Short Tales 3
Short Tales 3
Copyright remains with the individual authors
Published by Storm Cloud Publishing (2017)
ISBN: 978-1-925285-22-2 Shakespir Edition
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient.
If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please go to Shakespir.com or any online bookstore and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of the authors.
Junior Fiction: A collection of short stories from writers all around the world.
Fun and adventure, Fairy tales and fantasy, Aliens, Ancient Egypt, Realism and drama, Courage, Family relationships, Dreams and ambitions, Nature, Life skills
Ages 8 – 12 years
Plumble Bumble Pudding
Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a castle, and in the castle was a kitchen. In the kitchen was a famous chef called Bumble. He was famous for making Plumble Bumble Pudding, and for being the angriest man in the kingdom.
In the kitchen were also many boys. It was these boys who made Bumble so very angry. They were slicers and dicers, dishwashers and serving boys, carriers and stirrers. Besides making Plumble Bumble Pudding each day for King Cheviot’s dessert, Bumble had to make breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the whole castle, and sometimes a huge feast as well.
But the boys always seemed to be everywhere, or never there.
When he wanted someone to carry a bowl of fresh fruit up to the three princesses, the kitchen was empty. When he was trying to beat the eggs for just the right length of time for the Plumble Bumble Pudding, one of the boys was right at his elbow, annoying him.
This was usually Smirk, the boy who made him angriest of all. Smirk was always trying to find out the recipe for Plumble Bumble Pudding.
“Go and do some work, boy!” Bumble would scream, dancing around like an angry bee.
The only recipe for the pudding was in Bumble’s head. If not made exactly right, it would explode all over the kitchen walls – it had happened once, and the boys had found it very exciting. This was because the pudding mix had a special magic pinch of something in it that had to be measured out to the last little grain.
Bumble kept the special something in a secret hiding place. Smirk didn’t know where it was. But someone did. That someone was Wintergreen, the Serving Cat. He sat on his red velvet cushion in front of the fire, saying nothing.
One evening, it was very busy in the kitchen. Bumble was shouting out orders, and boys rushed everywhere at once like bees in a hive. The kitchen was very hot, for a huge fire was burning, and two boys were turning the spit to cook the meat. A grand feast was being prepared.
The king from the next door kingdom was visiting with all his court including his best and bravest knights. There had been some trouble on the border, and King Cheviot wanted to make sure they were all still friends. Everyone was invited to the feast, from the milkmaids up to the queen and princesses.
Suddenly, Bumble stood stock still in the middle of the kitchen.
“Oh, no!” he said. “I’ve forgotten to make the pudding!”
He usually started it each night when the boys were asleep, to keep the secret.
“I’ll help you,” said Smirk.
“No, you won’t, boy!” said Bumble loudly. “We’ll have no exploding puddings around here!”
And he made every one of them leave the kitchen while he started the pudding.
Then he called them back. Smirk looked around carefully to see if he could find the secret hiding place.
Now, Bumble had been in such a hurry that he had left a clue. Wintergreen’s red velvet cushion was not in its usual place in front of the fire, and Wintergreen was lashing his tail from side to side.
A-ha! thought Smirk. I’ll bet the special something is in the cushion.
And when Bumble wasn’t looking, he crept over and put his hand inside. Sure enough, he felt something. He took a pinch, and hid it in his pocket.
Smirk was kept so busy that he didn’t have a chance to spice the pudding. The Plumble Bumble Pudding was beaten, and cooked, and creamed, and iced, and the largest purple plums in the kingdom were put on the tip-top.
Then Bumble screamed: “Come here, boy. Carry this pudding up to the high table in the Great Hall. And if you drop it…”
But Smirk didn’t wait to hear what would happen if he dropped it. He took the huge plate of pudding and went out the door, up the stone stairs, and along the long stone corridor to the Great Hall.
Just before he entered the hall, he put his hand in his pocket, and sprinkled the contents on the pudding. Nothing happened.
I suppose it should have been mixed in before it was cooked, he thought. Never mind – next time.
Smirk walked down the Great Hall, past all of the people who lived in the castle. Finally, he came to the high table where the two kings, queens and all the princes and princesses sat.
“Here is the famous Plumble Bumble Pudding,” said King Cheviot in his deep voice.
Just as Smirk was putting the plate down on the table, the pudding suddenly sprouted wings, floated up into the air and began to fly around the hall. Everyone looked up at it, amazed. The next door king, whose name was King Leo, laughed heartily. All the people in the hall began laughing as well.
After flying round the hall three times, the pudding tried a few loop-the-loops, zig-zags and dives. Then, before anyone could stop it, the pudding soared out of a high window, which was open to the air.
“Oh, no!” Smirk hid his head in his hands. What a disaster! He would lose his job at the castle, and his poor mother would have to take in washing.
After a moment of amazement that their dessert had escaped, everyone in the great hall decided to chase the pudding. They streamed out of the door – kings, queens, princesses, milkmaids, goat herders and washerwomen, all chasing after the Plumble Bumble Pudding. But before them all darted Wintergreen, the Serving Cat, who had followed Smirk into the hall and watched what had happened.
He had slipped out the door before anyone else had moved.
Now, no one knew that Wintergreen had once been a great wizard, who had been imprisoned in the shape of a cat by a jealous rival. The seven years was coming to an end, and Wintergreen discovered that he could turn himself into different creatures as he ran – but not yet back into himself.
“Look!” cried Marianne the youngest princess, pointing.
All the people stopped and stared in amazement. Where Wintergreen the cat had been, scampered a small, grey mouse. He found this most unpleasant, and next minute he was a large, black rat, which wasn’t much better. Then, as he became more used to changing, he became a little red hen, a big brown dog, a shaggy goat, and a white horse with a flowing mane.
Meanwhile, the pudding was enjoying its freedom, and flew in circles up to the clouds, plunging down again just in front of Wintergreen’s nose – whatever kind of nose it was at the time.
Somewhere in Wintergreen’s confused brain mixed with thoughts of grazing on grass and stealing a leg of lamb came the thought that he, too, should be flying. But how could he capture the pudding? It was far too heavy.
Smirk stood with his hands on his hips, watching the show with wonder. Bumble, meanwhile, was crying into a basin of cake mix, having hidden in the kitchen when he saw what was happening.
Then Smirk had an inspiration.
“A dragon!” he cried. “Change into a dragon!”
Wintergreen heard him. He shook his horse’s mane and it became scales. His hooves grew claws, his horsehair tail became huge and spiky, and he breathed fire from his mouth. He took off from the ground and dived at the pudding, which just escaped. But its wings quivered, and it flew as speedily as it could back to the dining hall and in at the window.
The effort of becoming a dragon had taken up all of Wintergreen’s magic, and he changed back into a cat. (He had to wait another seven months to become the wizard he once was – one month for each animal.)
Everyone followed the pudding back into the hall. It had settled onto the serving dish again. It lost its wings, looked normal and tasted quite delicious.
“Thank you for this fine entertainment,” said King Leo. And he and his princes and knights drank a toast to King Cheviot, and they were better friends than ever before.
Bumble guessed that Smirk was the one who had discovered his secret, and decided he was very clever for a kitchen boy. And because it had all ended happily, Bumble couldn’t shout at Smirk for stealing and using the magic. In fact, King Cheviot suggested that Bumble make Smirk his assistant chef. So Bumble, because he was only half as busy, was only half as angry. And he and Smirk made Flying Plumble Bumble Pudding every second day.
(But sometimes Smirk made an exploding pudding, just to please the other boys.)
The Broken Leg Birthday
August 14, 1965
New York City
I’d been looking forward to my thirteenth birthday. My dad would be at a conference in New York City that week, and he was taking me and my nineteen year old sister Barbara with him. She and I would do some people watching and sightseeing during the day, and on my actual birthday, Dad would take us to a Yankee game. It all sounded great, until the day before we left home. That’s when I slid into second and broke my leg. Now, it looked to be the worst birthday ever.
So there we were, in the city that never sleeps, me sore and propped on a hotel couch, and Barbara stuck in the hotel with me. She tried her best to be nice about it, but really, who wants to spend their time in New York City nursing a little sister and her casted leg? Thankfully, she’d found something to distract her. The Beatles were staying at the same hotel as us.
Dad folded his newspaper and looked at Barbara. “Let me get this straight. After all Petey’s been through,” he pointed to my crutches standing near the window, “you don’t want to go to the Yankee game?”
She shook her head. “I’d rather stay here and try to catch a glimpse of The Beatles. I won’t go far. I’ll just join the other fans on the sidewalk.”
The word ‘fans’ was an understatement. Screaming throngs of teens clogged the sidewalks around the hotel.
“It’s been all the talk on the radio,” I added.
Dad looked confused, so Barbara explained. “Cousin Brucie, the DJ on W-A-Beatle-C, he told us their every move.” Her expression was earnest, pleading. “It’s so frustrating to be in the same hotel as The Beatles for two whole days and not be able to see them!”
“If I didn’t have this dumb cast on, I’d go stand on the sidewalk with you,” I told her. I liked The Beatles too, and being this close to all the excitement – well, I was getting caught up in it.
Dad sat quietly a moment, tapping his fingertips together, then said, “This Yankee game is Petey’s birthday present, Barbara. You’re going.”
Her head dropped, and I knew she was fighting back tears. I felt awful for her.
Dad watched the panel of lights above the elevator doors. “They’re running slow today,” he said. “I hope we don’t miss the opening pitch.”
