Sunday, January 12, 2020

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Kerr Rev 1

Name: Carryn W Kerr
Genre: Young Adult romantic, light science-fiction, adventure.
Title: Petriville

Without hesitation, as though I’d change my mind if given half the chance, Liam pulled open the door to our Home Virtual Experience room. Laying one arm around my shoulder, my brother held out his hand, palm up, towards the center of the room. The L-shaped leather couches in one corner looked inviting, but we weren’t using them today.

The door sealed behind us, and I sucked in a sharp breath. The ceiling-mounted VE cube threw a triangular light to the floor. The light expanded, sliding over our feet, up our legs, bodies, heads. A gravitational pull sucked us to the center of the room, into another time, right outside our front door.

I drew in the fragrance of spring flowers and freshly cut lawn. The soft early evening breeze brushed my skin. And tiny recording drones floated around spectators like silent flies, recording moments to become Petriville’s history. As sunset’s orange glow deepened, a three-dimensional version of Dad exited our home — looking all of the eleven years younger than he was now. The drones took in every facade of Dad’s tall, fair, sculpted physique. My eyes dropped to the more youthful image of Mom — stretched out on our front lawn. An incredulous expression lit her olive-toned face, her dark hair haloing around her head; jeans never quite long enough to reach her ankles.

At seven and five-years-old, Liam and I buzzed around our mother. The breeze fluttered Liam’s soft blonde curls, as he clasped my tiny hand in his and pointed to the sky. I recalled none of it but noted how, even then, we were tall for our ages. Even then, my deep blue eyes contrasted my olive skin and straight, dark hair while the knobby knees, Liam had so often teased me about, protruded below the hem of a pale blue dress, I could almost remember.

“So, here we are, Emily; kids.” Dad hummed in his smooth baritone as he paced back and forth.

Mom fluttered her long fingers as though to push a recording drone away. Her smiling, elite English accent flowed through the speakers in warm harmony. “Oh, come join your family, Peter.” Without tearing her gaze from the sky, she held out her hand to Dad. Taking it, he crouched then sat beside her.

The scene was so lifelike, it drew me into that moment. I looked up our block, then turned in the other direction. People filled the cobbled walkway, curving past our homes. And neighbors lay on their lawns or in the park over the walkway. No eyes left the darkening sky as the myriad of tiny recording drones floated around families. Slowly, I followed everyone’s gaze.

This was the day our town had launched into Earth’s orbit. It should have left me with a thousand vivid memories. But mine were like broken shards of glass — shimmering or shattered. To an onlooker, Petriville’s launch must have seemed unnatural. A town within an indestructible giant dome — a transparent kaleidoscope of rainbow colors. The dome had ballooned into a ball that grew and grew until it popped into Earth’s exosphere. Complete with houses, gardens, trees, conveyor streets, schools, and shops, our town seemed to magically hover at the ball’s center.

My focus drifted back to the VE, my eyes drifting upwards. The most magnificent scene materialized, laced in tones of the softest blues to the deepest greens. Draped over it all, clouds floated in languid majesty — crisp white to deep, dark grey. It was as though we were Earth, and Earth was our very large moon.

I stood like a spectator in the scene and turned to Liam. “This is not new, though Li. Earth isn’t much different now to how it was then.”

As usual, Liam’s rapid-fire speech emerged in smooth tones. “Wait, Cassidy. This is so you can see how it was that day. And anyway, you know Earth was not like this for most of our lives here.”

Almost as soon as Liam had spoken, the scene faded, and we were back in our home VE room. Then a new Visual Experience descended from the cube, spreading its light out and up over us.

Again, Mom and Dad were outside our home, this time in the park over the curved cobbled walkway. No children were out on this dark night, and no adults lay. People ignored the drones, again skimming the crowds. All eyes were locked on the night sky, whimpers escaping both men and women. I followed their skyward stares, and my chest tightened.

An enormous flaming ball and tail descended toward Earth. As the mass drew nearer and nearer the beautiful, doomed planet, a deathly silence fell.

Even though I knew the outcome, I found myself wishing things would turn out differently: the meteorite would incinerate in Earth’s atmosphere; the asteroid would glide past — miss Earth entirely.

Dad pulled Mom back against him, as she swatted at drones. Tears flooded her deep blue eyes and cascaded down her cheeks.

Ethereal brightening seared the dark sky. And a shimmering mushroom of debris rose from Earth! Mom’s heart-rending scream shattered the night. An echo in a chorus of onlookers’ grief. My young parents collapsed to the ground, comprehension slamming into them: They had just lost nearly every person they loved. Their parents, Aunt Susan, and Sarah! Their horror-filled screams pierced my heart like an icy spear as if it was happening now! A sharp, searing agony tore into my gut. I barely noticed I was clinging to Liam; that he held me against him, his arms as tight as the vice gripping my heart; that I shook, sobbed; that tears slid down his cheeks too. Mom’s screams continued to cut a burning, stabbing pain through my chest. But, I couldn’t drag my eyes from her nor escape the suffocating VE. My body numbed as a weighted, nauseated, distant dream took hold. But I couldn’t raise my hand to wipe at the tears, burning my cheeks.

The VE faded, and we were back in the room with the two leather couches. The old sweet-sixteen maxim really applied to me. But it felt back-to-front. Like the soft sensation of a boy’s lips on mine should have come before what I had just witnessed. After the longest time, Liam loosened his grip, and I stepped away, wiping my cheeks.

A sharp rap on the front door brought me back.

Liam raised his brows in a not-really-surprised way and went to answer the door. I stalked after him, wiping the remains of torment from my face.

In the doorway stood Gina Petri, Petriville’s founder. Horn-rimmed spectacles magnified her watery blue eyes, and a toothy smile grew beneath her parrot nose.

My lips pressed into a sneer. “Gina! What brings you here?”

Gina’s oh-too-sweet melody reminded me of a snake. “Is that any way to greet the woman who saved your family? I am merely here to wish you, as do I all on their sixteenth.” She flashed a glance at Liam, “Your brother remembers.”

