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
Alright fat man, Let’s do this.
Ryder pulled up his sleeve to check his watch, then peeked around the musty lace curtain into the dim room. His eyelids were heavy, and his head drooped until he snorted awake suddenly. The early rise and long wait were starting to take their toll.
Where the hell is he?
A creak from the bedroom door answered him as a shadowy blob tiptoed across the floor, pausing in front of a small bed. It crouched and leapt over the footboard, splashing onto a pile of pillows strategically shaped like a child. The lumpy mattress crunched to the ground, the box spring screaming from the massive weight smashing it to the floor. Ryder stepped from behind the curtain and pulled a tarnished poker from the spent ash of the fireplace.
"And what’re you gonna do with that?" the blob asked, his fat 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. "Really?"
The fat man lunged, but Ryder sidestepped the blade, deflecting it easily with his ashy poker. He tried to counterattack, but the blob backhanded him across the room, splitting his bottom lip. Ryder stumbled, but regained his footing.
"You slap like a girl, old man," the boy said, licking the blood from his lip. He inched backwards toward the closet and waved at the assailant, beckoning him to attack.
The fat man 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 the other was close enough to smell his aftershave, Ryder rolled to the ground and slapped him on the rear with the poker as he passed. The blob 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 the man's neck. "Beg for mercy, or I'll be short one uncle."
The old man blew the sleeve of a striped purple turtleneck out of his eye. "But I'm the only one you got."
Ryder flicked the sword at his uncle's chin, lopping off a chunk of gray beard. The blade was sharper than it looked.
His uncle raised his hands in the air. "All right, you win, I surrender."
Ryder flipped the sword around, offering the hilt to his uncle. "It was a lot closer this time," he said.
The fat man raised his bushy gray eyebrows. "Oh, so you're gettin' cute with me now? Never mind that I warned you I was coming this week -- 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. "Maybe if you were a little slimmer, you wouldn't be so slow," he suggested.
The old man's jaw dropped. "Calling me fat, are ya? Well, I could eat a scrawny little chicken like you right about now. Get over here."
He dragged Ryder to the ground and tickled him into submission. The fight didn't last long, and Ryder's plump uncle was soon out of breath. "Who woulda thought," the old man 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. "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, boy."
"I really doubt that."
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 plump, 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, 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 the boy a half smile and waddled out the door.
Ryder kicked the lid of his suitcase open and tossed the sweater in. 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. The first few attempts had ended poorly, and always led to them fleeing to a new town. The schools just didn't make sense; none of it did, especially given what he'd learned from his uncle.
His history teacher would laugh about the old days when people were dumb enough to believe the world was flat and you could sail right off the edge. But now they think 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 that schools full of something if you ask me.”
Ryder never knew who to believe between his lessons from school and his uncle’s stories. His teachers could go on and on about leprechauns every March, but called a meeting with the principal when he tried to tell her about Draconian devilworms. The Easter bunny was real, apparently... but when he insisted that the Ashtar Bunny, as it’s actually pronounced, had hooked fangs and drank centaur blood that had been that.