Sunday, September 15, 2019

1st 5 Pages Workshop - Hillman Rev 1

Name: Amy Hillman
Title: Leave
Genre: MG Parnormal


PITCH:

When yet another move takes eleven-year old Jack and his family to a hundred-year-old building in the middle of nowhere, there’s nothing to do but count oil derricks and watch the wheat grow. His parents’ quest to serve the greater good means he’s moved four times in six years. He’s even less thrilled when he discovers the monstrous building’s been everything from an asylum to an orphanage.

On move-in day Jack receives a warning from a spirit: LEAVE. The orphans who never left rush to protect him from their sworn enemy. With no living kids anywhere close, he becomes fast friends with the ghosts. Once they discover he desperately wants to live in one place, they invite him to stay—forever. 

Just one problem. The sinister spirit he’s feared from the beginning pesters him with messages of doom about his translucent pals. A few mysterious mishaps get him in trouble and leave him confused. He sets out to discover the truth, including seeking out the one spirit who scares him to his bones. Jack must decide who to trust and the reason for the hauntings before he finds himself forced to roam forever as the next child ghost.

Revision:

Chapter 1

The one-hundred-year-old building blocks out the afternoon sun like an eclipse. Dad puts the Jeep in neutral and it coasts to a stop. My cheek presses against the cool window as I inspect the monstrous building. I tug my ear buds out, letting them hang around my neck and push open the car door. Heat slaps my face. A rush of wind shoves the door back at me as if it’s shouting a warning to leave while I still can. Escaping the car becomes a vicious game of tug of war with legs that need to learn to walk again after riding in the car for the past two days. 

Dad hustles to our side to hold the door open for Mom. “Pretty neat building. Isn’t it?” He shouts above wind that roars loud enough to drown his voice to a whisper.

“For a place that’s been everything from an orphanage to an insane asylum,” I mutter a little too loud before cramming my buds into my pocket.

Mom ruffles my shaggy hair that’s the same mop water brown as hers. “Jack, where’d you get that idea?”

“From the internet.” I kick a rock toward the building and it tumbles a few feet before it stops abruptly, like it doesn’t want to get any closer. “Do we really have to live here? Why can’t I stay with Grandma and Grandpa for this round?”

Dad takes a deep breath and ignores the same question I’ve asked dozens of times since the Veterans Transition Program announced my parents would manage this facility onsite.

“Smell that fresh air.” He exhales stretching his arms up over his head exposing his belly. “And yes, we do. Come on we have lots to get done before the veterans arrive.” Tilting my head for a whiff, I don’t notice anything but sun burnt tar from the little two-lane highway and the chemical exhaust from the Jeep.

Mom side hugs me as she rests her head on mine. “Because we’re a family. And because we want you to know what it is to make a real impact in the lives of others.” She lets go of me and pops the hatch on the Jeep. “Think of this assignment as the next adventure.”

I bite back the snark from my bad mood. I want to say they can keep their impact and I’ll keep my old friends, elite soccer team and bedroom. Together, my parents walk arm and arm toward the front of the building. They disappear at the top of the cobblestone steps as if the monster swallowed them whole.     

The crumbling driveway crunches under the wheels of my overstuffed suitcase until a pothole hidden by creeping weeds bumps the case onto its side. The handle twists out of my hand causing the case to belly flop into a mud puddle. Specks of dirt splash up my leg and the side of my cargo shorts.

Tunnel vision consumes my parents and they forget to pay any attention to me, same as every other time we’ve relocated for the greater good. Neither notice I’ve quit lugging the case towards our newest home. They both scurry up and down the age worn steps as if they’re running soccer drills, unloading the last of the boxes from the Jeep. I’m in no hurry to unpack and leave the case where it landed. Instead, I count the number of windows that peer like eyes across the face of the building. Twenty-four.
The movers lower the lift on the back of the moving truck while Mom impatiently checks her phone for reception. By the look on her face and the way she scrunches her nose before shoving her phone in her back pocket, I can tell the reception stinks.

A cold sliver snakes behind my ear and causes panic to worm down my back. I whip around, expecting to find my dad playing yet another joke on me for sitting instead of unpacking. Nothing, but open wheat fields lurk behind me.

“This wind’s terrible!” Mom says passing me by, her arms loaded with green starred boxes for our new kitchen.

Dad comes up behind me. “There’s nothing to break the wind for miles.” enunciating the word miles like it’s two words. His shirt whips and twists around him forcing him to tuck it into the sweatpants cut offs he reserves for moving days.
“Come on sport, lots more to do.” He still calls me by the nickname I’ve had since kindergarten even though I’m going into the sixth grade. He flips my suitcase up right. “Shame about the mud.”

As if the weather hears our complaints, the wind rests. In the immediate still, nothing makes a sound. No chirp, no creak, nothing. The severe lack of all noise pushes my heartbeat into my ears. Complete silence is deafening when you’re used to the neighbor’s dog barking. 

“Better get to work, if we want to get unloaded anytime soon!” Dad yells. His voice booms louder than needed. “Look at that. The wind stopped.” He ties the string to his sweatpants shorts.