The words burst through my lips. “Really? Then, where are my grandparents, aunt, and cousin? You could have saved them. But you let them die!”

Liam closed his hand around mine as though to calm or comfort me.

Gina continued, not changing her smarmy tone or slow pace. But an airy chuckle slithered, seemingly unbidden, into her voice.

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Hansen Rev 1

Name: Star Lane writing as RS Hansen
Genre: Middle Grade Science-Fiction
Title: A Nerf Herder’s Guide to Physics
The best dream I ever had was when I was nine years old. I remember being at the beach, but that’s not what made the dream so cool. What made it cool was that I was lifting the one and only Millennium Falcon out of the ocean. It was like that scene in Empire Strikes Back where Luke was trying to lift the x-wing out of the swamp. Only, I actually did it.
I don’t remember much more than that, because who the heck really remembers much about their dreams? The Millennium Falcon was enough though.
The worst dream I ever had was last night. And the night before that, and the night before that, and the night before that… Oh, and in biology class yesterday and during seventh-grade lunch period the day before. Anyway, you get the point.
It wasn’t a nightmare or anything. That isn’t what makes this dream bad. What makes it the absolute worst dream in the history of dreams is nothing.
The dream is a big pile of nothing. Me standing in nothing until a stupid door to nothing appears and does nothing.
And I keep. Having. The dream.
I can’t get rid of the dang thing. And now it’s started to follow me around during the day, jabbing me like an annoying Ewok with a spear. An Ewok that threatens to blow the roof off my rebel mission to save dad’s work.
My hand runs along painted brick as I creep out of my bedroom and inch down the hallway into our living-slash-dining-slash-kitchen room. I’m pretty sure Mom hasn’t left for work yet. Which isn’t a good sign because she wouldn’t skip a shift at the hospital unless something was up. And something being up is never a good thing.
 Mom is standing in front of the toaster. Thankfully, she has her work scrubs on. So, whatever it is, couldn’t be that bad. Not like roof blowing bad. There could be a million and one things that Mom’s worried about. It probably has nothing to do with my dream.
That’s unless Mr. Anderson, my biology teacher, called to complain about my space-out episode yesterday.
“Hey, do you have a late shift today?”
She turns around. Her scrubs are worn at the seams from constant washing and wearing, they make her look exhausted. That, and those dark circles under her eyes. “Good morning to you too, Michael. They didn’t need me yet. I thought maybe we could talk a little before you leave for school.”
“Um, Okay.” Talk? Great. That’s basically mom-speak for something’s wrong. Sounds like the worry is strong with this Mom.
The toast pops-up and she turns back to pull out the slices.
I plop down at the kitchen table. Oh no! My laptop is still sitting on the table from last night. I quickly swipe it into my backpack before she turns around with two plates of toast. One buttered and the other with that prickly pear jelly she’s been obsessed with since we moved. 
She sets a plate in front of me and sits down on the other side of our tiny two-person table with hers. I take a huge bite, almost a quarter of the slice. If my mouth is full, there’s no way I’ll be able to answer any questions about anything.
But she doesn’t speak, just takes a bite of her toast, followed by a sip of her coffee.
“So,” she finally says.
Here it comes. I take another bite, pretty much finishing off the entire piece of toast.
“Have you heard from Ophelia yet?”
I chew slowly and shake my head. Is that what she’s worried about? It was stupid of me to tell Mom that I hadn’t received an email from my best friend in weeks.
Ophelia never responded to my last one, she just dropped off the face of the earth. I didn’t even get a “happy birthday” last Wednesday. Not that I care. I mean, I get it. We couldn’t stay best friends forever when I live fifteen-hundred miles away.
“I’m sure she’s just busy or something.” Maybe Mom will buy that, even if I don’t.
“Yes, probably.” Mom takes another sip of coffee, then bites her lip. “But I’m still concerned about you. You haven’t made any friends in Tucson. I’m barely home. You’re spending too much time alone.”
“I’m fine.” 
I get a sigh and the fine-is-not-an-acceptable-answer look.
“Really, I don’t mind. School has been keeping me busy.” Well, maybe not school, but close enough. I stuff the final bit of toast into my mouth, pretending to savor this last salty bite. Then, I feel a familiar tingle on the back of my neck.
“Michael, I just…” Mom’s voice fades out. Her lips are still moving but I can’t hear her words.
Crud.
No! Please. Not now. Not in front of Mom. I quickly swallow and cross my arms in front of me, digging my fingers into my ribs until it hurts. Maybe if I concentrate on the pain, it will go away. But the blackness starts to frame my vision. My pulse quickens, I take a shaky breath to slow it down.
That doesn’t work.
Pretty soon, the fake-wood table and sand-colored cabinets of our kitchen stretch out, then whirl around like water draining out of a tub until it completely empties and I'm in the black abyss of my dream. Then, as always, the door appears.
The door is white and smooth. It looks like the marble counters in our old house, but without the veins of gray running through it. I walk up to it and reach for the silver c-shaped handle, even though I know it will be locked.
From my experience during biology class I know that I'm not passed out. I'm probably just sitting at the table across from Mom, and as Mr. Anderson put it, “staring off into space.”
How did I come out of the dream yesterday? I do remember beating on the door. I try that. I pull at the handle. Thud—thud—thud. Pound some more.
Then a quiet voice calls out. I press my ear against the door’s cool surface.
“Michael?” It’s a yell, muffled by the thick stone. “Michael!” A little louder this time, and I recognize it.
My heart pounds harder, I almost choke on her name. “Ophelia!” I call back.
“Where are you?”
“Here, I’m here!” But then the door disappears. None of this has ever happened before.
Where the door once stood, is a swirl of blue. Not just a single shade of blue, but a ton of hues, from the darkest ebony-like shade to one that almost glows. They spin together in a fusion of color that looks strange, but also familiar—like a van Gogh painting. Then eight pinpricks of light burst through. The lights are scattered randomly across the blue swirl. Four of them form a small curve, above that, another three are unevenly spaced in a diagonal line, with the last thrown to the side. I'm waiting for them to morph into a word or form some sort of shape, but they stay in their odd dot-to-dot pattern.
And then the light from the kitchen begins to seep back into my vision. The dream is over. I frantically blink the rest of it away.
Mom is staring at me like she’s waiting for me to answer a question. Has she noticed?

