Monday, June 10, 2013

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Palmer Rev 1

Name: Lora Palmer
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Title: The MirrorMasters

Leah Ellis stretched her legs. She had been curled up on the couch so long her knees ached. The old horror movie her brother and best friend picked was almost over. Why would they choose a movie like that, tonight...of all nights, even if they’d made it an annual tradition? Next time, she would pick the film. She brushed back a stray lock of blond hair and tried to focus, but anxiety, loud and unrelenting as alarm bells ringing in her head, fragmented her thoughts. She turned to David and Kara, who were sitting, engrossed, on the love seat. “Let’s watch something light, a comedy, when the others get here.”

She’d busted her skinny behind in AP English, Algebra, and Biology all year, and she’d earned a carefree summer working part-time as a babysitter and laying out on the beach with her friends. Tomorrow, that summer would be hers, so long as she could get through tonight unscathed.

“We should go out to the cemetery after the movie,” Kara said, her blue eyes sparkling. Long auburn hair spilled around her as she leaned down to retrieve her soda from the coffee table.

Sure. Why wait for trouble to find us when we can seek it out and bring it right here?

It was the eve of the town tragedy that happened back in the 1870s, when the Stanford twins, the daughters of the town mayor, were killed. Of course Kara would want to do something scary to commemorate it. Every year, on this date, something strange happened, like mysterious pulses of light in the forest and not-quite-solid figures that appeared in the cemetery one second and disappeared the next.

Leah hated the thrill of horror--and fascination--that ran through her whenever she imagined what happened, what it all might mean.

She couldn’t help glancing over at the sliding glass doors out toward the church beyond, checking for any signs of unusual activity. Her hands started to fidget, and she fought to still them. Leah thought she could just make out the sounds of otherworldly voices outside, speaking in urgent whispers. She listened. A gust of wind rustled the palm trees, obscuring any other noise and causing moonlight and shadows to flit across the lawn.

“No.” Leah leaned back against the sofa, taking a bite of popcorn for a bit of self-comforting. “No way, Kara. I’m not playing around with that stuff. If there are ghosts, or aliens, or whatever, I don’t want to know about it. And I sure don’t want us going to confront them.”

Kara pulled a puppy face, complete with irresistible dimples. “Aren’t you the least bit curious? They lived in your house. They could still be here.”

Leah rolled her eyes, but her anxiety was starting to get the best of her again. “Don’t give me that look!” She laughed, in an effort to act casual, and held up a pillow to cover her face. She appealed to her brother. “David, talk some sense into her.”

She couldn’t bring herself to tell either of them how rattled she was. If David knew, he’d tease her mercilessly. Kara, with her love of all things sci-fi and paranormal, would never understand.

“Oh, I don’t know. What’s the harm? Unless you’re too scared to see what happens.” David grinned, his brown eyes crinkling with mischief.

Kara leaned over and ruffled his sandy blond hair. “See? Even David’s game.”

Leah shook her head and gave her a knowing smile. Of course he would be game for whatever Kara wanted to do. She threw her pillow at him. “David, you don’t even believe in that stuff.”

“Hey!” David caught the pillow easily and tossed it back at her. “Ergo, there’s no harm in going.”

Leah laughed and raised her arm to block his throw. “You don’t know that.”

Kara grabbed the pillow and whacked David with it. “You’re supposed to be on my side.”

Their eyes lit up as they wrestled each other for control over the pillow, laughing the whole time. Leah looked away, a pang in her heart at the sight of them together. It reminded Leah that in their group, she was a fifth wheel.

Chilling music, followed by sounds of strangled sobs and hitching breaths, sent a shiver down her spine. On the television screen, the killer claimed his next victim, and Leah put a hand over her eyes too late to avoid the sight. She crinkled her nose. “On that note, I’m going to go splash some water on my face. Maybe it’ll help me stay awake.”

Maybe it would give David and Kara the chance to have The Talk, but she doubted it would happen. It would take an act of divine intervention to get them to admit their feelings for each other and finally start dating. Neither of them noticed as Leah crossed the game room and made her way down the hall to the bathroom. Good. At least they wouldn’t pick up on how alone, how odd-girl-out, she felt.

The cool water invigorated Leah as it splashed against her skin. She wiped her hands and patted her face dry with a towel, meeting her wide-set green eyes in the mirror. In the florescent lighting, her fair complexion shone snow-pale, ghostly pale, even though she’d already started working on a summer tan. It was a hopeless cause.

