Posted in The Winners!

FABO Story report for competition 7 judged by Maureen Crisp

I will never look at the swamp in the same way again… after reading these wonderful stories. Hidden below the mud exist magical lands full of monsters and kings, mermaids and sprites, and sacks full of gems, enough for a dragon’s hoard.

When I wrote the beginning, I was remembering a school trip I had been on where we went to the swamp to study what things lived there. It was great to see stories that took this a little further with eels and frogs making appearances in New Zealand swamps. ( FYI. We don’t have alligators.)

A lot of the stories ended in dreams or forgetting what had happened or abandoning people in the swamp. A good story should have a satisfactory conclusion for the reader. If you find yourself floundering in a swamp of words trying to finish the story, retrace your steps to where you last made a plot decision. Taking another plot path can get you out of the word swamp.

These stories really stood out as being complete stories and had me chuckling as I read.

Juliet and the colossal eel

Johnna with mud mermaids

Bill – Lord Horticulous Murke XIV

Danika with Cassie the swamp monster!

Lily with Mutant number 1

Cleo- left me hanging in a great story. What happened next?

Arshiya and the beautiful wonderland under the swamp

Jerry – an epic tale of rescue

Sarah – The scepter

Peyton and the massive frog

Grady – with Max and the floating clothes

Aurie and the rescue of a missing man in the swamp.

Indigo-and where imaginations go to die… (Ouch Poor Swamp.)

Bethany – and the sprites of the swamp.

Matty and the mud elf

You are all wonderful writers using great descriptive language. It was hard to choose one winner from the great stories so I have chosen two. Both stories finished well. When a reader is still thinking about the story a few hours later, that’s how you know it is a winner.

Congratulations Aurie Tzeng and Bill Kelly.

Maureen’s Story Starter

Tere balanced on one leg in the swamp. He had left his gumboot back in the mud. Around him he could hear the rest of the class as they began their swamp study.

‘Hey everybody, Tere is doing ballet,’ laughed Max who had gone ahead of him.

‘Shut up Maxie.’ Tere carefully inserted his foot back in the gumboot and heaved. A sucking slurping sound came from the mud as it reluctantly let go of his foot. The stench of rotting plants wafted all around him. He screwed up his nose trying not to smell it.

Suck. Gurgle. Squelch. Every step brought clouds of midges around him hunting for food from the mud he stirred up. They batted his face. He could feel them on his skin and in his hair. Tere waved his arms trying to get them away from him and clamped his lips tight so he didn’t swallow any.

When he finally squelched to their study section, Max was waiting for him, casually leaning up against a cabbage tree. ‘Took you ages to get here.’

‘Yeah,’ said Tere. ‘Thirty seconds behind you. Come on, let’s do this work so we can get out of here.’

They marked out their square metre and then leaned down for a better look at the mix of plants, mud, and stinky swamp water in their section. ‘Living animals first,’ said Tere, ‘millions of midges.’

Max picked up a long stick to push aside clumps of grass. The clumps bobbed away. ‘The grass must be floating on the water,’ he said.

‘Is it living fauna?’ asked Tere, ‘cause that’s what we’re looking for, eels, fish, frogs, birds, insects.’ He had their clipboard ready to list all the things they found for their assignment.

‘Well, it could be.’ Max poked at the grass again. ‘It could be a disguised swamp monster.’

Tere sighed, this promised to be a miserable school trip, stuck in a swamp with Max-imum Idiot as his partner. ‘Grass is flora. We’re looking for fauna first.’

Max poked at the clumps a few more times, pushing them under the water and watching them bob up. When he poked the biggest clump, his stick went down into the water and stuck fast. Max flailed. His body arched like a bow as he struggled to stay anchored to solid ground.

Tere grinned as he watched Max struggling. If Max fell in the mud, it would be a sweet payback for all the hassle Max had given him. I’d better help him, he thought or we’ll never get this thing finished. He grabbed the back of Max’s shirt to haul him back but he was ready to let go, if he had to.

‘Aaargh the stick is getting sucked down.’

‘Let go.’

‘No, I’ll fall in. Pull me,’ yelped Max. ‘Something’s got the stick.’

There was a stirring of mud and water and an awful stench surrounded them both. Max was almost a bridge now. His arms stretched, hands gripping the stick. His back was flat and his legs bent. His feet slid into the soft mud goop.

‘The only way out, is to let go,’ said Tere, still hanging on the Max’s shirt. He was trying hard not to laugh out loud, glad that Max couldn’t see his face.

The muddy swirl around the stick kept churning. ‘That’s not natural, is it?’ Tere frowned. The goopy mud bubbled and slopped getting nearer to where he was standing.

‘Look out, I’m coming through,’ said a voice.

Tere turned. ‘Oh No! Don’t!’

Aurie’s Story – Winner One

The churning swamp water erupted into the air as a grime-covered figure burst from it. The pressure on the stick released as Tere dragged Max back to the safety of dry ground. The muddied figure flailed wildly in the swampy water, sending wave upon wave of mud in all directions.

