Sunday, July 8, 2018

1st 5 Pages July Workshop- Toran


Name: Katherine Toran
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Persephone’s Waltz

Prologue

At my first glance, Ysabel looked too short to be a Holy Maiden. The Bride of the Sun God was almost as petite as a dwarf or a halfling, but her straight-backed teenage frame exuded the force of a grown woman. She was so beautiful that even looking upon her face seemed like blasphemy. I was in awe.

I’d almost forgotten the pain in my shoulder until jolted by the lack of it. Standing on her tip-toes, Ysabel withdrew her hand. I pulled aside my bandages. The bruise which had once spread all the way to my elbow had vanished, leaving only a crust of blood. My heart did a somersault. This miracle proved the Holy Maiden was truly the virtuous master I’d been looking for. Belatedly, I said, “Thank you.”

Her smile spread wider. Each movement flowing like a fairy descending to earth, she sat down in a plaid armchair which dwarfed her. Her oak desk was large enough for use by a whole platoon and covered in paperwork. “Blessings of the Sun God be upon you, Alzira. All I have is yours, but this humble servant would not want to keep you from a divine calling to rest.”

I had no idea what she’d just said, but it sounded as lovely as her. Black curls cascaded over her frilled white dress. Ears, nose, and mouth alike were all delicately doll-like. She wore no jewelry or blush. Ambiguously brown skin powdered to flawlessness and hazel eyes made it hard to pin down which foreign country she’d come from. Likely mixed-race. A woman like me couldn’t compare to her: tall, muscular, and bronze-skinned with hawk-like angular features and silken black hair shaved to a crew cut. My eyes had been described as “phoenix eyes” by men who wanted to flatter me and “beady” by those who did not. The contrast inspired no jealousy in me. I’d never wanted to be the princess of the story; I wanted to be the knight who protected the princess.

The Dragon Maidens’ quartermaster, Suzette, stepped forward from her place by the bronze door and whispered, “She says you can skip dinner if you’re too tired from your journey.”

“Oh! Uh, yes, Your Holiness, I already ate on the road. Thank you. Thank you so much.” I flexed my healed arm, still wonder-struck. The Holy Maiden’s office bedazzled me, from the skylight etched in gold to the lady saints busy dying gruesome deaths on the mahogany panel walls. Curtains framed a golden sun decoration and a huge world globe, half of it whited out for unexplored regions.

Holy Ysabel’s gaze fixed on my headscarf. “In this is a place of women, you need not feel constrained by modesty. My Dragon Maidens answer to no man except the Sun God. Please feel as unhindered and free in your dress as Saint Olthea who leapt off a mountain to her demise and, of course, into the embrace of the Sun God.”

“I wear this for my own beliefs. I hope that’s not a problem.” Defensiveness entered my voice as I tugged my headscarf. The splash of red persimmons added a touch of style to my leather armor. Arahasnor, the Holy City, had representatives from every sect of the Sun God around the world, but I’d quickly learned that sharing space didn’t make them any more tolerant of differences in doctrine.

By the Sun God, for a girl barely past eighten, Ysabel had the piercing gaze of a tiger. Then she smiled, and it was like watching the sun rise. “I pray that I have caused the lamb in my charge no discomfort. Suzette, please show our beloved guest to her room, as the Sun God wills.”

“Don’t you need to ask me anything else?” As a probationary bodyguard for the Holy Maiden, I’d expected a list of duties, or a test, or at least something more than a dig at my clothing.

“The Sun God has eternal time in His omnipotent wisdom, but His humble servant is ever-busy. Happily, my own limited mortal insight foresees that you too will find labor in the near future, wherever the Sun God may call you—near or perhaps very, very far.” Ysabel snapped her fingers. Suzette placed a hand on my arm and led me out of the office.

“What does that mean?” I half-whispered.

“It means you won’t be sticking around very long, spy,” Suzette replied, propelling me forward with a bit too much force. Dumbfounded, I didn’t resist.

I mean, she was right about me being a spy, but how had she known?

