Saturday, January 7, 2017
1st 5 Pages January Workshop - Smith-Allen
Name: Rebecca Smith-Allen
Genre: YA thriller
Title: In A Flash
These days, I’m only happy when I turn myself inside-out and go back in time.
Not far back, only a few months.
But thousands of miles from where I stand now, and another life.
Four months earlier
Stone stops climbing, rests her hands on a steep, rough-cut step in front of her and lets her silky, black hair fall forward into her face. “I’m going to die of a heart attack at the age of sixteen. All this has been here for hundreds of years. What difference will another ten minutes make?”
“Perfect day…perfect company…I want my perfect view.” I drag my body up another stair. “Also, Usain and Stephan already made it and they’ve got the food. Either we get to the top, or we don’t eat.”
Stone’s mouth quirks and she resumes trudging upward.
The stairs are an awkward climb. Their depth too shallow for our feet, their steepness straining gluts, quads and hamstrings. They were made for soldiers to guard the border, not for tourists. One wrong step would have us bouncing our way down, one bone-breaking jolt after another. The thought makes me shift my weight forward and keep one eye on Stone.
Then I hear it, the thumping techno beat of Stephan’s music. We’re too far to make out the lyrics, but close enough for the bass to call us up the last handful of stairs. At the top, we’re rewarded with Berlin techno at full volume and nods from Usain and Stephan who are chugging water. We turn to see the view an hour’s climb has earned us.
The Great Wall is mile after mile of hand-wrought stonework. Imposing…monumental… breath-taking, it’s all the superlatives. Crenellations on either side no longer obscure our view and we can see towers rising every half-mile as the wall winds along the mountain ridge. Ten-feet wide where we’re standing, it stretches miles beyond where we started — ten-thousand miles if you count where it trails off into a low, unrestored boundary marker in the far west. Even here, it seems to narrow in the distance, thinning to a pathway, then a ribbon of stone before fading into the mountain.
The sheer volume of rock moved to create this structure makes me feel small. The hours…the lives that went into building it. Who am I to stand above it looking down?
The north side is the land of waiguoren. Foreigners. The wall was built to keep them out. Now, a forest lines the wall, not invading Mongols.
The south side of the wall is Zhongguo. The middle kingdom. China.
We’d spent five days exploring Beijing’s cultural heritage on this class trip, but this was what I was waiting for. I could stand here forever, taking in this view.
The song on Stephan’s phone changes to classic Reggae. Usain’s song. He takes my hand, raising it high to twirl me, then pulls me toward him. Chin lifted, eyes closed, he shifts purposefully from one foot to the other, nodding in time with the music. There’s still a sheen of perspiration from the climb on his ebony skin, but he couldn’t look more beautiful.
I let my hips sway with the slow rhythm and pull free the elastic holding my blond hair off my neck, letting it fall.
Beside Usain, Stephan can’t slow himself to the steady calm of the Reggae. He drums the air and jumps, jumps, jumps to the techno beat that disappeared everywhere but inside his head when the last song ended.
Stone joins us. Her dark eyes crinkle with laughter as she takes in the chill-Jamaican and the won’t-stop-for-a-breath German dancing side-by-side on top of one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
A whoop comes from behind us, and Renato and Jade heave themselves up the last step and collapse nearby. When they catch their breath, they join in the lyrics at the top of their lungs, their Brazilian and British accents blending with the island lilt. Six classmates, five nationalities.
The music changes and my smile brightens. I dance bigger, louder. Hips swinging and every other part of me too.
I put my hands up they’re playing my song, the butterflies fly away,
Noddin’ my head like “Yeah,” Moving my hips like “Yeah.”
I got my hands up their playing my song, I know I’m gonna be okay.
Yeah, It’s a party in the USA.
Our song. Thank you, Miley. Stone and I dance like there’ll be no.
“USA” didn’t mean much to me then. It was the country imprinted on the front of my passport, but I hadn’t lived there since I was too young to remember. It was “my table” at the International food fair and “my song” when we each picked one for the class mix.
But it would soon mean so much more.
I was good at pushing it from my mind, but I already knew my days were numbered.
The familiar ring of Stone’s laughter in the memory was shattered by a mocking taunt. It slashed at me through the thrum of the crowded high-school hallway. “China’s got her swagger on today. Lookin’ good, girl!”
That voice turned the blood in my veins to ice, freezing my hips mid-step.
The Great Wall was gone and I was left with the sharp-edged smirk of my nightmares glaring down at me. He stood with a crowd of friends — he was never alone — his shoulder propped lazily against the locker behind him. Dark, curly hair hid one eye, but his other charcoal eye was locked on me, daring me for another round of “haze the new girl.” The cell phone in his hand continued to play my song, but the melody sounded tinny now. Distant.
As distant as the life that was no longer mine.
The halls were tight with people making their way to homeroom and a crowd pressed behind me. Nightmare liked crowds. Why harass me one-on-one when the opportunity for public humiliation presented itself?
I clenched my gut and refused to let him win this time. “No one can hurt you without your permission,” Stone’s mom liked to say. Tipping my head to one side, I brightened my smile.
“Never let your opponent see your pain,” Sensei Wu’s deep voice had repeated every class. My smile gleamed like that day on the Great Wall.
“A class trip to the Great Wall? Who does that? What planet are you from?” Nightmare asked me on my first day of school in America. Said it with that same self-assured smirk on his face. Nice way to make someone feel welcome, asshole.
And I gave him the smile from when I’d knocked out my last opponent in the Shanghai Martial Arts Tournament. Not the picture-perfect smile from when I stood on the dais holding the trophy high. The smile from when I heard her breath huff out and saw her eyes go wide as she fell back to the mat.
I would beat this nightmare too, and he’d never see it coming.
His brow furrowed, three creases appearing just above his nose, as he stood there wondering why I was smiling. He had no idea who he was up against.
And with a toss of my hair, turned my back on him and got my hips swinging again. The onlookers parted as I swaggered down the hall to homeroom.