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.
“The Great Escape” by Emily Krauss, Pleasant Hill Middle School
First Place, Middle School Level, 2021
The Great Escape
By Emily Krauss
Pleasant Hill Middle School
He looked out the window at his cement prison. People strolled about outside as if in a trance. Frank balled his fists and wallowed in the hopeless thought that he would be stuck here forever. He got up from his iron chair and paced around the small room he was forever condemned to.
“I despise it here!” he sighed, looking over at his cellmate who was staring out the window at the cement garden, which had a single tree sprouting out of the middle.
“Come on, Frank, it’s not that bad,” Arta replied.
“I can’t believe that Josh would sell us out like this,” he said with malice creeping into his voice.
“He’s just looking out for you, doing the right thing,” she tried to reassure him.
“This is torture, this isn’t right by any means.” He raised his itty-bitty fist and shook it in the air.
“As far as senior homes go, it’s pretty nice,” she said looking around.
“You don’t understand, I’ve been stuck in this horrible prison—” he started before Arta cut him off.
“For years—” he continued.
“It’s been two months,” she replied calmly.
“I sit in this horrible cage—”
“All day in solitude—”
“Hey, drama queen, I’m here, too,” she said, looking up. “You know, your wife?”
“Oh, yeah, you’re here, too,” he said looking back at her with a smirk on his weathered face. Before she could reply though, he seemed to fall into deep thought. Arta knew better than to interrupt him when he was “thinking.”
“I have an idea!” he said excitedly.
“Oh, no.” Arta put her hand to her forehead.
“We should escape!!” he told her.
“Why. Where would we even go?” she skeptically asked.
“Let’s go to the arcade, or mini-golfing!!” he said, rushing over his words.
“Have you ever been to an arcade?” she asked him doubtfully.
“No, but let’s go!! There’s a first time for everything, right?” he challenged.
“I suppose, but why wouldn’t we just stay here, or leave on visiting day. It’s not like we’re stuck here forever,” Arta said.
“We’re only allowed to leave on visiting days, and those are only once a month,” he replied, clearly fired up.
“You’ve had two months to go somewhere, and you haven’t gone anywhere.”
“Well, I don’t like the idea that I can’t go out and drive myself to the store whenever I want to,” he replied, with a certain stubborn nature.
“Frank, we don’t have a car, or a need to go to the store,” she said, slowly getting up to move to the other chair.
“Come on, the food here’s terrible. I’ll get you nachos . . . ” he said slowly, letting the bribe dangle in front of her face.
“Fine,” she said with a sigh, “I’m in.” Frank’s face lit up as he left the room to go scheme.
It took him five days to come up with his plan. A visiting day came and went, but still he planned his escape. Arta was worried, but no more worried than she was every time her husband started planning one of his “schemes.”
On the sixth day of Frank running around the retirement home, gathering information, he came to Arta and said, “I’m ready.”
“Oh, goody,” she said looking up from her knitting. “Let’s hear it then.”
“Okay, so my plan has many tiers, which will be explained to you as they happen,” he said quickly as he rushed around (or at least, his version of hurrying).
“Why wouldn’t you just tell me your plan now?” she asked, craning her neck to see what he was doing in the other room.
“I guess I could,” he said. The room they lived in was split into two parts, a small bedroom in the back, and an even smaller room in the front. The front room held two chairs and a TV that was always on in the background. The back room had a bedroom with a bed adorned in old quilts. There was a small bathroom just off the bedroom. He came back in with his arms full of miscellaneous items, such as the soap in the bathroom and what appeared to be an air horn. “But where’s the fun in that.”
“What?” Arta said as Fred slowly walked over to the door.
“Come on, we have to go drop these things off before we leave,” Fred told her, motioning to the things in his hands.
“We’re going now?”
“Of course, it’s the perfect time to go, don’t worry I have it allllllll worked out,” Frank told her reassuringly.
“I feel so much better already,” she said, coating the words in sarcasm. However, she got up and walked to the door all the same.
“The first step is to get out of this cell without being noticed by the guards.”
“You mean get out of the room without being seen by the staff?” Arta rubbed her forehead as she realized that this might be a lost cause.
“Yes, so I went down the hall and talked to Mary; you know, the old cat lady?” he asked.
“Yeah, the one that has a crush on you?” Arta replied in a huff.
“She—what? Really? That’s not the point. Anyways, we give her this airhorn and she uses it to distract all the guards, sorry, ‘staff’” he said putting air quotes around the word.
“Wait. How’d you get an airhorn?” Arta said slowly.
