Monday, October 8, 2012

7 1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Mezher

Name: Helene Mezher
Genre: YA High Fantasy
Title: Not sure yet


The candles spun the loom of my future. I was only eight, but I understood the stakes. I saw the birds and stars written in the features of my relatives, their shoulders slumping and faces flickering with the dying light that swallowed us whole. They had praised my beauty when I was born, then denied my strength when I shed that youth. A girl whose life hung, suspended in their hands, I had become their slave; trapped and unable to resist for fear of an otherworldly reckoning.

Incense burned on every street corner, while laments wailed for the dead, and those still clasped within the clutches of the plague. Livestock aged and died within weeks, and crops shriveled like the women who tried birthing life: bloodied and at their last breath. As lightning slashed its sword through the night, so did my familial mob, carrying herbs, tonics, and staffs ablaze. I was the root of the evil, they said, and they had come to purge the city.

With hair slithering along her curves, our Oracle, Rhea, stood at the forefront. When she spoke, rooms trembled like weak, wooden planks. When the embers of our hearth blazed with decrees, she read them with authority. When she trekked through the brigs of our mast-less city ship, the stares of men possessed a salacious edge. A voluptuous woman with a stentorian voice and pharisaic attitude, she held her staff like it was an extension of her body, carved of the finest cedar, an eagle at its pedestal. Without a single word of acknowledgement, she motioned for me to allow their entrance.

My would-be murderers, sigils decorating their naked bodies, trailed into the house after her. Almost thirty people blurred in my vision, and among them, a traitor whose presence was poison to my veins. Father, still bearing his dirty apron and slouched posture, perpetual fixtures on his small, wiry frame--he held the bird cages, twenty some in all while his eyes averted mine. Mother was absent, and my sister too, one of the unfortunate sleeping in an earthly tomb.

Someone lit the wax towers on my table until they wept orange and yellow. The shadows the candles cast on the walls crept like the pervading whispers of those present; they saturated the house with the untold monstrosity of our rituals. The stink of days-old bird poop and disease permeated the kitchen, a blessing for their actions. Apron snug on his bare chest, Father deposited the cages by Oracle's feet, kneeling in servitude before scuttling in retreat. Oracle tap, tapped her staff to cease the whispers. I straightened my back, though fear was my crutch, its tendrils slivering along my shoulders.

"We are gathered here today to pay a bloody tribute for our city's cure. Lenaea"--she paused until everyone glared, their gazes as hot as the flames behind me--"daughter of Andrea and Petros,"--she indicated Father, who shrank from the attention--"and prisoner to the light, was destined to live a half-life. My mother's mother decreed this ruling at the conjoining of the moons, when Lenaea entered this world and all was revealed. We call on the Others now to distribute their judgment."

Oracle released one of the birds from its cage. Immediately it pounded its wings, searching for freedom. For a moment, it seemed a mighty beast, flapping feathers with an inky sheen, and a beak of some proportion. Then the truth was revealed: it would never find peace. An arrow pierced its throat before it flew five feet. Father carried a fully equipped bow in his apron pocket, and knew precisely where the death mark lay. I stared into the candlelight to stave an outpouring of tears.

Energy pulsed in the room, a palpable rush of murmurs, menacing laughter, and torches at the ready. I could smell their excitement, their sweat palpitating like a heart-drum for the violence they craved. My fellow citizens, the women who worked in the mornings and voted by night, and the men who raised their children and baked bread with love, had clustered together, a circle of faces who no longer accepted mine among theirs. The table dug into my skin, reminding me that this was real, this was the realest non-dream I could ever have. I could not wake from this nightmare. When Oracle closed her eyes and lifted her hands, prayers began.

"Grant my daughter strength, Healer."

"And mine courage, wisest of all."

"Mastermind of the senses, I am your slave."

I blocked their prayers from my mind--I was a captain of the vessel that sailed for enemy shores; I was a phalanx of the fifth that ran my spear through life; I was nothing when Oracle gasped and shouted, her nails diving into the bird. I fisted my hands, for I knew what was coming, and I could do nothing to prevent the unseen from unfolding. My death appeared clearer than ever: these patriots would crucify me atop the sacrificial pillar, my blood planting its roots within the foundation of our city, and healing the sickness. As if he longed to see my vision, Father edged closer. My stomach churned when I noticed the eagerness tinting his face. With my broken nails, I clutched the table; it was solid but sure, a buttress of support.

While Oracle rummaged through the bird, reading the future in its entrails, I tasted the stench of fresh blood and incense, and the noxious perfume of their collective anticipation. Rhea made noises--distraught, disappointed, doubtful-- I could not read them well. I knew little beyond the thump, thump dirge of my heart, and the murmurs of a mob thirsting for my death.

