Sunday, July 22, 2018

1st 5 Pages July Workshop- Parrott Rev 2

Name: Brooke Parrott
Genre: Young Adult // Sci-fi
Title: The Column


Strangers are dreaming about Wilder—and they’re drawn to her, everywhere she goes. The only thing worse than not knowing why it’s happening is not knowing why it suddenly stops. She can’t help but feel like it’s related somehow to her childhood recurring nightmare, which is back with a vengeance ever since her mother died three years ago. To cap it off, Wilder’s father has abandoned her to live with his sister-in-law in a small town Oregon that has a vendetta against her family. When she discovers lucid dreaming from her father’s scientific papers, she goes on a mission to control her dreams and reconnect with her mother there, only to discover that the dream world is as real as the waking one.

Instead of a dream utopia, Wilder finds a parallel universe of collective-unconscious dreaming with magical powers and all the possibilities and evils of the imagination. One that her father has helped to shape into a corporate world of manipulation, where the currency is advertising to dreamers. Wilder must decide what's most important to her: finding her mother again in the dream world, or stopping the mass dream manipulation that's about to happen.


Wilder stared at the blank line.

“All done here?” The front desk lady trilled. She was wearing an Astoria High School sweatshirt with an ironed-on decal of a hooked fish below the school font. Sticking a manicured hand out, she grasped for the clipboard Wilder was clutching.

Wilder looked again at the empty spot on the form. “Not quite.”

“What are you stuck on?” Mrs. Penn—according to the plaque on the tall counter behind which she was plopped—leaned over to look at Wilder’s form. “Emergency contact? Oh.” Mrs. Penn’s face colored. Wilder felt a twist in her gut, anger seeping from it. That meant the administration had already had a meeting about the situation.

Dead mother. Missing father.

That left the estranged aunt.

“I don’t know my aunt’s cell number off the top of my head,” Wilder said. She heard her own hollow voice as if from afar.

“Oh honey, don’t worry about that. I’ll copy it over from your brother’s form.” She sorted through the piles of paper on her messy desk. “Noah… Noah… ah! There he is. Noah Bowen.”

The twist turned into a pit in Wilder’s stomach. Noah had been out of the house by the time she was done showering that morning. Apparently he couldn’t even tolerate walking with her on their first day in a new school.

“Have a seat. Your school guide will be here in a few minutes.”

Wilder sat in one of the too-rigid chairs with a miscellany of geometric patterns splashed across it, and watched the students flow past the open office doors. The colors of the walls changed from school to school—here it was purple and a dull gold—but the kids always looked the same.

A tiny Freshman came in the office, glancing at Wilder on her way to turn in a slip of paper at the desk. Wilder flinched as the gaze passed over her, holding her breath. No reaction. No recognition.

She slumped further down in the chair, pulling the hood of her sweatshirt up over her head, and instinctively pressed the scar on her left temple. Her fingers came away with concealer on them.

It had been almost two years since a Dreamer had last recognized her, but part of Wilder still expected it to start happening again at any moment. Even after all that time, even all the way across the country. 

It hadn’t always been that way—the Dreamers only started finding her when she was twelve, and it ended in the same way that it had begun: without explanation. But for three bewildering years in the middle, it was like Wilder was a shining lighthouse beacon, drawing the Dreamers to her through choppy waves. 

It always started with a particular look. One of familiarity, tinged with confusion. “Do I know you?” they’d ask. “Have we met?” They were all ages and from every background imaginable. Like bare lightbulbs flickering on in the darkest recesses of their minds, Wilder could see the moment that the realization hit. 

The Dreamers knew Wilder from their nightmares.

The boy was the first one.

He was about five years old, and Wilder was twelve at the time. He’d abandoned his soccer ball and ran to her, beaming, across the wide courtyard.

“It’s you,” he said. There was a lyrical lilt to his voice, as if he was on the edge of breaking into song.

“Me?” Wilder asked, confused. She was used to people recognizing her mother in public, but not her. She was a nobody. A nobody who was the daughter of a somebody.

“I followed you,” he said, and then—when she still looked at him blankly, “out of the dark place.” Humid sweat plastered his wispy blonde hair to his forehead. A nearby fountain created a soothing shush.

