she got dressed sitting on the edge of the bed. She was almost ready…
The doorknob rattled and her heart sank as Frank walked into the room. He was already dressed of course. He was always ready, forever hovering about her. Her captor was seldom idle.
“I thought I heard you up and about darling.”
“Yes” Mary replied, as anxiety settled in her stomach. She hated when he called her ‘darling’; it made her skin crawl. The term insinuated a relationship they did not have.
“You’re up early.”
“You can’t go out wearing that.” He walked to the wardrobe and selected a new outfit for her, placing it on the bed.
“Change into this.” he ordered.
“I don’t need you to choose my clothing for me.”
“No of course not, but it will make me happy to see you in this again.” I don’t care if you die, she thought, as long as I never see you again. But she needed him in a calm and relaxed mood,
“Of course Frank.”
She turned her back to him as she changed clothes but she felt his eyes resting on her. Men always watched. This man though had no right.
“Why don’t you put on your pearls, you’ll look nice in them.” He suggested. He was always picking her outfits for her. He liked her to be dressed a certain way, have her hair a certain way and only occasionally did he let her dress herself. Mary crossed to the dresser and brushed her hair, ignoring him in the mirror’s reflection.
“I’m going to get breakfast started, come down when you’re ready.” Frank said as he left the room. Mary continued brushing her hair until she heard his clattering from the kitchen. She searched the dresser drawers for anything she could use as a weapon against him. She did not like his touches, or his kisses: he had no right and it disgusted her; he was not her husband. It was a vain search; something inside of her had said that it would be. Once she had scissors, nail files and knitting needles all within easy reach, but he had taken them away months ago when he had tightened his control over her.
She heard the kettle begin to whistle and knew it would cover the sound of her escape as long as she was quick. She went to the back door but found it locked. The key hung above her, but he had put it beyond her reach. There was nothing she could stand on to get it, and time was running out. Looking around desperately she picked up one of Frank’s gardening boots and tried to reach the keys. With dread she realised the shoe had left muddy prints up the wall: Frank would see them and know what she had tried. She grabbed a nearby cloth from the laundry sink and tried to wipe the mud off the wall with only limited success.
“Mary, breakfast is ready.” Frank called.
Mary gave a frustrated little cry as she threw the muddy rag into the washing machine. If she didn’t come immediately when called Frank would come looking for her. As she traipsed into kitchen the aroma of bacon and eggs did nothing to lift her spirits. He liked bacon and eggs. He insisted that she eat with him every day. He kept her here against her will.
“There you are,” he said, “You look lovely.”
He was always pretending to be nice. When he was not restraining her. She feigned warmth,
He sat down next to her and took her hand to say breakfast prayers. The hypocrisy she thought. He says prayers like a Christian, all the while keeping me captive. Mary smiled at him and complimented breakfast. He made her swallow tablets like he did every day. He said they helped her, but she knew they really helped him: they kept her mind muddled. Mary had eaten in silence as Frank related the events in the newspaper to her, but then she could hold in her question no more,
“Please Frank, will you let me see Thomas today?”
Thomas was her youngest, and her only son whom she missed terribly. Thomas would be 17 now, a strapping young man. Thomas wouldn’t let Frank keep her captive.
“Please Frank, I’ll be very good. I’ll do everything you ask me to. Just let me see him.”
“You can’t Mary. You can’t see Thomas. I can get you a photo if you would like?”
“I don’t want to see a damn photo of him, I want to see him.”
Frank was getting upset now, his face reddening. As though to stop the conversation he began to collect the plates and cutlery. Mary started to help him.
“You just sit there and finish your cup of tea, darling and I’ll do these dishes.” Frank ordered. She knew what he meant: stay there where I can see you. Sit quietly. Do as I say.
“Shall we go and sit out in the garden for a while?” Frank suggested as he put the tea towel away, “Wouldn’t it be nice to sit in the open air and listen to the birds?’
Mary looked out of the front window to the garden which was surrounded by a high foliage-covered stone wall. It very effectively prevented her escaping or seeking assistance from passers-by. The garden was pleasant, but a prison all the same: the gate in the wall would be locked just like the back door. Everything was locked. He controlled her every move. It had to be today she reminded herself. Sometimes when he was in the garden he would get distracted by the vegetables and leave her alone for up to fifteen minutes. The garden could provide just the opportunity that she needed.
“Sure, the garden sounds nice.”
“Let’s go then.” he ordered and led her to the back door. As Mary had worried Frank saw the remnants of the muddy shoe prints on the wall below the key. He turned to her,
“Mary!” he said in a disappointed tone, “You know you have to ask me if you want to go outside.”
“Yes. Sorry darling.” She said, using the term of endearment because she knew he liked it. He looked into her eyes and then smiled; the muddy-wall forgotten as he held the door open for her.
They sat at the wooden table, looking out into the garden. The garden was thriving with flowers and vegetables, a thick jungle of foliage filled with birds. Mary liked the garden; it was the only place where she had a measure of peace. Here she could forget him and just enjoy the nature. She smiled. He was very observant and she couldn’t get away with much, but today she had. When he had cleared the table in a huff she had hidden the small butter knife up her sleeve. She had a weapon, and he wouldn’t expect it. She would sit for a while and wait for an opportunity to escape…
– – –
Frank looked across at Mary: the woman that he loved. Decades spent together meant he could read her body language fluently. She appeared calm but he could sense the agitation and tension just below the surface. He would have to be extra watchful today.
Both widowers, they had found each other in their mid-thirties and re-married. They had enjoyed many good years together raising a family and cultivating this garden from seedlings. They had bonded in laughter and pain; like when they had lost their adolescent son Thomas in a car accident.
Frank had great memories of their life together and it deeply saddened him to know that she no longer shared those memories. Early onset Alzheimer’s had made her a captive within her own body, and a great love for her kept him captive by her side.