PARATA’S SHADOWS – Chapter One

For Writing 201, we’re supposed to be polishing and editing our old stuff.  This is from the first book I ever wrote.  Which is to say, it’s from the reality and characters I conceived first, and has been rewritten about a thousand times since (if you think I’m exaggerating, go back and look at the first fiction you wrote).  This is the first chapter and I’m still not sure I like it.

1. Does it get into the meat of the story fast enough to make you want to read more and figure out what’s going on in this world?

2. What’s my angle?  We’re supposed to ponder this for Writing 201 this week.  So what’s that thing that makes this unique to me?  Because I have no clue.

 

CHAPTER ONE

 “Come on!” I begged the computer screen, resisting the urge to grab it and give it a good shake. The hypnotic little circle in the middle of the login page circled round and round, doing nothing to calm my frazzled nerves. If it didn’t load soon, I was going to fry the damn thing right in the middle of the computer lab.

Witnesses be dammed!

I grabbed my coffee cup, swinging it to my mouth before remembering it was all gone and putting it back down.

Maybe I should go get more coffee and by the time I’m back it’ll…

“Aghep!” I jumped away from my buzzing phone. “Ouch!” And smacked my hand on the desk. Sparks shot from my fingers, ready to attack the offending piece of wood. Okay, maybe I didn’t need more coffee.

I grabbed my phone, flipped it open and tried not to snap my, “Yes?”

“Whoa, Shorty, scores not that good?” Cameron asked, his usual mocking tone wary like he was afraid I’d fry him for asking.

Lightning danced at the fingertips of my left hand and I quickly closed it, willing the magic down before looking around the library’s mini-computer lab. No one else was at the two rows of computers. Good. I’d picked this one because it was the smallest at the U and the most likely to be empty on a weekend evening.

“I love your faith in me. They’re not up yet. The page won’t load.”

“HA! That must be killing you!”

“You’re a dick, and I’m hanging up.”

“Wait, seriously Shorty, I…”

“Grrrr!” I growled as the page timed out again.

Szzzzzz. Sparks of white hot impatience shot from the three middle fingers on my left hand and the computer screen in front of me flickered and died.

A strangled gurgle like someone choking on blood bubbled up my throat and I slid over a chair.

At this rate I was going to be passing out from overuse of magic before my MCAT scores even loaded.

I turned on the next computer as Cameron asked, “What did you fry?”

“The computer.” I kept my voice low just in case someone was walking by. “I just moved over.” I logged onto the computer, breathing deep to keep my lightning down.

“Why aren’t you looking them up here?”

“Because if they’re not good, I don’t trust myself not to blow something up.”

“Or fry one of us?”

“That… may be a concern. But if I’m frying somebody, you’re the first one to go!”

“You really think you did that bad? You’re like a genius.”

“Flattery will save you from becoming a magic roasted marshmallow.” I sighed. “I’ve never been tested. And I didn’t feel like a genius during that shitshow.”

“I’m sorry, I must have the wrong Sandry Green, cuz the one I know ain’t no whiner.”

I pulled up the MCAT page and typed in my number and password. Third times the charm?

“She’s a ball busting, witch munchkin who’s also going to be a kick-ass doctor. One going into research and not actually talkin’ to people cuz her bedside manner sucks.”

“Bite me. And thank-you.” I reached for the empty coffee cup again, remembering halfway there it was empty.

“I love you too, Shorty.”

The circle kept turning. “I’m going to kill this thing too.” My stomach churned as I glanced at the last computer. It was a tiny shock, it probably was fine, and the U had plenty of people on Tech Support.

“Do you know where my potions book is?”

“Somewhere in that black hole you call a bedroom is my bet. That graveyard where organization goes to die. That infested…”

The screen came up.

My heart stopped, vision spiraling down to a few lines on the screen.

It’d been thirty-three days since the test in September for most people. For me, adding the double time I spent in Parata’s pocket reality, it’d been sixty-six.

Sixty-six days of waiting for this one moment.

“Thirty-six. CAMRON, I GOT A Thirty-Six!” I dropped the phone on the desk and jumped out of the chair, jumping in place.

Fire sprang up on my chair, the flames dancing with me.

“Shit!” I flung my hand out, trying to quash them. “OW!” And banged my knuckles into the desk.

Clumsiest black belt alive, rang through my head in what sounded strangely like Cameron’s voice.

I snuffed the flames, definitely feeling the magic drain now, and grabbed my phone, rubbing my abused hand. The phone had shut off on Cameron. Not the first time a girl hung up on him, he was probably used to it.

