Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2019 finalist, Maggie Liu! Maggie finished 5th grade this past school year. We asked which character from her story was her favorite and she said “Ava. She was based on my best friend, so duh.” The story she submitted is called “Runaway” 


Runaway

by Maggie Liu

He was easily the filthiest thing Evelyn had ever seen, with dirty hair that evidently had not been washed for at least a month, torn and muddy clothes, and skin so covered with soot and grime it was possible for the actual skin to be any color.

But what intrigued Evelyn the most were the eyes. He had heterochromia iridum, with one amber eye and one steely gray, and they were alert almost in a feline way. Her mom would have called them Floyd Cat eyes. Evelyn called them unnerving.

“Who are you?” asked Evelyn.

“Call me Will. I don’t know who I really am, but from what I have found out, I’m an orphan and both my parents died in a car crash when I was three.”

“That must be sad.”

“Not really. I didn’t really know them, but I have this one memory of my dad pushing me backwards in the swing at the playlot. I was trying to yank his beard and kick him in the nose at the same time. “

Evelyn laughed, but Will could tell it was nervous and forced.

“Say, you got any food?” asked Will.

“Nope, but I can bring you some tomorrow if you agree to meet me at this same place.”

“Sure.”

“I’m Evelyn Stewart, by the way.”

Evelyn went home, thinking about what she would bring Will the next day.

Evelyn herself was a pretty elvish girl of 10, with long raven-black hair, shockingly green eyes and slightly pointed ears. She was the ultimate daydreamer, with her head in the clouds no matter what was going on around her.

The next day, when Evelyn went to school, she was daydreaming about Will when the loudspeaker crackled to life.

“Attention all fifth graders,” boomed the authoritative but slightly nasal voice of Principal Samantha Sanders. “Please do not forget the science camp field trip is next Monday through Friday. We encourage you to begin packing on Friday or Saturday. Once again, the science camp field trip is next Monday through Friday. Thank you.” The loudspeaker became quiet, sitting on the wall like the lifeless thing it was.

Oh my gosh, thought Evelyn, I totally forgot about that!

To tell the truth, Evelyn couldn’t care less about science camp. She knew everyone else in the grade was excited about camp since it was the one time they didn’t have to do school for a week, and on top of that, they didn’t have to be in their parents’ line of vision for just as long. Evelyn, on the other hand, was more of an indoorsy type of person and was only going to science camp for academic reasons. She wasn’t sure what she was going to tell Will.

“Miss Stewart! Are you listening?” snapped the brazen voice of Mrs. Thornton. Evelyn blushed and looked down at her feet. “I swear to god, Miss Evelyn Mae Stewart, if I catch you with your insolent head in the clouds one more time, I will refer you to the summer school discipline teacher!”

Despite her general mean demeanor, she had never gone this far. Evelyn exploded in a fury not unlike a volcano explosion, calling Mrs. Thornton all sorts of creatively offensive names. Strangely, none of them were any common insults, but it was evident that those were some very rude words in Evelyn-speak.

“Evelyn Stewart, please kindly report to the principal’s office,” said Mrs. Thornton in her usual evil voice.

If there was anything worse than being yelled at by the teacher in front of the whole class, it was being sent to the principal’s office on top of being called by your full name by the teacher in front of the whole class. Her eyes stinging with tears, she ran out of the room. But she didn’t go to the principal’s office. Instead, she hid in the girl’s bathroom.

It was well into 6th period when one of her two true friends, Ava, asked the science teacher if she could use the lavatory. The science teacher, who was explaining about the kidneys, asked her to explain what was going on inside her body. Ava yelled, “I NEED TO PEE!”, which got quite a laugh out of everyone, including the teacher. Evelyn thought it was just a coincidence, but Ava went to the exact same bathroom as Evelyn. She knocked on the door of the stall Evelyn was hiding in. “Evelyn, is that you?” she asked timidly, for she was afraid Evelyn would call her a banana-footed fruit juice or something much, much worse.

“Yup,” replied Evelyn.

