Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2018 finalist, Lila Tierney! Lila finished 4th grade this past school year. The story she submitted is called “Two Paths.” Enjoy!
“Are you ready yet?!” hollered Liesel’s mother from the car.
“Almost!” Liesel hollered back.
“What are you doing?!”
“Brushing my hair!”
“We’re going to be late for school!” Liesel was brushing her hair, but also trying to clean up the blob of yogurt on the counter she had just spilled, tying her shoelaces, and looking for her coat at the same time. She finally untangled the knot in her hair, pulled on her coat, and dashed outside to the car, shoes half-laced.
“Tie your shoes!” exclaimed her mother, “How many times have I told you, you’re going to trip!”
“Hmnn,” grumbled Liesel, as she got into the car. She stared out the window at the fairy house she had built yesterday afternoon in the front yard, as her mother ranted on and on about what could happen to you if one didn’t tie one’s shoes. There never seemed to be enough time to play outside. After a long drive, they reached the school, and Liesel clambered out, her school books inside her bag jostling and poking her shoulders.
“Remember to meet Ms. Nobu by the field arch,” Liesel’s mother reminded her. “She will take you to piano lesson. After that, you have ballet. Then, I will come to get you at six. And don’t forget your coat!” Just then, the bell rang, and Liesel took off running to class. “You’ve already forgotten it four times! Do not forget!” her mother yelled after her.
At first recess, Ema Smoyanski came running over. “Guess What!” Ema was bouncing up and down in excitement. “We have music today in the old auditorium. The old auditorium! I can’t wait!” Her green eyes shown. “Everyone says it’s haunted, and there’s ghosts and spirits and—“
“Yes, Ema, okay.” Liesel interrupted loudly. Unlike her friend, she did not like scary, supernatural things. Believing in them was another thing. She loved fairies and elves and made little houses for them every chance she got, but did not like the creepy things Ema found so fascinating.
“Come on, Liesel, we’ll be late. Race you!” Ema took off, her red hair flying behind her. On the way back to class they passed the doors to the old auditorium. It made Liesel shiver. Her school was ancient with wide hallways and stone columns out front. It had an auditorium with a huge stage, red velvet drapes and intricate designs on the ceiling. Everyone called it the “old auditorium”, because there was also a modern one, that was more like a conference room without velvet drapes nor the designs. It did not make Liesel shiver. In fact she found it rather ugly and boring. There was something about the old one though that was rather mysterious, and almost creepy. They always had music in the modern auditorium, but today there was a meeting there, so everything shifted..
~ ~ ~
“Bring a brush and pippies, so we can braid your hair.”
“Alright, hang on.” Cedar got the brush and sauntered over to her mother. “Two braids, please.” When her mother finished, she fetched her satchel, and in it she placed: The Anatomy of Plants, by Lavender Westfield, A Guide to Many Languages, by Helda Hickerson, and her copy of A Philosophy of Literature, by Lilly Lotterson. There were also personal things, including her sketchbook, pencils, and her small woven ball that she used for playing Quidell. There were also treasures, such as acorns, marbles, buttons, and feathers. Cedar swung her bag across her shoulder, and with her other hand, held her lunch basket. “I’m off!” she called. Her mother bid her good day, and Cedar headed out the screen door. She put an earthworm stuck on the front steps back into the dirt and set off for school. Cedar was happy. They had Plant Physiology, then Language (today it was Elfin), then Herstory. On Fridays it was Herstory, and on Thursdays it was History. She liked the system.
“BOO!” shouted Ivy. Cedar didn’t jump. Ivy had done this so many times, Cedar almost expected it. Ivy was Cedar’s friend, who had wavy shoulder length, chestnut hair. She had sparkling blue eyes and was funny and mischievous. She loved to startle Cedar, but it never worked.
“Hi, Ivy. Do you want to walk with me?” asked Cedar. Ivy giggled and fell into step.
“River!” Ivy called to her sister.
River was a bit older with long black hair and blue eyes. She played the flute and always seemed to know how to get out of sticky situations. She joined them and told them about an interesting book she was reading. The girls got a drink of water from the well and hurried inside for school. The one-room school was made of bricks and wood. It had wooden desks inside, tall windows, bookshelves, and coat hooks. The roof was covered with moss, and the door was red with a big wooden handle.
“Welcome,” said Miss Willow. “Get out your herbs and grind them for an itch-relieving draught, which needs to be handed in today.” Everyone took out their ingredients and set to work.
~ ~ ~
Liesel was cold. Waiting by the field arch, she opened her backpack to grab her coat, but it was not inside. Then she remembered. She must have left her coat in the old auditorium during music. She weighed her choices. She could leave it, and get it in the morning, though she would be freezing, and—oh no. It was Friday. Liesel had to get it today. She told herself that she was NOT scared, and ran back into the school past the stone columns, and through the big front door.
