Sunday, July 16, 2017
1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Yeung Rev 2
Name: Adelle Yeung
Genre: YA historical urban fantasy
Title: The House with Two Faces
In 1920, eighteen-year-old Paula Mendez performs magic tricks on the streets of San Francisco, dreaming of starring on her own ritzy stage. Most bystanders tip her with a coin or two, but seeing promise in her talents, one dame urges Paula to audition as a famous magician’s new lovely assistant. Paula refuses; she has more pride than to stand on stage as a breathing end table.
The dame reveals herself to be a floating witch’s head. Her still-warm body lies somewhere within the magician’s theater, but having been magically banished, the witch orders Paula to infiltrate the theater in her stead. A cursed collar trades Paula’s obedience with her life.
To save her own neck, Paula aces the audition and secures a role within the magician’s theater. She must avoid suspicion while locating the witch’s body, or risk being thrown out and banished, herself. If Paula fails to help the witch reclaim her body, the curse will sever Paula’s head.
Polino specialized in bringing his headless dove back to life.
In the center of Union Square, the teenage magician raised his bird’s detached head for all to see. The small crowd gasped and cracked uncertain smiles. Some huddled to shield each other from the chill of the fog, or perhaps to offer comfort. Polino’s grin meant to assure them that he had everything under control. Anyone could harm a helpless animal, but only a magnificent magician could reverse the damage.
Polino waved a red silk handkerchief over Merlin’s head and the wooden box containing the rest of the ring-necked dove. With one last dramatic flourish, Polino swept the handkerchief away and revealed the unharmed Merlin, his gray wings spread as if to say, “Ta-dah!”
The onlookers erupted into applause. Women in cloche hats sighed with relief and delight. Men in fedoras and bowlers nodded at Polino as they dropped spare change in the magician’s newsboy cap. Polino beamed and bowed at the bystanders, but his smile faded at the sight of the woman in the periwinkle coat. She never tipped or clapped.
Every day for the past week, she had watched Polino perform, her rose-kissed lips curled into a perpetually pleasant smile. It wasn’t a condescending one, nor was it overly amused. It was knowing.
After all, she was the only one in the audience who knew Polino’s greatest illusion: he was actually a girl.
Paula hadn’t thought anyone would recognize the charming “Polino” as the same tomboyish magician who frequented Union Square, but her disguise was scant: an added hat, bound chest, and deeper voice.
The first time the woman approached, she had promised to keep Polino’s gender a secret, but Paula couldn’t help distrusting her. Unlike many ladies, who wore their hair short and stuffed into berets or cloches, this woman’s sleek black hair flowed freely down her back, and her head moved as if her shoulders had a mind of their own. Her striking eyes that matched her coat seemed to glow.
As the crowd trickled away, Paula snatched the handkerchief to gather her props. She clenched her teeth to suppress a groan as the woman sauntered over.
“You can still make the auditions on time.” The woman’s voice was melodic and syrupy sweet. It would’ve worked magic on the men who stared at her, but Paula did not share their desires. Her everyday reminders of Master Mortison’s open casting call grated Paula’s patience.
Two blocks south of Union Square, on Ellis Street, the glamorous, glittering lights of the Cort Theater illuminated the weekly show posters of the handsome magician. Pride refused to disgrace Paula’s talent by auditioning as a nameless assistant who prettied the stage like living furniture. Moreover, Paula was keen on making a name for herself without a man’s aid.
Maintaining her boyish tone, but straining politeness, Paula said, “Thank you for the reminder.”
She would’ve liked to say, “Beat it!” but Paula didn’t want to shoot her career in the foot. Infamy spread through the streets like San Francisco fog.
Paula secured Merlin into his brass traveling cage, packed her props, and stuffed the coins from her hat into her jacket pockets. She wiggled the cap over her dark hair and said, “If you’re going to audition, I wish you luck.” She clasped her trunk shut. Its wheels crunched against damp gravel as she left her post at the Dewey Monument.
“You’re wasting potential, girlie.”
Paula forced a smile and dropped her masculine voice. Polino had left his stage, so Paula needn’t prolong the act. “I appreciate your advice. I do. But I won’t settle for a lesser position just to perform in a ritzy theater.”
“Under Master Mortison’s employment, you won’t have to worry about scrounging enough coins to pay next month’s rent.”
“Go razz some other gal, why don’t you?” Shaking her head, Paula started down Geary Street. When she looked over her shoulder, the woman was still smiling at her. Paula shuddered. What an odd bird.
Paula’s pockets jingled as she rolled her trunk down the sidewalk. The weight of the coins stretched her jacket. It was more than she earned when she performed as a girl, and Paula knew she could pay December’s rent on time. She longed for the day when she could make a living without hiding her gender.
Before turning the corner to her apartment, Paula glanced toward Union Square. The strange woman was nowhere in sight, and Paula’s shoulders sagged with both relief and dread. Though she had rid herself of one pest, she’d soon have to cross another. She could already hear the croak of Mister O’Brien, her landlord. The old grump didn’t have the heart to evict her, despite his nagging to pay rent on time. Paula usually ignored him until she could slip him enough loose change.
“Miss Mendez!” his voice graveled from beyond the shadows of the front desk. “Hard at work, I hear.” He meant the clinking of her pockets.
“I paid you off last Tuesday,” Paula said.
“Well, good afternoon to you too.”
With Merlin’s cage underarm, Paula clunked her trunk up the dark staircase, recalling the prior Tuesday. Women all over the country could vote for the first time, but Paula was three years from the age of majority.
Still, on her eighteenth birthday, Paula had filed for emancipation from her foster mother, Margaret Sullivan. Paula bore no resentment for the woman who had raised her since she was four, but Mama Sully struggled with Paula’s nine foster siblings, and Paula figured that making any money at all—no matter how much she struggled—meant she could sign her own lease.
Paula didn’t consider the tiny, dim apartment a real home, but it was somewhere she could sleep, and Merlin didn’t complain about the tight quarters or the lingering odor of laundry that had never dried properly. Paula released Merlin from his traveling cage and spread seed for him over the kitchen’s folding table. She emptied her pockets into a ceramic container with the rest of her money and grinned at the small heap of tarnished, linty coins. One day, she’d have enough to rent a theater.
She undressed on the way to her wardrobe, longing for the release of an unbound chest. Tight cloth unraveled from her flattened breasts, and Paula slouched forth with a sigh as the last inch curled into a roll.
As she hung up her clothes, Paula considered her closing act. Reattaching Merlin’s head was becoming her signature illusion, but Polino wasn’t a one-trick pony.
Paula’s best acts featured Merlin the dove as her assistant. Whenever he was visible, Paula ensured he had a task, like pulling a handkerchief from her pocket or choosing a member from the crowd. He had no reason to complain he was a mere prop. He also couldn’t talk.
Before she managed to pull a nightgown over her head, Paula jumped at the sound of her front door unlocking and stumbled against her wardrobe.
“Who’s there?” she gasped.
She hastened to cover herself properly and twirled to face the door. Merlin flew atop her head. Paula grabbed the nearest weapon—a black umbrella—and thrust it forth like a rapier.
The woman in the periwinkle coat stood beneath dusty incandescent light. She whimpered through that eerie, pleasant smile, looking at Paula and not at the piece of paper she scrawled on against the door. Her head was twisted backwards.
Paula shrieked and stumbled backward, crashing onto the floor.