Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2018 finalist, Arush Sharma! Arush finished 5th grade this past school year. The story he submitted is called “The War of the Subterranean Kingdom.” One of our judges said: “I loved how [the] main character had nothing but was perfectly suited to fulfilling the prophecy as a hero.” Enjoy!
It was a dark, stormy day. The crows outside my homeless shelter croaked at the sight of me. Probably because I was a hobo. My parents had died and I was orphaned on the street with nothing but a tent and some clothes. I got some food from the shelter, but life was pretty rough. I had to bear freezing days in Manhattan with nothing but a thin rag with minimal heat.
Just to put in a little more torture for me, Big Brother decided to make me look funny and not have friends.
It can get real boring. Not having friends means that you get bullied 10 times a day. You couldn’t talk to anyone, except for a mental guy on the next bed.
The only good option was roaming around the city. It helped me get some fresh air on a gloomy day like this. I walked out of the shelter.
My parents’ death was the disaster of my life. They had died in a fire, for reasons I don’t know, but I didn’t take it much to heart. I had other things to worry about: gangsters, tormentors, and street dogs biting me.
In my part of town, there’s a park and a really nice real estate property surrounding it, along with shops, apartment complexes, and hot dog stands. I had about one dollar with me, so I could get a hot dog. I walked to the hot dog stand.
The guy eyed me suspiciously, but still gave me my hot dog, probably because I was a homeless kid out of nowhere.
I walked to the park as I ate my hot dog. I liked hot dogs– whenever I ate them, once a month– with some nice relish to go with the bun. I saw the kids playing on the swings and on the slides as I walked by. They stayed with their parents and actually laughed. I then remembered how I went to the park with my parents before they died when I was 8. I had played on the swings too much and was really tired. We went home and decided to eat dinner. While I was taking a bath, a fire erupted from the gas, and then suddenly the house was in flames. My dad had enough time to take me out, but he didn’t make it. There I was, 10 years later, at the same park. It brought back memories. I was looking at kids playing football when I saw a bunch of smoke in the sky.
I was scared badly. My parents had died in a fire, and there was surely a fire. But then, the smoke formed letters. It said, COME HERE, BOY. I rubbed my eyes. The words were still there. It wasn’t a coincidence. Someone was calling me. But it could have been another Johnny. I didn’t think about that as I ran towards the smoke.
It was a long walk, and it cut in through the real estate area. I got to see rows and rows of nice houses with big lawns and nice cars. After about 5 minutes, the smoke was coming directly from a marsh at the end of the estate. I pushed through the marsh and passed through the reeds. The smoke was coming from an unusually big patch of grass. As I stepped on it, the grass drooped down, and I realized it was a trap! It was too late when the grass opened and I fell into the earth. I was falling down in a tunnel ride.
When I got down, it was very dark, and I couldn’t see anything. I heard voices in the distance, but couldn’t see anyone. Before I could hyperventilate, I got blinded by light.
I seemed to be in New York, except it wasn’t New York. The buildings were huge! They were each about the size of the Burj Khalifa and were filled with bustling people. The largest building was a bank-like building in the center. The city was pretty impressive, except for one thing:
The people were too short. They ranged at about two or three feet. Their skin was way too white; they were literally albino. Their eyes were giant boulders. But the oddest part: they had feathery wings 5 feet tall. These people were too abnormal to be anything, so I settled on declaring them elves. They seemed to look at me, probably because I was a giant compared to them. Aside from these sights, I was still confused. How did I get here? There was an elf civilization down here, and as far as I knew, no one else knew. I didn’t know where I was, so I went to the nearest beggar to ask.
“Excuse me. Where are we?” I said to a pot-bellied elf on the street. He wore rags and was chewing on a cigarette. He looked at me and laughed. Hard.
“Ye must be demented if ye not know where ye are. This is Subterranean Kingdom, you stupid giant.” He glared at me as if I were an idiot.
Subterranean. I looked at the sky. There was a sun, all right. But the sky was too dark at some point, as if there was a cavern ceiling.
“Uh, thanks.” I decided to walk away, hoping to find a solution. Before I could turn around, he gasped.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Go to the Common Building. Tell them your story. You are the one that will rejoin elf-kind.” He pointed to the big building in the center and went back to sleeping.