“The school will be closing shortly. Please exit before four o’clock. Doors will be locked from outside,” a loudspeaker suddenly blared. Liesel ran through the wide hallways and stopped outside a door with “AUDITORIUM” engraved above it. She took a deep breath and cautiously slipped inside. The old auditorium was pitch black, so Liesel propped up the kickstand at the bottom of the door, squinted and looked around. She walked down the sloped aisle past rows of wooden chairs and came close to the stage with its heavy curtains. Nothing was different from that morning, really. Maybe, she thought, everyone thinks it’s haunted because it’s dark, old, and quiet. It’s actually peaceful, not scary at all; not creepy. Nothing will happen. It’s just all our imagina—
Suddenly, there was a creak, a slight groan of wood. The door stopper gave way, and the door closed with a muffled thwump that echoed all around the empty room. Liesel was flung into darkness and could not see anything at all. She stood, rooted to the spot, petrified, not daring to move. All the creepy feelings came rushing back. After about two minutes – or maybe two long hours, she cautiously stumbled forward, feeling around in each chair for her coat. Where was it?! She searched frantically. Her hands thumped over and over the chair seats until she came to the end of a row. And then, with her eyes now better adjusted to the dark, she saw it—a small, red pile of material—her coat.
What was it doing on the stage? she wondered. But, she had no time to lose. Feeling her way, Liesel walked over to the stage and climbed up. She started toward her coat. Just then, she slipped on something like a marble and accidentally pushed her coat into a—a—a square shadow? But wait… no. It was an open trap door to underneath the stage, and her coat had fallen into it—of course. Liesel gritted her teeth. She had to get it.
She carefully lowered herself in and felt her coat. As she snatched it, she heard a sound, a pitter-pat. Liesel froze. Then something rolled right near her hand—an acorn without its cap. She picked it up and squinted at it. I could use this in a fairy house. The thought was like a reflex. But then something strange happened. It twitched by itself. Then, it jerked and sort of glued her fingertips to it and lifted her up. A dazzling light, bright golden, with little flecks of silver in it, spun around her like a whirlwind. Liesel tried to yell, but she couldn’t.
If the janitor hadn’t been looking away while mopping up the last sticky remnants of elementary schoolers, he would have seen a little girl in the old auditorium disappear into thin air while clutching an acorn. But, he didn’t. A few silver specks hovered over the spot where Liesel had stood, then vanished. But one remained and settled onto Liesel’s red coat which despite all her efforts, she had left behind.
~ ~ ~
“Push in your stools, children,” called Miss Willow at the end of the day. Cedar pushed in hers, then bolted out of the school with the others, running in different directions. She ran past the well, through the village, and up her front steps. She dropped her things inside and headed right back out again. A ladybug was crawling across the step just then, and Cedar followed it with her eyes. The ladybug stopped and scuttled around an acorn cap lying in its path. Cedar picked up the cap and decided to use it in one of the fairy houses she was planning to build. She got up and looked around for a suitable place: the hill? the pond? Not the woods. Her mother (and every mother in Iona) had told her children to stay away from the woods because it was a very mysterious place and had “pathways,” odd places, where you might just disappear to somewhere else. Cedar kept away from the woods. Instead, she decided to construct her masterpiece under the gardenia bushes. They were just on the edge of the woods, but not in them, so she should be fine.
It is such a very nice day, she thought, as she skipped off. When she arrived, Cedar flopped down in the soft grass, peaceful in the stillness. Then, something moved. She sat up and watched a very strong, bright golden light came from the woods. Frightened, Cedar dove into the Gardenia bush, just as a girl appeared out of nowhere. Cedar noticed she had stiff black shoes, and didn’t look quite like anyone from anywhere she had ever been. Cedar took a deep breath, as the girl peeked into the bush and spotted her.
Liesel jumped back as she spotted a strange looking girl in a huge Gardenia bush. She realized something very weird had happened, but she wasn’t sure if she should be afraid. It seemed like such a beautiful place. Cedar emerged from the shrubbery and inspected Liesel. Liesel had reddish-brown hair and hazel eyes. She was wearing a red striped dress with grey tights, black lace-up shoes, and a long braid down her back.
Liesel stared at Cedar, who was wearing a green dress made of thousands of plant fibers twisted into cloth. She was barefoot with yellow flowers in her dark brown hair, which fell to her waist in two braids. She had bright green eyes.
Liesel said, “Where am I?” at the same time that Cedar said, “Where did you come from?” Both girls laughed, and Cedar replied, “You are in my village, Iona.”
“I came from the old auditorium in my school in Portland,” said Liesel.
