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Fiction Fantastic 2024 Winning Story: “Zonglou” by Leo Kuhl

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 2024 Winners Anthology, Realm of Forgotten Dreams.

“Zonglou” by Leo Kuhl, Charlemagne French Immersion Elementary School

2nd, Elementary Level, 2024


Zonglou

by Leo Kuhl

Charlemagne French Immersion Elementary School

“Toss me the rope,” Creeker called.

He dared not look down. He’d come so far, but now he could fall; it could all end. Creeker would not let that happen, not if he had anything to do about it. However, in this case, he may not have anything to do except hope.

In the distance he heard a trumpet sound as the semifurnoms came running towards the cliff.

“Please,” Creeker panted. “Help.”

It seemed like Milio had run off with the rope in hand. Trusting him was probably a mistake, but looking back on what he’d done, Creeker decided that he’d made a lot of mistakes.

Creeker heard another trumpet sound followed by the sound of the thumping feet of the semifurnoms running across the ground. Creeker was too curious to just stay staring pressed against the wall of the cliff, so he made the mistake of looking down.

Thousands of semifurnoms came with swords, grappling hooks, and torches, running to the cliff in a fit of rage. Their leader, Valgrot, had a dagger that he carried in his right hand.

Semifurnoms were ugly creatures. Covered in scales like lizards, they stood on two feet and walked like humans. Their faces were covered with warts, and their scales often shed. Unlike furnoms, semifurnoms did not have wings, but they had fangs that were often covered in blood after a meal. They had three-toed feet with claws on each toe.

Creeker felt himself shake with fear, which made it even harder to balance on the slim ledge he was standing on. All of a sudden, he felt a big shake in the cliff as the semifurnoms threw their grappling hooks onto the cliff.

Creeker started to fall, down to the semifurnoms, to his death.

Creeker fell around eighty feet before his shirt got caught on a grappling hook. That didn’t stop him from falling though; it only slowed his fall down. However, it slowed it just enough for Creeker to be able to grasp part of the grappling hook.

He caught himself twenty feet above the ground, but then a semifurnom started climbing the grappling hook that Creeker was hanging on to. Creeker jumped down from the grappling hook and landed on the ground with a thud.

He felt like he might have broken some bones. In fact, he’d definitely broken some bones—but none of that mattered to him because he had survived. There was no other time he’d felt so happy to be alive. Probably because he’d never fallen off a cliff before.

However, his joy quickly ended when he realized that he was circled by semifurnoms who now looked extremely hungry. He sprinted—well, he limp-sprinted, but it was as fast as he could go. He started running but only made it forty feet before he saw that right in front of him was Valgrot.

***

“Wait, so if you don’t want to eat me, what do you want with me?” Creeker asked.

He was sitting down tied to a tree in the middle of the semifurnoms’ camp smelling Valgrot’s horrid stench.

“Information,” Valgrot responded in his raspy voice. “Let me start out by asking you, what are you doing here?”

Creeker explained, “Well, the king is always looking for more power, and in this case more power means more land. So, he asked Milio and me to go exploring in this area. I always liked exploring, and it’s my dream to get the Best Explorer medal. We were going to meet up with a much bigger group of people in the Southern Rock Mountains, then head west from there, but as you can see, things didn’t turn out so well for me.”

“Ahhh, so you decided to trespass on our land, which was a grave mistake,” Valgrot growled.

“Yeah, I’m kinda starting to realize that now,” Creeker said.

“You stupid humans have always held a grudge against us semifurnoms for absolutely no reason,” Valgrot said, shifting his position on his throne.

“Well, I mean, to be fair, you guys do always seem like you’re trying to kill us,” Creeker pointed out. “But anyway, it was fun chatting and—”

“This conversation isn’t over yet. I have one more question for you,” Valgrot said in a particularly raspy voice.

“OK, what’s that?” Creeker asked.

Valgrot smiled.

“What do you know of Zonglou?”

“You mean the cursed Island?” Creeker asked.

Valgrot smiled again. “Ahh, so you’ve heard of it.”

“Well yeah, but it’s cursed so it’s not a great place for a vacation,” Creeker said.

“You know how to get there, don’t you?” Valgrot’s smile showed a lot more teeth than Creeker thought he had.

“What makes you think that?” Creeker asked.

“I can tell.” Valgrot’s display of teeth really made Creeker think that, at any second, he would be semifurnom food.

Unfortunately, Valgrot was right, Creeker did know where it was, and Creeker had a feeling there was no point in saying he didn’t.

Valgrot continued, “How do you get there?”

“I don’t really feel any inclination whatsoever to tell you that,” Creeker stated.

Anger flashed through Valgrot’s eyes.

“This isn’t the friendly chit chat you think it is.”

He pointed a dagger at Creeker’s throat.

Creeker swallowed hard.

“OK then.”

He handed Valgrot a map of the country.

“There, you see that cliff just south of us? Go there, then go southwest, and you’ll make it to Zonglou.”

