Though we received a number of good entries in this category, it didn't take the judges long to come to a unanimous decision.
The winning story is, as are so many geared toward this age group, weird and fantastic. But it's skillfully crafted. Its setting takes place in the real world (as opposed to a mythical realm), and that world, though unfamiliar to most English-speaking readers, is portrayed with realism and in tantalizing detail.
The judges noted three things that keep this entry from being less than perfect:
1 - Formatting. This isn't a deal-breaker with us here at Novel Journey, and we don't specify how we want things formatted. It's important, however, to follow the submission guidelines for whatever agency or publishing house you're looking at, and those always require that submissions be double-spaced. For the purpose of submitting to anyone besides us, this writer would have to change the format.
2 - Foreign words. Because of the nature of the story, a number of foreign words and phrases appear in the chapter. This could pose a problem when the writer tries to pitch it.
3 - Paragraph length. Particularly for younger readers, most editors prefer a little more white space on a page than what this submission shows.
Three things, all easily corrected. All in all, this is a well-written story that held the judges' interest and could well be salable in today's market.
We therefore present to you the winner of October's Middle Grade/Young Adult category of OUT OF THE SLUSHPILE, Novel Journey's Fifteen Minutes of Fame Contest -- The Face of a Lion, by Deniz Bevan of Montreal, Quebec.
by Deniz Bevan
Austin met the cat during his first week in Turkey.
Bored with helping his parents clean their villa, he set out to explore the town. Every few minutes he had to climb onto the stone wall edging the street – there were never any sidewalks in this country – when a car or bus full of tourists whizzed past on the narrow road, a stench of diesel fumes floating behind. As the roar of each vehicle faded, the seaside sounds rushed back into his ears: the drone of motorboats slicing the water, cicadas buzzing in the distant tops of the fir trees, and below everything else, the unending rhythmic crash of waves breaking one after another on the sand.
He waited on the wall as another car zoomed by, then peered through the exhaust and added up the houses he had passed. His mum had said there were forty houses in the original village. Something had to be wrong somewhere, because he had counted every house for the past ten blocks and already reached sixty – and there were still a few streets to cross before he reached the ice cream shop at the bend of the road. Maybe his mum's memory was slightly fuzzy; she had a tendency to exaggerate the merits of Kuşadası-in-the-past. Sixty houses, plus at least fifteen more, that made –
An unearthly howl filled the air, drowning out the disappearing rumble of the car. It came again, a long-drawn out screech, close at hand. Austin ran to the crossroads. The wall here fell away in a sharp drop to the weed-filled garden of a boarded-up villa. On a patch of paving stones, two kids crouched over the prone figure of a thin grey cat. One gripped its front paws as the other tied a couple of tin cans to its tail. The cat wrenched and jerked its back legs.
"Hey! What are you doing?"
His yell was swallowed by the roar of two buses zooming past behind him, and a truck loaded with watermelons that came clacketing up the street. He looked down, ready to risk a jump, and saw a garden shed directly below. He leaped, and as the boys glanced up, hands still on the squirming cat, he vaulted off the shed's roof to stand beside them.
"What are you up to?" He glared, trying to look as imposing and foreign as possible – easy enough, given the contrast of his blond hair and blue eyes to their own dark features. They looked about eight years old, four years younger than him. They wouldn’t meet his gaze, but shot each other shifty glances out of the corners of their eyes.
"Abi, yabancı bu. Bizden büyük."
"Ya birini çağırırsa? Hadi gidelim."
It was impossible – but he had understood what they said! They were afraid because he was older – what if he called someone?
He took a step forward, as if to grab the cat. As one, they released their grip, leapt up and ran off.
The cat crouched low on all four paws, eyes wide and ears taut, but did not move as Austin approached. If it would just trust him… With one hand extended, palm out, he waited. Either the cat would sniff the offered fingers or get up and run.
Slowly, slowly, he bent and untied the twine binding the tins to a tail puffed out and crackling with electricity. The cat did not twitch once, even as Austin broke away the last of the metal and tossed it aside, but eyed him the entire time, as if waiting for a signal.
He stroked the cat between the ears and, to his surprise, heard the low rumble of purring. The yellow eyes narrowed and, for a moment, he had the silly idea that the cat was actually smiling at him.
He had been bending forward, petting. He overbalanced and nearly tipped over, palms flat on the tiles to keep from pitching head first into the cat.
Had it actually spoken? He gazed at the shadowy creature, who had stopped purring, but stayed still, yellow eyes fixed on him. Had he really heard –
"Thank you, Augustine."
There it was again! A kind of chirping sound. His parents' old cat used to make the same sounds; not meowing or purring, just chirping, like a new species of bird. And under that tone, he could have sworn the cat had spoken in English.[Click here to continue]