A teenage girl crosses a deadly red desert to face death on her own terms before the desert swallows her whole #PitProm #YA #SF
Dear Royal Advisors,
In the forest, there is one rule when it comes to the red fever. The strongest live and the weakest die. When a suspicious rash snakes up the arm of seventeen-year-old Tova, she knows her only chance of being cured lies in an elusive city of glass, located across a bloodstained desert that swallows people whole.
Together, with her friend Kreed, she steps out from behind the wall that has protected her from the dust for her whole life, and into the infamous red. While Tova’s will to live is driven by hope, Kreed is determined to not let the girl he loves die alone. Braving the deadly terrain, the two must fight illness, war birds, a sandstorm, wolves, earthquakes, unrelenting heat, and limited water. If Tova can survive long enough to make it across the red desert divide, she’ll learn the truth about the world she lives in, and have to choose which side she stands on, before the desert swallows them all.
THE RED DIVIDE, complete at 68,000 words, is a young adult science fiction that explores themes of man vs. man and man vs. nature, that would appeal to readers of The Road, Under the Never Sky, and In a Handful of Dust, where a girl’s desire to overcome an untimely death shifts into something to fight for instead.
I am a member of SCBWI and a graduate of numerous advanced writing workshops. I am currently working on my next novel. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
First Ten Pages:
One day the Red Desert would swallow them whole, and when it did, there would be no climbing out.
The first step of a free climb usually excited Tova. The danger. The anticipation. The sensation of something inside of her warning her to stop. Tova scanned the rock for the most logical place to start. She looked up and heard her father’s voice in the back of her head. Climb and you’ll find me. It was the last thing he said to her before he trekked out into the Red.
“Rope or no rope?” Kreed reached toward Tova, offering her a section of his cord. Translated as, did she want him to lead?
The last thing Tova wanted to do was climb tandem, attached to Kreed, and tempted to depend on his strength instead of her own. “No rope,” she said.
“Come on, Tova. Clip in.”
“No.” She wiped her sweaty palms against her pants. “I’m only using my rope for backup.”
The instant Tova’s feet left the ground, her mind cleared. Free of everything but this. Her focus narrowed. Where should she put her hands next? She reached up and curled her fingers around a knob and bent her knee up to her chest, jamming her shoe into a foothold. She spider-monkeyed her way up the mountain. Edging and smearing. Wedging her body into cracks.
An hour passed before she entered the most challenging part of the route, an area of protruding sharp rock. She twisted and lodged her body into awkward positions, her forearms shaky and weak. She tightened her grip and glanced up to the shelf above, where her father’s name was carved forever with hers, Dagen and Tova, etched inside a triangle, underneath the overhung ledge of black rock. If only she could burrow her way into the mountain, in this spot where she felt closest to him. But she sensed herself slipping, her sweaty palms making it difficult to hang on. She had to keep moving. Around the brim she stretched, gripping onto an old metal hold bolted into the rock, and she tiptoed gingerly across a thin ledge, until the route above her opened. She climbed and climbed, all the way up, where she gripped the lip of the peak and pulled herself up over the top.
Kreed lugged himself over the rim shortly after her. He unclipped the rope attached to his harness, dropped it next to Tova’s, and stood beside her. “Feel that?” he said, slightly out of breath, staring out at the view.
“What?” she said.
“Static.” Kreed held his forearm out for Tova to see the hairs on his arm rise.
Tova scratched at her wrist and stepped away from him. “Earthquake weather,” she said.
She moved toward the edge of the cliff, rising over the rugged foothills, merging with the speckled grass below. She looked out across the canopy of ancient redwoods, past the river, beyond the mouth of the ravine bordering the stream. Her gaze took her all the way to the wall dividing the forest and sand, where she searched for any sign of her father. Climb and you’ll find me. She always looked to find him up here. She closed her eyes and imagined him emerging from the desert, covered in a filth of red dust. And in her mind’s eye she ran to him, and said all of the things she couldn’t say each time he left. I love you. I need you. I’ll never let you go. But what she should have said was goodbye. And that was her biggest regret.
A slight breeze nipped at the back of her neck. She took in a deep breath and invited the crisp air and pine to flood through her.
“How often have you been coming up here?” Kreed said from behind her.
Here it comes. She squeezed her eyes shut even tighter. “Every day this month.”
“Do you think that’s healthy, Tova?”
The stain of the red sand horizon bled through the image unfolding inside her head. “Shhhh…” she said. “I can almost see the whole desert from up here.”
“Is that why you come up here?” Kreed said. “To see the desert?”
Each time Tova’s father left Sequoia to survey the desert cracks, a piece of her went with him, and climbing to the top of this cliff was about the only peace she had left. “No,” she said. “That’s not why I come up here.” And he knew it.
Kreed released a heavy sigh.
He didn’t get it.