“I traded the guy upstairs some tapioca pudding for it,” he told her, stealthily walking up toward Marys’s room, or as stealthily as an eighty-five-year-old can be.
“Where are you going to get tapioca pudding?” she whisper-yelled after him.
“From the arcade,” he whisper-yelled back before rounding the corner and leaving Arta’s vision. She simply sighed.
Arta waited for a couple of minutes in the doorway, she was about to come and get her husband, when he slowly sauntered back down the hallway. “Phase Two, nosy Barb.”
“Oooh, isn’t she the one who reported you for excessive noise last week, for listening to the TV too loud?” Arta asked.
“Yep. So, if an air horn goes off, she’s going to have to come to see what it is, right?” Not waiting for an answer, he kept talking a mile a minute. “Well, today while she was asleep, I paid her sister, Judy, to go steal the tennis balls off of her walker so she wouldn’t want to see what was happening.”
“Frank! That’s mean!” Arta turned her head back and forth as if trying to decide whether to go back to their room or not.
“Did I ever tell you that she said you dressed like a ninety-year-old?” Frank said, desperately trying to convince Arta to press on.
“What! I do not, I’m only eighty-two. How dare she, let’s go,” Arta said angrily, turning decisively toward the front of the building.
There were many different hallways that branched off the main hallway that led to the front of the building. Frank and Arta were lucky enough to be pretty close to the front.
“Uh-oh, we have a problem,” Frank said, stopping Arta from stepping out into the main hall.
“No, you have a problem, I have a husband who keeps getting us into them,” Arta said with a breathy half-laugh. “What is it anyway?”
“Richard,” he said with a sigh. Richard was an eighty-eight-year-old resident who often roamed around the halls helping the staff. He had taken a fancy to Arta.
“We have,” he looked down at his watch, “two minutes until the air horn goes off. You think you can distract him long enough? Don’t want him to report us now, do we?” he told her with a small smirk and gave her a nudge into the hallway.
As soon as she set foot in the hallway, Richard turned as though he were a bloodhound. “Hello, Arta, how are you?” he asked, fully enunciating every. Single. Word.
“Hello, Richard, how are ya?” she asked, ignoring his cringe at her grammar.
“What are you up to?” he asked glancing behind her toward where the shadows concealed her husband.
“Uhm, just out for a walk,” she said a little too fast. He was not convinced and as he moved to go past her, she reached out and grabbed his arm. “So,” she said, taking a big gulp of air before adding, “dentures?”
She instantly regretted saying that.
“Yeah!” he said excitedly, reaching up to put his hands in his mouth. “Dentures are amazing. They act completely like my real teeth, want to see?” he asked, digging his fingers into his gums.
“Uhhhh.” Arta just winced and nodded along with him, all the while putting her arm behind her back and giving Frank a signal that was not considered particularly nice or ladylike, but she didn’t care.
Richard had just managed to get his dentures out of his mouth and was trying to get Arta to touch them when the air horn went off. “What is that?” he asked, quickly stuffing his teeth back into his mouth and hobbling away down the hall.
Frank waited until Richard was halfway down the hall (which took a while) before sauntering over to his wife with an amused smile on his face. Arta was not nearly as amused.
“I think that went well, don’t you?” Frank asked her playfully.
“About bloody time,” she growled. “I will get you back for this,” she threatened.
“You can try,” he said, a smirk teasingly displayed. “Although we both know you’d never successfully prank me.”
“Who said anything about pranks?” she asked him innocently.
“I—never mind,” he said looking back down the hall, where the air horn was still blasting. “We should go before we get caught,” he told her before motioning down the hallway in front of him.
“Where to next?” Arta asked, repressing a sigh.
“The front desk,” Frank said. “I’m going to distract them while you use these two tennis balls from Barb’s walker to prop the doors open, so when they step away from the desk, the doors won’t lock. I’ll then tell them they need help down the hall. Then we’ll go out and hail a taxi to the arcade. Any questions?”
“I have so many questions,” Arta said.
“All right, GO TEAM GO!” Frank told her, turning around faster than she thought he was capable of.
“I—Frank!” she yelled after him. He pretended not to hear her.
She sighed as he walked up to the receptionist’s desk. “HELLO!” she heard him say as she snuck around the outskirts of the room, sticking to the shadows.
Eventually, she made it around and slowly opened the first door. Arta felt a small rush of relief as no alarms went off. She slowly bent down and put the tennis ball in the first door jamb. “Hello ladies,” she heard Frank say. “They said to come to get you?” he said slyly.
