Sunday, June 16, 2019

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Butler Rev 2


Name: Susan Butler
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary
Title: George Meets Middle School

Pitch:

GEORGE MEETS MIDDLE SCHOOL is the humorous and heartfelt tale of an autistic boy’s journey into middle school.
George Wilson is notoriously misunderstood. He doesn’t understand social cues or sarcasm, making him an easy target for bullies. That’s why he’s so excited when he meets Adam on the bus. George feels like he has finally found someone who accepts him for who he is, quirks and all.

George believes his new best friend has a learning disability, but Adam won’t hear of it. George wants to help, but his interference causes a rift in their friendship that may never be repaired and George’s already precarious world begins to crumble.

6th Grade


The first day of school is always tough. The first day of middle school, well, there aren’t enough words in the dictionary to describe everything I felt. My insides were doing roller coaster loops. Actually, that’s a pretty good way to describe my first year of middle school. Lots of ups and downs. Even some twists and turns. The first part of the year seems to drag on forever, but it’s over before you know it.

My mom’s a teacher, so she’s always bugging me to write more. She bought me this journal so I could put my feelings on paper. It has a cool looking tiger on the front. I love all animals, so that was a dirty trick on Mom’s part. She knew I couldn’t help but love it.

Mom says middle school is a fundamental part of child development. I’m pretty sure that’s just an adult way of saying it sucks. For me, sixth grade was terrifying and exciting at the same time. Middle school meant a new school where no one knew who I was. For someone like me, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It was a chance at a fresh start. Maybe things wouldn’t be as bad as they were at my last school.

In fifth grade, I was the socially awkward kid, a.k.a. the weirdo. The kid people moved to the other side of the hall to avoid. Truthfully, it’s been happening most of my life. I’m autistic, which means I don’t think like most people. My brain is wired differently. Most people don’t understand what it means to be autistic. Not even my teachers. I get in trouble a lot. I’ve gotten used to being in detention. I don’t even mind it. It’s really quiet in detention and usually there’s only one or two other kids around. I treat detention kids like bees. They don’t bother you if you don’t bother them.

Sixth grade started out full of potential. It was a brand new beginning. I didn’t have many friends in fifth grade. I’ve never had a best-friend before. I’ve never been to a sleepover and I don’t get invited to hang out at other kids’ houses. But this year was different. I met Adam on the first day. He and I really hit it off. Adam didn’t seem to mind that I was autistic. I thought I had finally found a best-friend. Then I had to go and screw it all up, like I always do. I better start at the beginning.

The Halls

“Hello. I’m George. You’re a neurotypical. I’m not. Mom says I’m not supposed to call people NTs because they might get mad. But sometimes it’s difficult to be good. I feel like I have a natural tendency for mischief. Do you ever get into trouble for something, yet you can’t help but do it anyway?”

“Actually, yeah.”
“It happens to me all the time. Sometimes I get the most overwhelming urge to say something and no matter how hard I try, I just can’t hold it in. The words come spewing out of my mouth like lava. My volcano mouth usually lands me in detention.”

“I got detention a lot last year, too. Mr. Watkins and I were pretty close by the end of the year.”

“Really? What were your offenses?”

“Mostly being late to class. Speaking of which, I gotta go.” He held up two fingers like bunny ears as he turned to leave.

“Okay. It’s really loud in here, don’t you think?”

I guess he didn’t hear me over all the noise. I watched him disappear into the crowd, his red backpack bouncing onto his denim jacket vest. It was an interesting wardrobe choice to say the least. Why would anyone wear a jacket with no sleeves? I forgot to ask him where the English hallway is located. This looks like the history wing. That would explain the world maps plastered all over the classroom walls. I suppose I can ask someone else. I approached a girl wearing a navy pleated skirt under a white blouse. I counted six buttons, not counting the top one that was left open and two for each sleeve. She looked like she had just transferred from Carlton Prep, the fancy private school on the other side of town.

“Hello. I’m George.”

“Aren’t you that Aspie kid?” She looked at me like I was a cockroach she would squish if she wasn’t afraid to mess up her shoes. I guess maybe she wasn’t a transfer. Or else, word got around fast in middle school.

“No. I’m George.” I watched as she flipped her long red hair over her shoulder and clicked her navy pumps on the hard-tiled floor as she walked away. Click-clack, click-clack. I counted twelve steps until I could no longer distinguish her footsteps amid the thousands of feet padding through the halls. I wondered exactly how many feet there were. There are six hundred forty students attending Sydney Holmes Middle School this year. I know because I asked the guidance counselor this morning. That would mean twelve hundred eighty feet assuming everyone showed up for the first day, no extra students registered at the last minute and there were no amputees among the student body. And that didn’t account for the seventy-five teachers and thirty-two other staff members.

