Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fear and loathing in the lost forest - Judge's report by Kathy White

I was quite horrified when I was given the job of writing a horror story. Blimey – horror. Horror stories are about fear, revenge and death. They often involve something evil, and they can involve folklore and supernatural creatures like vampires and zombies, but they don’t have to. The only thing they have to do is scare you. Particularly clever authors like Stephen King, Edgar Allan Poe and Roald Dahl do that through unexpected twists and turns. How many of you have read those spooky 'Tales of the Unexpected'?

Writing a horror story was quite a challenge for me. And I loved it. I might even do it again.

As for you, you had a heap of fun with this genre. You invented golden spiders that bite grizzlies, creatures called blood-carvers and billyongs, gossbind flowers, and burglar berries.

You also created great settings with spine-tingling imagery. Bryn wrote about the sound of something swaying above him. The image of thousands of limp bodies hanging in the trees will stay with me for a long time. Mikayla described trees that were so tall there wasn’t a dash of daylight to be seen. Matilda wrote about “mossy trunks swooping like an elephant’s tail.” Absolutely beautiful.

The funniest line came from Matilda Clack (who also wrote a lot of gory things in her story): "...he was killing another female creature who you could say was quite pretty and by the way they were married. He was dicing up her head and choking it down his gob like it was a very normal thing to do.”

Tim had a great ending featuring razor-sharp antlers; Matthew’s featured boiling caramel blood melting Um Bongo’s skin and insides; Arabella’s character woke up to find a moose brain on the bedside table.

I think Room 20 of Maungawhau School must have been working on writing dialogue, because there were great examples of it in lots of stories. Jamie Eglinton and Seth Schultz combined action, sounds, and dialogue with some nice pacing and lovely detail.

There was certainly no shortage of horrible things happening in your stories. Just remember that sometimes you’re better to have fewer things and more build-up of tension in your story. Then when you get to the most exciting bit, it has greater impact.

With horror, people don’t get to live happily ever after. Terrible things happen, and just when you think it can’t get any worse, the worst thing imaginable happens. But of course, the great thing about any genre is that there are always new twists on a theme.

Annabelle Ritchie (Balmacewen Intermediate) wrote an unusual story with an almost comical feeling to it. Finding a fridge in the middle of nowhere was the first clue that this story was going to be a 'tale of the unexpected.' It made the murderous events near the end seem extraordinary. Annabelle, I'm awarding you the prize this week because you have a spectacular imagination. Well done.

Read on for my horror story and listen to the audio recording of Wolf Tracker. Click the WINNERS button at the top of the page to read Annabelle’s story.

Wolf Tracker

By Kathy White

Wolf lifted the bottle to his lips and gulped the purple liquid.

‘You’re sure this will help?’ He looked down at the shantaram creature.

Monduro nodded. His hair shimmered in the sunlight, like the leaves of the fluorescent pukaheke tree.

Wolf wiped his mouth on his sleeve, leaving a purple stain on his shiny camo shirt. The berry juice had a strange cinnamon smell.

‘How long will it give me?’

The shantaram slurred his words as if speaking was painful. ‘From sssuunnnriiiiisse … to … ssssset.’

The sun had already risen through the fog, making the rim of the canyon glow like hot metal. Wolf slung his camera bag around his neck and under one arm, and secured it using a bandalayer stud.

Monduro dropped over the edge, his short legs dancing on the scree all the way to the canyon floor. Wolf’s descent was less graceful. He’d trekked Moratti Mountains during the Roar of hairy moonstock. He’d even probed Thompson’s Swamp to find giant koura fossils, but he’d never been into the canyon and The Lost Forest. It was like another planet.

‘I wouldn’t be doing this damn fool thing now if it wasn’t for the bounty,’ he thought. He lost focus for a second as the scree moved like marbles under his feet and he tumbled the last 50 metres, landing with a crunch.

‘Get upppp!’ Monduro snapped. ‘Plenty of time to sssssleeeeeep when you deaddddd.’

Wolf’s eyes opened wide in alarm. ‘Get a grip, Wolf,’ he thought. ‘The creature’s joking.’ He shook his head. The Over Council’s experiments on these creatures had never uncovered a sense of humour.

He flicked his moose-tracker out of his pocket to check that the liquid crystal display screen hadn’t broken. The hairs on his arms were glittering. The pukaheke berry juice was working.

The hours passed. Eyes watched them from the trees. Birds swooped for a closer look, but he was shimmering now. There was nothing to tell them he was an intruder.

Wolf stopped and touched the deep antler rubbings on a brodirusa tree. They were higher than him. And they weren’t old.

His pocket vibrated.

Wolf nearly dropped the device in his excitement.

The moose-tracker had activated.

‘We’ve got one!’ Wolf said to Monduro.

The shantaram squatted and pointed to hundreds of silver fluorescent pellets, shiny and rounded at one end like stumpy bullets.

‘Hang on,’ said Wolf. ‘The moose poo that I saw in the museum was brown. This looks like candy.’

Monduro stared at him. ‘Carrrr … rots.’

