Wednesday, March 25, 2009

#9 1000 Words

TITLE: Frosty
GENRE: YA (Fantasy)

I’d give anything on earth to be twelve again. Or thirteen. Even fourteen. But fifteen?


“Why not?” she asked, elbows pressing into the table. A bulb swayed above us, casting her face in shadows as the weak light reflected off her badge. A second Officer stood against the wall with his arms crossed, watching in silence.

I had no answer. Never did, never would. What use were words when no one believed anything I said?

In the darkened mirror across from me, darker shadows passed. My reflection was warped, the glass not quite right. Dark hair, cut close along the sides and back, hanging loose over blue eyes still wet with tears. The more I stared at my face, the less familiar I seemed. Was there something wrong with the mirror or with me? If I closed my eyes, would I remember what I looked like?

I took a deep breath and started at the beginning again.

Summer vacation began seven hours, thirty-one minutes ago. It took twenty-seven minutes to walk home.

Seven hours, four minutes until now; until this singular, terrible moment.

My mother left to run errands, leaving me to watch my sister, Holly.

“Did that bother you?” Long fingers drummed; metallic echoes filled the room as her fingernails struck the table.

Six hours, fourteen minutes ago. After a snack, I sat down at my computer, Holly playing on the floor next to me as always. Five hours, fifty-six minutes.

Holly went to the bathroom. Five hours, fifty-three minutes. I went to the bathroom. Five hours, fifty-one minutes.

“You left her alone?”

Is there any way to stop time? Is it possible to regret something so deeply that time reverses? I never should have left her. Never taken my eyes off her. She was on the living room floor, playing with our dog, Autumn, in front of the unused fireplace. Khaki shorts and a blue polo shirt, her school uniform she loved so much she even wore it on weekends. Dark hair, darker even than mine, tied up with the pink bow my mother always forced on her. Brown eyes. Three feet, eight inches tall. Forty-one pounds. Six and a half years old today, June 25th. Our Christmas miracle, the baby sister I’d never wanted.


Old pipes sometimes scream, high-pitched, when tight handles are first turned, the water pressure releasing. Our bathroom always did, the metal knobs coated with white enamel. I reached to turn the water on, anticipating the scream, but I hadn’t touched the handle yet.

Five hours, fifty-one minutes. High-pitched scream, louder, longer, scarier than plumbing.

Frantic, I pushed the door open, rushing into the living room. Autumn was barking to wake the dead, deep guttural growls as she tried to protect my sister. Holly’s screams ran around the room, echoing off the wood floor and paneled walls.

I jumped over the couch to reach her in time. Flames licked out, almost touching Holly and the three men dragging her by her feet towards the fire. Autumn tried to bite the man closest to her but the heat drove her back, singeing her fur. Smoke poured into the room, stinging my eyes. Still, I fought against the flames, trying to save her.

Five hours, fifty minutes.

“Chris!” Holly screamed my name as I reached for her. For a moment, our hands touched before she was pulled out of my grasp.

I coughed from the smoke, blindly fighting my way to her. I couldn’t see, couldn’t breathe.

Five-hours, fifty minutes.

I had her in my hands and let her slip away.

The police released me to my parents after the doctors examined me, searching for signs of smoke inhalation, or burns, or, perhaps, insanity. No one believed me. I could only imagine what they thought. There were no fingerprints, no clues, no ransom note and no trace of a fire.

There was only me.

One beautiful summer day, the sister I’d never wanted disappeared, stolen out of my grasp by three men; none over four feet tall, with long dark hair and eyes the color of deep woods, brown and ancient.

And very pointed ears.


The days that followed passed in a blur, constant motion and movement, accomplishing nothing. My parents didn’t speak. Not to me, not to the police, not to each other. They sat, staring at the phone, attached to recording equipment, waiting for it to ring. Friends and family came from far and wide, plastering the town in posters and flyers. Police at all hours, searching the house for clues, repeating the same questions over and over, leading search dogs through the woods.

There never was a dog that Christmas. I had told Santa, and anyone else who would listen, what I wanted, my list consisting of one word. I tore open every present until only one remained but there were no pet supplies, no puppy.

“Did you fight a lot?” Even standing in the doorway to my room, her eyes taking in every detail as her shadow fell across me where I sat at my desk, her finger nails drummed, striking against the door. Still, the questions never ended.

I was almost ten years old the year without a puppy. In the snow, falling Christmas day, my best friend Jack walked up to our house with his sister Mary. Younger, by a minute or so, she followed him everywhere. They rang the doorbell as my father placed the last present in front of me. I peeled off the first piece of wrapping paper as they unwrapped themselves, shaking off the snow.

“A dog?” she asked, the words soft, friendly. The eyes, hard, flicking from place to place in my room, taking in the papers on my desk, the posters on my walls, the clothes on my floor. Missing nothing.


  1. This is intriguing, but confusing. I think I followed all the parts that are present day vs. near-present vs. six years earlier, but I had to work harder than a reader probably should in the first 1,000 words. "Did you fight a lot?" really threw me -- it sounds like a question for the police, except the unidentified women is in his room whereas before they were in the station.

