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: Karel Hadacek Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Title: The Wayward Path
The large black bird watched the young girl sitting on the rock, turning her face to the sun and an ear to the sounds of the forest around her. Alyssa heard the breeze whispering through the leaves, squirrels chattering, insects buzzing, and occasional bird squeaks, rasps and trumpets. She loved this meadow nestled in the mountains and wanted to stay forever. For a moment, she thought the wind whispered its secrets to her, and then the words were lost. She pulled her knees to her chest and scanned the sky, pausing at the raven watching her. She read about them in school, where the teacher said they ate carrion as a part of nature’s recycling team. But her grandma said they’re also mystical messengers between humans and the spirit world. She craned her head to her feet to get a better look. What kind of tail? Besides being bigger than crows, ravens had a tail that came to a point in the middle, not straight like crows, so she had to see the bird’s tail. When she saw the chevron tail, she jumped to her feet and clambered toward the black flash.
She stepped toward the bird, hesitating as she glanced over her shoulder at the blanket on the grass with her family’s picnic remains. Her parents had pushed the leftovers to the side and were snuggled together, dozing. She wouldn't be long and wouldn't go far, she promised herself. If I’m lucky, I’ll see its nest.
She shaded her eyes against the sunlight slicing through the trees and clouds. It might rain later, but for now, the clouds looked lazy and nonthreatening. She crept toward the raven perched on a branch at the meadow’s edge. Sometimes she thought she communicated with her Jack Russell terrier, Sparky, without words. Whenever she imagined how fun their walks were, Sparky wagged his tail and jump at his leash on the hook beside the door. But when she was sad and didn't want to play, he'd settle in her lap and snuggle. He didn't even look at the leash on those days. She didn't think they communicated with words; it was more like they shared feelings and pictures in their minds. Could she communicate the same way with this bird?
The raven cocked his head and looked down at her with one eye. Is it a boy or girl? Hmmm, a boy, she thought he told her. Just when she felt a thread of communication with him, she lost it. The raven flew to a perch a few trees away, and Alyssa hesitated, considering. Her parents were still blurs of color through the trees and meadow grasses. She was supposed to stay within sight of the picnic blanket, so she was still in the safety zone. The pine woods were dusty and dense, and she’d get lost if she followed him too far. She spotted a game trail through the woods and hurried to catch up to the bird. She felt safe knowing that the trail leading her a few steps away would also take her back.
She focused on the raven again, and her vision blurred. She blinked, which didn’t help, so she shut her eyes. In her mind’s eye, Alyssa thought she looked down from a position high above, seeing a petite, blonde girl in a red windbreaker and blue shorts. The colors were brighter and somehow different than the way the colors usually looked to her. She blinked, and the scene cleared. What was that?She looked at the raven and knew that he had something to do with it. “Is that what I look like to you, Sir Raven?” Disappointed when the image faded, she increased her pace to keep up with him as he fluttered to the left of the trail. She was eager to experience his vision again.
The raven perched on a rocky outcropping above her and croaked. She wondered what he saw. Was he looking for food? Was he watching her? Why wasn’t he flying to his nest? Did he have a mate? Eggs?Certain that she’d seen herself through his eyes, she tried to do it again. Would he make a good pet? Could she take him home with her?
When the rain started, she’d followed him a fair distance down the trail. She shivered as the wind kicked up, and big drops pelted her face. She zipped her windbreaker, pulled up the hood, and wondered how long she’d been gone. The raven flew over the trees, crossed the valley to her left, and angled up and away with strong beats of his wings. Unable to follow, she sighed and began the trip back to the meadow. She’d followed him as he’d fluttered from branch to branch, branch to rock, rock to grass, then grass to tree, in a constant string of little hops. She’d followed one small step at a time, not noticing how far they'd gone.
Focusing on the trail now, rather than the bird, she looked around, startled. She couldn't see the meadow with their picnic blanket. She looked for the game trail that would lead back to the meadow and saw just a field of rocks, no trail. She started back the way she'd come, hoping to find the trail at the bottom where the grass grew again. She clutched her windbreaker around her, cold and hungry. The light was fading, and she wanted to reach her parents before dark. She called out to her parents periodically, hoping to hear them call in return.
Dark descended as she continued searching for the trail, but all she saw was trees, rocks, and weeds. Her shouts for her parents became louder and more frantic. She swallowed a sob, promising herself that she wouldn’t cry. Although determined not to dissolve into a crying heap like a little girl, she had to admit she was scared. Lightning cracked and she cringed. She hoped the tall trees framing the rocky area would attract the lightning rather than a small thing like her.
The long narrow meadow she found herself in wasn’t the one where they’d picnicked. Stomach clenching, she moved into the trees to find shelter from the rain. She found a place under the thick branches of a prickly evergreen tree that was almost dry. It smelled dank and musty, making her sneeze. Her stomach growled and she tried not to think about her hunger, thirst, or the growing darkness.
Hopeless, tears trickled down her cheeks. Where could her parents be? They would be worried by now, and she'd be grounded for years when they found her. Panic drove her crying to a frenzy of sobs and a runny nose that wouldn’t quit. How could she have gotten so lost?She wished she could communicate with them like she could with Sparky. But even if she could, what would she say? The trees all looked alike; she could only show them that she was in the trees. Even the raven had left her.
She wanted to look down with the raven’s eyes to hunt for her parents, but when she shut her eyes, she couldn't do it. She didn't remember doing anything special the first time and had no idea how to do it again. She wiped her nose on her sleeve, but it didn’t matter; her nose just kept running. She slumped, resting her head and arms on her knees, exhausted.