Standing those few minutes had made my ankle throb. I had to sit, and soon. “Why don’t we use the other elevators?” I said. “The ones the maids use.”
“Good idea,” Dad said.
Thankfully, that elevator arrived quickly, and soon we exited the hotel and stepped onto a side street.
Dozens of people stood on the sidewalk, mostly teenage girls with puffy hairdos, flowered dresses, and transistor radios pressed against one ear. Dad took one look at them, shook his head, and went to the curb to hail a cab. We followed, and Barbara whispered to a girl as we passed, “Have you seen them?”
The girl’s head bobbed in excitement. “Yesterday, they ran in this very door. That’s why I’m here again today.”
Barbara gazed back at the hotel. She might have seen The Beatles too, except she’d been stuck inside with me. She sighed and without a word, climbed into the cab with us.
All through the game, Barbara looked like those girls outside the hotel, her expression vacant, a silver rectangular radio flattening the teased hair on one side. A couple of times when the crowd around her grew loud and excited, she joined in briefly, smiling and clapping. Then her eyes lost their focus and she went back to her transistor-induced trance.
My Yankees won, plus it was Bat Day, so when I climbed back in the cab I was feeling pretty good. I turned to Dad and Barbara. “Thanks for going with me,” I said.
Dad grinned but Barbara smiled like she only half meant it. I felt guilty – it was my ankle and my birthday wish that kept her from seeing her idols.
Our cabbie couldn’t get near the hotel’s main entrance, not with the sidewalk lined with police barricades and mobbed with overexcited fans, so he dropped us off at the side door we’d used before. I struggled to crutch my way along the sidewalk and into the hotel, the miniature souvenir bat dangling between my fingers and bumping against me with every hop. I could hardly wait to lie down and prop up my throbbing leg.
When the elevator opened onto our floor, all three of us moved to exit. We stopped cold. Two carts filled with dirty plates and glasses blocked our path, and the uniformed hotel employees who should have been paying attention were involved in an argument. They didn’t budge, didn’t move the carts, nothing. Just stood there, bickering.
Barbara said, “Excuse me,” as she stepped around the men and their carts.
They didn’t seem to notice.
Dad slipped out, reaching back in to hold the elevator door for me. I twisted and hopped this way and that to manoeuvre around the men, the carts, and even my dad’s arm, grunting and saying, “Excuse me,” as politely as I could.
Still the men didn’t move, totally absorbed in their squabble.
The elevator doors slid closed.
I took a few hops to navigate the obstacles and had to readjust my crutches. Somehow during that, I dropped the little souvenir bat. The men still ignored us, punching the down button and returning to their quarrel.
Barbara hurried over and retrieved my bat, glaring at the two men. “You are so rude,” she huffed. “Couldn’t you move your stuff to let my sister out?”
She was the best.
“Barbara,” Dad started to scold. But he stopped short when the elevator doors opened again.
None of us moved or spoke. Right in front of us, in that service elevator, were four familiar young men. John saluted. Paul waved. George pressed the button panel, probably trying to close the door. Ringo peeked out from behind the others, grinning. We watched, frozen and in awed silence.
The moment passed. The doors slid shut.
A couple of heartbeats later, Barbara squealed and I whooped. “That was them!” she hollered, jumping up and down. “We saw The Beatles!”
Thanks to my broken leg, it was the best birthday ever.
The Odd Jobs
“Please, can I go see the new Space Rangers movie, Mum,” I asked during dinner one night. “Please, please, please, please, pleeeease.”
Mum munched on a forkful of peas while I held my breath. She looked at my dad. I looked at my dad. He hid behind his sports magazine, sipping his coffee, so I looked back at Mum.
She swallowed her peas. “I don’t know if it’s suitable viewing for someone of your age.”
My hopes fell. That was the downer to everything I wanted to do. When I wanted to play football – “Not suitable for someone of your age.”
When I wanted to learn karate – “Not suitable for someone of your age.”
When I wanted to go skydiving – Okay, I just threw that one in to mess with her, but you get the point.
“But, Mum, I’m going to be the only kid in the entire world who hasn’t seen it.”
“I doubt that.” She munched on some celery.
“I’ll pay for it myself,” I offered.
“You can’t go unsupervised.”
“They’re letting parents in free. Pleeeease.”
Dad’s magazine lowered. “I think it would be a lovely mother son bonding experience.”
Both of us looked like we wished he’d never said it.
“Why don’t you take him?” Mum asked, waving her fork at Dad.
“I’ve got work.” The magazine lifted and the coffee slurped.
Mum sighed and looked at me. I smiled my best smile.
“Have you got enough money for a ticket?”
“No.” My piggy bank was sitting on exactly zero money. “But I can do some odd jobs to earn it.”
“All right –”
“Yes!” I punched the air.
“I’ll give you two dollars to dry the dinner dishes.”
I hated drying dishes, but I just kept thinking about the movie and what other jobs I could do. I was so distracted that a glass slipped out of my grip and smashed on the floor. I stared at it; pieces of glass everywhere.
“Kane!” Mum growled.
“S-sorry,” I apologised. “I’ll clean it up.”
“No, leave it. Get out of the kitchen. It’s glass. You’ll cut yourself.”
“But what about my two dollars?”
“I’ll give it to you. Just go before you cut yourself.”
I put the dishtowel on the bench and stepped carefully across the lino floor. Tiny fragments of glass crunched under my feet.
“Leave your shoes at the door,” Mum said. “I’ll have to pick the glass out of the soles.”
“Okay.” I slipped my shoes off at the doorway and went in the loungeroom to watch TV with Dad while Mum cleaned up the mess.
I felt horrible – for all of about five seconds while a plan began to hatch in my head. I could ask my neighbours if they had any jobs I could do. Two dollars a night for drying dishes was going to take forever to save enough money! And after breaking that glass, I didn’t think Mum would ask me again.
It was school vacation so I had lots of time.
Next day, I wandered up and down the street, seeing what sort of jobs I could do. I had a notebook and pen to keep track of everything.
Mr Ellis was weeding his garden. It looked easy enough.
“Mr Ellis,” I called.
“I’m looking for some jobs to do. To earn some money to see the new Space Rangers movie. Can I do some weeding for you?”
Mr Ellis sat back on his haunches and scratched his head. “That would be lovely. I’m sure I can spare a few dollars for a hardworking boy like you.”
“Thanks,” I grinned. “Would nine o’clock tomorrow morning be okay?”
“That sounds excellent.”
I had my first job and, more importantly, my first money!
My morning was soon booked. Along with the weeding, I had Mr Powell’s car to wash, some leaves to rake and bag up for Mrs O’Connor and walking Mrs Thomson-Heyer’s dog.
Mum was so proud of me and agreed we could go to the evening session of the movies tomorrow night.
I was up early next morning. I knocked on Mr Ellis’ door at exactly nine o’clock. He showed me where to start.
“Just don’t touch my prize tulips,” he told me.
“No worries, Mr Ellis.”
He pulled out a crisp five dollar note and gave it to me.
My eyes lit up. “Thanks, Mr Ellis.”
I slipped the note into the zip pocket of my jacket. I pulled on the gardening gloves and set to work at one end of the garden while Mr Ellis worked at the other end.
I thought it would be easy. But pulling weeds is hard. My knees and back got stiff and my fingers began to hurt even with the gloves on.
When I checked my watch, I couldn’t believe how much time had gone by. I was due to wash Mr Powell’s car at ten thirty. It was already twenty past ten and I hadn’t even done half the area I was supposed to. I’d never get finished.
And then I had a thought. It wasn’t a good thought.
I remembered the broken glass. And I remembered how Mum told me not to finish the dishes and she still paid me. And I looked at Mr Ellis’ prize tulips.
I looked across to Mr Ellis and back to the tulips. I reached for a tulip, then pulled back. I thought about the movie and how much I wanted to see it. I reached again for the tulip, pulled it out and threw it in the weed pile.
I felt horrible. But after the second, third and even the tenth tulip, I wasn’t feeling so bad.
“Kane!” Mr Ellis yelled.
I jumped and turned around, tulip still in my hand.
“I told you not to touch my prize tulips.” His face was turning bright red.
I looked at the tulip, then back at him. “Sorry,” I apologised, trying to sound sincere. “I’ll put it back.” I started to dig a hole to put the tulip back in.
“You’ve ruined my garden.” He pointed to the front gate. “Go now, before I lose my temper.”
“Yes, Mr Ellis. Sorry, Mr Ellis.” I dropped the tulip and ran.
I tried not to feel guilty. I mean, they’re only plants and they could be replanted. It wasn’t as if I’d destroyed them. I raced to Mr Powell’s place.
Mr Powell was waiting for me with a bucket of soapy water, a sponge and the garden hose.
“Washing a car is not as easy as it looks,” he began.
“Yes, Mr Powell.”
“You’ve got to wet it down, then soap it up a section at a time and get all the road grime off without scratching the paintwork, then rinse it all off again. Have you got that?”
“Yes, Mr Powell.”
He gave me my money, walked down his driveway and disappeared inside his garage. I put the money in my zip pocket.
I followed his instructions. I turned the hose on full and began to wet down the car. Water splashed back and soaked me. I turned the hose down and tried again. Water ran over the car and I made sure it was all wet. I turned the hose off, grabbed the sponge from the bucket and began to wash along one side.
It was taking forever! There had to be an easier way.