Jenny and Kevin should have been here by now. Or at least Kevin should have. He didn’t have to babysit tonight. Leah’s nerves would ease, at least a little, once all her friends arrived safely. It would definitely make her feel better to hear Kevin say he hadn’t seen anything strange by the cemetery. That’s where it would start, if anywhere, and he lived the closest to it.

The lights flickered, then went out. Leah jumped, startled, as darkness enveloped her. Her breaths quickened. Only then did she notice the scent of cucumber-melon air freshener. She felt for the light switch and managed to find it, but flicking it up and down did nothing. Her hand paused midway toward the doorknob as a bright flash in the mirror caught her gaze. She froze. Where was that light coming from? This bathroom didn’t have a window.

It was coming from the mirror!

Rooted to the spot in terror, Leah saw the images in fragments. A soft glow of white light amid the trees. A blonde girl struggling out on the church grounds to protect herself and her sister--the Stanford twins!--against a man with ice-blue eyes. Strange symbols on his weapon that emitted a burst of green phaser fire. One sister crumpled, while the man’ s son chased the other into the woods. A wave of a hand, and shattered glass reassembling itself. Lightning bolts of electricity from a dark, cloaked figure. A body, small and slender, falling to the floor--Jenny? A hole in the ground, surrounded by headstones.

She stepped back, toward implied safety. That did not just happen. Images of danger and death did not appear in her mirror. Oh, God, they did. The last trace shadows of a freshly dug grave, now covered, lingered in the glass.

“What is that?” Leah’s voice sounded small and tight to her ears in this enclosed space. She rubbed her arms in a vain effort to warm herself. Goosebumps prickled all along them. Dread seized her, settling like lead in the pit of her stomach.

Leah blinked as the images disappeared, leaving her in complete blackness again. She had to get out of here. Heart pounding in her chest, she fumbled for the doorknob, barely restraining the impulse to pound the door like a crazy person when her fingers failed to find it. Out in the game room, the sliding glass door slid open. Kevin was saying something to David and Kara, but his words were muffled, indistinct. He sounded worried, though. A jolt of fear shot through her. What if Kevin was telling them Jenny had been hurt, or worse, just like the mirror had shown?

“Leah, come on,” David called.

“Coming!” Her hand finally grasped the doorknob. When she turned it and pushed, the bathroom door wouldn’t budge. She pushed again, harder. The door still didn’t move. “Guys, wait! I’m stuck.”

Their only reply was the sliding glass door slamming shut.

“Help me get out of here!” Leah pounded the door, frantic now. Nobody came. They must have already gone outside, leaving her trapped here with these images while they faced whatever dangers lurked in the cemetery. She had to help them, warn them about what she saw. She threw her body against the door to force it open. It stayed in place, stubborn. Again and again she tried, until her shoulder ached so badly she had to stop.

Wait. She would not let a little power outage freak her out. She couldn’t have actually seen those things in the mirror, anyway. No, they were just a product of her wild imagination, fueled by her fears about tonight. Besides, the others would be back for her when they realized she wasn’t coming, wouldn’t they?

‘Use logic to rule out possibilities until you’re left with the correct explanation’, Dad would say. Logically, it made the most sense to believe she’d imagined it all.

But what if it was real?

‘Trust your instincts’, Mom would say. The last time she’d had an instinct something awful was about to happen, Mom and Dad got into a bad car crash on the way home from a movie after she’d begged them not to go out that night. And the time before that, Jenny would have died of complications from surgery if Leah hadn’t told Mrs. Taylor to take her back to the hospital.

Maybe she’d experienced those glimpses for a reason. Maybe she’d gotten trapped in here, with no other option but to face her fears, for a reason. If it meant finding out what might happen so she could protect herself and the people she loved, Leah wanted, no, needed, to know.

The mirror lit with an eerie glow again, as if responding to her desire. All thoughts of fleeing gone, she peered in closer, willing the images to become clearer.


  1. I can tell that you see this scene very clearly in your head. The way the dialogue follows the pillow toss, covering her face too late to block the gore -- you have really nice details. I also like Leah a lot. She seems to have a smart aleck streak which, to me, makes her seem more like a real person. This draft is much more clear about what David and Kara should be talking about, so you did a nice job of clearing that up.

    Personally, I love references to smells, so I think the line about the air freshener is great. The way it's written feels a little haphazardly stuck in there. Could she be left alone with the cucumber melon scent, or surrounded by darkness and the scent? Just suggestions.

