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 2023 Winners Anthology, Enter the Imaginarium here.
“Finding Family” by Sofia Ameen, Pleasant Hill Elementary School
Third Place, Elementary Level, 2023
Pleasant Hill Elementary School
Imagine a world where every animal got to live a happy life with their family. Now that would be nice, but that’s not reality. So Spots and his friends are on a mission to find their parents and reunite! They all have a long journey ahead of them. What will happen next?
Chapter 1: Out of the Zoo
It all started when Spots, the baby giraffe, and his friends decided they were going to escape the zoo. Spots was kind, caring, and creative, but a little jumpy. He had lots of ideas and lots of friends. He knew almost everybody at the zoo, but most of his friends already had parents. Only two of his best friends didn’t. Bella, the rhino, was kind and was at the zoo longer than Spots. She was also wise, but still young and would not hurt a fly. Then of course there was Skyler, the peregrine falcon. Skyler was funny and always could cheer his friends up with a joke. He was also curious and the youngest among his friends. But he had seen the most beyond the zoo, with him being able to fly and all. Skyler told Spots about amazing things beyond the zoo and Spots always watched the other animals with their families. Spots always wondered where his parents were.
So, one ordinary day, Spots had had enough of being stuck in the zoo. Even with his friends, Spot felt lonely and that something was missing from his life. He knew it was his family and so he knew he had to escape to find them.
Just after the sun had set, when it was dinnertime, he decided to go through with his idea. Spots told Bella and Skyler his plan to escape, and after a lot of convincing and explaining, they all agreed.
Later, in the middle of the night, Bella quietly moved toward the lock on her cage. She carefully wedged her sharp horn into her lock and unhooked it just like a key. She did the same for Spots, then they both worked together to free Skyler. Bella lifted Spots to the net of the enclosure and, with his teeth, he cut the net that was around Skyler’s cage and they were off. The three friends knew that there would be obstacles along the way, but they did not know that the obstacles would be so soon or that it would be themselves. They tip-toed through the zoo until they found a tree they could use to get out. Bella went first and then it was Spots’ turn, but when Spots was just barely over the fence, Skyler said he heard a bird chirping.
“What?!!!!!” Spots said, surprised.
“But it is the middle of the night and no birds are out at this hour. That’s why I think we should investigate,” said Skyler.
“No, what if it is a vulture that wants to eat us!”
“Oh, come on, Spots,” said Bella. “We are way, way bigger than any bird. Let’s at least go look.”
“Fine, but ladies first.”
“Oh, come on. Come on guys, the chirping is getting louder.” Spots stopped. He did not want to get eaten by a bird, but then . . .
“Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” Bella and Skyler rushed back screaming with terror.
“Run!” they yelled. Spots started running to the tree; he climbed up and Bella climbed right after him. Then everything was quiet.
“What happened?” asked Spots. “I thought it was a bird?”
“No, it was a giant cheetah.”
“Wait, Spots, where did Skyler go?” Bella asked.
All of a sudden they heard footsteps.
“Oh, no,” said Spots, but then Skyler appeared. A sigh of relief came upon Bella and Spots, but then a baby cheetah came out from behind Skyler.
Chapter 2: Welcome to the Crew
Spots woke up to Bella in his face. He was still in a tree.
“Oh, Bella, thank goodness. I had the worst nightmare. We left the zoo and there was a cheetah and we were going to get eaten.”
“Spots, I hate to break it to you, but that was not a nightmare.”
“Wait, what? Am I dead?”
“No, silly, you fainted. We’re outside of the zoo, and quiet down—they are looking everywhere for us. We need to go now!”
“I am not getting out of this tree with that down there waiting for me.” Spots stared at the baby cheetah.
“Hi, my name is Ava,” said the cheetah. “And this is my mom.” She pointed to a tall, majestic cheetah.
“Hello, my name is Brook,” said the cheetah.
Spots let out a whimper. “Please don’t eat us,” he whispered.
“Oh, of course not,” said Brook. “Me and my family respect the peace treaty and do not over hunt. Most of the animals here do. So where are you going anyway?”
While Bella helped Spots out of the tree, Skyler told them they were on a journey to find their families. Ava stopped and whispered in her mom’s ear; Brook gave her a concerned look and nodded slowly, then Ava cleared her throat and said, “Could I come with you?”
“Sure,” said Spots bravely. “But why? Don’t you already have a family?”
Ava got a sad look in her eye. “Not my dad,” she said quietly.
“We’re so sorry. What happened?”
“We don’t really know. One day he was here and not the next,” said Brook.
“My mom said if we stay together then I can come, if that’s ok with you.”
“Of course, you can come,” they said, “We can help you find your dad.”
“Thank you,” said Ava. She gathered some food for everyone and hugged her mom goodbye.
“I love you,” she said, sadly.
“Love you, too,” said Brook. Then she gave her baby a kiss and let her go. “Be safe, honey.”
“I will,” Ava promised.
