Sunday, April 21, 2019

1st Five Pages April Workshop - Feltham Rev 2

Name: Abi Feltham
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Title: The Spring Years

Pitch

After the world recovers from a widespread energy crisis, humanity relies solely on chronologium. Sixteen-year-old Billie Embers is preparing to embark on her “Spring Years”—a compulsory fuel harvesting programme that requires every teenager to travel back in time and live for four years, creating the temporal paradox from which chronologium is farmed.

When Billie travels back to 1993 and meets Luke Bell, a simple but irresistible mechanic, she breaks the cardinal rule—never fall in love. After unsuccessfully resisting their forbidden romance, they are tracked down by the programme’s relentless policing unit—The Invigilators—and must evade them or face execution.

Armed only with a time travel device and her love for Luke, Billie is thrown into a cat and mouse game that spans not only the complexities of her adolescence, but the entirety of time and space. From the comfort of her futuristic year zone to the grungy 1990s, the roaring parties of the 1920s to the dangers of medieval England, Billie and Luke must keep both themselves and their relationship alive.

Chapter One
The day before I left my Year Zone had been somewhat unconventional. Sitting in the back of a police shuttle, I counted how many times I’d been here. Six this year, five the last and three the year before. I’d managed to break my personal record and I couldn’t help but congratulate myself. Mum wouldn’t be happy, I knew that, but perhaps she’d recognise my achievement. A medal maybe? At least a cookie.
Officer Aldana climbed out of the shuttle and hovered round to my side, his balance boots making that annoying whirrr sound.
I checked the time—we’d arrived at my house before I could think of an excuse why, once again, I’d been so lucky to deserve a police escort.
He swung the door open and stood there silently, waiting for me to move. I caught my reflection in his helmet visor as he lifted it and gave me one of those I’m-not-mad-just-disappointed looks.
Smiling sweetly, I sunk into the backseat. Perhaps he’d let me off this time.
“Out you get,” he said, not at all impressed. “I need to talk to your mum.”
“I’ve got a better idea, Martin,” I said, my index finger pointed in the air. “How about thi—”
“Officer Aldana,” he corrected me. “Spending so much time in my vehicle doesn’t make us friends, you know.”
“Sorry, Officer Aldana. What if—and this is just a suggestion—you give me a free pass? I’m springing tomorrow… there’s zero chance of me doing it again.”
“You know that’s not how it works, Billie. Let’s go.”
He signalled me out of the shuttle as if he were my chauffeur, then led me up the garden path to certain doom, hovering next to me. It’s not like I’d skipped school deliberately. It was more of a coincidental thing. Like, somehow I turned left at the end of my street instead of right, and before I knew it, I’d spent all afternoon in the VR arcade shooting zombie beauty queens with a giant pink machine gun. Totally not my fault.
I scanned my holowatch and the front door slid open, whereupon I found my mother sat on the stairs, shoulders hunched, tapping her foot. She’d been in the exact same position the day I returned from running away. I’d been missing for an entire week before she called Jodie’s parents to check I was there. I got in a lot of trouble that day, but at least it was Mum who caved first.
“What’s she done now?” asked Mum. She was talking to Aldana but looking at me.
“Good afternoon, Mrs. Embers,” he said, holding out a hand to shake hers.
She ignored it. “Miss.”
“Sorry, I forget. Miss Embers. Can we have a chat?”
“Look Officer, we’ve been through this. I’ll speak to her but there’s not much else I can do. She’s a lost cause.”
Mum spoke as if I wasn’t standing directly in front of her. How rude! I barged past and headed upstairs, stomping heavily to make my presence known. Who was she to call me a lost cause? At least I have my whole life ahead of me. She’s so old, she probably remembers the energy crisis. 
“You shouldn’t talk about someone in the third person when they are present,” I said, glancing over my shoulder to shoot Mum a sardonic look. “You should refer to them by their name. It’s basic good manners.”
She didn’t hesitate before loudly telling me to go to my room, but by then I was already outside my door. I flung it open and without turning round, asked her—at a similarly deafening volume—where else she thought I was going. I didn’t wait for a reply. I just slammed the door and kicked the pile of dirty clothes that perpetually lived on my bedroom floor.
Almost immediately, I felt a stab of regret. Did I really want to spend my final evening at home angry at Mum? I should make an effort to get along with her, after all, we weren’t going to see each other for four whole years. Before I’d had a chance to even think about an apology, my holowatch’s display screen sprung to life, emanating from the device on my wrist. Mum had sent me a ping.
YOU CAN FORGET ABOUT LEAVING THE HOUSE TONIGHT.
Uh oh. Caps. That’s when I knew she was serious. I slumped behind my desk, tears threatening to well up. There was no use in arguing with Mum. She knew where to hit me where it hurt. My last night with my friends.
Earlier that morning, when I found myself entering a VR booth instead of the school gates, I’d questioned my actions. I couldn’t decide whether I was skipping school because I was extraordinarily keen to play Undead Pageant III, or whether I was, in typical Billie fashion, putting off the most important thing I had to do that week—travel through the depths of time and space.
If I stayed away from school, away from home, reality would never hit and I wouldn’t have to go on my Spring Years. Abandoning my family wasn’t so bad; it was my friends I couldn’t bear to leave. But now, I’d made it even worse. I wouldn’t even get to enjoy those last few moments with them before they entered different Year Zones too. My heart sank.
Accepting defeat, I swiped through my social feeds and shot Jodie a ping.
Me: Tonight’s a no-go. Bust up with Mum.
Her: Noooooo! Because of skipping?
Me: Because of her unflinching dedication to ruining my life. And also, yes. Skipping.
Her: Disappointment levelsky high.
Me: I messed up. So, so sorry. I wanted to see you guys.
Her: It’s okay, chicken. We still have tomorrow.
I knew I could count on Jodie to understand.
No one came to get me that evening, not even for dinner. Mum was, presumably, still mad at me, and my sister, Saskia, would’ve been too busy either (a) studying like a maniac for her spacetime engineering degree, (b) “volunteering” at the animal hospital but really just chatting up recently bereaved pet owners, or (c) kissing Mum’s behind with her perfectly lined lips. Sometimes I wonder if we’re even related. Were it not for our freckles, above average height and gangly limbs that are more akin to tentacles, you’d never guess.
Instead of enjoying my final night of freedom, hanging out with friends or sitting round a silent dinner table with my moody family, I turned off my light and crawled into bed—fully clothed, make-up intact. Sadly, this ritual was all too familiar.

