Monday, October 20, 2014

First Five Pages Workshop - Comeau Rev 2

Name: Janel Comeau
Genre: MG Adventure/Sci Fi
Title: The Girl Who Was Ordinary, Until She Wasn't

There was absolutely nothing special about Jane.

Jane Hale was as ordinary as could be, from her mouse-brown hair to the toes of her sensible shoes. She never took home an A+ from school, never scored the winning goal, never went to the big parties and never even tried to disobey her parents. Of course, the Hales were always there, from her not-so-terrible two’s, right up to her not-so-troublesome teenage years, reminding her of what a special little girl she was. Mr. and Mrs. Hale beamed and coaxed and fussed, and they always claimed to take pride in their daughter’s overwhelmingly dull life.
               
They lied.
               
For years, Mr. and Mrs. Hale fought off tears of boredom every time they thought about Jane. And so they tried desperately to change their daughter’s ways. They signed her up for music lessons (she played a mediocre piano), bought her exotic pets (she turned out to be allergic) and even enrolled her in private school (the addition of a school uniform had only made her more difficult to locate in a crowd). It was no use. Jane’s blandness defied them year after year.
               
But this year was going to be different.
               
At precisely 8:00 AM on the morning of September the 4th, Jane’s bedroom door swung open and Jane skidded out into the hallway, tugging at her pleated skirt and pulling up her mismatched socks. Can’t be late, she thought to herself as she raced across the purple hardwood floor and headed for the stairs. Oh no, oh, no, oh no. She thundered down the steps, deftly dodging the stone gargoyles and plastic flamingoes her parents had placed there for decoration. I can’t be late on my first day of high school.
               
Still huffing and puffing, Jane leapt off the bottom stair and slid to a stop in the family kitchen.
               
“Exactly on time, as usual. That’s our predictable daughter,” Jane’s mother sighed.
               
Mrs. Hale stood by the stove in a Victorian ball gown and powered orange wig, flipping something that looked uncomfortably like a bright green pancake. Mr. Hale was already seated at the table in a top hat and a pair of overalls, with his round face buried in the folds of a newspaper; Jane quietly slipped into the chair beside his.      
              
“Ready for school?” he asked, turning his eyes back to a rather fascinating article about bank robberies.
               
“Yes,” she replied. Jane rarely offered up any more information than was necessary. Some girls her age might have gushed about the cute boys they were going to meet; others might have griped that eyeliner didn’t come in a shade dark enough to match their souls. Not Jane. Her mother fought back a sigh.
              
“Jane, darling, we need to have a word about your outfit.” Mrs. Hale bit her lip.
               
“Why?” Jane looked down at the crisp blouse and maroon blazer that made up the uniform of her new school. It wouldn’t have been her first choice of colour, but the thought of wearing exactly the same thing as everyone else filled her with quiet joy. “This is what they told me to wear. Did I get a stain on it somewhere?”
               
“Oh, no, darling, don’t be silly; you’re not nearly exciting enough for that.” Mrs. Hale flipped off the stove and slid a green pancake onto Jane’s plate, “It’s just that we’ve transferred you to another school.”
               
Jane dropped her forkful of lawn-coloured breakfast. “What?”
               
“Yes, you’re enrolled in Snicket High School now. It’s a public school, dear. Oh, and you’ll be taking the bus there, I forgot to mention that.”
               
“What? Why would you do that to me? You didn’t even tell me!” Jane pushed her plate away and stared at her mother, open-mouthed. She was breathing much too quickly; in, out, in, out, in, out. Maybe they’re kidding, she thought desperately. Even they wouldn’t do something like that without telling me. It’s got to be a joke.
              
“We wanted it to be a surprise, darling! You’ll have much more fun at public school than at some stuffy old private school,” Mrs. Hale explained.
               
This was a lie.
               
Jane’s parents believed that high school was a prime opportunity for personal growth, tacky haircuts and life-long emotional wounding. To that end, they’d quietly enrolled their daughter at Snicket High School, a large public institution across town that boasted the fifth worst test scores in the region. Snicket High was noisy, crowded and exactly 7.6 kilometres from the Hale home, ensuring that Jane would have to take the bus to and from school for maximum trauma.
               
Mr. and Mrs. Hale were pleased. Jane was not.
               
“But Mom, I’m not even dressed for… you didn’t even tell me… I have to go change!” Jane sprung up from her seat and turned for the stairs; she couldn’t bear the shame of being the only one at school in a uniform. But Mrs. Hale grabbed her wrist and gently pulled her back down into her seat.
               
“Oh, I don’t think you have time for that, dear. There’s a little something else that your father and I need to discuss with you.”
               
Whatever her parents had to say, Jane was almost certain she wouldn’t like it. She started to get up from the table, mumbling about forgetting to brush her teeth, but her mother pulled her back down again.
               
“Look at me for a moment.”  Mrs. Hale gently held Jane’s chin in her palm. “You know your father and I have been very patient with you all these years. We’ve dedicated an unreasonable amount of time and money to solving your little problem.”
               
Jane sighed. She was average, but she wasn’t stupid; she knew all too well where this conversation was going. “Problem? Mom, I don’t have a problem. I’ve never failed a class, never been in trouble at school, never stolen anything–”
               
“Stealing! Oh, that would be a wonderful start, don’t you think?” Mrs. Hale actually clapped her hands.
               
“Stealing. Very good,” mumbled Mr. Hale from behind his paper, and turned the page to a rather fascinating article about kidnapping.
               
