Monday, September 24, 2012

5 1st 5 Pages September Workshop - Berendsen Rev 3

Author: Margo Berendsen
Genre: Young Adult science fiction
Title: Startripped

I don’t usually have a problem putting makeup on. But today I keep messing up. My hands are shaking, and every time I touch the brush to my eyelashes it jerks and hits the wrong spot. I’ve had to wash my face off and start over again so many times that I just leave the water running in the sink. My face feels raw.

I’m dreading this party.

As I start another attempt, there’s a sharp rap on the bathroom door. “I’m not ready yet!” I yell. “Go away.”

David pushes the door open anyway. “Mom wants to know what’s taking so long. Everyone’s waiting for you.”

“If you’d stop interrupting me, I’d be ready sooner.”

He doesn’t take the hint. “Why do you bother standing in front of the mirror?”

“Go away, David.” He’s not a little brother. He’s a video-game villain that keeps coming back no matter how many times you shoot it.

“At least you don’t have to see yourself anymore. We still have to look at you.”

“Out!” I reach for the door and slam it, hoping it hits him but he’s too quick. In the process I drop the mascara brush and hear it hit the floor. Wonderful. Now it’s going to take me even longer, feeling around trying to find it. I don’t dare ask David for help – he’s had way too much fun switching my makeup around and mixing up the colors. On the other hand, at least he doesn’t treat me like fragile china, like my parents have been treating me since the accident.

There’s a knock on the door again but this time it’s softer. “Hey. Need any help?” My mom says, using her calm, dealing-with-my-disabled daughter voice.

“No. I think I’ll the skip the party and go out for a drive.” The accident happened just a week after I got my driver’s license. I’ve only ever officially driven by myself two times. What a gip.

“Camria, I know you’re not happy about us planning this party,” she says. “But your Dad and I – we thought it was the right thing to do. Your sister loved these parties.”

No kidding. Liz always went all-out planning our birthday. Last year we had underwater fireworks in the pool, and everyone at school talked about it for days.

This year, a party just feels wrong. If losing my sight in a freak accident three months ago wasn’t bad enough, I also lost my twin sister in that same accident. Today is my seventeenth birthday. It should have been hers, too.

“Anyway,” Mom continues in a lighter voice, “if you skip out, you’ll miss meeting the new guy. I think he said he was a transfer student.”

Great. A party crasher.

“A new guy? And you let him in? What if he’s one of the Black Suits?

“He isn’t wearing a black suit.”

“You know what I mean.” How can she be an ex-astronaut and astrophysicist and be so clueless? The National Security Agency Suits still visit me once a week, asking me the same pointless questions about the accident. Sometimes they use different guises, trying to act all casual, but I always recognize them by their voices. Sharpened hearing and other senses are my compensation for blindness. Not nearly enough compensation, if you ask me.

“He’s a high school junior,” Mom reassures me. “Your friend Bei asked if she could bring him along. I think you’ll want to meet him.”

“Why?” My mom-is-meddling radar starts beeping in my head. He’s probably got a disability of some sort, too, and she’s thinks we’d make a good match. Kill me now.

“He’s… interesting.”

Huh. A vague disability. “You’re scaring me.”

Actually, I’m scaring myself – the fact I have a party crasher intrigues me.

“Here’s your mascara.” I hear her place it on the shelf next to the sink. “Let me help you with your make-up before all your guests leave.”

“Scram. I don’t need your help.” My occupational therapist spent hours teaching me how to count each touch of the brush to my eyelashes, each stroke of color to my lips. But I still have to conjure up one of my brave-face smiles to reassure my mom. It works. She gives me a hug before she leaves, enveloping me in her professorish white-board-marker smell.

I manage to get my mascara and lipstick on without any more setbacks. Before I leave the bathroom, I press my fingers against the mirror’s smooth surface. I imagine Liz’s hand touching my fingers from the other side, from wherever she’s gone, reaching out to tell me she’s still there. “Time for our party,” I whisper.


As I walk out into the living room, my head buzzes like it always does when I’m in a crowd, my other senses trying to compensate to figure out who the people are. But there’s something different this time, too. In the din of a more than a dozen people, there is a single person who sets off a clear bell in my senses.

That’s never happened before.

Before I can figure out who is in the room, my parents start singing Happy Birthday and the voices join in. Heat rises up my cheeks. I’m not used to being the center of attention; that was Liz’s place.

“Happy birthday, dear Cam….” The song sounds strange without my sister’s name in it, too. At least it helps me pick out everyone’s voices, so now I know who is in the room with me. Alicia’s voice is missing, no surprise. My ex-best friend. The other voices are familiar, a few of my friends from theater and lots of Liz’s friends, the popular crowd. I’m glad they showed up to remember Liz, though they make me uneasy.

