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!
In the quiet of the morning, before the sun rises, before the barges move down the bayou, even before the school bus rumbles down True Friend Road, I usually find a miracle waiting for me in the chicken coop. My best friend is a chicken named Sunshine. And she lays the most precious light blue eggs. Every day.
But not today.
I gather Sunshine from her nest by placing my cupped hands under her fluffy breast. I cackle to her in her own language. She says, “bwack!” and fluffs up her feathers.
“Stop that cursin’, Sunny-girl. Act like a lady. Here you go, come to me.”
Sunshine hops up and on to my shoulders. She paces from one shoulder to the next, tangling my hair up in her feathers. She trills and shifts. I cradle her like a football. Tucking her under my arm, I rub her gently hoping to settle her down. I’ve never seen her so nervous.
When I check her roosting spot, it looks disturbed. Like someone or some thing was digging for her eggs. A little shiver runs up my spine. Come to think of it, the latch was hanging, not hooked. I’m usually careful to fully latch it at night.
Sunshine’s a fully-feathered Americana hen, gold and white. My Uncle A.J. brought her to me when she was just a fuzzy yellow chicken. According to Momma, chickens don’t like to be held. She says, “Why you carry your chicken around like that all day, Blessen? Don’t you know chickens are born to roam, not be carried around like a baby doll?” But Sunshine is special, an affectionate chicken, not typical of her breed, but this morning she’s twitchy.
“Sunshine, did you have a visitor last night?”
I put her down outside the coop and scatter some seed. She settles into a focused peck, peck, peck, eating her breakfast.
Lurking under a gardenia bush near the coop, I spy a small black and white kitten. He curves his back and hisses as Sunshine pecks near, but she just ignores him. Such little white paws could not have spread the straw so wildly.
“Where’d you come from, little one? Where’s your momma?”
I walk over to him. Hold my hand out in offering, curling my fingers back and forth. He comes to me and rubs against my leg. When I pick him up, he grabs my arm and sinks his little teeth in. I drop him back to the ground. He arches his back and pounces on Sunshine’s white tail feathers. Sunshine turns her head then continues her pecking. Her breakfast will not be interrupted by a pesky kitten.
Momma calls from the kitchen window. “Blessen, come eat your cereal. The bus’ll be here soon!”
“Little Tuxedo, you better hide ‘fore Momma catches you. She’s not a cat person. For that matter, she don’t take to animals one bit. Not even a chicken person. Don’t worry, I’ll sneak you some fresh milk.” I’ll have to figure out the mystery of the missing eggs later.
The yellow bus honks as I scurry, hauling my heavy backpack onto my back. I bend over as I trot so I don’t fall over backwards. Sixth grade books are not made for skinny wimpy kids. They probably weigh twenty-five pounds. Momma says I need to eat more to grow some meat on my bones. She calls me her little bird.
I hear chuckles when I lumber into my seat, the first row right behind Miss Geraldine Lewis, our bus driver. She’s sweet most of the time until the kids get rowdy, which happens on a regular basis. I like to sit there, so I can see out and not smell that diesel-exhaust-smoky bus smell. It makes me nauseous.
As we pass my neighbor’s house, the shadow of a child moves across the screened porch. The For Sale sign still stands in the front yard. The Romeros moved to Youngsville. Their house has been empty for almost a year. I wonder who could be there. A new friend? An egg thief?
My thoughts are still wandering when Mandy gets on at the next stop. She’s an eighth grader. Mandy’s momma is white like my momma, but her daddy is Laotian, not African American like my daddy. Flipping her black slick hair, she giggles and starts chattering without even taking a breath. Mandy got a haircut last week and now her bangs are too short to tuck behind her ears and too long to stay out of her eyes, so she is constantly flipping her head and running her hands through her thin hair. It shines in the sun like a new pair of black shoes. I touch my own hair, frizzing out in wild curls as usual. I didn’t do a thing to it today. I wish I had straight black hair that flowed over my shoulders like Mandy’s. She sits directly behind me and talks a mean streak to her friend.
“Jaden texted me last night the sweetest thing you ever heard. He says like maybe we could get together at break and kiss in the gym under the bleachers. I texted him back and said, ‘No way!’ That’s the way Misty Gondron got suspended, and my daddy would kill me if that happened.”
Mandy rattles on while I look out the window at the cane fields passing by. I think about my chicken, Blue, that I lost to a hawk last year. Blue was my first-ever pet that I had to take total care of, and I failed. I left the latch of the pen open. She got out and must’ve looked too tempting for the hovering raptor. I wonder if a hawk could’ve stolen Sunshine’s eggs. But that doesn’t make any sense. A hawk couldn’t get into the coop. What coulda’ been scavenging around in Sunshine’s bed? Did I fail her, too? What kind of pet owner am I? First Blue, now Sunshine’s in a twitter. Did I latch the coop before school?
I told my new science teacher, Ms. Jemima Fullilove, about Sunshine, and she got me all signed up to be in the 4-H club at school. In fourth grade I was in 4-H, and I grew sugarcane in the field by my house with my grandpaw, Pawpee. Pawpee is gone to God now, so I need a new project. I told Ms. Fullilove I’ll join her 4-H club on the condition that no one could buy and kill my new hen. She said there are some competitions that don’t involve killing.
Chapter Two: Egg Experiment
Next period is science with Ms. Fullilove. She is standing in the doorway holding a light brown egg in her palm.
“What’s the egg for?” I reach out and pet the egg as if it’s a kitten.
“This is for our lesson, today, Blessen. Go have a seat. We’ll get started in ten minutes. Your Monday Moaning prompt is on the board.” Each day Ms. Fullilove makes us write in our notebooks for ten whole minutes about a prompt of the day. She calls them Monday Moaning, Tuesday Troubles, Wednesday Woes, etc.
Monday Moaning: Questions about eggs??
Ms. Fullilove is all about the questions. She says questions are the driving force of science. I’m excited about this assignment because I have lots of questions about eggs. But they probably can’t be answered by science. Like where did Sunshine’s eggs disappear to? And will Sunshine know someone or something is stealing her eggs? Will she stop laying eggs if she becomes stressed out?