“You can’t be serious.” Jane gaped at her mother.
               
“Oh, but of course I’m serious! Do you remember the time we smuggled that hyena into the country for you? Or when we signed you up for crocodile wrestling lessons? Or that time we dyed your hair blue?”
               
Jane shuddered. Oh, yes, she did remember.
               
“We didn’t do that for our benefit; it was all for your own good! We want what’s best for you, Jane. And we want what’s best for ourselves, too.”
               
This was precisely the 287th time that Jane had been subjected to this conversation, but it was the very first time that either of the Hale parents had ever mentioned their own interests. Jane was almost certain that this was a bad sign.
               
“What do you mean?”
               
“Jane, your father and I aren’t immortal; someday, we’re not going to be around to take care of you. Or to take care of our fortune.”
               
“Fortune?” At no point in Jane’s fifteen years of life had there been talk of any fortune. She looked around the kitchen, taking in the five-year-old stove, fifteen-year-old microwave, and two-hundred-and-thirty-seven-year-old suit of armor propped against the pantry door. My parents have got to be messing with me this time, she decided. There’s no way we’re rich.
               
“Yes, yes.” Mrs. Hale waved her hand, brushing off Jane’s doubts that a fabulously wealthy couple would choose to live in a cluttered split-level.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

First Five Pages Workshop - Wolfe Rev 2

Alyss Wolfe
Young Adult Fantasy
The Kinship Mantle


Sheba had warned him earlier that day, so when Kenley exploded and disappeared into the sword, Hal couldn’t say he hadn’t had notice.  Of course, he didn’t know exactly what was going to happen; his dragoncat was never quite so specific.  Still, he could have been more careful. He could have made sure Kenley had been more careful.

That was a laugh.  He shook his head at the very idea, as Sheba rested across his shoulders, her weight heavy and relaxed, pressing down onto his neck and loosening his muscles.  She purred thickly against him as he sighed, still in awe of what he had seen, and the rumblings that came from her small body helped him to stay focused on his memories, which may have been fresh but confused him all the same.  It had been less than an hour since it had happened, and he now held the sword in his hands as he sat on a bale of hay, staring at it as if, considering what had just occurred, it might begin to speak and explain.  The old wives’ tales of the one who would reunite the country and save her from centuries of strife.  If that didn’t sound like a ridiculous fairy tale, he didn’t know what did.  Kenley?  His little sister? Even she would admit it was more than a little unbelievable.  She was clumsy, absent-minded - and she had taken the cracked sword that had been practically a plaything to them for the last ten years, raised it high above her untamed mess of hair, and stared defiantly at the damaged metal before spontaneously combusting. 


Hal would have laughed at her, at the obscene number of pearls shimmering on her dress like a gathering halo as the women around her wrestled with the silk folds to stitch them in one by one.  The last time she had seen him, they were both ankle deep in cow manure, straw in her dirty length of hair, mud dried beneath her nails, and he had yelled at her for leaving a pitchfork out on the barn floor where he could and did step on the tines to flip the wooden handle up and smack him in the face.  Now, she allowed her eyes to drift closed and pictured his face, damp and flushed in momentary anger, and felt her fingers curl into fists at her sides.  Her nails were chewed to the quick, the nubs harmlessly pressed into her palms.

“Your grace, it would help if you would kindly hold your breath.”

One of the sewing ladies spoke with words of respect but a tone of impatience and resentment.  Kenley took a small breath and held her belly in as much as she could, regretting the extra cherry tart she had charmed out of the tavern keeper’s wife the night before, keeping her eyes sealed against the image in the huge mirror before her.  She stood in the middle of the room surrounded by kneeling women of varying ages, their heads bound in plain white scarves and their attention fixed on the slippery silk that filled their hands.   She tried to keep her brother’s angry red face in focus as someone started to pull at the back of her head, scraping a rough bristled brush against her scalp in an attempt to tame her unruly hair.  Good luck to them, she thought, and wondered how long she had been there.  Not just in the room, but in the castle.  Time had seemed to stand still since she had found herself here, had been handled and paraded around for inspection like an animal set to compete in a village fair.  The attendants, especially those who had been instructed to bathe her earlier that day, made no pretense of liking her or their work and carried on as if she were deaf.  While she didn’t care what they thought of her, she did wonder what she had ever done to them to earn such ire.

“Well, if the king is looking for a grubby wench to sit on the throne beside him, he sure could have come looking right here in the castle. If it’s mucky he wants, any one of us could have fit that bill.”

They snorted with laughter.  Kenley knew she was dirty, but it was honest dirt that came from honest work, much like these women’s own.  It would be strange, though, she considered, for them to be set to work on a strange girl presented to them as their new queen, who looked no more royal than they did.  Her head felt fuzzy from the heat of the steam, and she wished she could jump in the cool lake back home, with Hal at her side.  What a fuss, she thought.  No one had ever paid so much attention to her hair before, and she knew Hal would be greatly amused to see it free of straw and mud and whatever else she had collected on the farm and in the woods.  She wondered what it had looked like to him, when she disappeared, and if his dragoncat Sheba had explained it. Surely Sheba knew more about it than she did.  Really, at this point, anyone might know more about it than she did.