My thoughts drifted away from my calculations and back to the Aspie comment. I don’t like it when people call me an Aspie, but that’s never stopped anyone before, not even my teachers. Aspie is short for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. Someone like me. In case you didn’t know, Asperger’s is a form of autism. Aspie is probably the nicest thing people call me. It would be inappropriate to repeat all of the other names.

I’m twelve. Well, almost. But, what’s a couple of months when you are in middle school? I would like to have high hopes for this place, but Sydney Holmes Middle School doesn’t seem like the greatest place for an exemplary education. The dingy cinder-block walls are as bleak as my expectations.

I’m not looking forward to another round of educators. Especially if this year’s lineup is anything like the teachers I had last year. They always got mad at me when I corrected them. Like it was my fault they weren’t prepared.

“Are there any classes other than history on this hallway?”

“Nope. That’s why it’s called the history hallway.” The boy flashed a toothy grin at me and ran his fingers through the shaggy brown hair covering his bony shoulders. I wondered when he had last washed it.

“I hope we learn a lot in history this year. It’s my favorite subject. But I get really irritated when everyone in my class believes the textbooks tell you the whole story. You’d think they could take the time to watch a documentary or two on The History Channel. By the way, how often do you wash your hair?”

“Yeah, totally. Documentaries are the coolest.” He ignored my hair question. I wonder why he keeps rolling his eyes. Was it something I said? Oh well. At least he’s still standing here, even though he’s currently staring at his checkered Converse. I resisted the urge to count the squares on his feet and attempted to keep the conversation alive.

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Larkindale Rev 2

Name: Kate Larkindale
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: Standing Too Close

Pitch:

Seventeen-year-old Blue Lannigan has a plan.  It isn’t great, but it’s all he has: drop out of school, work full time, and the day he turns eighteen he’ll have saved enough to move out of his mother’s crappy apartment, taking his two younger brothers with him.

But when he comes home to find one of them bruised and bleeding (again), the other cowering in terror (again) and their mother drunk off her ass, blaming all three of them for her tanked singing career (again), Blue decides they can’t wait any longer to leave.

Without anywhere to go, they hole up in one of the summer houses at the lake — just until they can figure out what to do next. Things get more complicated when the owner of the house arrives unexpectedly.  Especially when Blue realizes the unconscious woman he’s tied up on the couch isn’t a stranger after all.

Standing Too Close is a 69,000 word contemporary YA novel about loyalty, love and family.

CHAPTER ONE 

The bell rings as I empty my locker. After so many years, I’m conditioned, and jump, ready to close it and run to class. All around me people rush in every direction, voices raised to be heard over the chatter and banging of locker doors. I should be among them, hurrying to get to bio, on the second floor.

But I don’t hurry. Because I don’t need to worry about being late to bio or to French or English or any of my other classes anymore.  As of ten minutes ago, I’m no longer a student at Milton High.

The thought makes me dizzy and I sag against the lockers. Something swims through my midsection but I can’t tell if it’s nerves, excitement or terror. Probably a mixture of all three.

 “You coming, Blue?” 

 I turn and find Sacha McLeod looking up at me, her violin slung over one shoulder as always.

“I’ll catch up,” I tell her, diving back into my locker.  I bump my head on the shelf inside, the same way I have at least once a day since school started.  Whoever designed these things didn’t have guys my size in mind.

“Well, okay,” she says. “But hurry. You know how mad Mr. Farnsworth gets if you’re late.”

She runs off and I rub the sore spot above my eye while I watch her join a group of other kids at the base of the staircase. My head feels light and not from banging it my throat thick. I am not going to get emotional. It’s school and it’s my choice to quit.

Well, that’s what I keep telling myself. If I don’t, I’ll rip up the piece of paper the principal just signed for me and take the detention Mr. Farnsworth will no doubt give me for being late again.

I shove the last of my things into my backpack and sling it over my shoulder. It’s surprisingly light. But why wouldn’t it be?  I’ve returned all my textbooks. All I had to clear out of my locker were a handful of dead pens, some stinky gym clothes and a binder full of papers I’ll probably never look at again. Papers I sweated over and stayed up all night writing in some cases. And for what?

