by Hetal Avanee
DAUGHTERofSMOKE&BONE+Hindu Myth: Meeting her estranged dad in Delhi launches a 300yo curse fused to Minna's magical legacy. #YA #F #PitProm
Dear Lords and Ladies,
Seventeen-year-old MINNA KAHN strives daily not to lure boys to a homicidal rage. Like the sirens of Greek mythology, her Nagini power sneaks into the minds of the opposite sex, influencing them to their destruction. Unlike the sirens, however, Minna's "sway" pulls on repressed threads of anger. There's no song, just a feeling: one that transforms their hidden embers of frustration into licking flames of hate across the halls of her Chicago high school. No boy with the smallest spark of anger is immune to her sway, except DAKSH, who mysteriously appears everywhere she goes.
Though Minna's friend MEERA is helping her overcome her strongest emotion, her dad's latest "stay away" letter fuels the abandonment at her core. Her emotions high, Minna is provoked into causing a riot in the school cafeteria that sends students and teachers to the hospital. Suspended three days before Winter Break, she impulsively decides to spend her holiday in Delhi to impose her company on her estranged father and to get answers about their magical legacy.
Because Minna's dad set her aside four years ago in favor of his "real family", she expects a confrontation even as she dreams of reconciliation. But she is wholly unprepared to face mythical demons that are fueled by a curse from her past life. A three-hundred year old grudge threatens the lives of everyone she's starting to care for unless she learns to control her sway.
BEAUTIFUL NIGHTMARES is a character driven YA Contemporary Fantasy conceptualized as an Indian DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE. With a twist on the Hindu Naga creation myth, this is an Own Voices story of an Indian-American girl, inspired by the #ShePersisted hashtag.
Complete at 71,000 words, this is a standalone novel with series potential. I am 2017 PitProm finalist, as well as a 2016 PitchMadness and PitchWars alum. Per the #PitProm guidelines, my first ten pages and 140 character pitch are included. Thank you for your time!
First Ten Pages:
Har taraf zulm hai bebasi hai
Sahama-sahama-sa har aadami hai
Paap kaa bojh badhata hi jaaye
Jaane kaise ye dharati thami hai
Everywhere there is cruelty and helplessness
Everyone is looking for guidance direction
The burden of sins is growing
Don't know how this Earth is able to bear it
~ Itni Shakti Hamein Dena Data
I scrubbed at the multiple red letter "xes" marking my mom's shop window, vowing to remove every trace of the hateful brand superimposed over her Christmas decorations. Two hours and three buckets later, my dirty water sported pink foam even as remnants of paint still stuck to the panes, seemingly etched into the glass. My frigid fingers screamed, begging me to don my gloves, to give up, but my boiling blood made it easy to ignore the pain.
Whoever did this better hope not to run into me. If I ever find out who it was, there's no way I'll be able to control myself.
Water trickled from my fisted sponge, through my fingers, to soak my jeans and test my commitment to making the marks disappear. Chicago's cold blew up my nose, snatching my breath, trying to freeze my insides after failing to freeze my outsides. I dropped the useless sponge into the bucket and shivered in my boots, glaring at the red marks that seemingly pulsed with inhuman heartbeats.
My arguments against hanging the twinkle lights across Kahn Jewelers' bulletproof panes had been useless. I should've saved my breath.
"The holiday is three weeks away," mom had said, "and we need to attract shoppers visiting Devon Avenue for 'authentic' Indian items." Now, as the lights flashed above the remainder of the marks, a small thread of justification shivered through me.
Maybe you're omniscient on top of being Nagini, Minna, I thought. Bet you'd choose fortune telling over luring hormonal boys to violence. The city's endless supply of testosterone-filled teens provide s potential targets of your Nagini influence daily.
Someone rounded the corner fast. He hit my shoulder and tripped over my bucket. Water spilled over concrete, gleaming like blood in the low light. The guy's boots landed heavy in the liquid, splashing dirty water on the hems of my jeans, leaving a trail in his wake. He kept walking, not even making the effort to check on me.
