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Are you ready for a wild ride? Strap yourself in as these stories drag you down the mousehole, through an underwater trapdoor to a secret spy headquarters, across fantastical landscapes filled with dinosaurs, dragons, and Dark Assassins, with homicidal toys, mad scientists, and much, much more. Twisted and bold, cool and clever, these are tales from the far reaches of the imagination … and beyond. Meg McKinlay Sure, there are some pretty good games out there. But no technology comes even close to the imagination. And that’s just what these thrilling tales are brimming with – imagination. But not just that: read descriptive passages like those in Emma Reid’s Commons or action sequences like those in George Ladeira’s The Assassin War and you quickly realise there’s already a sure grasp of prose style that bodes well for the future of the short story.

Emma Reid • Eamon Brand • Mateo Campbell • Jeremy Choong • Molly Jackson • Michael Kolman • George Ladeira • Joshua Lai • Yassamin Malekloo • Ashley Scott • Madeleine Stuckey • Alyssa Warner

THE BORN STORYTELLERS

William Yeoman, The West Australian, Books editor and arts writer.


Are you ready for a wild ride? Strap yourself in as these stories drag you down the mousehole, through an underwater trapdoor to a secret spy headquarters, across fantastical landscapes filled with dinosaurs, dragons, and Dark Assassins, with homicidal toys, mad scientists, and much, much more. Twisted and bold, cool and clever, these are tales from the far reaches of the imagination … and beyond. Meg McKinlay Sure, there are some pretty good games out there. But no technology comes even close to the imagination. And that’s just what these thrilling tales are brimming with – imagination. But not just that: read descriptive passages like those in Emma Reid’s Commons or action sequences like those in George Ladeira’s The Assassin War and you quickly realise there’s already a sure grasp of prose style that bodes well for the future of the short story.

Emma Reid • Eamon Brand • Mateo Campbell • Jeremy Choong • Molly Jackson • Michael Kolman • George Ladeira • Joshua Lai • Yassamin Malekloo • Ashley Scott • Madeleine Stuckey • Alyssa Warner

THE BORN STORYTELLERS

William Yeoman, The West Australian, Books editor and arts writer.


This collection of stories is from Born Storytellers program 2011 and new work from Born Storytellers members

Beechboro Christian College • Cornerstone Christian College • Murdoch College • Margaret River Independent School • Penrhos College • Riverlands Montessori School


By Born Storytellers Emma Reid • Eamon Brand • Mateo Campbell • Jeremy Choong • Molly Jackson • Michael Kolman • George Ladeira • Joshua Lai • Yassamin Malekloo • Ashley Scott • Madeleine Stuckey • Alyssa Warner


Kids writing for Kids reading

This book contains some of the finest adventure stories to come from the fertile imaginations of our youngest published authors. There’s nothing more you need to know, really. Read the stories and you won’t fail to be impressed. You’ll find something for every taste in young adventure fiction. The authors are aged from 9 years to 14 years, and they’ve written for readers their own age. That’s what Born Storytellers are: Kids writing for Kids reading. In Commons, Zinna’s parents are murdered and her sister kidnapped because she has a book in her possession that could destroy King Titanium and his stranglehold over the Commons. Two adventurers set out in Across the Great Barrier Reef Underwater and return with more than they bargained for. The Saga of Elmo and Omle tells of Elmo’s struggles on the Sesame Street set when finds himself locked in a battle with an evil twin in order to save his sanity. When the young pigeon prince of Dutchuntun Island is left in charge of the family egg, he not only loses the egg to the eagles, but also the village. Sunshine is a blind teenage girl who finds herself alone in the middle of a war zone. In Too Much Lollies two sisters are robbed of a precious ring on their way home from the shop, and attempts to recover it result in a strange adventure.


The Mystery Power is granted to one of Spike’s friends after an accident, and the discovery that one friend is cheating in fighting class. There are desperate times in The Assassin War when two orphaned brothers are divided and forced to choose sides. The Riddle Quest turns a computer game into dangerous ground for two boys. The Holiday turns into a nightmare when two sisters on vacation in a tropical paradise are kidnapped. In The Mysterious Attack, a young professor gets kicked out of town for unleashing a dangerous menace. He may not be as smart as he’s cracked up to be. The Gates of Yort is the hilarious adventure of Brian, a dangerously obese man living a running battle with mice who is tricked into opposite land. In Run Your Heart Out, a young girl goes to live in a new town where she joins a secret agency set on tracking down a master criminal.

Enjoy Kevin Price


www.bornstorytellers.net

Individual stories copyright Š the respective Author. Collection, introductory materials and arrangement copyright Š Crotchet Quaver 2012 The right of the individual authors to be identified as the moral rights owners of their respective stories has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000 (Cth). This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright Act, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission. Inquiries should be addressed to the publishers. Crotchet Quaver 119 Ridgewood Loop Bullsbrook Western Australia 6084

Cover Illustration by Miki Tikus Graphic Design by Logorythm

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry Commons and other adventure stories / the Born Storytellers; edited by Kevin L Price. ISBN 9780987255907 (pbk.) Adventure stories, Australian. Other Authors/Contributors: Price, Kevin L., 1953- Born Storytellers. A823.087


1 COMMONS Emma Reid 25 ACROSS THE BARRIER REEF UNDERWATER Eamon Brand 33 THE SAGA OF ELMO AND OMLE Mateo Campbell 43 DUTCHUNTUN ISLAND Jeremy Choong 51 SUNSHINE Alexandra Clafton 63 TOO MUCH LOLLIES Molly Jackson 69 THE MYSTERY POWER Michael Kolman 75 THE ASSASSIN WAR George Ladeira 91 THE RIDDLE QUEST Joshua Lai 103 THE HOLIDAY Yassamin Malekloo 111 THE MYSTERIOUS ATTACK Ashley Scott 121 THE GATES OF YORT Madeleine Stuckey 147 RUN YOUR HEART OUT Alyssa Warner


COMMONS The air on the breeze is warm and dry as it brushes my face and tosses my long, light-brown hair, backwards. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and absorb my surroundings. A large expanse of fruit trees spreads beneath me: fruit trees I climb up and down, picking fruit from, all day, every day. My village lies to the west of me. My people, the Commons, have one purpose, for which we receive little in return, and that is to plant, water and harvest food for the Capital of Minola, which is east of here, although too distant to see from the tops of these trees. Minola is where they are. They see all, hear all, know all and take all. They shower in riches while we scrap for a single coin. It is a city of miners who became wealthy beyond all imagining over the twenty-first century. After the mining tax was introduced, they colluded with corrupt politicians to redirect the revenues from the tax and overthrew the government. Once a country of equality

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and freedom, Australia is now shunned by its neighbours with Minola’s miners on top. I look at the brown thatched roofs of my village and the thin trails of chimney smoke snaking into the sky through the warm summer air. Nearby, a bird twitters. All is peaceful. Then, on the outskirts of the village, a giant mushroom of black smoke erupts into the sky and the whump of an explosion reaches my ears. My heart skips a beat and my mind screams one single word. Fire. I drop from the fig tree and hit the ground running, throw my body through the branches, and race toward the town. No! I tell myself, the bakery down the road probably caught fire again. It’s happened quite frequently lately. As much as I keep telling myself this, I can’t help thinking of a far worse scenario. Did they find out about Mum? Did they find the book? I bury the thought and race through the grove, heart pumping, legs burning. I’m nearly there; I can see the road, when something suddenly reaches out and grabs my arm, and pulls me behind a nearby tree. I open my mouth about to let out an almighty scream when a hand closes over it. “Stop Zinna, it’s too late,” a familiar voice says, next to my ear. I relax and my heart slows. --


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It’s only Leon. His brown hair is messed up from his work and his dark eyes stare intensely into mine. He works at the local blacksmith, one of the few job opportunities for us Commons. “What happened in town?” I ask.“I saw the fire from the old fig tree.” “They came, Zinna,”he says, his voice quivering. “They found out about your mum and the book.” I stare into his eyes finding his words impossible to believe. He continues. “They had guns—I knew I couldn’t do anything, so I came to find you.” “What happened to Mum and Dad?” I had to ask, although I’m dreading the answer. “They’re dead, Zinna, both of them. I’m so sorry.” And just like that, my world came crashing down. My throat closes up and the tears begin as I willingly fold myself into Leon’s outstretched arms. My tears soak his white shirt but he doesn’t seem to care as his hands move in long gentle strokes down my hair, telling me with each stroke that everything will be okay. But how can everything be okay? My parents are dead. Just like Leon’s. I was nine when Mum first told me about the --


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book. She told me it was an important book, and if anything were to happen to her that I would have to take it and hide. But she never mentioned it again until my fourteenth birthday. That night, she came into my room and told me that it was time I knew what secrets lay within the book. So I read it. It told about the secrets of Minola and Australia and how it had become corrupted. Every day since, I have hated the Capital; every day I have cursed their easy lives and their opulent parties. And every night before I go to sleep I pray that tomorrow will be the day Minola falls. But, with their power, what can one possibly do to oppose them? A sudden thought crashes through my misery. “What happened to Ella?” “They took her … I saw them take her out in handcuffs.” I pulled away from Leon to look into his eyes. “She’s alive?” “No one cuffs a dead person.” His face wore a look of disgust. “King Tungsten escorted her himself.” “I have to find her.” “What? Zinna are you insane? You’ll be killed!” He pushes me gently away from him, and holds me --


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at arm’s length. “I have to find her, Leon. She’s my little sister. I can’t just leave her.” “Zinna, don’t you understand? They know you’re involved in your mum’s group. They’ve been searching for those books for decades. Do you think they’d just let a rebel walk free? You’re the last person who knows about the book—and the real truth about the Capital. They’re scared you will reform the group and eventually bring them down.” “What has this got to do with Ella?” I could feel my anger building. “They’re using her as bait, Zinna. They don’t care what happens to her. All they want is you.” “No.”I back away from Leon, shaking my head. “No. She’s not gone. You’re lying. She’s not gone!” I turn and run, not knowing where I’m going; only knowing I have to get away. Leon is shouting from behind me. “Zinna wait up! Stop!” My feet take me down the main street. I have to know. I take a right, then a left, unsure of where I will end up. Then I’m staring at the remains of my house. “Ella?” I call. “Ella?” My voice borders on --


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hysterical.“Ella … Where are you?” A hand rests on my shoulder. “Zinna, come inside.”It’s Leon’s aunt. She takes my hand to lead me into her house. I pull away from her.“No! She’s not gone!” “Come inside, Zinna,” she repeats, calmly. Leon stands behind her and looks directly into my eyes. “She’s right, Zinna, come inside. There’s nothing we can do out here.” I stare at the smouldering pile of rubble. I will find you Ella, I promise. And I reluctantly let Leon’s aunt guide me to their cottage. We eat dinner in silence, except for the scraping of cutlery on plates. I’m not hungry and do little more than poke at my food. Finally, I stand. “May I leave the room? I’d like to go to bed.” Leon’s uncle and aunt exchange a look before his uncle nods. “We’ll see you in the morning, dear,” Leon’s aunt says. I highly doubt it, I think. I smile and wish them good night. If everything goes to plan I’ll be on the outskirts of the grove by the time they wake up and realise I’m missing. I climb into bed to try and get a little sleep before I leave. It’s dark when I wake. The wall clock reads 1:07 --


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a.m. I push back the covers and climb quietly out of the bed, and then navigate my way through the dark, careful not to make noise. I have stayed in this room thousands of times with Leon throughout my childhood, but now that we’re older, his uncle insists he sleep downstairs on the couch. Although we’re not related by blood, our families have always treated each other as though we are. Leon and I have been close friends for life. We do everything together. Now though, I wonder if it’s turning into something … well, more. I take my fruit knife from my travelling bag in the corner of the room, its long, sharp blade glistens in the moonlight. I slide it into my belt, sling the worn leather bag over one shoulder and string my bow across my chest and back, and walk cautiously out the door and down the dark hallway, the only thought at the top of my mind is to find her; I must find Ella. As I pad down the staircase, a screech of metal against metal pierces the night. I throw myself around the corner into the kitchen, knife at the ready and heart thumping, only to see, sitting in one of the dining chairs, Leon sharpening his iron hunting knife. “What are you doing here?”I ask, sheathing the --


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knife. “I could ask you the same thing.” We stare at each other, our faces hard, both of us refusing to give in. “I’m going to find Ella,” I say. He twirls the knife around, flexing his wrist, the blade shining in the light from the streetlamp outside.“Not unless I go with you.” “I don’t need your help.” “You would have been killed if I hadn’t stopped you from rushing out of the grove.” His calmness is beginning to get on my nerves. “My parents are dead, Leon! Ella is the only family I have left.” I bite back a sob threatening to leave my lips.“You still have a life here—I won’t let you throw that away.” “My parents were murdered four years ago by the same people who killed your mother and father yesterday. That creep, King Tungsten is behind it.” He stares cold and hard into my eyes. “I can help you. Admit it, Zinna, you need me.”

My breath is a white vapour cloud as I crouch behind an abandoned fruit cart and watch Leon open the stable door. He beckons and we creep --


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into the stable. The air is redolent with the smell of horse dung. Sounds of soft breathing and the occasional snicker reach my ears. I follow Leon to the horse in the far stall, its black coat glistening in the faint moonlight. “It’s all right, girl,” he says as he opens the gate and guides the black mare out, handing me the reins.“This is Eclipse; I was going to give her to you for your birthday.” “She’s beautiful,” I say, gently stroking the horse’s neck. “She’s fast too—fast enough to get you to Minola in time to save your sister.”Leon flashes me a grin as he heads toward another stall. “Thank you, Leon.” I meant not just for the horse, but for everything he’s done for me. “We’re practically family,” he says, “and family look out for each other.” Leon leads a brown horse with a white blaze down its nose toward me. “You remember Apollo don’t you?” “Of course,” I say. “You got him for your last birthday, right?” “Yeah, he’s an amazing horse. Eclipse would be his only rival.” Leon loves his horses more than anything else. He helps me onto Eclipse and mounts Apollo. --


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Suddenly, the full impact of what we’re doing hits me. We, the most wanted people in Australia, were about to rescue my sister from the most guarded place in the country, Minola. I feel a surge of adrenaline and am eager to get on the road. Leon flashes me a smile and gallops out of the stable. I laugh and follow him into the night, the cold wind whips my hair behind me and I suddenly feel alive and free: no longer a slave to the Capital. I am no longer a Common. I will find you Ella. I promise. The Elders in our village had told stories of the time before King Tungsten took over, a time of universal happiness and how green the natural world was. Enormous forests spread out over hundreds of square kilometres, and beautiful coral reefs fostered vibrant life in the oceans. Animals roamed free and birds sang sweet melodies as the sun rose in the morning. The bare, red earth around us had no signs of such a life. No wonder the Elders talked about their grandparents’ history with such longing and sadness. We have just left the protective cover of the village’s fruit orchard and emerged as the sun peeks over the horizon. Our small fruit orchard seems like an oasis in the scorching desert - 10 -


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stretching before us. The bare red earth, flat and endless, interrupted only by piles of car and truck carcasses abandoned along the great highway that once connected the cities of Brisbane and Sydney but now lay abandoned. The scale of our journey suddenly seems overwhelming and I turn to Leon with a strong sense of hopelessness. “Such a long way.” “We’ll ride along the highway,”he says positively. “And when we get closer to Minola we’ll get off the road and find a back way into the city.” I give him a smile that I hope is convincing. Even over the roar of the horse’s hooves, my eyelids start to droop. My head slumps in exhaustion, tired from the long night of riding. My consciousness dips into the blissful embrace of sleep. I am shaken awake. “Zinna, Zinna, wake up.” I lift my head; my sleepy eyes focus on Leon’s worried expression. “Here, Drink this,” he says, and hands me a canister. I drink, unaware of how thirsty I am. It’s only then that it dawns on me that we have stopped. I hand Leon back the canister. “Why did you wake me? Is everything all - 11 -


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right?” Leon shoves the canister back into the saddle bag and casts a quick look over his shoulder. “We should hurry. A patrol helicopter just flew over—I don’t think they recognised us but we should find some cover in case they decide to come back.” The anxiety in his voice brings me fully awake, and I study the empty expanse around us. Red dirt and an occasional mountain of car wrecks climbing into the sky. We could hide in one of the cars, I think, and am about to suggest it to Leon until a problem strikes me. What would we do with the horses? “Anywhere we attempt to hide will be too small for the horses,” he says, thoughtfully. “But there is an old mining quarry just west of here. There should be big enough equipment to hide both us and the horses.” I nod, not bothering to ask how he knows about the quarry.“How far west?” “About another hour’s ride. We can make camp there.” I nod again, having nothing else to say. The days pass in a blur, each one melding into the next. My mind still struggling with the reality - 12 -


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of the situation: still refusing to believe my parents are dead. On the third night, we make camp as usual, eating a small, simple dinner before going to bed. I toss and turn in my sleeping bag, trying to get comfortable before I slip into sleep. Trees swirl around me, voices echo. A bird materialises next to me and sings. Then a huge black fog closes over the forest. The bird’s song turns to a high, painful shriek, like it is in immense pain. A hooded figure sweeps through the forest, speaking in a booming voice. “I see you.” The birds’ shrieks reach a new level and turn into human sounds. “Zinna, Help me!” Ella’s screams fill the forest. “No! Please, I’ll do anything!” I try to run, I try to yell but I am unable to move. I’m trying Ella, I’m trying. I’m sorry. I think. “Ella!”I scream jolting upright. My heart thumps and my palms sweat. I look around at the camp site. Leon is sitting up looking alert and concerned. He gets up, comes and puts an arm around me. “Zinna? What’s wrong?” I look at him and my throat closes over, a sob escapes my lips and tears well up in my eyes. Leon hugs me. “Shhh, it’s all right, I’m here.” “He was hurting her, Leon—torturing her. And - 13 -


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I couldn’t do anything!” Leon lifts my chin and looks into my eyes. “It’s all right Zinna,” he says. “It was just a dream. We will save her, I promise you.” I nod and wipe my eyes. He wipes a tear from my cheek with his thumb.“Good, now go to sleep.” I lean back into his arms, surprised by how natural it feels—almost like we are made for each other. His arms wrap around me, the steady beat of his heart soothing. Sleep soon envelopes me and I fall asleep still in his arms. I wake up with my head resting on Leon’s chest, rising and falling with his breathing. It takes me a moment to realise that I’ve slept in the arms of my best friend. I manage to get up without waking him, and I start fussing and packing for the day’s ride. Leon stirs and looks at me, his hair fallen over his eyes, but before we can make eye contact, I turn my back and load my stuff on Eclipse, ready to ride. We ride for the whole day with hardly a word passing between us. Every time Leon would try to ride by my side, I surged onward or dropped back. I had nothing to say. I could think of nothing to say. But, by sundown, the walls of Minola were a dark shadow before us. “We’ll camp down there,” Leon says, pointing - 14 -


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at a ditch, deep enough to shelter us from view. “It stinks,” I say, wrinkling my nose. “Yeah,” he says, eyeing me darkly, “a lot of things stink around here.” I baulk at the obtuseness of his comment, but say nothing. Instead, I walk Eclipse down the embankment and find a place a little farther along the ditch with a shelf of ground off the wet and muddy floor. “How do we get in?” I ask as Leon dismounts next to me. “This leads to the sewerage drain,” he says. “We’ll go in through there.” “A crappy day just gets crappier,”I say, knowing that Leon did not deserve my nasty tone, but unable to do anything about it. “Look,”he says,“what’s wrong with you? You’ve been like a bear with a sore head since you got up this morning.” “What would you know about me getting up?” “Ah … that’s it, isn’t it? It’s because we—” “It’s got nothing to do with that, it’s because my parents got murdered.” “What’s that got to do with me?” “It’s got everything to do with you … if you hadn’t stopped me, I could have saved them.” - 15 -


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“Stopped you?… Zinna, it’s not my fault your parents were murdered, it’s all King Tungsten, that’s why we’re here, why we have to do something about it … why we have to publish your mum’s book.” “What?” “We have to publish your mum’s book. It’s the only way we can do as much as prick the hide of the system.” “No way! That’s out of the question! Mum told me to keep the book safe, not publish it for the world to see!” “But Zinna, don’t you see? This is the only way we have a hope of making a better life for ourselves.” Ourselves? Does he mean that? My hand instinctively goes to the gold locket around my neck, and Mum’s words come back to me. When the time comes, you will know what to do with it. “Okay,” I say, in a small voice. “But how? And how are we going to get Ella out?” Leon thinks a moment, and then takes both my hands in his. “Zinna, I’m sorry you feel bad about last night, but we have to get through this thing together now. This next bit is going to be really dangerous - 16 -


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…”I nod my head; I know that.“Here’s how I think it will work …” I marvel at his ingenuity as he tells me how publishing the details in the book on Minola’s public internet will enrage King Tungsten, and the Capital will all hold Tungsten responsible. The dangerous part is going to be when Leon bargains for Ella’s release, because he will be exposed. “As soon as I publish the book, every guard in Minola will know where we are,” he says. “After I go through the drain, wait a few minutes and then get to the central park and hide where we agreed. And be careful.” “You be careful,” I reply, and then I pull him to me and kiss him.“Find Ella.” He grins, pulls his hood up and walks away into the dark. I wait a while, maybe ten minutes, wondering if I’d just completely gone mad, and then head off.

