The judges have reviewed the Middle Grade/Young Adult submissions and put their heads together to choose the winner. Some of the entries are were good it was hard to single out the best one, but after discussing it for a bit, they've come to a decision they're happy with.
The judges were intrigued with the winning story's unusual concept and they were impressed with the smooth writing. Though the Young Adult market is crowded with dystopian stories, this has a different take on it. One judge said, "I was intrigued with the premise and wanted to read on to see what would happen."
We are, therefore, happy to announce this month's winner: Running From Lions by Julian R. Vaca of Nashville, Tennessee.
Would you like to get involved in the Launch Pad fun? If you're an unpublished novelist, you may still have time to climb aboard. (For these purposes, unpublished means you have not published through conventional means; self-publication does not exclude you.) Though all the other categories are now closed, we'll continue taking submissions in the Speculative Fiction category until midnight, September 10.
Interested? Click on the Launch Pad Contest tab for the complete rules.
Meanwhile, please enjoy a preview of this month's MG/YA winner...
Running From Lions
by Julian R. Vaca
“…Deliver me, lest they tear me like a lion, rending me in pieces, where there is none to deliver.”
-Book of Psalms, 7:1b-2
I am the star you gazed on when you were six and stood on the tips of your toes and looked out your bedroom window at the twinkling sky. I shot across the firmament. Left a fading streak behind me. You marveled. Said a prayer, maybe. Or a wish. I could sense your eyes on me then…even now, as I will myself to stop. Burn up. Crash. I need this to stop.
I have memories of hands. Legs. A head. All the functioning body parts that you undoubtedly take for granted. But, to me, they’re just memories. And even though I long to have myself back…to breathe and eat and sleep, like normal…I know it would do me no good up here in space…in my prison.
Yet, though my senses have abandoned me, I’m confident I haven’t lost my ability to feel.
Because up here, among the other stars, I feel cold. Always the cold binds me and chokes me, forcing me to spin and soar in this prison.
So much cold.
A landscape of distant, sparkling lights stretches before me: always, endless, forever. Expanses of black fill in the blanks between the stars, and there’s an occasional stroke of pale blue and purple hues.
The beauty is my hell.
Although I might posses memories of a host – a working body that I may or may not have occupied at some point in the past – I don’t posses memories of a why. Why I am here, that is. What damned me to this eternal cycle. This beautiful hell.
If I had some grasp on time, I would bet this has been going on for a millennia. Or two. Cursed galaxy, why not three? I could just as easily tell you how many other stars are up here with me. Stuck in their respective routes…their respective prisons.
How I long for freedom. To burn up. Or crash.
To not exist anymore.
Clearly, that’s the point. That’s the key. That’s why it’s prison.
I am fragments and particles.
Every way nothing and everything. I am lost, and yet straight on course. I am forever and –
Stop. You sound like you’ve accepted this fate. Like you’ve given up. I am none of those things. I am just a prisoner, trapped in this shell.
No, we are ending and eternal. Darkness. Light.
Stop. I need to break free. Think! How did this happen? What did this?
There is no “thinking.” There is only doing. And what we do, is shoot through space.
No. This isn’t natural. How long have I just accepted this? I can think…that’s got to count for something.
There is no “thinking.” There is only –
Shut up. Get out of me. I am thinking. That’s what this is. And that means there is hope.
If I can think…
…I can will.
There’s a change in me.
A spark ignites the flame, which trickles, then goes ablaze. The wildfire is my consciousness. I’m here. That much is true. Okay. Why am I here? I can’t remember much, if anything at all, but what I do remember is that being confined like this…trapped in space, touring the galaxies…is a lot like being confined to a single solitary place. A cell. A prison cell.
Good. Yes, keep going. My consciousness is back, and I’m definitely in some sort of prison. Two things. What else? The memories…
…what was that about memories…?
Hands! Arms, legs, a body. A body capable of living. Yes. That’s it! I am a life force. I’m a being that can think, and I’m trapped. And there was something else –
You. I could sense you watching me. Marveling. That’s it. You’re the missing piece. My way out. My freedom.
Chapter 6 | Farah
It’s not like you’ve never seen it before. Really, they’re just stars. Desert sky’s full of them. Watching down on us…hundreds of thousands of little strange gods.
