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!
Jeff Wooten YA Science-Fiction Jake Tenkiller and the Widow’s Lament
Emily watched the traffic through the bars of her window, trying to imagine she didn’t exist. The hospital parking lot was filling up, and I-80 into Berkeley was thick with morning commuters. The world spun, people lived out their lives as if any of it mattered. Emily knew better.
The door opened behind her, pulling her back into the moment. It was too early for a doctor, probably the cleaning staff. Either way, Emily didn’t look. People moved out of sight, busy at some task; a hinge squeaked and something locked into place, wheels rolled on linoleum, feet and papers shuffled. Retreating steps and the shutting door told her someone had left. The squeak of an office chair told her someone had stayed.
She flinched at the sound of her name but resisted the urge to turn.
“Emily, would you come sit with me?” The voice was male and rang with authority. A small impatient silence followed when Emily didn’t move. “You can come by your own free will,” the man said, “or I can drag you over.”
Emily turned in her seat. An unfamiliar, dark-haired doctor sat behind a small folding table. A smile split his face, and Emily knew at once she didn’t like him.
The man motioned to the other side of the table. “And bring your chair when you come.” He began to riffle through a neat stack of documents on the tabletop. Emily watched him for a few seconds longer. No one had ever threatened her physically; pills and words were the doctor’s preferred method of violence, and she wondered if he would do it. He might, but not without a price.
They’d drugged her into a stupor the last time she’d lashed out. Oblivion hadn’t been horrible, but she didn’t deserve oblivion, and no sin went unpunished here, best to remember that.
She stood, walked behind her chair, picked it up, and walked to the table. The man didn’t look up from his papers, and Emily imagined breaking her chair over his head. She placed her chair across from him instead. The documents in front of the man seemed to be demanding all of his attention. Who used paper these days? Was it a distraction of some sort? Did it have any purpose at all? Was it working?
Emily took a small breath. It didn’t matter.
She circled in front of her chair and sat. Several minutes passed before the man found the page he wanted. He pulled it from the stack, and read it to himself as Emily waited. A few strands of hair fell from his brow. Emily guessed him to be about forty, as old as her dad. He wore a white lab coat like all the psychiatrists, and wore glasses too. Thick black rimmed glasses. Her dad wore glasses like that.
Had, she corrected herself, had worn.
The man eyed the paper in his hand. “It says that you were the lone survivor in a plane crash. Is that correct?”
Warmth spread over Emily’s cheeks as the man looked at her.
“Is something wrong?” A ghost of a smile crossed his face, and he examined his page again. “Your father Bruce was the pilot, your mother Nancy was with you and one more.” He went back to the stack, flipped through the documents until he found something that he stabbed with a finger. His eyes lifted. “Yes, a brother, a younger brother, Thomas. What did you call him? Thomas, Tom, Tommy?”
Emily could feel a fire igniting within her. Was he taunting her? It was clear he wanted a response. Emily worked hard to keep her expression neutral, determined not to let him see...whatever it was he wanted to see.
“You’ve been here for six months and haven’t uttered a word,” the man said. “Don’t you want to get out of here? Start life anew. Fifteen is certainly young enough for that. A fresh start unencumbered with,” he spread his hands, “this.”
He watched her, shrugged, and thumbed through the documents again. After a few seconds he pulled one page out, examined it, turned it around, placed it on the table and slid it over. “Do you remember taking this test?”
Despite herself, Emily looked. It was the front page only of what had been a packet, and she did remember, even though it had been months since she’d taken the test. It was a weird exam, not like any she’d taken before, and that’s what made her remember. She’d skipped questions she didn’t feel like thinking about, and answered only the ones she’d wanted too. It had been surprising how many she ended up answering. The questions about shapes and how they fit together were the best, questions with hidden pictures inside random squiggles. Brain teasers were what her dad called them. She’d thought of her dad, working the puzzles out. Maybe that’s why she’d cooperated and taken the test in the first place. It had made her remember…or forget. It was hard to tell sometimes which hurt less. She picked up the paper in front of her, looked into the man’s blue eyes, and crumbled it up into a tight ball. She placed it lightly on the table.
Her little act of defiance didn’t even register on the man’s face. “It’s rare someone scores as high as you. Did you know that?” He waited for just a second then continued. “Did you know traumatic events--physical or emotional--can sometimes alter brain chemistry? Change the way the human brain functions altogether? Cortisol reaction, serotonin and norepinephrine alterations. Most times these changes are…undesirable. Sometimes they aren’t. Were you injured in the plane crash?”
A familiar mix of emotions washed over Emily but never quite touched her. She wasn’t that girl anymore. That girl had a family, that girl had love, that girl had a future. That girl was dead.
The man’s fingers on the tabletop began to drum a steady beat. Thump-thump-thump-thump. “In all the multiverse there are only a few brains like yours Emily.” Thump-thump-thump-thump. “The genetic material must be present, of course,” thump-thump-thump-thump, “but even then few score so high. My name is Boris. Boris Halt.” Thump-thump-thump-thump. “I have come a long way to see you at the behest of the Emperor.”
He’s crazy, Emily realized, and she stared at him, trying to see the madness that had to be there. All she saw was cold calculation, and it dawned on her that she’d never been alone with just one person before. Was he a patient like her? An escapee roaming the halls wearing the clothes of the doctor he’d strangled? She pushed herself back from the table, moving slow. Part of her yearned for a fight--even knowing how that must end--but inside she trembled. Don’t I want it all to end anyway?
“My question is,” Boris said, “is there still enough of you in there, or are you too far gone to be salvaged?”
The words stung, they stung more than they should. Emily’s lip twitched, and she stared at him.
“Yes, there you are,” Boris said. “A thing of anger and fear, but there you are.” He raised his hand and snapped his fingers. Two men entered the room as if they’d been waiting just behind the door. They carried someone limp between them. Emily’s eyes widened in horror, and she stood, knocking her chair over. Boris watched her, enjoying himself.