Tova’s body tensed. She opened her eyes and spun around to face him. Loose rock scratched beneath the soles of her climbing shoes. “I know you think it’s pointless.” She looked up at him. “But he’s coming back. I know it. Any day now. I don’t care what you think. The desert can’t have him.”
At this point,” Kreed said, “even you have to admit the odds are against him.”
“I know that better than anyone,” she snapped back. “He’s trekked out there like a hundred times. Why is this time any different?”
“He was supposed to be back weeks ago.”
“I don’t expect you to understand.” Kreed thought of himself as a realist, but even a realist could comprehend hope, and she didn’t understand the point of him trying to take it from her. “What has the desert ever taken from you?”
Kreed pressed his eyebrows together. “You’re not the only one who’s ever lost someone.”
“He’s not lost!” she said.
“You know what I mean.”
Kreed lost his mother to the red fever, just like Tova had. The only difference being, Kreed’s mother died in the comfort of her own bed. He said goodbye, even if he was too young to remember. Tova’s mother died of the red fever, barely five years ago, somewhere out in the red, and Tova didn’t get to say anything. Tova needed closure. She needed permission to move on.
“This is different,” she said.
“Is it?” Kreed said. “Getting sick has the same outcome as being swallowed by sand. It’s why no one goes out there in the first place.”
“It’s not even close to being the same thing. But thanks for that image, Kreed.”
All I’m saying is, Dagen’s never been out that far.”
“Except he has,” Tova said.
“You can’t really believe that story?”
“Why would he lie about something like that?”
Her father knew of a place located on the opposite side of the desert, located somewhere south of the San Andreas Channel. He described it as a coastal city made of glass; a utopian place built that promised a cleaner way of life. He called it Viridian.
“I’m not calling him a liar,” Kreed said. “But maybe what he saw was a mirage? Have you ever considered that? If Viridian exists, why hasn’t anyone else seen it?”
“Like you said, everyone’s too afraid to go out into the red.”
For a long moment, they didn’t say anything. They played a match of who would break first. Something they had done since they were kids. It had always been this way between them, both of them digging their heels into the ground. At nineteen, Kreed was only two years older than Tova, but in this moment it felt like so much more. A familiar silence divided the air between them, and Tova wasn’t sure how to break down the wall.
Kreed reached for Tova.
She shrugged him off. “No. I refuse to become a cynic like you. Don’t you believe in anything?”
“I don’t know what I believe.” He said, keeping a wary eye on the wisps of red dust feathering the desert horizon.
Tova didn’t know how to respond to a comment like that. Kreed used to believe in all sorts of things. He used to indulge in things like magic, and fairies, and the possibility that the forest that sheltered them from the dust wasn’t the only one that existed in the world. Over the years he seemed to have grown jaded in regards to their childhood fantasies. It was the shift in their relationship that Tova had tried to ignore. Kreed had become practical, and cautious, depending on his rope more and more.
“You weren’t there when my mom got sick, so you don’t know. He loved her too much. My dad wouldn’t lie to her. Not about that.”
“Stop. You said if you came today, you wouldn’t do this.”
Kreed flashed his empty palms. “Do what?”
“This!” she said.
“One of us has to be willing to face the truth.” He picked up a rock, tossed it between his hands, cocked his arm back, and threw it off the cliff. “I just think you should consider the possibility that your dad isn’t coming back.”
“He always comes back!” She stood her ground.
“I didn’t come up here to fight with you.”
“Why did you come?”
“I’m just—I don’t know how to put this…” Kreed paused, then opened his mouth to say something else.
Tova cut him off mid-breath. “I’m fine. You know. You don’t have to worry so much.”
He nodded slightly, but narrowed his eyes. “I’m not worried.”
The way Kreed studied her pulled her in, making her hyper aware of the reddish-brown bands circling his pupils, like the inner growth rings of an ancient redwood. What did he see in her hazel eyes? The life he saved, or the life he almost lost?
Then the outside corner of his eye twitched.
He was lying.
Kreed worried too much. He always had.
Tova turned away from him, picked up the marked center of her climbing rope, and began to butterfly coil it around her forearm and palm. The rope ran easily through her fingers. She’d done this very thing a thousand times. The task usually absorbed all of her attention, but as she inspected the rope’s woven shell for signs that the core had been compromised, Kreed continued to watch her.
His gaze hot against her skin.
Tova shifted her weight onto her back leg. It was impossible to concentrate on anything with him looking at her like that. She hated when he did this and he knew it. She gave into him and stole a look over her shoulder. His brown eyes locked with the irritation in hers, so intense it was like he was searching her core for signs of compromise. She scratched at her wrist again.
Tova turned away and stared into the haze streaked sky.
If only she could cry, maybe she’d feel better.
