Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2018 finalist, Natalie Wong! Natalie finished 6th grade this past school year. The story she submitted is called “Escape to the Outside.”  Enjoy!


 

PART ONE

When the girl arrived, everyone was mystified. This had never happened before.

The girl had come from the Outside, a dangerous, scary place, full of ruffians and scoundrels. At least, that’s what the people on the Inside thought.

The Inside was a set of villages strewn about in a stretch of forest. The members were stuck in tradition and never dreamed of exploring the outside world. It was simply too absurd, too dangerous. They had even organized troops to prevent anyone from leaving the safety of the community, so large was their fear of the Outside.

One night, one of the citizens had awoken to the sound of muffled crying on their doorstep. Like a dutiful person, the citizen had gone to see if the matter was of importance. The person had stumbled across a cold, lost, and scared little child huddled in front of the door. The citizen had been struck with fear. The girl was clearly not Inside-born, so she must be part of the reckless Outsiders. The citizen had immediately taken her to the leaders under a show of kindness, as everyone had been instructed to do if anything like this ever happened.

The Inside’s leaders didn’t know what to do with the girl. Rulers before them had never written down anything concerning this situation and had just instructed the citizens to bring the new or unknown object to the leaders if one came to their community. So, they decided to keep her and try to teach her the goodness of their ways.

Unfortunately, the girl was less than willing to comply. The leaders had hoped she would fit in and be happy, but she wanted adventure, to get back to the Outside, and this only cast her out from the others even more.

This is the story of how she escaped.

A child who had been born on the Inside, Lily, befriended this Outside girl, whose name was Tabby. In a few years, Lily and Tabby became inseparable, growing a true bond. The leaders of the Inside sighed in relief when they saw how Tabby had made a friend; surely that would make it easier to adjust her to her new life.

As said before, Tabby was not happy with this new life. Ever since she became friends with Lily, she had been formulating a plan to escape. You see, no one on the Inside would ever even think about doing such a thing. Tabby and Lily were the only ones who had a sense of individuality, an unwillingness to be obedient. No one could ever figure out why Lily, in particular, was like that, as she had supposedly been Inside-born, but they guessed that was why the girls were such good friends. However, all the other citizens secretly thought the girls were both strange and gladly kept their children to minimum interaction with the two.

Lily knew Tabby wanted to leave, and would be glad to go with her if it made Tabby happy, but she knew what would happen if they got caught: both of them would receive a terrible punishment that would live to haunt them for the rest of their lives. Despite that fact, Lily would help Tabby and Tabby would do the same for Lily. They meticulously planned out every little detail, from the moment they left their houses to when they crossed the border made of trees. Their conversation involved Tabby suggesting things and Lily finding all the problems with the suggestion, but she occasionally built off of one of Tabby’s ideas with her own.

“First of all, we need to steal food and clothes from our houses. We’ll pack them in our school bags. Then we’ll sneak out in the middle of the night, meet up, and run all the way to the border by morning! BAM!” Tabby yelled.

“Shush! Someone might hear us! And are you sure stealing all of those things is polite? Shouldn’t we write a note of apology? Also, I don’t think we’re fast enough to make it to the border by morning,” Lily cautioned.

“We can’t leave a note because that will let everyone know that we’re trying to escape. We’ll bring enough supplies to last us a few days and find hiding spots if we can’t make it to the border by daylight,” Tabby clarified.

Lily suggested they make a list “in order to maintain organization” and Tabby agreed. They bickered over some items, but a consensus was eventually reached and the final product looked like this:

  • Food:
    • 2 apples
    • 2 bananas
    • 1 loaf of bread
    • 8 bottles of water
    • 12 packs of dried meat
    • 12 packs of dried fruit
  • Supplies
    • 1 heavy coat
    • 1 jacket
    • 3 shirts
    • 3 pairs of pants
    • 3 pairs of underclothes
    • 3 pairs of socks
    • Flashlight

“Awesome! I’m so EXCITED! It’s going to be the biggest adventure I’ve ever had!” Tabby apprehensively whispered.

“Remember to NOT TELL ANYONE. And don’t be so sure that we’ll make it…” Lily scolded. She still harbored some doubts that this outrageous plan would work. It was a long shot and she did not have the eagerness to try new things that her best friend possessed.

