Critique Group – Spectralight


Sure. I believe him. Don’t you?

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Spectralight: Created Magic – by Jason

Seated in the den of pungent mix of cigarette smoke, strong perfume, alcohol, and other substances he couldn’t identify, Cedrick clenched his lips together and wished his nostrils could do the same. He pulled his dark trenchcoat taut. The stage speakers finished off their latest tune and switched to a new mix of soft beats and guitar strings.

Santana’s “Black Magic Woman.” Not a favorite, but not bad.

A pair of patrons rose and scooted their table deeper into a wall shadow. A bald man pulled out a black suitcase and opened it. The remaining trio with him huddled around, blinding Cedrick to the contents. Other pairings or troikas disappeared behind dark curtains along the walls.

Close by, a gaunt young man propped a small case, trinkets and bracelets dangling forth. A teenage girl’s spaced out eyes darted back and forth. She then pointed to a four-pointed star. She took it. The amulet glowed green, and olive-colored gridlines traveled up her hand. Her mouth dropped open, then curled in a smile.

The market’s open, Cedrick thought. Time to join the crowd.

His target was at the bar, just finishing pouring a drink for a young blonde. Cedrick winced. She had to be in junior high, which made her way too young for a seedy dive like this. Of course, even he shouldn’t make the cut, but being seventeen was closer to adulthood than say, thirteen.

Giggling, the girl staggered off. Cedrick pulled out a stool and sat. “Thought it was against the law to pour drinks for minors.”

The man tilted his head. The hoop earring on his right ear shook. “Is that supposed to be funny? You know where you are?”

“Don’t get excited. Thought I’d kayfabe it a little. It’s like showing ID.”


“You don’t watch wrestling? You know, putting on an act?”

“You must be Boy Scout.” The man narrowed his hazel eyes. “Look, don’t get cute. This place is crawling with enough weirdos. Now what do you got?”

Cedrick reached into his coat and pulled out a wallet-sized case. He thumbed the forward latch, popping it open like a clam revealing a pearl. In this case, the “pearl” was a small glass vial that held a mass of dancing green pinpricks of light.

The prospective buyer nearly froze in place. “Where did you get this?”

“I thought we didn’t ask questions here.” Cedrick couldn’t hide a smile.

“Don’t toy with me. This is twelve kils of spectralight. Nobody’s ever passed through here with more than six!”

“Well, my name’s not Nobody.”

Cedrick’s buyer stood up, his hairy palms pressed into the counter. “If you don’t watch the mouth and give me a straight answer, I’m gonna—”

A shadow crossed over both of them. The buyer stopped in place. “White Knight,” he said softly.

“Shankar,” the newcomer replied in a soft, vaguely European accent. “Charming locale. They don’t even card you at the door.”

Cedrick pushed the adjacent stool out. White Knight took it and sat. Their buyer, Shankar, slowly sat down. “You didn’t say he was showing up.”

“I believe it’s the tradition of white knights to suddenly appear to one’s rescue,” White Knight replied, “I thought I would ‘kayfabe it.’”

Shankar shifted in his seat. “You two are friends?”

“You got it,” Cedrick said.

Shankar stiffened. “That really changes everything, doesn’t it? Okay, what’s the story? Twelve kils of spectralight will get you almost anything.”

“An existence device that Mister X picked up last week.” White Knight sat straight up, letting the yellow glow of the ceiling lights shine across his white coat and blond hair. “And a meeting with Mister X in person.”

The man’s skin turned pale. “That would be worth more than twelve kils.”

White Knight waved his right hand, then curled in his fingers. He opened his hand and pulled out a second, identical vial to Cedrick’s. “You have it.”

Shankar’s gaze fell to the glowing green glass in White Knight’s hand. He then sprang from his stool, his leg kicking it down. His eyes darted to a dark, tight doorframe next to the bar. “Follow me and say nothing.”


The girl leaned against the desk, her short skirt pressing the wood. Graybird paced alongside the wall curtain. “So if I understand this…” He stopped. “You know a girl who knows a girl. That’s what you’ve got? You’d better offer up some more assurance. Mister X does not appreciate those who waste his time.”