Hal knew that Sheba had something to do with the strange calm that had come over him after the initial shock of Kenley’s disappearance had passed.  The dragoncat had always influenced his feelings, and for the better, but this felt inappropriate, and began to scare him.  The usual teasing between him and his sister had been interrupted when her jaw set firm, her smile vanished, and with a straight back that would have pleased their mother, who always complained about Kenley’s slouching, she had gripped the sword tightly and held it directly in front of her. What in the world, he had begun to ask, but before he could speak, the space in front of Kenley, the air that even in the early morning had held a heaviness that spoke of a humid day to come, seemed to move and take shape.  His jaw had dropped as he watched while she disintegrated by degrees for an eternity that lasted mere seconds outside of his experience, the flickering faded blue of her day dress dissolving along with her straw-yellow hair.  She hadn’t seemed afraid but more than a little surprised.  Whatever had called to her through the sword, old wives’ tales aside, would have to relinquish her.  Hal would make sure of it.

First Five Pages Workshop - Smith Rev 2

Name: Laura Gross Smith
Genre: YA Contemporary
Title: Before the Time After
It was the day I met my best friend for the first time.
 “Are you coming?” Blaze asked, “Mars to Maia…is anyone in there?” “Sorry,” I said, “Could you wait while I clean this up? Just where are we going again?” I started to pack up my oil paints, careful not to get anything on my clothes. My mom was always complaining about stains. Like she was the one who did all of the laundry.
“How’d you ever find the time to eat lunch before you met me?” she asked. I never see you anywhere around school except for this room. “You do know I’m a vegetarian,” I said.
With a mocked shock expression on her face, she linked her arm through mine, throwing me off balance just a bit while I juggled paint and turpentine. “I’ll just have to be responsible for your conversion experience then. Before you know it you’ll be eating overly processed dead animals and wondering how you could’ve ever survived without.” That thought did make me cringe.
Life is made up of a series of befores and afters. Before I learned to paint with oils, I thought that acrylics were my only option. It is amazing how a little bit of turpentine can change your life. Before I met my best friend, I didn’t know that I could actually share secrets with another person, that someone would never share what my life was really like, with anyone else. After, I don’t think I could have made it through high school without her.
It was a cold October Tuesday in my Junior year when I officially met Blaze.  I was fairly new to the school and I happened to wander into the art room early to finish up a large canvas I was working on. It was an abstract of a Mayan Temple I had just seen in a picture for my World History class with Dr. Jarvis. I was unwrapping my paints when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around, startled to see a tall blond girl dressed all in black, except for pink high top Converse sneakers. She had bright fluorescent green highlights and an overabundance of eyeliner. Her cherry red mouth smacked pink bubble gum. Straight out of an 80’s movie.
“Um, sorry,” I said, not quite sure what she wanted from me. At my old school in Boston I could disappear, no one bothered with me at all. But mom just needed to move to Vermont, she must have really made a mess at her job, no one in my family would say, they were professional secret keepers. It felt as if this school had fifty kids total, not the 1500 I was used to. “Am I in your way?” At that moment she smiled this goofy grin at me.
“Is that yours?” She asked this while pointing to the bright gold and purple blotches that smeared the canvas.
“Uh, yes,” I stammered, not sure where she was going with this questioning. I was, after all, smearing paint on that particular canvas. “Mr. Taylor wanted me to try painting a larger canvas.”
“It’s really freakin’ cool,” she said, “”how’d you get that shade?”
She pointed to a particularly tough shade of eggplant that took me an hour to get just right. I, of course ended up running out of it, and pulling out my already thin hair trying to duplicate it the second time, in a larger quantity.
“Isn’t it a great color? Reminds me of the sky just before the sun starts to come up. It took forever to get it right.” I turned a bit, blushing.
“That’s why I turned to sculpture, I tried, I really tried to be a painter, but the colors always came out wrong. Then one day I kind of threw the palette across the room. Mr. Taylor handed me a soldering iron, crazy man, and a few scraps of metal and said, ‘Try this.’ I’ve been sculpting ever since. She pointed to the corner of the messy classroom, where a five foot metal sculpture rested. “Still trying to make that one stand on its own,” she said. She seemed distant for a second before wiping her hands on her pants and extending the cleaner one.
