First Chapter Finalist for Science Fiction/Fantasy goes to Philip L. Levin


Princess Priscilla’s Quest for the Zany Zombies by Philip L. Levin is a Finalist in the Science Fiction/Fantasy category of Works in Progress for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.

Award-Winning First Chapter

Princess Priscilla held up the wrinkled squash she’d pulled off the parched vine. It hung limply in her hand, defeated and sad. She placed it in the basket with the exhausted turnips and raggedy lettuce leaves. Brushing back her long blond tresses, she wiped her forehead with her handkerchief. At eighteen-years-old she loved to be out in the sunshine.

She looked over at her pet troll wearing his cute miniature suit tailored to fit his green-skinned half human – half frog figure. He dug in the dirt, his long-fingered hand scooping up clogs of dirt from beneath his webbed feet.   Sifting through, he popped the occasional grub into his mouth.

“Garden’s looking a bit poorly,” she said.

The troll dumped the soil he’d just gone through and nodded. “No rain in Kingdom of Mystic Forest two moons. Rashpewkin tummy rumble.” He rubbed his hand against his stomach, giving her a droopy-eyed look.

Philip Levin
Philip Levin

“Well, let’s head back to the house and see whether Coretta can whip up something to eat from these shreds.” Placing the greens in her basket, she led her pet up the path, across the drawbridge, and into the castle keep. In the kitchen she found the cook, Coretta, plopping slop into a bowl held by a curly-haired girl perched on a pink polka-dot toadstool. The child, about four-years-old, wore a red-checkered vest, a short red skirt, red shoes, and red ribbons hanging on each of a half dozen strands of dark curls.

Dipping her spoon into the pot, the girl held up the white sizzling mixture and, following a sniff, gave a pouty grimace.

“Yuck.” Looking over at Coretta, she asked, “Is this all we got?”

Coretta dipped her ladle into a second pot and dumped a dark gray clump on top of the slop.

“You say you’re hungry, so don’t be grumpy. For curds you say, now eat your whey.”

“Which way?” the girl asked.

Priscilla peeked into the girl’s bowl, stepping away at the sight of the ugly mixture. “Who are you?”

The child hopped off the stool and curtsied. “I be Mary, if it please Your Highness.” She sat back on the stool and touched the spoon into the bowl, bringing up a morsel of grey gunk for a lick. Her eyes opened wide. “Hey, this be good!” Pushing her spoon deeper into the bowl, she brought up a small mountain of the sticky white and grey mash, smearing as much on her face as getting into her mouth. Priscilla picked up a wet cloth and dabbed at the girl’s face.

“Where did you come from?” the princess asked.

“Me family’s come down from over Rhyme Town,” the child answered.

Coretta spoke up, “Mary be my niece, if you leave her in peace. Rhyme Town is my home, the place of the poem. There creek is all dry, no rain in the sky. They having swift feet, they’re coming for eats.”

“Dragon’s dirt! More mouths to feed! Well, we certainly can’t let the peasants starve.”

As the girl ate, a big spider floated down on a shining silk string, hovering just above her head. Rashpewkin leaped a somersault over her head, capturing the arachnoid with his long tongue on the way. Mary barely glanced at him before going back to her food.

Rashpewkin crawled around the floor looking for bugs to eat, not following Priscilla who accompanied the girl as she carried her almost finished bowl into the next room where they found four boys of about five-years-old. The first, with long overalls and choppy blonde hair, sat on a rickety tall stool in a corner.

“Hi Jack,” Mary called, and he leaned down to kiss her cheek. He doffed his cap at Priscilla.

“Your Highness.” Turning to Mary, he said, “You’re not your usual contrary self this morning. What’s up, Sis?”

She held up the bowl. “A bit of curds and whey. You hungry?”

The boy stuck in his thumb, but it came out bare. “No plums?” He leaned back on the stool and closed his eyes.

Across the room one of the other boys hopped back-and-forth over a burning candle while the others cheered him on.

“Forty-three,” said the one jumping, his green tunic and rope-tied pants rippling as he moved. Bright red hair topped a face full of freckles. His feet barely touched the floor before he bent his legs and hopped back across the flame.

