Monday, July 16, 2018

1st5Pages July Workshop - Hicks Rev 1

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

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

I’d gone to Fuller Brook to hide.  The painful cramping had been coming so often, and the hallucinations…well, they were no longer possible to hide.  Then, the fire came again, and there were nothing but questions.  From school officials.  The police.  The court-appointed therapist.  None of my answers would have been even close to plausible.  So, I told them lies.  They didn’t believe those either, of course, but that’s the thing about adults and unlikely situations—they like to create their own truths. 

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

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

Eventually, Jefferson showed up.  My few things were packed, and I was carted off to another school in another state.  This pattern repeated itself a few times until I mostly learned to control the fire’s comings and goings. 

Of course, none of my training prepared me for being caught in a storm inside a tin can with wings, where very flammable oxygen is being pumped into the air.  I’ve been keeping it together for the past seven hours.  While the rest of the unsuspecting passengers have been doing what passengers do on a Trans-Atlantic flight, I’ve been practicing my Yoga breathing and making a trip to the toilet every half hour to…relieve the pressure. 

At this point, the flight attendants definitely think I’m a chain smoker.  Even the nice one warned me in a whisper when I got back a few minutes ago that I could get into trouble for smoking on an airplane. 

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

By the time the plane’s wheels touch down on the tarmac, my exhale is at volcano steam-vent-level.  But when I’m finally able to exit the plane and head up the ramp toward baggage claim with the rest of the herd, the tension begins to recede.  

And when I catch my first glimpse of Jefferson’s pasty, bald head, the dial moves as close to calm as a freak like me can get.  Seeing his goofy face after so long is like winning front row tickets to an Imagine Dragons concert and a new iPhone to film it with all on the same day. 

I’ve missed him so much.  The bland, rubbery meals.  The ridiculous quizzes on the periodic table, Latin root words, and the books we’ve read together-apart.  Even the awkward conversations about my non-existent (and-definitely-not-ready-to-talk-about) sex life. 
But, as the distance between us narrows, I realize something’s not right.  His expression’s off.  Where’s the crooked smile and embarrassing waving?  And, where the heck is the bowtie?

Clearly, something’s wrong, but when he breaks into a jog, it’s like a slap to the face.  First, because the man only gets excitable about a few things, all of which—besides my grades—are physics related.  Second, Jefferson isn’t really the running type.  At all.  In fact, most days, he moves at sloth-speed.  He’s more of an I prefer to exercise-my-synapses type of guy. 

And…just like that.  My already pathetic version of Zen is gone.

Run. 

I squeeze my backpack straps tightly and suck in a breath, yanking the memory back where it belongs.  The residual uneasiness has me picking up my knees.  I cover twice the distance Jefferson does in the same amount of time.  My birthparents must have been lightyears ahead of his in terms of athletic evolution. 

We collide in a desperate hug.  “Oh, thank God.  Thank God,” he mumbles, pulling back, but still gripping my shoulders.  “You’re alright.”

I smile, trying to reassure him, because he looks wrecked.  “I’m good.”

“Okay.  Okay.” 

“What’s wrong?”

“We have to get out of here.”  He takes my hand and begins pulling me toward the exit, head swiveling, searching.

Instinct tells me, he doesn’t just mean out of the airport.  “What?  We’re not staying in Edinburgh?  What about your symposium?  Nessie?  Your puke face I was planning to film, when you try haggis?”  When he doesn’t take the bait, I get serious.  “Where?”

“I don’t know.”  He doesn’t stop scanning the sea of people.  “I’ll…I’ll figure it out.”

We’re heading toward the exit.  “What about my bag?”

“We’ll have to leave it.” 

“Jefferson?”  I think about the things in there.  My favorite pair of jeans.  My Green Bay sweatshirt.  Everything else I thought I might need this summer.  “What’s going on?  Talk to me!”  I pull against his hold, but his grip is surprisingly strong for a guy who spends ten hours a day analyzing particle accelerator data. 

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.  I thought we’d have more time.  Thought I’d done everything to cover our tracks.”

