The following is a list of the final pitches. Simply click on the link below to view that pitch, or the link to the name of the pitch under the Categories menu!
by Samantha Beal
ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD
by Kim Crisci
by Sally Gales
THE REMNANT BAND
by Savannah Grace
THE BODY ELECTRIC
by Jania Johnson
FORCE OF HOPE
by Vanessa Krauss
THE DRAGON'S SUICIDE
by Morgan Watchorn
A dragon falls in love with a slayer who hunts her. Both hide secrets: One seeks death, and one a cure. Can love defeat the curse? #PitProm
THE DRAGON’S SUICIDE is a dual-POV YA fantasy novel complete at 78,000 words. It combines the hunter vs. hunted elements of TO KILL A KINGDOM with the dragon slayer culture of THE LAST NAMSARA.
In the kingdom of Florent, anyone can succumb to the Ignition—a monthly solar event where the sun god’s magic turns an unlucky human into a dragon. Seventeen-year-old dragon slayer Abel Estellio knows first-hand that slayer families are no exception. When he hesitated to kill his little brother, he lost his parents, home, and reputation. With his name now synonymous with failure, Abel is broke and desperate for work.
Claire Belgard spent the last year searching for a slayer she can afford to hire. When her drunken pickpocketing attempt leads to a run-in with Abel, they form a perfect client-slayer match. On paper, that is. To Abel’s frustration, Claire insists on accompanying him on the hunt. The dragon she hires him to kill decimated her hometown, and she wants to watch it die. The last thing Abel needs is a client with a death wish—but her presence is more significant than he thinks.
Abel doesn’t know that Claire hides a tragic secret. She’s the very dragon she wants to see slain. Since dragons can’t die in human form, only Abel can give her the death she seeks. But in the pages of his journal, Abel has a secret, too. He performed experiments on his brother’s dragon form in pursuit of a cure—experiments that looked a lot like torture. If Claire and Abel grow too close before the next Ignition, Abel might choose to renew his experiments--on her.
I’m a freelance manga translator. A previous draft of this novel was longlisted for the 2019 WriteMentor Children’s Novel Award. One of my other manuscripts was a PitProm 2018 finalist. I’ve participated in workshops with Lorin Oberweger, Donald Maass, and Quressa Robinson. In my spare time, I like to convince horses not to send me to the hospital. (Again.)
Thank you for your time and consideration!
FIRST TEN PAGES:
I remove my glove and run two fingertips along the windmill’s charred frame. No heat. Little residue. Muddy ash squishes beneath my leather boots. Yesterday’s rainstorm is the only reason half the town of Bourlin survived a dragon attack without a slayer.
I slide a hand through my hair and sigh up at Noctu’s constellation. The October chill turns my breath to fog and clouds the arc of stars that outline the owl’s left wing. The Night Watcher hasn’t favored my hunt as of late, and it seems that’s not likely to change. There’s less than a month until the next Ignition. If I don’t catch up to this dragon, people will die.
I scan the scorched hillside for a glimmer of gold fur. “Lucy?”
Lucy zigzags through the vineyard’s remains, sniffing for leftover embers. Tinderfoxes are notorious sneaks. With the smell of smoke everywhere, I don’t trust her not to run off.
She perks up, ears pointed toward the buzz of voices atop the hill. Then she darts up the pebbled road leading to the two lampposts that mark the entrance to Bourlin’s famous Night Market.
I curse my pack’s weight and bolt up the hill after her. A passing cart driver’s horse spooks. A scorched body rolls off the cart and thuds to the ground. I cringe at the string of insults from the driver. “These bodies are on their way to the cemetery! Show some respect!” I wish I could pay my respects, but Lucy has plans to disturb the living.
Cold air scrapes my throat as I pass the crumbling remains of stucco-walled shops, mourners lighting candles and humming hymns near the melted stained glass that must’ve been a church of the Watcher Gods. Some inns and taverns sit smoke-stained, but otherwise intact. In the crowded market, I chase Lucy’s white-tipped tail past merchant stalls with wine barrels, cheeses, and stale baguettes. I bump shoulders more than once. Customers shout over spilled drinks, more concerned with drinking their sorrows than rebuilding.
When I see the bonfire burning scrap wood in the market’s center, I slow to a walk and run a hand down my face. There’s no stopping what happens next.
Lucy springs nose-first into the flames. Firewood collapses under her weight. The impact spews sparks and ash at the patrons enjoying its warmth. Her teeth gnash together as she eats the flames, her stolen snack sending red-hot ripples through her coat.
“Whose tinderfox is that?” an aproned salesman snaps. He swats embers off his table of assorted cheeses. A barmaid with soot-smudged skirts whispers in his ear and gestures at me with a handful of dirty wine glasses. I grimace. The silver slayer badge pinned over my heart—a crescent moon encircling twin suns—is a dead giveaway. Fire-eating tinderfoxes are obvious familiars for slayers.
That’s when the ridicule starts.
“Thanks for showing up,” a woman sneers.
“The dragon tax is wasted on you,” says another.
“King Francis should stick your neck in the guillotine.”
I take my walk of shame to the bonfire’s stone perimeter. On the way, I spot a young woman—a girl, really—through the sparks. The fire, and perhaps one too many drinks, flushes her pale skin. Raven hair falls in waves past her chest. Brass buckles line the front of her suede, swallowtail coat. Silverwolf fur pads her hood, and a leather satchel hangs at her hip. Expensive taste. A tipsy townsman, easily twice her age, straightens his frock coat and clinks his full glass of white wine with her dwindling red. She spares him a glance, unbothered.
In a word? Stunning. But it isn’t her beauty that catches my eye. It’s the two parallel scars on the left side of her face. They run from her jaw to the curve of her cleavage. Scars from a dragon’s claws.
“Are you dense?” the aproned salesman hollers. “That thing is getting ash everywhere!”
Ash already is everywhere, but I don’t engage. If it weren’t for my late arrival, he’d hail me as a hero.
I fling a copper coin his way and mutter apologies in passing. Lucy prances out of the weakened bonfire and perches on the perimeter with a replenished glow to her coat. Her eyes narrow sleepily—full stomach, no doubt—then widen when I scoop her up. She whines in protest. Her coat’s heat, heightened from engorging herself, warms my face as she squirms.
“No, Lucy,” I warn, squinting through the bonfire smoke for my potential lead, lest I lose sight of her. Lucy’s tail smacks my face. “Luciole!”
With a final whine, Lucy curls up in the space between the back of my neck and the dragon skull helmet mounted on my travel pack. Her favorite sulking spot.
I’m circling the bonfire to ask the girl about her dragon encounter when the man next to her takes a lock of her hair and smells it. Stomach turning, my steps quicken. I’m mid-reach for his wrist when a second drunk man stumbles between us to wave a clumsy finger at the girl’s face.
“Thief!” he slurs. “I bought you a drink and you stole my coin purse!”
The girl’s eyes widen, voice unsteady. “Monsieur, I—”
“Don’t yell at the lady,” the first man growls. He shoves our interrupter into a barmaid behind him. She drops her tray. Wine glasses spill their contents on the interrupter, soaking his back with red to match the anger in his cheeks.
A small leather coin purse falls to the ground at the first man’s feet. The girl picks it up and offers it with a timid smile. “You dropped this, Monsieur.”
With a bellow, the interrupter tackles the first man onto the glass-scattered ground, startling me and nearby patrons away from the scuffle. “It was you!” He reels a fist back. Semi-sober men shout at them to stop. A few struggle to drag them apart.
It happens so fast, I almost miss the girl empty the coin purse, tuck the coins down her bosom, and toss the leather into the fray with a smirk worthy of a tinderfox. She sips her wine and watches the fight, clearly proud of herself.
I snort. This girl doesn’t need a hero. If anything, I should watch my pockets around her.
Our eyes meet. Her smirk vanishes. Then she offers a flirtatious smile and struts my way, tugging my sleeve to drag me through the crowd. She pushes me up against the brick exterior of the nearest inn. Hardly the approach to a new lead I had in mind.
She cuts me off with a finger to my lips, swallowing her last mouthful of wine. “What’s your name, Monsieur?” she coos.
I push the girl’s hand away. “Abel. If I may, I’d like to ask—”
Beside us, an elderly innkeeper with a broom opens the inn’s front door. One sweep of ash out the door and she’s squinting at me, as if I’m the one pinning this drunk girl to a wall and not the other way around.
“Who’s your friend?” The girl presses her glass into my hand and reaches over my shoulder to scratch Lucy’s chin. Lucy sniffs the smoke on the girl’s skin. I flinch out of her reach, but my bulky pack hits the wall. I don’t like this thief’s hand anywhere near my pack’s pockets. Especially not near my journal. My research is too important to lose.
The innkeeper stops closing the door to glare. I try not to look guilty.
“There’s nothing going on here—” I start.
“Is that so?” The girl’s fingertip skims down my chest and traces my slayer badge. Then she turns away with a wink over her shoulder. “C’est la vie, Monsieur Abel.”
My lead is walking away. Swaying, in fact. How much did she drink? I wrack my brain for a way to get the girl to stay.
First rule of dragon hunting: Consider the bait.
“Her name is Luciole.”
“Luciole?” The girl turns around, smiling like she knew I’d stop her. Heavens, she must have. It took two minutes for her to whittle my thoughts down to nothing but dragon hunting techniques. I’m flirting with her using the slayer’s handbook. Watchers save me.
“Lucy for short.” I run a hand through my hair. “Want to hold—”
Lucy leaps off my shoulder and into the girl’s arms. With a satisfied whine, she buries her face into the girl’s scarred chest and curls up in her embrace.
“Ah. ‘Firefly.’” The girl giggles and kisses Lucy’s forehead. “Bonjour, ma Luciole. I’m Claire.”
I frown. Only slayers and scholars of the Watcher Gods study the Old Tongue. A few expressions float around, but the meaning of Lucy’s full name isn’t common knowledge. This thief’s familiarity with dragons and the texts behind their existence runs deeper than her scar.
Claire—if that’s her real name—shifts Lucy to one arm and reaches over my shoulder, toward my pack. “What else you got?”
“Wait—” I stiffen as her… sizable chest presses up against me. The wine glass slips from my fingers and shatters on the ground. My eyes dart skyward, hands up in defense. But when Claire grasps the horn of my dragon skull helmet, my senses rush back to me.
Second rule of dragon hunting: Establish limits and keep the target within them.
I grab her wrist, spin us around, and push her up against the wall. “I know you stole that man’s coins,” I say, voice low. My boots crunch the broken glass. “I’ll keep quiet if—”
Standing on her toes, she peers over my shoulder. Her loopy smile vanishes. I follow her gaze and double-take at the sight of the two men who fought over the coin purse. They walk together through the stalls, all busted lips and black eyes. One struts toward a man wearing a red coat and tricorne. He carries a musket. Embroidered on his coat’s upper back is a circle of six gold stars. A Watchman. He’s patrolling the Night Market.
“Let’s take this elsewhere.” Claire smiles suggestively. “Before I get too sleepy?”
She’s not subtle about conning me out of a hotel room to escape the authorities.
I grit my teeth. Without releasing Claire, I lean to check the prices chalked into the board on the door: Fifty silver pieces per night for the cheapest single bed. I cringe. That’s almost half of my savings. I’ve been hunting and camping for a reason. I can’t afford this.
Then again, thief or not, this girl is my only lead. Since her scars are healed, the chances are low that the dragon responsible hasn’t been slain yet. But any lead is better than nothing. If I don’t find a dragon, countless people could lose far more than money.
Great. Looks like I’m helping a criminal run loose.
“Up, Lucy,” I mutter. Lucy latches onto my coat and climbs obediently to her sulking spot. Claire wobbles, eyelids drooping. What convenient timing.
“Hey. I know you’re acting.” I release her wrist. Her arm falls slack as she leans into me. “Wake up. I’ll get you a room. I won’t try anything. I just need infor—”
I catch her under the arms before she collapses onto the glass. I crane my head for a look at her face. By the Watchers. Did she actually pass out?
I sling her arm over my shoulder, ignoring Lucy’s nippy protests. When I open the inn’s front door and find the innkeeper at her front desk, I almost don’t duck from the gold-tipped quill she flings at my head. It thuds into the door behind me like a dagger.
The innkeeper swipes up the broom and thrusts it in my face. She’s a head shorter than me, but that wrinkled glare would make even a dragon shrink a few inches.
“You have ten seconds to tell me your intentions for that girl, slayer,” she says, “or this broom goes so far up your rear, you’ll be chewing the bristles.”
Across from my bed, the fawna trophy head mounted on the wall stares at me. Pink flowers bloom from the buck’s antlers, preserved in wax.
Abel sleeps sitting beneath it. Gold curls, olive skin, light stubble… If it weren’t for his uniform, he’d strike me as a handsome farm boy. Not a highly-trained, highly expensive dragon hunter.
My head throbs. It takes all my focus to sit still in these sheets, rubbing my temples. I was careless. Tipsy Mademoiselle is my most effective persona, but the mask turned real when I smelled the charred bodies piled behind the plaza. You’d think I’d be used to dragon-made carnage after seeing it three times, but no. The sight had me flirting for free drinks all night—and not in the fun way. The last thing I remember is those two sleazy men searching for me. That, and the slayer I’d been so relieved to meet. Every other slayer I approached told me I was below their pay grade. Last night was the first time one of them gave me the time of day.
At the foot of the bed, Abel’s pack leans temptingly against his dragon skull helmet.
Carefully, I lift it and sort his items across the comforter: a journal, waterskin, tent, a map of Florent, and a roll of ratty camping furs. Odd. Slayers are wealthy. They earn so much, there’s a dragon tax to pay them. They don’t camp.
My breath catches when I find what I’m looking for: A moondagger.
Moonstone weapons require slayer licenses. That’s why I’ve been looking for a slayer. To get close and steal a weapon. Now that I have one, my grip trembles. Finally, I can kill--
“Looking for this?” Abel says.
I flip the moondagger up my sleeve and startle on purpose, kicking his waterskin to the rug. The diversion isn’t necessary. His eyes remain closed. He doesn’t move, except to lift a coin purse from its hiding place inside his crooked elbow.
Aww. Cute boy thinks he outsmarted me.
“You undressed me. That’s assault,” I say coolly. I’m wearing a new chemise, my dress and coat nowhere in sight. “A crime for a crime, Monsieur.”
“You got drunk, stole a man’s coins, framed another, got him assaulted, targeted me, then faked falling asleep to con me into renting a room with you to avoid getting arrested.” He drops the coin purse. It lands lightly, more leather sound than metal. “Don’t insult my morals. I didn’t do a thing to you.”
“You still undressed—”
“No, I didn’t. You vomited on yourself in the lobby. The innkeeper changed you into clean undergarments from a rather expensive outfitter next door and took your clothes to the laundry. The only reason she didn’t call the Watchmen is because I explained the circumstances—minus your thievery—and showed her my slayer badge. She still hammered on the door every hour last night to ensure I behaved myself. Thank the Watchers this was the last room available or she would’ve charged me for an additional room.” He opens one tired eye, sizing me up. “You owe me seventy silver pieces, by the way.”