Smirking, Marcie Baldacci reached over and pulled aside the curtain, unveiling a view of the stage and barroom below, behind a glass window. “See that girl?” Her purple-painted fingernail pointed at a teenage girl fishing wires into a loudspeaker. “She goes to Addison’s, and she’s desperate for cash. All you gotta do is tell her there’s some good money in it and she’ll do whatever you say.”

“And your friend swears on this?”

“Iola knows her like this.” Marcie twisted her middle and forefingers together.

Baldacci’s target tripped over her leather boots, nearly sending her off the stage. With her spiky black hair, tight, ill-fitting leather black dress, it all might indicate a desperate soul, but with her face turned away, Graybird couldn’t read her expression. One could tell a lot through looking at someone’s eyes.

However, before he could voice any further concern, his smartphone vibrated. He pulled it out and read the text. His eyes widened.

Things had just changed in a drastic way and he had no time for games.

He reached for the brown leather case on the table. “All right.” He jammed it into Marcie’s hands. “Mister X puts his trust in your…capable hands. But see to it that they are capable.”

“Cool.” She licked her tongue across her garishly painted lips. “Are you gonna download my money?”

“Half tonight.”


“When Mister X’s property is placed in your friend-of-a-friend’s hands, you’ll get the rest.”

“But I need—”

“Get out!” He pointed to the rear door behind his desk.

Graybird’s roar shook Marcie’s legs. “Okay, okay. Chill!” She bolted, nearly tripping, out the door.

Graybird pivoted to the front door. He quickly dialed up and texted his man downstairs. The speaker system, playing ELO’s “Strange Magic,” abruptly stopped. After a few seconds of silence, the speakers ejected the loud guitar strings of Firehouse’s “All She Wrote.”

Message sent. Patrons packed up suitcases. Talismans were shoved into bags or purses. Back rooms emptied their customers.

He then texted his man behind the front door. Graybird didn’t know what to expect, but no one, no one, ever requested to see Mister X.



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12 replies

  1. I will try to post my critique sometime over the weekend.

  2. Well done Jason! You’ve hooked me and I want to keep reading!! Your dialogue wasn’t stilted and you kept it moving. You painted a wonderful picture of this “charming locale” and I could see, feel, hear and smell it all. Show don’t tell at its finest and I mean that! Well done! 🙂

    • My name is Tabby Harris by the way….not sure why it’s showing me as anonymous 🙂

      • Thanks, Tabby. 🙂 That whole “show, not tell” thing is hard to nail down sometimes and I’m glad you think I did.

        LOL, “charming locale” is right. I think I’d afraid just to breathe the air in there!

  3. Goodness! You can paint an atmosphere! I can practically smell the alcohol, I’m practically choking on the cigar smoke, I can see the whole thing! I have a large imagination, an usually have to use it to get a really good picture, but this is very visually creative. The descriptions are very good (as I’ve already ranted about :). I would note though, perhaps, that you should ease up a little on the noting of music, because most people (unless they’re super music nerds like myself) don’t immediately notice what music is playing, unless of course the music is highly unusual or unpleasant. Also, I am a bit confused in one way: is Marcie the POV in part two? Because she wouldn’t have known that things had gotten drastic, as the other person didn’t say anything about what he saw, and as Mr. Davis has remarked many times at different points and critiques (and quite rightly), the only things reported (unless you are not doing it from a particular point of view) are the things having to do with or observed by the POV. Other than that, I’d say you’re doing brilliantly and I hope perhaps in another critique you will continue this intriguing tale. 🙂 Isabelle.

    • Hi Isabelle,

      Thanks for the feedback!

      As you likely read, the music playing in the bar room acts as a “code” for starting and shutting down the market. The music titles help out with that. “Black Magic Woman” is a cue for everyone to start peddling in their trinkets. You can tell by the title that the stuff being sold and traded is probably nothing you should be fooling with. Later, when Graybird starts playing “All She Wrote,” you can tell by the title and by everyone packing up that the song is a code to get out quick. It’s okay if the reader doesn’t know the actual songs. I think the titles serve their function. I’ll see if anyone else has problems.

      As for Graybird not exactly thinking *what* was drastic, I figured he was acting very quickly and didn’t mull over the implications of Cedrick and “White Knight” wanting to see Mister X. But if it’s a problem, I’ll add a little more detail.

