Sunday, February 14, 2016

1st 5 Pages February Workshop - Lambert Rev 1

Jeannie Lambert
Young Adult
Summer Shadows

I turn off my cell phone.  It’s over.  The last text, WRU@ Jessie, goes unanswered.  I am on my own.  There is no ‘do-over’ button in life.  Trust me if there was, then I wouldn’t be running away. 

I know it seems extreme.  Tomorrow is a D day and I was looking forward to the Pep Rally.  Even though I’m dreading my Geometry test, I would never consider skipping school because I am a rule follower.  Tomorrow, for the first time, I won’t be at Sanderson High School when the bell rings. Everything changed today on the way to the mall. 

There was an accident – a hit and run. 

They wanted me to act like nothing happened.  Obsessing about the accident once they dropped me back home, I can’t handle it.  Trapped in a cognitive prism, I examine the accident from every angle with laser beam precision, thoughts reflecting, bouncing, and streaming over and over all replaying that very exact moment.  I think only about him lying on that wet and soggy pavement.

I can’t act like nothing happened.  So I asked Siri “Where should I go to run away from home?” She said, “No match found.”   I remember hearing about Devil’s Cellar, a desolate place matching my mood. 

I’ve never seen a bottomless hole for real.  What I find is that there isn’t even a sign to show I arrive. It is just a hole, an imperfectly lined circle, rimmed with undulating boulders.  The edge needs a fence or caution tape to hold me back from peering in to see if it is indeed the physical path to infinity.  I’m afraid of it, or more so what it
signifies, an unknown in the category of quick sand and wild lobsters. Despite the absence of light, I am certain that if there is a bottom, then I’ll see it.  

Rain filters through the canopy of waxy green leaves above.  Slipping over the slick surface I crack my knee on a twig.  Everything around me is hostile and scary including this natural spear.  Booming follows the backlit lightning hovering with irregularly, irregular crashing.  Now that I’m here, I must get closer.  Crawling, I peer over the edge.  Nothing pours from this dumb, empty hole.  Figures.  “Hello, Is anybody there?” I yell into the cave shaft.  No mystical smoke or voices respond.  Really?  Surely there is an end.   I toss a pebble and turn my ear inward to listen for it to hit bottom.  Nothing.  Standing, darting around I find a hefty rock to toss in.  Heaving it lateral…

“Hey, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”  Interrupting my toss, the momentum of the rock carries me.  Stumbling I catch myself just before going over the edge.

“What the-“

“Don’t jump.” A boy’s voice startles me.

“You scared me, I almost fell in.”

“Isn’t that what you were trying to do?” asks a boy, draped in a poncho, he steps away from the camouflaging wall of rhododendron.

“I wasn’t going to… jump or anything,” faltering, not sounding very convincing.   “I was trying to hear if my rock could hit the bottom.  It is bottomless, you know?”

“Liar, you know you want to.  Why else would you come up here? Don’t think I haven’t thought about it myself.”  Sinking to a moss covered perch, a few steps from nothingness; I squirm away from the question and vision of me tumbling head over heels.

“I need to get away…but I’m not ready for forever,” I said.

“Me too, that’s why I’m running away.”  He’s running away too?  I’m not the only one so tortured and misunderstood. I’m running away from my problems, but they followed me up here.  I wish I could toss them over the edge, but they have impaled me and I can’t go anywhere without taking them along.

“You’re running away too?  Where are you going?”

“That’s what I am here to figure out, hold this,” he said, handing me a rope.

 “What’s the rope for?”

 “I’m going through Devil’s Cellar.  Do you want to come?”

“You’re going in Devil’s Cellar?”  I almost said, “Is that safe?”  I never got to wear the sash, but I was a safety patrol want-to-be.  I’m so desperate to get away from my problems that I contemplated ending it all, or at least something, right here.  I’m not being very safe right now.  Awkwardly fatal I know, but that’s why I can’t trust myself anymore.

“Yep, that is my plan.”

“That’s not possible.  How are you going to get back?"

“Back where?  There is nothing left at home for me except problems.  I have to get away.  What about you?  What brings you up here to the capital of Doom and Gloom?  Considering we are both on top of Devil’s Cellar during a lightning storm I’ll bet there isn’t a lot of kumbaya at your house either?”

