Here are the winning entries in the Herald Taylor Wimpey children's story-writing competition.
Overall winner and winner of age category 13-17
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By Theresa Peteranna, age 16
Two-thirds of our way to Gummy Island, I realised we had made the wrong decision. The salt water specks prickled our skin like electricity, and our little rowboat winced under fat thunder clouds on the verge of cracking. We could already make out every brick of the tower, blocking the setting sun as it perched at the peak of a small hill. Once, Gummy spied for deer poachers in the square keep. Now, he spied for ghost poachers - us. He had passed away on the old island fifty years ago, and, without a family, the land rotted with him. It wasn't so much a passing. Everyone agreed that Gummy drowned.
Not everyone agreed, however, how that came to be.
I had made the mistake in deciding to listen to Ida. She was a lazy thinker. Her favourite pastime was to read big books and swallow their ideas to grow in her head, like flowers of potted plants. They would amuse her momentarily, but her enthusiasm quickly thinned. She had come up with her brilliant plan to search for Gummy's ghost on overhearing her neighbour's gossip.
"We could bring peace to the rumours," she promised, still, nestled on the rowboat. Her voice overlapped with the waves of the sea. With no ghost-hunting kit, we only carried essentials; two flasks of coffee, an extra jumper, crumbling digestives and a Swiss army knife. The short journey was spent in a quiet panic and when the boat hit land it bumped along the tough grains, letting us clamber out to a small coastline.
The sand quickly faded to wet forest earth, and aromas of sweet amber sap. Ida tripped and fell to the beach floor, spitting grit out of her teeth. On the strand, the words 'BEWARE OF IT' were written in a rough, black scrawl.
Ida giggled. "Who's IT? Mrs Gummy?"
I didn't reply.
As the tide rose and fell like a breathing chest, the warnings in the sand did not wear off. As far as I could see ruins of a stone lookout, crushed shells and silhouettes of crooked trees - there was no sign of magic. All that remained of Gummy's spirit was tricks of light in the jagged glass pane. Ida bounded across the tall grass, making way to the ramshackle building. "Ghosts don't haunt outdoors," she teased, with a breath of fearlessness, and shook her head of curls loose.
Something appeared then, treading across the shore like a dream. The form parted from the waters; a shiny back of spotless near-silver, as pristine as any show animal. Its hooves made soft traces to graze quietly at a near cluster of green.
Flashes of Celtic fairy tales hit me as I tried to piece the creature together. As it bowed a graceful neck, it brandished the curly ends of a damp, blue mane. The horse-like myth's eyes hinted of the oncoming night, skimming the surface of the sea. I could hear Ida exclaiming but her voice began to mute. Everything blurred.
"It's just a horse," Ida said, her body gravitating towards the seemingly innocent being. But I knew it was something dangerous. Kelpie, I remembered. If it was a monster, the world had written them wrong. Above the water, there was nothing gruesome about a Kelpie. Its beauty only shredded as it lured a victim. I freed myself from gawping but in that time Ida had speeded toward it and stood an arm's length to its mane. The Kelpie had stopped grazing, and its ankles soaked the first feeble waves of the water. Ida couldn't concentrate. She leaned closer towards it with a force like gravity.
"It won't hurt us, it's just a horse. A horse," Ida assured me, blindly, as she pushed me away. I pleaded with her but she wouldn't listen. Couldn't she see beneath the Kelpie's eyes? Or the polished coat that hid the muscles tensing to drag her onto the water? It thirsted for body and soul. A sudden warning clicked in my head - all it took was one touch.
Ida's cry shattered the surroundings as the Kelpie began to rise and kick into action. Ida fought to break away, but its skin stuck to her mercilessly. The horse began to head to the thick of water, hauling Ida along its side.
She yelled for me as I tried to force the two bodies apart. "Don't touch it!" she warned. The myth was true. All that connected her and the beast was her index finger. The contact was still unbreakable.
"Don't let it take me," Ida cried. The sea water and tears stung her red eyes , and her heels kicked up the damp sand. "You have to do it," she begged, and with her free arm gestured to my pocket.