The palace of the Holy Maiden Ysabel had appeared strictly functional from the outside: a granite wall which had clearly seen battle, iron triangular caps and arrow slits on the towers, and metal spikes obscuring the rose-and-chalice flag of the Sun God. The ornateness of the interior caught me off guard. Gold and silver etched the windows, forming flowering vines down the rosy walls. The corners were packed with presents and donations from around the world, a few gifts still unwrapped. This place must have more wealth than ten villages. The arched corridor reminded me of a tiger’s mouth, with marble pillars for teeth and the red silk carpet for a tongue, and me the morsel of meat about to be swallowed.

Stopping, Suzette turned a copper handle to reveal a sea-green poster bed framed by royal blue curtains. A pillar held a bust of Saint Alzira, my namesake. I had my own writing desk and fireplace. The swirling turquoise carpet was in the style of my homeland Nang, another very kind personalized touch. Painted angels peeked down from the ceiling—human, dwarf, elf, and halfling alike. Sitting on the purple-covered table, my weather-beaten leather satchel looked like a peasant who’d snuck into a royal ball. So much gold covered the armchair that I’d hardly dare sit on it.

There was even a weapons rack, where I placed my scimitar. As my hands brushed the chains wrapped around the hilt, I felt a pang in the left side of my chest, reminding me of my Oath. I’d sworn a magic-enforced vow that if I drew this blade before I found a true master, then my heart would stop.

“You can ring any time tomorrow morning when you’re ready for breakfast. I’ll come by to guide you to the dining hall,” Suzette said, turning away.

“Wait!” I tried to marshal my thoughts. “About the spy thing.” I gulped. A dizzying array of floral scents wafted off Suzette. The curly-hair blonde in her bejeweled blue dress intimidated me with her perfectly tweaked eyebrows and plump red lips. I didn’t know how to talk to a posh beauty.

The vicious intrigue of the eleven church sects swallowed spies whole. Would they believe me if I told them how badly I wanted to switch sides? My palms dampened. I had to do the right thing and be truthful, or my dream since childhood would be over before it had begun. “It’s true. Patriarch Jiohnanny asked me to become Holy Ysabel’s bodyguard in order to send him reports on her movements. He, uh, even implied I might be asked to sabotage the Dragon Maidens. But I would never do anything so dishonorable. I only agreed because he would have had me assassinated if he found out I actually wanted to join your World Games team.”


1st 5 Pages July Workshop- Hicks


Name: Heather Hicks
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: BALANCE KEEPERS: THE WALKING SHADOW

The first time the fire came to me, I woke up with a broken nose and a mouthful of silt and stone.  I was twelve.  It was the middle of the night.  And I felt the cold, for the first time in as long as I could remember. 

I’d gone to Fuller Brook to hide.  The painful cramping had been coming so often, and the hallucinations…well, they were no longer possible to hide.  Being a student at that first pretentious boarding school was hard enough.  Being the weird, adopted kid with the sweats and vacant looks was damning.  So, I’d sneak out.  Every night.  Some nights I’d take a pillow and blanket.  Most nights, I’d just fall asleep at the water’s edge, fingers dangling toward the easy current. 

After a while, the other girls began to look the other way and the teachers stopped asking about my mud-stained uniforms.

Until the fire came again.  Then, there were nothing but questions.  From school officials.  The police.  The court-appointed therapist.  None of my answers would have been even close to plausible.  So, I told them lies.  They didn’t believe those either, of course, but that’s the thing about adults and unlikely situations—they like to create their own truths. 

It’s funny, how a single truth can take so many shapes.   

I was in Juvie for only a few days that time.  Learned some great life skills in Juvie, actually.  You never know when you might need to pick a lock or take a punch. 

Eventually, Jefferson showed up.  My few things were packed, and I was carted off to another school in another state.  This pattern repeated itself a few times. 

Of course, that was before I became more than just a girl who seemed to always be present after a fire.  I became something worse.

After a while, the police began thinking beyond Juvie.  I overheard whispers of psychotherapy and institutionalization. 

When I saw the look on Jefferson’s face the last time, I hated myself.  And everything that I am.  Whatever freaking thing that is?  That’s when I knew I had to figure things out.  I had to learn to hold it in.  To control it. 

The truth was—the real truth—I didn’t want to hurt anyone.  Most of all Jefferson. 

