Monday, September 23, 2013

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Walker Rev 2

Name: Ashley Walker
Genre: Middle Grade Adventure
Title: Once Upon a Tiger

PROLOGUE

When Mei’s mother died, 47 cats attended her funeral.

Some human friends came too, of course, and Mother's colleagues from Chinatown's Cat Clinic. But it was mostly American shorthairs and a handful of more exotic breeds. Chartreux. Manx. The Siamese even made it.

The cats arrived in carriers and carts, a few on leashes. To each who rubbed a furry condolence, Mei scratched thanks.

Throughout the service, the cats sat and slept and slinked between Mei's knees. The Persian groomed. The Sphinx gazed. In the mortuary's glow, the cats' pupils narrowed into tiny exclamation points. Their yellow seemed to say: GONE! After only one life?

“Gone, but not forgotten,” the minister monotoned.

When he wheeled the coffin away, a post-op Persian wailed, his cry rasping like a sandpapery goodbye kiss. Pfsssst! Reaching down to touch behind his pinna, Mei flooded the e-collar with tears as her own eyes filled with a protest: Mother can't just GO like this!

Cats were her calling and she was always on call for them. Dr. Jun Chang was the only one in Chinatown who saw all 73 breeds. And not only that. People brought her rabbits and rodents and retired fighting crickets. She never turned an animal away… Mei ran a sleeve across soggy cheeks remembering how some of Mother’s clients didn't pay because they couldn't pay.


Later, looking back, Mei would say that this was where it started.

The stealing.

What else could she do?

When Jun Chang died, the clinic wouldn't treat the poor animals. No free tapeworm tabs for tomcats, no Selederm for scabby Siamese. No one would administer Advantix to Chinatown's alley cats.

So Mei did. Mei became a cat burglar — albeit a new kind, one who stole for cats.



CHAPTER ONE

Duì. Bu. Qi…

Mei ran a finger under each Chinese character. Lifting the little placard from the classroom doorknob, she struggled through the translation.

Do. Not. Rise.

It was a kind of apology. Something said to calm. Blowing bangs off her forehead, Mei rolled her eyes. She hated calming. And apologies.

Sorry, sorry, sorry. In the months since Jun departed and Mei arrived at Pan Chou Academy, she'd heard 'sorry' so many times. It was a stupid thing to say. (Unless you killed the corpse.) And as for ‘duì bu qi’… Well, saying that about the dead was really rubbing it in.

Mei dropped the placard without reading the rest. As the sign smacked back against the door, she gripped the handle. There’d be no apologies of that sort today.

"Sorry, Mei."

Startled, Mei spun around to see her only (and, really, only-sometimes) friend rush down the hallway. Wen Wu hopped between newly washed black floor tiles, reading as she ran. “Sorry, Classroom Closed for Cleaning.” Wen paused to offer a familiar warning. "Mei, don't make a mess of things."

Mei waved her off with the back of a hand. "I won't even leave a fingerprint." Then, putting one Converse in front of the other, she entered the empty Culture Classroom. Though Mei’s heart hammered, her steps stayed silent. Smooth. No mess.

But as she wove through the desks en route to the Silk Spinning Display, Mei’s palms went all sweaty and her lips dried right up. She stubbed the toe of a squeaky sneaker. Twice.

This wasn't going well. Wasn't very cat burglar-y.

Then again, Mei wasn't stealing for cats this time. Today ‘for cats’ didn’t capture the scope of her crime. Mei smiled a little at the thought of that. It worked, on balance, because ‘stealing’ had been an exaggeration. It wasn’t really an offense to sneak back into the clinic for supplies that Mei stocked herself. Ditto for Uncle Shen's pet shop, where she helped herself after the clinic rekeyed the locks. Although Mei’s guardian didn't believe in charity (he wasn't running “a damn sanctuary”), she’d kept the theft in the family.

Until now.

Mei stopped, soles screeching, before the Silk Harvesting station. Forcing a breath — in and out — she imagined Jun Chang's fingers expertly threading a needle, finding a vein. In. And out. When Mei’s hands ceased trembling, she made a swift and surgical swipe. In …

Out, out, out!

Cupped inside curled fingers, the stuff felt as light as air and soft as silk. But Mei wasn't after the display's pricey material or the means to make it. She wanted the larvae, the grub, the worms — Bombix mori.

