After completing my first manuscript last year – [*[Submitting My Manuscript]*] – I am itching to start a new project. Although my previous work has sequels, I would like to take a break from that genre until my exams have finished in June. Because of this I decided to whip out my trusty memory stick and browse a bunch of plans and half attempts at creative writing, seeing if I could piece together ‘something’ [*meaning a project I can work on leisurely in my spare time*].
I didn’t realise until today just how many unfinished plans, chapters, characters, and titles I owned, but on the bright side, I did manage to find around seventy pages, which after reading, have filled me with enthusiasm and excitement.
These seventy pages were the beginning of a Young Adult, Adventure novel titled ‘The Survival Ward’, which I started mid-2015, but did not complete because I wanted to work on different things. At the time I was torn on what to do, whether to give up writing entirely, whether to keep pushing and hope that one day I would churn out a manuscript that was publishable.
Anyway, I thought I’d share a snippet on my blog [*the first ten pages of Chapter One*], maybe in an attempt to motivate myself to continue, maybe to get reassurance that this is something I should put my efforts into – who knows? But I also would like to state that this was just a first draft – probably full of mountains of mistakes, and errors, and inconsistencies – and it would be altered in the future, of course, if I were to push ahead with finishing it.
THE CITY OF AURIELLE
………..Throughout the miserable morning, wrapped up in chaotic intervals of thunder and downpour, Braelynn Abernathy examined the envelope that had arrived for her at 3:00am. The time-stamp on the front had messily bled due to the droplets of rain that fell from the dark ash sky, but she was still able to make out the time of delivery, none the less. Her heartbeat quickened, the damp aroma of paper swarming the air as she swiftly made her way through the city of Aurielle.
………..Dabbing her icy, whitening fingertips across the ripped edges, her body filled with a concoction of emotions. As she removed her fingerless gloves, her main emotion was that of dread; she dreaded the contents of this letter. Although it contained nothing more than her own name, date of birth, and a time and location to meet in the city – which Brae knew was an infamous area prohibited and cluttered with warning signs – she had no idea what to expect, and the unexpected always created a rift inside that shook her to the core. She was not brave like her father, like her mother, or her cousin. She was a self-described cowardly eighteen-year-old girl, buried in a mass of freckles and braided ginger hair, that was terrified of spiders, crowds of strangers, and the unfamiliar altogether. But, strangely enough, she ventured to the destination anyway, and this was because of another emotion that rocked her back and forth: love.
………..If love could be considered an emotion at all – she had read a lot of theories about whether it was – then she was wandering through Aurielle to find it again. She wanted to be reunited with her cousin, her best friend, and if this was a way to find him, then she was going to risk it.
………..All morning, her mind had been plagued about the origin of the letter, and although she could never be certain until she reached the forbidden location, she had a strong notion of where it came from. The Leaders of Aurielle, Irving and Opal Dassey, were preparing a second Unit to head to the Survival Ward through the Waking Passage, and Brae had secretly signed up.
………..The first mission had backfired horrendously nearly two years earlier. Unit 27, which had left with twenty-seven people from Aurielle and their rival city, Embrescia, arrived at the Survival Ward with only six breathing members. One of those who had made it was Brae’s cousin, Zeke, who she had referred to as Zinc from the age of five. To her, it was more than a slim probability that this letter was to prepare the second Unit for dispatch, which would explain why it was delivered during the early hours. Barely anyone would be roaming the streets on a wet and thunderous night such as the one that had occurred. It was the perfect way to stay hidden, and it was the best tactic to avoid another controversial rebellion.
………..The Unit 27 affair had thrown their world into disarray and only caused more tension between the Auriellians and Embrescians. The idea of a reconciliation and a merger between the two cities was far out of reach, and it most likely would never be in reach again. It had also caused a vast split between Auriellians themselves, whose opposing views had destroyed a section of the city back in December 2071. That was why the warning signs were up. That was why the area was prohibited.
………..Surprisingly, Brae’s opinion on the mission was that of indifference. Like anything, it had its pros and cons, its benefits and its risks, its love and its loss. That was life, and life was full of risk, and conquering risks were the only way they would survive now after the Obliteration.
………..Fetching up against a deadened tree trunk, her thoughts were cut short as she took a break to catch her breath. She had reached the location fifteen minutes early, striding confidently past strangers, acquaintances, and colleagues, who were absolutely oblivious of this suspicious meeting in a not-so-restricted area. From where she was standing, Brae had an ideal view of the street ahead, only it wasn’t as pleasant a sight as it used to be.
