Peer Review by annacatherine (Australia)

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River in a Bottle Excerpt

By: My Voice

    They say all rivers lead to the ocean. Not a prettier lie has ever been told.
    My river was one of the few—one of the unfortunate few—that just stopped. It flowed into the ground, muddying itself as it desperately tried to claw its way through the dirt, struggling, drowning in its own mind. Until it finally gave up, without ever reaching the ocean. I had come so close. So, so close. But my river dried up all too soon.

    The voice of an angel rang out through my bedroom, echoing off the walls not constructed for music. Melodious tones were a waterfall, cascading from my own lips and when the room was finally silenced, the waves of sound that had been projected onto the monitor before me ceased, like a heart monitor flatlining; for that was what my voice was to me: my heart. It was all that I was, all that I loved, all that I needed. It was also all that was good inside me.
    “Hui Yin, come down to set the table!” called mama from the other room.
    Even if I shouted my response I knew she wouldn’t hear me; she was practically deaf to everyone but herself. She didn’t understand how hard I was working to get into Julliard. Music was my life and I so desperately wanted to make it my future. Five minutes passed with me remaining planted in front of my computer, headphones on, eyes closed, as I allowed myself to flow with the mellifluous river.

    “You don’t know anything, Mama!” I screamed. “Stop telling me what to do! I’m almost an adult now. I have my voice and that’s all I need!”
    I don’t need you anymore! my mind interjected, but I was forced to swallow my desperation, the words shackled by the respect I was taught to hold for mama. But why should I still cling to that respect? She had insulted my dream, my very heart and soul. And there was no way in hell I was going to stand for that.
    “Give up on useless dream, it no get you anywhere. No future. Help family instead. Family is more important than silly music.”
    My chair slid back gratingly against the rough tiled floor as I stood from my seat at the dinner table spread with traditional Chinese food. I had hardly eaten a bite before the argument broke out, and although the Peking duck seemed to be calling me name, I left the dining room in silence.
    “Where are you going?” mama shouted at me in Chinese. “Come back here, Hui Yin! You do not leave the dinner table without finishing your food. Your voice is all that matters? You don’t deserve your voice if your words only hurt others!”
    Her commands cut through me and I wanted so badly to snap back, to defend myself. But instead I ignored her. If she was going to be deaf to my wishes, I was going to be deaf to hers. Grabbing my jacket, I tossed it over myself so as to protect from the usual frigid December air, something I had grown accustomed to over the fifteen years we'd lived in our San Francisco after emigrating from China in '98. My hand was on the doorknob when I felt someone yanking on my other arm; it was my brother, two years younger than me.
    “Hui, don’t…” he muttered, his harsh tone a warning, but his shining, innocent eyes conveying a sense of worry. Maybe he was looking out for me, but I just couldn’t see that through my own rage.
    I tried to pull away, but when he maintained his iron grip, I turned my venomous gaze upon him, spitting callously, “You don’t know anything either, Zhu. All you do is play your stupid video games. You don’t have a dream.”
    Dropping his gaze, the grip on my arm loosened, allowing me to tear away and cast myself into the chilly night. It was cold, but I would deal with it.
    Did I hurt Zhu? Did I feel bad about it? I couldn’t help but wonder as I walked the howling streets. The wind drew my voice out of me; it flowed like a smooth, beautiful stream. The sidewalks were almost scarily empty as I filled them with my soul. But my stomach couldn’t help but churn.
    What is this feeling? Guilt?
    “You don’t deserve your voice if your words only hurt others!”
    My breath hitched and with each note enormous flowers sprouted from my lips. The beautiful petals encompassed me, embraced me. They were warm as they beat with my heart.
And they wouldn’t stop.
    My mouth wouldn’t close and I wasn’t sure why. For the first time, I was utterly terrified of my own voice.
    One by one, the petals detached from the flowers, shrinking as the glided smoothly down into five glass bottles, each picked up by a silhouette and taken away. Far, far away. I could almost make out the people shrouded in darkness. Almost. The flowers continued enveloping me, consuming me, but when all the petals had fallen, the flowers were nothing but thorns, twisting, turning, trapping. They tangled themselves around my neck, squeezing, choking, drowning. My river was gone.
    My eyes opened and I realized I was back in my own bed. As I looked around, my view was obstructed by mama’s worried face, desperately asking me if I was alright.
    My mouth opened to respond.
    But nothing.
    I shot straight up and opened my mouth again.
    But nothing.
    No. No, no, no, no!
    I tried to scream. I had never wanted to scream more in my life, but I couldn’t make a sound. All I could do was let the tears flow down my face, trailing behind them a river of their own, for mine had been bottled and taken away, leaving me with nothing.
    “You don’t deserve your voice if your words only hurt others!”
    This was my punishment, wasn’t it?

Peer Review

I loved the first paragraph! It really drew me in and everything about it was wonderful!

I'd love if I got more information about the character. Any quirks? Habits? Biting nails etc? That would make the character feel like a living person!

I would love the last few paragraphs expanded. Maybe more inner thoughts?!

Yes! The imagery of your story has really allowed me to feel like I'm in the setting of your novel. I want to know about the house, bedroom etc. though. I want to know the small things.

I love the imagery in this novel! I think you're really talented - and amazing at brevity. I'd love to read all your stories!

Reviewer Comments

Please keep writing!