Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2018 finalist, Rachel George! Rachel finished 6th grade this past school year. The story she submitted is called “The New World.” Rachel told us her favorite part of the story is the way that Kiana doesn’t lose her free spirit, even under extreme stress. Enjoy!
“Come on, Ma!” I complained. “Just one scary story! I promise I won’t ask again!”
“And yet,” Ma looked down at me with a smile, “promises are easily broken. Especially by young, inquisitive fox cubs.”
“Oh, please!” I whined. “I’m already past one moon old! I can handle it! See, I already have reddish fur! I’m not a cub!” Ma gave me a disbelieving look that told me I had lost the argument.
“Fine,” I huffed.
I curled myself up to Ma’s auburn fur and tried with extreme difficulty to fall asleep. Ma was silent for some time, her soft breathing somewhere above my head. Then she rested her head on her paws. I turned my head so I faced the entrance to the burrow; stars were twinkling high above, making it appear like the Great Length was blinking its many eyes. There were tiny scuffling noises coming from above the fox den.
Little rodents better be careful! When I’m old enough to hunt, I’ll be able to catch all of them with my eyes closed! Ma did it once!
Ma made hunting look easy. Only a couple sun-passes ago, a small mouse actually scuttled right into her paws! Even Ma was surprised, and, even though she didn’t say anything, scared. No prey would ever do that. Not ever! And it looked terrified, not by Ma, but something else.
“Kiana?” Ma’s voice whispered my name.
“Yes, Ma?” I answered.
“Do you still want to hear that scary story?”
I jumped to my paws. “Yes!”
Ma got in a sitting position, looking at me sternly. “When I tell you this, don’t do anything stupid.”
“What?” I exclaimed indignantly. “Wait… does that mean this is a real story? AWESOME!”
“No, not awesome.” Ma looked very serious. “This is a true story of vile creatures who haunt the land. Every forest, every valley, every prairie. Even the water can’t escape them.”
I started to tremble, but fear was vanquished by curiosity. “What are they, Ma?”
“No-Furs!” Ma spat the word out as if it was foul meat. Regaining control of her anger, Ma continued. “These foul beasts rip out our beautiful world’s limbs, spilling her ancient blood everywhere. They toss filth upon every place they can find. Then they scar the world, just to create space for them to grow their cubs. It’s disgusting!
“So, once, there was a sweet, little fox cub. She grew up many, many moons ago. When she was old enough, she left the den and traveled. She came across the most beautiful, bountiful forests. She even passed a few valleys, chasing her shadow as the sun followed her progress. She came across a beautiful expanse of water. She gazed at it, awestruck by its beauty. It was almost as clear as the Great Length. She got to see more than any fox could ever dream of, and she wanted to share that with others. When her daughter was old enough, the fox knew it was time to share her secret.
“When the fox died, her daughter set out to explore. She followed her mother’s directions perfectly, and she was bursting with excitement. But when she reached the first destination, the forests, she saw something she wished she could forget. Instead of tall oaks shooting towards the Great Length, there were stumps. The trees had been brutally destroyed, and only the roots remained in the ground. The sight of it made the young fox sick. Maybe the next place is better than the first, the young fox thought.
“Wrong! When the young fox reached the second destination, the valley, she found it in a much worse state than the forest. The valley had been flattened, to make room for the most revolting place ever.” Ma wrinkled her nose and continued, not bothering to hide her disgust. “Tall, stone blocks had hidden the sun from view. There was no grass, no trees, no other vegetation, and barely any animal life. It was a No-Fur den. You would be surprised how many No-Furs there are in one place.
“The young fox was disgusted beyond belief. There was one last place to go, the water. Surely the No-Furs haven’t built anything on there! the young fox thought with hope inside her.” Ma sighed.
“No!” I gasped.
“The water was gone, too. Instead of the crystal clear surface that her mother promised, there was filth. Bits of material the No-Furs had was littered across the surface. The water was turned to a murky grey color. The young fox couldn’t believe it. She ran down the beach that surrounded the water, and came across the worst part.” Paws twitching, Ma took a steadying breath. “There were dead fish floating in the water, arrows sticking out of them. It appeared the No-Furs were hunting for fun since they weren’t coming to get the food. On the shore, there were seal carcasses littered across the sand. The smell was foul, and the sight even more so.
“The young fox sank into despair. This was not the world she expected. It was a new world. A world that has fallen under the reign of the No-Furs. Eventually, the young fox decided she shouldn’t just lay down and be sad. She should take some action! This brave fox ventured into a large No-Fur settlement and destroyed most of the death-bringing weapons. Thanks to her, destruction of the world has slowed down considerably. After that, our young fox settled down, her tale spread far and wide.”
