Launch Pad Contest: Our First Round Winner!

We’re pleased to announce the winner of the
Suspense/Crime/Mystery/Thriller category of this year’s Launch Pad Contest. 
Passing the first stage of lift-off from the slush pile is Deborah S.
Canon of San Antonio, Texas, with her novel Jade
Sky
. Next step: she’ll submit a proposal and the complete manuscript for
the second-round judges.
The author has a good story and knows how to tell
it. With an exciting opening, and action and intrigue throughout the submission,
this entry has winning potential.  We’re
sure you’ll agree. Here’s the first 3300 words or so:
Jade Sky
by 
Deborah S. Canon
Chapter 1
Mesoamerica,
1521
Balam stepped over the jaguar
tracks on her way to the mine. No one else in her village dared use this path,
but she was at home here under the jungle canopy. Howler monkeys bellowed,
marking their territory and warning intruders. She was careful not to disturb a
tiny highway of termite trails constructed from the powdery remnants of a
fallen mahogany tree. Velvety white lichen clung to the bark with a single drop
of dew suspended from its edge.
As she bent closer to inspect the
lichen, the bellowing stopped.
The dewdrop fell.
Out of the stillness, she heard
another sound—a terrifying sound—come from her jungle.
At first, she thought it was the
sound of a predator besting its prey, but, no, it was not an animal. It was a
man, no, men—screaming. She froze. Her pulse pounded in her neck. The hairs on
her arms were erect. The screaming continued. She crouched low in the dense
underbrush, invisible in the lush green womb.
She could see nothing; sounds
were magnified. Her head snapped around. Something was crashing through the
bushes and vines no more than fifty paces from her hiding place.
Peeking through a gap in the
foliage, she saw two men running. One was her brother, Ahk:  their most learned scribe, their shaman; he
clasped a bundle wrapped in banana leaves. His youngest apprentice was several
steps behind.
She dared not call out but moved
to intercept them, emerging on the path a few feet in front of her brother. For
a moment, he didn’t seem to recognize her. Ahk cried out, but when he realized
who she was, he managed to skid to a stop before plowing over her. His
companion, glazed eyes blinded by fear, lowered his head and charged. The
apprentice was two steps from her when she saw the glint of an obsidian spike
in his hand 
“No, NO!” Ahk stayed the other
man’s arm inches from her skull. His panicked student doubled over and
collapsed in the ferns, gulping air.
Ahk turned toward her and
dropped the package into her arms. He bent at the waist and propped his hands
on his knees. His ribs heaved as he tried to suck in more air. “No time. Take
this—hide it. The Ts’ul, invaders—found the mine.”
Balam’s stomach lurched; her
skin was slick with cold sweat. The Ts’ul: 
 the white warriors had come
from the sea and destroyed countless villages in just two summers. Now, they
had found her home. They must never learn the true treasure in the mine.
Ahk stood and looked down at the
bundle as a man looks at his first-born son. “They will take me. They must not
take Uay. There is no one left, no one else.”
The space around her seemed to
contract, squeezing the air from her lungs. She thrust the package back toward
her brother and tried to back away. “You are wrong. I have not been prepared.”
Ahk closed her arms around the
bundle and tightened his grip. His face was inches away from her. “Listen! They
are coming! It must be you!” As he spoke, his spray hit her face; she smelled
the sour scent of fear. She winced and closed her eyes as if that could stop
her rising terror. He relaxed his grip and sighed, “Balam, please…”
 It was the sound of his voice that washed away
her fear. When she opened her eyes and saw her brother’s sagging shoulders, she
felt the enormous weight he carried. Her choice was clear. She tucked the
bundle in her clothing and took a deep breath.
“Be sure it faces the mine
entrance.” Ahk turned to leave.
“The blood sacrifice—has it been
done?”
He stopped, and when he turned
back, his eyes spoke for him. His face puckered for a moment before he squared
his shoulders and nodded. She started toward him for one last embrace, but
stopped short when Ahk’s head whipped around at the sound of distant shouts. He
had no more time for talk. The soldiers of the Spanish Army were coming.
 “RUN!” Without looking back, both men fled in
different directions.
Balam ducked down and became
invisible in the jungle. Behind her, she heard strange clanging noises and
words in a language she couldn’t understand. Peering from her hiding place, she
saw a dozen men running.
These men were huge. They must
have been twice her height with bearded faces and fierce eyes. They wore shiny
breastplates and headpieces made of a substance she’d never seen before.
They were getting closer.
She flattened her body and
listened. Cutter ants crawled over her forearm: 
one or two scouts followed by a swarm, scurrying across her skin,
stinging and biting. Some leaves fell across her legs, cut away as a soldier
slashed through the underbrush. Something pointed grazed her thigh. She held
her breath. Like the dewdrop, she waited, suspended.
More shouting. The men ran
toward the path Ahk had taken. She had to see. Slowly, she lifted her head
above the bushes.
Run, brother—run. Run straight
and don’t turn back.
But no.
The soldiers were marching back
and they had Ahk. She watched them fasten a wooden yoke around his neck. They
bound his hands. He looked in her direction, and, for an instant, they locked
eyes before Balam, once again, became part of the jungle. 
(To continue, click here.)

Besides being our contest
administrator, Yvonne Anderson writes fiction that takes you out of this world. Words
in the Wind
the second book in her Gateway to Gannah series, is scheduled for
release on August 1.