“That’s true.” How does he know me so well when my family missed it entirely?

“I’m fixing to rappel down and go out the other end.  You want to come?”

“No, that is crazy.  What if the hole goes forever?”

“Then at least I’ll know.  Make yourself useful.  Shine this light for me while I tie a couple of knots.  Bowline goes something like… make a hole, and then the bunny goes around a tree and back through the hole.”

“Yes, I will go with you,” drawn into this boy’s conviction, I didn’t want to be left alone.  Running away plays out much more exciting and glamorous in my head.  I’m left dodging raindrops and micro flying monsters.  “No, I can’t go.”

“You are confusing me.  Which is it?” he demanded, while shrugging his shoulders.

“I can’t decide, because I’m such a mess.  Look at me.  I am this,” I point to my going-carrot-hair from a bleaching gone bad.

“You are useless at shining the light where I need it, but no, you are not your hair.” Shaking his head, he takes the light from me, sticks it in his mouth and shines it on the rope spaghetti in his hands.

“Seriously I am a walking disaster.  I ruin everything.

Handing back the wet-gloppy-saliva coated flashlight he said, “I think that will work but just in case, I’ll tie a couple of extra knots on the end.”

Flinging the saliva off my hand, I watch as the flashlight follows.  It catapults up, and then flops end over end beyond my grasp.  We both lean over and watch the light disappear.  Circling the drain, cloud vapors funnel around that hungry, gaping hole.  The flashlight is flushed beyond our grasp.  Shoulder to shoulder we lay down with our heads leaning over.  It feels like we are flying above the gruesome shadows that replace the darkness.  A dim glow appears.

“That’s good to know.  It’s not my plan, but it works. I was going to lower the light in a controlled descent. I’m glad your way didn’t break it with the bounce.”

 “Sorry,” I said wanting to take it back, everything back that I’ve done.

“That’s okay.  You didn’t mean it.  Let me know when you make up your mind because this train is leaving soon as I set up an anchor around one of these pine trees.  I can’t stop you from being a walking disaster.  That’s up to you.  You won’t recruit me to join a pity party.”  He walks his rope to the sturdiest looking tree.  The weathered, scrappy trees cling to any crevice.  He is deliberate and sure, all I live with is doubt.

“Rope,” he cups his hand and delivers a warning before heaving the rope into the hole.  The rope unfurls, whipping around the disappearing coil, faster and faster.  That is some deep hole.  A taunt tail remains behind, bending over the rough edge.  He sits with his legs dangling over what is in no way a pool.  Up above a light casts its net across the infinity edged sky, drawing back a catch of cumulus clouds. The light is strangely soothing.  But I could do without the…clenching my fist, pickling my eyes tight, I wait...KaBoom!  A hand grazes and comes to rest over mine.  He gives me a squeeze, a lifeline pulling me back into the present.  The sap and scales from the pine tree transfer over to my hand bonding us momentarily, leaving a residue. The muffled sounds diminish in the distance.  And I peer over at his hand just as he withdraws.  Evidence remains in the warmth radiating through me – a palpable connection.  It is a gift I didn’t know that I needed.  

“That works better than I thought.  Piece of cake, do you want to go first or should I?”  I don’t deserve it but I crave his company even though we just met.  I don’t want him to leave me.
“The storm is getting closer,” I am the queen of stating obvious information gleaned from the simultaneous flash to crash ratio of lightning to thunder.  Surrounding us, that last strike came from the ground up.  This is a seriously scary place.  Now the hole, on the other hand, appears not so much.

“Maybe so, up here it is hard to tell because the storms circle.  We’re a perfect target for lightning.  That’s why I don’t carry an umbrella, too much metal.”

“What about all those climbing clippie things, aren’t they metal?”

“You’re talking about these carabineers?  I guess you’re right, didn’t think about it that way.  Come to think of it, I’m safe; because you and your braces can act like my lightning rod.”

“I’m not scared.  Lightning used to be one of my heebie-jeebies. Not anymore, facing certain death from a lightning bolt is better than parents.”   I want to tell him more.  Much more, like I’m not the only one, everyone lies. So easy and it beats getting into trouble.  But I can’t go there, not yet.

