Free writing workshop for aspiring authors of young adult and middle grade fiction. The first five pages may be all that agents, editors, and readers read, so get them right with the help of three authors over the course of three weeks. During the third week, an agent will also critique your pages and your pitch and pick a workshop winner - the prize is a partial request!
Name: Shannon Cortazar Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Title: Silhouette
I never put much thought into the lives of orphans. Now, that worry has led me to leave today and find the source of our ruin. I watch from our kitchen doorway and wait for the rise and fall of my mothers’ chest. She’s weakened since we fled here. I see the thin fabric of her blouse swell. “Time to go.” I step to the mantle, leave a note tucked inside her glove and ease myself out the door. A blast of winter air tangles my hair in its talons as I step through. I pause and think this may be the last time I cross this threshold. Hidden under my mothers’ long wool coat is a blunt knife, dried meat and a water sack. “I’m sorry mom, this is the only way.”
I pass through the clapboard houses set in rows like gravestones. Almost a year has passed since I first saw this abandoned gypsy village from my father’s pick up. My mother insisted we hide here. “It’s a sacred place,” she said. “I don’t know why, I just know it will protect us.” I wasn’t so sure. “You were born near these mountains. Anything that pure is worth believing in,” she insisted. I was wary, but with no other options it’s where we settled.
Not much has changed except for smoke churning from chimneys and new graves in the cemetery. I reach Finn’s house, stop and crouch to the bottom of his door where I slip a note under the worn wood. Colorful chips of paint echo what I imagine used to be a place of celebration and living. The silence of its walls makes me think of his parents. He’s all that’s left of his family, except for mom and me. His parents didn’t make it to safety the day the Throne came. A lot of people didn’t. My family fled without a second thought, leaving everything behind. Finn was cutting our grass the day we heard our country was under siege by an unnatural race of people. My father had to drag him away, there was no time to search for anyone. He eventually gave in. He wouldn’t have made it otherwise.
From what I know, the Throne is gaining control of everything. I’ve seen their hold over the living through the memories of a sparrow. A gift, mom calls it. Though I’ve come to disagree. Nowadays it feels like a curse. They murder or maim anyone who doesn’t pledge allegiance to them and receive a mark inside their wrists. It’s young girls they seek the most. Girls who’ve aged sixteen years. Girls like me. I suppose they think we’ll go willingly and beg for salvation. But I’m not a begging kind of girl. They’ll have to try and take me, I dare them.
That darkness seeds from the woman at their helm, they call her Elin. It’s her that searches for the girls, to find one girl. Her words are what prompted my purpose today. “Find her,” she said to one of her legion. “Look for the divine Auspice, it comes in the form of a sparrow. It will lead you to the girl.” “She’s a sentient, and our only way back to our kingdom.” I knew then, weeks ago when the sparrow came to me. But I waited. Fear mostly. But I decided if I can find her, maybe I can kill her. Or at least keep them from coming here. Somehow. I won’t be her prey. She will be mine.
No one is in sight as I walk along the uneven paths leading to the stone wall surrounding our village. I see only shadows peeking from behind clouded windows. I look back to see if mom is following. Nothing but rows of depressed shacks, tattered clothes grey with age hanging to dry and the mountain behind us. I think fear of the Throne more than the winter chill keeps the people here shut in. Most know the paper thin walls won’t hold off their legion. We just don’t say it out loud.
I see a raven’s shadow glide away from the timber. The ground is littered with their ink stained feathers, our one triumph against the Throne. My eyes follow the trail of plumage across the pocked earth and I hear a break in the air above me.
The dull thwack of an arrow pierces the foul creatures’ flesh and it fall’s dead at my feet.
The ravens, we realized a while back, are seekers for the Throne. Their ploy, controlling the minds of predators. But this one won’t be returning to their keep. He won’t be giving us away today.
“Another one down.” I say. “Countless more to go.”
I turn and see an archer high in the watchtower, lowering his bow. The grin on his face is enough to lighten my mood. Finn. It’s his watch and he left a note on my door to meet him. I expect he has a birthday gift for me. He’s a good friend, lately I think he hopes for something more.
“How many is that today O’Leary?” I shout.
“I’ve lost count.” “Hey.” There’s a change in his voice now, it’s soft, almost tender. I immediately look away.
“Noelle,” he says.
A person could get lost in his grey eyes. His dark hair and pale skin make them seem to glow. A strapping young man, some of the elder women call him. His beauty seems out of place in this ugliness. He’s been different lately. Smitten is what mom says. Though I don’t know if it’s out of kindness or desperation. Maybe he just wants to hold onto something other than misery
A flutter in my chest makes my breath hitch. The way he says my name makes me think of velvet, the soft flow and warmth of it. Its beauty would be wasted on my pale lifeless skin. I look up to him and a pang of guilt cuts my thoughts short.
“Happy birthday, your grace.”
I roll my eyes.
“Thanks.” I say and roll my eyes. “You coming down soon?”
“Maybe you should come up here. I could let down my hair for you to climb up—.”
“Ha ha. You know that’s not a good idea.”
“You’re probably right,” he says resting his elbows on the tower rail. “I’d be too distracted by your beauty.”
“I know, I know. Boundaries,” his voice sounds deflated.
“See you in a while?” I ask and look up to him. Though I know I won’t. It’s better he doesn’t know. I wait for him to answer. But he just looks at me. Not an angry or pleading look. One that says, I won’t falter. I have to tear my eyes away from his. I won’t. No, can’t cling to something that will bring both of us heartache. I’m not that strong.
“Yeah, see you in a while,” he says as I walk away.
Farther across the courtyard are my brother and father. I see their graves through a rusted iron gate. Frost, our surname, carved in wood at the base of an angels’ robes. They hunted deer and tapped for fresh water on the mountain behind of our village. A pack of wolves attacked them both. They made it to the village, but infection is what killed them in the end. The water they searched for came trickling out the next day. They still took care of us even in death.