Really, lifting the silkworms was an act of saving not stealing. Once they spun cocoons, the teacher planned to take the silk and, with it, the lives of the moths inside. Mei gritted her teeth. She wouldn’t be accomplice to murder — even tiny ones. Jun never abandoned an animal. Not cat, not cricket.

As the final bell rang to end the school day, Mei slipped the silkworms into a box she’d origamied for the job. Dashing to the door, she peered through its small square of glass to check her get-away...

Holy cr— cats! The hall was crawling with predators. It was host to a whole pride of middle-aged women prowling around in search of teachers to set on with questions.

Tiger Mothers.

And Mei had no champion among them.

A growl rose in Mei’s throat. She’d have to sneak out the back, claw her way over the fence. Anything to avoid Tiger Mothers.

Racing to the window, Mei hoisted it right up and squeezed through. Then, pushing the pane down with the pain, she made her escape.

Mei ran until, breathless, she reached the foggy blacktop. It was empty, except for a few girls shivering in shorts. Perfect. No sign of the Games Teacher. Mei's heart beat down as she spied the back fence through the mist.

But, just then, Mei heard someone — several someones, in fact —walking and whispering a few paces behind her. Although spoken softly, their words stuck, sure as shed, to the “sty-lish new girl” in her “fur infested coat” and “Purina perfume.” At Mei’s old school, no one noticed how she looked. None of the vet techs in the clinic where Mei homeschooled ever gave her a second sniff. But at Pan Chou Academy, kids sneezed when she arrived. Actual achoos!

When the footsteps stopped, a girl called out, “She’ll Flinch.”

Clutching the silkworm box to her chest, Mei ignored the challenge.

“If she doesn’t …” another began, “Wen will.”

That growl rumbled in Mei’s throat again as she stopped to set the box down behind her pack. Turning, Mei saw Jasmine Robinson-Lui standing at the head of a circle, arm upraised and fingers curled around something. Mei couldn’t leave Wen to find out what Jasmine hid in her fist.

Mei stepped up to her place in the ring of girls she called ‘Ers’. Fashioned from Mei’s translation of the Chinese word for ‘two’, the Ers were kids with two names and too much of everything else. The Smith-Tangs and Chin-Lees and Li-Roberts. Kids with twice the backing of Mei and Wen. Kids who were richER, meaner, and stupidER.

When Mei's eyes met Wen's, she raised a brow — Ers?

Wen lowered hers. The answer from beneath Wen’s neatly sheared bangs was an unmistakable: yes, Ers! And I don’t need your help with them.

But she so did. Wen needed Mei on the blacktop as much as Mei needed Wen in the classroom.

Mei crossed her arms, feeling a surge of fierce determination to save her ungrateful friend...

5 comments:

  1. Hi Ashley,

    I think the revisions make it clear that Mei is stealing treatment supplies and not providing advanced medical care -- which clears up the questions I had before. There's also a much clearer sense of setting, time and place throughout so the reader can stay focused on the action and characters and not get lost. I still enjoy the humor in the early moments with the cats at the funeral. Nice editing work.

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  2. Nice revision.

    Now I'm not sure if Wen goes in the room with the silk worms with Mei, or does she meet up with her afterwards?

    Does Wen say the bit about the Ers out loud? I'm guessing not, but had to think about it.

    Otherwise, I like this revision a lot!

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  3. The only thing that caught my eye this time (and it took three passes keep in mind) is whether kids will know what "tiger mothers" are. :D Otherwise, awesome!

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  4. Well done, Ashley!

    With this revision, you've infused the text with Mei's internal journey -- her perspective and relationship frames the world while propelling her external adventures, all while sustaining the energy . that's a tough thing to accomplish without feeling frenzied.

    One thread that you've introduced and should be explored is the difference between Mei's mother and the perceived tiger mothers. The term tiger mom is loaded so the reader will benefit from a steer on what it means to Mei and in her world.

    Origamied is a great word choice. I would love to read more.

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  5. I so love the tension in all of this now. I can see Mei sneaking around quite vividly. I also love the idea of an ungrateful friend. I definitely had one of those growing up. I agree that you've really clarified the setting and the action. I followed it easily and felt compelled to read on.

    I am so sorry I didn't comment sooner. I wish you tons of luck with this piece I think the character is one I'd love to follow.

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