      • Oh, the song thing makes a bit more sense that way! But, I would at least give hint about the text he received, just to not ‘blind’ the reader, who is seeing through the POV’s eyes. Thank you so much for your formidable work!

  4. Or, actually, reading It again, I see she’s not the POV. Sorry! But, if Graybird was the POV, then wouldn’t it report exactly WHAT was getting drastic?

  5. This piece was pretty good :). If the songs are a code, I don’t think I noticed that right off. I was in a hurry when Inread this, so it can just be me, though. I forgot what the laws are regarding mentioning songs in a story. I’m sure it’s fine as long as you aren’t mentioning lyrics, but I would check anyway, especially since laws can vary by state and country.

    • I think you can mention song titles, but song lyrics are copyrighted. It’s like mentioning the title of a movie. In one of Bryan’s books, Arthur’s knights are watching “Braveheart.”

  6. Jason,

    This is a creative and intriguing beginning with lots of sensory input. I would read on.

    Since your writing is quite clean, I don’t have many details to critique, so I need to be picky to have something to write about.

    First, the opening sentence seemed quite long (32 words). It is a decent hook, but since it begins with a lengthy helping phrase rather than the main subject and verb, it takes a while for the reader to get to the actual active phrase. Also, shouldn’t you have a letter “a” before pungent?

    I also wondered about a motivation for pulling his trenchcoat taut. Was he cold?

    The jump to the change of the music felt abrupt with no transition. Maybe mention the music before it shifts.

    I had some trouble with who was who and whether or not some people were the same people mentioned earlier. Was the bald man one of the “pair of patrons”? Were the pair part of the trio? Was that group of four not associated with the pair at all? Were they all in the wall shadow? Was the suitcase on a table? I thought a troika was a carriage, so that confused me.

    What is a wall shadow? Walls don’t cast shadow inside. How can people disappear behind curtains along the walls? How would there be enough room?

    On what did the gaunt young man prop a small case? A table?

    I don’t understand how kayfabe is like showing ID.

    Should you have a letter “a” before Boy Scout?

    “Cedrick’s buyer stood up.” Since he was the bartender, I pictured him already standing.

    “The man’s skin turned pale.” Maybe his face? “Skin” is vague.

    “He opened his hand and pulled out a second, identical vial to Cedrick’s.” Pulled it out from where?

    “He then sprang from his stool, his leg kicking it down.” If Shankar is serving behind the bar, can Cedrick see the stool?

    “The girl leaned against the desk”

    Since Graybird knows her name, why is she “the girl”? Also, why is she referred to as her full name, her first name, and her last name at different times? To Graybird, she probably has one reference name.

    “He pulled it out and read the text. His eyes widened.”

    Since this is Graybird’s POV, why can’t the reader see what is on the screen?

    “He reached for the brown leather case on the table.”

    What case? You haven’t mentioned this. Maybe “his” instead of “the.”

    “When Mister X’s property is placed in your friend-of-a-friend’s hands, you’ll get the rest.”

    I don’t understand. Why half tonight and half when she does the job? What if she does the job within the next few minutes?

    • Looks like most of the problems are just making things clearer. No problem. Thanks. 🙂

      I’ll address a few issues.

      Re: Cedrick pulling his trenchcoat taut. That was meant to be a personal “securing” gesture against the very bad environment. Kind of like grasping an arm or something to make yourself more comfortable in an awkward situation. I was trying to show that Cedrick, whom we are just meeting, really doesn’t approve of what’s going on around him.

      Re: people disappearing behind wall curtains. There were supposed to be small hidden rooms behind the curtains for traders and customers to use. I just goofed. I didn’t mention them.

      Re: White Knight pulling out a second spectralight vial from nowhere. That was supposed to be a sleight of hand trick, a way to knock Shankar on his heels a little more. White Knight had the vial in his coat, but we never see his fingers actually pull it from his clothing. I probably need to make that clear.

      Re: Marcie’s payment being divided up. It’s just meant to be further incentive for Marcie to do her job, to be as convincing to her friend as possible so that her friend passes the case’s contents along to the recipient. Plus we don’t know yet what Marcie is carrying. It may be more complicated than just sticking something in someone else’s hands, so it might not be likely that Marcie would try it out tonight. It may come with instructions or something. Also, Graybird could have made the half/half deal up very quickly just to get Marcie out of the room.


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