Excerpt for Short Tales 4 by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Short Tales 4

A collection of short stories for kids 8 – 12 years

Short Tales 4

Copyright remains with the individual authors

Published by Storm Cloud Publishing (2018)

ISBN: 978-1-925285-30-7 Smashwords Edition

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Junior Fiction: A collection of short stories from writers all around the world.

Action and adventure, Fun and imagination, Fairy tales and fantasy, Animals and aliens, Celebrations and Festivals, Magic and Mystery, Light horror, Stories of the Past, Family relationships, Urban drama.

Ages 8 – 12 years


The Sisters of Halloween

Stef Gemmill

The Landing

Lizbeth Klein

What the Storm Left Behind

Karen Morrow

Revving Up

Carole Lander

The Lost Laugh

Jo Mularczyk

Seagull Pirates

Karen Hendriks

The Real Princess

Jaz Stutley

Shadows of the Night

Margaret Pearce

Battle of the Wands

Leonie Hearn

About the Authors

Storm Cloud ebooks

The Sisters of Halloween

Stef Gemmill

“Where is it? It’s here…somewhere, I just know it,” Morgan muttered, clanging doors and rattling drawers, flitting from room to room. The search had been going on for almost an hour. Now the pale, small girl stopped in the hallway. She pushed her long black hair behind her ears, moaning out loud.

“I know it’s tucked away somewhere,” she cursed. “When I find it, I’ll need some wings and a tiara, too.”

She spun on her feet and sped down the attic stairs, causing a gust of air to flap the tall, red curtains. She stopped outside her own bedroom, dimly lit from the closed window shutters. She shuffled through her drawers and shelves. Old hats and suitcases and other old things soon covered the floor from her furious search.

That’s strange. These aren’t my things? Morgan wondered.

Nothing in the cupboards resembled the dreamy fairy dress she hunted for. Her room looked a little different too, but she couldn’t quite figure out what had changed.

“Drat – it’s definitely not in here,” and she stamped her foot.

She slumped against the window, watching the passersby on the street. Small children were busy decorating trees and fences with rubber bats and cardboard skeletons. A gust of wind blew a witch hat up in the air.

Morgan watched a girl the same age, about twelve, swing her arms in the air, swiping at the hat, finally catching it. As the girl placed it firmly on her head, she looked up at the window where Morgan stood, squinting her eyes to get a better view of the shape in the window. Morgan waved down to the girl, hoping it was a friend she could join on tonight’s adventure. But the girl just gasped and ran away.

“She’s not very friendly. Hmmph,” Morgan spat. “I’ll find my own Halloween fun, but first I must find THAT dress.”

“Eva! Is that you making all that noise upstairs?” called her oldest sister, Olive from several floors below.

“Of course – it’s in Eva’s room!”

Morgan bounced on her toes, hurrying down the next flight of stairs in danger of tumbling at such speed. She poked the top of her head into Eva’s bedroom, keeping silent. The two sisters were close once, but now she seemed to ignore Morgan all the time.

Eva’s room looked changed to Morgan – more grown up now. Gone were the pink fairy posters on the wall, replaced with horse riding competition ribbons and family photos. Gone were the dolls piled high in the rocking chair they used to play with together for hours.

Eva was half buried inside a wardrobe filled with clothes made with sequins and silk, singing to herself as she pulled out dress after dress. Morgan slipped into her room, unnoticed. Eva stepped back, holding a sparkling silver dress with delicate fabric that floated in the air.

“Oh, there it is. The most beautiful dress in the world,” gasped Morgan, fixing her gaze on the sparkling light bouncing off the beaded silk.

Eva buried her face in the dress, breathing in the scent of past Christmases and Halloweens. She sat in the rocking chair, clutching it to her chest, rocking back and forth, staring at the family photos on her dresser table. With a heavy sniff and a sigh, Eva laid the silvery dress on the rocking chair. Then, she returned to the wardrobe.

“Oh, there they are. Now, it’s the most perfect fairy costume ever,” Eva cooed as she hung out costume wings and a jewelled tiara on the arm of the chair.

“Uh-oh. Is Eva thinking about wearing it? This is turning into a terrible Halloween,” Morgan sobbed quietly in the corner, still hiding behind the door. She covered her face with her hands as an uncontrollable sadness took over her.

Eva appeared to not hear – her head buried deep inside the wardrobe again. She shuffled through a row of coats, stopping to pull on a heavy velvet cape – midnight black with a blood red lining. Then, she tipped out the contents of a box, searching through a jumble of trinkets.

“Perfect!” said Eva. She smirked at herself in the mirror, as she pushed a set of vampire teeth into her mouth.

Morgan fixed her eyes on the dress, now draped on the chair in the corner. Her fixation with the dress was so powerful. She would do anything to have it. She crept around the edge of the room, taking care not to knock anything. She moved closer to Eva, tiptoeing without a sound.

Suddenly, Eva shuddered her shoulders and her skin prickled with little bumps. She turned her head and walked to the window, shutting out the late afternoon breeze.

Morgan ran her fingers over the soft, silky sleeves. Tiny beads sewn into the fabric shimmered like golden stars. It was the finest looking dress her mother had ever made. But when she had finished sewing it, the dress was too big for Morgan. She was told to wait until she’d grown a little taller before she could ever wear it. And so it was given to Eva to wear.

I must be tall enough now, she thought.

While Eva fussed over her black hair bun and dark mascara, Morgan scooped the dress into her arms. The fabric felt like raindrops, dripping between her fingers. She tried to push her arms into the sleeves, but it slipped out of her hands. She tried pushing her other arm through, again with no luck. Morgan tried again to pull the dress over her head, but it just floated back down to the chair.

The fabric must be old, it seems to be falling apart.

But the dress looked all in one piece as it sat laid out on the chair. Frustrated, Morgan tried to pick the tiara up, but this slithered out of her grip too.

