Well, I am WOEFULLY behind on my quota, but still in the game. Here is a horrendously rough selection from what will be an alternate-reality middle grade (tentatively) called MANHATTAN RISING. Whaddya think?
The Stitcher’s office had tall windows with the barest hint of daylight peering between their heavy curtains. A candelabra danced on the Stitcher’s desk, near the cushioned reclining chair just large enough to accommodate the prone form of most eleven-year-old girls. By the chair was a small table on which the Stitcher’s tools were arranged: a hook, a long, thin needle, a book of matches, a spool of black thread. The one thing Vette expected to see, the thing she longed to see, though it terrified her, was not there.
Vette’s mother kissed her forehead. “I’ll see you when it’s over, my love.” Then she left, and Vette was alone.
No sooner did the door click softly behind Vette’s mother, then another door, hidden in the flickering shadows, opened. It was not clear from the Stitcher’s appearance whether a man or woman lurked behind the ceremonial robes and black glasses, though Vette knew the Stitcher was always a woman. No man had ever seen this room. Men were not even allowed to cross the threshold of the lobby twenty-seven stories below.
The Stitcher smiled. “You are Vana’s girl.”
Vette flinched to hear her mother’s short-form name from the stranger’s lips. She had only ever heard her father and other family members use it. Vette said nothing. The Stitcher gestured to the chair. A moment before another girl had lain there. Vette had seen her enter the Stitcher’s office with her mother. But the girl had not returned to the waiting room. She had gone some other way, perhaps through the Stitcher’s door. Once a girl entered this office, she could not leave the way she came. She was changed. She would not return to the waiting room again until she was a mother herself.
The Stitcher knelt beside Vette. Up close her skin was milky, like the worms in Papa’s rose pots. She took Vette’s hand in her own. It was cold.
“What has happened to your face?” the Stitcher asked. Vette flinched, touched the bandage. The dark glasses had led her to believe the Stitcher was blind.
“My mother burned me,” she said. “Not intentionally,” she added quickly. “It was an accident. During the quake.”
The Stitcher nodded. “Mmm. A portent. Do you know what that word means?”
“Of course I do. It means omen. A sign something important is going to happen.” Vette blushed. She was proud of her vocabulary, which she believed to be stronger than her classmates, and which Papa often praised, much to Mama’s chagrin. “At least, I think that’s what it means.”
The Stitcher smiled again, though with less sweetness than before. “Always back and forth with this one,” she said. “That is what the teachers tell me. Unable to find her place between pride and humility. The sun and the rocks.”
“I…don’t know what that means,” said Vette, which was true.
The Stitcher said nothing, and squeezed her hand.
Now it was time for the ceremony to begin. The Stitcher mumbled a prayer in Russian. When it was time, Vette recited with her, affirming her devotion to her family, her school, and the One God who brought the Russian people to Manhattan, saw them safely over the ocean in their forty-one ships, and watched over them every day in their exile under the regime of the secular American president. Vette vowed her fidelity, her chastity, and (here the Stitcher did not recite so much as say) her Everlasting Simplicity and Innocence as a Child of the Lord.
Vette had been preparing for this moment since her tenth birthday. She knew the prayer backwards and forwards. She could even, should the Stitcher ask, recite it in English and French. But the Stitcher would never ask for something so pompous and heretical.
Pompous and heretical were two Sophomore Level vocabulary words Vette already knew well.
“Remove your bandage.”
Vette obeyed, peeling back the doctor’s adhesive. The burn felt cool against the open air. It would scar, horribly. But the scar would be hidden, of course. Or at least, most of it. There was no way to tell yet.
Now the Stitcher produced from her robes the object Vette had longed and feared to see: a bit of white silk with two holes, delicate and durable. A Chistota. Her mask. She would wear it for the next ten years, until her wedding night, when her husband, whoever that would be, removed it. Then, the following morning, he would himself place a black Chistota over her eyes— the mask she would wear until her death.
“AnaVanaZhonaVette.” The Stitcher pronounced Vette’s full, secret name, the name only her father, mother, and sister knew, the name her husband would know. The name she was never to utter outside her home. “Now, you shall become a woman.”
The Stitcher struck a match and held it to the hook and knitting needle, and Vette saw her reflection dance in orange flame in the Stitcher’s dark glasses.