It’s an hour later and I’m hiding in the doorway of a pump house in the central park when I notice a lot of activity with the Minola security guards. I know something is happening, something big, because they are moving toward the outdoor - 17 -


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auditorium at the northern end of the park, the end that borders on King Tungsten’s compound. I shrink back farther into the alcove. “Zinna,” a voice whispers from the shadows. I whip around searching for the source of the voice.“Leon? Is that you?” “Zinna, we have to hurry, I published it—it’s out there—but this place is swarming with guards. We need to get closer to the auditorium so we can rescue Ella.” He pulls me towards the street. I follow him and we make our way around the perimeter of the park, doorway to doorway, shadow to shadow, until we are standing in the shadows of a security station opposite King Tungsten’s compound, watching the stage. He is in the middle of the stage with my sister, surrounded by security guards. Excerpts from the book are playing on the various monitors scattered around. Tungsten is screaming to the guards to shut it down but they seem unable to. “You did it,” I say to Leon.“Now we have to get her away from that monster.” “Remember the plan,” he says. But I wasn’t waiting. I race out of the darkness shouting as loudly as - 18 -


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I can.“Let my sister go, you traitor!” Leon grabs my arm holding me back. “Wait, Zinna. Not yet.” But I can’t wait. I wriggle free of his grip and advance toward the stage, raging at the tyrant. Tungsten steps forward, shoving my sister roughly before him. “Well, well, if it isn’t the keeper of the book. And look what you’ve done? You have published your little fairy tale—on free media too. Do you really think that people will believe this nonsense? These made up lies?” He puts a hand on Ella’s shoulder, pushing her to the floor. “What you have to learn, the same as the rest of your family had to learn, is that there is a great price to be paid for treason. Guards!” Three burly guards surround me—one on each side and the other behind—and begin to march me toward the king’s podium. Leon dashes from the dark and lands a blow with a heavy stick to back of the rear guard’s head, slipping his gun from its holster as the guard slumps to the ground. It takes him two bounds to mount the stage and put the gun to Tungsten’s head. “Let her go,” he says, his voice cool and heavy with hatred for the tyrant. And then he shouts: - 19 -


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“Plan ‘B’.” I grab Ella by the hand and run for the crowded market streets, not knowing how Leon plans to get himself out of the situation. But, by some miracle, he is suddenly by my side. Time seems to slow down. We run through the crowded market. People’s screams muddle together as guns roar among them. “Get them! Don’t let them escape, you pieces of dirt!” a guard screams, a little too close for my liking. Leon fires a random shot in the direction of the voice. It buys us a little more time. Ella is puffing loudly next to me, scared, her face pale, her hand clenching the hem of my shirt. On my other side, Leon is urgently telling us which turns to take and alleyways to suddenly duck into as we push past masses of people. Then, with great relief, the manhole appears ahead of us. “The drain!” I gasp. “Quick, get in the drain.” I push Ella forward.“Run!” A bullet whizzes past us and thwacks loudly into the concrete less than a metre from me. Another follows, spitting chunks of concrete. They’re getting closer, I think, willing Ella to open the grate. Her head disappears from sight just as another bullet clangs off the metal grate. Leon - 20 -


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returns fire and I hear a muffled cry as I slip into the hole and practically slide down the ladder landing in knee-deep sewage. Leon is right behind me, but the clanging sound from above tells me we’re not home and free yet. “Hurry Zinna, hurry!” Ella shouts. She runs quickly ahead as Leon and I clamber up onto the walkway to follow, the sounds of heavy boots descending the ladder behind me too close for comfort. The metal walkway clangs beneath us as we sprint down the tunnel. Ahead, Ella has stopped running and is standing behind a set of metal tracks set into the wall of the tunnel with her hand pressed against something. “Zinna, Leon, quick get over here!” she screams. We race past her and Ella hits a button on the wall. With a loud thud, a giant steel and concrete door drops, shutting the guards in on the other side. “Ella, you’re a genius!” I wrap my arms around her and hug her tightly. “We have to keep moving, that door won’t hold them forever!”Leon says, and climbs up the ladder. We quickly follow and, at the top, I pull myself out of the hole and stand up. - 21 -


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A voice comes from behind me.“Put your hands up.” I turn slowly to see three guards facing us, each holding a gun. We raise our hands. “Walk slowly over to the vehicle and place your head and hands on the bonnet,” the guard who seems to do all the talking says, and gestures at the shiny vehicle to the right of them. Leon whispers his plan to me. “Oi! No talking!” The guard snaps and fires a warning shot above us. Ella lets out a small scream. When we reach the vehicle, we do what we were told, careful to position Ella between Leon and me. Two guards come up behind to handcuff us. Leon taps the vehicle hood twice and simultaneously he and I whip around and elbow the guards in the face before kicking them in the groin. My guard falls to the ground; I grab his gun and smash the butt of the weapon into his face with as much force as I can muster. I turn to face the third guard, my weapon at the ready. He is holding a gun to Ella’s head. Blood boils within me. “Let go of my sister!” I shout and raise my weapon to the guard’s temple. Everything starts happening in a blur. I see - 22 -


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Leon behind Ella and the guard on the ground, and then hear a grunt behind us. I turn around pulling Leon with me. “What was that?” Leon steps in front of us, his eyes focussed somewhere behind.“Zinna, Ella, run.” “Leon, what’s wro—” I follow his gaze and see the guard Leon had shot earlier, gun in hand, an ugly smile on his face, barely able to stand with blood dripping from a wound in his chest. A gunshot roars just as Leon throws himself in front of me. Ella screams,“Leon!” The recoil of the gun throws the guard off balance and he stumbles back down the drain. I drop to my knees next to Leon. “Leon! Leon, wake up! Please don’t be dead!” He grunts and rolls over onto his back. “My arm.” Relief washes through me as tears flood my eyes and I bury my head in his chest. “Shhh, it’s all right, I’m fine,” he says, putting his non-injured arm around me. Did he say he was fine? “No Leon, you’re not fine,” I say, sitting up with a quick wipe of my eyes. “You just got shot—we need to get out of here.” - 23 -


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I look around. “Leon, isn’t this somewhere near where we left the horses?” “Over there—” he points “by the old Ferris Wheel?” “That’s what I thought.” Ella scans the area. “Zinna, they aren’t there now.” “I guess the guards let them loose before we got here,” Leon says. Panic grips me. “Well, how on earth are we supposed to get back now?” Ella points to the expensive vehicle. “What about that?” I couldn’t help myself, and broke out in a wild gale of laughter. Why hadn’t I thought of that? “Genius,” I say to Ella, and hug her. “Well what are we waiting for?”Leon asks as he walks, a little unsteadily, toward the vehicle. A smile spreads across my face. We’ve done it. We actually rescued Ella from the tyrant, released one of the most important pieces of information starting what is sure to be a new revolution. Excitement rushes through me. We’re going home.

- 24 -


ACROSS THE BARRIER REEF UNDERWATER

1 It’s October 15—a sunny day on the east coast of Australia. Amadi and Buziba are going to the Great Barrier Reef, to be the first to cross it underwater. Amadi and Buziba are champion divers: everyone in their village thinks they are the best in the world. Amadi is a name that means ‘destined to die at birth’ and Buziba, ‘deep water, open water’. In spite of the meaning of his name, Amadi is always brave, and not the least bit scared of marine animals. They had just bought new dive tanks that never run out of air—they get air out of the water—from their friend, Ted. He owns an old wooden shed on an island about ten kilometres from Emoh, Amadi and Buziba’s island. So off they went in their little boat, Taob, on their big adventure to the Great Barrier Reef. But just before they reached the reef they got caught in a storm. There was a water funnel and they had

- 25 -


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to abandon the boat and swim. There were heaps of rocks jutting out of the water, and they swam around them until they couldn’t swim any longer. One was so big and long it was impossible to go around, and the storm prevented them from going over it, so they tried to go under. They looked around the ocean floor and when they got to the bottom of the big rock they discovered an underground castle. They were curious so they went inside. There were lots of fish and even a dolphin. They came across a king’s throne and on it they found a key and, next to it, a door. Amadi was about to grab the key when Buziba pulled him back. “Why?”Amadi asked. Buziba pointed to a lion fish above the throne. They wondered how they could reach the key unnoticed by the fish. Buziba aimed his underwater camera at the lion fish and took a shot. The flash blinded the fish. They grabbed the key before the fish could see again and unlocked the door. The room on the other side had a window, two old pictures and a disintegrating rug, as well as a shelf that covered the whole wall and a desk and chair. Amadi looked at all the rotting furniture but Buziba was actually looking around the desk. He - 26 -


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found words carved into the wood on the bottom right corner. It looked like a riddle, and said,“Where you are standing, look down and look around, for something you would accelerate with.” So Buziba looked under the desk and saw a little pedal at the back. He pushed it. Part of the shelf in front of Amadi opened up like a door, revealing another room. It scared him silly. They could tell that this was the king’s secret room because inside was another desk with a chair. Crystal pieces were scattered on the floor. They each picked some up and put them in their waterproof bags to show their families when they got back. They found another lever on another door. Amadi grabbed it and pulled it down. Nothing happened, which confused them, so they swam out of the secret room. The door to the king’s outer room swung shut just as they returned to it. Amadi pulled on the handle, but it was locked fast. They turned to the window, but the glass was too thick. When they thought they had run out of luck, Buziba saw a little hole in the ceiling. They swam up to it and Amadi stuck his head through, but his body wouldn’t fit. All he could see were fish swimming around in the roof cavity. Then, suddenly, a seal swam straight towards him. - 27 -


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Fast. Amadi realised that if he didn’t get his head out quickly, he would be the seal’s next meal. He pulled his head back into the room. Buziba grabbed his hand and pulled him down under the desk. The seal crashed through the ceiling and went straight through the window, and swam away. Amadi and Buziba had two reasons to be relieved. One, the seal had gone and two, they were free and on the other side of the big rock. They swam out and kept going on their journey.

2 In the distance they noticed something that looked like a small boat so they went to investigate. When they reached the boat they went inside, and saw hardly anything except fish and some coral that had fixed itself onto the sides. It looked like it would never come off. Buziba noticed a hole in the side and, when he looked closer, he noticed that the hole was more like a tunnel. He called Amadi over. Amadi was excited.“Let’s have a look,” he said. Buziba took out his underwater torch and they swam in. The tunnel was long. At the end there was a bright light, as though the sun shone through. They - 28 -


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swam about a hundred metres but then Buziba signalled,“Stop!” Amadi swam behind a rock and followed Buziba’s hand signals. A shark was coming past . And it wasn’t a normal looking shark: it had metal teeth that looked very sharp and carried a sword strapped to its back fin. The shark swam back and forth like a guard. Buziba and Amadi both knew that they wouldn’t be able to get past the shark. They would have to defeat it somehow. They turned around together and went back the way they’d come. Buziba had noticed another tunnel joined the one they were in about half way along. They swam into that one and followed it as it turned back, but higher than the first tunnel and on the other side of two rock faces where there was loose rock. But they were still not safe from the shark. Buziba kicked the rocks with his flippers. They fell onto the shark and trapped it. They continued on their journey.

3 They came across a round trench and swam down to it, but found it ended abruptly. Buziba looked around and saw a gap in one of the sides. A big boulder blocked their way. They pushed it - 29 -


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and it budged. They pushed more and more until it moved. Suddenly they were washed into a colossal cave where there had been no water. The rock had been holding it back, and all the water started pouring out. Amadi was amazed and excited. But Buziba was thinking about the fish and that they would have less water. He thought that if they waited until the water went high enough, they could lift the boulder and push it back into the hole, then tie it in with tough seaweed. They were about to do it when a sudden loud rumble stopped them in their tracks. It was a mega shark wearing a pirate hat on its head. Like the one they had seen earlier, it too had metal teeth and a sword strapped to its back fin. But this shark looked like the boss of all the sharks because he had two others with him, both with metal teeth and swords strapped to their back fins. Amadi and Buziba couldn’t swim away because the boulder blocked their escape. Amadi noticed a hole in the floor sucking the water out. He told Buziba about it and then Buziba had an idea. If they could strap one side of the seaweed to the cave wall and the other side to the boulder, they could pull it out and it would swing down and hit the sharks, sending them flying into the other side of the cave. - 30 -


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So that’s what they did and, strangely enough, it worked. They escaped the sharks and went through the hole in the wall. Shiny rocks were piled up on the other side. The reflection glared at them; it was so bright. Amadi and Buziba were puzzled, so they swam closer for a better look. It was gold. Amadi and Buziba were amazed and excited but one problem still existed—how could they get all that gold out? So they just stared at it. Then there was a bubbling sound from behind them. Amadi turned around and saw that the hole through which the water had drained was bursting with air bubbles. He grabbed a rock from the bottom of the cave and plugged the hole, and then swam back to the pile of gold, grabbed Buziba and together, they sat on top of all the gold. Amadi told Buziba that he had plugged up the hole so the pressure would build up and it would burst and push all the gold through the roof of the cave and then they would be free, out of the cave with the gold. So the pressure built up and they burst through the roof of the cave and when they went up, they kept going out of the water and landed on a small island on the other side of the reef, just as a boat - 31 -


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sailed past. The boat stopped next to the island and the captain asked them what had happened. Buziba told the captain the story and asked him if he could call the Taob to collect them. About fifty minutes later, their boat arrived and both of them, plus the driver, helped carry all the gold onto the boat. When they got back to Emoh there was a big welcome-back party with their families and all the residents. No one thought that Amadi and Buziba would come back with a mega load of gold, which they spent on their families and the residents and some facilities for all.