So they were elves, I thought. I then realized that, having no option, I had to go to the Common Building. I walked to the yard.
The building was really impressive. Since it was taller than the Burj Khalifa, and it looked like a bank, it was massively cool and massively abnormal. Elves in business suits walked in and out of the glass revolving doors. Instead of regular building material, it was made out of glass. It was the oddest sight ever. I walked in. People took glances at me. The lobby was the size of a Boeing 747 hangar. The elevators, walls, and staircases were made of pure glass! I loved this place! But I had business to do. I walked up to the lobby desk.
The lady there was wearing a blue suit and had moonlight glasses. She had pink wings and a smile on her face (I’m guessing for no reason).
“How can I help you?” she asked.
“Uh, hi. I come from the Upper World. I sort of have a story to tell you.” I gave her an intro to my life and from what happened today to right now. Her eyes widened when I said this.
“Okay. I will give you over to our President,” she said calmly, as if my story were nothing.
“Wait! What? I didn’t do anything! I fell here by mistake! I didn’t do anything bad!” I shouted. I really didn’t want to be terminated by an elf without saying good-bye.
“No! Of course not! We’re not sending you to die! We just received a tip that someone not elfish would come and save us. Come in this door!” She clicked a button on the desk and a door opened behind her. She gestured for me to get in. I stepped over the desk and walked through with her.
The corridor was big and nice, just like the city. It was made of shining linoleum and there were chandeliers hanging about every inch. The walls were lined with portraits of short little dudes who looked like that French guy named Napoleon. Their names were written in some sort of other language that looked like English upside-down. There were many doors, but we didn’t step into any. Finally, after what seemed like hours, we arrived at the end of the corridor. The door was made of gold, apparently (these guys are so rich), and in silver letters, it said “President Short.”
The lady opened the door with a flick of a hand and gestured for me to go inside.
“Come on. He’s waiting for you. Oh, and don’t comment about his size.”
Okay, that meant he was short. I pushed the door further and walked in.
He was short.
Aside from that information, the room was the size of a cathedral. There was a sofa on one side of the cathedral and there was an oval mat on the ground. In the center of the room, there was a table that could fit a wedding reception. There were other decorations, like paintings and vases and whatnot. In the center was the President. He was too short! He was about 1 foot tall and had too-big eyes and large ears. He wore a shirt and some trousers and had leather boots for some reason. He had black wings as tall as him. He seemed to be depressed, which was no surprise for a president. He looked at me and widened his eyes.
“Hallelujah! It’s you! You’re here!”
“Uh, what do you mean?” I said. I didn’t exactly know him, so I wondered why he went crazy.
“You probably don’t know we are expecting you. Sit down with me.” He patted the silver sofa.
“And bring us some tea, would you, Mary?”
Mary bowed and walked out of the room.
President Short looked at me and smiled. I guess he expected me to say something, although he really didn’t look too intimidating at 1 foot high.
“Could you explain to me why I’m here? I really don’t get anything,” I said finally.
“Ah. First, tell me your story,” he said.
So I told him. Just like I said before. He listened well, but he couldn’t stop tapping his foot, as if he were excited. At the end, I asked him, “Why are you so happy? Not to be rude.”
“Oh, my child. The future of elves will be sustained! That is why I am happy,” he said with joy.
“How?” I really didn’t see how my coming could save a civilization.
“Oh, allow me to tell you the whole thing. You may freak out, but listen, child.” The word child sounded wrong coming from him; he was shorter than me! But I stayed quiet as he spoke.
“Before I became a president and was part of politics, I was a prophet. Yes, child, I was a prophet. Hard to imagine, eh? Anyways, I became a prophet because of the dangers in our world. Monsters lurked in our midst, coming from the Bottom World, and—”
I cut him off.
“Hold on. Monsters! I don’t believe you! You can’t just expect me to remain calm when you speak about monsters,” I shouted, letting him know what I thought.
“There are monsters, child, just like there are elves and you. Now, let me finish.”
“The monsters were continuously attacking. My grandfather, the president, wasn’t able to do anything. They were just too powerful. So I became a prophet and checked all the prophecies to see a solution. Then,” he looked at me as he said it, “I had a prophecy.”