Cover our tracks?  “Jefferson, what’s happened?” 

“I’ll tell you all about it.  Everything.  After we get out of here.” 

But he stutters to a stop forty yards from the main entrance, looking like he’s seen a ghost.  All I see are strangers.  Lots of people sitting around bored and waiting, some moving with intent.  The same view you see at any airport, but something has obviously spooked him. 

Then, just as suddenly, he’s shoving me towards a bathroom, one of those reserved for families with small children.  “In.  Inside.”  Luckily, it’s empty.  As soon as we’re inside, he presses the door closed and throws the lock.  It’s dark.  He doesn’t flick on the lights. 

I squeeze his hand.  “Jefferson, you’re scaring me.”  And, when I get scared, bad things happen.  I take a deep breath, trying to hold back the process, but I can physically feel my pores begin to open.

He squeezes back, but his voice remains all business.  “Listen to me, sweetheart.  We have to separate.  It will be safer for you that way.  You remember the code, right?” 

Run.  Don’t stop.

“Yes,” I manage, but it’s barely a whisper. 

The code.  It was always just something he reminded me about, sort of like flossing.  He’d regularly stress its importance, and I’d nod and wait until he left the room to go back to whatever I was doing.

He sniffs deeply.  “Breathe, Finley.  Get it under control.” 

Jefferson’s been my calming, cooling presence for so long.  My only real person in the world.  Whatever is going on, I know I can trust him.  So, I breathe with him and force myself to pull it in.   

“We’re going to get you clear of the airport.  Then, you’re going to go somewhere very public and wait.  Hide.  It will likely be kids closer to your age this time.  I’ve sent them your tracking information.  They’ll find you.  Wait for them.”  He squeezes my hands again, this time comfortingly, but his voice deflates with sorrow.  “Like you waited for me.”  

Run.  Don’t stop.  He’ll come for you.

“Jefferson?”


He ignores the plea in my voice.  “Don’t stop running, no matter what you hear.  Do you understand?”  He waits for my assent, before cracking the door and peeking out.  “Here we go.”

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Bohan Rev 1

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

There’s a storm demon in my shed. San Francisco is pouring rain, my eye bags have eye bags, I still don’t have a prom date, and now there’s a freaking demon in my shed. That all changes tonight.
 
I check my watch. 2:12 a.m. I’ve got less than forty-eight minutes till the witching hour begins. Perfect.
 
I grab Jimmy the duffel bag, and root through the tools, making sure everything I need is in there. Yeah, I named my duffel. I get lonely sometimes.
 
Digging through the bag, I find three red candles, two feathers, four chunks of chalk, and a box of cinnamon rolls. But no silver bell. I drop the duffel to search my bedroom shelves. 
 
If I can’t find my bell soon, I might have to use myself again. I’ve already donated a quart of blood this month just to keep the lights on, but I can’t chat with a demon empty-handed. It’s like showing up to a company potluck without any food -- you just don’t do it. Especially when the host can bring a thousand volts down on your head. Just another day at the office.
 
I should introduce myself. My name’s Paul Bernelli, and I’m a sorcerer. 
 
/Sorcerer/ is the fancy way of saying I cast spells. That I do magic. It means I brew up love potions, summon demons, and sneak into abandoned sheds to shout biblical Aramaic at three in the morning. But to everyone else, /Sorcerer/ just means that I’m crazy. I’ve gotten pretty used to the snickers and dirty looks.
 
Where /is/ that bell? I peek under my bed, then tear through a pile of old sci-fi magazines. Nothing.
 
I dig into the pockets of my ratty black jeans, then fumble underneath my mattress for the silver bell. No luck.
 
BANG! Something porcelain shatters upstairs.
 
“It’s not here, Linda. Where the hell is it?”
 
“Jesus, Randy, I’m not responsible for your crap.”
 