“I’ll go first.  All I do is pass the rope through this brake bar to rappel.  The friction between these cylinders slows me down, and then I hold the rope next to my hip controlling my descent.  Sitting back, I slowly let the rope out.  Easy as falling off a bike…maybe I shouldn’t say that.  You can pull the bar up once I’m done.  Then it is your turn.”

Perched on this ledge with lightning flashing around me, makes me change my mind.  “Wait, let me go first,” I said abruptly surprising him, and me more.

“Okay.  That will work, too.  I’ll hook you in.  Once you are ready all you have to do is step over the edge, backwards.  You’ll have a moment of freefall until the rope catches, and then you walk down the wall.”

“What do I have to lose?  Here goes nothing.  I’ll see you on the other side.  “Adios, adieu, ciao, au-revoir,” I said all while standing statue-like at the rim.

“Bye already.  You’ll never get to the bottom unless you begin rappelling.  Take a step.”

“I’m frozen.  A little help, please?” 


“Yes, help; can you give me a push?”

“No way, this is all you.” 

“I have to do everything?” I whine.  This is when someone usually steps in and takes over for me.  He didn’t.  Easing back to the edge, the rock crumbles beneath my feet, which takes me with it. I’m slipping which leads to full on falling.  Peeling out of my skin, I feel like I’m leaving a piece of me behind.  Everything that supports me gives way – the ground, the rope.  Now I hear the krupuk of a rock hitting bottom.  Despite holding on I keep falling.  All I can do is gasp during this breath-taker moment.  Metal on metal, little links make a soft clang.  Please hold tight tiny rings and keep me from plunging down this Devil’s toilet bowl.   The noose around my stomach cinches my waist, finally, almost splitting me half in two, which is way better than the imaged thud.  I didn’t bounce as feared.  Hanging in a butt sling, I am a spider girl dangling in a web.  My fist is cramping from holding the rope.  I remember that I am supposed to do something.  I’m stuck and can’t think…

“Let the rope out.”  Letting go I begin zipping down.   “Oops,” he said.  That is not something I want to hear with my butt hanging exposed to eternity. Immediately dropping, I hear someone screaming (I think it is me).  “I didn’t say let go of the rope.  Grab it,” he said.  Grasping for the rope, batting at it, finally my fingers clinch around the rope drawing it in.   Losing about twenty feet of sky in the process, I find myself suspended in a cylinder of darkness.  Drips of water irreverently fling off from the rope and slide down the bridge of my nose.  A plump and round drop teases me.


  1. Excellent opening paragraph. I’d break up that last sentence in that paragraph after ‘Trust me.’

    D that a scheduling thing or does she mean it’s a critical day?

    I wouldn’t reveal that it was a hit and run just yet. Or if you do, describe it in much greater detail.

    In that fourth paragraph you use a lot of pronouns without telling us who they’re referring to. Especially ‘they.’ Who? It’s confusing.

    I’d actually ask that question to Siri. She probably has some kind of answer about youth in need services.

    ‘Quicksand’ is one word.

    I need more description of this Devil’s Cellar. How does she know about it? If it’s a well known location, there’d be some kind of fence around it. In fact, I think there should be a fence, but one that’s easily circumvented.

    The scene where she’s yelling into the cave is confusing. Does she actually expect an answer? And I’m still having a hard time imagining the cave. Also, some of your sentences are oddly worded: ‘Slipping over the slick surface I crack my knee on a twig’ sounds strange. Try instead ‘I slip on the slick ground and crack my knee on a twig.’

    I wouldn’t start the boy’s sentence with ‘Hey.’ And She’s not going to be startled the second time he speaks, only the first.

    I’d cut the bit about the rhododendron.

    ‘I’m not the only one so tortured and misunderstood.’ That whole paragraph is whiney and angsty.

    Your narrator goes from borderline suicidal to following this stranger down a whole in a very short time. And their whole conversation seems to be her repeating what he said in the form of a question.

    Close your quotes and add a comma in the walking disaster line.