The over-stuffed suitcase slaps my heels with every step, forcing me to waddle like a duck to avoid scuffing my shoes. The case bangs against each slab with a gritty thump. A wheel lodges in a crack near the top and the case refuses to go any further. Leaning back, I yank with all my weight and the crack finally releases its grip. The porch catches my fall and bruises my tailbone. The case slams into the top step breaking off a wheel. A deep throated laugh echoes around me. I whip my neck back and forth to find who thinks tripping is so funny. No one’s even close to me. The movers heave boxes onto a dolly, it had to be one of them, even though none of them appear to be watching me.

A giant oak tree guards the entrance and through the half-dead branches a man watches me out of a second story window. His shape blurs and shimmers like a reflection in wavy water. The light bounces off the top of his skull only faintly covered with skin. I scramble backward, crawling like a crab and scraping my fingers on the cobblestones. I tilt my head to one side in time to watch as the fog from his breath fades from the glass. I squeeze my eyes hard. My chest heaves in short bursting huffs and I squint one eye at the window. No one’s there. I can’t shake the gutting suspicion that this place keeps the memories of those who lived here as orphans or worse—the mistreated mentally ill.

Dad whistles his way toward me. With one hand shading his eyes, he looks to where I’m gawking. One dried brown leaf on the giant oak twirls and tugs but the tree won’t free its prisoner. It acts as if it’s alive as it claws at its neighbors and scratches like folding newspaper. All of the other leaves hang motionless in the absence of the wind.

“That tree must be as about the same age as the building.”

I rub my tailbone. “I thought we were the first ones here.”

“We are. The veterans won’t arrive until next week.” He holds out his hand to help me up.

“But I swear I saw someone—"

Dad cuts me off. “No one’s here but us and the moving crew.”

1st 5 Pages Workshop - Shattuck Rev 1

Julie Shattuck
Middle Grade Speculative
The Key to the Second Born
Pitch:
Eleven-year-old Reah’s forever friend, Pete, lives in another world, but she’d no idea their telepathic connection would cause her mom’s disappearance. On top of dealing with obsessive compulsions triggered by guilt, Reah’s stuck with her dad’s new girlfriend. All she wants for her birthday is her mom back; however, instead of a family celebration, Reah solves a riddle from Pete which accidently brings her to his world.
After uncaring adults imprison her in a tower, Reah learns she’s in a place where nobody ever gets sick—well, no one except second-born kids like her. She uses her psychic link to discover Pete’s confined on the top floor. To evade the guards who make second-born kids suffer for all, Reah has to overcome her fear of heights and climb the building using a hidden shaft. Rescuing Pete becomes even more important when he reveals her mom gave him the riddle. If she finds Pete, she might find her mom.
Reah must harness her obsessive behaviors to fit in with the second-born community, so she can escape the tower. If she can’t conquer her self-doubt to trust herself, she’ll be trapped in a cruel world with no hope of reuniting her family.

