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Adult Fantasy, Ty Washington, PERENNIAL MORTALS - BOOK 1: THE SEVENTH RECKONING


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I apologize about any typos/errors. I couldn't copy and pastE, so I hastily retyped everything. Here is the current opening scene:

Chapter 1

Malik

If he'd just gone straight home after detention, like he'd been told, they wouldn't have seen him. West Stadium Boulevard curved ahead toward Arbor Street Plaza and away from Malik's home. Traffic idled that night, game night, but periodically, a lone car or two splashed by on wet pavement. Malik stared straight ahead each time one passed, expressionless, looking like he had somewhere to be. A few blocks south, the Big House roared with raucous fans, music, and whistles, echoed by tailgaters up and down Main Street. Maybe a short time ago, he would have tripped off the maize'n blue analgesic that gave Ann Arbor her fix and kept her from going crazy like other cities. But that night, no amount of hype could drown his mother's peremptory voice out of his head.

Pull your pants up, Malik.

Don't wear your hood like that.

Keep your hands out of your pockets.

Her edicts were frantic and stern. She wrapped them like charms around his neck to keep him safe. To keep him alive.

If you get stopped for any reason, don't mouth off. If you get scared, don't act out. You hear me? Don't run, don't scream, and don't you dare cry.

He always cringed when she said that part about crying.

He cringed even now as he pulled his hood up over his head and tried not to think about the shopping incident from a few months ago. She had to keep bringing that up. Everyone did.

Malik shoved his hands into his pockets, trying to keep them warm as he walked toward the plaza, away from the school he had to survive for two more years, a school that always found some reason to penalize him, even though he kept his head down and got good grades in most of his classes.

You just do whatever they say and bring your skinny ass home. If something happens, you let me handle it.

His mom was always coming up to the school raising hell about the teachers being racists, to the point that Malik stopped telling her about things.

The plaza was only a few more blocks up the road. Malik felt crazy even thinking about going back there after what happened, but he was just one drone part short of solving Northern Michigan's deforestation problem and earning a full ride to the University of Michigan's school of engineering, one of the few still operating and taking unsolicited applications. He just reached the intersection before the plaza when he heard a car screech to a halt and someone call his name. He knew who it was even before he turned to look.

Malik's mother coming down to the school so often put him on more than just the administration's shitlist. Cameron Cooper and Dylan Wright had made it their personal mission to punish him. They were three years older and didn't even go to Pinecrest High anymore, but could still be found hanging around the city, usually going to parties at the university, even though neither of them was even remotely smart enough to be students there.

Dad would want me to fight, Malik thought, as he stepped out onto the street. He wasn't the same scrawny kid they'd tormented his freshman year. He was lean but strong, after putting hours in at the gym with his dad's old army friend. He could hold his own if he had to. But he hoped he wouldn't have to. He slid his earbuds into his ears and stared straight ahead, deadpan, refusing to look at them.

Cameron's Ford Mustang rolled to a stop in front of him, cutting Malik off from the plaza parking lot. Malik stared at the tire, carefully still, delaying his glance upward to what he knew would be the smug, half-stoned face of one of his greatest tormentors. He felt empty and cool and weightless, nothing but jitter, but he concealed his nervousness as his eyes panned upward, rolling over Cameron's pale arm hanging listlessly out of the car.

Malik's nostrils twitched at the subtle exhaust fumes leaking from Cameron's car. Hadn't these morons ever heard of reducing their carbon footprints?

"S'up, homie?" Cameron's sneer curved around the word. His eyes were hard and hateful. Dylan smirked stupidly in the background, pleased with Cameron's taunt and daring Malik to do anything about it. Malik let out a resigned sigh. They probably didn't even know what a carbon footprint was, even though children were indoctrinated with climate-change orthodoxy since nursery school. Too little, too late.

An angry driver stuck behind Cameron's car honked at him, and when Cameron didn't budge, jerked into the opposite lane and sped off, tires screeching, pipes polluting. Malik hardly registered the insult the driver hurled out of his window. He didn't look away from Cameron's smug glare.

Malik struck first. Cameron had started to say something, but Malik never heard his next taunt. All he could hear was his own heart in his ears, the sharp crack of his knuckles against Cameron's nose, and then the terrified, enraged shrieking that hissed through Cameron's blood-streaked teeth. Malik's chest deflated, each breath like a bit of air escaping a balloon, until he sank into the realization of what he'd done. His eyes met Cameron's for a moment of mutual hatred, and then Cameron reached for the door handle and Malik kicked the door shut just as it opened. He bolted around the car and across the street.

