18-year-old TCK obsessed with language in general, especially the written word, for my entire life. Working on my first fiction novel. Check out my blog at for more writing and even some art (my avatar is one of my paintings)!

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The first chapter of my novel. Does it draw you in? How's my character development (or establishment)? General thoughts?

Chapter 1: A Life-Changing Smile

August 10, 2016

Come on Mom, where are you? I felt my hands getting progressively sweatier as I waited. I surreptitiously wiped them on my t-shirt. The beeping of each item as it went under the scanner nudged me closer to social failure. Where was that woman, after all? We’d purchased enough supplies for our little four-person family to survive a month of the apocalypse. Soon I would be forced to wait awkwardly for my absent mother to return with her credit card to pay for the trove of groceries. Being me, I was not relishing the moment.
I watched the orange juice and industrial-sized bag of Lucky Charms (for my sugar-addicted little brother) slide into the bagging area with growing anticipation, then glanced around the store, over racks of tabloids, for my missing mother.
I craned my neck, staring over the ear of the man behind me. My eyes refocused on him and instantly my discomfort quadrupled. The man was maybe in his early twenties, pale as paper, rather attractive, and looking at me with an odd mix of pity and amusement.
“Um… Sorry, I was just looking…” I mumbled, staring at each carton of blueberries as they trundled down the belt. Man, I’m pathetic. Almost sixteen and still hanging on Mom.
“For your mom?” He did sound amused. “I’m sure she’ll be back soon.”
I turned to offer a hesitant smile, but my face instantly dropped, my eyes widening. The wide grin the pale man offered me gleamed razor-sharp. That mouth looked like it belonged on a deep-sea fish, or maybe a piranha. His expression seemed friendly enough, but those teeth could shear off my hand in a single snap. I blanched.
The teeth almost instantly disappeared, replaced with a crafty and calculating smirk that sent a shiver up my back and my eyes scurrying for something else to latch on to. They found the backs of two girls, one rather shorter than the other. The short one wore her golden curls in the kind of gorgeously casual messy bun that came too naturally, but the taller’s dark brown locks were sheared short, baring a brown neck.
I was just considering whether I wanted them to notice me, since I was sporting an oh-so-fashionable pair of gray sweatpants and my auburn hair wasn’t necessarily neat, when the cashier hailed my attention.
“Are you gonna pay for this?” The woman stared at me, gaze harsh under glitter eyeliner.
“Um, my, um... My mom’s not back yet. Could you?” I stammered.
“She gonna be back soon?” The cashier asked.
“I don’t know.” I said.
“Hm.” She observed. “I’ll just serve you then, sir?” She swiveled to the man behind me, who gratefully passed her his single carton of milk. I avoided eye contact with him, instead glancing back toward my friends. Gabbi, the short blonde, had caught sight of me. She waved Brooke over, and they raced to me. The pale man slipped past, and a stream of people began filing past my cart as I stood to the side.
“Hey, Karyn! How’s it been?” Gabbi asked with a dazzling smile. The rich brown of her eyes nearly disappeared along with it. She was slim and somewhat petite, but joy always seemed to light up her features. She was eighteen, but only looked about twelve. It was a subject of constant good-natured ridicule among us. “Do you think you’ll make it to the ceremony tomorrow?”
“Are you kidding?” I responded. “Of course I’ll be there! I couldn’t miss your graduation!”
    Brooke waved a hand, rolling her hazel eyes. Her loose, patterned pants tucked into her ever-present combat boots. It combined with her choppy, angled bob to give her a prickly, don’t-touch-me look that, in my opinion, didn’t match up with her humor. “Don’t be too uptight about getting there on time. She’ll have plenty of others.”
“Brooke!” I said, feigning shock. “Sarcasm has no place on this momentous occasion!”
    Gabbi snorted. Uncharacteristically unladylike for her. “No big deal, Karyn. You’ll both be having your own next year. Then we’ll see who has time for jokes.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, crossing my arms. Brooke made a ‘cut it out’ motion, but Gabbi ignored her.
“Our thorny Brooke has pathetically bad stage fright.” I gasped dramatically. Brooke groaned. Gabbi smirked. “She gets all pale and shaky and, when she was in the fourth grade, she threw up on my favorite Mary Janes in the Christmas pageant.” Though they didn’t look it, the Arab Brooke and tanned Gabbi were sisters. They wouldn’t tell me which one was adopted, and I’d never met their parents, so who knew.
I chuckled. “Don’t worry, Brooke. I was just flipping out over Mom not coming back, so I can’t really judge.”
Brooke gave me a grateful look. “It doesn’t really matter. She’s on her way now, so we’ll see you tomorrow!”
I waved as the two started toward the exit. “See you then!”
“Karyn!” my mom called. She pushed through the line with a tub of ice cream, a few bags of corn chips, and a nail clipper. Her light brown hair, swept up into a ponytail, drooped with the stress of half a day in a chaotic department store.
“Took you long enough.” I protested. “What on earth, Mom?” I gestured pointedly at her armful. “I thought you went to get cheddar!”
She cringed. “Oh, well, I’m not going back. Let’s just get out of here.”
I couldn’t agree more, so it wasn’t until I had turned on the radio back in the car that I took the time to wonder… Had I imagined that shockingly sharp smile? How did Brooke know when Mom would appear? What were my friends doing at the store if not buying?
I supposed I could ask them tomorrow.