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Gallant Rev 1

Name: Kristin Gallant
Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi
Title: Running Waters

There weren’t many things I hated, but not being home during my summer break was one of them. Racing along, I started thinking running might make the list. Each breath I took turned the air from soft to sharp, scraping inside my throat, while short bursts of air exited tasting like stale bread. I didn’t think there was enough water in the nearby lake to sooth my thirst.

Maybe I should have filled the water bottle before I left the house, but if I had, I risked waking Mom. Then there would have been no chance of slipping away without a hundred questions. Though, as I continued jogging, I sounded more like a cat gagging up a hairball. Maybe I should have chanced it.

Mom, my younger brother Cooper, and I arrived at the lake house the night before. I hadn’t been to my grandfather’s since I was younger, the result of Mom and him having a “falling out” . Mom stalled as long as she could, after he died, announcing that over vacation break would be "the best time to visit". With no cell service or friends nearby, I figured at least I could practice running.

In the last mile I sped up, my hips jetting out side-to-side in a clumsy fast walk, then increased to a snail paced jog. A technique Coach Davis added to his torture list of skills to practice over the summer.

Up ahead a group of holes stretched across the length of the road. Hopping over the small crater I grit my teeth as I landed. Suck it up Becca. I could do this, but if I didn't stop soon the metal holding my knee together would most likely start tearing through flesh, or wear down the bone I still had left.

Who would have thought me a runner? Not me, for one. Mom’s panicked calls to the surgeons clearing me, didn’t help my confidence either.

My watch flashed three miles.

Up ahead, hanging from chains that had become rusted and decayed, swung the old wooden sign that Grandpa had made so many years ago. His last name carved into it; Saltz. Jogging by, I tapped it. The chains creaked as it rubbed against its hooks. No surprise that the most recent storm didn't tear it down, it had hung there ever since I could remember. Beyond that was his home. For a moment I expected to see him outside working in the yard or near his boat, ready to greet me. In that instant my stomach turned from butterflies to bricks. Without slowing I came to a stop, but my sneaker slid on the loose gravel beneath it, causing my knee to buckle while my foot continued to move. My arms flailed until I grabbed hold of a pine tree's low hanging, sap dripping branch. Pulling in close I leaned against the tree, squeezed my eyes shut as a tear threatened to push through. I took a deep breath and looked back at the cottage size home. It appeared quiet, with no evidence that Mom or Cooper were awake. I decided to make my way down to the lake.

The view of the lake was one the ugliest I’ve seen. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would have a house here. I wouldn’t be seeing bright colored photos of the view in any visit New Hampshire advertisements.

Past the yard, covered in tree stumps, a set of steep, splintered stairs lead down to the water. It overlooked the inlet and a large, tall, rock formation we called the “Beast”. Soupy green algae hung off the large, jagged rocks. My skin crawled at the thought of my bare feet touching the lake’s deep bottom and its slime slipping between my toes. It was a good enough reason not to swim out too far.

On top, a few dead trees surrounded an electrical transformer the size of a small shed. Burnt splotches from past electric flares traced along its corners. Weeds and old charred vines crept up and around the large metal box. Surrounding it, a wire fence hung off drooping into the water.

About fifty feet out, a second metal fence surrounded the rock island, rising nearly six feet above the surface. The mouth of the Beast was an opening that faced the house, where the metal fence corroded, bent, and broke apart. The opening, large enough to be dangerous and welcome visitors, but not large enough for most boats to fit through. Under my grandfather’s watch, he eventually put a rope across it. Anyone who dared to venture close enough couldn't ignore the red electric voltage signs warning to keep back.

At the stairs, I stroked a notch in the railing, my name, then Cooper’s, a dedication of sorts that Grandpa made.

He took Cooper, and I out at night, the full moon hovered overhead. No flashlight needed that evening. At the first landing he began to whittle away at the wood. Effortlessly, chips fell off and our names appeared. Once completed he pointed out, to the transformer. We watched as a small green light flickered on and off. Then as if on cue a small spark flashed from the top of it. We stood there with our eyes wide, my fingers clutching Grandpa ’s sleeve.

He then crouched down to our level and whispered, Remember the fire of the Beast. He can get angry and can devour anything or anyone that gets too close. So you need to always stay away.” He waited for both of us to nod before walking us back inside.

Of course it was just the transformer overloading. But he made his point clear. That was one of the last time’s I visited.

Holding onto the loose wooden railing, I made my way down, ending up on a small patch of sand. Still hot from my run, I kicked off my sneakers and stepped into the calm shallow sandy water. Warmer than I thought it would be, I decided to go in a little deeper, running shorts and all.

Only after a few steps, I floated waist deep, letting the water churn around me. My knee sank under, and I felt the water cool the pulsating blood running through it. I closed my eyes listening to the hooting of a nearby loon and the slurring of the water as it pushed up against the shore. Hypnotic. Mom knew I wasn't excited that we'd be spending the summer here, but maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Spending my waking moments running the trails might make it bearable.

A patch of icy water shocked my back. More cool down than I wanted.

Still on my back, I gently swung my arms toward the shore, and to shallower water, until the sound of water slapping, and a low electric hum grabbed my attention. I twisted off my back, treading the depths, I turned to notice I drifted close to the Beast. Water agitated up against its fence and rocks.

I had no intention of drifting that far out. Spotting the shore over my shoulder, I began kicking in its direction. With my arms fully stretched, I scooped large amounts of water to my side, but instead of moving forward a swirl of water pulled at my legs, as if they were stuck in a funnel, dragging me closer to the outer fence.

What was happening?

Whirling my head about, I searched for anyone to help. But only the loon fluttered nearby, watching me.