Tova couldn’t remember the last time she cried. There was a numbness that seemed to grow inside of her each time her father left. With each of his treks stretching over greater amounts of time, detachment had become her new normal. A defense mechanism to survive.
Kreed picked up the rope flaked at his feet. He fidgeted with it as if he wasn’t sure what to do with it. Tova couldn’t stop watching his hands. The way he twisted his fingers with the cord reminded her of the way he used to loop his index finger around her pinky when they were young. That felt like a lifetime ago. His hands were different now. They were larger and stronger. Not the hands of a boy, but not quite the hands of a man.
Tova’s attention fixated on the silvery scar lining his index finger. The twin scar to hers.
“So what do you do when you come up here?” he said, with slight caution in his tone.
The gravity in his voice broke her stare. “I don’t know.” She shrugged. “Think. Not think.” She gazed out into the distance. Her eyes snaked north along the river.
“It’s breathtaking,” he said.
Could he tell that she held her breath right now? And not just any breath. But that last breath she took before she sank into the river five years ago. She couldn’t let go of it. Not even up here. No matter how hard she tried to exhale, it was always there, weighted and heavy, as if that one pocket of air had grown roots and attached itself deep inside her lungs.
She returned to watching Kreed’s hands.
The more he tried to untangle his rope, the more knotted it got. His restless hands made Tova anxious. However, something in his guarded stance told her he needed a little space, so she resisted the urge to reach over and fix it for him.
Instead she asked, “Is something on your mind?”
“Yeah…” Kreed stopped fidgeting with his rope. “Us.”
Their eyes met.
Kreed clustered the rope into one hand. “There’s something I need to tell you,” he said.
Tova knew what he wanted to say. Her heart stopped, suddenly afraid of the affection she had for him. Her insides twisted and knotted like the rope bunched inside Kreed’s hand. “Okay.”
“Promise you won’t get all weird on me,” he said.
She couldn’t promise that, and he knew better than to ask. Every major muscle in her body tensed. Everything was about to change between them. Maybe she shouldn’t let him speak at all. She squeezed the rope tighter as she wrapped it around her forearm; the friction of the braided cord burned the flesh across her palm. She reached the end of the rope and instinctively tied a knot.
“What is it?” she said, aware that her response came out a bit too forced.
She inched closer to the edge of the cliff, in an attempt to untangle the mess inside of her. She dragged her feet against the ground. Rocks tumbled over the rim. A sheet of her black hair swept past her cheek.
It was over five hundred feet to the base.
Her lungs seized.
Her stomach dropped.
Her adrenaline kick started.
Her brain urged her to take a step back, but she held herself there, staring down, until she overcame the visceral fear of falling, but the feeling came in waves, tumbling inside of her. Tova’s wrist burned, and Tova wondered if this is how her mother felt when her mother first realized the Red Fever could kill her.
Kreed placed his hand on Tova’s shoulder, and gently pulled her back, away from the ledge. Instinct urged Tova to run away from him, but Kreed wrapped his arm around her, the weight of what he wanted to say, grounding her in one spot.
He took her right hand inside his and turned her, so that they were face to face. Tova reached across her body to apply pressure against her burning wrist, but he stopped her. He looked down, turned her arm over, and dragged his fingertips over her irritated skin.
He stopped abruptly and widened his eyes. “Tova–what’s going on with your wrist?”
Tova looked down to see the rash on her wrist, red, raw, almost bleeding. She didn’t even realize she had been scratching so much. It had gotten worse since this morning.
Tova pulled her arm away from Kreed. “It’s a spider bite or something,” she said. “I can’t stop scratching it.”
That’s no spider bite.” Kreed placed the back of his hand against Tova’s forehead.
“See. Nothing,” Tova said. “I feel perfectly fine.”
Just then a shot echoed through the air, like a faint hum of hope screeching through the atmosphere. It was the sign she’d been waiting for.
Tova spun around and saw a smoke flare soaring into the sky from the middle of the desert. After her mother’s death, to help ease Tova’s anxiety about his desert treks, her father came up with a code. One flare meant he was on his way back to the forest, and two flares meant he wasn’t coming home.
She paused for a moment, keeping her attention fixed on the desert. If she didn’t move, it was like at any moment she might lose herself. Float right off the mountain and never come back.
“Race you down.” Tova hooked her rope into her rappel device. She dropped one end of her rope off of the cliff and secured the other end around a tree.
“Wait! We’re rapping?” I thought we were hiking down the back?” Kreed tugged at his rope and scrambled to untangle it. “Just wait, would you? Is this why you come up here? Slow down.”
“I want to be there when he reaches the gate.”
"It’s called a distress flare for a reason.”
Tova gave Kreed one of those looks like, really, then tugged on her rope to take off the slack, sat in her harness, and pushed off of the cliff before he could say anything else.
Welcome to the final round of pitches!
Agents and Publishers,