Valgrot smiled.

“Guards, you may free this prisoner. Make haste for Zonglou!”

Two guards escorted Creeker outside of the large camp that smelled of smoke from the fire, then they released him and followed the rest of the semifurnoms in a brisk march south.

A few moments later, Creeker could no longer hear the thumping of their feet and was left alone in the wilderness. The sun was high in the sky and there was plenty of time before dusk, but Creeker knew that in order to not be caught in the wilderness at night he had to start moving.

He was very curious about what Valgrot wanted with Zonglou, so he decided to follow the semifurnoms. However, he knew that if he headed west, he could travel through the valley between the Southern Rock Mountains and the Western Rock Mountains and avoid going uphill. Then he would stop at the big city of Snowville, which, despite its name, didn’t get much snow. In Snowville he could gather a crew to go southwest to Zonglou, and they could maybe get there before the semifurnoms.

Creeker was afraid of what Valgrot wanted with Zonglou. He felt like there was something that Valgrot knew about it that he didn’t, and it seemed extremely important to Valgrot. That could only mean something bad for Creeker.

Creeker shivered as a cool breeze swept through the forest he was standing in. Even though it was a very sunny day, the dense forest shaded Creeker making it quite a bit cooler than his spot on the cliff.

There was something strange about the forest. There always seemed to be a breeze that swept through the trees but nowhere else around it. There was also always a thin layer of mist that gathered at the level of Creeker’s ankles. But what sent a chill down Creeker’s bones was the name of the river that went through the forest: The Death River.

Few dared ask how The Death River got its name, and Creeker wasn’t really wanting to find out right then, either.

Creeker began to walk at a brisk pace towards the valley. He knew that there were only fields of grass and no strange forests in between the valley and Snowville, so he was eager to get past the valley.

In about half an hour, Creeker arrived at the valley. On either side of it there were tall mountains with snow at their peaks. The valley was only five hundred feet wide, and The Death River took up a lot of that.

Creeker was careful to remain close to the base of the Southern Rock Mountains so he wouldn’t get too near the river.

About three hours had passed, and it was getting late in the day. Creeker predicted it was around four-thirty. The sun would set at six-thirty, so he still had two more hours left to make it to Snowville and be safe during the night.

He was beginning to see the end of the valley in sight when he heard the unmistakable sound of thumping feet.

“Oh, no,” he thought. “How did the semifurnoms get here?”

He looked up, and Valgrot was around two hundred feet higher than he was standing on a rock facing out towards the west away from Creeker. Then he left his spot and Creeker heard the thumping of their feet heading away into the distance.

Creeker was pretty sure that the semifurnoms were headed down a trail that wound down the mountain on the west side, and he was pretty sure it would take them an hour. That meant two things. One was that he was safe on the northern side of the mountain, and two, was that if he was in the meadows in an hour when the semifurnoms made it down the mountain, they would see him and then they would know what he was doing.

Creeker knew he had to quicken his pace in order to make it to Snowville in time, so he began to run.

Twenty minutes later he was out of the valley and running through the yellowish green grass of the fields leading up to Snowville.

He glanced behind him and was relieved to see that there were no semifurnoms running at him with torches.

Since he was tired, he slowed to a walk and continued on to Snowville, now a thirty-minute walk away.

He was only one hundred yards away from the first of many houses in the city of Snowville when he looked behind him again. This time he saw the first semifurnom come out of the trees with a torch in its hand.

The semifurnom hadn’t seen Creeker yet, so Creeker dove down into the tall grass. His heart pounded against his chest. The furnoms were fast runners, so if they saw him, they would run at him with torches and follow him into the city, which would mean not only that he would be semifurnom food but the whole city would be semifurnom food.

The semifurnoms would normally be reluctant to go into the city of Snowville because the king lived there, and he and the semifurnoms had long ago made an agreement that they would each stay on their land. However, since Creeker had trespassed on their land, they might not care about agreements they made if it meant a lot of food.

Creeker slowly inched forward on his stomach, keeping low so the semifurnoms wouldn’t see him. He continued inching forward all the way up to the city, where he got up and hid among a small crowd of people. In the distance he saw the whole group of semifurnoms running southwest.

Creeker went to the downtown area of Snowville and, with his money, bought a room at the Snowville Hotel for the night.

Snowville was the biggest and most interesting city in the country. Unlike most big cities, Snowville didn’t really have any outskirts. It just went from fields of grass to a hustling bustling town. However, the city was also large in terms of square footage, all very busy.

Creeker ate dinner at a nice cafe in the downtown area, and then he went into the hotel. When he arrived, there was a group of people sitting, talking, and singing around the fire. It was, in fact, the search party he was supposed to meet up with at the South Rock Mountains!

Creeker walked up to a man playing the guitar.

“Excuse me,” he said.

The man turned around toward him.

“Hi, have you come to sing?”