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Devine Rev 1

Name: Michael Devine
Genre: YA Fantasy
Title: The Last of the Magi

The storm ravaged the island city-state of Santivar. Alone in his dorm room, Jalen Talos felt the whole building shake with the buffet of each gust. Sitting at his desk, he did his best to ignore the wind and rain pummeling the windowpanes. Scattered before him were piles of various parchments and manuscripts, which had thus far defied his attempts at memorizing them. A lone candle on his desktop burned low, casting flickering shadows on the rows of bookshelves that lined the walls.

Somewhere outside in the night, above the roar of the storm, he heard the city bells toll. Three in the morning.

Jalen leaned back and stretched. He was never going to be ready for final exams. After three years of studying to be a scribe, it would all come down to tomorrow morning’s grueling three-hour test. Still, despite how much was riding on these tests, Jalen feared he’d reached the point where he couldn’t study anymore. It was so late, and he was spending more time dozing off than anything else. 

Probably doing more damage than good, he thought as he cleared off his desk.

His gaze drifted to the empty bed across the room. Malachi’s old bed. It had been five years since that night when his older brother left. Jalen had been eleven at the time, old enough to know that his older brother’s days were numbered, that it was only a matter of time before Malachi left for good.

Still, that knowledge didn’t prepare Jalen for when the time came. And it didn’t prepare for what came next.

With a deep sigh, Jalen blew out the candle. But as he sat there in the dark, the dormitory grew deathly quiet, muffling the commotion of the storm outside. At first, Jalen though it was just sleep beckoning him, but when he realized what was happening, a cold terror gripped his soul. The growing heaviness hanging in the still air around him was not natural. But it was something he had experienced before.

The night Malachi left. The time the Sentinels had raided his dorm room. 

Panic swelled within him. He breathed deeply and tried to think. How did they discover me? And how do I get out of here? The window? No, it was a straight drop down hundreds of feet to rocks and the waters of Crystal Lake. He would have to go out the door. But if they were watching him…

There was a knock at the door.

He almost screamed. He felt paralyzed. He couldn’t even think.

The next knock was firmer, more insistent. A voice followed the knock. “Jalen? It’s me, Kishari!”

Kishari Ashcroft was his Magi contact. The Magi were a secret society that guided and safeguarded those with mystic talents. They had kept a close eye on him, ever since his brother’s hasty departure five years ago. At the time, Jalen was just discovering his burgeoning mystic talent and the Magi had taken over his training. They were whom he could turn to if he ever needed help. Or protection.

“Jalen!” Kishari’s voice was frantic. “Let me in! They’re coming for you!”

Jalen shot up and ran to the door, opening it as quietly as he could. 

Kishari stood before him, wrapped snuggly in her drenched cloak, a hood pulled over her head. Even in the darkness, he could see her eyes wide with terror.

She pushed him into his room and said, “The Magi keep an eye on the Sentinels. As soon as a raid departs, we’re notified. Especially if they’re coming in this direction.” Her breathing was labored but she looked at him intensely. “You are the only mystic in this dorm that the Magi are aware of.”

Jalen was about to respond, but then he heard a noise, outside and further down the hallway.

Kishari froze; she had heard it, too.

“What do we do?” Jalen whispered, recovering but barely able to speak.

Kishari hesitated, biting her lip. But her indecision lasted only a moment. Softly closing the door, she dragged Jalen across the room and sat him down on his bed.

“Do still have the everwood amulet that your uncle gave you?” she asked.

Jalen nodded and withdrew a figurine – a miniature replica of an ebony hawk, about to take flight – from within the folds of his tunic. It was made from everwood, and it generated its own mystic source. By simultaneously tapping their own source and that of an everwood figurine like this, a mystic would be able to augment and amplify their abilities and talents.

“Will it protect us from the Sentinels?” Jalen asked.

“Hopefully,” Kishari whispered. “It should be able to shield us from their mind probes.”  

Hopefully? Should? That didn’t sound too reassuring. He stared at her intensely. “I don’t know how to use it like that.”

“I will show you.” She folded Jalen’s hands around the amulet. “Close your eyes,” she said softly. “Hold the image of the hawk in your mind’s eye. Reach out to it, touch the hawk’s spiritual essence with your spirit.” 

Jalen breathed in deeply. Like most mystics, Jalen’s ability to tap into the power of his soul began with the onset of puberty. But the Magi had placed barriers within his mind, to both regulate and hide his ability. As a result, he could only tap a small portion of his mystic source, and even then not for long. It was a struggle but he pushed against those barriers, pushed past them just enough so that the warmth flowed through him, first as a trickle, then gaining volume, flooding his entire being.

“Focus…” Kishari continued, almost in a trance. “Feel your soul and the hawk’s soul, becoming one…”

Gradually, Jalen felt his spirit melt with the ebony raptor’s, his soul infused with that latent power harbored within the hawk.

The amulet begins to feel warm in Jalen’s hands. “Okay, I’m ready.”

“Will the hawk to expand, to extend outward, covering you and me.”

It was as if immaterial wings unfurled and spread out, enveloping them both.

Jalen stared at Kishari, eyes wide in amazement. He nodded to let her know he had succeeded. “What now?”

“Now, we wait.”

There was no point in trying to run from the Sentinels. Jalen had heard rumors of secret pathways within the dormitory, hidden passages in and out of the building. But there were none that he knew of that connected to his room. Their only chance was that his hawk would shield them. And hope that the Sentinels were after some other sorry soul.

Because, if the Sentinels had discovered that he was a mystic, if they were coming for him, then he was as good as dead. And Kishari, too, for taking the risk in helping him.

For there was one thing that all mystics in Santivar had in common: being one was illegal.

Unless you were a Sentinel.

The Sentinels were a secret police that conducted ruthless ‘witch hunts’ for anyone who had ability. Suspected mystics were immediately and forcibly apprehended and taken into custody. Some – a small percentage who were young enough and malleable enough – were groomed into becoming Sentinels themselves. The rest simply disappeared, never to be seen again.

At sixteen years of age, the time when Jalen would have been considered a potential recruit for the Sentinels had long since passed.