 “My name’s Blaze, although my parents didn’t actually name me that when I was born. They called me Jennifer Marie. Talk about boring. Where can you get a name like Jennifer Marie except a Country Club? I think they wanted me to become a debutante, or tennis pro, but shit, here I am making sculpture from rusty metal car parts. They almost died when I told them I wanted to go to Boston College of Fine Arts, said I would end up in a trailer, with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth and a screaming kid on my hip. I told my dad to fu-, I mean screw himself. Sorry, trying to watch my language. I have a college interview coming up in three weeks.” She spoke so fast I had to really pay attention to her words. I was still amazed that she was talking to me, I was the new kid. “You want to go for McDiarrhea for lunch?” Should I tell her I was a vegetarian? “Maybe,” I squeaked. “I mean, sure.” She was the first person in the school to really talk to me. I am still not sure what made me say yes, maybe it was because of her clothes, her nonconformity, and I wasn’t that brave. Maybe I just needed to get out of the building on that October day, to see the last few leaves hanging on. Maybe I just liked her. And I wouldn’t have to do much talking.
I usually spent my free periods hanging out in the art room playing with oil paints. I tended to stay clear of most of the other kids, I don’t know why; I just wanted to be left alone with my canvas, feeling the cool paints beneath my fingers. I get sucked into a picture and lose myself, which is a great skill when you are in high school. The pressure was on to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life. Me, I know, but that doesn’t mean that the parents are pleased with my choice. The words starving artist has always been a mantra recited frequently in my house. Pamphlets for law schools have been mysteriously arriving in the mail and my mom actually tried to enroll me in a summer business course at my old school. I just wanted to paint.
So at lunch I always grab my brown bag and hike it to Mr. Taylor’s art classroom. He’s a typical art teacher, messy hair, black jeans and button down shirt, slightly frayed at the edges. Maybe he’s not typical, but what do I know. Freshman year at my old school, for some reason I signed up for art, dipped my brush in the first jar of cerulean blue acrylic paint, and I have never been the same since. See what I mean about befores and afters? Before I was lost, without any idea of what I wanted to do when I graduated, and after I am an artist. The moment the brush touched the paint, altered my life forever.
That day, the Mayan temple stared at me and I absentmindedly swirled the eggplant color on my brush. “Oh Maia, Mars to Maia.” Why did she want me to go with her? Probably because there were only eight kids in the Junior class, give or take fifteen. Mom just had to move to the sticks. I just nodded my head, as she said, “Great, I’m parked out back, I’ll drive.” And that was that, she turned on her heel, so to speak and all I saw was a green striped ponytail heading out the door. I became the version of me after I met Blaze, the version with just a little bit of color.
I placed my canvas in the back of the room, tucked my paints into my cubby and grabbed my brown lunch sack. I made my way to the rear of the school, near the parking lot and scanned the crowd for a shot of green. I spotted her after a few minutes and made my way over to a 1973 Ford Mustang in mustard yellow. The bumper hung down a bit in the front, and she caught my stare.
“Deer tried to run me over,” she said, “get in. Hope you like classic rock, can’t help it, the only thing my parents did right was to introduce me to some really freaking good music. Brother’s in a band too. Hope you aren’t a Kelly Clarkson girl, you’ll definitely hate this ride.”
She spoke so fast I wasn’t sure if I was confident about her driving abilities, but was too scared to say a word. I still wasn’t quite sure why I really came, I could have stayed and worked on the painting, while eating my grilled tofu sandwich.
“When do you have to be home after school?” she asked me as she turned the radio on, and I jumped as Metallica blared through the speakers. She reached for the dial and turned it down. I still had to shout to be heard over the song. “Five o’clock,” I yelled, “Why?” Metallica droned on, “Trust I seek and I find in you…” She gave me a slightly crooked, sinister grin.
We made our way down route 5; my hands clutched the seats, my knuckles were probably white. She drove like a crazy woman. Still wondering why I was there, why she wanted me to come along with her, I prayed for the ride to be over soon. ..