There was a silence after Ma’s story. All I could hear was the wind moaning outside. The moon shined enough light for me to make out Ma’s grim face. Only when she brushed her tail against me did I realized I was shivering.
“Don’t worry, my little one,” Ma whispered in my ear. “I will never let them get to you. If you ever meet one, run. All creatures flee from those monsters, even the most fearsome of beasts.”
“Even panthers?” I wondered.
“Yes,” Ma answered. “They kill us so they can strip us of our furs. We are trophies to them.” Seeing the look of terror on my face, Ma added hastily, “We don’t have anything to worry about. We are deep in the forest, and nothing can reach us here. Goodnight, Kiana.”
I wobbled over to the far side of the den, distancing myself from the entrance of the den. I laid myself on the cool, dirt ground. Ma came in front of me and did the same. I didn’t know how I could sleep. Something Ma said kept coming back to me.
All creatures flee from those monsters.
Judging by the fact that Ma’s breathing wasn’t even, she was also remembering that unfortunate mouse.
Sunlight crept into the burrow, causing colors to dance in my vision. I sat up and stretched my legs. Then, I noticed immediately that something was wrong. It took me a while to realize what.
“MA!” I howled. I scrambled over to the den entrance and leaped outside. Sunlight dazzled the Great Length, and for a moment, I couldn’t see. When I could, I didn’t believe my eyes.
Ma was slumped on the forest floor, her breath sounding ragged. There was a long, pointy stick embedded in her side, and a thin line of blood was trickling down. There was a smell around the burrow, too. Something unfamiliar. As I approached her, Ma turned her head to look at me. The look of pain in her face made me quicken my pace, but Ma’s head shot up.
“Stop, Kiana!” She barked. “They’ll be coming back fast! Run!”
“Ma!” I whimpered, backing away from her. A poisonous smell seemed to be coming off of her. “What’s going on? Who’s coming?”
“Not who,” Ma murmured through clenched teeth. “It’s what.”
That’s when they came.
The unfamiliar smell suddenly grew until it was clear what the smell was. Out from the undergrowth of the forest came hairless beasts. Their skin was pale, but the furs covering it were the color of the forest. Perfect for sneaking up. Their unnatural smell was dizzying, and each was holding a long, slender stick, all of them pointed at me. There was a cruel look upon their flat faces, as if it was all just a horrible trick.
I glanced just in time to see Ma’s head slump to the ground. Paralyzed with fear, I stared into the eyes of one No-Fur. Its face was slightly wrinkled, mostly around the eyes, which were a deep blue. His black hair had streaks of grey, and the way his skin was tanned indicated that he spent a lot of time outside. When he signaled with a raised hand to the other No-Furs, it became clear he was the alpha. Then, he said something in a deep voice, too quiet to hear.
All the No-Furs lowered the sticks, except for the leader. His stick was still pointed at me. He inserted something into the stick from one end, then held it up to his broad-lipped mouth. I let out a small growl, making it as fierce as I could. Instead of cowering, the No-Fur and his comrades just laughed. A quick blow, a searing pain in my shoulder, and I fell into a darkness.
Everything is dark. I realized my eyes were closed.
When I opened them, all I saw was grey. Did my vision get damaged? What could have done that? An image of a long, pointy stick stuck in my shoulder came to me. Was that a poison to ruin my senses? Or…
I looked around more carefully, blinking a few times, then sighed relief. No-Furs dwelled in colorless places. This was just their den! As soon as those words began to sink in, my relief faded. The No-Furs had taken me to their den! A more pressing matter came to me: Where was Ma? Despair made me whine.
“HEY!” A No-Fur blundered through a wooden part of the grey wall, shouting in a deep voice. “Shush it, or I’ll take you to the other room!” I couldn’t understand what was being said. It was a series of abnormal sounds merged together. The No-Fur appeared to be fuming with rage. “You crazy critter! You’re gonna lose me my job! You’d better be good for your own sake!”
What? Did this guy not realize I can’t understand a word being said? Was this the language of No-Furs? I should’ve asked Ma what they sounded—MA!
“Where’s Ma?” I yelped at the No-Fur. “Where have you taken my mother?” Anger made me feel fearless, that was until the No-Fur went red.
“Whining, are ya? Well, if I whined every time I was supposed to do something I didn’t like, I would be living in the wild!” A wicked grin spread across his face. “Of course, some of us would love to do that.”
Suddenly, I froze, catching the gaze of a pair of emerald green eyes. Then the tiger lowered its head. It seemed ashamed, maybe even defeated. That’s when I noticed it was in a cage. Wait, there are other cages. What place is this? I noticed a tiny barn owl in another cage. Its eyes seemed too big for its heart-shaped face, filled with misery. There also seemed to be a pile of greyish rags in the cage opposite of mine. The smell was horrendous, and in the quiet, I could hear ringing in my ears.
