Peer Review by Breanna Jury (New Zealand)

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The Gift of Life

By: Griffin041223


Mortimer Blackwood was dead.

He would be the first to agree it was an inconvenience.

Mort sighed, breath rattling through useless lungs, and dodged another clamber of gangly horse limbs and rattling carriage wheels before leaping up the steps to his ramshackle flat. He fumbled with the keys, metal catching on the stitches keeping his hands together, and soon he was swinging chipped wood inward on a squealing wail.  

A harpy attempted to weasel its way inside, and Mort quickly flicked it away. It spiralled with an indignant squawk, flapping its scruffy wings, and Mort closed the door behind it.

Harpies. The pixies flew south for the winter, but somehow the harpies always stayed, perpetually seeking shelter and a good blanket to destroy. Regardless, the sun never seemed to want them, as they slipped into hibernation throughout the long summer months to escape the sticky heat, unable to handle the heart of what they craved.

Mort shook his head. Funny things, harpies.

Always found wanting.

“Mort, is that you, dear?”

A flurry of colourful skirts and jangling bracelets bustled into the entryway, and Ms. Sanguine broke into a smile, pointed teeth gleaming.

“Come here and have a cuppa, why don’t you?” She beckoned him into her living room and Mort followed his landlady until she pushed him onto a soft pouf. She poured thick, glistening red into a teacup, pink flowers hugging the rim, and Mort swallowed down a grimace.

“Uh, I’m afraid this is your, um, your blo-”

She blinked down, and let loose a flustered giggle.

“Oh my, silly me, pig isn’t for you,” she shook her head, and took the cup for herself before wrangling up a pot of Earl Grey.
Technically, Mort didn’t need to eat or drink anymore, the perks of being dead - undead, but he didn’t mind it. And Ms. Sanguine, an unusually diurnal vampire, was starved for company more often than not. All those living ladies won’t even let me drink my blood at tea, though I’ve told them it’s only pig or rabbit. Ridiculous. I won’t be putting up with that.

“Now, tell me, how was work?”

“The usual,” Mort replied noncommittally, a twinge in his back protesting against the long hours spent shining the shoes of livelier men.

He’d been a lawyer once.

Unfortunately, his clients were much more predisposed towards those with beating hearts to represent them. There was a
difference, they said. Something about “upholding standards.”

A loud thumping echoed from the hall and Mort was wrenched from his thoughts.

“Oh, could you get that, dear?” Ms. Sanguine wiped her mouth on a deeply stained handkerchief, and Mort obeyed, lurching to his feet.

He opened the door to greet two coppers, one drenched to the bone, and the other undoubtedly a witch, suspiciously dry, a broom slung haphazardly across her back by a leather strap.

“Mister Mortimer Blackwood?” The man peered at him.

“Yes?”

The witch nodded, and withdrew a ledger from seemingly nowhere, fixing a pair of round glasses atop the bridge of her nose.

“You’re a registered zombie, yes?” She said.

“We prefer the term ‘undead’,” Mort supplied, “to call us ‘zombies’ seems to give people the wrong idea.”

“Right, yeah,” she muttered without looking up, “so, you recently filed a complaint against a mister Ivan Hawthorne?”

Mort blinked.

“That was...five years ago,” he remembered perfectly well the day he crawled his way to the police department, an old stab wound gaping in his back, the absence of a heartbeat so hollow in his chest. Cold. So cold and he should be dead.

“Paperwork was backed up quite a bit,” said the dripping man, “we’ve been looking into your murder, though. We just thought you’d like to know.”

Mort flinched.

Something tearing, burning, searing into skin, through bone, burrowing into flesh and everything hurt, and his breath froze in his lungs, blood filling his mouth and black, so much black blotting out all the light, so dark, and cold, and he was alone, and he knew, he knew he was going to die-

Mort swallowed.

“Now, it says here that Hawthorne has registered himself as a Necromancer-”

“Warlock,” Mort forced between his teeth. “He was a warlock who...fancied himself a necromancer.” Without any training.

And Mort was the result. A lump of wasted flesh stitched together with spools of fine black thread, his mind riddled with...holes. Like his body, it was a broken thing. He remembered who he was, certainly, but memories slipped and slithered away, leaving gaping nothingness in their wake and Mort knew he would never be whole again.

The witch gave him a long, searching look.

“You were his…”

“Yes.”

“He gave you the gift of life, though, didn’t he?” The man frowned, “I reckon you should be thanking him.”

Maybe.

Some days he was. Grateful. When a wind whispered through his hair as he sprawled in the softness of the grass he never thought he’d feel again. When he listened to Ms. Sanguine chatter as she poured him another cup of tea. She always had a kettle on.

But other days he was...cold.

There was an ache between his ribs, the space his family had carved out of him, horrified at his return, afraid he wasn’t really all there anymore. And they were right. He was a monster.

Monster.

And no matter how he spun it, Mort knew he was…

Alone.

The coppers left him on his doorstep with a promise of justice for his death and justice for his...unlife.

And Mort didn’t shiver because it was winter, or because the fog clung so close to his skin.

A harpy flitted to his shoulder, burrowing into faded wool, and Mort moved to swipe it away, but stopped. The creature closed her eyes, features pointed though relaxed, strands of black hair tangling in her wings as she sought the warmth she so desperately craved.

Mort let his hand fall.

And he breathed, though he didn’t really need to anymore.


Message to Readers

I would very much appreciate some feedback, please, competitions terrify me. Please try to be kind, though. :)


Peer Review

I like how you introduce a group of common fantasy creatures - undead, vampires, witches, warlocks - living together with humans in an almost modern world


I'd like to know more about Hawthorns and Mort's history with him


I'm a bit confused about the time period it's meant to be set in - with the horses and carriages I'm guessing victorian-esque but I'd like a bit more clarification on that. I'd also like a little more description on what form of undead Mort is (e.g. does he eat brains?)


I really like the main character, Mort, and I think you introduce him well. I also like how you bring in more information slowly, starting with just him, then his landlady, then the cops and Hawthorn. I also like your writing style - it's very descriptive without getting bogged down and hard to read.


Reviewer Comments

I'd maybe introduce Hawthorn and the cops a little earlier, because I think the beginning is a bit slow compared to the pace and exposition at the end.