Jump to content

We, The Animals - a sample for comments, please

Biff Spork

Recommended Posts

Greetings All!

Here's a sample from a story that I am currently working on. I have written about sixty thousand words. Judging by the way the story is unfolding I expect to add another fifteen thousand before it is finished. The story is set in the current time in North America and deals with a half dozen boys in various relationships with each other, some almost mystical and others bluntly sexual. These relationships evolve in the context of the climate crisis, the covid pandemic, veganism and animal rights, with a dash of the supernatural in the mix. The sample below is the first part of the opening chapter. Chapters are generally divided into 4 or 5 shorter parts. The working title is, We, The Animals. I will appreciate any comments members care to make. The big question here is, "Does this make you want to read more?"


Biff Spork



We, The Animals

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all beings are created equal, and have a right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of their Happiness.*

Chapter 1 — Not a Murmur, But a Growl


On a sunny spring morning, David McAdam turned his electric bicycle onto a bumpy logging road. The rutted road was only wide enough to accommodate a single vehicle. It wound up the side of Jana Mountain through a clear-cut area that had once been old-growth forest. The boy was heading for a protected area, a park, but not through the public entrance off the highway. He wanted to be alone. This logging road would lead him up to the backside of the park. There he hoped to enjoy the pristine forest unmarked by trails. Other people would not disturb him there.

The clear-cut looked like a war zone; few plants grew above knee height. Some of the stumps were massive — silent testimony to the grandeur that was gone. The twisted trunks of worthless shrubs and saplings lay like bodies after a battle. Scattered stands of purple-flowered lupines brightened the devastated area. Green shoots and tendrils showed that nature, though wounded, yet survived.

Despite the desolation, David’s youth and his joy in his new bicycle buoyed his spirits. He sped up the dirt road towards the dark green that marked the park boundary. It was his thirteenth birthday and that had brought him his new e-bike. He had bought the bike with his own savings matched by his parents. After delivering a lecture on safety, his father had given him permission to ride on the roads. He was no longer limited to bike trails. Thanks to the power assist motor, he could travel into the mountains that shaped his valley. The boy had looked forward to this excursion into the high parkland for months before this day.

The narrow road hugged the mountain’s contours. Hairpin turns prevented him from seeing far ahead. He heard the truck’s revving engine before he saw it speeding around the next bend. A shimmering black cloud enveloped the red pickup as it hurtled toward him.

The boy lurched off the road, escaping collision with the truck by inches. As it zoomed past, he caught a glimpse of the driver. Scarlet spots like small wounds marked his face and fear contorted it.

The pickup skidded around a twist in the road and the black cloud swirling around it thinned. In the truck’s rear window, the boy saw a rifle mounted on a gun rack. The dark cloud resolved into individual birds. They re-formed into a compact mass and flashed toward him, then swept up into the sky. There were hundreds of starlings. They formed a teardrop shape above him and hovered for a moment, as if considering their next move. Then they soared into the sky like a single giant creature before descending into the forest.

David wrestled his cycle back onto the road but stood beside it before mounting. The near collision had shocked him and what he had seen had stunned him. It seemed impossible that the starlings had been chasing the pickup, yet the scene was engraved on his memory.

A quarter-hour later he wheeled his bike into the trees that marked the border of the park. He chained it to a pine out of sight from the road. An earthy, evergreen scent filled his nostrils. He listened to the whistles and trills of birds and the crackling of grasshopper wings.

The purling of a nearby stream attracted him and he walked in that direction. When he reached its mossy banks he felt he was in the place he had been hoping to find.

He had come to the forest seeking a spot where he could be himself, where he could drop all pretenses without fear. He began to remove his clothes, folding them and placing them in his backpack. He undressed like it was a ritual, as a way of discarding his public persona. Clothed, he was David Alexander McAdam, thirteen-year-old son of Pete and Doreen McAdam. When he stood naked and barefoot on the spongy, humus-rich forest floor, he felt he was someone else, his true self. He filled his lungs and felt his penis begin to stiffen as a faint breeze caressed it. It was a good feeling and within seconds he was erect. He stroked himself once only. He was more interested in exploring the forest than in indulging himself.

The boy knelt at the stream’s edge and splashed some cool water on his face. Then he waded knee-deep through the burbling creek to the opposite bank. He wandered deeper into the woods.

On the shadowed underside of a fallen log an outburst of brilliant orange fungi caught his eye. He bent over, then lay down so they were at eye level. In the cool shadows, dew drops glistened on the mushrooms’ unblemished, newborn umbrella-tops.

Several of the mushrooms had insects roaming over them. They were flying insects with their wings folded over their rust-colored bodies. They ignored David as they scurried back and forth performing inscrutable tasks. At first he tried to figure out what they were doing. Then that part of his mind dropped away. It satisfied him to watch them, without seeking intellectual understanding.

He lay in that state until he became aware of twigs and pine needles pressing into his shoulder. He rolled then onto his back. The play of sunbeams that penetrated the leafy canopy was like a dancing image of happiness.

One of the rusty insects landed on the tip of his nose and regarded him. David laughed and his visitor spread his wings and departed. Like an answer to the boy’s laugh came the scolding ch ch ch of a gray squirrel. He located the squirrel with his eyes and exchanged a long glance. Then the squirrel raced into the network of higher branches and disappeared.