I sit, cross-legged, in the wooden watchtower at the east end of my Village. My neck hurts, and my back too, but every time I sag a little I force myself to straighten up. Can’t afford to get comfortable. My job’s important, see.
Everyone my age has a job. It’s how you survive out here, in the bowl. Dad’s always reminiscing about a time – way before I was born, way before the great wars wiped out everything good – where you could pick any job you chose. Just like that. I smile, cooped up in this little perch two dozen feet above the ground, and dream about the prospect of picking my own job.
What would I choose? Probably something with animals. There aren’t too many left now, but any time we come across a stray dog on our weekly scavenges near the dunes, I beg dad to let me keep them. In fact, most of the animals in our Village are a direct result of my insistences.
Well, whatever hypothetical job I might’ve picked, it definitely wouldn’t have been night watcher. Seems the only time this place gets cold is at night, when all these stars are out. When I’m at my post. I sigh. Could be worse though. I could’ve been assigned to the stables, like my best friend, Lois. Any time I see her she’s got a strand of hay in her long black hair, and she scowls when I take it out for her.
Maybe I wouldn’t have picked a job with animals.
Near my feet sits a ratty, taped-up megaphone, and I scoot it away and stand up. The watchtower is made of scrap metal and slats of weathered wood, just like the tall fence that encloses our three hundred acre Village. The watchtower’s only as wide as my wingspan, and it has just enough room for me to stretch. Which I do. My joints pop. I exhale in relief.
Below my post, in the Village mess hall, the tantalizing scent of honey bread and various spices of tea sift through the rafters. One of the Village cooks is preparing a night meal for the patrol, who should be returning from their first shift any minute now.
I hear my stomach growl, and I blush despite myself. No. It wasn’t my stomach. I look over my shoulder and see three pickup trucks approaching under starlight. The patrol. Right on time, I think, as I check my wristwatch. I hear the grinding sound of the east gate opening to admit them entrance.
So. First shift’s over. Which means in approximately four hours my shift will be over and I can return home, to my room, where my bed and a stack of salvaged CDs await. I’m almost done with “More Songs About Buildings and Food” by the Talking Heads. It’s the only album I have by them. Could just as easily be the last copy of it in the world, too. That thought suddenly makes me appreciate having it.
Truck doors open and close, and the sound of banter fills the air faintly. The patrol, a select group of men and the occasional woman, talk and joke as they head for the mess hall. I try to pick out Alex, my boyfriend, amongst them, but all I can make out are shadows.
You know, Alex is always telling me, with as much as you complain about night watch, you should consider training for patrol.
The only thing I get out of that is he thinks I complain. Do I? That much? Do I sound like an ungrateful brat? I’m constantly looking for ways to impress him, to make sure he knows that – while I may only be sixteen – I’m just as driven and motivated as he is, at eighteen.
So I lie to him. Yeah, I say, patrol actually sounds like a good idea. The problem is, it doesn’t sound like a good idea. Can’t let him know that. He thinks it’s the greatest thing since…well, he thinks it’s the greatest thing. Period.
I sigh again. Been doing a lot of that lately. It’s not like I mean to, though, it’s just that I’m getting close to that age where, by Village standards, I should be prepping for that transition from “job” into “role.”
Is this my role? My destiny? To live out the extent of my life as grandmaster night watcher? How’s that for a scary thought? Really, what’s truly scary, is that I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do. What shoes I’d love to fill. If there was a role where someone’s only task was to collect and log music, we wouldn’t have a problem here.
Only, that role doesn’t exist, and what does, is night watcher. My job. And, at the rate I’m going, my eventual role.
I lean against the watchtower railing and survey the desert horizon. I stare at the millions and millions of stars, and they stare back. Yeah, it’s not like you’ve never seen it, the view of the night sky, but at least it’s beautiful, right?
A shooting star catches my eye. I make a wish, like in books, and hope it comes true. I want to want something. Anything. I wish for a want.
Wow, what a terrible wish.
That’s when I hear a far off crack! and I spin my head. Eastward, from where the patrol came, the sky lights up with a radiant purple glow, a kind of spark, like lightning. Then, it fades.
What in the…?
(Click here to continue.)
When she's not overseeing Novel Rocket's Launch Pad Contest: Boosting You Out of the Slush Pile, Yvonne Anderson writes fiction that takes you out of this world.
Check out her Gateway to Gannah series for some serious sci-fi adventure.