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: Patrick Norton Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Title: The Hollow - The Fox and The Dragon
Sunup. He’s late.
Ryder pulled up his sleeve to check his watch, and then peeked around the musty lace curtain into the dim room. His eyelids were heavy, and he swallowed a yawn. The late night sparing sessions with his uncle were starting to take their toll.
Where the hell is he?
A creak from the bedroom door answered him as an immense shadow tiptoed across the floor, pausing in front of Ryder’s bed. The man crouched and leapt over the footboard, splashing onto a pile of pillows strategically shaped like a sleeping Ryder. The lumpy mattress smooshed to the ground, the box spring screaming from the massive weight pressing it to the floor. Ryder stepped from behind the curtain and pulled a tarnished poker from the spent ash of the fireplace.
"And what are you going to do with that?" the man asked, his bushy face half buried in a feather pillow. He rolled and grunted until he wobbled to his feet, then pulled a dull brown sword from his belt. "All right, boy, let's see what kind of poker player you are."
Ryder shook his head.
The man lunged, but Ryder sidestepped the blade, deflecting it easily with his ashy poker. He tried to counterattack, but the man backhanded him across the room, splitting his bottom lip. Ryder stumbled, but regained his footing.
"Since when do heroes slap?" Ryder said, licking the blood from his lip. He inched backwards toward the closet and waved at his assailant, beckoning him to attack.
“Im not the hero right now, remember?” Tiberius said. He lowered his head and charged. Thunderous footsteps shook the room, the floorboards creaking under each booted footfall. Ryder stood his ground, pressing his back against the closet door. When his uncle was close enough to smell his aftershave, Ryder rolled to the ground and slapped him on the rear with the poker as he passed. Tiberius spun around, crashing butt-first through the closet door and wall, and halfway into the next room. The closet caved in, raining clothes and hangers onto the defeated swordsman.
Ryder picked up the fallen sword, and crossed it with the poker against his uncle’s neck. "Had enough?"
Tiberius blew the sleeve of a striped purple turtleneck out of his eye. "From a scrawny little chicken like you? I don’t think so."
Ryder flicked the sword at his uncle's chin, lopping off a chunk of gray beard. The blade was sharper than it looked.
Tiberius raised his hands in the air. "All right boy, you win, I surrender."
Ryder flipped the sword around, offering the hilt to his uncle. "It was a lot closer this time," he said.
"Oh, so you're gettin' cute with me now? Never mind that I warned you an ambush was coming -- a courtesy few enemies will ever give you. All right then, let's get me up."
Ryder stared at the outstretched hand. His uncle was not a lean man, being at least twice Ryder's height and who knows how many times his girth. Nevertheless, Ryder grabbed the wrinkled hand and dug in his heels, but his socks just skated across the wood floor.
"Who woulda thought," Tiberius said, panting. "The great Tiberius bested by his puny little nephew. I'd be the laughingstock of the Hollow."
"I've had a good teacher."
Tiberius sat up and looked out the window, where the curtain was half ripped off. "Yeah maybe, but I'm runnin' out of tricks. You know everything I know, and you've heard every tale I can tell ya. I noticed you used the Samson move." Tiberius dusted wooden shards off his pant leg. "How you remember every little thing I say is beyond me. I got nothing left."
Ryder inspected the shattered closet, remembering a story his uncle had told him about the ancient hero Samson. Outnumbered and out-muscled, he caved in a great temple to defeat his enemies, sacrificing himself in the process. Tiberius always prattled on about heroes: who they were, the battles they fought, the villains and creatures they hunted. Ryder's ears drank in every word. Tales about faraway places like Lyra, Atlantis, and Raleon. Stories of the wars he'd fought in the Dread Lands and the Valley of Giants -- fantastic places hidden deep in the Hollow, the world inside the world.
"A good teacher and a good storyteller," Ryder said.
"Well, I hope you listen good to those stories. I won't always be here for you, and when the time comes... I just hope you're ready."
"Ready for what?"
Tiberius rocked back and forth like a turtle before lumbering to his feet, still covered in Ryder's clothes. "Nothing. Another story for another time."
Ryder was used to his uncle's riddles, and didn't press the issue. He could dig for answers, but the usual response was a quiet and sometimes sad uncle. For such a jolly guy, the wrong questions brought tears surprisingly often.
"Whatever it is, I'll be ready." Ryder stuffed the fire poker in his belt. "And if it's danger, don't worry -- I'll protect you."
Tiberius peeled a staticky sweater off his chest and flung it at Ryder's head. "You're a special kind of brat, you know that? Rematch later; but for now, pack up. We're leaving."
Ryder pulled the sweater off his face, replacing it with a frown. "Again? But I like it here!"
"Sorry, Fox, It’s not safe anymore. Someday you'll understand." Tiberius dug through the rubble of the closet and wrestled out a beat up suitcase. "But hopefully not too soon." He gave Ryder a half smile and limped out the door.
Ryder kicked the lid of his suitcase open and tossed the sweater in. The rest of his clothes were a scattered mess mixed in with broken closet parts and chalky bits of drywall. Frustrated, he booted the suitcase across the floor and plopped down on his ruffled bed. He doubted he'd ever understand. He was used to moving, but they'd been at this farm for going on two years. He'd hoped their traveling was over, and he could try school again. Sixth grade was his last expulsion but he was old enough to try high school this year. The first few attempts at school had ended poorly, and always led to them migrating to a new town. The classes just didn't make sense; none of it did, especially given what he'd learned from his uncle.
His teacher laughed about the old days when people were dumb enough to believe the world was flat. “Some even feared you could sail right off the edge.” Ms. Bilsby instructed. “Can you imagine?”
But now they know better, convinced by science that the earth is round and full of lava.
“Full of lava?“ A baffled Tiberius would correct when Ryder got home. “A little in the Dread Lands sure but full of it? Sounds like this Bilsby lady’s full of something if you ask me.”
Ryder never knew who to believe. First it was elementary school, where his teacher could go on and on about leprechauns, but called a meeting with the principal when he tried to tell her about Draconian devilworms. He got off with a warning but that only lasted until the Easter Bunny incident. When he insisted that the Wild Hares of Ashtar, as it’s actually pronounced, had hooked fangs and drank centaur blood that had been that.
After his fourth expulsion for "insubordination," Tiberius decided to keep Ryder out of schools for good…