First Five Pages:
I tapped my pencil against the desk. Eleven times. Eleven more. Still not lunch. Unable to wait a second longer, I shifted the thinking part of me from my body and into Step-Sideways—the world Pete and I created to hang out in our heads. Risky talking to him during class, but I itched with the need to know.
“Tell me your riddle again,” I said as soon as Pete’s form materialized in my mind’s eye. “I’m desperate to solve it.”
Pete grinned. “Here you go. Remember the answer leads to your birthday present.
Look in the library and don’t get lost.
What a penny, a dime, a dollar cost.
My three parts are close but never will meet.
Thirty-four meters converted to feet.”
“I can’t get to the library until lunch, but the second line’s easy: a dollar and eleven cents.  How—” A kick to my shin yanked me from Step-Sideways. Blinking, I slid down in my chair.
The room vibrated with the deafening hush of my sixth grade math class. The expectant silence lasted a beat too long.
“We’re waiting, Reah. Your answer…?” Mr. Cole fixed me with a glare, eyebrow raised.
My cheeks burned. “Um, thirty-four?”
A snort of laughter erupted behind me. I flinched, my unruly mop of hair falling over my face.
“You find that hilarious, Tony?” Mr. Cole lasered his attention on the boy I worked hard to avoid at school, especially now he spent half the week living in my house after his mom moved in with my dad last month.
The shrill of the lunchtime bell released us both from the hot seat. Mr. Cole shouted the homework over the burst of chatter and crashing of chairs colliding into desks. Everyone shouldered backpacks, surging for the exit.
Chin down, I barreled out of the classroom to escape the bottleneck at the door. Hammering rain hurled against the windows, forcing us all to cram into the hallways rather than use the outside walkways. The mass of damp, middle school bodies smelled like a mixture of wet dog and freshly dug soil. Both good smells on their own. Combined, not so much.
Walking on autopilot, half of me focused on navigating the stampeding herd, the other half on reconnecting with Pete. We’d been best friends forever, and I’d perfected the art of splitting my awareness between my real body in the everyday world and my made-up avatar in Step-Sideways. Well, almost perfected. Today’s mess-up in math warned me to be more careful—after I figured out the riddle.
Pete’s image lounged in the Captain’s chair in our favorite space. We’d constructed the boat cabin for Step-Sideways in a similar way to building rooms in online games. I picked up the conversation where we left off.
“I’ve no idea how many meters there are in feet. I’ll look it up.” I pulled out the battered, hand-me-down phone passed from Mom to big sis Nora, then me. No way was it on anyone’s phone wish list. “Sorry, it takes forever to open a search page.”
“At least you have a phone,” Pete said. “You know I’m living in the Dark Ages.”
“True— Hey, watch it!” I jolted momentarily out of Step-Sideways as someone barged into me in the school hallway, knocking the phone from my hand. Tony loomed in front of me.
“What’s going on? You okay?” Pete hated his inability to see my world.
“Nothing, just Tony being Tony. You know how he is. I gotta go.” Breaking my mental link with Pete, I reached for the phone at my feet, but Tony kicked it to his minion Jon. I clenched my fists, fixing Jon with a pleading stare.
Jon wouldn’t meet my eyes. He booted the phone back at Tony. It hit the wall.
I scrabbled on the floor, dodging legs to grab my phone, the already-cracked screen now a spider’s web. My stomach lurched when I fumbled to turn it on. No luck, and no way to replace it. The shattered phone meant another connection to Mom gone. I swallowed the lump in my throat. I would NOT cry.
“You broke it.” I held the phone up with a shaking hand.
“I didn’t mean—” Jon began, stepping back. He used to be my friend, before he fell in with Tony.
“It was already broken,” Tony interrupted. He thrust his scrawny neck toward me. His hot breath smelled of ham sandwiches left out too long in the sun.
“Wasn’t.” I gritted my teeth.
“Was.” Tony shot a glance at the crowd gathered round us, hoping for a fight. He leaned in, voice lowered. “Don’t tell your dad I broke it or else I’ll… I’ll tell my mom your stupid dog bit me. You know she wants any excuse to get rid of it.”
I swiped my eyes with my sleeve. Tony was right—his mom, Emily, would leap at the chance to send Peggy to the pound or worse.
Tony pulled himself straight and smirked for the benefit of the gawkers. “See ya, Ree ya.” He sauntered off with his fan boy in tow.
I scowled at his back before checking my phone again. Still dead, so I shoved it in my bag and continued along the busy hallway. Tuning out the noisy lunchtime mob, I connected to Step-Sideways, but Pete wasn’t there. He did that sometimes, went missing on me. He must be up to something in his world that took all his attention away from our shared space. Not for the first time, I wished he existed in the same reality as me. Tony wouldn’t dare mess with the two of us together.
Shoulders slumped, I headed for the library. With only my thoughts for company, I played out in my mind a completely different scene to the one that just happened. I always knew what to say after everything was over, never at the right time. Yeah, two-home Tony, your mom and dad don’t even want to spend a full week with you. I pictured Pete laughing with me.
Maybe not. Tony’s complicated divorce-housing arrangement wasn’t his fault. But he didn’t have to be such a jerk, especially today. This time last year, Mom celebrated my first double-digit birthday in style. Then we had that awful conversation where I finally told her about Pete. When I woke the next morning, Mom had disappeared with no note, no message, like she’d teleported to another world. Somewhere away from a crazy kid like me.
Sniffing back the tears that welled up every time I thought of Mom, I opened the door to the library. The large, bright room provided secret nooks to hide, where no one would know I was by myself, as usual. So unfair my elementary school friends got sent to the other local middle school. I longed to be back in fifth grade.
“Hi, Reah. Here to help?” Ms. Angood towered over the shelving cart, more like a basketball player ready to take a shot than a school librarian sorting books. She was Mom’s best friend, back when Mom still worked at Haxby Hills Middle, and she kept a kind eye out for me.
I shook my head. “I’m here to look something up.”
“The library’s the place to be then.” Ms. Angood put down her load of paperbacks.
I sat at the nearest computer and wiggled the mouse to wake it up.
Ms. Angood perched on a chair next to me. “What are you researching?”

1st 5 Pages Sept Workshop - Werner Rev 1

Name:  Sharon Werner
Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy
Title: BEYOND MY WINDOW

PITCH:
Twelve-year-old Nora O’Sullivan’s home life is crumbling between her hatred of her stepdad and her sister’s coma from a hit-and-run accident. Timid Nora loses herself in make-believe stories where she is the hero and in chess where her strategic mind dominates. The discovery of a chess set her Granda made and whispers from her Dad (both dead from a car accident) lead her to the parallel world of Cosaint her Irish ancestors helped create; a fairy tale come true, full of endangered and mythical creatures. It was created to protect these beings when enemy Conand tried to eliminate them for power and revenge. Nora discovers Conand was defeated seven years ago and was the actual cause of Dad and Granda’s deaths. Conand’s soul was kept alive by the magical Black Soul Gem. Now he’s back in an unknown bodily form and threatening Cosaint’s existence.

Nora’s discovery that Conand caused her sister’s accident and her suspicion of her stepdad’s involvement with the enemy make her determined to find the elusive Black Soul Gem to save her family and Cosaint from destruction. Nora uses her tactical mind and overcomes low self-confidence to brave the ultimate quest to vanquish Conand for good.