For a moment, the hallway outside the room was deathly quiet. But then Jalen heard the shuffle of feet as heavy footsteps, somewhat muted, trotted swiftly down the hall. He held his breath. Judging from the sounds on the other side of his door, there seemed to be an inordinate number of people in the hallway.

He thought that they might pass his door, that maybe they already had, for he no longer heard the footsteps. But no, they had stopped. The voices, faint and muffled, were right outside his room. The wait was interminable.

And then came the sound that kept mystics like Jalen awake at night: the violent explosion of a door being busted down and ripped from its hinges.

Jalen flinched, his whole body tensing as he stared at the door to his room, half-expecting to see it coming flying apart. But it remained as it was, untouched. The Sentinels were not after him. They didn’t know that Kishari was there. Still, frozen with fear, the two of them didn’t allow themselves to relax, Jalen struggling to hold his trance-like link to the hawk figurine, while at the same time trying desperately to hear for any sign of a struggle.

He heard nothing. No sounds of resistance or of the apprehending of whomever it was the Sentinels were after.

What was going on? He glanced at Kishari, questioningly, but she grimaced and shook her head.

The minutes passed. At one point Jalen thought he heard noises, footsteps further down the hall. Still they waited.

Finally, Kishari said, “It’s okay, now. You can let go.”

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Gonzales Rev 1

Name: Gina Gonzales
Genre: MG Fantasy
Title: Talented

It was cold behind The Teeth.
The grove of pearly white cypress trees stood bright against the tangled green of the swamp, a jagged entrance into the lair of The Narluu.
Madge shivered against them and squeezed her sister’s hand twice.
Love. You.
Three squeezes came back.
Love. You. Too.
Letting out a controlled breath, Madge carefully reached into the right pocket of her jacket (right for raspberry). She pulled out a packet of jelly that she gave to Bryce before grabbing a lemon curd one for herself (left for lemon). Quiet food.
Tearing open the packet, the citrusy curd added a bright tart smell to the stale air before disappearing into the darkness. Her inventory system was simple, yet effective, and kept her from fumbling around in the dark. She might not be Talented, but at least she was organized.
Her stomach growled loudly and she tensed. They’d gone the entire time communicating silently with squeezes, taps, pinches, and scratches, and now it was her stomach that was going to get them caught. Bryce pressed her unopened jelly packet back into Madge’s fingers and squeezed. If they weren’t in a monster’s nest, she would have insisted Bryce take it back. Her sister must be as hungry as she was. But it was Bryce who ran away. Bryce who took Daddy’s pirogue into the swamp. Bryce who wanted to steal Daddy’s Talent back from The Narluu. So even though Madge wasn’t sure about any of these things, she followed along as always in her sister’s shadow.
Madge shifted as she sucked on the raspberry packet, trying to stretch. Bones and rocks crackled beneath her, a constant reminder of where they were. But if everything went according to plan tonight, they’d soon be out of this suffocatingly dark hole for good. Back to Daddy and Coralynn and James. Back under the grey cypress that bent over like elderly grandparents gazing into a cradle. Back to the hot humid air and getting her boots stuck in the mud. Anywhere but here.
When she and Bryce were little, they used to stay awake after Daddy would turn out the lights trying to guess what The Narluu looked like. It started out fun, but always ended with Madge slipping into Bryce’s bed, clutching her flashlight.
The Teeth began to vibrate. Both girls froze, straining to listen. A buzzing sound bubbled up from deep within the nest. It grew louder and louder until it was all around them, like they were in the middle of a beehive. The sisters leaned together, holding each other tight to keep from screaming. The jelly sat on Madge’s tongue like a lump.
Fais-do-do. Fais-do-do. Fais-do-do, she chanted to herself. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Be anywhere. Anywhere but here. 
The buzzing sound changed into erratic clicks that came from all over like the dainty feet of a metal-booted spider exploring its surroundings. Madge flinched. Staring into the black, her mind stretched trying to imagine what was above her. No one knew what The Narluu looked like. The only thing they could agree on was the goosefleshy feeling they got when he was about to take a Talent.

Click. Click. Click. 
The legs, or what she pictured as legs, slid right over them and paused. Madge held her breath and squeezed Bryce’s hand with all her might. Blood rushed in her ears and she prayed that if it was going to eat them, it would be quick. Finally, blessedly, The Narluu squeezed through the gap in The Teeth, back into the swamp to check on its many territories.
Madge exhaled loudly and her body sagged. But before she could recover, Bryce was already scratching a nail against her thumb.
Let’s go.
Madge swallowed a sigh and crawled after her. For the past two nights, they’d been exploring the nest whenever The Narluu left, mapping out the fastest route to the Talent Room. Talents were the price the town paid to live and use the swamp, and The Narluu collected every month on the full moon without fail. Now they moved as quickly as their stiff bodies would allow, and turned into the outlet around the third bend to the right.
Immediately, the air freshened. There was a slightly sweet smell in the room, the result of a hole in the ceiling. Madge tilted her face up, enjoying the breeze until Bryce pulled her to the center of the room and tugged on her pinkie. Madge reached into her left hip pack (left for light) and pulled out a flashlight. Holding it to her chest, she paused, thinking twice about cracking the darkness, but they had no choice. There was no other way to find Daddy’s Talent. 
Madge gritted her teeth and clicked on the flashlight. Spots bounced before her eyes and she blinked. It took a few moments for them to adjust, and a few more to remember that she needed her glasses.
The underground room was round and covered in curling vines and roots. They jutted out from the ceiling and the walls, like giant fingers holding jars, plants, rocks and other unknown things. It reminded Madge of her friend James’ workshop. He’d be ecstatic to poke around here looking for treasures to use in his experiments. The floor was a mixture of dirt, mud, and something grey and fluffy that Madge was hoping was just animal hair. Above them tinkling like wind chimes were the Talents.
They hung down in lines, straight as soldiers. Sometimes only one Talent swung at the end of the string like a plum-sized bead, while others were laced with so many that they hung all the way down to the floor. They blanketed the ceiling, creating a mass that seemed to shimmer as it moved.
“I told you. Just like the stories,” Bryce whispered. “Hurry, look for Daddy’s.” 
Madge nodded and moved to the other side of the room. How could Bryce be excited at a time like this? She could hear it in her voice. Why couldn’t she be more like that? What was she going to do when Bryce went off to college in a couple of years?
Gently, she grasped a Talent hanging at the end of a string. It was hard and brown, about the size of a donut hole. Rubbing away the thick coating of dust revealed a word stamped into the surface — INTELLIGENCE. She grabbed a another one on the neighboring string — PERSUASION. And the ones above that — CLIMBING, RUNNING. Her heart pounded as she read others. Each was harder to release than the last. With these she could be anyone. She could be anything. She could be like her sister. She could be Talent-ed instead of Talent-less.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Gonzales