The mustang's engine revved up behind him. His legs stretched out long and frantic in front of him, his gait awkward since the growth spurt he'd had that summer. He'd never been particularly athletic, but his PE teacher hoped he might at least give basketball some consideration and give himself a real chance to go to college, if that was what he really wanted. The cool air turned to fire in his lungs. The car screeched behind him. He glanced over his shoulder just in time to see Cameron clumsily round the car off, but the vehicle slid sideways.

Malik pitched forward. His head smacked the pavement before he could even register being hit.

 

 

"Dude, what the hell did you do?"

Dylan's shrill voice jolted Malik out of the darkness. Malik scrambled to his feet, his breathing ragged and sharp. It didn't hurt as bad as it should have. Malik didn't stop long to think about it. He knew how adrenaline could distract the human body from pain. He'd used that fact to settle a debate once: if The Wolverine lost his ability to heal, would he still use his claws? The obvious answer was yes. Not only because of adrenaline, but because The Wolverine was both heroic and hotheaded, and hotheaded heroes didn't let pain stop them.

Punching Cameron hadn't been heroic. It was just hotheaded. But that didn't stop Malik from feeling like a vigilante badass. He felt like Peter Parker just then. Actually, Miles Morales, he thought. By the time he reached the tech store's door, his chest burst with glee.

The door opened before he could grab the handle. The salesclerk blocked Malik's entry. He appeared startled.

Malik struggled to catch his breath. Unfortunately, he recognized the salesclerk as the same one who had got him in trouble the last time he was there, but he tried anyway. "Hey, man. Can you call the police?" He resisted the urge to laugh. He saw how ironic it was, asking this man to call the police. "It's not a joke," he promised. "I need help."

"Oh my God." The salesclerk ignored him. He rushed past Malik, into the parking lot, where a small crowd of store attendants were gathering in front of Cameron's car. Malik rolled his eyes.

Typical, he thought. They're more worried about Cameron and Dylan. Figuring the bullies couldn't hurt him in front of an audience, Malik trailed the salesclerk back to the scene of his assault. He slid his hand into his pocket, feeling for his phone so he could call his mom, but two things were missing.

His phone and his pocket.

Malik looked down. He couldn't fully see his legs. They were there, but they were...translucent and pulsing. I'm trippin', he thought. Maybe hallucination was some weird side effect of being hit by a car.

A siren cut through the air and relief temporarily flooded Malik's senses before tension set in. Getting the police involved could go either way. He started rehearsing his story in his mind, getting it straight. Yes, I hit first. But that's only because they beat me so bad one time, I had to go to the E. R. You can ask my mom.

His mom. He had to call her.

His phone. He must have dropped it.

He turned around and scanned the ground. He didn't see it. It must have fallen out when he'd been hit. He maneuvered his way through the crowd, careful not to touch anyone, not to set anyone off. He found it. It had fallen near one of the cement parking blocks. Even though the screen was cracked, Malik could make out his mom's face as the phone rang. She would have been at work, but by now his little sister would have informed her that he wasn't home.

Malik didn't pick up the phone. He just stared at the bruised-faced black boy, who lay sprawled in the center of the crowd, head propped up by one of the parking blocks and a pool of blood. He stumbled backward. "No," he uttered, anguished. He sobbed. No one moved to comfort him. No one knew he was there. Malik Thomas was dead.

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Hi Tylisha! Wow. That was really good. I can just feel the tension rising off the page (or screen, I guess). If anything, I feel like I could use a bit more description of the setting, as I'm having some trouble visualizing the area where Malik gets killed. The tech store kind of popped out of nowhere. The ending is intense and intriguing and I want to see what happens next. It is just a bit rushed in my opinion. 

Aside from that, all I have are two tiny line edits:

-They probably didn't even know what a carbon footprint was, even though children were indoctrinated with climate-change orthodoxy since nursery school. Too little, too late. I am a little confused on the "too little, too late." I would assume the phrase pertains to Cameron and Dylan's lack of climate change knowledge, though the remark that they've been indoctrinated with it since nursery school negates that. 