A feeling passed over Wilder like someone raking nails lightly on her skin. “The dark place?” she repeated, unsure if this was a game. “What was in the dark place?”

He started shaking, eyes so wide that his lashes pressed to his lids. “The bone house,” he whispered. “Shadows.”

Wilder crouched down next to him. She reached out a hand but left it hovering in the space between them. She’d never been good with kids, even when she was one. “Where is the bone house?” she asked finally, when he said nothing more. She had to force the words past her suddenly dry throat.

He stopped shaking and tapped his finger on his forehead.

“In your head?”

“In the dream.”

“I was… in your dream?” A heat was building in her gut, bile rising in her throat. A faint memory of a feeling was knocking somewhere on a door in the base of her skull. She knew what it was to dream of terrifying worlds—she’d had the same recurring nightmare since she was a little girl, always faced alone. Alone, but for the creatures. Hundreds of questions flooded her mind, but only one came out. “Are you sure? You’re sure it was me?”

The boy moved his head in a slow, solemn nod. “It looks just the same in real life,” he said, reaching out his small hand towards Wilder, who fought every instinct to flinch. He pressed a finger lightly along the puckered, faded purple scar running from her temple towards her ear.

The boy was the first, but there were many after him. She carried the burden of their dreams like a priest confided in at confessional. After all, who could she tell? Her mother would just want to send her to a psychiatrist again, her father would want to hook her up to machines and study her. So she learned to hide from them, to run. To lie.

Mrs. Penn’s too-loud cheerfulness rose above the general din of the office. “Oh good! Wilder,” she said, gesturing towards a skinny boy with a frizzy halo of hair that had appeared, “this is Jonathan, he’ll be showing you around the school today.”

Wilder shook his limp and clammy hand, and followed him into the hallway.

“The Junior lockers are in the C Hall, so you’ll be… here,” Jonathan said, with a tight smile. When he spoke, it looked like it took a supreme effort to force the words past his little front teeth, capped in braces. Wilder stared at them, neon green rubber stretched tight over the metal grids. She wondered how much deliberation had gone into the choice of that particular color.

“I’d have the same locker for senior year, too?” she asked. If she was even there next year.

Jonathan nodded. “Now, since I’ll be your Fisherman’s Friend for the day—”

“I’m sorry,” Wilder interrupted. “My what?”

The boy turned. “Your Fisherman’s Friend. You know—” he puckered his lips into a pout and raised both of his fists in a boxer’s stance.

Wilder stared at him so hard she almost went crosseyed.

“The Fighting Fishermen!” he said. “It’s our school mascot. That’s what we call your orientation guide.”

“Oh, of course,” Wilder said. Jonathan didn’t pick up on the sarcasm.

“Here, I’ll show you the combo for your locker.” He grasped the lock’s dial.

A group of students passed in the checkered hallways, eyes on Wilder the whole time. 
“New girl?” one of them said, not even bothering to whisper.

Wilder sighed. Small towns.

Wilder took the lock from her guide, moving the dial towards 32, mimicking his instructions.

“You look, um…” he trailed off, gulping audibly.

1st 5 Pages July Workshop- Toran Rev 2

Name: Katherine Toran
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Title: Persephone’s Waltz


Holy Maiden Ysabel has only four months left to live. Determined to live life to the fullest, she conceals that behind her “virginal” image is a chain-smoking, alcohol-loving dominatrix. Acting the part of the na├»ve do-gooder healer allows her to manipulate nobles and the priesthood to advance her political agenda of improving women’s rights and helping the refugees who fled into her country from the Blight.

War among the civilized nations has been eliminated, replaced by the World Games. Victory in these wizarding death matches will allow her to re-write laws and win the refugees land. In exchange for her ticket to form the first female team, Ysabel has agreed to be sacrificed in a magical ritual.

Then she saves Dark Lord Kaine from being outed as a trans man, and he takes it on himself to rescue her from her grisly fate—by threatening to invade her country. Fortunately he likes her enough to back off when she shoos his prohibited army off her doorstep. Unfortunately, she likes him too, and the nagging survival instinct she thought she killed with booze and recreational drugs is coming back with a vengeance. But to fail to die as a proper Holy Maiden would be to betray the goals she’s inches from achieving and the people she wants to save.