First Five Pages Workshop Clement - Rev 2

Name: Benjamin Clement
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Adventure
Title: The Fearsome Lumberwoods

The sun went down through a spray of red like a man shot. Its last panting breaths fell heavily on the back of Douglas’s neck. Pushing his hat back on his sweat-slick, cornsilk hair, he weaved further into the trees. When he figured there was enough forest between him and his parents’ picnic to grant him some privacy, he undid his britches to relieve himself into a dry creek-bed.
Not a leaf stirred nor did a branch creak. The more Douglas glanced over his shoulder, the surer he became something was hiding in the solitude. He didn't enjoying being out-of-doors, but his father insisted he come along on the picnic to hear the big news. News which had left Douglas with a full load of dread. Every morning of his fifteen years, he had woken up in the finest home in Hazelwood, and now they were setting out to live like settlers in some frontier town on the other side of the continent named Seattle.
The creep of someone watching him, crawled over Douglas as he buttoned his britches. The beady black eyes of a crow stared down at him with keen interest as it sidestepped along a branch.
"What are you looking at, you old crow?"  Douglas whispered.
The crow cawed, cutting through the silent forest like axe chops. Douglas flinched, and then felt foolish for it. Spinning around, he found a man leaning against a tree, staring at him with yellow eyes underneath a low derby. Leaping back, Douglas slipped and fell into the mud he had just made.
The man chuckled. "Sorry to sneak up on you. Would've announced myself but didn't want you dribbling on your slacks." Unbuttoning the coat of his hairy wool suit, he stepped down into the creek-bed.  His sharp fingernails pinched into his chest. “Lousy ticks,” he said digging one out and popping it into his mouth as he took a step nearer.
“Cripes,” Douglas yelped in shock. Rising, he backed away until his heel struck the opposite embankment and fell again. 
The man pointed his blood tipped finger at Douglas, waving it around. “Crow says you’ll ruin things. All her planning. You’ll just come along and…” He slapped his hands together with a crack. “Can’t have that.” He took a step nearer. “So she asked me to do something about you.”
“S-sir, I think you are mistaken,“ Douglas stammered, as he got back to his feet. If this man thought he could talk to birds, he must've had more hay in his head than a scarecrow and kept the same company. “And if you try to harm me, my father is scant yards away with a rifle.”
Laughing in little yips, he took a step nearer. “Ain’t gonna lay a finger on you, boy,”  the man said, wiping a little bit of drool from his lip. “Personally, I have nothing against you.”
Something shuffled among the bushes behind Douglas, and he turned to look. Something big bumped against a thin tree causing it to lean to the side with a groan.
"But, I can never help raising a bit a mischief," the stranger whispered.
The man’s breath brushed over his ear and Douglas smelled its copper tinge. He jerked back, surprised the man had crept so near, more surprised that he was gone. Turning back to the bushes, Douglas watched as something roughly akin to a bear, but rounder, emerged. Its fur seemed to be missing. Only brown-black, rubbery skin stretched tight over its rotund frame. The only hair it had were two bushy eyebrows and a tuft hanging from its chin, dripping with spit below a mouth full of teeth that would surely tear Douglas into forty-two pieces with one and a half bites.
Breaking from the trees, Douglas tried to scream, but fear dragged the air from his throat on every ragged breath. The beast crashed through the woods, gaining quickly. Its rubbery skin gleamed slightly in the feeble light of the early evening, so tight that it scarcely quivered as it ran. The meadow between him and his parents seemed to stretch out at every step. The beast grunted, and Mr. Webb raised his eyes to see what was salivating at his son's heels. Mrs. Webb yelped in surprise as her husband jumped to his feet and bolted to the rifle on his mount. Ichabod, Douglas’s horse, spooked by all the sudden action, took off at a gallop.
"Douglas, to the side!" Mr. Webb shouted. 
When Douglas turned from his aim, Mr. Webb didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. The bullet ricocheted off the creature’s rubbery skin and slammed back into the stomach of Mr. Webb.  
Mrs. Webb’s screams flooded the grassy meadow, on into the dark trees shaking their branches and twisting their leaves. She took a burning stick from the fire and, gathering up her skirts, sprinted across the grass. 
At the sight of his father writhing, holding his stomach as blood seeped between his fingers, Douglas felt a punch in his own gut. He ran to his father, as his mother ran past him.  Douglas whipped around, trying to call her back. Ignoring him, she hurled the flaming stick at the animal. Its skin ignited as if it were drenched in kerosene and erupted in a fireball that consumed his mother in a rush of flames.
A powerful gust of air lifted Douglas. The world roared and tumbled beneath him, then rose up to strike him and disappear with his senses.
Douglas awoke to Ichabod snorting in his ear. He pulled himself up coughing and held his aching head as he watched the small flames crawl over the grass.  He Limped to the blackened crater. There was nothing but black ash. Unable to breathe past his cries, Unable to cry past his breath, Douglas opened his mouth, gagging and heaving; his mother was gone and the loss was too much to hold inside, but too big to let out.
"Douglas."
When he heard his name he realized his father had called him several times. Ichabod walked with Douglas stumbling against his flank, leading him to his father. Laying in the grass at his feet, was a man Douglas did not know. This man who was swallowing too much, breathing too shallow and soaked through with blood, could not be his father, because his father couldn’t be hurt and had never been helpless— his father was incapable of dying.
"Douglas, take me home," his father demanded in a weak voice. 
Douglas became unstopped, and his despair gushed out in a torrent. He screamed and wailed, refusing what the world had become on the other side of his closed eyes. His father kept a calm voice and told Douglas again to take him home. He tried to do as his father instructed, but however much he pushed and pulled his father, he failed to get him into Ichabod’s saddle.
“I can’t. I just cant,” Douglas sobbed, curled over his father. “I’m not strong enough.”
“That doesn’t matter. You will do it because it must be done.” Mr. Webb insisted.
And done it was. Douglas’s arms and legs were shaking with fatigue by the end, but his father was mounted on Ichabod. At every hoof fall of the long ride home, Douglas hoped the ground would swallow them, then damned it for refusing.

Monday, October 13, 2014

First Five Pages Workshop - Clement Rev 1

Name: Benjamin Clement
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy Adventure
Title: The Fearsome Lumberwoods

