Alternative openings to “Ready-Made Grave”

angel-court_horizontalAt our most recent Ekphrasis meeting, Richard shared what he has been learning from a book called Hooked: Write Fiction That Grabs Readers at Page One & Never Lets Them Go.

The main premise was to write an opening sentence that introduces the story-worthy problem that the book will deal with, to create tension already in those first few words, and to set up the ideas that will be important throughout the book. So then we read part of the first chapter of my novel-in-progress Ready-Made Grave. And here’s what I had for the first paragraph:

It was a bright and shiny day. There was a soft crunch: a bird’s nest fell on the gravel inside the tall gates. Vera cocked her head, sending her hair in a waterfall over one shoulder. Shadows curled and crooked all over her poised figure. The shade of one spike touched the naked hatchlings, whose beaks hinged wide, panting. Vera gazed at the chicks, then turned away. Her silver dress was still; a violin at her feet was quiet in its case. She turned her cool glance down the street.

So, I still like that opening, because it sets up most of the important themes of the novel. And the first sentence is, as maybe you gathered, a joke: the opposite of the infamous It was a dark and stormy night. But not everybody present at the meeting got the joke, which meant that to them, that first sentence was really lame. I’m not willing to take the risk that upwards of 50% of potential readers will find my first sentence boring. Therefore, I am toying with new first sentence options, and I would like your opinion on them. Each of them would, of course, lead to a new whole first paragraph. I’ve got a few priorities with this first sentence. I want to:
woodlawnwinter_36– set the stage, physically (outside the tall gates of a cemetery) and emotionally (there’s a stark contrast between the beautiful day and gorgeous setting
vs. the dark turmoil of the characters’ psyches and the fact that the beautiful place is FULL OF DEAD BODIES).
– The opening is supposed to be a genre cue hinting: Murder Mystery!
– focus on place, not people. So I don’t really like the options that name or even mention Vera too early, because (1) she’s not the main character and (
2) it’s really not about people yet; it’s about place and (3) the cemetery is the main character.

Here, then, are the options. Please leave a comment telling me which ones, or which parts of which ones, you like best!

  1. The tall gates were the only way in, and the only way out.
  1. The cemetery’s tall gates were the only way in and the only way out.
  1. On top of the tall gates, an angel thrust his first into the air, nearly overbalancing.
  1. A stone angel poised on top of the tall gates, his fist thrust into the air, his massive bulk teetering over the quiet girl who stood in his shadow below.
  1. Into the glorious summer sun, there fell a soft crunch: a bird’s nest had fallen on the gravel inside the tall gates.
  1. The naked baby birds lay dying in the sunlight.
  1. The naked baby birds lay dying. Sun and shade clashed together over their nest, their grave.
  1. A quiet girl stood in the shadow of the tall gates, watching a nest of baby birds dying in the sunlight.
  1. As Vera stood motionless in the shadow of the tall gates, there was a soft crunch: a bird’s nest fell on the gravel beside her.
  1. As Vera stood motionless in the morning sunlight, there was a soft crunch: a bird’s nest had fallen from the first of the stone angel far above, teetering on top of the tall gates.

3DNC lessons/CHRYSALIS update

Sharon’s #3DNC thoughts.

The Late Bloomer

Almost a month has passed since I participated in my third unofficial 3 Day Novel Contest. This is rather late, most of my other friends have already written their 3DNC reflections, but the delay has given me time to think not only about my experience from this year but what I’ve learned about myself over the past three years.

Writing In the zone at the Coffee Pot. 2015

First a brief recap: My weekend got disrupted with the passing of a dear friend and a wedding reception for another dear friend. Instead of having seventy-two hours to dedicate to writing the first draft of my play and start writing my next novel I ended up with about thirty-six hours. Considering the lack of time and the deep emotions that were stirred by attending my third funeral in a year’s time I accomplished a great deal. I got the first draft of…

View original post 1,045 more words

Creative Writing Contest! Submit and Vote!

Power of WordsNote: please check the updated official page, http://mythgard.org/writing-contest/, because some of the details of registration have changed since I wrote this blog post — and here is more info: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMEQZdyUvfk.