    Also, the very beginning suggests that the police just asked him if wanted to be 15 again, which seems a very odd question in the midst of a kidnapping investigation. Perhaps you're going somewhere with that, though, so as a reader I would suspend disbelief for a bit.

    All that said, I like your voice very much. I'd keep reading.

  2. I liked it a lot, I would definitely read on. I wasn't confused, I figured it was just your narrator's broken mind wandering around.
    I would leave off the mirror description thing, though. I hear agents/editors are not fans and also I don't think it's necessary. My biggest problem with it is that is seems like a very feminine thing to do, so it leaves me questioning the gender of your MC. I think that the little sister's "hair is darker" is enough character description, it gives us a sense of what the MC looks like but doesn't feel forced.

  3. I loved the first chapter. The story and the voice sucked me in. If there were any mistakes, I didn't notice them because of this.

    I was totally confused in the second chapter. Who was asking the mc "did you fight a lot?"? I read the chapter 2 excerpt several times, but it didn't make much sense. It's probably just me, though.

    Good luck!

  4. The first excerpt really grabbed me. It has a great voice and made me stop to read, but the second I didn't get quite as much. Maybe it's not supposed to, though... maybe it's like a mind rambling thing, and we are about to figure that out if we read on.

    Love the voice though!

  5. I was a bit confused by the hopping back and forth too. I liked the voice quite a bit, but the time jumping chopped it up too much and left me dissatisfied. I would like a better picture of what happened.

    The second chapter doesn't seem to connect to the first very well, but I guess that's because of the different age of the MC.

    I would suggest working to tighten and clarify the chapters and the MC's voice.

  6. I found this to be very intriguing, but just a little confusing.

    I am guessing that in the second chapter, the police are still questioning her. Or maybe a psychologist?

    Anyway, I would read on just to see what grabbed her sister and to find out who is in the room with her.

  7. I was a bit confused. If I have to work too hard to understand a setting, you'll lose me as a reader, and this was close.

    I didn't get the opening question - why would the policewoman ask that? And I don't feel grounded in any set time, because we seem to hop around a bit.

    You write artistically, weaving in his deeply troubled recounting in his head with real time interrogation. I liked that part, and the bit about the pipes screaming. And Chapter one ends with a great hook.

    Chapter two seems to start after the fact, but then you say he wanted a dog for Christmas. He has a dog. Autumn, right? I found that odd. And then I realized we'd jumped back five years (?) And who asked that question?

    I would read on, hoping these things would clear up. Good job.

  8. The first chapter was really intriguing. Were they taking the sister into the fire? I also like the description of the kidnappers. Really made me want to keep reading.

    I'm a little confused at to the gender of the character. Chris would seem to be a boy's name but you give no indication either way. The switch between present/past/very past is also confusing. Also, they way that you have it structured now, it almost seems as if the unidentified woman is reading his mind. Is she?

  9. I'm hooked. I like the pace of the first chapter and the description. The second chapter was a little confusing; I wasn't sure where "Did you fight a lot" was coming from. If the parents are even slightly accusatory, I think that needs to be developed more.

    Your first chapter has short sentences that beautifully balance the short time line. In contrast, the second chapter seems rushed because you're going from right after the kidnapping to...wanting a puppy. Perhaps Chapter 2 needs to slow down a bit. But, I'd still read on.

  10. I'm hooked, but I'm confused. The writing is good, and maybe you meant the voice to be inconsistent or garbled. If not, thats how it comes out. It seems like sometimes the MC is in the police station, and then later in the room.

    The notations of time were distracting, but again this may be your intent to be chaotic.

    The second chapter seems rushed and doesn't seem to have quite the same quality as the first. There's a disconnect between the two.

    This is good stuff, and I was hooked from the beginning to see where you're going. It needs some tweaking, but I would keep up with it.

  11. I've actually seen this before, um, elsewhere and left comments there, I think. The author will know what I mean...and probably who I am. *grin*


  12. Count me as another who's hooked but still confused.

    I didn't get the dog thing. She had a dog named autumn. When she had one thing on her list, I thought it was her sister...but it's a dog? And how could she never have one if she had one? I just...can't make sense of it.

    So that's what you need to work on...learning to see what readers who don't know your story will be able to understand and what they don't.

    But your voice, style, and general story-telling is really, really good! You've got it, as soon as you get down exactly which parts of the story need to be told when!

  13. I love the end of the first chapter, but the whole chapter itself is kind of jumbled. I don't really know what's going on. I feel like there are snippets of happenings, and it lends a great sense of urgency. I kind of get that there's a fire later on. Otherwise, the feelings are wonderful, I just don't know what they're in reaction to! The paragraph about not remembering what the MC looked like, but I want to know why she doesn't remember. I'm aware this is going to be addressed later on, but it seems a little out of place, like you needed an excuse to describe hair/eyes.