1st Five Pages April Workshop - Jolley Rev 2

Name: Mary Jolley
Genre: YA Magical Realism
Title: BLACK BAY

PITCH:

After their mother dies, Serena Saltvik—a sixteen-year-old with an aversion to fish—and her sister, Elin, move from Utah to Denmark to build a new home and family with their estranged father.

Her father’s enemies—wearing sealskins and looking like Marines—kidnap Elin. Serena resolves she will do anything to rescue the sister she loves. To get Elin back, Serena must leave the comforts of dry land to find the vand—a mysterious group of underwater dwellers.

Serena finds more than just her sister. She finds the exasperating Nix, who shows her a society living in an ocean ravaged by her father’s mining company. If she cannot uncover her father’s secrets and stop the mining barge, the vand will die, and she with lose the new home she never could have imagined.

From the cottage on the cliffs of Denmark to the grand halls of the sea kingdom, this is a sweeping story about a young woman who must decide where she belongs, and if she’s willing to sacrifice her future and her freedom to stop her father’s deep sea mining operation from destroying her friends.

PAGES:

The ocean roared against the cliffs, calling to me. The squawking of birds filtered over the plateau to the cottage. Even though my sister, Elin, was eleven months older, I led out on our bikes. I was five inches taller and hewn from stronger material. Lean muscle, lithe, and athletic.

And I knew where I was going.

The beach I’d seen last night on Dad’s brief Faroe Island tour beckoned to me. A narrow strip of black beach nestled among the crags. I wanted to stand where sea meets land—where two worlds collide.

We pedaled away from the whitewashed cottage, past Hardrada Energy, Dad’s mining company. The steel buildings looked like alien invaders among the sleepy pastures. The main gate of the company compound opened as we approached. I enjoyed a false sense of escaping, even though I was still stuck on this island, in Dad’s custody now.

I took the curving road south along the rugged coastal cliffs. We passed verdant pastures and red and white houses, but few cars. Far out to sea, Dad’s mining barge looked like a toy boat surrounded by a world of shimmery navy. The wind woke me, and the pounding of my legs brought me back to myself.

“Slow down, Serena,” Elin called from five yards behind me.

I did. For a minute.