“You ready to come out? The science teacher says Mrs. Makarell is out, so she’s gonna watch us during her free period. I know for a fact she doesn’t have a plan for us, so she says she’s gonna let us play games on the computers all 7th period.”

That was enough to get her out of there.

The hour passed so quick, it seemed more like a few seconds. Before Evelyn knew it, the dismissal bell rang. As it turned out, Ms. Rhodes had a little surprise for them. She passed out kidney beans, which she told them to eat and write one word on a scrap of paper describing the taste.

The last hour of the day passed so quick, it seemed more like a few seconds. Before Evelyn knew it, the dismissal bell rang. Evelyn walked home faster than ever, got her homework done top-notch speed, and did all her chores in the blink of an eye. Her older sister, who was still doing her homework, asked, ”Jeez Evelyn, what’s gotten into you today?” Which was very rare, since Lilianna had her head in cosmetics magazines when not in a textbook.

Evelyn shrugged and went back to her room. She had a lot of research to do– not for school, but for helping Will. She was thinking; maybe her family would be open to adopting him- or at least achieve legal guardianship for him. She took out her favorite sparkly silver pen and her special notepad, which she only saved for special occasions, because she was always afraid the ink would run out. She then did a Google search for laws about adoption and legal guardianship. Being the sensible person she was, she wrote down everything that seemed relevant, word for word, down on her notepad. In two hours, she had six full pages of notes. She thought that was enough.

Just then, she heard a knock on the door. She almost jumped right out of her seat. She was afraid it would be her sister, coming to spy on her, and it was never anything good if Lilianna bothered to knock. She quickly stashed her pen and notebook in her desk drawer and switched her computer to the school webpage.

“Whatcha doin’ there?” said a voice. She opened the door a crack.

“Daddy!” she exclaimed. She then threw the door open and jumped into her father’s arms.

“How’s my little Evy-Devy?” he asked, “And where’s Lili?”

“She’s in her room,” replied Evelyn.

“Great,” said Mr. Stewart. “I’ll cook dinner.”

Evelyn went to see Will, since she knew her dad was making a huge dinner. He had been making huge dinners every night since the day her mom had left. Cooking was his passion, and it was his only way to take his mind off Evelyn’s mom.

She had taken a few slices of bread, little enough for her father and Lilianna not to notice, enough for Will to eat for a few days, in addition to the remaining ham and cheese in the fridge. There was an abundance of ham, since the whole family had gone vegetarian recently, but not very much cheese, since the family made meat-free lasagna twice every week. Evelyn sincerely hoped it wasn’t lasagna day.

She hurried into the quickly fading light of dusk, and sighed. She had forgotten the notebook. Oh, well. She’d explain to Will without the notebook. She found him at the exact same spot, and she almost walked right past him. His grimy clothes and skin blended perfectly with the squalor of the wall.

“Where’s the food?” asked Will.

Evelyn laughed. “Guess where? Do you want me to tell you?” Without waiting for Will’s response, she said, “Here ya go!” and dumped the huge bundle on Will.

“Thanks,” he said, his mouth already full of bread.

“So,” said Evelyn, “I was thinking, maybe my dad would be willing to adopt you.”

“How about your mom?” asked Will.

“She, um, left,” said Evelyn, clearly embarrassed by this question. She did not add how she had run away with the florist, to Milwaukee, more than 2,000 miles away from where she lived in San Francisco. “So anyways, I had, like, everything written down, but I left it at home.”

“Oh,” said Will, but he did not elaborate.

“But,” continued Evelyn, “I know the important stuff. You wanna hear?”

“Sure.”

“So anyways, the most important thing was that there was a lot, and I mean a lot, of paperwork to be signed by you and my dad both, and it costs about 40 thousand dollars, but we would be willing to pay. But the other part of the deal would be having you return to an orphan care facility.”

“No way,” interrupted Will. “I’ve had enough bad experiences with that orphanage already.”

“What happened?” asked Evelyn, intrigued.