PERSEPHONE’S WALTZ is a 130,000 word young adult fantasy novel.

First Five Pages:

I, Holy Maiden Ysabel, have only four months, three weeks, and two days to live. I’d prefer to spend as little of that as possible in meetings with the Council of Cardinals, yet here I was. I needed a smoke or a stiff drink. Not both; I’d learned from bitter experience on my knees in the outhouse that redleaf and alcohol did not mix.

Cardinal Rakir continued, “…As the maid said to the bishop.” He laughed uproariously. So did the rest of the room. I contemplated the five minutes of my life which I would never get back. Rakir deserved a beating for making me sit through, by my last count, eighty-nine jokes where the punchline was “women are idiots.”

“What did you think, Ysabel?” Rakir asked, smirking. The average intelligence of humanity will be raised the day his nighttime activities cause his old heart to fail.

I widened my eyes. “Oh, it was dreadfully entertaining, but I think it went over my head. Alas, the Sun God has not blessed me with a wit equal to you gentlemen. Why did the bishop tie the maid up? Did she do something wrong?”

They exploded into laughter. I kept my vapid, pretty smile on my face while I contemplated the sharp limits of Rakir’s knowledge of bondage. Just tied hands and a blindfold? If you’re going the sensory deprivation route, at least take advantage of the increased sensitivity with a bit of hot wax and ice. As they had become more obvious, it had gotten harder to pretend I didn’t know far more about how to dominate a partner than they did.

When I’d claimed the Sun God told me as his chosen Holy Healer I should be allowed to join the council, the cardinals discovered the presence of a woman made it awkward for them to brag about their sexual conquests during worktime. So I pretended to be too virginal to understand sexual innuendo if it mugged me in a dark alley. I was still being excluded from the wheeling-and-dealing in the private drinking sessions, but at least they didn’t “forget” to tell me when to show up at the Cardinal’s Chamber to cast my vote.

It was a gorgeous room if you could overlook that it was paid for by charitable tithes. Silver and gold etched dozens of little angels on the ceiling. Statues of muscled men crowded the alcoves, fig leaves covering where the Last Archpatriarch had gone around hacking all their penises off. The round table made of pure gold had to be replaced once a month because gold is a very soft metal. The hand-woven silk carpets didn’t last much longer on account of the drinking parties I wasn’t invited to. A gas lamp burned in a violet-tinted glass case.

Rakir flipped through his papers. “I’m pleased to announce construction of the stadium for the 549th World Games is complete and under-budget.”

The brightness of the sun in my smile and my voice, I said, “Then I’m sure you have the aracoins to build the bathrooms for women I asked for. Such wonderful news!”

Cardinal Poul grunted. “The Games are too violent for women to be interested in attending.” Poul’s father was a virgin and his mother sucked eggs in hell. We’d be humiliated in the eyes of less patriarchal countries around the world if we made every female dignitary hold it all day. Our economy had barely recovered from the Rashiban queen’s last trade embargo. I didn’t intend to hold it all day.

I scanned the eight men in the room, looking for potential supporters. Two cardinals were missing, but who? Poul I could recognize by his black hat and long beard, but my face-blindness meant I could only tell the cardinals apart by the customary dress of their different sects. The ones who just wore brown robes, like Farruco, Franshall, Lordon, and Envio, all blurred together. Cardinal Orwin, decked out in rings and necklaces, was my closest ally: he had the morals of an alley cat but he was smart enough to have invented the printing press and bribed his way up from a common church-raised orphan to the council. I held up two fingers at him, promising to vote his way the next two times. He nodded.

I cast pleading eyes at Santos, who murmured, “Holy Ysabel’s kind-heartedness does her credit.” Orwin rolled his eyes at me and I resisted the urge to do the same. Santos was the nicest of the lot and probably the only sincere believer at this table, cardinal being more a political position than a religions one these days. Mix him and Orwin together in a bowl and there’d be one decent cardinal between them. It probably said something negative about me that I liked Orwin more. If every cardinal who owed me a favor voted with me, I’d have just enough.

