This spring, I am attending a writer's conference. Yep, little teenage me, going to a big, bad writing conference. And part of this conference is a first chapter contest. So, seeing as a) this is the most important part of the book, and b) I like winning, as well as c) it's probably the part where I struggle most, especially with my first book, I've decided to ask for help from you. Yes, you--the one in the corner of the study, dreaming of being a writer but never actually doing it. This is your chance.
I am following this with the first five pages of my first chapter. Tomorrow--hopefully--will follow the next five, and the day after will include the last four. I am a little bit nervous about this, what with plagarism and all that, but I have been assured that this is actually good to do. So...don't steal it, please. Instead, why don't you leave a comment and tell me how to make it better?
They found a fishing boat.
I didn’t know there were still rogue fishing boats. In fact, I didn’t know there were still boats from before. We have always had to use the floaters, our insignificant rafts of old wood, to support what little off-shore fishing we manage to maintain. There are never enough of them to really help, but the wood in trees carries far too great a price to consider using. A boat of any sort is a dream, but a fishing boat!
I walk along the beach, holding my shoes in one hand as the cold water rushes up against my ankles, clearing my head. It’s been a long time since I’ve been out here, since I’ve needed to escape from the confining pressure of society. Since I’ve needed to relive what happened, all those many years ago.
The water is bitterly cold, biting almost. My own personal form of punishment, I suppose—for what I did, for who I am. I am drawn to this beach, to this cliff at the edge of the town. This is the place where, when we had surmounted it, we looked down upon the little village before us, and decided to make it home. Or at least, as close to home as still exists in this life.
“Good morning, Adrien.” It’s Rose, bleary-eyed and yawning. It’s always so odd, the way she clings to that phrase. Both of us know good mornings will probably not come for years, decades even. Maybe never. Still, I can’t ever help smiling. Why let her down? Especially after she’s recovered so well.
“Morning, Rosebud. What’re you making this morning?” I ask, walking up the beach towards our home. Rose is our honorary cook—I never could learn. Stew is the one thing I’ve perfected after seven years.
“Well, there’s the bread, and that cheese you got for your birthday. We should eat it before Krissa does.”
Breakfast is simple, and doesn’t take long to eat, but our stomachs are used to worse. We’ve been fortunate this past month or so, ever since Rose could finally handle holding Mom’s guitar again. She really has a knack for it, and it’s good to hear her playing after so long.
Rose tells me that Fox and Byrn found a strawberry patch, a half-mile inland. Byrn, of all people! He certainly has enough mouths to feed, and he isn’t one to share. Not that he’s selfish or anything—Byrn just cares more about his family than anything, and has learned through experience how dangerous it is to share luxuries. I resolve to make him something in return—something that’ll do him good.
Even with all of this, though, Krissa is the bearer of the greatest news. She bounces to the door almost immediately after breakfast, and all I notice about her is her smile—a smile I haven’t seen in seven years. So happy, so…genuine. Not at all like her—like us. Byrn and Krissa both. The world is falling apart.
“Ren! Rose!” she calls. Without waiting for an answer, she leaps right in through the open doorway where the door used to be, decades ago.
As I come down the pitted staircase from where I had been dressing, careful to avoid the precarious ones, I notice with acute detail the house. The way the floor is intact. The way Rose is unconcernedly washing her hands from a sink that still gives off decent water. The way our second story is stable enough to live in. Our house, so much nicer than the shacks Krissa and the rest of the village live in, is fitting to be called a home even. No one else in Port can claim that.
I never have to worry about the way our house looks with Krissa, though—or at least shouldn’t. She isn’t overcome with jealousy at our working indoor toilet; envy never possesses her because of our halfway intact staircase. She understands that Rose and I aren’t in any better position than she was, except probably emotionally. We have a place to really come home to, and that can be a real advantage. For the first time in two years, I wonder if maybe I should have asked her not to leave, all those years ago. There was more than enough room. Still is, in fact—it seems like it would’ve been the decent thing to do.
If she would have accepted it.
“Yes?” I reply, concerned slightly by her hopeful expression. It’s one I haven’t seen on her face for years, let alone on anyone else’s.
She smiles wryly—her normal smile—and coyly relies, “Come. I have to show you something.” She runs over to me with almost no restraint, takes my hand, and drags me out the doorframe, leaving Rose to call out, “See you tonight!” I barely hear her. Krissa and I are already lost in the early morning chaos of Port.
Port. At another time, it was more, a city, a world embraced in shining arms of government and order. But time has betrayed us—the arms squeezed too tight, and left us with just a Port. Nothing more and, all too often, less.
The broken streets are filled with broken people surging toward the harbor, toward jobs and food and survival. Each keeps their head down, talking only scantly, and only to those nearest them. Some wear almost intact clothes, others are barely covered. Barefoot children worm their way through the crowds, eager to fill the unwanted jobs that just might fill their bellies for the night. If they are lucky, they could even get some for their families, or for later if they have no one else.
The harbor itself is a sprawling mass of docks, floaters, and fisherman’s stands. Here the catches are gutted and cleaned, then sold in the markets a ways south with whatever roots and produce have been scrounged up that day. After the Wash has taken their fill, of course. It leaves what scraps it chooses, almost none, really, and takes the rest to fill the bellies of its fat “Constituents.”
Bobbing a ways out to sea, however, is something that might very well change all that. People gawk and point at the first boat any of us have seen in years, hope radiating from their expressions. This is more than a dream—this is a fantasy. What more could we have dared hope for?
The boat itself is rusted and worn, close to death, but it floats. Even now, it is out on its way to triple our weekly haul, and in only a couple of hours, too. While fishing is one of the few industries to have emerged from the Instatement largely unscathed, the hungry destitutes of Port have fished the waters near the shores almost to extinction. Floaters only get you so far out to sea, and no one wants to risk taking those out too much anyway. But a fishing boat! That can keep us well-fed for years, decades. And it will—even after the Wash raises their quotas.
Krissa squeezes my hand, her smile doubly wide. “Isn’t it great? I know it looks bad, but Taryn says that the rust should come straight off. It should last another thirty years, Ren!” Of course she had heard it from Taryn. She rambles on, but I don’t listen, or really need to. I am content to stand here with Krissa, holding her hand and staring at a fishing boat and watching the sun rise on a hopeful morning—the first good morning in a very long time.