Clouds of smoke billow all around, stinging my eyes and burning my lungs. The roar of police sirens and fire brigades mingle with the screams of frightened masses to pierce the air. Interpol agents and Parisian police shout at each other in languages I don’t understand. In front of me, one of the world’s most prominent monuments stands engulfed in flames. As the Interpol agent secures the handcuffs around my wrists, I marvel at how I got here. I’m an ordinary American girl on her first trip to Europe. I don’t have a sparkly vampire boyfriend; I am not proficient with a bow and arrow (or any other weapon for that matter); and I don’t possess some strange genetic composition making me the target of a government conspiracy. I should be panicking. I am being arrested for bombing the Eiffel Tower; yet, my mind is too busy trying to piece together this mystery. I am dazed—disoriented. Events have unfolded so rapidly that my brain struggles to keep up. Amidst the chaos and confusion, thirty yards away, a lone figure emerges from the shadows. Grinning like he’s in on some secret joke, I recognize the boy who has been following me since before I left home. As our eyes lock, he winks at me. Suddenly, I know EXACTLY how I got here.
Score = 1 Ready 2 Set 2 Write
Episode 9 - Dark Power
“Jessica, we've been waiting for you.” Great-Grandma Etta MacVey gestured for me to sit. I looked around the empty room, gave a what-the-heck shrug, and sat in the only chair next to her bed where she lay propped up on pillows in the depressingly drab room. Whoever her fading memory thought was here had left. For two months she’d been imprisoned in this old-age vault. The pleasant lie on the front of the building said Maple Manor. If the sign read more truthfully, like Gone & Forgotten or You'll Never Leave–Alive, people would complain. She turned her head away from me. “I don't want to do this to Jessica.” She whined at someone who wasn't there. “Grandma? Who’re you talking to?” She rolled over to face me. Her ancient smile reminded me of long ago when she played hopscotch with me on the sidewalk. “It’s good to see you, it’s just . . .” She clasped my wrist. “It's time.” A scowl transformed her loving face into a gloomy mask. “I chose you seventeen years ago when you were born. They made me. I'm sorry." “Who . . . made you do what?” Tears pooled in the corners of her eyes and flowed down the wrinkles in her cheeks. “Why are you crying?” “They made me choose, but I wish I had chosen someone else, someone I didn't love.” “Chosen? Someone you didn't love? For what?” My breath slowed to avoid hearing something, something that shouldn't be heard.
Score = 4 Set 1 Write
Episode 8 - Sammy the Guardian Angel
A cloud enveloped the guardian angels’ office complex in heaven. Michael the Archangel and Director of Operations walked out of his office and approached the desk of a rookie guardian angel named Sammy. "Sammy, I've got something for you," Michael said, placing a folded piece of pink notepaper in Sammy’s hand. Sammy tensed up as he looked from his hand to his boss. Is this the dreaded pink slip? Is it over for me? No more guardian angel? Looking up at Michael for a clue as to its contents, Sammy saw only his placid expression. It made Sammy even more nervous. Michael was intimidating; with the same strong athletic build he had when God sent him to challenge the devil for the body of Moses. In Sammy’s first performance review, Michael had expressed some displeasure with Sammy’s tendency to be easily distracted. Well aware his next assignment would be crucial to keeping his job. Sammy reluctantly parted the folded pink note, and peeked into it. He saw two words. Sammy shuddered at what it could mean. Under Michael’s watchful eye, Sammy took a closer look and to his relief it was a name, not something bad like “you’re fired.” He read the words out loud. “Wayne Wulfric. Is that right?” “Yes, he’s your new assignment,” Michael said. “He lives on the North American continent in Davenport, Iowa, USA. He’s in the third grade at Adams Elementary school.” "Third Grade? Is this going to be a lifetime assignment?” “That’s not my call, Sammy”
Score = 5 Write
Episode 7 - Scotty McCormick
[Waiting for Brock to pass along the text of his first page.]
Score = 3 Ready 2 Set (Not eligible for a prize.)