Somehow, his lawyer managed to talk the state prosecutor into sending me to one of those camps for teenage delinquents.  Camp Gyossa, or, as we inmates called it: Camp Get Your Shit Straight.  Lots of talk therapy with sociopathic bunkmates.  Lots of journaling.  Lots of becoming one with ourselves in the middle of nowhere, Utah. 

Mostly, that summer really stunk.  And not because of the poor shower pressure and open-air latrine.  It was the first summer, since I was five, when I couldn’t visit Jefferson, the only living human being who hasn’t thrown me away.  I resent anything that keeps me from him, but, I’m woman enough to admit, that summer—that camp—saved my life.  All that time spent walking alone—with a tracking bracelet (of course)—so I could become one with myself and nature?  Not a total waste.  It really did help.  Not in the way the counselor’s expected, but it helped.  The topography was nothing but rocks and hard-packed dirt with a pathetic-looking shrub thrown into the mix, so I was able to practice letting the fire loose without the concern of burning down something.  Or someone.

Small fires.  Explosions of fire.  Hours of heat and madness and everything in between.  After a month, I could not only control the fire’s comings and goings, I could target it, make shapes, twist it, and will it to turn directions.  I was uninhibited.  Unbound.  Free. 

For the first time in my life, I felt powerful.

The camp therapist might not have seen that summer as one of progress, but I did.  Every morning when I’d bare my soul to my fellow crazies, she’d frown, her disappointment obvious over my perceived lies about how I could light up like a blow torch.  I can still hear her frustrated sigh.  Can we take this seriously, please?  If you want to make a change in your life.  If you want to get better.  To have a hope-filled future amongst society.  You have to take this seriously.

Well…I was taking it seriously.  Even if she was too narrowminded to see it.  And, anyway, society’s overrated.

Mornings were for truth/lie telling, afternoons were for introspection/freedom fire.  By the end of each day, I felt light, relieved of all the pressure of maintaining control, maintaining a fake persona.  I tried to tell the therapist that she really was helping me, but it was no use.  It’s like that weird French guy once said: “Truth, like the light, blinds.  Falsehood, on the contrary, is a beautiful twilight that enhances every object.” 

At the end of the summer, there was a totally crap graduation with certificates and bogus awards.  Everyone got one.  Even the boy who never said a word to anyone and mostly just slept through every activity.

I stuffed the phony certificate into my suitcase and was shipped off to another school with the promise of a sealed criminal record, if I kept my nose clean.  This time, I was hopeful that I just might be able to do so. 

I’ve spent the past year at a boarding school outside Boston, laying low and trying to blend in.  Mostly, the kids and teachers at my new school see me as just another quiet kid.  Someone who isn’t real social but does her homework.  Someone who arrives on time to class and keeps out of trouble.  If I spend too much time alone, walking near the cliffs, sometimes coming in late to dinner, smelling like smoke, everyone just thinks I’m sneaking cigarettes.  Luckily, their little minds can’t comprehend a teenage sin outside of the spectrum of a CW episode.  Those cliffs have become my Fuller Brook. 

At the moment, I could really use those cliffs, or even a Utah desert. 

Instead, I’m inside a tin can with wings, where very flammable oxygen is being pumped into the air all around me, trying not to panic as we hit another batch of turbulence. 

A plane (flying through a storm) filled with people + a girl that can spontaneously combust = not a good ending for anyone.  I’ve been trying to keep it together for the past six hours.  While the rest of the unsuspecting passengers have been doing what passengers do on a Trans-Atlantic flight—sleep, watch movies, whatever—I’ve been practicing my Yoga breathing and making a trip to the toilet every half hour to…relieve the pressure.  At this point, the flight attendants definitely think I’m a chain smoker.  Even the nice one, who let me keep the entire liter of water, warned me in a whisper when I got back a few minutes ago that I could get into trouble for smoking on an airplane. 

If only my primary concern was emphysema as a geriatric!  I doubt I even live long enough to be a senior citizen.  But I’d certainly like for the rest of the people on board to have that chance, so I’ll deal with the judgmental attitudes.


1st 5 Pages July Workshop- Bohan


Name: Patrick Bohan
Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
Title: Into the Inferno

There’s a storm demon in my shed. San Francisco is pouring rain, my eye bags have eye bags, I still don’t have a prom date, and now there’s a freaking demon in my shed. That all changes tonight.