After the effort of our massive shopping trip, Mom didn’t really feel like making supper. She and Dad had work to do, so they sat on their laptops on our drooping couch, munching pizza. I tromped up our wooden staircase with two plates of mushroom and pepperoni, grinning wider with each step as my little brother’s door came more into view. Luke had taped a sheet of paper over the KEEP OUT and HAZARDOUS WASTE signs and the cover of an old computer that he had pried apart. “Experiment in Progress: Keep Out!” it read. I pushed open his door with my elbow, balancing our dinners.
Luke had cleared a spot in the center of the general chaos of his room. Random objects, legos, the ribs of some roadside carcass, and comic books were strewn over the faded blue bedspread. My little brother knelt on the carpet, squinting through old sunglasses in the near darkness as his gloved hands pried apart a battery with my craft pliers. Luke was about fourteen, gangly and scrawny as a beanpole, and possessed of a tremendous quantity of reddish-brown hair that stuck out all over the place.
“Am I interrupting something?” I questioned with a grin. Luke remained focused on his controlled destruction.
“Not really.” He set the disassembled battery on the plastic bin cover in front of him and looked up. “I just hope this next one doesn’t have an alkaline core.”
I passed him the pizza as he peeled off his gloves and unfolded his legs. “What would happen if it does?”
“We’d all be dead.” Luke responded. He took a massive bite of the pizza and set it on a pile of clothes on his right. Mom had spent several hours folding those yesterday. “Don’t worry. It should be fine.”
“Shouldn’t you at least open the window or something?” I asked, nervous.
Luke shrugged. “Wouldn’t make much of a difference,” he said through a mouthful of crust.
“What are you trying to make?”
“An arc light. I connect the carbon rods to the nodes of a car battery with these,” he gestured to a tangle of cords, “then electricity jumps from rod to rod in an lightning arc.”
“Why the sunglasses when it’s so dark in here?” I asked, taking a bit out of my own slice.
“Eye protection. Dad said not to get battery acid in them.”
I nodded. “Probably a good idea.”
He gestured toward the door. “Pass me that lamp, will ya?” He adjusted the light to shine directly on the batteries, dusted the crumbs off his hands, and pulled the yellow gardening gloves back on. “Thanks, Karyn.”
“No problem.” I said on my way out the door. I passed our shared bathroom, studiously ignoring the smell of the litter box that desperately needed cleaning, and nudged open my own door. I instantly relaxed in the haven that I had carefully created over the years.
The light was fading from behind the single-story neighboring house, but a few golden rays still penetrated my curtains. My double bed was clothed in a muted quilt. A full-sized bookcase in the corner was supplemented with scattered shelves across my wall and above my tiny desk. I collected minor trinkets, snow globes, figurines, candles, and low-maintenance succulents to display beside my books. I grabbed my ancient laptop from the desk and plopped heavily in my slouching armchair, resolved to not move for a few hours at least.
After all three slices of pizza and two episodes of anime had been consumed, I dazedly went through my bedtime routine and slipped under my covers. My cat, who had curled up on the quilt, lay purring on my lap. I tugged my journal off of my nightstand from under a pile of books, and situated myself with it and my pencil pouch.
The journal was simple, blank with a handcrafted leather binding and unlined watercolor paper. My name, Karyn Lyons, was engraved in the corner of the front cover. My parents had given it to me for my fifteenth birthday. I opened to a clean page and put the date at the top, quickly laying penciled lines over the page with a ruler.
Life isn’t too bad right now. I wrote. Gabbi’s graduation is tomorrow, so I guess that’ll be fun. I’ll probably just sit with Brooke in the back and make fun of the solemnity. It’s kind of eerie, though. Time hastens on, and we all scramble to catch up. I smirked to myself. Or maybe it’s more like time drags us into the future as we kick and scream bloody murder.
Something strange happened today. Not Luke’s bizarre experiment, he’s done worse. I was at the store with Mom when I thought I saw– I looked up from the page, pencil paused above the paper. I blinked and reached out to stroke my purring cat. “Don’t worry, darling. It wasn’t that bad. I’m sure I just imagined it, but it’s worth writing.” –a monster. He was somehow even paler than me, in all my fine complexion, and had this bleached-blond hair and washed-out eyes. Not too bad, right?
But when he smiled his mouth was sharp and angular and crammed with the teeth of some deep sea demon. Freaked me half to death for a moment there. I’ve had a hard time taming my imagination recently. I need to not forget that there’s clear distinction between suspension of disbelief and going all looney with conspiracy theories.
I put down my pencil, pulling the tabby cat into my arms. “Still…” I muttered. “It was really weird.” She lept out of my embrace and curled up on the foot of the bed, vibrating like a lawn mower. I sighed and began sketching out the image in my mind.
A simple, innocuous shape formed on the page. The sharp form of a man. I drew facial features, screwing up my eyes and running my hands through my auburn curls as I tried to remember. The background filled in black, the hoodie a shade of gray, the hair a vivid platinum. The teeth gleamed at me from the page. An angler fish, I decided. They looked like the angler, with that light that dangles before its face to attract prey. The mystery man’s eyes didn’t quite draw you in, but they made me want to know more. They made me hesitantly curious.
I switched off my lamp and fell asleep, mind quietly buzzing about sharp, pointed teeth in a pale face.


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  • August 10, 2016 - 3:49pm (Now Viewing)

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1 Comment
  • Kaitlyn ❄

    Oh, my gosh, this is super good and really sucked me in only from the first sentence. This is really amazing and you are super good. This is a beautiful.

    almost 5 years ago