Reply To: Exercise 4

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Hi, Shari

Sharper with each go. I don’t know how it could make it under 1,000 words, but the storytelling is superb. It’s condensed without being too abstract.

Thanks, Peter! You’re right, it’s gonna run long on first full draft, but then I’ll employ your next lesson on cutting.  Here’s where it stands after last night’s work, more than :20. All that’s left is to finish the first scene. Then I’ll have count for first draft, and goal to shrink it in tonight’s/tomorrow’s work to get it under 1K. I’m changing tense and voice in this section, so I’ll also figure out if I switch to first person (common in YA) or stick with close third.

From the in-flight first draft flash, working title “Suzana and the Time-Twisted Trials” after night 3 of working–light edits in existing work as I start looking for consistency in mythology, then getting to the not-so-surprising (yet) turn at the end.


The trumpets tat-a-tat-tatted, a joyous sound raining down around Suzana’s family, her best friend Ashley and what remained of her family, all of them in their funeral finery. No black allowed, not when celebrating a life like Ashley’s dad had led. Suzana’s grip on Ashley’s hand tightened. Ashley’s dad, the closest thing Suzana could ever remember to a dad, should be giving them a hard time about plotting how to get out of bagel. He should not have been the third Uncertain assassinated in as many weeks. Bagel concept of what this society looks like. Bagel, now best friend is in financial straights. Bagel, in scene being mocked for what she’s worn to celebrate her best friend’s dad.


Suzana pushed crates out of the way. They obscured the cellar corner she craved. Why did her family keep them? These remnants from a time their neighbors still admired them. Thanked them for their harrowing service by bringing tomatoes, potatoes, apples and more by the peck. If she could shove herself deep enough back there, she wouldn’t have to face the laughter at her thrice-mended socks, the stitches in rainbow colors from the threads scavenged from the shirt in the scraps bag. Of course her toes had shoved through the hole she’d poked in the shoe’s leather tip, so thin she needn’t lie about it being unintended.

A rock rolled under her foot, lurching her into a crate so darkened with age, it might have been the first they ever received. She picked up the offender, prepared to hurl it. An earthy smell teased at her, the ground fresh with rain. A nub on the end, and another, impossibly soft against her palm. This was a potato, and as shriveled as it was, it clung to the promise of new lives. The prize belonged in the garden, eyes cut out to seed at least two plants. Maybe more? Carefully, she nudged it into her pants pocket.

As she squiggled her way back out through the wreckage she’d created, a ray of sunlight lucky enough to spear through the cellar window’s grime reflected brilliantly off a squiggle in the dirt. The flash of metal disappeared at the base of that oldest crate. Without care for her knees, she slammed to the ground. Only one metal, one piece of jewelry had such allure. But it wasn’t possible. The Certains had destroyed every last one of the Time-Twisting necklaces. No, the known necklaces.

Was her great-grandmother’s story true? That during the first casting, the family’s best mouser, White Whiskers, had stolen one before the final spell had locked in the magics of twisting time against itself back as well as forth—to step through, amend a past that had led to an unfortunate future, and return to the zero point of the new future? No one had seen it again, her ’gama used to say, probably for the best, because if anyone ever tried to use it, no telling if they’d successfully return.

This thin strand of metal kinked right, left, right, doubling back on itself, so unlike the fine herringbone strands as they should lock together. She’d held only the Learning one, the bracelet limited to jumps a few days back and no more, but identical in look and feel to the others her ancestors had crafted in the Time of Calamities. Learning the spell to cast, the intent, but denied even one chance to try it.

White Whiskers had mangled this, but the necklace still held together. That’s what mattered, right? If only she could free it from its prison without severing it. She needn’t come back to now. She’d reach it in good time.

Fingernail bits shredded off as she clawed at the dirt, solidly pounded into the cellar’s base. She bit down on her tongue, hard enough for saliva to pool up. Taking aim, she spit onto the metal. The shine intensified, the same red-gold as the sketch at the back of their family bible, looked at so many times in the six years since the Certains destroyed all the possibilities.

Did she dare run to the barn for a hand trowel? Maybe a screwdriver from her mom’s tool chest? No, if anyone saw her, the state of her fingernails would invite questions. That queasiness of dodging, or lying, never eased up.

The old crates yielded the answer, a length of wood that she might have cracked off when she ventured into this hideout. To keep splinters from skewering her, she wrapped her shirt around it, then resumed work digging. Against her determination, the ground yielded the necklace.

Red gold, a blaze of heat against her palm. The air sizzled. Tears she had not realized she cried, proving the necklace’s power by that reaction.

She should turn it in to her mom. Exactly as she should have run to her mom upon recognizing. But she hadn’t. Her mom would surrender it to the Certains, and those rabid leaders would destroy it. There’d never be another chance to change the steps along the past that had led them … here. Ashley’s dad, shot in the head as he drove to the state. Was he killed for his determination to keep data safe from the increasing number of hacks? Or for being too vocal that we’d gone off track around the same time the Certains had destroyed all ability to twist time, that we needed new leadership and we needed it back then?

A hum curled up in her gut, the intake of breath before the scream she always choked back. It brought a certainty more powerful than the potato in her pocket. Could she go back in time to summer, plant it, a test? Her sister, her mom, even she, would recognize it, mound it, tend it, and by this time, they’d be harvesting a bounty. She bit down on her arm, releasing that breath in a slow, steady hiss.

Rainbow-stitching marked her crossing to the small space on the stairs’ underside. Her family never stored anything here. Safer, versus the risk the crates brought, possibly being impaled when she materialized where one stood back then, but not now. Especially after she’d disturbed them.

The clasp protested, so she pinched it harder between her thumb and forefinger until the circle opened. She couldn’t keep the necklace from trembling alongside her nerves as she reached for the circle to close it off. Miraculously, the metal held together.

“Each day a need, the seasons twisted.” Her voice rasped out the words as she pictured the perfect spring day for planting the potato eyes. But what if the necklace had only one back in it? She should save Ashley’s dad. She let herself remember seasons of softball practices with him coaching her and Ashley, where she’d grown like a potato from promise to yield, a powerhouse line-drive hitter, like the one where she’d drilled it down first base, legged her way to a triple, and led her team to a come-from-behind victory.

And if she had only one go, was that the event she should change? What would she do, say, Mr. Penderley, don’t go to work today? And what of the day after, and the day after? That was not the root of this problem.

When the Certains had taken the necklaces, they’d had no warning, no chance to hide them. That she could change. Where wouldn’t they look? Nestled in that years potatoes trenches. I could bury a note along with them. An old tin, perfect for all. I stuffed it into my pocket.

That morning, the oatmeal dusted with cinnamon, tickling me awake as the sun joined me, but not a single cock crowed, as if they knew where the day would leave. Mom would still be out in the barn. Plenty of time before the Certains raided us at dinnertime.

I started the spell again, then moved into “Me duty bound, the wound to mend, ’til next sun rises, sends me back again.”

Steam rose from the ground even as the fire circled my neck. The world lurched, like the time I’d worked too long in the garden, and the next thing I knew my knees were buckling, slamming me down on my knees. The sunlight filtering through the single window flickered strobe fast. The water I’d had in place of breakfast spewed out.

Then, pitch dark. The morning it all went wrong. And I was the one girl to put it right, mangled time-twisting necklace or not.




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