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 young adult dark fantasy novel. TWL tells of Alyx’s attempts to rescue her boyfriend Sam from a shapeshifting witch who has abducted him to a cold, gray, ash desert where monsters prowl.
To reflect Alyx’s musical tastes, I set up the table of contents for TWL as a “playlist,” and named each chapter after a hard rock song. 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 ahead)
Track 10 is named after the hit single from Black Sabbath. “Paranoid” is not-quite three minutes of sonic freight train slamming along at breakneck speed, while singer Ozzy Osbourne wails:
Finished with my woman ’cause she couldn’t help me with my mind
People think I’m insane because I am frowning all the time
All day long I think of things but nothing seems to satisfy
Think I’ll lose my mind if I don’t find something to pacify
The name “Paranoid” doesn’t really fit the song, because it’s about actually depression, but it’s entirely apropos for TWL’s 10th chapter. In it, Alyx and her new, prickly companion Mike come across a pond, a rarity in the ashen desert they’re stranded in:
He pulls out the pistol, keeps looking around as he sorta tiptoes toward the edge of it. “Fill up your water bottle and anything else you got.”
I set down my backpack, take my bottle out of the mesh pocket, go to the edge of the water, where Mike’s filling up a canteen without looking at it. He has the gun up by his shoulder, eyes scanning. I ask, “What’s the deal?”
“Your folks ever let you watch Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ll take that as a ‘no.’” He jams the bottom of the canteen into the sand by the pond so that it can stand on its own, then screws the cap on one-handed. “In Africa, watering holes are a good place to get ambushed.”
“We’re not in Africa.” I start filling up my bottle. The water stinks like a mechanic’s old garage, where they fix cheap cars.
“I’m going to teach you a new word: ‘extrapolate.’” He starts filling up another canteen, glances over at me. “Don’t go too close and get your clothes wet, because you’ll get hypothermia. You know what that is?”
“Yeah, I know what that is. But even if I did, I could make a fire and warm up.”
“Make a fire out of what? Besides, in this place, campfires are neon signs that say, ‘Eat at Joe’s.’”
I finish filling the bottle, put the lid on, stick it in the mesh sleeve of my backpack.
“Hurry up, willya?” Mr. Sensitive ties up his bag, throws it over his shoulder, stands, still looking around.
“Paranoid much?” I put the thermos in my backpack, start zipping it shut. Then I see them.
Eyes. They float up from deep in the gray water. Hundreds of them, maybe thousands.
“Paranoid’s” mental distress is reflected in Alyx’s dream of Sam held captive by the witch:
Then I dream about Sam. I dream I am Sam, like before, where it’s me on the inside, him on the outside. He’s staggering along—gray sand and dust; black weeds; broken black boulders as big as cars—and he can’t move his hands.
He looks down and I see through his eyes. Wrists wrapped tight with thin gray snakeskin ribbon, coiling and writhing, always moving, made of smoke and bird spit and a woman’s beard and the sound a cat makes when it walks—somehow, I know this.
“What do you want?” Sam asks. “Where are we going? Why are you doing this? Who are you?”
“What. Where. Why. Who.” Long tangles of thin, grimy-white hair. Skin of her face like a paper bag crumpled and then unfolded. Staring silver eyes with nothing behind them, like a fish on ice at the store. He looks away, shuts his eyes, stumbles, almost falls. Her nails digging into his jacket’s sleeve, catching him, holding him.
“What. Where. Why. Who,” she croaks again. He keeps his eyes closed, but I feel and smell her—she’s worse than Mike—come close to him, too close. The back of her other hand flicks his cheek, like she’s trying to brush something off.
“You.” Her voice husky, not raspy, her stench gone. Sam opens his eyes. Her dress is still gray tatters, but now her hair is full, clean, unknotted, and that pure blonde that women who aren’t try to dye theirs to, but can never match it.
She’s not old anymore, and her teeth aren’t broken glass. Her skin’s smooth, with hundreds, maybe thousands, of tiny tattoos—they sorta look like letters, sorta not—everywhere. But her eyes haven’t changed from silver, and her face, it’s not quite right. Too smooth, too hard. Rigid, like plastic.
He shows her the ribbon around his wrists. “Let me go. I never did anything to you. I just want to go home. Please.”
She grabs Sam by his throat, leans over him. Whispers, “I’ll give him his feed, but not you. You’re mine. My own.”
Find out more about Alyx, Sam, Mike, and the witch in This Wasted Land.
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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