Name: Gina Gonzales
Genre: MG Fantasy
Title: Talented

It was cold behind The Teeth. 

Madge shivered against the slippery white bark of the cypress trees behind her and squeezed her sister’s hand twice.

Love. You.

Three squeezes came back.

Love. You. Too.

When the girls decided to steal Daddy’s pirogue and head into the swamp and steal his talent back from The Narluu, they needed a way to communicate in the dark. Two weeks wasn’t enough time to learn actual sign language, so they started with a family gesture and added a collection of taps, squeezes, pinches, and scratches. And it was working. So far.

Normally, Madge liked being shadows. Some she chose, like the nooks and crannies around town to read in and escape tourists, and others she was born into, like being the sister of the most talented person in the world, her older sister Bryce. But despite her experience with shadows, Madge couldn’t have prepared herself for sitting in the dark on a heap of bones for two days waiting to steal from The Narluu. It was Bryce’s idea of course, and just like always, Madge followed along.

Letting out a controlled breath, Madge carefully reached into the right pocket of her jacket (right for raspberry). Her fingers moved deftly as she handed the packet of jelly to Bryce before grabbing a lemon curd one for herself (left for lemon). Quiet food.

Madge took organization seriously, and her system was simple but effective. Because of it, they didn’t have to fumble around in the dark. She tore open her packet and quietly ate its contents. The curd added a burst of bright tart smell to the air before melting into the dankness. 

Madge shifted, trying to stretch, knowing Bryce must feel as sore as she did. But tonight was the last night, and if all went to plan they would start home and leave this suffocatingly dark hole. Back to Daddy and Uncle Dave and Coralynn and James. She longed to be back under the grey cypress that bent over like elderly grandparents gazing into a cradle. She was even looking forward to being bitten by skeeters and getting her boots stuck in the mud. Anything was better than this.

The bark of The Teeth started to vibrate. Both girls froze, straining to listen. There was a sound in the distance, that grew louder and louder until it surrounded them like they were inside a beehive. The sisters leaned into each other, holding each other tight to keep from screaming. The curd sat on Madge’s tongue like a lump.

Fais-do-do. Fais-do-do. Fais-do-do, she chanted to herself. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Be anywhere. Anywhere but here. 

The buzzing sound changed into erratic clicks that came from all over like the dainty feet of a metal-booted spider exploring its surroundings. Madge flinched. She hated this part. No one knew what The Narluu looked like, only the goosefleshy feeling you got when he was about to take a talent from you. When they were little, they used to stay awake after Daddy would turn out the lights trying to scare each other with their guess of what The Narluu looked like. It started out fun, but always ended up with Madge slipping into Bryce’s bed, and trembling under the covers clutching her flashlight.  

No one in the history of Narlton had ever been inside the nest. It was forbidden to bother the monster at all, which was of course why Bryce just had to. That and that she was so awesome she had nothing to lose. If The Narluu did steal a talent from her, she had five more to replace it and in two more years she’d be going away for college. Leaving behind Madge who didn’t have any talents and their Daddy who had just lost his.

Click. Click. Click. 

The legs, or what she imagined as legs, slid right over them and paused. Madge held her breath and squeezed Bryce’s hand with all her might. Blood rushed in her ears and she prayed that if it was going to eat them, it would be quick. Finally, blessedly, The Narluu squeezed through The Teeth, back into the air and the swamp to collect its tax from its many territories.

Madge exhaled loudly and Bryce elbowed her in the side. She was so relieved, she felt like she could pass out right there. But then her sister scratched a nail against her thumb.

Let’s go.

For the past two nights they’d been exploring the nest whenever The Narluu left so they could get a feel of the layout. The talent room waited just around the next bend. Madge could tell immediately when they entered. There was a slightly sweet smell in the room, the result of a hole in the ceiling, that allowed in some fresh air. Madge wanted nothing more than to stand there and breathe in, but Bryce pulled her along to the center of the room and tugged on her pinkie. Madge reached into another left pocket (left for light) and pulled out a flashlight. She held it upward and paused, her mind begging her not to crack the darkness. But they had to. There was no other way to find Daddy’s talent. 

Madge clenched her jaw and clicked. Spots bounced before her eyes and it took a few moments to get used to seeing again and a few more to convince her what she was seeing was real. 

The room had rounded walls thick with tangled vines and roots stuffed with jars. The amount of odds and ends reminded Madge of her friend James’ workshop. He would be ecstatic to be here and poke around. She on the other hand, didn’t want to know what was in them. The floor was a mixture of dirt, mud, and something grey and fluffy that Madge was hoping was animal hair. Above them tinkling like wind chimes were the talents.

They hung down in lines, straight as soldiers. Sometimes only one Talent hung at the end of the string like a plum-sized bead, while others were laced with so many that they hung all the way down to the floor. They blanketed the ceiling, creating a moving mass that seemed to shimmer from the air coming through the hole.

“I told you. It looks just like the stories,” Bryce whispered. “Hurry, look for Daddy’s.” 

Madge moved to the other side of the room. She took a round talent in her hand and rubbed away the thick coating of dust from the hard brown bead the size of a donut hole. Words were stamped into each surface — intelligence, foresight, swimming, healing, cooking, tracking, painting, strength… and on and on.

