This is the opening of a YA novel set in a hugely overpopulated world. The five main characters (names in the title) have to use all their ingenuity to survive not only shortages, but some scary rivalry from an unexpected source.
We picked food names, ‘cos we were always hungry. Mine’s Mint. That’s the joke, see? Double meaning. Don’t you get it? Mint – that’s what they call places where they print money. There we were, forging En-Toks, and I pick a name like Mint. ‘Course, these days, no amount of money is worth anything unless you’ve got the En-Toks to go with it. Something to do with your energy allowance. That’s what it stands for, see – Energy Token. Well, with twenty billion people on the planet, they had to do something.
The names are aliases. You know – in case we got caught. An' we nearly were, too – the first En-Toks we made, they were rubbish – wrong colour, wrong texture, you name it. But then we got really good.
And that was when the trouble started...
‘It’s called being a victim of your own success,’ said Spanner, the first time he invited himself into our basement. ‘You should be flattered, y’know? If you were no good, I wouldn’t be interested.’
If only Spanner and his lovely mates had been our kind of age, we could’ve sorted them, one way or another. But they were grown-ups, and mean with it. They weren't doing any threatening or posturing – they just looked like they'd rip your arm off if you got in their way. I wouldn’t let it show, but they made me feel scared, right deep in my gut, and I didn’t like that one little bit.
I really like the character-narator voice here. Very fitting.
My only concern is the currency, in two parts. Firstly, why have both money and En-toks? En-toks are your currency. Secondly (and thirdly), as a legal tender, they would be both physically far harder to forge (just look at modern money), and probably entirely digital.
This is an extract from my romantic comedy, Love Regained. My central character, Beth, has been living abroad, but decides to return home when a relationship ends badly. Her friend Sammie has been house sitting for her; she returns to find he has set up a new business enterprise and has been running it from her house…
'Beth!' The colour drained from Sammie's face. 'I wasn't expecting you yet.'
'Evidently,' I replied as I scanned the room. Half a dozen men, all in various states of undress, sprawled on the floor like a herd of degenerate hippos. Some were wearing what appeared to be straps of leather, odd looking concoctions across the torso, over the legs and – oh God, they went higher …
They were sitting around an array of objects in the centre of the room; more leather strap outfits, pots of some kind of gel, hunks of rubber ….
On the far sofa, Sooty and Sweep curled around each, watching the men below with disapproving expressions. At least they're okay, I thought - but what had they been exposed to?
My eyes snapped back to Sammie, on his feet now and coming towards me. At first I was relieved to see that he at least was dressed normally, then I noticed the long, black stick of rubber he was waving in my direction.
'Sammie, what's that?'
He seemed to realise what he was holding and whipped it behind his back with a guilty expression, like he'd just been caught smoking behind the bike sheds. 'Nothing.'
'Well clearly it’s something.'
'They call it the intruder,' he replied with an embarrassed titter.
'The intruder,' I disbelievingly repeated. 'And what is the intruder – not to mention this lot,' I gestured at the men on floor, 'doing in my house?'
It feels to me it's screaming out to be in first-present rather than first-past; it wants to be more visceral and intimate.
Aside from that, the only things that jar for me are the lack of reaction from all those sprawling bodies (they're just lying there, doing nothing), and the "Oh God, they went higher" which came after a mention of concoctions across the torso.
The cabin is filled with a gridlock of racks made from stout bamboo poles lashed together with binder twine, and fitted out with black japanned iron hooks, from which dangle rows and rows of puppets - scrawny, angular, goggle-eyed, hairless, and white as winding-sheets.
‘These are my chillun,’ she says, proudly. ‘In a manner of speakin. Ain’t they somethin!’ She beams at her guests, showing snaggly teeth, stained with nicotine, set in a broad flat face. They look back, trying to figure her out.
‘This your barge?’ says Rascasse.
‘Sure is, honey. I had it built for me, years ago.’
‘Who are you?’ says Rascasse.
‘I already told my name - Mustang. You know the theatre barge, in the big marina? That mine, that my company. Waving, not Drowning.’
‘We seen the boat all right,’ says Bim. ‘Not the shows. It’s for little kids.’
She laughs scornfully. ‘Everybody think that: puppets are for kids.’ She gestures towards the dangling puppets. ‘This look like kids’ stuff to you?’
‘Creeps me out,’ says Bim.
‘There you are then,’ she says. ‘Sometime they creep me out too. But, eye of the beholder, innit? Me, I love them all. I have dominion!’ she says, beaming like a searchlight. ‘These here are veterans, from shows in the past. I could’ve drowned them, or burned them, but I keep them for old times remembered. Rest in peace, my bonny boys!’ The puppets sway gently as they hang from their hooks, glass-bead eyes vacant, blind as cataracts.