By Doug Wilson
Rachel and Sam are at home alone with their dog Choky when the biggest volcano on New Zealand’s Volcanic Plateau erupts without warning. With the roads destroyed by the earthquakes that follow, and the lake deadly, there is no way to escape. Their chances of surviving are not looking good. Then another vicious eruption lands Guld, a strange little man made of volcanic rock, right on their doorstep. In order to save themselves and the country, Guld explains, they will need to adventure to the very heart of the problem – to the volcano itself. But are they brave enough? And will they have the time and quick-thinking needed to conquer Nature’s deadliest forces? For now, only one things is for sure: if they are to live, they will have to try.
Reproduced with permission, from Taupo Blows!, by Dr Doug Wilson (Bateman Publishers, 2017)
Guld called out across the lake. It was a very strange sound, like an animal moaning in pain. He waited. Then he called a second time, cupping his hands like a megaphone. He smoked a little more as Sam and Rachel waited silently. They heard nothing other than the hissing of the lake as it steamed, and the occasional crash of hot rocks toppling into the water. The mountain was taking a rest. Suddenly Guld beamed over his shoulder at them.
‘She’s on her way.’
He turned back to the lake, ignoring a few ash spills on his hot red skin, and looking more than ever like a stocky, rocky statue, silently waiting as patient little tendrils of smoke wafted from his ears. As they watched, Sam noticed a brown shape glide near the surface of the lake. Before he could say anything to the others, it flipped out of the water, then disappeared again. Sam went to the edge of the deck to get a closer look. Nothing. He was about to turn back when the shape came out of the water again, rather like a snake, and once again sunk under the water.
‘Guld, what was that?’
‘What was what?’
‘I saw something like a snake’s head pop out of the water, then go down again. And not just once. It happened twice, so I’m not imagining it,’ he said firmly, as if to deflect the obvious doubts.
‘Sam, don’t be silly, there are no snaky things in New Zealand — perhaps you just saw a big eel,’ Rachel said quickly — after all, she didn’t want to admit that something so scary might live right next to them.
‘Oh, he might be right,’ said Guld calmly, as he waited for his friends. ‘There are quite a few funny things deep down in the water. The heat is probably upsetting them by now and driving them to the surface. We’ll take a closer look when we get back if you want.’
Rachel didn’t like the sound of that at all, and glared at her brother.
Sam grinned back. ‘See! I was right!’
They waited and waited, not sure what was going to happen. At first, they weren’t sure they were really hearing something new, the sound was so soft. Like a small breeze. Then the whooshing noise became louder. Through the clouds they saw what looked like a grey flag or sail trailing in the breeze, moving like a bird in strong winds. It came closer and then swirled above them, before settling like a fallen veil, a wisp of cobweb-like lace on the deck.
A pale woman slowly rose in front of them. She was taller than Guld, and almost transparent — in fact, Sam thought he could see right through her. With long grey hair, thin wispy arms and very long fingers, she wavered in the breeze, as if she was a projection. Strapped across her back she had a large scroll, which she took off, before looking hard at Guld and the children.
A pale woman slowly rose in front of them. She was taller than Guld, and almost transparent — in fact, Sam thought he could see right through her.
‘I suppose you’re responsible for this?’ She pointed at the lake and the exploding mountain, then looked fiercely at Guld. Her voice was high and piercing, cutting through the air like a crystal knife.
Sam shivered. Boy, I wouldn’t want to be in her bad books — I bet she can really shriek if she wants to! He could see that Rachel was thinking the same.
Guld, however, just looked indignant. ‘Of course not, Controller! Why should I break up a perfectly good home? I think it was Skoramantis, getting upset again. It has to be. Who else would do this?’
She paused, thinking. ‘I guess you’re right. I’m sorry, Guld. I saw you here and jumped to conclusions. You are quite right — it’s far more likely to be that terrible fellow. No thought for anyone else.’
She looked at the children, and gave a start, as if seeing them for the first time. ‘Oh … hello! Do you live here?’
Her voice was softer now and less piercing, even kindly, and Sam saw how different she looked when she smiled. Not scary at all. They nodded.
She looked around to see the damage, conferred quietly with Guld as she murmured something in a low voice to him, before turning back to the children. ‘What a terrible mess, and I fear there is more still to come.’ She paused a moment as if to comfort them, then turned towards the lake. ‘Guld, we have to do something about that troublemaker Skoramantis. He can’t be allowed to get away with this — he’s causing too many problems. I am supposed to be having a holiday, but I can’t go away and leave this mess behind. So let’s get to work. Children, you can trust Guld — after all, he’s been my friend now for several thousand years.’
Rachel and Sam looked at each other. Who were these strange people?
Friends for thousands of years? Dream on, thought Sam. Who would believe that?
‘Actually, we’re all friends — Guld and the other folk you’ll meet. We don’t socialise much, but then we all lead such busy lives. You’ll see.’
The Controller knelt down, unrolling her scroll on the deck. She scanned it carefully, as if looking for something among the strange symbols, which seemed to dance and move. Finally she found what she wanted. She began to sway and murmur incantations, which rose into a piercing, high chant in a voice of liquid diamond. It soared and swooped, in a language the children had never heard before, halfway between a cat meowing and something in the microwave hissing. At first nothing happened, then the air became very cold. The wind began to blow, and sharp, icy gusts rattled the house and trees. A squall appeared and rushed at their house, swirling and spiralling like a miniature tornado.