Then I had a thought. Mum sometimes left the dishes in hot soapy water to soak. When she came back later, the muck came off easier. I could do the same thing with Mr Powell’s car. I began to pour the soapy water over the car. I’d let it soak while I raked up Mrs O’Connor’s leaves.
Raking the leaves wasn’t too hard. Soon, I had piles all over the yard. Bagging them up was a nightmare. The black plastic garbage bags kept falling over and the leaves kept falling out. There had to be an easier way.
I noticed there was no fence between Mrs O’Connor and Mr Delwood. Mrs O’Connor’s grass finished at Mr Delwood’s garden.
I had a thought. I looked around. I didn’t see anyone, so I raked the leaves onto Mr Delwood’s garden. I tied up the bags I’d filled and dragged them up beside the front porch where Mrs O’Connor wanted them. I looked at the yard – Done!
I raced back to Mr Powell’s house, turned on the hose and rinsed the soap off his car. It sparkled wet in the sunlight – Done!
Now I just had to walk Mrs Thomson-Heyer’s dog. The poodle was running around the backyard in circles when I got there.
“Bumpkins needs at least an hour’s walk,” Mrs Thomson-Heyer told me as she handed me the lead and my money.
“Yes, Mrs Thomson-Heyer.”
I decided to take Bumpkins to the park. When I got there, I saw Mikey and Adam from school. I’d worked hard this morning and figured I needed some fun. So I tied Bumpkins to a tree and played with Mikey and Adam.
When I looked at my watch, I’d been gone well over an hour. Mrs Thomson-Heyer should be happy.
That evening, Mum and I went to the movies. I paid for my own ticket and even had enough left over for popcorn. The movie was fabuloso! I wasn’t even embarrassed being with my mum.
It was when we were nearly home that things got difficult. As we turned into our street, there were a whole lot of people waiting at our front gate. As Mum drove closer, I saw Mr Ellis, Mr Powell, Mrs O’Connor, Mr Delwood and Mrs Thomson-Heyer. Dad was with them.
Mum pulled up outside our house and we got out.
“Do you know what your son has been up to?” Dad asked Mum, his hands on his hips.
It’s amazing whose son I am, depending on my behaviour.
Mum looked at me with one eyebrow raised, demanding an answer. I stared at the ground.
“He pulled out my prize tulips.”
“He covered my car in soap and let it bake in the sun.”
“He raked up half my leaves.”
“And raked the other half onto my garden.”
“And he took Bumpkins to the park and tied him to a tree while he played with his friends.”
Mum’s eyebrow disappeared beneath her hair. “Kane Sebastian Nigel Anderson…”
You know you’re in trouble when your mum uses your full name.
“What were you thinking?”
“I just wanted to see the movie. I had all these jobs organised and…” I shrugged. “It was taking forever.”
“So you thought if you did a bad job, you wouldn’t have to finish? Did you deliberately break my glass the other night?”
“No, that was an accident. Honest.” I looked up at her, regretting it instantly as her eyes dug a hole right through me. “It just gave me the idea.”
She was ready to explode. “Right! You are going to give everyone their money back. And you are going to redo all those jobs. Properly.”
“But I spent all the money –”
“Starting first thing tomorrow morning.”
I looked at Dad. He looked like he wanted to hide behind his sports magazine again.
Next morning I had to replant Mr Ellis’ garden and weed it. Then I washed Mr Powell’s car while he supervised. Mrs O’Connor and Mr Delwood shared afternoon tea on her porch while I raked and bagged leaves, and tidied up both their gardens. And Mum came with me as I took Bumpkins for an hour long walk. Do you know how embarrassing it is to have your mum walking the streets with you while a poodle tries to pull your arm out of its socket?
But I learnt some things. Mr Ellis’ tulips have won prizes all over the state. Mr Powell builds fabuloso hot rods in his garage. Mrs O’Connor makes the best muffins. And Mrs Thomson-Heyer used to train police dogs.
My neighbours are pretty cool – even Bumpkins!
BOOM! Scree! Scree! BOOM!
Thunder boomed and streaks of lightning split the night sky. Simon clutched his blankets with tight fists and drew them up over his head. He hated the sound the eucalypt branches made in the wind as they brushed against his bedroom window. His mother often said he imagined things. His teacher at school once wrote on his report card that he had a very good imagination, but he didn’t think it was written in a positive way because she still gave him a D for story writing.
But sometimes they were real, like the skeleton trying to claw its way into his room tonight. Those weren’t branches scratching at the glass but long, bony fingers. The more he thought about it, the more frightened he became. He huddled beneath the blankets, listening to the thunder and skeleton scratching outside. Only when he thought he might suffocate did he slowly peel back the blankets so he could take a deep breath. He tried to stop thinking scary thoughts and soon fell asleep.
When Simon awoke in the morning, he was lying on his side facing the window where a thin branch swayed in the breeze. The sun was bright and warm as it streamed into his bedroom, forming long golden puddles on his rug. The skeleton was gone and quickly forgotten as he walked to the window and gazed across the cornfield. At the corner of the rows of corn stood an old scarecrow with its arms stretched out either side of its straw body. It looked crucified, like Christ, with its unseen head lolling forward beneath a black, wide-brimmed hat. It wore a black, tattered coat with a silver button and faded black trousers.
Simon blinked. That’s strange. It’s never faced the house before.
And he’d never noticed the shiny, silver button on its coat before either. Maybe last night’s wind moved it out of its usual place.
Simon hurriedly dressed for school and raced downstairs with his schoolbag. Scott, his older brother, was already sitting at the kitchen table eating toast. Mum was popping more bread into the toaster. Dad wandered in with a cup of coffee and sat down. He smiled at Simon.
“Storm keep you awake last night?” he asked.
Scott snickered as he buttered his toast.
Simon frowned. “Not really. Slept like a baby.”
Scott laughed. “That’s because you are a baby!”
“I am not!” snapped Simon, balling his right hand into a fist under the table.
“That’ll do, boys!” Mum called from the kitchen.
Simon hated his brother’s teasing and silence reigned for a few minutes while they ate. Dad read the paper and drank his coffee.
“Dad, did you move the scarecrow yesterday?” Simon asked.
Dad closed the paper and looked at him. “No, why? Is it still there? Hope the wind hasn’t knocked it over.”
“It’s still there,” Simon said. “It’s just facing the house now.”
Scott laughed. “That’s because it wants to get you, Simon! Woooo!”
He used a spooky voice and wiggled his fingers in front of Simon’s face. Peeved, Simon pushed his hands away and glared at him.
Dad placed the paper down and looked at Scott. “You heard your mother. That’ll do.”
Simon knew if he just ignored him, Scott wouldn’t tease him as much. But no matter what he said or did, his older brother always managed to push his buttons. If only he wasn’t so small for a twelve year old. Four years older, Scott was already as tall as their father, well built and good looking. Several girls at his school even had their eyes on him.
Simon bit into his toast and looked out the window. He glimpsed the scarecrow’s hat above the waving corn. I shouldn’t have mentioned it.
Upstairs, Scott cornered him. “Hey Simon, are you scared of that old scarecrow?”
Simon frowned. “Why should I be?”
“Because old Jimmy told me it was cursed.”
“He did not! You’re a liar!” Simon glared at him. He tried to hold his emotions in check. “The scarecrow’s harmless and you know it!”
When did Scott ever talk to old Jimmy, anyway? He was an Aboriginal worker Simon’s family had inherited along with the farm years ago. Simon had seen him wandering through the cornfields or washing at the water tank behind the house, but he had never spoken to him. Jimmy’s skin was dark as coal but his hair was long, white and wispy like summer clouds. His dark eyes looked straight into your soul. Simon’s Dad had been too soft to fire him and now he was part of the place, allowed to sleep in a meagre room in the barn and given a small wage, which Dad handed him each Friday in an envelope.
Scott shrugged. “Suit yourself. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He then shoved Simon up against the wall. “Tell you what, if you think you’re so brave, I dare you to go and take its button after school.”
Simon tried to swallow the boulder that suddenly formed in his throat.
Scott smiled fiendishly. “If you don’t, I’ll spread the word that you still wet your bed at night.”
Simon felt trapped. That was a lie but kids were cruel and could taunt forever. “All right.”
“That’s a good boy,” Scott said, released him and gave Simon’s head a rough smack.
All day at school, Simon’s thoughts were on the scarecrow. He imagined it lifting its head. Did it have a straw face under that black hat? Or a wizened pumpkin one with eyes, nose and a mouth carved long ago into its faded orange skin? Or was there a skeleton beneath that coat, a real person who had been killed and placed on a stake to resemble a scarecrow? He didn’t want to think about it and tried to concentrate on his maths.
Eating his lunch was impossible with skeletons scratching inside his skull. He sat on the sideline of the boys’ footy game and told them he didn’t feel so well when they asked him to join in. It was a lie, but hey, it was kind of true.
His teacher remarked on how pale he looked after lunch and agreed he was unwell. He lay on the stretcher bed in sickbay. But that was worse as he had the whole afternoon to imagine terrible things. In the end, he dragged his feet back to class.
On the bus ride home, Simon thought he was going to throw up. It was only a short ride and then he would have to prove himself to Scott and fulfil the dare. He tried to think of ways he could get out of it. Maybe if he told his parents he hadn’t been well at school, Scott might show compassion and let him off. Or maybe he could sneak into their house unnoticed, the back way, and talk to Mum until dinner time. Or maybe Scott had forgotten all about the dare; Simon knew he hadn’t. His brother was indiscriminately mean and would carry out his threat if he didn’t get that silver button.
