Critique Group – The Pyramid Scheme

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The Pyramid Scheme – by Catherine

Atlanta, Present Day

“So, do we have a deal?” the man asked.

John looked across the table at him, his brown eyes narrowed. The other patrons in the noisy café moved as if they had absolutely zero cares in the world, while he had just been threatened with his world.

“I still don’t understand. Why me?” he asked.

“Because”, his companion replied, “you are the only person who can. You know this as well as I do.” He folded his bejeweled hands and leaned across the table. “Unless you’d rather I offered the same opportunity to your son?”

“Absolutely not!” His emphatic response burst out louder than he intended. He glanced around, but no one seemed to take notice of the pair sitting in the corner. “Marie would never allow it, and neither would I. This is no kind of life for a boy.”

“You were his age when I found you. It took very little persuasion to make you decide to work for me.”

“I was an orphan without friends and owning only the clothes on my back. Caleb has a family, parents who love him, friends who would miss him.” He set his jaw, frowning. “I simply cannot allow you to use him as you have used me these twenty long years.”

“So you’ll do this one last job for me, yes?”

“That’s what you told me the last time you approached me about a job.”

“Ah, but last time I did not have a buyer for the great capstone. If it was not such a great offer I would have left you alone. But as it stands, a young man such as yourself is much better equipped to take care of such a, well, enormous task than an old man like me.”

John muttered under his breath “You’re not that much older than me.” Aloud he said “Alright fine, I’ll do it, but only to protect my boy.”

“Perfect!” His employer sat back and grinned, reminding John of the Cheshire Cat. “You still remember the rules, yes?”

“It’s only been two years, of course I remember the rules.” He smirked. “After all, I am younger and brighter than you are.”

The man’s laugh echoed around the café, causing several patrons to look in their direction with smiles of their own decorating their faces and a grimace on John’s face at the same time. “That’s why I like you, John. Always turning a man’s words around. You’re the perfect man for this kind of work. I don’t understand why you want to retire.” He waved for the waitress.

“As I’ve told you before, I’m tired and I’m ready to stay home and take care of my family. I don’t want my boy growing up without his father.” John waited for the waitress to finalize their ticket. “Now, as for my equipment?”

“I have it all written down here.” He slid a piece of embossed stationary across the table. “Everything you need will be inside your ship: clothes, reading materials, tools. You know the drill.” He rubbed his hands together in gleeful anticipation. “I can’t wait to see how you pull this one off Johnny Boy.”


Following the directions, John found his ship, the same hunk of metal he had been commandeering for the last fifteen years. His first ship had been incapacitated by superstitious Chinese peasants, and he had made it out by the skin of his teeth and only because the radio had been the only thing untouched. To anyone unfamiliar with his line of work, the ship looked like a child’s playhouse, thanks to the sophisticated cloaking mechanism. Once inside, however, it was anything but a playhouse. Having been kept updated every few months, it had the latest technology, a far cry from the flying Delorean from his favorite movies. The monitors flipped on as he backed into his ship, making sure no one was watching. He glanced at the destinations computer out of habit to check and make sure it was programmed to the correct place. It still had his last mission pulled up.

Okay, he thought with a sigh, so this really is a last-minute mission. I suppose I should check to see if I am fully equipped as he said. Hmmm, appropriate clothing, that’ll be important. What’s in this bag? Powder? What the heck am I supposed to do with this? Hopefully there will be instructions somewhere in this tub. Ropes, good, good, you never know when you need rope. Am I really going to need a gun? Why not a sword? That would be much better and help me blend in easier. Okay, there is my toolkit. Let’s see, everything appears to be in there. I suppose I will have to rely on the goodwill of the people I meet. I just hope they’re not too suspicious.

He secured everything in the storage compartments in the walls and sat down at the controls. First I will need to key in my destination. Where is that blasted piece of paper? He found it in his pocket and entered the information into the destinations computer. Now all I have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride. He started the engine and pressed the green launch button. The ship began to roar and shake. Taking the plug from the wall, he inserted it into a port on his watch. He laid down in his bunk for a nice nap and information download, and let the ship work its magic.


Egypt, 2560 BC

CLANG CLANG TING! The goldsmith’s hammers made a loud cacophony in the small area. John was starting his second week in the smithy, utilizing the skills he had quickly learned while on his journey. He was dressed in a simple white, linen skirt belted at the waist, although the white was more of a dirty tan now. Sweat dripped down into his eyes and he wondered, not for the first time, why his employer had to choose this particular object.


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20 replies

  1. Hi, Cathrine!
    I found this a little confusing to understand and had to read through certain parts multiple times. But other than that, it was very interesting, leaving lots of questions as a good, mysterious story should😋. It’s definitely one that I would continue to read if I had more of it. Great job😄👍!!!

    • Thank you for the feedback. Which parts were the most confusing?

      I’m glad you like the story! I hope to expand on it and answer some of your questions. 🙂

  2. Very interesting, Catherine. You hooked me in the first section, but the second is . . . cluttered. Especially where he is talking to himself. Just out of curiosity, is the time machine supposed to be like the tree house from Magic Treehouse? If so, neat little trick. Only people who know the series will get your reference 🙂

    Keep up the good work!!

