Friday, November 6, 2009

Excerpts from The Starving

I recently submitted a query to a small press that publishes supernatural and horror fiction. I inquired about them publishing my story, The Starving, a horror story based on the true-life experiences of our Jamestown colonists. I posted on the story previously. The press I queried asked for excerpts. Here's what I sent them. I wonder, do these brief bits from this 11,800 word story make you want to read it?

From Chapter 1

Dear Reader, the story you are about to read is true. I have transcribed it from the original manuscript as accurately as possible given the degraded condition of the vellum upon which it was written, and the English usage prevalent in that day, which opens to question the meaning of some words and phrases. You will be shocked by what you read. Those of you with delicate constitutions may wish to forego the reading altogether. I strongly recommend that this document not be shared with school children, for it is a part of our history best confined to the dusty corridors of academia. Nor would I recommend it for overly sensitive adults, or those whose mental faculties are frail or impaired in any way. That being said, I should explain to you how I came upon the manuscript from which I have transcribed the story.

My name is Alfred W.C. Dixon. I am an archaeologist specializing in the study of human skeletal remains. My specialty is forensics – I study skeletal remains in order to determine how people died. I will not burden you with details on how I do my work or indeed why, except to say I find it interesting and instructive. It is the latter that compels me to publish this report, for should we ever wonder what is the true nature of man and under what circumstances his nature will escape from the confines of his socialization, we need but reacquaint ourselves with this terrifying story of our forebears.

From Chapter 4

The two young people, kneeling in what looked like an oversized grave looked as through they were painting a fresco. Jalal, a slender African-American man who looked to be barely out of high school, was holding a trowel and Katie, whose light complexion and freckles didn’t bode well for a career doing fieldwork, was holding a painter’s wide-bristle brush.

The twosome said “Hi,” to me and then looked at John.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

The young woman, Katie, said, “Same-o, same-o.” Jalal just smiled, holding his trowel to his shoulder like a soldier at order arms.

John turned to me. “We removed a skeleton we think belongs to one of the original settlers, and Katie and Jalal are making sure we didn’t leave anything in the hole.”

John raised his hand in an abbreviated goodbye to Katie and Jalal, who went back to work without a word, and we continued our walk around the cemetery, where there were several large, rectangular holes dug.

“We think this site will reveal the remains of most of the original colonists. I’m sure you know that more than half of those original one hundred and four colonists died in the first year,” John said.

“Sixty-six, if my memory serves me,” I said, showing off a bit, perhaps.

“Yes. Well… The problem we have, of course, is that the skeletal remains have to be handled with great care, so as soon as we see what we have we dig a trench around the remains and remove dirt and all to an enclosed facility – that large, boxy building you may have seen as we came in – where we can treat them and study them out of the elements. I’ll take you over there in due course.”
It was getting progressively darker in the tent and our two companions had ceased their work and were heading out. I was anxious to hear more about why John had felt it necessary to bring me here and, although not wanting to be rude, was less interested in a cook’s tour than in getting to the point. I preempted John’s next foray into forensics.

“John, pardon my being blunt, but you brought me here for a specific reason having to do with cannibalism. What is it, if I may be so bold?”

“Right, sorry. Didn’t really want to get into it with Katie and Jalal here. Let me show you something.”

John walked me over to another grave; this one quite large and only partially excavated.

“We’re finding that there are several bodies in this grave.”

I looked into the hole and indeed I could make out two skulls, and several clavicles, and likewise, numerous femurs and other bones of the leg. “Odd…” I said, half to myself. I looked at John.

“Mind you, we’re only just beginning to understand this, but our assessment is that the colonists – what was left of them – were in a desperate hurry to bury the dead.”

“Not surprising, given the climate, but this…”

“It wasn’t just the climate, the graves we’re excavating now are from the fall and winter of 1609--”

“Ah yes, the so-called starving time.”

“The starving time, yes. People were dying at such a rapid rate, not just of starvation, but of disease, and from attacks by the Indians. Those remaining were weak and terrified of becoming infected. We’ve found bodies buried face down, with buttons under the bones.”


“They were buried in the clothes they were wearing.”

“Ah, yes…”

“Another thing,” John said. “We’ve excavated three skeletal remains with bones missing.”

“Bones missing? You mean you haven’t yet completed the excavation where these remains were buried?” I had an odd sensation as I watched John’s face. His right eye was twitching, and his mouth was a tight, straight line.

“Arms and legs,” John said.

I frowned. What the devil was he trying to say?

From Chapter 12

Hauntings have been reported at Jamestown, Williamsburg, Yorktown, and throughout those ancient areas of Virginia that once served as habitation to our earliest settlers. Ghosts are today, a cottage industry in what has become one, sprawling American theme park. It is, in my opinion, poppycock.

I could say to John, ‘Good gracious, what a coincidence, I too have had a dream.’ But which of us hasn’t dreamt of some horror that makes us shout out and start up clutching our bedclothes, only to find ought but silent night about us?

From Chapter 14

When we met the next day I told John I thought we should give over the day to searching for Lizzi’s remaining remains. “After all,” I said, “it’s the least we can do for the poor girl; she suffered so much.”

“You had a dream, too,” John said. My, he was looking absolutely haggard this morning.

I laughed, and said I’d eaten too late and had a bit of dyspepsia during the night. I don’t think he was fooled.
We found the skullcap after much hard searching. Once again, it was Jalal who spotted it half submerged at the water’s edge. One might have mistaken it for a clamshell. We found two of the lumbar vertebra in the laboratory among some bones not yet matched up with their brethren. John and I had donned the Tyvec suits and were working to assemble what we had of Lizzi’s skeletal remains. The last piece to put in place was the skullcap and as I went to place it I notice some odd markings in the crown.

“Hmm, what’s this, I wonder?”

John looked over my shoulder. “May I?”

I handed him the cap.
He’d retrieved a magnifying glass and was peering through it at the markings I’d observed.

“It’s been scraped. Probably with a spoon, although sometimes they used mussel shells.”

“Good lord!”


  1. How is it that you know so much?

    'Lizzi' reminded me of an Australopithecus afarensis 'Lucy' whose remains were found in Hadar, Ethiopia. She was named so because the palaeoanthropologists who dug her up, we fans of 'Lucy in the sky with diamonds'.
    My textbook didn't say the last bit. That was a BBC report online.

  2. I really don't know that much, but I know where to look. I certainly didn't know where the name for the Australopithecus afarensis, "Lucy," came from.

  3. Trust me, you don't want to be in a position wherein you're forced to know.


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