………..The houses on the left hand side were partially burnt, or at least darkened by the riot that had taken place a year and a half earlier. One house, which had previously belonged to a Unit 27 member, had half of its roof caved in from a firing of bricks and objects. Another was completely devoid of glass. The rioters had taken no prisoners, not even the ones who had ventured out into the Waking Passage in search of a better life for the entire city. It was no surprise that most of the houses were currently abandoned, some due to tragedy, some due to fear, and all that remained was a solid reminder of what everyone had lost or surrendered in the name of the Survival Ward.
………..The touch of everything here was crisp and crumbling – even the tree Brae perched herself against. There was always a taste of iron, fumes, or lighter fluid in the air, which was why many families who had suffered did not place flowers in this location. It was a wasted effort. They would be stolen or set alight at the hands of Anti-Unit protesters.
………..Praying her theory was correct, and shoving her arms further up her scrawny sleeves to conserve heat, Brae thought back to the reason she had signed up. It wasn’t just about Zinc, and there were other motives, but she made her cousin the focus.
………..Three months earlier, Brae had been approached by a family member of Opal Dassey, who had heard through word of mouth that her family was linked to the Ward. In secrecy, at an event celebrating Aurielle’s discovery, she had met with Opal and agreed to sign up for the next mission. At the time her mind was tainted, knowing Zinc’s mother was very sick and she needed to inform him, but she would never regret her choice. Brae had signed up in case the worst scenario occurred, which it did. Zinc’s mother passed away three weeks later in her sleep at the age of forty-seven, and Brae assumed the duty of telling him face to face. She was willing to head into the Waking Passage to inform him, like he had informed her mother of her own tragedy.
………..“Brae! Brae!” a recognisable voice shouted from the other side of the path, snapping her back into reality: Rowen. Her wavy blonde hair tousled uncontrollably as she darted toward Brae, almost tackling her to the ground with the ferocity of her hug. For someone barely five-six, she was shockingly strong. Leaning away, Brae was met by a pair of cat-like green eyes. “Please tell me you got the letter, too.”
………..Relief swept over her as she realised Rowen had been selected, and this was definitely about the mission – she could feel it in her bones. “Oh, thank God, you’re coming,” she said, removing her friend’s shoulder-length hair out of her face, and lowering her voice before she drew too much attention. “Where’s Toby and Johnathon? Did they-”
………..“Johnathon’s on his way,” Rowen explained, passing Brae a scribbled note he’d left for them on her doorstep, hoping they had also received confirmation. “Toby’s meeting is in the afternoon. It looks like our Leaders are trying to keep it really low-key. Splitting the group in half so no one notices.”
………..“I don’t blame them,” Brae said, kicking a clump of mud from her boot as she dropped the note into her pocket. It bounced across the worn cobblestone. “The last thing this city needs is another burning building courtesy of Anti-Unit protesters.” A strong hiss of bitterness lingered in her throat as she searched the opposing street, waiting for Johnathon to appear.
………..“Any regrets about signing up?” Rowen asked, sensing her friend’s hostility. She spun around to face the scorched warning signs behind Brae. They panged and clanked repeatedly as Rowen rubbed her fingers into the tarmac-black residue and drew lines on either side of her face with a calming giggle. The sharp noises only flared the throbbing in Brae’s skull more.
………..“Never,” she replied numbly, continuing to stare out for a moment. After narrowing her eyes on the wide open space, taking in the wasteland this side of the city had become, she turned away. “What about you?” Her hazel-eyes, the shape of almonds, enlarged as she watched Rowen continue to paint her plump face.
………..“Well, it was either this or be arrested for petty theft again,” she declared, showing off her new war paint with seductive charm. “And I am really not in the mood to spend another month trapped in a cell with only Johnathon and Tobias. If I hear one more conspiracy theory about the Obliteration, I will not be responsible for my murderous tendencies.”
………..“You need a new hobby.”
………..She rolled her eyes. “I need better accomplices…like you. I bet you’re nowhere near as bad a klutz as Toby is. I bet you’re sneakier as well.”
………..Brae noiselessly chuckled, like the action strangled her, as she thought back to their latest release from incarceration. It had been twenty-two days. In a way, she had told them to sign up to protect them from themselves. They were two crimes away from being exiled from Aurielle altogether, and she couldn’t bear the thought of losing them as well.