    • Yes, I was thinking something along the lines of a mix between the tree house and the TARDIS. I’m a little surprised someone got it to be honest!

      Thanks for the feedback. I’ll work on cleaning it up a bit.

  3. The story is really interested and made me want to read more. It did get pretty cluttered when he was talking to himself. As he was talking to himself the thoughts seemed disconnected. It might help to have more details and have the thoughts after surround that specific item. For example, we did not even know the bag was present until there are several thoughts together about the bag and items in the bag. I really did like the time travel aspect of this story.

    • Thanks for the feedback! I was going for a disconnected feel as if he was looking through a pile of things, thinking about each item as he picks it up or sees it, but I see the confusion. I’ll work on getting that cleared up.

      I’m glad you like the concept. I hope to have more in the future.

  4. I did notice that things were a little cluttered as well when he got to the play house. Maybe you could have him rifling through his bag or searching for things on shelves, tables, or whatever else might actually be inside. Maybe you can tell us a little more about the internal layout of the time-machine. I don’t know about other people, but I like details.

    But, still, it is an interesting story. The fact that a man is willing to take a job to protect his son is a good way to start it.

  5. This is an interesting concept and well done for the most part. I agree with the others that the long interior monologue section was cluttered. With no narrative, readers are blind to what he is doing. Do you need to enumerate the tools at this point?

    Be careful of POV issues – “John looked across the table at him, his brown eyes narrowed.” Are you talking about John’s eyes? If so and we are in his POV, he can’t see the color of his own eyes.

    I would give the employer a couple of physical traits so we can visualize him better.

    Keep up the good work.

    • Thank you for your input, Mr. Davis, it is extremely helpful. I’m very glad you like the story concept.

      Your point about the tools is valid, it was mainly to add a little history with his job but it isn’t necessary to the story. I’ll keep your suggestion for a physical description of the employer in mind.

      Again, thank you for your input and advice.

  6. Hi Catherine,
    I love the pop culture references you use in this piece. Very nice. Your concept is great and I like that your main character has a motive for doing the job he’s been forced to do that readers can relate with.
    That being said, more descriptors could be useful. Even described as a children’s play house with a cloaking mechanism, my brain was still trying to tell me that your time-ship was actually a boat. Even with the Delorian reference, I was still under the impression it was a boat. Adding descriptors can help center your reader as to where they’re supposed to be. Is the time-machine in and alley? A park? An abandoned lot? And how did he back into the time-ship? Did he walk through the wall? Is the wall an illusion? Or did he push the door open, look around to make sure no one was watching him, then back through the door?
    I also highly agree with Jeremy that the inner monologue about John’s bag of stuff needed to be paired with actions and descriptions about what’s going on. Show us not only the items he’s taking inventory of, but also his reaction to a few of them, like the gun and the container of powder. Show us John patting his pockets while he’s looking for the piece of paper. Give us actions along with his thoughts.
    Overall, it was a very interesting piece and I hope you keep working on it. Keep up the good work!

    • I just realized I spelled Delorean incorrectly in my comment and I am SO sorry.

    • Your imagining the ship as a water vessel instead of a space ship type vessel is interesting and unique. I guess it was the wording. I’ll add in a few location descriptors with it as well as physical. Your input is very helpful. Thank you!

      I’m glad you like the concept. I tried to make it interesting for my fellow young whippersnappers with the references. I look forward to sharing more with the group.

  7. I love the play on the name for your title. This is definitely one I’d be interesting in continuing to read. One thing that I think would help the flow a little would be to put John’s name instead of the pronoun “he” when he shouts “Absolutely not!” It took me an extra second to figure out who was talking there since the last he was referring to the employer.

    The sentence where the man laughs and patrons look on with smiles feels a little clunky. Maybe you could shorten it slightly with something along the lines of “… looking on with smiles contrasting John’s grimace.”

    I also thought the ship was a boat at first. As Jennifer said describing the surroundings even as he walked toward it would help.

    • Thank you! I’m so glad you like the story idea.

      I see the point you make with the conversation and the “interaction” with the other patrons. I will work on smoothing out those wrinkles.

      I will see about making the ship a little easier to visualize. Thank you for your input!

  8. I like where you’re going with this story. I especially enjoy how you keep the “job” mostly a secret, so the reader wants to keep reading to figure out what it is. The “mystery,” I guess that would be called. I agree with some of the other critiques, that the thought section feels a bit clunky. Also, I wonder what it might sound like if you added a couple paragraphs at the beginning, describing where they are and the atmosphere of the restaurant they’re in. You sort of did that when you were talking about the “noisy patrons,” but I think more description would help set the tone of the story (serious or slightly comedic or dark… whatever you want it to feel like). Just a suggestion.

    • Thanks! That is always my favorite and least favorite part of a good book, keeping something a mystery. It’s great because it keeps the pages turning and frustrating because I just want to know, darn it! lol And I wanted to incorporate that into the story. But I’m glad you like it and that you appreciate it like I do.

