Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2021 finalist Duncan Johnson! Duncan finished 3rd grade this past school year. He submitted an adventure story with a strong first line that will draw you in immediately. Enjoy!

by Duncan Johnson

The ship was like a small house on an endlessly erupting volcano. Duncan held his little baby brother, Torsten, kindly teaching him how to navigate through the weaving waves. Duncan had forgotten his GPS at home, on dry land. Duncan had been tired of being told what to do every day by his parents and so in the night, he ran away from home with his baby brother. They were having a good time but his arms felt shaky from holding Torsten for such an extended amount of time. His stomach was angry and growling with hunger. 

He put his brother down and yelled, “I’ll be right back!”

Duncan ran down to the gally to make himself a meal. Scrambling some eggs, he thought it would be yummy to have sausage slices with it. So, Duncan mixed some sausage in the eggs too. The food sizzled and popped, and it startled him because he thought it might catch fire! He turned it down to low and waited a moment before turning the burner off. The eggs looked brown and felt a little crunchy. He was disappointed in how unappetizing they looked. He put the food on a plate and ate it. Afterward, he felt like he deserved some dessert! He peeked inside the emergency food pantry to see if there was anything sweet inside. A small strawberry shortcake was watching him from the shelf, saying, “Take a bite, Dunky!” It was round and white with red frosting and a pattern of strawberries and blueberries all around. 

“Let me think about this,” Duncan responded to the cake. He remembered a quote that his mom had read to him when he was two years old: “What does it matter if I say that word, eat that little morsel, feast my eyes on that? …For both virtues and vices start from slight things and lead to greater ones.” He didn’t quite understand what it meant. He thought hard about it but couldn’t figure it out. He decided that there was plenty of other foods in the emergency food pantry, it should be fine to take one thing. He took the cake box off the shelf and opened the clear lid. 

He said to himself, “I’ll only take one good-sized piece. What could one piece matter?” He thought to himself, “There’s enough food in that pantry to last a hundred years!”

He cut himself a piece and ate the whole thing in less than thirty seconds—it was soft, spongy, and tasted sweet. It was perfect! He took two more pieces.

Meanwhile, Torsten was unknowingly steering the ship into a dangerous lightning storm. The ship was heaving back and forth. Duncan wondered why his chair was wobbling. It felt like there was an earthquake outside. Torsten felt proud that he could navigate like a grown-up! A furious wave soaked him.  He did not like being wet, so he screamed, and he no longer felt proud of himself. The terror made him scream louder and harder. He was afraid Duncan would not hear his screams and he would fall off the ship and drown.

Duncan heard his brother’s cry and scrambled to the top of the deck, leaving his cake behind. He did not care if the cake was wasted because his baby brother was more important! He wished he would not have chosen to over-fill himself because now his stomach was mad at him and he realized the meaning of the quote. Duncan knew from the beginning that he shouldn’t eat the cake because he didn’t need it and once he ate a piece, he felt like it was impossible to stop eating. If he didn’t eat a single piece, he wouldn’t have had to go through all that. He grabbed Torsten and quickly ran downstairs to the bedroom. It was difficult because it felt like the ship was almost tipping over. He put Torsten on the changing table and took off his soaked clothes. Duncan found dry clothes and put them on his baby brother who was resting and feeling safe. Lighting struck the ship and the electrical circuit shorted and suddenly caught fire! Torsten was not relaxed anymore, instead, he was highly tensed for a second but was still quiet. Duncan took the emergency radio from the emergency pantry and called the Coast Guard for help. They immediately responded but the radio shut off because the battery was too low. Then Torsten took the radio and hid in the pantry. 

He turned it back on and said his first words: “No need help, please, no thank you, bye-bye,” and the radio died right before Duncan could take it away. 

Duncan felt a mix of joy and annoyance at hearing his baby brother’s first words. Not knowing about the fire and the electrical circuit problem, he tried to plug in the charging unit for the radio’s battery. He watched Torsten hold down the button, but it would not turn on. He tried to forcefully unplug it, but it was hot and burned him. He pulled it out hard and fast, but the plug was melted, and the prongs disconnected. He did not care at all that he got burned because he wanted to keep his brother safe and realizing there must be a fire, he ran back to the pantry and grabbed the fire extinguisher to put out the fire. After putting out the fire, he ran back to where Torsten was. When he found him, he saw there were still sparks coming out of the outlet and Torsten burned himself! Duncan took out an instant cold pack from his first aid kit and put it on Torsten’s hand. 

“Thank you,” Torsten said in a high tone.

The ship suddenly crashed hard on an island and hit a coconut tree. The ship split in half and Duncan and Torsten came tumbling out into the shallow water. Duncan pulled Torsten out of the beautiful water and up onto the ivory sand. They felt happy that they were safe, but Torsten was becoming hungry. It was hard being only ten years old and having to take care of an 18-month-old toddler, all alone at sea. Duncan started imagining how they could get back home. He hadn’t realized how much time he had been wasting and his parents must be missing him. 

“I love you, Torsten,” he said affectionately. 

Each of them took a coconut and hit them against the tree. Torsten could only slightly crack it, so he gave it to Duncan, who cracked it open for him. Inside, it was buttery and sweet. They were relieved that they were out of the storm, safe and dry. While Torsten was eating, the emergency supply kit from the ship floated onto the shore. Duncan took a hatchet out of the kit and started hacking away at coconut trees to build a boat to take them home.

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