A giant clump of grass and slop hit Max square in the face. He tumbled backwards in a tangle of limbs and landed with a thump on the ground. Tere would have burst into laughter had the situation not been so frightening.

Max clambered to his feet and staggered away from the swamp while wiping mud off his clothes. Tere could sense Max slipping over and cowering away from the abomination in front of them, turning the surrounding swamp into a whirlwind of flying mud.

Max scuttled back like a spider in a feeble attempt to slip away, but he was met with the swamp behind on either side of him. Tere stood still, trying to be brave and control his primeval instincts to run and hide. Then for a moment, Tere fancied he could hear muffled words.

“Max, hold on!” exclaimed Tere in an attempt to calm Max. “Listen, he’s speaking English. I think it’s a human.”

Max stopped struggling to find a dry path to safety and made painful eye contact with the figure.

“Hello?” questioned Tere.

“Thank you, boys, so much!” roared the man so suddenly that both boys unconsciously flinched away from him.

“Uhm, you’re welcome,” Max mumbled, confused.

“I was stuck under that swamp for days, I was,” the man started, seeming not to have heard Max. “I was walking, looking for some firewood, and I tripped on this here very root.” He jerked his head in the direction of a clump of roots protruding from the uneven mud clumps. “I fell face-first into the swamp. Luckily for me, there was a sort of cave thingy down there, and I got stuck right in it.” He paused for effect. “The hole in the swamp where I fell closed up like a door on a hatch, and I had to use my jacket here to block the spot, so I didn’t drown. I was damn scared to try and push through to the surface, so I was stuck down there for a couple of days, drinking from my water bottle and eating an energy bar I found in my pocket.

“And when my stick got stuck in there, it opened a hole up for you,” offered Max, seeming to regain some of his composure.

“Exactly! I grabbed onto that stick when it went through the roof and clung of for dear life.”

“So… what now?” asked Max.

“Well, we were here with those museum reporter guys, right?” said Tere after some consideration. “Let’s get them to record this; it will make a thrilling story on the news.”

Five minutes later, Tere, Max and the man arrived back at the dusty road and the parked school bus. The reporters were filming students holding up tiny swamp creatures. When one of them caught a glimpse of the mud-covered man out of the corner of his eye, he nearly dropped his camera in shock.

“We have quite the story for you,” said Tere, grinning.

Bill’s Story – Winner Two

A big green face popped out of the mud, sending a wave of water over the top of Tere’s boots. He let go of Max.

‘Well, how do you do?’ said the unusual figure, holding out one hand towards Tere and picking up Max with the other.

Max’s mouth dropped open, ‘w..whu..t?’ he mumbled.

‘Very sorry, did I startle you. My name’s Murke. Lord Horticulous Murke, the XIV,’ his hand still held out to shake Tere’s. ‘I was rather hoping you two boys could help?’ he asked in a posh accent.

Tere and Max grabbed at each other, they were sinking, the mud now over their knees. Max made a gasping noise like he was trying to speak but nothing came out.

‘Looks like you could do with moving to higher ground,’ said Murke. The boys turned with a squelch and waded carefully through the smelly green water, midges clouding around their heads, whilst seeming to avoid Murke’s matted brown curls. Not noticing the panicked look on his companion’s faces, Murke continued ‘I have concluded you are interested in swamp creatures and if you are interested in swamp creatures,’ he paused momentarily taking a breath and then adding ‘you might be interested in helping me?’

Max opened his mouth to speak again, this time managing part of a jumbled sentence ‘actually… school trip…and…’ before trailing off when Tere stamped on his foot.

‘Many years ago’ Murke continued, ‘I was a happy fellow, living in a beautiful house surrounded by wild flowers. Then this tragic accident befell me…’ he stopped and eyed the boys closely. ‘I got into debt, and ended up in prison. When I got out I had lost everything and had nowhere to go. Finally I made my home here with the eels, and the frogs and the insects.’ Murke sniffed loudly and tears rolled down his face. ‘and now… now they are going to destroy it, drain the land, build a factory, poison us, our home.’

‘That’s horrible! And I thought this was just a rotting swamp’ Max quietly sympathised.

‘It’s our home, and they are going destroy it,’ Murke repeated, sobbing. Max patted Murke’s green hand, trying to provide comfort without getting himself any muddier. Max, for once, seemed lost for words.

The silence was broken by the voice of their teacher, Miss Grimwald, calling them.

‘We’ve got to go’ said Tere pulling Max, ‘we will think of a plan. Good bye, Horticulous,’ Tere’s voice cracked and he paused, ‘it was… interesting to meet you.’

On the bus on the way back to school, the class talked excitedly about their swamp study and all the things they had found. Tere and Max stayed silent, they didn’t think anyone would believe what they had discovered. However when back at school the boys googled the swamp and found there really were plans to drain it and build a factory, which upset the whole class. Everyone decided to write letters and show how important the wetland was for different fauna and flora. The local newspaper got involved and Tere and Max made placards and even got on TV.

They won. The swamp was saved. The boys went back to tell Murke about their success but they couldn’t find him, just mud and millions of bloodsucking midges.

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