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!
Name: Lana Kondryuk Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy Title: MOLFAR
When your mom is a walking lie detector, you master the art of withholding the truth.
Sitting under a shady oak, I grab the closest sack full of herbs and tie it so tightly the twine leaves marks on the palms of my hands. Mom’s got to stop canceling my plans every time a high holiday rolls around. My social life is barely surviving. Midsummer—Litha, as witches call it—may be in a few days, but Rick’s end of school party is tonight. Mom knew I’d be missing it when she sent me on a three-day plant harvesting trip to Gram’s cabin in The-Middle-Of-Nowhere, Poconos. So I feel zero guilt about sneaking out tonight.
I planned well; even Mom’s internal lie detector won’t pick up on this. And if she does find out, the worst she can do is make me work overtime at her store. I practically live there already—what’s a few more hours?
Binding the sacks together, I hoist them onto my shoulder. My phone vibrates in my pocket. I fish it out and read the text from Denis Gorash, the self-proclaimed Mayor of Chornohora’s Senior Class: Ian, everyone but you has confirmed. You gonna make it to Rick’s tonight?
Everyone includesSamantha Lawrence—my reason for breaking the rules today. Day one of junior year’s French class, when Sam waltzed over and sat in the chair next to mine, I was a goner. She threw her long, honey-blond hair over her shoulder and said, “Bonjour.” I’m pretty sure time stopped for a while.
Before I type my response, my phone buzzes with the second text. This one isn’t from Denis. So you aren’t coming. Can’t blame you. Gotta suck knowing Sam’s my date tonight.
My jaw tightens. “You, bastard,” I mutter.
Paul Carter, that filthy-rich, self-absorbed, gym-dwelling, hair-gelling moron. He’s got muscles to make Schwarzenegger jealous and a wallet full of cards with six digit limits. Girls are lining up for him, but he’s chasing Sam. And only because I like her. Just when I finally work up the courage to ask Sam out, Paul ups his game. Coincidence much? I can’t believe we used to be friends.
You bet, I reply to Denis. Determined to spoil Paul’s evening, I tuck my phone into my backpack and head out of the oak grove. Warm summer wind that hisses between the rocks and clear skies promise a perfect night for a party.
In the first clearing, the wind snatches my baseball cap and hurls it into the thorny brush. Crap. With a grunt, I drop the sacks on the ground and climb into the prickly bushes to get my stupid hat. Then I freeze. Scarlet flowers with fuzzy purple leaves shaped like the wings of a Phoenix sway beside my worn blue baseball cap.
I hold my breath and look closer. Then I close my eyes and open them up again—the legendary Phoenix Flame no one’s seen in centuries is still there. It looks exactly like on the drawings in Gram’s old books. All those botany lessons Gram forced on me no longer seem like a waste. If only she were here now. I can’t believe I’ve found the mythical, powerful plant that can unlock the body’s ability to heal itself even if one is an inch from death! This is every witch’s dream, and I’m the one who gets to live it. Me. The guy who was skipped by his family witch gene.
I position my fingers an inch above the ground to snap the stem, but then I pause. The curse. The legend warns that only those chosen by the flower may harvest it; all others will die violent deaths. Which may be total bogus, but uncertainty still creeps into my mind. Do I dare? The worth of one flower can sponsor my college education. I’d be richer than Paul and never have to work at The Moon Goddess again. I’d finally get to make my own decisions. I can almost savor the sweet taste of independence, but a violent death would put a damper on my plans.
I snatch my hand back. “Damnit,” I mumble and leer at the flower. I just can’t get a break. I’ve never been lucky; haven’t even won a dollar playing the scratch-off lottery. But this, hands down, is the worst snub of my life. To be so close yet so far.
Maybe I’ve gotten this wrong? It can’t be a coincidence that my hat blew right to the Phoenix Flame; the flower has to have chosen me. I push my shoulders back. I’ll only take one, just one from a dozen. Enough for my college tuition and a new car. And I can always come back for more, now that I know where to find them.
Before my resolve fades, I snap the stem of one plant, roll it up in my baseball cap, and hide it inside my shirt. There’s no way I’m parting with it, not even for a second.
Hoisting the sacks over my shoulder, I hurry out of the woods, grinning. My steps and spirits are light until I reach the meadow.
A powerful gust of wind makes me take a few steps back and then lean forward to keep my balance. Dark clouds swarm the skies, blocking out the sun. Angry lightning bolts slice through them and echo with ear-splitting thunder. This can’t be good. I was so enthralled by the Phoenix Flame that I didn’t even notice the storm coming.
I scan the meadow for shelter and spot a protected area between the rocks. But then I remember the party. If I get stuck on this mountain for hours, I’ll miss it. Images of Paul Carter kissing Sam invade my mind, and all of a sudden getting to the party becomes more important than dodging lightning bolts.
Ignoring all self-preservation instincts, I press my treasure-filled baseball hat tighter to my chest and dash for the path that snakes down the mountain.
The heavens open, releasing a torrential downpour. I slip and slide in mud. When I pass a boulder that looks like a turtle, I know the ledge is dangerously close. Swearing loudly, I latch onto a young oak and come to a halt. But the ground under my feet breaks off, like a piece of soft chocolate cake, and slides down the mountain, taking me with it.
My heart drops into my stomach. Frantically grabbing at plants and roots, I struggle to slow my fall. Sharp rocks cut into my skin, and dull waves of pain rush through my ribs and knees. The next bump knocks the wind out of me and sends me into the air. Gasping, I hover for a second in a state of weightlessness and then land on a large stone. My head smashes against something hard and then everything goes black.
I awake to pain tearing through my body. When I open my eyes, my surroundings swim in a gray haze. Slowly, the shapes come into focus. Dancing flames on wax-dripping candles cast shadows on dark mud walls. Plants hang suspended from the ceiling in bunches. I don’t know this place; nothing about it is familiar. My heart starts pounding. Where the hell am I?
I lift my dead-weight head, and a sharp pain shoots down my back. Moaning, I let my head fall back onto the rickety cot.