Finally, the bus slowed down and idled near their gate while he got off. Waiting near their mailbox was Scott, his schoolbag on his shoulder and a huge grin on his face. Simon’s heart sank into his school shoe. He gave a long sigh, picked up his schoolbag and dragged his feet off the bus.
“Hey, bro. Ready for your dare?” Scott placed his arm around Simon’s shoulders. “The scarecrow’s closer from here than from the house.”
Simon felt sick. He nodded. “Yeah.”
“Come on then.”
Scott dragged his brother along, his strong arm hooked about Simon’s neck. It was painful and Simon almost burst into tears as he shuffled along like a captive. He didn’t want to face the scarecrow at all! He wanted to lash out with his fist and scream and kick at Scott. But he was too frozen with fear to do anything.
Finally, Scott halted and removed his arm. He clamped his hands on Simon’s shoulders and looked into his frightened eyes.
“Now, I know you are brave and would like to do this on your own,” Scott said with a smug grin, “so I’ll leave you here. Remember, all you need is his button and I’ll be satisfied. To make it easy on you, I’ll carry your bag home. Got some scissors?”
He waited as Simon fossicked for a few moments inside his pencil case for his scissors.
Scott smiled. “There, now you’re all set. See ya later, bro.”
Simon watched as his brother sauntered down the dirt road to their house carrying both schoolbags.
The sun was low and afternoon shadows from the surrounding forest were beginning to creep across the top of the field. Among the cornstalks, he thought he saw a dark face. He stood frozen, wondering if it was just a shadow. Except for the wind rustling through the corn, there was silence.
He took a deep breath.
It was a short walk through the corn aisles to where the scarecrow stood, though Simon had never been there before. His feet moved by themselves. Soon, he came to the corner where the scarecrow stood. Simon stopped. His mouth was dry and his heart was thumping a quick beat in his chest.
For a long time, he stared at the scarecrow, at the black hat perched on top of its downcast head, at the shabby black coat with the shiny silver button. The rest of the effigy was just very old straw stuffed into the long sleeves of the coat and faded legs of the black trousers. On its feet were old black boots encrusted with age-old mud, and a pole up its back lifted it above the waving stalks of corn.
Simon stared at the hat, imagining it lifting and a wicked face smiling at him just as he reached for the button.
Stop that! he told himself. It’s just straw.
Even so, the fear was real and threatened to send him running. He took another deep breath, then stepped up to the scarecrow and cut off the silver button.
Suddenly, a gust of wind blew through the cornfield and the coat, bereft of its only button, swung open to reveal the scarecrow’s chest of straw. Terrified, Simon turned and ran without stopping in the direction of his house. A cruel wind nipped at his heels as it hurried after him. He didn’t stop running until he reached the front door.
He swung it shut behind him and latched it. Panting, he stared through the screen at the rustling stalks of corn in case he was pursued. Convinced he was safe, he hurried upstairs to look at the scarecrow from his window. It was still there, its coat flapping in the wind. He crept into Scott’s room, placed the silver button on his desk and left.
That night, another storm swung in from the north. Thunder boomed overhead and the wind howled. The branch outside Simon’s window scratched on the glass and again he hid beneath his blankets in fear until he fell asleep.
At midnight, a bloodcurdling scream came from Scott’s bedroom.
Simon could hear footsteps running past his door, the voices of his parents and Scott’s loud cry. Simon clambered out of bed, opened his door and noticed the lights on in the hall. Scott was crying hysterically and Mum and Dad were trying to calm him down.
“I tell you a horrible voice came from outside my window!” Scott screamed. “Someone was calling, ‘Give it back!’ over and over.”
“There’s no one there,” Dad said.
Simon hurried back to his room, looked out the window at the scarecrow. A shadow was moving back into the cornfield away from their house. Simon noticed the long, wispy hair of old Jimmy and he suddenly understood what really happened. A broad smile slowly spread across his face and he clambered back to bed.
Once upon a time, in a faraway land, there lived a handsome boy called Rupunzee who had wild long hair that blew behind him in the wind. He loved nothing better to do than skateboarding. One day, while he was skateboarding past an impressive castle, he spied a totally wicked ramp in the castle grounds.
No one was around, except some friendly hounds scampering around the grounds. The castle had the best skateboarding bowl but there was no laughter to be heard. It was waiting for someone to fill its emptiness. Rapunzee thought he’d give the ramp a whirl. While he was getting air, the owner of the castle spied him.
There was a loud clang as an old witch on a broom came in to land. Rather than telling him to get lost, the witch with the sad and wrinkled face whispered, “May I show you around?”
Rapunzee felt the loneliness and emptiness seeping into the air. “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,” he replied.
“There are more cool skateboarding ramps and some snacks inside,” said the witch. “I dreamed of skateboarding like you, but I had to learn to fly my broom, and guard my castle. I built all of this but now I’m old. Come and see.”
“Okay. Did you know I’m going to be the best skateboarder in the land? I would love to rip on more ramps,” replied Rapunzee.
The trap was set and Rapunzee had no idea. The castle had the biggest indoor skating bowl he’d ever seen.
The witch grinned from ear to ear as Rapunzee flew up and down the bowl. He even did a 360 turn. The old witch’s eyes shone. Rapunzee’s skateboarding brought her alive.
“I wish I could do that,” said the witch.
“You could,” replied Rupunzee.
The witch pondered upon this.
The kitchen was full of yummy stuff to eat, and the witch made Rupunzee a ham, cheese and tomato sandwich. Excited to see more, Rapunzee followed the witch. The games room had all sorts of games, books and puzzles about skateboarding. Rapunzee wanted to stay and play but the old witch said, “There’s more to see.”
“This is the coolest place ever!” replied Rupunzee.
A smile beamed out and the witch no longer looked old.
The castle had some tall towers so Rapunzee suggested a zip line from the top of the towers to go across the grounds.
The witch said, “That’s a brilliant idea,” and that by next summer she would have one in place.
Intrigued, Rapunzee saw a winding, twirling, twisting flight of stairs. “What’s up there?” he asked.
“Come and have a look,” replied the witch.
Puzzled by the heavy door at the very top, Rapunzee wondered whatever could be behind that door. The old witch urged him to go in. Then, just as he stepped inside, the air filled with a trapping cackle.
“Ha ha ha ha ha.”
Before Rapunzee could say, “Get me a Vegemite sandwich”, the door slammed shut.
Rapunzee’s eyes widened, for the room was bare except for a washbasin, bed and small toilet. It was round so all that Rapunzee could do was go around and around and around like a goldfish in a bowl.
He grabbed the doorknob to yank it open, but it was stuck hard. Rapunzee tugged and pulled and even kicked the door and hit it with his skateboard. But it was stuck tight and the witch disappeared and left him there.
“Let me out!” shouted Rapunzee.
Trapped in a cage, Rapunzee said, “I have no Wi-Fi, no phone and no idea what to do.”
He thought and thought as he tick tacked toed around the room. Maybe there’s a trapdoor. So Rapunzee searched each part of the floor but it was just a floor.
Rapunzee decided to check the door; maybe he had imagined that it was locked tight. But it didn’t budge. It was best to remain calm in difficult situations.
Next Rapunzee checked the window and a bit of a smile appeared on his face for he could open the window and get lovely fresh air. The birds were on the roof so he had some friends to talk to.
Each day, the witch brought food, skateboarding magazines, water and clean clothes. At least he wouldn’t stink.
Rapunzee loved looking out the window, watching out for someone to help him. But the castle was in a very isolated place so not many people came by. Until one day, a drone flew into his window. Quick as a flash, he whipped a note inside and hoped when the drone flew back that his message would be read. Then he would be saved.
The next day, Rapunzee waited and waited and waited. There was no buzz from the drone but in the distance there was a speck that seemed to be getting bigger and bigger and bigger. A girl on a skateboard appeared.
Luckily, the witch was snoozing on the lounge and didn’t hear a thing.
The girl’s name was Charlie Indiana Jones. She said to Rapunzee, “I’ll get you out of there.”
Charlie Indiana Jones took the full situation in hand, and noticed a hook outside the window.
They chatted for a while and Charlie Indiana Jones tweaked that Rapunzee could abseil. Bingo! Now what could they use to put on the hook as a rope so Rapunzee could rappel down?
“Rapunzee, let me see your long hair.”
Rapunzee flung his long hair outside the window.
“Hey, Rapunzee, chop off your hair and tie it to the hook. Tie some knots so you can slide down safely,” said Charlie Indiana Jones.
Rapunzee was not afraid of heights, which was a good thing. Then they could whizz away on their skateboards.
Just as Rapunzee was about to touch the ground, a cackle filled the air. “Where do you think you’re going, Rapunzee?” asked witch. “You can’t leave me.”
Charlie Indiana Jones said, “You’re lonely and need to learn how to skateboard.”
The witch’s eyes welled with tears.
Charlie Indiana Jones said, “Rapunzee can visit if he chooses but not if he’s trapped and forced to.”
The witch replied, “Oh, please don’t leave me! I’ll never trap anyone again.”
Charlie Indiana Jones had a superb idea. She said, “Why don’t you make your castle a place of fun?”
“What do you mean?” the witch asked.
“Your castle has amazing grounds. Why don’t you share it?” said Charlie Indiana Jones.