Growing up in landlocked Utah, I hadn’t been to the coast. Mom never took us to the ocean. Ever. Yesterday, seeing the deep beauty, I thought maybe she stayed away because the memories were too painful. But today, for the first time in my life, I would touch the ocean.

We rode for two miles along the cliff before I found a path that looked like it led down to the shore. I stopped in front of a handwritten sign that read, Beware the beach below. Danger. Danger of what? I wanted to see this beach. Find out why I couldn’t stop thinking of that strip of black sand I had seen from the cliffs last night. I stood in front of the sign, blocking it from view. I would be careful.

Scowling and panting, Elin rolled to a stop. “I’m ready to turn around.”

“Just down this path a little ways. Then we’ll take a rest before heading straight back.”

She wiped at a thin layer of sweat on her brow, tucking a blonde strand behind her ear. “Fine.”

The path turned to packed dirt and shifted steeply down as it cut into black cliffs. Exhilarated by the beauty, I loosened the brakes and flew. Elin whooped behind me. She cheered when having fun. When we went sledding, she was the loudest on the mountain. People flocked to her for it. I enjoyed the pleasure in silence—that made the riot bigger inside my chest.

At the bottom of the cliffs, the path ended abruptly at a swath of small rocks. I slammed my brakes and skidded to the side. Elin wasn’t so quick. She hit the gravel.

 “Whoa!” Her wheels twisted and stopped with a jerk. She jumped off as the bike slid to the ground.

Well, we found the danger. “Nice move.” My heart thrummed. “You okay?”

“Banged my leg.” She panted and grimaced as she surveyed her scratched shin and red knee. “It hurts.”

Elin didn’t like pain.

I couldn’t see any deep cuts. No broken bones. She’d just have to be tough. I wasn’t turning back. Not when we were so close.

I picked up her bike. Flat tire. Rats.

“I didn’t want to bike home anyway,” she said. “Call Dad.”

Last night Dad had given us a local service flip phone since our smartphones didn’t have international calling yet. I pulled it out of my sports bra and wiped off the sheen of sweat. “No service.” I flipped it closed.

“We can try again up on the main road.” She looked up. “Out of this canyon.” The path back disappeared between towering rock faces. The way forward was a jumble of massive boulders. She winced dramatically as she hobbled to her feet.

“First, we are checking this out.” I left the bikes and started for the crack of blue visible between massive rocks lining the path. Sneakers crunched on sharp gravel. Protective Plexiglas covered the sheer face of a slanting boulder. Engravings etched the black basalt rock underneath, the familiar swirls and braids indicative of Viking carvings snaked around four detailed images.

“So sick,” I said, my voice eager. I pressed my hands over the glass, wishing I could trace the curves and slashes with my fingers. I loved myths, Norse most especially. There was the Yggdrasil, the world tree. Crude animals and weapons surrounded it. The symbol for Rán, goddess of the sea.

“What’s that?” Elin pointed to an icon depicting a scaly fish with shark teeth and human arms.

“The Vikings believed mermaids patrolled these waters,” I said. “They made sacrifices to the wave maidens for safe passage.” I studied the joining of human limb and fish tail. This was so cool. “I’ve read stories they sacrificed their own children.”

“Who would do that?” Elin asked, wrapping her arms around her ribs.

I shrugged. “The sea creatures were suppossedly brutal and merciless. Fear and supersition make people do unspeakable things.” I pointed to a serpent coiled around a mutant fish, his mouth opening and devouring the human head. “Check that out.”

“I think they had island fever,” Elin said, with her grossed-out face.

My chuckle died when I fixed on a crude drawing of the male fish-person holding hands with a woman, his tail twisted around her legs. Usually it was the men who were enchanted by sea-maidens—and then subsequently drowned. I didn’t know any stories where women were beguiled by the sea. But I wanted to read them.

Elin turned from the ancient art, and I reluctantly followed. We emerged from the canyon a short distance later. The beach.

The gravel turned to fine black sand. The soothing sound of lapping waters rolled over the secluded cove. To the left, boulders jumbled down into the waves, creating hidden pockets.

“It’s perfect,” I said. I could see how Vikings believed exotic creatures existed under this mysterious blue expanse. I almost did, too. It was fun to pretend anyway.

“Beautiful,” Elin said with a swoon. “And so much bigger in real life.”

