Saturday, May 30, 2020

The 1st 5 Pages June Workshop Starts June 6!

The 1st 5 Pages June Workshop starts on Saturday, June 6.

Check out the workshop details, and find out how to enter and on our new site!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Grigorova Rev 2

Name: Lily Grigorova
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: Pans Island

If 18-year-old Raya could choose a family, it would be any family but hers. Her grandfather is Bulgaria’s gypsy king. Her uncle is the country’s most feared businessman turned politician turned mafia boss. Her father is a no-show. But instead of moaning about life’s unfairness, Raya has found a way to stick it to everyone. With her group of friends, she pulls pranks, so-called art attacks, on the corrupt political class.

Their art attacks catch the attention of the Pan: underground hacktivists Raya idolizes. When the Pan contacts her IRL, it’s a dream come true. The Pan’s leader—Peter Krill—is audacious, enigmatic, and gorgeous. His job offer—bringing down Raya’s uncle—is too tempting to refuse. Ignoring the warnings of her cowardly friends, Raya throws herself into Peter’s world of brazen plans, vague morals, and absolute freedom.

The Pan’s plot is underway, and the fling between Raya and Peter is evolving into something real, when Raya discovers she’s been duped. Peter’s agenda in Bulgaria is not what he led her to believe. And if she can’t stop this gorgeous liar who has broken her heart, she might not have a family and friends to complain about.


Pan /pæn/ - proper noun

1. Greek Mythology: a god of flocks and herds, typically represented with horns, ears, and legs of a goat on a man’s body. His sudden appearance was supposed to cause terror similar to that of a frightened and stampeding herd, and the word panic is derived from his name.

2. Urban legend: an international underground activist group, notorious for its elusiveness and ruthlessness. Claims involvement in the 2018 hack of the three major social networks, the downfall of Botswana’s diamond industry, and the publishing of Donald J. Trump’s private WhatsApp communication. The group’s popularity inspired the web TV variety show Hack ‘em!.

Chapter 1

City of Sofia, Bulgaria
Thursday, June 13, 2019
21:40

This was it. A year’s worth of work for our most complex creation yet. It was going live in five minutes and I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking. I slid my fingers around the loudspeaker in my pocket. With the latex glove, its shape felt like a golf ball. I walked past the planters of boxwood forming the perimeter of Parliament Square and pretended to look at my phone in my other hand. I breathed in and out.

When those sleazy politicians came to work tomorrow, they would be greeted by our masterpiece. When my uncle came to work, he would have to pass by it. A smile broke onto my face. I pretended it was about something I saw on my phone.

There was a CCTV camera on the side of the Parliament Building. I angled my body slightly to the left and let my hair fall over my shoulder to curtain off my face. A single police car idled near the entrance of the InterContinental across the square. I stopped when the monument of the Tsar Liberator stood between the cops’ line of sight and me. I pretended to stumble toward the nearest planter, sneaked my hand out of my pocket and dropped the loudspeaker at the base of the boxwood.

That was the last one.

I glanced at my phone. 21:43. Two minutes till we went live. My hair still a curtain between the CCTV camera and my face, I ambled toward the cobbled sidewalk which divided Parliament Square from Kliment Ohridski Garden. My mouth was dry. My heartbeat out of control. I couldn’t wait to see it. The message I was going to send to my Pan contact started writing itself in my mind. It had to sound self-satisfied, yet blasé. After this job, they would be begging me to work with them.

I leaned against a tree trunk on the edge of Kliment Ohridski Garden. I peeled the latex glove off and stuffed it in my pocket. The Parliament Building sparkled white and imposing in the summer night, bathed in the illumination of dozens of floodlights.

21:46. Come on. Come on.

I imagined Alex right now: typing, checking and rechecking his program, the twins crowding him, giving him useless advice and urging him to hurry. Alex would run a final check and then, finally, he’d press Enter.

Color flooded the white imposing façade across from me. For a second I was breathless with awe. Cartooned pigs gamboled across the building’s front, talked on cell phones, passed legislation, ate meatballs, and smoked cigars. There were speech bubbles, mock fights, money passing under the table. The stars of the cartoon resembled prominent political figures, including my uncle: the fattest of them all.

