11,000th post crit: Into The Wyrmwoods prologue, 1160 words

HareBrain

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I know the tradition of posting an X-000th post crit has largely died out, but here's this. It's a short prologue to the second in my YA eco-fantasy series. All reactions and comments welcome.

***

Amy sat bolt-upright in bed, heart set thumping by the song that came from the predawn twilight beyond her thin curtains. She knew the voice at once, high and lonely, its words impossible to pin down. She glanced at her phone, 3:45, then pulled on her clothes, slipped out of her room and past the sound of her dad snoring.

Outside the small bungalow, grey mist chilled the world. There always was mist now when the Lady sang. Amy hurried along the path towards the lake. Static caravans loomed lifeless in the cold vapour. Bridewell Holiday Park was dead now even at high season, killed by a series of tragedies even the national news had picked up. Her parents had little to do but fend off occasional reporters and ghoulish visitors, and the owner had stopped paying for security patrols. As Amy neared the lakeshore, she heard music and laughter from a group of teenagers taking advantage of this for an all-night party.

Ignorant idiots. Probably here for a dare, because of the lake’s recent notoriety. Their harsh voices and hip-hop clashed with the Lady’s song in Amy’s ears. But the partiers wouldn’t hear it, Amy knew. Only she could hear the song – she, and whoever the Lady had chosen.

The path led her to the water’s edge. The human sounds came from her right, the song from the left. She thought for a moment of seeing if the partiers were missing anyone, but they would be older than her and frightening, maybe drunk or high, and they might not understand in time. So she hurried in the opposite direction, towards the song, past the boathouse with its rowboats and kayaks all locked up, past the lifebelt on its stand, past the small patch of reeds and the signboard showing the kinds of bird that should be here, but no longer were.

She jerked to a halt. There. A dark figure stood ten metres out, at the edge of murky visibility. Dread clutched at Amy’s chest, but though the song came from that direction, the figure wasn’t the Lady: too short. She waded in. The lake bed was mostly sand, firm enough. As she approached, she realised the figure had its back to her. A boy, in a black T-shirt and jeans.

The cold water now past her waist, Amy came level with the boy, and was shocked to recognise him. Kevin Smith, three years ahead of her. Her cousin had dated him until their bad break-up. He gave no sign of noticing her. None of them ever did. He just stood there shivering, staring in the direction of the Bridewell Spring on the lake’s far side, the source of the haunting, baleful voice.

‘Kevin?’ came her scared whisper.

He let out a breath. ‘It’s beautiful.’

And it was, Amy got that. The poignant despair she’d tried and failed to reach in her first clumsy poem of heartbreak: it was here. The purity in knowing how terrible existence was, how much better it would be if the life-force had never invaded the world, with its doomed scrabble for survival. The heroic strength in admitting the brutal pointlessness of existence. Amy heard it all, but braced herself against it, shoring up her defences with memories of the Lady’s true nature. The Lady had been sick before, and though this was by far the worst time, and the longest, Amy still hoped there would come a cure to end this.

‘Kevin?’ she tried again.

This time he made no response at all. Amy followed his fever-bright gaze. Nothing yet, but the song was a little louder; it wouldn’t be long now.

‘Kevin! Don’t you want to go back to the party?’ She could still hear its noise, faintly, dulled by mist and overpowered by the Lady’s voice. ‘Your friends are there.’

His face flinched a little.

‘Or, I found something really weird under one of the caravans yesterday. I could show you?’ She could worm herself out of the lie later: the vital thing was to get him away now. She stepped towards him. Maybe physically pulling at him would work. But she was scared to touch him. He was older than her, and sexually experienced, and had a sentence of death over him.

Maybe if she was quick—

‘Do not!’ came the words that cut the song dead, and Amy lurched back and almost fell over. The Lady appeared, the mist withdrawing around her then seeming to condense as a barrier around the three of them. She moved through the waist-high water as easily as if it were air. Her appearance shattered any hope Amy had harboured of the Lady’s sickness getting better by itself. Her hair, once golden-red, was blacker than the previous time, and her once-white robe had grown even more glistening and dark.

‘None may touch the Chosen, cygnet,’ said the Lady. ‘You know this.’

Amy felt her old nickname as mockery from that unsmiling mouth. ‘Let this one go, please?’ she said shakily. ‘For me? I know him. He’s called Kevin.’

‘Kevin,’ mumbled the boy, as if he’d never heard the name.

‘Ours is a long friendship,’ said the Lady. ‘But you test my patience. I begin to wonder why I ever tolerated you.’

‘Because you didn’t used to be like this!’ said Amy. ‘You were nice! You were beautiful.’

The Lady’s face hardened with displeasure. ‘Am I not beautiful now?’