- 32 -


THE SAGA OF ELMO AND OMLE “Hurry up, Hurry up!” Elmo’s director called. “The show is about to start.” “I don’t wanna,” Elmo said,“I’m feeling sick.” “You have to, Elmo. If you don’t, we’ll go bankrupt.” “Oh … whatever. I’ll do it.” “Action!” As Elmo and his director filmed the next Sesame Street episode, they didn’t notice a dark presence lurking. This creature was as silent as an ant’s footstep, as deadly and hungry as a lion and even faster than a speeding bullet. It was Elmo’s evil twin brother, Omle. He walks, slowly and creepily and stands with his torso bent as if his spine were ripped apart and glued back together. He was planning to rip the guts out of Elmo and the director. And suddenly he did. “Aargh!” Elmo and the director screamed together. Then, suddenly, their voices stopped. Elmo woke up in a dark room on a bed. He looked around only to find a glass of blood. Is that my blood? he wondered. - 33 -


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And then Omle stepped out of the shadows. He said, in a twisted voice, “Would you like a glass of blood? It’s just next to you.” “No way, you twisted freak!” Elmo yelled. “Are you sure Elmo? It’s fresh from your body … ha, ha, ha …” “Aargh!” Elmo yelled. Elmo was on a hospital bed in a very white room. “Oh … it was just a dream,” he said to himself. A nurse came to see how he was doing. “Who are you?” Elmo asked.“Where am I?” “You are in the Eteled Hospital.” “Where is Omle?” “Omle? Who’s Omle?” “The guy who tried to kill me. Can’t you see that my guts are hanging out of my body?” “You must be mad. I have to take you to the mental asylum.” “No, please no!” The nurse tugged Elmo by the arm and, after giving him a dose of anaesthetic to shut him up, dragged him along with his guts across the floor. Elmo woke up and screamed when he found he’d been put in the same mental asylum, on the same floor, in the same hallway, and in the same cell as his evil twin brother, Omle. “Hello Elmo,” Omle said, in a freakish voice, - 34 -


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“have you come to have a little play time with your brother?” “No. What in the world are you thinking, Omle?” Elmo said.“Don’t you see that we have been put in a cell together for a reason? They want us to fight and kill each other. There is a video camera right above you if you don’t believe me. We have to work together to get out of here.” “Well I guess you have shown enough proof,” Omle said. “But if we work together, this is a onetime thing, okay?” “Okay,” Elmo said, then continued: “First, we must find something in here to use as a mallet so we can bust the cell. Oh and just stay out of the security camera’s way while you’re doing that.” “Why don’t we just destroy the camera?” “Because, if the camera is broken, the guards will know we’re up to something.” “Oh yeah ... good point,” Omle said. “Ah … I’ve found something,” Elmo said. “A pocket knife.” “Where did you get it?” Omle asked. “It was in our food. It’s quite odd don’t you think?” “Yeah it is.” Using the knife, they cut through some bars and escaped, but as they left they didn’t notice the security camera capture Elmo’s foot. They ran - 35 -


THE SAGA OF ELMO AND OMLE

through the asylum halls knifing policemen as they went, but then a S.W.A.T. crew arrived. Elmo and Omle tried to fight them off but they were everywhere. Then, suddenly, a criminal arrived, grabbed Elmo and Omle, and ran off with them. They escaped to a nearby safe house. “That was close,” Omle said. “I wonder how the S.W.A.T. team knew we had escaped and when to come and get us,” Elmo said. “Why?” the criminal demanded. “Because of this stupid tape, you retard!” He played the tape. Elmo and Omle watched and at the last frame they saw a bright red fuzzy foot going out the door. “You little retard!” Omle snapped. “We were supposed to stay out of the way of the camera and you got your little foot in it! That’s it Elmo, goodbye.” Omle walked off and the criminal followed him. That could have been a chance to lighten our hatred of each other, Elmo thought, and then he was filled with rage. He decided he needed a plan to kill Omle. Elmo went back to the abandoned Sesame Street set to think. Then suddenly it hit him. He would get a UFC fighter to train him in the ways of smash and bash. After he found a guy on the street hitting himself, Elmo knew that he had found his diamond - 36 -


MATEO CAMPBELL

in the rough. He asked him a few questions to test his abilities. “Is the sky blue?” “Umm … umm … umm … What’s the word I’m looking for?… umm … Oh yeah, it was, ‘no’,” the guy replied. This guy’s an idiot, Elmo thought. But, then again, where am I going to find anybody better in this town?” He decided to take him. “Yo, dopey over there … you’re coming with me,” he said. “Why, what’s going on?” the guy asked. “Do you want me to make you come over here?” “N-no, sir.” “Then hurry up.” The guy got up off the ground and followed Elmo back to the set. “Now, the reason I got you here,” Elmo said, “was because I need a fighter. Are you any good?” “Umm … umm … umm … I think so.” “Then let’s get started.” They started working on punches, kicks, submissions and all-out hurting people. It took a few days but finally they got the hang of bashing people up. “Okay,”Elmo finally told him,“I don’t need you here any more, so go … shoo, shoo.…” - 37 -


THE SAGA OF ELMO AND OMLE

“Oh, you suck,” the man said, and he left the set. “Well, another job well done,” Elmo said to himself.“Now it’s time to go kick Omle’s butt!” When Elmo got to Omle’s house, he found it empty. Elmo crept through the house and then, suddenly, Omle jumped out and grabbed him. But luckily Elmo’s training with the guy on the street paid off. He grabbed Omle’s arm, twisted it around and got him in a headlock. “Argh!” Omle screamed. “Stop your shouting,” Elmo said. “You sound like a little girl. Now if you don’t want your nice house to get a little bit—or should I say, very?— messy, you should do as I say.” Then, suddenly, Omle’s cousin, Emlo, burst in and threw Elmo against the wall. “Oooh, sorry Omle,” Emlo said, “that might leave a mark. But hang on a sec, I just need to finish up.” Emlo walked over to Elmo, booted him in the face and threw him out the window. “All done,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “Would you like to go get a cup of tea at Wall Mart?” Omle asked. “Love to,”Emlo said, and together they laughed and cackled as they set off down the road. After they’d gone, Elmo got out of the bush - 38 -


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in the backyard and walked back toward the set. On the way, he was deep in thought. Is there any possible way to kill Omle? Should I try again or should I just give it a rest. Then, suddenly, the random guy from the street he’d used to train with popped into his mind, and said, Don’t give up, Elmo, you can do it. Yeah I can do it, Elmo thought. I’m going to think up a foolproof plan that should do the job. But he thought that he would have to take out Emlo first otherwise he’ll jump in and ruin his plan. So that’s what Elmo did. He set out looking for Emlo. He searched everywhere until finally he saw him up on the city hall, staring down at him. “Come down here and fight like a man,” Elmo called. “Why should I do that, if I have an RPG up my sleeve?” “You wouldn’t.…” “Oh I think I would.” And with a maniacal laugh, Emlo fired a rocket at Elmo. Elmo dodged, and Emlo fired another … and another … but Elmo was too fast. Before long, Emlo ran out of ammo. Elmo raced up the stairs but when he got to the top, no one was there. Elmo looked down and saw Emlo driving away in a car. “See you, sucker,” he yelled. - 39 -


THE SAGA OF ELMO AND OMLE

“You’re not getting away that easily,” Elmo called, and raced out to chase Emlo. But he was too fast with the car, so Elmo stole a car and caught up with Emlo. Emlo had guns and shot at Elmo from his car window. A bullet struck a tyre on Elmo’s car—it skidded into a tree and burst into flames. Elmo tried desperately to get out, but the door was jammed and he was stuck fast. The flames grew and made their way toward the fuel tank. Then, the random guy that Elmo had found on the street, suddenly appeared from the bushes and yanked on the door, managing to get it open and get Elmo out seconds before the car exploded in a huge fireball. Elmo went up to Emlo’s car and said,“Goodbye, have a nice time in hell.” Then he lit a book of matches, chucked them on the bonnet and ran. From a little way off, the guy and Elmo watched the car explode and all of Emlo guts fly out of it. “That was fun,” the guy said. “I enjoyed it too,” Elmo said, thinking now that Emlo is out of the way it’s time to get Omle. Elmo drove to Omle’s house and found him sitting in a chair smoking a cigar. “Hello Elmo, come to visit, have you not?” “You know why I’m here,” Elmo said. - 40 -


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“Oh yes I do,”Omle replied, and suddenly leapt from his chair and started fighting Elmo, flipping him onto his back and kicking him. Elmo grabbed Omle’s foot and threw him to the ground and sat on top of him while he grabbed a bottle of liquid and forced Omle to drink it. Omle coughed and spluttered and then fainted. A few minutes later, he woke up and found himself tied to a table. His arms were tied, his legs were tied—he couldn’t escape. Elmo sat in a chair watching him, a smile on his lips. “Hello my friend,” he said,“struggling there?” Elmo took out a long and deadly razor blade and showed it to Omle. “You wouldn’t …” Omle said. “Oh yes I would.” Then, suddenly, a tiny little Elmo devil popped up on Elmo’s left shoulder followed a split second later by a little Elmo angel on the right. “Don’t do it, Elmo, he’s your brother,”the angel said. “C’mon, Elmo, you know you want to,” the devil said. “Well I should do the right thing,” Elmo said. “And that right thing is to.…” And he leaned forward and slit Omle’s throat. - 41 -


THE SAGA OF ELMO AND OMLE

“Hey, Elmo, you’re back,” Big Bird said. “Yay!” all the others on the set shouted. “I thought you guys were gone,” Elmo said, looking puzzled. “The last time I was here it was abandoned.” “We decided to do the show again,” Ernie and Bert said together. “Well we’d better get filming,” the director said. “The show is back on tonight.” “Woo-hoo!” they all shouted, and they had a great time filming the show.

- 42 -


DUTCHUNTUN ISLAND Omar, the pigeon, the prince of Dutchuntun Island, rolled out of bed, and walked out of the house scratching his blue feathers. He saw his dad, King Spot, sitting on a gigantic blue egg. It is abnormal for an egg to be of this size. “Wha … What happened?” Omar said, looking tired. “Oh, don’t tell me you’ve been watching The Adventures of Incredible Captain Poop?” King Spot shouted, angrily. “That finishes at three o’clock. And P.S., it’s rated M!” “I didn’t, I swear … I didn’t.” “Hey, son, would you mind sitting on this egg for me? I need to look for your mum. She’s been away for five months—she disappeared when we went rafting at the lake.” “I can’t do it all by myself,”Omar said.“I’m only ten years old.” “Ha, ha, ha … even a three year-old can just sit on an egg,” King Spot said, chuckling.

- 43 -


DUTCHUNTUN ISLAND

“No, but—” “No buts,” King Spot interrupted,“just do it.” “Oh fine, if you say so.”

One cold, windy night, a flock of eagles were looking for a warm place to build a new nest. “It’s so cold!”Wedge Tail said, shivering. They could see lots of pine trees in the forest and didn’t know which tree to pick. “Wait I think I see fire … yay, look a fire,” Sharp Eye said.“Finally we can enjoy the warmth.” “Let’s have a look,” Hook Beak said. “The pigeons light a fire during the night so they can see.” “But it might belong to someone else,” Wedge Tail said. “C’mon just give it a go.” “Um … um …” Hook Beak stomped on Wedge Tail’s foot. “Owww!”Wedge Tail screamed. “Do it, or I will stomp on it even harder!” “But I’m warning you, a fire can’t start by itself.”

- 44 -


JEREMY CHOONG

Omar invited his friend, Chatter Box, to help him take care of the egg. Chatter Box is a chatterbox and annoys people wherever he goes, which is why his parents called him Chatter Box. “Chatty,” Omar said, “can you sit on this egg for—” “Why?” Chatter Box demanded, frightened because he was scared it might get eaten. “Aren’t you worried that the eagles might take the egg and eat it.” Chatter Box’s face went pale. “Oh, there is nothing to worry—” “Why can’t you?” Chatter Box interrupted. “Because you’re the one who’s sitting on the— Did you step on something?” “No, why?” “I hear a flapping sound,” Omar replied. He heard it again and again. It grew louder each time he heard it. “It’s coming from that tree. Didn’t you hear that?” Omar said. “Yeah, I hear it,” Chatter Box said, quietly. “It’s the eagles. Mum and Dad are going to kill me when they get back home.” “I told you,”Wedge Tail shouted.

- 45 -


DUTCHUNTUN ISLAND

Omar ran behind the Dutchuntun Tree. His mum and dad had just returned. “Omar, why are you hiding there?” his mum asked. “Eagles are taking over our village and they’ve eaten the egg,” he said. “There are so many of them. Our only chance is to run away,” his mum said. “Aw,” Omar complained. “What about our village? They will wreck my toys. And I didn’t even get to say goodbye to Cocky.” They ran to a forest called the Blue Forest. “I bet they’ll never find us here,” Omar said. “But how do we find food?”Commander Sugar asked. “I don’t know,” King Spot shouted. “But if we try to take our home back they will kill us!” “Yes,” Bob said.“There are too many of them.” “But if we do nothing, we will starve to death,” Bob’s twin brother, Rob, said. “Okay,” King Spot said, making a decision.“We will try to take it back, but if we can’t then we will die. We will have a rest on the weekend and go on Monday night.” On Monday night, the eagles were having a big feast. The pigeons headed toward the house. They - 46 -


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hid behind a bush. “Hey wait a minute,” Commander Sugar said, “I have a plan.”

The eagles were playing chess outside, next to the fire. “Hey look, I can do magic,” Hook Beak said. “Oh, don’t be silly,”Sharp Eye retorted.“There’s no such thing as magic.” “But, really, the bushes move when I point to them.” “Wow!” Hook Beak said, suddenly enthused. “Let’s check it out.” “Uh oh,” Omar whispered. They crept out of the bushes and hid behind another bush. “Got ya,” Wedge Tail said. “There’s nothing in it.” “That is just weird,” Sharp Eye said. “Okay, let’s try plan B,” Sugar said. “We’ll dig a tunnel underground and sneak into the fridge, clear?” “Yes, Commander,” everyone answered.

- 47 -


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“It’s so hot,” Rob complained. “This might be the place,” Omar said. He dug up and up and up. “I think we’re stuck,” he said. “Well, we should dig then,” King Spot said.“Or die.” So they dug more and more and more. “Phew! Finally we’re at the top …” Omar said. Then he stopped.“Uh oh.” Omar realised that he wasn’t in the kitchen where the fridge was, he was in the feast room. He saw little bits of fruits, vegetables, nuts and his toy, chocolate wreck up. “No!” he shouted. “Keep it down,” Commander Sugar whispered harshly. “Get them,” King Strike, the eagles’ leader, said. They put the pigeons in a dirty prison room with worms, slime and bugs. “Omar, can you hear me?” Commander Sugar whispered. Omar was asleep on his soggy dirty bed. “Omar!” Sugar shouted. “Ah, I think I got a dream of Sugar shouting at me because I didn’t wash my clothes at the - 48 -


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wedding,” Omar said to himself, waking up from his dream. “Over here, I’ve got an idea.” “So it wasn’t Sugar shouting at me, it was just his voice.” “I was just wondering if they’d forgotten to take your knife out of your pocket,” Sugar said. “Yeah.” “Good, break out of the railings and sneak into the control room and free us while they are still asleep.” “Got it.” So Omar cut a hole in the railings and freed them from the prison. “Thanks Omar. Right, everybody, grab a weapon,” King Spot commanded. “They’ve got no idea where the weapon rack is.” The eagles hadn’t discovered the weapon rack, and it contained very powerful weapons. They each grabbed a weapon and got ready to fire. The eagles had already woken up. “How did they get out of there?” King Strike asked. “I’ve got no idea,” Kef said. The pigeons were aiming cannons and missile launchers at them. - 49 -


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“Uh oh, we’re gonna explode!” Sharp Eye exclaimed. “It’s time,” King Spot said, quietly. “Fire!” Commander Sugar shouted. The pigeons fired their weapons at the eagles. They dodged and headed to the door. Windows smashed and holes appeared in the walls everywhere, but the eagles still survived. They zoomed out the door, too scared to fight. “Yay!” all the pigeons shouted. They celebrated, putting balloons everywhere. “Hey Chatter Box,” Omar asked, “do you want to go to Pigeon Treat with me? We can order a fried eagle to celebrate!” “Yeah, let’s go!”

- 50 -


SUNSHINE I hear explosions as the bombs hit the ground. I feel the vibrations beneath my feet. I don’t see them though. I am blind. But this is not news—I’ve been blind since I was born. “Dad!” I scream. I know he can’t hear me. No one can. The bombs are dropping. There is too much commotion to worry about a little girl. I’ll go back to the start: the day when the terrors began.

“Morning, Sunshine!” my dad says. My name is Sunshine. I don’t like it because I can’t see it. I am shrouded in darkness—which is why my mum chose the name. She found out I was blind, so she named me Sunshine. I asked her why and she said, “Because you are the girl who breaks through the darkness.” When she told me that, a smile broke out on my face. But I can’t see that either. It might bring joy and life to those who can see it, but to me, it

- 51 -


SUNSHINE

brings sorrow and wonder. “Hey, Dad,” I say, in a raspy voice. I clear my throat and feel my dad’s arm on my back as he helps me up out of bed. “Thanks,” I say, as I do every morning. We’re poor. Can’t afford much. So I miss out on the guide dog and cane. I am glad for this, though, because it heightens my other senses. I can hear and smell like a dog, and feel changes in the ground from far away. I don’t have to touch something to know it’s there. My dad helps me to the kitchen and I open the fridge. “I cleared the top shelf,” he says.“There’s a box of cookies for Emma, for when you go round, and a banana for now. If you want any more just say.” I feel around for the banana, peel it open and take a bite. The sweet flavour dances around my mouth and, within moments, the fruit is gone. Not unusual though, I’m a fast eater. “You’re a pig!” my dad says, and laughs. I laugh, too. However, I don’t really know what a pig is. I’m told it’s pink, but I don’t know what pink is. Its tail is curly, apparently—I know what curly is—my hair’s curly. I’m told by other girls in my neighbourhood that it’s beautiful: its ringlets drop down and rest on my shoulders. They tell me not to straighten my hair. I don’t know the meaning - 52 -


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of straight, although I don’t tell them this—they would tease me. I head back to my room. Feeling more energetic now, open my closet and feel around for my ‘crimson’ singlet and my shorts. I know they are the right ones because I only own one pair of shorts and one singlet. My dad says I look beautiful in crimson. I don’t dare put anything on my feet; I need them to feel the ground. I have burned them many times, but they are now tough and immune to the worst heat and the bitterest cold. However, today it is hot and arid—although it is still early morning, the air is already warm and too dry for any kind of storm. Back in the kitchen, I feel my father’s presence. There is someone else too, I think it is Tyson, but I am not sure. Alisha and Tyson, have the same vibe about them. They are twins. It’s not unusual. “Hey,” I say. “Hi.” It’s Tyson. “I thought I was going to come over to your place?” I say. “Yeah.” This time it’s Alisha. “We got bored, so we came over to pick you up.” “Cool. I’ll see you later, Dad.” “Bye, sweetheart. Your bag is by the door.” He gives me a quick kiss on my forehead and we leave. - 53 -


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Alisha and Tyson’s house is down the road and to the left. We’re there in five minutes and in the pool in ten. I’m not allowed to actually swim—I can’t—so I paddle in the shallows. I don’t mind though, I enjoy the cool of the water on my feet. It’s a nice change from the heat of the day. We swim until our skin is wrinkly and when we step back into the heat, it takes only moments for us to dry from head to toe. Emma—Alisha and Tyson’s mum—wraps a soft towel around me and then the three of us lie on the trampoline to watch the sky. At least, they do. I just lie on my back and soak up the warmth of the sunlight. Moments later I hear the roar of planes flying low overhead. There’s about seven. “Whoa, they’re so cool!” Tyson says. “I wonder where they’re going.” “I heard there was a fire near Brooke’s house,” Alisha replies. “I hope she’s okay,” I say. “They’ve gone to Bali,” she says. “They don’t come back until next Sunday.” “That’s good. Hope she still has a house to come back to,” I say. The planes pass by, then come back and then fly over again. To refill, I assume. But then they stop coming and we are left in silence. We lie in the sun until the warmth begins to - 54 -


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fade and the air starts to cool. Inside, the aroma of chicken soup wafts in the air. After dinner, I bathe, change and then climb into bed to listen to a story. “The third little pig made his house out of …” and that’s all I remember because I fell asleep. A loud crash wakes me some time later. It isn’t in the house, but nearby. The sound is followed by that of machinery. “Alisha,”I whisper.“Alisha, are you awake?”But there is no reply. I sit up in bed and listen. Another crash and the whir of machinery fill the night. There is a loud beep; the kind a large vehicle makes as it reverses. It stops and is followed by the screech of metal on metal. The sound lasts at least a minute. I am awake for what seems like half an hour before falling into a fitful sleep. I can’t seem to shake the feeling that something is wrong.