Uh-oh. My aunt’s fighting with her boyfriend. Again. And judging from the horrible noises upstairs, I should get going as soon as possible. Whenever I get involved in these scuffles, somebody always gets punched in the face. And this time, it’s probably not going to be my aunt’s new ex-con boyfriend who gets the knuckle sandwich. I’m lucky to even be here. Better just mind my own business.
 
I root through my dresser drawers, turning over a mess of socks and t-shirts. Not there either.
 
That was a pure silver bell, handmade in Romania. It took me two months of blood donations, hustling, and makeshift yard sales to afford that bell -- I can’t just lose it!
 
My eyes turn to my desk chair. AHA! A shiny piece of metal peeks out from under the cushions. I pounce, raising the metal up to the light. It shines in my hands.
 
Aunt Linda opens my bedroom door and, seeing the expensive silver bell, her beady eyes light up like a kid on Christmas morning.
 
“Give it to me, Paul,” she says. “Don’t make me ask twice.”
 
“No! I need this. It’s important!” I duck away, cradling the bell in my hands.
 
“What’s important is that you learn to show your aunt some respect! Sixteen is old enough to help out with the bills, bug-eyes,” she says. “Besides, I thought I told you I didn’t want that freaky Satan stuff in my house. Gives me the creeps.” She shudders, seeing the duffel bag full of ritual tools. My tools.
 
Aunt Linda isn’t exactly religious, but she still can’t stand seeing my occult stuff in the apartment. I never understood why. As hobbies go, magic is harmless. It has me learning all about history, Latin, and sometimes, even anatomy! Sure, most of those anatomy lessons involve voodoo dolls and goat dissections, but it all seems pretty edifying to me.
 
“I’m not giving it to you! I paid for this. I need it!”
 
“Why you ungrateful little…” Aunt Linda reaches for the bell, but I easily dodge out of the way. She makes a few more clumsy grabs, tripping over her own feet. I smirk. Dodging drunk people has always been a favorite of mine. In life, you’ve got to enjoy the little things.
 
“You lousy disappointment. Just you wait!” she screams and storms out of the room.
 
I hear Aunt Linda yell something about silver and brat from outside the doorway. A few seconds later she comes back into my bedroom, only this time she comes with Randy, her scary-looking boyfriend of the month. He raises a huge fist and I yelp, throwing both hands into the air like a total clown. Randy grabs my right arm, twists, and pulls the bell away. The two go back to bickering, this time about what pills they can buy with their loot.
 
Dammit. Getting my bell snatched sucks, but it’s not earth-shattering. I’ll just have to use blood. It was careless to bring anything remotely paranormal home, and now, I’m paying for it. Another reminder to always play it safe when it comes to magic.
 
Throwing the duffel over my shoulder, I bound out the bedroom door, eager for tonight’s evocation. Whenever I’m feeling blue I go out to my shed, light a few candles, and cast spells. They usually work. Besides, if a ritual doesn’t solve my problem, a part of me still enjoys having a dark secret. It’s like being a superhero, without having to fight crime, or wear underwear outside my pants. Even if everyone thinks I’m nuts, I know the truth, and the power is nice. Who wouldn’t want to be able whip up a luck spell, or talk to spirits with a Ouija board? Everybody needs an escape. My escape just happens to involve pentagrams and storm demons.
 
I grab a box of stale pastries on the way out the apartment, scale the building’s creaky steps, and start the long march to my shed. Since I’m self-taught, demonic evocations are always tricky as hell. All the old Latin and Aramaic grimoires might as well be gibberish Fortunately, I have access to the most magical tool of all: the internet. It’s taken me years of pouring through Wikipedia pages and occult blogs written in all caps, separating the real spells from the fake, but I’ve finally got it down. You can learn just about anything online these days. I guess that’s why moms and dads put parental controls on their kids’ computers. But I never had parents. I had an aunt. A very busy aunt, who was just glad I wasn’t breaking into homes like mom and dad.  
 
Tonight, I’m summoning Paimon, a demon of storms and forbidden knowledge. Paimon grants me the occasional wish or occult secret in exchange for goodies. He’s also one of my only friends.
 
