Jump to content

HEARTWOOD (opening scene)

Recommended Posts


OPENING SCENE: Introduces protagonist, setting, and conflict. (After the opening

scene, I jump a few pages to a scene with Jonas, the protagonist, and Levi, his father, because

there’s no dialogue in the opening scene.)




The line of sheep bodies curved up the hill toward the copse of white pines (Pinus

strobus) behind the barbwire. Slick white wool matted with blood. Each neck cut clean. There

was blood on the boy’s hands but he was used to blood on his hands. Still, urgency fountained

inside him, flushing limb to limb, as he left one dead ewe (Ovis aries) and moved to the next.

Fear heated his cheeks and goosebumped his arms. He couldn’t imagine who could have killed

the sheep like this. He couldn’t think of much beyond the names of things. They were his sheep.

They were his father’s sheep. They were the descendants of the sheep raised by his father’s

father, and he had known them his whole life. He touched a ewe’s wooly nape. The wind

touched the wool. The sun touched the earth’s bright hearth.

One ewe lived, each breath loud and rasping. Odd shapes blossomed into the cool air

above its mouth, and the boy would never understand how he both loved the sheep and hated

them, which was not unlike the way he loved and hated his father, which was not unlike the way

that he loved and hated himself. The ewe’s mouth hung open, pink tongue stuck out past black

lips. He touched a patch of clean wool, and a great human lonesomeness winnowed through him,

and what he was welled up in his throat, part wheat and part chaff. He was Jonas Troutman, from

the long line of Troutmans in Snyder County, Pennsylvania, and the ewe’s last rasp settled on the

orchard grass (Dactylis glomerate) and the white clover (Trifolium repens). Jonas didn’t know

that everything he was, and everything he had been, could sick up and disgorge and evaporate

into the air with the ewe’s breath and the dew and the pollen, could wander about lost and

unclaimed by name or knowledge, splintering into smaller and smaller particles that rise and drift

and settle like frost somewhere near or blow off to God knows where.

He stood, breathing heavily. Grasses whispered against each other but nothing listened.

Every movement was an accident. Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) sung because death asked

nothing of them. The sun settled above the hills to the west. He looked out at the farmland and

homesteads of Snyder County as darkness massed in the column of smoke rising from the Hoke

widow’s chimney, and near the stems of the grasses, and in the roiling clouds.



By the stump, Levi Troutman turned his head toward his boy. He took in the dirt on the

jeans and the blood on his hands. Because he understood there was always something coming,

Levi drew in a breath, held it in his lungs, and then let it pass slowly through his nose “Go on,”

he said. “Spit it out.”

Jonas leaned his hands on his knees. “Somebody killed them,” he said.

“Killed who?”

“The sheep.”

Levi’s fingers cramped into a C shape around the axe handle. His forearms clenched.

“What’d you mean they killed the sheep?”

“In the far field.”

“How many?”

“All of them.”

Levi set the axe in the stump. His chest was thick with muscle. On one of his shoulders

was a red devil tattoo. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, and toed the split wood

toward the rough pile. His life was a knot he would never untangle.

“Why’d somebody do this?” Jonas breathed in shallow gasps.

“I guess everybody’s got disagreements.”

From the barn, Levi fetched two pairs of leather gloves and a Beretta pistol. He gave a

pair of gloves to Jonas, put the Beretta in his waistband, and got into the cab of his Ford F-150.

A shotgun sat on the dash. The road over the ridge was rough dirt. The hill rose up out of Flint

Valley and sunk down into Neitz Valley. At the bottom of Neitz Valley lay the farmhouse that

belonged to the Hoke widow.

Levi stopped beside the first sheep, and got out of the truck. The engine idled and

knocked and cycled. The air smelled of burnt oil and blood and alfalfa. He and his son each held

two legs as they slung the first body into the truck bed, and then Levi got back in the truck and

drove forward, and put the truck in park again, and got out. The rusted truck bed slicked with


The sheep were heavy, but Levi and Jonas worked as quickly as they could. Orchard

grass bent against their pant legs, and black vultures circled above. Jonas rode in the truck bed

until the sheep piled too high. They had to get the bodies back to the barn and hung up.

Butchering would take all night.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 0
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

Popular Days

Top Posters In This Topic

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.



WTF is Wrong With Stephen King?

  • Create New...