Several minutes later he felt the subtle sensation of another consciousness nearby. Someone or something was watching him. It did not feel threatening. Yet the sense of someone observing him was disquieting. It made him aware of his nakedness.

David shook his head to clear it of the odd sensation and the feeling dissipated into the forest around him. It didn’t disappear completely but remained as a feeling of acceptance. He felt as if the forest approved of him and welcomed him. He felt like he had arrived at his true home. After long wandering, he was approaching where he should always have been.

He saw through the trees a brightness that indicated there was a clearing ahead. He strolled in that direction. He heard a laugh mixed in with the other forest sounds. A husky treble voice cried, “That tickles!” Then the laughter bubbled forth again, starting in a high squeal and trilling down like a bird song.

David ducked into the undergrowth. Then he crept forward, determined to see who was encroaching on this forest. He had begun to think of it as his forest. He crawled on hands and knees from one shrub to another, ever closer to the clearing. At the edge of the glade he parted the branches of a huckleberry bush so he could spy without revealing himself. He never forgot what he saw.


*The quote that opens the story is the first line of The Declaration of Animal Rights

Link to comment

Yes, Biff, I do want to read more.  What you have teased us with is well-written and filled with both unique detail and strong characterization that lead me into the story.  I want to find out what happens next. I'll look forward to seeing more of it.

Link to comment

Wonderful writing.  How can anyone not want to know what lies beyond the huckleberry bush?  Of couse I do.

I read it, as I often do, thinking as an editor.  I made a few, very few, comments along the way.  Please ignore them if you'd like, but here they are:

Despite the desolation, David’s youth and his joy in his new bicycle buoyed his spirits. He sped up the dirt road towards the dark green (fence ?) that marked the park boundary.

Then they soared (higher ?) into the sky like a single giant creature before descending into the forest.

Then he waded knee-deep through the burbling creek to the opposite (bank. He wandered) (before wandering ?) (rather abrupt and stark transition as written.) deeper into the woods.

He bent over, then lay down (on his side)  (to mesh with 'the twigs on his shoulder' that is upcoming) so they were at eye level.

Then he crept forward, determined to see who was (encroaching on) (sharing ?) this forest.

At the edge of the glade he (carefully ?) parted the branches of a huckleberry bush so he  could spy without revealing himself.


Very good start, in my opinion.



Link to comment

@James K
Thanks for your useful suggestions and the time and effort you have spent re-writing my opening paragraph. There's a lot of food for thought there. I'll keep all of your comments in mind when I next edit this draft. I reply to a few of your comments below.

Giving the character's name away in the first sentence: I have to give his name in the first part because he is discussed by name in the following part. For him to remain nameless would more likely lead to confusion rather than mystery.

too much action - I always try to have as much action as possible. I may have to re-think that. I have a tendency to get reflective or overly descriptive. I often remind myself of an Alfred Hitchcock quote: Drama is life with the dull bits cut out. I try to give enough description to key the reader's imagination. From then on the action or dialogue is paramount.

David's boner: He's 13 years old. He gets naked in an isolated forest and feels the breeze on his genitals. Most 13 year old boys in that situation would get erections, at least briefly, unless there is something seriously wrong with them. Yes, but why write about it? I hoped to show that how David deals with it is an indication that's he's a thoughtful boy and his nudity in the forest stems from more than a desire to get off sexually. 

Thanks for taking the time to read this sample and for your kind and encouraging remarks.

@Cole Parker
Thanks for your editorial perspective. You've made me look at my writing at a molecular level and I like that. I will keep your remarks in mind when I do the next full edit. I've already changed one sentence.

Then he waded knee-deep through the burbling creek to the opposite bank. He wandered deeper into the woods.
is now
Then he waded knee-deep across the burbling creek and wandered deeper into the woods.

(I cut 'through...to the opposite bank' because it's all nicely wrapped up in 'across'. The awkward transition between the two sentences is solved also by merging them into one sentence)
I love it when an editor draws my attention to a phrase or sentence I have felt some un-ease about, but have been reluctant to change because it seems adequate or difficult to re-write.

Link to comment

Thanks, James K. for your additional reply and clarification. You make a good point and I re-wrote the sample section above according to your prescription. When I re-read it a few days later, however, I felt some unease. Names are important in the story but to hold back on revealing the name of the boy's social persona felt like a red herring. The mystery I want to develop is not ' What is the name of the boy on the bike?' but 'Who is David McAdam?' 'Who is the primal person underneath the name?' When he disrobes, part of what he takes off is that name, David Alexander McAdam. Later in the story it's revealed that he does have another name, a truer name, and he slowly grows into it.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

Link to comment
14 hours ago, James K said:

I totally get what you are saying. 

It is difficult to comment on a whole story from a small opening section and it can be a real pain as an author to listen to comments, make changes, and finally go back to where you started. This is the problem of other people's opinions, because we all have our thoughts and point of view, but the story is your own.

I'm sorry if I made you waste your time. 


No, not a waste of time at all. You made me examine more closely what I was doing and that's a good editor's job. Thanks again.

Link to comment

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...