Why does this happen to me? I never seem to be able to pick things up. Morgan plopped onto the chair, puzzled, rocking back and forth.

Oh no – I’m going to be stuck wearing this silly outfit tonight, looking down at the skeleton print pyjamas she practically lived in now. Her bottom lip dropped. This was going to be her best Halloween ever. Morgan tried to remember what she wore to Halloween last year. Was it the fairy dress? Or did Eva wear it?

She pressed her hands to her head. It hurt when she tried to think of the past. Even recalling what she did yesterday was locked away somewhere. Her mind felt filled with fog.

Eva jolted back as the empty chair appeared to rock by itself in the corner of her bedroom. Her face had turned ghostly white, as if she’d seen something in the room from another place and time. But then she broke into a smile as she realised the tiara had just slipped to the floor.

“Silly me, that’s why the chair moved,” she said as she finished smudging fake blood on her lips.

Ding-dong, ding-ding!

“Hurry up, Eva!” yelled Olive, “our friends are here.” She tapped her witch broom on the tiles, its thump banging through the huge house. “We’re ready to fly – ha, ha, ha.”

A group of teenage witches and vampires cackled at Olive’s clever joke.

“Coming!” Eva yelled to the group waiting down at the front door. “Let’s go,” she puffed as she skidded down the stairs.

Then the door slammed shut, leaving Morgan behind upstairs. Alone.

“Oh wait, please, I’ll come dressed like this,” cried Morgan down the stairwell, to an empty house.

She zipped down the stairs, her feet barely touching the carpet floor. In the distance, a scuttling sound echoed from the far end of the house.


A scruffy, brown dog scampered across the floor. Sparky growled at first as Morgan zoomed down the last flight of stairs to greet him.

“Oh, Sparky, silly doggy, it’s me!”

She bent down to let him sniff her. Sparky yipped noisily and rolled onto his back.

“Little Sparky. You still love your tummy tickles,” and she brushed her hands over his fur as he lay very still. She could feel his warm fur, unlike the other things in the house which felt cool to her touch.

“Want to come trick or treating with me, Sparky? Just because everyone else has left doesn’t mean we should miss out,” said Morgan to her little friend.

Sparky yipped and danced at her feet as they raced each other to the front door. The dog slipped out into the cool, twilight air through his doggy flap, while Morgan appeared to float right through the door without it opening – like a hole had magically appeared.

The two friends zoomed down the street chasing the red flash of Eva’s cape in the distance. Morgan caught up with the group in a blink of an eye, the family dog not far behind.

“Sparky, where did you come from? You should be at home,” scolded Eva to the little dog now trotting beside them, his pink tongue dangling happily. “All right, you can come, too.”

Morgan stepped in behind the group, too, a smile covering her face.

“Happy Halloween,” beamed Morgan, her faint voice a whisper in the wind.

But no one in the group said hello to Morgan. No one seemed to notice she was there at all.

Eva stopped and turned to Olive, grabbing her hand.

“I can’t help but feel sad on Halloween. Even though it’s been six years, I still feel if I hadn’t worn that dress, Morgan wouldn’t have been a bit sulky that night. And run off without looking at the car coming…”

“Eva, stop beating yourself up,” scolded Olive. “We’ve talked about this so many times. Morgan was hit by a speeding car on a dimly lit street. It was just an accident. You wearing the fairy costume had nothing to do with it. I like to think that Halloween will always be Morgan’s special night – she loved it so much.”

“You’re right, she really did love Halloween. She loved knocking on doors and getting bags of treats. And more than anything, she loved dressing up.” Eva squeezed her hand back tightly.

Olive linked her arm into Eva’s, comforting her. “Don’t feel sad – I always feel like Morgan is with us in spirit.”

“Oh, Olive, I feel so much better now.” Eva breathed deeply, glancing sideways. “This sounds strange, but I feel like Morgan is with us tonight.”

Olive hugged her sister closer to her. “So do I, Eva,” Olive whispered.

A wispy arm reached in between them, unseen. All three sisters, together again this Halloween.

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The Landing

Lizbeth Klein

My eyes flicker open. Pain ignites across my left shoulder like fire. I don’t even know how it got jammed between the wall and console. Carefully, I ease myself out of the cramped position and mentally assess if anything is broken. Nothing. I’ve survived the crash.

Red, green and yellow lights flash at me. I blink, trying to focus on the screen that fades in and out. The pod is failing. Not surprising after the incredible heat from the atmosphere and the hard impact. But where have I crashed? What planet?

All the information I need is right before me on that screen. It’s faint now. It shows this planet is a closed system and can produce everything its inhabitants need for survival. It has a very similar atmosphere and tree content to that of my home, so even if my pod is irreparably damaged, it won’t matter. That’s comforting to a newcomer like me. I just hope the others made it…

With my right hand, I unstrap myself, open the hatch above my head and push it back. Overhead is a pretty blue firmament. A sky, not unlike my own. I’m hesitant to breathe in the atmosphere, but there seems to be enough carbon dioxide in it.

Something swift shoots across my vision and, involuntarily, I sit up to take a better look. It had two appendages on its sides to help it fly. Wings?!

I’m in a small clearing and all around me is a green forest. A cacophony of strange sounds echo from its heart. It’s eerie hearing the alien lifeforms so close to living trees that don’t want to harm them.

I ease myself out of the pod and place my feet on the ground. It’s soft and cushiony beneath my fibrous boots. I don’t possess any weapons and I feel vulnerable out here in the open. After a hasty glance around me, I close the hatch and hurry toward the shelter of the trees.

My name is Quill and I’m not human. I’m a Trillionite. My planet was invaded by Bugadorians and I was one of the fortunate ones to escape. It was beautiful, with a perpetual summer that the Elders originally believed gave rise to the trees’ natural intelligence and malice toward each other before the first wave of wars began. That’s also when my people’s metabolism began to change.

