Thursday, 8 October 2009

What A Monster Week!

The safari has nothing to report today so I'll tell you a story wot i rote - what do you think? The brilliant illustrations were drawn by my good friend James . Commission your own brilliantworks from him.

The story is called What a Monster Week!
Chapter One

A day at the lake

It was one morning early in the summer holidays and although the weather was warm it was still raining.
Peter and Hannah were playing upstairs, Mum was home doing the laundry... again, Dad was already at work.

Peter was getting impatient with the weather he didn’t fancy spending the whole six weeks of summer indoors. He liked to be outside. “How much longer is this awful rain going to last” he thought. He was getting bored driving his virtual Ferrari F1 around Silverstone for what seemed like the seven hundred and ninth lap. Despite all this practice he still managed to race down Hangar Straight to fast and spin off at Stowe Corner most laps. Peter was good at computer games but really preferred to be playing outdoors in the open air.
Suddenly Hannah burst into Peter’s room “it’s stopped raining!” she cried, “the sun has come out at last.” Peter had missed this exciting event, as he hadn’t yet opened his curtains. “Let’s ask Mum if we can play out.” Hannah went on.

“Everywhere is still wet,” said Mum, “and stay away from the lake it will be very muddy around the edge, mind you don’t come back filthy dirty like last week. The washing machine nearly spat your clothes back out at me last time” she joked.

Hannah and Peter lived in a house with a little garden, which had a shed, a bit of lawn, a few bushes and a small pond. There were no fish in the pond but every spring frogs and toads appeared from nowhere, or so it seemed. They spent ages watching the tadpoles develop into miniature frogs. Once, last summer, Hannah thought she saw a newt peering out from under the waterweed at them. She put her hand in to catch it, but no luck; it just vanished.

Eager to get out they dashed to the shed to get their nets and some pots but decided not to take their fishing rods this time.
Peter and Hannah lived on the edge of town and it was only a short walk to open fields, ditches, hedgerows and best of all a lake. Well, not a huge lake but certainly much larger than a big pond. One side was in a field and the cows regularly came down to drink, which was why the edge was so muddy. Over on the far side of the lake there was a small wood whose trees hung out over the water, their branches sweeping down to touch the surface in places and a few trees had toppled in to the lake during past winter storms. This was a great place to fish but you did risk getting your tackle caught in the trees.

Most of the fishermen were grown-ups and they liked to fish by the little reed bed over in the far corner. There were plenty of fish in the lake; Peter and Hannah usually caught small perch, rudd and roach. The grown-ups managed to catch bream, carp,tench and even terrifying looking pike from time to time.

Everyone ‘knew’ the lake was bottomless, although this afternoon, even after all the recent rain, a cow was stood nearly half way across, the water just reaching up to it’s knees.

“Hannah! Keep out of the mud. Mum’ll go bananas,” yelled Peter.
He had started watching the iridescent little damselflies going about their daily business. There were dazzling blue ones and a few that were brilliant red like elongated rubies flitting gently back and forth between the floating lily leaves and the tall upright reed stalks. Now and then a quiet rattle caught Peter’s attention as a bigger, but equally brightly coloured, dragonfly darted past at breakneck speed. All around him was the hum and murmur of insects on what had become a very hot and sunny afternoon. He tried to catch the dragonflies in his net for a close up view of these fascinating creatures but they were far too fast for him. “Look at this” Hannah shouted over to Peter. “What is it?” he replied still engrossed with the damselflies. “Tracks in the mud” answered Hannah. “What tracks, has someone had a horse in the field?”
“No, come and look, it’s like a slide!”
Peter and Hannah were familiar with most of the animal tracks to be found around the lake; welly boots and dog prints of all sizes where people had thrown sticks for their pets to fetch and the hoof prints of the cows. Sometimes a pony or horse was in the field, but this set of tracks was different.
“Is it a mink?” asked Peter. Occasionally the fishermen said they had seen the otter in the early morning but Peter and Hannah thought it was much more likely to have been an American mink so near to town.
“No, it’s much much bigger than that, come and see”
Peter got up and ambled over to his sister.
“WHAT made that track?... Why didn’t you say?”
“I did say, you didn’t come”
The track was over a metre wide and had smoothed down the mud in a single slide like stripe, either side were several regularly spaced deep notches. It was as if someone had rowed a large boat, like the kind you see on park lakes, up out of the water turned round and rowed back in again. There were no boot prints to suggest a boat had been launched and no one had ever seen or even heard of a boat being used on the lake. Whatever could have made a track like that?