"Watch where you're going!" I hollered at his retreating back.
Hunched into his coat, head tilted down, he flipped me the bird.
It was the absolute worst thing he could have done.
I couldn't help myself. It wasn't as if anyone had ever handed me a manual titled "How to be a Good Nagini and Not Drive Boys to their Destruction". My power literally snaked from me, like vapors on the wind, following the guy up the street and into his head. I tried reeling them back to me, those black and red wisps, to retract this damned curse of mine before it caused any real trouble, but I had yet to learn how to master this skill.
The black coated, black hooded, black booted stranger stopped in the middle of the sidewalk at the end of the block. The bit of me that had entered his head, my Nagini essence, wriggled its way into the cracks of his psyche. My sway found its way into the angst driving him, just as it did for all of my victims, and focused on the anger that peaked the moment after he hit me. Snippets of him played in my mind like an old movie. A little dull in color, the scenes disjointed, the emotion in the voices saturating my being.
A Wicker Park apartment. Crooked walls, crooked floors, but warmly decorated with bright colors and pictures of the guy and his Indian girlfriend, whom Chris had just fought with. Ami was too afraid to talk to her parents about her non-Indian boyfriend of three years.
"How long , Ami ?" h e demanded. He loathed himself for pushing.
"I need time !" Ami cried , worried about the confrontati on with her traditional parents. Chris wanted their l ove in the open. No more secrets. Ami's tears soaked the collar of her shirt. Chris threw one of their pictures in the trash . He slammed out of her apartme nt, stomp ing up to Devon Avenue.
In the descending dusk, I reminded him of his girl.
My sway reached into the streams of Chris's angst, strengthened their flow so their source echoed in my mind, as though I'd lived the moment with him. His back straightened as his head turned half-way back to me. His simmering anger surfaced in his balled up palms and twisted lips.
He stared at me, his thoughts forming a clear picture in my mind. He thought about going back to Ami, to apologize for the fight, or approaching Ami's parents at their work. His indecision left the tang of copper on my tongue: confront them with the truth, in front of the community she put before him, or to leave it all in dust?
"No, wait. Don't do it!" I tried grabbing him. He shrugged off my numb fingers easily, the smooth polyester of his jacket sliding across my palms. "It's not worth it!"
"What do you know about it?" he called without stopping.
I'm an idiot. I should have listened to Meera!
I ran after him, inhaling the spicy air from my favorite fast food restaurant, dodging a family who came out of a clothing store, ducking past Mr. and Mrs. Patel and their son Jay. The shock on their faces held my attention for a few seconds too long (would they call my mom about me chasing a boy up the street?) so I smacked, full force, into Chris's down-jacketed back. My butt cushioned my fall, my palms scraping against cold concrete as my sway finally lost its grip on Chris' gray matter.
He shook his head, a bull contemplating whether to charge or retreat, his nostrils flared in frustration. My influence, my brand of sway, still held some purchase over his thoughts, and I began sweating under my layers, trying to check my rapidly beating heart.
Breathe, girl, just breathe. No need to get agitated. No reason to make this worse. Controlling your anger helps you untangle your feelings from his, so do that. Stop fueling him!
"You don't want to do that," a familiar voice spoke above me. Soothing, low, and sing-songy, Meera approached us seemingly out of thin air. She stepped close to him, "Give her time. She'll come around. She's afraid, she's told you as much, but she will talk to them soon."
My sway churned in him, searching for a volatile image to attach itself to as his thoughts flickered across my mind. The strength of Meera's own Nagini influence, joy and happiness, thwarted the attempts of mine. She'd take over his mind and push me out soon enough.
Chris shuffled from foot to foot, rubbing his head in consternation. Bombarded with our power, the sway of two different but equally strong emotions, his thoughts slowly churned from light to dark. Eventually, however, he gave Meera such a sweet smile that I practically felt his hope rekindling. "Are you sure?"