Perhaps it was a form of natural selection that coincided with the intellectual growth of the trees. Some suspected secret Bugadorian technology that somehow stimulated the trees to rouse from their slumber and kill each other. But no one really knew. Now, it doesn’t matter.

When the second year of tree wars began, the Bugadorians came in their thousands and started to systematically wipe out all life on our planet, including us. In haste, our scientists managed to create twenty silver, streamlined pods that resembled seeds. Twenty of the youngest and strongest were sent into space, with the hope that a fragment of these might survive to keep our race from extinction.

My pod crash landed here. This is my story.

Alien trees surround me. I breathe in their fragrance, the spices, the earthiness, and I feel at home. Branches entwine about each other. I sense no animosity among them, only a mutual closeness. And of course, they are all asleep and unaware of me as I pass beneath their dark canopy, brushing my fingers against their rough bark. Insects sing a choir of constant music. The air is humid and the leaves drip with moisture. It’s peaceful and serene.

The inhabitants of this planet are fortunate the trees live in harmony with them. But I sense it’s just a matter of time before things change. Before the Bugadorians find this planet too.

A sudden movement catches my eye.

Near the mossy trunks, six bipedal aliens observe me. They are brown-skinned, like the trees. Their noses are pierced with long bits of what looks like white bone. Are they men? No one moves.

I’m aware of the increase in my heartbeat. What shall I do? I don’t feel ready to confront any life forms yet. I feel afraid and alone. Every decision I make from now on will mean life or death.

One of them lifts a brown arm with a long thin tube, which the alien places in his mouth. He points it at me. I know I should meld, but I’m fascinated by what he’s doing.

I gasp at a stinging pain in my neck that sends me stumbling back. I’ve been hit by something. I reach up and pull a dart out of my neck, its tip coated with purple. Poison?! It’s all over my fingers. I wipe it on the tree beside me. I’m so stupid for trusting them not to harm me.

My vision blurs and the aliens hurry toward me. I have to get away. My legs feel heavy and it’s difficult to think and move. I have to make an attempt to meld.

With my remaining strength, I shove my hand inside the nearest tree but before I complete the transition, I collapse against the bark and darkness obscures my eyes.

“Wake up!”

I start as someone shakes my shoulder. My eyes snap open. The brown-skinned aliens stand around me, staring, but they look frightened, too. That’s because one of my arms and most of one side of my body has melded with the tree. The one shaking me has tanned skin and blue eyes. And he has more clothes on his body than the others.

What happened here?” he asks, genuinely amazed, gesturing to the tree where I’m slumped with half my body inside it.

I can understand what you’re saying.

Are you all right?” he asks and I nod. “What’s happened to your body?”

I’m all right,” I reply and extract myself from the tree to loud gasps and frightened whispers.

The man stumbles back from me and his eyes grow enormous. He stares at the side of my body that melded, clearly shocked by what I just did. I don’t move.

What are you?” he asks.

I can’t afford to tell him. My body aches from the substance in the dart and I feel too dizzy to attempt an escape. Besides, there are too many of them. If I melded into the tree now, they might burn it down or poison it on my account. I would be trapped inside.

The man steps forward again and offers me his hand. “You’re too weak to remain here. Come.”

The brown-skins move back as he helps me to my feet. I sway but the man’s hand steadies me. His touch is sweaty and hot. He must be warm blooded. Our blood is cold and we need the sun like the trees to survive.

One part of me is terrified at the thought of going with these aliens; another part is curious and reckless. That part of me yearns to learn more about this world and it prevails.

The man holds my hand, not tightly, as he leads me through the jungle. Sometimes he speaks and I like that.

My name is Olaf,” he says. “I’m a missionary here with the Mogaby tribe. You scared them witless with what you did back there. They think you’re a demon. Guess you’ll talk more later on, when you’ve had a rest. Are you thirsty?”

He hands me a worn, leather-bound bottle on a long strap with liquid inside. Once he unscrews the lid, I smell it, but the liquid has no scent.

It’s all right,” he says. “It’s just tepid water. Sorry it’s not cold, but ice is a luxury we don’t have here.”

I prefer tepid water so I drink and drink until he removes it from my thirsty mouth.

That’s enough. You’ll make yourself sick if you drink any more.”

I watch as he screws on the cap and places the bottle over his shoulder. Then he looks me up and down curiously.

Where are you from?” he asks again and, not really meaning to, I glance up at the sky. The expression on his face shows he understands my cryptic gaze. “An alien, eh? Well, I can’t imagine why you’d be out here. I’ve only seen the natives in seven long years, so you might enlighten me with news from the stars.”

I don’t think he believes me by the way he chuckles. He turns and we trudge through the balmy jungle. I notice sweat pooling on the back of his khaki shirt and under his arms. It’s pungent. Being cold blooded, we Trillionites never sweat. We thrive in hot, humid temperatures.

After about an hour of slow walking, Olaf stops and looks at me. “There’s something I want to show you back at the village.”

My curiosity piques. What could he possibly want to show me? Then, through the trees, I notice wooden buildings and more brown-skins walking about with young ones. There are also four-legged creatures that wander up and sniff my legs. I jerk back from them, afraid, but when Olaf claps his hands they scurry off with their tails between their back legs. Strange creatures that whimper.

The brown-skins whisper and stare. They all look frightened, but I wouldn’t hurt any of them; that’s not my mission here.

Olaf leads me to a grass-roofed hut and gestures for me to enter. The brown-skins remain outside, but they don’t move away. Inside the hut, there’s a rough wooden table, some chairs and a bed standing against a wall with what appears to be a lumpy mattress on top.

This is where I live,” says Olaf and wipes his brow.

We sit on the chairs and already I feel claustrophobic. We Trillionites yearn the open spaces and trees. Here, I feel trapped, smothered by the close air. I wonder when he’ll show me what he wanted me to see. He clasps his large hands on the table and looks across at me.