It was perfect, just as I’d imagined it: the colors saturated and distinct; the projection didn’t pixelate or freeze. I glanced at the roof of the InterConti, where our projectors were hidden beneath the hoods of webcams. Perfect alignment; the projection streamed in synchronization.

The sound of laughter broke through my awed observation. Several groups of people had paused on their way across the square to enjoy the projection, laughing and filming with their phones. I grinned and did the same.

Uncle’s pig avatar shook its fat ass at the audience, twerking and producing dollar-shaped farts. I laughed with everyone else. He’d be so pissed! His beady little eyes would retreat and become mean glints. He’d probably fire someone. Nothing you can do, uncle!

The first run of the cartoon ended with my personal contribution in large black letters: These hogs speak for you. Don’t laugh! Vote!

Then it hit me: something was missing. I stopped filming and dialed Alex’s number.

“There’s no sound,” I hissed in the receiver.

The loudspeakers I’d spent the last fifteen minutes surreptitiously planting around the building were silent.

“Raya, what are you still doing there?” Alex hissed back.

“Check the audio!” I raised my voice.

“Raya!”

“Check it!”

“Audio’s green,” he snapped.

“I’m standing right there,” I growled, “There’s no sound.”

I waited on the line as Alex checked the program. I’d made sure to place the speakers carefully on the ground and not throw them, I’d made sure they were all charged and set to transmit. So it had to be a software issue, especially because all four weren’t working.

Pigs’ grunting filled the square. It was so realistic, some of the spectators looked around in shock. I chuckled.

“Sorry,” Alex’s voice in my ear, “my bad. Now come already.”

“Be right there,” I answered.

The grunting raised it to a whole new level. The crowd of spectators went wild, laughing out loud and clapping. I joined in the applause, a ridiculous grin splitting my face.

The two cops had crawled out of their patrol car and were trying to disperse the crowd. I raised my phone to make a video with sound. I had about five minutes until Sofia Police Department started cordoning off the square and writing down people’s info for investigation. Just enough time to show off our work to the Pan.

I logged into the Pan’s darkweb chat room. Its background filled my phone screen: a mercurial gray with the Pan’s dragonfly logo shimmering in the middle. A chat window opened. I paused, my thumbs hovering over the keyboard. I didn’t want to sound childish. Polite and confident, that’s what I had to aim for.

I typed:

user416 A8i5w9Dear Pan

I giggled. This formal opening was going to get his attention.

user416 A8i5w9: How are you? How is life in the underworld?

I pressed Enter and waited. As usual, he responded within a minute. A thrill went through my chest at the sight of the three dots that indicated typing next to his Admin tag.

Admin: Sunny

I grinned. A quick glance around the square assured me SPD’s lamest were still scratching their heads, so I bent back to my phone.

user416 A8i5w9Sending greetings from Sofia

I uploaded the video I’d just made and waited. Ten seconds later, the response flashed on my screen.

Admin: I see. Very imaginative

Imaginative? It was frickin’ genius! I looked up to behold the glory of our piggish cartoon on the face of Bulgarian politics. Then I stooped back over my phone.

user416 A8i5w9: When you say imaginative, you mean the best damn thing you seen this year?

AdminI mean good enough for a bunch of kids with nothing better to do.

My jaw dropped. This job was the paragon of what we did. It mocked the corrupt political class in their faces and was bound to make the news cycle. The Pan should applaud its freshness and audacity and thank their lucky stars a genius like me wanted to join them.

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Savage Rev 2

Name: Amelia Savage
Genre: Young Adult, fantasy romance
Title: Sea of Betrayal

Pitch

Sixteen-year-old Annabelle is a born leader, ready to replace her father as governor. However, ladies don’t get involved in politics, don’t fight, and certainly don’t wield guns. When her father is poisoned, she sets sail to enemy territory, braving storm season to retrieve the antidote from a murderous prince. But the prince finds her first, and he’s not what she expected.

Haunted by his violent childhood, Noah always hid his feelings for Anna. The governor—her father—fostered him after his parents’ death, so asking for his daughter’s hand is not the way to repay the favor. Rescuing her, however, is. Too bad she doesn’t want to be rescued.