When we arrive at the park the next day, I feel Tyson and Alisha stop walking. “What is it?” I ask. “There’s a fence. About four metres high,”Tyson says. I sort of know what a fence is, and it’s tall. Four metres is tall, right? My mind immediately - 55 -


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goes back to the noises, someone must have been building a fence, but why in the middle of the night? And why around the park? “What’s inside?” I ask. Before they can answer, a young child’s scream cuts through the air. Then a single gunshot. Followed by cries and sobs from someone older—a more mature voice, but most definitely a woman. “Let’s get out of here,”Alisha whispers. I can hear the fear in her voice. I turn around and run, following Alisha and Tyson in front of me and the sounds of their shoes as they hit the ground in thumps. The concrete stings my feet as each step lands with jarring force, all my power and strength keeping me running as fast as I can go. I race around a corner and almost fall from the sudden change in direction. “Stop!” Tyson yells from about two metres in front of me. The soles of my feet burn in searing pain as I skid to a halt. I bend over, my hands on my knees, and take a few minutes to get my breath back. “What … was that?” I ask, between breaths. “Some kind of prison camp thing,”Tyson says. “But why?”Alisha asks. “Did either of you guys hear the noises last night?” I ask. “Yeah, they woke me close to midnight,”Tyson - 56 -


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replies.“You think this is what it was?” “Maybe. What else could it be?” “True,” he says. “But, again, why? And why in the middle of the night?” “I don’t know. A prison?” I suggest. “Maybe,” Tyson says, but I know exactly what he’s thinking. “Let’s get home, make sure we’re with family in case anything happens,” I suggest. “Where will you go?”Alisha asks. “I’ll go home. Grab a few things. See if my dad is still there. Then I’ll walk to your place or something. If I don’t come back, don’t go looking for me—it means there’s trouble.” “Okay. We’re on Westers Avenue now. You know your way from here?” “Yeah, I’ll make it,” I reply.“Catch you in a bit.” I head down the street, and then turn left. As I walk, I feel the heat of the path rapidly increasing. The sun is already high in the sky. The familiarity of a patch of grass tells me I’m halfway home. My feet are sticky with blood and I’m short of breath. But I am awake and alive, running on adrenaline— on fear. I am scared for my father, for my life, for my father’s life, but I keep moving towards home, praying every step that my father is still there. Before long, I reach home and recognise the feel of the crispy grass beneath my feet. As I move - 57 -


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forward the grass changes into the concrete path to my front door. I follow it and knock, for I don’t have a key. No one answers so I twist the knob and find the door unlocked. I push it open and step inside. The cool of the vinyl floor is a shock to my feet. The air inside is cool, and I know immediately that my dad is not here. I am about to head out the door when I hear voices outside. They are not speaking English but are coming closer. I run through the house to my bedroom and hide under my bed, pulling the duvet down so it spills over the side of the frame to cover me. I am sure that I’m now unseen. I lie still as the intruders enter the house. Judging by the sounds, I think one is male and the other female. They don’t stay long: almost as soon as they arrive, they are gone. There is nothing of worth in this house. I get up, grab some bandages for my feet, find a water bottle, fill it and stuff it into a back pack with a mobile phone (which I don’t know how to use) and a jumper from my room. Almost as if on cue, I hear the voices of the two people returning to the house. I escape through the back door and hide behind my old playhouse. I can hear the low murmurs of their voices as they move about the house, then the front door slams in the distance and they are gone again. I wait a moment and walk cautiously to the back door. I - 58 -


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am about to reach out for the handle when I hear a strange beeping. It takes a moment to process the noise—it’s foreign and I am unsure what is making it. Then I realise and bolt to a far corner of the garden and take refuge behind a tree to protect my body. Seconds later an explosion tears the air and debris rains all around me. The house has been incinerated and my ears are ringing from the blast. Cautious of falling debris, I stand up slowly. The grass has been torched and all I feel beneath my feet is the warm soil. I take a step forward, but quickly retreat. The ground is smouldering with ashes and embers so I decide to stay put for a while, to allow the remains of my house to cool down. I doubt that any neighbours care. They live close enough to hear most things but too far away to be suspicious of loud noises so it’s unlikely they’ll come to investigate. I know that the sun is setting when the air becomes cooler. I stretch out a hand and warily touch the debris only centimetres away. Only then do I stand and walk through the rubble. It is warm under my feet, but not burning. When I reach the footpath, I decide not to go to Tyson and Alisha’s house; instead I decide to find my dad. He’ll probably be in the city, which is a fair walk from my place, or what’s left of it anyway. I head west. At least, I think it’s west. - 59 -


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I choose the road less travelled: through the bush and the paddocks of farms that belong to strangers. As night falls, I continue on my path. People say it’s harder to see at night, but for me it’s no different, I can’t see anyway. That’s when they hit. The first explosion shakes the ground. I scream. No one can hear me, but I scream nonetheless. Bombs explode all around me. I fall on the ground and huddle up in a ball, and sob, not knowing if I’ll make it through the night. Nobody runs to find me. Nobody even knows where I am. The bombs are dropping. There is too much commotion to care about a little girl.

Although it feels like hours, it has probably only been seconds. I am still curled up on the ground, waiting for the next explosion. Waiting in the silence, well, the almost silence. The crickets are chirping and I think I can hear a frog somewhere in the distance. At least I know I’m still alive. I place a hand on the ground beneath me. It feels warm and decomposed, almost like sand. I put my foot down and push. The ground crumbles slightly, but then holds. I push myself up onto both feet. That’s when I feel it. I collapse writhing in pain. My leg feels like it’s on fire. After a moment of trying to calm myself, I - 60 -


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sit up and stretch out my leg. The pain is agony, but to reach the wound I have to force myself to bend it. I run my hand up the back of my calf but find nothing. I try slightly to the left and feel a point trying to pry open the skin. I push on it and the agony returns. I take a moment to recover before turning my leg and running my hand down that side. I feel a puncture just below where the bone is pushing through. The pain is overwhelming as I run my hand over the length of it, covering my palm in hot, sticky blood. It’s about a centimetre in diameter, closing up on the edges, and around four centimetres long. I wipe my hand on my shirt, which I then rip off and wrap around my calf, tying it tightly to stem the bleeding. I grab my bag from behind me and pull out the jumper that I packed earlier and pull it over my head before attempting to stand. I collapse back to the ground, the pain too strong for any kind of pressure. I dig into my back pack, thinking about the sleeping bag, but quickly decide against it. Pouring blood onto the sleeping bag would only make sleeping uncomfortable, and who knows how long I’ll be out here? Instead, I rummage for the first aid kit I’m sure I packed. I pull it out and open it up, hoping to find some tweezers or scissors or really anything that will - 61 -


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help me remove the shrapnel. There is nothing of the sort. In fact there is nothing that could really help at all, except a bandage and some padding. I remove my shirt from the injury and press a large sterilised pad onto the wound, and then wrap the bandage around it. Hopefully it will stay, at least until morning. I unwrap one of the bandages from my feet. They are no longer covered in blood, well, wet blood at least. I push gently on the dry, scabbed, skin. Feeling is still there, for which I am grateful. I pull off the other bandage and call it a night. The air is still cooling, so I don’t think it is midnight yet, but the chilly breeze tells me it is almost there. I lie in the cold night air and hope that I will live.

- 62 -


TOO MUCH LOLLIES Once upon a time there were two girls. One of them had lovely brown hair, beautiful green eyes and was very tall. Her name was Melody. Her sister had golden hair like a crown, blue-as-the-sky eyes and was quite small. Her name was Star. Melody and Star searched high and low trying to find a beautiful Mother’s Day gift. Finally they found a great big diamond ring. “It took all of our pocket money,” Star whined. On the way home two boys from Melody and Star’s school, Jason and Jack, grabbed the ring out of Star’s hand and threw it into a small tunnel. “Jason and Jack, get that ring at once!” Melody demanded. “No,” Jack yelled. Then they both ran away. “Stupid Boys,” Melody said. “We’d better get Mum something else,” Star said, sadly. But Melody had already started to go down the tunnel.

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Star shouted, “Wait Mel, we can’t go down there.” “Watch me,” Melody said. Star followed Melody into the tunnel as Melody followed the ring. It rolled and rolled and the two girls followed it until the great big diamond ring dropped out of sight. Star tried to get it but she couldn’t. Star looked up and saw Melody was on a cloud. “Star, come on we have to get that ring. Star?” Melody’s voice sounded worried. Star couldn’t speak: her mouth was wide open. Then, she said, slowly, “Oh my God! You’re on a cloud.” “I know,” Melody said,“hop on.” Star climbed on, and asked, “Does this cloud taste like fairy floss?” Mel bent down and tasted it, and said, “Yes it does. Anyway where did that ring go?” “Down,” Star said. Then, with no warning at all, the cloud went down, really fast. Star screamed while Mel enjoyed the ride. It stopped suddenly. They were in a town where the buildings were made out of chocolate. - 64 -


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They had M&Ms for door handles, and roofs made out of sour worms, and the paths were made from chocolate wafers. Then they saw the most peculiar thing ever. It was a statue of a giant lollipop with eyes and a mouth: it was almost like it was a person, but with a lollipop body. “Freaky,”Mel said. Star’s mouth was wide open again. Mel looked at the shop names. She saw Choc Ice Cream, Scrap Booking and Hubba Bubba Hairdressing. “Freaky,” Star said. “We have got to find that ring,” Mel said. Melody and Star looked everywhere for the big diamond ring. Then two lollipops came up to them. “My name’s Strawberry,” one said in a stern voice. “Yeah my name’s Strawberry—I mean, Cream,” the other one said. Strawberry looked at Cream and said, “Shut up!” And then she said to Melody and Star, “So, anyway, you will never find your precious ring.” Strawberry and Cream walked off, dropping a piece of paper as they went. Melody and Star - 65 -


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picked up the piece of paper, which was made out of Sour Straps, and Melody read it. “Go in the Cave of Death, through the Pond of Jelly under the Bridge of Doom, and over the Rock of Jubes, and then you will find your ring. X marks the spot.” “Okay, time to go home,” Star said. “Come on Star, we have to get Mum’s ring,” Mel said. Star laughed and then saw that Mel was being serious. “No,” she said. “Fine I will go without you,” Mel said, and then walked off. “Wait,” Star called after her sister,“I’m coming.” “Change your mind?” Mel said. “No I just don’t want you to get hurt.” When the two girls got to the Cave of Death, Melody and Star heard something. When they went inside, they saw a giant gummy bear. “Argh!” Star screamed. “Shhh,” Mel whispered. But it was too late; the gummy bear was already awake. It roared. “Run!” Mel screamed. They ran deeper into the cave chased by the - 66 -


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giant gummy bear. Then Mel thought of an idea. “When the bear comes up to us, eat his toes off.” So they let the bear catch up to them and started eating its toes. “Ow!” the bear screamed. The girls ran away before the gummy bear could chase them again. “Look Mel, daylight,” Star said. And they both ran to it. “That was a close one,” Mel said. Ahead, a sign said, Pond of Jelly 5 km. Then, quite suddenly, Mel and Star were looking at Jack and Jason throwing a ring down the tunnel and running off. The buildings were back to normal and the clouds weren’t made out of fairy floss and the people were not made out of lollipops: it was back to normal. “What happened?” Mel asked, “I was enjoying that adventure.” “That’s not how a story should end,” Star whined. So Mel and Star headed home feeling really sad that they didn’t have anything for their mum. When they arrived, they went straight to her, to tell her what happened. “Mel and Star, I love your Mother’s Day gift,” - 67 -


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she said. “What gift?” Mel asked. “The big diamond ring.” “But, how?” Star asked. Then the two girls started laughing, and they all lived happily ever after.

- 68 -


THE MYSTERY POWER Once upon a time there was a tiger named Stripe. His dream was to be a fighter. He wanted to fight everyone. So his dad put him in a fighting class. He was one of the best fighters in his class, but one was better: Spike. Spike was mean and he cheated, which is why he was so good. He cheated behind the coach’s back. So Stripe went home and he said to his dad, “One of my friends is cheating in fighting.” “Then don’t be his friend. Hmmm?” his dad said. “Okay.” So the next day, when he went to fighting, he said to his friend, “Stop cheating or I will not be your friend.” Then Spike said, “Fine, don’t be my friend then.” “Okay then, I won’t.” But Spike was Stripe’s best friend. He didn’t have any other friends; he didn’t like any other people except one other person. His name was Strink. - 69 -


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Strink was very nice and he had lots of friends, but Stripe didn’t know if Strink would like him, because Stripe is twelve years old and Strink is eight. But anyway Stripe tried, and he was so happy when Strink said yes, he would be Stripe’s friend. So the next day, Strink and Stripe went to the gym. “Do you want to fight while we wait?” Stripe asked his new friend. “Okay.” So the fight began. Stripe is a very good fighter but so is Strink. The fight went for a long time, but when the coach came they had to stop so the real match could start. Strink said, “Let’s do this again tomorrow. Come at four p.m. because the real fight starts at four-thirty. “Okay.” “But I will win.” “No, I will.” “Fine we will see tomorrow.” So the next day, Stripe arrived first. Strink was not there. Stripe did not know where Strink was and he waited. After twenty minutes Stripe was getting worried. He looked at the time; it was 4:25 p.m. Now he was twenty-five minutes late, so he decided to wait till the real match started. When the real match started, Strink was still not there, so - 70 -


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Stripe went to the coach. “Coach, Strink is not here,” he said. “He was meant to be here at four p.m. to fight with me, but he is still not here.” “Hmm … maybe he is late.” “But he is never late” “Maybe he is sick.” “No he is never sick. He is always eating fruits and vegetables.” Coach said, “Maybe he will come tomorrow, and if doesn’t come tomorrow then we will call the police.” The next day came and Stripe got to the gym and still Strink wasn’t there. So the coach called the police, and said,“There is this kid; he has not been here for two days at fighting.” “What is his name and age?” “Strink. He’s eight years old. The last time I saw him was on Monday.” “Okay, we’ll find Strink and call you when we find him,” the policeman said.“What is your phone number?” “I don’t have a phone,” Coach said. “Just come to the fighting place … it is called The Fighters of Doom. Thanks for your help. My name is Silvester.” The police went looking for Strink but they could not find him. Even though they looked everywhere, - 71 -


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they could still not find him. Stripe became more and more worried. Strink was Stripe’s friend. Then a policeman came to Silvester, the coach, and said,“I have found Strink and he is not dead.” Silvester was relieved and the policeman continued. “He got hit by a car, and when he got hit by the car he got a flying power but he has to spend five weeks in hospital first. Then he will show you his powers, and you can fly with him.” Four-and-a-half weeks later Strink came out of hospital and showed Stripe how to fly. Stripe was surprised. He had never seen a power in his whole life. “Do you like my powers?” Strink asked. “Yes, I love them.” “I can finally beat you in fighting.” “Oh, we will see about that.” The next day, they went early to fighting and practised till it was time to start. Then Silvester came to the gym and told the class that their tournament would be on Friday the 13th at 2:00 p.m. Friday the 13th came around quickly, and at 2:00 p.m., the fight began. Stripe and Strink were scared. Strink won the first round. And the second round. And again. And again. Then it was the final round between Strink and Stunk. Stripe called them the two S’s team. Strink won the final too. - 72 -


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The next day at fighting, everyone told Strink, “Good job.” And they were all playing with Strink, and Strink wasn’t playing with Stripe. “Why don’t you play with me?” Stripe asked Strink. “Umm … because everyone else wants to play with me.” So the next day at fighting, Strink said to Stripe, “How come you’re not playing with me?” “Because all of these people are playing with me.” “Fine,” Strink said, “after school I will take you to the movies.” “Okay,” Stripe said. So after school Stripe and Strink went to see a movie called, ‘The Evil Rainbow Ponies’ and even though it was rated M, it wasn’t scary. When they got to the movie, there was an ad saying the movie was rated R. “Oh no,”Strink said.“This is the wrong movie— the movie we are supposed to see is an M movie not an R movie. Let’s get out of here before we pee in our pants.” “Talking about pee,” Stripe said,“I need to go.” “Oh no,” Strink said.“Can’t you wait?” “No I can’t.” “Oh … and look, we have another problem,” Strink said, pointing.“There’s a guard at the door.” - 73 -


“We can’t get out. What are we going to do?” Stripe said. “Wait, I got a good idea. Let’s tell the guard that we need to go to the toilet—then he’ll let us go.” So Stripe said to the guard, “We need to go to the toilet.” “No,” the guard said. “You should have gone before the movie started.” “What are we going to do now?” Strink said. “We’ll just have to watch it.” “Okay.” So they watched the movie and it was really scary. The next day, at school, Stripe said to Strink, “It’s okay about yesterday … It’s the thought that counts.” So the next day, Strink was early to school because he flew there. Stripe was on time because he did not have such powers. But regardless, they became best friends again.