    This whole chapter seems rushed. We know nothing about your character, not even her name, and nothing about this boy, not even his name. I want physical descriptions. I want conversation. I want a little sharing. I want her to start trusting this guy before he even suggests the descent. The idea of a spelunking adventure is exciting, but I have to love your narrator and be intrigued by this boy before I can be invested in this story. Slow down, develop your backstory, then surprise us with the stranger.

  2. This almost feels like a different story from your first draft. I liked the slower lead up to this hole she ends up at in your first version because it gave a better sense of who she is and why she's running. I do like your new beginning, but I combining your last version with this one would make it flow better. I think Brian is right, and this version is a little rushed. I was confused as to why she is trusting this boy she just met, and what this hole has to do with the story.

    Some of your dialogue feels a little forced. Most teenagers don't use a lot of proper English. They're very loose in the way they speak. For example: “You are confusing me. Which is it?” he demanded, while shrugging his shoulders.

    “I can’t decide, because I’m such a mess. Look at me. I am this,”

    You could make it flow better by the boy saying: "You're so confusing. Which is it?"
    And Jessie responding with: "I don't know, I'm such a mess. Look at me!" Then she could point to her hair, though if it's that dark out, he'd have to shine the light on her head to see her hair.

    I thought from the last version your character's name was Jesse and now it's Jessie.

    I hope some of this helps. Good luck with your revisions!

  3. This does have a radically different feel than the 1st story. Perhaps combining the two would be better.

    This revision:
    She comes across as whiny, not frightened or desperate. (I thought she was much more desperate the 1st draft.)

    I agree that the dialogue feels forced. It should be much shorter, and looser grammar.

    “I’m fixing to rappel down and go out the other end. You want to come?”

    “No, that is crazy. What if the hole goes forever?”

    Could be:
    "I'm gonna rappel down.Wanna come?"

    "No! That's crazy."

    We already know she thinks it goes forever, so no need to say it again.

    Dialogue is difficult. Best of luck!

  4. Hi Jeannie!

    I felt like the opening paragraph of this version pulled me in much more than the previous one. It grounded me, and gave me a better sense of Jesse and the kind of student she is (a "rule follower"- and I especially loved the bit about how it being the first time she wouldn't be there when the bell rang!) I agree that the hit-and-run might have been disclosed a bit too soon- maybe hint at it first? And I would also like some physical description of the characters as well as Devil's Cellar.

    Best of luck to you in the final round!

  5. Hi Jeannie!

    I agree with the above comments. This version grabs my attention more than the first, but there is still some tightening up you can do with the story overall to make it flow better.

    I'm not sure I get the reference to the "D" day. And the car accident confuses me. You state in the opening that everything changed today on the way to the mall (because of the car accident, I presume. Which is why she's running away?) You say it's a hit and run and "he's lying on the ground." Did she witness the accident? Cause it? They (her friends?) dropped her off back home afterwards and she's so upset she decides to run away is how I read this. Perhaps either clarify this or leave it for later in your story.

    The bottomless hole at Devil's Cellar is interesting. It's very dramatic with the lightening storm and the boy showing up, thinking she's going to jump. I'm not saying it's unrealistic, but it did make me pause in the story to question it. Teenagers are brash and make bad decisions all the time, so yeah, I guess going rappelling into a hole during a lightening storm with a stranger spotting you could happen, especially if the MC is desperate and upset. I don't get the same sense of desperation from the boy.

    Good luck with this!

  6. Hi Jeannie,

    There are some lovely turns of phrase in here, and you certainly jumped right into the story. You're not afraid of revision, obviously, and that bodes well for your career--also the writing here feels more sophisticated and intriguing than the last version. All that is to the good.

    Unfortunately, you don't give us character, so the beginning is still telling us instead of showing us who she is. You're jumping into the action TOO fast, and we don't care enough about her to understand what she is doing at the hole. We don't understand enough about her life to grasp her choices, and i'm afraid that we're a bit too confused to really carry on with the story at this point.

    I'm not going to repeat what I said in last week's note, but honestly, most of it still applies. I think you need a scene that shows us who she is in her normal life, shows that going wrong, and shows what drives her to the Devil's Cellar. The lovely phrases that you have in the beginning could easily be incorporated into that.

    Again, please check the rules on dialogue tags. You have to follow those. That's not a voice option. : )

    Looking forward to reading more!