"I - I can't," I stuttered. The knife. We'd read that myth too, of the tenth child who had escaped albeit his hand. But that was a story with paper flesh. The Kelpie was restlessly building enough strength to pull Ida away completely. I brought the silver out with trembling fingers.
"I don't care. I don't care," she insisted desperately. The horse rose up and I swung the knife with a shaking aim, slicing the remainder of her finger free from the Kelpie. A stench of copper soaked the air. Ida fell backwards, writhing, while I heaved her wet limbs from danger. My eyes skimmed the shoreline. Not a glint of soaked hooves remained.
We trudged up to the grey stones, spluttering and silent. The air had changed. A great thunder roared, but we didn't listen, instead, shivering in the rowboat. Two-thirds of our way home to Gummy island, we knew we had made the wrong decision. Ida bandaged her wound with the extra jumper, sighing and weeping while I rowed us home. We had two-thirds of a finger, no ghost, three-thirds of a myth and the rest the perfect conclusion no one would ever believe.
Runner-up and winner of age category 5-8
The Fountain's Revenge
By Daisy Johnston, aged seven
The dragons on the fountain were not happy. Their fountain was a mess. One day, they unravelled from their stone selves and went inside the fountain for a talk. It all happened at the witching hour (at midnight). The first sound was a cracking, then a creeping, then lightning flashed and the dragons came alive!
Wise Dragon stretched, yawned and leapt down from his brick. "Dragons, wake up!" he yelled. All the dragons stretched and yawned and took deep breaths of dark, frosty air, then leapt down to stand behind Wise Dragon. "Oooof dodo doot," muttered Wise Dragon. Immediately the door that stood in front of them creaked, then spluttered, then it moved! The dragons struggled to get in. Eventually they all sat down.
"Our fountain is a mess!" said Wise Dragon.
"Yes, yes, yes!" agreed the others.
"Last week it was summer and loads of people came to Hamiley park," said Daisy Dragon.
"And then children climbed all over it and dropped stuff in it," chimed in Daniel dragon.
"I know," said Dorla Dragon. "We could make the whole swing park invisible to get our revenge!"
"Excellent," said Wise Dragon. "Daisy, Death, Daniel and Dorlga, go and look the spell up! Then sprinkle it on everything!"
Once they had done it, it was nearly morning, so they went to bed.
They couldn't wait to see what the children would be like!
The crowd at the gate of Hamiley park was huge. They all wanted to see the gone swing park.
This included a girl called Anthony Arrows. She had a little friend called Faye the fairy. "Faye," said Anthony Arrows. "Go and find out what happened!"
Faye waved her wings and she was away. She saw lots of police. In a couple of seconds she flew back to Anthony. "Only Wise Dragon could have made this place invisible," she tingled.
"I need to get to the fountain," said Anthony.
"But... but...," stuttered Faye. "There's police everywhere!"
"I'll just ask," muttered Anthony. Anthony pushed through the crowd. Squelch! Trample!
"Sir," said Anthony. "Can I see the fountain?"
"Now, what's your name, lassie," said the cop.
"Anthony Arrows," said Anthony Arrows boldly.
"14." (Anthony Arrows was small for her age but liked thinking she was grown up in lots of other ways.)
"Well, Mrs Arrows. I'm Compith. I'm twenty," said the cop. "And if you're going, I'm going."
Anthony Arrows smiled. "I know who did it," said Anthony solemnly when they were in the middle of the park.
"Of course you do, " cackled a frightening voice.
"Aah," said Anthony Arrows. "It's Okkkkk," stuttered Anthony Arrows to herself.
They looked up. They saw what looked like the stone dragons from the fountain moving, but they darted away when some other cops arrived.
"Compith Dumpus," cried one."What are you doing taking this lassie in here?"
"But sir!" begged Compith.
"No buts! Fired! Get out of here!"
Compith looked upset.
"Don't worry Compith," said Anthony Arrows. "We will come back at night."
"Okay," sighed Compith sadly.
"I know when the dragons awake," said Faye helprully.
"When?" said Anthony Arrows and Compith together.
"Midnight, at witching hour," said Faye cheerfully.
"Then at night we'll go!" cried Anthony Arrows happily.