‘You’re ill,’ pleaded Amy. ‘It’s not your fault. You remember, you got sick before, and that older girl helped you? Chloe? Don’t you remember her?’

‘She interfered.’

‘She helped you. I don’t know why she hasn’t come back again.’

‘She was punished. And perhaps you will be too, cygnet.’ The Lady’s voice grated like wet stone. ‘Try to meddle with my Chosen again, and it will be you I sing for.’

Amy’s heart froze with fear. She didn’t dare speak. She wished she could think of something, anything, that might return the Lady to health. Chloe had done it twice. But Amy had no idea how.

She backed off through the water, helpless, as the Lady held out a sword so its tip was near Kevin’s mouth. The blade was no longer the blue glass of happier times, but as shiny-black and slippery as the Lady’s dress, as though dark liquid ran across its surface.

‘What do you wish?’ the Lady asked.

‘To know your secrets,’ Kevin whispered.

‘Come and serve me, and all shall be laid bare.’

Amy couldn’t stand to see the rest. She surged back to the shore, making enough noise to cover the sound of a body crashing into water behind her. Voices carried faintly from the party-goers some way off, calling for Kevin now, some laughing, none guessing. Amy hid by the gas-bottles under one of the empty caravans and shivered like she would break apart, crying into her wet knees.

‘Chloe,’ she sobbed. ‘Where are you? Why don’t you come?’
 
I like how you put in the signboard of no-longer-existent local birds--it's such a simple set-piece, but it was what really gave me the feeling of apprehension.
 
Congrats on the 11,000! And well done for reviving the old tradition!

As for the story, I loved it! For me it's much stronger, more visceral, with much more impact and more immediate eco-awareness than TGO, which is all to the good, and I like that it's fantasy-driven from the start. (And the fact it's also lacking teenage angst is a huge point in its favour. :p)

I might be tempted to prune it just a little perhaps, but nothing much, and I'm not sure the repeated sexual elements add enough to justify their place. If I put my mind to it, I might find a few nit-picks (eg it's "bolt upright" -- no hyphen) but nothing major, save that using "the Lady" like that is theft, I tell you, pure theft! And slanderous theft, at that! And I'm also looking with suspicious eyes at that "cygnet" too... ;)

It's a great opening. Well done.
 
I'm not typically a YA fan, but this was excellent. You caught my attention from the outset and carried it throughout. Excellent characterization, excellent dialogue, excellent story that hints at a larger backstory while driving interest forward.

The only line, being really, really picky, that gave me a pause was, "Maybe physically pulling at him would work. But she was scared to touch him. He was older than her, and sexually experienced, and had a sentence of death over him". Unless the psychological changes of being enchanted by the Lady's song are such that the subject's impulses are deadened, I'm not sure what his sexual experience has to do with anything. I say that with 2 caveats. 1. If this is something which is cleared up later in the story, this is excellent foreshadowing and should be kept. 2. If this is something which would normally enter a teenage girl's mind before coming into physical contact with a guy, ignore it too. I've never been a teenage girl, don't anticipate becoming one (seeing as I'm in my 30s and a guy, this would be challenging apart from some form of fantastic intervention), and don't even play one on TV, so I cannot speak to the normalcy of such a thought. But barring those two, I'm curious how his sexual experience is relevant to what I interpret to be a more guiding touch, such as taking his hand and pulling him to shore.

Either way, fantastic work, and congratulations on 11,000 posts! Now that I know of this tradition I may well adopt it... and I can only hope that when I reach 11,000 posts my quality of work is in the vicinity of yours!
 
If this is something which would normally enter a teenage girl's mind before coming into physical contact with a guy, ignore it too.

No, I think it's something about her. It came to me when I was writing it, but I haven't nailed a reason down except that I see her as quite timid and unworldy for her age. If nothing comes of it later in the story, I'll probably change it. (And thanks for the compliment!)
 
No, I think it's something about her. It came to me when I was writing it, but I haven't nailed a reason down except that I see her as quite timid and unworldy for her age. If nothing comes of it later in the story, I'll probably change it. (And thanks for the compliment!)
Nice detail then! I'm curious now how this will play out as the story unfolds!
 
Fantastic opening. It feels like you do a great job of alluding to the events of the previous book (I got the feeling that Chloe was the protagonist of that one?) while still feeling like this story stands on its own. I love the conversation between the Lady and Amy, and how well you conveyed the strangeness of the Lady. The small asides, like the signpost, really did a great job of giving the reader a sense of the larger world and its problems without feeling intrusive to the narrative.
 
@HairBrain

Congrats - You should know my methods.

I know the tradition of posting an X-000th post crit has largely died out, but here's this. It's a short prologue to the second in my YA eco-fantasy series. All reactions and comments welcome.