Who are you?” he asks again.

My name is Quill,” I tell him.

That’s a start. Now, are you really an alien?”

I nod. He starts and sits back in his chair. “Are there any more of you here?”

Again, I nod.

It’s just that… I found another one of your people in the jungle last month.”

My heartbeat increases and now it’s my turn to be startled. I realise it’s a who and not a what that Olaf wanted to show me. One of my kin. Excitement courses through my body.

Wait here,” Olaf says, strides through the open door and is gone.

I stand up and move to the doorway. Brown-skins, crouched on haunches, watch me from the distance. I start to pace inside the hut when I hear footsteps outside and hurry to the door. My blood vibrates in my veins, a sign of great joy.

Then I see him, walking beside Olaf. He’s so much like me, a Trillionite, except –

His speckled eyes give his species away.

A Bugadorian!

I panic inside and search for a way out. There’s none. I cannot allow myself to be captured by my enemy. I dive through the doorway and run as hard and as fast as I can into the jungle. Already, startled brown-skins give chase. I hear their quiet feet behind me, but I am swifter and I won’t be captured again. Not when the Bugadorians have landed here too.

With haste, I push my hands and arms inside a huge tree, then the rest of my body also until there’s no sign of me. It’s warm and safe within. The tree shuts out the world with all its dangers.

I know Olaf, the brown-skins and the Bugadorian will search for me, each for different reasons, but I’ll remain hidden until darkness falls. Then I’ll move on and search for the rest of my people.

I’ll shut my eyes and sleep till then.

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What the Storm Left Behind

Karen Morrow

The biggest storm of 1938 has finally passed. We stayed inside the lighthouse reading books, playing cards and bickering for five whole days until it finally blew itself out. Father stayed up every night, watching for passing ships through his telescope from the Keep at the very top of the lighthouse. He said the waves were the biggest he’s ever seen.

Tom drags me outside into the dawn to see something. I’m still velvet with sleep and rubbing my eyes so when he points up to the empty sky, I clip him behind the ear.

“Ow! Look” he says. “No clouds.”

Above is endless blue. The last traces of cloud disappear over the horizon like a smear of apricot jam. Everything below is washed clean, as if the island was freshly painted overnight. It is strange to hear nothing but gulls and the peaceful crash of waves against the headland below, as if the storm never happened at all.

We rush through our chores, eager to explore the beach. It’s always exciting to see what treasures are washed up after a storm. Our island here in Bass Strait is on the main shipping line. The shallow waters are notorious for shipwrecks.

Once, Tom and I found a trunk in the shallows, after a big wreck near Flinders Island, washing back and forth with the waves. We waded in and dragged it up onto dry sand and smashed the lock. Inside was full of gentleman’s clothes, perfectly folded and just a bit wet at the edges. At the bottom was a carved box that looked exactly like a jewellery box.

We jumped about with excitement and were arguing over how to spend our new riches when Tom opened it and stopped us both mid-sentence. The box only contained a pipe and tobacco. Father was thrilled with our find. We were crestfallen. He tore up the clothes and used them to polish the Light but he kept the pipe.

We scoff down some bread and dripping before heading off to the jetty with Oscar. He’s tearing ahead, and back to us, and ahead again, barking and wagging his tail. He’s fed up with being cooped up inside too.

The hill track is steep and wobbly but as the shallow water below peeps through grey spindled leaves, anticipation rushes through me. The scrub opens up near the bottom and we stomp, knee deep, through tufted wings of grass, scaring off sleeping tiger snakes. Every shade of blue and green unfurls as the ocean flattens out inside the cupped hands of our secret bay.

Tom is on my heels, pushing me to go faster. Oscar barks and nips at him from behind.

“Let’s race first, then look for treasure,” says Tom. We always race first.

The corrugated sand is littered with flotsam and my legs are burning but we don’t slow down. We peel off our outer clothes, hopping as we pull off our boots and run down to the starting line for The Race.

Our toes wriggle up against the edge of the first board on the jetty and we lower ourselves into the start position. I usually do something to slow things down about now. Tom doesn’t get as puffed as me, which isn’t fair because I’m a year older. But he has beaten me all summer. Today, I am stung by an imaginary bee.

“Girls can’t run,” says Tom. Again.

Oscar runs ahead.

“Three,” Tom says and we spread our elbows.

Oscar barks and springs about.


Our elbows spar. I focus on the finish line. In my head, the rusty red railway lines mark the lanes in the Olympic final. I’m Australia and Tom is Germany. The winner gets a gold medal and the loser…

“Loser gets spud duty all week,” I yell.

“ONE” shouts Tom, a full second after he sprints away.

Oscar’s ears pull back and he sprints after Tom, still barking.

“Hey!” I’m running for my life. “You cheated!”

We thunder down the jetty on our toes because the silvered boards are rough and uneven.

Two pillars, tall and white, mark the finish line where cargo is hoisted up from the supply boat.

Tom and I are neck and neck, so I throw myself through the imaginary finishing line at the end of the jetty, as the imaginary crowd rises to their imaginary feet.

But I keep going, flailing and sailing through the air…

Slap! My front stings and I sink through fingers of cold light. I hold onto the shock until I kick back up, breaking the surface with a squeal. Tom laughs at me and I splash him and call him names. He pushes me under and we squabble until Oscar finally wins our attention.

He’s in a frenzy. Like a mad thing running in circles, around and around, barking non stop. He sits on the edge of the jetty with his scruffy little head thrust back, howling up at the sky. He’s never done that before and it’s the funniest thing we’ve ever seen.

We take our time swimming toward shore, floating and diving. The sun bites my shoulders and we squeeze our eyes against the pain of it. The only shade is the black hollow beneath the jetty.

“I dare you to swim under,” says Tom, following my eyes.

I shiver as an icy current swirls around my legs.

