The Bailey Girl

She dug the lines into the dirt using a large stick, scoring the earth to her intentions. The evening was deep into twilight, and the small clearing was surrounded by a dense copse creating a dark cocoon. She did not light a torch, worried that someone would see her light and investigate, ruining decades of research and work that led to this perfect night. She was well past middle age, and she would be long dead before another opportunity came to perform the ritual.
In the near dark, she could hardly see if the five lines were straight and even, so she frequently stopped to inspect them. Each line needed to be exactly ten feet long. Several times, she checked their length using a pre-measured piece of rope she had brought for that purpose. With the five lines finished, she took the stick and pulled it through the dirt as she walked in a large circle outside of the lines. Finished, she stood, careful of her aching back and squinted at her accomplishment on the ground. Five lines intersecting at five points enclosed by a circle: the pentacle.
All was almost ready. It was almost done.
She smiled. He was almost here.
She took a large satchel from the nearby wagon and carried it over one arm as she walked the perimeter of the circle. She paused at each tip of the pentagram, pulled out two items from her bag, and placed them on either side of the point inside the circle. When she was finished, she returned the satchel to the wagon. She then removed a salt jar from her robe’s inner pocket and walked back to the pentacle. Holding up the edges of her dress, she stepped between the lines in the ground and sprinkled the interior of the pentagram with the salt.
The last step in the ceremony was to light the fires, but she would wait until the last hour, still nervous that a nearby villager would stumble onto her rites. She mentally reviewed the next steps that she would have to take, for she only had one chance at this. From a small wooden trunk in the wagon, she took a palm-sized, dark leather missal with runic carvings on the front and side binding, and set it on the wagon seat. She looked into the trunk and rearranged the potions and jars into their exact order of need. Lastly, she took her flint for the fires and set it on the wagon seat next to the book.
All was ready. It was almost done. He was almost here.
She felt nervous and happy beyond her own belief, and the fluttering in her stomach reflected her anxiety. Her heart raced and her breathing was quick and shallow. She leaned back against the wagon to wait, took a long, deep breath to steady her nerves and tilted her head up to the sky. The twilight had sunk into night, and everything was in a quiet doze. Not even the wind rustled the dried autumn leaves left on the bushes. The moon shone strongly out of sight somewhere near the eastern horizon, peaking out now and then at the whim of the wind, its light making the thin web of clouds seem like a glowing ceiling. Against this backdrop, the woman could see the last of the season’s bats wind their way between the pointed fingers of the leafless trees. She watched their dance through the sky for a few moments before shivering and pulling her long hooded robe close around her neck and body. With the onset of night, the cold was settling down on her like an icy blanket.
The quiet was finally broke by the tolling of the Catholic Church bell in the village. It was now eleven o’clock. Today was All Soul’s Day, and prayers said at the cemetery on this feast day were granted extra indulgences by Catholic rite. Those parishioners who wanted to say any last prayers at the grave site of a loved one or for the salvation of the dead-in-need were being signaled that they only had one hour left to take advantage of this holy day. The village of Gates-Burrow was a good size, with its own market, but the Catholic population was small, and the woman doubted any more Catholics would be out tonight.
It was time to light the fires.
She had one hour before her own window closed. Though the salvation of a soul was not her aim, an equally important wrong was being reversed tonight. The butterflies in her stomach fluttered in a storm as she realized that now, after a lifetime, she would be with him again.
Moving quickly, she lit a tall torch that leaned against the wagon and carried it to the other four torches spaced around the outside of the circle. When the last was lit, she jammed the torch she carried into the ground, placed around the pentacle like the other four. She walked to the trunk of potions, feeling more young and alive than she had in years. Taking the box and book from the seat, she went to the base of the pentacle, keeping the star pointing away from her.
She took out the first potion, removed the stopper from the vial and flung the liquid over the pentacle etched on the ground, then took the book, opened it and slowly began to read aloud. The words were in Latin, and the sounds and phrases had an ancient and timeless quality. The graceful syllables invited you to listen, yet the pristine notes reminded the listener that the words existed before the very birth of the world. They were words of praise, a verbal homage and thanksgiving for all the blessings that had ever been bestowed on this earth and its lowly subjects. On and on she read, litanies to gods and saints, to the blessed and the damned, for on this night, all these beings were equal.