“Uh, no. Look, this may seem a bit straightforward, but Valgrot and his group of semifurnoms are heading to Zonglou, the cursed Island, and I need to get there first to investigate it. And I was wondering if you could take me there with your group?” Creeker asked.

“Zonglou eh? Well, I don’t know . . .” the man trailed off.

“Listen to Creeker.”

Creeker turned around to see Milio standing right behind him.

“Hi, Creeker,” he smiled. “Sorry, I got lost earlier.”

Creeker was confused. Why was Milio being so nice to him? And what did he mean that he got lost? But he had bigger things to worry about. He turned back towards the man.

“I suppose. But in exchange I would expect some money,” the man said.

“I’ll deal with that,” Milio said. “Creeker, you should get a good night’s sleep.”

Since Creeker was tired he didn’t argue and walked upstairs to his room.

***

“I’ll stay here and watch over the horses while you guys go explore Zonglou. Sound good?” Milio repeated for the fourth time.

“All right, I think we all know the plan now,” said Douglas, the man Creeker saw playing the guitar the previous night.

It was early in the morning and Creeker had successfully made it to Zonglou, just as planned. The semifurnoms were nowhere in sight, and Creeker was excited to find out what it was the semifurnoms were after. He was also nervous though, because Zonglou was a cursed island after all.

“Hop on in,” Douglas said to Creeker, gesturing to the little boat.

Creeker hopped in, and then Douglas rowed them and the rest of the crew, except Milio, to the shore of Zonglou, which was only about a hundred feet away from the mainland.

When they arrived, Creeker got out first and the rest followed him. He stepped into the forest and started walking towards the big volcano in the center of the island.

The island wasn’t very big at all. Just a volcano, a lava lake, and a tiny forest. However, it was called a cursed island for a reason. It was so misty that Creeker couldn’t see more than two feet in any direction, which meant he couldn’t see the ground. That made it very difficult to avoid the lava lake. However, Creeker didn’t really think it was bad enough to be called a cursed island.

“Careful!” Douglas shouted.

Creeker paused mid step.

“Do you feel how hot it is here?” Douglas continued, “The lava lake must be right here so be careful to walk around it.”

Creeker walked around the lake using the heat as a guide.

A few minutes later someone shouted, “Come over here!”

Creeker hurried over to where they were, carefully not stepping in the lava lake.

“Look in that cave! There is a shiny piece of metal; it’s a treasure chest poking out! Hand me a shovel, Douglas, and I can dig it out!” the man exclaimed.

Creeker stepped forward and bent down so he could see the ground and, sure enough, jutting out from the dirt was the corner of a treasure chest. Douglas tossed the man a shovel, and he started digging.

Creeker was amazed looking at the treasure chest; he had never seen one before! But then there was a rumble as the volcano started to erupt. Huge boulders went crashing to the ground.

“We have to get off Zonglou!” Creeker shouted.

“But what about the treasure?” the man asked.

Then, the pieces all clicked together in Creeker’s head.

“No, leave it, and get out of the cave immediately.”

The man hesitated, then reluctantly stopped digging, and everyone walked out of the cave. Right after they did, a big boulder came crashing in front of the cave entrance blocking it entirely. If they hadn’t listened to Creeker, they would have been trapped.

“The semifurnoms didn’t want to get a treasure from Zonglou! They wanted me to think there was something important on Zonglou and to attempt to get it but die in the process,” Creeker said, mostly to himself.

Creeker led the others to the shore, ready to get in the boats and go to the mainland, but instead the boats had been smashed by a boulder, and angry semifurnoms lined the shore. Creeker caught a glimpse of Milio taking gold from the semifurnoms and riding away on a horse.

Of course! Milio had been the one who convinced Douglas to go to Zonglou because he was working with the semifurnoms and knew they would die. Creeker was so angry; he had thought that Milio was being nicer, but really, he was only being worse.

Creeker turned to Douglas.

“I have a plan,” he said.

***

Creeker was sitting in a tree on the mainland. He had managed an epic escape from Zonglou. The whole crew, except Milio, swam to the shore without taking a breath in between, because if they did the semifurnoms, would know they were coming. Then they snuck up on the semifurnoms and caused a diversion while Douglas escaped to go get the king for help. Creeker smiled; it was a brilliant plan.

“You can’t stay up there forever,” Valgrot growled for the hundredth time.

Creeker had climbed the tree so the semifurnoms would stay where they were waiting at the bottom because semifurnoms are terrible tree climbers. Just then, Douglas came riding on a horse alongside the king and the king’s soldiers.

They fought the semifurnoms and easily won, and the semifurnoms were locked up along with Milio, who was found riding his horse with sacks of gold.

The following day, the king placed the Best Explorer medal upon Creeker! Creeker had dreamed about this day!

He also gave Creeker lots of money for doing such a good job catching the semifurnoms. Creeker returned to Snowville with Douglas and the crew, and when he drifted off to sleep, he felt better than ever.