I check my watch. 2:12 a.m. I’ve got less than forty-eight minutes till the witching hour begins. Perfect.

I grab Jimmy the duffel bag, and root through the tools, making sure everything I need is in there. Yeah, I named my duffel. I get lonely sometimes.

Digging through the bag, I find three red candles, two feathers, four chunks of chalk, and a box of cinnamon rolls. But no silver bell. I drop the duffel to search my bedroom shelves. 

If I can’t find my bell soon, I might have to use myself again. I’ve already donated a quart of blood this month just to keep the lights on, but I can’t chat with a demon empty-handed. It’s like showing up to a company potluck without any food -- you just don’t do it. Especially when the host can bring a thousand volts down on your head. Just another day at the office.

I should introduce myself. My name’s Paul Bernelli, and I’m a sorcerer. 

/Sorcerer/ is the fancy way of saying I cast spells. That I do magic. It means I brew up love potions, summon demons, and sneak into abandoned warehouses to shout biblical Aramaic at three in the morning. But to everyone else, /Sorcerer/ just means that I’m crazy. I’ve gotten pretty used to the snickers and dirty looks.

Where is that bell? I peek under my bed, then tear through a pile of old sci-fi magazines. Nothing.

I dig into the pockets of my ratty black jeans, then fumble underneath my mattress for the silver bell. No luck.

BANG! Something porcelain shatters upstairs.

“It’s not here, Linda. Where the hell is it?”

“Jesus, Randy, I’m not responsible for your crap.”

Uh-oh. My aunt’s fighting with her boyfriend. Again. And judging from the horrible noises upstairs, I should get going as soon as possible. Whenever I get involved in these melees, somebody always gets punched in the face. And this time, it’s probably not going to be my aunt’s new ex-con boyfriend who gets the knuckle sandwich. I’m lucky to even be here. Better just mind my own business.

I root through my dresser drawers, turning over a mess of socks and t-shirts. Not there either.

That was a pure silver bell, handmade in Romania. It took me two months of blood donations, hustling, and makeshift yard sales to afford that bell -- I can’t just lose it!

My eyes turn to my desk chair. AHA! A shiny piece of metal peeks out from under the cushions. I pounce, raising the metal up to the light. It shines in my hands.

Aunt Linda opens my door and, seeing the expensive silver bell, her eyes light up like a kid on Christmas morning.

“Give it to me, Paul,” she says. “Don’t make me ask twice.”

“No! I need this. It’s important!” I duck away, cradling the bell in my hands.

“What’s important is that you to learn to show your aunt some respect! Sixteen is old enough to help out with the bills, bug-eyes,” she says. “Besides, I thought I told you I didn’t want that freaky Satan stuff in my house. Gives me the creeps.” She shudders, seeing the duffel bag full of ritual tools. My tools.

Aunt Linda isn’t exactly religious, but she still can’t stand seeing my occult stuff in the apartment. I never understood why. As hobbies go, magic is harmless. It has me learning all about history, Latin, and sometimes, even anatomy! Sure, most of those anatomy lessons involve voodoo dolls and goat dissections, but it all seems pretty edifying to me.

“I’m not giving it to you! I paid for this. I need it!”

“Why you ungrateful little…” Aunt Linda reaches for the bell, but I easily dodge out of the way. She makes a few more clumsy grabs, tripping over her own feet. I smirk. Dodging drunk people has always been a favorite of mine. In life, you’ve got to enjoy the little things.

“You lousy disappointment. Just you wait!” she screams and storms out of the room.

I hear Aunt Linda yell something about silver and brat upstairs. A few seconds later she comes back into my room, only this time she comes with Randy, her scary-looking boyfriend of the month. He raises a huge fist and I yelp, throwing both hands into the air like a total clown. Randy grabs my right arm, twists, and pulls the bell away. The two go back to bickering, this time about what pills they can buy with their loot.

Dammit. Getting my bell snatched sucks, but it’s not earth-shattering. I’ll just use blood. It was careless to bring anything remotely paranormal home, and now, I’m paying for it. Another reminder to always play it safe when it comes to magic.

