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1st Prize Winner (Group IV) - If They Find Us

April, 2016
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IF THEY FIND US

Thunder rumbled warmly outside. Rain fell like a lullaby of gentle drumming fingers against the window in a world lined with tar and concrete, simmering in the faint glow of neon yellow light. The bedroom was cosily dark, colored in mottled beige and soft creams and itchy carpeting. On the bed, a lump of duvets and a stray arm holding a squashy pillow in headlock. Dark curls splayed about the sheets. The lump slept tranquilly.  

There was the clicking of keys in another room and a moment later a dark figure entered, rushing towards the bed. The lamp was turned on, illuminating a man’s face as he shook the lump urgently. His touch was tender, though, his coat a constellation of raindrops.

“Mal – Mal, wake up!” his voice was strained.

Round brown eyes blinked open blearily. The arm released the limp pillow and reached out to him.

“Jared? What is it?” Mal murmured, resting her hands on his neck, only to cup his face with alarmed, open palms upon seeing his expression contract in a shallow sob. Jared weaved his fingers into her hair, eyes pinched and mouth contorted in some kind of grimace. A tear trickled down his cheek.

“Oh, no, Jared don’t – if you cry, I’ll cry –” Mal croaked in a small voice, her own face crumpling in uncomprehending sadness.

“Mal, I found it.” he breathed, his wet eyes shining in the dim light.

Mallory froze, nestled into his chest as he cradled her face like the moon, the relief in his wrinkled smile like release of a bird in a deserted city, heavy wingbeat breaking the silence.

“You – you found it?” Mal laughed softly, blinking.

“I found it.”

“H-you found it!” she cried, crinkles forming at the corners of her eyes, throwing her arms around Jared. Dazed and elated.

They held each other like they were precious, lulling a fading ache. Pulling the warm covers over themselves like a blanket of snow over a flower that had waited all winter.  

 

They woke up and ate the last of the canned goods, silent, facing one another with tilted heads and tender gazes. Smiling, Jared reached across the table to hold her hand and murmured,

“Shall we pack?”

Mal’s expression broke into the biggest grin he had ever seen. He watched her take out her grandmother’s suitcase, helped her fold in their belongings, carefully tucking in the charcoal pencils from the tin cans that lined the shelf. She closed the case, running her fingers meditatively on the beaten leather stamped all over with stickers bearing the names of ancient cities in faded script – Mumbai, Paris, Bukhara, Dublin, New York.

“I wonder what these places looked like, before…” Jared smiled and took her hand.

They left the house empty, the masks on the big oak table speckled with rust.

At the laboratory, Jared stepped around a labyrinth of glass equipment and meters of paper that lolled from a slot in the wall, printed rows of unintelligible letters. On a counter stood an egg-shaped object, iridescent black with deep spiral indentations. Jared wrapped it in a blanket and held it like a baby, nodding at Mal to shut everything down before locking the door behind her.

It was still early as they walked in the middle of the road in the muted sunlight, their breath visible in the frosty air. The trees looked brittle and the grass sparse, scattered with rubble.

“Mal…?” Jared asked hesitantly, looking up from the egg, heavy in his arms.

“Mmmm?” she smiled at him dreamily.

“D’you think my parents are still out there?” a caterpillar of anxiety formed on the bridge of his nose.

Mal blinked intently.

“I’m sure they are. We said we’d look for them, right?”

Jared nodded to his feet.

“What if they don’t remember me?”

“Hey,” Mal reached out to touch his face lightly, the ivy of greying stubble that climbed up his jaw, “We’ll find them. We get to start our real life now, okay? Everything we’ve been working for. Like in the books, okay?”

“Mallory,” he spoke her name like it was eternal, smiling shyly.

The road then was disintegrated into pieces, up into a wide grassy clearing surrounded by dead shrubbery. In the center, Jared unwrapped the egg, muttering combinations under his breath. Mallory stood watching, anxious and hopeful, flexing her fingers, fretfully setting down the suitcase and then picking it up again. From his pocket Jared produced a strange object resembling a pearl-head pin which he implanted carefully into the egg. This was a key. As he slid it through the spiralling lock in steady, calculated gestures a fluctuating light seeped out of the fissures and the egg let out an ethereal reverberating hum.

Mal exhaled shakily.

“You alright?” Jared murmured, looking at her.

She nodded, not needing to explain and he blinked reassuringly before continuing.

A series of small clicks and warm beeps sounded from the egg. They both tensed. In swift, serene movements the egg rose off the ground with soft whooshing sounds. It glided through the air, getting smaller as Jared stood up beside Mal. Shoulders brushing they watched the egg zoom out into the sky until it became an indiscernible smudge, followed by a burst of blue light as it breached the mesosphere. Then it was gone, leaving them behind in silence.

Mal and Jared breathed in, gazes still fixed in the sky. Their apprehension was gone, replaced by a sense of certainty, of hope. The creases in their expressions were ironed smooth, a confident glimmer in their eyes. Mal spoke:

“That’s it then.”

“All we have to do now is wait.”

And there they stood, at the edge of the world, waiting. 



By Xoai David,

Shanghai United International School

 

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