Peter went nearer to investigate, stepping off the grassy bank. ‘Gloop’. He was in the mud.
“Now look at you. Mum’ll go mad!”
Peter was up to a knee in the mud, his welly vanished in the black ooze. He took another step to try to free himself and his other leg disappeared. As he lost his balance he sat down on the wet surface. His cap slid off his head in to a particularly sloppy puddle.
“Oh Peter, you’re as dirty as Mum told us not to get” cried Hannah.
“It’ll dust off when it dries out” Peter hoped. He didn’t fancy a tongue lashing from Mum and no tea when he got home. After all the pair of them had been warned.

As Peter struggled to his feet he had a brainwave. “These look like flipper marks, the notches to the side, maybe a seal has been here. You know, like the ones we’ve seen at the seaside when we’ve been on holiday.”
“A seal?” replied Hannah “We’re miles from the sea. How is a seal going to find its way here? And even the biggest seals we saw weren’t big enough to make a track that wide.”
“True” thought Peter, some of the seals had been quite big but not that big. “What about a sea-lion? The big male at the zoo is huge; he could make tracks as big as that.”
“No, sea-lions lollop, quite different to the way seals slither along on their bellies, so the track would be very different” answered Hannah. “Something was certainly here last night, but what?”
“I have no idea.” said Peter.

This was a great mystery. A large creature was living in their lake, which no one knew about. How could that be? There was always someone there, the farmer, fishermen, other children playing. Surely someone would have noticed an animal at least as big as one of the cows.
“I know,” said Hannah all of a sudden, “We need a midnight stake out. Do you think Mum and Dad would let us stay out all night?”
“Doubt it.” replied Peter rather crestfallen. He had liked the sound of a stake out. It would be really exciting to stay out all night but realised the chances of them being allowed to be were very, very slim.
Hannah was deep in thought; she was determined to find out what the mystery what this mystery animal was. She knew a lot about animals. She had lots of books and learned about them from the Internet. But she really couldn’t think what animal could have made those bizarre tracks in the mud she was staring at right now.
Curiosity was getting the better of her... she needed to know!
A plan was needed to get them to the lake for an all night watch.

Peter had become fed up thinking about the strange tracks and wandered along the bank looking at the bees visiting the flowers. He noticed that some of them had different coloured tails, red, orange or white and different patterns of black and yellow stripes too. “Wow” he said to himself, “I thought there were only honey bees and bumble bees, what are all these different types?” He was engrossed watching the bees, hoverflies and butterflies on the different flowers. He loved the way the butterflies unrolled their enormously long tongues to sip the nectar deep in the base of the flowers. Lost in his weird and wonderful insect world (The plants had weird and wonderful names too; skullcap, hardheads, amphibious bistortand birds-foot trefoil to name a few) Peter was miles away when a deep voice behind him made him jump up with a start. “Sorry young man, I didn’t mean to frighten you.” It was a fisherman. “I saw your net and wanted to know what you’ve been catching, tadpoles?” He had noticed all the mud on Peter’s clothes and assumed he’d been near the water’s edge and fallen in.
“No” said Peter, “I’ve been trying to catch the dragonflies.”
“No luck then?” asked the fisherman.
“No, they’re too quick for me.”
“Ah” said the fisherman, “that’ll be because it’s hot and sunny. You know they’re cold blooded so become more active the hotter the weather gets.
“Yes.” replied Peter.
“So the best time to try to catch them” the fisherman explained “would be in the morning while they are still cool”.
He added “they angle themselves on a reed facing the sun, just like sunbathers, so as to warm up quickly. That’s the time to catch ‘em, still gotta be quick with your net though ‘cos their eyesight is fantastic, much better than ours! They’ll see your net coming almost before you’ve swung it at them! Can see all round too, even right behind themselves.”
“Cor, I’ll try that tomorrow morning. Thanks,” said Peter excitedly.
“See you then” said the fisherman.

By this time Hannah had caught up with Peter and heard their conversation.
“Are you coming back again tomorrow?” she asked.
“Oh no” replied the fisherman, “I’m staying all night. Hope to catch some big tench. My name’s Jim by the way.”
“Tench!” said Peter and Hannah in unison.
“Yeah, there’s some good uns in this lake. I don’t get over this way very often so I’m gonna stay a coupla nights, see if I can get any.”
“We’ve never caught a tench,” said Hannah “Just perch and roach. Are they hard to catch?”
“Not really, but although they like the warm weather they don’t like the bright sunshine so evening and early mornings are best. That’s why I’m stopping overnight. Got my little camping brolly to snooze under.”

