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The river was my refuge. It was more of a stream, really, a tiny but powerful stream tucked into a corner of the Cascade Mountains. While my dad argued with my mom and my mom argued with my six brothers and sisters (and they argued with each other), I slipped out of the house and walked two miles to be at that magical place with the dozens of small waterfalls cascading into the water. I imagined some explorer discovering this place, long ago, and naming the entire mountain range after it. Cascading waterfalls…Cascade Mountains.

I brought my journal, pen, and ink: nothing else. My “lucky rock” was a particularly large one in the center of the stream. I had to skip across stones that I had carefully placed to get to it, risking being swept away if I fell. I sat on my lucky rock and let the words rush out of my pen like one of the waterfalls around me. I wrote about everything: my pesky siblings, the beauty around me, and things I had never seen, but knew better than the real world. Some things about my writing were difficult to explain: like my use of a dip pen, or why I literally refused to write anywhere other than here. Maybe the answer to the latter question was simply that I couldn’t focus in the constant noise of home or school.

One day, I was writing about a girl lost in an Egyptian pyramid:

With each tentative step forward, Kara became more and more aware that she was hopelessly lost. Although Kara understood the many hieroglyphs on the walls, they bore no information that could help her escape. The skeletons and mummies piled in the corners didn’t suddenly come alive and tell her which way to go (although Kara was glad that didn’t happen, because it would have been creepy). Kara tried hard not to panic, but she couldn’t help it when…

I stopped writing. The ink on my pen dripped onto my journal, making a large blot that covered up the last line I had written, but I didn’t notice. Something smelled strange. It was an underground, earthy sort of smell that filled my nostrils. When I closed my eyes, I could see an underground tunnel stretching out before me.

The source of the odd smell wasn’t in sight. I looked down at my journal with the intent to keep writing, but the contents began spinning before my eyes in a tornado of words, commas, and periods. They all jumbled together, and the rushing water became inaudible.

I screamed, but my voice sounded distant and garbled, as if I were on the phone and the connection was wavering. What was happening? Was I going insane, and losing my hearing too?

I blinked, and the stream was gone. I was in a dark corridor with dust and cobwebs all around me. All I had in my hands was a torch. For a moment, I wondered where I was, but I wasn’t left wondering for long once I turned to look at the wall and saw hieroglyphics there. I knew then for sure where I was, and I wasn’t thrilled about it. I was inside my story: “A Cryptic Crypt.”

The pyramid carried the same smell that I had caught a whiff of back in the mountains, in the real world. I never thought I would long for my siblings, or want to escape one of my own stories. It was practically my dream to be transported into one of my stories, but I never expected to feel so stuck if I was. I thought that I’d feel free, ecstatic. How I wished that I had been writing about what I usually wrote about: friendship and everyday courage and trying to make it through middle school, and those things that seemed so simple compared to this. While observing my dire predicament, I paced around the corridor and almost tripped over a cold, round object. I picked it up and dropped it with a small shriek when I realized it was a skull.

Then I felt like something was crawling up my neck. I slapped it, and it fell lifeless into my hand: it was a beetle the size of my palm, and I now noticed thousands more creeping along the walls and floor. I really started to freak out when the torch sputtered, flickered, and went out. I tried desperately to reignite it by dragging it along the floor, but I didn’t produce a single spark. All the torch gathered was beetles. I was trapped in blackness with huge beetles and skeletons, armed with nothing except for what was basically a beetle-covered stick.

“Take me back!” I shouted into the darkness. My voice echoed for several seconds around the catacombs. I didn’t really expect an answer, but I was panicked.

I nearly dropped the extinguished torch when the wall was suddenly emblazoned with giant, glowing hieroglyphs that weren’t there before. I couldn’t read hieroglyphics, but I knew someone who could. Trying not to think about the beetles that were probably all over me, I started running down the passageway with my hands out so I wouldn’t run into a wall. My own shallow breathing and the pattering of my feet were the only sounds, but I hoped to hear something else—or rather, someone else. I had to find Kara.

The pyramid seemed bigger than the entire state of Washington. I wandered around through its winding passageways for hours. Once, I came to a five-way fork in the path. I listened at every corridor, one by one, for any sounds that might indicate another human’s presence, but none of the corridors looked promising. I just muttered “eeny meeny miney moe” and took the path I ended up pointing at. It proved to be a mistake, because I was more lost than ever.