-She would have been at work, but by now his little sister would have informed her that he wasn't home. Malik would naturally arrive home late because of detention. Perhaps you could change this part to say that Malik's mother always calls him to make sure he's ok. 

Thanks for posting! I truly enjoyed reading your first chapter. I'd love to see more :)

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On 4/22/2021 at 7:51 PM, TyWashingtonP6 said:

I apologize about any typos/errors. I couldn't copy and pastE, so I hastily retyped everything. Here is the current opening scene:

Chapter 1

Malik

If he'd just gone straight home after detention, like he'd been told, they wouldn't have seen him. West Stadium Boulevard curved ahead toward Arbor Street Plaza and away from Malik's home. Traffic idled that night, game night, but periodically, a lone car or two splashed by on wet pavement. Malik stared straight ahead each time one passed, expressionless, looking like he had somewhere to be. A few blocks south, the Big House roared with raucous fans, music, and whistles, echoed by tailgaters up and down Main Street. Maybe a short time ago, he would have tripped off the maize'n blue analgesic that gave Ann Arbor her fix and kept her from going crazy like other cities. But that night, no amount of hype could drown his mother's peremptory voice out of his head.

Pull your pants up, Malik.

Don't wear your hood like that.

Keep your hands out of your pockets.

Her edicts were frantic and stern. She wrapped them like charms around his neck to keep him safe. To keep him alive.

I really like these sentences above, they're very evocative. 

If you get stopped for any reason, don't mouth off. If you get scared, don't act out. You hear me? Don't run, don't scream, and don't you dare cry.

He always cringed when she said that part about crying.

He cringed even now as he pulled his hood up over his head and tried not to think about the shopping incident from a few months ago. She had to keep bringing that up. Everyone did.

So I'm a little confused about what you're trying to show by having Malik pull his hood and put his hands in his pockets only a few paragraphs after you have him think about how his mother is telling him not to. It seems like from the sentence above "no amount of hype... out of his head" that he's listening to his mother, that's what is keeping him from going to the party. But now he's not listening? It feels inconsistent.

Malik shoved his hands into his pockets, trying to keep them warm as he walked toward the plaza, away from the school he had to survive for two more years, a school that always found some reason to penalize him, even though he kept his head down and got good grades in most of his classes.

You just do whatever they say and bring your skinny ass home. If something happens, you let me handle it.

His mom was always coming up to the school raising hell about the teachers being racists, to the point that Malik stopped telling her about things.

This is a good emotional detail, pulls me into Malik as a character.

The plaza was only a few more blocks up the road. Malik felt crazy even thinking about going back there after what happened, but he was just one drone part short of solving Northern Michigan's deforestation problem and earning a full ride to the University of Michigan's school of engineering, one of the few still operating and taking unsolicited applications. He just reached the intersection before the plaza when he heard a car screech to a halt and someone call his name. He knew who it was even before he turned to look.

I'm confused by the second sentence of the paragraph above. I'm assuming that the plaza is where the shopping incident referenced above happened? I'm guessing you'll go into it later. The other part that confuses me is the reference to solving Northern Michigan's deforestation problem. That's an incredible detail to just throw out there! Is Malik a genius of some sort? I got the impression from the above that he was a good student who didn't make waves/avoided attention but solving a deforestation problem seems like the kind of thing that would get a student a lot of attention. I think your intention is to characterize him as a smart kid (hence the full ride to the University of Michigan's school of engineering) but unless it's important to the story that he's like an actual genius, I would find some other problem that he's about to solve. Finally, I wasn't sure what that part of the sentence "one of the few still operating and taking unsolicited applications" meant. Are most colleges shut down for some reason in your story?

Malik's mother coming down to the school so often put him on more than just the administration's shitlist. Cameron Cooper and Dylan Wright had made it their personal mission to punish him. They were three years older and didn't even go to Pinecrest High anymore, but could still be found hanging around the city, usually going to parties at the university, even though neither of them was even remotely smart enough to be students there.

I think you need some sort of transition between the first sentence of the paragraph above and the second sentence. How does Malik's mother going to the school so often make Cameron and Dylan go after him? Are they children of teachers or school administrators? I think it'll work too to just cut out the first sentence and start with the second sentence since it'll explain who is in the car screeching to a halt in front of Malik.

