Sunday, January 15, 2017
January Workshop Revision 1 -- Allen
Name: Rebecca J. Allen
Genre: YA Thriller
Title: In A Flash
The door at the top of the stairs opened and the thug started gun-first down the steps. On his face was a cold, calculating smile, like he was in no rush to kill me. After all, I had no way out.
“You’re not supposed to be down here, little girl.”
I froze, half-way between the basement and the first floor, immobilized by fear and indecision. I had a gun in my hand. It was cold and heavy and deadly.
I’d picked it up to keep from getting shot in the back, never planning to actually use it. The thought of firing it repulsed me even now.
How had my life gotten so twisted that firing a gun at another human seemed like a reasonable choice? Possibly the only choice if I wanted to live.
I glanced behind me at the dimly lit basement. I did not want to be stuck down there with his beefy frame blocking the only exit. Raising my hands, I pointed the barrel of the gun at his gut. My hands shook.
He took another step toward me.
Please don’t make me pull the trigger. Just let me go!
It wasn’t just my life on the line. If I didn’t stop this man, he would destroy Seth. If not by killing him outright, then certainly by turning everything he’d built into a tool for theft; keep it from ever making a difference in the world.
But if I pulled the trigger, I’d be taking another person’s life. Could I live with that?
I squeezed through the crowded halls, silent while chatter filled the air around me. Jokes were lobbed over my head; jibes ricocheted off the walls around me so I wouldn’t swipe them as they swished by, degrade them by smiling when, obviously, they weren’t meant for my amusement. After a full week, Stamford High was no less alien than it had been on my first day.
I was no more impressed by my new classmates than they were by me, but my opinion didn’t matter. I was one, not the crowd. The newbie, not a queen bee.
These days, I was only happy when I turn myself inside-out and went back. Only a few months. But thousands of miles from where I stood now, to another life.
I shook my head. Not now. When I got to homeroom I could retreat inside for a moment, harvest enough happiness from my past to make it through a few classes. Now, I needed to keep my eyes open and avoid confrontation. I needed to pretend to fit in.
My eyes locked on the disposable water bottle the guy in front of me pitched into a trash can without even breaking his stride. An image flashed to mind, a much older guy who’d gone down our Shanghai street every day, digging out recyclables from the trash to earn what he could from turning them in. His bicycle-drawn cart was always filled higher than his head with bags threatening to burst.
You’re not there anymore, Avery. Get it together.
I tried, but my gaze locked on a poster for the homecoming dance. This dance was the topic of intense discussion between classes. Who planned to ask whom? Who had already asked and been shot down? With what level of maliciousness? It could have been the subplot for a Mean Girls movie.
I rolled my shoulders and shook it off.
Aberforth & Co. clothes were all around me. Half the school wore them, and not the basics, the stuff that worked fall, winter and spring. The popular crowd pulled their wardrobe straight from the cover of the new catalog. Blaze orange and mustard yellow, the “in” colors this season, were everywhere, making me want to poke my eyes out. I’d boycotted Aberforth forever.
I drew in a deep breath, and huffed it out. Rid yourself of that which does not serve you. Head down, eyes straight ahead, I plowed forward. Nine months. One hundred and seventy-four days of Stamford High and I’d be done.
It felt like forever. I had no chance of being accepted here. And the thing that had undone was my last class trip.
On the first day of school, my L.A. teacher announced that we’d see a play at the newly reopened Shakespeare theater. She’d tried to be welcoming, asking if I’d seen a play there. Asking what kind of class trips I’d gone on at Shanghai American. I made the mistake of thinking that was an easy question, and that my answer would be interesting.
I was wrong. It wasn’t.
“A class trip to the Great Wall of China? Who does that? What planet are you from?” The question came from the captain of the Lacrosse Team. The guy who’d been flirting with me until Mrs. Ackerman called him out to start class.
He wasn’t flirting now. He was now intent on torturing me for the rest of the year.
That day last spring had been so perfect. Standing at the top of the wall looking down at mile after mile of hand-wrought stonework. Imposing…monumental…breath-taking. Towers rising every half-mile as the wall wound along the mountain ridge. Ten-feet wide where we stood, thinning to a pathway in the distance, then a ribbon of stone before fading into the mountain.
All my favorite people were with me. Stone, my best friend, Usain, my first real boyfriend, Stephan, Renato and Jade. Six classmates, five nationalities. The opposite of Stamford, where everyone wanted to think they were unique but really did their best to conform.
And, in complete opposition to kismet, there he was, the captain of the Lacrosse Team. His eyes sought me out through the tight press of people in the hall.
“China’s got her swagger on today. Lookin’ good, girl!” His jab turned the blood in my veins to ice, freezing my hips mid-step.
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 stream of people pressed into a crowd behind me. He 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?” He’d said it with that same self-assured smirk on his face. Nice way to make the new girl 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.
This guy was a nightmare, but I would beat him. 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.