The halls are empty now and eerily silent. I slam the empty locker closed, enjoying the way its clang echoes through the corridor. I picture teachers frozen in front of the their classes, heads cocked at the noise, kids, straightening up in their chairs, eager for whatever is going on outside the door to take them away from the boredom of conjugating verbs or solving quadratic equations.

“Sorry, peeps,” I mutter as I march down the center of the hallway toward the double doors at the far end. “Nothing to see here.”

I push through the doors and squint in the bright, morning sunlight. Despite the sun, it’s cold and I zip my jacket to my chin, turning the collar up in the hope it might keep my ears warm. The bus stop is outside the school grounds. I just have to make it across the parking lot and I’m out.

I glance back at the hulking brick building. Sage is in there somewhere. Hopefully not in a classroom on this side of the building.  Or if he is, not looking out the window.  I didn’t tell him where I was going when we got to school this morning.  Didn’t tell him about the form in my pocket on which I’d forged Mom’s signature. Telling my brothers I’ve dropped out isn’t going to be easy. 

Cringing, I step off the grass verge and onto the parking lot. Wiley won’t be so bad. He’s too young to really understand the seriousness of what I’ve done. Sage though…  Well, Sage will know. And he’ll know why. I only hope I can keep him from blaming himself.

A car barrels into the parking lot, going way too fast.

“Hey!”  I leap out of the way, back onto the verge that is damp and slippery from the morning’s frost, now melted. The heel of my work-boot hits a bald spot and skids across slick mud. I stumble, falling to one knee as the car pulls up and stops a little past me.

The click, clack of heels hurries toward me. “Are you okay?” 

I get up, brushing at the mud and grass-stains streaking the right leg of my jeans. Great. A meeting with the boss at noon and now I look like I’ve been playing football or something. I sigh. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Blue?”  The woman’s voice is hoarse, but familiar. I look up from my ruined jeans and find myself looking at my English teacher. She hasn’t been in school the last few weeks and she looks thinner and paler than I remember. Something happened. Something terrible. I just can’t remember exactly what it was. People whispered about it in the hallways, but like most school gossip, it drifted over me without sticking.

“Hi, Mrs. Applegarth,” I say. “No classes this period?”

“I could ask the same thing of you.”

I shake my head. “No. I don’t have a class. I won’t ever have a class again.”

Saying the words aloud makes them real.

Fuck. I don’t ever have to suffer through a boring lecture again. I don’t have to do homework again. I don’t have to deal with Coach Gary constantly trying to recruit me for his football team.

My throat thickens again. Not having to do homework or dodge overzealous football coaches sounds good, but I know as well as anyone that doing this will limit my future.

“Blue?”  Mrs. Applegarth looks curiously at me. “Is everything all right?  What do you mean?”

I like Mrs. Applegarth. Her class was fun. She never asked us to dissect books or asked dumb questions about why certain characters do the things they do. People do stupid things. It’s a fact of life. The same way people hurt the ones they’re supposed to care about the most.

“I gotta go,” I say. “See you around, Mrs. A.”

“Blue.”  She touches my arm as I step off the grass and back onto the slick driveway. “What’s wrong? Please tell me.”

I shake loose. “Nothing’s wrong. I dropped out this morning. Now I have to go get the bus.”

Mrs. Applegarth gasps. “You dropped out?  You?  Oh, Blue, why?”

I bite at my lower lip, scraping my teeth across the just-healing split in it. It’s not visible because the worst of the cut was on the inside, but I can feel the scab, scraping beneath my teeth.

“Talk to me, Blue.” She sounds tired. I look at her and realize she looks tired too. Exhausted. She’s put make-up on, but it isn’t enough to hide the dark rings beneath her swollen, bloodshot eyes.

“Are you okay, Mrs. A?”  I ask. She looks like she’s been crying all night. “You look…Well…”

I trail off. Probably not a good idea to tell your teacher, even a former teacher, she looks like shit. Especially a teacher like Mrs. Applegarth who always seemed so pulled together.

She gives a bitter, humorless laugh. “Am I okay?  No. I’m not. But we’re not talking about me. Why would a smart boy like you drop out?”

Way to deflect, lady. She’s smooth. I’ll give her that. But if she’s not answering me, and I’m not answering her, I guess we’re at an impasse.