- 74 -


THE ASSASSIN WAR A thunderous thumping on the door woke me up. Before I could get out of bed, it came again, accompanied by Butch’s yelling. “Wake up pea brain! You’d better wake up Fletch, or I’ll eat your eggs.” ‘Eggs’ hit me like a train. I hadn’t had a proper breakfast since Mr Fud wore short pants. I jumped out of bed and ran to the door, and as I walked through it, a foot flew at my stomach. “Ouch!” I cried, dropping to the ground. He didn’t kick me hard but the emptiness of my stomach didn’t help. “Come on, get up Fletch,” a deep voice said. It was my older brother, Damion. He was very kind, but he can lose his temper really quickly. I think it’s the anger that comes from not having parents—that often affects my moods too, so I don’t blame him. He pulled me up. “Butch?” he said. “Yep,” I replied quickly. Butch had been giving me trouble ever since I arrived at the orphanage but Damion was always - 75 -


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there to help me. Butch was scared of him because he was younger than Damion. That and because of the time he put Butch in hospital with a nice broken nose and inflamed butt from an atomic wedgie. “Don’t worry about him,”Damion said,“Mr Fud hates him—so he’ll get him.”Mr Fud was the nicest teacher to me and my brother, he always asked about our day and helped us with schoolwork. Damion and I went to the kitchen and, as soon as we got through the door, the head chef, Miss Hudson, grabbed both of us by the hands and pulled us into the kitchen. “Could you two boys help me into the kitchen today?” she said. “My assistants have called in sick.” “Sure,” I said. Her face lit up. “All right. Now put your aprons on and wash your hands.”With that, she hurried off to the stove. “Why did you do that?’’ Damion asked. “She’s just a little old lady,” I said. “But I don’t want to help her cook,” he whinged. “Just do it, besides … you look good in an apron.” Later there was an announcement on the P.A. “Today, children, we will all go on an excursion to the zoo,” Mr Fud said. - 76 -


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“You can tell this is meant for the younger kids,” I said to Damion. “That, or Mr Fud thinks we’re all still kids,” Damion replied. “Have you done all your chores?” I asked him. “Yes, have you?” “Yes, do you wanna go to the skate park?”The skate park was not far from the orphanage. We usually go there on Wednesdays if we have finished the chores given to us by Mr Rondo. Mr Rondo was the meanest teacher. He taught us for all our subjects, always gave us extra work, and made us sit in the corner if our manners were out of line. “Ummm … okay.” We got our skateboards and boarded to the park. As we skated past the cinema, I noticed an abnormally long line. “What’s going on there?” I asked. “The new Terminator movie, I think,” Damion said. “What’s it about?” “Dunno … robots I think.”We skated on. It took us sixteen minutes to get to the skate park. We’re actually quicker if we run because it’s hard to skate uphill. The park was empty. “We have it all to ourselves,” Damion said. And we skated for an hour until it started to get dark. On our way back to the orphanage, Damion - 77 -


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said,“I kind of wanna see that movie now.” “You know Fud would never let us see an M rated movie,” I said. “Why does Fud have to know?” “Damion,” I said,“how are we gonna do that?” Damion didn’t speak for a few minutes. Then he said,“I’ve got a plan.” We went to the orphanage and went to sleep. Next morning, after we woke up, we ate breakfast and left for the movie. It was easy to slip out of the orphanage but getting in to the movie was the hard part. Standing in front of the cinema, I said, “Now what?” “We sneak through the back.” “How do we do that?” I complained. Damion put his finger to his lips and beckoned me to follow him. We ran around the block and came upon a big barbed wire fence. “How do we get over that?” I asked. Damion walked into the building next to the cinema. It took him about a minute until I could see him at the top of the building, climbing into the back entrance of the cinema. He opened the gate and let me in. “That’s how,” Damion said. We slipped through the gate into the cinema quite easily. After the movie finished, we were on - 78 -


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our way out of the cinema when the ticket man stopped us. “I don’t remember scanning your tickets,” he said. “I have them right here,” Damion said, and gave me that look he gets when he has a brilliant idea, but I could sense by what he pulled out of his pocket that this wasn’t a good idea. “Don’t,”I whispered urgently. He looked angrily at me. “Well?” the ticket guy shouted. “Run!”Damion shouted, kicking the ticket man in the Jatz crackers and punching him right in the kisser. I bolted back into the cinema and headed for the back entrance. I took a quick glance behind me. There was no sign of Damion, only a bunch of cinema security workers catching up to me. I got to the outside but forgot about the fence. Moving too fast to stop, I jumped over the fence and landed on my arse. The security guards stopped at the fence. Then Damion ran out of the cinema. He must have been moving too fast as well, because he managed to jump over two guards. But he landed on top of the other guards, who started beating him. A white limousine stopped and out stepped a big black man. He was muscular and tall, and looked meaner than ten billion Butches. - 79 -


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He walked toward the fence, jumped in the air and flipped and twisted until he landed in the middle of the security guards. He made it look easy to jump the fence; even when I’d stepped off a milk crate it was super hard to jump. The guards dropped Damion and charged at the man as though they were one. He crouched, spun his leg around and tripped them all. They got up and charged again, but this time the man heel-kicked one guard, spun around and gave a guard behind him a knuckle sandwich right where you don’t want to be hit. That was enough. The rest fled back into the cinema. The black man turned to Damion, lifted him up onto his feet, and guided him with his hand towards the limo. The door opened and he pushed us in. The black man got in the driver’s seat. A man in a white suit with a cane and top hat sat on the seat opposite us. He threw a rag to Damion. “Clean yourself up,” he said. “I don’t want teenage blood on my leather. I’m Necranium, and you boys are?…” He reached out to shake my hand. I wasn’t sure; this guy looked bad, he had a moustache that I thought only an evil person would have, and a cheesy grin. “Damion,” Damion said, taking his hand. I was certain that this was the start of a deal that Damion would regret. - 80 -


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Damion told Necranium what happened. He told him about the orphanage and about Butch. In turn, Necranium told us that we were special, that we had powers, strengths that no other children have. He also told us that he knew our parents; he said that they were strong, and were killed by a powerful man named Falsifier, who commands a very powerful army called Mercenaries. He told us that he wanted to train us to join his League of Dark Assassins and avenge our parents. “But,” he said, “before we get revenge, we first need to deal with that bully, Butch.” We went to the orphanage. Necranium walked in and said,“Get us into the gate.” His driver jumped the wall, we heard a few grunts and cracks, and then the gate opened and we walked in. “Which room is our new friend in?”Necranium asked. I didn’t want to get Butch into trouble—after all he’s done I still didn’t hate him enough to hurt him. Damion pointed to his room. The black man walked in and we followed. He pulled Butch from his bed and held him off the ground. “Now, beat him,” Necranium ordered. Damion stepped forward and was about to punch Butch but he stopped and said, “Let him down. I want to fight him fair and square. Drop - 81 -


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him.” “I admire your courage,” Necranium said to Damion. Then he looked at Butch. “I’ll cut you a deal. If you beat Damion in a fight, I’ll give you five thousand dollars and you can join my League of Dark Assassins.” They moved out to the yard and started to fight. Damion fought aggressively, while Butch managed to dodge a few hits but not enough for him to not bleed. Before long Damion landed big punches to Butch’s mouth. He fell to the ground. “Good, good … now finish him,” Necranium said, and tossed Damion a knife. Damion thrust the knife into Butch’s heart. Necranium took us to his base, where he gave us dinner and a place to sleep. When we were in our beds, I said to Damion, “I don’t think it’s safe here.” “I like it here,” Damion said. “Besides we can’t go back now. Butch is dead in the ya—” He was suddenly cut off by an ear splitting bang outside our room. Then the air was full of war cries and the clang of swords. Two men burst through the doors. “They’re here,” one shouted. An old man walked through the rubble. “Are you all right?” he asked, reaching out a hand to help us up onto our feet. - 82 -


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“Who are you?” I asked. “Falsifer. I’m sure Necranium told you about me, and that I was evil.” “Well … are you?” I asked him. “My dear boy, I’m going to be your best friend,” the old man replied.“Let me guess, he told you that he was good, happy, gentle? Yes? All lies. He killed your parents.” The next moment, Necranium stepped into the room and shouted, “Don’t listen to him. He murdered your parents in cold blood.” “Fletch,” the old man said, “trust me; give me your hand.” I grabbed the old man’s hand and a flashback of memories played through my head. I saw two scared people as they took a boy aged around five and a baby and hid in a secret room. A man walked in through the entrance, he looked like Necranium, but much younger. He pulled a sword from his cane, stepped forward and lunged at the man with the children. The man dodged the blow and tripped Necranium over. The young Necranium ordered his assistant to hold the couple together while he scrambled to his feet and thrust his sword into their hearts. Then the images faded. I was back to reality. I looked at Necranium. “He’s tricking you … they’re mind tricks,” he - 83 -


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said, and turned to Damion and held his hand out toward my brother.“Damion, please …” “Damion,” Falsifer said, “search your thoughts, your feelings.” Damion stepped forward to Necranium, and stared at me, angry. “Goodbye old friend,” Necranium said. Dark smoke appeared and when it cleared both my brother and Necranium were gone. Falsifer took me to the Mercenary training grounds, where he told me I was to be trained to one day defeat Necranium. “What about Damion?” I asked. “You have to defeat him as well.” “But he is my brother. Maybe I can turn him good—you know—back on our side.” “I don’t think he ever was on our side.” Falsifer said my training would take five years. It was hard and constant. I trained with a blade, gun, crossbow and grapple every day. I was taught to block attacks, disarm, and even kill. I mastered the grapple to conquer high and far away objectives; the crossbow to kill an enemy from a great distance, unseen and unheard. I became expert at free running, jumping, and climbing, while remaining hidden from ground units. The final part was the hardest. Falsifer had to teach me to use the hidden power inside me to defend myself or kill an enemy. - 84 -


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By the end I could shoot fire from my fingertips. Falsifer was planning for an attack on the Dark Assassins. We were to strike at dawn. I was to sneak in before the battle, equipped with a cloak to keep me hidden, a fine steel sword, poison-tipped crossbow bolts, and a British gunpowder pistol, and take out Necranium, or even my brother. The wall around Necranium’s base was crawling with guards. I threw my grapple over the wall and climbed. When I reached the top I ran to the nearest guard, held my hand over his mouth and slit his throat. Then I concentrated on finding Necranium’s office, which I assumed was in the high tower. At the gate, the battle was starting. The Mercenaries charged the castle and poured through the gates. Swords, spears and arrows flooded the sky as cries of dying men drenched the air and their blood drenched the ground. The Dark Assassins had the upper hand: they had greater numbers and better weapons. The Mercenaries were being slaughtered and had to fall back. I reached the tower but it was too high to climb. I threw my grapple into the air. It came back down. I threw it up again. I failed again. I threw it up one last time and … with a soft clink it locked. Got it! I pulled myself up the rope and was barely inches from the top when a guard on the tower saw me - 85 -


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and cut the rope. I grabbed at a window ledge as I fell. The fall almost ripped my arm out of its socket and the pain was excruciating. I climbed back down to the ground and decided, instead, to climb the wall that surrounded the castle. Maybe from there I could make the jump to the tower. The battle was brutal. Mercenaries were being slain by the hundreds as the Dark Assassins surrounded the survivors of the attack. Then Falsifer emerged from the woods and, behind him, an army of reinforcements. The battle turned. With renewed vigour, the Mercenaries attacked the Dark Assassins. Two guards spotted me at the wall. One went to ring the bell, and the other came toward me. I slid under the first guard’s sword, and dashed toward the second. He was about to reach the bell. I wasn’t going to make it, when, out of nowhere, Falsifer dropped down in front of me and took the guard’s head off. “Let’s go,” he said. From the edge of the wall closest to the tower, Falsifer took a run up and jumped, reaching out to grab the edge of the tower, and pull himself up. He lowered his hand down. I took a big run up and jumped—but, before the jump, I hesitated and lost momentum. I reached out my hand and managed to catch Falsifer’s hand by my fingertips. His grip - 86 -


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was strong, and he pulled me up. We went into the tower. We climbed a flight of stairs to Necranium’s inner sanctum. “It’s up to you now,” Falsifer said. “I must help on the battlefield.” Falsifer jumped from the tower and I lost him in the dark as he dropped into the raging battle below. All of a sudden, something hit the back of my head. I turned and looked into Damion’s eyes. “Nice to see you after all this time,” he said. “You betrayed us.” “No,” I said. “Necranium is evil. He’s using you.” “If you are on Falsifer’s side, then I will have to kill you,” Damion said, drawing his sword. Our swords collided, twice, thrice, four times … each of us striking with all our strength. Then Damion shot a lightning bolt towards me. It threw me back against the wall. The pain was excruciating. I raised myself up and unleashed a fire ball at him. It pushed him back, and he went down on fire, rolled and got up again. Below, the Mercenaries had surrounded the tower and taken complete control of the grounds, while Damion and I still battled furiously. Only now, we were fighting with our powers. He zapped me down to the ground, again and again. With a - 87 -


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last effort, I pulled myself to my feet, but before I could amass the energy for a fireball, he zapped me again. I ignored the pain and looked at him. “You chose the wrong side.” I unleashed a huge fireball which engulfed him completely. He fell. I climbed the stairs to the next level. Necranium was waiting. He hurled a ball of purple matter at me and knocked me out. I saw flashes of my parents, they appeared happy then, but he took them away. Consciousness returned and I studied the evil in his face. “You killed my parents,” I said. “Yes. But don’t worry, you’re about to see them again.” He launched an intensive purple ball of highly concentrated matter at me. Using all of my energy, I unleashed my fury. For a moment, the fireball held the purple matter, then the tower exploded. When I emerged from the rubble, I thought the war was over but Necranium also came out. So did Damion. Falsifer stepped forward and stood at my side. It was me and Falsifer versus Necranium and Damion. The night sky lit up with furious shots of fire and electricity and matter. Falsifer was firing at them both, while I focussed on Damion. Then Necranium fired a giant ball at me. - 88 -


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I froze. I don’t know why I didn’t block or dodge it, but then Falsifer jumped in front of it and took a direct hit. He fell to the ground. “You remind me of your father,”he said weakly. “Here, take this.” He transferred all his power into one little ball and handed it to me. I felt immediately more powerful than ever, and fought them both at once, shooting and defending at the same time. But I wasn’t powerful enough. Necranium grabbed me and lifted me up by the throat, charged a ball, shot me and dropped me to the ground. I was down. He shot me again. This time I knew wouldn’t be getting up. I could only watch as he charged his most powerful ball. Damion stared and watched. With the ball charged, Necranium was about to fire it at me when a ball of electricity hit him and knocked him to the side. Damion. He was back on our side. Together, we turned our attack on Necranium. He launched a ball at Damion and scored a direct hit. With a yell, he went down. I summoned all the power I was given. This was my last chance, he was open, and I had a split-second window. There was a gigantic flash of light. Then I was unconscious. Damion was beside me when I woke. “You’re awake, finally,” he said, choking back - 89 -


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tears of relief. “What happened?” “You must have triggered a power greater than anything,” he said, smiling and shaking his head. “You defeated Necranium. He’s dead. You have brought peace to the world.” “But Falsifer?…” “Sacrificed himself for a good cause.” “Then who will lead the Mercenaries?” I asked. “You.”

- 90 -


THE RIDDLE QUEST 1 Riddling “Ha, ha, ha, ha … Solve this,” Xantos said, “it’s impossible.” And he handed his brainteaser to his best friend, Robin. They were in the schoolyard. Robin and Xantos had a lot in common: they played the same video games, read the same books and lived right next door to each other. “Hmmm … this is really comple—” “Hey ugly,” Bhomas, the bully, said. His bullying cohorts laughed. “Ya looked,” he shrieked. Then, as Robin’s fist sank into the bully’s fat stomach, he let out a cry and doubled over. “Grrrr,” he growled, clenching his teeth like a mad dog. Robin felt no fear. He fired eighteen lightning fast punches into his face, stomach and head. Bhomas groaned as Robin kicked him down. Looking at him with hatred, and determined to finish the job, Robin jumped on him, and strangled - 91 -


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him for two and a half minutes. Death was close for Bhomas as Xantos realised what was happening and pulled Robin off his enemy. When Bhomas eventually found his feet, his face had blood all over it; four of his teeth had been knocked out, both of his lips split, both eyes black and his face purple. He started to cry. “Shut up or I’ll do it for you.You ugly demented pig face,” Robin snarled. “Make me,” Bhomas said, in a small voice. Robin picked him up and dropped him with the F-U, a wrestling move he learned at high school.

2 Detention and Excitement “What the heck? Do you understand the concept of self-defence?” Robin shouted at the principal. “You know this is unacceptable behaviour,” the principal shouted back. After he was dismissed, Robin went home and called Xantos. “Hey, can you come over tonight and play video games with me?” “Yeah, sure,” Xantos replied. “So, do you like my new game, Riddle of the Minotaur?” Robin asked. “Yeah … it’s totally awesome.” After they got bored answering riddles, which - 92 -


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took five hours, they went to bed. Later that night, the sound of a man talking woke them. They tiptoed to the family room and found the source of the sound was the TV. Purple and red colours swirled around the screen. Xantos put his arm through, then his other arm, and then jumped in. Robin followed. They were ready for their first adventure.

3 What the hell? “Okay,” Robin said,“what do we do?” Suddenly, they were swept up by a giant hand. “Aargh,” they screamed. When they landed, Xantos asked, “Where are we?” His head was spinning. Then, an evil sounding voice laughed. “Mwahha-ha-ha.” And the surroundings changed from a dark dungeon to a maze. “This is just like Riddle of the Minotaur,” Robin said, “except these riddles are twenty times harder.” “You may start,” the mysterious voice said. “Oh no,” Xantos said.“This is going to be really hard.” Robin just grunted and chose to take the middle path instead of the right or left one. Then they saw their first riddle: a door with three keys labelled, A, C and D. - 93 -


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“But why A, C and D?” Xantos muttered. He grabbed the D and shoved it through the keyhole. Suddenly two sharp discs buzzed out of nowhere and would have killed them had they not dodged in time. “Okay, let’s try A,” Xantos suggested. “No,”Robin protested.“Then there will be three of those things. Let’s try C.” “Okay then, let’s try it,” Xantos said. Robin was right. The door clicked open.“It was musical,” Robin explained. “The key of D has two sharps, A has three and C has—” “No sharps,” Xantos said, grinning. They passed through the door and found themselves on a chess board. As soon as they’d stepped onto the board, the opposing teams— white and black—attacked each other. They were in the thick of the battle. Robin knocked out a pawn, took its sword and attacked other pawns. Then the voice reverberated through the chamber. “Day and night you will stay here and never escape. Ha, ha, ha, ha …” “You ugly loser,” Robin said, “you just gave us the answer to the riddle.” “What riddle?” the voice said. “In order to survive and stop the battle we must move like a knight.” The plan worked. Suddenly the whole room - 94 -


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turned into a maze again. “Well done,” the voice said. “You’re gonna regret this you bucket of diarrhoea,” Robin shouted. They set out through the maze, turning left and right and left again … until they came across a sign. Losers Ahead “What the hedgehog?” Robin said, as three sharp discs suddenly zinged from nowhere, all but slicing their heads off. “Oh, now I get it,” he said, loses a head.” The voice came again with another riddle to taunt the boys. “Where is the place the US flag is never taken down? You have thirty seconds.” “The Moon,” Xantos answered. “A hill full, a hole full, but you can’t get a bowl full. What am I?” “Mist,” Robin said. “What am I: when you desire this most, but when you get it, you’re unaware of it?” “Sleep.” “Little Nancy Etticoat in a white Petticoat, the longer with a red nose the longer she stands, the shorter she grows … what am I?” “A candle,” Robin shouted. “A man has three croquet balls and he has to - 95 -


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cross a bridge that can hold only ninety kilos. He is eighty-seven kilos and each croquet ball is one kilo … how does he get across?” “He would have to juggle them, but the ball coming down would be twice as heavy so it’s … impossible,” Xantos said. “There is a peanut tree on a hill, a storm comes and blows one off. Which way does it roll?” “There is no such thing as a peanut tree,”Robin countered. “Congratulations. There are five more riddles to answer and it is highly likely that you will die.” And then five rings, joined together, fell at their feet.

4 The Nightmare is coming “Separate these five rings. There are no hidden tricks and you have three minutes,” the voice commanded. So Robin and Xantos started pulling at it and trying to find a snag or a trick to get it undone. But it was too hard for them. They needed a miracle. “That’s it. Miracle,” Robin said, and he looked at the five rings, studying them closely. The third ring had the word ‘miracle’ on it. They pulled on it, and it came apart easily. “I have billions of eyes yet I live in darkness; I rule two hemispheres what am I?” - 96 -


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“The human brain,” Xantos replied. “No!” the voice screamed. “You were not supposed to solve that one. You will die.”

