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 2021 Winners Anthology, A New Story Rises here.
“Jump” by Petra Mohr, Monroe Middle School
Honorable Mention, Middle School Level, 2021
By Petra Mohr
Monroe Middle School
I can barely think as the noise from the train blasts in my ear. The train’s horns roar and the metal wheels screech. My thoughts are racing, my heart beating faster by the second. I have to jump. I have to. The window of opportunity closes as a tunnel nears. Time is running out. I look down from the side of the train, at how far it is to the water. The train is on a narrow bridge, close to fifty feet above a rushing river. The booming sounds rattle my eardrums. I hold my breath, and I jump. The crashing sound of the water engulfs me. I try my hardest to swim against the current, pulling me slowly down the river. I finally grab hold of a branch, and I drag myself up onto land. I try to catch my breath. And then I can’t help but smile and laugh for a second. That must be the craziest thing I have ever done in my life.
By now I would expect that you are curious as to why I am jumping off of the side of a train. Well, complicated things take complicated explanations. But before you read this, I must warn you that this story isn’t very “normal,” for I am not a normal teenager. However nothing is very normal when you live in a world that is constantly changing. Change is a funny thing really, it makes us who we are, but it tears us apart at the very same time. In my short life of only fourteen years, I have experienced more change than I would like to admit.
But now I am getting ahead of myself. Let me first introduce myself. The name is Malia Jane. Malia is Hawaiian, and it means “beloved.” I have always thought this to be quite odd, for I have never once felt loved.
See, my mother left me on the doorstep of an old orphanage when I was just a baby. She left me with a sweater, with my name knit into the pattern, a few photos of us together, and a short letter. I guess she wanted me to know that she cared about me. I still don’t know why she left me.
But I would spend the next thirteen years of my life there at that orphanage. I would learn how to read and write, how to act properly, how to dress, how to eat, and everything a young child must learn in the early 1920s. This old orphanage wasn’t exactly the “ideal home” for a young kid. My only escape was writing. I filled up nine whole journals while I was there, with short stories, my ideas, my thoughts and feelings, my dreams, and most importantly, my letters. My journals were filled with letters to my mom. I would find random pieces of ripped paper in our trash, and I would write on them. I would tell her about my day, about how I was doing, and how I longed to leave that place.
But even though I have no memories of her, I sometimes imagine her face, and how she would act. I imagine her comforting me after I had a problem at school. I imagine her baking a cake for my birthday. I imagine her buying me a new dress for Christmas. And even though I don’t know her well, I always imagine that she is the most kind and caring mother, and of course, the prettiest.
It was like this for thirteen years, until one night when I found something spectacular . . .
June 30th, 1922
“Malia Jane! Since you felt the need to dirty all of our erasers by drawing nonsense imagery on the chalkboard, how about you go clean them all in the basement? And you can feel free to stay down there until you are well-behaved again.”
That’s my teacher yelling at me on a Friday afternoon, after she finds the chalkboard has been vandalized. It wasn’t me. I would never do such a thing. But I am nonetheless blamed for it, because this teacher seems to have something against me. Maybe it’s because I have never really liked her anyways.
But I don’t say anything, for I enjoy the quiet retreat of the basement. I simply pick up the basket of dirty erasers, and I leave. Down in the basement, I set aside the erasers, and I light a gas lamp. It is not too often that I am allowed to come down here, but I always love it when I do. I walk over to one of the corners to find the soap, and I notice something odd on the floor. The light from the lamp is dim, but I can see that the basement floor is uneven. The table that usually covers that corner has been moved. I bend down and run my fingers along the wood. One of the slats is loose enough for me to remove it. I think for a moment that my eyes are fooling me, this seems unreal. But below this hole, I find a small staircase. I remove more wooden slats from the area, and without hesitation, I climb down into the hole, bringing my gas lamp with me for light.
Down inside, I find a long library of papers. I realize quickly that they are organized in alphabetical order. But what are they? I walk down the first row of documents, and pull out a random one in the “A” section. It is titled “Annalisa H.,” the name of a fellow orphan who lives here. I open it. My hands turn cold, and my face feels frozen. I quickly close the document, and return it to its initial location. Page after page, information is written about her parents. Their names, age, address. And that’s when I realize something. Annalisa was told that the orphanage knew nothing about her parents, and so was I. If they have information on them, they must have information on my mom. I rush to find the “M” section and my document. It has to be here somewhere . . . There it is, “Malia J.”
I take a deep breath, and I open it. Inside, was all of the information on my mother that I had always wondered about. Her name was Elizabeth, I was her first daughter, and she lived in a town not so far from here.
And as I flip through the pages, I realize three fundamental things:
The orphanage has been keeping these from me on purpose.
I have just found my mom’s address.
I have to find her.
And that’s the beginning of my endeavours. The next morning at dawn, I pack a bag, which is not filled with clothes, but instead with my old letters for my mom. I then creep downstairs, and I am free. For the first time in far too long, I feel a rush of excitement flow through my body. I run as fast as I could, toward the sounds of people at the nearest train station. I’m wearing my orphanage uniform, my hair is chopped in a sloppy way, and I smell horrible.
My shoes squeak as I entered the building, and everyone seems to look at me all at once. But I must not be intriguing enough, for the eyes roll off of me not long after. I realize that I will not be able to ride in the main train cabin, as I would stand out too much among the older rich husbands and wives that smell a little too much like perfume for their own good. But I need to be on that train. It’s the only one going to my mom’s town. So I devise a plan, not very thoroughly thought out or fully developed yet, but it’s something. That’s all I need.