There’s another voice that distracts me. I’ve heard his voice before, somewhere, but I can’t place it. He’s the one that set off the bell in my senses. The party crasher.

“Here’s your cake, Cam,” my friend Bei tells me. I smell sulfur and sweetness from birthday candles. I’m going to make a fool of myself, trying to blow out them out. Bei puts her hand on my back and gently directs me toward the cake. “Don’t forget to make a wish.”

Sure, a wish. I’m still waiting on that pony I wished for three years in a row. But before I can censor it, a longing escapes my thoughts: I want my sister and my sight back. Bei turns me slightly, and my senses pick up the faint heat of the candles. And then – for a moment – I see them.

It’s the first thing I’ve seen in three months. Was it my imagination? No, there it is again, a flickering light. This is too weird, especially happening right after a stranger set off a bell in my senses.

“Go ahead, blow ‘em out,” Dad urges me. I’m not worried about missing the candles now, I blow them all out with one breath. Everything is dark again.

Before I have a chance to process this, someone yells, “Everyone outside, check out the pool!”

I recognize Skizz Fulton’s voice, one of Liz’s friends. Everyone stampedes out the back patio door, letting in the cool evening air. Skizz is the unofficial king of school pranks, and an announcement by him is guaranteed to be followed by something shock-worthy. His crowning achievement (so far) was encasing the microphone in the auditorium in a condom right before the principal kicked off last year’s awards assembly.


  1. Margo,

    I really like the opening. It brings the readers right into the room and gets them wondering why Cam is having so many problems.

    The additional info about her brother is great:

    "I don’t dare ask David for help – he’s had way too much fun switching my makeup around and mixing up the colors. On the other hand, at least he doesn’t treat me like fragile china, like my parents have been treating me since the accident."

    You've given another clue to readers. I like how this builds the curiosity.

    This is such a smoother version than the first one. Details about her friends (like Skizz) make a more well-rounded start.

    Lots of improvements here. I'm wondering now if she is going to gain her sight back, or maybe it is all an illusion.

    Nice work throughout the month.

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  3. Ack. Posted the wrong one.

    Love this revision! It is much tighter and flows so well, I forgot I was supposed to critique it. Great voice. Your word usage adds so much to the character’s personality. It makes it very believable. I like how you inserted details about the accident and her therapist that blended in with her internal dialogue and kept the story moving forward. One thought I had was maybe she could also have problems with her makeup because of the occasional tear and she could feel the mascara smear on her face. Her therapist hadn’t taught her how to fix her makeup once it was already on. Maybe that could add to her frustration too. I also like the tension of not knowing who the crasher is and the connection she experiences from his presence. I also like the tension you have added when she is beginning to see the light (so to speak).

    I love the emotion of this piece. The last paragraph of the first segment still chokes me up. I do think you can add a little more. To me, she should be more of an emotional wreck. Her answers to her mom’s questions are too cool for a situation that has taken place barely three months ago. Her voice could be a little raised and she could shoo her mom’s hand away. Maybe be more annoyed that her mom would do this to her. If Liz was the one who survived the accident, would they NOT have a party because Cam wasn’t the partying kind of girl? I would address that point on why her parents are so intent on making this party more her dead sister than for her? A memorial birthday party would be fine if it were only for the dead person, but why would the living person want to celebrate the same birthday? I would clarify that a little. It still irks me that her parents would force her into a situation she is not emotionally ready for. Maybe the whole party could have been Cam’s idea? An unselfish idea on her part because she loved her sister and wanted to remember her on her birthday. That could be part of her character. Just a thought.

    I don’t know where this story is going, but it reeks (in a good way) of intrigue. I would love to read more. Great job.

  4. I love this! I didn't think you could improve any more on it, but you did. :)

    I do think that, somehow, the bit about her putting her hand against the mirror in memory of her sister was more emotional and evocative last week, but everything else in this is tighter and I love that we have been able to see a bit more this time (i.e. her prankster friend).

  5. I agree with what everyone has been saying. I think setting up the party so that she decided to go through with it for her parents, but is now realizing it's too much for her, would be great. Maybe her mom could even address that. "Are you sure this is okay?" And she can say, "Fine, fine." That makes her heroic ("I'll volunteer as tribute!") Likewise trying to fix makeup that has been ruined by a tear--a tear she's trying to hide, perhaps?

    But it's very tight and beautifully written. You got the suits taken care of, too. Go, you!

    It was a pleasure to read this and to work with you.



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