Dad would want me to fight, Malik thought, as he stepped out onto the street. He wasn't the same scrawny kid they'd tormented his freshman year. He was lean but strong, after putting hours in at the gym with his dad's old army friend. He could hold his own if he had to. But he hoped he wouldn't have to. He slid his earbuds into his ears and stared straight ahead, deadpan, refusing to look at them.

Cameron's Ford Mustang rolled to a stop in front of him, cutting Malik off from the plaza parking lot. Malik stared at the tire, carefully still, delaying his glance upward to what he knew would be the smug, half-stoned face of one of his greatest tormentors. He felt empty and cool and weightless, nothing but jitter, but he concealed his nervousness as his eyes panned upward, rolling over Cameron's pale arm hanging listlessly out of the car.

Is there some special reason Cameron and Dylan picked Malik to torment? I think it would be more compelling if we had some sort of reason. Jealousy of his intelligence? Racism (but then why Malik and not another black kid)? Both? Something like "ever since Malik beat out Cameron in X competition he'd had it in for him, he was furious to be beaten by a black kid" although that might not work because above you say that Cameron and Dylan aren't smart enough to go to university, so maybe a girl Cameron liked who spurned him for Malik?

Malik's nostrils twitched at the subtle exhaust fumes leaking from Cameron's car. Hadn't these morons ever heard of reducing their carbon footprints?

"S'up, homie?" Cameron's sneer curved around the word. His eyes were hard and hateful. Dylan smirked stupidly in the background, pleased with Cameron's taunt and daring Malik to do anything about it. Malik let out a resigned sigh. They probably didn't even know what a carbon footprint was, even though children were indoctrinated with climate-change orthodoxy since nursery school. Too little, too late.

To be honest the climate change contempt coming from Malik kind of draws me away from him. I think it's plenty established already how smart he is so would it work to have him express more vulnerable emotions here? Like anxiety, fear, dread at having to go through this confrontation again. I really like the two lines you have above about him always cringing when she said that part about not crying, and the line I already pointed out about how Malik stopped telling his mother things. I feel like it might work in these two paragraphs to articulate Malik's attitude toward these two personally rather than articulating his attitude toward their knowledge or lack thereof of climate change. To continue with the girl example, if Malik was like I wish that girl hadn't said anything to Cameron, I didn't even like her, and now I've had to deal with this jerk for years, etc.

An angry driver stuck behind Cameron's car honked at him, and when Cameron didn't budge, jerked into the opposite lane and sped off, tires screeching, pipes polluting. Malik hardly registered the insult the driver hurled out of his window. He didn't look away from Cameron's smug glare.

I think there needs to be some sort of transition between this paragraph and the next. Some emotion on the part of Malik I think would do it, and then have him strike.

Malik struck first. Cameron had started to say something, but Malik never heard his next taunt. All he could hear was his own heart in his ears, the sharp crack of his knuckles against Cameron's nose, and then the terrified, enraged shrieking that hissed through Cameron's blood-streaked teeth. Malik's chest deflated, each breath like a bit of air escaping a balloon, until he sank into the realization of what he'd done. His eyes met Cameron's for a moment of mutual hatred, and then Cameron reached for the door handle and Malik kicked the door shut just as it opened. He bolted around the car and across the street.

The mustang's engine revved up behind him. His legs stretched out long and frantic in front of him, his gait awkward since the growth spurt he'd had that summer. He'd never been particularly athletic, but his PE teacher hoped he might at least give basketball some consideration and give himself a real chance to go to college, if that was what he really wanted. The cool air turned to fire in his lungs. The car screeched behind him. He glanced over his shoulder just in time to see Cameron clumsily round the car off, but the vehicle slid sideways.

I think because this is the first scene and we don't know yet know what is truth v. what are the thoughts of an unreliable narrator, I'd be more clear in the third sentence of the paragraph above. Is is true that Malik actually only has a real chance of going to college through basketball? Or is his PE teacher being racist? If it's the latter, I'd say it a tiny bit more explicitly. "but his PE teacher insisted that the only way someone like Malik could have a real chance to go to college -- if that was even what someone like Malik wanted -- was with a basketball scholarship"

And then follow up with Malik's response. "Malik always ignored him, however. He preferred to run, and awkward though he was at it now, with the car screeching behind him, he was suddenly frantically glad he'd kept it up."

Malik pitched forward. His head smacked the pavement before he could even register being hit.

 

 

"Dude, what the hell did you do?"