The witch replied, “Oh, that’s an awesome idea!”
Charlie Indiana Jones said, “Give some shelter dogs a home too and then you your castle will be full.”
“I’ll give it a go,” said the witch. “Will you teach me how to skateboard too?”
“Yes, of course! A skateboard is much more fun than a rusty old broomstick. But you’ve got to practice,” replied Rapunzee. “You’ll be the coolest witch around!”
On the first weekend of the month, the castle was open to all from near and far. There were picnics in the grounds and the witch’s hounds roamed the grounds. And the coolest skateboarding witch zipped around with her rainbow cloak blowing in the wind, getting air with friends all around.
As for Rapunzee and Charlie Indiana Jones, they skateboarded every day, and went onto the pro skateboard circuit, travelling everywhere. But they always visited their friend the witch and shared all their adventures with her over a cup of tea and scones. They all lived happily ever after.
The New Pet
Zyrgig had always wanted a pet. But high up on the 941st floor of the apartment block where he lived, there was no room for a pet. Now, his dad had just gotten a new job as a Hovercar Technician at the AeroTech Jet Labs. The subsequent increase in pay meant they could afford to move to the new Spacely Homes Residential Area where there was plenty of room for a pet.
No sooner had the moving hovervan finished unloading their possessions than Zyrgig was jumping up and down on his three legs and clapping his tentacles together. “Please, can I have a pet?” he asked.
“Well,” his dad said, looking at him sternly through the single eye in the centre of his forehead. “I’m not sure you can handle a pet.”
Zyrgig looked to his mother. Her single eye had beautiful long lashes. She fluttered those lashes as she looked at Zyrgig’s dad.
“Oh, all right,” Zyrgig’s dad flapped his tentacles in the air in defeat. “But you have to feed it and groom it, and clean up after it and walk it and anything else it needs.”
“I will!” Zyrgig nodded.
Dad drove his hovercar to the Downtown Shopping Plaza at the law abiding speed of 150 miles per hour. They parked on the 22nd level, checked the information holoboard and caught the elevator to the 15th level. Within minutes, they were walking through the door of the pet shop. A tiny bell tinkled to announce their arrival.
The shopkeeper rushed up to them, his feet slapping on the floor as he moved – mwup, mwup, mwup – as Zyrgig looked around at all the pets. There were cages, pens and tanks full of all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures.
“Can I help you?” the shopkeeper asked above the chatter of pets.
“My son is looking for a pet,” Zyrgig’s dad said.
“Certainly,” the shopkeeper looked at Zyrgig. “Is there anything in particular you are after?”
Zyrgig shrugged. “We’ve just moved out to Spacely Homes.”
“Aah, so you have plenty of room. I may have just the pet for you. Come this way.”
He indicated the pens with a tentacle and walked across to the nearest one – mwup, mwup, mwup.
“This,” he pointed into the first pen, “is a puppy. They are overly excitable, yip and drool and seem to enjoy chasing their tail.”
“Yip, yip,” the puppy said. Its tail began to move from side to side. It suddenly caught sight of the flapping appendage and began to chase it.
“When they mature, their voice breaks into a low tone and they become calm, devoted creatures.”
The puppy caught its tail, yipped loudly and fell over, limbs flailing everywhere.
“Umm… what else have you got?” Zyrgig asked.
The shopkeeper moved to the next pen.
“This,” he indicated with a tentacle, “is called a hyooman. It has an artificial second skin called klothing that comes in wool, cotton and something that smells like a cow. It has a lifespan of seventy to eighty years, but becomes very rebellious around its teenage years and needs to be retrained.”
The assistant reached to the shelf above the pen, picked up a book and held it up for Zyrgig and his dad to see.
“It comes with this guide, ‘How to train and retrain your hyooman’.”
Zyrgig squinted up at the shopkeeper. “Have you got anything else?”
The shopkeeper moved to the next pen.
“This is called a rock. The smaller ones with it are called pebbles. It’s extremely obedient.” He lowered a tentacle to the rock. “Sit… Stay.”
Then he walked across the floor – mwup, mwup, mwup. Zyrgig’s dad looked into the pen. The rock didn’t move.
“That is quite obedient,” Zyrgig’s dad remarked.
“It will stay exactly where it is until I get back.” The shopkeeper walked back to the pen – mwup, mwup, mwup. “Good rock,” he praised the pet.
“Can I pick it up?” Zyrgig asked excitedly.
“Just be careful with it.”
Zyrgig reached a tentacle into the pen. He gently stroked the rock. It didn’t seem aggressive at all and he thought it quite enjoyed being stroked. He reached in with his other tentacle and gently picked it up.
“That’s a good pet,” he said softly, holding it with one tentacle while he patted it with the other. He looked up at his dad and smiled. “I think it likes me.”
“I think you’re right,” his dad agreed.
Zyrgig drew it close to his body and snuggled it to his chest.
“They seem to thrive equally well inside or outside and handle extremes in weather quite well,” the shopkeeper continued. “They’re extremely low maintenance and can go years without being fed.”
“Ooh, it feels so rough against my skin. I love it. Dad, can I have this one, please?”
Zyrgig’s dad rubbed a tentacle along his chin. “Well… All right.”
“An excellent choice.” The shopkeeper slapped his tentacles together in delight. “I wish you and your pet many happy decades together.”
Watching Grass Grow
“Clean your room!”
Jessie’s mum stood in the bedroom doorway, her hands on her hips and her face slowly reddening.
“But, Mum –”
Mum half closed one eye and glared at Jessie, the vein in her temple thumped.
Jessie looked around her room. The bed was unmade, her nightdress was on the floor with the clothes she’d worn last weekend and her robe was hanging over the corner of the open wardrobe door. Inside the wardrobe, toys and clothes were a mixed pile approaching the heights of Mount Everest. One trainer was on her bedside table and the other was nowhere to be seen. Her schoolbag was open, her lunch box, books and drink bottle strewn across the floor.
She picked up her lunch box and put it on the bedside table next to the trainer, looked at her mum and sighed.
“It’s like watching grass grow. I want this room clean before dinner.”
Mum turned and walked down the hallway, shaking her head.
Jessie looked around the room. Cleaning was boring. She’d never be finished by dinner and it wasn’t even worth trying.
She wondered what Mum meant by watching grass grow. Grass grew quickly. Dad was always complaining about having to cut it. She decided to go and have a look.
She crept down the hallway, past the kitchen doorway and outside. It was a warm summer afternoon. The yard was full of spongy green grass.
Jessie looked at the grass. It was grass. It was green. It wasn’t very exciting and she couldn’t see it growing. Maybe she needed to take a closer look.
She lay down on her stomach. She folded her arms in front of her, placed one hand on the other and rested her chin on them. She stared intently at the grass.
After a moment, she saw some movement. An ant was picking its way around the green stalks. Not just one ant. There was a whole procession of them. Some of them were carrying tiny grass cuttings, leaf pieces and crumbs of food. They held the pieces high above their heads as they followed each other in an ant line. On closer inspection, it looked like they may have been holding the pieces on their heads!
I wonder where they’re going, Jessie thought.
She followed the ants until they disappeared into a hole in the ground. Ants poured in one side of the hole while others came out the other side of the hole. They couldn’t go in and out at the same time and sometimes had to wait, taking it in turns. It seemed so organised and so orderly.
Jessie was distracted from the ants by a clicking noise. She looked around but couldn’t see anything.
There it was again. She looked carefully and saw the tiniest movement. She inched across the grass on her stomach to get closer.
A pale green grasshopper was sitting on a tall stem of grass. Its body was so thin and fragile, it looked like it would snap. Its big square head had huge ball eyes that stared at Jessie. Jessie stared at the grasshopper.
It rubbed its back legs together and made the clicking noise.
Wow! How clever.
Then the grasshopper jumped.
Jessie tried to see where it landed but her attention was caught by a ladybug. The tiny round body covered in black dots scurried through the grass on even tinier legs. It passed near a worm, whose segmented body squeezed and stretched like an accordion as it moved.
How does it know where it’s going? It hasn’t got any eyes.
Jessie spent the rest of the afternoon fascinated by the tiny creatures in the grass. It was a whole new world that she never knew existed.
She stayed there all afternoon until the sun began to drop behind the trees. Then she got up, brushed herself down and crept back inside the house. No sooner had she reached her bedroom than she heard her mum calling her for dinner.
“Coming, Mum.” Jessie skipped happily to the kitchen.
“Is your room clean yet?” Mum asked.
“Umm…not yet,” Jessie answered, avoiding her mum’s eyes.
“Like watching paint dry,” said her dad. “Sit down and have your dinner. You can finish cleaning it later.
Jessie sat at the table and picked at her food. What did her dad mean by watching paint dry?
Jessie loved painting. It was her favourite subject at school. She’d dip the brush in the colours and swish swish it across the paper, and soon she’d have a lovely picture to bring home. Her parents always said they loved her pictures. There was one on the fridge right now.
Of course, she had to wait until they were dry to come home. But her teacher hung them up for all the children when they’d finished and they were always dry by the time she went home.
The next day was overcast. Jessie’s grandma picked her up from school and they walked home in a light drizzle.
Jessie lagged behind, watching the damp spots form on the ground.
“Hurry, up, Jessie,” Grandma urged her. “You’re as slow as a wet week.”
What did her grandma mean? It had only been wet for half an hour.