It was strange to be holding evidence of the pact the town had made with The Narluu centuries ago. Talent was the price they paid to live and use the swamp, and it collected every month on the full moon without fail. Surprisingly, most people were ok with it. It was like a boogieman story that didn’t mean a whole lot until your time was up, and suddenly your track star brother couldn’t run without tripping or your uncle couldn’t sing anymore. The Narluu stole the best of you in pieces until that ability was gone forever. 

Madge continued moving through the Talents. Running. Persuasion. Strategy. Each was harder to release
than the last. With these she could be anyone. She could be anything. She could be like her sister. She could save the town.

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Gallant

Name: Kristin Gallant
Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi
Title: Running Waters

Late June

Razor like scratches, in my throat, cut up as I inhaled and down with the exhale, each time deepening as I raced along.

If I wasted time filling the water bottle before I left, I risked waking Mom. Then there would have been no chance of slipping away without a hundred questions. Though, as I continued on, all nearby wildlife fled, my heaving sounded more like a cat gagging up a hairball. Maybe I should have chanced it.

In the last mile I sped up, my hips jetting out side-to-side in a clumsy fast walk, then increased to a snail paced jog. All while concentrating on filling my lungs with morning dew air rather than taking in painful shallow breaths. A technique Coach Davis added to his torture list of skills for me to practice over the summer, since it would be my first time competing in the fall.

My feet crushed against the gravel, every stride landing heavier than the last. Potholes, scattered throughout the muddy road, made it almost impossible for me to run straight, and I figured I must have added an additional half mile onto my course just by weaving around them. These maneuvers gave the metal screws inside my kneecap an extra workout, enabling them to scrape along the bone.

Up ahead a group of holes stretched across the length of the road. Hopping over the small crater I grit my teeth as I landed. Suck it up Becca. I could do this, but if I didn’t stop soon the metal holding my knee together would most likely start tearing through flesh, or wear down the bone I still had left. I decided to slow before my knee buckled.

Beads of sweat dripped down my cheek, and I brushed them away with the bottom of my sweat soaked shirt. I hugged along the side of the road, under the shade that the tall pine trees provided in the early morning. Even though it wasn't hard to find cover so deep in the woods of New Hampshire, the heat already started to seep in.

School finished for summer vacation, and I had yet to break my internal body clock of its early-morning wake up habit. That, plus the fact that I had another nightmare, I decided to crawl out of bed, trudging outside to work on my cross country timing.

If it wasn’t for the smirk on that junior’s face, leering at me, while her friends all giggled, I wouldn’t have been put in this position. Who would have thought me a runner? Not me, for one. Mom’s panicked calls to the surgeons and doctors clearing me, didn’t help my confidence either.

My watch flashed three miles.

The heaviness of steam rising from the ground and the taste of pine filled my lungs. Unable to close my gaping mouth, needing to take in as much air as it could handle, I continued at my slower pace. At least I no longer sounded like a dying animal, and my swelled knee subsided just enough so that the pulsating no longer threatened to rip a hole through my skin.

My path options were limited, being on the only road that led to my grandfather's house on Juniper Lake. As a matter of fact, it was the only road that led to that corner of the lake. At one time, walking alone, with no one in sight, I had looked over my shoulder at every little noise, allowing thoughts of bears and cougars to take over. But today the songbirds sang to me, echoing throughout the trees.

I reached the part of the road that curved, right before it opened up to views of the lake and Grandpa’s house. For most people it wasn't easy to find the lake. To say that it was hidden was an understatement. It sat in solitude surrounded mostly by undeveloped private land with only a few homes on it and a small campground at one end. I wouldn't have even consider some of them homes but instead summer cabins. Grandpa’s house, tucked away in a corner of the lake, at an inlet, could only be seen by driving your boat down and around, near his end of the lake. Though not too many people would do that as the weeds grew thicker in that corner. It made his home more private than any of the others in the area.

Unlike other lakes, Juniper Lake never became crowded even though the highways, shops, and other lakes would fill up soon enough with vacationers as July approached.

 It had been years since I had been to my grandfather’s, and had missed spending summer days swimming, boating, and being greeted with warm mugs of hot chocolate and marshmallows after a cold day of skating during the winter, but even still I had mixed feelings about visiting. When Mom announced we would be spending our summer at Grandpa's the insides of my stomach dropped and twisted. I knew I should want to be there to help Mom after Grandpa died, but the thought of seeing his house made me want to curl up. He wouldn’t be there today or any day after. No father, and now no grandfather.

It would have been easier not to think about losing him and to just stay home to practice my sprinting, or get started on my driver’s ed, which I was more than ready for.

Mom, and Cooper, my younger brother, and I arrived the night before, without the need to give Grandpa a heads up, as we usually had. We were clearly invading his privacy with the plan to sort through all of this things. Mom stalled as long as she could, announcing that over vacation break would be “The best time to visit”. How we could enjoy the lake over the summer, and so on.

I saw through her quivering smile. She just started sleeping through the night weeks ago, her pacing downstairs, clicking on the TV, its voices echoed through the vents in my room. At first the bags under my eyes were as purple as hers, but as the weeks went on the droning of the infomercials became a soothing hum I missed once they had stopped.

When I took the corner I saw Grandpa’s home, for a moment I expected to see him outside working in the yard or near his boat, ready to greet me. In that instant my stomach turned from butterflies to bricks. Without slowing I came to a stop, but my sneaker slid on the loose gravel beneath it, causing my knee to buckle while my foot continued to move. My arms flailed until I grabbed hold of a pine tree’s low hanging, sap dripping branch. Pulling in close I leaned against the tree, squeezed my eyes shut as a tear threatened to push through. A small breeze caressed my face, and instinctively I took a deep breath. The air burned against my dry lungs, and with the exhale a moan slipped out.

I wiped at my eyes and looked up. Ahead, hanging from chains that had become rusted and decayed, swung the old wooden sign that Grandpa had made so many years ago. His last name carved into it; Saltz. I moved towards the sign, tapped it, the chains creaked as it rubbed against its hooks. No surprise that the most recent storm didn't tear it down, it had hung there ever since I could remember.