I walk down the apartment stoop to the sidewalk and shudder as a gust of cold wind slaps my face, rain pelting my coffee hair. I wrap my striped scarf tighter around my neck.
 
I live in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. The name comes from Mario Fillipi, a Mafioso who’d bribe the broke and underpaid police force with household items. As he famously put it, in the Tenderloin district, or “TL,” you can “pay the sumbitches in steak.” The name stuck.
 
Drugs. Crime. Hookers. None of those are in short supply in the Tenderloin. It’s not all bad, though. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

1st 5 Pages July Workshop- Toran Rev 1

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


I, Holy Maiden Ysabel, had only four months, three weeks, and two days to live, and I intended to make the most of every single day. To my mind, this meant spending as little time as possible in meetings with the Council of Patriarchs. Yet here I was. I needed a smoke or a stiff drink. Not both; I’d learned from bitter experience on my knees in the outhouse that redleaf and alcohol did not mix.

Patriarch Rakir continued, “…As the maid said to the bishop.” He laughed uproariously. So did the rest of the room. I contemplated the five minutes of my life which I would never get back. Rakir deserved a beating for making me sit through, by my last count, eighty-nine jokes where the punchline was “women are sluts.”

“What did you think, Ysabel?” Patriarch Rakir asked, smirking. The average intelligence of humanity will be raised the day his nighttime activities cause his old heart to fail.

I widened my eyes. “Oh, it was dreadfully entertaining, but I think it went over my head. Alas, the Sun God has not blessed me with a wit equal to you gentlemen. Why did the bishop tie the maid up? Did she do something wrong?”

They exploded into laughter. I kept my vapid, pretty smile on my face while I contemplated the sharp limits of Rakir’s knowledge of bondage. Just tied hands and a blindfold? If you’re going the sensory deprivation route, at least take advantage of the increased sensitivity with a bit of hot wax and ice cubes. As they had become more obvious, it had gotten harder to pretend I didn’t know far more about how to dominate a partner than they did.

When I’d claimed the Sun God told me as his chosen Holy Healer I should be allowed into their monthly council meetings, the patriarchs discovered having a woman in the room made it awkward for them to brag about their sexual conquests during worktime. They’d “forgotten” to tell me when the council meetings were being held. So I pretended to be too virginal to understand sexual innuendo if it mugged me in a dark alley. I was still being excluded from the wheeling-and-dealing in the private drinking sessions, but at least I got into the planning room.

It was a gorgeous room if you could overlook that it was paid for by charitable tithes. Silver and gold etched dozens of little angels on the ceiling. Statues of muscled men crowded the alcoves, fig leaves covering where the Last Archbishop had gone around hacking all their penises off. The round table made of pure gold had to be replaced once a month because gold is a very soft metal. The hand-woven silk carpets didn’t last much longer on account of the drinking parties I wasn’t invited to. A new-fangled gas lamp burned in a violent-tinted glass case.

Rakir flipped through his papers. “I’m pleased to announce construction of the stadium for the 549th World Games is complete and under-budget. The damn heretics are still insisting on double the number of guards we’ve room for.”

Patriarch Poul grunted. “House them in the whorehouse and mail the issue to them in nine months.” I recognized him by his black hat and long beard. My face-blindness meant I could only tell the patriarchs apart by the customary dress of their different sects. The ones who just wore brown robes, like Farruco, Franshall, Lordon, and Envio, all blurred together.

Everyone but me laughed. Poul’s father was a virgin and his mother sucked eggs in hell.

“Ysabel doesn’t know where babies come from,” a patriarch said, pointing at me. Must be Lector judging by the vile smell.

My forehead wrinkled. “Babies come from true love and the Sun God.”

Not my finest line of nonsense. Anyone who had the tiniest respect for my intelligence would have heard my sarcasm. Happily I did not have that problem. The room laughed even harder. I should have learned to never underestimate how stupid this bunch thought women were. Not being allowed to marry and too important to council commoners, the only women they associated with were prostitutes. It made for a massive virgin-whore complex.