My pride takes a kick to the stomach. That’s enough coin to purchase a decent saddle.
“Where are my belongings?” I challenge. Besides my clothes, I had a satchel. It held my coin purse, a map of towns I visited, a flask, riding breeches, and sleep powder. I can’t leave without my sleep powder. That’s a black-market sedative. It could be months before I track down another dealer.
“The innkeeper took them. Apparently, I looked like the thief between us.”
He’s starting to strike me as the righteous type. What if he turns me in to the Watchmen? It’s too risky to stick around.
I clench the moondagger’s hilt. Calm down, Claire. You may not need him at all. If I can find an opportunity to use this dagger--
“There’s one way you can pay me back. If I like what I hear.” Abel props an elbow on his knee and aims his sharp blue stare at me. “Tell me about your scar. I know a dragon wound when I see one.”
I resist the twitch that pulls at the corner of my mouth. He’s handing me an out on a silver platter. I’ll give the cute boy with the gentleman’s moral compass the damsel he wants.
I lower my gaze and hunch my shoulders, revealing a deeper look at the scar tracing the curve of my breast. A tiny change to feign vulnerability, with a touch of seduction to chip at his logic. The trick is not to overdo it.
“About one year ago, a dragon killed my boyfriend. It slashed at me before it burned down my village.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Which village?”
“Chevalier.” I allow myself a small, sad smile. The best part about this act? I don’t even have to lie. “My hometown.”
“Was the dragon slain?”
I shake my head. “That’s why I approached you last night.”
“The way you acted suggests otherwise.”
“I apologize. I was drunk and desperate.” I give him a sharp stare of my own. “I’ll do anything to put that dragon’s head on a spike.”
He tilts his head. “You want to hire me.”
Loyalty from the Aons is absolute, even when Fatality is told by Horizons to destroy the literal forces of nature that keep the Earth alive.
Hello and greetings!
FORCE OF HOPE is a little bit of Splice, a dash of classic mythology, some Animorphs because shapeshifters are fun, and one good-but-actually-evil corporation who might start the next Geostorm. Packaged into a 88,134 word science fiction/fantasy novel, FORCE OF HOPE is a unique blend of futuristic escapism. A chance encounter has the Horizons Corporation realizing that their want to control the weather means accounting for literal forces of nature, gods. By creating the Aons, they plan to use them to chase and destroy these powerful beings. There is a small catch. Their first Aon, Fatality. Being told her only function is to live, die, hunt, kill, she can only want for something better, a world where nature doesn’t bow to man, nor to Horizons.
This is my first foray into the world of professional novels as an author. My literary contributions have been through aiding others, particularly in editing and documentation. I have a stronger presence as an artist as I have been commissioned to do a few independent and self-published related books covers. When I am not flexing my creative talents, I am honing my skills as a professional QA, breaking code, finding bugs, and upholder of quality.
FIRST TEN PAGES:
It is believed that the mantra of every scientist, every doctor is to do no evil. In 2204, Horizons had made artificial life, the Aons. The first of these individuals was wasting away before their eyes, her misery brought on by their own hands. For all the great medical advances made across the centuries, those involved were forced to confront that they had created suffering.
It was not their fault. As aspirational as Horizons alluded the project to be, it was marred in secrecy. Why most of the scientists were sold on Horizons’ Aon project was for the pay, some for the prestige. They worked on it until it reached its natural conclusion. The two remaining members, Roston Klaus and Kristopher Bronwell, were the last posted to the Aon project. One out of duty as the project’s lead researcher, the other because he wanted an exotic soon-to-be cadaver to play with.
Lunar Horizons had failed its first creation, tasking the pair to examine the aftermath of a series of biological errors. It was something few in the team were proud of. At least there was another Aon who was thriving. Nameless, though sometimes referred to as “2,” he rounded out the team of three.
“You go first. Talk to your sister.” Roston left the unpleasant task of socializing to the only family the Aon had.
The metal-clad hospital room was stark, devoid of much contrast except for the solitary patient and her pale, IV-stabbed arm sticking out from under the sheets. Having anyone visit would be deemed refreshing for some, but for her it just meant it was time for the usual round of whatever treatment the small group could think of to relieve her suffering.
The humans buried their faces in their tablets to clarify that their patient’s vitals corresponded with her physical appearance. 2 needed no such technology, taking up position with the medical drips. He noted the oxygen tank as well as its current oxygen saturation levels. There had not been a single thing his sister had not raised to threshold. He proceeded to give her a long stare, making certain she could focus prior to waving his arms through the air.
‘At the rate you’re going, I’m not sure what is going to happen. You will either stroke, go blind, or go insane. Whichever happens first.’ He communicated to her in ASL while also verbalizing the translation to the researchers behind him. The gloom in her eyes was catching.
His sister Aon was unable to hear. Despite all of Lunar Horizons’ attempts to correct it, the titanium of her skeleton making certain of that. Bone become mental, it resulting in stunting and disability.
Little of the Aons was not an unsettling representation of humanity, yet its call to the familiar made it that 2, the healthier Aon, was not quite as weird in appearance as his sister. Their faces were human with the exception of their ears, which flared out into a variety of benign, elegantly-pointed shapes. His sister’s were more distinct, taking up slivered crescents to frame her face. Pretty, but useless, with very few exceptions.
Even with an oxygen mask on her face and low muscle mass, she still had some means of communication, albeit a skill the Aon’s could share in, their psychic abilities. While implants could imitate telepathy and mind-reading, theirs was natural. Such an ability was viable in the smallest of situations.
“Just get it over with,” she mentally hissed, verbalizing it with her mind as best as she could. She waited to see if 2 felt like humoring her. He flicked his long tail-like appendage, contemplating her needs. While they both had tails, he sported a dark tip-to-tail mane embedded with removable spines.
Why he even remained was because he was the only one that could cater to her needs without lengthy diagnosis and risky shipments. Some poisons could hurt while others could heal. The Aon plucked a spine from the middle of his tail, jabbing it into his sister’s bicep. Each of the roughly thousand spines led to a gland full of one different compound or another, making it hard to guess what he selected.
The staff were not necessary for the drug administration, just observations and recording. They made few remarks before leaving, giving the Aons time alone.
The parting was swifter than usual. While she waited for the drugs to sink in, she could not help but notice how queer the behavior was. Something was being planned or changed that she was not told about. Her brother was still there, waiting for the men to go. It was not unusual for her to be left alone with her sibling, but the way in which the men exited bothered her, making her wonder.
“If you could look any more pathetic,” 2 glowered, speaking into her mind. She just glared, not wanting to start on something that she knew was obvious. “Even though you’re a druggy, there should be enough to tie you over.” She followed his line of sight to the bags strung around behind her, trying to understand where he was going with the statement.
“Tie me over for what?” It came across as if he was going away, his massive grin not offering her reassurance.
“We already know when you’re going to die. The last thresholds set were all pre-fatal.” He was sneering, appearing proud. “There is no reason for me to hang around anymore.” Shock, anger, and despair combated with one another, thus resulting in startled silence. If she was not emaciated and strung to a bed by all likes of tubes and wires, she would have slugged him. She was nearly immobile, staring bewildered at how uncompassionate he could be. In her entire universe 2 had always been there for her. 2 had just announced he would abandon her to her deathbed, and he was happy about it. Her mind was numb.
“There is nothing to worry about. We have everything you will need here.” The sarcastic tone of the statement meant the pat on her shoulder did not console her. “You already knew this was going to happen. I don’t see why you’d be upset about it. You die, and I get to go to Earth. Isn’t that great!” His excitement was less restrained as he enthusiastically jumped onto the bed, straddling over his sister to further justify why she should be happy for him. He leaned in, teasing the least bruised part of her neck with his lips, partially a threat to bite, partially something loving, but almost always hovering around sinister.
“I can finally fulfill my purpose, live up to my design! Be what I am meant to be and not just your caretaker.” He was elated. She was his sister, a relative, a loved one. He should not have been happy, he should have been miserable, sobbing! Instead there was joy, and for her it was tears.
“I didn’t mean to!” She had no choice in how she was made and cared for. She could acknowledge that her brother’s function was not to look after her. “I did not want to stop you from going to Earth.”
“But you did because you are useless!” He snapped, sharp teeth razing her neck. “I could be doing so many better things down there than up here. Things that your worthless ass will never understand!”
Anguished, she moaned, “Brother… stop…” How she wished she could reason with him in his moment of cruelty.
The lack of a name annoyed them both. It was an act of control, to dehumanize and cement their inferiority. Successful projects received names in such a place, just like any other product, and the way to earn it was through leaving alive. The greatest honor to an Aon was the day they could leave and award themselves their own name. Her unintentional mistake was corrected.
“It’s not ‘2’. It’s not ‘brother’. It’s ‘Acid Trip’. Got it? Not like it matters anymore. Pray as you might, nothing now will save you. Not that the gods live here anyway.” With that haughty deliver he rose to leave, though not before signing, ‘Goodbye, ungrateful, selfish bitch.’
The room was the sort of stillness of a morgue, one in which the Aon herself lay. All she had left to occupy her time was to long for death. Long for the moment to be splayed out on a table, no concern given to her dignity as the physician spread her nakedness wide, skinfold by additional skinfold.
Tears unabated, she shivered into her mask, unable to scream out her anguish. Atrophy had set in, her vital organs shriveled and incapable of keeping her alive on their own. She choked and hacked, struggling to burn through the emotions. The muscle wasting made it almost impossible to brush the tears away. Her grief drenched the pillow around her head, leaving a lingering wetness to remind her of everything she could not have.
Every potential precious memory was dredged to the surface by Acid Trip, forgotten before then. Denying in its existence was what kept her sane, going through the days, never dreaming, no wants nor desires to be fulfilled. It was not her doing that she was ill and that he just so happened to have the skills to look after her. She was not trying to deny him anything. Such a level of denial was cruel.
The Aon’s head flopped to one side, the same side that held the view that had always captivated her, at one time giving her hope. Earth was another world away. Maybe she should have been happy for Acid Trip who would get to make that journey and fulfill the purpose set before them by Horizons. It was a purpose they never gave her because she would never survive long enough to see it. Dejected, she turned away from the blue orb, forever out of reach.
A month had passed since Acid Trip had departed, leaving the last remaining Aon alone with the humans. Without his practiced aid, her condition deteriorated, putting her on a ventilator. It was obvious to Roston that she was suffering, maybe not to Kristopher, who kept calendaring anticipated time of death. Still, they had their responsibilities.
Roston and Kristopher traced into the room, not because they feared startling their patient, but that human nature dictated that respect go to the dying. Their electronic devices informed them that she was alive, so they were not expecting a dead body. They still were unable to tell her state of mind at the time.
What medical texts they had regarding the terminally ill and expected behaviors given the medication were not all that informative. Euthanasia had long since been the practiced method of dealing with those with her condition. She was suffering from multiple organ system failure, starting with the lower GI tract, followed by the upper GI, then the lungs. It had taken years to get to that stage, with the first hint being the stunting caused by nutritional deficiencies. Having to basically feed her paint did not help. When making new life there were a lot of unknowns, the end result summarized by the particular Aon.
The pair stood at the doorway, observing. Roston was carrying a tablet with a high-contrast alphabet program present on it. They were about to ask the most awkward question in their careers and neither quite wanted to go through with it: What did the Aon want to be known as on her autopsy report? Roston retyped the question, unsure of the wording to use.
Kristopher glanced at the Roston’s latest sentence and muttered, “You could just ask her bluntly.” Roston deleted the phrase and tried another one.
“I just don’t want to come across as cold,” Roston murmured, reviewing the question. It read, ‘What should we call you?’ He looked back to his colleague for his opinion, who nodded. They would present it to the female. “I hope she can read it. She couldn’t read the third line on the Snellen chart yesterday.”
“I wouldn’t worry about her reading it.” Kristopher took the tablet and moved his way over to the side of the bed that she was facing.
The Aon perked up a little as the medical doctor took his seat next to her, rolling the chair up so he could get as close to her face as possible. She stared, at first perplexed as he raised the tablet in front of her face. Roston stood over, watching her eyes as they darted across the sentence. He could see them narrow, not from squinting but from anger.
“C-O…” Roston started off saying, watching as her right hand spelled out a series of letters in order to make a word. It was expected that all who interacted with the Aon know at least how to spell the alphabet in sign language. The other man turned the tablet around and began writing out the words. The first word was ‘corpse.’ It became apparent what frame of mind the Aon was in as she began spelling out more and more words pertaining to death, bodies, and other macabre terminologies. None of them were names.
The normally giddy Kristopher’s shoulders started to sag as he read over the list he was writing out. It was a somewhat colorful list, with nouns such as ‘zombie’ and ‘cadaver’ having made their way onto it. Roston was not enjoying his translations of her sign language, hoping some word she spelled out was something not as derogatory. At that point they both wished they had not been instructed to ask her. The Aon was in no mood to humor them with any pleasantries. As it went, she would leave in a body bag.
“Fatality. We already have that one.” The tablet was turned to the Aon again, with Kristopher pointing out to her that she had repeated herself. The spelling stopped with her looking somberly at the list. Together the men went over it for themselves, scrolling up and down the names she had given herself.
After a minute, Roston spoke up. “These are all pretty bad.” He pointed to a few words.
“Thought ‘coffin stuffer’ was pretty clever,” Kristopher chuckled, his attempt at sounding peppy failing.
“You want to write that in the reports? I’m not.” There was silence as they continued to look over the list, both wanting to opt for something better. Eventually, even the list had to be submitted in a report. Given the theme, anything more suitable to her pale appearance such as ‘Ivory’ was going to receive some criticism. Such a lie would be obvious. Aons never wanted to give themselves a human name, anyway.
With a sigh, Kristopher returned to the keyboard portion of the program and retyped one of the words. He held it up to Roston for his approval. “It is the nicest sounding of the words and a better replacement than what we originally had in mind. If you repeat it long enough, it starts sounding like a name.”
With his arms crossed, Roston bobbed his head. “She picked it twice… Might as well.” With a name decided, Kristopher turned the tablet back to the Aon.
They had stuck with the word ‘fatality,’ an unfortunate death. Her eyes went down, head bobbing a bit as she accepted that as her name. With the name established, the men went on to the easiest of the questions they were expected to ask.
‘Would you like some company?’ the message read. They knew she liked to be left alone, but with her body failing her, maybe her preference had changed. The answer was quick, as had most of her responses been that day. Resentment motivated her more than any other emotion.
Roston and Kristopher moved away and out of Fatality’s sight. There was not much they could do other than leave her as she was. The self-perceived dead body was not willing to compromise and make her situation better, having committed long ago to being miserable. The thing they knew, that she did not, was that she would be dead within the next twenty-four hours; and of the biggest of human fears outside of dying itself, it was dying alone.
The day had stretched into the imperceivable night with Fatality at the point where her body was struggling to live and her mind wishing it would just die. She noticed then because she could no longer breathe.
Everything diaphragm and lower was a screaming symphony of pain, alternating between a melodic hum to a cacophony. With high oxygen levels combined with lethally high doses of pain medication, Fatality had not noticed her predicament. In the last few days she was partially aware of the world around her, but in that moment it was at the forefront of her mind, reminding her with every forced struggle to inhale.