Cedar remembered the pathways her mother had warned her about and told Liesel she must have come through one. Cedar showed Liesel to the well for a drink of water, and the girls talked and talked as if they were old friends.
“Do you have any pets?” asked Liesel.
“Yes,” replied Cedar. “Six ravens, four turtles, a hummingbird, and a cougar.”
“What?!” asked Liesel incredulously. Cedar must be exaggerating. After all, there was no way you could have a pet cougar. It was probably a stuffy. Cedar, who seemed to have read her mind, said, “Come on, I’ll show you!” Liesel was not sure if she wanted to meet a cougar, stuffy or otherwise, but, she did sort of like birds…
“Well, okay, I’ll come,” she told Cedar. “Where do you keep them, anyway?”
Cedar, who was skipping off with Liesel looked puzzled for a moment then said, “What do you mean, keep them?”
Liesel did not expect that, but answered, “Well you have to keep an animal from running away, so you have to keep them in a cage or tank.”
“No you don’t,” said Cedar, laughing. “You just have to be kind and respect them.”
“Over here, Cedar!” A shout came from a house with a blue door and ivy crawling up the sides. River was sitting on her front steps playing a flute. She waved. “Who’s your friend?” she asked.
“Liesel,” Cedar answered. River looked Liesel up and down. She looked strange, but friendly. Liesel walked over to say hello but was cut off by a peacock who strutted out from behind a bush. The peacock walked right up to River and spread her feathers into a fan. “Stop showing off, L’lucy,” said River, and the peacock pranced off to find a better audience.
“Wow,” said Liesel. “It’s so tame.” River and Cedar didn’t really understand what that meant. Just then, something like a flying jewel hovered just above Cedar’s head. “Oh, hello, Hera!” Cedar exclaimed. Liesel watched in amazement as two more hummingbirds flew down onto Cedar’s head, making it look like she had on a tiara. “Wow,” said Liesel again. She had seen hummingbirds at home, but they never behaved like this. “Where do you keep all your pets?”
“I don’t keep them anywhere. They just like me, so they come around,” Cedar said.
“That never happens where I live. We keep pets in cages or yards,” said Liesel.
Cedar frowned. “Then your pet won’t like you. Come on. Let’s go meet Ishmael.” They walked over a small hill around the pond and stopped near some trees. “This is the woods,” Cedar said. “I’m not allowed to go in, but my cat is.” Cedar threw back her head, and let out a wild yowl. Liesel shivered. It was so unearthly. They waited, and then a muffled thumping sound came from the woods, and a very big cat emerged. She was sandy brown, had huge paws, and a long tail. She was definitely not a stuffy. The cougar turned her large golden eyes toward Liesel. “Ishy, this is Liesel. She’s my friend.” Ishmael nuzzled first Cedar’s and then Liesel’s legs. Liesel giggled nervously delighted that a full-grown cougar had just rubbed up against her.
The lazy afternoon grew hot, and the girls decided to go for a swim in the pond. As Liesel came up for air, she was startled to find herself face to face with a very concerned looking turtle. Liesel splished backward and heard Cedar laughing behind her. “That’s Swirl,” she said. “I think she knows you’re not from here.” The girls laid on their backs and dried off in the sun next to three other turtles, Algee, Crumb, and Pokey. “There’s one more thing I want to show you,” said Cedar, as she quickly dressed and started off toward a big tree that stood alone in the nearby meadow. “It’s under the nesting tree.”
Under the tree was a large woven basket with six long, shiny ribbons attached to it. “Hop in,” said Cedar. Liesel cautiously stepped into the basket and felt the stiff straw on her legs. Cedar followed her and gave a sharp whistle. Liesel heard a soft flapping against the now overcast sky, as six giant ravens flew down from the tree and picked up the ends of the ribbons in their talons. “I’ve got them trained to pick up the ribbons at the same time,” smiled Cedar. “Hold on.” The birds worked together so well, and they took off into the sky gracefully, now and then making an arc and then swooping down again. Liesel started to laugh as her belly swooped too.
Back on the ground, the girls realized the afternoon had turned to evening. Liesel and Cedar gave the Ravens a pat, as they flew up into the nesting tree. It was only then that Liesel realized that she needed to get back to her nesting tree. “Cedar?” Liesel asked.
“Do you know how I can get back home?”
Cedar sat up. “You have to find a pathway…” She took a deep breath. “Tomorrow is September 1st, the Closing Date, when the pathways close and stay closed until March 13th. You can’t wait until then, which means you have to go tonight before 3 am.”
“How do you know all this?” asked Liesel.
“I have a book!” said Cedar, and she ran home to get it.
She returned, bearing a large crimson volume with gold lettering stamped on the cover reading, The Secrets Of Iona.
“Wow,” whispered Liesel. “Where did you get that?”
