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 were starting to take their toll.
Where the hell is he?
A creak from the bedroom door answered him as Tiberius tiptoed across the floor, pausing in front of Ryder’s bed. Tiberius crouched and leapt over the footboard, belly-flopping 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?" Tiberius asked, his bushy face half buried in a feather pillow. He rolled off the bed, and 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.
Tiberius lunged, but Ryder sidestepped the blade, deflecting it easily with his ashy poker. He tried to counterattack, but Tiberius backhanded him, 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, beckoning Tiberius to attack.
“Im not the hero right now, remember?” Tiberius 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 Tiberius was close enough for Ryder to smell his aftershave, Ryder rolled to the ground and slapped him with the poker as he passed. Tiberius spun around, crashing butt-first through the closet door and halfway into the back wall. 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 Tiberius’s neck. "Had enough?"
Tiberius blew the sleeve of a striped turtleneck out of his eye. "From you? Please."
Ryder flicked the sword at his 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 Tiberius. "It was a lot closer this time."
"Oh, so you're gettin' cute with me now? Never mind 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. Ryder grabbed the wrinkled hand and dug in his heels, but his socks just skated across the wood floor. Tiberius rocked back and forth like a turtle before lumbering to his feet, still covered in Ryder's clothes.
"Who woulda thought," Tiberius said, panting. "The great Tiberius bested by his puny nephew. I'd be the laughingstock of the Hollow."
"It’s your fault. You’re a good teacher."
Tiberius dusted wooden shards off his pant leg. "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."
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 looked out the window, where the curtain was half ripped off. "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 silence or a story about some monster he slayed.
"Whatever it is, I'll be ready." Ryder smacked his palm with the fire poker. "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 you said-"
"It’s not safe anymore.”
“What about school? You said I could try again.”
“I know, and we’ll try in the next town.”
Ryder threw the fire poker into his nightstand knocking a small globe to the ground. “It’s always the next town! How am I supposed to make friends? I’m 14 now, I don’t want to stay up all night fighting or learn how to blind sand harpies. Normal kids don’t do this.”
“I’m sorry Fox, 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. He booted the suitcase across the floor and sat on the edge of his ruffled bed.
He was used to moving, but Tiberius had promised that this town was different and he could try school again. 7th grade was his last expulsion but that was two years and three towns ago. His previous attempts at school always ended the same with either Tiberius pulling him out to move or Ryder getting kicked out, which happened often. Schools just didn't make sense, especially given what he'd learned from his uncle.
Ryder picked up the globe that had rolled off his nightstand. It was split at the equator and he pulled the two halves apart. Inside, Tiberius had drawn a map of the Hollow which he used for his lessons with Ryder.
Ryder had brought it to school once to settle an argument with his 6th grade teacher, who was convinced the earth was 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 that school’s full of something. Tell her about aliens tomorrow.”
He did and she wasn’t amused.
Ryder never knew who to believe. The confusion started years ago in elementary school where he earned his first expulsion. His 3rd grade teacher swore the North Pole was full of elves and a fat wizard, but called a meeting with the principal when he tried to tell her about Boreade ice giants and Draconian devilworms.
Tiberius claimed to have met elves, and he wasn't fond of them. “Nasty little buggers,” he said. “Man-eaters.”
Ryder got off with a warning but that only lasted until the Easter Bunny incident…