I know the story told you that “this is the story of how she (Tabby) escaped”, but it’s really a continuation of how Tabby and Lily escaped.

The two friends had already made it out of the group of houses that make up the Inside and were making their way to the border when they were spotted by a Patrol. Patrols were the people who were trained to eliminate any potential escapers or threats. They trained since they were six and usually came back with their target.

“Hey! You there! Stop!” a man’s voice yelled. The girls looked in fear at each other, and then ran for their lives… if they could make it to the border…if only…but the Patrol was faster. Their fighters had trained most of their lives for an event such as this one. Clomp clomp clomp. A yell, and faster clomping. Tabby and Lily’s only hope was to find somewhere to hide.

As they ran, branches cutting their legs, and animals scurrying out of their way, nets flew out at them from the oncoming Patrol, spinning and hissing through the air. When something got entangled in one of those nets, there was literally no way out unless an authorized member of the community gave the order for the trapped object to be released.

Dodging the flying traps, the girls became more and more tired, and the Patrol got closer and closer.

“Must…hide…” Lily gasped. They rounded a corner and came to a small tunnel, only noticeable when you paid attention. Both girls were slightly afraid of going in, but it was their only chance to escape. Crawling in, they quieted their breathing as their eyes adjusted to their surroundings.

The temporary hiding place was damp and dark, with barely enough room for two people. The walls were hard and wet, while the floor was sturdy and dry. It smelled of fur and was clearly an animal’s den. Hopefully, that animal was not angry.

Just their luck. A low growl came from the back, and a pack of weasels crawled out. They hissed and stalked towards the two girls, assessing them and deciding they were both enemies.

The Patrol was advancing from the outside of the hole, but the weasels blocked the possibility of going further in.

Before the angry mammals could jump on the terrified children, the Patrol rounded the corner, and the weasels drew back, hissing angrily. The stomp stomp stomp of their organized running faded away as an order was shouted to go back to the village, as they had not found Tabby and Lily. But the running sound came back, as they had to pass the weasels’ hole again to go back to the village. Luckily for Lily and Tabby, the furry creatures had retreated to the deeper reaches of their home for the time being. Terror held at the girls’ hearts as the boots of the Patrol’s members flickered in then out of view.

Tabby and Lily waited until there was absolutely no sign of anything other than the wildlife and then rolled out of the musty den as fast as they could. The world outside was blindingly bright after being inside the dark enclosure for a while. They blinked and collected themselves for a few minutes, then assessed their position from their vantage point.

The border was visible from where they were standing. The friends could see that they would have to cross a raging river just before the last few meters to the tree line that everyone knew was not to be crossed. “Whew,” Lily huffed. “That river looks cold,” she added. Tabby nodded in agreement, rubbing her hands just thinking about how cold it would be if they fell into the water. It wasn’t protected at all because the Inside had drilled their citizens so well that (mostly) everyone was afraid to leave the village.

They walked down the small hill they were on and decided to rest and eat some of the food they had brought along by the shade of a tree. As she sat down on the soft ground, Tabby’s thoughts wandered around, finally settling on the question of whether she had the right to ask her friend to cross the border. Did she really deserve to put her friend through all this danger? Tabby looked across to Lily. Her friend was concentrating on eating the apple she’d brought. Tabby decided that she would tell Lily to go back if she wanted. But before she could begin speaking, Lily got up and said they should get going.

They started up again and reached the river within a short while. They were so close, yet still so far from their destination. The river frothed and raged, and had the girls not been standing on a higher place on the bank, they would have been drenched by now. Farther down, there was a fallen tree that they slipped and slid their way across to the mud. The bark was solid and dark brown and provided a good place to lean on while they recovered from the trek to it. They helped each other up and Tabby went behind Lily in case she fell, as she had previous tree-walking experiences in her former life in the Outside.

The crossing was grim. Both of them knew that if either fell into the water, there was a high likelihood that they would not come back out again.

A few minutes passed, then another few. The shore that would make them free from any Patrols was so close…they were going to make it.

And then Lily slipped. Her body fell in seemingly slow motion, her arms reaching up to the sky, mouth wide open in shock in a silent scream. She dropped into the waters with a SPLASH and disappeared from view. As a gut instinct, Tabby leaped in after her, fighting the water and grabbing for Lily’s hand. She was instantly submerged and fought for breath as she swam back to the surface. Her eyes were stinging from the water that had gotten into them and she dragged a hand out of the water and rubbed her eyes, to no avail. She felt fingers in the murky water and latched on to them, pulling Lily up so her head was above the raging river.

