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Read "Ashes to Ashes," our Novel Excerpt Contest Grand Prize Winner (14-18 age group)!

In February, we challenged you to submit a 400-word excerpt from your NaNoWriMo novels. From over 600 fantastic 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.)

"Ashes to Ashes" by Sophie C.

Nikolai was living on borrowed time.

He’d known it for years, and he felt it now more than ever in the stiffness of his legs and the ice in his fingers. He stretched his hands in front of him (cuffed and shackled, of course, cold metal decorated by carved sigils meant to hold him powerless—some he recognized, some he didn’t) and his shoulder popped loudly. To his right, his lawyer shifted at the noise, but didn’t deign to comment.

The courtroom had taken a recess and left him in chains, a guard stationed at each exit, and another staring him down from behind the judge’s bench. His lawyer returned early, a frustrated furrow in her brow and no further explanation. Now, he craned his neck to peer around her, and watched as the jury and the audience arrived through the double doors.

Borrowed time, he repeated to himself, as the members of the jury refused to make eye contact with him. Out of guilt or out of fear, he couldn’t be sure, but he suspected the latter. He turned to the people behind him, and he didn’t recognize a single face in the scant crowd staring back at him, each expression carefully blank. Save for one man dressed in a deep red suit, who hadn’t been there earlier, and when Nikolai saw him, his throat went dry.

Fate put a quiet finger to his mouth and gave Nikolai a slight smile. The message was clear.

His work wasn’t finished.

The room fell silent, the judge made her way to her desk, and as the final member of the audience took a seat, the doors swung closed.

“Please approach the podium, Mr. Esterren.”

Nikolai did as he was told. He alone could see Fate, he realized—he was the only one who knew Fate didn’t belong, and surely the only one who noticed the long cracks appearing in the smooth walls and the white columns above the judge, invisible dust settling atop her carefully organized desk as she droned on.

He couldn’t hear the formalities, couldn’t sense a thing over the rushing in his ears and the lines in the walls, until everything seemed to freeze and the voices around him came back into focus.

“We the jury find the defendant, Nikolai Esterren, to be guilty of the listed crimes and as such, sentenced to—"

The walls caved in.

Special guest judge Christina Li had this to say about "Ashes to Ashes": "I absolutely loved how it had an excellent sense of pacing and suspense! I was intrigued from the first line and it ended at just the perfect moment -- I wanted to know more!"

author photo

Sophie C. is an aspiring author who enjoys writing, running, and baking more desserts than her family can eat. She's currently a high school junior and intends to study computer science once she graduates, though she doesn’t plan on giving up writing anytime soon. She spends more time thinking about her novels than writing them, but she hopes to publish at least one of them sometime in the future.

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