Late at night they hid behind a rock near the ground at the bottom of the fountain. "It's nearly witching hour," whispered Faye.
Suddenly they heard a crack, then a creep, then millions of stone dragons flew off the fountain to admire their work!
"We did fantastically," squeaked Death.
"I know!" said Daisy.
"Guess what!" said Dorla. "I saw Anthony Arrows and Faye in the day.
"Ugh," snored Rowan Dragon. "They destroy everything."
Anthony, Compith and Faye stepped out from behind the rock. "Not you again," humphed Daisy Dragon.
"Yes, us again! With me!" said Compith.
"Ugh, one of the dudes with the funky helmets, a boring cop," sighed Dorla Dragon.
"I'll handle this," smiled Daisy. She went up to Compith. "Is there a problem officer," she said.
"Seriously!" said Compith. "We need to see Wise Dragon."
"He's napping," said Daisy. "I'll go and get him."
"What is it?" croaked Wise Dragon.
"We need you to turn the park back to normal," said Anthony Arrows.
"Ooooooooooooo," shrieked Wise Dragon.
"Why dear dragon?" said Faye, trying to keep her voice down.
"Well, because be-because people destroy our home," stuttered Wise Dragon.
"It's okay," said Anthony. "We'll put up a sign."
"Sure?" said Wise Dragon.
"Promise," said Anthony.
"Well, well, okay," said Wise Dragon.
"Yees Yees Yees," cheered everyone.
And so did everyone when they came to the park. They had a great moment.
The End (illustration of a sign saying "Keep Off The Fountain")
Runner up and winner of age category 9-12
By Marni Robertson, aged 10
Bob was disgruntled. Have you ever felt that no one believes in you? Well, no one believed in Bob. Being a flying pig is tough, so after the umpteenth time of answering the obnoxious question, "Why do you even exist?" Bob was tired of justifying his reality. Maybe he was mixing with the wrong gang. So, in an attempt to fit in, he decided to visit his local petting zoo.
Positive that he was about to find either some new pals or at least a few long-lost distant relatives, Bob's first stop was the aviary. Unfortunately, he was incorrect in this assumption, as most of the birds could hardly bear to glance at him. Those who did take a look remarked, "Check out that beak!"
"Grotesque - almost like a snout!"
"At least I don't have to eat through my nose!" Bob retorted, as the feathered foes pecked at their dry, unappetising seed.
That went well, he thought, in a melancholy kind of way. Okay, maybe I've got more in common with the curly-tailed side of the family.
As he flew and flapped towards the pig-pen, Bob thought about why the birds might have taunted him. Was it, perhaps, because of his rotund figure? His unfortunate tendency to emit untimely snorts? Hopefully he could put all that behind him now, and be welcomed into the sty brotherhood.
Astonished faces met his descent. Bob hoped the owners of the faces would be more considerate than the birds had been. "Hello, my name is Bob and - "
"What in the name of slops are those oddities on your back?" they oinked.
Bob, rotating his head, could see nothing unusual.
"Are they... but they can't be... it's not possible... but they must be... are they... WINGS?"
This all seemed too familiar to Bob. Well, he wasn't going to take it lying down this time. Donning his most charming smile, and fluttering his surprisingly long eyelashes, Bob stated that he thought that having wings was a perfectly acceptable addition to any pig. It didn't mean they couldn't be friends, did it...?
Close to tears, Bob took flight, and did not stop until he reached the only place he felt comfortable. Sty, sweet sty.
Bob was distressed. He could not understand why everyone rejected him. Everyone's right, he thought. Why do I even exist?
Filling his trough with monkey nuts and yesterday's spaghetti, Bob did some comfort eating. And while he ate, he contemplated. And suddenly he realised...
How many other pigs could travel the world in one day? None. But Bob could. How many birds could consume fourteen helpings and not feel sick? None. But Bob could. How many people were blessed with the advantaged of two species on one? None. But Bob was. Bob was. Bob was! He was lucky, in a queer, unexpected, tremendously magnificent way. Lucky to be different. I mean, a pig. With wings. How crazy is that? But also, how amazing.
Bob burped contentedly, smoothed his ruffled feathers, and settled down in the straw.