“It’s so cold…,” Lily gasped. Already the stinging iciness of the dark liquid was soaking through their clothes, making them heavy and dragging the two down. The water swirled around them as it foamed and shrieked and tried to drown both of them. Struggling to keep both of their heads over the waterline, Tabby desperately tried to swim back to the fallen trunk.

A stroke, a stroke, and another. Stroke, stroke, stroke. Keep going. Keep moving. Pull Lily. Stroke. Pull Lily. Stroke.

Tabby felt her body grow colder. It was a good few minutes before she reached the trunk, drained of energy.

Just as she reached the log, Lily opened her eyes and said sadly, “Thanks, Tabby.” She pulled herself forcefully out of Tabby’s cold hand, and using the last of her strength, pushed her friend into the log.

Tabby grabbed the log in fear and reached out a hand towards Lily. “Come on! Grab my hand! Please! Please! Lily!” she cried. But her best friend had disappeared under the water and didn’t come back up. The water swirled and roared, trying to pull Tabby down as well, not knowing what it had just taken away from her.

Really, what had just happened? She was holding on to the stiff wood log in her hands, but Lily had disappeared. Tabby could not make sense of it. Lily was there, but then she wasn’t. It was all so confusing.

Reality hit her like a slap to her face. Tabby visibly reared back from the swarm of thoughts and emotions stinging her like bees, struggling to crawl to safer shore.

She hoisted herself up to a sitting position on the thin stretch of shore. “LILY! I AM SO MAD AT YOU! WHY DID YOU GO AWAY? WHY?” Tabby sobbed. Angered, she punched and screamed at the water. After that, she cried and cried and cried some more.

She eventually crawled past the border, but felt no joy. She wanted Lily to be there with her. No, Tabby did not deserve this fate. She didn’t deserve to escape, when Lily, her best friend, did not. She cried and yelled some more, not caring whether she lived or died, and promptly fell unconscious.

It just so happened that a man was hunting in that area of the woods when he heard the screams of a child. He quickly ran to the source of the sound and rounded a tree to see Tabby lying, sodden on the ground. He gasped, stepped closer, and scrutinized her face. Then something came into his eyes and he broke down crying next to her body.

It was a day before Tabby woke. By that time, Tabby’s father, the hunter, had gotten help from other people. Doctors and family members too had come when she opened her eyes.

Strangely, Tabby could feel warmth and could tell she was on a soft bed. “Lily? Where are we?” she said sleepily.

“You’re right here, honey. Right here, with us.” There was some sniffling, and a soft, familiar hand took hers.

Tabby fully opened her eyes. She saw three familiar faces as well as a light brown wall and the white sheets of the bed she was lying on. “Mom? Dad?” The sheets crinkled as she turned her head slightly to see the look of a concerned older sister. “Jae?” That was her sister’s name. “What are you guys doing here?” she whispered, smiling, confused, happy, and sad at the same time.

“There’s so much I have to tell you…”

 

PART 2

At this point, Lily’s unconscious form is being carried downstream, right to the doorstep of a kind woman. This woman steps out her door for a walk, and instead of being greeted by the crisp morning air, discovers the battered body of Lily.

She freezes upon discovering Lily’s battered form and immediately rushes to carry her inside. There the woman covers Lily with a blanket, sets her on a flower-patterned couch, and waits for her to wake up.

Meanwhile, Tabby is explaining everything that happened to her parents.

“I was playing, and I wanted to explore more of the forest. First, I crossed the river then ran around looking for animals and bugs. I was out too long and got lost. I saw the light of the village, and ended up there, hoping someone would take me back. But they didn’t. They tried to keep me and make me live with them. I hated it so, so much! The people there were all stiff and strict and everything was so confusing. I mean, no one ever broke the rules. And even when people were talking to their family members, everyone was so cordial towards one another. It was all, ‘Yes ma’am, and I apologize, sir.’ I missed you guys. I was scared of everything. I wondered what this place was, why the people acted like they did, and what was going to happen to me.” Tabby stopped and gathered her thoughts. “Then I made it out, with Lily, and on the way back, she fell into the river. I couldn’t find her. Then you found me.”