“My aunt gave it to me.” Replied Cedar. She flipped to a part entitled, Movementiesem. “It’s in ancient Ionian.” Cedar explained, seeing Liesel’s quizzical look. She read out loud: A pathway can be an opening under a bush, a hollow in a tree, or inside a ring of mushrooms. Pathways lead to other worlds. A charm is an enchanted object found only in nature and missing some part of itself, like an acorn without a cap, a flower without a stem, or feather missing half its plumes. One needs to put a Charm back together with its missing part to go through a Pathway. Cedar and Liesel looked at each other in amazement. “I’m sure we can find a pathway in the woods!” said Cedar. “We just need a charm.”
“I have a charm,” said Liesel, pulling the capless acorn from her pocket. “We just need an acorn cap.” Without a word, Cedar bounded off to retrieve her acorn cap from underneath the Gardenia bush. When she returned they practically danced with excitement. Now, all they had to do was avoid Cedar’s mother and sneak into the woods at night. Because in the day, someone was sure to see them and herd them away from the woods. As if on cue, they heard a call.
“Ceeedarrrr! Time to come in!” Cedar and Liesel went inside.
“Mother, this is Liesel.” Cedar addressed her mother on seeing her look surprised at Liesel’s entrance.” “She’ll be staying at our house just for tonight. OK?”
“Alright, well, come have some supper.” After a small meal of dandelion leaves and some bread, the girls climbed the stairs to Cedar’s bedroom. The plan was for Hera to wake them up at 2:15.
Tap tap tap. Something rapped on the window. Cedar hurried over and unlocked it. Hera flew inside. “Let’s go,” whispered Cedar. Liesel and Cedar crept out through the open window. The night air was cold and silent. Cedar took Liesel’s hand and they carefully stepped into the eerie woods desperately seeking a pathway.
“There!” said Liesel, pointing. There was a ring of mushrooms. There were many rings of mushrooms in the woods. Cedar sighed. This was going to be easier than she thought. Liesel stood in the center and pulled the charm out of her pocket. Cedar reached into her pocket to grab her acorn cap, but the only thing she felt was a big hole. Her face said everything. Liesel started to tear up. There was no time for crying though. Cedar needed a plan. Where could she find an acorn cap in the middle of the night in the forbidden woods? Just then, the sound of footsteps made them both freeze.
Ishmael’s eyes shown like yellow flashlights from behind a tree. She let out a little growl to say hello. Cedar sprung into action and asked Ishy to get the ravens to spread out and find an acorn cap. Ishy was too scared to leave the woods, however, so Cedar jumped on her back. “Liesel, I’ve got to ride Ishy to the edge of the woods. There’s no time. Keep looking for an acorn cap here. I’ll be back. I promise!” With that, Ishmael’s strong legs flexed and took off like lightning with Cedar on her back.
Liesel, alone now, was in a pitch black forest. It was kind of like being in the old auditorium. The woods seemed haunted, but probably just because they were old, dark and quiet. She could think of scary things, or she could think of the fairies that probably lived there. She wondered if the fairies might be scared of her. She reached around on the ground searching for an acorn cap. It was like feeling around for her coat…
Just then, Cedar and Ishy came thundering back through the underbrush. “I’ve got one!” yelled Cedar, as she held up an acorn cap triumphantly. It was 2:58. Time was running out. Liesel stood in the center of the mushrooms and a sort of purple mist swirled around in it.
Liesel looked at Cedar and Ishmael, and smiled, and said, “I’m going to miss you both.” Cedar ran into the circle and gave her new friend a big hug, and then stepped out again. Liesel then put the acorn cap onto the acorn, and the bright golden light enveloped her. Cedar looked away, and when she looked back, Liesel had disappeared. Cedar sighed but also smiled. “I’m tired. Let’s go home—home—what a good word.”
~ ~ ~
“Liesel, it’s time for dinner. Stop building fairy houses, and clean up.” Liesel put down her dolls, one with wavy chestnut hair, one with long black hair holding a flute, and another with dark brown hair with yellow flowers. She closed the red door to her “schoolhouse” that she had built with a tiny stick for the handle. A hummingbird flew onto the feeder and dipped her beak into it. As Liesel put her hand in her pocket, she felt the acorn. She rushed back outside to her fairy house and took off the acorn’s cap, and put it on the rock table. It made a nice soup bowl. The nut part she used as a stool. Her mother called her again, and she ran inside but glanced back at her fairy house one more time. It was a good one; probably her best. Tomorrow, she would make a pond with turtles in it.
“Hang up your coat,” said her mother. “You always forget.”
Liesel went to hang it, but it was already on the hook. Hmmm, she thought…
Outside, the acorn twitched—very slightly... but no one noticed.
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