5 Horror, horror, horror Suddenly they were back in Robin’s family room. His parents were doing normal stuff, and that was a relief. It seemed that the end of the world was not going to start in Australia. But the nightmare had just begun. Twentythousand and one octopus-like creatures the size of skyscrapers, were thrown from a humungous spaceship to earth, where they immediately began destroying cities, ripping buildings apart and killing humans. It began in Malaysia. Whenever they felt that a human was a threat to them, the alien grabbed the human and hung him or her up upside down; then inserted two sharp pincers into the head and ripped the brain out and squashed it. They dealt with other humans, who were bigger threats, by ripping out their windpipes, lungs and then crushing the bodies. “I have a feeling that something bad is going to happen,” Xantos said. “Of course, you idiot,” Robin snapped. “The world is going to die. Maybe we should call the army or the navy or even the air force.…”

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6 World War III Meanwhile, somewhere in Germany, in a lab, a crazy, insane, twisted freak laughed madly—so much that he almost suffocated and died. His name was Dr … Actually, it was not a ‘him’ or ‘her’, it was an ‘it’, and it laughed horribly, like it enjoyed destroying the world. It was like Adolf Hitler Jr, and had already assembled the German army and called on Japan, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq to fight against Australia, America, England, Poland, France and Spain. England’s air force ambushed the German’s main camp while Poland’s and France’s best troops charged atVietnam’s, Iraq’s and Iran’s bases; and the Australians and Americans defended themselves against Afghan, Japanese and Pakistani armies. And so the war began. Blood spurted everywhere and many troops died, mostly the enemy’s. It was World War II all over again. Troops sang as they moved through the streets: Headless bodies, headless bodies on the floor, on the floor. With blood and guts and livers, blood and guts and livers spilling everywhere, everywhere. Headless bodies, headless bodies fall on the floor, fall on the floor.

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With blood and guts and livers, with blood and guts and livers all over the floor, spilling everywhere. Let’s kill the fatty troops, let’s kill the fatty troops with knives and guns and bayonets, with knives and guns and bayonets. Let’s kill the fatty troops, let’s kill the fatty troops with knives and guns and bayonets, with knives and guns and bayonets It’s the end of the blood and gore, it’s the end of blood and gore, let’s make some more blood and make it spurt everywhere.… Both sides sang; the battle raged on.

7 Back to a normal life Luckily, the war was not in Australia, where Robin and Xantos lived. So it was like a normal day for them. When they got to school the next day, Bhomas walked up to them. Time for a beat down, he thought, and he grabbed Robin. But Robin was quicker and punched him hard in the face. “Gah,” he screeched. Robin grabbed his shirt and kneed him in the face six times, lightning fast, then grabbed him in a choke hold and trashed him in the bin, which was a big mistake for Robin—Bhomas had two bodyguards. They charged at Robin. He jumped up and grabbed the one on the right, called Jay, and - 99 -


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slammed him into the one on the left, Jax. But it does not even stun Jax. He is so tall and strong that Jay’s body just bounces off Jax’s chest. But Robin, easily the equal of the other, as strong and tall, and a martial arts champion, grabbed Jax’s head and smashed it on a wooden bench. Jax’s eyes closed and his body dropped to the ground. Jay snuck up behind Robin, but Xantos grabbed his head and threw him into the pond outside the classroom. The first bell of the morning rang and it was time for class. Robin and Xantos jogged away from the fight. As they neared the classroom, they slowed to a walk. Robin felt something poke his back. He whirled around and came face to face with Jax. Jax punched Robin in the face and then pushed him against the wall, punched him again and grabbed his head and smashed it against his fist. Then he coaxed his fellow bullies to take Robin to the toilet and bash him there so no one could save him. Xantos was already in class and not allowed to get up from his seat or talk, and the teacher couldn’t be bothered asking where the missing students were.

8 Suffering Robin fell hard against the toilet floor. Jax grabbed him, ripped his shirt off and flushed it - 100 -


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down the toilet, clogging it. “Hmmm … what should I do to you?” Jax said. “You’re fat, dumb, stupid and lazy,” Robin spat. “Shut up,” Jax screamed, and he grabbed Robin by his hair and shoved his face into the toilet bowl. While he held Robin’s head, he ordered his two most powerful bullies to hold Robin’s arms. They pulled him back from the toilet bowl and Jax kicked him in the chest and repeatedly bashed his face. “You may have thought that Bhomas was the main bully,” Jax said.“But I’m the one really pulling the strings.” Even though Jax was kicking him hard, Robin’s face was expressionless. This frustrated Jax, so he started punching him in the head. Eventually, Robin reacted. He tensed himself and then swung his arms, smashing the two bullies into each other. He grabbed another one and knocked him out; then snapped out three punches blindly landing two of them into one bully’s fat stomach. Then there was silence. There was no sound, and no more groaning bullies. But an evil cackle broke the silence. It continued until Robin looked in the direction it was coming from. It was Jax. “Why are you laughing?” - 101 -


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“Because I’m about to bash you and then I’ll lock you in the toilet and you won’t be able to get out.” “You retarded-faced moron, you can’t lock someone inside a toilet.” “Oh yeah … do you wanna fight me instead?” “Sure.” And the legendary battle began. Normally, Robin would have been thrashing Jax, but he was covered in bruises and bleeding, which put him at a disadvantage. Jax, although an undisciplined fighter, was powerful. So the fight was fairly equal. Robin ducked one punch, blocked the next and took the third on his chest. He kicked Jax and punched him in the face. In a few seconds, Jax realised that he was outmatched. Robin laughed and said,“I will make you suffer my fists of fury and just for your knowledge, Pi, the mathematical one, equals …” And he rattled off Pi to the 399th decimal point. And then everything went black. The end of the world was about to happen, meaning everyone was going to die, except for Doctor Demented because they were all at his mercy. And nothing could stop him.

- 102 -


THE HOLIDAY Alanta Sierra Adams had never been to an airport, let alone on a plane. Today, with her younger sister, Iriana, and their parents, Richard and Dianna Adams, she was going to Singdapang, a tropical island with houses above the water, seven and a half hours away. Iriana was jumping around and screeching at the top of her lungs,“We’re going on a holiday.” Alanta kept looking around nervously. She was rarely nervous, usually she was confident and smart, but there were so many people, any one of them could be her real parents. “Mum, Dad, Alanta,” Iriana called, “hurry up, I don’t have all day. Get a move on!” “Be quiet dear,” Dianna said. “Alanta’s really nervous, can’t you see that?” “Whatever,” Iriana said.“I want to go.” “Oh damn,” Richard said, and he moved closer to Dianna so he could talk quietly without being overheard.

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“What, dear, are you okay?” Dianna asked. “I just remembered … the surgery I had a few months ago for my knees … they stuck metal pins in and I forgot to bring a form.” “Oh, okay,” Dianna said, placing a calming hand on his arm. “I’ll get the kids to run ahead, they don’t know about it yet, do they?” “No, and they won’t. Di you take them, buy them something or … whatever.” Dianna, Alanta and Iriana all passed through the metal detector without a beep. Dianna looked back at Richard. He faced forward with his head held high but as soon as he stepped through the detector, it went off—beeping and the red light flashing furiously. “Excuse me sir,” the security guard said,“please step to the side. Are you carrying any illegal or foreign objects with you?” “No, I recently had knee surgery,” Richard explained. “Okay sir, due to airport policy, we have to take a quick X-ray. It will only take a few minutes.”

Seven and a half hours later, they stumbled off the plane, weary and exhausted. It had been a - 104 -


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rough trip and they were not prepared for the two hour bus and speedboat ride yet to come. Just as dawn was breaking two hours later, they arrived at what they all believed to be a tropical paradise. It was breathtaking. They were given two cabins: one for the girls and one for the adults. Iriana jumped around the room screaming with excitement. They were going to go scuba diving later that day. The girls had recently earned their certificates. For the next few days the family enjoyed the tropical haven. They spent most of their time swimming, eating and tanning, especially Alanta and Iriana. But Alanta felt something nagging at her. It was creepy, almost like she was being watched. And no matter what she did, she could not shake the feeling. One afternoon Di and Richard wanted some peace and quiet by themselves and they allowed the girls to go out snorkelling. They were going to go to a coral reef close by with an instructor and other guests. They set off at 3:00 p.m., looking forward to seeing turtles, dolphins and bright neon fish that sparkled with all colours of the rainbow. The driver was even hoping they would spot a shark. - 105 -


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When they arrived at the reef, everyone eagerly jumped in, happy to enjoy the refreshing calm of the ocean. Once again, Alanta had the feeling someone was watching her. She went to swim where she’d seen Iriana swimming, but was shocked to find that she wasn’t there. In a panic, she popped her head out of the water, nearly choking on the amount she’d swallowed, and searched frantically her. She couldn’t see her sister so she speed-swam to the closest boat and climbed up, slipping on the wet boards and whacking her ankle on a loose screw. At the same time her teeth jammed onto her tongue and her braces scraped against her gum, causing her mouth to bleed. She stood up on the ladder, scanning the ocean, when someone grabbed her from behind, slapping a massive, sweaty hand across her mouth, driving her teeth into her tongue again. She tried to scream but no sound could escape. She attempted to kick her attacker in what she hoped would be a private part. She missed and ended up kicking the ladder, very hard. Iriana lay slumped, half conscious, in the bow of the boat, watching Alanta put up the fight of her life. She tried to scream, to tell Alanta to leave, to go get help, but she’d been gagged. They’d grabbed - 106 -


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Iriana while she was snorkelling, snatching her from underneath and pulling her deeper as though trying to drown her. She’d kicked the kidnapper in the face and earned a whack in the nose for her trouble, giving her an underwater nose bleed. When she surfaced, she’d been dragged onto this boat. Iriana was sure she had seen the woman before; she was loony. After a few minutes of violent protest from Alanta, the attacker got the better of her and knocked her into a state of semi consciousness; she fell like a mop into the attacker’s cruel clutches. In her dazed state Alanta thought his piercing blue eyes were familiar. She remembered, when she was about seven, running, screaming, terrified.… Of what? That was really fuzzy right now, except somehow, looking into these same eyes. All she remembered after that was waking up in hospital with a broken arm and cuts and scratches all over her. Iriana was in too much agony to properly comprehend Alanta’s pain. She had watched Alanta being attacked about three hours ago, and caught the dazed look in her eyes. It was almost as if she was remembering something altogether too painful. The only other time Iriana could remember - 107 -


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seeing her sister like this was the time she came out of hospital when she was about seven. She seemed to have a half-dead gaze, like life wasn’t worth living. It was unusual to see her in this state. What Iriana also thought peculiar, was why no one else seemed concerned about their disappearance. They must have been gone for at least three-anda-half hours by now and there was no yelling, no police boats and definitely no hot guy coming to save them. “Wake u-u-up kid,” a husky voice slurred. “You knocked dead likes s-hat for twenty minutes,” another voice, which sounded female, said. A massive foot kicked Iriana just below the ribs, winding her. She sat up with a start, thinking that she must have been dreaming. She was really confused, her dream seemed so real. She must have been knocked unconscious. Alanta heard the husky, drunken voices at the same time. She opened her eyes slowly, but they were covered with some rough, scratchy material. She tried to reach up to pull it off, but her hand was caught behind her head, in a very painful position. She tried to move it again but with a sudden, painful, understanding, she realised she had broken it. - 108 -


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Alanta was angry; furious. Who were these people and what right did they have to do what they were doing? She decided that the next time one of them came near her, she would give them a piece of her mind. She wasn’t head cheerleader for nothing. She had strength and she was going to use it. After what felt like twenty minutes, but was really only two minutes, the male kidnapper grabbed Alanta by the scruff of her rashy and pulled her right up to his face, within kissing distance. He then smashed her back on the floor, as the woman yelled at him not to get too close to her. Alanta couldn’t even fight back; she felt defeated. Then he grabbed her again and threw her into a dark hold. Iriana came flailing in about thirty seconds later. “Now, neither of you don’t make a s-single sound, or that’ll be tha’ end of ya … you hearen me?” And he slammed the roof of the hold, very loudly. Iriana sat, stunned, in silence, not knowing what was going to happen. Would the people running the snorkelling and scuba tour even notice their disappearance? Would they go back without them? Or were they part of this whole scheme? The possibilities were endless. - 109 -


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One thing she did know was that she and Alanta needed to be out of there soon, or they were doomed. She didn’t even know where the kidnappers were going to take them. As she lay in her dark prison, she racked her brains for a plan. She sat there thinking for hours And then she came up with the most brilliant idea.

- 110 -


THE MYSTERIOUS ATTACK “How am I meant to know?” Leon yelled.“Like I said, I found it I didn’t make it!” Leon was a bright-minded, young professor at Murdoch-behind-the-Curtin University. His ankle-length lab coat flapped behind him as he stormed furiously around the room. “I’m only sixteen, yes I’m a scientist, but I was just doing an experiment to find out what it was … I didn’t mean for it to invade Quakeville.” “And you should have known what it would do,” Quakeville’s mayor argued. He was a plump and stout little man who stood four feet, six inches high, and the same width around the stomach. “Well … um … um … my finger slipped when I was … um … programming it in,”Leon said. He’d made the excuse up on the spot because he had no idea what else to say. “Enough! Because of your actions, you are henceforth banished from Quakeville. For life. That is final.”And with that, the mayor stomped off. - 111 -


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“But what will I do?” Leon asked through gritted teeth, trying really hard to restrain himself from screaming, his face turning tomato red. The mayor looked back with a malicious smile and said, “Oh yes … I got a job for you as a palaeontologist.” “A palaeontologist?” Leon said, his face becoming an even deeper shade of scarlet. “Yes, I got the job just after the attack, thinking that I was going to be the one to get sacked. But it’s okay, I’ve decided to give it to you instead. How’s that?” “How is that? How is that? I’ll tell you how— ” Leon looked like he was about to explode, still trying to avoid screaming the entire way though their conversation and finally turning a midnight purple, almost black, colour. “Don’t argue with me. Go.Your new job awaits,” the mayor said. And again, the malicious smile grew on his plump face as he stalked from the room, a happy spring in his step. Leon took a deep breath and shrugged, then took a couple of steps toward the window. He pressed his hand on the glass and sighed because, from here, he could see his home and the beautiful

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city on the desert side. But then, quite suddenly, a tiny ball of light appeared in the middle of the air. It looked to Leon as though he could touch it. He reached out his hand and tried to grab it, but he couldn’t close his hand over it. He would not give up however, and it was as if all of Leon’s hopes and dreams were in that little ball of light. “Hang on,” Leon said, although he hadn’t meant to say it out loud. The little ball of light was growing bigger and brighter. Leon was puzzled by it, but even more puzzled when it suddenly shrank and then erupted in a fierce explosion. It hit the ground with such force that it blasted a wall of sand from the desert into the city, and created a black, choking sand storm blotting out the light and covering everything in sight. Lucky for Leon, he was inside. Leon watched as the sand storm subsided. At first he wanted to race out and check out the impact site. He was a palaeontologist now, so he could look as though he was finding a good site to dig for dinosaur bones. A knock on the door startled him. He wasn’t expecting anyone—at least he didn’t think so.

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“Special delivery for Mister Leon Stripes,” the messenger waiting outside the door announced. Leon opened the door and took the letter, which he then found out, were actually two letters. He opened his first. It was from the Palaeontologist Society. It said: Dear Mister Leon Stripes, We welcome you to the Palaeontologist Society; I’m guessing that your mayor has told you everything that you need to know. We hope to see you soon. Professor Bones. Senior Palaeontologist “Told me what?” he asked, to thin air. He studied the other envelope. It was from the mayor. He opened it carefully, as though it might contain anthrax or worse: that it might explode. It didn’t explode. But it contained a letter and a party popper. Leon was confused, so he read the letter out loud. Dear Leon, About the palaeontologist—you will have to work for twelve hours a day, seven days a week so you’ll be

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full-on until you retire or die. Plus you need to start work today or you’ll get put on the streets, meaning you will be fired. From the Mayor. P.S. The party popper is to celebrate you being kicked out of Quakeville. Leon met the other palaeontologists the next day and announced that he’d found an excellent place to start looking for dinosaur bones. He led Professor Bones and a group of palaeontologists to where he’d seen the light explode on the ground. There was a huge crater, so deep that dinosaur bones were visible. The palaeontologists set to work straight away and began to dig and dig and dig. Leon found a T-Rex skeleton with a bone out of place. Curious, he pushed it back into place. What happened next was the most amazing thing Leon had ever seen. The T-Rex woke and its skin regrew. It stood up; its red eyes looked like they were x-raying the tiny people down below. There was something around his neck. It looked to Leon like a name collar. It read, ‘Fred’. “Fred? Why in the world would a T-Rex be

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called Fred?”Leon asked the other palaeontologists. They only looked confused—mainly because they didn’t know what ‘T-Rex’ meant, as they called it a Tyrannosaurus-Rex. “I meant Tyrannosaurus-Rex,” Leon said, breezily. The T-Rex stomped loudly away from the group and disappeared into the subsiding sand storm. Leon, full of excitement, bolted after it, but then he realised that it had disappeared over the horizon. Luckily, though, Fred left footprints so big that a jumbo jet could fit in them, so he was quite easy to track. Leon and the group set out to find where Fred was heading. After hours of walking and walking and walking, Leon eventually collapsed beneath a big burnt-out tree. In fact, all of the trees around them were burnt, which made the palaeontologists a little bit concerned. A massive noise jolted Leon awake. He stood up, shaking in his boots. A fireball roared through the air and exploded. It seemed to come out of nowhere. Then another. And another. They went in search of the source of the fireballs. One tree, surprisingly, was not burnt. When he looked behind it, Leon found something

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that caused him to stumble backwards and trip over a rock. Two heads slowly turned to look at him. When he could distinguish the faces properly, he saw one was a dragon and the other a phoenix. “Who dares to venture into my forest?” the dragon demanded. “Your forest?” the phoenix snapped. “Yes, well, if it was your forest it would not be a forest,” the dragon said, its tone of voice indicating that the argument was won. “And what exactly is that meant to mean?” “It means that it would be covered in lava and flames. That’s all.” “Why you little bi—” the phoenix started. Leon didn’t hear the rest of the sentence because he’d covered his ears. “Uh-uh, you’d better mind your language … or I will kick you out.” “And how are you going to do that?”the phoenix sneered.“Well, I’m waiting for an answer.…” “Because … because I’m your older sister, remember,” the dragon said, in a stern voice. “Will you two be quite?”Leon said, exasperated. “You remind me of my friend Ashley and her

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siblings—they’re always fighting.” But the sisters were not listening. Leon tried yelling, screaming, cajoling … in fact, he tried everything, but nothing worked. Finally he got their attention when he told them that if they didn’t stop arguing they would both live very lonely lives. Then he talked them through how they could be nice sisters and love each other. Leon, full of pride, was walking off, leaving the two sisters hugging, when the dragon called after him. “Wait, don’t leave now. Are you following the T-Rex?” “Yes. Why?” “Because there is a key under the rock you stumbled over—take it and I hope it will open a path that will lead to the end of this war.” Leon found the key and examined it.“But what does it do?” “It unlocks something in the home of the TRex.” Leon thanked the dragon and ran off to find the palaeontologists. He told them about the key and what it would unlock. So, together, they set off for the cave.