Episode 6 - The French One
This cannot be happening. I just spent the last four years at Stanford, beat out two hundred other applicants and flew twelve hundred miles across the Atlantic only to be told by the guard they are not expecting me for my internship. I grip my luggage, crossing the lobby of the Alpine Food corporate building, the thub-thub-thub from my bag’s broken wheel echoing off the wooden panels behind a mahogany reception desk. Well-heeled employees scurry past me, staring from the corners of their eyes like I'm dragging a carcass. I strive to hold my head up, hoping the guard was mistaken. At the receptionist's desk, I position my luggage upright and throw my carry-on over my valise. "Puis-je vous aider?" the male receptionist asks in yaw-yawing Swiss French, eying me over the top of the tall desk. "Je. . ." I begin. I fumble for the right words. Out of the corner of my eye, I see my bag start to slide. I stop my bag, but the jostle sends several chocolate wrappers the ground. Without glancing up, I know the receptionist thinks I can't keep it together. Not a great first impression. “Desolée.” Exasperated, I pick up each wrapper, stuffing them one by one into my pockets. The first chocolate bar I ate as a pre-boarding snack. The second I devoured when they delayed my first flight at Sky Harbor Airport. The third slipped down my gullet when I missed my connection at the Glasgow airport. And of course the fourth. The fourth I snarfed as I waited for the promised driver to pick me up at the airport in Geneva, but no one showed. I had to take the train to Vevey. I thought I was just late. Now I'm freaked out.
Score = 2 Set 3 Write
Episode 5 - Shadow Fury
I’m going to kill someone today. It will be celebrated by millions—and I’ll hate every second of it. I’m debuting as a Galacia Fighter. A fancy name given to a slave forced to murder for the sole purpose of entertaining others. Silent, I sit on the thin mattress amidst the putrid smells of unwashed bodies and animal feces in my temporary cell. Creatures from distant worlds growl and hiss from their own cells—a threat, a promise. And a dripping echoes from somewhere tempting my sanity to crack. Each incessant drop counting down the moment that will forever keep me from feeling the grace of Mother Goddess—the moment I take another’s life. How far I have fallen. Footsteps approach. It’s my Master Quinn. The rich, spiced aroma of his blaze precedes him. I stand up just before he comes into view on the other side of my bars. At only five foot, he’s short for a Taakian, though he makes up for it with speed and his boulder-like muscles. He takes the blaze from his mouth and taps it on a rust-coated bar, ashes tumble to the ground. His black, hungry eyes take me in—not predatorily, but for what I represent: currency. He’s waited six years for the day he can start collecting on his investment in me. In truth, he’d have sold me long ago for my smart mouth, something he relishes in reminding me every chance he gets. He puts the blaze back in his mouth, the red illuminating half of his face. “Don’t look so grim, girl.” He smiles, wicked, pointed teeth bright against his dark grey skin. “You should feel honored. When you win tonight, you’ll become an instant celebrity. The universe’s races will love you. They’ll even chant your name.” Love me for murdering. It’s sick. I grab the cold, steel bars. “This is wrong.” He leans in with a knowing look, a trail of smoke separating us. “But you’ll still do it.” I let my arms fall in defeat. “Of course I will.” And he’s right about one thing. I’ll win.
Score = 3 Ready 1 Set
Episode 4 - Across the River and Into the Trees
They started two hours before daylight, and at first, it was not necessary to break the ice across the canal as other boats had gone on ahead. In each boat, in the darkness, so you could not see, but only hear him, the poler stood in the stern, with his long oar. The shooter sat on a shooting stool fastened to the top of a box that contained his lunch and shells, and the shooter's two, or more, guns were propped against the load of wooden decoys. Somewhere, in each boat, there was a sack with one or two live mallard hens, or a hen and a drake, and in each boat there was a dog who shifted and shivered uneasily at the sound of the wings of the ducks that passed overhead in the darkness. Four of the boats went on up the main canal towards the big lagoon to the north. A fifth boat had already turned off into a side canal. Now, the sixth boat turned south into a shallow lagoon, and there was no broken water. It was all ice, new-frozen during the sudden, windless cold of the night. It was rubbery and bending against the thrust of the boatman's oar. Then it would break as sharply as a pane of glass, but the boat made little forward progress. 'Give me an oar,' the shooter in the sixth boat said. He stood up and braced himself carefully. He could hear the ducks passing in the darkness, and feel the restless lurching of the dog. To the north he heard the sound of breaking ice from the other boats. 'Be careful,' the poler in the stern said. 'Don't tip the boat over.' 'I am a boatman, too,' the shooter said.