Shoes and socks dropped to the sand, and I ran down the middle of the beach. When I hit the water, I jerked to a stop, my teeth slamming. The sweat on my skin turned to ice. I fisted my hands. Mom’s diamond ring on my pinky, hewn from sea coral, dug into my skin. Elin cautiously approached and stuck in a toe. She shrieked and retreated.

I stood, ankle deep, and threw out my arms. The frozen froth, salty air, and crystalline beauty awoke something deep inside. The mysterious ocean glimmered like liquid jewels. I was alive—for the first time in two months.

Since that police officer had shown up at our door.

The sea spray kissed my skin, sending electricity skidding across it. My heart beat with the rhythm of the waves. My hair had fallen loose of my braid, and it danced with the wind. Time and sorrow faded. This vast expanse was my soul—dark, frozen, and churning. I wanted to wrap up in the brine and stroke through the mysterious waters.

With wicked delight and full of freedom, I gave into the wild urge gripping me. I let go of my worries, my grief, and let the strange magnetic pull of the ocean have me. Arms over my ears and hands together, I leapt forward and dove headfirst into a small cresting wave.

The sea welcomed me.

Blood retreated to my heart as cold encased me. I resisted the urge to rocket to the surface. Instead, I waited, listening to the crackle of tiny creatures. I’d been in a thousand swimming pools, but this was a different experience completely. This was—I wasn’t even sure. But I loved it. Needed it. Eyes closed, I floated in numbing emptiness. The waves rocked me like a cradling mother.

“SER-EEE-NA!” Water muffled Elin’s panicked screams.

Icy pain snapped me from my fantasy. I was the fastest sixteen-year-old swimmer in the western United States, but my limbs were sluggish and slow. Anxiety rose as reality broke through my reverie. What had I been thinking jumping into the ocean like that? Fighting paralysis, I jolted out of the water.

Elin, stricken and white, stood ankle-deep in the ocean, her arms reaching for me. “What happened?”

Stiff as frozen fish, I shuffled up the shore. “It’s colder than it looks.”

“You jumped?” Her voice had gone dangerously high as her warm finger wrapped my forearm.

“It was dumb.” But wonderful. The ocean invited me back even now. I would return another day, when I had a towel and a ride home.

“Yes, it was.” Her nostrils flared, and her tone mimicked Mother’s when she was angry.

My chattering teeth were my only reply.

Her face softened. “Let’s get you home before you freeze.”

Home. Dad’s unwelcoming cottage mocked the word. Elin led the way toward the path in the rocks. I hesitated, looking over my shoulder for one last look at the beautiful blue.

The wind shifted. I inhaled and then breathed again—trying to hold the delicious smell. Pineapple, thyme, and clean skin. What was that? I gulped down each whiff of the tantalizing swirls, failing to find the source. The scent wrapped me like an embrace, stirring up the desire to be kissed, before dissipating. Feeling as though I’d lost something valuable, I shuffled up the beach.

1st Five Pages April Workshop - Wyatt Rev 2


Name: Paige Wyatt 
Genre: YA Contemporary 

Title: A Broken Sound 

PITCH: 

When 17-yr-old Juilliard bound classical guitarist Janie James’s Grandpop dies, she has to move back in with the recovering drug addict parents that abandoned her when she was eleven. This means she must leave her girlfriend and best friend behind in the picturesque town of Cold Spring and move to New York City right before her senior year. 

Janie finds it impossible to trust that her parents are truly living sober. Grief and change throw Janie into a creative block with her music, causing her to bomb an audition. She descends into a dark place of anger and emptiness. 
While working part time in a coffee shop, Janie meets cute and charming Devin who also has a father who is an addict. Devin takes Janie to beat up drug dealers, giving her an avenue in which she can channel her anger. 

Janie struggles to keep her vigilantism a secret while juggling work, a new school, guitar, and her parents’ recovery. When she discovers her mother has relapsed, Janie finds herself in more turmoil than she ever imagined. Janie must confront her rage and reconcile her grief before she destroys herself and everyone in her path. 


PAGES: 

Bending wood to my will gives my hands purpose. The sound of the saw, the smell of spruce wood, the rhythmic movements of my hands as I sand the neck of the guitar I’m making serve as the perfect distraction. I can channel my disappointment into controlling the shape of the neck, the grooves of each fret. It keeps my mind still. It’s almost as good as playing music. 