“Forty-four,” announced one of the other boys, wearing a long tunic tied with a rope. He held a little harp that seemed to be playing all by itself.

When the candle jumper spotted the princess, he stopped jumping and gave a deep bow. The other boy, seeing his brother’s action, followed suit. “Your Highness,” they both said.

Mary pointed to the three. “This be my nimble brother Jack,” indicating the candle jumper, “and this be my climbing brother Jack,” pointing at the third boy. She turned to a fourth boy, a very thin child wearing scraps of pants with patches on both knees. “This be my hungry brother Jack.”

Priscilla curtsied in response to their bows. “Your mother couldn’t think of any names besides Jack?” she asked.

Mary handed over the bowl to the candle jumper, who took two spoonfuls. “No fat,” he said, “so you can eat this, Jack.” He handed it to the boy in scraps. This one proceeded to lick the bowl vigorously.

“Does he always do that?” Priscilla asked. “He eats just like my troll.”

The thin boy handed the bowl back to his sister who showed it to Priscilla. “See? Licked clean.”

“Yep, just like my troll.”

“Why are they all named Jack?” Priscilla asked.

“Daddy loved Jack stuff,” one of the Jacks explained. “He played blackjack with his friends, and his favorite poker game was ‘All Jacks Wild.’”

“Which he used to call out when he came home,” another Jack said. “He’d fish for amberjacks, eat applejacks, wore bootjacks, worked as a crackerjack lumberjack, unless he was on the road, when he’d highjack a carjack.”

“We had pets at home,” the third Jack added. “Jackrabbits, jackals and jackdaws. We ate jackfish and wore matching jackets.”

“He came to no good, though,” the fourth Jack said sadly. “Drank so much jackfruit juice he got jackhammered and ended up in a straightjacket.”

“What was your Daddy’s name?” Princess Priscilla asked.

“Peter Peter,” Mary said. “He used to love eating Jack-o-lanterns.” She sighed. “That ‘twas when we had pumpkins. Now e’reything’s so dry, we ain’t got nothing.” She looked up at the Princess. “You got to DO something Princess. We gotta have rain.”

The four boys all joined in. “Yes, please Your Highness. The whole Kingdom needs your help or we’ll all starve.”

Priscilla patted each on the head. “I certainly will.”

Giving the girl a hug, the princess went back to the kitchen. There she found Rashpewkin sitting across the table from Coretta engaged in a game involving moving small carved figures across a checkered pattern made on the table.

Rashpewkin slid a carved horseman into one of Coretta’s peasants, knocking it down. She stared in surprise “I hate to say my fate, but you put me in checkmate.”

“Game’s over?” Priscilla asked. Receiving their nods, she said, “Then let’s get serious for a minute. Our cupboards are bare, the garden’s not producing, and trade has dried up. Now we have another five mouths to feed. What are we going to do about this drought?”

The troll lifted his foot to scratch behind his ear. “Could dig deeper wells? Rashpewkin like digging holes. Find worms to eat.”

Priscilla shook her head. “It’d take too long, and might not reach water. Why isn’t it raining?”

Coretta shushed them with a finger to her mouth and looked stealthily around the room. She whispered, “It’s Magic here, I can swear. For drought to burst, must beat the curse.”

“Curse?” Rashpewkin dropped to the floor, curled into a ball, and rolled himself into a cupboard, shutting the door behind him.

Priscilla grasped Coretta’s hands. “Curse? How come? How are we going to break it?”

Coretta pulled back her hands, stood and turned to the fireplace where she stirred a slowly-bubbling brew. “I’m sure I’ll be the last to shout, how to snuff a curse on out. You leave me free, you buzzing bee. Take your troll on down the road, visit the men who deal in grim.”

Priscilla stood and nodded. “Okay, I get it.” She opened up the cabinet door and pulled her pet out by his arm. “Come on, Pewker. We’ve got a visit to make in the village.”

She pulled on her bonnet and grabbed her purse.

Taking her hand, he asked, “A visit? Who we visit?”

“We need to find a bit of magic to break this curse.” They crossed the drawbridge and headed down the cobblestone path towards the village.

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