To protect the ones she loves, Annabelle needs to forget her hopes and dreams. As she untangles her father’s secrets, she realizes the enemy may not be the one she thought. To stay safe, Noah must hide his true identity at all costs, even if it means betraying the ones who gave him a second chance.


Chapter One

Annabelle climbed out of the coach and welcomed the ocean air. The breeze whipped her long golden hair, and she tried to keep the strands from her face. Her leather boots sunk into the sand as she scanned the sea, hoping to catch sight of her father’s vessel. 

Nothing. She sighed.

“What a horrid smell!” Her mother made a great show of covering her dainty nose with her perfumed handkerchief. “I don’t understand how your father tolerates this. And now your brother…”

Shouts of merchants unloading their cargo muffled her mother’s complaints. Annabelle focused on the sound of the waves crashing against the wooden posts supporting the dock instead. Sweat and dampness provided the ideal environment to all the flies gathered around the stalls. The port was busy, like every Friday morning, and unlike her mother’s elegant clothing, Annabelle’s simple blouse and trousers blended in well with the crowd. If it weren’t for the guards and servants following them.

“Let’s get this over with. The wharves are no place for ladies,” her mother continued in her usual haughty tone.

Annabelle rolled her eyes. Her behavior never met her mother’s expectations, but lately things have gotten infinitely worse. She somehow got the crazy idea that finding her daughter a suitable husband would transform her into someone less wayward. These were her mother’s exact words. Complete nonsense.  

“You want me to be the perfect proper lady, but you bring me here with you. You can’t have both ways, Mother,” she snapped.

Annabelle shouldn’t have said this as she preferred being outside rather than home. Especially when her mother was all in her ‘reception prep mode’.

“You always can when you do it right.”

They headed to the shellfish merchant’s stall. Behind them, the servants panted as they carried heavy crates of scallops.

“Greetings Mrs. Heatley—”

“This is not what I ordered,” her mother pointed to the scallops.

Yikes. If her mother thought she could boss this shellback, she overestimated her negotiating skills.

The bulky man dropped his bloody knife on the wooden block. 

“You can fool my servants, but not me. I asked for shrimps and—”

“Shrimps?” The old fisherman burst into laughter. “What d’you want me to do? Turn back time?”

“I will not tolerate you mocking me.”

Annabelle pushed her mother aside and took a step closer to his stall. “Mr. Fell, we’re well aware shrimps season ended two months ago. But I also know you often sail near the waters of Carrasio without a proper permit to have a longer season than your competitors.” 

Beads of sweat formed across the fisherman’s forehead. “I’m sorry, Miss Heatley. I might’ve forgotten to renew it.” 

Sure. Ages ago.

“Let me offer you the scallops for your trouble and the shrimps will be deliver in time for Sunday’s banquet,” he continued.

They thanked him before they returned to the coach. The poor servants had to carry the crates of scallops back home.

“See? Both ways.” Annabelle’s mother tilted her head. “I’m glad I brought you here with me. You know how to talk to these people.”

These people were the reason she had food on the table and clothes on her back. Her mother shouldn’t misprize them because they worked to get those things. As First Lady, she should help them and try to make the community better instead.

“Thief!”

Annabelle turned to the sound. Women shrieked as a stocky hooded man bolted through the crowd. She looked at the guards who were busy helping the servants loading the crates onto the coach. They didn’t even stop to look. 

Sluggards. 

Robberies happened more often in Narrow Bay, Hastenia’s Capital, and if guards shied away from their job, she wouldn’t. She dropped her satchel and ran after him. 

“Annabelle!”     

Ignoring her mother’s scream, she kept running, dodging barrels, boxes, and people staring at her, their eyes wide. The robber was fast, but she was faster. She had weaved and dodged through the haphazard stalls a hundred times before chasing her brother. This was not so different.

The thief turned his head and pulled a stack of lobster cages behind him. Annabelle jumped to avoid them. Everyone jerked aside to let her pass.  

She got close enough to grab his jacket, making him stumble and fall. Struggling to stand, his eyes widened as if he had just realized who had chased him. She punched his snub nose before he had time to react. Her fist hurt, but she tried not to let it show.