Dear Creative Writers and lovers of fantasy, mystery, and speculative fiction! I am happy to announce Signum University’s “Almost an Inkling” Creative Writing Contest!! This contest is running concurrently with a fundraiser for the University’s Annual Fund: your entry fee will help to support creative, accessible higher education (you are encouraged to give a larger donation when you submit). Register for the Signum University fundraiser kickoff, tonight! There, you’ll hear about the Creative Writing Contest and other great events.

Are you a writer?
Many readers of classic literature, fantasy, and speculative fiction find that writing is contagious: they want to write like their favorite authors! If this desire is burning in you, here is your outlet: Signum University’s first creative writing contest! Pick up your pen, pencil, laptop, stylus, quill, parchment, or papyrus, and write like J.R.R. Tolkien—but in a hobbit-sized story.

Flash Fiction
Cotton_Harlequin_BugsThis contest calls for submissions of TINY original works. We are looking for creative, imaginative, wild, well-crafted pieces of what William Nelles calls “microfiction,” “flash fiction,” “sudden fiction,” “minute stories,” “short-shorts,” or what Luisa Valenzuela calls “iridescent insects.” These miniature works of fiction showcase writers’ skills in a microcosm, calling for deft handling of character, plot, action, and description in a bite-sized space—or the surface area of a smartphone screen.

How it works:
Each week for six weeks (beginning on #HobbitDay, Bilbo’s birthday), new prompts will be posted, calling for minuscule stories on a variety of exciting topics. Tune in each Sunday as new guidelines are released for that week, then get writing! There will be doors, dragons, knights, time travel, spells, and sonnets.

THE RULES

  • Everyone is invited to submit entries to this contest! You do NOT need to be associated with Signum University or the Mythgard Institute to send in your work.
  • The public is invited to vote on their favorite entries! Each week, you will be given a link where you can go and click “like” on all the best works.
  • All submissions must be the original work of the author, previously unpublished anywhere else (including on a personal blog or other web space), and not under consideration for publication anywhere else.
  • This is not a place for fan fiction! All characters, names, specific fictional settings, and other unique story elements must be original and not lifted from any known work of literature. We are also not looking for anything that could be construed as pornography, libel, or hate speech.
  • Please follow each week’s prompts and length requirements carefully. Failure to follow these specifications will result in the failure of an entry to be considered for a prize. There will be no refunds of fees for entries submitted in error.
  • The entry fee is eleventy-one cents ($1.11) for each submission. Please fill out this Week 1 Registration first, then you will be given a registration code and a link to a submission form where you can send us your entries.
  • Contestants may submit multiple entries to any prompt and to any week in any combination.

What Winners Want:
There will be one winner and two runners-up in two categories of winners chosen from each week: one by popular vote, one by the literary judges. This means you have thirty-six chances to win—plus you and all your friends can vote on your popular favorites! Winners will be published in a special-edition ebook by Oloris Press and will receive an opportunity to read their work aloud during a webinar at the end of the contest. The judges are Prof. Sørina Higgins, Chair of the Literature and Language Department at Signum University, and Robyn Stone, Director of Poetry at Oloris Pubishing.

Signum University’s Annual Fundraiser
This creative writing contest is part of Signum’s fundraising campaign, going from Hobbit Day (Sep 22) through Halloween (Oct 31). We will be hosting special events, prize drawings and contests.

The fundraiser kicks off on Hobbit Day, Tuesday September 22, with a Tolkien Trivia Challenge and a presentation of the fundraiser goals and schedule by Corey Olsen, Signum president. Join us live! Reserve your seat for Tuesday September 22, 9:30 pm Eastern time. Sharpen your knowledge of Middle-earth and join us to vie for prizes—Amazon gift cards of $10, $20 and $30 for the third to first challenge winners.

SignumBadge_300x90

A 3 Day Novel Contest Post-mortem: Thoughts After my 7th 3DNC

Here is a detailed blog post about #3DNC from a very experienced participant. Enjoy!

A Pilgrim in Narnia

3dnc survivalFor the 7th consecutive year I have been a contestant in the International 3-Day Novel Writing Contest. This is literally the exercise of writing a full novel in 72 hours. No extensions, no extra time, no time outs. This is 3 days of pounding out the story that’s been in your imagination begging to get out.

This year I wrote a Middle Grade novel, a humorous story about an alien race that seeks to conquer Earth to steal our refrigeration technology so they can make banana splits. When they get to Earth, they slowly realize that they are actually very tiny—just three or four inches tall. Conquering Earth is going to be harder than they thought. Based on a facebook survey, I have named the book, Pants are Evil, and Other Lessons from Outer Space.

