Palo Alto Weekly 28th Annual Short Story Contest
Third Place Teen

The Kingsley Mystery

By Amrita Bhasin

About Amrita Bhasin

My name is Amrita Bhasin. I am in seventh grade. I go to La Entrada Middle School in Menlo Park, California. I got the inspiration for this story from many different things. I have always been interested in human cloning, and I have wanted to write a story on it for a while. We learned about DNA and cells in school so that helped me write the story. My family comes from London, and I thought that would be a really good setting for the story. In my free time, I enjoy writing (obviously), listening to music, hanging out with my friends, and playing sports.


From the judges...

This excellent piece of dark science fiction has lots of tension and solid plotting. In addition, it contains an imaginative extrapolation of where DNA manipulation and cloning may lead us in the future.

So there I was, sitting on a train to London. The train wasn’t too full and I was the only kid there. I listened to the rain pitter-patter on the window and thought about the dangerous turn my life had taken.

Just a week ago, I had been at home listening to music in my room in California and texting my friends. My mom who was raised in England had been planning for a while to send me to London for what she called “a proper education.” I was heartsick to leave home. The all-girls Kingsley Boarding School on the outskirts of London could not have been more different from our local public school. The school uniforms, the British accents, the food, the strict discipline, it was so unlike America.  It was only when I met Ruby, a fellow American student that I felt not so alone.  She too was new here and those first few days we clung to each other. It was my first day and I had been looking for the breakfast hall. I wandered around for a while unsure of where I was and eventually ended up in front of a door with a big red sign that read, “Do Not Enter.” I went inside anyway and found a large room with scientific equipment scattered everywhere. I turned and saw a connecting door to an adjacent room. The door was bolted shut but had a glass pane through which I could see a girl with long black hair laying on an examination table. There were tubes connecting to various machines. My curiosity piqued, I was about to creep closer when Mr. Harrison the headmaster appeared out of nowhere. He was very upset I had entered the room. I mumbled something about being lost and then hurried out of the room.

The next day, I saw the girl with the long black hair and asked her what had happened. She looked at me confused and said, “What do you mean? What examination room?” Then the girl turned and walked away innocently. I was puzzled and confused. My curiosity however remained.

A couple of days later, I brought my friend Ruby to the room but the door was locked. We picked the lock with Ruby’s hairpin and entered. We stared at the various microscopes and equipment we did not understand the use for. There were boxes and vials labeled with lettering that said “Frog Specimen,” or “DNA samples.” I randomly opened a drawer and my attention was drawn to an old notebook with the name James Harrison, written by hand on the front. I flipped through it. There was something ancient about the yellowed notebook with neatly drawn hand sketches of frogs, sheep and other animals and numerous notes in small cursive handwriting that I could hardly understand with mention of the words “Cells” and “DNA replication”. All of a sudden, Ruby and I heard footsteps coming down the hall and we scurried to run back upstairs.

We thought nobody had seen us, but the next day we were called to the office. Mr. Harrison was there with his secretary Mrs. Wilson, a woman who had a severe look on her face.  We were terrified but Mr. Harrison appeared more worried then upset. He let us go after we told him we had accidently entered the room finding it unlocked.  After we left the office and Mrs. Wilson closed the door behind us, I pulled Ruby down to the floor and we both knelt motionless with our ears to the door. I heard Mr. Harrison talking in a low voice to Mrs. Wilson. “This is not good, they know something. We may have to erase their memories.” The rest of what they were saying was unintelligible. Ruby and I were worried. We suspected the boarding school was a cover for some illegal operation or science experiment. We made a plan to leave and that night we hastily packed some of our stuff. Early the next morning before any of the girls were up, we slipped out of our dorm and made our way across the open field on the school campus and down the hill to the school gates. We were almost out of the campus when we heard footsteps behind us. Turning around, we saw Mr. Harrison running behind us screaming, “Stop!” We started to run as fast as we could.  Ruby stumbled and fell on the grass. I turned around to help her but Mr. Harrison was getting closer. Ruby had hurt her leg and said, “I’ll be ok. Go! Run before it’s too late!” We both knew everything was not ok at Kingsley Boarding School. I owed it to Ruby, if not myself, to escape and find a way to rescue the girls. I ran out of the school gates turning only to see Mr. Harrison stop and grab Ruby by the arm. I made my way into town and did not stop until I was at the ticket counter of the train station. I bought a ticket to London and waited at the platform, hiding behind a pillar. I had about thirty pounds, one change of clothes, two ham sandwiches I had sneaked from the kitchen, some fruit and a carton of milk.

