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Name: Traci Van Wagoner Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy Title: Dragon Dilemma (may change to: Outside of Normal)
I pushed the cart along the overgrown road and mimicked Gran’s storytelling voice, “Once upon a time,” I said to the crows flying in a black cloud above me, “a tragically misunderstood girl trudged alone on an empty road in the boondocks of a protected community of humans, perhaps the last humans on Earth, hidden in the majestic Rocky mountains. She hauled a cart of manure toward home with only one goal in mind, to keep her big mouth shut.”
The crows caw-cawed at me. Some of them dove in to peck at the cow pies. I wondered if Mom meant I shouldn’t even talk to crows. I shrugged. Who were they going to tell?
Before leaving me with the cart of dung, Mom had said, “Please just promise me you’ll keep your mouth shut, Adeline. It’s safer that way.” She had traded eggs we weren’t supposed to have for the manure to fertilize her seedlings. She shouldn’t have had to, but we were docked credits because of the damage I caused at the pickle plant yesterday. Another apprenticeship interview failed. I’m pretty sure I had failed at more interviews than anyone in the history of Hidden Lake. But it wasn’t my fault, most of the time. I couldn’t help it if animals did weird things around me. It’s not like I asked them to follow me around.
One of the crows looked up from its pecking and tilted its head at me. I wondered what Mom would think of this new batch of birds I was apparently bringing home. At least the chickens gave us eggs. I thought about shooing the crows away, but I had to admit I liked their company. Just me, the crows, and the flies on the South Road, empty all the way to the Mouth Wall visible as a smudge of blue at the end of the valley.
All I had to do was get past the farm between me and home. My heart beat faster with each step I took, each step bringing me closer to my ex-best friend Sara’s house. For a second I forgot how to breathe. Seeing her dark bedroom window was like a punch in my gut even though I knew she wouldn’t be there. She hadn’t been there for six months now. Six months with no best friend to talk to.
I sighed, remembering last Planting Day, and every one since we could walk, Sara and I worked side-by-side digging in the dirt, planting the seedlings, and telling each other our deepest, darkest secrets. She always listened and never judged. I never once thought I shouldn’t tell her about the strange things that happened around me. Or that she’d betray me. Even though every one of us in Hidden Lake was trained since birth to protect the human race. To report anything out of the ordinary and uphold the high standards of our protected community. For the good of humankind. I trusted her.
But then she took an apprenticeship with our enemy and abandoned me. Her apprenticeship with the tailor offered her a room, a new home in the Craft District of the lower city. She was too good for me now. Soft clothes. Shiny shoes. Clean fingernails. New snooty friends.
I turned away and pushed the cart past her lane. Who needs her anyway with her mousy voice and wide eyes as if everything was a surprise. She never had to worry about the guardians coming to cart her off to the CMP, The Center for Mutated Persons. She was normal as normal could be. She was able to get an apprenticeship on her first try. I only hoped she kept my secrets. Hers would go with me to the grave, even though none of hers were dangerous.
Giggles rose in the spring afternoon. I glanced behind me and my heart flip-flopped. It was Sara. And she was with none other than our once upon a time arch enemy, Gabriella Taylor, the tailor’s daughter. Little Miss Gabs-a-lot herself.
Digging in my toes, I pushed the cart as hard as I could. Must go faster. Please go faster. Maybe they wouldn’t notice me. It didn’t help having a black cloud of birds circling overhead.
“Adeline!” Sara shouted. “Addy, wait!”
Ka-thunk, bump! One of the wheels hit a hole. Out bounced manure. All over my hand-me-down boots. Right then and there, I wished I was a witch like Mom feared so I could turn myself invisible. I squeezed my eyes shut. Turn invisible, turn invisible.
“Hey, Adeline, you know we can see you even with your eyes closed,” came Gabsy’s snotty voice.
Nope. Not a witch. Not invisible.
I peeked through my eyelashes. Sara stood touching shoulders with the girl who had once called us both stink-pots.
She wiggled her fingers in a little wave. “Hi Addy.”
I didn’t wave back.
“I heard you caused quite the ruckus at the pickle plant yesterday,” Gabsy said. She nudged Sara who laughed along with her. They both mimicked what I must've looked like after the cat got tangled up in my legs, their arms waving and legs kicking while spinning in circles.
My face burned, and I focused on shoveling the cow pies back into the cart. I did make a mess of things yesterday, but this time it was for sure not my fault. It was that dumb cat’s fault. I said “hello cute little kitty,” and it followed me around and twisted in and out of my legs, tripping me and causing me to stumble into the control panel which sent the entire pickle factory into a chaotic mess of blaring beeps, broken bottles, and workers shouting and ducking flying pickles. The more I tried to fix it by pushing the flashing red buttons, the worse it got, until I was hauled out of there by my collar with a stern glare and a warning to never come back. The cat was thrown out after me. Serves it right. But then it followed me home. Another animal added to my collection.
“Oh come on, Addy,” Gabsy said, “that was funny.”
It was not funny, I was in big trouble. The biggest I’d ever been in. Mom didn’t lecture me, instead she muttered, “We better hope he doesn’t report this. Report you.” Before I could argue, she said, “It’s always something, Adeline. And it usually involves an animal. That’s not …”
She didn’t finish the sentence, but I knew what she was thinking. That’s not normal.
“Well,” Gabsy said, “I bet you can’t get an apprenticeship because you stink.”
My teeth clenched so hard my jaw ached. I would not let her get to me. I shooed a bird away and shoveled the last cow pie back into the cart.
“Yeah, you stink because you are scooping poop,” Sara said. I glared at her.
“Addy the Pooper Scooper,” Gabsy said, smiling at my ex-best friend as if they had always been the best of buds. “But then, being a pooper scooper is better than being a witch, right Sara?”
Every part of me froze. How much had Sara told her? Sara shrank further behind Gabsy and threw me an apologetic look. I threw it back. I couldn't breathe.
Gabsy and her family could easily call the guardians and have me locked away as a mutant in the CMP with even the hint of anything out of the ordinary.
“Oh, come on Addy, we're just teasing,” Gabsy said.