The sun fell through a spray of red like a man shot. Its last panting breaths fell heavily on the back of Douglas’s neck. Still, he was thankful it wasn't as bad as the summer past, when it was so hot every hen in the county laid hard boiled eggs. Pushing his hat back on his sweat-slick, cornsilk hair, he weaved further into the trees. When he figured there was enough forest between him and his parents’ picnic to grant him some privacy, he undid his britches to relieve himself into a dry creek-bed.
Douglas gave furtive glances over hunched shoulders as he hurried his business. Not a leaf stirred nor did a branch creak, and the solitude made him uneasy. He didn't enjoying being out-of-doors, but his father insisted he come along on the picnic to hear the big news. News which had left Douglas with a load of dread heavier than an armful of bricks. Every morning of his fifteen years, he had woken up in the finest home in Hazelwood, and now they were setting out to live in some frontier town on the other side of the continent named Seattle.
Buttoning up his britches, he felt the creep of someone watching him. The beady black eyes of a crow stared down at Douglas with keen interest as it sidestepped along a branch.
"What are you looking at, you old crow?"  Douglas whispered.
The crow cawed like axe chops in the silent forest. Douglas flinched, and then felt foolish for it. Eager to get back to the meadow, Douglas spun around to find a man leaning against a tree, staring at him with yellow eyes underneath a low derby. Leaping back, Douglas slipped and fell into the dry creek-bed and the mud he had just made.
The man chuckled. "Sorry to sneak up on you. Would've announced myself but didn't want you dribbling on your slacks." With his smile peeled back over mean teeth, the man looked like a dog set to bite. Unbuttoning the coat of his brown wool suit, he stepped down into the creek-bed.  “It’s a scorcher,” he commented pulling back a collar lined with brown fur, that matched the stubble on his cheeks and chin. 
Douglas scrambled to his feet. The malice he felt coming from this man crawled up his spine like spiders. He backed away from the stranger, until his heel struck the opposite embankment, sending him once more on his backside. 
"I just came to apologize," the man told Douglas as he picked dirty fingernails, sharp as cat’s claws. "I really have nothing against you personally, but Crow says you’ll ruin things. So... she asked to take care of you.”
"T-take care of me?" Douglas stammered, as he got back to his feet. If this man thought he could talk to birds, he must've had more hay in his head than a scarecrow, and kept the same company. "I'm fine, thank you."
The man tilted his head back and laughed in little yips. "Indeed,"  he said, wiping a little bit of drool from his lip. "I mean to fix it so you aren't."
Something shuffled among the bushes behind Douglas. He whipped his head around to see a thin tree leaning to the side with a groan, as something big bumped against it.
"Besides, I can never refuse getting up to a bit a mischief," the stranger whispered.
Douglas could smell the copper tinge of his breath, but when he looked back, the stranger was gone. Behind Douglas, a growl deeper than dirt resonated up his shins and sent his knees a-quivering. Through tears of terror, he saw something roughly akin to a bear, but rounder emerge from the bushes. Its fur seemed to be missing. Only brown-black, rubbery skin stretched tight over its rotund frame. The only hair it had were two bushy eyebrows and a tuft hanging from its chin, dripping with spit below a mouth full of teeth that would surely tear Douglas into forty-two pieces with one and a half bites.
Breaking from the trees, Douglas tried to scream, but fear dragged the air from his throat on every ragged breath. The beast crashed through the woods, gaining quickly. Its rubbery skin gleamed slightly in the feeble light of the early evening, so tight that it scarcely quivered as it ran. The field of grass between Douglas and his parents stretched out forever. He knew he'd never reach them.
The rumble of the chase came over the cracks and pops of Mr. Webb's fire. His content smile fell as he saw what was salivating at his son's heels. Mrs. Webb yelped in surprise as her husband jumped to his feet and bolted to the rifle on his mount. Ichabod, Douglas’s horse, spooked by all the sudden action, took off at a gallop.
"Douglas, to the side!" Mr. Webb shouted. 
When Douglas turned from his aim, Mr. Webb didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. The bullet ricocheted off its rubbery skin and slammed back into the stomach of Mr. Webb. 
The screams of Mrs. Webb flooded the grassy meadow into the dark trees shaking their branches and twisting their leaves. She took a burning stick from the fire, and gathering up her skirts, sprinted across the grass. 
Watching his mother pass by, Douglas tripped over his own feet. He whipped around onto his back in time to see his mother hurl the flaming stick at the animal. Its skin ignited as if it were drenched in kerosene and erupted in a fireball. His mother looked back, and Douglas could see the sorrow in her eyes before she was consumed by the rush of flame.
A powerful gust of air lifted Douglas from the ground. The world roared and tumbled around him before the confusion of it all faded away into blackness. 
The sun had buried itself in twilight and the world along with it. Douglas awoke to Ichabod snorting in his ear. He sat up coughing, gripping his aching shoulder. He pulled himself up and limped over the small flames that crawled over the grass.  In the blackened crater, his mother was gone. He could not breathe to cry out, he couldn't cry out to once again breath. There was a torrent within him that would not be cast loose. Hunched over and heaving, he squeezed the blasted earth between his fingers, choking on the hollowness beneath his lungs, his stomach and miles below. 
"Douglas."
When he heard his name he realized his father had called him several times. Ichabod walked with Douglas stumbling against his flank, leading him to his father. His fists still clenched with dirt, Douglas stood over his father. He was swallowing too much, his breaths too shallow and Douglas was unable to look at the man soaked through with his own blood. The dirt fell from his hands and Douglas was unstopped. His agony came down like a flooded river; rising over the sides and pulling everything along with its muddied water. He shouted and wailed, refusing what his world had become on the other side of his closed eyes.
"Douglas, take me home," his father demanded in a weak voice. 

By the time he pushed and pulled his father into Ichabod’s saddle, his arms and legs were shaking with fatigue. He mounted behind, and held him in the saddle for the long ride home with arms that felt like wet rope. At every hoof fall, Douglas hoped the ground would swallow them, and damned it for refusing.

First Five Pages Workshop - Wolfe Rev 1

Alyss Wolfe
Young Adult Fantasy
The Kinship Mantle


Sheba had warned him earlier that day, so when Kenley exploded and disappeared into the sword, Hal couldn't say he hadn't been notified.  Of course, he didn't know exactly what was going to happen; his dragoncat was never quite so specific.  Still, he could have been more careful.  He could have made sure Kenley had been more careful. 

That was a laugh, and Hal rolled with it.  Sheba was resting across his shoulders, her weight heavy and relaxed, pressing down and loosening the muscles in his neck.  She purred gently against him as he sighed softly, still in awe of what he had seen.  The old wives tales of the one who would reunite the country and save her from centuries of strife.  Kenley? His little sister?  Even she would admit it was more than a little ridiculous.  She was uncoordinated, clumsy, absent-minded - and she had taken the cracked sword in her scratched and muddied hand, raised it high above the straw-hued mane that hung untamed about her head, and stared defiantly at the damaged metal before spontaneously combusting.  Right before his eyes. 

