Name: Michelle J. Fernandez
Genre: Adult Literary/Speculative Fiction
Title: EMINENT DOMAIN
Word Count: 69,000
Themes: Climate change, exile, “invisible” illness
Pitch: In 2026, marriage is illegal. Haughty and haunted Shiri Shapiro is a catastrophe adjuster in the romance insurance industry whose world is meticulously under control until she encounters a relationship she can’t decode: a friendship.
First 500 words:
The dying city’s sidewalks were uneven. Shiri noticed this for the first time since the pavement had thawed a few days before. In the winter, a sheet of ice, impervious to the salt and sand laid out by cautious homeowners and shopkeepers alike, smoothed the surface of the sidewalk. More often than not, this sheet was adorned with powdered snow or slush, but even under the claustrophobic glare of the winter sun on a cloudless day, it glimmered with a lawsuit-enticing opalescence. This became, of course, the obstacle most deserving of immediate attention. Waddling along, maintaining all of her weight in her heels, arms akimbo for balance, proved enough of a task that it required Shiri’s full concentration. But, as always seemed to happen at some mysterious point in February – earlier every year, but always assuming the same form – the ice had vanished as unceremoniously as it had appeared, leaving the aged sidewalks of Albany exposed to the weary people of Albany anew. The air felt crisper than it had yesterday. Shiri wondered if the cold of the ground had only shifted up to lung-height, and if so, was she breathing in filth from the street? She felt lighter.
Lighter, but less grounded, less stable. Shiri, like all other humans who inhabited what were, funnily enough, once known as the temperate zones of planet Earth, suffered from some mild form of seasonal amnesia. Although every equinox fulfilled its promise to come around every year, she felt and acted as if it were a complete surprise each time. What was this iceless city, and how was she expected to live in it? She peered down at the sidewalk from what seemed a stratospheric altitude, her hands clenched in the deep pockets of a camel trench coat, and concentrated very hard on not flying away. She walked like this down Lark Street, heading south towards Madison Avenue, flatfootedly, placing each step very deliberately on the sidewalk. The sudden lack of bulk and ease of movement made her feel not unlike a loosely tied balloon.
In the fingers of her right hand she held a smooth stone in a deep shade of orange, the name of which, she was almost sure, began with a C, and the material of which held some meaning to the ancient peoples of some part of Asia, and also to Shiri’s mother, who believed in invisible things like chakras and chis. Shiri carried this stone with her everywhere, fondling it thoughtlessly within her pocket. Her mother had gifted it to her years before, for the purpose, she later realized, of a makeshift cognitive-behavioral therapy. As a kid, Shiri engaged in minor compulsive self-injurious behaviors. No branding irons, nothing exciting, just nail biting, hair pulling, scab picking, zit popping, and the like. After one too many self-inflicted skin infections, her disgusted mother, standing at a safe distance and grinning thin encouragement, had dropped this stone into her daughter’s hand.