    I like the idea of horror and fascination, although I think it could be tweaked so that Leah isn't saying she hates being fascinated. Maybe she could anticipate instead of hate, or hate the horror, even though she had to admit it also fascinated her. I'm sure you can word it much better than I am right now!

    You can tell you put a lot of work into the bathroom scene and I like your changes! It makes a lot more sense that Leah would be willing to look in the mirror. I think you could make it a little bit clearer that she wants to warn David and Kara because they think this is all a joke, but now that she's seen the images in the mirror, she knows they're in real danger. I think that would add another level of tension, because we're wondering about why Leah got stuck in there, what's going on it the mirror, and what her friends are unknowingly walking into.

    You've set up a very creepy scenario! I'm looking forward to your next revision. :)

  2. You've done a great job making Leah's reactions more plausible in this version, and you've added some nice touches for clarity (and watching a horror movie versus sci-fi definitely ups the tension and better matches the mood). In your first paragraph, the sentence "Why would they choose a movie like that, tonight...of all nights, even if they’d made it an annual tradition?" feels off to me. If it's an annual tradition, then why would she wonder? If it's because of her gut feeling, then I'd like to see what that conversation looks like with her friends and how they react to her premonitions. If it's just her idle thoughts, maybe you could make it a little more conversational. Something like, "Why did they have to choose another stupid horror movie? Couldn't they feel that this year wouldn't be like the rest?" sort of thing (that's rough, but you get the idea).

    When Leah hears the otherworldly voices, that felt a little rushed to me. I'd like to get a bit more explanation with this. How did she respond? Did that freak her out? Or is it normal?

    I agree completely with Elizabeth's comments above. It's like she read my mind! (Or I read hers, maybe?) The air freshener line is a nice touch, and I love Elizabeth's suggestion that she's left alone with the scent, as the line as it is now distracted me a little, and at first I wondered if the smell was heralding something. And she's spot on for me about Leah anticipating the horror rather than hating it. Also, the line "It was coming from the mirror!" would be stronger to me without the exclamation point. More matter-of-fact creepy. :)

    I think you did a nice job in this version of not making the jump as big between her fear and her willingness to look in the mirror, and I like the added detail about Leah's premonitions. It made her motivation more plausible.

    I'm really intrigued by this story and look forward to the next revision!

  3. Hi Lora,

    I agree with Katy and Elizabeth that Leah's decision to look into the mirror is much more plausible in this version - nicely done. I wondered if it might be even more effective to have her see Kara or David in danger - simply because we've met them and feel a little more connection, but it works either way.

    Both Katy and Elizabeth suggested rewording the paragraph about hating the thrill of horror...I'd consider eliminating it altogether. It's showing rather than telling and you do a great job showing her fear through her physical actions and dialogue.

    There are a couple phrases that feel like cliches: alarm bells ringing in her head, rooted to the spot in terror.

    I love the interplay between Kara and David, but I wondered about the juxtaposition of Leah feeling like a 5th wheel and wanting them to have "the talk." Presumably if they started dating she would feel even more of an outsider?

    Overall, I think it's a good opening. Lots of tension and I'd definitely read on.

  4. One question - how does she know it's the guy's son that chases the girls into the forest? :D Otherwise I really enjoyed this. I agree with the above comments about the air freshener and wanting the others to have the talk. But I think it would be an easy fix to say the only thing worse than being a third wheel is having to sit there while they flirt but never admit they like each other or something much better - but you get the idea!! LOL

  5. Okay, I agree with the others about the air freshener. The way it's written suggests to me that maybe she wouldn't normally smell it, like it is signifying something else. I like the line, it's like I can smell it with her, I'm just wondering if that is the point.

    If the girls who died lived in Leah's house, then that makes the house about 145 years old? Would it make sense for Leah to rationalize that some of the things that happen are because the house is so old? Like the door sticking... whispering voices... etc. I don't know, just a thought.

    Looking forward to the next revision. I wish I could keep reading this story!

  6. Hi Lora,

    I like this version better and you've done a lot of great work. I still feel the situation is implausible at its root because if they do this every year, she's going to know they're not going to pick a comedy, and they are all going to have their traditions that they adhere to. Call attention to the things that they do differently instead of the things they do the same, and it will feel more natural that way.

    The mirror feels much more plausible, but I think it may be too early for us to be in a situation that calls for such elevated anxiety on her part. i'd like to know more about the set up and what she's like before we delve into that. Show us what makes her unique and interesting as an MC, and show us more of the deliciously creepy set up in this town!