3DNC 2015: By the Numbers

Here is what 2015 looked like:

  • 17 chapters (plus…

View original post 2,890 more words

Sharon’s #3DNC: Scene 1

Sharon wrote an entire play over the Three-Day Novel weekend! Here is scene one of Love’s Labours Happily Ever After

 

ACT [1]

SCENE [1]

(The field surrounding PRINCE KIT’S castle. The entrance to the castle is UR. PRINCE KIT is preset gripping a glass slipper. PHILIP and EUGENE enter dejectedly. PHILIP is helping the blind EUGENE, who is holding a long braid of golden hair. They take a few steps, unbeknownst to KIT, and EUGENE’s feet gets tangled in the hair, causing him to trip and fall to the ground. The noise gets the attention of KIT.)

PHILIP:

(helping EUGENE stand)

Are you alright?

EUGENE:

Fine, fine. Who’d have known something so pretty could get you so tangled up? Must be why people tell you to stay out of their hair.

PHILIP:

I wish you’d let me carry it for you.

EUGENE:

No. No, thank you. I can manage, but maybe we should wrap it round like a scarf or something.

KIT:

Welcome, travelers. Where do you come from?

EUGENE:

Who’s that?

PHILIP:

Prince Kit if I’m not mistaken. It’s an honor to meet you, Your Highness. I am Prince Philip, son of King Hubert.

EUGENE:

Eugene.

KIT:

You look worn and weary. What brings you to my kingdom?

EUGENE:

Philip.

PHILIP:

We seek refuge, Your Highness. Strange things are happening in our lands, and we both have suffered great loss. The entire castle of my betrothed has been put under an enchanted sleep. Rumor has it that she has hired an evil fairy to cast the sleeping spell so that she would avoid marrying me. I met Eugene as I tried to search for her. He was stumbling in the forest from a newfound blindness that had been inflicted upon him for pursuit of the woman who once bore the weight of that hair.

KIT:

Why do you not go to the land of your father?

PHILIP:

He too is under the spell.

(PRINCE FERDINAND enters carrying an apple with one bite taken out of it.)

FERDINAND:

Well met, gentle friends! It is beyond hope, but is there any chance that you know the whereabouts, the most glorious whereabouts, of my true love whose beauty is beyond compare? Lips red as the rose. Hair black as ebony. Skin white as snow.

PHLIP:

What is her name, sir?

FERDINAND: (pause)

In truth I don’t know. I was so caught up in the life changing moment of meeting her, that I didn’t ask her name.

EUGENE:

But she’s your true love?

FERDINAND:

The moment I saw her one love possessed me, thrilling me, and now my heart keeps singing of my one love, constant and true, only of her.

EUGENE:

How come you don’t know where she is if your love is so constant?

FERDINAND:

(holding up the apple)

Do you see this?

EUGENE:

No.

PHILIP:

It’s an apple, with a bite taken out of it.

FERDINAND:

Yes. A dreadful, fateful bite has taken my love from me. After our hearts joined across the stone courtyard, she disappeared. I’ve been in search for her ever since. Finally, I heard of a woman with lips red as the rose, hair as black as ebony, and skin white as snow that was enshrined in a coffin wrought by skilled dwarves, waiting for a prince to break an evil spell cast upon her. A long journey lay ahead of me, but I was spurred on by the hope that she – my true love – was waiting for me to free her.

EUGENE:

Let me guess, she wasn’t waiting for you.

FERDINAND:

Alas, no. When I arrived the Dwarves told me that she and the coffin had disappeared. The only thing they had left was this apple, the cause of her demise.

KIT:

It was a ruse. A ruse to wound you and leave you alone.

FERDINAND:

A ruse? Who are you to say such slander against my true love?

KIT:

Prince Philip has a tale of a woman going to desperate tactics to prevent wooing. I too could tell my own tale of feminine jilting, and I imagine this man has a similar story –

EUGENE: (interrupting)

Women don’t jilt me. They can’t resist the smolder.

KIT:

It is clear to me that we have been dealt cruel blows under the guise of damsels in distresses. Fate has brought the four of us together to give us an opportunity to learn from our weak-hearted ways. Together, let us forgo the profitless war of love and make war over our passions and desires.