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They followed the path until they arrived at a dingy, dark and smelly cave, where they searched and searched for a keyhole that would take the key. Eventually, Leon found it, inserted the key and turned it. Suddenly, ten metallic legs unfolded from a massive metal sphere and raised its steel bulk from a rested position, and a great big glowing red eye eliminated the darkness. Leon started to laugh with maniacal intent. “You thought that I was a palaeontologist. Well you were wrong. And you are all getting on my nerves and I have had enough of it. This is IRon and I purposely programmed it to destroy Quakeville. You’re all going to die.” But Professor Bones was not going to submit to Leon’s demand. However I-Ron spoke first. “You will need to learn some manners,” I-Ron said, his voice a computer monotone. He picked Leon up, shook him, and then put him down again. “Is that the best that you got?” Leon asked, a little unsteady on his feet. Then he fell down. Fred thought it was fun, and decided to whack Leon on the head with his tail as he was getting up again. Professor Bones called the police on his mobile.

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They arrived and took Leon to jail. From that day on I-Ron helped the palaeontologists, and Professor Bones visited Leon in jail—he was given a life sentence. At least, the world was peaceful. For now.

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THE GATES OF YORT 1 The Letter Macknee St Tomba Ville. 5050 Dear Mr Rodney, This is your report from Dr Nothol: if you do not lose 380kg in the next six months you will die. We will send some of our men over to your house every Friday to help get your exercise and diet schedule sorted out. Please alert other doctors and family members. Thank you for your cooperation. “Argh,” Brian grizzled, and he flung the letter back onto the growing pile from which he had retrieved it. “Now what?” he pointlessly asked Chief, his cat. Chief leaped onto Brian’s lap and his squash-faced gaze met Brian’s ocean-blue eyes. Brian lifted a fat hand and began to pat down the fluff. A huge cloud of tabby dander exploded from the cat. “Oh Chief,” was all Brian managed to say as he nearly choked. - 121 -


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2 The Biggest Mouse Hole Ever “Ah yes … another one!” Brian roared triumphantly. He had discovered another full mouse-trap—the fifth this week. He hated mice. His pride and joy was the mini vegetable garden he kept on his kitchen window sill, but it was now ruined by mice. At that moment another mouse ran across the room. Brian grabbed a mouse-trap and set it in front of the rodent. Then something remarkable happened. The mouse curled its tail around the block of cheese that Brian used for bait, and removed it without even getting its tail caught. he stared at the empty mouse-trap for a while. Then he placed another piece of cheese on it and watched the same thing happen. “What on earth?” He followed the mouse to its hole in a corner under the sink. He bent down to see, but fell out of his wheelchair just as the mouse dashed past. Brian grabbed it by the tail but, remarkably, the mouse pulled him into its hole, which suddenly grew big enough for him to fit through. Brian felt like he was being squeezed through a tube of toothpaste.

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3 The Weird Old Man He could smell fresh daisies, lavender and something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Then he had it: beeswax combined with an overwhelming smell of herbs and spices. He wondered where the smell was coming from when he saw the weirdest man he had ever seen. The man was only kneehigh, and wore a child’s old brown waistcoat with a white (at least he thought it was white once upon a time) collared shirt, and no shoes on his feet. He carried a walking stick way too long for him that looked as though it had been picked up off the forest floor. “Excuse me,” Brian called out to the strange man,“where am I?” He got no answer. He reached out for his wheelchair, which was just out of range, so he used his legs to push closer. When he pulled himself up to his chair, he found, quite miraculously, that he could stand. He was so shocked he nearly fell to the ground again. He took a few steps, began to walk around, and even jumped a little. He felt remarkable and looked down at his body. He looked and felt fit and when he lifted up his shirt he found he had a six pack, and all the muscles he ever dreamed of. He approached the little man and

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tapped him on the shoulder. “Where am I?” he asked. “Em ot taht od t’nod hgaa,” the man squealed, and he jumped backwards, squashing a cluster of daisies. “What?” “Hsilgne ho.” Then he opened the top of his walking stick to reveal a bunch of buttons. He pressed an electric blue one. “Ah, that’s better,” he said, shaking his head as though clearing it. “Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. What did you just do?” Brian asked. “Oh, you didn’t frighten me, you simply shocked me. I changed my language from Hsligne to English.” “Oh … okay.” “So, what was your question?” “Where am I?” “Oh that’s an easy one. You’re in Opposite Land.”

4 Mij Sroban “Where is that?” “Here, where you are,” the little man said. “Okay … um … who are you?” “I’m Yort, the healer of Mij Sroban.” - 124 -


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“Who?” “Which one—the Yort bit or the Mij bit?” “Both.” “Oh well, I told you who I am and Mij is my master. He lives in the mega-huge, dark, gigantic mouse snack-a-fication castle filled with Mijness.” “So what is it called, this castle?” “That is the name—it took me three whole months to remember it and get the voice right.” “Okay, so which way is Tomba Ville?” “What-a–Ville?” “Tomba Ville, that’s where I live.” “Oh, in the normal land? You’ll need to go to Portalaga Swamp to get back there … or I could introduce you to my master. I think he would love to meet you.” “Can he help me get home?” “Sure, sure,” Yort said, secretly crossing his fingers behind his back.

5 The Beginning Of The Journey “Are we there yet?”Yort asked, hiding a smirk as they crossed a small stream dividing the meadow. “How do I know? I’ve never been here before,” Brian replied. “I know that.” “Well then, why did you ask the question?” - 125 -


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“Hey, look, we’re nearly there.” Yort pointed ahead. “You never answer a question do you?” “You never ask a proper one for me to answer.” “Never mind … anyway are we there yet?”

6 Oh No, Not The Catnip “Wow a deew,”Yort gasped. “A what?” Brian asked, obviously confused. “A deew. Some people know it as the noilednad.” “Looks like a dandelion to me.” “That’s what I said.” “No you didn’t.” “Yes I did.” “No you didn’t.” “Yes I did. And, anyway, I am just going to pick this and cross the bridge over the stream. It’s sort of hi—” “Yeah, yeah … I think I can find a bridge.” “Fine. If you need any help crossing, just shout.” “I think I’ll be fine,” Brian called over his shoulder. The fresh green grass reminded him of catnip. He saw no obvious path through it, so he began to push through. It felt as though Chief’s teeth were - 126 -


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digging into him. “Argh.” “I was joking about the shouting.” “Aa—” “Brian, hello? Are you there?” Then Yort heard a choked cry of help. “Oh no not the pintac,”Yort said, and he ran to the other gate.

7 Yort’s Hide-out “Ow!” Both Yort and Brian let out a cry of pain together as Brian’s head shot up into Yort’s. Both received giant dark bruises. “Ow!” Brian exclaimed again, as he discovered he was covered with painful, deep, grass cuts. He also noticed his clothes were ripped, and a foul smelling green sludge on the deepest and worst of the wounds. “What did you do that for, shooting your head up like that?”Yort shouted, removing a wad of green sludge from his eye. “I didn’t mean to.” “Well you did. And now there is montagotraly all over my laboratory.” “Excuse me, but what is montraglowy?” “Montagotraly! A simple remedy for most things, it’s a mix of potraly, mantagon, some cat - 127 -


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manure a bit of pl—” “Cat manure? You put cat manure on me?” “Either that—or you can sit in a comer to die of thirst or hunger, or you could be eaten inside-out by tiny little bugs or you—” “Have you ever heard of a white lie?” “No, as I was saying o—” “I think it is time for this conversation to end.” “But I have barely started on the terrible and excruciating deaths that you could suffer.” “Yes but I would rather leave that unsaid.” “Fine,”Yort said, as he folded his stubby arms the best he could.

8 The Talking Bush “Step exactly where I stand or you will have to put up with the stench of cat manure one more night.” “I’m stepping, I’m stepping.” “Well, step faster. We’ve already wasted enough time with all your injuries.” “Hey! I didn’t mean to get injured. And I can tell you, it wasn’t the best of experiences.” “Well it was a simple instruction.” “Yeah, but you didn’t tell me there were two bridges, or which one to cross.”

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“Well you did interrupt me.” “No I didn’t.” “Oh yes you did.” “Children, children, stop the fighting,” a voice croaked from a nearby bush. “So what now, bushes talk too?” Brian was exasperated. “No, I am not the bush, I am in the bush,” the voice said. “Ynot, is that you.” “Who else would it be,”Ynot croaked, and he appeared from behind the thorny greenery. He stood about two metres tall, pure white with a black left ear and a black patched right eye. “I thought that bald blue ybbat cat killed you, Yort said, admiring a deep scar on Ynot’s cheek. “What was its name? Feihc, that was it, yes, Feihc.” “It almost did, but I managed to escape.” “Anyway, we’re going to the castle. You wanna come?” “Don’t you want to know the heroic story of my brave escape from the fearsome cat, Feihc,” Ynot asked, placing one foot on a stone and raising a small stick in the air. He looked rather like a hero who has defeated a great and evil creature from - 129 -


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the stories of knights and kings … well, less like that and more like a knight who has no sword, no dragon and rattling armour that gives him no balance. “No, not really,”Yort replied, absently. “Well fine, I shall sulk until, well, until I stop sulking … so there.” “Okay, come along Brian,” Yort said, and he turned to walk away. “Okay, okay, if you insist, I’ll come.” “Fine by me,”Yort replied, hiding a smirk and muttering to himself,“Typical Ynot.”

9 The Plan “Do you see that hill over there,” Yort said, raising his index finger to a large hill just visible through the fog.“The castle is just behind that hill. That fog is from the magical marshes.” “How much farther?” Brian complained. “Well, if you measured from here to the castle, that’s how long the trip is,”Yort replied. “Yeah, I know that much, but how far is that?” “I guess we’ll just have to find out. Here’s a good spot to camp,” Yort said, indicating a large tree.“We can then figure out the plan.” “What plan?” - 130 -


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“The plan to get into the castle.”

10 When You Find Out The Plan “So the plan is to go around these marshes?” “Correct. Then we’ll tell the vulture that lives in the mountain to send a message ahead of us, telling Mij that we are coming so he can open the gates for us. Then all we need to do is walk to the castle, avoid any mouse traps and enter. Then we can ask Mij to send you home. Easy.” “Are you sure Mij will send me home,” Brian asked, trying to catch Yort’s eye while avoiding the marshes. “Sure, of course,”Yort replied. But Brian noticed Yort avert his eyes.

11 The Vulture “Hello?”Yort called as he entered the vulture’s cave. “Hello-ello-llo-lo-o,” the echo replied. “Valary …” “Valary-alary-ary-ry-y …” “Are you there?” Only the echo and a slow drip of water sliding down the stalactites onto the floor answered him.“Ere-er-re-e …” “She must be out in her tree … let’s go,”Yort - 131 -


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said, and they turned to leave. Suddenly, the beating of large wings sounded above them. Together, they whirled around to find a huge vulture sitting on a stalagmite. “Hello Valary,”Yort said holding out a scroll he had written last night. “I’ve got a message for you to take to the castle ahead of us.” “Of course Yort, anything for an old friend,” Valary said, taking the scroll and swooping out of the cave. Brian nearly slipped on the damp floor. “Are you sure he will get the code?” he asked. “Of course,”Yort replied, once again not making eye contact, which caused him to nearly slip over the same puddle as Brian. “Well, we did sort of tell him you would put me in chains,” Brian said. Yort continued to avoid his eye. “I told you, it’s the opposite in words as well, so in chains would mean his finest suite,”Yort said. “Come on, let’s get started. The Mighty Mij doesn’t like to wait,”Ynot said, steering the fight for eye contact out of dangerous waters. “Good point, Ynot,” Yort said, seizing the opportunity with both hands. And so the journey continued.

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12 The Secret Path … Two “Now, watch your step,” Yort said, nearly stepping on a mouse-trap. “You too,” Brian said, noticing the short man’s flailing arms. Yort conveniently went deaf for those couple of seconds. “Finally, the almighty drawbridge.” “It’s not that fancy.” “You better hope Mij doesn’t hear you. He thinks his castle is the best in both worlds.” Brian looked at the imposing building. “So, anyway, how do we get into the world’s best castle?” “First you cross the bridge, and then you ask the guards, with a ‘please’, to open the gate. Then you walk across the bridge and open the door and then you walk in,”Yort said, smugly. “Why did Mij put these mouse-traps down?” Brian asked, changing the subject. “Mij loves to eat mice.” “And?…” Brian prompted. “And, well, you know, he wants to grab every chance he has to catch them an—” Yort’s voice trailed off as his train of thought stopped short. “He’s a little loopy isn’t he?” “Well yes he is,”Yort said. And then he gestured toward the huge castle.“And here it is.”

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The castle was very tall but not very wide, and was rectangular viewed from above.“It looks much more impressive from down here,” Brian said. It was made from rough stone with two smoothstoned turrets and a bridge that reached almost to the top. Two flags flew between the turrets. One was maroon with a white mouse on a dinner plate, its tail crossed with a silver and gold sword. The other was light blue with a dark blue capital letter ‘P’ on it, but the P’s circle was swirled. Brian thought this meant the castle has a portal. “So let’s see this Mij fella,” Brian said, striding forward.

13 The Drawbridge Yort hurried after Brian and placed a hand on his shoulder. “They have to see my ID first,”Yort said. The guard looked intensely at Yort as he fumbled with his healer’s bag that was always in his possession. He showed the little badge to the guard. Brian smiled up at him. The guard looked puzzled and looked at Yort for reassurance. Yort got another badge out of the bag, flashed it at the guard, who nodded in acknowledgement and then rushed to tell the guards who controlled the gate. “What was that second badge?” Brian asked. - 134 -


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“Oh … well … that old thing? That’s to tell them who you are.” “So who am I? I’m sure they don’t have one for Brian.” “The badge said you were here for the portal. And we need to say goodbye to Ynot here because he’s not allowed in the castle. But don’t worry; he has his own kennel down the back.” “See you at dinner, Yort,”Ynot said. “You too,”Yort called after him. “Bye Ynot,” Brian called, waving to the fading figure. Then he was snapped back to reality as the chains that opened the drawbridge began to make a horrible grinding screech. “So, this is the inside of the castle?”

14 The Great Greeting “Yep.” They were walking through a huge hall made from smooth stone. “Not very decorative,”Brian said, looking at the bland walls and plain furniture. The hall was very long and even Yort’s soft boots echoed. “And, here we are,”Yort said. He stood before a huge door: at least four metres wide by five high, with iron reinforcements hammered into solid oak. It looked to Brian as - 135 -


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though it would have taken fifty men to get it in place as well as some sort of machinery. The guard that led them gripped the solid cast-iron ring hanging from the knocker and threw it against the steel plate. “You may enter,” a voice called from behind the door. All four guards had to push with all their might to open it. The iron hinges screeched as the rust that formed on them was forced to move to another sanctuary. Clearly, not a lot of visitors here, Brian thought. “Aaah, Yort,” a voiced boomed,“how wonderful to see you again.” “My liege, how may I serve you?” Yort said, making an over-dramatic bow. Brian looked confused as Yort’s nose touched the floor, his wrist twisted in many small circles; his other hand tucked behind his back. “Well you could tell me who this is,” Mij sneered, pointing at Brian. Mij hated people who didn’t think that he was above them, and those who didn’t bow till their noses touched the floor. “This is Brian,” Yort said, showing Mij the second badge he carried“He’s umm … here for the portal.” “I see,” Mij said, eyeing Brian suspiciously. - 136 -


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Brian nodded rocking on his heels hands behind his back, smiling cheerfully at Mij. “Guards, Mij called,“escort Brian to his suite.” Mij smiled; the edges of his mouth curling in an evil twist. “Of course, sire,” the guards replied in unison. They placed two hands on Brian’s arms and marched him to a door in the left corner of the room. “Well goodbye Yort,” Brian called, twisting his neck to look at Yort, who simply nodded seriously and wore a pained look on his face. Yort seemed to have changed since walking into the castle.

15 The Joke Gone Too Far “I mean, I really feel bad—he’s not like the others, he’s … just … well… different,”Yort said to Ynot, changing position for the hundredth time, having found yet another stone beneath him. “I’ve been helping Mij forever. He asked me to get this mouse-trapper so he can put him to work catching mice for his snacks—don’t ask me why he loves eating mice as much as he does—but when he asked me to get this guy, we were only planning it with the spy mice, and then—all of a sudden—he comes here all by himself and I’ve actually grown to like him and now he’s thrown in the dungeons ’cos I tricked him and he’ll be a slave forever, and I - 137 -


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am sure he’ll have some family that is missing him heaps …”Yort ran out of words and slumped, his chest heaving. “I do believe that you just managed to fit a paragraph of speech into one sentence,”Ynot said, looking up and down as Yort breathed heavily. “Yes, but still, I really think we should get him out of there.” “I know, but how?” Ynot said, doing his best to shrug. “I think I have a plan,”Yort said, and he began to draw a map on the soft earth.

16 The Guest Room “I wish someone cared that I’m in this dungeon,” Brian said to the rat nibbling on his toes. “But noone does: no family no friends and … well … noone.” He slumped onto the mouldy limestone as Yort walked in with a plate of stale bread and a trickle of water. Brian began rambling on again. “And then there’s the lady over the ro— Oh, you again … I see you’ve been kind enough to bring me a lovely freshly made feast there.” Yort motioned the guards away. “This is all I could get,” he said, placing the platter on the cold floor, shame written all over his face. - 138 -


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“At least I have all my little friends,” Brian said. “Really, you’ve made friends with the mice?” “No I was just joking,” Brian said, surprised at Yort’s reaction. “No, the mice,” Yort said, as though he was missing the most obvious thing in the world.“Oh I am so stupid, the mice.” “The mice?” “Yes, the mice. He loves them.” “Who loves them?” “We could use them as a lure.” “And now I’m talking to myself,” Brian said, as Yort launched into a rave about mice and the best plan he’d ever thought of. Brian sat in the corner playing with the straw. “Are you even listening to me?”Yort said. “Huh … what? What did I miss?” Brian said. Yort was talking to him, not to himself. “I shall take that as a no,” Yort said, and he returned to talking to himself.“I have a plan.” “Oh.” “So … you ask the mice—with a ‘please’—to come in here, then you pretend to be all innocent, playing with the mice. Then I come back from giving you this and tell Mij that you have all the mice in your cell and I, his trusty adviser, will tell him that he should get the mice out …”Yort trailed off. Brian - 139 -


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wondered why, then he realised he was drifting off to dreamland. Presently, he snapped back to reality and continued where he’d left off. “… so all you need to do is ask the mice to come in here and act crazy and innocent, what do you think?” “I think it’s great,” Brian said. “Fantastic, in fact.” Brian hadn’t heard a word of what Yort had just said but, from what he had to do, it seemed pretty simple.