Throwing the duffel over my shoulder, I bound out the door, eager for tonight’s evocation. I grab a box of stale pastries on the way out, then start the long march to my shed. /Time to make the donuts!/

Since I’m self-taught, demonic evocations are always tricky as hell. All the old Latin and Aramaic grimoires might as well be gibberish. Fortunately, I have access to the most magical tool of all: the internet. It’s taken me years of pouring through Wikipedia pages and occult blogs written in all caps, separating the real spells from the fake, but I’ve finally got it down.

Tonight, I’m summoning Paimon, a demon of storms and forbidden knowledge. Paimon grants me the occasional wish or occult secret in exchange for goodies. He’s also one of my only friends.

I walk down the building steps to the ground floor and shudder as a gust of cold wind slaps my face, rain pelting my coffee hair. I wrap my striped scarf tighter around my neck.

I live in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. The name comes from Mario Fillipi, a Mafioso who’d bribe the broke and underpaid police force with household items. As he famously put it, in the Tenderloin district, or “TL,” you can “pay the sumbitches in steak.” The name stuck.

Drugs. Crime. Hookers. None of those are in short supply in the Tenderloin. It’s not all bad, though. There’s great Indian food, and a few cheap theatres if you know where to look. But the best part: anonymity.

Here, nobody cares if you sneak into a warehouse shed, screech Latin, or summon demons from the pits of hell. Everyone has something to hide, and nobody gets looked at too closely.

Which is perfect, because I’m about to do all of those things.

After walking about half an hour towards the San Francisco Bay, I reach an underpass and come into a small, abandoned cove. There are stumps of wood sticking out of the water, smothered in dark sludge and brown goop.

/Decades ago, these were piers, vibrant hubs for fisherman and container ships./

My rubber rain boots crunch into a pile of old soda cans and iron siding.

/Not anymore./

I weave my way through the beach, trying to stay as quiet as possible, all while avoiding the shopping carts, carbonators, and other pieces of metal lying in the muck.

1st 5 Pages July Workshop- Parrott


Name: Brooke Parrott
Genre: Young Adult // Sci-fi
Title: The Column

It always started with a particular look.

The first time a stranger approached her, Wilder was as confused as they were. She was out with her mother, who was—at that moment—distracted by the contents of a glowing case at the New York department store.

“You seem so familiar,” the woman said to six-year-old Wilder, her eyes narrowed. She was middle-aged, Midwestern, with kind, crinkly eyes and a soft twangy drawl you could curl up and take a nap in.

Bored by her mother’s shopping, Wilder’s eyes lit up. She sensed a game afoot. “Are you from New York, too?” She asked.

The woman shook her head.

“Have you ever been to Disneyland?”

Her mother had spotted Wilder then, the confusion on her face giving way to alarm.

“Hello,” she said, approaching. “I’m Tessa.”

They shook hands and exchanged some generic pleasantries, Tessa already half-dragging Wilder away. The mystery was left unsolved, the game unfinished—interrupted by a heated lecture about stranger-danger. That night, there was a thinly veiled attempt to cover up a yelling match in the kitchen after the lights went out.

But it kept happening. Each time thereafter sparked a crescendoing panic in Tessa, terror wearing down new lines on her face. She hardly let Wilder out of her sight anymore, but still, the strangers found Wilder in the cracks of time when she wasn’t there. “Do I know you?” They asked. “Have we met?”

The first person who figured it out recoiled from Wilder like she’d bitten them.

“It’s not possible,” the man said, his liver-spotted hand resting on his plastic cane.

“What’s not possible?” she called after him as he beat as hasty a retreat as he could muster. She felt the deep, sediment layer of guilt that collects in your gut when you don’t know what you’ve done wrong.

After dozens of similar incidents over the years, it was the little boy who finally told her. 

He’d run to Wilder, beaming at her. Wilder, in her now lanky teenage body, wasn’t sure whether to hide or hug him.

“It’s you,” he said. There was a lyrical lilt to his voice, as if he was on the edge of breaking into song.

“Me?” Wilder asked.

“I followed you,” he said, and then—when she still looked at him blankly, “out of the dark place.”