“Heh,” The No-Fur chuckled, a noise that made me cower. I recognized that chuckle! It was the alpha. “Amusing, ain’t it? They obey anything so that they don’t go to the room next door! You’d better hope you ain’t next!” And with a warning glare, the No-Fur stalked off, leaving me to stare at him until he passed a line of cages and disappeared from view.
“Understood any of that?” A wheezing voice asked, making me bump into the cage wall.
“Wh-who’s there?” I asked tentatively.
The voice gave an irritable sigh. “It’s always like this with young’uns. Always asking questions.”
“Okay, wait.” I scanned the faces of each animal, but it didn’t seem like any of them spoke. “Where are you?”
“Right in front of you!”
I gazed into the cage in front of me. It was the one with the pile of rags. The rags seemed to have moved… and grown two big, yellow eyes. I gasped, pressing myself against the back of my cage. The old fox sighed.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you!”
I hesitantly turned my back on the fox, stared into the cage behind my back, and immediately stumbled away. In the cage, hissing with annoyance, was a long snake. Its red tongue flicked in and out, its dark scales flashed when the light from above hit it, and its fangs glinted dangerously. It had rammed against the small-holed cage in an attempt to sink its fangs into my back. I gave an involuntary shiver. What monster could hold this creature in a cage?
“You’re welcome,” the old fox said dryly.
“Umm, thank you,” I responded sheepishly.
Grunting, the old fox answered my first question. “I’m Acorn. Believe it or not, I used to have a dark brown pelt.” Acorn sighed. “Now, I look like fog that’s taken the shape of a fox.”
I snorted in amusement. “I’m Kiana.”
“What? Not Flame? Your pelt looks like it’s on fire.” It was true. I had a reddish pelt that, when hit by the light, seemed to burn. My paws and ear tips were jet black, and my tail had a white finish to it.
“Ma said I looked like the young fox from a story she told me, and so I have a name that means ‘ancient’ because that story was long ago. The one about a fox that discovered No-Furs.” I felt a wetness in my eyes. Where was Ma?
“Never heard of it.” The grey fox cocked his head. “Maybe you can tell me it as I die of boredom. It’s been so long since I’ve seen the outside world.”
I could not think of a response, so I stayed silent, earning another sigh from Acorn.
I decided to ask the question that was eating up my head. “Do you know where my mother is?” After seeing Acorn’s questioning look, I added. “She’s an auburn fox with grey ears and black paws. Did you see her here?”
Acorn winced. “Uh, nope. No fox like that anywhere ‘round here.”
“You are really bad at lying,” I commented.
Another suffering sigh. “You’re too young to understand.”
I felt my fur spike up. “Excuse me? I want to know where my mother is and you won’t even tell me? I cannot stand not knowing!”
“Fine, I’ll tell you, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.” Acorn gave me a glare. “I saw your mom.”
“Great!” I gave a little hop. “Is her cage close by? Can I see her?”
“You didn’t let me finish.” I got another glare from Acorn. Gosh, the fox was irritated easily! “She was taken to the Other Room.”
“Umm, okay,” I replied slowly.
“In the Other Room, it smells like poison. And the animals that go in… never come out.”
Silence. Ma… was dead.
“Hey, Kiana,” a voice called, sounding distant from my ears. “Come on! You have to eat or you’ll starve! At least take a nibble!”
“I don’t want to,” I mumbled, curling up tighter, keeping away from all sides of the cage.
“Come on, cub!” Acorn persisted. “Don’t be like that. Your ma wouldn’t have wanted you to perish so young!”
“Well,” I snarled crossly. “I’ll never know now, will I?” That earned some silence.
I didn’t know how long I had stayed in the cage; time had no meaning in this room. It was the same every time, being closer to death the next day. The caged room was still the same: deadly quiet, horrible stench, and a large snake. The snake seemed to have given up, for it was just curled up in the center of its cage. I had suspicions it was dead, but was too scared to find out. Now, there was a foul, brown mush at the entrance of my cage, emitting a strange odor. I covered my snout with my paws, attempting to block out the smell unsuccessfully. An occasional twitter, growl, or other noise was made by the animals, but now, everything was quiet. The cruel No-Fur alpha had come and gone, always leaving silence in his wake.
I thought I would go insane. It was like being left alone on a small island with nothing but yourself. I had now experienced real torture, and could see why the little mouse had run so fast, not caring what predator it bumped into. Anything was better than this.