Fatality was not even sure what would kill her first. She was pretty certain that, even with the dysfunction of having almost no working organs, she would survive. Her heart still pumped the drug cocktail around her body, which managed to keep at least some of the sepsis down. The drip feed was still on, dehydration was staved. As much as she was hoping she would have overdosed on something, it did not look like it was going to happen. Acid Trip might have lied about the numbers so she would suffer longer, which she certainly was.
The ventilator strangled her airways, forcing exhales but making the inhales pointless. A single, fulfilling gulp of air was a distant notion. She could not breathe on her own and even the ventilator was not helping. As complaisant as she was, the urge to struggle on the tube running down her trachea was acute. The muscle relaxant she was on stopped her from wasting what little energy she had to try and heave it out. It still did not quite stop her from writhing.
Every second was a combination of agony, exhaustion, fear, and distress as the dying phase dragged on for hour after eternal hour. The night was lost in a perpetual hell briefly broken by the false rise of the Sun casting its glow on the room’s back wall.
Mindlessly, Fatality stared at the glow revealing itself, inching its way as the automatic shutters lifted to imitate a sunrise. The Sun was a pinpoint in her vision as the blackness closed in. Its very existence mocked all that died before it, all that had ever lived. It was watching, judging. It was actually someone.
Fatality blinked, the hallucinations having progressed from blurs to shapes. Outside of the window was a glowing man dressed in silken robes, and for all she could tell must have been an angel. Of course in her dying moments she would believe in anything divine. Angels answered prayers, So maybe, she thought, embracing the unreality that at least kept her from travestying her life.
“Please, save me,” she threw her mind out to the illusion. Surprisingly, it answered back, its head shaking from side to side, a clear no.
“Only Forces are deserving of my gifts.”
Inside, Fatality raged, the delusion vanishing from her fading vision. Either a trick of the light, or mind, or both, that she even hoped made her wish she could still scream. Certainly it had to be a hallucination. No healthy mind would tell themselves such senseless garbage. At the same time, she feared lying to herself, that all of these demolished wishes and dreams lay outside the window, outside with the Earth and the Sun. She needed to stop it. She needed to stop lying to herself.
There was a remote for the shutter somewhere. It had to be close by. The staff of Lunar Horizons never left it out of reach. Fatality realized that she could not even lift a finger. The light continued to mock her, daring her to try harder. The Sun was eternal and forever, and she was dead.
I wanted to live! All I wanted was to live! To have agency. I can’t even close a window! Even the smallest victory, just to be able to move. She would take anything to not let her last fading thought be marred by anguish and defeat. Rgh! I--
It was mid-morning on a weekend. The Moon base and its many corporations spread across it did follow some basic employment practices and standards. While those posted to its subsurface were expected to predominantly work, they were still entitled to days of rest. The pair of men overseeing the Aon project were in no rush that morning to get anything done.
Roston flopped over in his bed to see a message displaying Fatality’s time of death at 7:14 am. Kristopher likely wanted to be the first in the room to look over his dead toy, which meant Roston could stay in bed a little longer. It helped when your coworker was a late sleeper, allowing for plenty of leisure time before the litany of documentation had to begin. Besides, dead bodies do not go anywhere.
Light poured in as it did for half of the lunar cycle, and the response was the same from anyone who was caught staring straight at the Sun, immediate disengagement. The room came alive in a flurry of downed utility poles, spilled baggies, tubes, gauze, and bedding. The noises were a grotesque combination of groans, and squelches, and further things clattering as they were strained and brought down by unnatural movement. On the floor was Fatality, unsure of what was happening. A few minutes ago she had been fighting to find the remote to stop herself from seeing angels. At that moment she was on the floor, a wave of discomfort filling her, spurred on by the sensations brought on by a mass of foreign objects embedded inside.
With a mindless viciousness, she started purging her body. Hands to face, she retched on the ventilator, vomiting it out of her mouth. Next was the uncomfortable catheter, unceremoniously expunged from her urethra. In an action of almost suicidal mania, feeding tubes were torn from their insertion holes in the abdomen, from her chest, her arteries. Any and all intravenous tubes were removed, not by pulling in the direction away from the vein but vertically through the skin. The removal of such an extent of medical devices, a process that would take over an hour and then require follow-up medical treatment, was done in minutes. Jumping in still apparent alarm, Fatality scrambled to her feet, wiping away any further monitoring equipment. It took her a moment before she came to her senses, eyes looking down to her arms and naked body.
Fatality disregarded that she had injured herself, instead noticing that she was standing. The weeping puncture wounds from her torso left a trickle of white, titanium oxide-rich blood soaking down her legs. She found the fact her limbs were not bowed and that there was actual muscle to be much more interesting than the blood loss.
To Fatality’s bewilderment, she seemed well and had no explanation for it. Without the aid of a mirror, she used her hands to feel over the unexpected, still ignoring the slickness as she roved over her waist, her chest, arms, and head. It was a bit too hopeful of her to expect breasts and childbearing hips, but she had no complaints about the toned physique of her arms and abdominal area. While her mane and tail were similar in design to Acid Trip’s, with their thick bases, tapered ends, and substantial length, her wide-paneled titanium feathers of sorts were no longer diminutive and mangy. Her ears, on the other hand, had not changed and in fact had solidified even more. She gave a flick to one of them, noting how stiff it felt, then proceeded to snap her fingers next to both sets of ears, realizing she could hear nothing.
It was not long before Roston was ejected from bed by the excited Kristopher. While he preferred to follow protocol, Kristopher had skipped breakfast and security checks in favor of getting the body prepared. Roston was less eager to perform the morning protocol and check on the body at the same time, thus he shuffled along, cereal bowl in one hand, spoon in the other. Kristopher was ahead, sauntering down the hallway. Roston had no desire to enter the room first. The thought of a gaping corpse made him shudder.
“What the fuck!” The other man looked up from his cereal, noting his hypothesis as Kristopher vented his disbelief. “What. The. Hell. How are you up?!” Kristopher flapped in wide sweeping arm waves. The commotion had Roston intrigued, he standing next to Kristopher, just out of striking distance.
He could not believe it either. Fatality stood there naked and in a pool of her own fluids. She looked back at them, confused and unable to explain herself. Kristopher made his approach with the intention of treating the damage Fatality had caused, his displeasure visible, having hoped for a corpse to tinker with.
“Sit down and let me take a look at those,” sighed Kristopher, facing her and gesturing at the bloody wounds. The pointing brought the injuries to the Aon’s attention, she seeming not to care as they stitched themselves over. She presented her repaired, completely unscarred arms to the astonished staff members.
She smiled for the first time in years. “I think they are better now.”
A glitch pulls a teenager’s future kids into the present, forcing him to choose—his soulmate or a girl he hates, his future wife. #PitProm
Dear Royal Advisors,
ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD is a time travel sci-fi for young adults. It is complete at 95,000 words.
Seventeen-year-old Derek Lyttle knows his future. He's going to play professional baseball, have a gorgeous wife, and 2.5 kids. As Astoria High's star second baseman, Derek is on his way to achieving his dream. The only thing left? Win the heart of his best friend, Corinne. But Derek's life is quickly upended when he meets Jordan and Deirdre, two stranded children with a big secret: they're his future son and daughter. Worse, Derek learns he's not married to sweet 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 teen parents, while searching for a way to send their children home. Along the way, Derek grows more attached to his imperfect family. His emotions conflict further when he realizes he's also falling in love with Michelle.
Derek is torn between the life he envisioned and the life he never saw coming. He better choose fast, because someone else wants to choose for him.
ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD marries the emotional complexities of Jay Asher’s THE FUTURE OF US with the character driven tension of Lexa Hillyer’s PROOF OF FOREVER. I hold two BAs in journalism and political science from the University of Nevada.
Thank you for considering my work.
FIRST TEN PAGES:
April 3rd, 2009
Derek Lyttle grips the neck of his Louisville Slugger, fingers squirming against the gloss, feeling out the warm evenness of the wood. Feet apart, knees bent, eyes straight ahead, he raises the bat over his shoulder.
The pitching machine launches a baseball and Derek swings, the crack of impact thundering through the low-hanging clouds blanketing his coastal town. The ball is a meteor against the grey, destined to land in the Columbia River with a muted splash. Except the practice net catches it first, repelling the ball back to the ground.
Derek raises his bat again.
It’s seven a.m. A spring drizzle coats the backyard, turning dirt into mud, grass into flattened mush. Crystal beads form on his skin, rolling down his arm, dripping off his elbow. His soaked T-shirt sticks to the swell of his chest. He’ll need to stop soon. He’s got class in an hour.
But he doesn’t care. Because when seventeen-year-old Derek holds a baseball bat, it feels like he’s holding all the time in the world.
He has his father, Jeffrey to thank for that.
From a young age, Mr. Lyttle encouraged him to play. Some of Derek’s earliest memories consist of the pair in the backyard, practicing batting form on a rubber T-ball set.
Chest over your toes promotes a good swing angle, his father would say, adjusting the boy’s stance. Feet apart, knees bent, eyes straight ahead.
Mr. Lyttle trained his son with a workout game he called One More. The rules were simple. When Derek’s arms cramped from swinging, his father would say, “one more”, and he’d swing at ten more.
Keep those knees bent, son. Ready? Here comes the pitch.
Derek swings. The bat whooshes through the air. Strike. He takes off his Giants hat, allowing the cool rain to wash the sweat on his neck. He walks over to the pitching machine, bends down to turn it off.
One more, Derek.
He stops, thumb poised over the switch. What does one more even mean, if Dad isn’t here to watch?
Derek flicks the switch, wraps a towel around his shoulders and heads inside.
The morning’s already begun downstairs. As Derek enters, he hears his mother pacing from room to room, heels clicking against the hardwood, abruptly muffled when she moves onto carpet. She’s talking on the phone, or rather, berating someone named David for allowing someone named Shen to change the inspection date. She wants it moved back. David will comply. No one says no to Kathryn Lyttle.
His mother doesn’t know how to relax. She must think a warm bath will erode the red from her Louboutin shoes, or mindful meditation will pop every stitch in her tailor-made suit. Even her hair is pulled into such a rigid updo, only God himself can cast it down.
The front door is open; Kathryn’s luggage sits by the window, neatly stacked, and every thirty seconds, a man in a suit steps inside, takes a couple bags and wheels them to his car.
Derek’s brother, Oliver sits at the kitchen table, double-handing a gooey sandwich. He’s still wearing his pajamas, the ones with Tonka trucks on the pants, and the matching shirt that reads “NOT DIGGING BEDTIME”, which Kathryn assured didn’t make him look like a thirteen-year-old toddler.
Derek tosses his towel onto a chair and, as he passes, rubs his knuckles into Oliver’s hair.
“Hey!” Oliver shrugs, ducking away. “You’re going to crush my food.”
It’s Oliver’s favorite meal; grilled cheese slathered with peanut butter. He usually puts too much inside, so the cheese/PB mix drip out the ends as he takes a bite, coating his fingers in a tan, gelatinous ooze which he disgustingly licks up.
“Can’t believe you still eat that crap.” Derek opens the pantry and pulls out a box of Pop-Tarts.
“It’s not crap,” his brother replies, smacking his lips. “Mud Pie is the breakfast of champions.”
Mrs. Lyttle speed-walks into the kitchen.
“Forget all that. You tell Wai Lau we’re not moving forward on production until next Sunday,” she says into her phone, gliding past her eldest son for the padfolio on the counter. She scribbles something down on the notebook, one of a dozen new reminders she’s written down today. “And tell Morgan she has to close on the subsidy by noon your time…Alright. Thanks, David. I’ll call Jeff from the plane.” Kathryn hangs up, takes a deep breath and smiles at her sons. “Oh, good. You’re both here.”
Derek and Oliver grunt, go back to their breakfasts.
“Sweetheart, I wish you wouldn’t drag in so much of the outside,” she says to Derek, gesturing to the trail of damp leaves and rainwater left in his wake.
“Sorry, Mom,” he replies, but Kathryn was on the move again, escaping back into the living room.
“Ollie, is this the weekend you’re going camping with Samantha’s family?” She calls. “Would you let them know I’ll be out of the country?”
Oliver slumps, head tilting away. “The trip’s off. We broke up.”
“Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.”
Derek snickers between bites. “Strikeout Ollie strikes again.”
“Shut up, durfwad. At least I had a girlfriend.”
Oliver has him there. Derek’s been single all year. His best friend, Corinne says it’s because his trysts with Anna the exchange student (codenamed “Summer of Saarinen”) drained most of his body fluids, and he should be at full strength for the next lady of Europe. He refuses to confirm or deny her theory, but Corinne knows him better than anyone, so who is he to tell her she’s wrong?
Except she is wrong. He’s not getting ready for another exchange student. He’s getting ready for her.
Derek opens the fridge for the orange juice.
“Sam said I was immature,” Oliver goes on. “But would an immature guy be rocking this—” He points a finger to his cheek, chin raised in confidence. “Check it out. I got facial hair now.”
Derek glances over the door. “Right.”
“I’m serious. Look—” He drops his sandwich and leans forward against the table, arching his jaw in Derek’s direction. “I already got one hair and the buds are coming in. The girls in my class will have to notice me now.”
“I see March Sadness is starting late for you.”
“Yeah, well, your face sucks.”
“Oliver!” Mom snaps, cutting through the kitchen once again, making a beeline for the camouflage closet. “Now, listen. I’m leaving for a few weeks. I expect both of my sons to be alive by the time your dad and I come back.”
And when is Dad coming back, Derek wants to ask. Jeffrey left for their business trip a couple weeks earlier. Something about opening a new co-packing factory in Hong Kong, and the government pushing back with their “zero growth” on fishing policy.
“We’re out of OJ,” Derek says instead, watching his mother move from cabinet to cabinet with the poise and grace of a woman who could navigate the kitchen blindfolded.
“Yes, I know.” Kathryn tosses a hand. “I didn’t have time to go to Safeway. I left extra petty cash in the canister.”
“Mom, tell Derek I’m growing facial hair,” Oliver whines.
Kathryn’s brow lifts. “Are you? Let me see.” She tips her youngest son’s face into the kitchen light, examining his skin with a keen squint. “Ah, indeed. One whisker. You’re growing up so fast.” She smiles proudly, passes her thumb across the grain.
“Mom, don’t touch!” He swats her away.
“Oh, Derek. Before I forget—” Click click, click click, over to the leather bag hanging on a peg. She pulls out a folder of papers. “—Your application for Big Brothers, Big Sisters. I filled it out for you. Be sure to turn it in to the box on Commercial.”
Derek fans the pages, shoulders slumping with each flip. Of course she’d remember the one thing he hoped she’d forget. “I don’t want to do this,” he groans. “I’m already a big brother. Look how crappy that’s going.”
“You need volunteering on your college resume. Baseball’s great, and you’re a terrific athlete, but it’s important to have a plan B, in the event a school doesn’t offer you a scholarship.”
“These volunteer people aren’t going to assign me to some local Melvin, are they?”
