Faltering, Aliyah sat on the edge of her nest, the shift between visual falsehood and tangible truth no less disorienting than her first experience.
That first sentence is quite a bit to parse. I think, and I could be wrong, that you’re saying she’s having a vision? It’s probably best to be a little more clear and ditch the attempt at flowery prose.
She braced her head in her hands, anticipating the relief that usually follows the touch of familiar bedding.
I like the start. Consider “and anticipated” instead of “, anticipating.” The technique you use here is valid, just be wary of overusing it. “Follows” should be “followed.”
Entwined sticks poked through squashed pillow, ruining comfort.
This is what I mean about overuse. You do the same thing with the comma in this sentence.
I’m confused at this point. You say she’s experiencing some kind of vision, but I’m not seeing it. She tries to gain comfort and fails, but I see nothing about what she’s experiencing.
A flash of movement stole her gaze.
I like this.
Nothing. Not even a spider hanging from the finest of threads.
This doesn’t flow. You’ve lost me. Does this mean she didn’t see a flash of movement? You need to work on clarity over playing with words.
Her chest tightened, breathing hurried.
Last time commenting on this, I promise: you overuse this technique. I’d recommend deleting at least two of the occurrences thus far.
Manifestations of panic flowing from subconscious depths.
If “flowing” were “flowed,” this fragment would become a sentence and would make more sense. I get that you’re trying to evoke a certain feel, but you’re doing it at the expense of the reader knowing what the heck is going on.
Falling back, she clutched at her forehead, fighting to draw air through constricting pain. As she rolled onto her side she came to face that wooden cat, its arms and legs tethered with string, pebble eyes full of deferred anguish. Saniyah’s favourite puppet. The only part of her daughter she could still hold.
Again, I like the emotion but would suggest minor stylistic revisions for clarity. From the text, my understanding is that this is the first time the reader has been shown the “wooden cat.” If this is correct, I hate the use of “that” to describe it. This is going to cause the reader to attempt to remember it and, since it’s not possible for them to, will annoy them. I’d replace the phrase with the puppet phrase and clearly refer to it as a wooden cat later.
Also, this is the first mention of pain. Before this, I get that she’s having some kind of vision and is disoriented. Where did the pain come from? Here, she falls back and then tries to deal with the pain. If you show the onset of the pain, it then logically flows that she falls back in reaction.
Another technique I feel you overuse is the sentence fragment. If used occasionally, it adds emotional emphasis. By using it a lot, you’re both making less effective and you’re making your writing seem choppy.
The tide ebbed.
I’m assuming you’re talking about a metaphorical tide of pain. Two problems: I have to stretch to figure this out and it’s a bit clichéd. Saying “the agony ebbed” is much clearer.
Reaching out to stroke painted fur brought the touch of Saniyah’s hair to her fingers. She pulled long curls taut with each stroke. Voices echoed from the past…
A bunch of issues here. “Out” is superfluous. “Reaching…brought” is a weak sentence. How about: she stroked painted fur, and the touch transported…
For that second sentence, I think you need to continue the analogy. Splinters became long curls she pulled taut…
Why the ellipses after the last sentence?
“Well if you would go mudslinging with your friends, expect a few tugs.”
“Don’t tug so hard!”
“There, all done.”
“Mother, you can’t forget him!”
“Yes, he is getting a bit mangy.”
She reached for the puppet. The brush slipped…
Since you’re doing this in flashback, you need to work extra hard to be clear. I get easily that she’s brushing the hair and that there was a fight with mud. However, I have no idea who “him” is until three lines later. I’d suggest naming the puppet earlier and going with that name here.
I still don’t like the ellipses.
The clatter of the hairbrush striking rock snapped her back to the present. Without realising, she had left her nest to stand by her dresser. A side table left dusted by neglect, the only sign of its true self visible in the shape of the object removed and smears left by her hand.
I have no idea whether the hairbrush exists in both realities and really fell in this one. That’s not a good thing.
I don’t like that second sentence. How about something like: She stood by her dresser and wondered how she had gotten there.
This might be a difference between American and British, but I’m not keen on the “left dusted.” I get what you’re saying, but “left layered with dust” is so much more clear. However, if you feel it’s clear to your audience, it’s probably fine.
Okay, now you’re giving me a clue that the hairbrush actually fell. It works better, I think, if you’d simply indicate that more clearly at the beginning.
She glanced back at the trigger of her fugue, wondering why, if her recall was so vivid, she could not remember his name.
All those commas disrupt the flow of the sentence. Make sure that this is the pacing you desire.
The cat stared.
Aliyah stared back, as if she could unlock him by standing her ground. As if he would reveal his name to her if she won a contest of wills.
Unwavering in his mindlessness, the cat kept his silence.
As above, I suggest changing this to give the thing a name earlier.
Submitting to the inevitable, Aliyah cast her gaze downward. Wisps climbed from a ring of black burnt into rabbit wool pile. The rug’s colour now faded. Drained. The lingering taint of singed fibres teased her nostrils.
I have no idea what’s going on here. Really. None.
Echoes of her surreal meeting correlating, yet alternate, to what transpired.
Huh? You’ve completely lost me by this point. I don’t think that most readers would make the effort to continue on.
Repercussions she could not predict. She would have to be more careful in future, take more time to measure the weight of her actions.
Familiar sounds anchored her further. Rushing water. The shrieking of drakes frolicking on the wind. Mundane everyday noises, always present though rarely listened to. Nevermore enjoyed.
The more recent memory of her pact with the shadow fiend bellowed embers of hope. Fire rose within her, warming blood and sweating brow, forcing darker thoughts back into their brittle prison.
Yet, the fiend only promised revelation. To take back what the wind stole would require action on her part. She would need more help, not just that of a monster.
She swapped her nightgown for garb more appropriate for a foray from her roost. A backless top, with clasps top and bottom, and trousers fastened with a belt. Thin, light, and hand woven from hemp; clothing designed to cover without hindering flight. Although, flight was not on her agenda.
As on so many occasions, she opted to leave by foot. Stopping at the curtain veiling the tunnel beyond, she almost changed her mind. Scenes flashed behind closed lids. Standing on the edge of her crevice, overlooking the valley below. Jumping, soaring…falling.
A shiver traced the curve of her spine as imagination fed false ending.
With a shake of her head, and a swipe of cloth, she moved into the mountain. The air, though dry, was kept fresh by intricate currents flowing throughout the rockbound passageways. Weaving her way through tunnels, only her feet registered the changes between the rough carvings of water now diverted and smoother minings of workers long passed.
I like your writing. It’s active. You choose good words. You infuse it with emotion. These are good things!
On the other hand, most readers, I think, aren’t going to make it through your piece. By the end, I was pretty much saying “Oh Good Lord!” It feels like you’re trying too hard to be poetic with your words. Frankly, that’s not a style that’s going to be popular to the modern audience and not a style that I have a lot of tolerance for.
If that’s what you’re passionate about, there is, I think, a niche market for your style. Keep on keeping on. Regardless, though, I think you need to work on being clearer. Even those who dig your style aren’t going to be patient with it if they can’t understand what’s happening. Also, please consider that the impact of using any technique is diminished with overuse. You overuse sentence fragments and the comma-gerund phrasing.
Your intention on submitting this work was to see if the flashback worked. In my opinion, no. That’s mainly because flashbacks need to be handled with a high degree of clarity to show the reader what is happening. Overall, your writing lacks clarity. The flashback exacerbates the situation even more.
Hope this helps!