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Chapter 1. Write a Novel Challenge.

Chapter 1. Write a Novel Challenge.

by Eman MurshedMay 31, 2020

Some time between dusk and dawn, she found herself stumbling across cobblestone lanes with a broken heel to match her broken heart. Her audience was limited to the attentive stares of empty windows with borderline suffocating apathy; not a flicker of a candle nor a dance of a shadow could be seen in any of them. Still, their gazes were rather overtly fixated on her distressed, wine-stained blouse — silently mocking the weeping Goddess in a wrinkled pencil skirt. Her worries buzzed around her like wild, pestering bees on a sweltering summer’s day, and in a lazy attempt to gather her bearings she couldn’t help but let the wind persuade a shiver from her soft, crumpled frame.

Her sluggish movements could only be attributed to the misery that followed yet another one of her projects being invaded by opposing forces. Despite the incessant applause and approval that seemed to follow the clack of her heels wherever she went, she could still feel the underlying criticism in the lengthy gazes of her peers. She prided herself with being the best — the kind of easy confidence no one would dare hold a candle to. Yet doubt and regret were permanent fixtures in her mind; an already chaotic mess of thoughts that had become disarrayed beyond repair like an assault of metal-tipped bomb shells on war-torn barbed wire

Besides the obvious puff of her laboured breaths, the only other noise that could be heard was the solitary jingle of her keys as she struggled to jam them into the door. Her vision blurred but she soldiered on, huffing with frustration as the lock clicked in place. The mahogany of the door felt cool against the dimpling skin of her forehead, face pinched with concentration in order to keep the reservoir behind her eyelids at bay. It was a doomed collection of salt and water she hadn’t set free in what felt like a millenia, but the urge to let go seemed all the more tempting this time around.

With a stuttered spin on her heel, she tapped her phone awake, balancing it against the tops of her shoulders and the shell of her ear as she listened to the one voicemail that pleaded for her attention.

“This is Neina! Might be busy with work — I mean, probably busy with work, so I’ll get back to you when I can!”

What followed was a hushed apology she wouldn’t forget anytime soon.

“Hey, Neina,” began the deep baritone of the speaker, voice dripping with forced remorse. “I just wanted to make sure you’re alright after the conversation we had in my office today. I realise now that I was rather harsh considering everything you’ve done for this company, but Isla is the young, creative streak we’ve been looking for for months and I’d really appreciate it if you worked with her on this project. I think you’ll realise you’re both quite similar in your styles — it’ll be good. See you Monday.” A beep sounded, and Neina finally exhaled.

Monday. Monday. Monday. She wasn’t certain if she could make it to Monday knowing the usual spaciousness of her office would be crowded with someone else. Young. Creative. Frankie’s endorsement of the girl — still doe eyed and rosey cheeks from having graduated not even months earlier — was utterly humiliating. Hadn’t that been her 15 years ago when she first skipped her way through the revolving doors with a briefcase bursting with the skeletons of buildings? Shouldn’t he have fallen to his knees in the dirt — exhibiting undeniable sycophantic behaviour that rivaled that of Petrarch’s?

What irked her most, truly set her skin alight and burning, was that she wished she was more furious. 15 years of unwavering commitment to the firm and 3 years prior to that studying to become as accomplished as she was, yet the thought of it slowly but surely fumbling from her grasp had left her a detached heap of flesh and bones.

A glimpse of light emerging from the window caught her attention, drawing it away from its straying path. The archaic city hummed with an intense life despite the deepness of the night, and Neina couldn’t help but notice the clear-cut contrast between her and the outside world. She listened. She watched. The scene before her and the lonesome feeling slowly seeping into the cracks of her mind — it was all eerily familiar, like a mirror she owned not too long ago. Bleeding but no blood; the ongoing rampage of her heart threatening to break free of the dwindling confines of her ribcage — how long would it last?

Write a Novel Challenge illustration of a girl looking from a window at night with the city skyscape obscuring the stars and the blanket blackness of the night sky

Neina hated it: how the lights, although beautiful with their glaring glow, obstructed her view of the stars she knew littered the black blanket above her head. If only she could see them — the intertwining constellations as they formed surreal masterpieces that surely belonged in ‘the Louvre’. And the moon — how it hung with grace, under siege and surrounded by stars with an ethereal, pearl-white pallor.

Her breath caught as a sudden spark of this palpable something (she wasn’t sure what it was, not really) ricocheted through her veins, almost as if someone had stirred the life inside of her.

But no, it didn’t last. Two yawns and a muffled curse later, she found herself drowning in the silky embrace of her bed. Time had a nasty habit of slipping away from her more often than not — an obstacle woven into the literal fabric of the universe. And as much as she knew, deep down, that she couldn’t control such inconceivable intricacies, all Neina wanted was to hit pause and rewind.

© and 2020. All rights reserved.

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About The Author
Eman Murshed
Born in Pakistan, Eman Murshed is 16 years old and attends GEMS Jumeirah College in Year 11. She writes of her opening to the novel: “As daunting as it seems — writing the opening chapter of an entire novel — I can easily say that I am beyond excited. What is most thrilling about this challenge is being able to introduce everyone to a character I’ve already grown so fond of, and witnessing how the next writer perceives her! The idea of this first chapter stemmed from a conversation with my friend as we discussed what we feared most about the future as it seems pandemics really bring out the most existential questions in teenagers. My hope is that this rather depressing start will juxtapose nicely with the later chapters as we watch the character grow past her initial turmoil, and I really hope everyone enjoys what has and will be written!”

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