“This doesn’t belong to you.” Annabelle yanked the pouch from his hands. 

Alerted by the commotion, two officers approached, pistols raised. Their green uniforms were pristine, probably because they had been doing nothing all day. A forced smile formed on Annabelle’s face, and she bowed before handing them the pouch. Then she headed back to her mother. 

Indignation blazed in her eyes. “Annabelle, you should have let the patrol apprehend him.” Her mother scowled as she examined Annabelle’s tan trousers, now covered in dirt.

“Mother, if I hadn’t helped, the thief would still be—” 

“That is not your problem.” 

Annabelle looked away, letting the mist cool her heated skin. She stared at the sea. A three-masted man-of-war appeared in the distance, and all her tension released at once. Her father would be back tonight.

“Don’t wait for me, I’ll stick around here a little while longer.”

Her mother shook her head. “I don’t like you being here alone.”

“I won’t be alone, I’ll be with Father.”

Annabelle hated to admit it, but being a daddy’s girl had some privileges.

Her mother turned to the sea and nodded. “Don’t stay too long. You must not be late for your dinner date with Arthur tonight, remember?”

As if she could ever forget. Her mother was a talking calendar.


Chapter Two

Noah could see the coast as he leaned against the guardrail. Familiar shapes in the distance turned into hills and houses. They would arrive soon. This recent promotion was tiring, but worth it. He never planned to get higher in ranks, but if Governor Heatley was pleased with his hard work, then Noah was too.

Patches of orange and red stood out among the dense green barrier on the horizon. It meant in a few weeks, they would put the Mystical in drydock. He would miss the gentle rocking of the ship and the sound of the waves splashing against the hull. But storm season awaited. He would rest then.

“Lieutenant Jensen.” Governor Heatley’s voice was calm but firm.

Noah straightened and saluted the country leader. “Sir?”

“In my office. Now.”

By the serious tone he used, it meant nothing good. And just when Noah thought times were getting easier. What a fool. He followed the governor to his quarters, acknowledging the other officers he passed. They seemed relieved they weren’t the ones being summoned. 

The old man entered his office, which also served as a private cabin, and headed to his massive greenheart desk. “Close the door.”

The light coming from the multiple stained glass windows added warmth to the austere furniture. Noah did as ordered and straightened even more, making his whole body on edge. Inhaling the deep scent of salt and wood, he felt at home. He shouldn’t.

To calm his nerves, he looked over the governor’s shoulder, examining the spines on the shelf against the cabin wall. Volumes he had read a dozen times.

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - Knightly Rev 2

Name:  Rae Knightly
Genre: Middle Grade Science Fiction
Title:    Ben Archer and the World Beyond

Pitch:

Ben Archer has a secret: he can talk to animals. You see, he used to be a normal boy, but that was before extraterrestrials crashed to Earth in their spaceships and entrusted him with the ability to read animals’ thoughts. The only survivor of the downed UFOs, a humanoid called Mesmo, takes Ben under his wing, helping him understand the alien skill and the profound impact it could have for human survival on Earth.

In Ben Archer and the World Beyond, Ben is faced with a mind-boggling challenge. He must unite humans and animals before the destruction of Earth’s natural resources pushes all life to the brink of extinction. But talking to the animal world is proving a near-impossible feat, something he discovers after a terrifying encounter under the ocean almost claims his life.

In this fourth installment of THE ALIEN SKILL SERIES, Ben must find a way to transmit his urgent message of unity to the animal kingdom. Middle grade readers will revel in the continuation of this eco-/science-fiction adventure story that takes Ben travelling from the depths of the ocean to the farthest reaches of our Solar System.

Revision:

Ben Archer pressed his forehead against the window of the spaceship. The crystalline waters of French Polynesia stretched out before him. An uninhabited island curved out of the sea to his right, displaying its sugar-coated beaches, lush bushes and coconut palms.

The alien who sat at the controls by Ben’s side brought the spacecraft to a gentle stop, letting it hover above the water without making a sound.

The size of a fighter jet with two sets of wings and just enough room to fit eight people in its hull, the black craft escaped radar detection with ease. Nevertheless, the thirteen-year-old squinted as he scanned the sparkling horizon, confirming that no humans sailed in the vicinity. Cumbersome reports of UFO sightings could complicate his mission and were best avoided at this point.

