Below is the first chapter of my middle-grade fantasy novel. The story is about twelve-year-old Pacha Riley and his family who live in Peru where his parents are researching Machu Picchu. When the Rileys receive ever-escalating threats to hand over an important Inkan artifact, Pacha and little sister Lucy must flee to safety in America to live with their aunt and uncle. Accompanied only by their Travellers–animal spirit guides–the two find themselves caught up in something much more than stolen artifacts.
I would greatly appreciate any comments on this first chapter. Please note that “Inka” and “Inkan” are intentional spellings and not typos. Please also consider that, as a middle-grade novel, this story is aimed at a ten-year-old reader. Thank you. 🙂
THE TRAVELS OF PACHA RILEY: LEGEND OF THE INKAS
After the protestors tried to blow up the family car, the Rileys decided to leave the country.
The threats had been escalating, and twelve-year-old Pacha could understand why his parents had made plans for them to go live with his aunt and uncle in America. But he couldn’t understand why they didn’t just give up their research at Machu Picchu if it bothered the local Quechuas so much. Even I don’t care about the Inkas, and I’m named after a famous Inkan emperor.
Then, the day before they were all supposed to leave, the attackers had struck again, cutting the power to their house. On that unusually cold winter night, there was no electricity, no hot meals, not even warm thoughts.
Okay, he thought. I get it. But I don’t have to like it.
Shivering, he pulled the blankets up to his chin and guessed that it was less than zero degrees Celsius. He tried to imagine life in America. No one’ll pronounce my name right. They’ll tease me about being skinny. And everyone’s going to think a blond Latino is weird. Excelente. I’ll be the weird, skinny kid with the funny name.
Arms crossed tightly around his chest, he continued to glower up at the ceiling, wondering what living with his aunt and uncle would be like. He’d met Uncle Jamie and Aunt Nina only once, when he was younger. Despite the cold, he kicked off his blankets in frustration, punched his pillow, and flopped over onto his stomach.
He thought briefly about running away, and almost smiled as he pictured a life on the run: no homework, no little sister, no Quechua Indians troubling him. But then his stomach rumbled again. No food either.
“In a few days, my life will be over. America’s going to stink, Oso,” he complained to his Bear Traveller for the hundredth time.
Oso was currently buried under the blankets at the foot of the bed, along with various socks, sports magazines, and a candy wrapper or two. There was a reluctant rustling of sheets as a small brown form emerged: first a meticulously groomed paw, then a long pointed muzzle, and finally the barrel chest of a fuzzy yet somehow still stately Bear.
The Bear yawned, sleepily scratched his ear with his paw, and answered in his usual deep, patient voice. “As your Traveller, whose sole purpose is to help you learn your life lessons, may I remind you again to think positively.”
A beam of moonlight snuck in through the window and danced on the glass of the battery-operated clock on Pacha’s bedside table. Just past midnight. He’d been tossing and turning for nearly three hours. Rolling onto his back again, he saw flickering candlelight coming into the hallway from his parents’ bedroom. The sounds of hurried footsteps and whisperings made him sit up.
Just then a small shadow crossed the strip of light coming into the doorway. Lucy was awake too. As usual she had her Traveller, a sleek red Fox, under her arm. Nine-year-old Lucy was a miniature version of their mother: long black hair, dark eyes, brown skin. She tiptoed over to his bed.
“Muevete. Slide over,” she said, punching him in the arm.
Pacha scowled but moved over to make room for her. She crawled into the bed with him and pulled the blankets over her legs. Her head barely came to his shoulder.
“Did you hear Papi talking to Dr. Castillo on the phone just now? Why did Papi call him so late?” she whispered.
A short, balding man with thick glasses and a thicker belly, Dr. Castillo was the head of the archaeology department at the university where their parents worked. He oversaw the Inkan research that the Rileys were doing at Machu Picchu and in Cuzco, where they all lived.
Pacha liked Dr. Castillo well enough, but people with Cat Travellers always made Pacha uncomfortable. Sometimes, when the family went to Dr. Castillo’s house for dinner, Pacha felt as if the Cat were staring at him. And even though Pacha knew that Travellers were animate only around their own humans, he would swear that Dr. Castillo’s Cat had followed him once when he got up from the dinner table to go to the bathroom.
“I don’t know. Did you hear anything they were saying?” he asked.
“All I heard was ‘tonight’ and something about a car.”
Lucy looked up at Pacha expectantly. Pacha wished she would seem more scared, or at least worried. He just wanted to pull the covers over his head.
“Maybe Dr. Castillo learned something about our car,” Pacha said.
Suddenly their mother burst into his room. Her Deer Traveller came skittering after her, his eyes like saucers.
She looked about the room wildly. “Where is Lucy? ¡Ay, Dios mío! Pacha, Lucy, listen. We need to get ready to leave for America now. Quickly pack your things, but only what you absolutely must have. We need to travel lightly and quietly. Make sure you . . . “
But a pounding on the front door and a sharp CRASH interrupted his mother.
“¡Corre! Run! Go to Dr. Castillo’s house now!”
She yanked both of them out of the bed and dragged them towards the bedroom window, flinging it open in one swift movement.
“¡Los amo! Pacha, take care of your sister!” With a quick glance over her shoulder, she pushed them both through the window.
As he stepped out onto the ground, Pacha turned back to look at his mother. She had her hand over her mouth and looked as if she were going to be sick. And then she ran out of the bedroom, her long black hair flying out behind her.
The look on his mother’s face spurred him into action, and he grabbed his sister’s hand. He suddenly realized that they were both in their pajamas and still clutching their Travellers. And nothing else. For a second he thought about creeping back in through the window to grab their shoes. But another loud crash from inside the house made them both jump, and they sprinted out into the dark street.
“Pacha, what about Mami and Papi?” Now Lucy sounded worried.
More to reassure himself, Pacha said, “They’ll be okay. I’m sure they’ll be right behind us. We’ll just wait for them at Dr. Castillo’s house.”
Holding hands, they ran down the street and into the silent, shadowy night. Pacha started to turn left on the main road, but Lucy pulled him the other way, back toward their own house.
“What are you doing? Mami said to go to Dr. Castillo’s!”
“I know a shortcut! This way!”
Lucy dragged him through the maze of hilly, cobbled streets that was San Blas, the artist district of Cuzco, Peru, where they lived. They darted through the ancient, narrow roads, behind a cluster of white houses with blue doors, past the wall with the Stone of Twelve Angles, and into an alleyway that he never even knew was there. Pacha felt a flash of annoyance as they came out on a street that was only a few blocks from Dr. Castillo’s house. Why don’t I know about that shortcut?
They flew down the darkened street, their breath making clouds in the cold night air. Just ahead, Pacha could see the red-roofed buildings of the Plaza de Armas, so he knew they were getting close. But then he felt a tug on his arm; Lucy was slowing down. He gripped her hand tighter and said, “Come on, almost there.”
His thoughts were racing as fast as his feet now. Mami had said to look after Lucy. That sounded as if they would not be meeting up at Dr. Castillo’s house. What is going on?
Pacha looked back at his little sister, her hair flying behind her like Mami’s. A knot of panic tightened in his stomach, but he swallowed hard and fought it back.
“Come on,” he said again. “I see Dr. Castillo’s house. Everything will be okay now.”
But even as he said it, Pacha doubted that anything would be okay.