FIRST 1250 WORDS:
A whisper rustled through the room, causing goosebumps to pop to full attention on my arms. The semi-darkness and the unfamiliar space didn’t help the disturbing feeling. I shrunk into the bed covers, trying to figure out the sound, when the crack of the door opening bolted me upright. Aidan rushed headlong onto the bed before I could defend myself.

“Hi! Can we play a game? Can we?”

The nervousness went away with my laugh and I moved him off my chest so I could sit.

“Morning, Aidan. Sure, we can play a game.”

“Can Claire play too?”

“Um…Claire isn’t here.”

Aidan tilted his head. “Where is she?”

I hesitated. He was asleep last night when Nana picked us up from home and carried him to bed here so Mom and Bill could go to the hospital. A four-year-old wouldn’t understand what happened. Inhaling deeply, I tried to force the next words out without choking on them.

“She was in a car accident. She has to stay in the hospital where the doctors can make sure she’s resting.”

“Oh. She’ll be okay, though? Is that why we’re here at Nana’s?”

I nodded, turning away so Aidan couldn’t see the tears and worry on my face. Of course, our sister would be fine. How could I think otherwise?

“Okay, good. Wait, I forgot Finley.” He sprang off the bed and ran out of the room to get his sheep with the shamrock dimples.

The morning stillness returned for a moment. Then, whispers glided through the room again. My concentration on the sound wasn’t quick enough before it faded away to silence.

There! Again. Definite whispering! Was it coming from the open closet? I couldn’t make out words. Mess? Chess? That couldn’t be right. The hissing sound brought the goosebumps back. What was that? I’m imagining things. It was probably wind from a crack in the wall or a car running outside. I shuddered. Weak excuses. Thinking of cars brought memories of the accident, Claire and the hospital rushing back, and I swallowed the bile rising in my throat. What would happen to Claire? I pictured her lying helpless and bruised in the hospital. If only Bill had let me see my sister; Mom was too upset to make any decisions. At least my stepdad didn’t get his way in keeping me away from Nana. There was nowhere else to send me.

A fantasy game with Aidan might keep my mind off my sister. Though Claire would tell me twelve was too old for my imaginary stories and make-believe with stuffed animals. Whatever. She was sixteen and into boys and clothes. A sigh escaped, thinking of the times when we were little and made up stories of dragons and knights with Dad. Ever since he passed away and Mom remarried, nothing was the same. Well, except for my obsession with the fantasy world.

Mom’s childhood posters of fairies and a castle painting covered the walls and sloped ceiling. The room’s decorations would bring a story idea. A cut-out of the wall enclosed a window surrounded by harp and shamrock stickers. The sunlight coming through the window cast morning shadows, changing into shapes of scary creatures.

Aidan rushed back in the room and bounced on the bed, clutching Finley.

“Can we play a game now?”

I swiped away my tears and couldn’t help smiling at his excitement. A story formed itself in my head. Aidan adored dragons. I would be the knight, coming to battle the dragons and rescue the castle.

Mom’s old bathrobe made a good cape. An old twirling baton in the corner stand made a mighty sword. Draping a blanket over Aidan’s shoulders, I sunk low in a bow before him.

“Good King, I am here to reclaim the castle for your countryfolk once and for all from the fire-breathing unicorns.”

Aidan giggled and made a face. “Don’t you mean fire-breathing dwagons?”

“Oh yes, of course,” I smiled. Hopping on the bed, I jabbed the sword at a stuffed monkey. “Take that, you old dragon! You won’t breathe any more fire in this town! And you wicked vultures, fly away before I slash your wings!”  I jumped off the bed and swished around the room, battling the demons. Finley became a handsome prince, waiting to be rescued by the famous knight. Aidan squealed and clapped his hands. He grabbed a plastic baseball bat and followed me around the room, swinging his own sword at the invisible monsters. My war-whoop ended in a startled choke as the door whipped open.

“Have you battled the dragons into submission yet?” asked Nana, smiling.

My face flushed, and I dropped onto the bed, panting at my efforts. Aidan plopped down beside me, a mini-me of strawberry-colored face a shade lighter than our hair. I shrugged.

 “You don’t have to be embarrassed, child! I love your great imagination.”

The baton suddenly became very interesting as I fidgeted from Nana’s comment. “Bill tells me make-believe is a waste of time, and Claire makes fun of me,” I mumbled. I peeked at her. “How did you know they were dragons?”

“Oh, just a hunch, not to mention you yelled loud enough for the neighbors to hear. I for one am glad to have such strong, brave kids staying here with me to help get rid of those pesky dragons. They just won’t stay out of this room,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye. “What do you think, Aidan?”

“It’s SO cool, Nana!” Aidan bounced on the bed. I smiled again. Nana is pretty cool.

“How’s Claire?” I asked.

“I haven’t gotten an update. It’s early and you got in late last night. We’ll check soon. Come down for breakfast. You too, Aidan.” Nana pushed the closet door shut and walked out of the room, Aidan running after her. That kid always put a smile on my face. It wasn’t his fault he had Bill as a dad. He was still my cute half-brother.  