8 thoughts on “The Bailey Girl

  1. Jennifer says:

    This starts really well with good writing and an intriguing set-up. Then it becomes boring, with way too much description and detail and the story not moving forward with any pace. The repetition of ‘it was almost ready. He was almost here,’ doesn’t work – it gets tedious and we need to know who ‘he’ is faster. An example of the wordiness is in the paragraph from ‘she took a large satchel…’ To ‘ sprinkled…with salt.’ This could be cut to ‘she placed two items inside the circle and sprinkled it with salt.’ You have obviously researched and really care about the details of the ritual, but will your reader care and do we really need to know the details? I think we only really need to know that she performs a ritual and a few key details to give us the idea, and then move on with the story. Be careful of cliches – butterflies in her stomach. ‘Feeling more young and alive’ would read better as ‘feeling younger and more alive…’ You have the ability to write well. Edit, edit edit and go for strong sentences and cut what’s not needed. Prioritise story over description and I think your writing will be stronger. Best of luck with it.

  2. RGAustin says:

    I agree with Jennifer, great writing, but boring. I found myself skimming and had to re-read. More action needed. If the description is needed for the story/genre, I humbly suggest peppering in action to raise the stakes, tension. It feels like she did this, then that, then this… coming off as an instruction manual rather than drawing me in to feel what she was doing or the power of this (special, scary, dangerous?) event.

  3. Ellen M says:

    At first I enjoyed reading about the ritual, but it went on too long for me. There were too many ritual details. I wanted to know the purpose of the ritual earlier than you revealed it.
    The imagery was good. I liked the description of the bats. That was an original description.
    I think it would be better if you clued the reader in on her reasons behind her trying to get him there rather than stretching it out. The mystery didn’t work for me. If I had more information I might relate to your character better.

  4. Douglas Hazelrigg says:

    I must concur with the above criticisms. The writing is solid but the actual story takes too long to develop. I did like the aside about the church, which provides a thematic contrast to what the protagonist is doing. There is also some really nice imagery there, such as:

    “…the woman could see the last of the season’s bats wind their way between the pointed fingers of the leafless trees.”

  5. Gentle Reader says:

    I have to echo what many of the others have already said. The first page of a novel is very important real estate. Something has to happen to hook the reader before you give too much description. Jake Vander Ark wrote a book called something like “Put the Cat in the Oven Before You Describe the Kitchen…” Good advice.

    Some quick comments on stuff that’s easy to fix:

    1. You used the word “was” over ten times in this brief snippet. Here’s a link that might help:
    (http://www.stlcc.edu/Student_Resources/Academic_Resources/Writing_Resources/Grammar_Handouts/To-be-Verbs.pdf)

    2. Fifteen sentences begin with the word “she”; you might consider switching things up a bit.

    3. You used the phrase “outside of” twice. You don’t need the “of” in either case.

    4. Many words were repeated. Here are a few examples:

    wagon – 7 times
    almost – 5 times
    last – 5 times
    walked – 4 times
    finished – 3 times
    carried – 3 times

    There were others, but you get the idea. Get some software that will find this kind of stuff for you.

    Good luck, and keep writing!

  6. Grace Berry says:

    Thank you all for the citiques. This is my first “anything” in writing since college science papers. I am glad to know where I need to start work!

  7. Pam Portland (@TruckingWriter) says:

    Okay, I wasn’t bothered by the length, simply because coven content is not my things, so I just figured it was because I was not interested in the subject matter, but the imagery was strong. The things that struck me as points for improvement were completely different than the previous comments.

    First, the use of the word “light” twice in the third sentance was duplicated and you could probably come up with an alternate word without much effort. “.She did not light a torch, worried that someone would see its glow and investigate…” I know others commented on repition. You can easily clean that up, it’s just a matter of minor changes.

    Second, a number of phrases stuck out with some contradictory thoughts. How would she be able to draw five lines of the same length and have all five points meet without a compass? I know, it’s a geeky observation on my part, but there it is. And how is it that “not even the wind rustled,” but the moonlight was “…at the whim of the wind?” In the last paragraph, the narrator inserts the reader into the text with the use of the word, “you.” That felt so odd to me, since there were no other similar references.

    Last, and so minor, I think you meant to say, “was broken” rather than “was broke.” As I type this, I don’t even recall where that appeared in the text, but I wrote it down as I was taking notes, so it might also be written as “was suddenly broke” or something to that effect.

    Have fun with this character. She seems like a mature woman who knows what she wants.

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