He did have a lot of gear with him. A large bag of rods, a huge box on wheels and a rucksack with chairs, pots and pans hanging from it.
Hannah was beginning to get an idea.
“You’re going to stay here all night?” she checked.
“Yes, two, maybe three nights if the fish are biting!”
“Hmm,” thought Hannah “maybe we don’t need to ask if we can stay out all night if Jim is going to be here anyway.” “Peter, lets bring our fishing rods with us tomorrow.”
“OK,” said Peter “but I still want to try to catch one of those dragonflies and get a really good look at it close up.”

It was now nearly teatime. Dad would be home soon, so they set off back across the field and headed for home.
Jim started to set up his camp in the corner of the lake by the reed bed. A good place for tench his experienced eye told him.

“Look at the state of you!” yelled Mum “I told you not to get muddy. Peter you’re black from head to toe, what on earth have you been doing?”
Hannah was cleaner, just, only her socks and trainers were dirty.
“Do you think the laundry does itself?” Mum was in full flight “I’ve got better things to do with my time than clean up after you two!”
“But Mum we saw”... Hannah tried to explain.
“I don’t care if you saw Martians, look at the state of you. Can you not just look without jumping in? Doohh, wait ‘til your father gets home.”

Tea was a quiet affair. Dad could tell Hannah and Peter had been up to something and had earned themselves a telling off from Mum.
“What you been up to today, kids?” he tentatively asked, “Had a good day?”
“We found some”... but before they could tell the story of the mysterious tracks Mum interrupted.
“They found some mud, or rather, a lot of it in Peter’s case. Filthy they were when they came home. Absolutely filthy! They’re not going near that lake tomorrow and that’s that!”
“Oh Mum, we wanted to go fishing tomorrow. There’s a fisherman there who might show us how to catch tench. Can we go... pleeeeeaase?”
Dad saw Mum’s expression. “On one condition, as the weather forecast says it is going to be a nice hot dry day you can go, but... and it is a big BUT... stay away from the mud... promise!”
“Promise,” added Mum hopefully “and be careful who you are speaking to over there!”

By next morning Mum had relented a bit. The day was going to be a hot one, far too nice for children to be indoors messing on their computers or whatever it is children do these days. They would be much better off outside getting fresh air and exercise. She had made a packed lunch ready for Peter and Hannah to go fishing. She didn’t mind them doing that as it kept them out of mischief, as long as they stayed clean.

“Thanks Mum.” said Peter as he grabbed the bag of goodies from the fridge.
Hannah was already in the shed collecting their rods and tackle boxes.
“Do you think Jim will have caught any tench?” asked Hannah, and in a whisper “do you think he saw anything last night?”
“Saw anything? In the pitch dark!” replied peter
“You know, the mystery animal, do you think it came out again?”
Peter had been concentrating on tench fishing and all but forgotten about the mysterious tracks in the mud. Hannah had re-awoken his curiosity.
“Come on, let’s go and find Jim.”
They dashed to the lake.
Running along the bank they saw Jim’s camp in the distance. He was still there just like he said he would be. They also saw that the mystery track was still there although the cows had walked over it during the night. There were no signs of any new mystery tracks.

