This story is by Susan Elwell and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Gasping for breath, I kept running. Three of the worst bullies from school were chasing me and I didn’t dare to stop for one second. The forest was well known to me and I was glad when I had finally reached it. The path ahead was beckoning and I dashed ahead.
Hey! shouted a boy’s voice behind me.
What? answered a second voice.
Thorns! They are everywhere!
Shut up and find him! The sound of their voices indicated that they were only a short distance away. I knew those voices belonged to the boys from my science class. Billy, Mike, and Carl were chasing me because I had pretended not to hear them in class today. They had wanted answers for the exam and I had played deaf. Being the smartest boy in 6th grade was becoming more and more difficult.
I tried not to panic but I knew I was not moving fast enough and they were closing in on me. My left leg was really starting to hurt and the spasms were getting worse. This group had hurt me before and I wondered if I could survive another attack.
Running as fast as I could, I snatched my eyeglasses off my face and wiped off the developing steam. I slapped them hastily back onto my face and pressed on. My eyeglasses had been smashed to smithereens the last time. Beaten up and sightless, it had been difficult to get home. I again tried to keep the panic in check but I started to shake with fear, which slowed me down even more.
Something in the distance caught my eye. It looked like a huge round tree stump covered with patches of green moss. I had never noticed it before but this forest was large and mysterious and I had yet to discover everything. The tree stump was rounded at the top like a dome and had a ragged hole on the bottom edge of the stump near the middle. I felt a glimmer of hope.
Hurriedly, I snapped off several branches from the nearest tree and rushed ahead. Dropping the branches onto the ground, I quickly wiggled into the tree stump as best I could. Grabbing the leafy green branches that I had dropped, I placed them carefully over the opening to camouflage it and prayed for a miracle. I could sense they were very close now… the leaves rustled louder with every footstep. Shutting my eyes, I again prayed that they had not seen me.
We need Billy! shouted a voice that startled me. It sounded just outside the tree stump.
He’s back there! yelled another.
What’s he doin’ back there? The creep might get away!
I sighed quietly with relief. They hadn’t seen me crawl into the opening and they couldn’t see me now. Trembling, I opened my eyes and peeked out between the green leaves that covered the hole. I could see all three of them running comically in different directions, waving their arms to push tree branches out of their way.
Crouching inside the tree stump, I remained as still as possible. Several minutes later, my prayers were answered.
A second voice called out, He’s gotta be here somewhere!
Just forget it! another boy shouted.
Through the leaves, I noticed the running had stopped. They were walking towards each other and appeared to be leaving the forest! I had escaped them. Close call, though, and tomorrow would be another story.
I leaned back in my small hiding spot and felt the panic subsiding. The inside of the tree stump smelled of damp earth and organic matter. It was wrinkled and leathery to the touch and I noticed a slight quivering of movement. It felt strange, but so did the spasms in my leg and this hollow had totally saved me.
I sat there quietly and listened to the wild animals in the forest. Thoughts of harm and injury had vanished and I was savoring the moment. My own species had made me more afraid than any wild animal. Wild animals hunt and kill to survive but humans do this…who knows why. Even though I was totally alone in the forest and inside a tree stump, I felt no danger.
Exhaustion overcame me. I leaned back against the leathery wall of the tree stump, closed my eyes and fell asleep. I didn’t sleep long because the leathery wall behind me started to undulate which woke me up. Sticking my head out of the hole, I watched as two large reptilian legs stepped methodically over the pine-needled forest floor. I had no idea who or what I was traveling with.
STOP! I shrieked, and the movement suddenly halted. A large reptilian head turned around to look at me. One dark eye stared at me with alarm.
What are youuuuuuu doing in my house, hmmmmm? asked the creature, with a low, humming voice that seemed to vibrate.
Your…your house? I stammered. I didn’t know …ah … I needed to hide… ah… I’m so sorry!
Hmmmmmm, said the creature, and looked away. You can get out now, if you want toooooooo. The loud ones are gone, mmmmm hmmmmm. The creature slowly lowered his house and settled it back down onto the forest floor. The large leathery legs beneath the animal slowly disappeared.
Thank you, I said, stepping out of my hiding place. I turned around and looked up at the creature.
Welcome, said the creature. His lizard-like lips turned upwards into what looked like a smile. His dark eyes softened and he looked less alarming.
You’re a turtle!!! I exclaimed. I can’t believe it! A turtle!
The turtle’s smile seemed to get bigger. His dark eyes were widely spaced above his snout and bits of green moss clung to it. Yesssssssss.
Was I inside your shell?
Yessssssss, answered the turtle, still seeming to smile. You tickled, mmmmmmmm hmmmmmm.
Your legs…where did they go? I asked.
The turtle hummed. Mmmmmm, I pulled them into my house… legs, head, everything fits nicely inside. Somehow, you crawled in between my legs. Mmmmm, hmmmm, nice work.
Wow, I said. Inside the shell of a living turtle!
Mmmmm hmmmmm, replied the turtle, nodding his head.
Thanks for not biting me, I added.
Hmmmmm nooooooo, I’m not a snapper, responded the turtle quickly.
Well, maybe you can snap at those bullies…just once? I asked. That would certainly scare them off.
Can’t doooooo ….like youuuuu, I have to hide. They would destroy me if they found meeeeeeee, answered the turtle solemnly. His dark eyes looked sad and his legs slowly appeared from under his shell. The turtle gradually stood up. He was massive!
Oh…right, I said.
How ‘bout tomorrow… hmmmmmmm? asked the turtle.
Tomorrow? I replied.
Yessssss, I’ll be here and the hole in my house is usually available, said the turtle. Maybe you could scratch an itch, hmmmmmm?
I laughed and said, Okay, sure! Wait…how did you get that hole in your shell?
The turtle’s smile vanished. Mmmmmm…some loud ones shot me when I was little, ouch. I healed but my house did not, owwwwww.
Oh man! I cried. That’s awful!
Yesssssssss, but sometimes that hole comes in handy. The turtle looked at me sideways and grinned. I smiled back. This turtle was funny!
Well, that was mean, I replied. They shouldn’t have shot you.
With awe, I looked up at him. I knew a lot about turtles, both the land and the sea variety, but this one… he was definitely out there in alien territory. He was really big and he was talking!
You are certainly extra large for a turtle. I stated politely.
Mmmmmm, yessss, , hummed the turtle. I’m always hungry and looking for snackssssss.
Really? I have the opposite problem. That’s probably why I’m so small. Do you like hard-boiled eggs?
Eggs? I love eggsssssss! answered the turtle, nodding his leathery head. Yummmmmmm, especially fish eggsssssssss.
Can’t bring you those! I responded quickly. But we have lots of eggs from chickens that you can have. I don’t like them at all… yuck.
Mmmmmm, thankssssss, the turtle replied with much vibration.
No problem, I said, giving the turtle a thumbs up.
Tomorrow? asked the turtle, giving me a gentle nudge with his big snout.
Tomorrow it is, I answered, and I wiped some green moss off his snout. The turtle’s mouth opened and he cautiously took the moss out of my hand and ate it.
Like I said, I’m always hungreeeeeee, said the turtle, swallowing.
I laughed and stroked his snout with my hand. Against his tough turtle skin, my human hand looked ghostly pale and fragile.
You and I…I think we need each other, I said very seriously. You need food and I need a hiding place. What do you think…deal?
The turtle tucked his legs into his shell and lowered himself. His dark, widely spaced eyes stared into mine. Deal, he said, and he gently nudged me again.