“I’m not sure what you mean by Melvin, but I’m told your new sibling would be from Portland.”
One paper stops Derek in his tracks. “Wait. This calendar says they want me for the spring-summer. I can’t do that. The season just started.”
“They’ll work around your schedule.”
“Not in July. The paper says to keep July free. So, what, I can’t see The White Pines now?”
Oliver pipes in. “Hey, if you die before the concert, can I have your tickets?”
“Awesome. Can’t wait.”
Derek cuts him a glare. “You can wait a little bit.”
“You won’t miss the concert,” Kathryn says tersely. “Just turn in the paperwork.”
“And remember, you’re driving Ollie to class.”
“Wha—” Derek glances at his brother, catching the broad smirk on the younger Lyttle’s face. “—Why? The middle school’s a mile away. He can walk that.”
“We’ve discussed this, Derek,” she reminds him, gathering her coat from the hallway closet. “If you want to keep Lucille, you have to drive your brother on rainy days.”
Kathryn’s driver comes in to pick up the last of her bags and tells her he’s ready whenever she is. She slides into her coat, hands him her leather bag, and says she’ll be out in a minute. Mom’s trips abroad are never as long as Dad’s, but a couple times a year, their schedules require both of them to be out of town. When Derek was younger, he stayed with the neighbors. Now that he’s older, he’s earned the right to hold down the fort.
“Three weeks,” Mom says, kissing Oliver’s forehead. “I’ll call when I land. If there’s an emergency, go next door. And remember, Derek—no parties.”
“Uh-huh,” he mutters into his mother’s kiss. She runs a tender hand across his cheek, her strapping lad of a son, changing more into her husband every day. But there was no mistaking it; on the surface, he was her son, from the chocolate hair, to the green lit eyes flecked with amber, to the way his brows knit together.
“You boys be good,” she says. “I love you.”
The door shuts behind her, heel clicks subside, and for the first time this morning, the house is still.
The brothers look at each other.
“Don’t make me late,” Derek warns.
April 3rd, 2009
Michelle Tanner never has enough time.
Then again, she’s always been a goal-driven young lady. The evidence liters her childhood bedroom in the form of ribbons, trophies, medals, and other prizes. She remembers the first award Grandpa pinned to her wall. The Clatsop County Spelling Bee. Michelle’s first place ribbon still hangs between two science fair accolades from middle school. Overtime, newer trophies came to block the older ones, swelling each shelf with shiny gold.
It feels good to win—to be worthy of winning. Success means she’s good. Perfection means she’s the best. Awards mean it’s a fact.
As Michelle stands at her bedroom mirror, brushing the black pixie bangs from her face, she spots the spelling bee ribbon in the reflection. Worn, faded of its azure and tattered at the streamers, she stares at her first achievement, reflecting on how proud she should be for exceeding expectations.
She wipes her glasses and opens the closet door for her cardigan. The blue knit droops on a hanger in front of her, but it’s the decaying box tucked in the corner that grabs her attention. It smells of a faint musk, having turned yellow and ugly, and the flaps are torn in several areas, no longer hiding the gold inside.
The box reminds Michelle of her place in the chain of success. She may be the best, but she’s not the first. Someone else filled this room with their trophies not long ago. A man she doesn’t know; a man she should. Michelle never thinks about him, except when she opens her closet and finds those awards. At which point, she pushes the carton as far out of sight as possible and pretends she never saw it.
Michelle wants to toss that box to the curb, but she can’t. They aren’t hers. And they matter to someone important.
Her loft bedroom has the only set of stairs in her tiny, two-bedroom home. The steps creek at the slightest weight, though her feet are agile and move quickly at the sound of someone in the kitchen, ruffling through the pots.
A small, elderly woman in a robe hunches over the lower cabinet, dragging out with trembling hands her collection of cast iron skillets. She places one on the floor beside her and pulls out another, laying in makeshift traps for her own demise.
“Grandma, what are you doing?” Michelle asks.
“Tuesday night. Baked cheese cauliflower. A.J’s favorite,” the woman answers without pause, adding more cast iron traps to her floor.
Rebecca Tanner, her grandmother, never stood still in the kitchen. She was jokingly said to have counted her days by how many meals she served, how cold her own plate of spaghetti became before she had a bite.
Michelle bends over to gather the skillets. “The doctors said you shouldn’t cook.”
“Breakfast—a big hoo-ha, if you ask me. Dinner’s the most important meat of the day.”
Meal, Michelle corrects to herself. “It’s seven a.m.,” she says. “And it’s Friday.”
“I can’t find my good pan. Ask Alan if he’s seen it. He’s in the freeway.”
Driveway. “Grandma.” Michelle takes Rebecca’s hands, drawing the woman’s blood-flecked eyes to hers. “Grandpa died five years ago.”
Rebecca stares blankly for a moment, then smiles, her weathered lips pressed tightly together. “Oh, not my Alan. He survived the storm of ‘67. He fought the waves and came home without a scratch. His nickname’s Jonah, you know. From the Bible.”
“Yes. You’ve told me.”
“I know. You’re a good girl, Renata.”
“I’m not—” Michelle stops her natural impulse, biting back a feeling of bitterness with a soft sigh.
It’s not intentional, she tells herself. You’re still alive somewhere in her mind. Play the game she needs.
Michelle stacks the skillets in a high cabinet, out of Rebecca’s reach, then guides her to a kitchen chair. “Neydi will be here any minute. Let’s wait until then to cook.”
There’s a phone book tucked awkwardly under the short leg of her chair, and as Rebecca takes a seat, the chair bucks, prompting Michelle to overreact with a stern wrist grab. Her grandmother winces but doesn’t mention any pain.
“A.J has a girlfriend. She must be new,” Rebecca says.
“Are you thirsty? Would you like a drink?” Michelle pulls out the orange juice from the fridge. The jug’s light; she hears the faint slosh of liquid. Only half a glass. Michelle will have to go without.
“You’re better for him, Renata,” Rebecca says as Michelle hands her the glass. “My A.J.”
This isn’t Michelle’s conversation. She doesn’t have the right to speak on someone else’s behalf. But the very human part of her embraces this opportunity. Perhaps if Michelle says the right thing, uses familiar words, she might trigger something in Rebecca’s mind that’ll help her recognize her only granddaughter.
“Dating’s complicated for me.” Michelle sits down beside Rebecca. “Boys my age…they aren’t too enamored with girls like me. I think they’d prefer a feminine partner, not one with scraped hands from a botched static experiment.” She smiles. “That’s alright. I prefer science over social interactions anyway.”
“Oh, dear. There’s nothing more wonderful than being a wife and mother.”
Michelle glances towards the tiny alcove she calls a den. In her current state, Rebecca pays no attention to the mechanical toys strewn across her home. Gemstone labs, rocket stunt planes, solar robots and others sit on forgotten shelves, perfectly built and collecting dust.
Rebecca’s husband, Alan followed the Montessori method. He believed children learn by exploring new projects, ordering assigned pieces, manipulating their structure and repeating the process. Alan noticed his granddaughter’s early predisposition to science, encouraging her with STEM kits that came weekly through the mail. He bought Michelle a subscription to last until her eighteenth birthday. That was three months ago.
After he died, the kits kept coming, but Michelle stopped opening them. Instead, she stacked the new boxes on shelves and random drawers, letting them collect the same dust as those she finished. When she walks into a room, Michelle sees the kits they crafted together—the suspension bridge built from toilet paper rolls, wooden trebuchets, a propeller car made of Tupperware bins—and she’s reminded of her loss, a tragedy caught in stasis, forced to be relived every single day.
Michelle has never been a romantic. Love isn’t a concept she can pin down, a scientific theory she can define. The girls in her class talk about Prince Charming and the white picket fence, and Michelle has no interest in any of it. Maybe Michelle’s not made for fairy tale moments. Maybe she’s more of a strategist, forcing the glass slipper to fit when others think it won’t. So, she leaves the emotional vulnerabilities to those who want them and focuses on the task ahead.
Her newest task sits as a cluttered heap on half the dining room table. The jumbled structure of copper coils, acrylic tubes and wires traverse a wooden platform, connected to small propellers and exposed circuits, the whole structure looking dangerous and loosely crafted.
“I want to design a carbon capture device for the STEM competition,” she had told her physics teacher. “We place the machine in a box filled with greenhouse emissions and measure the levels throughout the experiment. If I’m right, the levels will drop.”
“That’s rather ambitious, Miss Tanner. Design a preliminary blueprint and we’ll see what we can do.”
Of course, Michelle had gone beyond her duties of a blueprint and crafted part of the machine.
“No. I won’t have children,” she says firmly to Rebecca. “Parenthood is fine for others, but I’d rather contribute to advancing mankind, not the overpopulation problem. Not to mention, it’d be unfair to the child if I were working and forgot to care for them.”
Rebecca giggles into her cup of juice.
“Babies live rent free inside Mama’s mind.”
Michelle blinks. “What does that mean?”
“When you hold that baby in your arms, Renata, every thought will be about them. As my own mama told me, ‘say goodbye to the loneliness inside your mind. Because they’re in there now. And Lord help you when you think the worst is going to happen.’”
“All the more reason, then.”
“Ah. Don’t be so gloomy. You’re young. You have all the time in the work.”
“World. I have all the time in the world.”
There’s a knock at the door. Michelle rises, the bottom of her chair scrapping quickly across the ground, indicative of her eagerness to end the conversation.
“Morning, Michelle,” the middle-aged, bronze skinned woman greets, smiling dutifully, wisps of a Spanish accent in her voice.
“Come in, Neydi.” Michelle steps aside, taking her guest’s coat to hang on the rack. In a way, Neydi isn’t a guest. She’s under this roof almost as often as Michelle, minus the obligation of living here. Neydi’s wearing a cheery fuchsia tunic with pink hearts printed all over it, and bright slacks to match. She loves colorful clothing; she says it keeps her client’s minds active.
Neydi unpacks her ready bag, which includes tray puzzles, a deck of cards, dominoes, Play-Doh, even a color by numbers book.
She sits on the edge of Michelle’s chair, caressing the top of Rebecca’s hand with a gentle thumb. “Hi, Rebecca. How are you feeling today?”
Rebecca mumbles from her glass. “Good.”
“Yeah? Good? I’m glad. Do you know who I am?”
The older woman opens her mouth, then closes it.
“That’s okay. My name’s Neydi. Do you know why I’m here?”
“That’s right. I’m here to spend the day with you. Will that be okay?”
“You were here before,” Rebecca says.
“I was. I’m glad you remembered.” Neydi glances over at Michelle, noting her apprehension, then turns back to Rebecca. “I’m going to step away for a minute. Why don’t you pick out something for us to play with while I talk to your granddaughter?”
Michelle moves into the den, just large enough for a standing clock and a couple fake plants. She doesn’t take her eyes off Rebecca as Neydi joins her.
“How’s she doing?” Michelle asks.
“Well.” Neydi steals her own peek. Rebecca is kneading Neydi’s Play-Doh into long strips, like she did when she baked from scratch. “That depends. Some days, she seems alert and responsive. Other days, it’s like pulling teeth getting her to focus. She’s sundowning more now. I’ve cut back on the stimulants, chose calmer activities, play music. That seems to be helping the symptoms. For how much longer, I don’t know.”
“What do you suggest?”
“Honestly? I’d start researching assisted living facilities.”
The very thought sends blades into Michelle’s heart. “I can’t do that. My grandmother’s lived here for fifty years.”
“I understand your concern,” Neydi says empathetically. “But your grandmother has dementia. There will come a point when you can’t take care of her. As her guardian, you need to recognize it now. Because if you’re waiting for Rebecca to tell you when she can’t feed herself, that day will never come.”
Michelle swallows the lump in her throat and anxiously pushes her glasses closer to her eyes. It’d be one thing if Grandpa were still alive, or if Rebecca chose to leave for a home with better care. How could Michelle make that decision for her grandmother?
Michelle’s tough face falters against someone who’s seen that masked courage on a dozen other family members.
A lull passes through, then Neydi breaks it.
“I saw the letter.”
Michelle applied for Stanford’s engineering program the day the school opened admittance. The applications would stand on their own, but Michelle, always the perfectionist, had worked on the essay for days. She discussed her future with a mechanical engineer’s degree, highlighting her carbon project, and at least four other ideas on the horizon. As her grandfather said, what was worth doing, was worth overdoing.
“The envelope was post-marked a month ago.”
She remembers when the answer finally came. The mailman slid the letter through the slot and went on his way. Michelle thought nothing of weekend mail, so she made lunch and worked on homework before glancing at the mound on the floor. That’s when she saw it, the red Stanford envelope poking out between the junk folds. She held her future with a firm grasp, straddling acceptance and rejection equally, unable open the envelope for the next hour.
15 yo test subject Ophi’s powers light a megacity. To survive annihilation she must embrace her lightning & return an ancient relic #PitProm
Dear Royal Advisors,
Fifteen-year-old Ophelia Zeller hates the lightning in her veins and the blue stains the energy leaves behind. The streaks earn ridicule and brand her as a second-class citizen—a Visvolo.
The Regiment—the elitist mega-city where she lives—raises inhabitants to believe those like Ophi, the Visvolo, are a lawless people. As the daughter of the city’s ruler, Ophi is spared from overt scorn though she still has to deal with snotty looks and underhanded comments.
When Ophi discovers her adoptive father kidnapped her as a baby, she realizes it’s not his affection that’s kept her on the upper floors of the mega-city. Ophi’s father has been experimenting on her and using her abilities as a means to power his city. Uncovering the extent of his betrayal and her abuse, Ophi decides she must stand up for herself and the other Visvolo, even it means going against both her father and the Regiment.
In Ophi’s hunt for truth, she also unearths evidence her adoptive father stole the Cornerstone—the artifact which connects all Visvolo to the moon and provides a perpetual energy source for Visvolo powers—as a means to enact final destruction of the Visvolo people. Ophi decides the best way to overcome her father’s plans of mass extinction is to return the missing cornerstone to her people.
Ophi must face her father and his army, brave the unrestrained fury of the mistreated wilderness, and confront the emotional trauma that's haunted her for years if she has any hope of returning the cornerstone to its rightful altar before time runs out.
THE BODY ELECTRIC is a stand-alone 70,000 word futuristic YA-SFF with series potential. It’s perfect for fans of Marie Lu’s LEGEND but with an electro-kinetic fantasy element.
As a high school teacher, I spend most of my days with teenagers, trying to match them with books they’ll fall in love with, and pushing them to see the world from multiple perspectives. Outside of school, I am an avid outdoors enthusiast and am part of the Twitter writers group called the #Llamasquad.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
FIRST TEN PAGES:
The spark pushed through Ophelia Zeller’s fingertips, the electric blue light pulsed beneath her skin. She stared down at the wisps of pure energy emanating from the ends of each of her fingers, swallowing as she renewed her concentration.
“Push, Ophelia! Stay focused, child,” Master Dickerson’s voice boomed, sounding heavy in the old man’s chest. “We practiced this last week. I should see progress from you.”