Sobering, Orwin said, “If we slight them, it will only fuel their self-righteousness. Better to embarrass them with our hospitality.” Orwin is a horny old goat like all the others, but smart enough to have invented the printing press and bribed his way up from a lowly church-raised orphan to the council.

As they all fell to bickering, I let my eyes wander, memorizing the shirtless bodies of some of those statues for later use. Sadly, this was the closest I’d gotten to a naked man in nearly two years. I’m forced to be discreet for political reasons, by which I mean if this lot ever found out I like to tie men up and step on them, several might die of heart attacks.

Eventually, Orwin said, “Put it to vote: do we provide housing for the Heretic Church’s additional guards?”

“Excuse me.” I clasped my hands together. “Please allow my humble self to plea for diplomacy. The heretics are misguided, but they worship the Sun God just like us.” More importantly, we don’t want to provoke another trade embargo when our economy has barely recovered from the last one, you brainless morons. I cast pleading eyes at Santos, the nicest of the lot and probably the only sincere believer at this table, patriarch being more a political position than a religions one these days.

Unfortunately, that meant he resented the “heretical” sects which had split away from the council even more. Looking away, Santos murmured, “Holy Ysabel’s kindness does her credit,” in a condescending way. The vote went against me, seven to two. I’d known it was a lost cause. I exchanged eye rolls with Orwin.

The brass double-doors creaked open. Patriarch Jiohnanny strode in, his white coat heavy with gemstones and his black beard bristling. Everyone in the room sat up straighter. Jiohnanny was head of the council. I hated him with every fiber of my being.

“Noble Jiohnanny, the air becomes more holy now you have graced us with your presence.” I beamed at him. “The Sun God must have sent your wisdom to help us with the thorny tasks assailing us from all sides.” Sorry for making you bear the blame, God.

“I wouldn’t dream of letting you struggle on your own, Ysabel.” His tone was both patronizing and sarcastic. Unlike the rest of the council, I’d never managed to quite convince Jiohnanny that I was an empty-headed ninny happy to sacrifice myself, so he kept a close eye on me for any chance that I might try to escape our bargain.

He planted his giant body, both muscular and rippling with fat, down on his throne with a thud. “I come bearing news of an emergency.” His silver cane topped by a white orb leaned against his legs. He took it everywhere, despite having no leg injuries. Of all the patriarchs, only he still appeared to be a young man. He had dark monolid eyes, a lumpy face, and thick black hair he kept curled and shoulder-length. I would say something unpleasant about his mother, but I couldn’t possibly insult an unfortunate woman who had to squeeze such a bloated head out of her womb.

His next words echoed throughout the small room: “The Holy City shortly faces a siege from Dark Lord Kaine.”


1st 5 Pages July Workshop- Parrott Rev 1


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

The dreamers knew Wilder from their nightmares. 


They were strangers. They didn’t always recognize her, but those that did either wept at her feet or ran away, terrified. Wherever she went, they found her; their eyes hollow and desperation palpable. “Do I know you?” they asked. “Have we met?” Like bare lightbulbs flickering on in the darkest recesses of their minds, Wilder could see the fuse connect, the realization land. They were meeting the guest star of their worst nightmare. Sometimes, in their dreams, she was the one helping them, other times she was the holy terror haunting them.

The boy was the first one. 

He was about six years old, and Wilder was twelve at the time. He’d run to her, beaming.

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

“Me?” Wilder asked, confused. She was used to people recognizing her mother in public, but not her. She was a nobody. A nobody who was the daughter of a somebody.

“I followed you,” he said, and then—when she still looked at him blankly, “out of the dark place.” Humid sweat plastered his wispy blonde hair to his forehead.

A feeling passed over Wilder like someone raking nails lightly on her skin. “The dark place?” she repeated. “What was in the dark place?”

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

Wilder crouched down next to him. She reached out a hand but left it hovering in the space between them. She’d never been good with kids, even when she was one. “Where is the bone house?” she asked finally, when he said nothing more.

He stopped shaking and tapped his finger on his forehead.