“I knew I’d have to tell you sooner or later,” sighed Will. “I caught a rat at the orphanage. I was so hungry, I was going to eat it for dinner.” Seeing Evelyn’s shocked expression, he added in self defense, “Hey, I was desperate! So this older guy, he was basically your typical bully, he had one slice of bread and something at each meal, but he wanted to get buff or something, so he stole the other kids’ food. Some of them were really little, like two or three, but the bully didn’t care. He stole the food anyways. We were all half starved already, and what little food we had was stolen. The worst of it was that the orphanage people didn’t do anything. So anyways, the rat I caught, I was walking to the sleeping room with it-”

“Wait up. You slept in a single room? All of you?” interrupted Evelyn.

“Yup. All fifteen of us boys. And then the bully happened to be walking the opposite direction, and I wasn’t looking, and I bumped into him, and he asked where I was going, and then he got all greedy and was like, ‘Where did you get that rat?’ and then he grabbed the rat from me and bit into it, and the rat’s blood spilled all over his chin, and he smiled at me with his teeth stained all red. I ran away that night.”

Evelyn grimaced.

“And good thing too,” continued Will, “‘cause I heard from someone the next day that everyone at the orphanage got a flogging the next day because no one fessed up to having brained the scrawny cat, who was half-dead already, and the cat got a concussion or something and died. But that someone also told me he knew for a fact the bully was hitting the cat with a rock the night before.”

“That must be awful,” related Evelyn. “One time, Lili stole my teddy and I got so mad, I tugged and tugged and tugged and Lili didn’t let go until the teddy was split clean in half.” Seeing Will’s confused expression, she added, “Lili’s my sister.”

Suddenly, Will tensed. “There’s someone coming. You’d better go.” Evelyn quickly dodged into the store and pretended to look for instant pizza, while Will dashed off and disappeared.

But it was only a squirrel, scuttling through the dense bushes. But Will was nowhere to be seen. She went home without buying anything.

Over the course of the next few days, she fell into a regular schedule: get up, go to school, run home, do homework, do chores, research about adoption and finally visit Will. She was dreading the next week, when she would have to leave for science camp. On Friday, she told Will.

“Next week, I have science camp.”

Will remained silent, which made Evelyn nervous and she started fidgeting with her fingers.

“I hope you’re fine with that.”

“Yup. Also, I’m going back to the orphanage,” said Will.

“What?” said Evelyn, surprised.

“I said, I’m going back to the orphanage.”

“That’s great!” replied Evelyn. “I’ll ask my dad…” She trailed off. “Anyways, will you write to me?”

“What’s the address? I’ll try.”

Evelyn gave him the address. And then she went into the store. Her dad had, for once, told her to buy something. She also bought a couple candy bars to bring to camp, just in case. When she came home, her family was waiting.

“I wish you would hurry up,” complained Lilliana. “The spaghetti’s getting cold.”

After dinner, her dad went through the packing list one last time, and then shut the suitcase– for good.

Saturday and Sunday went like a blur. Before she knew it, it was Monday– science camp Monday. The day she had been dreading. Mr. Stewart loaded her bags into the back of his car with a loud “Umph!” and Evelyn jumped in the front seat. Soon, they were at the school. The principal was there to meet them. She pointed to the left and said something like “Bag go in truck!” But it was hard to tell with all the chitter-chatter of nervous parents and eager students who couldn’t wait to get away from their parents for a week. She could see the school bus, in all of its bright yellow shiny glory, waiting to ship them off to camp. She gave her dad one last hug and bye-bye, and then he was gone. For a week.

Evelyn lined up with Ava and Destinee, her two best friends.

“Wanna sit together?” asked Ava.

“Sure,” replied Evelyn and Destinee simultaneously. All three of them collapsed in giggles.