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Crisci Rev 2

Name: Kim Crisci
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary (with Sci-fi elements)
Title: All the Time in the World

Pitch
Seventeen-year-old Derek has seen his future a million times. He's going to play professional baseball, have a gorgeous wife, 2.5 kids, and live on the beach. As Astoria High's popular second baseman, Derek is on his way towards achieving that dream. The only thing left? Win the heart of his best friend, Corinne. But Derek's life is upended when he meets Jordan and Deirdre, two stranded children with a big secret: they're his future son and daughter. To make matters worse, Derek learns he's not married to Corinne, but to his abrasive, overachieving rival, Michelle, and their marriage is falling apart.
Forced to play house, a reluctant Derek and Michelle must work together to balance life as teenager and parent, all while searching for a way to send their children home. Along the way, Derek grows more attached his imperfect family, ultimately changing from a carefree jock to a father of two. His emotions conflict further when he realizes he's also falling in love with Michelle.
Derek is now torn between the life he envisioned and the life he never saw coming. He better pick a path soon, because little does he know, someone else wants to choose for him.   

Chapter One
Deirdre Lyttle has all the time in the world.
Sometimes, it’s a terrible burden. 
They say time is a relative concept, used to push the world along, a measurement of self-worth and importance. Deirdre closes her eyes, feeling the clock at work.
April 3rd, 2029. 7:20 pm.
She has a day planner, a watch, an alarm clock, a daily routine, all tools to keep her life in order.
Except time isn’t natural. Animals don’t use planners. Trees don’t wear watches. Fish don’t celebrate New Year’s Eve. Only humans chart the days ahead, which means they recognize someday, printed on a distant calendar, that their lives will end, and they’ll be gone.
But the question will remain: Did they make the time count?
Deirdre thinks about her mother, a woman who uses her time well. There’s rarely a moment where Michelle Lyttle hasn’t locked herself in the drafty basement, beneath the light fixtures that blink and buzz, welding panels together, so her employer’s exploratory rover can withstand Mars’ frigid temperatures without cracking.
Michelle says being a good engineer requires hard work and vision. But to be a great engineer, you need perseverance. And time.
Which is why Michelle keeps busy, making dinner for her family but never eating, foregoing date night with her husband to install new wheel cylinders in her model, skipping movie marathons with her children and meteor showers beneath the Oregon sky.
And that’s why, when her twelve-year old daughter invites her to a game of chess, Michelle usually declines.
Mom’s working. Don’t bother her. Deirdre pushes aside the loneliness, the slow shattering of her heart and focuses on the game.
She has Michelle’s ambition, evident by the two dozen Astoria Chess Club ribbons tacked to her pinboard.
White pawn is exposed. Black bishop to B6.
The checkered board sits flat against her bed. Deirdre plays on a wooden set, one of those five-dollar boxes you buy for kids who always lose the pieces. Her father bought her a pewter set for her tenth birthday, featuring kings and queens dressed as wizards, pawns wielding shields and a walnut board.
She doesn’t use it.
Take the black knight. White bishop to F6.
Deirdre drags the bishop to its new square, pulling out the black knight. The white bishop is now flanked in both corners by black’s queen and black’s pawn. She picks up the queen, runs her thumb over the coronet. Then she picks up the pawn.
Who should take the bishop? Queen or pawn?
Play the queen, the easy route says. She can do anything, move anywhere. Yet, the pawn can be anything, go anywhere, leave a bigger mark on the board.
Deirdre’s door swings open. She doesn’t look up; she knows who’s standing there. The irregular breathing, the patter of small, hurried feet treading on her carpet, the snort of phlegm tells her more than words ever could.
“Hey, Dee—”
“—No.”
The young boy stops. “I didn’t say anything.”