Ben puffed his cheeks, the hot cabin making him sweaty under his diving suit.

Guess the aliens forgot to install air conditioning…

“Mesmo, are we going or what?” he said, backing away from the spacious window and throwing an annoyed look at the humanoid. “Gotta save the world, remember?”

The coral reefs off Motu Oné, one of a string of islands in the remote South Pacific Ocean, had been on Ben’s mind for weeks. Yet, now that he was here at last, Ben had to admit he had gotten up on the wrong side of the bed. Ever since he’d said goodbye to his mother that Sunday morning, a dark cloud had followed him from his pillow to this idyllic place. Mulling over why that could be, he picked up one of his fins and fought to pull the sticky rubber over his foot.

The alien didn’t answer – too absorbed with his task as he shifted through holographic screens that floated before his face. The shadow of intricate symbols scrolled down the man’s high cheekbones and honey-coloured eyes.

Irritated that Mesmo didn’t reply, Ben sighed and crossed the hollow interior of the vessel to activate a switch. It released a metallic door which slid open, letting in a hot breeze that smelled of summer at the beach. He plopped down at the edge of the opening, swung his bare feet outside and dipped his toes into the sea, admiring the pure white sand ten feet below.

“Give me a moment,” Mesmo said in a delayed response to Ben’s question, as he continued to review the data.

“Jeez! You’ve gone over that ten times already,” Ben said, grimacing as he struggled to put on the second fin. “I want to get our message out, Mesmo.”

“You’re right,” Mesmo said, tearing his eyes away from the screens and leaning back in the pilot seat. He clapped his hands together. “Let’s do this.”

Ben watched him from the corner of his eye, becoming seriously offended with the uncooperative fin. “Mom’s gonna need to dye your hair brown again,” he said, noting that the roots of Mesmo’s hair had turned white. Even though he looked like a normal man, the alien’s otherwise bleach-white hair and unusual height could stick in people’s minds.

“Yes, she told me.” The alien tossed his flip-flops aside and removed his Hawaiian t-shirt, revealing his tanned torso. “So, are we going or what?” he poked, before taking three big strides across the egg-shaped interior and executing a perfect dive.

“Show off,” Ben muttered, then whooped as his foot slipped into the stupid fin.

Mesmo resurfaced. He turned to face Ben and pointed behind him. “The coral reef’s that way. Or we could try our luck farther out. There’s a five thousand foot drop nearby – the entrance to the Pacific Ocean. Might be interesting…”

“No, thanks,” Ben cut in, slipping his mask over his head and eyes. “I’m not going there. I’m not trained for the deep yet. And besides, it would take me hours to decompress.” He tapped his pressure gauge with his fingers.

“Come on, Benjamin, you don’t need that old diving stuff. You know I can take both of us under water.” Mesmo’s hands began to glow as he called up an inner power. The alien’s fingers released a blue force that dented the surface of the sea until it reached Ben’s feet. A large bubble surged from the water before the boy.

Trying to hide his usual admiration, Ben strapped the air tank to his back. “Jeez’, Mesmo. We’ve been over this. You know I have to do this on my own. It’s not like you’re going to be around every time I need your water skill. And this old diving stuff – as you say – is the best my backward little civilization has got for now, so deal with it.”

“Suit yourself.” Mesmo shrugged with a smile. His hands stopped glowing and the bubble burst, splashing Ben.

“Ha-ha.” Ben grimaced, before shoving the snorkel in his mouth and placing his hands at the edge of the door. But his right hand slipped on the wet surface, sending him tumbling out of the spaceship. The side of his head hit the water, shoving liquid into his mask. He tore at it, sending stinging liquid up his nose in the process.

Spluttering and wiping at his face, Ben found Mesmo staring at him with one eyebrow raised. “Are you ok?”

Ben gagged at the sea-salt sliding down his throat. “Don’t… you dare… laugh.”

“I’m not,” Mesmo said innocently, the corner of his mouth curling. “You know me. I’m incapable of humor.”

