Monday, September 23, 2013

1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Yuen Rev 2

Name: Sunni Yuen
Genre: Young Adult Sci-Fi
Title: The Germ Factory

Saskia splayed her fingers over the old-fashioned cash register. The muted sheen of the long brass keys reflected the pink of her nail polish. Perfect. It was a drowsy spot in the afternoon, and she reveled in the quiet, which was surprising considering she had company. She looked away from the register to her left, where Chloe Lim leafed through the dog-eared pages of a detective novel Saskia did not recognize. Across the counter, March was absorbed with applying a bead of Elmer’s glue to his stamp book. Stamps were his latest obsession. Good. They were entertaining themselves without mucking about the store.

She gazed down the sun-dappled aisles, inhaling the comforting scent of paprika and honey. The shelves were laden with bottles of sunflower seed oil, chocolate wafers, and loaves of poppy-seed bread. The beets and pickles glowed ruby and moss green in their jars.

The corner of Saskia’s mouth twitched upwards. She had worked hard all summer at the till and stocking inventory to show Uncle Peter she could run the store. And now, it was actually happening. She, Saskia Brennan, age fifteen, one week shy of high school, was managing the store without any adult supervision. Once school started, she could work late afternoons and weekends freeing Uncle Peter to focus on his research.

“Why are you smiling? No one else is here,” Chloe asked. She wore a petulant expression and slumped low on her stool, legs dangling.

“I’m here,” March said without looking up from his stamps.

“I meant customers. People who matter,” Chloe amended before she clamped her lips around a red braid of licorice and sucked hard.

Saskia suppressed a sigh. That behavior might be tolerated from a ten-year-old like March but definitely not a high school student. Sometimes she found it hard to believe Chloe used to be her closest friend. But that was before Chloe fell in with the computer geek crowd and began rejecting anything mainstream. At least March was still the same boisterous boy, even if he was a pain-in-the-neck to his sister. But that was Chloe’s problem.

“Don’t listen to her, Saskia,” March said. “Chloe’s grumpy because she wants to play that dumb computer game but Mom and Dad made us come here.”

Chloe slipped her licorice in the centerfold of her open paperback and snapped the covers together. “Excuse me, dumb game?”

“Dumb and boring. All you do is shoot smoke rings in Pig’s Quest,” March taunted.

“Pygmalion’s Quest isn’t about brainless button-mashing,” Chloe declared. “It’s about design. You pick an avatar and you decide what special powers it gets by writing code. Like firebolts for my mage! I had to work out the physics of the temperature and the speed depending on the angle.”

“So if a robber attacks, Chloe can save us!” March laughed.

“Can we please not talk about robbers?” Saskia interrupted. She wasn’t superstitious but she could not help glancing out the window. Luckily, the street was clear. A robber was the last thing she wanted to think about on her first day working unsupervised.

Chloe’s eyes shone. “March brought up robbers, not me. But there’s more. The first team to finish Pygmalion’s Quest gets to help design the next game from Fossilware. I mean they’re only the most cutting-edge developer ever! It’s pure torture to be this close and not finish when school is about to get in the way.”

“Get in the way?” Saskia shook her head. “Gee Chloe, high school actually matters. You need to join the debate club or Model UN and build your resume, learn to put on makeup, dance with boys–” Seeing Chloe flail her arms about in a mock waltz, Saskia pressed her lips together. Chloe needed to grow up, badly. Saskia only endured her out of respect for Uncle Peter, who remained close to the Lims.

“What should I be learning?” asked March in what Saskia recognized as his give-me-attention tone.

“Fractions and to stop rolling down hills like a feral child,” Saskia said and she jabbed a key on the register for emphasis. The metallic clang punctuated the silence followed by tinkling wind chimes. A customer had arrived. Good thing too because March looked like he was about to ask and discover what “feral” meant, which would have resulted in an argument.

The customer hovered inside the entrance. He was tall and his broad shoulders were hunched over in a rumpled trench coat that fluttered to his ankles. He wore a battered fedora, under which Saskia could see a deeply lined forehead. He looked haggard. He wordlessly surveyed the store, eyes roving down the aisles to the back where Uncle Peter kept his workshop.