Ophelia nodded, her inky black curls swaying across her flushed cheek. Squinting her green eyes, she focused on her center: the core sparking within her. She willed the power to rocket through her body. In a blaze of blue-hot light, ropes of pure energy shot from her hands.
Her whole body clenched. She held onto the raw power that welled up inside of her, as the heat and wind she created whirled around them. Master Dickerson took a few steps back in anticipation for what they both knew was coming.
Her rippling cobalt waves collided with the training target, blasting it apart. As soon as Ophi destroyed the first, she stifled the flow of destructive force and scanned the combat area. Her father created the room to hone her powers. Only for her. It contained an array of devices to keep her guessing during every training session.
Ophi turned to the right, scanning the walls and empty space above her, waiting. A creak sounded where a trapdoor opened high on the metal gray wall. A robotic archer peeped out of the hole and took aim. Ophi tucked and rolled gracefully over her right shoulder, hardly making a noise. She grasped a piece of metal piping that was laying off the side and absorbed the energy within the molecules of the metal until the material sagging noticeably.
A second later Ophi went down to one knee, expelled her own energy combined with that from the metal pipe. The energy shot from her, ripping through the air and echoing through the large training room as it barreled towards the robotic archer.
Her energy, now semi-solid thanks to what she absorbed from the metal, collided with the archer with the force of a small explosion. The robotic archer, now a decimated pile of dust, fell to the concrete floor, a light snowfall of destruction.
A noise sounded to her left.
She whirled around.
A training arrow slammed into her shoulder, and the force knocked her down. Pain seared through her, and she hissed through clenched teeth, clutching her shoulder. She rolled to her side.
“Get back up! You’re not done yet,” Master Dickerson barked out.
Ophi staggered back to her feet. She gritted her teeth, trying to ignore the bruise that must be blooming on her skin. Another trap door opened. But, this time, Ophi was ready for it.
She sent another bolt of rippling lightening towards the robotic archer and decimated it in seconds. She reeled her energy back in, fighting to extinguish it from within her entirely.
She studied her hands once more, the energy now dormant but still clearly visible on her skin. Disappointment rocked through her.
Master Dickerson clapped. “Well done. That was more powerful than last time . . . even if you took longer to focus. I am sure that bruise will be a good reminder for you of what failure means.” The genial, old man tread towards his student with a smile on his weathered face.
“How can you give me such a hard time about how long I take?” Ophi dared to ask, rubbing her shoulder. “It’s not like you even know what the Vis is like.” She lowered her arm and made sure her long sleeve covered her hands, the blue lines of lightning running down her fingers.
Dickerson motioned for her to join him off to the side where two squashy looking armchairs sat. “Ophelia,” Master Dickerson’s voice came, low and tired. He settled into the comfort of the upholstery. “You realize this wouldn’t be so hard for you if you embraced it, right?”
Ophi brought her right foot up to scratch the back of her left calf. She smoothed out a nonexistent wrinkle on her utility pants before resting her arms on the sides of the chair, willing them to keep still. “I don’t want it to be easier. Why do I still have to train with you, anyway? It’s not like I’ll accidentally light the place on fire anymore.”
She plastered a smirk on her face as she remembered a time when she was around six. According to her father, she had been so stubborn that she refused to eat the broccoli on her plate—to the point of losing control of her energy and lighting the kitchen table on fire: broccoli and all.
The corners of Dickerson’s eyes crinkled even more as love emanated from his expression. “Is it that bad to spend time with me?”
Ophi shook her head and smiled, “No, you know what I meant.”
With a weathered hand, Dickerson patted Ophi’s right arm. “I understand what you meant, child. I may be an old man but I comprehend things now and again.”
Ophi looked away. Exhausted from the exercise, the sparkle of care in her teacher’s eyes overwhelmed her.
“Come now, you and I have spent too much time training for you to be shy.”
“You know how it is for me,” Ophi said, avoiding the topic.
Dickerson nodded, his gray beard grazing the top of his slightly protruding belly. “You're not made to fit in, Ophelia. You, my darling, stand out. Embrace it, all of it. For this world needs you.”
“I don’t want to stand out,” Ophi mumbled. Her sinking mood caused an energy flare within her. The hair on her forearms stood upright before slowly relaxing once more.
Dickerson pursed his lips. “You and I both know thinking and wishing for things to be different does nothing. Why dwell on something you cannot change?”
“How am I supposed to forget about it?” Ophi sighed. “It’s a fact that slaps me in the face every day of my life.”
Dickerson opened his mouth to reply but a loud knock interrupted him instead. He leaned forward towards the control panel and hit the button to open the exterior door.
A harried-looking intern ran through the door as soon as it unlatched. But a glance at the disapproving look on the elder man’s face brought the intern up short.
He cleared his throat and turned to Ophelia. “Sorry to interrupt you, Madam, but your father is requesting your presence in his office. Immediately.”
Ophelia leaned back against the chair. “Tell him I’m coming. I’ll be right behind you.”
The intern paused and bit his lip before nodding. He turned and left.
Ophi looked over her teacher once more and gave him another smile. “Thank you, sir. I’m sorry I was slow today.”
“No matter. I’ll see you in two days, and I am sure you will improve. You never cease to amaze me, Ophelia Zeller,” Dickerson said as he stood up and patted her shoulder.
“See you Wednesday.” Ophi turned towards the door, her mind churning with curiosity.
Ophi reached her father’s office just as members of his command team were also walking through the large oak entrance. One of his advisers opened the door for her and she stepped through.
Ophi’s brow furrowed. Why were government officials here?
Her father didn’t mean for her to be a part of … whatever this was, did he?
Ophi did her best to make herself invisible, a skill she used often, as she waited at the back of the large office. With a look of longing, she glanced through the large window to the outside world. The sky was always gray, the sun’s rays always had to fight through a perpetual layer of smoke and smog causing the world to appear in sepia, and the air almost always smelled burnt but outside felt free. Ophi only managed to sneak onto the roof every once in a while, but it was better than never stepping a foot outside of the Regiment like so many others were content to do.
She leaned against the paneled wood and lowered her head slightly, allowing a lock of hair to fall across her face, blocking her eyes.
Her father’s desk sat in front of a large window and a conference table stood in the room's center. Despite the ample furniture, the room was big enough to still feel empty. No less than twenty advisers milled the space. Each one carried folders and files, though some were already sitting and scribbling on their notepads at the conference table.
Near the head of the conference table, her father met her gaze, and she turned back towards the door but he motioned for her to sit off to the side with a slight wave of his hand. She found a small chair in the corner and sat down, pulling her long sleeve shirt further down over her hands. Lightning bolt tendrils of energy visible underneath her skin were now half hidden beneath the cotton layers.
Commander Rutherford Zeller cleared his throat, and the voices quieted. “Thank you for coming on short notice. We all know why we are here so let’s begin with the report. And make it brief, I have other things I need to attend to,” Rutherford said as he winked a bluish gray eye towards his daughter.
Ophelia smiled yet shifted in her seat as others in the room glanced her way. Clearly, the attendees thought her presence was odd as well.
“Let’s start with Sattern. What are our energy levels looking like?” Rutherford’s voice demanded.
Sattern stood, the buttons on his formal shirt off-center and he made a brief attempt at fixing them. “Yes, sir. Last week our energy levels were at a 1.2 billion joules per hour, and now they have dropped to 0.9. This level shows we will deplete our energy stores within the next three months at this rate.”
Rutherford nodded his head once. “So what can we do about the power glitches? We have been dealing with them on and off for the last two weeks.” He looked around at the team in front of him. “Surely there is something we can do to replenish our stores. We have the best and the brightest right here in this room.”
Ophi’s eyes trailed around the room. She also noticed the occasionally flickering of the lights and the power lag across the entire Regiment. This was not a new occurrence, but it was the first time she could remember when it was this frequent.
Ophi snagged her bottom lip between her teeth and resisted the urge to squirm in her chair again. While being in her father’s office with one or two advisers present was not an unusual occurrence, sitting in on a meeting as large as this one was a novel experience.
Taryn Maudson stood and cleared her throat. “Sir, we’ve already been over what we are doing to remedy this situation. I assure you, we have exhausted all possible solutions. The problem lies with our energy resources, which are not providing as much output as in the past and—” Her voice echoed through the room like a high-pitched tea kettle set to burst.
Off to the side, Zander Williams, Rutherford’s right-hand man scoffed with a disparaging shake of his head. Ophi glared at him.
When he caught her eye, he returned the glare with a cold fierceness. Disgust filled Ophi, and she barely restrained from rolling her eyes at him.
Rutherford narrowed his gray eyes and turned towards Maudson. “Never say anything is impossible. Look at where we are, everything that has happened to this earth. We have survived and, dare I say it, we have thrived.”
Rutherford paused for a long moment. “And we will continue to thrive as long as I am commander of this city. You will send teams farther out this time. Lengthen the supply lines. Do what you must.” He crossed his arms.
Ophi sat still, her mind wandering.
Her father had always been kind to her. She took a deep breath in, the memory of the day he rescued her flashed through her mind.
She was outside, failing miserably to pull some weeds that had sprouted up in the garden. Her mother yelled at her to do her chores. She remembered how much pain she had been in from the beating the previous night …
“How many times have I told you I don’t want to hear that despicable whining of yours! Crying is not something I will stand for! You are hell-bent on breaking every goddam rule we have set for you out of spite, so let me show you again what happens to ungrateful, sniveling children in this house!” He yanked his belt from its loops, the noise had become associated with the intense pain that always followed.
The physical discomfort had been one thing. Yet the agony of knowing that the one person the universe set up to love and protect at all cost was actually the person who hurts her the most in life was a torment deeper and more lasting.
Ophi sat out in that hot sun, pulling weeds until her small hands were raw and chapped.
Then the sounds of frantic hoof beats.
Rutherford and a group of sentries.
Yelling, fighting …
It scared Ophi so she crawled into a bush as deep as she could squeeze her small body.
Rutherford had pulled her out.
With tenderness in his eyes, he spoke softly. He promised her he wouldn’t ever hurt her like those people. Ophi was so desperate for a kind touch it didn’t take too much convincing for her to want to leave with him.
Sitting in front of him on that horse, Rutherford’s strong arms holding the reins, he took the weight of survival off of her small shoulders. There was nothing more for her to worry about—and her eyes drooped heavily, and that, coupled with the feeling of safety, lulled her into a deep sleep.
Ophi owed him so much for saving her when she was little, and she would probably live the rest of her life attempting to repay him.
But sometimes he was also very intimidating, as she was reminded of while she snapped back to reality in her father’s office. She guessed that it kind of comes with the job description though. To be in charge of a mega-city home to thousands of people—especially after the world has already gone to the dumps—was no small feat.
Ophi listened as more people reported on their findings regarding the energy stores that the Regiment rely on to run their day-to-day lives. Her father invented this type of energy store when the need arose for a more reliable form of energy. He was so young when he came across an energy alternative the Regiment could mine, and ever since then he has been in charge of the entire Regiment.
It was something that Ophi always admired about her father: his ingenuity and determination. He loved the Regiment and the people who lived within the protection he provided, and he would do anything to provide it.
The meeting was still droning on, statistics and percentages, facts and figures only glanced across Ophi’s mind before she tuned out again.
The citizens of The Regiment had an insatiable appetite for consumption, in all of its forms, and her father stepped up to offer a way to power their lives. Other types of energy, such as wind power and solar, were far too unreliable—for the weather was too unpredictable—and the overwhelming amount of power citizens desired was too much for these types of energy to handle.
Ophi’s attention wandered again to the large window. It was nearing mid-afternoon and she couldn’t help her desire to get outside.
It was something that she had to do in secret. Most citizens of The Regiment, and her father in particular, did not think venturing outside the buildings and interconnected transport tunnels of the city was a good idea. Only lawless wastrels lived out there. They’d kill you as soon as look at you.
People rose and started to leave, jostling her from her thoughts. She made a point of avoiding eye contact with anyone, for she knew the looks they would send her way. Commander’s daughter or not, she was an outsider—a Vis. An Outlier. An unwelcome guest.
Rutherford held Trenton back with an imperious wave of his hand.
“Mr. McNabb. Your statistics were quite alarming. When do you think you can get me the results of the tests I requested?”
Trenton, a younger recruit, positively beamed under the commander’s attention. “Thank you, sir. I can get those to you by the end of the week.”
Rutherford’s face twitched. “Get those test results done by mid-week. Wednesday at noon to be precise. Failure to do so will result in your immediate removal from this team. You wouldn’t want to work in the laundry facility for the rest of your career would you, McNabb?”
Trenton’s face turned comical and Ophi swallowed a laugh. His eyes were wide, and he opened and closed his mouth a few times before stuttering out something incoherent which Ophelia took to mean he agreed.
Once everyone left the large office, Rutherford gave a sigh and turned towards his desk. Ophi wasn’t sure if he remembered she was sitting there or not until he spoke, his back turned to her.
He turned toward his adoptive daughter. “Ophelia, I had anticipated your arrival before that meeting, which is why, if I recall correctly, I told that useless intern to relay the fact that I needed you urgently.”
Ophi’s stomach squirmed. She stood up and moved behind one of the chairs facing his desk, her right hand coming to scratch subconsciously on her eyebrow.
“I… well, I was just finishing up my training session and I got a little distracted on the way here,” she said, hoping her excuse didn’t sound as lame as she thought.
Meant to fight to the death, Naya betrays her people and is forced to go on the run with the boy she was supposed to kill. #pitprom
Naya Tambor trained her whole life to navigate the sentient landscape of her Indoor city. She works harder than any of her fellow cadets to earn her place within NSDE, the militarized agency that governs her city, but she’s still the last in her class to complete her courses. Naya’s willing to do anything to finally find a place where she belongs. Unfortunately, her final test is a fight to the death, gladiator style, against Zayn – a boy whose only crime is being born another species of human and getting caught. Naya not only fails to follow through, she ends up breaking the city’s most sacred law.
Knowing she’ll be punished for treason, Naya allies with Zayn and together they manage to escape. When Zayn reveals to her his people’s home – a hidden pocket of ‘Outside,’ unseen, in the middle of the city – Naya’s act of ultimate betrayal ends up being her saving grace. She finds herself warming to Zayn and the others despite her inherited prejudices but when she unintentionally reveals their location, NSDE is quick to attack. It is up to Naya to save her new friends and decide, once and for all, just how much she is willing to give to belong.
iNSiDE is a YA, dystopian novel that combines elements of V.E. Schwab’s, THIS SAVAGE SONG, with Michelle Kenney’s, THE BOOK OF FIRE. Complete at 78,000 words, iNSiDE is a standalone novel with series potential.
An architect turned writer, I exchanged Florida’s constant sunshine for Scotland’s more temperamental clouds in order to pursue my PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. I have an essay published by Gilded Dirt and won third prize for the Mountaineering Scotland Short Story Competition.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
All the best,
Sally A Gales
FIRST TEN PAGES:
I didn’t really look at them anymore – I doubted anyone in Ipsam did - but with a giant, blinding screen on every corner it was hard not to see them.
TOUCH is forbidden.
If required, visit the LICENSING OFFICE in W.Q. for an application.
All applicants will be processed in the order in which they are received.