    I'd read on, because there's great suspense at the beginning and (yay) pointy-eared men! But the first chapter does need some streamlining, more of a common thread holding it together. Sorry if what I said makes no sense.

  14. This was great. If I were an agent, I would definitely request the pages. I think the stream of consciousness might take some getting used to, but I can dig it.

  15. I'm going to agree with several other commenters here that I am very intrigued, yet confused at the same time. The question at the beginning about the MC's age baffled me, but as soon as you got into the countdown (love that!) and the suspense leading up to the sister's kidnapping, I was hooked. Totally hooked. I was actually leaning towards my monitor and holding my breath.

    Then chapter two hit, and gave me whiplash. The suspense was gone, and it was continuing the events of chapter one - which made sense - and then abruptly jumped back to the past. It lost me.

    You have something awesome here. That kidnapping scene wowed me. Just adjust the order of events or make clearer scene breaks, or you'll lose all momentum.

  16. Wow! I really liked this (this is one of my favorite genres) and wasn't all that confused. One problem I did have was the countdown in the beginning - I found it distracting. Another question - when Mary asks if he got a dog, how did they get into his room? Also, do they really expect Chris (I though female) not to go to the bathroom while watching her/his sister? Seems unrealistic to me - this is a six year old, not an infant just learning to crawl. Last question - why would they suspect Chris? In spite of the bizarre story s/he tells, the sister is gone - how exactly would she have done it? I think these are all easily fixed. This is really well written, I was completely hooked and wish I could read the rest!

  17. Although I liked the cadence and voice of your MC, plus the set up of the plot, I found I had a lot of problems following along with the jumps of time. The transitions, especially in the second part, were almost non-existent, and I honestly couldn't follow what was past and what was future.

    And though I liked the time stamps on the events leading up to Holly's abduction, the first one especially felt like backstory. I think I might be able to better follow this if the story started with the abduction, not the MC remembering what had happened on that day.

  18. Some intriguing elements, but I was confused from the start. A few examples I struggled with:
    -The very first sentence your character is asking a question ending with "...but fifteen?" She answers "No" seemingly to that question. But then we see she's answering an actual question we didn't hear. Then the cop says, "Why not?". You go on to say, "I had no answer. Never did, never would." But we still don't know the question. Why not what?
    -The time sequences (seven hours, thirty-one minutes ago) had me subtracting minutes in my head, which was distracting (except the first one which I thought might be a good place to start your story). Also, it's expected that when you go to the bathroom, you're going to take your eyes off the kid you're watching. It's reasonable. If Chris had gone outside to talk with friends, or run to the corner market for a candy bar, then I could understand her feeling bad.
    -I'm not feeling the parent's response. Parents would be scared, or ranting, or locking the kid in their room, or dragging them off to the nuthouse, or in deep denial. I'm not sure why you're talking puppies when you could have a real tension filled scene about what her parents DO to her.
    -So the fire is magical? Which would explain why there was no evidence? It was confusing to me more than intriguing. Maybe at least have your MC wondering along with the rest of them if she's gone crazy.
    -And finally, what I'm wondering most of all is why you haven't started with the kidnapping scene.

    It's all in the details. Just wrangle them details a little better and I think you have something here.

  19. I liked the juxtaposition of the first chapter, the way the story was revealed. Structurally it was very immediate. But the second section lost all the capital you'd gained in the first. It felt standard, tired, as if being told from old age looking back.

    Also, the voice doesn't feel 15. More like 35. And morose. Works in the second part but detracts from the first.

  20. There was a lot to like in this. I felt your voice was really great, and I the main character losing her sibling to elves is a great hook. It made me want to read further to find out what happened.

    I wonder about the effectiveness of the way you have set this up. This is being told as a flashback and I wonder whether it might not be better if it were to happen in real time. It seems as if this even is key to the narrator's life. Spending more time in the scene as it happens would be very compelling for a reader. If the main part of your story happens years later when the narrator is an adult, then the scene could be a prologue rather than a flashback.

    There is a lot of potential for drama in the scene of the abduction and the investigation afterwards to show us your narrator's character and how the experience traumatized her. You could use that to draw the reader in. Such a momentus event would seem to be a rich source of drama for a writer and deserve more time and attention.

    Good luck with this.

  21. The MC is a warm and sympathetic voice, and I hear a boy, in spite of the gender ambiguity of the name. The fractured and scattered time, character action, and settings of the first chapter has an intensity but keeps me from attaching to what is going on. But the writing is good so I go along with it, trusting the flow would smooth out later on.

    Chapter 2 seems to be more of the same technique, an overview, more overview, more jumping around in time, until I get the feeling you really don’t want me to get too close. I wonder if you started that chapter with a scene, Mom being someplace, doing something in a way that shows her numb despair, and Dad with some interaction showing the same. A moment-by-moment scene. And do some of that when the cop comes back. Showing usually works better than telling. Of course you want the story to move along, but just glimpse, a more solid presence, would give it more life.

    Overall, I like the idea and the voice, and think it will find success.