“What was it?”
“The prophecy stated that a giant more than 5 feet tall,” he gestured to me, “who has blond hair,” he ruffled my hair, “would come from the Upper World from a hole. He would be a homeless child, who would be clueless about anything. He would arrive when I was in rule. He would be the one who would give power to the army, who would help us fight against the monsters, who would win for us, and for himself, as he defended the city from the monstrous monsters!” He actually looked like a mad scientist stating he built a nuclear bomb.
“And you are the giant. So, as the President of the Subterranean of Elf Power, and the General of the Elf Army of the Subterranean Order, I grant you power of the army and grant you power to launch a war against the Demonic Order of the Monsters of the Outland Regions!” He panted after he said this. It probably took forever to memorize.
Yes. That was the only thing I could think of doing.
I mean, I was expected to lead an army of elves for a cause that I didn’t understand. I had no interest in this either, nor had I had any training to fight or anything. So the first thing that came to mind was to scream.
Short flinched and almost fell off the sofa.
“Stop acting immature, child! This is a simple, easy task! I would have done it myself if I was part of the prophecy!”
“I don’t want to be part of your prophecy, elf! So cut it, and get me out of here,” I demanded.
“The prophecy also said that you couldn’t get out unless you killed the monsters.”
He’s making that up, I thought. But then I saw the seriousness in his eyes.
I flipped out. I took things off the table, like papers, and threw them. The president just looked at me.
I stopped. There was no point. I would have to do it.
“Fine, I’ll do it. What do I do right now? Take a weapon and start hitting dummies?” I asked.
He seemed miffed. “Child, you cannot—”
I cut him off.
“Don’t call me child.”
“Okay. You can’t just go and start hitting dummies. You first have to find a weapon that suits you.”
“Well, then let’s go!” I didn’t see how I had to choose a weapon; I thought I could just fight with anything, but this guy probably knew more than me.
“I’ll train you. I know a bit of magic, too.” He seemed happy as we got up.
“Where’s the armory?”
“On the 250th floor.”
“Wow.” I didn’t realize that the building would be that large.
“We will take the elevator, if you’re wondering how long it will take,” he said.
“How long will it take?” I asked.
He smirked. “You’ll see.”
As we walked out, a bunch of people bowed at Short. He responded with a smile, then we went to one of the empty elevators.
It was the size of a cabin on a plane, which I remembered from when my parents were alive. We went in, and Short clicked 250 in the middle of the keypad. The elevator started humming for some reason. I thought that it had malfunctioned when it suddenly shot upward at about a million miles per hour.
I sank to the floor. I screamed as the elevator went up. President Short was closing his mouth, trying not to scream. When he smiled at me, it turned into a miffed face and he held onto the bars. After 20 seconds, the elevator slowed and we stopped at Floor 250.
I barfed in one of the lids that said Barf Lid. I could totally understand why it was there. Short looked fine and clicked a button. The doors opened, and we walked in the armory.
Just to show off again, the armory was the size of a community parm. The walls were made of silver, with scenes of war etched in bronze. Right on it, were guns and swords and blasters and other wicked things. There was an enclosure for one-on-one, and there were dummies, along with some bronze (or was it gold?) armor on the walls.
“We’ll first pick a weapon,” Short explained. “Then, I will show you some of the tactics.”
We went around, looking at some of the weapons. Short insisted that I hold on to each one, and for each one, he said it wasn’t good for me. I insisted on one of the automatic rifle guns, but he said that I had to have experience with them. He showed me a variety of swords and javelins, and he nodded when I got one weapon. It was a Ulfberht sword, made of gold that was dyed silver (that’s what Short told me later), and I felt it, too, that it was perfect.
“I believe we found you a weapon,” Short said, beaming. “Now, it’s time to train.”
“The basics of sword fighting are that you have to properly wield the sword and swing it with the proper tactics, depending on how many enemies there are.”
He showed me a bunch of swings for one-on-one, and some swings if there was an army. Personally, the one-on-one was harder, since you had to tilt the sword differently. We tested on some dummies, and when I tried to swing, they came to life!
“Is this supposed to happen?” I asked.