Taking a brush off the dresser, I combed out my waves and tied my hair in a quick ponytail. Pushing on my face still didn’t make my freckles disappear. A movement behind me in the mirror caused me to whip around. The closet door stood open. Cringing, I bumped into the dresser behind me, causing me to jolt forward at the impact. I wielded the brush as a weapon. Opening the closet door all the way revealed nothing. I shoved aside the clothes and leaped back. Nothing. It must be the stress over Claire. I walked to the bedroom door and heard a click behind me. The closet door had fully closed itself. My feet couldn’t get to the kitchen fast enough, stumbling over one another.

“What is wrong with you?” asked Nana.

“Yea, you’re all panting and white-faced,” said Aidan.

“Noth…nothing,” I said, glimpsing at Aidan. It’s all in my head. It’s all in my head. A deep breath calmed me, making me feel silly now defending myself with a hairbrush. I mean really, can you bristle someone to death?

“Look!” said Aidan. “Nana made Irish Freckle Bread!”

I smiled and the three of us sat together to have breakfast. Nana read the paper, and I tried reading the comics to Aidan, but my thoughts kept drifting back to creepy closets and Claire. A headline I’m sure referred to Claire’s accident seized my attention, but Nana turned the page quickly. My food got poked around but not much was eaten.

1st 5 Pages Workshop- Seifert Rev 1

Name: Lina Seifert
Genre: Young Adult Romance / Coming of Age
Title: The B-Side Fidelity



Pitch

Aidan, a young Irish musician, dreaming of making it big with his band, is the most versatile lad Emma has ever met, challenging the cognitive blueprint of her life. From their first encounter in Rome they knew they could never forget one another, but their differences mark their relationship as impossible.

Nevertheless their lives intertwine again as they are moving in circles around early 1980s Europe, and as Emma is introduced into his bands social cycle, the girl she used to be is slowly torn to pieces by the woman she needs to become while Aidan is faced with the realities of living between the grief of the past and the demands of the present.

All is coming together on the Emerald Island where their thoughts and dreams roam- and losing and freeing themselves lies closer together than they ever anticipated. Caught between long-standing social conventions, the ever-gaping wound between the faiths and their own belief of what is right they fight for the love of a lifetime as their worlds are changing- from within and without. 




1st Five Pages

It was night, but a warm summer night in the Rome of 1981 when Aidan first materialized in my world. My eyes, worn out after a day of constantly blinking in bright sunlight, were awakened with a jolt as they fell upon him standing languorously in the shadow of the center Obelisk in Piazza Navona, his gaze wandering over the crowd streaming around the Palazzo in small groups on this night of possibility.

On a wave of post-secondary-school graduation bliss this trip had begun, the funds for which I’d earned myself, and on this last night before I was moving on I had felt the restlessness of the hopeless wanderer. The Piazza in its warm streetlight glow was my safe haven in this city where I was a phantom, owning the streets by simple right of presence like the stray cats which were claiming the ruins of the Roman Empire as their own. Amidst the solidarity here was a character standing out and intriguing my artistic soul, irresistibly drawing me closer towards him, pretending to admire the work of one of the street artists next to the fountain.

Ragged, dark leather jacket, which he adjusted absentmindedly. Then shifting his weight in strong legs engulfed by tight, black, shiny pants. This midnight-blackish-brown mess of a hair held back by a dotted grey bandana, smoothed back in a lazy gesture with no lasting effect whatsoever. Another bandana lazily fastened around one of his medium-heeled cowboy boots, enough of a heel to make him stand out from the crowd of tourists and late-night wanderers around him.

Sneaking, pretending, I found that up close his face was bold and rough but with a hidden attractiveness that seemed to come from his bright blue eyes, in contrast to his otherwise rather dark appearance, as well as from his mouth, thin-lipped but caked with attitude. His lips moved as if he was talking to someone next to him, someone who clearly wasn’t there for the rest of us to see.

In spite of his outward appearance which screamed London Calling and  picturesque obscurity, sending blunt fingernails down my spine, I was self-consciously sidling up next to him when a sound different from the other sounds of the nightly Palazzo sparked my ears, a subtle soundtrack to the scenery unfolding all around me. A soundtrack indeed, because it was him, singing softly but distinctly to himself, and now to me as I listened.

In an instant recognition kindled my soul, the gentle loving touch of a friend long forgotten, and I knew that it was the melody that right here, right now, needed to be sung. His voice was mesmerizing, like a warm blanket woven from every heartfelt emotion a human had to give, and I felt the resonance like a rope that would pull me back into myself, into who I was and who I wanted to be, would I only have the courage to reach out and touch.

And right in this moment of time I did.

He sang a song that spoke of the metaphoric conscience within love, and this language was the one of my heart. Feeling the words, the parts of me that usually felt doubt, shyness, insecurity, fear and envying melted away under the lapping of tone and note, I was not who I had been for all my life. I was feeling the rise of the woman I always wanted to be, pride and strength pulling back my shoulders and raising my chin.

Gently I joined in, slowly and with my voice so much less significant, but with the same sincerity. Singing like I’d only ever sung to myself knowing that I could and would never be out of tune, not with that other voice winding through my ears, down my throat and amid the hollowing in my chest that was humming and buzzing with summerly harmonic vibrations.

