Thursday, July 14, 2016

1 Red Light/Green Light: Round Three

Today I have the pleasure of announcing our Red Light/Green Light round three contestants. You've all submitted great work, and no matter the outcome of the competition, I'd like to encourage you all to keep putting your words out there. It's been such fun for myself and our judging agent, Kelly, to get a chance to peek at your opening pages!

Here are the complete first pages of our top ten entries. 

Rachel D. Hanville

The apples’ intoxicating fragrance filled the autumn air, concealing the stench of the undead’s decaying flesh. I sprinted through the orchards, occasionally stepping on a red apple rotting on the ground. Squish. I almost wanted to pick one of the apples off a tree. Apples were one of the few fruits I still got, but I had always adored them. I hardly got to eat them fresh like this. New Seattle wasn’t far from orchards like this one, but it wasn’t like I could go visit them and just get apples. I wouldn’t go on the road with the zombies and road gangs.

I’d only evacuated New Seattle because of the road gang attacks, and I wasn’t even sure this place was safe, even if it had nice apples.

I didn’t have time to pick fruit now. I had to go see my sister Trinity. Because Trinity, her fiancĂ©, and their daughters had been evacuated also, I had seen her more in the last two weeks than I had in years. We would spend hours talking about everything. Our mother, her kids, the dangers on the road, everything. It was just like when we were kids.

Maybe better, because then Trinity had been convinced she was too mature to spend time with any of her siblings, even Aidan, who was only a couple years younger than her.

Still, back then she used to protect me from our father. From everything really.

Usually Trinity’s fiancĂ©, Jeremy, didn’t want her interacting with me or our siblings.

Kyra Palmer

I wish people came with a warning label. Possible side-effects of association include: bad grades, missed curfews, and lying to parental units. Or better, hazard signs. Caution: majoring in narcissism with a minor in manipulation. Personal bubble infiltrator. Heart-breaker for sport.

Except such a courtesy would be asinine and undermine a desirable first impression.

Befriend the lie.

If I ever got around to putting on one I'd admit to, aside from being a horrible liar, I deserved being branded… wait for it… a procrastinator. Guilty of skipping requisite freshman science, I’d been sentenced to the high school equivalent of a CIA black site, with busywork. An electric chair might be cozier. Ninety hours of senior year wasted. Test-out options nonexistent, to graduate I had no choice but to suffer through this class.

The room stunk of formaldehyde and juveniles. No amount of slumping in my chair spared me the humiliation. And not the anonymous, solitary variety either.

Nope, I had to endure the torture with him. In the last row sat Jasper Calvary.

His warning label: Don’t.

He’d entered the room with the air and confidence of a leader, someone who believed himself to be in charge and was not to be messed with. A strong angular jaw and well-defined cheekbones replaced the boyish face that haunted my childhood. The dark brown-almost-black hair and striking eyes remained unchanged. A shot of concentrated Caribbean blue I wished I could bottle and keep with me.

Kelly Barina

As I hurried down the castle’s vast stone corridor to meet my half-brother for the first time, his name echoed around me, whispered like a curse: Mordred.

Likely no one else in Camelot shared my outlook, but that did not matter; his haunted name brought me no fear. Finally. Finally. I had a brother. Family. Surely he would not shun me as the others had. Surely he would understand what it meant to be an outcast in one’s own family. All other thoughts were whispers on the breeze compared to this resounding truth—I had to meet him, had to know him. 

I approached the vaulted doorway of the Great Hall. Straightening, I walked toward the raised dais, careful to keep my pace steady, though my legs urged me forward. A prince must always be calm and collected. My muscles strained, but I reined in my eagerness. The dais seemed so far away. 

Knights and soldiers filled the hall as I passed. Most paid me no heed, too absorbed in poisonous gossip.

“How is that bastard still alive?” one said, wringing his hands.

“Vermin never did die easy,” an armored knight said with a sneer.

I bit my tongue, not for the first time this day. The hall had witnessed many such words since the news of Mordred’s arrival. All over an unfounded—and unreliable—prophecy made decades ago. My steps clipped the stones, leaving the boorish speakers behind. How did they dare to speak thus?

