Monday, August 27, 2012

5 1st 5 Pages August Workshop - Rev 3 - Pruitt-Goddard

Author: Candyce Pruitt-Goddard
Genre: YA Dystopian
Title: Desiderium

If I had a dollar for every time I found myself wishing for more time, I might only have to work two jobs. Maybe then I'd actually have time for a life. But I can't want more time. I can't want anything. Not if I don't want to end up in jail.

The light on my bracelet is already flashing yellow. My gaze fixates on the steel band clinging to my wrist and I have to remind myself to take a deep breath. I strategically place my jacket over the bracelet to conceal the yellow light.

“Hey, Rhiley.” Across the hall a girl from the high school smiles and waves.

I force a cheery reply and carefully study her face which reveals no cognizance of what just happened. I keep the smile plastered to my face until she’s out of sight and quicken my pace. When I'm within a few steps of the classroom I sneak a peek at my wrist and heave a sigh of relief when I find no sign of the desire I almost let myself feel.

I scurry through the door and slide into an empty seat in the back. Without looking at the clock, I pull out my textbook to cram in a few extra seconds of studying. Calculus is the one class I don’t usually need to spend a lot of time studying for, which is a lifesaver considering that I’m always up until three o’clock in the morning finishing all of my homework anyway. Before I have a chance to become fully engrossed in my notes, the professor interrupts my thoughts.

“Good morning, class. Please put everything under your desks except for a pencil. For those of you who have just been added to the class, you will not be required to take the quiz but you will be responsible for the material. For everyone else, you have exactly ten minutes.”

The students at the university are always adding and dropping courses in the first couple weeks of the quarter, but I always hold out hope that I’ll see somebody from the high school. There are at least a handful of us who take advantage of the Running Start program that lets high school students take college classes for free, and having someone I know in at least one of my classes makes coming here every day a little less monotonous.

I scour the room for a familiar face and am about to give up hope when a student a couple of seats to my right catches my attention. He brushes his curly amber hair out of his face to reveal startlingly deep blue eyes. He doesn’t look much older than me, but I haven’t seen him around the high school before. I definitely would have remembered him.

His eyes catch mine and all of my blood pools in my cheeks. He raises his eyebrows, adding a sense of mystery to his subtle smile, and time seems to slow down around us. I slowly come back to my senses and chase away the silly thought. My lip twitches into a smile and I convince myself to look away just in time for someone to jab me in the shoulder and shove the stack of quizzes in my face. I slide one off the top and notice the new student doing the same. My pencil glides across the paper until all of the questions are answered. With two minutes to spare, I flip my paper over and lay my pencil on the desk. Everybody else is still scribbling away at their quizzes. Except the new student who didn’t even have to take the quiz.

He glances at the clock and his face softens. I tuck my unruly curls behind my ear and smooth the wrinkles from my shirt. His eyes meet mine and I can’t help but wonder if he sees the same green-eyed blond with tiny ears that I see when I look in the mirror. A few seconds of letting my thoughts drift is all it takes to lose control. His gaze shifts to my wrist and a suppressed smile works its way onto his face.

My bracelet blinks an annoying shade of yellow.

As soon as I realize what I’m doing, I fight to regain control of my thoughts. I force my hands into my lap where they're safely out of sight. Desperate for a distraction, I count the holes in the ceiling tiles. I only have a few seconds to squash the desire before the excess dopamine in my bloodstream turns the bracelet red. Once it’s red, it’ll only be a matter of minutes before the officials show up to arrest me. I know they’re just trying to protect us from the Desiderium, but with everything I have going on in my life, that’s the last thing I need.

I can’t wait for the day when I’m old enough to not even be tempted by desire. I won’t have to worry so much about setting off the red light on my bracelet or letting the words want and desire slip out of my mouth. For now though, I just have to deal with it.

My head whips around as the door slams open behind me. Two police officers barge into the room trailing an official in a green uniform. The official passes the professor a respectful nod.

My heart races. My leg jiggles beneath the desk. With as much subtlety as I can manage, I glance down at my wrist. Relief floods through me when I’m unable to find the light. If it had turned red, it would still be red, even if the excess dopamine was no longer in my bloodstream.

“Samantha Jones,” the official’s voice booms.

Searching glances find a girl in the front row. She moves her hand to cover her wrist, but the red glow is unmistakable.

"Yes," she stutters.

The police officer slides out a pair of handcuffs.

“The levels of dopamine in your bloodstream have exceeded the legal limit established in the Desiderium Security Act of 2002. Please come with us.”

“No, you don’t understand,” her voice shakes.

The officer crosses the room in ground-eating strides. He grabs her by the collar of her jacket and yanks her to her feet. Her pleading is met with averted eyes. Panic transforms into desperation.

Before anyone can react, she smashes her elbow into the police officer’s nose. His head snaps back and blood droplets spatter the wall. With a shove, the stunned police officer crashes into the desk and falls to the ground. She bolts to the door. The second police officer lunges after her, but slips on a spilled backpack. The official watches, his face expressionless. As she attempts to push by him, he shoves a black object against her side.

Her body convulses and she tumbles to the ground. The official slides the object back into his pocket and motions for one of the police officers to cuff her. As the cuffs snap onto her wrist, the officer jerks her up off the ground and a tear streams down her cheek.

“Sorry for the interruption,” the official passes another nod to the professor and everyone watches them lead her out of the room.

The professor nods in return. “Back to work everyone.”


  1. Very picky and it doesn’t spoil the flow, it’s just a logic slip – you want to have someone you know in your class ... you hope that you will see someone from high school ... and later you scour the room for a familiar face ... but you only forced a cheery smile to the girl from high school who waved, a few lines earlier. I know the searching for a friendly face is there for you to see the boy and the forced smile is to show the embarrassment/shame of having an amber light. (I might have thought that the problem of amber lights would have been common and shared.) Perhaps for consistency it should be a greeting from a lecturer she knows. She would be more likely to want a lecturer not to see the light. (A very minor point.)
    You have 8 buts (does that make you an octopus). It’s not a problem but we all have writing habits – we use the same phrase, form of sentence construction etc. You might want to check if this is a favourite conjunction of yours that might not always be used to best effect.
    It’s an intriguing opening that makes me want to know more about the Desiderium.

    1. Thanks, Tim. The person she meets in the hallway is a student from the high school who is in the same building, but not in the same class. If this causes confusion for others I can change it to a professor. I'll work on the buts.

    2. It's very minor - no real need to change.

  2. Almost there, I think. Excellent job. I do miss the gossip about the Desiderium a little bit. Don't hit me. Perhaps just take another look at what you could do to make the issue of who the Desiderium is and who killed him/her -- the Canada issue -- a little clearer. You've definitely reduced the "love across the room" feel, but for me, it is still a bit too strong. Maybe just boil it down to the cute new guy is staring at her, she assumes there's something wrong -- etc, without giving away her interest? I'm only bringing this up because the "instant attraction" effect is a cliche, and you have to find a way to twist the cliche to make it fresh. Note I'm not advocating that you take it out completely -- just twist it. It's a cliche because readers like it and we only need a fresh way to see it.

    Good luck with this! :)


    1. Thanks for the input. I've decided to go with a slower reveal for the Desiderium. Having written and re-written both possibilities, the manuscript feels stronger with the slower reveal. And I couldn't quite shake the feeling that too much was happening in the first five with the rumors in there.

      Thanks again for all your help!


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