I called him back. “I got a thirty-six! I’m going to med school. I’m going to get a scholarship and… and…”

“That’s great, Shorty! You did know you’d do good. This isn’t a surprise.”

“I know. I can breathe again. This has been the longest sixty-six days of my life and I can breathe again.” I sagged in my chair, eyes glued to the screen like the numbers would change. “I knew I didn’t do badly, but I mean, I had to get a good score to make sure I’ll get a scholarship. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know how to make money out of thin air.”

“You’d think that’d be the first thing they teach us in Parata, huh?”

“Ha! Probably lead to inflation problems. Ask Izzy, she’s more into economics than me.”

“Mother Earth’s out.”

“Protest?”

“Nah, some Law Students for Environmental blah blah meeting.”

“Hey, I was close. Why aren’t you there? Don’t they always have beer at these things?”

“Not this one and I can’t hit on law school girls unless they’re dumbed down so I thought I’d actually get my Parata homework done.”

“For once.”

“I don’t know why you’re so worried about money. You’re going to get in-state tuition and the twins are letting us stay here indefinitely. Hell, I might just never graduate with these kinds of digs.”

“Yeah, cuz the house is what’s going to keep you from graduating.”

“I’m finding myself.”

I snorted and kept staring at the screen. “The twins are letting us live there for now. You don’t know when that will change. You can’t count on it; just expect other people to take care of things for you, Cameron. That’s how you end up…”

“Ughhhhh, yeah we can. They’re our Order. They’ll be there for us forever, just like we will for them and Michelle.”

“They might move. They move, we’re out.”

“They’re rich, they’ll just let us stay there and get a different house. Michelle’s a freshman, that’s almost four years more I have with at least one person in the house to clean up after me.”

I could practically see him grinning. He just didn’t get it. “You can’t just depend on other people always being there to clean up after you and take care of you. You have to stand on your own two feet. You hav…”

“You have issues. Damn, Shorty, if I didn’t know and like your parents, I’d think they’d abandoned you or something for all the trust issues you have. Your brother doesn’t have these kids of issues, and… I don’t know your sister but I’m assuming she doesn’t. What’s your deal?”

I scuzzed the phone. “I’m hanging up on you now. I’ve got homework.”

“No, wait!”

Ten bucks said he needed help with his potions homework. “What?”

“Have you seen the news today? There’s some serial killer in Salt Lake.”

I held the phone out like it could show me the news, shook my head and put it back on my ear. “What? Really?”

“Looks like a vampire.”

“WHAT!”

“Ouch, only dogs can hear you when you screech like that, Shorty.”

“Explains why you could hear it then, huh?”

“Right in the heart, Shorty, right in the heart. Hey, I know.” Cameron’s voice perked up and I didn’t have to see him to know he was wearing his patented shit-eating grin.

“Cameron, whatever you’re about to…”

“Why don’t you ask Doctor Dracula about it? See if any of his friends have been hitting the buffet.”

I knew that tone wouldn’t lead to anything I was going to like.

“Fuck you.”

“Depends, what kind of tricks has he taught you?” I could practically hear his eyebrows wriggling. “I like nibbling in… places, not hard core biting, light.”

“Agh… you… grrrrrrrrrrr.”

“Unless he hasn’t. Damn, Shorty, you still holding out? Cherry’s not gonna pop itself.”

“You don’t’ know that.”

Cameron laughed.

“Not that! That it won’t pop itself. I mean, that I’m still, that I haven’t… You’re a pig.”

“I’m a pig who’s seen you when you’ve seen me naked in the morning. You look at my junk like it’s going to bite.” He cracked up again. “No wonder you haven’t fucked Doctor Dracula. His probably does!”

I jabbed at my phone till the screen light up so I could hit end and pressed my hand to my cheek. Yep, warm, bright red type of warm.

Just like whenever Cameron decided it was nudist Sunday and walked around the house naked until he found me and got to see me turn red and advert my eyes.

He never pulled that shit with Michelle, who’d be way more embarrassed than me. Why me? It was like he wanted me to kick him in the danglies.

I took one last look at the computer screen and my pretty, pretty score before turning it off and grabbing my bag.

I may have been a witch of nearly four months, but my control still wasn’t that great and my fingertips trembled with flickers of lightning as I walked out of the little lab. Had to wait for those to go down but then I had to call Ja… ergh, my dad and sister and baby brother and mom once she was awake. They were going to be so proud.

Those were the people I had to call, not some guy that I couldn’t get a hold of anyway. James always had to call me because he still hadn’t managed to give me his phone number.