The bus was… well, a bus. It was full of stinky, smelly fifth graders eager for science camp. Basically, it was a madhouse. The excitement on the bus was nothing compared to the excitement that came when everyone saw the gates of camp. It was like 200 nice, neat students had magically turned into 200 howler monkeys, beating their chests and howling “The Kokonut Song” and “99 bottles of pop on the wall” at the top of their lungs. Among them were Ava and Destinee, with Evelyn sandwiched between them. Evelyn felt like her ears were going to pop, as Destinee was loud, and Ava, if anything, was even louder. But even that was nothing compared to the amount of noise when the school got off the bus. The 200 monkeys somehow turned into 2000 monkeys, and Evelyn knew why: Ava and Destinee were 750 of those monkeys. The other 1250 monkeys were the boys.

After the long but fun opening ceremony, everyone– even Evelyn– was beginning to think this week would be a smash. They went to their cabins, settled in, and then had lunch in an open-air pavilion. The food was delicious. Ava had 3 servings, being Ava and all.

Afterwards, Evelyn, Ava and Destinee, along with the rest of their field group and cabin leaders, went on a brief hike through the forest at camp, and then they had snack. Ava was expecting loads and loads of junk food. In reality, snack was a granola bar and fruit. Ava thought it was boring, but Evelyn and Destinee, who were both against junk food, thought it was great.

Afterwards came cabin time. Though technically they were allowed to do anything they wanted, everyone took this time to unpack, shower, play cards and stuff.

Soon, it was dinnertime. “I’m starving!” complained Ava.

“But you just ate, like, an hour and a half ago!” retorted Destinee.

“Yeah, but still!” replied Ava.

“Girls, calm down!” said their cabin leader, Autumn. “Also, today’s activity night, so remember to listen to your instructions after dinner!” All fifteen heads in the cabin nodded up and down vigorously. They had been told they were allowed to choose between watching the new movie, reading, disco dancing, or arts and crafts. “Line up, single file, y’all!” shouted Autumn over all the commotion. Everyone hustled to line up.

Dinner was even better than lunch. Ava had four servings this time, plus Evelyn’s leftovers. Activity night was fun. Everyone wanted to watch the movie, so Evelyn did arts and crafts with Destinee instead. Ava went dancing.

When they finally got back to the cabin, it was well past 8:30. Evelyn took a quick shower and went to bed. She lay awake thinking about Will, and how he was doing at the orphanage.

The next morning, Autumn told her she had mail. When she looked, it was from Safeway. Then she realized it was from Will. She tore open the envelope and unfolded the letter. “This orphanage idea is not working out. Please help. Love, Will” it read. Being the organized person she was, she immediately started devising an escape plan. However, she found it hard to want to leave camp. She was beginning to like it.

That day, despite the fact that they had cinnamon rolls for breakfast (Evelyn’s favorite), despite the fact that they had an all-day hike with oranges and sandwiches for lunch, even despite the fact that Ava told a joke so funny Destinee spurted milk out of her nostrils, making Evelyn laugh, she couldn’t concentrate. Her mind kept drifting to Will. She decided to sneak out of camp that night under the cover of darkness.

That night, she went to bed like she had the night before. But before she climbed in her top bunk, she packed her daypack full of everything she might need: water, extra clothes, and, of course, a flashlight. In the dead of night, she crept out the door, made it out of camp. And then what? She thought. She had no way to travel 25 miles and then some back to San Francisco. She was seriously thinking of hitchhiking until she realized that not very many people drove by a remote science camp in the middle of the night. She looked around. She saw a bike rack. BIKES FOR SALE! FREE! It declared. She took one.

Now, dear reader, forgive me for not telling you, but Evelyn loved to bike. Her personal record was fifteen miles an hour. Going that fast, she could make it to SF in about two hours.

She started on the road. Now, dear reader, I forgot to tell you this again, though I may have hinted at it, Evelyn had an excellent memory– far better than the average human. She had a perfect photographic memory. As a result, she could navigate back to San Francisco easily. She got there in 1 hour and 53 minutes– seven minutes shorter than she thought the trip would be. Will had told her the orphanage was called Starry Skies Children’s Home, which Evelyn personally thought was a dumb name. How she found it, she didn’t know. She felt like she had some sort of primordial instinct to turn left, turn right, turn right, turn left, and so on. She got to the orphanage faster than you could say, “Heck, this orphanage sure is run-down!”