***

Amy sat bolt-upright in bed, (a bit cliche ish - as in, it was cold and stormy night) heart set thumping (pounding maybe) by the song that came from the predawn twilight beyond her thin curtains. She knew the voice at once, high and lonely, its words impossible to pin down. She glanced at her phone, 3:45, then pulled on her clothes, slipped out of her room and past the sound of her dad snoring.

Outside the small (over describing something never to be heard of again) bungalow, grey mist chilled the world. There always was mist now when the Lady sang. Amy hurried along the path towards the lake. Static caravans loomed lifeless in the cold vapour. Bridewell Holiday Park was dead now even at high season, killed by a series of tragedies even the national news had picked up. Her parents had little to do but fend off occasional reporters and ghoulish visitors, and the owner had stopped paying for security patrols. As Amy neared the lakeshore, she heard music and laughter from a group of teenagers taking advantage of this for an all-night party. (This would surely be louder than the song that woke her. It implies the song is inside her head rather than physical. I can se this is explained below, but since she's heard it all before then why wouldn't it be highlighted at the begining)

Ignorant idiots. Probably here for a dare, because of the lake’s recent notoriety. Their harsh voices and hip-hop clashed with the Lady’s song in Amy’s ears (head). But the partiers wouldn’t hear it, Amy knew. Only she could hear the song – she, and whoever the Lady had chosen.

The path led her to the water’s edge. The human sounds came from her right, the song from the left. She thought for a moment of seeing if the partiers were missing anyone, but they would be older than her and frightening, maybe drunk or high, and they might not understand in time. So she hurried in the opposite direction, towards the song, (direction from thoughts hard to grasp, but if she's had this experience before she could use fore knowledge) past the boathouse with its rowboats and kayaks all locked up, past the lifebelt on its stand, past the small patch of reeds and the signboard showing the kinds of bird that should be here, but no longer were.

She jerked (oxy moronish) to a halt. There. A dark figure stood ten metres out, at the edge of murky visibility. Dread clutched at Amy’s chest, but though the song came from that direction, the figure wasn’t the Lady: too short. She waded in. The lake bed was mostly sand, firm enough. As she approached, she realised the figure had its back to her. A boy, in a black T-shirt and jeans.

The cold water now past her waist, Amy came level with the boy, and was shocked to recognise him. Kevin Smith, three years ahead of her. Her cousin had dated him until their bad break-up. He gave no sign of noticing her. None of them ever did. He just stood there shivering, staring in the direction of the Bridewell Spring on the lake’s far side, the source of the haunting, baleful voice. (again directional thought)

‘Kevin?’ came her scared whisper.

He let out a breath. ‘It’s beautiful.’

And it was, Amy got that. The poignant despair she’d tried and failed to reach in her first clumsy poem of heartbreak: it was here. The purity in knowing how terrible existence was, how much better it would be if the life-force had never invaded the world, with its doomed scrabble for survival. The heroic strength in admitting the brutal pointlessness of existence. Amy heard it all, but braced herself against it, shoring up her defences with memories of the Lady’s true nature. The Lady had been sick before, and though this was by far the worst time, and the longest, Amy still hoped there would come a cure to end this.

‘Kevin?’ she tried again.

This time he made no response at all. Amy followed his fever-bright gaze. Nothing yet, but the song was a little louder; it wouldn’t be long now.

‘Kevin! Don’t you want to go back to the party?’ She could still hear its noise, faintly, dulled by mist and overpowered by the Lady’s voice. ‘Your friends are there.’

His face flinched a little.

‘Or, I found something really weird under one of the caravans yesterday. I could show you?’ She could worm herself out of the lie later: the vital thing was to get him away now. She stepped towards him. Maybe physically pulling at him would work. But she was scared to touch him. He was older than her, and sexually experienced, and had a sentence of death over him.

Maybe if she was quick—

‘Do not!’ came the words that cut the song dead, and Amy lurched back and almost fell over. The Lady appeared, the mist withdrawing around her then seeming to condense as a barrier around the three of them. She moved through the waist-high water as easily as if it were air. Her appearance shattered any hope Amy had harboured of the Lady’s sickness getting better by itself. Her hair, once golden-red, was blacker than the previous time, and her once-white robe had grown even more glistening and dark.

‘None may touch the Chosen, cygnet,’ said the Lady. ‘You know this.’ (if cygnet is a name then Cygnet)

Amy felt her old nickname as mockery from that unsmiling mouth. ‘Let this one go, please?’ she said shakily. ‘For me? I know him. He’s called Kevin.’

‘Kevin,’ mumbled the boy, as if he’d never heard the name.

‘Ours is a long friendship,’ (can't be that long given Cygnet's age) said the Lady. ‘But you test my patience. I begin to wonder why I ever tolerated you.’

‘Because you didn’t used to be like this!’ said Amy. ‘You were nice! You were beautiful.’