Chapter 3: Surprises
The friends walked through the vast savanna. It was about 12:00 when Skyler said they should stop.
“Why are you tired?” Spots said. “You can fly.”
Skyler went on about how flying was harder than walking. Spots did not agree but the girls were already eating, so they all sat down and had a peaceful lunch until . . .
“Ahhhhhhh.” Someone was screaming but it wasn’t one of the friends. It was someone, somewhere, who needed help. Bella used her big ears to find out what was happening.
“Help, my neck is stuck in a tree and there is a lion.”
The sound got louder.
“We all heard that, right?” Bella asked.
They all agreed they should go check it out. All except Spots.
“I just think it is a bad idea,” he exclaimed.
After a lot of convincing, Spots gave in, and they headed toward the sound as it got louder and louder, and the friends ran faster and faster. They soon arrived at a kind giraffe named Blue. He was just like Spots but bigger and even jumpier. He was still whimpering when Ava asked what was wrong.
“There’s a lion hunting and my neck is stuck in a tree,” Blue replied.
“Ahhhh!” screamed Spots.
“Shhh,” everyone said. “Keep it down.” Then they all turned to Blue. “Don’t worry we’ll help you.”
Skyler flew up to the tree where Blue’s neck was stuck. He tried to untangle the vines, but he couldn’t.
“I can’t break them,” he said.
Bella looked Spots deep in the eyes.
“You are the only one who has teeth strong enough to cut the vines,” she said. “I will push you up, Skyler will show you where to cut them, and Ava will look for the lion.”
“Got it,” they all said.
“Fine,” agreed Spots.
As Bella lifted Spots, he cut the vines. When they were finished, Ava zipped back and reported, “The lion and his son were out hunting.”
“OK, let’s go,” said the friends.
“Are you going to be OK?” Spots asked Blue.
“I’ll be OK for now,” Blue said calmly. “Thank you so much for saving me.”
“No problem,” they all said as they waved goodbye and hurried on their way.
“I’m still hungry,” Skyler complained.
“Well, we can’t stop now,” said Ava. “The lion is still on the hunt but luckily it’s about two miles to the left of us, which is pretty far away, but we better hurry and make it to the trees just in case.”
“But what if there is something scary in there, too?” Spots said.
“Well, if there is, it’s not as bad as a lion,” Bella explained.
“Well, that’s true,” Spots agreed.
As the friends ran towards the bushes and trees, they were stopped by a lion cub about as big as a medium-sized bike. Spots started to squeal when the lion cub said in a friendly voice, “Hi, my name is Winnie and that is my dad. His name is Buddy. But don’t worry, we won’t hurt you, I promise. There are a lot of myths about us lions, but not many of them are true.”
“Do you guys respect the peace treaty like my mom?” Ava asked.
“Of course, we only hunt when we need to, and we don’t overdo it.”
“I just saw you kids over here and got worried. So where are your parents anyway?”
Bella stepped forward and explained that they were on a mission to find their parents.
“Woah,” Buddy said. “Well, it’s getting late. Do you kids want to spend the night and start back up in the morning?”
“You would do that?” Skyler said tiredly.
“Of course. You guys are going to need plenty of rest for your long trip.”
“Thank you so much,” Bella said.
Just then Winnie turned to talk to his father. “Dad,” he said in a sad and quiet voice, “Could I go with them, you know, just to protect them? Please?”
“Son, she’s gone, and I don’t want to lose you too.”
“But we have to try,” Winnie said sadly with tears rolling down his face. “Please.”
“Fine, but you have to be so careful. Remember everything I taught you about self defense and protection and hunting.”
“I will, I promise. I love you, Dad.”
“Love you too, son.” Then Winnie wiped the tears from his face and turned to the friends.
As soon as he started to ask if he could come with them, they interrupted and said, “Yes, absolutely, of course, you can come.”
“Thanks, guys, you’re the best. OK, I will show you our house and where you can sleep.”
“Is it safe there?” Spots asked.
“We are with a lion. I think we’ll be fine,” Ava said.
“I guess that’s true,” Spots said.
“And don’t worry guys. I will use my moves to protect you if anything happens,” Winnie reassured them.
“This is our house.” Winnie showed them a nice big rock with a cave underneath. It kind of looked like Pride Rock from the Lion King show that they saw on the zoo’s TV the day they left. As the friends started to get settled, they all started to think about the journey, their homes and, most of all, their parents.
“It’s OK, guys,” Skyler said, trying to cheer everyone up. He could tell they were all sad and thinking about the same thing. “We will find our families and everything will be OK.”
“You’re right,” Bella said as she yawned. Then it started to rain really hard.
“Well, we better get to sleep,” said Winnie. “My dad gets back from patrol at midnight.”
“OK.” They all said good night. “See you in the morning.”
As they slept, the rain kept coming harder and harder through the night. When Buddy got back, he quietly whispered to himself, “It doesn’t usually rain this much unless there’s going to be a flash flood. No. It couldn’t be.”