He didn’t show any sings that he’d heard me, or even knew I was there, but when I sang the verse for the second time, everything in me stretching out towards him, almost painfully aware of his presence next to me, he joined in at the exactly right moment, in a higher pitch than me spiraling us up, up to where timeless melodies spark timeless feelings. It didn’t even surprise me that he found the high notes so effortlessly, with more sensitivity but the same earnestness.

When our voices had faded I wasn’t sure what to do, whether to look at him or say something, anything, or just turn around and walk away, but as he stood tall as he had done before, I took in the moment, the echo with him.

The scene on Piazza Navona had changed, so subtle that we must have been the only ones who could notice it. Where there had been a place full of individuals, going about in their uni-colored bubbles of their current experience of living, there was now a shimmering thread connecting all of them with us, with this place, with this moment in time, like it being captured in the pages of a book or through the lens of a movie camera.

Together we were hovering in the center, and gaily I embraced the happiness that was melting on my skin when he turned towards me, his eyes gleaming and a smile on his lips, almost appearing to be sheepish before I saw it broaden.
  “Thank you. That was beautiful.“, he said simply with a confident Irish accent, homely as it was to me although mine wasn’t really the same, and I couldn’t help but love the way he emphasized the word “beautiful“, made it his and mine. I smiled back.

Being so close to him now I started to notice he was maybe just a boy yet, he seemed younger than from afar and his dress less intimidating and bulky. His stature was more slim than I’d assumed, although his arms and shoulders still hinted at muscularity.

My throat felt soar and my voice strange when I answered.
  "It felt like the thing to do- your voice is…. unique.“
I was grasping for words, strangely aware of my own insecurity welling up, now talking to his chin instead of his eyes.

  "There is such emotion in it- I can’t put my finger on it, but…“, I took a breath, gathered my strength and let my eyes return back up to his,  “but… it made me feel as if it would kill me to never hear it again.“ Where this expression came from I wasn’t sure, but the instant I said it I knew it might just have been the most truthful thing I had said in a long time.

He was still smiling, now so wide that I could see his teeth, and chuckled a little at my words.
  “Well, I don’t even know you, do I?“ 
  “I don’t think so.“
I felt confused, but a little like I’d just told my mother a white lie- I didn’t know him, or did I? He cocked his head a bit and, staring into my eyes, appeared to be considering something before he suddenly took a step forward and extended his hand. “I’m“, he paused for a beat, so short I might have imagined it, “…Aidan, and if you’d care to get to know me- I guess I’m here to find something, so maybe you could help me?“ He sounded playful, but his eyes were deepening in blueness and honesty. 

1st 5 Pages Sept Workshop - Baron Rev 1

Name: Angela T. Baron (A. T. Baron)
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Supernatural
Title: Emerson’s Guide to Playing with Sand

Pitch:

Eager for lively summer fun, seventeen-year-old, Emerson wants to put Leukemia behind her. A hospital stay takes a turn for the worse when she dies. In passing, she finds herself newly employed in an afterlife corporation run by God. Under the tutelage of her mentor, Calvin, she learns the ropes of shepherding souls with the sands of life.

Emerson’s job would be child’s play if not for her potent living spirit that makes her nauseous, induces her associates to stray from Heavenly paths, and delights the devil. When she discovers that the sand can transport her to the land of the living, Emerson tries to connect with her family and friends, but it’s against policy and makes her an ideal target for Lucifer’s plans to control the company and human souls.

Seeking comfort and council from Calvin, Emerson learns that love after death is just as hard. She believes their affection for each other is keeping Calvin from his divine promotion. With some help from a saintly janitor, Emerson must let go of life, prevent a hostile takeover by the devil, and navigate feelings for Calvin if she wants their souls to climb the corporate ladder to Heaven.

Pages:

Chapter One - You Can't Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

On the last day of my hospital stay, I found my mother holding the limp hand of another me. Streaks of mascara ran down her cheeks.

“Emmie! No—” A sob choked off her plea.

I looked down at the cupcake in my fist. The chocolate cake crumbled through my fingers and fell to the sand. I tried to rub the dream-like vision from my eyes, but it remained—sand as far as I could see, and in the middle of it was me on the bed, pale and dead.

The doctor struggled to find a pulse while nurses circled like a swarm of bees around a hive.

“Mom?” I reached out to her, but a cascade of white crystals obscured my sight. “What the—” I watched the glittering particles flow over my arm and saw shimmers of what I thought was me, but from half an hour ago. The vision played out like a television rerun, but I was smack in the middle of it playing the role of myself and feeling it all over again.

Warmth bloomed inside me as the sand showered over my body. Content with the feeling, I relived my last moments.


Mom dabbed at her eyes with a tattered tissue; tiny Kleenex confetti fell to the floor.

I struggled for breath, and her eyes met mine.

“Oh, baby. How are you feeling?”

“I—”

“Don’t talk. You’re too weak.”

“Mom—”

“Your dad says, ‘Hi.’”

“Want. To. Sit up,” I managed to say.

“Oh, sure.” My mom leaned forward and pushed the button on the plastic guardrail panel. The electric motor whined as the top of the bed rose. The rest of the room came into view along with my blanketed feet and then stopped with a jerk as she released the button.