Tabby started crying again, and her family all gathered around in one huge group hug. “You’re here with us. It’s ok. It’s ok,” her father told her.

However, her mother was furious. “Why on earth did those people keep you? I’m going to alert the authorities! Something is clearly not right! And when I get my HANDS on one of them…” she seethed.

Tabby tried to calm her by saying that she was fine, but her mother would have none of it. She left the room in a rush, and Tabby could hear her yelling over the phone.

After a little while, her mom came back in and declared triumphantly, “The police will arrive shortly.”

Tabby groaned and thought about how she was going to answer all the questions she would be asked. Then something occurred to her. “Lily!” she gasped. “We’ve got to find Lily! I just want to see her again, one last time.” she pleaded.

Her parents exchanged looks. “We’ll ask around,” they finally told her. “The neighbors will probably notice a girl floating down a river. Don’t worry, and go back to sleep, okay?”

Now somewhat content, Tabby nodded and dutifully fell back asleep.

Lily’s waterlogged mind finally cleared within a few hours. When she awoke, it was 10:21 am. The sun was shining brightly through the curtains, and the rest of the world was already up and about.

Lily thought she was dead. After all, why would she be warm and cozy when her last memory was of falling into a river? If this was the afterlife, it was pretty good. Her blanket fell off as she sat up, and noticed that there was another human with her. Also, why was there a person staring at her? Didn’t she know it was very rude to do so? But the woman was older than her, so Lily decided to ask why she was staring at her.

The woman jolted as though shocked by something. “You’re alive! Do you know who I am?” she whispered.

Lily quickly racked her brains for any memory of this stranger. “I’m sorry ma’am, but I don’t,” she shamefully replied.

The woman looked saddened, and said, “Well, I should think you wouldn’t. You were just a baby, after all,” she replied softly. “You can call me Auntie. Now let me tell you how I know you.”

Eager to make a good impression, Lily adopted the look of an attentive student, and the person—no, Auntie—began.

“I adopted you when you were about six months old. You were an adventurous baby, always exploring every nook and cranny. You grew to be one, then two. I took you out to a soccer game one day but lost you in the crowd. I was frantic. I yelled, screamed, alerted security, but they never found you. Later, I heard reports about a little girl being seen in the forest right out that window.” She pointed to the trees in the distance. “I immediately began a thorough search through the woods but found nothing. And that’s how it’s been, until now. I found you. Finally,” here Auntie broke off sobbing. Tears dripped down her nose and onto the soft carpet at Lily’s feet. Now for some reason, her face seemed like one Lily had seen before. It was the kind of remembrance where you just knew you’ve seen something before, but have absolutely no idea where you’ve seen it.

There was also a strange kind of hope growing inside Lily. What if this woman was telling the truth? Would Lily have to live here? It wouldn’t be so bad. It was definitely better than lying at the bottom of a river. And Auntie seemed nice. Lily thought she could live with that. But what if the others found her? She would be punished so terribly.

All of a sudden, something clicked. Here, she could be herself. Lily could be free. She could be without restraint, living the life she always wondered about. She wanted it. But first, they had to find Tabby.

A week later…

Tabby entered the small cafe with her parents. At first, she didn’t see Lily and turned to ask her parents where she was. Then she spotted the face of her supposedly dead friend, and could not help charging straight over to that table.

Sure enough, it was Lily. Tabby was speechless. She’d been told that the police found Lily and she was alive, but she hadn’t really imagined it until now. The two friends stood looking at each other for a while, and Tabby’s parents and Lily’s Auntie went to chat quietly, giving the girls some space.

After a long silence, the two best friends leaped into the warmest hug you’ve ever seen. The adults smiled at them and sat down at their table with some hot coffee to talk. Meanwhile, both girls babbled about how much they’d missed each other and how much they had hoped the other was still alive.

At the end, Lily asked Tabby, “How am I going to stay here? Won’t people from the Inside find me?”

Tabby grinned somewhat jokingly at her. “Don’t worry. They’ll have to go through ME if they want to get to you! And seriously, Lily. Everything’s going to be fine. We’re going to start over.”

When the two parted, they both knew what Tabby had said wouldn’t be as easy as it sounded. But they were going to try. Together.

THE END

 

 


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