The next day when the friends woke up, they ate breakfast and started to think about which way they were going to go. Skyler, who was still licking his lips, suggested staying with Buddy. Ava said, “Maybe we should go back.” But Spots and Bella said that they had made it this far, and couldn’t quit now. Winnie agreed and afterward so did Ava and Skyler.
So, Buddy loaded them with snacks, said goodbye, and sent the friends and his son on their way. The first hour they were pretty quiet, but when they reached the jungle, Spots started to freak out.
“What If there is something scary in there?” he stuttered.
“It will be ok,” Bella said. “We are all together.” So just before midday, they slipped inside the dark, deep, mysterious jungle.
Chapter 4: The Jungle
The jungle was very different from the vast savanna; it was dark, and even though the rain was still falling, the thick leaves of the jungle caught the rain and didn’t let it fall, and it was very peaceful. But the friends were in a rush, so they decided to eat their food rations and think of a plan.
“We should ask for directions,” Ava suggested.
“You’re right,” Bella agreed. “Let’s go.”
So they started looking for someone to ask when Skyler stumbled upon some little baby chimpanzees.
“Hi, my name is Benelli and this is my sister, Biscuit.”
“Hello,” they all said. “Do you know how to get to the other side of the jungle?”
“We sure do. You just go straight, take a left at the fallen tree, straight, then right. After one hundred steps, straight again, dance, and then twenty steps forward, and you’re out.”
“Thank you, but why do we have to dance?” Bella asked.
“Oh, it’s just for fun,” Biscuit said.
“And one last thing,” Benelli said, “Beware of Scary Beary, the Big Boy Gorilla.”
“Who’s that?” Winnie asked.
“He’s the meanest guy around,” Benelli answered. “But don’t worry, you guys can stay at our den. Our mom and dad are on a two-day hunting trip, and they won’t mind if you spend the night.”
“Thank you so much,” Ava said.
“No problem.” So Benelli and Biscuit showed them to their den and they got settled.
“Who is Scary Beary, the Big Boy Gorilla anyway,” Spots asked scaredly. “And why is he so bad?”
“Well, one day our mom and dad went hunting and they heard an awful scream. It was Scary Beary fighting a tiny little bird, and he almost killed it, but our mom and dad saved her, and now she is our pet. Her name is Reese and she is the best bird we could ask for.”
“Woah,” the friends all said. “That’s cool. Anyway, we need to get to bed.”
The next day the friends woke up and were ready to go. They collected all their stuff and set off. They followed the directions from Biscuit and soon arrived at the last few steps, when all of a sudden, they heard a low growl coming from behind them. It sounded like the same sound that Biscuit described Scary Beary having, and before any of the friends had time to react—
“Rawr, growl, grrrrrrr!” It was Scary Beary, and he was attacking.
Spots, Skyler, and Winnie all ran away, but Ava and Bella stayed. They weren’t scared. And then Scary Beary spoke.
“Why aren’t you scared?” he said in a low voice.
“Because we want to know why you hurt animals,” Bella said. “Why do you do this?”
“Well, my family was very poor and everyone would hurt us and make fun of us, so I am getting my revenge.”
“But why are you still doing it? You’ve had your revenge.”
“I know, but I am blinded by pain.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll be your friend. You could come with us if you want.”
“No thanks. I must stay here, and from now on I will protect the people of the jungle.”
“When we find families, we will come back and visit you.”
“Thank you so much. You two are so kind.”
“Goodbye,” Ava and Bella said happily. When Ava and Bella arrived, Skyler, Winnie, and Spots all ran out of the jungle, and as soon as they reached the end, Winnie and Skyler were so confused. They asked, “How did you guys stand up to the meanest gorilla in the whole jungle?”
“He was not mean, he was in pain, and so we helped him.”
Spots looked terrified, but he was not looking at Bella or Ava. He was looking at someone behind a tree. The rest of the friends turned around and their jaws dropped . . .
Chapter 5: Finally Family
Spots was staring at two tall adult giraffes. He slowly walked closer. As he did, so did the two giraffes. When they stepped out of the shadows, tears started rolling down Spots and the other giraffes’ faces. It was Spots’ parents.
“Mom, Dad, is it really you?” Spots asked.
“Of course it is. We missed you so much. And Bella and Skyler, oh, we remember when you got taken, but don’t worry, we know where your parents are, and yours too, Ava and Winnie.”
“How do you know our names?”
“We met your mom and your dad. They told us they were looking for you, so we teamed up and each day we made a plan to look for you guys. We already shut down a different zoo and reunited lots of animals with their families, but you guys weren’t in it. But c’mon we will take you guys to your families”
As soon as the friends arrived at the den, they all started crying, and they ran to their parents. That night they planned to leave the next day, and they would all live close together. They got in bed and the rain calmed them to sleep.
Chapter 6: Gone Again
The friends awoke to a flash flood. When they stood, they fell in. They tried to escape, but it was too late. The water had won and was taking them wherever.
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