Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2022 finalist Colin Gruner. Colin finished 4th grade this past school year and wrote a story called “The Adventures of Susan Longfellow.” One judge had this to say about Colin’s story: “From the very start, this story has the feel of a novel that I want to continue reading.” Enjoy!
THE ADVENTURES OF SUSAN LONGFELLOW
by Colin Gruner
Not many 9-year-olds have been to a magical land where there are talking animals, a wizard, a squishy and neon orange living organism, and a monster, and come out alive. But Susan Longfellow has, and this is her story.
There was a 13-year-old boy. His name was Marty Gumpenstein. Marty lived in a normal family on 15th Avenue in New York with his parents, Jim and Martha. He was usually nice, stubborn, and skinny, and his favorite hobby was skiing.
The one thing that was not average about their family was their shared love of reading. One summer, they read 25,000 minutes (about two and a half weeks) combined! Jim owned a nail factory, called Jim Gumpenstein’s Nail Factory. Martha did not work, as her husband brought in a large amount of money from the nail factory.
Today, Mr. Gumpenstein was hoping for a large order of nails. As he was leaving the house, his phone dinged. It was Nolan Longfellow. He was delivering Susan Longfellow that very afternoon so Susan could live with the Gumpensteins. Susan was Jim’s brother’s daughter (Marty’s younger cousin) and in their opinion she was a normal 9-year-old. Apparently, her parents could not handle her anymore and were dumping her off to the Gumpensteins. She was fine the last time, Mr. Gumpenstein thought. I guess she got a lot worse.
Sure enough, in the afternoon, Nolan showed up with Susan. “What is wrong with her?” asked Marty.
“Don’t say that!” scolded Martha. “It’s not nice!”
“It’s okay, she just is very naughty lately,” Nolan said.
So, with those words they went on with their way, feeling no remorse whatsoever for leaving Susan behind, and the Gumpensteins went on with showing Susan the house. The house itself was large, but with the tiny yard, it seemed imposingly giant. Susan did not speak and kept her head hung low. She seemed depressed about something.
“Susan, what’s wrong? We might be able to help you.”
“It’s nothing, just a little tired is all.”
After showing Susan the house, the Gumpensteins gave her a nice little room with a twin bed and a bathroom off to the side. It also had a window with a view of the small yard and the road. She expressed a lot of gratitude, thanked them immensely, and flopped down on the bed.
“Dinner was at 5 o’clock, but we can fix up some pasta for you, alright?”
“I’ll bring it up in 30 minutes.”
Jim, Martha, and Marty all went away, and Susan was left to find something interesting to do. She eventually decided to ponder an escape plan. Susan figured she would escape out of the window or the front door while the Gumpensteins were asleep. The only part of the plan she had not figured out was what she would do once she had escaped. She left that part of the plan to luck and fate.
About 25 minutes later, when Martha came to tell Susan her pasta was ready, the room was empty. Gosh darn it, thought Martha. She must have gone to explore the house or maybe the yard. Well, when she gets back, we can heat it up in the microwave. “Susan! Susan, where are you? Susan! Susan! Where are you?” When Susan did not respond, she called Marty and Jim, and they came to help search. Even though they searched thoroughly, they could not find her.
Eventually, Jim suggested she had run away. They were all worried about the possibility, but they knew it was likely. They all sadly but quickly walked toward the car, knowing the chance of catching her was slim, but hoping they were wrong.
Meanwhile, Susan was beginning to wonder why she had decided to run away from the Gumpensteins. She realized that she had forgotten food, warm clothes, some experience in the streets of New York City, and a plan of what to do. Trying to ignore the fact that she had no idea where she was or how to survive, she randomly said, “I am hopelessly lost.” She did not expect any reaction, but with those words, the buildings and roads began to swirl, and she was pulled down, down, down into a strange place.
Right away, a person who looked like he knew his way around appeared by Susan’s side. “Welcome to The Land of the Lost. My name is Michael, and I will be your guide today. In case you would like to get back to the world where most people live, also known as Earth, you have three options: you can have your body be told where it is, you can complete a task for the king, or he can let you go back to Earth without you having to do anything. If you choose the second choice and succeed, or the king lets you go back to Earth, your body will return to where people are expecting you on Earth. However, if you choose to wait it out and you get knowledge of where you are, your body will return to being lost, wherever you were. Would you like me to get you a house, or do you wish to be taken to the king’s palace so he can assign you a mission?”