I should have been spending the warm sunny days hanging out at the beach with my best friend. Instead, I was wasting away my body and my summer laid up in a hospital bed in room 314 of St. Cajetan’s Medical Center. The sea and surf were replaced with powder blue walls and noisy monitors.

I was getting used to scenes like these. Leukemia had me coming to the hospital for treatments since middle school, but since the beginning of my junior year, my weakened body fell prey to the slightest breeze as malignant blood cells coursed through my body. This was my third visit to the hospital in as many months. The most recent predator, complications from pneumonia, consumed the last week of school and exams. I would’ve taken solving Trigonometry questions over frequent blood tests any day.

My mom was religiously by my side. She slept in the crappy lounge chair next to the bed and ate every meal with me—when I could stomach the thought. She only left my side to go to the bathroom, which I assumed was to reapply more makeup. I didn’t even know why she bothered putting on makeup at all. It wasn’t like she had anyone to impress at the hospital. I certainly couldn’t outdo her with my pasty skin, bald head, and drool dripping down my face.

“Deanna stopped by this afternoon. She left you another balloon.”

I glanced at the explosion of colors by the window. Flowers and plants from family, stuffed toys and cards from friends, and enough balloons from Dee to raise a house off the ground.

I knew they were all from her because everyone was different. She worked at Party Emporium and got a discount. On the first day in the hospital, she told me she would keep me supplied with something sweet and an interesting view. The newest balloon was round, pink, and mylar, emblazoned with the words, “It’s a girl!” Hell yeah!

“I don’t quite understand this last balloon,” my mom said as she squeezed my hand. “Is that all they had in stock?”

“No, Mom. She’s making fun of my looks.”

My mom shook her head in disgust, “That’s terrible.”

“I love her for it.”  I tried to smile, but the oxygen cannula plugged into my nose pulled on my crusty skin.

It was bad enough that I was cursed with small breasts, but losing my hair was difficult for me to deal with. Dee, being the best friend that she was, did everything in her power to cheer me up in my hours of need.

Before chemotherapy, I loved wearing my hair long and dying it different colors. It was the one thing I could control in my life. The last color I picked was “Violet Vixen.” My mom shrieked when she saw my purple head for the first time, but eventually got used to it. I enjoyed the color for a whole two weeks until I pushed my hair behind my ears, and a clump came out in my hand.

Once the rest of my hair fell out, I appeared somewhat asexual. Dee thought I should take advantage of my new guise. She dared me to sneak into the boy’s locker room at school and get a peek at the cute guys in their underwear. I chickened out, and Dee blamed it on the fact that I didn’t have the balls.

Mom left my side and walked to the window. She picked off a faded blossom from a potted plant. Her wrinkled chiffon blouse and knit leggings hung on her thin frame.

“Your dad’s going to come by later. He has to work late.” She sighed. “He wants to see you before—” She rolled the wilted bloom in her hand and never finished the statement.

“It’s okay.” I didn’t know why I said that. It wasn’t okay. I had been in the hospital for two weeks trying to regain lung capacity, but I only felt worse. The doctors said I was getting better, but my parents believed in expecting the worst; that way, they would never be disappointed. Unfortunately, my mom’s mood was dragging me down even more than cancer.

God, hospitals are so depressing! Staff rushed around trying to get as many bodily samples from patients as possible and then try to make them comfortable because that is all they can do for them. At least I had cable. I filled my waking hours with silly cartoon sound effects to cover the weeping and complaining from neighboring rooms.

A rolling computer cart entered the room, followed by the nurse. Loretta was filling the evening shift and overfilling her scrubs. She was pleasant to talk to, but I never got a lot of time to chat with her. Normally, she wheeled in her equipment, took my vitals, and wheeled herself to the next invalid.

“Hey, honey. How you feelin’ today? I heard they had chocolate puddin’ for dessert tonight.”

“I’m really not hungry.” The thought of eating hospital food didn’t appeal to me, especially when the chicken salad looked the same going in as it did coming out—either end. Lately, I satisfied myself with tropical-flavored lifesavers or the occasional bag of gummy bears if I could acquire them from my supplier.

Loretta took my temperature, checked my monitors, and pushed buttons on the computer display. She changed my intravenous bag and ran the attached tube through the monitor.

I had tubes coming from multiple places on my body. Each port left an expanding sickly purple contusion. I knew the doctors needed them to monitor my vitals and fluids, but they felt like plastic shackles that kept me from living.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

1st 5 Pages Sept Workshop - Hillman

Name: Amy Hillman
Genre: MG Paranormal
Title: Leave

 Chapter 1

The one-hundred-twenty-year old building blocks out the noon sun like an eclipse. It casts a monstrous shadow that blankets the surrounding wheat fields in darkness. Dad puts the Jeep in neutral and lets it coast to a stop while we crane our necks, unable to comprehend the whole building from this close. White pillars support a flattened roof, veiled by wild rose vines that threaten to take over one side of the entrance. 