But if he did call… I mean, I wouldn’t hide it if he asked.

 

The sun was long past setting, last bits of light pink barely tinting the mountains, when I left the library. Leaves crunched under my sneakers, crackling their congratulations. The red, orange, and yellows still hanging onto their branches waved at me under the lamps lining the pathway.

I got a thirty-six.

I was going to med school.

I was on the phone with my family for hours, by the time I was off it was half past dinnertime, I still hadn’t started my reading, and I’d shot so much lightning out of me in my excitement I was halfway in bed mentally.

Oh well. I skipped a few steps to spite the exhaustion and laughed under my breath, rubbing my arms against the autumn chill.

“AHHHHHHHHHH!” cut through the breeze, making me slam on the breaks. I looked around but couldn’t see anything besides the path leading up the hill to the parking lot and the side of the engineering building.  “HEELLLL…” cut off way too fast for her to have done it on her own. Had to be a girl because no way a guy over twelve could get that soprano shriek. I doubted even I could.

A girl screaming on campus at night? Two guesses what was going on and the first didn’t count.

I dropped my fifteen pounds of backpack and ran towards the scream, wishing for Izzy’s long legs as I rabbited. They came into view as I neared the top. Four shapes on the edge of the parking lot, two struggling with a shorter form, the fourth looking back at the practically empty lot behind them, keeping watch.

“… not her,” one was saying.

I huffed as I cleared the top and picked up speed. One of the attackers looked at me.

It was a girl!

What?

Too late to figure out what was going on if not a campus rape, or hell, even what was going on if it really was.

Either way, they’d attacked some poor girl, who looked about as tiny as me and probably didn’t have magic to protect her.

And who was looking suspiciously unconscious in the guy’s arms.

I raised my hands, focusing the rage into my lightning and hoping it held long enough to get them before magic exhaustion got me. I ran full on at them. A little berserker in her own private army. Electricity came out in spurts and spits, thin strands licking the air but not stretching more than three feet before dissipating.

I’d get in trouble for showing normal people magic, but then again, only if I got caught by the Agency.

And these guys… er people, would be so scared they’d think twice before trying this bullshit on another girl again.

I started to scream, “Let her go,” ready to back it up with some flames, but the female attacker got hers out first.

“That one’s her!” She pointed towards me and flames rushed out of her hand, an elegant wave of red and orange stretching easily ten feet before it broke away from her and crashed towards me.

I threw myself behind the campus cop car parked at the edge of the lot, scraping my palms on the gravel. The pain registered a fraction of a second later and I pushed to my feet in a squat, trying not to think about my bloodied paws.

The car was much worse, melted metal on the trunk betraying how hot those flames had been. I wouldn’t have stood a chance. I poked my head around the car’s caboose.

The attacked girl was on the ground near one of the lot’s lights, unconscious probably by a spell. It was only now that I noticed her shoulder length curly brown hair and delicate features. So much like mine it couldn’t have been coincidence they attacked her.

They were here for me?

Holy shit, they were here for me!

The guys ran for me, the girl staying behind them, magic so thick about her it coated my tongue. Blueberries and cream. Couldn’t figure out for my life (literally!) why her flames didn’t just eat through the car to get me.

No time for whys, I focused on flames, pulling at the part of me that got so irritated whenever Cameron started to poke fun and hit a nerve. As a multi element, I could conjure all four, but it was easier whenever I thought about my teammate who was that element naturally.

The air molecules vibrated in front of me, heating from magic and sparking the oxygen in the air. Flames were the highest energy eaters of the elements, beaten only by my lightning power, but damn did they get a message across.

I built the flames up, shoving uncoordinated energy into them until they made a queen sized quilt of patches of magic.

And shoved it at the guys.

They disappeared.

“Not fair,” I said under my breath. Three witches against a newbie who didn’t even know how teleportation worked, let alone how to do it in a blink.

A hand grabbed my hair and pulled me to my feet so rough strands torn out. The guy who’d been watching the lot appeared next to me and my captor.

“ARGGHHHH” I roared, electricity buzzing across my skin. Even James couldn’t take my lightning without a little damage.

And now these jerks sure as shit were close enough.

Really close. I could smell the onion bagel on my captor’s breath.

“What should we…” he said.

I shoved enough electricity in him to jumpstart a garbage truck and he screamed, releasing my hair.

The other guy cold cocked me so fast it didn’t register till stars exploded and I hit the ground. Gods that hurt! My mouth wouldn’t close and I tasted gravel. He kicked me in the ribs and I curled in on myself.

I was going to lose.

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