But as I wipe sweat from my forehead, I can’t help but count all the other birthdays my parents missed. You get used to broken promises when your parents are addicts, and Grandpop more than makes up for it, but it still stings when they don’t even call. I visualize the next step of the guitar making process as I tie my hair back in a ponytail, but a sigh escapes that almost blends in with the wind in the woods that surround our house in Cold Spring. 

Grandpop ambles over to my workstation, his silver hair shining in the afternoon sun that streams through the open garage door. He has the look he wears every time my parents don’t show up for a birthday or holiday: sad eyes but a bright smile. “Janie girl,” he says, his smile unwavering, “I want some cake.” 

I don’t have to glance at the clock to know that I’ve been in here for two hours. “I just want to try it.” I hold the neck as if I’m going to play it to test out the balance. It doesn’t feel the same as Cloine, my gorgeous classical guitar, but I still relish the smooth texture of freshly sanded wood. I place my fingers on the fretboard, feeling more than seeing as I pick through an imaginary scale. I can almost hear the notes even though there are no strings on this guitar yet. It whets my appetite for the real thing. As soon as we’re done, I’m going to practice until it’s time to meet up with my friends. 

But plans of settling down with Cloine disappear with the sound of knocking. I stare at the tiny brown side door, hoping and fearing that my parents might be on the other side. 

The tension eases when it swings open, balloons burst through, and my best friends spill into the workshop. All the shittiness falls away because April and Mateo are here. “Surprise!” they shout in unison. 

I set the guitar aside before Mateo tackles me. By the time he gets to where I am, my arms are open in anticipation. His hug wraps me in his familiar smell of Axe and detergent and his too loud shout of “Happy birthday!” makes me laugh. A Mateo hug is the best antidote to any bad mood. 

When he finally lets go and his giant fuzzy head of black hair is out of the way, I see her and something inside me relaxes. My girlfriend waits for me to make the first move, patient and still as always. April Zhao is my perfect complement. She’s a gifted surrealism painter--the sight to my sound. She is my strength when I want to break. People say teenagers don’t know what love is, but our love is real. She sees all the broken parts of who I am and loves me anyway. 

Her dark hair trails down her back in waves with light pink streaks, and she’s wearing a t-shirt and jeans, both spattered with neon paint. She smiles, making her freckles dance across her nose, and she hands me a box wrapped in my favorite color: turquoise blue. “Happy birthday,” she says. 

I take the gift and wrap her in my arms. I’m taller than her by a head, but she fits perfectly like she always does. We kiss, a peck light on the lips that’s appropriate for Grandpop’s eyes but enough to let me know she loves me. “I thought you were busy until later!” I say to both of them. “This is amazing.” 

April wiggles her eyebrows and her glasses move down her nose. “All part of the ruse to surprise you.” 

“We were about to have some cake!” Grandpop hugs each of them. “I got some ice cream up there, too.” 

Mateo leads the charge, dragging the balloons behind him as April and I walk slowly up the hill that leads to our house. I adjust my normal speedy gait to match her graceful, slow stroll and savor the feeling of her hand in mine. 

We sit at the breakfast bar as Grandpop brings the cake out. It’s vanilla with blue icing and “Happy 17th Birthday Janie” is piped on in white. He tops it with sparklers and they sing “Happy Birthday.” 

Grandpop’s voice is the loudest, as always. I shake my head and smile at him. No matter how old I am, he always does a ridiculous off-key version of Happy Birthday to embarrass me, but my friends know what’s up and they laugh along. 

“How’s it feel to be old?” Mateo asks with a mouthful of cake after we cut it. 

I toss a balled up napkin at him. “I’m younger than you!” 

“I didn’t say I was young.” He points his fork at me. “Wait until you turn eighteen. Then your whole body falls apart.” 

Grandpop huffs and shakes his cane at Mateo. “Wait until sixty-eight!” 

April’s laugh is a balm, and I squeeze her hand under the counter. She gives me a smile. 

“Seventeen isn’t exciting,” I say, keeping my eyes on her. “Eighteen is way bigger.” 

“You’re going to love seventeen because this is the year you’ll get accepted into Juilliard,” April replies. “And you’ll leave me forever for New York City.” 

I squeeze her hand. “You’re coming with me. You’ll get into NYU.” 

“Me too!” Mateo says. “I’m gonna audition for some shows when we get there.” 

“You’ll be in high demand after all the starring roles you’ll get this school year, Mr. Actor of the Year,” Grandpop references Mateo’s most recent award. We never miss Mateo’s shows. 

