Monday, May 14, 2012

7 1st 5 Pages May Workshop - Hawke Rev 1

Author: Heather Hawke
Genre: MG SF/fantasy

I crouched under the covers so Dad couldn’t see the glow from my cell phone. He’d flip if he caught me awake after midnight. I texted, “Beat game. Blew everything up.”

My phone buzzed with a new message, but it wasn’t from one of my buddies. It read, “Justin. Do not skip this class: Essential Lessons for Frost Dragon Egg Maintenance. All Lab. No Lecture.”

Like I’d want an extra class when I had pre-algebra homework every day and yet another book report due for language studies. Some loser must’ve got my number and this was his idea of a hilarious joke.

But maybe the message was an ad for a new computer game. I checked again. “The screen name of the person who sent it was “Sphinx.” The game sounded like fantasy. Not likely I’d buy it since I preferred hardcore.

I yawned so the corners of my jaw cracked. Maybe I should go to sleep. My dad would peel the covers off me before the sun rose in the morning, even if it was a Saturday. He’d drag me on some hike, or bike ride, or kayak trip. Just once, I wished he’d let me do what I wanted.

I fluffed up the covers so I could see better and tapped in another message, “Can’t make LAN party.” No, instead of bringing my laptop to a friend’s house for an all-nighter, I’d be discovering a whole new world of blisters.

A light flicked on in my room. By reflex, I stuffed my phone under the pillow. I was so busted. Trying to think of an excuse, I pushed aside my plaid camping blanket. But Dad wasn't there.

From the window, electric bright light rippled across my old Chuck Norris poster. The light shaded into pink and then turned burning red.

A noise from outside roared like a freeway at rush hour and then an enormous thump shook the bed. Adrenaline surging through my legs, I ran to the window, threw it open and leaned outside. My mouth fell open. Frozen lightning hung in front of my house, stretching from the lawn up to the roof. Across the narrow street, red haze swirled around a hulking animal the size of a backhoe. It cast about, as if looking for something.

Smoke drifted into my room, making me cough. The animal snapped its head up. It gazed directly at me with golden eyes big as my fist. The pupils thinned to narrow vertical lines.

I jumped back from the window. “Ahhh…” Stumbling further away across the room, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Then my head hit the opposite wall with a thump that made my ears ring. The creature’s gaze pinned me there like a bug.

The door crashed open beside me and Dad charged through. “Justin! There’s a fire!”

I pointed to the monster outside and tried to say something, but my voice was no louder than a gasping goldfish.

Dad didn’t look towards the window, only grabbed the back of my pajamas and hustled me out onto the landing. Mom just stood there, her hands clasped in front of her heart. Dad took her arm and helped her downstairs while I clomped after them.

They headed straight for the front door. That huge animal was out there like a monster from a nightmare. My tongue stumbled over itself. I couldn’t get the words out fast enough. “Wait! Don’t go outside.”

My mom and dad rushed out the front door anyway. I hovered on my toes at the end of the hallway.

But as they stood on the shadowed step, they didn’t scream or recoil. I edged out next to Dad, glad I hadn’t just become an orphan. Beyond, there was no giant beast. The silver thread and red haze were gone too.

How could something that big have gotten away so fast? I craned my neck to look up and down the street. “Did you see a big animal run away?”

Dad’s voice was distracted. “You probably saw a dog. Scared by the fire.”

That was no dog.

Flames exploded from the roof of the small house across the street with a shower of sparks.

I clutched my dad’s sleeve. “Amber is in there!” She used to be my best friend, back when we were little kids. She and her mom lived in that house alone.

Dad took a step forward. “I’m going in after them. Justin, take care of your mother.”

She threw her arms around him. “No! You already called the fire department.”

But what if they didn’t come in time to save Amber and her mom?

Just then, Mrs. Yao ran from behind the burning house, hand-in-hand with Amber. They must’ve escaped out their back door. I didn’t realize how hard my heart had been pounding against my ribs until it slowed.

Crossing to our side of the street, the two stopped and held onto each other. Amber’s bare feet stuck out the bottom of her sweatpants.

I squinted as far as I could see into the darkness for the monster. Maybe it really had been just an animal. It was pretty late and I’d been staring at a computer screen for hours. I jogged down the sidewalk to Amber. Her eyes looked almost black in the reflected firelight. “Are you okay?”

She glanced up at me, opened her mouth, then closed it with a little shake of her head.