Even though Susan was still in shock from arriving in The Land of the Lost for the first time, she had enough sense to realize that she did not want to end up back on the streets if she ever got back to Earth. “I will go to the palace if you know the way,” Susan said.
“Indeed, I do, it is right this way,” Michael said, pointing. “Oh, and just so you know, no one has ever completed the mission the king gives out. And many have tried. More than you could imagine.”
Those words got Susan very worried about her chances of succeeding. “Well, can you die in The Land of the Lost? Because, if I can, then I will need to rethink my decision.”
“Well, you can die in The Land of the Lost, but only from the monsters, traps, and other things related to attempting the missions ordered by the king,” Michael said, slowing to a halt. “Which admittedly is what you were going to do. So, think it over. We have a lot of time, because time passes slower down here.”
After five minutes of thinking hard, Susan did not change her mind. She figured she had at least a small chance, and a small chance was better than nothing. Besides, what was the chance that back on Earth somebody would randomly tell her where she was, or for her to find a map? Susan thought it was slim. On the way to the palace, she did not see anyone. “Where are all the people?” she asked.
“Inside their homes,” responded Michael. “There is not much to do in The Land of the Lost.”
Well, the next thing Susan knew, they were at the palace with Michael saying goodbye. He wished her good luck with the challenging task ahead, giving Susan one last chance to change her mind. She declined, knowing she needed to get back to the Gumpenstein’s house and returning to the streets would do her no good.
The king’s mission was to kill a monster who was hiding in the forest. He also told her he had a device that told him when this monster was killed. “So, no cheating, as I will be able to catch a lie.” That was all Susan needed to know, and so she walked out of the palace not liking her chances of being able to find and slay the monster.
Susan had to find Michael and ask him where the forest was. When she went to look for Michael, she instead found the forest! Knowing waiting would only increase her fears, Susan decided to venture into the forest without delay. As she had thought, it was dark and spooky. And that was how the real adventure began.
Susan was so excited; she ran straight into a tree! Silently vowing never to do that again, she regained her senses and walked into the forest without hitting a tree. Next, she made a plan. Step 1: Find the monster. Step 2: Kill the monster. Step 3: Get back to the palace. Step 4: Stay alive throughout all the steps. It probably would not work, but it was better than nothing, Susan thought.
How should I find the monster? Susan wondered. Should I just wander around until I find the monster? Or should I encourage it to come to me? What about the problem of food and water? However, as she pondered these questions, Susan had a nagging sensation that you didn’t need to eat or drink in The Land of the Lost. Michael appeared beside her and told her that she was correct. Then he disappeared into thin air.
Susan realized that she needed to find the monster, and that the monster would not find her. So, she began to hike deep into the forest. The first thing Susan noticed about the forest was that there were a lot of birds and squirrels. The birds were loud, and the squirrels darted about.
The first day Susan was mostly trying not to think about the fact that she was trying to defeat a monster she knew nothing about. She walked slowly but steadily the entire day wondering how long it would take (in Land of the Lost time, of course) to reach and kill the monster. When the light began to disappear, she found a cave and decided, with all the dangers of a cave, that shelter would be worth the risk.
Susan was awakened by someone yelling in her ear. What is it, she thought groggily. It must be four in the morning. “What do you want? I don’t have anything valuable,” Susan said.
Whoever was waking Susan up early seemed to not realize the value of sleep. “What are you doing here? This is my cave! I’ve lived here for thousands of years and counting! I do not need any visitors! The last one broke one of my bones!” The creature, who had the shape of a fox and that coloration too, seemed to get out of breath for a minute. “Well, we’ll hope that you don’t have the same sinister intentions. Anyway, my name is Sean, and I am a fox.”
“Well, seeing as you have lived here for thousands of years, can you help me find where the monster dwells?”
“Why, most certainly,” Sean said, setting off in the direction from which Susan had come.
Susan stopped him at once, thinking it was a trick. “That is not the way. I came from over there,” she said, not bothering to follow him.