In the train, I thought about my game plan. Mr. Harrison and his friends would be after me for sure. I couldn’t call my parents because I knew there was no way they were going to believe me. They would just call the school and Mr. Harrison would come and take me back. I couldn’t call the police because if my own parents wouldn’t believe me, why would the police? This meant I was on my own now. I listened to the outside echo as the train shot through the underground tunnel. I closed my eyes and when I opened them the train was coming to a halt. “Victoria Station”, I read on the board on the platform. I shot up and grabbed my backpack.

London was huge. Towering buildings, food stands, so many different accents and people. I passed vendors selling tasty treats but I knew that I should keep what little money I had for later. I had been walking for a few minutes when I sensed somebody was following me. I froze and then quickened my pace. I knew they would come looking for me, but I didn’t expect them to follow me this far. I glanced in a shop window and saw the reflection of a tall man maybe ten feet behind me. I led him on for a while and then I quickly entered a large department store. The sales-lady looked at me strangely but I ignored her and ducked behind a display of handbags. I saw the tall man walk to the store entrance and pause for a moment and then walk on.  I slipped out the door and turned in the other direction when all of a sudden I felt his hands around my neck.

“There’s no point in struggling. Just make it easy for yourself and give up”, he spoke in a calm but terrifying voice.

 I smiled at him and said, “Okay. I give up.”

The moment he relaxed his grip around my neck, I turned swiftly and kicked him in the ankle. He stumbled backwards and I fled.

I ran and ran until I didn’t even know where I was anymore. Eventually I realized the streets of London had changed and the big designer stores had given way to small, rundown shops. The people had changed too, no more tourists with dozens of shopping bags, now it was men wearing dirty work clothes and smoking. I was a little uneasy but all I could do was keep going. All of a sudden a mean looking man stepped in my path.

“Hello little girl. Who are you? Do you have any money?” He said gruffly, stubbing out his cigarette.

I stepped back uncomfortably and walked away briskly. I needed to get back somewhere safe. I could see in the distance a collection of buildings across a park and I ran in that direction. Finally reaching a street corner that displayed a large map of the surroundings, I stopped to gather myself.

I walked, following the directions I had seen in the map and in a few minutes stood before a large building with the sign “London Library, St James Square”.

I entered the library. I found my way to the section with public computers.  I searched the name I remembered from the journal:  James Harrison. It took a while of searching but eventually I found something. There was a very brief Wikipedia article that said that James Harrison was a scientist who had taught genetics at London University and published articles on DNA replication. I noted that he had died on April 17, 1984. I asked at the information desk if they had any old newspapers from 1984. The librarian took me to a room with microfiche machines and explained to me how it worked. A while later, I found what I was looking for. The London Times, April 19, 1984 had an obituary for James Harrison. He had died from cancer. Two sons survived him: Arnold and Jacob Harrison. Jacob Harrison, I knew was the headmaster at Kingsley. But who was Arnold Harrison? On a hunch, I googled Arnold Harrison but I found hundreds of search results. I tried various ways of searching but got nowhere. I was about to give up when I had an idea. If Arnold Harrison was the brother of Mr. Harrison, surely there must be some physical resemblance. I searched images with the name “Arnold Harrison” and quickly scanned through various sportsmen and celebrities with that name until my eyes landed on an image that made my heart skip a beat. Here was a man who had a faint but sure resemblance to the headmaster. I clicked on the link next to his picture, and found out he was a journalist for the London Times. I copied down the address for his office. I looked at the clock. It was almost 5 in the evening, too late now; I would have to wait until morning. The library was about to close but I had nowhere to go. I hid in a stairway and waited. The building emptied out and soon the cleaning crew went floor by floor. When I was sure there was nobody remaining, I tiptoed into the reading room and fell asleep on the couch.