Dylan's shrill voice jolted Malik out of the darkness. Malik scrambled to his feet, his breathing ragged and sharp. It didn't hurt as bad as it should have. Malik didn't stop long to think about it. He knew how adrenaline could distract the human body from pain. He'd used that fact to settle a debate once: if The Wolverine lost his ability to heal, would he still use his claws? The obvious answer was yes. Not only because of adrenaline, but because The Wolverine was both heroic and hotheaded, and hotheaded heroes didn't let pain stop them.

I'd get rid of the sentence "Malik didn't stop long to think about it" and join the sentences around it "it didn't hurt as bad as it should have but Malik knew how adrenaline could distract..."

Punching Cameron hadn't been heroic. It was just hotheaded. But that didn't stop Malik from feeling like a vigilante badass. He felt like Peter Parker just then. Actually, Miles Morales, he thought. By the time he reached the tech store's door, his chest burst with glee.

I'd get rid of "just then" or change "He felt like Peter Parker" to "He'd felt like Peter Parker just then"

And "chest burst with glee" to "chest was bursting with glee"

The door opened before he could grab the handle. The salesclerk blocked Malik's entry. He appeared startled.

Malik struggled to catch his breath. Unfortunately, he recognized the salesclerk as the same one who had got him in trouble the last time he was there, but he tried anyway. "Hey, man. Can you call the police?" He resisted the urge to laugh. He saw how ironic it was, asking this man to call the police. "It's not a joke," he promised. "I need help."

This paragraph above is good!

"Oh my God." The salesclerk ignored him. He rushed past Malik, into the parking lot, where a small crowd of store attendants were gathering in front of Cameron's car. Malik rolled his eyes.

Typical, he thought. They're more worried about Cameron and Dylan. Figuring the bullies couldn't hurt him in front of an audience, Malik trailed the salesclerk back to the scene of his assault. He slid his hand into his pocket, feeling for his phone so he could call his mom, but two things were missing.

His phone and his pocket.

Malik looked down. He couldn't fully see his legs. They were there, but they were...translucent and pulsing. I'm trippin', he thought. Maybe hallucination was some weird side effect of being hit by a car.

I'd get rid of the last sentence "Maybe hallucination..." I don't think it adds anything and detracts from the forward movement of the scene.

A siren cut through the air and relief temporarily flooded Malik's senses before tension set in. Getting the police involved could go either way. He started rehearsing his story in his mind, getting it straight. Yes, I hit first. But that's only because they beat me so bad one time, I had to go to the E. R. You can ask my mom.

Another good detail ("beat me so bad one time, I had to go to the E.R.") that draws me into Malik.

His mom. He had to call her.

His phone. He must have dropped it.

He turned around and scanned the ground. He didn't see it. It must have fallen out when he'd been hit. He maneuvered his way through the crowd, careful not to touch anyone, not to set anyone off. He found it. It had fallen near one of the cement parking blocks. Even though the screen was cracked, Malik could make out his mom's face as the phone rang. She would have been at work, but by now his little sister would have informed her that he wasn't home.

I think it's super interesting and that you do such a good job of subtly demonstrating how Malik is so used to being treated badly because of his race that he doesn't even recognize that he's a ghost right away. The store employee ignoring him, how he has to navigate a crowd without accidentally bumping into anyone, those are super good details.

Malik didn't pick up the phone. He just stared at the bruised-faced black boy, who lay sprawled in the center of the crowd, head propped up by one of the parking blocks and a pool of blood. He stumbled backward. "No," he uttered, anguished. He sobbed. No one moved to comfort him. No one knew he was there. Malik Thomas was dead.

I'd add a But to this paragraph "But Malik didn't pick up the phone." And the last sentence, I'd add a bit more transition too. "Somehow, unbelievably, he -- Malik Thomas -- was dead."

---

 

Conclusion: I really liked it! You do a very good job with capturing the subtleties of societal navigation Malik is subjected to. There are flashes of vulnerability that make him a compelling character and most of my comments above are to ask for more of them. I think you need some more transition words in a few different points but your prose is evocative and enjoyable to read. The only other thing I wish was in here was some indication of your fantastical setting which I only know about through the conference. I feel like it would make this scene that much more compelling, to have a hint even if it's only one, that this story is not quite your ordinary ghost story. I'm excited to read more!

 

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