I'll be posting more on query process as it moves along. But for a little break, I entered a short story in a little contest over at Absolute Write. It was a kid's lit contest with the theme of heat/summer, under 600 words. I've never written anything younger than YA, so it was a fun challenge to do something more Middle Grade. I was definitely going for something a bit Mark Twain-esque.
I didn't win, but that's OK. There were some great stories in the contest. (You have to be a member to see the stories - they're posted under the Share Your Work - Children's Literature section.) But here's my story. Enjoy.
End of the Safe World
Petey stopped at the edge of the grass, the corn stretching out in neat rows like an army ready to march. The sun rained down warmth and he lifted his Cubs hat to wipe sweat from his forehead, ‘cause that’s how explorers do it. Lena watched the tassels swaying in the breeze while Wilson glanced over his shoulder. Petey squinted, trying to see through the long shadows. Out there lay adventure and danger.
“Well, this is it.” He stood tall, though still dwarfed by the plants. “Cut straight across and we’ll hit the creek. Billy said it was lying under a big oak.”
“Couldn’t we go around?” Wilson swung his foot over the dirt, as if afraid to touch it. “Momma says I’m not supposed to leave the park.”
Lena nodded. “Besides, I bet it ain’t real. Billy just made it up.”
Petey pointed a stick at the girl. “My brother don’t lie.” He turned his make-shift sword on Wilson. “And if you’re afraid of gettin’ caught, you can split right now.” He spat. “This here’s a mission, and we don’t need any chickens.
He stepped into a row. “I ain’t afraid of Old Man Andersen’s stupid cornfield. Who’s with me?”
Wilson shuffled his feet. Lena stuck her chin out and marched down the next row without looking back. Petey scrambled to get out front. Wilson followed.
Out of the sun, the air was no cooler. It clung to them like a damp towel. They walked in silence, the thwack of Petey’s stick on the trunks marking their pace. After a while, he started to whistle.
Petey emerged into daylight and held his breath. He didn’t see no creek. He saw a barn, with a giant dog lying in its shade. Lena appeared and froze.
Wilson stumbled into him and knocked the stick out of his hand. “Hey, why’d you stop?”
“Shut up,” whispered Petey.
Too late. The dog raised its head.
“Just keep still,” Petey said. “It won’t do nothing.”
He bent to pick up the stick. As he stood, the beast growled. He pointed. “Good doggy. Stay.”
With a ferocious snarl it charged, slobber flying everywhere. Petey dropped the stick and pushed Wilson into the corn. Lena was already gone.
Green leaves slapped his face as Petey overtook Wilson and dodged wildly through the stalks. The dog’s barking followed behind and Lena shrieked up ahead. Sweat stung his eyes as he burst into a small opening where a raggedy figure towered over Lena. Wilson shot into the open space, tangling with Petey and landing in a heap.
The dog was almost on top of them when it jerked back with a yelp, its leash tangled around the corn. Petey scrambled to his feet, pulling Wilson with him and grabbing Lena as they passed. “It’s just a scarecrow. Come on!” They plunged back into the shadows.
They ran out of steam before long, hands on knees, sucking in moist air. Unable to speak, they walked in silence when their legs could move. They were breathing normally by the time they emerged from the field and set foot on safe grass. The silence remained ‘til they reached the street.
“I hear Rob Olsen found a squirrel with five legs,” Petey said. “Got it locked in his basement. We could check it out after dinner.”
Wilson nodded and Lena mumbled a yes. Petey threw his shoulders back. He picked up a new stick and sliced the air. “Okay, then. We’ll meet at the flagpole at seven.” He turned and ran home, cutting down enemies the entire way.