Lindsey Myhr

Catia de Rose sat on a bench in her front garden, picking at a loose thread that was threatening to unravel the lace cuff on her left sleeve. As hard as she tried, she was never perfectly put together. Her governess always knew exactly where to find something amiss with her appearance. Madame Elyse had pointed out the grass stain on her pinafore when Catia was seven years old, the first time they’d met. Even now, ten years later, if her curls weren’t perfectly tucked away or her dress hadn’t been ironed, she was going to hear about it. 

Footsteps clicked on the cobblestone lane before the stern-faced governess turned into the garden, followed by Catia’s best friend, Adele Lockwood. With a flick of her wrist, Catia snapped the dangling thread from the lace and clapped her hand over it. “Good morning, ma’am,” she said, standing to greet Madame Elyse. 

The governess looked at her sleeve. “Is something wrong with your dress, Catia?”

“No, ma’am, nothing at all,” she said, tucking her hand behind her and hoping with everything that the cuff wasn’t going to start flapping as they walked to the schoolhouse.

She waited for the reprimand, but Madame Elyse just shook her head. “Let’s hurry to knitting class. There was some commotion in the Square when I came to retrieve you two. I hope it won’t disrupt our walk.”

Catia grabbed her satchel from her feet and fell behind the governess to walk next to Adele. She shut the white garden gate as they left.

Amber Duell

The musky hint of smoke follows me through the ruined Kisken city, over twisted metal and jutting pipes. The once-bustling tourist destination is hard to navigate without moonlight but there isn’t time to be careful. Not tonight. The handle of a sledgehammer digs into my shoulder as I find the edge of town and follow a line of olive trees toward the cracked highway.

With a deep breath, cold ocean air fills my lungs. War is captivating, magnetic disorder. And it’s mine. Only the God of War can decide when and how it ends, and right now I’m perfectly happy to let it rage on despite what my brother wants. He may be older, and the King of the Gods, but this is my decision.


My muscles tighten at the sound of my sister’s voice – especially this sister – but I don’t break my stride. “What are you doing here, Astra?”

She catches up to me in steel grey fatigues, her honey hair braided and tucked under a black beret. A round, blue pin with a red triangle at its center is stuck through the stiff wool. “Working.”

“Right.” I raise an eyebrow and scan the uniform. It suits her, despite her small frame, but is nothing the Goddess of Love would ever think of wearing. Not with pride, anyway. “When did you enlist in the Asgyan army?”

She tugs at the wide buttoned cuffs and crinkles her nose. “Most of the men and women deployed on this forsaken island have families waiting at home.”

Patricia Moussatche

Only Uncle Hector would hang a man then go fishing.

The giant jatoba tree, where the noose is set, shades the corpse but doesn’t protect it from the heat. Winter is more merciful than our hellish summer, but only slightly. Noon is fast approaching, and the stench of emptied bowels permeates the village like early morning fog. I press an arm over my nose and quicken my pace to the bakery ahead. At least there is some advantage to being forced to wear long sleeves in warm weather.

Vultures circle the cloudless sky above the tree, but not even they dare to defy Uncle Hector. Why does Aryeea insist I fetch flour? I glance over my shoulder at the fortress’s four-story tower spiked on the Igjommi Hill. The fluttering white cloth, billowing like a sail in the valley breeze, can only be her skirt. My grandmother on the balcony, watching me as if I’d go anywhere other than where she sends me.

I enter the bakery and shut the door behind me. The warm scent of dough overwhelms the heat. Steps approach from an inside room, and the baker’s rosy face beams at me as he ambles through the doorway.

“Lady Sophia.” He wipes his hands on his tunic. “What do you like today?”

I’d like someone to cut down that man and bury him before he rots. But if I voice the request, the baker will feel obliged to carry out the order. No need to tempt another hanging.

Nicholas Kelly

The Echelon hovercrafts arrived right on schedule, roaring down the green valley of Ceirk the day after the harvest, just as they had done the year before and the years before that. Maybe that was why Jane’s brother and sister didn’t seem scared. There was no reason to be scared. This was normal. Nothing was going to happen. But if something did happen…

“Just talk to them,” Kyna, her mother, said. “Let them hear your voice. Tell them a story. Tell them about the stars.”

Jane’s eyes drifted to the silver bracelet on her mother’s wrist, the one that had been passed from mother to daughter for generations, the one with the symbols of the stars. No one on the planet Enisfre had seen the real stars for 500 Echelon Accorded Years. Most people didn’t even believe the stars were real. Jane Mayul wasn’t one of those people.

