The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.
You can purchase this story in the 2018 Winners Anthology, Secret Keepers here.
“The Botanist” by Emily Krauss, Pleasant Hill Elementary
Honorable Mention, Elementary Level, 2018
Pleasant Hill Elementary
I run through the forest at top speed, glancing at the shadows growing in the late afternoon sun. On any normal occasion, the forest would be lovely, no, beautiful. What with the light coming down through the thick canopy of leaves, gives off a green-speckled glow. The soft moss is growing in patches on the trunks of large oak, pine, spruce, maple, and a whole lot of other trees I don’t recognize. I mean, when you’re running for your life, you don’t really have time to check and see if that tree is an aspen or a white pine.
I guess I should rewind for you. My name is Sarah Jenkins, and I’m “special.” As in, I have (air quote) super powers. I can turn water into ice and I can also control plants. I suppose that’s why I LOVE nature so much.
Anyway, I’d better explain the whole running for my life thing. Well, about thirty minutes ago, my mom’s boyfriend tried to take me hostage and steal my powers. I’m supposed to meet my mother at—at a secret place. (You didn’t really think I would tell you where I was meeting my mother, did you? If you did, then you’ve got a lot to learn.) Let’s just say that if she’s there, we can find out what the heck Gerald got us into, Gerald is, well I guess was, my mother’s boyfriend.
But back to me running through the woods. I burst into the clearing where my mother and I had arranged to meet. My mother is already there! She reaches out to hug me, but before she can, Gerald growls out of the shadows, “No you don’t. Your mother’s coming with me to Pisgah.” Suddenly, he and my mother disappear in a flash of light. It all happens so fast, I barely have time to react at all.
“Nooo!” I yell. I need to find my mother. Pisgah…what…? “MOUNT PISGAH!!!!!!!” I wonder why Gerald made it so exceptionally easy. I don’t have time to worry about that right now.
I’m only a thirty-minute hike from Mount Pisgah, but it seems like forever. Not only that, but the trail to Mount Pisgah is beautiful. The trees grow together in thick patches, with wildlife scattered amongst the colossal, towering trees. A chipmunk there, a squirrel, some deer over there. You know I WOULD be enjoying it, but I’m SO worried about my mom, that everything else seems dull and colorless.
I (finally) make it to Mount Pisgah, and scour for any way in. It’s not until I notice a small, oddly-shaped rock and pull it, does a small chamber open. The inside of the chamber is musty. I’m so excited at the prospect of finding my mother, that grass starts growing at my feet. The inside of the tunnel is musty and smooth, except for jagged spikes in random places. (I nearly impale myself. Twice). The ceiling is low and glitters like obsidian.
I freeze when I hear voices through an open doorway to my left. I slip into a corridor much like the first tunnel. At the end of the hall there’s (another) open doorway. I peek around and my breath leaves me. In this room, there are spikes covering crudely cut walls. The ceilings are high and a gold chandelier dangles down. The whole room is magnificent in a horrific way. In the middle of the room, upon a throne of black obsidian, and, ugh, human skulls, sits Gerald. Before him stand two guards and my mother. The moment I see her, I do the dumbest thing I’ve EVER done. I step out and make myself an open target.
“Sarah!!” my mother frantically shouts, “Run! It’s a—” the guard clamps his gloved hand over her mouth, forcing her to swallow her words.
“Sarah, Sarah, Sarah,” Gerald says, “you walked right into my trap.” Gerald laughs (it’s a hideous sound) and surrounds himself with a swirling vortex of water that I’m drawn to.
Somehow I know that if I’m sucked into the whirlwind of water, when I come back out, I’ll be powerless, literally. I look around for anything to defend myself with. I look at the water, then at my hands, and back at the water again. I smirk and thrust my hands toward the water and then pull my hands upward. The water freezes, splits into two parts and turns into a duplicate of my hand. I make an upward motion with my REAL hand and my ICE hands copy it. When I make a grabbing motion, my ice hands scoop up the guards and Gerald and press them towards the wall.
Before they can yell for help, I’ve got them stuck to the wall and have their mouths, arms, and legs smothered with vines. I also, for a finishing touch, cover them in pansies. My mother tugs at my arm, signaling that we need to go. I let her lead me out. My last image of the throne room is Gerald and the pure, cold hatred burning in his eyes.
My mother leads me down a passage and looks me straight in the eyes. She whispers, “Freeze the passages.”
I am more than happy to oblige. I know that the ice won’t hold for long, so I grow big oaks right in front of the ice; soon the hall looks like a forest. I do feel bad though, these trees are doomed to live a cursed life. They will be cut down to get the people out of the passages. Until then though, they will live in this damp, dark, and musty hallway.
My mother and I run blindly ahead. I was just thinking that I should have brought a compass, when we see the soft, silvery glow of the moon on a clear night. We sprint ahead at top speed and burst out onto a rocky ledge. We don’t stop until we’re way far away. Only then do we halt to catch our breath.
It all comes in a blur after that: my mom and I packing up, moving to a remote back town, where I can be myself more…freely. My mom and I exercise my powers every afternoon in the backyard.
We know Gerald will catch up with us eventually. The only difference is, this time we’ll be ready.