The next morning I woke up early and left the library. I stared at the address in my hand. It was a crazy idea, but it was the only one I had.

Three hours later, I was sitting in Arnold Harrison’s Range Rover as we drove toward Kingsley Boarding School. He had told me his family story. His father wasn’t only working on cells and DNA replication, but also human cloning.  Arnold said that his older brother Jacob was a lot closer to his dad and he thought his dad had revealed some of his cloning ideas to Jacob before he died. Arnold said he suspected for a while that Jacob was working on cloning. He wasn’t very close with his brother and when Arnold heard my story, he was alarmed. He felt he had to act. What did Jacob hope to gain from all this? With that thought in mind, we got closer and closer to the boarding school.

When we arrived, the school seemed strangely normal. It was breakfast hour. We burst into the dining hall. Mr. Harrison was sitting at the head of the table daintily eating sausages. He looked at us curiously and seemed to remember me because he said “Oh there you are, just in time for breakfast.”

It had been twenty years since the brothers had seen each other and Mr. Harrison didn’t seem to recognize his brother at all. Arnold looked into his brother’s eyes and told him who he was. Mr. Harrison just stared at him and nodded pleasantly but without much emotion.

Ruby found me and enveloped me in a hug. “Oh Lexi! You’re back! Come join us for breakfast!” I gave her a strange look. Something was not right. It was as though she did not recall the events of the day before. “We have to erase their memories...” I suddenly remembered the words of Mr. Harrison in the office. I grabbed Ruby and started quizzing her on our life in America. She remembered everything but the last couple of days

Arnold was talking to his brother. “Jacob, when we were little we had a dog, Rover. Do you remember him?”

Mr. Harrison nodded. “Yes, I remember.” Arnold smiled but appeared troubled by the answer. He was studying his brother’s wrist closely. I saw his face turn pale. He got up and drew me away from the table.

 “We never had a dog”, he said to me.

I stared at him not understanding what this meant.

“When we were little, Jacob fell off the play structure and cut himself on the left wrist. The doctor said the scar would be permanent. The last time I saw him he still had the scar. But look, no scar.” Arnold glanced at Mr. Harrison and whispered to me, “He is not my brother.”

I ran towards the room where it all started. The door was unlocked and all the scientific equipment and jars of DNA were gone. The room was completely empty like nothing had ever been here. Arnold had followed me there and stood in the doorway.

I sighed. “If he’s not your brother, then who is he?”

Arnold stared out of the window thoughtfully.

I started to say, “Is it possible...? Could it really be...?” But my thoughts just hung in the air.

I went over to the window and stared at the girls chatting in the schoolyard below. Mr. Harrison walked by and evidently said something funny, because Ruby and all the other girls started laughing.

Mrs. Wilson opened the office window. She popped her head out and smiled broadly and waved at the girls. I had never seen Mrs. Wilson smile before.

I murmured. “And Mrs. Wilson too...?”

I looked at Arnold. “Shouldn’t we do something?”

He turned to me and said, “You have already done a lot. You scared them away. You and the other girls are safe here now.”

 “ But, they will find another place”, I said quietly.

He stared at me and I saw determination in his face.

 “Listen, you must go back to your friends and your studies. It will be my mission to find them and stop them.”

Arnold turned to leave then glanced back at me and said, “You are a brave girl, Lexi. Perhaps, you will help me find them.”

I watched him walk away. Then I ran down to join the other girls.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.