“Excuse me.” I clasped my hands together. “Please allow my humble self to plea for charity in the name of the Sun God. Let us call this esteemed council to vote.”

The vote was four to four. A tie meant no change. Time to pester them to recount until someone changed their mind just to make me stop babbling nonsense.

The brass double-doors creaked open. Cardinal Jioh strode in, his white coat heavy with gemstones and his black beard bristling. Everyone in the room sat up straighter. Jioh was the head of the council. Unfortunately, I had about as much chance of convincing him to vote with me as the Moon Devil did in seducing the Sun God. I hated him with every fiber of my being.

“Noble Jioh, the air becomes more holy now you have graced us with your presence.” I beamed at him. “The Sun God must have sent your wisdom to help us with the thorny tasks assailing us from all sides.” Sorry for making you bear the blame, God.

“I wouldn’t dream of letting you struggle on your own, Ysabel.” His tone was both patronizing and sarcastic. Unlike the rest of the council, I’d never managed to quite convince Jioh that I was an empty-headed ninny happy to sacrifice myself, so he kept a close eye on me for any chance that I might try to escape our bargain.

He planted his giant body, both muscular and rippling with fat, down on his throne with a thud. “I come bearing news of an emergency.” His silver cane topped by a white orb leaned against his legs. He took it everywhere, despite having no leg injuries. Of all the cardinals, only he still appeared to be a young man. He had dark monolid eyes, a lumpy face, and a full head of black hair he kept curled and shoulder-length. I would say something unpleasant about his mother, but I couldn’t possibly insult an unfortunate woman who had to squeeze such a bloated head out of her womb.

His next words echoed throughout the small room: “The Holy City may shortly face a siege from Dark Lord Kaine.”

My hands clenched into fists as my mind spun.

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Hicks Rev 2

Name: Heather Hicks
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy


Finley Blaise has spent most of her life hiding in plain sight.  A few trips to Juvie and the threat of institutionalization have a way of teaching a girl the value of a well-told lie.  But when her foster Dad goes missing, and she’s forced to take shelter at his old school, Terreau Volcanaeris, a science and technology academy shrouded in mystery, she realizes her lying skills are novice-level.  At best.

There, Finley discovers a secret society that has been working for hundreds of years to conceal one dangerous truth: the four Humours—yep, those weird bodily fluids (blood, bile, and phlegm) that your English teacher glossed over while forcing you to sort-of-skim Shakespeare—really do determine a person’s nature.  And worse.  What about science and the Enlightenment you ask?  Smoke and mirrors, folks.

At Terreau, Finley can finally come out of hiding and set her freakish abilities free.  But when the life of a new friend is threatened, she’s forced to team up with a cocky Scot and an Algerian immigrant and take a leap of faith back into the eleventh century, where witches haunt her dreams and villains are both foul and fair, to face a truth only known to a few, to fight for a twenty-first century future she would never have believed possible.


The first time the fire came to me, I woke up with a broken nose and a mouthful of silt and stone.  I was twelve.  It was the middle of the night.  And I felt the cold, for the first time in as long as I could remember. 

I’d gone to Fuller Brook to hide.  The painful cramping had been coming so often, and the hallucinations…well, they were no longer possible to hide.  Then, the fire came again, and there were nothing but questions.  From school officials.  The police.  The court-appointed therapist.  None of my answers would have been even close to plausible.  So, I told them lies.  They didn’t believe those either, of course, but that’s the thing about adults and unlikely situations—they like to create their own truths. 

It’s funny how a single truth can take so many shapes.

Take my reflection in the lavatory mirror that I’ve been staring at for the past few minutes, as I hold my hands under the pathetic stream of water coming from the tiny sink.  Everything about my outward appearance—from my pale, freckled skin to my rounded light eyes—projects vulnerability, naivete even.  Yet, if the Air Marshall were to worry about one passenger on this flight, it should be me, the juvenile who was sent to the meet the pilot during boarding, because she was—sniff, sniff—having to fly all alone. 

Usually, my foster Dad, Jefferson, comes to me for the few weeks we have together each summer, but this year, he’s the key-note speaker at some science symposium in Edinburgh, Scotland.  He thought it would be good for me to get away.  See the sights. 