17 The Couch Yort hurried down the passage to the throne room. “Your Majesty,” he said, breathlessly, “I have urgent news. Brian’s cell is full of mice. I must say, this is a rare opportunity.” “Take me there,” Mij Demanded. “Of course, my liege,”Yort said. Mij rose from his throne. Guards ran forward with a piece of wood that had a small couch on it with a hole in the middle. The transport worked by Yort sticking his head through the hole so Mij could sit on top. Mij clambered on, Yort got into position and Mij sat. Two guards hurried forward to help Yort. Yort staggered a few paces before he widened his eyes to get the message across. - 140 -


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“Oh right,” a guard said. “Of course, Yort.” And he motioned to the other guard. “Oi, Garry come ’ere help me escort Mij t’ the dungeons.” Garry hurried to stand by his friend, and they lifted Mij onto their shoulders. “Are you all right down there?” Mij asked. “I really think that you should cut a hole in the couch so you can see, and guards four and seven can get back to work.” “Yes, I really should,”Yort said, happily walking under the wood, hurrying so he could keep up with the guards’ long strides.

18 The Plan in Action “You see, sir?”Yort said, showing Brian talking to a crowd of about a hundred rats. “What do you think we should do?” Mij asked, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “I think we should use a …” “Go on,” Mij prompted. “Well, there’s this old spell I saw that can get you anything. All you have to do is get items to represent the things you want,”Yort said. “Sounds good to me,” Mij replied.“Continue.” “So … you want to free the mice, but keep Brian in the dungeon; then you want to eat the mice and you want to do it without suspicion, correct?” - 141 -


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“Correct.” “If I remember correctly, freedom is a key, trapped is chains, food is a platter and unseen is a blindfold or a sack. So all we have to do is get those items and I think I can remember the spell.” “Sounds good. So I’ll leave it to you to get the things you need,” Mij said. “Of course, but I don’t think we need to deprive these men from their jobs any longer,” Yort said, indicating the guards waiting patiently by the door. “And the book did say something about having no one around except the caster of the spell, the person on whom the spell is cast, and the willer of the spell—the person who wants the spell cast.” Yort looked at the guards. “Sorry guys, you’ll have to wait in the throne room.” All four guards bowed their way out and Yort said, “So time to get down to business. Okay, the key … um what about that one on your belt?”Yort pointed to the large key. “Oh that would be the dungeon key,” Mij said. “Of course, I will give it back if doesn’t get destroyed.” “Okay,” Mij said, and passed the key to Yort. “Now the chain, well there’s always the ones in the dungeons,”Yort said, grabbing some chain from the wall in Brian’s cell. - 142 -


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“And the platter, well I just gave Brian his dinner so it’s right by the door.”Yort stuck his hand under the bars and grabbed the platter. “And finally, the sack … I think you use sacks for the pillows.” And Yort dashed into an empty cell and returned with a sack. “This may seem a bit strange,” he said, placing the sack on Mij’s head. “But it’s okay. Now hold out your hands …” He placed the platter in Mij’s outstretched hands, then put the key and the chains on the platter. Then he started to chant.“Allah blaba zoozy woozy mambo jumbo tinka wiinka poof.” It all happened in a flash. Yort grabbed the platter, whacked Mij over the head with it, chained his hands behind his back, shoved him in a cell, grabbed the key and locked the door. Then he unlocked Brian’s cell. “Come on, we don’t have all day,” he said. Brian was already waiting at the door.“So that’s what you were going to do?”he asked, a little wideeyed. “I did explain it all to you.” “Hey I zoned out.” “I feel so special knowing that my companion is always there to listen to me,”Yort said.“Come on let’s take the servants’ pass—it’s easy access to all the rooms in the castle. If we take the one through - 143 -


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the kitchen we can go through the throne room to the portal room and you can be off.” “Sounds good to me,” Brian said, starting off at a run.

19 The Servants’ Pass “This tunnel thing is cool,” Brian said, looking around the dark tunnel. “It’s been here for ages.”Yort ducked to avoid a low lamp.“Ah, here we are.” They were at the end of the tunnel. Yort pulled on a rope and a ladder descended. He went up the ladder and thumped on the trapdoor until it opened with a loud creak. Brian followed Yort up the ladder to a door. A blue light blinded him when it opened and he stepped into the room. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust and he saw a lectern, but instead of notes on it, this one had buttons. Yort looked at the numbers on the panel and frowned. “There is enough to open a portal but it will only last about two minutes,” he said. “Well that’s great then, Mij can’t follow me,” Brian said, a broad grin on his face. “Yes but when you get through, the machine will probably destroy itself.” “Even better, then Mij can never get to me and try to capture me again,” Brian said the grin still on - 144 -


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his face. “Yeah, but that is a big sign that tells Mij I let you go. I could probably cover up the platter thing because the bag was over his head. But this, I am the only person in the whole country apart from Mij who knows how to use it.” “I see your problem,” Brian said, the smile fading from his face.“Sorry Yort.” “I guess we can’t help it,”Yort said, fiddling with the buttons. A few seconds later a blue swirling circle appeared in midair. “What if you came with me,” Brian suggested. “I’d love to!” Yort said, his mood suddenly buoyant. “Hang on two seconds while I go get Ynot.” Brian waited as Yort sped off but just then the guards appeared. Brian leaped back in shock. Into the portal. There was an explosion and the portal was gone.

20 Home Sweet Home The strange sucking feeling started again exactly like the one he’d experienced when he entered Opposite Land. Except that, instead of feeling sucked out, he felt sucked in. Then it all stopped and he was standing next to the mouse hole. Then he saw Chief. “Oh Chief,” he said, “how glad I am to see you again.”He tried to run to the cat, tripped and nearly - 145 -


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squashed him. “I forgot, I can’t walk in this world and I left my wheelchair in the other world.” Brian began to crawl to his bedroom where he kept his spare wheelchair. Just as he got back to the living room, the door bell rang. “Hullo, who is it?” “It’s me, Troy.” “Oh you,” Brian said, in utter disgust. The last time he’d seen him, was when Troy put mice in Brian’s house. “Is that you Brian?” “Yes it is.” “Well I’m Troy, but some people call me Yort.” “Yort,”Brian said, racing to the door and flinging it open, “is that you? Come in, come in,” he said, sitting in the doorway with a silly grin on his face. Later, after Brian had settled down, he asked Yort how he got there. “When Mij assigned me in the opposite world,” Troy explained,“he found my double in this world, so I could spy on you without having to go back and forth between worlds. That’s why I’ve been giving you so much trouble. Sorry about that.” “If I knew we were going to be friends, I would never have shouted at you,” Brian said. “Yeah well, same here. Anyway, time to get back to business—I also work for that weight thingy. So - 146 -


RUN YOUR HEART OUT It was a chilly Tuesday morning in April, 2010, and Taylor was watching her belongings being loaded into a big, blue, removalist truck. She was moving to Desperaque, a town in the middle of nowhere and was sad to leave her home, her friends and her beautiful but small kitchen. With tears in her eyes she looked at her mother, Margaret, and said,“Why do we have to move?” Margaret smiled. “It was where your father grew up and there are things there he would like us to do.” Half an hour later, Taylor was in the passenger seat of her mother’s rusty, blue Ford ute with her handbag next to her and her laptop on her knees. They entered her new home town and Taylor looked out the window at the hills and the river— she couldn’t believe that this was her new home— it had one road in and one road out. In the distance a girl stood on a hill and watched the car drive by. Her mother called out to her.

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“Lulu, come inside for lunch.” “Mum, there’s a car that I don’t recognise heading to town.” The car pulled up outside the town’s information centre. An old man looked at Taylor as she walked in with her mother, and said, “Hello. Wow! What fine earrings you have, youngster.” Margaret looked uncomfortable. “Um … we’re moving here, so, I wonder, could you help us?” “Well, well, well why didn’t you say so?” the old man said, looking momentarily puzzled. “You would be Margaret and Taylor—I’m Bill. So, which one’s which?” “I’m, Ta— Ow! What was that for?” Margaret looked at Taylor.“Oh yes, where is our house?” “This way ladies,” Bill said, and turned toward the rear of the information centre. “John, come here, so I can show these ladies their house.” A tall, young man appeared from behind a door. “Okay, okay I’m here,” he said. They got in their car and went back the other way, but they didn’t exit the town. Instead, they headed for an empty house near some deserted stables. Taylor opened the door expecting a boogie monster waiting to scare the bejeebies out of her. - 148 -


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A rat ran across the hall and she let out a windowshattering, ear-piercing, scream and slammed the door shut. “Why do we have to live here?” she whined. “Well you’ve gotta get used to it,” Bill said, his voice gruff.“’Cos this is all you have and there ain’t no tents in this town.” Taylor heard a crack and turned around. Her horse was rearing at a snake. She ran to the horse, mounted in a single jump and cantered off down the track away from the house towards the gates. But before she got out, a huge fleet of cars went past at walking pace. While she was waiting, her mother grabbed her horse and dragged her back to the house. Taylor wasn’t going to give in; she put up a fight. “I’m not staying in this piece of junk,”she yelled at the top of her lungs. “And why not?” her mother snapped. “There is no way in the whole wide world that I am staying.” “What if we renovate the place? And you design your own room?” “That would be a possibility. Actually, in that case, I’m staying.”Taylor sighed and looked toward - 149 -


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Bill, but he was no longer there—he was riding back to town at a canter on his beautiful Dun Friesian pony. They just laughed. So they went to the paint shop to get colours, then the carpenter’s for wood, laminate flooring and nails, and finally, the hardware store to get some tools. When they returned, Taylor took her hair out and tied up her skirt. She chose the room at the front of the house, which had a perfect view of the mountains and the town. She stepped towards the double-door cupboard in the corner of the room and, as her foot landed, the floorboard broke and she fell through. She looked down to make sure she could get her foot out again without causing any damage, and beneath it was a piece of old parchment turned face downwards. It was an old map of the town—with the hills, the entrance to Desperaque, and her little old house. She looked at a clump of bushes shown on the map. Someone had written, in what was now faded ink, ‘Robber’s Cave.’ Meanwhile Lulu was getting ready to go to the Desperaque Secret Agency, also known as the D.S.A. She ran down the hill to the old bridge where she jumped over the edge onto the trapdoor. It opened and let her inside the common room. - 150 -


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She was saturated so she stood in front of the window rugged up in towels. She looked at Billie, the founder of D.S.A. He looked disappointed. “Why so down?” she asked. “The robber has escaped, and we don’t have any evidence of anything.” “Wait. I saw the robber running in to the Minniable Forest, maybe that would help?” Lulu was eager to make her contribution count. “Lulu you are a genius. That’s great evidence— he must be headed for Robber’s Cave, where we found the man who stole the mannequin made of gold.” Back in her new home, Taylor was studying the map she’d found hidden under the floor. She hid it behind her back when her mother entered the room, she didn’t want her to see what she’d found. “So are you happy being able to design your room the way you want?” Margaret asked, kindly. “Yes, I’m overjoyed. And I like this couch,” Lulu said, plonking herself on an old red leather piece of wood, fluff and soft material. “Can I keep it in my room? I’ll give it some touch-ups and new material.…” She paused a moment and then said, “Also can I get a dog from the pet store?” Her mother sighed. “On one condition—you - 151 -


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feed it, walk it and take it where it needs to go. And it has to sleep in your room.” Taylor wanted a dog so dearly that she promised to take proper care of it. She slid the map into the crack between two cushions. She went for a walk into town. When she reached the old bridge, she looked into the water. It looked so beautiful and then she saw a black, grimy door on the bottom. Curious, she dived down and opened the door. The first thing she saw was a girl about her age standing with a man almost double her height. “Where am I? And who are you?” she asked, dripping puddles onto the floor. Neither of them replied. “What are your names?”she demanded, loudly. But still, they didn’t speak. Taylor was growing frustrated; she was cold and wet and curious about the strange trapdoor and the two people standing before her. “Before you get our names, you tell us yours,” Lulu said, with a dark gothic expression on her face. “My name is Taylor … Taylor Saythen,” Taylor said. “Okay then … this is Billie and I’m Lulu,” Lulu - 152 -


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said, pointing her thumb at Billie. “Welcome to the D.S.A.—the Desperaque Secret Agency,” Billie said. “You are now an agentin-training but you ain’t to tell nobody.” “Secret’s safe with me,”Taylor said. “Now, how can I get back to walking to town so I can get a puppy?” Billie nodded at the ladder that led to the trapdoor, but before Taylor could reach it, Lulu said, “Hey, Taylor, go this way.” And she opened a door in the wall behind her and added, “I want to come with you, if that’s all right.” Taylor was overjoyed to have some company. As they walked to town, though, she had the uneasy feeling that someone was stalking them. She stopped and looked at the forest on her left. Two eyes watched her from the gloom. “Who’s there?” Lulu asked. But nothing came out of the trees except a cute cat. The girls thought its ginger coat and green eyes were adorable; it looked cute and innocent but it was, in fact, part of an evil master plan by the mystery robber. The cat was a robot with cameras for eyes so the mystery robber could see where they were going and hopefully show him how to get into - 153 -


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the D.S.A. so he could crash their technology and ruin the secrecy of their hideout. They took the cat along with them to the town vet, saying it was a stray. Then Lulu showed Taylor the pet store. Half an hour later, Taylor walked out with a female, black, white and tan miniature Dachshund that she’d named Chibo. They walked on to Mr Popper’s Bike Shop to get themselves shiny new bikes. Taylor got a silver one with a turquoise basket and a purple flower. She may have been fourteen, but she still had a little kid inside her. Lulu’s was a black and hot-pink mountain bike with rainbow coloured spokes. They rode back to the vet’s to get a collar and leash. Taylor parked her bike out the front and walked in while Lulu stayed with Chibo and the bikes. Less than a minute later, Taylor ran out and asked Lulu about puppy classes, and if she would help train Chibo. Lulu went back in with Taylor, but she had a feeling that the robber would steal the bikes, so she stayed at the door pretending to be a robber herself. She snuck out and grabbed the bikes, and shoved them in her mum’s car, which was sitting in the staff parking bay. She slammed the driver’s door with a bang, and Taylor came running out and jumped in the passenger’s seat. Lulu revved the - 154 -


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engine and they sped off. They reached the intersection just as Taylor remembered she’d left Chibo at the vet’s. She started biting her lip. Lulu didn’t realise until they reached the top of hill where her home was. “What’s wrong?” Lulu asked, staring at her. “Chibo is still at the vet’s,”Taylor cried. Lulu did her witch-like laugh. “Whose car is this?” “Your mum’s.” “Where did we come from?” “The vet’s.” “So?” “Your mum works at the vet, which means she is looking after Chibo.” Lulu kept laughing, but Taylor was frowning. Lulu looked in the rear-view mirror and saw the town robber following them. She jammed the Toyota Hilux into reverse and backed down the hill at high speed. The filthy thief ran back down the hill until he fell and rolled, head-over-heels, the rest of the way. The car screeched to a halt and it just so happened that Billie was on his daily jog. He sprinted toward the robber. But the robber jumped up and ran like the wind to his cave in the Minniable Forest before Billie could reach him. - 155 -


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He was lucky that time but Lulu was prepared to continue chasing him. With a sudden light-bulb moment, she jumped into the car and drove to the Minniable Forest. She got Billie to take a walkie-talkie, left one with Taylor and took one for herself. Billie and Lulu split up in the forest, and Taylor stayed in the car for emergency calls. Soon after Lulu and Billie disappeared into the undergrowth, the robber came out and tried to sabotage the car. Billie and Lulu heard Taylor’s screams. “Argh! He’s at the car, Help!” They dashed back to the car where the robber was so busy trying to calm Taylor that he didn’t notice them. So they snuck up and grabbed him by the sleeve. It ripped and he escaped again. He raced away towards Gwalimpia, the neighbouring town. It was three months later, nine in the evening, and the day was almost done. Taylor’s house was fully renovated and she’d just had barbecued marinaded ribs and coleslaw salad, and was very tired. As her head hit the pillow, she heard a bang from the hills. She sat bolt upright and, in a minute and twenty-four seconds exactly, she was out the door and on her Welsh mountain pony, Sanna, - 156 -


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cantering flat out to the above-ground entrance to the D.S.A. HQ. There was no time to dismount. Taylor punched in the code number 0284619375, and rode into the common room where Billie sat with his cup of coffee and newspaper. “The robber is at Lulu’s house,” she said. “He broke in and had a gun. After I heard the bang, I heard screaming.” Coffee went everywhere as Billie jumped up and ran out the door before you could say jellybean. There was no sign of anyone apart from Lulu running down the hill, screaming, “He went that way.” She pointed to town. Taylor cantered to the jewellery store, Dogs or Diamonds. She arrived just as the robber rushed out the door, spooking Sanna. She threw Taylor, who landed on the robber, and he collapsed in a heap. She quickly tied his ankles together, even though there wasn’t anything easy about wrestling a fully grown adult. He flipped and pushed Taylor into a wall, snapping her wrist. He turned and tried to run, but his ankles were tied and he fell flat on his face. Instead of tears of pain, Taylor cried tears of laughter, and when Billie and Lulu caught up with her, they too were infected by her crazy contagious - 157 -


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giggling. Because fleeing a crime scene isn’t easy on your hands, the robber was caught. He yelled a bunch of expletives at the trio. They took him to the common room. Lulu got Taylor some ice and called the doctor, while Billie handcuffed the robber. Soon the police arrived, and a policeman asked Taylor if she wanted to unveil the man’s face. “I think I’ll let you do it,” she said. The mask was removed and a gasp from Billie was all that was heard. “Fine I confess … I’m Fred, the town electrician.” A frown spread across Billie’s face.“You absolute traitor, foolish and unreliable man,” he said. Fred was sent to jail, and for the next few years there was only fun, no problems. That’s basically where the story ends.

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Commons and Other Adventure Stories  

A collection of short stories written by the Born Storyellers of 2011. Thirteen ripping adventure stories from young authors aged between...