………..In the distance a shadow emerged from behind the houses, followed by a six-foot figure dressed head to toe in navy blue. “There’s our boy,” Rowen identified, retreating down the path to greet Johnathon. Brae blinked harshly; everything further than fifteen steps was a sporadic blur to her. She had no idea how her friend’s vision could always be so sharp.
………..“What is that muck on your face, Row?” Johnathon shouted as he jogged over to the shelter and away from the oncoming downpour. He swiped his thumb across his tongue and tried to scrub her design away. “You need to get rid of that. They’ll take one look at you wearing it, and they’ll turn you away. Don’t test the Dasseys…or their guards.”
………..“Fine,” she groaned, massaging her cheeks with her sleeves until the blackness faded out. Slyly she patted the back of Johnathon’s mousy-brown hair, staining it too, but he failed to notice this move. “Maybe you should save some, John. Collect it in a tin. Cover up that nasty scar on your nose.” She raised her eyebrows triumphantly as Brae hindered a laugh.
………..His lively blue eyes shot Rowen a distasteful stare. “Want to tell Braelynn how I enquired this scar?” he commented, curving his body to her. “Trying to save Rowen from being caught by Mr Shipton, that’s how.”
………..“I just wanted his son’s Encyclopaedia,” Rowen remarked. “The guy should’ve let it go.”
………..With a subtle gesture of the hand, Brae persuaded them to enter the burnt-out establishment before the onslaught of atrocious weather descended from the heavens. On the way in she heard Johnathon say, “Well, he let go all right. Straight with a knife to the face.”
………..A strange grey mist blanketed the hallway as they trod through the decaying establishment. If they believed the smell of fumes outside were strong, this would be considered catastrophic to their health. There was a twang of oil and gas, projected under a heavy musty aroma, and it came in waves, depending on where in the building they were. The overwhelming stench caused Brae to flush a dark red shade as she brought her gloves up to her nose, noticing the structure that had survived the fire appeared brittle, like a simple knock could send the whole building toppling down into dust and bedlam.
………..The three of them made a conscious effort to avoid touching the building, neatly bringing their bodies together in a strict line. As they wandered through the winding hallway, honey-coloured blocks of wallpaper emerged every so often through the rubble, the dust swept away by their quick footsteps. Specks of rain fell through the ceiling, pitter-pattering as they found a door. Their attention clung to the entrance as it systematically creaked, wobbling on its hinges in a delicate state of abandonment. They decided this room was unlike the others they’d passed. Although the creaking could’ve been from the wind that was picking up outside, Brae believed it was down to someone, not something. “I think this is it,” she said, exchanging a reassuring look from Johnathon to Rowen. If the others on this mission had already arrived, they would be in this room.
………..“Are you ready?” Johnathon asked, barely taking hold of the handle with just two fingers. Rowen nodded, her nervousness clearly exhibited on her face. Brae couldn’t tell if it was because of the meeting itself, or the thought of this move shaking the establishment further, but the more she thought about it, the more she understood it was probably both.
………..“Do it,” Brae said, edging over to the gap in the doorway to see if anyone else was inside. As Johnathon tugged the door away, a sudden burst of light hit her eyes, sending her arm up and across her face. The brightness rattled her, dust scattering in the air, and time felt like it somehow slowed as she dropped her hand back down toward her thigh.
In front of her stood three teenagers, huddled in awkward silence as they waited for the Leaders to arrive. For a brief time, their heads tilted up, hopeful to finally meet the Dasseys, but they had longer to wait, and the disappointment was evident in their expressions. Rowen, who remained consistently enthusiastic and bubbly, stepped in the room first, and seeing her best friend do so gave Brae the confidence to follow. Johnathon halted under the door-frame, making eye contact with the strangers in the room before rethinking whether to close the door. He decided not to, for fear it could do more harm than good.
………..Oddly enough, the room was in far better condition than anything Brae had seen so far. Someone had attempted to clean the walls, revealing a chipping, burgundy coat of paint. It was most noticeable at the back, where the cupboards had been tipped over and the books had been scavenged. The floorboards squeaked with every step they took, making an unappealing tune as they examined the remains. Broken chairs were crushed and thrown in a corner, and tables had been stacked poorly on a section of slanted flooring, which Brae knew better than to try and climb. “Homely,” Rowen said, picking up a cindered frame from the floor to examine the painting inside. By the way she smirked, Brae knew it wouldn’t be long before the piece ‘mysteriously disappeared’.