“Don’t be stupid,” I say and swim hard for the beach.

Tom is flicking water as we wade through the shallows. I ignore him and gather my petticoat, wringing it dry.

“Oscar!” I call.

“Where is he?” says Tom, looking about.

We call again. Gulls cry softly in the distance. We go back to the jetty and shout his name.

“He’s probably chasing a bird or something,” says Tom. “He’ll come back.”

We search and shout and whistle for hours until, in the lacy late afternoon light, we stand gazing down at a single set of paw prints in the sand, leading onto the jetty.

We wander to the end where Oscar howled and danced and made us laugh, and sit together in heavy silence, legs dangling, thoughts drifting. I don’t want to leave without Oscar but we’ve stayed too long already.

“I bet he’s at home waiting for us,” says Tom gently. “Come on.”

He helps me to my feet and we turn, starting for home.

THUD. We jump and spin around.

An enormous, orange octopus tentacle, as tall as a ships mast, uncurls itself from somewhere beneath the jetty and veers up into a billowing arch, towering over us. We step back. It’s powerful enough to smash the timbers with a single blow but it hangs in the air like a question mark. We are frozen with fright.

Seawater rains down on the deck. Fat drops slide off, bounce and sting my legs. The tip twitches before our faces then slowly lowers to the deck. It sweeps, feather-light, across the timbers. I gasp as it brushes by, inches from our toes. Then it comes to the space where Tom and I had been sitting and recoils like it’s red hot.

“Run!” shouts Tom.

I turn and run like I’ve never run before. I pass Tom about halfway and I don’t stop at the end of the jetty. I don’t stop at the bottom of the hill track. I don’t stop at all until I burst through the lighthouse door, scramble to the top and fall into Father’s arms, my words spilling out in a breathless mixed up jumble.

“Nonsense,” says Father, taking the pipe from his mouth. “There’s no such thing as giant squid. You’ve been reading too many books.”

“But Oscar,” I say as tears begin to prickle behind my eyes. “Oscar,” sniff. “He’s missing. The giant squid must have –”


The bark makes us both snap around. And there is Oscar, sitting proudly, ears back, tail wagging madly and dripping all over the Keep floor. He has laid a stinky dead seagull at our feet.

“Oscar! Where have you been?” I say and throw my arms open but the smell makes us both step back and cover our noses.

“Well at least someone found some treasure,” says Father with a laugh. “You and your stories.”

Tom drags himself up the last of the stairs and falls into the Keep, breathless and doubled over. He can only point to Oscar. Father raises his eyebrows and waits for him to catch his breath.

“We just came to tell you that Tom is on spud duty tonight,” I say, smiling at Tom.

Because girls can run.

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Revving Up

Carole Lander

Mum, can I take Grandad’s book to school? We’ve got to show the class something that’s special to us,” I asked. I was new at the school and I wanted to look important so I could make some friends.

Grandad’s book has black pages and smells of old newspapers. The words “First Australian Motorcars” are on the cover and it has pictures of cars going back years with stories about people who made them. He worked in the Holden factory in Adelaide and collected model cars that he kept in a cupboard with a glass door.

“Funny thing to keep in a glass cabinet,” Mum used to say. “Supposed to be for your best crystal.”

Grandad had wrinkled skin and black oil under his fingernails. Sometimes, when I was at his house, he’d say, “Come and look at my old car museum, Jimmy.” He’d carefully take out one or two of them to show me. They looked pretty tough with their strong bodies and rubber wheels but whenever I asked to play with them, he’d say, “They’re too special, boy. Come on, let’s have a look at my scrap book of memories.”

Grandad died when I was eight and my Uncle John took the cars to his place in Sydney. We got the scrap book. Mum kept it safe in a cupboard.

Right now, I needed that book more than anything. In the last few months, my life had turned upside down. This is what happened.

My Dad worked in the factory with Grandad but his hands were clean because his job was testing the new cars. It was on a track and not a real road so he got to drive really fast like a racing car driver. He loved his job and talked about it all the time.

One day, when the factory siren wailed at the end of the day, he came home and said it was going to close. Mum burst into tears and sent me and my sisters outside. Dad was banging his fist on the table and yelling about how unfair it was and how many people were going to lose their jobs.

When he went quiet, I snuck back to the kitchen door and looked in. He was slumped over the table, sobbing. I went to my room to think about what might happen to our family. I wanted to ask Mum: “Will we have enough money for food and toys and stuff?”

Later, Mum made toast and jam instead of dinner but I wasn’t hungry. Dad had gone to the pub.

At school, all the kids were talking about the factory. It sounded like the whole town was going to close down.

“This is a big city and there are plenty of other jobs,” my teacher told us.

That wasn’t true. Dad tried hard to find something, but one day, he and a mate left for Perth to get work in the mines. I looked on a map of Australia to see how far away Perth was.

“Pretty long drive, eh?” Dad said. “Through the desert and all.”

Mum was in a good mood while he was away. “Won’t be long before we join him, kids,” she’d say. But one night after he phoned her, she wiped her eyes with a tissue and told us: “Dad’s coming back ’cos he couldn’t find work.”

Then one day there was beer and chips on the table. “Listen up, kids. Dad’s got a job at last,” Mum told us.

“Yep, driving a rubbish truck,” Dad said.

I tried to figure out if he was okay with that but he didn’t give it away on his face. I was happy for him even though it meant we had to move to Alice Springs in the middle of Australia.

Dad hitched a trailer to the car and filled it with suitcases and boxes.

“We’ve got everything but the kitchen sink in this car,” Mum laughed.

I groaned because another thing we didn’t have was my bike.

I sat in the back seat with my sisters, Jane and Trish. Our legs stretched out over sheets and blankets that were packed tight between the front and back seats.

When we drove out of our street, I waved at some of my schoolmates sitting on their bikes. I reckoned their families would soon be doing the same thing as us.