"Trust me." Meera slipped a small sequined pouch into his pocket. I knew a tiny worry doll lay inside, imbued with a spell she had learned from her mom. The antidote to my poison.
Too bad none of those work on me.
Meera delved into Chris' happiest thoughts, the maroon, navy, and forest green colors in her hair pulsing as she pulled up the joyful threads of Chris' memories, knitted them into a blanket, and smothered the anger I churned in him.
Chris smiled in relief. "All right, but I won't wait around forever."
"I'm sure she'll appreciate your patience," Meera said. "Parents who have ideas of what is best for their only daughters often get pretty adamant about their girls' futures. Give her time. She'll bring them around." She gave him a pat on the shoulder and gently nudged him away from the shops of Devon, back towards his girl.
He walked away with a dazed smile, despite the tension in his shoulders, and waited patiently at the corner for the crosswalk to turn green. Under my sway he might've walked straight into traffic, his anger making him reckless. I'd seen it happen at least twice before.
Across the street, a slight Indian girl -- who looked nothing like me beyond the skin tone and eye color -- waited for him. She'd worn a worried frown on her tear-streaked face, but that changed to a smile of burgeoning sunshine when she saw him.
He hesitated to touch her -- in Little India gossip spread like wildfire; the news of them could reach her parents before she stepped off the sidewalk -- but she threw her arms around him, wailing an apology, uncaring what anyone thought or said.
On my side of the road, someone crouched next to me, holding out a wide palm in front of my face. "Planning to spend the night on that spot?"
The dusky perfume of musk and wood fire surrounded me, taking me back in time to a different country. This stranger's voice circumvented my sway, seemingly dodging around my magic, to influence me.
I nodded my head dumbly, then shook it upon realizing how I answered his question. "Of course not." I pushed myself to stand, lost my balance a second later, and stumbled against him.
"Are you all right?" a deep rumble said by my ear as the stranger caught me. The tone in his voice prompted me to look into his face.
I lost my breath. Heat flushed my cheeks.
The tall, dark, and handsome cliché now circled around my stuttering brain, but it suited him perfectly. Stunning grey eyes highlighted by brown-black hair, short on the sides but long enough on top to skim his eyebrows. Six feet tall, thick shoulders, defined throat. Probably a University student wanting a taste of home in Little India.
A dimple appeared below the right side of his smile as silent seconds stretched between us. I managed another stupid nod, my anger deflated. He helped me up, waiting until I stood steady on my own two feet, before walking into the Indian grocery two doors down.
Meera glanced from me to the stranger. That's when it hit me that my sway didn't seem inclined to infiltrate the now retreating figure. Black-red vapors of my sway stretched forth from my fingertips, towards the boy, but lazily coiled back into my palms.
"You're always making trouble," Meera said with a shake of her head and her permanent smile.
"I didn't mean to," I grumbled.
"You never do," she laughed. She looped an arm over my shoulders and led me back towards my mom's store. "But it'll be better for them now."
"I hope you're right."
"Of course I am!" she laughed.
As the only other Nagini in my life, Meera attempted to teach me how to control my inheritance despite my four years of coping without guidance. Though seventeen like me, and only a few months younger, she had always known her fate and what she could become. Trained from childhood at a school in Delhi, she thankfully imparted her wisdom on me, pretty much daily.
We both had tawny skin, though mine was darker from years spent on Lake Michigan, but she stood a whole head taller than my five foot three inches. Her brown eyes slanted up at the corners, lending a permanent happiness to her face that epitomized her sway. I often wished my hazel eyes weren't so round. Both of us possessed rainbow lowlights in our hair, naturally occurring because of our Nagini ancestry, and visible to all. But hers were better hidden in her straight black tresses than mine in my wavy, silver-toned strands. The colors in our hair pulsed or churned whenever our sway took over, but she didn't see them.