FERDINAND:

A noble quest perhaps?

KIT:

We will devote three years to live in the living art of contemplation.

PHILIP:

But what if the maidens are in fact damsels in distress? Doesn’t it seem strange to you that all the women we have sought after have been unexplainably taken from us.

KIT:

There is nothing unexplainable about a woman running away from you, leaving nothing behind but a glass slipper to haunt you. No, friends. There is no magic involved to explain away the answer.

PHILIP:

And King Stephan’s castle? It may be true that the Princess Aurora herself used magic to keep me away, but what about my father and the other innocents trapped behind the wall of thorns? Do we leave them to their fate?

KIT:

Make this pact with me and I swear we will find a way to free them. Finding a way to overcome the thorns will be a part of our study.

FERDINAND:

I have yet to go on a true quest with companions of valor. I swear to follow you…

KIT:

His Royal Highness, Prince Christoph Henry Edward the 4th. You may call me Prince Kit.

FERDINAND:

I swear to follow you Prince Kit. Till death.

EUGENE:

Three years of contemplation and study isn’t likely to involve dying.

PHILIP:

If you promise to help me free my father from the spell, I’ll give you my oath.

KIT:

(to Eugene)

And you sir?

EUGENE:

Why not?

KIT:

There will be strict rules. No pursuit of romance, no seeing of women, fasting once a week, and little sleep so that we can dedicate ourselves completely to remaking ourselves.

EUGENE:

I hope you mean we’ll be feasting once a week.

FERDINAND:

No, indeed. There is no growth of gallantry without attacking the vice of gluttony.

PHILIP:

It does seem a bit hard. What is the end of this stringent study? Fasting won’t break a spell, will it?

KIT:

To know which else we should not know if we did not study. To be our own masters, free from the torments of women.

EUGENE:

Well then, I swear to study to know the thing I am forbid to know; such as food, sleep, and the torments of women.

FERDINAND:

Will you take back your word? You swore against these things. Have you no sense of honor?

EUGENE:

The way I see it, I swore to three years of contemplation, Kit the 4th here added all the other things afterwards, so I didn’t give my word to any of it.

KIT:

Women, food, and sleep hinder study.

EUGENE:

You need to not put all your arrow in one quiver. Are you really going to give up on love because one woman lost her nerve and a shoe?

KIT:

I won’t be made a fool again. She left me at the ball where I was to choose my bride, the clumsy thief who could not steal a woman’s heart but instead was robbed of his own heart. She left this glass slipper on the steps of my palace as a hope that I would be able to find her again, but the search proved to be a torment.

EUGENE:

Isn’t that a bit dramatic?

PHILIP:

And harsh.

FERDINAND:

Whatever it is, it was beautifully said.

PHILIP:

If you are so intent on forsaking women, why do you keep the slipper with you?

KIT:

To remind myself of the pain that I can avoid by focusing on to pursuit of knowledge rather than the pursuit of love.

EUGENE:

Mind if I hold it? I’ve never heard of a shoe made out of glass before. It’s beyond me how anyone can wear that and not get shards of glass stuck in their foot. I’d like to feel it if you don’t mind.

(KIT hands him the slipper. EUGENE slowly runs his fingers around it.)

Amazing. Not a single sharp edge. This etched design is very intricate.

(He rubs the sides several times trying to get a sense of what the design is)

It feels like… A sword… Maybe?

(There is a poof and a flashing of light. The FAIRY GODMOTHER enters and plops to the ground to sit.)

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

Fairy dust! Give me a moment for my head to stop spinning, then I’ll help you. Right now there are four of you. Best wait until I only see one.

PHILIP:

But Madam, there are four of us.

EUGENE: (whispering)

Who’s there?

PHILIP: (whispering)

A fairy.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

Oh. In that case.

(she stands and brushes herself off. When she catches sight of the glass slipper she snatches it out of EUGENE’S hands.)

Where did you get this?

EUGENE:

From Kit the 4th.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

And where is this Kit that I may inquire of him?

KIT:

I am Prince Kit. Tell me who you are and how you came to be in my kingdom.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

I am a Fairy Godmother and was brought here by the rubbing of this glass slipper, which I demand you explain your possession of it.

KIT:

Do you know the woman who wore this slipper?

