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. Tucking her under my arm, I rub her soft golden down hoping to settle her. 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.
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 gate 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?
“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.
I look over toward our neighbor’s house and see the shadow of a child moving across the screened porch. That’s weird. I thought the house was empty. The For Sale sign still stands in the front yard. I wonder who could be there. A new friend? An egg thief?
Momma opens the door to our double-wide trailer and calls out, “Blessen, come eat your cereal. The bus’ll be here soon!”
I hop up the steps still holding Sunshine in the football hold.
“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? Put her back in the yard.”
“But, Momma, Sunshine’s all a twitter this morning. Someone’s been stealin’ her eggs. She needs me to comfort her.” Sunshine purrs and bobs her chicken head up and down like she’s agreein.
“Listen here, Blessen, Sunshine can take care o’ herself. She don’t need you coddlin’ and spoilin’ her. Now let her be.”
I set my hen free in the fenced yard. She trots off toward the fig tree, her favorite shady spot, and I follow Momma in to finish my breakfast. No use arguing this early in the morning. Momma’s working the four to midnight shift at the nursing home, so she’s some kind of grumpy before she has her coffee.
“Momma, did someone buy the Romeros’ house? I saw a kid on the screened porch.”
“Not that I heard. I’ll ask Miss Norma at the nursing home. She’ll know. She makes it her business to know everything about everybody in St. Martinville.”
I watch Momma run her fingers through her straight blonde hair. I raise my hand to the mop of curls on my head. I inherited the unruly frizz of my black father. I have a hard time thinking of anything good that came from him. Well, except for my grandma, Mae Mae.
“Am I going to Mae Mae’s after school today?”
“That’s the plan. Why?”
“Just askin’. I need to investigate the missin’ eggs.”
“You can come home to check on Sunshine, but be sure to call Mae Mae if’n you’re gonna be late. Okay?”
I kiss Momma’s flower-scented cheek. She smells just like her name, Gardenia LeFluer.
“Bye, baby. Be good!” Momma calls, her coffee mug muffling the sound.
The yellow bus honks as I scurry, hauling my heavy backpack onto my back. I lean forward, so I don’t fall over backwards. Sixth grade books are not made for skinny 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 lumber into my seat on the first row right behind Miss Geraldine Lewis, our bus driver. She’s nice 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.
Pointing my nose in the direction of the open window, I watch the fields of sugarcane flow by. The tall green stalks sway in the morning breeze. 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, it’s just me and Momma. And Sunshine.
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 in middle school. 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.
After losing Blue, I’m particular about the killing of chickens. Maybe Ms. Fullilove knows why Sunshine’s eggs are missing.
Chapter Two: Egg Experiment
First 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? Will she stop laying eggs if she gets stressed out?
Ronnie Thibodeaux is the first to raise his hand to share his questions. “How come a chicken doesn’t smash her eggs when she’s sittin’ on ‘em?”
“First of all, female chickens are called hens. Does anyone know why the hen doesn’t crack her eggs by sitting on them?”
I raise my hand, “The hen is made of feathers. They have air in their bones.”
“Yes, Blessen, the hen is a bird and bird’s bones are hollow. Why don’t we create an experiment?”
Another thing about Ms. Fullilove is she loves to do experiments. Today she’s prepared with a dozen eggs in a carton from the grocery store. We gather around the center table as she places the eggs in a square.