“I don’t care, Jordan,” Deirdre says to her pieces. “You’re supposed to knock before entering someone’s room.”
“Oh. Gotcha.” Dutifully, Jordan closes her door and taps gently on the jamb. “Knock-knock.”
“You have to leave before—ugh, never mind.” Deirdre sets down her pawn. “What do you want?”
“I got something to show you,” he says, round cheeks swelling with cheer. He lifts the paper in his hand.
This is routine with him, barging into his big sister’s room with something he has to show her, the zeal and giddiness moving through him like tremors, eyes gleaming with anticipation. But an eight-year-old’s attention span typically opens itself to unbridled curiosity, and before Deirdre knows it, Jordan has something valuable of hers in his hand, waving it around like an airplane, adding engine revs and gunner noises for full effect.
“I’ve already seen it,” Deirdre says.
“Nuh-uh.” He waves the folded note in the air. “This is new stuff.”
Jordan hoists himself onto her bed, crawling on hands and knees to his sister’s side. The chess set ripples, the larger pieces tipping into their neighbors. Deirdre works quickly to upright the pieces, her teeth clenched in a grimace, body hunched defensively over the board.
Jordan eyes Deirdre’s attempt to restore order. “What’cha doin’?”
“Playing chess,” she answers mindlessly, returning the white bishop to F6.
“Ooh! Let me play. I’ll be the black guys.”
“No, Jordan. I’m in the middle of a game.”
“You’re playing by yourself.”
“I’m playing against myself.”
“That’s dumb. You need another player.” He reaches for the rook at C8, but Deirdre’s quicker on the draw, pulling the piece away with one hand while clasping his wrist with the other. “Hey! Let me go!”
She spots a dark powder stuck between the gaps in his fingers. “What’s on your hands?”
Jordan freezes. “I dunno.”
“Smells like potting soil.”
“I dunno.”
“Were you playing in potting soil or not?”
He averts his gaze. “I tried to ride my bike.”
“Mom said you’re not allowed to practice by yourself.”
“She was busy and Dad wasn’t here. I have to get good before Mason’s party.”
“So why is there potting soil on your hands?”
“Um. I crashed into the plants. Don’t saying anything.”
Mom’s going to notice. She notices everything. “Fine.” Deirdre releases his wrist. “But I’m serious about the chess pieces. Hands off.”
“Come on, let me play. I promise I’ll—” Jordan arm bucks the board. His eyes widen, hands reaching to catch some of the pieces in mid-fall, but they slip like water through his fingers and tumble to their sides. “Oops.”
Sixty minutes down the drain. What a waste of time.
“Great. Thanks, Jordan.” She grabs the box from her nightstand and dumps the pieces with careless apathy.
“Deirdre? Can I ask you something?”
“Hm?”
“Mason’s mom is having a baby,” he says. “If she swims in water, does she turn into a submarine?”
Deirdre pauses. “What?”
“Well, cause, you know, she’s got the baby inside her, and if she swims, it’s like she’s a—”
“—Why are you here again?”
“Oh. I made a drawing.”
Jordan shoves the crinkled paper in Deirdre’s face. Apparently, the bubble rule isn’t taught in third grade. She sets the chess box aside and snatches the note.
Her eyes land on a young boy she knows immediately to be Jordan, from the messy hair colored black, to the triumphant hand-on-hips he does after successfully sliding down the banister. He’s wearing a mechanized suit, red and gold with stars to emphasize the glow off his chestplate.
“It’s us as superheroes,” Jordan says. “You, me, Mom and Dad. We protect Astoria from villains.”
Mom’s easy to spot. Jordan drew her with her dark-framed glasses, which makes sense considering he’s rarely seen her without them. She’s wearing an armored red and blue dress with a golden W belt around her waist. Their father, undoubtedly Batman, stands with squared shoulders, a scribbled darkness cast over half his body. Deirdre wonders if Jordan understands the symbolism.
Then there’s her character. Bulky, nearly twice the size as everyone else, with grotesque muscle features. She’s walled in a fiery aura, indicative of an anger featured prominently on her face.
“I’m a monster,” she says flatly.
Jordan blinks. “You’re the Hulk. See? Green.”
“He’s still a monster.”