Score = 4 Write 1 Abstain
Episode 3 - The Dream Rovers
Tapio leapt from a mountaintop, searching for the dream lady. He landed with catlike grace, then jumped again, soaring over valleys where animals lurked—a herd of deer, griffins, mountain sheep. He paused only long enough to see that the dream lady was not hiding among them before making the next jump. Again and again he leapt, until the mountains stopped and he could go no further. The world beyond the mountains was hidden in swirling blue mist. The dreamscape. That's what the dream lady had called it. He could wake up right now—but she was out there somewhere, and wouldn't she be proud if he found her on his own? Images appeared in the mist, visible for an instant, and vanishing again. He focused on one of these, a turreted castle, and stepped forward. Indigo mist filled the world. Tapio clawed his way through, fixed on the castle. At last he pushed through and drifted to the floor of a stone balcony. He wasn't alone. An old man sat on a cushioned throne, idly petting a griffin-like creature that crouched loyally beside him. His bushy eyebrows went up. "Smallest nit I've seen yet," he said. Tapio tried to imagine himself taller. It didn't work. The griffin jumped at him. Its pointed beak dug into his shoulder, and though he felt nothing he screamed at the fear of it. Wake up, he thought. Wake up now. But nothing happened. "You're some hero, picking on a child." The dream lady!
Score = 3 Set 2 Write
Episode 2 - Armand
There was no saving my dignity. Not with thirteen marbles in my mouth. I, Princess Armand de Lyon, was acutely aware I looked ridiculous—and that I was drooling on my second-best dinner jacket. “Now, if you please, Your Royal Highness. Once more,” said the Royal Tutor from his orange satin chair. I hated that chair. I had once gotten sick on it. Aunt Eline had cleaned, then upholstered it pumpkin orange. Just looking at it made me queasy. My tutelage had begun at sundown. The stars now twinkled merrily, laughing at my attempts to cure my speech. Attempts that had lasted fifteen of my eighteen years. I sighed, tempted to roll my eyes. Father would not approve of eye-rolling even when his heir was being subjected to mouthfuls of marbles. Lifting the small book in my hand, I breathed through my nose lest the marbles slide down my throat. The print stood neat and orderly. I willed the words to form properly in my mouth. Around the marbles. “Gew see duh wibberwy,” I mumbled. The tutor automatically handed me a handkerchief to wipe the spittle from my mouth. Instead, I filled the handkerchief with the wretched marbles. The tutor raised his bushy eyebrows. “N-no m-more.” Traitorous tongue. “Your Royal Highness, your impediment shall remain without proper diligence.” The man rolled his “r’s” and crisped his “t’s”. Precisely. Exactly. “I have t-tried everything with p-proper d-diligence. I—” the words stuck in my throat, refusing to leave. I gaped like a dying fish. Out words! When the words did come, they gushed, elbowing one another. “I w-will n-not d-do m-more. The l-lessons will f-fail.” As I have.
Score = 4 Ready 1 Set
Episode 1 - Warped
June 15, 2009 It was tomorrow when Charlotte’s plane landed at Heathrow airport. She thought time travel was supposed to be instantaneous. Instead, it had taken about twelve hours for the entire trip, including a layover. She felt instant relief, however, at being able to stand up and move around again, the blood returning fully to her limbs. After staggering out of the terminal with her fellow passengers, Charlotte made her way past security, fighting the grogginess in her brain as she looked for signs pointing toward the baggage claim. But, before she could find her way, a tall, thin gentleman caught her eye. He stood just outside security, looking right at her with light blue eyes, through bottle-bottom glasses. Right, her grandparents had said they’d meet her outside security. Charlotte’s sluggish brain pulled the reminder out with some effort. Changing direction, she headed toward the tall man with short grey hair, who smiled as she approached. Jacen Caller – or “Papa” as her mother said Charlotte called him – looked as he did in the pictures she’d seen, perhaps a little older. Mom said Charlotte had met him before, but she didn’t recall. Papa greeted her and kept a comfortable silence as they retrieved her luggage, and boarded a train that would take them into the city. Charlotte dozed for most of the ride. She awoke to Papa gently calling to her, patting her hand, and the overhead speakers announcing their arrival at Victoria Station. Charlotte moved her hand away and blinked the sleep out of her eyes.