Here was someone that I had created on paper as a living, breathing, three-dimensional human being standing right in front of me.

I was in such a terrible situation that the sound of someone yelling a little further down the passage excited me more than it frightened me. Who could it be except Kara?

Someone almost knocked me over as they barreled past me. Whoever it was held a torch, which illuminated the passage around me. It also meant that they could see me, and so they screeched to a stop.

The stranger was a girl in faded blue jeans, a plain black T-shirt, and suspenders. This was very confusing to me, because I had never seen someone in suspenders except in photos. I lived in Washington, not Kansas. The girl also had hazel eyes, raven-black hair held up in a messy ponytail, and a tan.

“What are you doing here?” asked Kara.

I couldn’t believe it. Here was someone that I had created on paper as a living, breathing, three-dimensional human being standing right in front of me. There was something else that shocked me even more, though: other than the obvious difference in what we were wearing, Kara looked exactly like me.

We stared at each other for a moment.

“Okay, whoever you are, a long-lost twin sister of mine or someone who just happens to look just like me—RUN!” Kara ended with a yell. She grabbed my hand and pulled me down the passageway behind her.

“What’s going on? What are we running from?” I asked bewilderedly, trying to keep up so Kara didn’t accidentally pull my arm out of its socket.

“The skeletons are alive!” she hollered. I noted that the skeletons we were now passing by seemed about as alive as my little sister’s Barbie dolls, but the crashing from behind us, skeletons or not, was enough to keep me moving.

“What are you doing here, anyway?”

“I’m from Oklahoma. I had to be stupid enough to go and sneak inside the Great Pyramid. Some vacation this is shaping up to be! Say, what are you doing here?”

“I’m from Washington—” I hesitated for a moment. Should I make up a story quick, or be honest and lose the little trust that Kara had in my sanity? I probably should have thought more about it before I blurted out, “I created you!”

“What? You’re crazy!”

“We’re in a story I wrote.” I stopped dead and wheeled around to face behind us. Kara stopped, too. I must not have been the only one to hear it: a rattling, whirring noise, different from the crashing we had been hearing. It sounded strangely like my family’s washing machine.

“What’s that?”

A pile of something rained on us, and it wasn’t water. It was a pile of words. I could make out the words “vacation,” “Washington,” “created,” and “story.”

“This has happened every few minutes since I got to Egypt. I don’t get it at all. Is it a thing in the desert or something?” said Kara, breaking into a run again as the crashing of the skeletons grew louder and dragging me along.

I laughed.

“What’s so funny?” asked Kara. “We’re being chased by skeletons here!”

“We’re in a story I wrote, but we’re writing more as we speak! That’s why it keeps raining words!”

“Okay, fine, let’s just say I believe you now and leave it at that. So you’re making the skeletons chase after us?”

“Well, no…”

“But you said we’re in a story that you created.”

“That doesn’t mean I can keep it from taking on a life of its own!”

“You can’t control it anymore?”

I chuckled nervously. “Not exactly—” I was cut off yet again—this time by a slimy hand grabbing me by the ankle. “Help!” I shouted, trying to pull my ankle out of the skeleton’s grip as another hand curled around my other ankle.

“Help you? I hardly know you!” said Kara, but she stopped running anyway and turned to face the skeletons. “I must be crazy,” she muttered, and she pulled something out of her back pocket. It was a scroll, and I could see hieroglyphs on it as she unrolled it. She started reading the scroll, and it almost sounded like an incantation. “Arwah almawtaa…”

“Hurry up!” I screamed, as another bony hand closed around my throat. Struggling to breathe, I wondered what would happen if I died in the story. Whatever the answer was, I didn’t want to think about it.

Kara finally finished with a fierce cry of the words “…min ayn atayt!” The skeletons crumbled to dust. Gasping for breath, I stared at Kara in awe. “How’d you do that?”

“It’s ancient Egyptian magic,” answered Kara, panting.

“Like in the Kane Chronicles?”

“What are the Kane Chronicles?”

“They’re books by Rick Riordan… What year is it?”

“1965. Why do you ask?”

“Just curious. Say, I’d been looking for you for hours before I bumped into you. There’s something I need to show you, and I think it could help us both get out of here if you can decipher it.”

We set off again through the catacombs—but this time, I was leading.

The Cryptic Crypt Sydney Burr
Sydney Burr, 11
Chino Hills, CA

Peering Out Delaney Slote
Delaney Slote, 12
Missoula, MT