‘What?’ Wolf said.

Monduro pointed into the sky. ‘Big birds … drop carrr …rots.’

Wolf frowned. The language barrier was bigger than he’d expected. He wiped the sweat off his forehead.

A screech made him turn but there wasn’t enough time to duck. Sharp claws slashed at his head. He covered his face with his arms and screamed as a beak tore out a chunk of flesh.

Monduro called out a warning and the bird retreated.

Wolf’s hands shook as he wrapped his bandanna around the arm wound. ‘YOU SAID the juice would PROTECT ME.’ He spat the words out as if they were venom. ‘If this is protection, I might as well be on my own!’

Monduro tapped his head. ‘Inside betrrrraaaayys you.’

‘Yeah, right.’ Wolf growled. He knew exactly what he was doing.

The last six chocolate moose had been chased over the canyon edge 50 years ago by exterminators. The moose were untouchables - introduced animals that had no place on Planet FaBo. But that was before scientists discovered that the chocolate moose carried a rare and valuable gene and FaBo2 Geographic slapped a million dollar bounty on its rediscovery. That money had Wolf’s name on it. No doubt.

Wolf touched his scalp. It was sticky but it wasn’t gushing blood. He just felt woozy. He waved a hand to show Monduro he wanted to carry on.

‘We have to find this thing and get out of here,’ said Wolf. ‘I have a date with a robocopter.’

‘Ro .. bo ..’

‘It doesn’t matter what it is. Just find me the moose.’

Monduro lifted a horn to his lips and blew. The noise was a mixture of grunts and moans that echoed through the forest. It gave Wolf the creeps, but it worked. The screen on the moose-tracker showed the moose had stopped. Suddenly the flashing light began to move towards them.

‘That’s more like it!’ Wolf grinned and slapped Monduro on the back.

Monduro snarled.

Wolf didn’t care. He’d have his hands on a million smackeroos soon, and he’d never have to see this glow-in-the dark, bow-legged mutant ever again.

As they walked, he unclicked the bag on his chest and turned the camera on. Nothing happened. He tried again and again, and then swore.

‘Damn. So much for getting photos,’ he muttered. He fingered the blade on his pocket knife, wondering how close they could get to the moose.

Monduro stopped and glared at him.

‘You’re reading my thoughts, aren’t you?’ Wolf growled. ‘Look, all I need is an ear or the end of its tail. I won’t kill it.’

The shantaram’s eyes glowed and then went black.

‘I’m not going home without evidence.’ Wolf looked around the clearing. ‘I’ve never seen foam around pukaheke trees before. Is it a seasonal thing?’

Monduro started to explain but Wolf stopped him. The moose-tracker was flashing rapidly. ‘We need to hide.’

Wolf stumbled over some roots and fell face-first into the foam. He grabbed a handful of something slimy as he pushed himself up and pressed his back against the tree.

His hands were shaking as he pressed his phone’s speed dial.

‘Yo,’ a voice said.

‘Jono? It’s me, Wolf,’ he whispered. ‘How fast can you pick me up? Have you got me on GPS?’

‘Man, am I glad to hear from you,’ Jono said. ‘My boss forgot to warn you about the poison in the canyon and he couldn’t find your phone number.’

Wolf wiped the foam off his face. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘You know the Over Council puts animals they don’t want in the Lost Forest?’ the voice crackled. ‘Every year, we take the copters out and dump poison on them. We did it a month ago, but it hangs around for six months, and it’s nasty. Of course, the Over Council wants us to stop now that their precious golden goose is in there.’

Wolf swallowed. ‘You mean the chocolate moose?’

‘Yeah, just jiving,’ Jono chuckled. ‘Hey, I wouldn’t worry about the poison, unless you’ve spent the last few hours eating moose flesh and a few handfuls of poisoned carrots. Or pukaheke berries, of course,’ he said. ‘That tree sucks up poison like a sponge, but I’m sure famous explorers know more about that than I do.’

Jono slurped on his coffee. ‘Hey, Wolf, I can see your signal. I’m leaving now. I’ll be there in fifteen minutes or so.’

Wolf opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. He could see two of Monduro coming towards him. He rubbed his eyes.

‘Just keep away from foam and anything fluorescent,’ Jono said. ‘It’s like a signpost to the poison .…’

The line disconnected.

Monduro pushed Wolf backwards into the froth, on top of the carcass of a decomposing shantaram. Wolf screamed.

Monduro turned his face to the sky and started chanting.

The crawks screeched and circled above them.

The DUB-DUB-DUB of the robocopter was faint, like a distant drumbeat.

‘Help’s coming,’ Wolf’s mind chattered. ‘Hold on.’

Poison burnt through his body, but he felt icy-cold. He started to shake.

Monduro leaned in close. He held Wolf’s pocket knife near Wolf’s cheek and licked the blade. Blood trickled out of his mouth.

‘Jusssst an ear for now …. ’ Monduro whispered, as he moved the blade through Wolf’s hair. ‘Then I take your heart.’



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