I tug my ear buds out, letting them hang around my neck and push open the door. Heat laced with sticky humidity slaps me in the face. A rush of wind shoves the door back at me as if it’s shouting a warning to leave while I still can. Escaping the car becomes a vicious game of tug of war with legs that need to learn to walk again after riding in the car for twelve hours.
      
Dad trots around to our side to hold the door open for Mom. “Pretty neat building. Isn’t it?” he shouts above wind that roars loud enough to drown his voice to a whisper.
“For a place that’s been everything from an orphanage to an insane asylum,” I mutter, cramming my buds into my pocket.
      
Mom ruffles my shaggy hair that’s the same mop water brown as hers. “Jack, where’d you get that idea?”
“From the internet.” I kick a rock toward the building and it tumbles a few feet before it stops abruptly, like it doesn’t want to get any closer. “Do we really have to live here? Why can’t I stay with Grandma and Grandpa for this round?”
      
Dad takes a deep breath and ignores my question. “Smell that fresh air.” He exhales stretching his arms up over his head exposing his belly which makes me snort laugh. “And yes, we do. Come on we have things to get done before the veterans arrive.” Tilting my head to get a whiff, I don’t notice anything but sun burnt tar from the little two-lane highway and the chemical exhaust from the Jeep.

Mom side hugs me as she rests her head on mine to answer my question. “Because we’re a family. And because we want you to know what it is to make a real impact in the lives of others.”

I bite back the snarky comment on the tip of tongue. I want to say they can keep their impact and I’ll keep my friends, soccer team and bedroom. She pops the back on the Jeep and then slings her bag over her shoulder. Together my parents walk arm and arm toward the front of the building. They disappear at the top of the steps as if the monster swallowed them whole.  

The hot wind sneaks through my shirt drying my sweat and leaving me salty sticky. Rocks and dirt crunch under the wheels of my overstuffed suitcase until a pothole hidden by creeping weeds bumps the case onto its side. The handle twists out of my hand causing the case to belly flop into a mud puddle. Specks of dirt splash up my leg and the side of my cargo shorts.

My parents are too busy with unpacking to pay any attention to me, same as every other time we’ve relocated. Neither notice I’ve given up lugging the case toward our new home sweet home. They both scurry up and down the cement steps as if they’re running soccer drills, unloading the last of the boxes from the Jeep. The case, too heavy for me to turn over on my own, provides a quick spot to wait for someone to notice me.

The movers lower the lift on the back of the moving truck while my parents impatiently check their phones for reception. By the look on Mom’s face and the way she scrunches her nose before shoving her phone in her back pocket, I can tell the reception sucks.

A sliver of warmth crawls behind my ear like a snake and causes panic to worm down my back. I whip around, expecting to find one of my parents playing a joke on me. Nothing, but the red brick building lurks behind me.

“This wind’s terrible!” My mother says. My scruffy hair whips me in the face and I’m wondering if I should’ve agreed to that haircut Dad offered. One of the moving guys hands her a box marked with a red x, which for today means kitchen. Green checks are for my parents’ room and blue stars are for my room. Stars are yellow, but yellow is hard to see on cardboard moving boxes.

“There’s nothing to break the wind for miles,” Dad says, enunciating the word miles like it’s two words. His shirt whips and twists around him forcing him to tuck it into the sweatpants cut offs he reserves for moving days.
“Come on sport, lots more to do.” He flips my suitcase up right. “Shame about the mud.”

As if the wind hears our complaints, it rests. In the immediate still, nothing makes a sound. No chirp, no creak, nothing. The severe lack of all noise pushes my heartbeat into my ears. Complete silence is deafening when you’re used to the neighbor’s dog barking. 
“Better get to work, if we want to get done anytime soon!” he yells. His voice booms louder than needed. “Look at that. The wind stopped.” He ties the string to his sweatpants shorts.

The bulging suitcase slaps my heels with every step, forcing me to waddle like a duck to avoid scuffing my shoes. The case bangs against each slab with a gritty thump. A wheel lodges in a crack near the top and the case refuses to go any further. Leaning back, I yank with all my weight and the crack finally releases its grip. The porch catches my fall and bruises my tailbone. The case slams into the top step breaking off a wheel. A deep throated laugh echoes around me.

A giant oak tree guards the entrance and through the half-dead branches a man’s image peers out of a second story window. The shape blurs and shimmers like a reflection in wavy water. When I squint, the light bounces off the top of his skull only faintly covered with skin. I scramble backward, crawling like a crab and scrape my fingers on the rough cement. I tilt my head to one side in time to watch as the fog from his breath fades from the glass. I squeeze my eyes hard, hoping I’m imagining things. My chest heaves in short bursting huffs. I squint one eye at the window. No one’s there. I must be tired from the long trip.

Dad whistles his way toward me. With one hand shading his eyes, he looks to see where I’m gawking. One dried brown leaf twirls and tugs but the stubborn oak won’t let go. It acts as if it’s alive as it claws at its neighbors. It makes the same kind of scratchiness as someone folding over newspaper sheets. All of the other leaves hang motionless in the absence of the wind.
“That tree must be as about the same age as the building.”

I rub my tailbone. “I thought we were the first ones here.”

He holds out his hand to help me up. “We are. The veterans won’t arrive until next week.”