So…here I am.  A girl who can create fire with a wish.  In a storm on an airplane, where very flammable oxygen is being pumped into the air. 

I sigh, when someone bangs on the door.  “Ocupado.”

“Miss.”  It’s the grim-faced flight attendant.  “We’re about to land.  You’ll have to take your seat.”

While the rest of the unsuspecting passengers have been doing what passengers do on Trans-Atlantic flights, I’ve been practicing my Yoga breathing and making a trip to the WC every half hour to…relieve the pressure.  Obviously, she’s noticed the frequency.

I dry my hands with a flick of heat.  Small flames encase my hands, then suck back in through my pores.  When I slide open the door, she’s waiting.

“You could get in trouble for smoking on an airplane,” she whispers warningly, as I slip past her. 

If only my primary concern was emphysema as a senior citizen.  I doubt I even live that long, but I’d certainly like for the rest of the people on board to have that chance. 

By the time the plane’s wheels touch down on the tarmac, my exhale is at volcano steam-vent level, but when I’m finally able to exit the plane and head up the ramp toward baggage claim with the rest of the herd, the tension begins to recede.  

I catch my first glimpse of Jefferson’s pasty, bald head down the concourse…and the dial moves as close to calm as a freak like me can get.  Seeing his goofy face after so long is like winning front row tickets to an Imagine Dragons concert and a new iPhone to film it with all on the same day. 

I’ve missed him.  The bland, rubbery meals.  The ridiculous quizzes on the periodic table, Latin root words, and the books we’ve read together-apart.  Even the awkward conversations about my non-existent (and-definitely-not-ready-to-talk-about) sex life.  But, as the distance between us narrows, I realize something’s not right.  His expression’s off.  Where’s the crooked smile and embarrassing waving?  And, where the heck is the bowtie?

When he breaks into a jog, it’s like a slap to the face.  First, because the man only gets excitable about a few things, all of which—besides my grades—are physics related.  Second, Jefferson isn’t really the running type.  At all.  In fact, most days, he moves at sloth-speed.  He’s more an I prefer to exercise-my-synapses type of guy. 

And…just like that.  My already pathetic version of Zen?  Poof.


I squeeze my backpack straps tightly and suck in a breath, yanking the memory back where it belongs.  The residual uneasiness does have me picking up my knees.  I cover twice the distance Jefferson does in the same amount of time.  My birthparents must have been lightyears ahead of his in terms of athletic evolution. 

We collide in a desperate hug.  “Oh, thank God.  Thank God,” he mumbles, pulling back, but still gripping my shoulders.  “You’re alright.”

I smile, trying to reassure him, because he looks wrecked.  “I’m good.”

“Okay.  Okay.” 

“What’s wrong?”

“We have to get out of here.”  He takes my hand and begins pulling me toward the exit, head swiveling, searching.

Instinct tells me, he doesn’t just mean out of the airport.  “What?  We’re not staying?  What about your presentation?  Nessie?  Your puke face I was planning to film, when you try haggis?”  When he doesn’t take the bait, I get serious.  “Where?”
“I don’t know.”  He doesn’t stop scanning the sea of people.  “I’ll…I’ll figure it out.”

We’re heading toward the exit.  “What about my bag?”

“We’ll have to leave it.” 

“Jefferson?”  I think about the things in there.  My favorite pair of jeans.  My Green Bay sweatshirt.  Everything else I thought I might need this summer.  “What’s going on?  Talk to me!”  I pull against his hold, but his grip is surprisingly strong for a guy who spends ten hours a day analyzing particle accelerator data. 

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.  I thought we’d have more time.  Thought I’d done everything to cover our tracks.”

Cover our tracks?  “Jefferson, what’s happened?” 

“I’ll tell you all about it.  Everything.  After we get out of here.” 

But he stutters to a stop forty yards from the main entrance, looking like he’s seen a ghost.  All I see are strangers.  Lots of people sitting around bored and waiting, some moving with intent.  The same view you see at any airport, but something has obviously spooked him. 

Then, just as suddenly, he’s shoving me towards a bathroom, one of those reserved for families with small children.  “In.  Inside.”  Luckily, it’s empty.  As soon as we’re inside, he presses the door closed and throws the lock.  It’s dark.  He doesn’t flick on the lights. 

