THE SECOND DRAFT
Here it is, lovely readers. This is the second (self-edited) draft of my project for Writer In Motion. If you recall from last week, my first draft had roughly 494 words in total. I wasn’t sure what I was going to edit in or out this week, so I focused on trying to add layers of emotional complexity to Atlas (second person makes this so hard!) and playing with visual descriptions. The easiest part is seeing it in my head. The hardest part is writing it (go figure!). Anywho, this raised the word count of my second draft to 739. That’s only 245, and I do feel as though I’ve lost a ton of poetic flow. but it’s only one edit. Before you read, a couple notes:
A Word On the World: Vallumoira is Atlas and Lyra’s intended destination, but this isn’t actually where they end up in the first chapter. In chapter two, Atlas will wash up onto the shore of a place “even the gods have forgotten” and refer to it as a “ghost village” of “lost things” but I don’t know the name of this place yet. It’s loosely inspired by several real abandoned ghost towns in Italy, and it’s a place where letters from the lost or dead wash up shores in glass bottles or in the form of paper planes. The world’s magic isn’t going to make sense, and for the most part, the characters won’t be startled by this. There are sea monsters, sirens, ghostly apparitions, and, of course, a special kind of magic that only doll makers can use to breathe life into their creations. Atlas, as the story progresses, slowly transforms from a wooden doll into a real girl, and this will probably be the only explainable event of magic in the whole story. Other than these odd little quirks, the world is pretty much like ours…from, like, 100-200 years ago!
Warning: Although there’s nothing necessarily graphic/violent, this story is heavy. It deals with themes of loss/grief directly, relationships, and the scariness of growing up in a world that feels impossibly large. It was actually a little difficult for me because I drew from my own experiences with loss/grief. So this is a gentle warning for those of you who are especially sensitive (like me).
Where Heaven Spills Its Easel
The first, true breath I take fills me with the blackest of water, and the remains of twilight. Sunset bleeds at the edge of the world, a marigold wound slowly swallowed by twinkling starlight and smoke and the biting chill of the sea. Currents chew me up and spit me out, roaring in my ears, clawing at my hair, mimicking the way you once called my name.
Atlas, Atlas! Where are you hiding? Come out and play.
But I know once the sea takes me into its embrace, it’d never let me go. It haunts and tricks and steals. Water is a lonely, cruel, and cunning creature; it takes on whatever shape it must to lure us to the tomb. It has no voice of its own, I think. It strums the vocal cords of the lost or dead like a harp making lovely, deadly songs.
Lyra, Lyra, Lyra. The words are carved into the back of my throat. Even now, as I desperately search the waters for a sign of you, I can’t bring myself to say your name.
I’m terrified the sea might answer back;
I’m even more terrified that you won’t.
I cling to a shredded piece of debris, the white letters of the WIND DANCER stark in the dying light. I listen to the echo of your voice as it becomes splinters in the night, to the last remains of you escaping toward the stars as embers and ash and wind. I watch, trembling, as tentacles slither around the final mast of our ship. Our home. It cracks the way bones do, gasps for breath as water rushes in. It hovers between the sea and stars, imbued with gold and nightfall and scattered memories.
The metal rivets of knuckles strain against the weight of my body. The fabric of my white dress is waterlogged, twisting around my legs like a net, and weighing me down. The burned ends of my strings are tangled in my hair, caught on the blue flower clips you weaved into pale strands. The unsteady waves coax them to icy depths.
I feel the mouth of the sea spreading open beneath me; our world, Lyra, is spilling over and out into the inky unknown. North. South. East. West. The compass in my chest is spinning in every direction.
Where are you? The words are on my tongue. They taste of salt and ashwood and rusted metal. They are heavier than the rest of me, but I can’t part with them.
All dying things cry out in vain, the puppeteer had told us. They shine brightest at the door of death. It was before we sailed for Vallumoira. Before the letters came and went like paper birds in the summer. Before I learned to breathe and paint and sing.
It was before you cut my strings with clumsy, nervous fingers, and carved peonies into the wood of my body. A promise, you called it. A kind of magic that could only exist between maker and doll.
A cry breaks my lips as the mast of our home snaps, and the powder blue sail is swallowed by swelling waves and turquoise tendrils. It’s a strange and strangled sound that leaves me, a blind and bleary exhale that takes the strength out of my fingers. I slip from the debris as beady red eyes flash out of the blackness with triumph. The sea stirs, churning like the hands of a clock.
Its lullaby dissolves into an eerie, melodious wail, and it reaches for me. The water swells until it surrounds me, but it’s you I hear; it’s you I feel closing around me in a death hold. Isn’t it?
Atlas, Atlas! Come and play.
Lyra, Lyra. Where are you?
At the world’s edge, color bleeds from Terra Firma to Aether to Oceana. The brightest reds and golds and yellows of heaven spill into the blackest waters I breathe. Evergreen tentacles unfurl around me. Slivers of wood and shrapnel cloud the water. I cry out for you until my throat is raw, until the sound of your name is indecipherable, until I cannot tell who is alive and who is dying.
Is it me?
Is it you?
The compass in my chest clinks to a halt, the needle facing West. I panic, following its path into the shadowy veil spread out before me. Into the uneven gate of teeth unhinging as it rushess to greet me.