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

Know her? I gave her that slipper to attend your ball. What have you done to her?

KIT:

Nothing, besides dance with her. Barely ten minutes had passed before she ran away. This is all she left behind.

EUGENE:

That and his broken heart.

KIT:

I would you were mute instead of blind.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

You must have done something to frighten her off.

KIT:

Nothing, I swear.

PHILIP:

Perhaps you can help us, Madam. We’ve all been separated from our true love.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

Where are they?

 

PHILIP:

We lost them.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

Lost them?

PHILIP:

We’ve lost our true loves.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

Women don’t vanish into thin air.

PHILIP:

But ours have. We each of us have searched for his true love, but all we have left are these trinkets of remembrance.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

A slipper, a bitten apple, and long rope of hair. What is your trinket, sir?

PHILIP:

A walk, once upon a dream.

FAIRY GODMOTHER: (sighing)

 

Let me see the apple.

(FERDINAND hands over the apple to her, and she examines it closely.)

FERDINAND:

Hold it gently, I pray you. It is a precious reminder of her whose lips are red as the rose, hair as black as ebony, skin –

EUGENE:

We know, we know. Snow white.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

This apple is poisoned.

(going over to EUGENE and examining his eyes.)

And your blindness is not natural. At least that can be easily fixed.

(She waves her wand in front of his eyes)

EUGENE:

(Catching sight of KIT first)

You look as pretentious as I imagined.

PHILIP:

A long time ago, an evil fairy roamed the lands of King Stepen named Malificent. She hasn’t been heard from for sixteen years, but I could believe she is behind these strange happenings.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

That is a name I hoped to never hear again.

(Beat)

Well, come along then. Let’s go find your lady loves.

KIT:

But our vow.

EUGENE:

Your vow.

FERDINAND:

We all vowed.

PHILIP:

Surely our vow to chivalry negates a misinformed vow taken in haste.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

What vow?

KIT:

To forsake the company of women for three years.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

Fairy dust. What prompted you to that foolishness?

KIT:

I thought we had been jilted. Perhaps I was mistaken, but a vow is still a vow.

FERDINAND:

There may be a way to fulfill both our vows. If our illustrious Fairy Godmother will bring the maidens to us, we can protect them here in your field without needing to interact with them. Thus, being both chivalrous and free to focus on study.

PHILIP:

What do you say milord?

EUGENE:

I say it will never work.

KIT:

Very well. Bring the maidens here if they are willing, and we will protect them if they are indeed damsels-in-distress.

FAIRY GODMOTHER:

I’ll see what I can do. If I was them, I wouldn’t want to be protected by men foolish enough to forswear love. (She exits)

EUGENE:

I’m telling you, once the women arrive our vow will be forgotten.

FERDINAND:

I will elicit the help of the Seven Dwarves to keep guard over them! (Exits)

BLACKOUT.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapters 1 & 2 of “Demae’s Story” by Betsy Gahman

Chapter One

Ilyya crossed her legs primly and smoothed her skirt. The cherry blossom petals overlapped to create an elegant dress that smelled faintly of the fruit they could form. She trilled before beginning her song.

“Where the wind blows

I follow with my nose,

The shining sun

Cannot escape or run,

Ilyya I am:

Great huntress of the wood!”

A chuckle erupted from under her branch, and Ilyya peered through the leaves. A Faerie wearing a suit of pine-needles lounged in a particularly large hollow left by a broken branch. He stood up, stretched, and flew to sit next to Ilyya.

“Very clever, sister. Do all your songs end in such a self-glorifying way?” Ilyya felt her cheeks grow hot as she retorted,

“At least I sing what is in my head, instead of borrowing the words of others, Hneus.”

“Ah, but I don’t just use others’ words. You should give me more credit; I work very hard at my songs. Listen:

You use your nose

To find people when wind blows,

The bright bold sun

Wishes that you would run,

Ilyya, sister:

Leave and improve our mood!

See? I can – Ow!”

Ilyya left Hneus to rub his burning cheek and flew farther from the center of the Forest.

“What a smart-mouth! Who is he to tell me what to do? I am a full two seasons older than him, and he presumes to tell me how to praise the Designmaster! One day Looren will hear of his silliness and then he’ll be sorry.” The vehemence of Ilyya’s internal tantrum fueled her wings and she continued zipping past trees until the edge of the Forest loomed in front of her. Pulling up short, she gazed out at the foreign world.