All conversation ceased when Oracle let out an agonized cry that reverberated through the thatched house. The flames danced, their fingers reaching for the sky. Every candle caught fire, melting the darkness in a flash of sunset smudged light that flared and steadied, as sound as the stone pillars of our theater. The features of those surrounding me were brought into clarity, alight with astonishment.

The fire had introduced another change: one in me. Power thrummed through me, gifting me with a strength I had never experienced. Each flex of my muscles and each twitch of my eyebrows pushed the feeling closer to the surface. I wondered if the others could sense it, this magic flowing through my blood, whispering to me of the flames' secrets.

Then Oracle smiled, sharp teeth and shadowed holes. I no longer doubted that she, at least, knew what had happened. A precocious child of eight, I had never believed in her prophecies until that night. I resented her, for I did not even understand these mysteries. Most children wanted to be told they were destined for something greater, something special. I did not. That was a double-edged sword waiting to knife me when I least expected the turn.

This power was a rapier of force.

"My children," Oracle said, "we are alone in this decision. I could not read the Others' message, so I recommend no course of action."

As if in response, the flames roared.


On my sixteenth birthday, Mother decided to chance fate. A new writer was visiting Antigone, she said, a noble woman who used her talent to create a masterpiece, and we were to watch one of her plays. Father protested, but the look Mother gave him sent shivers down my spine, nonetheless his. Head bowed, he refused to say another word, even as she stroked his cheek, trying to penetrate that indomitable shell.


  1. Helene-Your intro completely intrigued me! I love the flow of the words and the sense of a different time and the importance of this ceremony.

    However, I'm not sure what the significance means and I don't know if this was purposely done. She is going to be superior--but can we see why or is this something that must be a journey?

  2. I got lost a little bit in the images, not mentally taken to another place but maybe that they needed to be broken up a bit. Beautiful writing, however.

  3. First of all, I think this would make a killer opening: "Incense burned on every street corner, while laments wailed for the dead, and those still clasped within the clutches of the plague. Livestock aged and died within weeks, and crops shriveled like the women who tried birthing life: bloodied and at their last breath. As lightning slashed its sword through the night, so did my familial mob, carrying herbs, tonics, and staffs ablaze. I was the root of the evil, they said, and they had come to purge the city."
    Your writing is very pretty, but do be careful not to cover up the plot and character. I'm not saying you do, just that you have to watch for it. Though speaking of character, I'd like to get a better sense of who the protagonist is. What makes her unique? Why should I want her to live so badly? That said, it really grabbed my attention. I'm intrigued by the use of all the birds and the character of the father. I was a bit confused as to the line about her being 8. Also the part where the father shot the bird, I thought he was coming to her rescue for a bit.

  4. I agree with Lisa on moving the second paragraph to the beginning. Your writing is beautiful and I'm definitely intrigued.

    I'm curious, though, as to why she's the one who has been singled out. How did that happen? And, why is her mother missing?

    I love the ending of the first chapter. "As if in response, the flames roared."

  5. Your imagery is masterful. However I found the voice extremely mature. At first I had thought it was intended to be the POV of an eight-year-old. It took a while before I realized it was a story from the past.

    The second chapter confused me. I thought the mother had died when she was eight? Unless I had misread it.

    I think your writing is exceptional, but a bit on the "heavy" side. I know the scene is INTENSE, but I found it a bit exhausting to read.

  6. Overall, this is beautiful prose with images that are drawn so nicely. It’s pretty writing and kind of reminds me of a deep, rich fantasy that promises to deliver. I love that!

    With that said, there are a couple things I want to mention.
    In some cases, it seems there is so much focus on the lyrical writing that I am getting lost in the writing and cannot find the story inside. The language, though beautiful, tends to be a bit confusing because of the use of the imagery. And in addition, some of the descriptors do not seem to fit and further confuse.
    An example is “hair slithering.” At this point, my mind is now focused on snakes, not on hair or the oracle and by the time my mind catches back up, I’m left confused. In these cases, for critiques, I will go back and re-read. General readers will not, and may get discouraged.
    Another example of confusion is “crops shriveled like the women who tried birthing life: bloodied and at their last breath.” I’m not sure who is taking their last breath here, the old women or the babies they birth. And are they giving birth or assisting in births?
    I’d suggest going through and trimming the descriptors and making sure each sentence is clear. The writing will still be beautiful, and the story will shine through.

    I’m excited to see where this goes next! I’ll be looking forward to reading the revised version!

  7. Hi Helene,

    I love how beautifully you have built an entire life and civilization within five pages of lyrical prose. That said, I agree with everyone else that perhaps the result is a bit dense. Consider slowing down a little and making it easier for readers to process the action and react to it. P.j. gave you fantastic examples of images that breezed past too fast for clarity. Look for those throughout and give us time to appreciate the world and the incredibly tense situation. Let us feel it.

    Michael has a definite point about the voice, but I am not worried about that. The story may end up being more appropriate for an adult audience, but you will find readers if you simplify and direct our eyes to what's most important to the story question.




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