That pretty much summed it up. The building was small and shabby, with mold-covered walls and a crooked door. She looked around and immediately saw a small fence that she could easily hop over. She jumped and landed in the backyard of the orphanage. She saw a tree that led up to a window on the second story of the orphanage, which she somehow knew led up to Will’s room. She climbed the tree easily in her hiking boots and khaki shorts. When she got up, she rapped lightly on the window. She thought Will was tiptoeing over, but she could only see a silhouette.

“What’s up?” she asked into a hushed voice. Will held his finger to his lips and pointed to his opposite wrist. Evelyn saw a small tracking device. She guessed he wanted her to take it off. She pulled the tracker off in one quick motion and stomped on it. Will winced, but stayed silent.

“Thanks,” whispered Will as he climbed out the window. “They knew I ran away last time, so they installed a tracking device. It’s impossible to take off unless someone else does it for me. Now, I gotta scram.”

“So do I,” said Evelyn. “I have to be in San Francisco by seven.” She climbed down, mounted her bike, and hurried back to camp. She managed to get to camp unnoticed and before daybreak. She climbed back into her bunk and unpacked. She got maybe one or two hours of sleep before the cabin woke up and went to breakfast. Strangely enough, she wasn’t too tired.

The rest of the day was exciting. They went deep into the forest by the river and caught mini-fish and hiked. That day they also did Animal House, Garden and Whatever. Seriously, thought Evelyn, what sort of name is Whatever? But it was fun, especially Whatever.

The next day was the last. Evelyn was sad to leave. She had liked camp better than she had expected. But, as you, dear reader, know, some things are inevitable, and this was one of those cases. She boarded the bus, and the best week of her life was over.

The noise on the bus was ironically familiar: the same choruses of “99 bottles of pop on the wall” and “The Kokonut Song,” the same 200 howler monkeys, but when they arrived back at school, there was only silence. Dead silence. Nobody wanted to leave, but, again, it was inevitable. Evelyn’s dad was there, with all her luggage.

“How’s it going, Evy-Devy?” asked Mr. Stewart.

“Oh Daddy, camp was awesome!” She then proceeded to tell him every single little nitty-gritty detail, and although she almost told him, she tried to leave out anything that would hint at her sneaking out from camp. Mr. Stewart’s head bobbed up and down as Evelyn talked.

Later that day, the whole family made apple pie cookies from an apple pie they had eaten earlier. Evelyn snuck some of them to Will.

Near the end of the month, Evelyn made a big decision. “Daddy, you know how I’ve been going to Safeway a lot lately?”

“Yes? Is this something involving that new taco burrito thingy that’s super popular?”

“Well, it’s because there’s this orphaned kid that I’ve been seeing, and he’s been treated cruelly at the orphanage, so he ran away.”

“What are you playing at?” demanded Lilianna.

“Well, I was wondering if you would be willing to adopt him…” said Evelyn timidly.

“Heck yeah!” exclaimed Mr. Stewart. “I’ve always wanted a son!”

And so paperwork was done, money was paid, and Will officially became part of the family. He shared a room with Evelyn, and sometimes they stayed up late whispering to each other.

Soon, Will’s legal records mysteriously turned up, showing that his real name was James William Hunter and his birthday was August 13, 2007, making him just barely eleven years old. The family continued to call him Will in private, though in public they called him Jimmy.

The next year, Mr. Stewart got a job as a lawyer and filed a case against Starry Skies Children’s Home. The orphanage was shut down and Mr. Stewart got promoted again and again for filing cases that got down to the nitty-gritty details– a skill his two daughters and son had taught him.

Later, Evelyn went on to become a prestigious college professor, while Will worked as a writer alongside her. Will was extremely successful, despite his lack of a proper education at the orphanage. So everyone got their happily-ever-after and all was well. Until the end of the world came. But that’s a story for another time.


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