      Hmm, interesting point you make. I’m going for a mix of Indiana Jones and Mission Impossible, if that makes sense, as far as story tone. I’ll definitely keep that in mind when editing, I like that. Thank you!

  9. Hi Catherine,

    I will apologize if I sound picky over simple things, but I’m just trying to help you improve your work. I am not a professional but I hope something I say helps you become a better writer. Here goes…

    Nice opening line. You created intrigue with, “So, do we have a deal?” I had to continue reading because I wanted to find out what deal was being made.

    “as if they had absolutely zero cares in the world”.
    – I am getting hung up on the word “absolutely”. Using the word “zero” or “no” can get the point across on its own without being wordy.

    You said he was threatened with his world but his reaction didn’t seem to match the severity. We hear him making jokes later in the conversation. If he is a pro he may not react strongly, but you made the contrast between other people with zero cares in the world while his was being threatened. I would have him appear more angry or aggressive with beats added during his dialogue to show this. If not, maybe change the line from ‘while he had just been threatened with his world.’ to something like, ‘while his world was about to radically change.’ This helps make the reader wonder how or why it’s about to change, but doesn’t indicate he should be angry or threatened.

    “Because”, his companion replied, “you are…
    – remember to keep the punctuation inside the quotation marks (next to because) when using dialogue tags. It should be. “Because,” his companion replied, “you are ….

    “Absolutely not!” His emphatic response burst out louder than he intended.
    – You can probably leave out the word emphatic. If it means something like forceful or vigorous, then you repeat yourself by saying burst out a few words later. Leaving it out tightens the sentence using fewer words, without changing the implied meaning.

    . “That’s why I like you, John. Always turning a man’s words around. You’re the perfect man for this kind of work.
    – This is a great line that makes me wonder what kind of work it really is. It’s always important to create questions the readers want answers to. It keeps them reading onward.

    He slid a piece of embossed stationary across the table.
    – This sentence made me pause. Just because I was wondering what would be embossed on the paper. Does the bad guy use company letterhead? Unless it’s important to be on embossed paper, it may be easier just as, ‘He slid a piece of paper across the table.’

    You use the words, ‘his ship’ and ‘the ship’ a lot. Try to avoid repetition and add some description so we can visualize what he is in. Nice move adding the comment about the DeLorean so we know it’s a time machine, but it will help the reader if you indicate the shape better. Like does it appear to be a car, or a boat or a plane. I could only picture him standing in a metal box with him rooting through supplies.

    he had made it out by the skin of his teeth
    – Watch out for clichés. They sometimes take the reader out of the story as people remember reading it many times before.

    Once inside, however, it was anything but a playhouse. Having been kept updated every few months, it had the latest technology, a far cry from the flying Delorean from his favorite movies. The monitors flipped on as he backed into his ship
    – I may be reading too deeply into this but watch out for order of events. You start by saying ‘once inside’ then two sentences later say, ‘as he backed into the ship.’ Wasn’t he already inside? Maybe move the line, ‘‘The monitors flipped on as he backed into his ship’ in front of ‘Once inside….’ to avoid any confusion by the reader. We never want the reader to stop and question something like that.

    During his monologue, fully describe the items. Was it a blue powder? Was the toolkit a belt with many pouches or a box with many compartments?

    As he put the items away, describe where they go in the ship. This could give us a glimpse of what his surrounding look like without sounding like you’re giving the reader a tour.

    I did enjoy him talking to himself, but we need to be able to see his surroundings as well to complete the picture we create in our head.

    Great transition! I easily picked up what he was doing without feeling confused. I knew time passed and he was settled in working a job. I did have to look up the word cacophony. Is there any other simple term you could use? The word just stands out against the easier to read text throughout the story so far.

    Overall it’s an interesting story. Improving the description of the ship and his monologue will tighten the story and help the reader visualize the action. Thanks for sharing your work.


  10. Interesting spin on typical job-for-hire! I did get caught by the “ship”–I thought it was a modern ocean-going ship.

    I do have a question…I suppose John is skilled, but is it that easy to pick up smithying skills?

  11. Catherine,
    It took me a while to get the idea, but very cool to read a sci fi time travel story!

    I liked the reference to the “flying Delorean”, but it didn’t immediately trigger the “time travel” idea in my brain; perhaps a “flux capacitor” would evoke a stronger connection for me?

    In the first paragraph, perhaps: “his entire world was at stake.”

    As a name for an adventurer, “John” is simply too bland, IMHO. (My name is John. I never get to do cool things like this. 😛 ) Could you give him a cool nickname, like “McFly”? 😉

    Also, the interior dialogue might be helped if you gave him a companion/side-kick to talk to. It wouldn’t even have to be visible to anyone but him.

    I did wonder why he would work in a smithy if he’s trying to steal a stone.

    I agree with everyone else who wants more detail. Shiny technology is one of those things that makes sci fi sizzle for me. 🙂

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