“I wonder what the air tastes like out there. The people are all so strange and hurrying. Not like Looren. He walks slowly and talks to anybody who wants to. So many of those people out there don’t even look at each other! Strange, strange people, living in brown and grey. Don’t they get tired of those two colors?”

She looked past the tall buildings and steamy air, and felt she could see the rumors she had heard of; wide open spaces with noble mountains rising before buffeting touch of the wind.

“What would it be like to fly in the wind and sunshine with only the peaks for company? I love my trees,” She placed a hand on the branch next to her, “But sometimes I can’t play with the wind as freely as I want. They get in the way, and only move if they feel like it.” She sent a withering frown back into the Forest and addressed the trees. “Maybe if you would play with me, I wouldn’t want to leave the forest. But I don’t want to become Witless. Why is it one or the other, Designmaster? Why can’t I leave the Forest and keep my Wits?” The gentle whispering of the wind was her only answer, and Ilyya turned back to gaze at the outside world.

Beings, humans, people, walked past the Forest without so much as giving it a glance. Ilyya had noticed that for the past three hundred years, or so, humans didn’t seem to want admit that the Forest existed. But there it stood. They could ignore it, but it wasn’t going away. A lilting sound caught Ilyya’s ear and she searched the crowd for the elusive hum.

“There! That girl there! She’s singing!” So few of the humans sung that Ilyya always watched those who did with particular attention. Singing was the very reason that Faeries existed in the Designmaster’s plan. Humans who sang must be something special. The girl seemed huge to Ilyya, although humans would think her a bit small. Rebellious black curls escaped from the simple hat the girl wore, letting the wind tug them different directions as it blew by. Her clothing was simple, just a pleated skirt with a blouse and sweater. Sturdy shoes and stockings matched the dull brown color of the rest of her clothes. Ilyya knew from watching humans before that this meant the girl was of the middle class. People above the middle class wore very fancy clothes, and people below the middle class wore very holey clothes.

“Why do humans separate themselves from each other? How can they talk and listen to each other if they make each other so different? They don’t make any sense. Surely the Designmaster didn’t tell them to do that.” Desperate to hear the human’s song, Ilyya began flitting along the edge of the Forest.

The massive wood was circular, and stood at the center of Comm City. People were forbidden to go into the Forest, but they were all so afraid of it that no enforcement was needed. Fear of the Old Religion was ingrained so deep that no one had tried to enter the Forest in over 250 years.

“That was so scary. I’m glad Looren was here to protect us!”

Ever since, the humans had kept their distance. That did not stop them from walking near the Forest, however. In fact, it would have been difficult to avoid it. After the fall of the Old Religion, the very first City Council had deemed the Forest harmless and issued the first edict that it be left as a reminder that all false teachings are doomed to abandonment. So they continued building the city that had sprung up around the Forest, and now people from all walks of life walked within two hundred feet of the very place they feared. Ilyya kept just inside the shadows of the Forest as she followed the girl. The human had been humming before, but now she began a soft refrain.

“The one who makes life is,

The one who gives life is,

The one who takes life is,

The ruling king is and will be here forever!”

“A human singing about the Designmaster! They have not worshipped him since before was born!” Ilyya flittered in excitement, dancing from leaf to leaf. Picking up the tune, the Faerie began to hum along as she continued to follow the girl. In all her time watching the humans, Ilyya had never hear one mention the Designmaster, much less sing his praises. Without warning, the girl stopped and peered into the Forest. Ilyya froze, gazing back at the human. “What does she see? Hopefully she didn’t see me. Maybe she heard my humming. I should have sang with her instead of humming; then she wouldn’t have heard me.” The Faerie

continued to wait, tiny body tense and still, for the human girl to end her inspection of the Forest. The words caught in Demae’s throat when she heard a sound come from the Forest next to her. Stopping in her tracks, she peered at the mysterious wood, trying to see past the thick screen of brush and bushes that tried to hide the trees looming over them. Nothing met her gaze.

I was sure I heard something. She blinked slowly. It sounded like a little voice. It was humming with me. Her scrutiny of the Forest didn’t yield a sight of anything, so Demae turned to continue her way home. Spirits above, I must have been imagining things. Although it did feel like someone was watching me. But who would be in the Forest? Surely the tales of goblins and sprites living in

there aren’t true. Nonetheless, Demae moved a little quicker and soon found the street that took her away from the Forest and toward home.