I head for the door of the train station, but a tall man blocks the exit.
“Can I help you?” he asks me. He looks down at me, his grey hair swirled on his head, and his train station uniform resting on his shoulders.
I lie. “Um, I, I’m looking for my parents. I believe they should be outside, so I am just gonna—”
He looks questionably at me. “Let me walk you out to find them. What are their names?”
I panic. “Uh, they are . . . Mary and Robert.” I get nervous. There has to be a way out of this. Got it.
I act scared, and I start crying forcefully.
“Ah, we’ll find them. Stop crying,” he barks at me.
Perfect. He’s annoyed. “But I don’t want to be out here with you! I want to be with my parents! You should just go inside, and look at when my parents checked in, and I’ll wait out here in case I see them.”
“Ok, what is your last name?”
The first thing that comes to mind is the last name of Annalisa. “Um, it’s Hellbrook.”
“Good, okay. Just stay here and look out for them.”
I nod. And once he isn’t looking, I check my watch. The train should be arriving right now. Anxiously, I walk over to the crowd of people waiting for it to arrive. I know that I will have to sneak around the back of the train, so I start walking down the side of the crowd.
The train is coming to a halt, and I’m ready for it. Once the train has fully stopped for the passengers to board, I take my chance. I make my way around the back, and with no one looking, I dash across the railway.
The third car from the back of the train is filled with boxes. I find a cracked open window, and I slip inside. I lie down in an empty corner, feeling the cold floor beneath me. Thoughts race through my mind like an incoming tsunami. What if my mom doesn’t want me? What if she has forgotten about me? What if she isn’t who I want her to be? And with this flood of thoughts, I close my eyes.
“Grab that box, over there.”
“No, I already told you that they aren’t in here.”
I take a deep breath, and my eyes slowly shift open. I hear voices. But before I am fully awake, I realize that there are two men in this train car with me, they are talking about grabbing a box for something, and they’ve just heard me move.
“Is there someone back there?”
What do I do, what do I do . . .
They start walking toward me.
A sudden wave of panic rushes through me. I peer down through the crack in the window. Almost fifty feet to the water. What are my odds of making it? Well, we are on a high-speed train, traveling on a narrow bridge, about fifty feet above a rapidly rushing river. Not great odds.
They start yelling at me and rushing toward the corner.
But on the other hand, if I let them take me, they will send me back to the orphanage, I will never see my mom, and I will have to spend the rest of my childhood being miserable in an attic.
So I open the door of the train car, and you already know what happens from here.
And now that we have recapped, I will introduce my new problems. I don’t know how to find my mom. I left all of my things on the train, and I am soaking wet, lying on the side of a muddy hill. I have no food, and I am absolutely starving.
But I realize quickly that I need to move. I at least need to get up and walk. I can see the town from here, so it can’t be far. The muddy landscape doesn’t exactly help matters, because every time I take a step, my shoes sink deeper into the dirt, and before long, my feet are fully covered in mud. But at least now I am not sopping wet.
Once I arrive at the train station, after the old train has been waiting there, I realize that I need to get my things, specifically my giant bag full of letters to my mom, and a dry change of clothes. But how do I get them, when those two guys will recognize me? I will have to leave no trace of my existence here. I will sneak in again, retrieve my things, and leave in new clothes, with no one being suspicious.
My plan is a success. I find the train car full of boxes once again, sneaking in through the window, and I find my bag has been left in the same hidden corner. I change there, for I don’t want to be looking suspicious, and I then leave with no trace.
I find my map of the town in my bag, crumpled up, and I examine it. But I can barely stand the thought of waiting another second to find my mother, so I pinpoint the house on the map, and I start following the narrow roads that will hopefully lead me there.
My mind is cloudy. What am I to expect? My emotions run wild, and my thoughts seem to scatter. I can’t think about the different possibilities. I just want to get there, and to see her, after waiting for so long.
I finally arrive at the small yellow house. It has bright white trimming, and it seems as though the house itself can smile.
I stop in my tracks to simply stand there, taking deep breaths. This is it. This is what I have been waiting for my whole life. One step at a time, until I reach the door.
One knock. The door opens.
“Hi! Who are you?” a young girl asks, while she swings open the large door. “Grandma, Grandpa! There’s someone at the door!”
I just stand there, not able to speak. A six-year-old lives here, with her grandparents?! No. It can’t be. My mom is supposed to be here. Where is my mom?
The girl’s grandma walks slowly over to me. “And who might you be, sweetie?” she asks me. Her voice is calm and sweet, her soft smile is sincere, and her caring eyes look at me in such a way, I can’t quite pin-point it.
“Um, I, I, I’m Malia.”
“And what might you be doing here, Malia?”
“I am looking for my mother.” I show her a photo of my mom.
Her hands shake as she carefully takes the photo from my hand. She mumbles something under her breath. Her smile is replaced by a look of confusion and sorrow at the same time. And then there is one look from her that breaks my heart. She looks sad, confused, and yet curious.
“This was my daughter,” she says. “Sadly, I wasn’t able to see her before . . . ” She looks to the ground. Then up at me again. “Before she passed away.”
My heart stops beating. I freeze. No. A single tear falls from my face.
“Aw, sweetie, I think you must be mistaken. You said this was your mother?”
“Yes, I, that would be her.” I start crying a little more. “She left me at an orphanage when I was just a baby,” I say.
A few tears stream down her cheek. By now, her husband has walked over, and just wrapped his arm around her. He gives her a questioning look, to which she responds with, “We have another granddaughter.” I receive two happy smiles from the two, and one large hug. And in that moment, I finally realize that I have found my family.