I squeeze his hand.  “Jefferson, you’re scaring me.”  And, when I get scared, bad things happen. 

He squeezes back, but his voice remains all business.  “Listen to me, sweetheart.  We have to separate.  It will be safer for you that way.  You remember the code, right?” 

Run.  Don’t stop.

“Yes,” I manage, but it’s barely a whisper.  The code was always just something he reminded me about, sort of like flossing.  He’d regularly stress its importance, and I’d nod and wait until he left the room to go back to whatever I was doing.

He sniffs deeply.  “Breathe, Finley.  It’s going to be okay.”

Jefferson adopted me when I was ten.  Rescued me, really, and loved me, when he didn’t have to.  It’s been the two of us against the world for almost as long as I can remember.  We’ve never talked directly about the fire, but he knows there’s something not normal about me.  Just like I know about the secret he pretends to keep from me. 

Still, I trust him more than anyone, so I breathe deep and grip control by the throat.

1st 5 Pages July Workshop - Bohan Rev 2

Name: Patrick Bohan
Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
Title: Into the Inferno
When sixteen-year-old amateur occultist Paul “borrows” an enchanted ankh to conjure a social life, he actually succeeds! Well, he succeeds in summoning a demon. The demon steals the ankh and kidnaps Paul’s crush before disappearing into the Underworld. Oops.
A demon-hunting society arrests Paul for the blunder, revealing that he is a changeling — a magically-inclined underworlder raised among humans. And if that wasn't stressful enough, the society assigns fierce teenager Alice to be Paul’s babysitter. She doesn’t exactly appreciate the assignment, or see eye-to-eye with her people’s nonviolent approach to changelings.
The society gives Paul just one month to retrieve the ankh and rescue his crush. If he fails, the society turns his head into a wall hanging.
Paul and Alice’s search for the ankh takes them deep into the Underworld, a world where might makes right and danger strides through the ashen streets. But when Paul discovers that he’s /popular/ with the cutthroat underworlders, the society calls his loyalty into question. Paul must find a way to save both worlds from the demon he released, all while keeping his big head on his shoulders. Fingers crossed.