“Yeah, right. But you sure learn fa...” Ben cut short. A familiar rushing sound filled his ears. He raised his hands, already expecting them to shine a clear blue. Ben closed his eyes and felt his own alien skill take over his human blood cells, the way it always did when an animal was nearby.

Ignoring his burning nose, Ben searching left and right. For the first time, he noticed how silent the ocean was. Wouldn’t he be hearing a mingle of voices from sea creatures by now? He swam to the front of the spaceship and found the source that had activated his translation skill. An animal, shiny black in colour, flopped around the surface. He reached out to it with his mind.

Hello? Are you in trouble?

Silence.

As he waded towards the creature through shallower water, Ben had to form a mental block to fend off fear that emanated from it.

Sh, it’s ok. I’m here to help.

The animal twitched, and suddenly Ben recognized it.

A manta ray!

No bigger than a dinner plate, one of its triangular wings twisted in an awkward manner, making it harder to recognize. Leaning closer towards the sleek body, Ben understood the problem. The remains of a fishing net made from thin, nylon strings was wrapped around the young specimen’s body, pinning one of its wings over its back and hindering its movements.

Mesmo joined him and they both set to work removing the entangled mesh. When they released the pectoral fin, the manta ray slid away in a hurry.

Ben and Mesmo exchanged a glance.

“It wouldn’t even let me talk to it,” Ben said, disappointed.

The alien placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “It’s ok. We’ll have better luck at the coral reef. They will listen to you there.”

Ben tightened his grip on the nylon strings, thinking of the sea creatures he was about to meet.

Will they listen to my message?

1st 5 Pages March Workshop - McDonley Rev 2

Name: Laura McDonley
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: A Whisper in a Windstorm

Pitch:

A'dya, a 16 year old no-nonsense warrior from the isolated village of Madoria, returns home after surviving her year of seclusion, a coming of age trial for all Madorians. Instead of the expected coming of age ceremony and marriage to her selected mate, A’dya discovers the inhabitants of her village missing. Without any clues as to what happened, A’dya must venture into the unknown, or risk never seeing them again.

On her journey, A’dya meets an annoying idiot fop who introduces himself as Pepik, the hero foretold in legend. A cultural misunderstanding, a deadly escape, and several epic swordfights reveal Pepik and A’dya’s goals may not be so different. As the truth of the situations become clear, A’dya must decide if she is as willing as Pepik to pay the cost.

Complete at 70,000 words, this young adult high fantasy novel is perfect for readers who loved the writing style of Helen Scheuerer’s “Heart of Mist,” the magic of Kristin Cashore’s “Graceling,” and the world building of Sarah J. Mass’s, “Throne of Glass.” A Whisper in a Windstorm is a standalone debut novel with series potential.

Chapter 1

Perched high in a meta tree, A’dya surveyed all forest life passing below. Stomach growling, she sat motionless. She hadn’t eaten in three days. It was beginning to take its toll on her.

A young bacura stepped out from behind a cluster of spine bushes. She licked her lips.

Thank Faith!

Quietly she slid down the rope she’d secured to her branch hours earlier. As soon as her boots met the ground she crouched, checking that her prey hadn’t spotted her. Chewing on a strip of bark, its body and ears remained relaxed. She let out a breath.

Blood pulsed through her veins, thumping in her ears.

Just follow the plan.  

She swallowed, biting her lip.

Same as always.

Crawling on her belly, A’dya moved as close as she dared before rising to her feet behind a tree trunk. She unsheathed her dagger and drew a deep breath.

Just remember your training.

She stepped out from her cover.

Muscle’s rippling, its body tensed. Its head swung in her direction, its wide eyes meeting hers. After a moment’s hesitation, it pawed the ground, its mud-caked hooves leaving ridges in the dirt.

Lowering its head, the bacura aimed its horns, huffed, then charged.

“One,” she counted, forcing herself to take a calming breath, “Two. Three.” She dove toward the right flank in a forward tumble.

In the matter of seconds her dagger slashed the bacura’s foreleg, severing its tendon.  Blood mixed with mud and tangled gray fur as the creature bellowed in pain and surprise. Landing behind it, she rushed again toward the beast. In a heartbeat, A’dya broke its back knee, kicking it from behind. Unable to support its weight, it collapsed where it stood, a cloud of dust puffing into the air around it. Pouncing a final time, A’dya opened its throat and silenced its rage.