As always, crowds thronged the Main Corridor. Mothers herded children; workers rushed, late to work; NSDE officers patrolled the hall. The make-up of the crowds varied depending on the time of day but the volume of bodies was a constant. There’s only so much space in an Indoor city. Ipsam’s overcrowding prompted the first law to be put into place – that and it helped control the spread of disease that ran rampant when the city was first enclosed.
The Mainc cut straight through Ipsam from one end to another. In a city of constantly shifting spaces and winding corridors, the its stable, straightforwardness made it the most convenient and popular means of travel. Despite the fact that everyone in the hall managed to keep a one-foot radius of air around their body at all times, my throat tightened. There were too many people. I normally avoided the Mainc - I didn’t do well in confined spaces – ironic growing up Indoors, I know.
From a screen on my left, General Gunn smiled at me reassuringly.
Report any and all sightings of the OLD GREEN.
Do not TOUCH suspected growths.
Suggested contact with specimens will result in immediate quarantine.
I shuffled along with the crowd – willing them to move faster, knowing it was physically impossible – and tilted my head back slightly for a fraction of air. Thank chib, I was taller than most. I scanned either side of the relentless white walls for a break to no avail. Perfect, solid surface lined the corridor, rising high over our heads. The occasional seam of a door or the even rarer window provided temporary relief from the assault of blankness but even the windows always looked into more white walls. The tops of the buildings seemed to disappear into the brightness of the skeiling as the walls themselves seemed just about to topple inward. My vision swam.
I tried to think of something else – distract myself – but that moment of weakness allowed what I’d truly been dreading to jump to the forefront of my mind – tonight’s Final Bleeding. Panic took over my body. I turned to the screens, refusing to blink despite the tears lining my eyes, and forced myself to recall everything I learned about the Old Green.
Supposedly they’d been insidious. With the ability to grow just about anywhere and the number of mutations they manifested, it was a wonder the EMAS virus had been able to overpower it at all. No images survived pre-EMAS so I still had no idea what one looked like, but the Academy forced us to memorize the descriptions of all varieties on file – just in case. A part of me still wished I could see one, nothing threatening, mind you, I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. There hadn’t been a sighting in decades.
The Mainc banked left and I followed the surge, passing a window to nowhere and a rectangular depression, a few inches deep. In the distance, the glossy white exterior of the Academy winked at me. The tallest building in Ipsam – the place I grew up in – it remained visible from every public space and corridor. Today, especially, it seemed like I couldn’t get away. The Final Bleeding would be held there tonight.
My feet tripped over themselves and I lurched forward. All around me, people gasped, trying to escape my flailing arms. Directly in front, though, a woman’s wide eyes stared at our impending collision. Just as I convinced myself I’d violate Ipsam’s number one law on the same day as my final exam, my training kicked in. With a quick thrust of my knees, I lunged forward to catch my momentum and locked my core to come to a halt. An inch from the woman’s face, I watched surprise flow into anger but not before transitioning through fear. It took two to touch. NSDE would have charged both of us equally if…
“You…” she sputtered at me before looking to the crowds. “Sh-she…”
“Sorry. I’m sorry,” I mumbled, carefully backing away.
No one stopped. The flow of traffic continued, glaring at us for standing still, taking up valuable commuting space. The woman shot me one last scathing glance and then continued on her way. I waited until she was well out of sight before moving forward again.
Keep to NSDE APPROVED corridors, sectors and spaces.
All APPROVED spaces will be marked by the NSDE Seal.
If in doubt, contact the NSDE Officer assigned to your sector.
My face burned – worsening my claustrophobia. I needed to get out. Just then, an opening appeared in the wall to my left. I scanned the threshold for an NSDE seal; the white wall was unmarked. I knew the rules dictated I should keep walking but I needed an escape.
Trusting the flow of traffic to avoid me, I turned straight towards the hall. One goal in mind, I didn’t bother to slow down or hide my intentions. I knew from previous experience, no one would care what I did. If I wanted to risk breaking the rules, no one would risk their neck to stop me. As I tore away from the Mainc and slipped into the new corridor, the screens behind me flipped to the final law.
SPIRAVITS are to be avoided at all cost.
Keep your distance. Stay alert.
Refusal to comply will result in swift action.
At first glance, the new corridor resembled every other space in Ipsam, a combination of smooth, grey floors, untextured, white walls, and the ever present, backlit skeiling. Spaces in the city were so similar, mistaking one for another remained a constant, annoying occurrence. This hallway, however, differed from every other space by the fact that not a single person occupied it. Overcrowding was a way of life in Ipsam. It happened in the halls, classrooms, shops, schools – even living quarters, where people shared their homes with other families. Being completely alone anywhere in Ipsam was an unheard-of rarity. I chanced entering the unsanctioned corridors – NSDE did not take kindly to rulebreakers – but for one minute of solitude, I didn’t mind taking the risk. Filling my lungs with air, I loosened the vise I’d kept on my muscles.
Random bits of metal were scattered along the floor and odd marks marred the walls’ surface - EMAS’s detritus. The only sign of the space’s youth, every stray mark and bit would be wiped clean as soon as NSDE got their hands on it. It was their job to transform this hall into yet another nondescript place in the city. Kicking a metal cylinder, I wondered if that task would fall to me, assuming I graduated in the first place.
I knew I could probably do it. I didn’t know if I would enjoy it – there was something about these spaces that intrigued me - but it wouldn’t matter. It would be worth it to finally find somewhere where I belonged. There had to be at least one job within NSDE that I was qualified for – just one.
I wandered, unseeing, down the corridor. I enjoyed these spaces, where for a few seconds I could let my guard down and just move. Normally, thoughtless rambling calmed my mind; it was the closest I’d ever gotten to a meditative state. That day, though, as much as I tried, my thoughts would not be ignored. I sighed.
It didn’t matter that I probably had more experience with unsanctioned corridors than my classmates combined. Or that I worked harder than all of them to earn and keep my spot in the class. No one cared that I grew up in the Academy. I wasn’t immune from protocol. Tonight, was my final exam. Let’s call it for what it was - it was my last chance. Pass or fail tonight my entire future would be determined. It was just one task – just one kill…
My toe caught on a bit in the floor and I stumbled. Bending over grabbing my knees, I struggled to control my erratic breathing. I counted backwards from a hundred. I visualized happy thoughts. I tried…but my mind always came back to the Final Bleeding. Red consumed my vision and my hands shook.
Oh chib, I had to get a hold of myself. This could not happen tonight – not in front of everyone. Digging my fingers into my thighs I focused on the pain, ignoring the bruises that would be there in the morning. I’d trained for this moment for ten years. Everyone in my class had already done it.
I took a breath to calm my nerves and my muscles went taught. The air brightened, turning slightly sweet. Scraping my tongue along my teeth, I curled it into the roof of my mouth. The air within Ipsam was filtered and released through strategically placed vents in the skeiling. It didn’t have an aroma or flavor. I took another breath. Fainter this time, the flavor was definitely still there. Cautiously, I straightened and surveyed the space.
Untamed and unsanctioned, new corridors could change at any second or worse – they could pop out of existence as quickly as they appeared. When EMAS first hit, those wild spaces claimed at least half the population. Entry was forbidden for a reason.
Edging my toe along the floor, I kept my senses alert. I was in too deep. My only chance was to move forward and hope I didn’t hit a dead end. Keeping my steps silent, I barely breathed, hoping in vain that the corridor wouldn’t notice me, spook and disappear. I winced at a sudden scratching noise.
The floor around me flickered like the screens before switching to a new image. As I watched, small, loose, irregular orbs filled in the empty space around my feet. I ran a hand across my face, but the image remained the same. Every now and then, a blink would bring my floor – solid, grey resin – back to the forefront but even then, I could still see a faint ghost of the spheres beyond. I took a step back, cringing at the noise of the orbs rubbing against one another, despite the fact that my foot landed on Ipsam flooring.
I didn’t understand. Then I saw him.
The Spiravit materialized in the corridor behind me. A bit taller than me, his blind eyes seemed to search the air for something as he took a step forward. His shoes kicked the spheres haunting my vision, scattering them in my direction. I skipped out of the way and turned to retreat when I froze. It was exactly as the Academy had described.
Encased in a pilaster, the Old Green barely stood a few inches tall. This specimen had a slender, green stalk supporting, four oval-shaped protrusions but it lacked the colorful topper we’d been told about – I think a Corporal had called them fowers. Similar to the floor, it faded in and out of my sight.
I backed away, forgetting the Spiravit behind me. I never thought I’d actually see an Old Green – no one really did - and for the life of me I couldn’t recall how far their danger extended. I retreated until my foot slipped and a noise sounded behind me – directly behind me. I didn’t want to look back; I couldn’t avoid it. Slowly rounding on my heel, I found myself staring directly into the Spiravit’s blank, white eyes.
I quickly jumped out of reach and cleared my throat before calling out. “I am Cadet Tambor of the NDSE. Show me your identification, immediately.” My hands trembled at my side but thank chib my voice was steady.
Everyone knew Spiravits were blind, so I knew he couldn’t see my Academy uniform. He should have instantly cowered at the mention of NDSE. My plan should have worked – but it didn’t. The Spiravit took a step towards me.
“Stop. Show me your identification.”
He shuffled forward.
“Spiravit!” My voice cracked and the rest of the words died in my throat.
Scrambling back, I tripped over my feet despite years of agility training. The Spiravit floated towards me faster than I could run. He slowly lifted his hand towards me. The cuff of his sleeve pulled back, revealing a series of constellations of freckles across the back of his hand and forearm. They stopped abruptly at the first knuckle of his hands – then I noticed the tips of his fingers. Pale green stained his skin.
I stared at his fingertips, not sure what would actually happen if they touched me. Sure, as kids, we would tell ghost stories in the bunks but none of us actually knew.
I retreated further slamming against something solid – a wall.
My heart dropped.
I had reached a dead end.
The Spiravit stopped two paces in front of me, hand outstretched. A halo of blue ringed his white eyes, and a mop of dirty, uneven, auburn hair fell over half his face. He seemed to look right at me, despite his handicap. Opening his mouth, I watched words flicker across his face before his mouth turned into a surprised ‘o’ and he collapsed into a heap of gangly limbs at my feet.
“We have the threat contained. Suspect in custody.”
NSDE officers burst into the corridor and understanding took hold. Circling the Spiravit, they placed a thin, gold band around his neck. I knew it would stop the suspect from dematerializing but as it locked in place, a spasm wracked his body. I frowned.
“Is that hurting him?”
I found myself staring down the barrels of five stun guns and froze with my hands up. A voice spoke up through one of the helmets. “Anything else to report, Alpha?”
The team’s alpha sighed. “There’s an unauthorized cadet.” Lifting his hands, I knew his identity before he finished unlatching his helmet. Kaven stared at me with disappointment as he finished, “We’re bringing her in with the suspect.”
Quiet blanketed the Compound with the exception of a few younger cadets scurrying between buildings. Usually teeming with bodies running to and from training, the sudden lack of people unsettled me. I had to swallow twice to release the lump in my throat. I hadn’t realized the passage of time. The absence of people could only mean one thing – they were all gathering, preparing to watch the show.
Our escort split into two without a word or signal. The squadron dragged the Spiravit away down a narrow corridor. I knew that particular hall led towards a cluster of angular buildings off limit to Academy students, but I had no idea what went on in them. I paused for a second, wondering what might to happen to him. More importantly, why did I care?
Kaven cleared his throat. Starting, I followed him along the other hall.
“What were you thinking, Naya?”
I’d been wondering when he would finally crack. Then again, Kaven always was the master of self-control. I looked up at the blank helmet staring straight ahead, searching for any sign of the boy who used to sit with me at meals. The smooth expanse of white covering his skull sat on his shoulders, revealing nothing. Was it heavy?
“You know cadets aren’t allowed in unsanctioned corridors. And you know better than to let yourself be cornered by a Spiravit. What if the space had vanished? What if it had been a trap? What if…”
I flushed. We hadn’t spoken so bluntly with one another since he’d graduated last year. I opened my mouth to try to explain but it hung open with answers he’d never understand. He didn’t have to participate in the program’s last chance protocol. He’d always been first in his class - the youngest Alpha in the history of the organization.
No, Kaven wouldn’t understand the choking nerves. He wouldn’t get the desperate need to get away – to think – to try to figure out how to survive. Kaven only understood one thing: rules. He never questioned a rule or command; it was the secret to his success. It was a wonder he’d ever been my friend.
“Maybe I’d been thinking that if I was caught by the savages, I would be excused from tonight…”
The joke slipped out of me before I could reel it back in. Kaven’s helmet whipped in my direction and I could almost see the shock and disgust distorting his features.
“This isn’t a joke. When are you going to grow up and start taking things seriously, for once in your life, Nay? What do you think they would do to you if it’d actually touched you? Are you really trying to get kicked out? Now? When you’re so close? Don’t you want to graduate…”
Of course, I wanted to graduate.
We passed the youngest recruits’ barracks, squat, rounded buildings with low windows. Like the Mainc, the Compound was another static area of the city. One of the first places hit by EMAS virus, it had settled with time – as all spaces eventually did. Of course, every now and then a new recruit would be surprised by a missing door or a lengthening hallway – always at the most inconvenient times – but for the most part it remained stagnant and reliable.
I leaned forward slightly, trying to catch a glimpse of the rooms where I’d spent the first few years of my life. Unlike the rest of my class – the rest of the recruits – I’d literally grown up here. Recruits are volunteered at five; my Corporal found me as baby left on the front steps.
You’d think being raised by Corporals, rules, and regimen, I’d have all the advantages a recruit could ask for and you’d be right. I looked up at Kaven and couldn’t help but think - that should have been me.
A ship wreck changes a sailor. Forever. The lone survivor, he lives in the deep sea...until a girl wrangles him five centuries later. #pitprom
Dear Royal Advisors,
The tragic wreck of the Fleetwood in 1879 claims Marion O’Reilly’s eyes and legs, but leaves him with a gift: the ability to breathe underwater. Doomed to swim the seas forever, he comes to love the silence of his new world...until Kharat Stockinhem bursts it while on her mission from the Department of Oceanic Threats to wrangle an elusive sea monster, the Phantom. Suddenly, Marion’s being dragged from the ocean by a machine he can’t see or out-swim. And when he makes contact with Kharat, he learns his accident happened five hundred years ago.
Kharat doesn’t know humans can live underwater until she accidentally wrangles Marion. Now, she’s not so sure the DOT has it right. Marion O’Reilly seems harmless. And if he’s harmless, what are the other sea “monsters” like? It takes some doing, but she convinces her father and grandfather to help her find out. Maybe Marion—and the Phantom—aren’t what the DOT claim they are.
WRANGLED is a 78,000-word YA oceanpunk novel about sea monsters, sabotage and what it means to take a stand. It meets Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan and S.E. Grove’s The Glass Sentence in the Atlantic, where submergers and stun guns and fearless teens are as common as water. The first 10 pages of WRANGLED are pasted here for your review.
I’m a journalist by day and novelist by night. I’ve written hundreds of news articles, book reviews and a children’s story (published in Highlights December 2018), but this is my first novel. Grab a pint of Pirate’s Pitch and gather ‘round. This be a whale of a tale.