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Kells Rev 2

Name: KD Kells
Genre: Young Adult fantasy/gothic fantasy
Title: The Witch Maid

Pitch

Evie Wilkins doesn’t believe in witches. With her once respectable family destitute, she has enough worries without listening to the rumours about her new employer, Lady Black. Then Lady Black’s cat tricks her into releasing a hundred demons on the town, and keeping her family off the streets becomes the least of her problems.

The witches of the Black family have been protecting the balance between the human and demon worlds for centuries. A balance Evie has just jeopardised. If she recaptures all the demons, Evie will be rewarded with more than enough to restore her family’s fortunes.

Now Evie’s stuck with magic she can’t control and an arrogant cat demon as a partner. With a disarmingly attractive human form and an agenda of his own, Nero has no interest in helping a weak mortal. His missing memories might be the key to stopping a demon invasion and saving Evie’s family from enslavement, if they can learn to work together. But Evie will have to overcome a few demons of her own first.


Pages

It was too early to be up. Mama always said a lady shouldn’t rise before nine and the sun hadn’t yet pierced the coal smog hanging over town, but here I was, hugging myself against the cold autumn morning on a stranger’s doorstep. And not just any stranger’s – Lady Black’s. I sucked in a deep breath and knocked.

Rows of darkened windows encrusted with cobwebs glowered back at me as I waited. Maybe no one was home. Maybe they’d all died. It was possible – when was the last time anyone had seen Lady Black in person? If it hadn’t been for the bottles gleaming with fresh milk on the step, and the letter in my pocket, I could almost have convinced myself to turn around.

No, the family was just private, as all the best families were. Papa had said that was why there were so many rumours about them. Jealous lies spread by people without proper breeding. Would he have been so dismissive if could see me running to Lady Black for help?

Overgrown plants engulfed the garden between the house and the outside wall, and long dead vines wound up the crumbling turrets above me. I leaned over withered bushes to peer in the nearby window. Should it be taking this long? Something rustled through the leaves below me and I jerked back, my heart racing. It had been a long time since I’d believed in anything as childish as magic or flying broomsticks, but as the wind fluttered through the cobwebs, it wasn’t Papa’s assurances that filled my head. It was the other whispers.

“I heard she grinds up the bones of babies to use in spells.” Patty had insisted one lunchtime. The teachers were at the other side of the dining room, but she’d kept her voice low. “That’s how she’s still alive. They say she’s over 200 years old!”

“I heard she captures the souls of any young men that wander too close to her estate. That’s why there’s no eligible bachelors in town.” Melody agreed.

“She’ll make you a love potion for five pence, but they only work on the boys you don’t like.”

“Her daughter ran off with a demon.”

“She has a black cat.” Jacinta had said as she drowned her roast beef with gravy. When her opinion was met with silence, she looked up. “What?”

“Oh Cinny, owning a cat doesn’t make you a witch.”

“A black one does. They’re bad luck you know.”

We’d all burst into peals of laughter, and Miss Bloom had scolded us for being so unladylike. But that had been before, when I’d had friends and a future...

No, I couldn’t let my mind go down that path. I had a job to do and there was no use moping around. This was life now, suck it up as my sister, Liliana, would say. I took a steadying breath and tried the bell, pulling hard on the rusted chain. The sound echoed through the house, far longer than it should have. How many rooms must there be inside? Dark despair threatened to swallow me just thinking about it.

Without warning, the door swung open. A woman stood there wearing a flour-spattered apron and wielding a wooden spoon. I hadn’t heard any footsteps, how had she got there so quietly?

She was shorter than me, though that wasn’t hard, with arms muscled from a lifetime of hard work, and grey hair tucked in a braid under a colourful kerchief. This was not what I had expected of Lady Black. She should have been someone refined and elegant, someone befitting the largest estate in Sinwillow, even if it was a run-down old wreck.

“Yes? What is it you want? I am in middle of making vatrushka!” The woman demanded.

Not Lady Black then. Her voice was thick with an accent I couldn’t place and I’d certainly never heard of...what had she said again? Vatrushka? In all the rumours, there’d never been one about Lady Black having foreigners in her house. That would have been intriguing in itself, Sinwillow wasn’t exactly known for being a hive of immigrants.

“I’m Evie... um, Evelyn. Wilkins.” Drats. Mama would be so disappointed if she’d heard that. It was uncouth to introduce oneself with a nickname. Well, I supposed it wasn’t like it mattered anymore, we’d lost our claim to being genteel along with everything else. When the woman shot me a blank look, I had to add, “the new maid?”

“Oh yes, yes, Adeline said new girl comes today.”

The woman’s dark eyes bored into me down that hooked nose, taking in every detail of my appearance. My last good dress, the one that brought out the green in my muddy eyes, felt like a rag under the scrutiny. At least my hair was behaving today. I’d tamed the thick brown mess into two braids at the base of my neck. Liliana had even lent me a hat for the occasion, and all in all, I’d thought I was rather presentable under the circumstances until the woman tsked loudly.

“No, no good. You are too skinny. We will have to fatten you up.”

Liliana would have laughed herself silly at that suggestion, I’d never been accused of being too skinny in my life, not next to the slender willow of my sister. I was more like our father – tall, solid, and prone to freckles over my nose. Yet another reason to be grateful for this job, it was far enough away from home that Mama wouldn’t have to look at me every day and see him.

“Come then, Adeline want to see you.” The woman strode off down the hallway.

I took one last look down the hill, at the town below and my old life. I could still turn and run, go back to school and... and then what? No, this was the only way if I wanted to protect my family. The door thudded behind me with a thunderous finality.

“My name is Ludmila, you call me Mila. I am the cook,” the woman said as she led me through a labyrinth of rooms.