“You think they’ll listen to me tell that story for the hundredth time?” Jane asked.

“Carra will,” her mother replied. “Finn on the other hand… Just keep them distracted. Stay outside the village. Keep to the fields.”

“Do you think something’s going to happen?” Jane tried not to sound too worried. She was 17 accordeds old, and she’d decided that she was too old to be scared. Or at least, too old for others to know she was scared.

Kyna smiled and said, “It’ll be fine. It always is. You just can’t be too careful.” 

S.Q. Eries

A model Spartan princess was a champion in the battleground known as the social arena. Dignity was her armor, wit her blade. She could win allies with a glance, thwart rivals with a word. And she never ever embarrassed herself in public.

I was not that princess.

My ears burned as my sister pressed that point within the storeroom's thick brick walls. "Gods, Cynisca! How could you not remember Lord Polycles' wife?"

"I said I was sorry." In retrospect, I probably should've known better than to assume the pretty young woman accompanying the graying Assembly Leader to the town square was his daughter. Hoping to cast my mistake in a positive light, I said, "Maybe his wife was flattered–"

Proauga's fist slammed a shelf, rattling the clay lamps within. "Maybe you should have thought harder before opening your mouth. Considering how often you race against Polycles' son, you should know the man doesn't have any daughters."

"We don't exactly chat while harnessing the horses," I mumbled beneath my breath.

Proauga inhaled deeply, regaining composure with an effort. Her anger was far from spent, but with 
Agis returning from Delphi in two days, she had more important things to do. "Anyway, try not to insult anyone else. And fix your hair." She snatched the hairpin from my drooping knot and tossed it at me. "You're the king's half-sister. Look like it."

Easy for you to say. Envy wormed up as Proauga sashayed out. With Mother's golden beauty and our father's height, she was the darling of the upper echelon. 

Michelle Collins

Bearing the collective memory of an entire village is a burden meant only for a person of great strength and power. As my little sister perform the Gathering ritual, I know it is right that Mama chose her to be the next Water Bearer instead of me. My energia has not developed as Nyree's has. Her young shoulders carry much weight, yet as she dances among the damp tendrils of mist she appears to be as light as air itself.

She raises her arms above her head, grasping at the mist as it curls between her fingers, smiling at whatever memory she just captured. I wish the memories I catch could bring me such rapturous joy as hers. 

Nyree recites the incantation, spinning and swaying her body as the mist collects on her shoulders, midriff, and long gangly legs. Her face contorts from joy into something less pleasant. Because she is Ja, she has felt far more grief and suffering than someone of twelve years should. I ache for her.

I slip out of my huipil, exposing as much of my skin as modesty allows, then lift my arms above my head praying to snatch something real from the mist.

A stray thought of a margay slinking in the trees, gingerly carrying an egg in its mouth appears in my mind. My fist closes over the mist as I clutch at the memory trying squeeze as much out of it as I can before it fades.

Useless. Wasted energia on a pointless memory. 

Shannon Thompson

I wasn’t afraid of nightmares, because the real nightmares were people. Folks like Will’s father or my old neighbor or the person who cut Paige’s face. But this nightmare looked real, like they all do.

Every line of her body was solid, down to the unusually deep curve between her jutting ribcage and her hips. When she moved up my bed, her bones cracked, and when I moved back against my headboard, she crawled halfway up my torso. Nose-to-nose, she smelled like rain, and water dripped off her hair onto my sternum. This woman had horns. Three horns as black as night and as difficult to decipher from the shadows as her inky, stringy hair.

I told myself what I always told myself, what my mother told me, what my doctor promised me, what my father used to say.

She was not real.

But she grinned when our eyes met, and I couldn’t help it. I screamed.

My mother burst into my bedroom on cue, as if she’d been anticipating another one of my midnight episodes, and as much as I wanted to tell her that I was fine now—that I understood my diagnosis—I secretly loved what happened every time she came. The hypnopompic hallucination disappeared, a side effect of my narcolepsy. A reoccurring, paralyzing side effect. They happened between sleep and wakefulness, and lasted anywhere from a few seconds to a minute.

In public, I referred to them as nightmares, because people tended to shy away from anyone who had hallucinations, but they were nothing like nightmares.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading these! What delightful talent. Congrats to everyone!!


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