We are extremely grateful to literary agent Amanda Luedeke who took time out of her very busy agenting, writing, dog-owning schedule to provide feedback for our five talented finalists. We're also grateful to authors Laura Anderson Kurk and Shannon Dittemore who gave so much time and energy to selecting the top five and providing feedback for those in the top twenty.
The top five entries are all so amazing that we want you to have a chance to read all of them. Today we'll post Anastasia's and we'll post the others on the following Tuesdays and Thursdays:
Anastasia Elizabeth's winning entry:
INNOVATION ACT OF 2034
LAW 1.1: Any sort of progress relating to standard improvement, whether it be scientific, technical, medical, or mechanical, is forbidden.
Minors under sixteen subject to ten years in prison; adults subject to death.
DEPARTURE TIME: 34:00:1
I’ve been here long enough, I know.
I know when rush hour is heaviest. I know how long it takes the lights to switch. I see that display in the lingerie store that never changes, even though all of us wish it would. Off to the right is a coffee shop that is open at ungodly hours like four and serves mostly bagels, no coffee.
I know to walk on the pavement closest to the cars because it’s the least crowded and the blue curb is wide enough I don’t lose my balance. People pass by on my left, all the students who don’t have cars to get them to their jobs on time. I don’t have a job, and probably never will, but I snatched a jacket from Charlie’s closet a while back and I found sixty-five cents in the sleeve pocket. It’s enough to buy a coffee-shop bagel.
I know what I’ll see if I look up. I’ll see a long, straight road with more silver cars than blue and every so often a bike. I’ll see red-brick buildings. I’ll see trees, and against those trees, I’ll see the contaminated.
So I don’t want to look up.
But, as always, I do, right when I’m passing one. Right when I’m passing him. He’s eight, maybe nine, and has knees hugged to his chest and eyes caving in on themselves. He begs for food but of course nobody gives it to him, since he’ll throw it right back up again and the faster he dies, the better off the rest of us will be.
We mill a good three yards away from him, an arc of limbs and faces nailed to ground, a mass determined not to die. Even our breath smells of fear, of hesitation, of don’t breathe in don’t breathe in.
The stretch of pavement around him is starch white, blown with leaves and debris. I sure don’t want to die, either, but I remember when I was eight and go over to him.
“Here.” I press my bagel into his hand and force myself not to hold my breath.
Breakfast, as they say, is the most important meal of the day, and this is why I never eat it.
I peel away from the crowd and duck into an alley. It’s a tight one—spread your arms and both elbows brush brick. Usually I walk this barefoot or in old flip flops, but Charlie gave me these sneakers for my birthday a few months ago and I swiped the jacket too. You’d think the adoption agency would make sure I have these, but we have a system. I keep out of their hair if they pretend I don’t exist.
Sidestep garbage bag, oil puddle from drain pipe, and a few loose cement blocks, and I crawl out into open air. This is where the stretch of buildings ends and the trees begin. Look behind both ways, and it’s brick wall after brick wall, differing heights like jagged teeth. Smoke pours from a few chimneys jutting up and through sky. I inhale deep as I cut my way to a stretch of dirt weaving through the woods.
Sunlight peeks through leaves, littering little yellow spotlights all over hard-packed earth. The smell is cleaner than the contagion we breathe in town. I trudge along the path, my foot landing in mud every few steps. Half a mile through, my hunger sets in and he’s probably puked by now, but I just shrug off the stomach ache; it’s easy enough because there’s more important things to think about. Today is the day Charlie and I worked out to set the machine. Even if we haven’t spoken in a while, I’m going to keep my word.
Another climb and I’m at the warehouse. The gray paint is chipped like claw marks and the roof is caving in. It’d look like a regular barn if it wasn’t for the bomb shell a couple yards off.
We agreed to meet here, Charlie and I. Three days from now is when we decided we'd finally do it, so talking today is kind of important.
My fingertips have just touched the door knob when I hear my mom’s name.
"Well, if it isn't Cassidy Levine."
My bones go rigid. I whip around, both hands locked on the handle.
The man steps forward, laughs, his hands jammed in pockets. Jedidiah. And who else was I expecting, really? He searches me out almost once a month. Nobody else ever bothers.
Jedidiah looks the same as I've always known him. In his twenties with blond hair, broad shoulders, and charcoal gray eyes. Gray like the whales that died out centuries ago. And like the gun strapped to his hip.
"Can't get over it. Damn, girl, you look just like her."
"What are you doing here?"
There he goes, laughing again. Something hot presses against my chest like an iron or maybe hate. "I could ask you the same thing. It's a bit too dangerous out in these woods for a li'l sap, din'cha know?" A smile curves at the edge of his mouth all lopsided. "Wonder if you remember last time."
I force out a laugh, and I hate myself for it, hate how stupid I seem doing it. My hand clutches my shoulder, skin tingling. "Don't think I could forget," I say. My voice reeks calm and everything else spills fear and an aching urge to run. "What do you want?"
Idly his finger traces the shotgun at his waist. It's no rifle and the caliber isn't so big but it's a gun nonetheless, a real one in the flesh. Wonder if it's the same one he killed her with.
What our judges thought:
Amanda: This sample provides a fresh look at the dytopian genre, told in a wonderfully stylistic voice. Two years ago, at the height of the dystopian frenzy, I have no doubt this manuscript would have been considered for publication.
I didn't expect to like this one as much as I did, but the main character's empathy in the midst of barrenness won me over. I think the author is onto something with this character and I'd like to see where it goes from here. Also has grasp of convention and form.
Love this so much. The writing is effortless. The characters compelling. I would love to see this on a bookshelf.
Congratulations to Anastasia!