“Acorn!” I whispered immediately.
“Huh?” came a groggy reply.
“How do you escape?”
The light from the ceiling was dimmer, but I could make out a grin on Acorn’s face. “I was waiting for that!” He nodded. “And I may have a way.”
“Remember,” Acorn reminded me when the alpha No-Fur came through the entrance. “Do it when you are certain you won’t miss!”
“I know, I know!” I snapped. “And you had better be ready!”
Acorn’s response was cut off by the arrival of the No-Fur. I gazed at his waist level, and noticed the silver keys that Acorn had told me about. Good thing the No-Fur didn’t forget them.
He dragged a sack full of mush, and paused at each entrance to push food through. When he reached my cage, I braced myself. Everything seemed to go in slow motion. I could see his hand extending towards my cage, and the hand reaching in to place the food, only to be withdrawn. I lunged at the thick hand and bit it as hard as I could. Blood dotted from the punctures I made, and the No-Fur fell back in shock, smacking into Acorn’s cage. When he got up, there was a purple bruise on the side of his face from hitting the floor hard. He said something in No-Fur language that just seemed wrong. He stormed out of the room, leaving animals from every cage yipping with joy.
“Nice work, cub!” Acorn praised.
“Thanks,” I replied, a little impatiently. “Did you get it?”
Acorn moved his tail to reveal the silver keys that were previously attached to the loop around the No-Fur’s waist. I barked with joy.
“I have waited long… for the right fox to come along,” Acorn said triumphantly. Then, with a chuckle, he added, “That rhymed.”
I smiled too. “What next?”
“Watch and learn. We will open the cage with these keys.”
I was excited. “You can do that? Then what?”
“We will make it up as we go along,” said Acorn with a nonchalant shake of his head. But I could detect a note of worry there.
Acorn started putting the key into the lock. Since his face was thinner than the gaps in the cage, it was easy. “Almost… got it,” he said with the keys clenched tightly in his jaws. “… YES!” The lock fell to the ground with a heavy THUNK! I whooped. Escape was so close!
Acorn swung the cage entrance aside. He hopped down to the ground, landing awkwardly. He stumbled a little before regaining balance. Taking a deep breath, he climbed the empty cages leading to my cage.
“Come on, Acorn, come on!” I breathed.
“Almost there!” I added when he hesitated.
He reached a row with no cages, so he couldn’t climb, and he was two rows under me. With a determined look, he gave a huge leap. I felt my heart still when he gripped the bottom of my cage with only one paw, claws curved tightly, but released my breath when Acorn managed to pull himself up with his other paw. Acorn panted, then gave me a quick smile. I tried to return it, but grimaced instead.
Acorn put the key through the lock and started twitching his head. I heard a faint clicking. Then, I heard a horrible hissing sound. I spun around, making out a snake uncoiling and the tip of my tail through the cage, before I was yanked through the cage. As I fell from the top, I saw the snake collide with the side of the cage. I let out a small yelp as I landed next to Acorn on the ground. Acorn groaned.
The cage I had occupied was falling down after me! When the snake knocked into it, the cage must have been pushed forward, and tipped over. It was going to crush us!
“ACORN! LOOK OUT!” I shrieked, bowling him out of the way. I heard the resounding sound of the cage hitting the tiled floor.
Acorn stirred, then sat up, legs shaking. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine!” I couldn’t help but add admiration to my voice. The old fox had done so much! “Keep going! We’re almost out!”
“Alright.” Shaking his pelt, he stood. “Let’s go.”
“Wait.” I looked around, seeing animals looking at me. “Should we let them out too?”
“Are you crazy?” Acorn asked. Before I could reply, the No-Fur burst in. The sound of the dropped cage must have made him return.
“GO, GO, GO!” Acorn barked urgently.
After one quick glance at the still-caged animals, I followed Acorn, who had dashed to one side. I spotted a window low enough to jump to, but open only the slightest bit. When we clambered up, I pushed the window, with all my strength, high enough to slip through. Acorn and I plopped onto soft grass. I inhaled the wonderful smell. The No-Fur was gone.
“We did it!” I cheered.
“The outside!” Acorn gasped. “I needed to see it… one last time.”
“I– wait, what?”
“I’m leaving the world, cub.”
“WHAT?” I asked shrilly. “No! Don’t say that!”
He coughed. “You’re a good cub, Kiana. Be free.” And with that, he was gone.
I felt a wetness in my eyes. I didn’t know what to say. I stared up at the towering, grey structure we escaped from. The dark world No-Furs had me in. They will want me back there. I felt Acorn’s last words echo softly. “Be free.”
I whispered, “Bye, Acorn.”
I ran. To my world.
The new world.
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