FIRST TEN PAGES:
1879 on the ATLANTIC
“Damn,” the captain growled, watching as a violent wave crashed over the ship’s starboard side. Crew members screamed, rushing to grab onto rigging.
The storm had not surprised the crew, but its intensity had. Its eye was still miles off, and the Ironclad Fleetwood rested now in the fiercest rings of the storm wall. It was set for Halifax Harbor from Norfolk. Or it was, until the storm’s winds forced the captain to turn west to Boston when Halifax was a few hundred miles off. The first mate had objected, but only as far as his station allowed. With furnaces burning twice the coal to fight the storm wind and a miscalculated re-direction that lengthened the journey by a third, the captain’s incompetency broadened with the mile.
“Damn, damn, damn,” the man cursed. He scanned the deck for the first mate. “Mr. Morgan! How’s she holding?”
The stout first mate’s eyes stared ahead, firm and resilient and sure of the crew’s capabilities. “Boilers ’re fightin’ the pressure, sir. But the men ’re feedin’ her fast as they can.”
In a split second, the captain made a decision. He snapped at the sailor standing anxiously by the door and stomped from the bridge. His crew followed as he disappeared down steps leading to the belly of the Ironclad. His next decision hinged on that status of the boilers, and he needed to see them himself.
Around the boilers, the men worked with a passion never before seen. The pounding of the storm reverberated through the ship’s iron walls. The grated flooring rattled with each crashing wave. Heat wafting from the large, copper boilers beat upon the crews’ efforts relentlessly. The dim glows of coal fires sufficed for the work they did.
The youngest of the black gang grumbled to each other about the demands of their job. When they first signed on for the crew, they knew the labor would be difficult. They didn’t know about the orlop deck. The veterans remained silent, their minds turned in prayer to God, fate, or other deities. Years of working with the boilers had taught them that the more the metal works demanded, the more faith they needed to operate. Complaining only carried a man so far.
In one corner, a teenaged boy worked silently, shoveling coal into a large iron cart. Unlike his mates of similar age, he remained silent and focused on the tasks expected of him. Sweat glistened on his face, shoulders and arms, running down his torso and soaking his pants. His shirt, long-since removed, hung from his waistband in a grimy, blackened clump. He reached for it to clear his eyes. The curses and pleas of frustrated men filled his ears. There were few jests. Those had evaporated from the lower levels like breaths of clean air.
As the boy bent to scoop a shovelful of coal, he heard a cry go up among the men.
“Captain, sir!” shouted a crew mate.
The sighting sounded up and down the deck. The boy had never seen the commanding officer descend to the lower levels. He had never clapped eyes on the man at all. The position of captain did not leave much room for bumping into a sweat worker.
He continued shoveling. The captain would not see him.
He worked uninterrupted until the boiler manager appeared before him.
“At attention, O’Reilly!” the big, thick-shouldered man hollered.
The boy stuck his shovel into the coal pile and stood straight. He hoped it was enough. Proper procedure was not followed rigorously on the orlop deck, mostly because the captain rarely visited. Etiquette had no place in these stinking, grueling depths.
A man in blue wool and brass buttons moved into his line of vision. How the captain could stand in full regalia in hellish heat, the boy didn’t know. “What’s your name, lad?”
“O’Reilly, sir.” He stood at stiff attention while wondering if the captain had not just heard the boiler manager. Marion O’Reilly, he wanted to say, but thought he better not.
“Right, O’Reilly. What’s the coal status? Have we enough to ride her through?”
Marion looked into his captain’s eyes. As someone who handled the fuel, Marion certainly was the person to ask. But his heart couldn’t help pounding in the face of his superior’s demand.
He cleared his throat. “There’s a few tons left, sir. We’re using more than we planned, what with fighting the storm winds. And turning around. If we could just break through the storm wall—”
“A few tons?” raged the captain, his face reddening to the roots of his beard. “The storm’s ten miles thick, man! That’s not enough!”
Marion clamped his mouth shut.
“Blast!” the captain roared before turning on his heel and storming away. An entourage of silent seamen trailed him.
Unsure what to do, Marion resumed his post, shoveling calmly and steadily. When the cart had reached a heaping height, he hauled it over to the great iron furnace on the Fleetwood’s port side. Others moved aside, respecting the importance of the cart.
A deafening blast roared at the far end of the boiler level, causing everyone to jump as the great crate shuddered and moaned.
“What in bleedin’ ‘ell was that?” someone cried.
“I don’t know!” Marion hollered back. His head swiveled, trying to look over the men suddenly crushing each other on the main walk. Damn, he couldn’t see.
“Help me!” he shouted to the men closest to him, throwing his weight against the cart. Four of them were able to overturn it, coal spilling across the iron plate floor as Marion leapt atop the carrier.
His heart tripped.
Fire licked its way outside one of the furnaces.
Men screamed as they ran back and forth, shouting for water and cursing the man who threw the shovelful of coal that lit the flame. An explosion inside the structure caused the fire to rage. Smoke billowed from the furnace mouth, choking men and turning the stale air to smut.
Marion hopped down from the cart. Everyone knew what was happening. The screams of dying workers informed their senses. There was only one course of action when a vessel of the sea caught fire. Fight it.
Marion hoisted the empty cart upright and ran toward the large water hold, fighting against the anxiety rising in his chest. He tempered his lungs, calming himself by refusing them more air than was necessary. He would not die here, trapped like a ship rat in the hull of an iron crate. He would not.
The black gang formed a line, dumping coal buckets to fill instead with water. Marion rushed past them, heading for the front.
“Water, lad!” the boiler manager shouted at him, hardly taking time to look up.
“I’ll fill the cart!” Marion hollered as he ran past. Thunder boomed outside. Or was it the ship cracking?
He was passing a boiler when it happened. At first, he thought the fire had engulfed the thing and caused it to explode. But a strange white light appeared suddenly in his eyes—a blinding, hot light—and he knew it came from no boiler. As soon as he saw the flash, fire coursed through him in a wave of pain. He screamed, but heard no noise. His senses fled.
A second light appeared, and he watched helplessly as it jumped from the boiler to his cart. It flowed into his hands, up his arms and through his heart in one enormous, searing wave. He tried to release the cart, but his fingers wouldn’t let go. When the current washed over him a third time, he felt the heat in his legs and head. It seemed everywhere at once, singeing the deepest parts of him while burning his skin. He would die, he thought, from the heat alone.
He couldn’t see when the men of the orlop deck collapsed. He didn’t hear when the captain thundered as his ship cracked beneath the waterline. He didn’t feel the desperation of the crew, the fear of the boiler manager or the regret of the first mate. After the brightness of the lightning that destroyed his body, Marion’s world was left dark.
There was one thing he thought he felt in the moment he was thrust into the ocean. Something large and soft. A body, perhaps, caressing Marion before drawing close to the sinking ship.
He thought he felt it. But he couldn’t see it. So he slipped into the secrets of the ocean without a sound.
2379 off the COAST OF SCARBOROUGH
“Boggles!” Kharat Stockinhem grumbled as the Grecian octopus yanked against the submerger’s capturing arms. She seized the sub’s communicator and flicked it on. “Who said wrangling this monster would be easy, Dad?”
Merk Stockinhem chuckled. “Your granddad, I think, when the Department assigned us.”
“Figures that he’s not here to enjoy the fun.” Kharat swiveled in her seat and navigated the Octopular Trident around the octopus. The sub rocked as the creature jerked against it. “Come portside, Dad. His eye’s out, he can’t see you.”
“Right,” Merk answered from the second sub.
Kharat’s breath held as she watched her father navigate the sleek Olympis 2300. When it slipped into place, she decreased the throttle and dropped the arms. Sensing release, the octopus tensed and exploded upward. The propulsion was powerful, the thrust initiated by the sudden inward pull of its arms, preceding an inward collapse of its body. For a handful of seconds, its freedom was secured. But before its arms flared for a second contraction, the beast found them clasped by the herbosynthetic fibers of a wrangling net.
“Got him!” Kharat cried as the net tightened and the octopus took on a new level of struggle.
Kharat loaded a ray-venom canister into the launcher of her sub. With careful aim, the projectile hurled through the sea and pricked the monster. A fury of bubbles erupted as the thing shuddered briefly before wilting. The only natural defense against Grecians was stingray venom, which arrested the barbs hidden in the beast’s suction cups. The octopus’s reaction to the venom impeded the beating of its six hearts and promptly relaxed the nervous system. The brief stopping of six blood pumps was crucial. Death was a breath short of instantaneous.
Once the Grecian ceased its last twitches, Kharat began collecting it with brisk movements of the extraction arms.
“Okay?” Merk asked.
Kharat nodded, intent on maneuvering the contraption manually.
“Okay!” she declared over the transmission.
The Olympis remained stationary as Kharat snaked each of the three arms around the octopus. When it was fully wrapped, she reined in. The arms drew the monster toward the belly of the Trident and tucked it into its hold. Kharat watched the cargo monitor intently, adjusting the arms when they drew too near the sub walls. A fierce beeping alerted her to the catch’s complete entry. It took her seconds to close the iron belly panels and reach for the mouthpiece.
“All set, Dad,” she stated with a look toward the Olympis. “I’ll follow you up.”
The Olympis began its ascent with tapered speed to match the Trident’s. Nearly five times the size and half as fast as her father’s sub, Kharat’s vessel captured and carried large loads. It could be fast, when needed. But a calmer pace resulted in better navigation.
Kharat matched the speed and path Merk made. As the subs climbed out of the twilight zone, the water lightened and Kharat saw farther through the sub shield. The transition from 2,000 feet to 600 was dramatic. The middle ocean was not barren—the Grecian was evidence of that—but the top waters teemed with the colors of sea life. Kharat watched a school of silver-bellied fish flutter past and wished she had time to capture them with the Trident’s sea scope. She’d add their picture to her navigation books.
But there was no time now. She’d have to take that photo later. For good measure, she shot a glance at her coordinates: 70.229̊N, 4.501̊E. Somewhere in the Norwegian Sea. Grecians this far north were uncommon. But sea life had been traveling farther from home waters lately. She’d record this in Scarborough.
Their home port came into view thirty minutes later. As Merk negotiated the Olympis into the bay, Kharat headed for Dock Spot Number 170. The Trident’s function placed it among other large submergers used for various duties such as official ministerial obligations and merchant shipping. Or in the case of the Stockinhems, sea wrangling. The largest vessels docked in the finest spots. From here, unloading was no hassle and shipping out was easy.
The best advantage, of course, was the label “Official Sea Wrangler” stamped on Kharat’s porting license. Slaying sea beasts was as natural to the Stockinhems as swimming a sub. On her fourteenth birthday, Kharat was proud to become part of a legacy centuries old. For years, her family was the downfall of murderous sharks, monstrous octopuses, haunting jellies and giant squid across the globe. The Kraken fell to an uncle in the 23rd century. Lusca became the mount of a third cousin. Morgawr was trapped and disappeared from the Cornish coast after Ebenzer Stockinhem, Kharat’s own grandfather, pursued it. The Stockinhems were among the few who stalked monsters stalking humanity. By dictation of her birthright, Kharat’s blood ran thick with salt water.
The Trident docked, Kharat powered down the sub and removed her navigation goggles. Fresh air filled the cabin when she opened the hatch. Tossing her wrangler’s kit out, she followed, her boots hiking the hatch ladder and thudding against the sub roof as she climbed on top. Merk stood waiting for her on the wharf, a sea breeze tossing his long dark locks back from his face. At his side, a Scottish collie waved her tail like a flag.
“Hullo, Taffety!” Kharat called and jumped down.
The dog rushed toward her with eager licks and yaps.
Kharat knelt to greet her.
“She was waiting for us,” Merk said. “Granddad must be in the village.”
“Expect he’s at the depot,” Kharat replied between Taffety’s kisses.
“The depot or the tavern,” her father agreed. “Shall we try both?”
“I’ll take the tav,” Kharat said and started into town. “Meet you on the wharf. Here Taffety!” The dog raced after her.
As she wove between merchant stalls and sidestepped other Scarborough folk, Kharat kept an eye on Taffety. The dog possessed the uncanny ability to sneak snacks from the butcher and baker and still beg off the fishmonger.
“Hey!” Kharat snapped the warning when the collie’s muzzle grazed a thick coil of tentacle sausages. The dog immediately backed away.
Kharat opened the heavy door when they reached Lud’s Tap. Taffety obediently sat on her heels. But she whined when Kharat moved to leave her.
“Come on, you blighter,” Kharat said. She followed the collie in.
The tavern’s lack of windows created a covert darkness weakened by a few oil bulbs. Kharat struggled to see a few feet beyond herself. She found her grandfather by the sound of his riotous laughter. Knowing the place well, she headed toward the bar. Taffety headed toward the kitchen.
“There she be!” Ebenzer Stockinhem cried when his granddaughter’s face came into focus. “The lass who’s taken me place in the wranglin’ business.” He turned to the old sailors gathered at the counter. “Can’t say I’m s’prised, always had a good ‘ead on ‘er. Puts uppa fight, too.”
“Granddad,” Kharat interrupted. “You’re slurring.”
“Slurrin’, she says! As if I couln’t hold me liquor. ‘M I slurrin’ to you?” he asked the man beside him.
“I can ‘ear ya fine!” the stranger replied with a wink at Kharat. Both men laughed outrageously.
“Right, Granddad,” Kharat said.
She took the pint from his hand and hooked her arm through his. With a great heave, she had him on his feet and stumbling toward the door. She looked over her shoulder at the greasy-clothed bartender. “I’ll get you later, Rogger.”
“Don’t you worry, Kharat. I’ve seen the beasts you’ve been hauling in. I know you’re good for it.” The big man thunked down a tray of glasses. “Make sure you get his slicker on the way out.”
She nodded and pulled the jacket from the other coats on the coat peg.
“Taffety!” she called and opened the tavern door. The collie dashed from the kitchen and into the street.
The trio traveled down to the wharf where Merk stood waiting for them with spread legs and crossed arms. He’d controlled his mane with a thick piece of cord, but his black eyes were just a tad wild.
“He was in the tav,” Kharat offered, still supporting Ebenzer.
“That I can see.” Merk took hold of Ebenzer’s other arm. “One would have thought you took interest in the success of your granddaughter, Dad. She came in with a three-tonner.”
Kharat’s ears perked. “That large?”
“Aye. They want you down in the depot for the recording. Go on, then. I’ll take Granddad home.”
“Get the kettle on,” Kharat replied. “Taff can come with me.”
The depot was Scarborough’s headquarters for the Ministry of Aquatic Defense, which oversaw protection from and for the sea. Wranglers answered to a small, significant portion of the institution, the Department of Oceanic Threats. Registered wranglers brought kills to the DOT control centers in all major ports along the coast for registration and appraisal. While the MAD’s primary responsibility was balancing oceanic and terrestrial lives, the DOT safeguarded against all aquatic threats. Disposal of amphibious monsters was the mission of each wrangler under its direction.
