Death in the Bayou

  • Round: Books: 50 Page Challenge

  • Genre:
    Fiction: Young Adult/Juvenile, Thriller/Suspense
  • Submitted: March 25, 2011


Status: Elevated

  • Want it elevated: 70%
  • Publishing Pro Rating: Under review.
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50 Page Challenge

To protect the author, 50-page samples are hidden after rating. For your reference, check out this book’s Round 2 sample, below. *


Meet Robin Sherwood. She’s your typical thirteen-year-old. Well, sort of. She’s typical except for the fact that her parents are rich, they’ve disappeared in the bayou, and her dear Uncle Conrad is going to snip her toes off with his garden nippers — before he kills her.

Pages 1 - _

            In the Deep South, summer wraps around you like warm molasses. Especially in Louisiana. July is hot and humid. Always. August is worse, and the summer of 1963 has been a record breaker so far.

            The morning is muggy, and there’s no hint of a breeze to blow away the pestering flies or the lingering stench of whatever crawled under the porch and died a few days ago. The only possible relief in sight is a dark bank of clouds in the south. If it holds together, we may get a storm later tonight to cool things off. I hope so.

            The rhythmic buzz of locusts fills the air, but it stops suddenly as the deep rumble comes up the road. My heart races as the sound rolls across the terrace and toward the covered veranda where we’re waiting.

            There’s an uncertain look in Andy’s eyes when he glances up at me, and his voice is thin as water when he speaks. “He’s coming.”

            “It’s going to be all right.” I squeeze my younger brother’s narrow shoulders and give him a reassuring smile while trying to hide my own fear of what’s heading toward us. Since our house is quite a distance from the wrought-iron entrance gates of our estate, we have a minute or so before the car gets here.

            When I turn around and glance at my reflection in the window for one final check, the awkward image staring back at me is disappointing, as usual. Being fourteen is frustrating. Seriously. I’m all knees and elbows, and the white dress makes my freckles show up too much. The permanent made my hair way too kinky. And my eyes are puffy from crying all night.

            But I’m stuck with it for now. That’s another bad part about being fourteen: You can’t change anything. And there’s nothing I can change now before the car carrying our visitor gets here—including the fact that the court has appointed him our new guardian.

            Andy stares down the long driveway toward the entrance. When I spin him around to adjust his necktie, big-eyed smiling frogs stare back at me. Frog neckties must be the rage with eleven-year-old boys this summer. Actually, I don’t know why I’m even bothering. His tie is a clip-on. There’s nothing to adjust.

            My fingers scratch through his scruffy blonde hair to make it look as if someone combed it. A quick swipe of my hand wipes away the tiny beads of sweat glistening on his pink forehead. If Mom were here, she’d open her purse and pull out a Kleenex, lick it, and scrub some dirt from our faces—that special dirt only mothers can see. It always embarrassed me when she did that, but I wish she were here to do it now.

            The sound is getting louder. And closer. The locusts have gotten used to it and started buzzing again, their cadence in time with the seconds ticking by. Andy and I stand side by side at the porch railing, waiting to face whatever the future has in store for us.

            A white sports car comes into view with a cloud of gravel dust following closely behind it. The morning sun reflects off the polished chrome in a brilliant silver flash.

            “Robin! Look!” Andy yells. “It’s a Corvette!” His fear and apprehension seem to have flown. There’s a gleam in his eyes—a sparkle that’s been missing since our parents disappeared. He’s tapping his toes now, the way he always does when he’s excited about something. If Dad were here, he would say, “Andrew, you’re dancing like a maggot on a hot griddle.” Mom and I would smile at each other and open our mouths and stick out our tongues, like we were going to gag. Then Dad would chuckle in that deep voice of his. I can hear it in my head.

            The car continues up the long driveway until it reaches the circle. It makes a slow turn around the big fountain in the center before coming to a stop. “Holy cow, Robin!” Andy yells. “It’s a Sting Ray! Come on!”

            He bolts toward the veranda steps, but he doesn’t get far. My fingers hook the back of his collar in time to stop him in his tracks and make his tie pop off. I pull him back to the railing, pick up the tie, and clip the metal prongs under his collar. I’m wearing my serious face now and looking directly in his eyes. “Don’t you remember Mrs. Deffenbaugh telling us to stay on the porch to make a good impression? And quit jumping around so much. You act like you’re about to pee your pants.”

            He gives me that look of his and stands still. For about two seconds. Then he looks back at the car and his excitement bubbles to the surface again. What is it with boys and their fascination with sports cars? I’m ignoring him, of course, trying to keep a dignified expression on my face. But I’m smiling inside. It’s nice to see him happy for a change. 

            Andy hasn’t been alone in feeling lost and abandoned. When one of the official people called us orphans, the word bypassed my ears and went straight to my heart like a dagger. Orphans. I still don’t believe it. But the uncertainty is weighing on me—not knowing what’s happened to Mom and Dad or if we’re ever going to see them again. Plus the fear of what today, and every day from now on, brings with it.

            The car's a convertible, but the top's up and the windows are tinted. The exhaust rumble stops and the air becomes still and quiet. Even the locusts are holding their tongues. Or whatever they use to make that irritating sound. We wait for the driver to emerge, but nothing happens for what seems like a very long time. Finally, the car door opens slowly, and a tall man wearing sunglasses steps out.  

            Andy leans toward me. “Is that him?” he whispers.

            “I guess so,” I whisper back. But I’m not sure. I don’t recognize him. He’s supposed to be Dad’s brother, but he looks nothing like Dad. There’s isn’t anything familiar about him, and nothing sparks a memory.

            Of course, it’s been twelve years since I’ve seen our Uncle Conrad. I was only two years old the last time he was here, and my memory of that day is a bit fuzzy at best. Andy wasn’t even born yet. The only thing I remember about him is a faint image of a green army jacket with polished brass buttons on it. But that could be something I recall from a photo of him. The uncertainty about who this man really is, and what’s going to happen next, makes me uneasy and more than a little nervous.

            After removing his bags from the trunk, he closes the lid and heads in our direction. He’s walking toward the veranda now and getting closer with each step. Suddenly, I don’t want him here. He doesn’t belong here. Why can’t he just get back in his fancy sports car and drive away? But it’s too late for that. The court decided that Andy and I need someone to watch over us. Someone to keep us safe the way Mom and Dad did when they were here. I’m so confused I don’t know what I should be feeling. I just want Mom and Dad to come home.

            He’s almost to the porch now. As he gets nearer, the sun reflects from something at the end of Uncle Conrad’s arm. It looks like metal. Large. Silver and shiny, like the chrome on his car. A flurry of horror rushes through me as I realize what it is. Oh, God! It’s a claw.

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* Note that the author may have made revisions following Round 2 elevation, so this sample may not be identical to the Round 3 opening.
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