Not long after Jessie got home, the rain set in
“Your mum said you have to finish cleaning your room,” Grandma reminded her.
Jessie went to her room. She picked her pillow up from the floor and put it back on her bed. The pile of clothes was still on the floor. She grabbed her nightdress from the top and shoved it under her pillow.
She grabbed a corner of her quilt and straightened it. Then she tried to smooth out the lumps by running her hands over them. The rain pattered against her window. She looked up from the bed and saw zigzag patterns running down the window glass.
She hopped onto her bed and moved close to the window. Most of the rain tapped the window and bounced off. Some of the drops splattered. As more drops hit the window, some of them joined up, forming bigger and bigger drops. Soon, they were heavy enough to slide down the glass. But not in a straight line like the rain falling to the ground. No, these drops were finding a path down the window like the ants finding a way through the grass.
Sometimes they stopped and had to wait for more rain to make them heavy enough to fall again. Sometimes they moved sideways, like an invisible sign told them to detour, before heading down again. Sometimes they moved slowly. Sometimes they raced.
Jessie touched a finger to the window – it was cold. She traced one of the paths down the window. A huge drop added to the path and raced past her finger, making her giggle.
She found another path. This time she put her finger to the glass as the drop was growing, and she kept in pace with it as it slicked down the glass.
This is fun!
When the rain stopped, she found her coat and wellingtons amongst the Mount Everest in the wardrobe and put them on. Then she raced outside to play in the puddles.
Water splashed and sprayed in all directions as she jumped in a puddle. A few more jumps and the puddle was empty, the water now mixed with all the other water on the grass.
Then she stopped. She wondered about the ants. Would their ant hole be filled with water like the puddle?
She tried to remember where the ant hole was. She crouched down – she wasn’t going to lie on the wet grass, that would be silly! She looked around for ants. There weren’t any. Maybe it was too wet for them. Maybe they had all drowned in their flooded ant hole!
A sudden fear gripped her and she frantically looked around for the ant hole.
The grass was wet. The weight of the water bent the tall stalks towards the ground. Just like the window, when the water was heavy enough and the stalks bent far enough, the rain ran along the stalk and flowed onto the ground.
Still crouched down, she crept around the grass until she saw the familiar hole. It wasn’t flooded! The hole was there in the wet ground. She tried to peer in the hole to see if there was any water in it, but it was too small and too dark to see inside.
As she leaned close, an ant popped out. Its little antenna waved around as though it was testing the weather or looking for directions. Then it set off on a path through the wet grass. Another ant came out, then another. Soon, a procession of ants were coming out of the hole.
A worm poked it head out of the grass. It might have been its head; Jessie wasn’t sure because both ends looked the same.
Just as she was wondering if it was the same worm as yesterday, she saw another worm, and another one. She looked around and saw worms crawling all through the grass everywhere.
Wow! Wet days are really fun!
The next day at school, Jessie made another painting. She painted the grass and the ants. She painted the grasshopper, the ladybug and the worm. She painted the rain and the puddles.
The teacher hung it up and Jessie waited for it to dry. She couldn’t wait to show Mum, Dad and Grandma.
“Wonderful,” said Mum.
“Marvellous,” said Dad.
“Spectacular!” said Grandma.
Mum put the painting on the fridge and Jessie ran outside.
“Where are you going?” Mum asked.
Jessie turned back to her mum with a huge smile on her face. “I’m going to watch the grass grow.”
The Littlest Basketballer
“You’re a wuss, Jamie. You’ll never be anything.”
Mark stood in front of Jamie with his hands on his hips.
“You’re too small to play basketball and you’ve got hair like a girl. Why don’t you get a few hair ribbons and put on a dress. Me and the boys will even chip in and buy you a doll.”
Jamie couldn’t keep eye contact as the boys laughed at him. Mark was captain of the school basketball team. He was never on time, climbed trees and got detention. Mark was cool.
Jamie bowed his head and dug his hands in his pockets. Then he turned and walked slowly away, trying to block out the noise behind him.
He couldn’t help his hair. It was blonde and had that wild look that was only tamed by masses of gel. Even then, the gel tended to dry it into stiff, strawlike blobs. He couldn’t help his size either. His dad always told him that he’d grow one day, but one day hadn’t come and he was several inches and many pounds worse off than other kids his age.
“Don’t worry, Jamie,” Belinda told him as he moved within earshot. “Mark’s just a bully.”
Jamie tried to smile, but it didn’t work. Belinda turned her attention back to her friends and their dolls.
It was the next afternoon when the basketball coach came into the classroom.
“I’m sorry to interrupt your class, Mrs Suarez,” he apologised. “It’s just that young Roger broke his arm and I need someone else to fill in for the rest of the semester.”
“I’ll play,” one boy volunteered.
“Aren’t you playing baseball this semester?” Coach asked.
“Yes, but I can fill in for a few games.”
“I’m sorry, but you know the school rules. You’re only allowed to play one sport each semester. Is there anyone who is not currently playing another sport?”
No one answered.
“Jamie,” Belinda nudged him.
“No,” Jamie hissed.
“No one at all?” Coach asked.
“Jamie will,” Belinda blurted out.
“I said no.”
“Stand up, Jamie,” Coach told him.
Jamie obeyed, groaning inwardly.
Coach frowned, his eyes running up and down Jamie as he sized him up. Then he let out a breath and his eyebrows raised. “How about it? Will you fill in for us?”
“I’m too small and I don’t play basketball,” Jamie answered, looking at the floor.
“Coach, can’t Roger play anyway?” Mark asked. “His arm’s not broken that bad.”
“Be quiet, Mark. This has got nothing to do with you,” Coach told him. “How about it, Jamie?”
Jamie looked up from the floor and saw that all eyes were on him. Coach was waiting for an answer. The teacher was giving him an encouraging smile. Belinda was grinning with excitement. Mark was glaring and shaking his head, silently threatening physical violence if Jamie should give the wrong answer.
“I’ll play,” Jamie answered.
Mark shook his head.
“Good,” Coach’s face cracked into a smile. “Training is every afternoon after school. I’ll see you there.”
Jamie knew he’d regret it. But the thought of really annoying Mark was too good to resist. No one was likely to pass the ball to him and he’d probably spend every game on the bench anyway, so he’d only be making up numbers.
Training proved that to be partly correct. No one passed the ball to him. Any time he did go near the ball, he was bumped out of the way or knocked to the ground.
“Foul!” he called as he slowly got to his feet for the tenth time.
“Defensive foul,” Mark laughed. “It’s your own fault. You got in the shooter’s way. Keep doing that and you’ll be fouled out of the game.”
“He’s just learning,” Coach growled as he rushed over to Jamie. “Take it easy.”
“Sorry, Coach,” Mark apologised.
“Are you all right?” Coach asked Jamie.
Jamie brushed himself down and looked at the floor. “I’m all right.”
Jamie’s first game was Friday after school. His mum and dad had promised to try to come and watch, but he knew they had work and wouldn’t be there. He’d still have to catch the bus home, like he did every other day. He just hoped it wouldn’t be dark when the game finished.
Coach had given him his uniform the previous day. As he’d looked at himself in the mirror, he’d felt like a kid wearing his dad’s clothes. The singlet was too big – the armholes came down past his ribs – and his shorts came down past his knees. Today, with all the other boys towering above him, he still felt the same way.
He jogged onto the court with his team and they began their warm up.
“Now, remember,” he heard Mark say. “No one pass it to Jamie.”
Jamie turned his attention to the opposition team. They were giants in their black singlets, shorts and long socks. White runners and white numbers on their backs were the only contrast to the black.
The starting five took their places. Jamie sat on the bench and watched for most of the first half.
“Time out,” Coach had called out so many times that Jamie had stopped listening.
“Jamie, you’re in.”
“Huh?” Jamie looked up at the coach.
“Go on,” Coach waved encouragingly towards the court.
Jamie stood up slowly. He walked onto the court, his rubbersoled runners creaking on the varnished floorboards.
“Where do you want me?” Jamie asked Mark.
“Defence,” Mark answered. “You’re on that kid. Just keep him away from the basket.”
Jamie looked at the boy. He was probably the biggest boy in the team. He leaned forward and a big goober drooled from his mouth and hung halfway to the floor. He quickly sucked it back up. Jamie nearly barfed.
Goober Boy was much bigger than the others. Jamie saw only an armpit as the boy leaned on his head and tried to squash him into the floor.
“Think you can play, do you?” he laughed.
Jamie didn’t answer.
The ball was thrown back in from the sideline and the game resumed.
Within seconds, Jamie skidded across the floor on his bottom.
“Foul!” the umpire called against him.
Mark glared as Goober Boy was given a free throw. A two point shot turned into three points as the basket sank.
Jamie’s head dropped.
The ball was thrown back in. Mark dribbled it to his goal, leapt at the basket and sank the two pointer.
The buzzer sounded for half time. Jamie slunk off the court and slumped onto the bench.
“Sorry, Coach,” he apologised.
“Everyone gives away a foul every now and then,” Coach told him.
Jamie looked up into Coach’s smiling face, but it was hard to be cheerful.
Jamie started the second half on the court. He lined up against Goober Boy again.
Every time Goober Boy got the ball, he zigzagged around Jamie and took a shot at goal. Jamie tried to stay with him and tried not to give away any more fouls. He still seemed to find himself on his bottom, skidding across the floor, and the umpire called foul against him two more times.