1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Hansen

Name: Star Lane writing as RS Hansen
Genre: Middle Grade Science-Fiction
Title: A Nerf Herder’s Guide to Physics

There’s a war taking place in this galaxy and it’s right here in my bathroom. A war between me and this stupid owl drawing on my forearm. The owl drawing is winning. 

I have no idea how I got a hold of a permanent marker last night—especially in the middle of a dream—but this sucker is not coming off. It doesn’t matter how much soap I use or how hard I scrub with this washcloth.

Ugh, I give up. Maybe if I unroll the sleeves of my sports coat a little more, it will cover it. Which is a good thing because that waft of browning bread coming from the kitchen means Mom hasn’t left for work. And having to explain why I have an owl scrawled on my arm would put me in serious danger of detection on the Mom worry-sensor. Of course, she’s probably already worried about something. She wouldn’t skip a shift at the hospital unless she had a good reason. The only question is what is she worried about?

My hand runs along the painted brick as I creep out of the bathroom and inch down the hallway into our living-slash-dining-slash-kitchen room. Mom is definitely still home because she’s standing in front of the toaster. At least she has her work scrubs on. They’re worn at the seams from constant washing and wearing. They make her look exhausted and she probably is.
“Do you have a late shift today?”

She turns around. “Good morning to you too, Michael. They didn’t need me yet. I thought maybe we could talk a little before you leave for school.”

“Um, Okay.” Talk? Great. That’s basically mom-speak for “something’s wrong.” Yes, the worry is strong with this mom.

The toast pops-up and she turns back to pull out the slices.

I plop down at the kitchen table, next to my laptop that I accidentally left out last night. I quickly swipe it into my backpack before she turns around with two plates of toast. One buttered and the other with that prickly pear jelly she’s been obsessed with since we moved. Hopefully, she didn’t open the laptop or anything. Oh no, what if she did? What if she saw my research and that’s what she wants to talk about?

She sets a plate in front of me and sits across the table with the other. I take a huge bite, almost a quarter of the slice. If my mouth is full, there’s no way I’ll be able to answer any questions about what she may or may not have seen.

But she doesn’t say anything, just takes a bite of her toast and stares at the howling wolf patch on the breast pocket of my—I mean, Dad’s sports coat. A lone wolf. That’s what my dad was, that’s what I am now.

Finally, she swallows. “The weather report says it’s going to be eighty-seven. You sure you want to wear the coat today?”

I finish my mouthful. “Um, I’ll be fine. The library is always freezing during lunch.” That can’t be what she wanted to talk about. I’ve been wearing it every day for a month, ever since that science journal called to tell us about the article.

“So,” she says.

Here it comes. I take another bite, pretty much finishing off the entire piece of toast.
“Have you heard from Ophelia yet?”

I chew slowly and shake my head. Is that what she’s worried about? It was stupid of me to tell Mom that I hadn’t received an email from my best friend in weeks.

Ophelia never responded to my last one, she just dropped off the face of the earth. I didn’t even get a “happy birthday” last Wednesday. Emails suck because you can never tell if someone has read them or has just decided not to respond like you could with a text. But Ophelia doesn’t text. That would require her to use 21st-century technology. She prefers her original Commodore 64. That’s a computer by the way.

“I’m sure she’s just busy or something.” Maybe Mom will buy that, even if I don’t.

“Yes, probably.” Mom takes a sip of her coffee, then bites her lip. “But I’m still concerned about you. You haven’t made any friends in Tucson, I’m barely home. You’re spending too much time alone.”

“I’m fine.”
 
I get a sigh and the fine-is-not-an-acceptable-answer look.

“Really, I don’t mind. School has been keeping me busy.” Well, maybe not school, but close enough. I stuff the final bit of toast into my mouth, pretending to savor this last salty bite. Then, I feel a familiar tingle on the back of my neck.

“Michael, I just…” Mom’s voice fades out. Her lips are still moving but I can’t hear her words. Crud.

No. Not now. Not in front of Mom. I quickly swallow and cross my arms in front of me, digging my fingers into my ribs until it hurts. Maybe if I concentrate on the pain, it will go away. But the blackness starts to frame my vision. My pulse quickens, I take a shaky breath to slow it down. That doesn’t work.

Pretty soon, the fake-wood table and sand-colored cabinets of our kitchen stretch out, then whirl around like water draining out of a tub until it completely empties and I'm in a black abyss. Then, the door appears.

The door is white and smooth. It looks like the marble counters in our old house, but without the veins of gray running through it. I walk up to it and reach for the silver c-shaped handle. Even though, as always, it will be locked.

From my experience during biology class yesterday and seventh grade lunch period the day before I know that I'm not passed out. I'm probably just sitting at the table across from Mom, and as Mr. Anderson put it, “staring off into space.”

As long as mom keeps lecturing me about my lack of friends, I might be able to cover for this. Oh no, I have one of my graphite pencils in my pocket. If I start scribbling an owl on the table or worse on my sleeve, there’s no way she isn’t going to notice.

How did I come out of the dream yesterday? I do remember beating on the door. I try that. I pull at the handle. Thud—thud—thud. Pound some more. Then a quiet voice calls out. I press my ear against the door’s cool surface.

“Michael?” It’s a yell, muffled by the thick stone. “Michael!” A little louder this time, and I recognize it.

My heart pounds harder, I almost choke on her name. “Ophelia!” I call back.

“Where are you?”

“Here, I’m here!” But then the door disappears. This has never happened in one of the dreams.
Where the door once stood, is a swirl of blue. Not just a single shade of blue, but a ton of hues, from the darkest ebony-like shade to one that almost glows in contrast. They spin together in a fusion of color that looks strange, but also familiar—like a van Gogh painting. Then eight pinpricks of light burst through. The lights are scattered randomly across the blue swirl. Four of them form a small curve, above that, another three are unevenly spaced in a diagonal line, with the last thrown to the side.