The drive north took a few days. Trish wriggled all the time and Jane moaned about being uncomfortable. At night, we stopped at campsites and put up our tent. Mum couldn’t cook proper meals but I didn’t care. We ate a lot of pizza and fish and chips. When we got to Alice Springs I thought we’d have a house but Dad drove into a caravan park.

Just till we get settled,” Mum said.

The caravan was too small for five people. We were always bumping into each other so my sisters and me played outside with other kids. They had bikes and scooters but we had to sell ours before we left Adelaide.

One stinking hot day in February, when Dad was out picking up people’s garbage, Mum took my sisters and me to our new school. We didn’t have the right uniform so we stood out in the crowd. I looked around at the kids staring and wished I was back in Adelaide with my friends.

You talk funny,” one kid whispered when the teacher made me stand up and introduce myself.

“No, I don’t.”

“Jimmy’s come a long way to be at our school and I’m sure he’ll have lots of interesting things to tell us about living down south,” the teacher said. She winked at me so I reckoned she was nice.

In the lunch break on that first day, I sat with Jane and Trish. That wasn’t very cool. The next day, I stood next to a group of boys hoping one of them might talk to me. They were discussing a car race that everyone goes crazy about in Alice Springs.

My dad’s got a new bike for the Tatts Finke desert race,” one boy yelled.

“Yeah, well, mine’s got a buggy and that’s bigger so he could beat your dad,” another said.

They started arguing until one of the older boys butted in.

“A car’s the only way to win that race and my dad’s been hotting his up so it’ll fly across the sand. He’ll come first for sure!”

I tried to imagine bikes and buggies flying through the desert sand. It was good to know these kids were into cars and when the teacher asked us to bring in something special for ‘grandparents’ week’, I knew right away what I wanted – Grandad’s special book.

Sorry, mate, we left it in Adelaide,” Mum said.

“What? Where?” I asked.

“In storage with our furniture ’cos we hope to go back someday,” she said.

“How could you? We’re supposed to take care of it for Grandad!”

I was gobsmacked. Not just because I wouldn’t have anything to take to class but also I hated to think of that book getting dusty in some old box.

I lay awake working out what to do. Next day, I packed some t-shirts in my schoolbag, stuffed my lunch on top and told my sisters I was going to a friend’s house on the way to class. But I was really heading for the bus station.

The lady in the ticket office told me there was a bus to Adelaide in an hour. I didn’t have any money but I stupidly hoped the driver would take pity on me.

“No way, son,” he said when I asked for a ride. “Get yourself back to school or I’ll call the principal myself.”

I hatched another plan. Dad had made a new friend in the caravan park – Jock. He drove a food van between Adelaide and Alice Springs so I hung around when he and Dad were sharing a beer to find out when Jock was leaving for the south. Then I woke up really early, like five AM, and waited till Dad left for work. I snuck out of the caravan with my packed schoolbag and ran to Jock’s van, climbed up on the towbar and levered open the door.

Creak, creak! it went just as Jock come out of his place. I jumped into the back of the van, leaving the door open. Just before he slammed it shut, I managed to hide between the boxes.

The van stank of mouldy vegies and there were cabbage leaves and squashed tomatoes on the floor. I cleared a spot in the back corner with my foot and crouched down. Jock started the engine and off we went, lurching out of the caravan park. Not that I could see the road. It was pitch black in the van and I slid from side to side as he swerved around corners. We didn’t go far before he pulled up in a service station.

Fill ’er up, mate,” I heard him say.

Then – oh no – he came round and opened the back door, got in and started rummaging in the boxes.

“Jimmy!” he yelled when he saw me. “What the –?”

Even though Jock felt sorry for me when I told him why I’d stowed away, he wouldn’t take me to Adelaide. Instead, he called my dad who had to come and get me in his garbage truck.

“What on earth were you thinking of, boy?” Dad thundered.

“I just wanted to get Grandad’s special book.” I answered.

We’ll talk about it later with your mother,” he said and dropped me off at home, ordering my mum to take me to school and make sure I stayed there. I felt pretty stupid and pretty fed up at the same time.

Every day at school, a student brought in something special and talked about it. There were war medals, photos and old clothes. It was useless me trying to get that book because it was hidden in some box back in Adelaide and I couldn’t get there.

Then one night, when my dad was talking to Uncle John on the phone, I got a real brainwave.

“Dad, can I talk to Uncle John?” I interrupted.

“What for?” he asked.

“About the cars for my school project.”

Dad grinned at me. He got it. He passed me the phone.

I asked my teacher if I could have a few more days and when Uncle John’s package arrived by express post, I stood up proudly to show my class a model Holden FX from the 1950s. It was bright yellow.

I said, “My grandfather drove one of the very first FX cars and he helped to make them too.”

I held up a red 1961 EK and then a blue ute and I told them Grandad’s favourite story: how a farmer’s wife wrote to Holden asking them to make something that could go to church on Sundays and carry pigs to market on Mondays.

That was the first time the name ‘ute’ was used and here’s a 1951 model ute just like the one in Grandad’s book.”

“Wow, mate, that’s so cool,” the boy whose dad has a desert buggy said.

Everyone wanted to have a go with the cars. I was a bit worried they might damage them but I let them have a look because I was pretty sure I’d be making new friends soon.

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The Lost Laugh

Jo Mularczyk

It was a cold wintry evening when he lost his laughter.

There was a fire burning cheerfully in the fireplace when the old man walked into the room with his laptop in one hand and a steaming cup in the other. He collapsed into his armchair and took a sip of his hot chocolate.

“Mmm,” he mumbled and stretched his feet out towards the fire. He had a kind face, clothed in a long white beard. His eyes were ringed with tiny wrinkles now and the cheeks had grown fuller over the years, but his eyes still sparkled as though he knew a wonderful secret. And perhaps he did.