“Who?” the front lady asked dryly.
“Umm,” Frank said, and Arta held her breath as her husband struggled to come up with a lie. “The staff from down the hall. They need help dealing with the air horn situation,” he told her leaning forward confidently, even though he was sweating inside his boots.
“Oh, my,” the woman said, getting up and going down the hall.
Frank walked over to Arta dumbfounded. “How did that work?” he muttered almost to himself.
“What was the point of the tennis balls?” she asked him.
“You just needed something to do or else you would have felt left out,” he told her, moving past her to open the other doors, which led out to the sidewalk.
Arta sighed and followed him outside, where he promptly tried to hail a taxi. “You realize there actually has to be a taxi for that to work?” she told him.
He just smirked as a familiar yellow car made its way around the corner. “Right on time,” he said, pulling the taxi over with a single wave.
“There’s no way you planned that,” she said. The only response she got was another smirk and an open car door.
Arta slid in the back of the not-so-clean cab. She resisted the urge to look at the ground as Frank told the driver some directions. After a quick, fifteen-minute car ride, they were at the arcade.
Immediately after getting out of the cab, Frank threw his arms up in the air and took a deep breath. “Smell that, Arta?” he asked. “That’s the smell of freedom.”
Arta wrinkled her nose delicately, “No, that’s the smell of burnt popcorn and vomit.”
“Eh, better than mothballs and Ben Gay,” he told her hobbling over to the door. “Plus, this place has good candy!”
“The nursing home has candy,” she told him in a huff. “It’s just hard candy.”
“Exactly,” he told her, walking into the arcade with what could only be described as swagger.
“We can get you candy if that’s the problem,” she told him, rushing to catch up.
By the time she caught him, they were already inside. She took one step inside the arcade and was hit with an abundance of noises and smells. The smells of fries and cotton candy, the sounds of all the arcade games pinging and making noise. Arta actually enjoyed it.
She would have stayed longer in the entryway, enjoying the sights and sounds, but Frank plowed through the arcade, clearly on a mission. Arta followed him leisurely, feeling like a fish out of water.
She thought he’d stop at the restaurant, or the pool tables, or the arcade games, but he kept on walking. Walked past the kids, the food, the games, past it all to a little corner in the back of the building.
In that corner, there were tables covered in cups, plates, presents, and cake. Balloons riddled the ground and some stuck to the ceiling, like lost souls. Arta didn’t notice any of that. She didn’t notice the kids screaming in the background, or the pizza on the ground.
She only noticed the man standing with his back to them, and the little kid running toward Frank.
“Grandpa!” the little boy yelled out jumping into Franks’s open arms. Arta rushed forward to the child who noticed her after a second. “Nana!” he yelled out and ran to give her a hug just as big as Frank’s.
The man with his back to them turned around so fast, Arta was surprised he didn’t get whiplash. “Mom? Dad?” he said walking over to them slowly as if approaching a cobra.
“How are you?” Frank asked him. “How’s life. I hear it’s great to be free.”
“Dad,” Josh said in a careful tone.
“I know, I know, it’s Luke’s big day!” he said turning his attention back to his grandson.
Arta stood up and looked down at her husband. “How’d you find out about this?”
“Facebook,” Josh and Frank said at the same time.
“Why don’t you go and play over there,” Josh told his son, who happily ran off. “Well, Dad, I’m surprised to see you here. I thought you weren’t talking to me.” He looked more than a little upset about this.
“You don’t get to be upset by my not talking to you,” Frank told Josh before Arta could stop him.
“Why not, Dad? I was just looking out for the two of you.”
“Because this is EXACTLY what you did to me when you were a teenager. Every time I wouldn’t let you go to some Dave Matthews concert or let your band play in the basement, you would get all mad, and not talk to me for a whole week,” Frank said in a matter-of-fact tone.
“I—” Josh started, blushing profusely.
“Stop it, you two,” Arta said. “I want you both to hug each other.” When they just looked at her, she gave them her mom look. “I’m waiting.”
Josh and Frank looked at each other for a second before slowly giving each other a hug. “Now, say that you love each other.”
They both slowly mumbled, “I love you.”
“I can’t hear you,” Arta said.
“That’s because you need hearing aids,” Frank said under his breath.
“What was that?” Arta asked.
“Nothing honey. I love you, Jacob,” Frank said hurriedly, hoping Arta really didn’t hear him.
“I love you too, Dad,” Jacob replied. “Can we let go now, Mom?”
“See, all better,” she said. “Now, how do I get to play those arcade game things?”