Comm was laid out like a giant ring. The perfectly circular Forest in the center was the middle of the ring, and everything was organized in a circle around it. The original town that had sprung up around the Forest had largely been torn down when the first City Council designed the new plans for the City. There were several main roads that formed larger rings around the Forest, and then hundreds of smaller side-streets ran East to West and North to South, providing practical connections for the larger roads. Not a single road ran through the Forest. Even with the latest technology, no one considered passing through the enigmatic wood a good idea.

This meant for people like Demae, who lived in the East Side but worked in the West Side, that the shortest way to get to work was to walk to the Forest, around either the North or South edge, and then continue the way they needed to go. Unless they had the money for the trolley, of course. Many didn’t. So every day, Demae would make the two hour trek to work before the sun was ready to wake, and then as the sun was going to bed. She was one of many, though, and did not feel any injustice in her difficulty. It was just the way it was. The brown-paper package in her hand felt light, but Demae knew that her mother would make the meat stretch for the whole week. The trimmings from the hog had cost a whole eyring, a week’s wages, but Raema, Demae’s mother, thought meat was nutritionally important for children. The Researchers had just begun studying nutrition in the past twenty years, but the idea had caught on very quickly. The Middle Class had latched on to the idea as something they could claim as their own; the High Class didn’t care what they ate, as long as it tasted good. So Demae had grown up eating lots of nutrition-based meals. Never mind that almost anything could be said to have nutritional value; everyone had an opinion about what it was they needed nutritionally. It can’t be helpful to just eat what you think will help you. Demae mused. Maybe one day there will be Researchers who specialize in nutrition and will help people decide. But what does that matter? As long as we have food to eat, I’m happy. Demae earned her part of the family’s bread by working in Comm’s largest makeup factory. It was an industry fueled by religion, and it was a steady job, guaranteed. She worked in the eye-shadow department, putting palettes of complementing colors together. It was one of the more difficult jobs in the factory; Demae was required to be able to remember which colors went where on each of the forty separate palettes, and had to place them precisely without disturbing the valuable powder. If there was even a hint of a fingerprint in one of the colors, a customer was bound to complain.

The customers. Demae snorted. The only people who have time to wear makeup are the High Class. The snooty High Class. They are only High Class because of their bloodlines. They rule over us, make us work, and then spend all day making themselves look beautiful, eating, and dancing. What good is it to be beautiful when you treat the people below you like they are inferior human beings. Just because we have different ancestors. By the Spirits above I sometimes wish that I lived in the Shadow Times, before the Purifying of the Blood. Then there would be none of this Class nonsense.

Like Comm, the Class system had been set up by the first City Council after the Purifying of the Blood. The Prophet of Doom had appointed the members of the City Council to create order out of the chaos caused by the Purifying. They were, in turn, under the leadership of the Lords, who were answered to the High Spirits. A Lord hadn’t visited Comm for many years, but Demae had heard it was quite an event whenever they did visit.

While the City of Comm did have a corner on the makeup market, it was located in the far South of the known world, and therefore was inaccessible for seven out of the ten months, due to the heavy snowfall that blocked the passes through the Southern Mountains. This meant that the three months in which travel was an option, the merchants paid a handsome sum that monopolized the trade routes so they could move their wares out of Comm, and then come back in time with all the supplies needed to keep the City on its feet during the next seven months of isolation.

The main import to Comm was food and clothing. The soil surrounding the City was not rich enough to support crops, and therefore any grains or natural textiles had to be brought in by the merchants. Comm did have a bustling live-stock market, which helped to bolster the city’s economy when the makeup market took a dip. Demae had heard stories of animals raised in Comm and sold to cities North of the Southern Mountains lying down and rolling in the grass when seeing it for the first time.

She wasn’t sure what to think of the tales of grass. There were many people who claimed to have seen the stuff, but not many who could actually describe it to her satisfaction. Everyone either says that grass is a nuisance or a piece of art. And that it is sometimes soft and green. How can it SOMETIMES be soft and green. What is it when it isn’t soft and green? Well, there’s no point in thinking about it, since I probably won’t ever see it for myself.

With this thought, Demae turned onto her street and began the last quarter mile walk to her home.