By Claire Giannosa
In this short story excerpt, immediately after her (supposed) imaginary friend saves her from a terrible fall into a ravine, a young girl is whisked away from her lonely days into a world of adventure.
“Ellie?” the voice asked.
Eloisa knew that voice; she would know that voice anywhere.
She opened her eyes. “Wren?”
Wren exhaled and collapsed over her. “Oh, Ellie, I thought you were dead!”
“I’m not dead,” Eloisa croaked, wondering if she actually might be. “You saved me? How?”
“I just pulled you from the water,” Wren replied.
“But…” Eloisa growled in frustration and sat up slowly. “How? You aren’t—you’re not—” she paused then started again. “Wren. You aren’t real.”
Wren simply laughed. “Come on, I have to show you something.”
He started moving purposefully through the woods, and Eloisa had no choice but to follow.
“Where are we going?”
“You’ll see,” Wren replied, slipping through a dense brush and disappearing.
Girls Write Now On the Other Side of Everything: The 2023 Anthology
Do you know what it’s like to communicate with your family across a salty ocean’s divide? Do you want the sun and moon to enter your home with stories written in embers? Do you seek voices that will punctuate the darkness? Welcome to the other side of everything. It’s the other side of silence, the other side of childhood, the other side of hate, the other side of indifference, it’s the other side of sides, where the binary breaks down. It’s a new paradigm, a destination, a different perspective, a mindset, a state of openness, the space between the endless folds in your forehead, hopes for tomorrow, and reflections on the past. This anthology of diverse voices is an everything bagel of literary genres and love songs, secrets whispered in the dark of night, conversations held with ancestors under the sea.
Eloisa followed, peering out at what lay beyond. They were in a large clearing: a circle of elm trees acted as a border, and Eloisa could hear the faint roar of the ravine close by. A firepit sat in the center, a dull orange flame flickering off dozens of stones surrounding it. On the stones sat children—all of them staring at her.
One of the kids, who appeared to be the eldest of the group, turned to Wren. “Who’ve you got there?” she asked, twirling her long braid.
“This is Eloisa,” Wren replied. When Eloisa continued to stand there, frozen, Wren spoke again. “These are the Lost Children.”
The Lost Children waved.
They introduced themselves and then turned back to conversing with each other. Eloisa veered over to Wren. “Why did you bring me here?”
Wren smiled softly. It was the first time he made an expression that Eloisa couldn’t name. He looked so different from the playful, dramatic, outgoing Wren she knew. He looked old. He looked human.
“We’re lost, aren’t we? Just treat this like another adventure. The Lost Children love adventures.”
Almost as if on cue, one of the boys jumped up from his seat and yelled, “To the water!”
Eloisa was swept up with the other children, carted back towards the ravine where a long rope was attached to a tree, a small loop tied at the bottom.
“We should let Eloisa go first,” a girl said, gesturing for Eloisa to get on the rope.
Eloisa suddenly understood she was supposed to swing over the ravine. Cold fear shot through her spine.
“What! No… I—Wren!” she turned to him, eyes wide. “I just fell in!”
Wren’s eyes crinkled. “It’s okay, Ellie. You can do it. Here, I’ll help you get in.”
He dragged her over to the rope and instructed her to loop her feet through the hole, and push off the trunk of the tree when she was ready. Her heart was pounding so loudly she could hear it even over the cheers of the rest of the children.
“Alright…” Wren said, and pushed her off.
“Wait!” but Eloisa’s screams of protest were cut off as the rope swung down. She arched over the water, the rushing rapids looming closer to her bare toes. She shivered, clutching the rope for dear life as she watched the monster ravine rush past her in a blur. The rope arched up, up, up, and she took in a deep breath as the blue sky stretched out before her. And then she was rushing back down to solid ground, the wind blocking out her squeals of delight.
And that was all it took. Eloisa got off the rope, breathless and grinning, watching as the rest of the Lost Children took their turns.
After the ravine, the children raced up a hill, breaking off branches of trees and using them as makeshift swords in an epic battle. A small boy immediately picked Eloisa to be on his team, and the two of them sprung out of the bushes and knocked their branches against the other children’s ankles.
When the twigs snapped from overuse, the children stuck their feet in the mud and tried to see who could stay in it longest without giggling. A girl named Ruby with fierce dark eyes won that one.
The eldest girl taught Eloisa how to keep her balance cartwheeling on a line of rocks and asked Elosia to decorate her hair with wildflowers. Soon all of the Lost Children were following suit, picking daisies, buttercups, and clovers. Eloisa placed a crown of bellflowers in her hair, earning a winning grin from Wren.
When the sun came down, the children made finger puppets in the shadow of the fire, telling stories of pirates and lost ships, of crumbling monarchies and trapped princesses. Eloisa watched in awe as shadows of the flames danced across her face.
“You look like a warrior,” Wren whispered in her ear.
Eloisa felt her cheeks warm. “Thanks.”
She hadn’t had a chance to ask him more about the Lost Children, about himself, about what it all meant. But at that moment, she didn’t care. She was finally surrounded by kids her age, kids who wanted to daydream and get messy in the dirt, kids who seemed to have no care in the world. She never wanted this night to end.
The story of a girl yearning for magic and wonder in her life has always lived inside of me. But the particulars of Eloisa and Wren’s story came to life last summer, when I participated in the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio Summer Program. Over the course of the Program, we discussed different craft concepts, ranging from character to setting to detail. When writing this story, I kept in mind the ideas of perspective and concrete details, to create a tale that felt tangible and real.
As the reader views the world through the eyes of Eloisa, an eight-year-old, I was careful to distance the reader from her thoughts just enough so I could describe the setting with a more mature perspective, whilst still maintaining Eloisa’s innocence. When returning to this piece, I knew I had to select an excerpt from my original work that could both stand on its own and capture the essence of the longer version. My absolute favorite part of the story is when Wren introduces Eloisa to the Lost Children, and when she gets to spend an entire day with other kids who see the world like she does. The dynamic between Eloisa and Wren was also an important element to have in the excerpt, so I condensed the scene when Wren saves Eloisa from the water, in order to keep all of the best parts of the story inside.
Claire Giannosa is a young writer from NYC, who spends all of her free time lost in stories. Last year she started writing her very first novel, and hopes to one day share many more with the world. Outside of writing, she is an active board member of Model United Nations and enjoys engaging in international policy. She also spends time exploring the city, dancing with elementary school kids, and scribbling poems in a notebook.