Monday, August 25, 2014


A Wilder Sorrow
YA Urban Fantasy

“On either side of the river lie / long fields of barley and of rye.”
The woman’s breath washed against her neck as the soft voice rose and fell with the words. Her feet dangled into the creek, cooling, she imagined, them both, since it felt like they were practically one person. She kicked out, spraying water over her and the woman.
The arms tightened around her, as if worried that she would fall in. “That clothe the wold and meet the sky.” The voice continued with a touch of the laughter that she, herself, felt. “And thro’ the field the road runs by to ma-”
A car horn shattered the image and Paige found herself lying on a scalding fire escape. There was no cool creek or, worst of all, woman’s voice. Paige wasn’t even sure the voice was right anymore.
She put her hands over her eyes when they watered. The city sunlight was harsh and blinding. How did people live with it?
Tennyson didn’t belong in a place like this. She didn’t belong in a place like this. Taking a breath, she let her hands drop and squinted in the light.
Tennyson didn’t work but something else had to. Something about the light?
No. She didn’t know any poems that would feel as harsh as it was.
There was a poem for this place. There had to be. And if she didn’t know it she would learn it.
Turning to glare at the building, Paige willed it to give up its words. After a moment it did, she knew the perfect poem but suddenly wished she didn’t. 
Not that one, there had to be another one. A different one. Nothing else came to her. Pressing her lips together, she sat up on her elbows, ignoring the bite of the grating, it already hurt, she could deal with a little extra pain.
“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, / You cannot say, or guess, for you know only / A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, / And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, / And the dry stone no sound of water. Only / There is shadow under this red rock.”
After a second more of glaring at the building she let herself fall back and pressed her palms into her eyes. It had been stupid to think she’d come up with another quote for this place. Maybe it had been stupid for her to give it a quote at all. She knew what would happen, what always happened. It would never be as easy as it used to be because her mother was all over it.
This place was why she’d memorized the Eliot to begin with. Her mother had called New York ‘an Eliot place.’ 
But being able to summon the right poem gave her a small comfort. Since the move she lived in constant fear that that ability would leave her too. That she would be left with nothing in this dead city. 
She remembered the woman’s voice and how it wasn’t quite right. The city was eating away everything left of her mom. There was so little left as it was. 
Turning her head, Paige pressed her cheek to the metal of the grating, hoping it could burn her thoughts away. She closed her eyes and just breathed, pretending the air wasn’t laced with metal and dirt. 
“And thro the field the road runs by to many tower’d Camelot,” she breathed. 
She laid like that for a while dosing, soaking in the almost too hot sun while she could. She had a couple more hours of light and then night would fall and nights were the worst. When her dad and her siblings were asleep, or pretending they were. When she sat up and wondered if Robbie was actually asleep or just afraid to get yelled at for coming out of his room to find her. If he would ever be okay. If the city would ever seem like the home she’d left behind and not something that wanted to swallow her whole. 
She’d slip out onto the fire escape and try her hardest to find the stars she’d looked at at home. But they were never there, drowned out by the artificial excuse for life in the city. Before if she’d had a problem she would sit on the porch until her mom found her. And her mom had never once failed to find her sitting on the swing. It hadn’t mattered how late it was. 
No one came out for her now. Not really. Three times Robbie had come out of his room, in a hyperventilating panic, to find her but that wasn’t the same. As comforting as he could be he was no match for their mom’s infinite momness. 
Then tomorrow she had school and it was back to the anxiety of trying to pretend that her brain wasn’t so full of poem pieces that if she met more than three people at a time she couldn’t remember all of their names. After that she’d come home and do it all again. The same thing she’d done for the last two weeks. 
Two weeks of this awful waiting. Waiting for their lives to piece themselves back together, for that light that her mom brought to everything to find a different way in. It felt like she was the only one who knew that they would be waiting a long time. 
“I had a dream, which was not all a dream. / The bright sun was extinguish'd, and the stars / Did wander darkling in the eternal space, / Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth / Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air; / Morn came and went--and came, and brought no day, / And men forgot their passions in the dread / Of this their desolation; and all hearts / Were chill'd into a selfish prayer for light.” She breathed the words out, trying to breathe the thoughts out with them.
Paige opened her eyes. The first thing she noticed was that it was dark. The second that there was a dark blotch on the grate above her that she was sure hadn’t been there before. She squinted at it. It looked like…her hands flew to her mouth, stifling a gasp.
There was someone up there. Someone who’d just heard her recite Byron. Byron! Of all of the poems that she knew she’d never once considered anyone’s first impression of her being Byron!
Her brain scrambled and she looked around the fire escape like she would find something to hide behind because it wasn’t too late for that or anything. She buried her face in her hands, taking deep breaths. 
After a moment she peered between her fingers. 
The figure still hadn’t moved. 
Was it possible that they hadn’t heard? Maybe they’d been so wrapped up in their own thoughts that they weren’t even paying attention to her. That made sense. Why would they be paying any attention to the girl muttering bits of Byron on a fire escape at night like a crazy person? They would have said something if they’d heard, she was sure.
Paige forced her arms back down to her sides and pressed her lips together on the off chance anymore words decided


  1. This is really intriguing. Paige recites the poetry as if it's a spell.. to recapture a place? Is the other woman and the other place at the very beginning reality, illusion, or delusion?

    I really enjoy how poetry is almost talismanic for her.

    One issue for me though, was that Paige is so much in her head throughout this passage that we get only a few glimpses of physical space. The descriptions of the fire escape we get are anchors as her mind wanders, they give us some contrast to her abstract thoughts, and I could use a few more of them.

  2. The concept of poetry having magical powers is awesome! I would have liked to see the pitch for this one first, though. I had to reread the opening a few times to get a feel for what was happening, and I agree that some more scene setting and action could help ground the reader sooner. Best of luck to you!

  3. I agree that the power of poetry in this world is a pretty cool concept, and I'm interested to see it in action. The beginning felt a little slow with descriptions and backstory; would it be possible to get to the inciting incident sooner, and save the exposition for later?

    Good luck!


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