“Well, that’s how dummies are in our world; try to fight them,” Short insisted.
The dummy grabbed a sword and swung at me. On its body, it said, Use for Masters, only. Uh oh. I parried its swings, but it used too much pressure. It also tried to run at me, but I dodged it and swung at its body. The sword bounced off its armor. I parried for a few minutes, then thought about its fighting pattern. It always focused on my tummy, as if it were trying to cut off my lungs, or anything inside. When it swung at me again, I used all my force to parry it and cut off its neck. It reformed, but this time, fell to the floor and stayed there like before.
Short gasped and fell to the floor. He was impressed! But then, he pointed at me. I looked at myself. I was glowing! I tried to touch myself, but I felt nothing.
I asked him, “What’s happening?”
“Humans from the Upper World have some power over monsters. When a monster is in your midst, you glow and you have some power, unless they manage to cut your sensitive part: your head.”
I thought about this for a moment. Then I looked at Short.
“Then where’s the monster?”
A scream came out of nowhere. I looked out. I couldn’t believe it! There were demons in red skin marching through the streets. They had horns, fangs, and sharp claws, and they held flaming swords.
“Oh, no! The Apocalypse, it’s too soon! Child, you must fight them right now!” Short shouted.
“But I haven’t trained fully. I’m an amateur,” I argued.
“There’s no time. Now or never. Get your armor.”
I wore some ebony-colored armor and took my sword. “There’s no time to go down. I’ll have to jump.”
“I’m coming with you.” I saw Short in small armor, holding a javelin. “I know how to fight, too.”
“Okay. In 3, 2, 1. Go!” We ran for the window and crashed. We quickly fell down
The air was immensely hot and it smelled of dead fish. The demons didn’t notice us, but when we cried, “For the Elves!” they looked up just in time as we stomped on a few. Surprisingly, Short and I didn’t get hurt. Perhaps it was that he had experience and I had the golden light. The demons rasped and raised their flaming swords. We raised ours and charged.
I don’t know how to explain the next part. It was easier than I thought. I went wild and only remember a few fuzzy bits.
When we charged, the demons were brave. They tried to parry our strikes, but we deflected and sliced them. They burned to death.
It was FUN. I swung around and rammed into demons. I cut off their heads and slashed their tummies. They even brought out flamethrowers, but my light absorbed it and gave me the ability to throw some light at them. That time, they just exploded to death.
After a few hours of wading in fire and killing demons, we made sure the city was safe. The light in me shut off and I almost collapsed. Short caught me and gave me some water (wonder where he put that?).
“You did it, child! You saved the city!”
After that, I still collapsed.
After that, it was a long story, but I’ll give you the long story short. Short gave an address to the city, saying how I, the Golden Boy, single-handedly took out an army of 5,000 demons. But the best part was the money.
He gave me $800,000! I was so happy, I thought I could jump off a building without the golden light! I could legally buy a home! It was so awesome! I shook his hand and hugged him.
He looked at me. “Your parents would have been proud. But, the fire demons killed them.”
“Say what?” I looked confused.
He sighed. “The fire demons have a way into the Upper World using a stove or an oven. The demons came and caused a fire. They didn’t have time to cause an explosion because of your light. But, still, they caused great damage.”
“I know how hard it is for you, as a homeless orphan. So, I have a suggestion: The laws for foster care and all for you, they don’t exist here! You can live here alone! I’ll book an apartment for you adjacent to my room. Don’t worry, it won’t be too big! I can vouch for you to join in the Elf Marines.”
I blinked. What I just heard would be something out of the rarest dream in the universe! It was great! A job and all! I could start a life! I looked at Short.
“I believe you know my answer, President,” I said, smiling.
The next days were the best! The apartment was the best in town and was pure luxury, but mostly I fought with Marines. I got vacation frequently, and then I went back home for a bit (the “Upper World”). If I got picked on there, I could easily bring out my Ulfberht on the gangsters.
My life was hard, equal to dying, I was sure. But, after living in the Subterranean Kingdom, I felt that life does have a purpose. So I’m going to live it.
Wondering how to support the youth writer in your life? We can help! Check out our cheat-sheet below which will help you have creative, writerly conversations with your Young Inkling—even if you’re not a writer yourself.