Sheba's soft rumblings helped him stay focused on his memories, which were still fresh but confusing.  It had been less than an hour since Kenley had disappeared and he now held the same sword in his hands as he sat on a bale of hay. His parents would yell at him for wasting time when horses needed brushing down, stalls wanted mucking, and cows lowed as they waited to be milked.  Kenley would be milking them now if she were here, and they would be teasing each other about some silly matter or other.  She snorted when she laughed hard, which was often, all the time, really, and he smiled.  Was she snorting now, wherever she was, fit into the sword?  It was an absurd and impossible feat but he knew without a doubt that she was there. She spoke of it right before it happened, leaving out all the details that would have made sense of it, to him, at least. If there was any sense to be made.  All that was left was for him to figure out what to do with the sword to keep it, and her, safe.

He reached around to touch his fingers to Sheba's long back and stroked the black cat gently.  She leapt away from his fingers and lay at his feet, her eyes nearly closed as she peeked through the small slits that revealed them, watching him closely.  Hal blinked at her slowly.

"What now? Do you know where she is?"

Sheba's eyes drifted completely shut and her purrs became longer and deeper, almost like a growl.  Hal stared at her then down at the sword. 

"The castle.  A princess belongs in a castle."

He slid the sword into the sheath strapped to his waist and yanked at his pants, pulling them up.  His mother was always complaining that he wouldn't wear a belt, and for once, he wished he had listened to her.  The pants were too big, handed down from cousins who were quite a bit larger than he, and if he was going to walk all the way to Dara he'd need something to keep his pants on.  There were bits of rope in the mess of whatnot on a bench - mostly Kenley's finds - and he grabbed a hank, pushing it through the loops on his belt and tying it up front above the buttons.  If she could only see him now.  Maybe she could.  He realized that although he knew the legend like the back of his hand, now that they had started their own path into the story he felt as if he knew very little.  Very little that was practical, that is, and could help him figure out how to help Kenley if she needed him.  Maybe she didn't. 

The sword shone in the awakening sunlight, teasing him, the beams bouncing off the metal and shifting back and forth, nearly blinding him as he twisted it back and forth in front of him, hoping to feel her presence somehow within.  He shook his head as a wave of helplessness came over him.  She had disappeared right before his eyes here in the barn in seconds that had seemed like hours, her body dissolving into a million pieces like the exploding lights set off during summer fairs.  Could she see him? Could she feel the sword swooping in the air as he moved, his eyes never leaving the weapon as he watched it carefully before tucking it safely away?

Sheba rose and stretched before padding to a corner of the barn to settle down, her tail curled carefully and thoughtfully around her sleek body.  Her eyes met his again and he knew she was as troubled as he was.  It made sense that Kenley would go to the castle, as she was, apparently, the rightful heir to the throne, but how was she going?  Did the sword have to bring her there, now that she was part of it, or was there something magical about the sword that could transport her?

There were too many questions and reading his mind, as dragoncats were wont to do, Sheba narrowed her eyes in disapproval.

"I know, I know, " he nodded as he spoke aloud.  "Crowding my thoughts isn't helpful.  Distracting.  One thing at a time."

Time, though, was a problem.  If Kenley needed assistance, time wasn't an element to be ignored.  Still, he had to focus on one problem at a time in order to move forward.  Conrad.  Focus was one of Conrad's favorite words.  Where was he, anyway?  Usually he was lurking about, sometimes sneaking up to give Kenley some sort of advice, something Conrad must have thought was wise or clever. Hal could use a clever solution right about now.

"Conrad?"

He stared at Sheba but she was looking past him at nothing, her feline senses somewhere far away.  Maybe she could contact Kenley.  Hal sat down on a bale of hay and rested his face in his hands.  He had to be missing something important here. There had to be a starting point.

Legend held that long ago two brothers fought over the sword of Andaria, and the older brother was killed during their battle.  Their mother, the queen, cursed the younger brother, as she had always favored the heir to the crown.  It had truly been an accident, however, and the younger son was devastated that he had murdered his sibling.  His sorrow was so great that the sword that had brought about his brother's death split and nearly shattered with the force of his grief and guilt. The curse was a dark mark on the royal family ever since, with every generation having some troubles but none that were as terrible, and none that stood out as anything more than the usual sort of family squabbles that were understandable, even amongst royalty.  Now, with a younger brother pushing the older from his seat on the throne, it seemed that history was doomed to repeat itself, leaving the country in a state of panic.  If both brothers were worthy of the crown, there would be little to worry over, but one was quite mad with his lust for power and disinterest of the problems of the common people.  Unfortunately, he was the one in control at the moment.


First Five Pages Workshop - Comeau Rev 1

Name: Janel Comeau
Genre: ***Middle Grade Adventure/Light Sci-Fi***
Title: The Girl Who Was Ordinary, Until She Wasn't

There was absolutely nothing special about Jane.

Jane Hale was as ordinary as could be, from her mouse-brown hair to the toes of her sensible shoes. She never took home an A+ from school, never scored the winning goal, never went to the big parties and never even tried to disobey her parents. Of course, the Hales were always there, from her not-so-terrible two’s, right up to her not-so-troublesome teenage years, reminding her of what a special little girl she was. Mr. and Mrs. Hale beamed and coaxed and fussed, and they always claimed to take pride in their daughter’s overwhelmingly dull life.

They lied.

For years, Mr. and Mrs. Hale fought off tears of boredom every time they thought about Jane. And so they tried desperately to change their daughter’s ways. They signed her up for music lessons (she played a mediocre piano), bought her exotic pets (she turned out to be allergic) and even enrolled her in private school (the addition of a school uniform had only made her more difficult to locate in a crowd). It was no use. Jane’s blandness defied them year after year.

But this year was going to be different.