Jamie was subbed out and sat on the bench. That suited him just fine. He’d be happy to stay there for the rest of the game.
With less than a minute to go in the game, the scores were level. Mark sank a two pointer, the opposition had the throw in. Coach called, “Time out,” and subbed Jamie in.
Goober Boy received the pass and ran towards his goal. Jamie stayed with him.
A basket would put them into overtime. A foul would give Goober Boy a free shot.
Jamie tried to stay with Goober Boy as he dodged and weaved. He felt Goober Boy leaning on him, trying to push him out of the way. Jamie tried to push back, but Goober Boy was too big and strong.
Suddenly, Jamie planted his feet and stood rock still. Goober Boy came straight at him. Jamie closed his eyes a fraction of a second before he was knocked off his feet.
Jamie opened his eyes and saw Mark’s face blurred against a background of ceiling lights. He was flat on his back, arms spread out, feet apart. Every bone in his body ached. Other faces blurred into view. Voices slowly penetrated.
“What happened?” he asked.
“Offensive foul,” Mark grinned.
“He fouled you. His basket didn’t count.”
Mark reached down and grabbed Jamie’s singlet, hauling him to his feet. Jamie’s head spun.
“You’re not such a wuss after all,” Mark slapped him on the back. “Come on, we’ve got a game to finish.”
The Stonecutter’s Apprentice
Chibale scampered across the desert quarry. The tomb of Khufu soared to the sky. The tomb of Khafre had begun. The new pharaoh wanted a resting place to emulate that of his father – a place where his immortal body could depart this world and enter the eternal kingdom.
Akhmet, the old stonecutter, had spent many cycles of the sun in the building of both tombs. Now he was teaching Chibale how to quarry the rock, how to carve the huge blocks from the mountainous rocky underbed, to shape them, and to place them in such a way they would support themselves and the rest of the structure.
Chibale liked to learn. He liked the importance of his job. He had been alive for ten cycles of the sun. Many seasons sweating in the golden sun had tanned his skin a deeper colour than most boys of his age. Cutting huge blocks of rock had given him more muscle on his small frame and an acute attention to detail.
“Master.” Chibale slowed to a stop outside the tent of the old stonecutter.
Akhmet poked a wizened head outside.
“We have uncovered a huge rock,” Chibale said. “It is different from the other rocks. It… it changes.”
Akhmet’s brow furrowed.
“Please come, Master. The stonecutters will not touch it before you see it.” Chibale grasped Akhmet’s hand in both of his and pulled him gently forward.
A second man emerged from the tent. Chibale recognised him as the architect of the pyramids. A man who had lived half the cycles of his life in the pharaoh’s luxury. His sandals were leather, his dress of a fine cloth. He wore a jewelled pendant around his neck and a single jewel in the centre of his headdress. His eyelids were as black as the night.
“Something important?” he asked Akhmet.
“More of the child’s foolishness,” Akhmet apologised. “However, if the stonecutters refuse, I must attend.”
“A few lashes will change their minds,” the architect sneered.
Akhmet lowered his eyes and bowed before the architect. “I must attend.”
The architect flicked his arm, waving them away.
Chibale lowered his head and cringed at the thought of lashes cutting into his back. He wanted to be away from there, and he pulled on Akhmet’s hand.
They backed away from the architect, who disappeared back inside the tent, then turned and walked through the hot sand to the site of the rock.
A huge limestone block had been isolated from the surrounding land. Akhmet’s face broke into a smile as he looked at it with the gaze of a master craftsman.
He ran his hand over the hard brittle surface, knowing instantly its suitability for the tombs. A layered walkway had been carved into the land around the rock. The pit was more than ten times the height of a man.
As Akhmet strode down the walkway, he saw that the rock did indeed change as Chibale had said. Seven layers of ancient bedrock that became softer, the deeper it was. Its facing ran in a direct line with the sun’s path across the sky.
Akhmet’s hands began to twitch as he ran them over the rock. It was perfect. He knew not for what, but it was perfect. It deserved something magnificent.
“How long is it?” he asked. “How tall? How wide?”
Workers ran to take the measurements. Chibale measured across the front. He placed one forearm on the flat of the rock, his elbow at one edge.
“One cubit,” he spoke to himself.
At the tip of his middle finger, he placed the elbow of his other arm, then flattened his forearm on the rock.
Elbow to fingertip, he moved along, measuring the width of the rock.
“Forty five cubits wide,” Chibale measured.
“Forty eight cubits high,” came a cry from the top of the rock.
“One hundred and ninety cubits long,” came a call from the far end of the rock.
“What shall we do with it?” a stonecutter asked.
“I must think upon this,” Akhmet answered. “Quarry elsewhere.”
The stonecutters moved away. Akhmet walked around the base of the rock. Chibale followed. He watched the way the old man touched the rock.
“You are right, Chibale,” Akhmet finally spoke after a lap and a half of the rock. “It changes.”
“What is its purpose?” Chibale asked.
“It will tell me its purpose.”
Chibale frowned. A rock had no voice. It could not speak.
Akhmet put a hand on Chibale’s shoulder. “You have much to learn yet, my young apprentice.”
Chibale slept that night on a reed mat in the corner of Akhmet’s tent. The architect had returned to Giza long before the sun sank below the horizon.
Akhmet spoke in his sleep and Chibale listened to the mumbled words, trying to make sense of what the old man was saying. As the lightening sky crept above the desert sands, Akhmet put his hand on Chibale’s shoulder and gently shook him.
“The rock has spoken. I know what to carve.”
Chibale sat up, rubbing his eyes. “Do you need to speak with the architect?”
“I do not need the architect to show me what I have seen with my mind. Come, Chibale. I will show you my vision.”
Chibale rose, slipped on his papyrus sandals and followed Akhmet out of the tent. The quarry was quiet. Beyond Khufu’s great pyramid, the sky was still dotted with the twinkling lights that the sun would chase away.
They walked to the stone and stood at its eastern side.
“I will create a monument to honour the Great Pharaoh Khafre as no pharaoh has been honoured. Khafre’s tomb shall be guarded by a giant lion at rest. The length of the rock shall be its body. The soft sediment will easily shape its features. Its head shall be the image of Khafre. All will know whose tomb the lion guards and all will know the magnificence of the Pharaoh Khafre.”
Akhmet turned to Chibale and took the boy’s face in his hands.
“And you, Chibale, will help me. We will create a monument for eternity.”
“But, wait…” Akhmet released Chibale’s face and turned to the east. The first rays of the sun were streaking across the desert.
“Watch,” Akhmet smiled.
The sun’s rays reached the rock, hitting it directly front on. A long shadow reached out behind it to the unfinished pyramid of Khafre.
“See how it lines up with the pyramid?” Akhmet asked.
“Yes,” Chibale whispered in amazement.
“It is as though the gods had placed this rock here, in perfect alignment with Khafre’s tomb. It is their wish that we honour him.”
Work began immediately. Akhmet’s mind was so vivid that Chibale could see the details as he outlined them. His mind could see the finished monument, could see it facing into the rising sun, guarding the tomb beyond.
The architect had no time for such nonsense. He had temples and tombs to build. But he tolerated the old man and the boy as massive chunks were carved away from the rock and put to use on the pyramid.
Disappointed at the progress of his tomb, Pharaoh Khafre came from the royal city of Memphis to inspect the progress. He pointed to the monument and asked its significance.
“A mad old man and a foolish boy’s attempt to honour you, Great Pharaoh,” the architect replied.
Khafre merely nodded, and smiled.
The sun cycled and the flooding of the Nile brought prosperity to the lands. The quiet season fell upon the pyramids. The huge workforce returned to their cities and only the stonecutters remained. They would quarry rock and cut blocks, and survey and prepare the building lands for the next busy season.
As the work on the monument continued, the other workers at the site began to see what was forming. As more blocks were taken away, the stonecutters took more care around the shaping of the body.
Akhmet told no one exactly what he was creating.
Akhmet called a halt when enough rock had been taken from above the body of the lion. The percentage remaining was accurate to the details and proportions of a lion. Chibale was given the job of smoothing it. He had to chip away the deep gauges and sharp edges left behind by the quarrying.
He spent most of the days on his hands and knees. Carving, shaping, smoothing. Running his hands across the surface to look for imperfections.
Rubble filled the pit and the desert sands blew in. This made it easier to reach the higher sections of the rock.
When the main workforce returned the following season, Akhmet began to work on the face. He created a headdress that folded over the top of the head, with a cobra on the brow. Triangular planes reached out from behind the ears.
“Chibale,” Akhmet called as stood back one evening to ponder on his work. “Run to the dyemakers. I need a deep red ochre, the colour of the earth. I need the blue of the sky and the yellow of the sun.”
Chibale watched the dyemakers make up the colours from the powdered minerals.
“What does your master make?” the dyemakers asked him.
“A monument to Pharaoh Khafre,” he answered. “You will soon see its magnificence.”
Chibale carefully carried the pots back to Akhmet. Akhmet painted the face in the deep rich red of the earth. He copied the blue and yellow of the royal funeral masks onto the triangular planes.
Chibale watched in amazement as the rock came alive. It had truly spoken to Akhmet and its purpose was being fulfilled.
During the next quiet season, the section beneath the head was quarried almost to the base. When the workforce returned, the blocks were cleared away from the chest of the lion. The monument drew much attention and much gossip.
Akhmet began to carve one mighty paw and allowed Chibale to carve the other.