I don’t know what I’d been expecting, but this wasn’t it. There were no cauldrons of skulls or scurrying rats, no shelves housing mysterious vials. It was like every other grand house I’d been to, if a little more shabby. The few rooms I saw in to had white sheets thrown over the furniture and the closed, mildewy smell of a house shut up for too long lingered in the air. Everything was covered with a thick film of dust, even the gas light fittings.

“You not bring much with you.” Ludmila gestured at the small case in my hand.

“Oh. I guess I didn’t think I would need to.”

That much was true. My uniform, bedding, shoes, all that would be provided by Lady Black. I didn’t want to tell this woman that pretty much everything else I owned was in the case. There hadn’t been much left to pack after the move, and so many things had been sold off.

“Smart girl. Not good to form unnecessary attachments. Ah, here we are.”

Ludmila stopped so suddenly I almost crashed into her. The black door at the end of the hall was just like every other one we’d passed – the only difference was the doorknob looked like it had actually been polished in the last fifty years.

1st 5 Pages June Workshop - Mitchell Rev 2

Name: Prentis Mitchell
Genre: Young Adult, Magical realism
Title: The Hidden

Pitch

Jess Emem’s normal teenage life is turned upside down with the opening of her front door.  Chased from her home by a supernatural monster, she is forced to put her trust in an improbable companion- a talking cat.  Pursued by a remorseless Golem, Jess escapes with Max the cat, into the hidden realm of the Occultum: a parallel world where the creatures of fairy tales and legends live unseen by human eyes.

Taking her under his wing, Jess’ unlikely saviour works to rid her of the relentless Golem.  His desperate plan is to enlist the help of Theopoli Stiltskin, a devious, magical wish granter, who will help anyone- for a price.  That price is the completion of a task which drives Jess and Max into the wicked clutches of Mama Sladka – the owner of a chocolate factory whose kind, elderly exterior hides sinister secrets and an insatiable taste for children’s flesh. 

As the unlikely pair descend further into the dark world of the Occultum, Jess faces terrors she thought were simply childhood tales.  Hot on their tracks is the famed hero Phillip Charmain.  Hailing from a long ancestry of monster hunters, he craves to make his name fighting the forces of darkness, but Philip has his own demons to fight.

Surrounded by manipulation and destruction, Jess must be strong and learn to trust in herself if she is ever going to return to the human world and see her mother again.

 
Chapter 1: The Opening Move

Jess Emem.  1.

Finally- the school day was over. 

Jess trudged down the steps, her school bag digging into her shoulder. She followed the last few pupils trailing out of the school, counting the seconds until she would be sat on that bus home. 

The day had been a battle of endurance.  It had started with double French and continued to slide downhill.  On the playing field, Jess and her friend, Paula, had skilfully avoided any meaningful involvement in the football match but that had not been enough when the ball smashed straight into her face.  The pain seared through her nose, stinging her eyes and drowning out the raucous laughter of the class.  The teacher had raced over at the sight of blood, fishing an old tissue from out of her sleeve which Jess pinched to her nose as she trudged off to medical.

Up ahead around the school gates, a glow of phones hovered like fireflies in the growing twilight.  A group of year 8s gathered giggling, clearly not as eager as Jess to get home.  She danced around them as she fished out her own buzzing phone.  It was Paula.  Her fingers danced over the screen as she replied to her, glancing up just in time to see the bus home pulling away.  She had run as fast as she could, arms waving frantically to catch the driver’s attention, but the bus disappeared with the sight of Mandy and her gang sneering and pointing from the back window.  

Bloody Mandy Chambers. 

The burning rage Jess had felt at lunch erupted straight back to the surface at the sight of her leering grin.  Lunchtime had been today’s ultimate humiliation.  From the moment Jess squeezed herself through the lunch line snaking out of the door, Mandy had been on her.  Surrounded by her sniggering cronies and using the canteen as her stage, Mandy began her attack on Jess.  After all these years together, Mandy never tired of preying on others.  Like seagulls to a picnic, the mob had flocked around them in anticipation of the approaching drama.  Jess had turned away from her, shrugging off the laughter and trying her hardest to ignore the rush of blood flooding to her cheeks as she desperately hunted for Paula’s support.  Eventually the taunts and laughter had become too much for Jess.  Tears pricking her eyes, she had run from the canteen with the sound of Mandy’s taunts stabbing at her.

