A surprising number of teenagers in 2019 (some them, no doubt, encouraged by hit films like Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman) are fans of vintage hard rock. So, too, is Alyx, the Feisty Teenage Heroine of This Wasted Land, my latest young adult dark fantasy novel.
To go along with that, I set up the table of contents for TWL as a “playlist,” and named each chapter after a rock “track.” Each relates to their chapter in some way, whether it evokes the mood, mirrors events, reiterates themes, or simply inspired it. You can find posts about other songs on the playlist here.
(Some spoilers and scary stuff ahead)
And I feel that time’s a wasted go
So where you going to tomorrow?
And I see that these are lies to come
Would you even care?
I love this song’s energy and enigmatic lyrics; singer Scott Weiland (RIP) said that the song is, “sort of a metaphor for a lost, obsessive relationship.” Which, though Alyx and her boyfriend Sam doesn’t realize it yet in the story, is what their relationship is becoming.
And I feel, so much depends on the weather
So is it raining in your bedroom?
And I see, that these are the eyes of disarray
Would you even care?
To tie in the song title with the chapter, I have a scene where Alyx is listening to Stone Temple Pilots at school:
A soft pretzel with big hunks of salt stuck to it. A can of Vanilla Coke. A little warm, but okay. That’s what I was having for lunch.
The cafeteria is a huge open space with the food line at one end, vending machines along the sides, tables and chairs in the middle, and another open space at the other end that goes to the auditorium and the gym and the rest of the school. There are stairs up to the second floor there, too. That’s where I was, again, sitting almost all the way at the top. Earbuds in, Stone Temple Pilots playing on my phone. Not much into Nineties, but I like them, cuz they kick ass.
“You might like this,” he said, holding up a card. It wasn’t the usual, like the kind with spades and hearts and numbers and kings. The top half of it was a drawing of this dude with a tiger’s head, and he was holding a sword. Under the picture was written some stuff that didn’t make any sense to me.
“Whaddya mean, ‘magic?’”
“It’s a fantasy game called Magic: The Gathering. You use these cards to play, and they all have cool artwork. It’s what we do at lunch every day. I thought you might like to see.”
I turned the card over; on the back was the game’s logo. Turned it over again, read it closer. The card said that the tiger-guy was a “rakshasa,” whatever that is. Some kinda monster, I guess. It was pretty cool.
And as I’ve done before, I do a play on words with the chapter title. Stuffed animal toys are often referred to as “plush,” and a certain one makes its first (but certainly not last) appearance here:
A little stuffed animal, a bird, but not meant to look like a real one. It’s got tufts of fake blue and green and yellow hair sticking up all over it, and huge googly eyes like Cookie Monster’s, and itty bitty wings, and big, flappy orange feet. And its yellow beak opens and shuts when it says, again, harsh, and kinda buzzy:
The stuffed bird is dirty and worn in spots, and looks like maybe a dog or some critter chewed on it. Not, I’m pretty sure, that it was anything but butt-ugly when it was new at the dollar store. Who would buy this for a kid?
That’s already annoying. Aren’t pelicans those big sea birds with the pouch under their beak? And they like, live in Florida, or something? Yeah, that’s them. Is that what this is supposed to look like? Cuz it doesn’t. Not at all.
The idea of this toy came to me in a nightmare almost 30 years ago. In the dream, I was in bed, reading, when the toy waddled into the room, repeating “pelican” as it approached and hopped onto the bed.
Dream-Me thought nothing of this, until the bird took its bill—which Dream-Me realized, too late, was a pair of scissors—and stabbed me in the crotch again and again and again, blood spraying and splattering it and me as the bird cackled and shrieked.
I screamed myself awake, but material like that is just too good not to share, amirite? You can find more scenes with “Pelican” in This Wasted Land.
Where you going to tomorrow?
Where you goin’ with the mask I found?
And I feel, and I feel
When the dogs begin to smell her
Will she smell alone?
Kenton Kilgore writes killer SF/F for young adults and adults who are still young. In his latest novel, This Wasted Land, high-school senior Alyx Williams learns that witches are real when one attacks her and her boyfriend Sam, dragging him off to a nightmare world where Alyx must go to get him back.
Kenton is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of the end of the world as seen, heard–and smelled–by a dog. He also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons! With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature. Kenton also published Hand-Selling Books to help authors better their sales.
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