“Perfect symmetry,” Akhmet repeated. “It must be perfect symmetry.”
The apprentice worked hard alongside his master, his young mind and hands not quite matching the experienced craftsman. After Akhmet had gone to bed, Chibale worked long into the nights under the moon and stars to catch up, so that each morning he could start at the same point as Akhmet.
When the paws of the mighty beast were finished, Akhmet inspected Chibale’s work. Chibale held his breath as the old stonecutter measured with hand and eye.
Then he turned to Chibale and smiled. “Perfect symmetry.”
Chibale’s heart skipped a beat and he grinned.
The mighty creature was almost finished.
The dyemakers produced the colours to bring the monument to life. Chibale knew that it was already alive.
The architect returned. If he was impressed, he did not show it. He simply set to work designing a temple complex around the structure and linking it to Khafre’s pyramid.
When the pharaoh visited, he was struck by the awe of the creature that would guard him in the afterlife.
That night, as Chibale lay on his bed in Akhmet’s tent, the stars twinkled in the dark sky and the moon shone down on the giant monument. He felt eternity deserved to know its creator and he spoke into the dark to his master.
“You must sign the rock.”
“I must not,” Akhmet answered, shaking his head.
“But you have created something magnificent.”
“The rock created magnificence. I only gave it its purpose.”
About the Authors
I like cooking, especially desserts, and loved reading Norman Lindsay’s The Magic Pudding. There is a very special kind of pudding in this story, too, though it doesn’t speak!
I write short stories and longer stories, both fiction and fantasy, and poems and songs. (Songs to Grow With, Bushfire Press: My Dog Rupert, “Sing”, ABC books.)
Most of my previous books were published for primary educational publishers under pen names. The last series was for Clean Slate Press in New Zealand, Signatures Sets 1 & 2, as Jaz Ghent. In the first series, there is a grandmother who is part dragon and a boy who can talk to birds. In the second, a kind of circus tent that can move in time and place. (But not into Space…)
My story Weird Wilma was published in Short Tales 2, 2016; my picture book text: The Possums Ate the Blossoms was published in the Creative Kid’s Tales eBook: Aliens, Animals and Amazing Places last year; and my poem: Roar won the 2016 Kathleen Julia Bates competition for children’s poetry.
At the moment, I am writing two fantasy novels for the 8-12 age group; one set in Scotland and one in Melbourne. The Scottish one is based on one of my ancestors from the 16th century. The other one has two unusual cats in it.
I write a lot. And read a lot. I also sing with Jazz bands.
I worked as a pediatric therapist for many years, helping kids gain strength and movement skills. The kids taught me how to use imaginative play during therapy sessions. That made exercise a lot more fun for both them and me (especially when I was dubbed Queen or Jedi Master).
I love travelling places I’ve never been, eating foods I’ve never tasted, and learning the stories of people I meet. Anything is more interesting than cleaning the house! But mostly, I love to read and write stories in which unlikely heroes make a difference in their corner of the world.
One such unlikely hero is Sophie Adler, from my historical fiction novel Risking Exposure. Sophie loves photography and is pretty good at it too. She’s even asked to be the official photographer for her Youth program, a huge honour for this shy young teen. Problem is, she lives in Nazi Germany and the program is Hitler Youth. When she catches polio, she’s hospitalised and permanently loses the strength in one leg. That’s when she learns – the Nazis want to eliminate people with disabilities, possibly even her. Sophie’s only weapon is her camera.
I’m not a full time writer. I drive garbage trucks for the local council. You might think that’s a boring job. But you’ll realise how important it is if you don’t get your garbage collected for weeks!
I get to drive around the streets every day and see lots of interesting people, so I put some of them in a story.
My story The Odd Jobs is all about a boy who is too busy thinking about himself and what he wants to consider other people’s feelings. He sets out to do the right thing, but when it becomes too hard (in his mind), he takes the easy way out. He knows it’s not right, but convinces himself it is. He gets a reality check when it all comes to confront him in the end. What he discovers is that people have a lot to offer – if you stop long enough to get to know them.
Hi, I’m Lizbeth Klein
I live in a caravan and travel about the countryside with my husband. I love reading but I love writing stories more. With a love for fantasy adventure, I have published two young adult novels titled Firelight of Heaven and Greenheart of the Forest. Both have won the Literary Classics Seal of Approval. They are a mystifying glimpse into a world overtaken by magic, gripping stories of loss, elusive destinies and painful discoveries. I have also created learning resources for two learning centres, published stories in reading kits in primary schools, published articles online and in magazines, stories in anthologies and poetry.
Recently, I published some quirky plays about rude pirates, silly fairy tales and wacky playground adventures. At present, I’m focusing on a young adult book called The Gryphon Key, as well as some middle grade books and picture books. So there’s a lot going on in this caravan. You’ve probably seen my light on from where you live.
Would you like to visit my website for more of my writing?
Karen followed her dream and started writing children’s stories in 2016. She has written many short stories for children and has had several stories published in eBooks. Her wish to become a writer began when a lecturer at university said she had a talent for writing stories. As a university student, she assisted in the production of an Aboriginal big book Gang-Man-Gang at a local Aboriginal primary school. The big book is still used today in local Illawarra primary schools. As a teacher, Karen’s favourite time of the day was sharing stories and teaching students to read.
Karen is presently working on several new stories and has started doing author visits in schools. She has a keen interest in travel and has a great love of the local seaside village where she lives. Karen’s writing companion is a little Moodle called Elmo, who is a cross between a poodle and a Maltese Terrier. Elmo is cheeky and very lovable.
Karen can be found by the sea or in local coffee shops. She has a husband who is a ginger beer (engineer) and a daughter and son that she loves to bits.
Karen has an author page on Facebook.
Hi, I’m GJ. That stands for… Sshh, not telling.
I think things a little bit weird. When I see something normal, I wonder what it would be like if it was the opposite. What if we were all upside down and kept falling off the planet? What if the grass was blue and the sky was green? What if pets owned humans?
If you’ve got a cat, you probably think that happens already!
I took that idea and added a little twist. Instead of pets owning humans, I made it aliens owning pets and a possible pet for an alien might be a human.
I’ve got short stories and poetry for both children and adults scattered across the internet. You’ve probably come across some of it. If not, that’s all right. It’s a big world out there. Sharing our stories can bring us all one step closer.
Jill enjoys reading and writing stories about nature and has written many stories for local magazines. She spends hours prowling the parks and gardens of her local city, admiring the landscaping, water features and professional displays that have been made. You can quite often find her with a picnic blanket and basket, jotting down notes for her next story and sharing her lunch with the possums and birds.
Jill hasn’t gotten around to organising her website yet. It’s one of those things she meant to do. She hopes you enjoyed Watching Grass Grow.
I live with my partner of ten years and two children in an apartment block up in the heights of one of the busiest cities of the world. The views up here are incredible, if you can get a clear day with no clouds or fog or smog.
My children love playing basketball, so I thought I’d write this story for them.
It’s the first story I’ve had published.
I’ve spent most of my life telling people my name is James Jesse, not Jesse James like that infamous (that means bad – very bad!) outlaw of the Wild West.
One thing that did happen because of it is that I developed an interest in history.
The Stonecutter’s Apprentice is set thousands of years ago in Ancient Egypt. While we know a lot about the pyramids, we know hardly anything about the Giant Sphinx. No one knows who created it, how long it took or what is was created for.
The most accepted story is that it was created during the reign of Pharaoh Khafre between 2558-2532 BC. That’s about 4500 years ago. The Egyptians never called it a “sphinx”. That name was given to it about 2500 years ago. Traces of red, yellow and blue pigment have been discovered on the Sphinx, so we know that it was once partially (or completely) coloured.
The Stonecutter’s Apprentice is about a young boy who helped carve the Giant Sphinx.
The first story I wrote for children is Saint Nicholas and the Kidnapped Boy. It was published in Christmas Tales in 2016. It is based on one of the legends of Saint Nicholas.
Storm Cloud ebooks
Who’s Scared of the Dark? – for 18 months upwards
Grandpa’s Hat – for non or beginning readers
I Thought I’d Teach Myself to Shave – for readers 6 years upwards
– (Finalist in The Wishing Shelf Book Awards, 2016)
Scully the Cat – for readers 6 years upwards
Andrew and the Dragon – for readers 8 years upwards
Short Tales – a short story collection for readers 8-12 years
Short Tales 2 – a short story collection for readers 8-12 years
Short Tales 3 – a short story collection for readers 8-12 years
Christmas Tales – a short story collection for readers 8-12 years
The Great Tadpole Hunt – for readers 6 years upwards
Under the Bridge – for readers 8 years upwards
Girls Can’t Play – for readers 8 years upwards
Slimming Down Santa – for readers 8 years upwards
The Virtues of Drac (complete edition)
Into the Land of Clubs (The Virtues of Drac: Book One)
Through the Land of Diamonds (The Virtues of Drac: Book Two)
Fallen Virtues (The Virtues of Drac: Book Three)
For readers 15 years to adult
By Any Other Name
Shoulder of the Giant
For information and updates on Storm Cloud books, writers and illustrators, visit the Storm Cloud Publishing page on Facebook:
A collection of short stories from a collection of writers. Suitable for boys and girls 8-12 years. If you want fun and adventure, a trip to the past, the future or a world of fantasy, there's sure to be a story here for you. You'll find some of your Short Tales favourite writers and some new ones to enjoy.