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, Rev 2
Alyssa watched the raven watching her. She’d heard they were mystical messengers between humans and the spirit world and wondered if this one carried a message. Stepping toward the bird, she glanced over her shoulder at the blanket on the grass with her family’s picnic remains. Her exhausted parents had pushed the leftovers to the side so they could doze. She promised herself she’d be back before they woke and walked closer to the raven. Why is it watching me so much? Am I’m special? Could it have a message for me?
Sometimes she communicated with her Jack Russell terrier, Sparky, without words. It was more like sharing feelings and pictures in their minds. Could I do the same thing with this bird that I don’t even know?
The raven cocked his head and looked down at her with one eye. Is it a boy or girl? She pushed her question to him but didn’t receive an answer. The raven perched a few trees away and Alyssa hesitated before hurrying down a game trail to catch up. She thought it felt like a boy, even though she had no way of knowing.
She kicked at a pinecone; winter was coming, so this was their last trip to the park this year. She zipped her windbreaker against the breeze and tried to catch up with the raven, which she found perching on a rock a few yards ahead. Raven, do you have a message for me? Can you tell me how to fit in with the others? Why am I so different? The bird looked back at her and gave a gruff call.
Stopping, Alyssa stared at him until her vision blurred. Blinking didn’t help, so she shut her eyes. As she focused and opened her mind to receive his pictures or feelings, she saw colors swirling behind her eyelids. In her mind’s eye, she looked down from a position high above, seeing a petite, blonde girl in a red windbreaker and blue shorts. There was a haze of light surrounding the girl as she stood with her head tipped back and eyes closed. Alyssa blinked, and the scene cleared. She’d done it! She’d didn’t communicate with him -- she’d merged with him and looked with his eyes! She never would have thought that was even possible, but she’d done it! She twirled and fist-pumped the air, wishing she had a friend with her to tell.
She hurried to keep up with the raven as he fluttered to the left of the trail. He perched on a rocky outcropping above her and croaked before gliding to a dead branch below. She continued as he fluttered in a constant string of little hops from branch to branch, branch to rock, rock to grass, then grass to tree.
The wind kicked up and rain sprinkled in her hair; storm clouds gathered overhead. Pulling up her jacket hood, she wondered how long she’d been gone. The raven flew over the trees, crossed the valley to her left, and angled up, ending their game. Unable to follow, she sighed and began the trip back to her family. Alyssa looked around for the trail, frowning. Retracing her steps over a field of rocks, she reached the place where the rocks faded out and grass grew again but saw no trail.
“Mom? Dad?” She called periodically, hoping to hear her parents in return.
Dark descended as she searched for the trail, finding only trees, rocks, and weeds. Her shouts grew louder and more frantic. Determined not to dissolve into a crying heap like a child, she cringed as lightning cracked. Won’t the lightening like the tallest trees? Not a short thing like me?
She left the meadow for the relative safety of the trees where she found a place under the broad branches of an evergreen tree that was almost dry. The musty smell made her sneeze. Her stomach clenched and she tried not to think about her thirst or darkness. Tears pressed at her eyelids as she thought about how anxious her parents would be now. Man, I’ll be grounded for years when they find me.
Could I look through the raven’s eyes to find my parents? Her heart sank as she realized that wouldn’t work. She didn’t know where he was and had no idea how to do it again. She wiped her nose on her sleeve, but it just kept running as her tears soaked her face. She rested her head and arms on her knees, exhausted.
She jerked awake, instantly attuned to the darkness. What’s out there? Holding her breath, she listened. The rain had eased and she heard something moving among the trees. Is that a bear? A mountain lion? Heavy footsteps came from behind, and then paused. No one had a flashlight or called her name, so it wasn’t human. Surely I’m too small and scrawny to be a good meal. Or would being young make me tender and tasty?
She couldn’t remember the Ranger’s instructions on their last trip. Do I make myself look big or small? Make noise or look dead? There were different rules for different predators. Big or small? Loud or dead? She searched for a weapon and grabbed a branch on the ground, only to discover that it was really a tree root, with the end buried deep in the ground. Oh my God, it’s coming closer! It knows I’m here.
Abandoning the root, she leaped toward a shiny rock partially hidden in the murky shadows beneath the tree. She scrabbled at the rock, but it wouldn't budge. She heard the thing move closer. Loud or dead? Big and dead? Good as dead? Unable to see much in the dark, every instinct told her to run. She bolted, running as fast as she could through the trees.
The rain had slowed, but clouds blocked the moonlight. She was one of the fastest kids in her class, but she couldn't run all-out here. There were roots and rocks that she couldn’t see poking up everywhere. She fell, skinning her knees and hands. Jumping up, she looked over her shoulder. Did the creature stop or was I too noisy to hear it?There it is again! She ran through the woods, never seeing the rock that tripped her. One moment she was running, and the next she was sailing through the air. She threw her hands out to catch herself, but landed hard and hit her face on the ground. Pain stabbed up her arms and she lost consciousness.
She woke to birdsong. Her head felt like she'd been clubbed, and panic rose as she realized she couldn’t see. She cried and her face stung as her tears found several cuts and scrapes. For some reason, whenever she tried to move her hands, they seemed to go the wrong way and pain shot from her fingertips to elbow. She tried to lift them to her eyes, but the pain made her quit half way to her face. Something’sbroken, she thought.
“Help! Help me!” She called over and over until her voice was a whisper. No response. Tears loosened the muck around her eyelids though, which she wiped gently on each shoulder. It hurt, but fear of unending darkness was far worse. The right eye opened a little; she sat on a long narrow rock platform. The cliff at her back loomed straight up; climbing up was impossible. Below her ledge was nothing for a long way.