“I know that is where you came from,” Sean called over his shoulder. “The safest route is this one, a roundabout way.”
“How do I know that you are not trying to lead me to death?” Susan asked.
“You do not,” Sean said. “You do not know anything about it at all.”
“Well, I guess you don’t have the sinister intentions you claimed others had,” Susan said under her breath.
Pretty soon they were heading toward the monster’s lair with Sean constantly telling Susan to move faster. “Hurry up, you slowpoke,” Sean was saying. “At this pace it will take forever to get there!”
“You seem a bit eager to get to the monster’s lair,” Susan said. “Shouldn’t we enjoy the time while we are not fighting a monster?”
“I like a good adventure every now and then,” said Sean. “And this is the first one I’ve had in many, many years. So, I’m extremely excited.”
“Anyway, just slow down,” Susan said.
“Fine,” Sean said. “We’ll go slower.”
At the slower pace they were walking, it took about two hours until they heard a river rushing quickly along and an animal saying something about falling into the river. “What if I fall in there? Then I would fall off the edge of this world. No, I’m not a flat earther because this is not Earth!”
As Sean and Susan approached the river, they noticed that there was only one creature, a deer, from where they had heard the voice talking. “Who are you talking to? Susan asked. “Or are you talking to yourself?”
“I guess I was talking to myself. It’s a habit from a long time ago that I have never gotten rid of,” the deer said. “Oh, and in case you were wondering, my name is Peter and I have lived here for as long as Sean.”
Peter started walking upstream. Sean was hesitant to follow. “I think the bridge is the other way,” he said.
“Meh,” said Peter.
“You guys know each other?” Susan asked with surprise as the newfound group walked upstream.
“Yeah, we do from a long time ago when the king first created us,” Sean said.
“Sean is right, we do kind of know each other,” Peter said.
“How much farther until a bridge or a fordable spot?” Susan asked after some time.
“Oh, the bridge is awhile,” replied Peter confidently. What Peter had forgotten (or declined to mention) was that the bridge was in the other direction and there were no fordable spots along the river.
“How far, exactly?” asked Susan. “Because I feel like I want to collapse.”
“Oh, it’s only nine miles from where we started, and we have probably gone at least two so far. Though there are some hills coming up.”
But since they were headed in the wrong direction it was only flat ground. “Where are the hills?” Susan asked. “I don’t generally like hills, but with every hill there is less ground to cover.”
“The hills should be coming up,” Peter said. “They must be behind those trees. If not, my memory must be fading, because last time I was here there were three hills near where you first saw me.”
“Peter, I think that you went in the wrong direction from the place where we met. The hills and the bridge were in that direction. ‘That direction’ being 180 degrees opposite the direction we are going,” Sean said.
“Rubbish!” Peter shouted. “Have I been known to be wrong in something as basic as a 50-50 chance direction that I have done so many times? The answer is NO, NO, NO! Absolutely not!” He lost his breath momentarily before continuing. “That is a very mean thing to say to your friend!”
“Whatever. Lead us in the wrong direction. Fine by me. Just a lot of extra walking,” Sean said.
“I am completely sure we are going in the right direction,” Peter said. “If not, then I should study up on maps of The Land of the Lost. Hey Susan, why don’t you run ahead? I can see a bridge up there.”
Up ahead there was a ghostly image of a bridge.
“Me too!” Susan said. “I’m sure you’re right! But you must have misremembered the hills!” She ran forward and after about 50 feet the ground gave way, and Susan went falling off a cliff into a seemingly never-ending hole. “NOOOOOO,” she screamed. About a mile down, Susan tried to grab a protruding rock but failed and kept falling into the hole. Eventually, she landed on something squishy, neon orange, and moving. What is this? she thought. It must be a living organism because it is moving, but this is not a documented creature. “How do I … Oh it’s over there,” she said, spying a tunnel.
“That is a safe place to go, but you will first have to get there,” a voice said.
Susan looked to where the voice was coming from, startled. “Who are you?” she asked.
“I am a wizard, people call me Ian.”
“Why would I have trouble getting over there?” Susan asked, starting towards the tunnel. However, she encountered a magical wall. “How do I get through this?” she asked.