The Lady’s face hardened with displeasure. ‘Am I not beautiful now?’

‘You’re ill,’ pleaded Amy. ‘It’s not your fault. You remember, you got sick before, and that older girl helped you? Chloe? Don’t you remember her?’

‘She interfered.’

‘She helped you. I don’t know why she hasn’t come back again.’

‘She was punished. And perhaps you will be too, cygnet.’ The Lady’s voice grated like wet stone. ‘Try to meddle with my Chosen again, and it will be you I sing for.’

Amy’s heart froze with fear. She didn’t dare speak. She wished she could think of something, anything, that might return the Lady to health. Chloe had done it twice. But Amy had no idea how.

She backed off through the water, helpless, as the Lady held out a sword so its tip was near Kevin’s mouth. The blade was no longer the blue glass of happier times, but as shiny-black and slippery as the Lady’s dress, as though dark liquid ran across its surface.

‘What do you wish?’ the Lady asked.

‘To know your secrets,’ Kevin whispered.

‘Come and serve me, and all shall be laid bare.’

Amy couldn’t stand to see the rest. She surged (waded) back to the shore, making enough noise to cover the sound of a body crashing into water behind her. Voices carried faintly from the party-goers some way off, calling for Kevin now, some laughing, none guessing. Amy hid by the gas-bottles under one of the empty caravans and shivered like she would break apart, crying into her wet knees.

‘Chloe,’ she sobbed. ‘Where are you? Why don’t you come?’

Good stuff. Good atmopherics, dessciption and scene building.

I kept wondering about the detail, given the half light/darkness, but I think it works OK.

BUT...

It's a prologue.

Hope I helped

Tein
 
I really enjoyed that! My only qualm is consistent with previous posters': the "sexually experienced" line. I don't think you need to state this so bluntly. I think many readers would sense this as part of her wariness about older teenagers who are likely drunk or high.
 
Oh man I loved this. I could hear discordant, spooky music drifting over the lake, while in the distance the muted thump of Kanye or 50 Cent or whoever and the raucous, drunken/stoned laughter of the kids, almost like two worlds superimposed one over the other, like Amy has a foot in each, and can transfer from one to the other. I would perhaps agree with the Judge's concerns about your use of The Lady, especially when you have her on or living in a lake (remember King Arthur?) but I absolutely love the corruption aspect, she having been once "good" and you having her sick and turned to "evil"; the physical representations of this (her hair, her sword, how she speaks to Amy) are excellent. If I might offer a suggestion: should her song no longer be pure and enticing but laced with dread and horror, like a badly-warped cassette tape (showing my age here) or something?

I actually disagree about the sexual aspect, which I think is a great touch (no pun intended) but I did think that maybe it had to do with older children being less able to resist due to, I don't know, being sexually drawn to the succubus, or whatever you're calling her? That would then make it harder for Amy to change their minds and drag them away (shades of Odysseus and the Sirens of course). I too think the sign about the birds is a brilliant touch, and I love the intimation that something horrible has happened that has closed the caravan park without telling us what it is, though of course we can surely all envisage headlines such as MORE CHILDREN GO MISSING ON LAKE or MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCES CONTINUE AT LOCAL CARAVAN PARK.

Beautifully crafted, and would appeal, I believe, not just to the YA market (I'm 57 on Monday and I want to read it).

Excellent job.
 
I would perhaps agree with the Judge's concerns about your use of The Lady,
Ah, that was actually something of an in-joke, since HB knows full well I have a character -- a goddess, no less -- who is called the Lady with a capital "L". (And who refers to a girl of whom she is fond with a pet name of a small fluffy-ish creature -- HB will steal anything that isn't locked down! ;) And don't come the innocent with me, HB. Why didn't she call her tadpole, eh?! :p)
 
But you have the Lady of the Lake, the Lady in Killjoys.. it's just, for me, a little generic.

The Arthurian echo is deliberate, otherwise I might have tried for something less generic. I might still end up doing so, but I think I'll leave it for now (judicial disapproval notwithstanding). Thanks for the comments.
 
I came here to critique, and ended up just getting caught up in the story. Beautiful.

The poignant despair she’d tried and failed to reach in her first clumsy poem of heartbreak: it was here.

This was my favorite line. It's so much more powerful than saying a heartbreaking tune or something.

how much better it would be if the life-force had never invaded the world

This line was a little confusing to me. Is there a recent life-force that just invaded the world and turned the Lady to darkness? Or is this describing all of humanity? Or all life in earth?

That's all I've got. Again, what a start.
 
Or is this describing all of humanity? Or all life in earth?

All life (it makes sense later in the story), but I'll make it clearer. Thanks.

Who's optioning the movie rights on this?

Sadly no one, because of my insistence on keeping a casting veto for "static caravan #4".
 
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