A sharp noise from the window made the man turn his head and his face lit up at what he saw. A tiny snow robin was perched on the windowsill tapping its beak on the window pane.

“Well, bless my boots, what are you doing here on this cold evening, my little friend?”

The man reached for the window and opened it wide enough to fit his hand. He stroked the bird gently as he spoke.

“Have a little bit of supper with me.” Reaching into his deep red pocket, he pulled out a gingerbread man, broke it in two and gave half to the bird. “Mrs Claus just finished baking them.”

The bird eagerly grabbed the treat in its beak and, with a nod of its head, it flew away.

Santa chuckled and closed the window. He walked back to his armchair, placed a pair of glasses on his face, popped the other half of the gingerbread in his mouth and opened his computer.

There was one unread message titled Christmas Cheer. When he opened the message, a festive song burst from the computer’s speakers and an image appeared showing two elves dancing. Santa leaned closer, frowning.

“Well, what do we have here?” he murmured and then let out a laugh as he noticed that the face on one of the elves was actually his while the other belonged to Mrs Claus.

Santa grabbed his belly, took a great big breath and then let out a deep, rumbling laugh. It was the type of laugh that seemed to have a life of its own; it filled the room with warmth.

“Ho, ho, ho,” he boomed.

Mrs Claus came into the room with Belle, Santa’s chief elf. “What’s so funny, dear?” asked Mrs Claus.

Santa turned the screen so that his wife could see and she started her own chiming laughter.

Belle jumped up and down. “Do you like it, Santa? It’s a new app I found.”

“It’s wonderful,” he replied, still chuckling.

Belle smiled and left to check on the rest of the elves.

Once the song had finished, Santa opened Kids At A Glance, a computer program that helped him keep an eye on the children of the world. Santa’s laughter faded as he focused on the images on his screen. He saw children arguing, a small girl not allowed to join a game because she looked different, a boy in a wheelchair left alone in the playground…

Santa sucked in a sharp breath, leant back in his chair and closed his eyes.

“What is it, dear?” Mrs Claus asked anxiously.

“The children,” Santa whispered in a cracked voice, “they’ve lost their kindness.”

Santa opened his eyes and Mrs Claus gasped. Santa’s eyes had lost their sparkle. They were two dull grey discs staring out from within his face.

Mrs Claus took the computer off Santa’s lap and draped a knitted blanket over his legs. “Just close your eyes, dear, and rest a little before tonight’s Jingle Bell Ball.”

Backing out of the room Mrs Claus felt a cold chill of worry crawl up her spine.

Later that evening, all of the inhabitants of the North Pole gathered in the Mistletoe Lodge ready for the Jingle Bell Ball. The room glimmered with twinkling fairy lights and a magnificent Christmas tree stood at one end, its branches weighed down with ornaments of silver, red and gold. The air was filled with the joyful sounds of Christmas – music, bells, singing, and laughter. The elves were in happy spirits, their hard work complete for another year. The shelves of Santa’s workshop were full of shiny toys, bikes, games and all sorts of technology ready to be delivered to the children of the world.

A tiny drum roll rang out and the room quietened as all heads turned to the door. Each year, Santa greeted his elves as he burst through the door and filled the air with his familiar laugh. But this year, the doorway stood empty and a quiet whispering started up around the room.

Where was Santa?

As the voices grew louder and more worried, Mrs Claus entered slowly, wringing her hands. “I’m sorry, my dears, but I’m afraid Santa won’t be joining you this evening.”

She hesitated as a series of gasps rang out across the room.

“It seems that Santa has lost his laugh.” Mrs Claus wiped a tear from her cheek.

Belle leapt out of her seat and called out to the elves, who were now in a state of panic and distress. “Elves, eyes to me.” Her bell-like voice rang out across the room.

Every elfin head swivelled towards Belle, their bright eyes full of trust.

Belle took a deep breath and then spoke.

“Our Santa needs us now my dears

From curly toes to pointed ears

He’s lost his laugh, his ho, ho, ho

He thinks the kids are full of woe

Their kindness, it has gone astray

Out of control, they’ve lost their way

We need to help him hope again

Convince him all is not in vain.”

The room fell silent after Belle finished. Then all of the elves started calling out ideas and suggestions. Belle gestured for Scribbly Elf to start taking notes. With a flourish of his hand, Scribbly made a candy cane striped pen and a large easel appear. His hand flew across the page capturing their ideas.

“Thank you all,” Belle called once the plan was complete. “Hopefully this will work and Santa will find his laugh again. Posty can you please come with me. The rest of you, I hope we will see you later to enjoy the Ball together.”

Santa sat inside in his armchair, his once sparkling eyes staring bleakly at the floor. The sound of footsteps stirred him and he raised his head slowly to see Belle and Posty Elf standing in front of him.

“Santa,” Belle began, “we understand why you are upset by what you saw earlier but we have something to show you.”

Belle clicked her fingers and an image appeared on the tablet in her hands. It was a scene of a boy sitting alone and crying. Two other boys approached and bent over to comfort him. The scene vanished and was replaced by one of a girl helping her younger brother do homework. Another scene showed a group of children running. One of the children wore leg braces and another linked arms with her so they could run together slowly. Scene after scene showed children of different colour playing together. Santa wiped a glistening tear from his eye.

Posty Elf stepped forward with a pile of papers. “These are some of the letters we received after last Christmas,” he said as he opened one and started to read. “Thank you, Santa, for your wonderful gifts. My sister is too little to write a note but she really loved her doll.”

Reaching for another he read, “After a difficult year it was wonderful to enjoy Christmas Day with my children. Thank you for bringing us a little bit of magic.”

And another, “My friend doesn’t celebrate Christmas but I shared my treats with him anyway. He would like to say thanks.”

Posty Elf stopped reading when he felt Belle bump his arm. He looked at Santa and saw that the sparkle had returned to his eyes.

