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Read "Swimming Upstream," a Novel Excerpt Contest Runner-Up!

Last month, we challenged you to submit a 400 word excerpt from your NaNoWriMo novels. From over 500 fabulous entries, we chose two Grand Prize Winners and four Runners-Up. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did! (For more excerpts, check out this forum thread.)

"Swimming Upstream" by Rivka J.

I lean against a willow tree, heart racing, breathing hard. The cool summer breeze gently calms me. The Queen’s Guard fills the park, each woman drawing her sword and swinging it around threateningly. I finger the secret dagger hidden beneath my stolen belt and hope I won’t have to use it. Boys aren’t allowed to have weapons. I’ve seen younger boys been killed by guards just for wearing a belt.

I’ve never been captured before, that would mean death. I’ve come close a couple times, like today. Some guards caught me nicking a small bag of apples. I shove the apples into a gap under the twisted roots of the willow, then shrink further against the tree trunk as the guards circle the park, wincing in pain as my left leg brushes against the scratchy bark.

When I first started living on the streets, a gang of older boys took me in, thinking I might be useful, but I messed up badly. They cornered me and beat me up, broke some bones, and left me for dead. There are no doctors on the streets, so my leg set improperly. It aches so much I can hardly move it sometimes. I quiet my breath even more. No sense in getting captured.

The guards leave the park, sheathing their swords, and I creep out behind the tree, heading off in exactly the opposite direction the guards are going. I don’t care where I end up, as long as it’s far away from the guards.

I end up a few minutes later outside the palace. Not exactly my intent.

A girl about my age wearing fancy clothes and an even fancier hairstyle storms out of the arena, iron doors crashing shut behind her. She yanks pins out of her hair, shaking her head to loosen the twists, then crushes the pins beneath her steel-toed boots before kicking them off. She rips off a black velvet robe and tears at silk stockings that probably cost more than all my possessions combined, until she was left wearing just a white cotton dress. She takes off for the gates, but two guards grab her and start dragging her back towards the palace. For just a second, we lock eyes. I wink, grinning shyly, then notice something in that pale blue that I hadn’t seen before.

Oh no. I just winked. At Princess Elanor. I’m dead meat.

author photo

Rivka J. has been (with varying success) writing novel drafts with NaNoWriMo for over three years. She is currently in seventh grade. When she’s not trying to write a new story, she can be found cuddling with her dogs, eating ice cream, re-reading a favorite book, or doing something musical. She has written more novel drafts than she can count, most of them abandoned halfway through, but hopes that she can finish getting a story written, edited, and published soon!

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