TITLE: The Curse
GENRE: YA fantasy
"Witches, Witchcraft, history of-"
Cynthia felt a tingling of anticipation that brought her spine into alignment and cleared the hovering daze from her eyes. Twenty-seven volumes through Merna's Encyclopedia of Forgotten Lore made her ripe for sleep, but hope kept her away from bed and home. She angled the book toward the light--a flickering candle tree that kept the gloom of the library at bay, but did little for eyestrain.
The first couple of lines, something about alchemy, earned only a passing glance. The next several paragraphs looked too much like a history lesson to be of use. She skipped them. Wars and blood and... ugh, a lot of sacrificial details. Skipped.
Where was the magic? The curses? A fleeting image of a dark-robed woman waving a magic wand passed through her mind, complete with gnarled hands and warts. The room seemed to grow colder. With a shake of her head, she resumed reading, glimpsing a pair of names that drained her enthusiasm. Bartholomew the Wise and the Hexus demon. Only nursery children believed in Hexus, the ultimate ghost story.
The entry ended with some magical sickness and a treaty and a reference to "See also Plagues and Mass Death." Useless.
Cynthia rubbed her eyes and tried to summon the same hope over the next entry: "Witchcraft, modern uses and ailments-" though her eyelids felt like lead. Skimming along, she turned the page and jumped up, screaming, as a huge cockroach skittered across the page toward her hand. Book and bug went flying across the room as Cynthia beat wildly at an all-over crawling sensation on her skin.
"Go eat someone else's books!"
Unharmed, the bug disappeared through a crack in the wall and Cynthia stared at the crumpled volume, waiting. When no other creepy crawlers appeared, she poked at it with the tip of her toe, then picked it up and gave the book a good shake. Flakes of glue and dirt fell from the binding, and half the pages dropped, disintegrating further with every attempt Cynthia made to put them back in order. What little she found labeled "Witchcraft" was riddled with holes and chewed into lace.
"Figures." She dropped the remains of the book to the floor and returned to her chair, clenching her fists to stop their shaking. "Cursed forever because of hungry bugs." Tears pricked at her eyes, the back of her throat grew tight, but she refused to cry. Not now. Don't you dare think it, she told herself, which was almost as good as indulgence. The more she tried to fight her feelings, the more powerful her doubts and fears became.
Is there a cure? Will I ever be free? Will he return? Should I give up?
No. As always, she found strength in her determination. But that broken book, that heap of pages crumbling to dust, seemed to shake her. Who knew what information was now and forever lost in that pile--information that might have set her free. As if spoken by someone else, Cynthia heard her darkest fears whispered in her head. You will never succeed. He gave up, and so should you. Nobody ever loved you, or ever will. Give up. Give up. Give up. Give up. Give up.
"No!" The force behind her voice made her jump, which made her glad no one else was around to see. "Scaring myself." She shook her head. "And now, talking to myself, what next?" Next, she would go mad and forget who she was. That, or accept failure and go home, which she could never do.
Her eyes hurt and her head ached--even more than usual. The piles of books waiting wherever she looked made optimism a slippery thing. "I will find it," she said softly. Logic dictated that anything made could be unmade, including curses, and she intended to prove it, if not through talent, then through diligence in research. Somewhere, there had to be an answer. Perhaps in the very next book.
Her fingers brushed another book when a loud, croaking call made her freeze. "Not now," she groaned, muscles going stiff as she looked, first to the stairs, then to the destroyed encyclopedia. The call repeated, echoing louder down the stairwell and Cynthia knew it was too late to try and hide what she'd done. She covered her ears and ducked behind her chair, thinking invisible thoughts. Once, she had read that the power of thought during stressful situations was magnified by up to fifty percent.
I remember liking this before, when it was the first 250 words. I was glad to read more of it. It's tricky to keep a reader's interest when there's so much inner monologue and the only real action involves reading through an encyclopedia, but at as long as you can maintain the sense of urgency about breaking the curse, it works all right. I'd definitely want to keep reading and find out the exact nature of the problem.ReplyDelete
A few awkward phrasings. For me, "brought her spine into alignment" conjures up images of chiropractors. ;) Watch out for your placement of too many similar constructions; for example, the line that starts "Skimming along" includes "screaming" a few words later, and I think it might be too many -ing words at once. Minor stylistic issues, nothing huge.
I completely loved this. I particularly enjoyed how you dribble in information slowly, instead of rushing to twill us why she's searching for magic lore and what the nature of her curse is. Good luck finding a home for this!ReplyDelete
I agree with the above poster. I found this intriguing enough to continue. I'd like to know more about the curse, who 'he' is and who is calling to her at the end.ReplyDelete
I wasn't hooked with the first paragraph- like the above I find that there were too many uneeded descriptive prose and it was hard to find the action amidst the thought processes.
Also- if these books are so important to her, why would she shake one into a crumbling mass because of a cockroach? If this isn't what happens, something's being lost in translation.
I would aim for clarity with this and ask yourself what the first of impression of your main character you'd like to give? We already have a sense of the conflict- the curse, but do you feel its best presented under these circumstances? You have to really give the reader a reason to invest in this character and what befalls her.
I'm definitely digging the hook of the protag desperately searching for a cure in a dimly lit study. My attention has certainly been grabbed.ReplyDelete
I do agree with some of the above comments, but something I wanted to point out is that the paragraph full of questions seems too arbitary for my tastes ("Is there a cure? Will I ever be free? Will he return? Should I give up?"). They're just kind of tossed out there, and not enough info is given to ground the reader regarding them. You don't want to infodump, of course, but they're too vague. For example, why would Cynthia say "he" in the question "Will he return?" Even a name or something there would feel more natural, I think, and provide more info.
That being said, the hooks are good, and I was enticed to read on more to find out who had entered the study.
This is my favorite so far. I agree that you could cutback on the exposition a little, but I was halfway through before I even thought about the fact that there was very little dialogue. And, for me, that is a major feat.ReplyDelete
Something you've done extraordinarily well that others should look at is weave the backstory in seamlessly. There is no infodump whatsoever, but we still know that she's cursed, trying to find a cure, and a guy left her. Very well done.
I also agree with the confusion about the book. I think you mean that the cockroach had eaten the pages she was interested in? Maybe she could shake it out, and then set it back down to find the holey and ruined pages? I dunno.
Regardless, I love this and want to read more. Go, you!
I thought you did a great job of getting the info out. It's woven into the scene very well, but for me, the scene dragged on too long. By the time the cockroach appears, I had gotten the point.ReplyDelete
I did think the bug's appearance was going to be the catalyst for some foreward movement, but then she goes back to the books. And even at the end when something different is happening, it's not clear to me what that event is. Perhaps tell us who made the croaking call, or what was said? She seems to know who or what it is. We should know that, too.
Other than that, I thought it worked well.
Great stuff, here. I haven't commented until now because I couldn't get passed the beginning without getting a little lost/bored. BUT, once I was in, what a ride!ReplyDelete
I agree with the others about how well you wove in info, I just want to comment on how nice your writing is and how much I like your style. Def. would read more!