“In your head?”

“In the dream.”

“I was… in your dream?” Wilder felt a heat building in her gut, bile rising in her throat. A faint memory of a feeling was knocking somewhere on a door in the base of her skull. Hundreds of questions flooded her mind, but only one came out. “Are you sure it was me?”

The boy moved his head in a slow, solemn nod. “It looks the same in real life,” he said, reaching out his small hand towards Wilder, who fought every instinct to flinch. He pressed a finger lightly along the puckered, faded purple scar running from her temple towards her ear.

Wilder ran.

After that, each passing year drew more and more dreamers to her in a terrifying crescendo. She took to hiding in public, covering her scar with concealer, pulling up the hood of her sweatshirt. She felt helpless in the face of their confusion—she had no answers for them. No matter what she did, they still found her. It was like they were drawn to her very being. 

When it stopped, it was all at once. Despite her newfound blissful anonymity, Wilder still looked for them. Felt a hole in her life where the dreamers used to be.

She never found out why the dreamers started, but she knew why they stopped. It coincided too neatly with the moment that Wilder’s mother took her last breath. It was connected somehow. It had to be.

The dreamers became yet another thing that she’d lost, in a period of three years where she felt like she’d lost almost everything. Which was the last thing she wanted to be reminded of, especially by a stupid blank line on a form.

“All done here?” The front desk lady trilled. She was wearing an Astoria High sweatshirt with a stock photo of a fish on a reel printed under the school font. She stuck a manicured hand out for the clipboard Wilder was clutching.

Wilder looked again at the empty line on the form. “Not quite.”

“What are you stuck on?” Mrs. Penn—according to the plaque on the tall counter behind which she was plopped—leaned over to look at her form. “Emergency contact? Oh.” Mrs. Penn’s face colored. Wilder felt a twist in her gut, anger flowing from it. That meant the administration had already had a meeting about Wilder and her situation.

Dead mother. Missing father.

That left the aunt.

“I don’t know my aunt’s cell number off the top of my head,” Wilder said.

“Oh honey, don’t worry about that. We’ll get it later. Oh good—” she gestured towards a skinny boy with a frizzy halo of hair that had appeared. “This is Jonathan, he’ll be showing you around the school today.”

Wilder shook his hand, which was limp and clammy, and followed him into the hallway.

“Junior’s lockers are in the C Hall, so you’ll be… here,” Jonathan said, leading the way.
Wilder sipped her watery coffee, assessing the tour guide. When he spoke, it looked like it took a supreme effort to force the words past his little front teeth, capped in braces, the top and bottom banded together. Wilder stared at them, neon green rubber stretched tight over the metal grids. She wondered how much deliberation had gone into the choice of that particular color. 

“I’d have the same locker for senior year, too?” she asked. If she was even there next year.

Jonathan nodded. “Now, since I’ll be your Fisherman’s Friend for the day—”

“I’m sorry,” Wilder interrupted him. “My what?”

The boy turned. “Your Fisherman’s Friend. You know—” he puckered his lips into a pout and raised both of his fists in a boxer’s stance.

Wilder stared at him so hard she almost went crosseyed.

“The Fighting Fishermen!” he finished. “It’s our school mascot. That’s what we call your orientation guide.”

“Oh, of course,” Wilder said. Jonathan didn’t pick up on the sarcasm.

“Here, I’ll show you the combo for your locker.” His eyes darted between Wilder and the lock’s dial.

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

“New girl?” one of them said, not even bothering to whisper.

Wilder sighed. Small towns.

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

“You look, um…” he trailed off, gulping audibly.

Wilder’s fingers jumped on the dial, overshooting their mark. Her face was a careful blank, but her heartbeat echoed in her throat. She’d know it anywhere: it was a variation of the question she had heard countless times.

Not here. Not now. It had been three years since the last stranger told her of their nightmare.

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

“Just say it.” The words came out harsher than she intended. Why had Wilder thought living in Astoria would be any different? If anything, it would be worse here—after all, this town held all her family history. And secrets.

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

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