“We’ll have to get a bigger apartment,” I say. “One with two bathrooms.” 

April shakes her head. “Be glad you weren’t subjected to the unholy smells that came out of him on our way over here.” 

Grandpop laughs harder than all of us, but I don’t trust the mischief in his eyes. “That’s why Janie has her own bathroom.” 

“Grandpop!” I shout. 

My face burns, and April kisses my cheek. “Maybe three bathrooms, then.” 

“Alright, this conversation has ventured into TMI territory,” Mateo declares as he puts his hands up in surrender. “I’m trying to eat here.” 

I shrug. “What can I--” The doorbell interrupts me and I look at Grandpop. “Did you invite anyone else?” 

He narrows his eyes and shakes his head. We live out in the woods on a hill, so we don’t get salespeople or anything like that. If someone comes to our door, they mean to be here. He reaches for his cane, but I stand. I don’t like to make him walk up and down the stairs more than he has to. “I got it.” 

I bound down the steps, hoping whoever it is goes away quickly so I can go back to my party. But when I open the door and my eyes adjust to the late afternoon sun, all thoughts of presents, cake, and alone time with my girlfriend fall away. Everything inside me tenses as I brace for impact. My parents are here.

1st Five Pages April Workshop - Kerwin Rev 2

Linda Smith Kerwin
Genre: YA Contemporary (with a pinch of fantasy)
Title: Text Messenger

Pitch:

Black and white TVs, JFK in the oval office and Motown on the radio. The year is 1963 and sixteen-year-old Madison Grace has arrived there after she breaks her promise not to text and drive and crashes into a tree that has links to the past. 

Living at a time that was once just history to her, Maddie grieves with the nation over the death of President Kennedy, enjoys the British musical invasion and discovers that “mean girls” aren’t unique to the 21st century. 

She also meets James, a boy so captivating that he could stand in the way of her goal to return home…and returning to her own time and family, especially her beloved Italian grandmother, is foremost in her mind. Maddie fights against falling for James, but she is so dazzled by his heart-stopping good looks and his sweet affection towards her that her efforts are in vain.

Still, she yearns to be back home before the bash planned for her grandmother’s sixty-five birthday. She needs to find the time-tree and she needs to convince James to come with her to the future. If he refuses, she will have to decide whether to leave him behind or to stay in the past, apart from her family. Either choice is bound to break her heart.

Pages:

CHAPTER 1 – Of Broken Things

I always thought I would never text and drive—especially after my favorite cousin died that way. I even took an online pledge promising I wouldn’t. It was a promise I’d meant to keep. But I broke it…just once.

I was driving from my friend Sarah’s house the first Sunday of summer vacation. My grandmother—Nonna--was home, waiting for me with pizza and a movie. My parents and brother had left town earlier today, and Nonna and I finally would have the house to ourselves. 

The night air was cool, and the tree-lined country road was mine alone. I was just starting to relax back on the driver’s seat when my phone signaled a message. 

A glance told me it was from Sarah. I needed to see this. Sarah’s sister had been in labor all day, and I guessed there was news about the baby.

My eyes lifted to the darkened road… no traffic in sight. I picked up my phone and quickly read:            

It’s a girl--she’s okay—my sister’s not…need to get to Lansing ASAP. Can you drive me?

My mind whirled. Sarah didn’t have a car. As a new driver, I didn’t want to drive all the way to Lansing. I wanted to go home, but Sarah needed help. I’d call Nonna from Sarah’s and explain. She’d understand. She always did.

Another message: Maddie, can you come? Please!

There was no good place to pull over and turn around that I could see. I bit my lip and hesitated as I considered what I was about to do. I’d made a promise, but this was an emergency. I had to reassure Sarah. I’d make it quick.

I typed: yes--just the one word…and hit send. 

When I looked up, headlights were coming at me.

I was on the wrong side of the road. 

My stomach lurched. I jerked the steering wheel hard to the right. The car went into a spin. I watched my phone glide to the floor, and I swore I would have floated away if I hadn’t been tethered by the seat belt. 

Through the windshield, I could see the night sky circling around me, passing clouds joining in a hideous dance I was helpless to stop. 

Then came a huge tree. My foot searched for the brake… then nothing.

When I came to, I was in a bed, covered to my neck with a blanket. Something was wrong with my left arm…it hurt, and I couldn’t move it. I sensed I’d been asleep a long time, but I had no recollection of going to bed. I worked to open my eyes, but they were stuck shut. 