The bus lumbered around the corner and out of view.  Jess looked at her phone.  Her mum would probably still be at work and wouldn’t appreciate her calling her for a lift.  Rather than face an hour’s wait in the cold for the next bus, she slung her heavy bag back onto her shoulder and began the long walk home alone.  Even hours later, Jess still felt the sting of humiliation of running away from Mandy.  Being one of the few faces of colour in a sea of white, she already carried the scars of names but running away was letting her win.  She wished she could wipe away the shame of running from Mandy as easily as she had the tears.  Tomorrow, she would give as good as she got, she promised herself.

Finally, Jess turned onto her road.  The last dying rays of sun faded behind the row of houses leaving only the thin sliver of moon grinning down on her.  Curtains were drawing the eyes of the buildings shut.  She dug her hands into her pockets, pulling her coat around her, as the chill wind swept down the street rustling the last few remaining leaves on the trees.  The only thing keeping Jess going was the thought that her mum may be home by now. Perhaps they could snuggle down with a duvet and binge watch something on TV.  The faded brickwork of her apartment block came into view, peeking over all the row of neat houses lining the rest of the street.  As she got nearer, her stomach rumbled at the lingering smell of bread from the bakery tucked away in the basement of her building.  Through the window, Jess watched the last of the staff clear the chairs onto the tables as they swept the remains of the day away. She wished they could eat out tonight or even better order in some pizza.  While lost in her own thoughts, she did not notice the car until it tore past her, sending a torrent of water splashing from the puddle.  She dodged aside but it was too late to avoid the spray.  

‘How can this bloody day get any worse?’ she cursed under her breath, looking down at her drenched socks and shoes.

She had no idea just how much worse the day would become.

From across the street, a figure stood hidden in the alleyway- a dark shape looming in the shadows.  The stranger eagerly watched the doorway of the apartment block.  When he saw the young girl approaching the building an opportunity opened.  The girl climbed the steps.  From the darkness, his eyes watched as her fingers stabbed the door code into the keypad, memorising the position of each digit she pressed.  The door buzzed and the girl slipped into the warm glow of the building.  One of his huge, heavy fists slipped inside his jacket, feeling the reassuring weight of the object tucked inside.  It was still there.  As the door closed behind the girl, he moved out from the darkness and onto the street.

Warm inside and in desperate need to put this day behind her, Jess wiped her shoes on the threadbare old rug then took the stairs two at a time.  Higher and higher she ran, passing by rich smells drifting from number 23’s dinner and angry yells from the couple at number 25.  As she reached the third floor, a fluffy, white cat curled up on a forgotten shopping bag barely managed to force an eye open as she passed by.

She finally reached the fourth floor.  At the door of her apartment, lay a parcel. The sight of the small brown box brought the first tingle of excitement in her whole day.  She picked it up, hoping it was for her.  The excitement slipped away as quickly as it had appeared when she saw the name ‘Mr Maughan’ printed on the label; they had left her neighbour’s parcel at the wrong address again.  She dropped it back to the floor, slipped her key into the lock and pushed open the door

Jess abandoned her school bag on the floor, followed closely by her coat and wet socks.  It only took a couple of shouts to figure out that the flat was empty.  She went to the kitchen.  The light flickered to life illuminating a plate of food wrapped in cling film and a scribbled note left on the kitchen worktop.  Jess scanned the note.

‘So much for still being at work,’ she spat.

She tossed the note aside where it landed on the cold leftovers.  Her mum had gone out with her friend. 

Again. 

All the anger and frustrations of the day twisted and gnawed in her stomach. The phone was in her hand before she even knew what she was going to say.  It rang and rang until eventually she heard her mum’s voice.

‘Hi.  I can’t take your call right now.  Please leave me a message.  Bye.’

The answer phone beep pierced Jess’ ears.  The ball of anger in her tummy erupted - a raging storm of frustration which she threw at her mum.  

‘I can’t actually believe you’ve gone out again.  Where even are you? I’ve been at school all day you know.’  

The rant continued: all the hurt, the humiliation, the anger poured out of her and onto her mum’s answer phone.  For the most of it, Jess could not even remember what she said but it felt good to get it out.  She threw the phone down onto the table.  The initial flood of anger was receding and now guilt was slipping inside.  She shouldn’t have said all those things to her mum.  It was too late to do anything about that now, Jess thought as she shoved the plate of food aside.  And anyway, if her mum had gone out partying with her friend again, then why should she feel guilty or eat cold leftovers from yesterday? Jess thundered out of the kitchen in search of the takeaway menus.


Outside on the street, the sound of heavy feet pounded towards the door.