Submission 41, 'No one Lives Here', mid-grade novel
Three weeks before school started, Sam woke up to the sound of crying.
He lay in bed, still and straight, and listened. It sounded like a hurt animal, like the baby rabbit he’d found last spring. It had been attacked by a fox or owl. Dad said there was nothing they could do. (this is a brilliant line)
He listened to the faint whimpers and moans, and knew it wasn’t an animal. It was a person, and it was coming from inside the house.
In the bunk beneath him Sam heard Jemmy snuffle and snore. His stomach clenched into a hard ball of dread. He didn’t like that sound of crying. He didn’t like it at all.
Sam closed his eyes. Maybe if he closed his eyes, the crying would go away. It would stop.
Except he knew it wouldn’t. He had a feeling he knew who was making that noise... who was so sad.
He climbed down from his bunk. Jemmy lay on top of his twisted sheets, his precious orange race car clutched in one fist. He let out a whistling snore, and Sam rolled his eyes. Jemmy could sleep through anything, as long as he didn’t wet the bed.
As he went out into the hallway Sam could hear the ticking of the grandfather clock downstairs, a car driving by outside. And the crying.
It was coming from his parents' bedroom, as he'd been afraid it would. Sunlight slanted onto the hallway carpet in yellow stripes. Even though it was early in the morning, the air was already warm, sticky.
He knew he shouldn't go in. In general, his parents' bedroom was private. He was supposed to knock, but right now he didn’t want to.
He listened, heard a faint gulping sound, and the low murmuring of his father’s voice.
Something was wrong.
Something was wrong with his mom, and had been for awhile. This didn’t surprise him, not as much as it should have.
He pushed the door open with his fingertips. He could see his mother, lying in bed, still. Her face was pale, blank, tears streaking down her cheeks. She looked as if she were made of wax... melting wax.
Sam's dad sat next to her on the bed, stroking her hair.
Sam stared. His parents looked like strangers. They weren’t doing the normal thing he expected them to do... the thing he wanted them to do. He took a step backwards, wishing himself down the hallay, back in bed, asleep even.
Then his dad looked up and saw him. Sam froze, standing there in just his p.j. bottoms, as if he'd done something wrong. But he hadn’t. He knew he hadn’t.
"Sam, please leave us alone." His father spoke quietly, and his mother's tears kept trickling into her hair.
She turned her head a bit, and Sam could see her eyes. Blank. It was if she couldn't see him, as if he wasn’t there at all. Then she closed her eyes and turned her face away.
And still Sam didn't move.
"Sam..." Dad's voice held a warning, and his mom gave a little hiccupping sob. "Go!" This came out in an angry roar, and Sam ran.
He ran downstairs, and then outside, twisting the key in the lock and wrenching the door open.
The grass was still wet with dew, and he slipped once and got a grass stain on the knee of his pajamas. He ran across the front yard, across the driveway, the tarmac just starting to warm, and into his best friend Dan's yard.
He stopped in the shelter of trees that separated his yard from Dan's, feeling stupid. The fallen pine needles pricked his feet. What was he supposed to do now?
"Sam?" Dan's sister Sarah peered at him from between the branches. "Are you okay?"
She was dressed in running shorts and a tank top, a CD player clipped to the band of her shorts. She'd slipped the headphones off so they were around her neck and she looked at him, taking in his old, worn Power Ranger pajamas, his hunched shoulders. "What are you doing in there?"
Sam stepped from under the branches, feeling stupider than ever. Sarah was fifteen, but she seemed older than that. Next to her, in his babyish pajamas, he felt like the worst kind of little kid.
He tried to shrug, but knew he didn’t quite pull it off.
"I think my mom's hurt."
Take out everything in green. You want to keep this religiously and relentlessly in the POV of this kid.
THIS is how you start a quiet novel.
THIS is how you you can get started without setting someone on fire.
It needs a good editing but this is something I'd want to read more of.
The reason "Dad said there was nothing they could do" is a brilliant line is cause it's exactly what the kid heard, with no explanation, AND it conveys perfectly his unspoken fear that his mother is sick and going to die of this illness. It conveys perfectly the tension of the novel..and it's in paragraph two.