Nothing, though, was wrong with my ears. I heard voices…rolling wheels… a child crying…someone whistling an old Supremes song.

My nose was fine, too. It was picking up cleaning fluid and gross cafeteria-type food, but most of all, cigarette smoke--strong and nauseating. I forced my eyelids open to see where it was coming from. 

My vision took a moment to clear, and then I saw the owner of the stench peering down at me. She had a round face full of wrinkles and graying hair under the weirdest white cap ever. Her all-white nurse’s uniform was straight out of an old movie.  

“How are you feeling, dear?” she asked in a rough voice, blowing her smoky breath down onto me.

“Where am I?” I managed to get this totally unoriginal question out of my dry throat. 

“You’re at University Hospital,” she replied with a gentle smile.

“What university?”

“The University of Michigan.”

The room we were in was nothing like any I’d ever seen at U Hospital. It was huge and crowded. I counted five other beds--ancient-looking beds with metal slats on the head and foot boards. Next to one bed sat a wooden wheelchair and a green tank taller than a fire hydrant. An oxygen-tank? I’d never seen one that big. And where did they get that wheelchair? Some museum?

A girl passed by in the hall, her dark hair a bouffant tower, looking like photos of Nonna as a teen. Was it Nonna? How could it be? Where the hell was I?

I lifted my head to get a better look and ended up throwing up over the side of the bed. The nurse held my head, then cleaned me up, all the while clucking at me. “Dear, try to lay still until the anesthesia wears off.”

“Anesthesia? Why did I have anesthesia?”

“You were in some kind of accident and your arm was broken. They did surgery to repair it.”

In a rush, it came back to me. Sending the text. Seeing headlights. Jerking the wheel. Then the tree.

That was it. I must have slammed into the tree and broken my arm. That’s why it hurt. 

“Don’t worry,” the nurse said. “Dr. Roberts will be by to explain it to you later.”

Thank God. Dr. Roberts was my pediatrician…a totally awesome doctor who had her patients call her Dr. Jennifer.

“Did she do the surgery?” I asked.

“She?”

“Yeah, Dr. Roberts.”

“Your surgeon’s a man. Dr. John Roberts.”

I realized through the fog in my head that I’d asked a dumb question. Dr. Jennifer was not a surgeon. 

“I was thinking about my personal doctor, Jennifer Roberts. Do you know her?”

“No,” she said, frowning. “I’ve never heard of a Dr. Jennifer Roberts.” She shook her head and added, “Anyway, I’m Helen. I’ll be your nurse today.” 

Then she repeated the first question she’d asked me. “So, how are you feeling?  Any pain?”

I nodded as I noticed the ceiling start to spin. “Some, and I’m a bit dizzy…and confused.”

“That’s normal. The anesthesia and the concussion can cause that.”

Concussion? I didn’t ask for an explanation. I was too tired to talk anymore or to reach for my head to check for damage.

Nurse Helen showed no such fatigue. “So, what’s your name, dear? They didn’t get any response out of you in recovery, and you came in without ID.”

“Madison. Madison Gracie,” I got out in a mumble. “What about my purse and my phone?”

“Phone?”

“Yeah, my cell?”

“A jail-phone? I don’t understand,” she said, leaning closer.

Dear God, she doesn’t know what I’m talking about. 

I turned my head to try to escape the stomach-turning stink and said, “Can I have something for the pain?”

“Of course. In the meantime, can we contact your family?”

Family! Nonna! OMG! She had to be freaked out with worry, Sarah, too. What have I done?

“Yes, please call my nonn--my grandmother.” 

“What about your parents?”

“They’re not home.” My eyelids kept drooping, and thoughts wouldn’t form clearly in my mind. “Just my grandmother is there.” I almost told her my parents’ cell numbers were in my phone, but I knew she’d think that we were all convicts…or that I was crazy.

Maybe I was crazy. Maybe she was crazy. I needed to get away from his place, but how? I could barely stay awake.

Nurse Helen lifted a pen. “What’s the phone number?” 

I mumbled it out and stopped fighting with my eyelids.

“Her name?”

“Uh…Gabriella Ricardi.”

“Okay. I’ll be back.”

I wanted to thank her, but my lips wouldn’t move.

As she drew the bed curtains, she added, “You just rest a bit now, Gracie dear.”

I was dozing off before I could tell her that Gracie was my last name, not my first.