“Why should I tell you? That defeats the entire purpose.”
I guess I’ll go around, Susan thought. Just to try it. As it turned out, the wall was only wide enough to block the middle part of the space they were in. “Bwah Ha Ha!” Susan shouted.
“That was MY line,” the wizard grumbled.
“Do I have to walk back up?” Susan asked.
“No, sadly you only have to do some of the way up. But maybe, since you stole my line, I should make you walk the whole way up,” Ian said.
“No! I didn’t mean to steal your line. You can say it now if you want to,” Susan suggested.
“Whatever, I don’t want to say it now.”
Ian was right, it was a shorter walk than the distance she fell, but still at least three miles uphill from the bottom of the hole to the top. When she got to the top, Susan decided that the best choice was to find the palace and lie to the king about defeating the monster. Let’s hope he is gullible, Susan thought. The walk back along the river was slow, but she did find Sean, and he showed her the way out of the woods.
“Good luck with the king,” Sean said when they got to the edge of the woods. “I hope he lets you go to where you’re meant to be.”
“Me too, and good luck with Peter. He seems to have evil intentions, leading me toward a hologram of the bridge and telling me to run ahead into the hole.”
“No, I think it was just him misremembering. Peter tends to do that sometimes.”
They said goodbye and parted ways, Susan going in the direction of the palace, Sean going back into the forest.
When Susan got to the palace, she walked right in. She wandered around until she remembered where Michael had gone to see the king. Susan found the king and told him that she defeated the monster.
“How come there are no signs of the slaying, like torn clothes or cuts on you?” the king asked.
“All the cuts healed, and I tossed away the torn clothes,” Susan said. Probably not great for the environment, but I wasn’t thinking about that when I threw them into the river.”
“What about souvenirs from the monster?” the king asked.
“I wasn’t thinking about that either. I just wanted to get away from the foul-smelling body,” Susan said.
“Why didn’t my device tell me the monster was defeated?” the king asked.
“Um, uh, maybe your device doesn’t work or is malfunctioning,” Susan said suggestively.
“HOW DARE YOU ACCUSE ME OF HAVING A MALFUNCTIONING DEVICE!” the king shouted. “YOU ARE BANISHED FROM THE LAND OF THE LOST UNTIL I DECIDE TO LET YOU HAVE THE PRIVILEGE OF BEING HERE!”
Susan felt the same sensation as when she’d arrived in The Land of the Lost, but instead of buildings and roads, the palace began to swirl. To her surprise, she arrived at the Gumpenstein’s yard.
Meanwhile, a child’s body was seen wandering along the streets of New York City, when it suddenly disappeared. What just happened? Franny Nolt asked herself. I think I need to see a doctor. However, it was found that Ms. Nolt had 20/15 vision, better than average. The image of the child just disappearing stayed in her brain for the rest of her life.
Why would he send me here? Susan wondered after not returning to the city. She was still pondering that thought when Marty found her.
“What are you doing here? We didn’t know where you were,” he said. “Were you here all along?”
“I wasn’t here the whole time,” Susan said. She started to tell the story about arriving in The Land of the Lost, leaving out everything before then (running away), but including the sensation of moving through the area between Earth and The Land of the Lost.
“That’s a jolly good story you have there,” he said, laughing. “Where did you think that one up?”
“It really happened,” Susan insisted. “I didn’t think it up.” At that moment, she realized the king must only have been able to get her out of The Land of the Lost, not keep her out. And if I’m not lost, I have a smaller chance of getting lost.
“Whatever,” Marty said. “I bet you want to come inside and warm up. You’ve only been gone for two hours, but it doesn’t look like you have warm clothes on.”
“Sure,” Susan said.
When she got inside Martha asked, “Were you outside the whole time?”
Susan decided to say that she had been outside for two hours instead of talking about her journey.
“Oh, poor, poor you,” Martha said. “Just exploring the yard, but left outside for two hours.”
“It’s a little bit more complic-,” she started but Jim cut her off.
“Let’s get you a nice warm cup of cocoa to warm you up,” he said.
Susan couldn’t object to a warm cup of cocoa, and so she took it gratefully.
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