A feeling passed over Wilder like someone raking nails on her skin. After this long, she was so close to the answer to her riddle. She crouched next to the boy. Humid sweat plastered his wispy hair to his forehead. “What was in the dark place?”

He started shaking, eyes so wide that his lashes pressed to his lids. “The bone house,” he whispered. “The shadows.”

“It’s okay.” Wilder reached out a hand but left it hovering in the space between them. “Where is the bone house?” She asked finally, when he said nothing more.

He stopped shaking, which was somehow even more unnerving, and tapped his temple.

“In your head?”

“In my dream.”

“I was… in your dream?” Wilder felt a heat building in her gut, bile rising in her throat. Her own recurring nightmare was spilling into her mind. “You’re sure it wasn’t someone who looked like me?”

The boy moved his head in a slow, solemn shake. He reached out his small hand to Wilder, who fought every instinct to flinch as he touched the scar running along her temple towards her ear, still a puckered, faded purple.

She jerked away, and ran.

Wilder hid from them after that, burying her face in the hood of a sweatshirt and fleeing whenever someone gave her that side-eyed look.

Then—as quickly as it began—it stopped.

***

“Your locker’s going to be here.”

Wilder assessed her tour guide, whose name she’d already forgotten. She plumbed the depths of her brain for the very recent introduction. What had the vice-principal said? 

When he spoke, it looked like it took a supreme effort to force the words past his little front teeth, capped in braces. Wilder stared at them, neon green bands stretched tight over the metal grids. She wondered how much deliberation had gone into the choice of that particular color. 

“Here, I’ll show you the combo.” His eyes darted between Wilder and the lock’s dial, his flitting hands rattling the metal with a low hum.

A group of students passed in the checkered hallways, eyes on Wilder the whole time. 

“New girl?” one of them said.

Wilder sighed. Small towns.

Wilder took the lock from her guide, moving the dial towards 32, mimicking his instructions.

“You look, um…” he gulped audibly.

Wilder’s fingers jumped on the dial, overshooting their mark. Her face was a careful blank, but her heartbeat echoed in her throat. Not here. Not again.

“Um,” he said again. Wilder dragged her eyes up to his face, where he was tapping his index finger against his metal-filled mouth. Had he malfunctioned?

“Just say it.” The words came out with barbs on them. Why had Wilder thought Astoria was any different? If anything, it would be worse here.

“Uh, you look… like you have something in your teeth,” he finished.

A violent heat started at Wilder’s neck and raced towards her cheeks. “Um-kay,” she mumbled, turning her head while she tried to dig out whatever was lodged there—an impossible feat with her stubby, bitten nails.

“How about I show you the cafeteria before the morning bell goes,” the nameless guide said, kindly ignoring Wilder’s fruitless efforts to extract her breakfast from her teeth.

The hallways were still sparse with students trickling in, but the cafeteria was already jam-packed.

“A lot of people eat breakfast here,” he said. “It’s kind of a thing.”

They stood to the side of the entrance, and a ripple of attention started at one side of the room, moving to the other in bursts of too-loud whispers.

“Who’s your new girlfriend, Jonathan?” A petite girl detached herself from where she’d been sitting atop a long cafeteria table amongst the masses, hips swaying and platforms 5 inches high. She grinned at Wilder, the slightest bit of orange-red lipstick showing on her right canine tooth—the only chink in otherwise impeccable armor.

Jonathan, Jonathan, Jonathan, Wilder repeated to herself, trying to commit her guide’s name to memory.

“Oh, not… uh, this is Wilder,” Jonathan said.

A flicker of recognition in the girl’s eyes. “Jasmine,” she said. “Charmed.”

She did not look charmed.

“Nice to meet you,” Wilder muttered.

Two other girls approached, with the languid movement of lions in a pride moving in on a sure kill. One was north of 6 feet tall and clearly aware of it, the other had dark brown skin and a very expensive-looking purse looped through the crook of her elbow. These girls looked like they were walking down Fifth Avenue in New York, not going to class.

“You must be Wilder Bowen.” She spit out Wilder’s last name as if it tasted sour. “You’ve got quite the reputation. Well,” she gave a short, barking laugh. “Your family does, anyways.”

Wilder was determined not to give them anything. “That’s what I hear.”