Santa smiled fondly at his elves and cleared his throat. “Thank you, my little ones, for reminding me to look for the good in the children of the world. I had forgotten that for a moment. I had also forgotten that we don’t only deliver presents but hope and joy too.”

Santa nodded thoughtfully and then clapped his hands together.

“Mama,” he called.

“Yes, dear?” His wife appeared from behind the wall where she had been listening.

“We have a ball to attend,” Santa announced.

Mrs Claus smiled and nodded. “Whatever you say, dear.”

Santa stood and embraced each of his elves as they headed back to the Jingle Bell Ball.

“Well,” said Belle as she skipped along beside Santa happily. “This seems like Claus for celebration.”

Posty groaned and Mrs Claus shook her head.

Santa stopped and grabbed his belly, taking a deep breath he laughed his rich, warm laugh and its joyous sound filled the air. “Ho, ho, ho.”

Back to top

Seagull Pirates

Karen Hendriks

One warm Saturday morning, Kevin the seagull pirate said to his gang from the top of a Norfolk pine tree, “There’s got to be better treasure to plunder than hot chips, me mateys. We’re getting too fat eating all those chips. It won’t be long and we’ll have trouble flying to the top of our tree.”

“I love me chips,” sighed Larry.

“Me too,” chimed Deborah.

“Me three,” squeaked Steve.

Kevin pulled his pirate patch over one eye and peered out a telescope. He spied the usual easy targets, like little kids with hot chips in greasy fat fingers. There were couples too in love to care how many chips they stole. And the old codgers who loved nothing better to do than feed the leftover chips to them. This caused such a ruckus and a few rumbles. Seagull mutiny happened over some chip battles.

“All easy pickings, me hearties,” he said.

The whole harbour could be spied upon from their perfect crow’s nest. The fish n chip shop was smack bang in the middle. Way down below, they had a perfect view of the local supermarket.

Kevin and the crew flew down across the harbour full of boats, little kids building sandcastles and a playground full of zipping kids having fun. It was a hoot to let a poo bomb drop down below and then see where it landed and hear the shrieks. Sometimes, an angry fist was waved but who cared when you ruled the skies.

Kevin and the gang were The Untouchables – unless someone was lucky enough hit them with an umbrella or a stick. But that was not very often. Life was easy pickings in their seaside harbour.

All the same, it was getting a little boring for Kevin the Pirate Captain.

The pirate gang landed upon the rubbish bin just outside the local supermarket and the broom wielding owner stomped outside. Swoosh. A chorus of squawks sang out into the air. But it was wasted effort as the birds just landed back on top of the bin ready for it all to begin again. It was a game that the shop owner could never win.

“What’s funnier than a shop owner with a broom?” squawked Steve.

“I don’t know,” replied the gang.

“A shop owner that is too silly to know when to stop,” squawked Steve.

“Ha ha ha, hee hee hee.”

“Can’t you lot think of anything better to do?” said Kevin.

“Nah, why don’t you?” replied the gang.

“I will. Now, you lot scat. I’ve had enough of your silliness. I need some time to think of a new plan.”

Kevin decided to jump into the bin. He peeked ever so sneakily over the top. Lots of people from the park and harbour visited the supermarket. It must have all sorts of good things to eat inside.

Ice creams aren’t so good for us, he thought, bread is only good if we are desperate, lollies get stuck in our necks. Mmmmm, there’s a stand right inside the door. Lots of people grab those shiny packets. I wonder what’s inside them? There’s blue ones, and red ones and orange ones. That colour looks appealing… Yellow.

Kevin waited and waited and waited until someone came out of the supermarket with a yellow packet. He popped out of the bin and sat on the edge. As the person walked along, Kevin flew up high and followed along until she sat upon a bench. Two hands held the top of the packet and pulled. Then, just like magic, the packet opened. Yellow triangles crunched and snapped in a mouth that licked its lips.

Kevin just had to have one of those corn chips. His mouth was watering. Those tasty treats needed to be snatched before that bag was empty.

Before you could say Vegemite sandwich, Kevin swooped and snatched and flapped and made a getaway with the prize. He made his way back to the top of the Norfolk Pine, their pirate ship in the sky. There, Kevin’s beak pecked a delectable cheesy triangle.

Yum, yum yummy for my tummy, thought Kevin as he tucked in.

Once the packet was empty, he stashed the empty bag in his nest.

Kevin devised a devious plan.

What is the point in waiting for someone to go into the supermarket to get these yummy corn chips? Perhaps I can get them myself. This requires some further investigation so I can steal the golden treasure for myself.

Kevin flew back to the bin and sat on the rim. His beady eyes spied a stand just inside the automatic door and there, shining in the sunlight, were those yellow packets that held the yummy treasure. Kevin became a spy and watched the automatic door slide open. He watched people walk inside and then the door closed.

So how did that magic door open?

Kevin watched the door all day and there seemed to be a certain spot that you stepped onto and the door automatically opened. He still wasn’t confident about trying to open the door himself. But he was a pirate and he loved stealing treasure.

The next time a person stepped onto the censor and the door opened, Kevin walked right in behind them. He trotted over to the chip stand and, as cool as a cucumber, he picked up a yellow packet with his beak and waited. Then when the door opened, he trotted back outside with the prize and off to the top of the Norfolk pine tree he flew.

Now the next thing Kevin had to work out was how to open the packet. But that was easy peazey. His beak was sharp and, with one quick peck, the packet was open. Voila, the treasure was ready to be devoured. Now the fun had begun.

Kevin flew back down to the supermarket door and warily strutted up to the door and jumped up and down. The door automatically opened and in went Kevin straight to the chip stand to grab another yellow packet and, just like that, the door opened so he could leave. This was so much more fun than grabbing hot chips. He couldn’t be bothered flying back up to the top of the Norfolk pine. He brazenly dropped the packet right there on the footpath. Then he ripped it open and started to scoff the corn chips.

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