There’s a storm demon in my shed. San Francisco is pouring rain, my eye bags have eye bags, I still don’t have a prom date, and now there’s a freaking demon in my shed. That all changes tonight.
I check my watch. 2:12 a.m. I’ve got less than forty-eight minutes till the witching hour begins. Perfect.
I grab Jimmy the duffel bag, and root through the tools, making sure everything I need is in there. Yeah, I named my duffel. I get lonely sometimes.
Digging through the bag, I find three red candles, two feathers, four chunks of chalk, and a box of cinnamon rolls. But no silver bell. I drop the duffel to search my bedroom shelves. 
If I can’t find my bell soon, I might have to use myself again. I’ve already donated a quart of blood this month just to keep the lights on, but I can’t chat with a demon empty-handed. It’s like showing up to a company potluck without any food -- you just don’t do it. Especially when the host can bring a thousand volts down on your head.
I should introduce myself. My name’s Paul Bernelli, and I’m a sorcerer. Sorcerer is the fancy way of saying I cast spells. That I do magic. It means I brew up love potions, summon demons, and sneak into abandoned sheds to shout biblical Aramaic at three in the morning. But to everyone else, /sorcerer/ just means that I’m crazy. I’ve gotten pretty used to the snickers and dirty looks.
Where is that bell? I peek under my bed, then tear through a pile of old sci-fi magazines. Nothing.
I dig into the pockets of my ratty black jeans, then fumble underneath my mattress for the silver bell. No luck.
Bang! Something porcelain shatters upstairs.
“It’s not here, Linda. Where the hell is it?”
“Jesus, Randy, I’m not responsible for your crap.”
 Uh-oh. My aunt’s fighting with her boyfriend. Again. And judging from the horrible noises upstairs, I should get going as soon as possible. Whenever I get involved in these scuffles, somebody always gets punched in the face. And this time, it’s probably not going to be my aunt’s new ex-con boyfriend who gets the knuckle sandwich. Better just mind my own business.
I root through my dresser drawers, turning over a mess of socks and t-shirts. Not there either.
That was a pure silver bell, handmade in Romania. It took me two months of blood donations, hustling, and makeshift yard sales to afford that bell -- I can’t just lose it!
My eyes turn to my desk chair. Aha! A shiny piece of metal peeks out from under the cushions. I pounce, yanking the bell from the chair’s cheap upholstery. Silver shines in my hands.
Aunt Linda opens my bedroom door and, seeing the expensive silver bell, her beady eyes light up like a kid on Christmas morning.
“Give it to me, Paul,” she says. “Don’t make me ask twice.”
“No! I need this. It’s important!” I duck away, cradling the bell in my hands.
“What’s important is that you learn to show your aunt some respect! Sixteen is old enough to help out with the bills, bug-eyes.” She shudders, seeing the duffel bag full of ritual tools. “Besides, I thought I told you I didn’t want that freaky Satan stuff in my house. Gives me the creeps.”
Aunt Linda isn’t exactly religious, but she still can’t stand seeing my occult stuff in the apartment. I never understood why. As hobbies go, magic is harmless. It has me learning all about history, Latin, and sometimes, even anatomy! Sure, most of those anatomy lessons involve voodoo dolls and goat dissections, but it all seems pretty edifying to me.
“I’m not giving it to you! I paid for this. I need it!”
“Why you ungrateful little…” Aunt Linda reaches for the bell, but I easily dodge out of the way. She makes a few more clumsy grabs, tripping over her own feet. I smirk. Dodging drunk people has always been a favorite of mine. In life, you’ve got to enjoy the little things.
“You lousy disappointment. Just you wait!” She spins and storms out of the room.
 I hear Aunt Linda yell something about /silver/ and /brat/ from outside the doorway. A few seconds later she steps back into my bedroom, only this time she comes with Randy, her scary-looking boyfriend of the month. He raises a huge fist and I yelp, throwing both hands into the air like a total clown. Randy grabs my right arm, twists, and pulls the bell away. The two go back to bickering, this time about what pills they can buy with their loot.
Dammit. Not only does getting my bell snatched suck, but it also means I’ll have to use more of my own blood tonight. Without any silver or exotic sacrifice, blood is the only valuable I have for my demon boarder. Between lab donations for cash and ritual donations for magic, I’ve been giving way more blood than I can spare. Sooner than later that’s going to catch up with me. It was careless to bring anything remotely paranormal home, and now, I’m paying for it. Another reminder to always play it safe when it comes to magic.
Throwing the duffel over my shoulder, I bolt out the bedroom door, ready for tonight’s evocation. Whenever I’m feeling blue I go out to my shed, light a few candles, and cast spells. They usually work. Besides, even if the rituals don’t fix all my big money or social or emotional issues, a part of me still enjoys having a dark secret. It’s like being a superhero, without having to fight crime, or wear underwear outside my pants. Even if everyone thinks I’m nuts, I know the truth, and the power is nice. Who wouldn’t want to be able whip up a love spell, or talk to spirits with a Ouija board? Everybody needs an escape. My escape just happens to involve pentagrams and storm demons.
I grab a box of stale pastries on the way out the apartment, scale the building’s creaky steps, and start the long march to my shed. Since I’m self-taught, demonic evocations are always tricky as hell. All the old Latin and Aramaic grimoires might as well be gibberish Fortunately, I have access to the most magical tool of all: the internet. It’s taken me years of pouring through Wikipedia pages and occult blogs written in all caps, painstakingly separating the real spells from the fake, but I’ve finally got it down. You can learn just about anything online these days. I guess that’s why moms and dads put parental controls on their kids’ computers. But I never had parents. I had an aunt. A very busy aunt, who was just glad I wasn’t breaking into homes like mom and dad.  
Tonight, I’m summoning Paimon, a demon of storms and forbidden knowledge. Paimon grants me the occasional wish or occult secret in exchange for goodies. He’s also one of my only friends.
 I walk down the apartment stoop to the sidewalk and shudder as a gust of cold wind slaps my face, rain pelting my coffee hair. I wrap my striped scarf tighter around my neck.
I live in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. The name comes from Mario Fillipi, a Mafioso who’d bribe the broke and underpaid police force with household items.