She rested on the animal’s side, forcing herself to take long deep breaths. Iron. The air smelled of iron, a constant companion to a fresh kill.

Her hands shook.

A’dya began to skin the beast and prepare it for cooking. She’d have to find a place to bury the remains later.

After all this time, she’d expected to have conquered her nerves by now. Especially since her year of seclusion ended tomorrow, her sixteenth birthday. Tomorrow she would join her birth parents at the sacred pool and receive their blessing during her coming of age ceremony. Afterward, she would meet her betrothed, Vleck, and the two would become life mates.

Together, they would reenter Madoria. She would be Fewah, an equal member of the village, mate of Vleck.

Shaking her head to disperse her thoughts, she pushed a strand of messy white hair out of her eyes, leaving a smear of blood on her cheek.

Memories of home warmed her heart. Tonight she would sleep well in the nearby caverns.

She arrived at sunrise; plenty of time to prepare before her ceremony.
            Certain rituals needed to be performed before her birth parents and Vleck joined her. The waters of the pool felt therapeutic, as if the whole years’ worth of dirt and grime washed away.

            A’dya took care to wash her face, hands, and feet as was required. Her pale skin and violet eyes, obscured only by the rippling of the water, stared back at her. She drew in a breath. With a mixture of shock and wonder she realized how much her image had changed over the year.

Her features had become more defined, and her already petite body leaner. Her skin, which before had been pure of imperfections, was now etched with dozens of scars, each earned through sheer determination to live. Each represented a test she had endured and conquered. She pictured herself in the future highlighting each line with a different color paint, as many of the female Fewah did during village celebrations and holy days.

            After redressing, she prostrated herself on the ground by the Young Tree to wait. The custom was to use this time for prayers and thanksgiving, but she had grown skeptical of the power of the forest spirits. She had become doubtful of their very existence, but, even alone, she was not certain enough to voice the idea out loud. It was not long into her seclusion before she had given up prayer all together. Instead, she meditated.

She visualized entering the village an anointed Fewah and joining the ranks of those that had tested before her. The younglings would look at her in awe and admiration. She would epitomize what every youngling dreamt of becoming.

            The sun crowned the sky and descended. As light ebbed, so did her feeling of pleasure. Instead, her heartbeat thumped an indignant beat. Over and over it said, “Forgotten. Forgotten. Forgotten.”

            A’dya waited for the last light of the sun to disappear before admitting no one was coming. She squeezed her eyes shut, striking her fist on the ground.

A dry sob escaped her.  

            Not another night!  

A chill brushed her spine. It was time to seek shelter from the night creatures.

I am certain I have come on the right day. I did not miscount; I marked the passage of time fervently.

Glaring at her rucksack, she half-contemplated roosting in the meta tree for the night, just for spite. Without too much thought, she dismissed the idea. To desecrate the tree would mean irreversible expulsion from Madoria.

            Kicking rocks from her path, she wound around tree trunks and stomped through the bramble towards the caverns she frequented in her youth. She could find her way blindfolded if she needed to, and even had once on a dare.

Though she was forbidden to visit the village while still on seclusion, she took what she knew to be a route that would give her a glimpse of home. With mixed feelings of guilt and self-righteousness, she dared anyone to find her at fault for taking one look. She’d done her time.

            As she grew closer, self-consciousness compelled her to move more silently.

            The closer she crept the more aware she became of the lack of sound.
            Yes, it was late, but not yet late enough for the village to be abed. In fact, this time of night should have an abundance of sound.

            What if something happened to the village?

            She moved faster.

Where is the sound of Carers calling after their younglings? Or the Elders singing at the Calling Place Temple?  

Even the bleating of cocu goats was absent.

 Now the only noise that met her ears was her own breathing, the howl of the catip wolf somewhere high on the mountain, and the chirp of the nightbug.

            She reached the forest edge that framed her village. Shivering, all the hair on the back of her neck stood on end. Her stomach twisted in apprehension.

 Pulling back the branches, she peered through.

             She may have screamed.