Kharat kept her registration book tucked behind the sea knife sheathed to her thigh. She retrieved it in the depot’s reception and handed it to the secretary, studying the wrangler’s motto on the wall as she waited. Si vis pacem, disicere bestia. If you want peace, kill the beast. The black letters remained the depot’s only decoration.
The bespectacled secretary stamped Kharat’s registration with the DOT seal and returned it. She thanked the man and headed for the stairs, toward the exhibition room. This was where extractors retrieved catches and recorders took measurements.
“Just a minute,” the secretary called. “Don’t go down there!”
“I’m here with a catch,” Kharat told the man.
“The director wants to see you. Fifth floor.”
Kharat asked why, but the man ignored her. Taffety trotted behind her as she headed toward the lifts.
Asher Grey is a ghost. The Underground mafia hunts down his memory—and the life of his love, Seuno. Can he overcome his inner demons to prevail against them? #pitprom
Dear Mr./Mrs. Agent,
The annual Siobhan Games are as brutal as the night is long, and Asher Grey never meant to play them. But being chosen to compete is out of his control.
When Asher is picked, one of his opponents—the ruthless Adder, leader of the Underground mafia—kills Asher’s adoptive mother and threatens to murder the love of his life, Seuno.
Asher follows a dangerous rumor to try and escape the Game. But following this rumor ends in more than he bargained for. It imbues him with the powers of a magician, and that power comes with a price. It wipes his existence from the earth.
His new status as a ghost opens Asher to a world he never knew existed. It also opens him to questions he never thought to ask, and a group of people he never knew existed.
When Seuno goes to hunt down her mother’s murderer, throwing her headlong into trouble with the Adder and other powers who want her dead, it brings even more questions to light. Can Asher, as one of the Forgotten, still protect Seuno from the plot against her life?
And can he do it without succumbing to the threat of the Underground and the Game?
THE REMNANT BAND is a 98,000-word novel directed toward young adults who love to see a gritty story shown from an unlikely perspective. Seuno is inspired by my own Korean heritage, and Siobhan is inspired by the city of Chicago. Think The Hunger Games meets Six of Crows.
I am an editor for Havok Publishing and have had multiple short fiction pieces published. Thank you for your time and consideration.
FIRST TEN PAGES:
“There is no such thing as death. In nature nothing dies. From each sad remnant of decay, some forms of life arise.” – Charles Mackay
The moon is cold. At least, that’s what the humans say.
The humans are wrong.
The moon is simply too many leaps and bounds away from the humans for them to feel or fathom its love. Or return it. And because they did not care for its presence, the moon drifted away from humankind.
It tucked its love and its light and its emotions tightly away, spending its nights watching the stars waltz across the smoggy sky in a dance centuries old, never once turning its eye back to the humans below. And it has done so for decades.
So, in a way…maybe the moon is cold.
Maybe the moon doesn’t care.
But once upon a time, there was a peculiar boy by the name of Asher Grey.
The moon knew of him, but the moon knows of everyone. For the most part it doesn’t care, though it may spare a glance now and then toward the ones that stand out from the drudgery of humanity like a torch among candlelight.
But something felt different about the Ash-boy.
As the nights rivered by in a drudgery of emptied wine bottles and the sound of the dirty sea tugged by its tide, the moon quietly, slowly, crept out of its cratered shell to get another look at him.
And it felt something within itself change.
Now, the moon did not have a heart like the dark beehive of humans below it did—perhaps it did once. That “perhaps” had passed on long ago. Now, the moon’s heart hadn’t beat for decades. It didn’t have to. Didn’t want to.
But when the moon saw Asher, it thought it felt a tremble deep in its hidden, soft core. And then something like a heartbeat.
The moon’s heart had practically turned to dust, and to feel it beat, even just once…
There was indeed something different about the one called Asher Grey.
Something in the night shifted, feeling the impossibility of the thoughts churning in the broken, brutal mind of their reigning empress, the moon.
The thoughts terrified the moon. But they also made it want to stay...to keep watching.
Something was different about the Ash-boy, as a silver dollar was when found amongst the garbage that cluttered the alleyways. There was a certain grit about him that made his edges sharp.
Something like curiosity drifted toward the moon’s subconscious, but the moon plunged it back into the caverns where it hid its emotions.
Do not feel, do not feel, do not feel.
But still…yes, the Ash-boy was a curious thing.
And so the moon kept watching him.
* * *
“I heard you’re second on the Game’s scoreboard, Asher Grey.”
I jumped when the gruff voice spoke, and a wine bottle smacked down on the table in front of me. I unclasped my hands on instinct, ready for confrontation, before I recognized the voice. And the bottle—Gustav’s secret coffee brew. He knew I didn’t drink. Maybe that was why I always sat at the back table of The Ravenous Dog—so’s not to feel so out of place. And because it wasn’t as rowdy back here.
I didn’t used to be this jumpy.
I reached up and gripped the warm, slightly dusty neck of the bottle, the sounds of half-drunk men reeling toward the front door drifting into my head. I tuned them out. “Got eyes and ears everywhere, don’t you, Gustav?” I said, raising my eyebrows before tipping up the bottle and letting the bitter drink burn down my throat. As soon as I’d swallowed, I set the bottle back on the scuffed table with a heavy thump. “You weren’t even at the Game today.”
The Siobhan Game was the city of Siobhan’s annual tradition. It was, in the people’s words, “entertainment.” It was, in my words, “a brutal killing scheme to wipe out a few while keeping the rest sated through bloodshed,” because apparently that’s what came about when magic awoke under the city. Better to try and keep the violence contained, sweep it off the streets. But with the Underground and the city’s murder rate slowly and steadily climbing higher, I doubted it was helping.
Especially when the city’s few magic-imbued persons joined in.
Especially when the prize of winning the Game this time around was rule of one of the small sectors of Siobhan. But the only people who won the Game were ruthless and had hands in too many pies to count. They didn’t make benevolent leaders. Which was probably why they wanted to lead.
But the prize was just a sideshow—the real prize if you won the Game was your life.
Those who lost never came back.
I gripped the neck of my bottle tighter and it was warm against my palm. Every night, I found myself wishing I’d been one of the few who’d been imbued with magic the night it had awoken under the city, like a strange creature once thought dead but that was in reality very much alive. Maybe then I’d have a chance against the scum that thrived in Siobhan.
But alas, magic was a picky creature. And most of those it chose went insane, anyway—magicians were not a very reliable type. After the magic had awoken under the town and imbued a select few, those left behind were tossed into the dog-eat-dog society of fight-for-your-life. Now and then the magic would flare up again and imbue another, but not often. The social ladder of us normals was a hard one to climb.
The floor creaked beneath me as I shifted my weight on my chair. What I wanted to know was who I could trust, and who I couldn’t.
That was a lot harder when you were living straight in the very city where you were most likely to get a knife stuck between your ribs. Or the ribs of someone you loved.
“News like the Game scores travels faster than the players do,” Gustav replied, seating himself on the rickety chair in front of me. Gustav, the owner of The Ravenous Dog, was a sinewy older man who was known for being able to break up an alcohol-induced brawl even when the fighters were twice his size. And for his perpetual knowledge of everything that the sun had the good grace to shine on. “And I heard you’re currently the second best player in the Siobhan Game.”
I gave a humorless laugh, tilting the bottle so that the black liquid dashed up against the sides. “Is that a place I want to be?” I fixed Gustav with a surly gaze.
It wasn’t as if I could have kept myself from being chosen—every man above the age of nineteen was fair play for being drawn to compete in the annual Siobhan Game. I’d hoped it wouldn’t be me this year, and yet...
Luck was for the rich.
“At least you’re not dead,” Gustav said—the city’s motto.
Could be worse. At least you’re not dead.
“There’s worse things than dead,” I muttered, rubbing the pad of my thumb against the outside of the bottle. It felt dirty. If the dishtowel tossed over Gustav’s shoulder was any testament to the cleanliness standards of The Ravenous Dog, it probably was.
But if the rowdy group of men stumbling out of the pub and into the night—followed by cheers and a chucked bottle from those who remained behind—were any indication, it probably didn’t matter.
Gustav sighed, and it sounded like a growl, which was a fair way of summing Gustav up. A sleeping tiger. “Aye, there are far worse things than dead. How did the first trial treat you?”
The Game was played in a series of seven trials. One trial, one man eliminated—and there were six to go. The first trial had been completed just that morning.
I’d been jumpy ever since.
“It’s like some of the players are animals and not men,” I said. I glanced past Gustav’s face and toward the door. The air felt choked in the Ravenous Dog. “They want to kill, and the blood makes their eyes light up.”
“Any magicians in the fight this year?”
I took another swig off the coffee and wished it was hot enough to burn my thoughts away. There was a reason I’d never run with the gangs of the Underground, though they’d tried to recruit me multiple times. Some of the things they did didn’t settle with me. At all.
And the Game was led by one who would have fit in very well with the Underground.
I clenched my hand tighter around the neck of the bottle. “Expect a few men to be in here drinking themselves into oblivion tonight,” I said. “The first trial didn’t go well for some of them, and the next six look bleak.”
“Will you be amongst them?” Gustav asked, standing as well.
I smiled, but it was a smile bitter and cold. “You know I don’t drink.” I shoved myself out of my seat, the dagger I kept in my boot rubbing hard against my ankle.
Gustav stood as well, his sharp eyes shooting toward the door as another group of men walked in to replace the ones that had just staggered out. “Grey, stay away from trouble tonight—after the first trial’s over, people are always out for blood. I wouldn’t be surprised to find you dead in a gutter tomorrow morning. You think I want to find you dead in a gutter?”
I tilted my head, my feet braced for a fight even though I knew no one would fight me. Drunk men couldn’t win against a sober one. I took another drink and ran my tongue across my teeth to catch all the bitter flavor, then answered Gustav. “Probably not?”
Gustav snorted, his expression unchanged except for a little tightening of the skin around his eyes. His warning face. “Kid, you need to watch yourself out there—”
“And you still need to watch yourself out there, you hear me?” Gustav’s voice was low as he leaned closer. “People know your name, Game player. The Underground knows your name, and those men are savages—they’d rather eat you alive than dead, but they’re vultures, all of them. They aren’t good for you.”
“This is Siobhan, Gustav—nobody’s good for me.” I glanced toward the door again as another group of men walked in, one with a lady hanging on his arm who was all skin and bones. I grimaced, and lifted the bottle toward my lips again. “We’re all slowly killing each other, and I’d rather have my eye on the killers instead of turning my back. Best way to protect myself.” I took a swig of the coffee, letting it warm my mouth for a moment before swallowing. “And others.”
Gustav shook his head, leaning one fist against the table we’d just been sitting at. “The Game is an awful spot to be in if you’re looking for protection, Asher Grey. It’s rather a good way to get yourself killed, and I’d hate to have another funeral to attend.”
“Funeral” sparked a jittery flame inside my chest, and I clenched my hand around the neck of my bottle until my knuckles were white, but my poker face was straight. “I know you would.” I started walking backward toward the door. “Don’t go putting me on the agenda, I’m not planning to choke out anytime soon.”
“Good man. Give my best to Seuno.”
A grin tugged at the edge of my mouth at the sound of that name. I paused in the doorway and knocked my knuckles against the frame, nodding at Gustav. “I always do. Keep your nose out of trouble, Gustav.”
“You too, kid.”
And then I stepped out the door, edged past a burly man heading into the Ravenous Dog, and ducked my head as I vanished into the dark streets of the smoggy Siobhan dusk. Night was coming soon, and there were only two places one wanted to be at night.
My shoes shuffled softly on the cobblestone street as I shoved my empty hand into my pocket and thrust my shoulders back, walking a little faster as my shadow stretched out longer. A lamplighter made the rounds for the few old lamps staggered precariously around the street, moving quickly. I didn’t know why he bothered. The lamps barely cast enough light through the grey to matter—it was like the night ate them alive.
And at night, one was either found at home, watching their back with the front door locked and bolted, if you were lucky…or in the Underground.
The Underground was run by a man who called himself the Adder, named after the snake. It was an apt description. The night he’d been drawn to compete in the Game, the streets had been alight with chaos, as they would be tonight—because the Adder was currently winning the Game as the Underground’s champion. He was the one man I’d lost to today. The men—and occasionally, women—in the Underground were dirty thieves, emotionless killers, expensive assassins. They ran the gauntlet of Siobhan’s nightcrawlers and the Adder was the top of their pack, a wolf among jackals. I wanted nothing to do with them.
But to turn your back on the Underground was to die.
To keep your eye on them was to stay alive maybe a little longer.
And to help Seuno…
Anything to keep her safe. Though, if I was honest, that was part of what frightened me most about being in the Game—I didn’t know what it would affect. Would it end up hurting more than me? Would it end up hurting her? Seuno’s mother had been the one to help me after my own mother abandoned me at twelve. Would I repay her by dragging her daughter straight into harm’s way?
I couldn’t hurt Seuno.
Thinking about it too long shook me to my core, so I tried not to. But I wanted out of the Game.
I needed out.
I took another swig out of Gustav’s bottle, then chucked it to the side of the road, where it burst into shards of glass that caught the coming moonlight. Scoping out the Underground could wait another night—it had been relatively calm down there last time I had visited. No talk of planned killings. No new magical imbuements on the rise.
For tonight, I felt sure enough to stride past the crumbling alleyway entrance into the Adder’s Underground.
For tonight, I strode down the grey Siobhan street and blessed the relative safety it offered to those dangerous enough to warrant it. Or cunning enough to.
For tonight, I walked past the Underground like a king in disguise and strode instead to the house of my would-be Queen.
Seuno’s house was shabby, like the rest of those that took residence on Hallow Row. The steps up to the porch were cracked, and I always skipped the last one entirely, as a family of some strange beetle had burrowed under it and left it mostly hollow. One wall had a subtle crack running a few inches across it, but as Seuno’s mother, Aejeon, said—“If it has not fallen down yet, it is not falling down ever.”
Not that I ever called her Ms. Aejeon, though—she always insisted I call her Mama, too. Pretty sure she could kill the Underground with kindness if she ever took it up into her graying head to go there. Not that she ever would. There were better places for her to be than the Underground.
For anyone to be.
I jumped up the steps to the top of the porch and rapped my knuckles against the cold door. A chill breeze tugged at my coat, and I shivered as I shoved my hands back into my pockets and waited for somebody to answer.
A hawk tore across the sky, and I glanced up to watch its path—it flew so low that I could make out every feather.
Which made it all the more shocking when it darted past the Underground alleyway entrance and immediately dropped dead. I sucked in a sharp breath, grabbing onto the porch railing and leaning against it as I peered closer at the bird.
Its feathers glittered with a strange sheen.
Some Underground magician had had too much drink tonight, celebrating the start of the Game. It figured.
I pressed my lips together and the wind whistled behind me like a lonely ghost in mourning. Maybe it was mourning for me. Because the next trial of the Game was creeping ever closer, breathing hot down on my neck, and if I was going to survive it…
I might end up as crumpled as that hawk on the ground.
Turning to face the door again, I tried to shove the dark thoughts behind me. But I couldn’t. Because surviving the Game might take a miracle.
Or something stronger.