Saskia tossed her hair over her shoulder and greeted the man with a weak smile. She walked up to him and offered a pair of tongs and wax envelope. “Can I help you?” She spoke in her most grown-up voice.
He leaned close, and she caught the odor of burnt matches and sour yeast. He licked his lips. “Where’s the hive?”

“Excuse me?” Saskia’s nostrils curled. There was something unsettling about this man. His hand kept drifting to the pocket by his left hip, as if he sought to reassure himself that something was still there.

“The hive,” he repeated as he took the tongs and envelope from Saskia. “Where is it?”

“If you’re looking for honey,” Saskia said, fishing for comprehension. “It’s in the far left aisle.”

The man lumbered in that direction, pockets clinking. Saskia watched him stoop over the bins and snatch handfuls of dried apricots, toffee, and black pepper crusted walnuts. These he jammed into the same wax envelope. It was going to be a headache to ring him up.

The man had opened a jar of beets and was now running his finger along the inner rim. He stuck it in his mouth and smacked his lips. “Trace remnants of elementals.” He whistled softly, rapping on the walls. “Where are you hiding?”

Saskia stiffened. What was he rambling about? He patted the pocket by his left hip again, briefly flashing a black metal handle. Saskia craned her neck for a better view from behind the counter. A finger jabbed her forearm and she nearly yelped.

“See the pocket by his left hip? There’s an L-shaped object inside. I think—I think it’s a gun!” Chloe whispered.

“Don’t be ridiculous. This isn’t a game,” Saskia growled under her breath but she trained her eyes on the trench coat. The man was now in the back of the store near Uncle Peter’s workbench. That pocket was out of her line of sight but she could see others. Did they conceal weapons? There was a flash of silver. She squinted at the reflection in the rear wall-mounted mirror. No, just a pair of tongs. Wait, tongs. The store’s tongs. Another pocket gaped open, revealing the bottle cap of ginger beer, also from the store. She watched in shock as Uncle Peter’s microscope slid neatly into the same pocket.

Saskia seized Chloe’s elbow and pulled her to the back of the store. The man was hunched over the paper, tools, and gears scattered across the workbench. His right thumb repeatedly flicked a lighter on and off. “The hive is in the safe,” he muttered. “Safe. If they won’t give it to us, we’ll break in and smoke’m. Smoke’m all out.”

Safe? Smoke? Saskia’s mouth contorted as he brought the lighter towards the corner of Uncle Peter’s notebook.


  1.'ve gotten this so smooth, I can't find anything to edit. Only one suggestion:

    “See the pocket by his left hip?" CHLOE WHISPERED. "There’s an L-shaped object inside. I think—I think it’s a gun!” (My suggestion is in caps. If you put this sooner, then we know earlier who is speaking.)

    Other than that, it's golden.

    LOVE the descriptions of the store. Makes me want to shop there myself!

  2. Hi Sunni,

    I like the changes you've made during the month. The pace is strong and it is clear why the characters are in the scene. My one suggestion comes under the heading of 'picky points' -- when the customer enters, instead of relying on two 'to be' verbs in the 2nd sentence, perhaps revise/restructure and mix up the verb choices?

    Great job on the excerpt.

  3. Hi Sunni,

    Great revision. You've retained the charm of your characters and setting while increasing tension around the question of intruders.

    Here's a line I really like: "She, Saskia Brennan, age fifteen, one week shy of high school, was managing the store without any adult supervision." You could consider pulling that into the first paragraph. I think it would give an interesting focus to your opening.

    At the other end of your first five, I love the detail in the description of the stranger's arrival. I'm right there with Saskia as she watches him snatching handfuls of food, rapping on walls, flicking a lighter on and off.

    Best of luck with this!


  4. Okay! I am intrigued, and I would read on. I still wonder why Chloe and her bro are hanging there if they're not really good friends anymore...

  5. Thanks all for your helpful comments :) This workshop is superb.

  6. I am so so sorry I haven't replied sooner! Eeep! I agree with a lot of the other comments: the description of the store is so vivid and enjoyable. I think you really improved by not dwelling so much on the video game and the tension is super high when the guy comes in. I agree that I want a bit more of why they are hanging out. Maybe a little dialogue to clue us in to what they used to do together and why Saskia feels she has moved on. I'm intrigued that this is sci-fi and I'd want to read on to find out what the game and guy have to do with her uncle etc! Thanks for all of your comments on my stuff. Sorry again for the delay!