At precisely 8:05 AM on the morning of September the 4th, Jane’s bedroom door swung open and Jane skidded out into the hallway, tugging at her pleated skirt and pulling up her mismatched socks. Late, she thought to herself as she raced across the purple hardwood floor and headed for the stairs. Late, late, late, late, late. She thundered down the steps, deftly dodging the stone gargoyles and plastic flamingoes her parents had placed there for decoration. I can’t believe I’m going to be late on my first day of high school.

Still huffing and puffing, Jane leapt off the bottom stair and slid to a stop in the family kitchen.

“Five minutes late, as usual. That’s our predictable daughter,” Jane’s mother sighed.

Mrs. Hale stood by the stove in a Victorian ball gown and powered orange wig, flipping something that looked uncomfortably like a bright green pancake. Mr. Hale was already seated at the table in a top hat and a pair of overalls, with his round face buried in the folds of a newspaper; Jane quietly slipped into the chair beside his.      

“Ready for school?” he asked, turning his eyes back to a rather fascinating article about bank robberies.

“Yes.” she replied. Jane rarely offered up any more information than was necessary. Some girls her age might have gushed about the cute boys they were going to meet; others might have griped that eyeliner didn’t come in a shade dark enough to match their souls. Not Jane. Her mother fought back a sigh.

“Jane, darling, we need to have a word about your outfit,” Mrs. Hale bit her lip.
              
“Why?” Jane looked down at the crisp blouse and maroon blazer that made up the uniform of her new school, “This is what they told me to wear. Did I get a stain on it somewhere?”

“Oh, no, darling, don’t be silly; you’re not nearly exciting enough for that.” Mrs. Hale flipped off the stove and slid a green pancake onto Jane’s plate, “It’s just that we’ve transferred you to another school.”

Jane dropped her forkful of lawn-coloured breakfast. “What?”
               
“Yes, you’re enrolled in Snicket High School now. It’s a public school, dear. Oh, and you’ll be taking the bus there, I forgot to mention that.”
               
“What? Why would you do that to me? You didn’t even tell me!” Jane pushed her plate away and stared at her mother, open-mouthed.
               
“We wanted it to be a surprise, darling! You’ll have much more fun at public school than at some stuffy old private school.” Mrs. Hale explained.
               
This was also a lie.
              
Jane’s parents believed that high school was a prime opportunity for personal growth, tacky haircuts and life-long emotional wounding. To that end, they’d quietly enrolled their daughter at Snicket High School, a large public institution across town that boasted the fifth worst test scores in the region. Snicket High was noisy, crowded and exactly 7.6 kilometres from the Hale home, ensuring that Jane would have to take the bus to and from school for maximum trauma.
               
Mr. and Mrs. Hale were pleased. Jane was not.
               
“But Mom, I’m not even dressed for… you didn’t even tell me… I have to go change!” Jane sprung up from her seat and turned for the stairs. Mrs. Hale grabbed her wrist and gently pulled her back down into her seat.
               
“Oh, I don’t think you have time for that, dear. There’s a little something else that your father and I need to discuss with you.”
              
Whatever her parents had to say, Jane was almost certain she wouldn’t like it.
               
“Look at me for a moment.”  Mrs. Hale gently held Jane’s chin in her palm. “You know your father and I have been very patient with you all these years. We’ve dedicated an unreasonable amount of time and money to solving your little problem.”
               
“Problem? Mom, I don’t have a problem. I’ve never failed a class, never been in trouble at school, never stolen anything–”
               
“Stealing! Oh, that would be a wonderful start, don’t you think?” Mrs. Hale actually clapped her hands.
               
“Stealing. Very good,” mumbled Mr. Hale from behind his paper, and turned the page to a rather fascinating article about kidnapping.
               
“You can’t be serious.” Jane gaped at her mother.
               
“Oh, but of course I’m serious! Do you remember the time we smuggled that hyena into the country for you? Or when we signed you up for crocodile wrestling lessons? Or that time we dyed your hair blue?”
               
Jane shuddered. Oh, yes, she did remember.
               
“We didn’t do that for our benefit; it was all for your own good! We want what’s best for you, Jane. And we want what’s best for ourselves, too.” Mrs. Hale gave her husband a meaningful look, which he ignored as he continued to read the newspaper. Undeterred, she pressed on.
               
“Jane, your father and I aren’t immortal; someday, we’re not going to be around to take care of you. Or to take care of our fortune.”
               
“Fortune?” Jane looked around the kitchen, taking in the five-year-old stove, fifteen-year-old microwave, and two-hundred-and-thirty-seven-year-old suit of armor propped against the pantry door.
               
“Yes, yes,” Mrs. Hale waved her hand, brushing off Jane’s doubts that a fabulously wealthy couple would choose to live in a cluttered split-level. “And when we’re gone, we want to make sure that our money goes to someone who will carry on our legacy, dear. Someone who will make good use of it, in a way we’d approve of. And to be honest, darling, we’re just not convinced that you’re up to the task. And so your father and I have been thinking that it might be time for us to start looking for a new heir.”
               
Jane’s eyes went wide. “Wait, you’re firing me as a daughter? Can you even do that?”       
“Oh, darling, with enough lawyers on your side, you can do anything. But we hope it doesn’t come to that. We’re not unreasonable people – we’re giving you one last chance to hold on to your place in this family. You just need to do something remarkable. It doesn’t matter what it is. Be creative. Impress us, Jane, and we’ll happily continue to acknowledge that you sprung from our loins.”