"I don't possess that sight," she told me once. "Are you sure you're not part Oracle or something?"
I had no answer for that. I had not even known I was Nagini until she informed me.
"How'd you find me, anyway?" I mumbled, my thoughts returning to the present.
She shrugged. "Magic?" The light in her eyes told me she was joking before she said the words. "Actually, your mom called me."
"Makes sense." I sighed, my shoulders sagging. Sometimes I feared being crushed under the weight of the world's hate. "Oh hey, what was that about 'expectations of the only girl'? Sounds like you're speaking from experience."
Meera still smiled, but this time it didn't quite reach her eyes. "Yes, well, I am both blessed and burdened with my mother's wishes for me."
"Your mom, only? Not your dad, too?" I tried to sound nonchalant. In the one-and-a-half years I'd known Meera, she hadn't talked much about her father, as if he were nonexistent. "Does he have certain ideas for your future, as well?"
A part of me always thought that if only she would talk to me about him, it would be one more thing we had in common. I didn't know why she kept him secret; I vented about my absentee father enough that she shouldn't have been afraid to air her angst, but at her very core, she wasn't the type of person to gripe.
"Not in the same way, no. In the end, he wants me to be happy. He has ideas of what it means to achieve that happiness but doesn't expect me to adhere to them. He wants me to find my own path." She nudged me with her hip. "Speaking of, did you lose your voice back there?"
"That's not even remotely close to the same subject." I flushed at the memory of the stranger's smile, hot despite the chilly night. "Guys are not part of my path. They couldn't possibly be."
"You're such an idiot." Meera shook her head in exasperation. "We're working on that, aren't we?"
"Maybe, but will I ever really learn?" I countered. "That other boy only bumped me from behind and flipped me the bird, and it sent me spiraling."
We came up to mom's shop window, where I had managed to wash away most of the hate graffiti before getting distracted.
"Guess I can see why you're angry today," Meera said, her expression dark. "Chris might've been the catalyst, but obviously not the cause."
I appreciated the solemnity in Meera's usually jovial eyes. No matter how angry or near-depressed I got, Meera's spirit tended to lift me up from my bad mood. But in this moment, a little heavy was needed.
"Grab another sponge so I can help."
"You don't have to--" I started.
She stopped me, "I want to. Besides, I need your help with the organic chemistry assignment due on Monday, so my intentions aren't altruistic."
"Oh, well! In that case, then." I laughed as I picked up the bucket. "We have tomorrow and the whole weekend for that, but okay, whatever you want. You'll owe me, though."
"Haven't I saved your butt enough?" she winked.
"Plenty. But I'm sure there will be a thousand more chances for you to be my hero." She wasn't trying to undermine me or make me feel inferior; her joking about the issue was her natural way of coping. No wonder her sway was inclined to build upon a person's happiest thoughts and lighthearted memories.
Yet, even too much happiness from a Nagini can drive a person to madness, according to Meera.
Water dripped from the sides of the bucket, onto my boots, as I circled around to the back of the shop. I tried keeping my mind blank, my breath paced as I punched numbers on a keypad, and pushed open the heavyweight door. Not that any of my preventative steps would stop me from infecting the stressed and burdened males who wandered across my path.
"Hello?" I stood on the threshold of the moderately warmer receiving area, cold snaking in behind me as I waited for an answer.
Luckily there was none. No stock boys were around, rooting through boxes or itemizing inventory. They were busy up front.
Pushing a thankful breath from my lungs, I prayed to gods I didn't one hundred percent believe in, imploring them that I remain alone. Tilting my bucket of pink water over the slop sink, I watched it twirl down the drain, imagining some of the anger in my core washing away with it.
Maybe the fourth wash would be the charm to getting the last of the marks off.
And maybe I'll start controlling my "gift" before the New Year. I mean, four years, no luck, but this year would be the year I put it all together.
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