Mrs. Yao drew Amber in close under her arm. “It must have been an earthquake.” She chewed her lip as she watched fire engulf their home. “Maybe it broke a gas line.”

But there hadn’t been an earthquake. “Maybe the gas line was hit by….” I trailed off. I couldn’t tell them about a monster. Even a giant animal sounded crazy.

Sirens blared, getting closer.

Amber’s hair, curly like her mother’s but black instead of blond, flew about her face. She leaned into her mom, eyes wide and shocked. “All my things, my clothes, my….”

I remembered her room had been filled with stuffed animals. They even spilled from a hammock strung across the ceiling like fluffy guardian angels.

I tried to sound reassuring. “It’s okay. It’s just stuff.”

She stiffened and cast me a cold look. “Easy for you to say. You’d think differently if it were your precious computer.”

A fire truck and an ambulance rounded the corner, lights strobing. I slunk back to my parents. I’d only been trying to help.

Firefighters attached a hose to a fire hydrant and water gushed through the looping coils. The water made clouds of smoke and steam erupt through the broken windows.

It felt like I’d opened an oven door as I squinted against the heat. Right under my feet, wisps of smoke curled up from our lawn. A wide blackened trail led across the street and to the burning house. It was almost like an arrow pointing from my house to Amber’s.

After a while, Amber’s dad showed up. She threw herself at him and hugged him around the middle. He stood stiff, arms raised. I hadn’t seen him in years. My mom told me he’d gone home to Shanghai, but he was back now.

He pushed Amber away and held her in front of him with his hands on her shoulders. He and her mom looked like they were arguing, but I couldn’t hear over the noise.


  1. Interesting stuff happening here. I like what you've done with this revision. I think the reactions are more believable and it's clearer that this was a strange occurrence that only your MC could see.

    I'm still a little bugged by the text. But I can't pinpoint exactly what it is.

  2. You did a great job with this revision! I definitely felt more settled in Justin's world before it got rocked by the dragon. And excellent way of giving us his name. I wonder about his age. From the "All lab, no lecture" text and his mention of all-nighter laptop parties my impression is that he's at least in high school.

    Justin's reactions are so much more believable now. I can feel his fear and it lent a great tension to the scene. I really wondered, along with him, whether there would still be a dragon in his yard when he went out the door! I'm not sure about the angle that he thinks the dragon could have been just a big animal. If that dragon was house-sized, then there's no possible animal it could have been. I like an earlier suggestion that he thinks since he was playing a computer game about dragons, he tells himself he was just seeing things.

    Amber is more real this time, too. I feel like you have an opportunity when you say "I had just been trying to help" to give us just a little bit more info about why she snaps at him so harshly.

    I'm curious as to why she has blonde hair when her parents are both Asian...

    I think this is a much, much stronger opening. Great work!

    1. OMG - description fail! Amber is mixed race, it's her mother who's the blonde. I sure am glad you pointed that out...

      What do other people think about the LAN party aging Justin too old? MG kids I know do that, but things might be different in my neck of the woods.

    2. Yeah I already thought he was older than last time and the LAN party made that feeling stronger still.

      Awesome pick up on the Asian parents angle - that's some attention to detail!

  3. Hi Heather,

    Nice job! (I didn't read your first posting.) I'm very curious to hear more about the monster so I'd read on.

    I have no idea what a LAN party is but I'm old. I asked my 6th grader and he had no clue (we're from the South).

    I had a reaction when I read "hardcore" but again that may just be my age showing. I always think of another word when I read hardcore.

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks for your comments, Dana. You've got me thinking about using the local jargon. It might be...local. A LAN party is a Local Area Network where a group of people connect up their computers (generally with wi-fi) for a multi-player game - usually a bunch of kids bringing their computers to one home. A lot of parents prefer it to going online since the participants are all known.

      "Hardcore" in local parlance means first person shooter. I, um, get what you're saying though. Reword...this is MG.

  4. Nice revision, only a few things which stuck out. I like the way that you’ve shown the character is a boy a bit more, but I felt like the Chuck Norris poster was overkill. Perhaps if that’d come later in the story it wouldn’t matter, but because I was really getting into the story world, it jarred me to have that pull into the real world.
    When the mother said he had called the fire department it was very telling instead of showing – if she was there to see it she doesn’t need to tell him he did it. Also, my first thought was surely he’d get his son out of the house before calling the fire dept, not after.
    How old is the MC? I got the impression of a lot younger in the last version so I hope that this revision stays true to the character.
    I liked the extra detail throughout, and the added tension right at the end too.


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