Title: The Wildlife Preserve for Nearly Normal Humans
Entry Nickname: Humanimals
Word Count: 79K
Genre: MG Fantasy
When Ricky Chase turns twelve, he learns about the world of Legionnaires, boys and girls who change into animals to battle evil, and he is one of them. As a Legionnaire, he’s whisked away to train at the American Preserve in NYC. Expecting a gothic fantasy castle, Ricky’s is surprised to find that the Preserve is a magical Daft-Punk-style New York Times skyscraper, with techno music, auto clothing, airvators (elevators of air), and water slides that go from floor to floor on demand, all for the purpose of training the world’s most elite children in the unique craft of channeling their inner animal. Not only do Legionnaires develop their animal’s coolest abilities, but their dietary preferences as well—Ricky crosses his fingers that he becomes something other than a beaver—ick.
While Legionnaires can only channel one animal each, their enemies, the Skahdi, change into grotesque combinations of creatures, becoming fierce chimera-like warriors. Ricky struggles during his first year and ends up changing into three different animals, casting suspicion that he is an enemy spy. As this suspicion mounts, and the Skahdi destroy the Asian Preserve in a brutal attack, Ricky turns to his newfound friends for help—in particular, Mina, a Korean girl who transferred from the ruined Asian Preserve and who shares a dangerous secret in common with Ricky. But then Mina disappears, abducted by the real spy.
Now, Ricky must not only prove his innocence, but master his fledgling abilities and channel his true animal or he’ll never defeat the traitor and save Mina in time.
Ricky stretched and gazed down through his bedroom window at the bustling Manhattan streets. The morning sun cast long shadows as people pinballed down the sidewalks, scurrying off to wherever it was they went. Cabbies honked and hollered, and pigeons pecked and pooped.
The thin alley across the street loomed dark and quiet as usual, until a teenage boy emerged into the light and locked eyes with Ricky. He wore blue jeans and a gray hoodie, but instead of shoes, he had huge webbed feet, like an enormous bullfrog, and his hands were massive, red lobster claws.
Ricky chuckled and gave him two thumbs up for the costume. Maybe he was a foster kid too, and made extra cash dressing up for tourists in Times Square. The boy's lips curled back like a wolf protecting a kill, his eyes still locked on Ricky.
Ricky glanced over at Carlos who sat on his bed sketching a giraffe in a tuxedo. “Hey, come check out this guy’s costume.”
Carlos nestled his pencil behind his ear, its yellow shaft contrasting with his black hair, then plodded over. The boy was still there, but his lobster claws and webbed feet were gone, replaced by regular hands and shoes. Ricky shook his head. Impossible. He'd only glanced away for a second. He pulled off his glasses, rubbed the lenses with his t-shirt, and slid them back on. Same.
“What, that guy?” Carlos asked, pointing.
“But he was just—” Ricky pressed his face to the window.