Jim was boiling up some water on his camping stove for a cup of tea. He smiled broadly when he saw Peter and Hannah and pointed to his keep net.
“You got some then,” said Peter somewhat breathlessly.
“Can we see them?” asked Hannah.
Jim started to gently pull the long net out of the water. “I would have put them straight back, but as you said you would be here this morning I kept them for you to look at.”
In the net were four large tench. Apart from the pike and a few carp Peter and Hannah had seen people catch these were the biggest fish they’d seen from the lake, and certainly the biggest they had seen close up.
“Wow, they’re ugly but beautiful at the same time,” remarked Hannah.
“Now how can that be?” said Jim.
“Look how beautifully shiny green they are, but I don’t like that beady red eye... and all that slime... yuk!”
Jim laughed at Hannah’s explanation.
Peter just stared; he wanted to catch fish this big.
Peter nudged Hannah, “go on ask him,” he half whispered.
“Ask me what?”
“Er... er... did you see anything last night?”
“Like what? It was pretty dark, no moon you see.”
“Like anything... unusual, or... mysterious?”
“Noooo, nothing unusual, like what? Poachers, cattle rustlers, or what?”
“Not people, Jim, an animal of some sort.” said Peter.
“Oh, an animal, ah, now very early this morning just at first light I thought I saw an otter.”
“I don’t like to be rude, but don’t you mean a mink?” asked Hannah, “there aren’t any otters around here; it’s too close to town. We do lots of tracking around this lake and we’ve never seen any otter prints.”
“Ah, tracking eh, that’s a good skill to have, great fun too. Just over there by the reed bed there are some hoof prints, ‘slots’ from a roe deer.But just because we’re close to town doesn’t mean there aren’t any otters, they can be found along the rivers running through some town centres. They’re so secretive and only come out at night so no one ever sees them and then everyone thinks they’re none there. When you do your tracking do you look for spraint?”
“Spraint? I’ve heard of it but what is it? Asked Peter.
Jim chuckled “It’s the otters ‘calling card’ shall we say... their poo! You can always tell otter spraint, it smells of fish and is full of scales. Usually they deposit it on a prominent rock. It advertises their territory to other otters.”
“Yuk”, thought Hannah, “You have to sniff it?... no way!”
“Anyway kids, enough about imaginary otters, let’s get you tackled up and see if we can’t get you in to some real tench.”

Jim helped Peter set his rod up and left him fishing while he did the same for Hannah.
“I thought you said they didn’t like sunshine. Will we catch any this morning, it’s getting quite hot?”
“Well you never know your luck with fishing, we’ll see”
Hannah’s swim was not far from the mysterious tracks in the mud.
“Why did you ask me if I’d seen anything last night” asked Jim, “were you expecting me to see something?”
“Dunno” replied Hannah and pointed at the tracks. “Look there, that slide mark in the mud, we saw it yesterday and can’t work out what made it.”
“Gee, that’s a big animal that made that; must be a boggart,” joked Jim.
“A boggart? What on earth is one of those?”
“You’ve never heard of boggarts? Most large lakes have one; never seen one myself though, thank God!”
“Why thank God?” Hannah asked nervously.
“Well you see a boggart is an imaginary creature that lives at the bottom of bottomless lakes. They only come out at night to feast on cows or sheep or children even...not that children should be roaming the fields at night.... maybe they did in the old days, eh. If they eat cows I don’t particularly fancy meeting one when I’m out fishing.... Good job they’re only imaginary.... I hope!”
“Well” said Hannah, “whatever made those tracks is certainly real. I can’t imagine an imaginary creature leaving tracks of any sort never mind like those there.”
Jim stroked his chin in thought. “Hmm, those are real enough and I’ve no idea what could have made them. Certainly too big for the otter I saw. And there are definitely no otter footprints either?”
“None” said Hannah, “just those slashes in the mud.”
“Strange” mused Jim, “Enough of boggarts, let’s see if we can catch you some fish.”

The day was getting hotter and hotter. Peter had given up fishing for tench and changed his bait from sweet corn to a worm and was happily catching small perch. Hannah persevered with the corn and had plenty of bubbles around her float. Bubbles, which Jim explained weren’t the ‘needle’ bubbles tench usually make, but could have been from a carp. Never the less she had no bites all day.

Eventually it was time to pack up and go home.
“Are you staying all night again tonight?” Peter asked.
“Yes, sure, after last night’s fish I’m going to see if I can get a few more, maybe bigger ones. Will you two be here again tomorrow? See if you can get here early, that’s the best time for the tench.”
“We’ll ask Mum” replied Hannah, “and mind the boggart tonight!”
“What’s a boggart?” asked Peter.
Hannah smiled and ‘made like a monster’, “ggrrr”, at Peter.

Mum was very relieved to see how clean they were today. She hoped it was a sign of things to come for the rest of the holiday.
At the dinner table Dad asked how the fishing trip had gone. He heard tales of giant tench, plenty of tiddlers, boggarts and the mystery tracks. None of it really sunk in but he did suggest he get the tent out at the weekend and he would stay with the children overnight to help them catch their big green monsters with the beady red eyes.
“Ah, great, thanks Dad!”

Well that's the end of chapter one - what do you think, any good? If so do you know any good publishers?

Where to next? If Blackpool's amazing wildlife doesn't put on a show again tomorrow you might be saddled with Chapter two!
In the meantime let us know what, if anything, is worth writing about in your outback.
I've nicked some of the pics from Google images. Apologies to all those people who have had the opportunity to take pics of stuff I haven't.

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