The wind began to blow, and sharp, icy gusts rattled the house and trees. A squall appeared and rushed at their house, swirling and spiralling like a miniature tornado.
The children ran inside as huge raindrops slammed into the house. As fast as it appeared, it stopped. The wind died down and a curving, rolling, grey-green shape appeared on their deck. Not quite a person, but almost.
‘Zephyra — thank you for coming.’ The Controller hugged the strange woman-shape, who shimmered and solidified. ‘Children, this is Zephyra, ruler of the South Winds.’
The new arrival looked at the mountain and the lake. ‘Well, I can see why you need me, and no mistake,’ said the windwoman, or at least it sounded like that, her voice coming to them like an echo blown from far away by the keening wind. ‘What a mess!’ She seemed very unhappy, as she frowned at the mountain and the lake.
Guld shuffled over, smiling up at her as he introduced the children.
Zephyra bowed. ‘Hello … and are you doing your homework?’
The children looked horrified.
Who is this? thought Sam. The worst inspector on the planet?
‘Umm, it’s actually the holidays, so we don’t have any homework,’ said Rachel, in a stunned voice.
Sam quickly nodded, as if to back up his sister.
‘And I think the teachers will be more worried about the volcano at the moment.’ Rachel was getting braver by the minute.
‘Oh, don’t worry about Zephyra. She coaches the young South Winds and always has a bee in her bonnet about homework!’ said Guld. ‘Now, let’s get on, shall we?’ He pointed to the mountain. ‘We have to get back there and down to Skoramantis and his lair.’
‘Zephyra could blow us,’ said the Controller thoughtfully, looking at the windwoman. ‘But what about the children? We need them to come with us to talk to Skoramantis. I think we’ll get Eerie Hoo to transmogrify us; that’s the fastest way.’
Rachel looked at Sam, who whispered hoarsely, ‘What does that mean? Is it like Beam me up, Scotty?’ He looked a bit sick at the thought.
She put her arm around him and gave a squeeze. ‘I’m sure we’ll be all right. I think they’re trying to help us.’
Choky rubbed his back against Sam’s leg and nuzzled him until he began to feel better.
Rachel moved into sensible older-sister mode. ‘We’ll need coats. And hats.’
The Controller looked back at her scroll, where the symbols had changed, and began to chant, this time a lower and slower call. After a time she stopped, and looked up at them — a look of satisfaction on her face. ‘Eerie Hoo is almost here.’
Sam looked around. What’s she talking about? And who’s almost here?
Rachel looked inside. Nope. No one there either.
Meanwhile, the Controller was smiling and talking to the lake … or somewhere near the lake. There was no one in sight. ‘Eerie, thank you. I guess you know why we need you.’
A voice came back from out of nowhere — a very soft and whistling voice, but that was all. Just a disembodied voice.
This is starting to get really creepy, thought Sam, and he reached out for Rachel’s hand again. She clutched him tight.
‘Skoramantis is at it again, I see. We have to stop him. He’s causing so much trouble.’
By now the children were seriously freaking out — first the eruption, then the smoky arrival of Guld, the ghostly Controller, a weird windwoman and now a bodiless voice. Choky put his paws over his head and howled.
By now the children were seriously freaking out — first the eruption, then the smoky arrival of Guld, the ghostly Controller, a weird windwoman and now a bodiless voice.
Guld took charge. ‘Eerie, we need you to transport us close to Skoramantis’s lair so we can sort out this mess; Zephyra can get there by herself. And we need to meet Saradonga. Can you do it?’
Was that a laugh? It was a very strange sound — like water gurgling in a faraway pipe.
Was this the same Eerie Hoo who was going to transmog-something them? Sam hoped it wasn’t going to be painful.
Then the strange voice spoke, slowly and carefully, so they could all understand. ‘You must have a covering for the small ones.’
I already thought of that! Rachel felt pleased with herself. She raced inside and returned with a long green jacket for herself, a sweater and camel-coloured fleece for Sam, and knitted beanies, which they pulled over their ears. They were both still wearing jeans and their tramping boots.
Despite his bravado, Sam was more than a little bit puzzled, and secretly very scared. He’d never heard a spirit before. He’d read about ghosts, of course, in stories, but he was about to go off with two weird women, an even weirder little rock-guy and a ghostly invisible spirit! He didn’t know whether to scream, race inside, or go along. He watched Rachel. Oh well, she looks pretty cool about it all, and I can blame her if it all goes wrong! He stayed put.
Eerie Hoo whistled out: ‘Hold on. Hands on your heads.’
Everyone obediently put their hands on their heads.
A flickering light licked around them in a flash — and the house disappeared. And the lake. Nothing. Not a sound. A rushing vision of clouds, then sky and smoke — lots of smoke.
A flickering light licked around them in a flash — and the house disappeared. And the lake.
When it stopped, Rachel gasped, finding herself on a mountain top, looking across to where Ruapehu had exploded. Astonished, she realised they were standing on Ngauruhoe, the second-highest of the three volcanoes. They seemed so close to Ruapehu — too close. She clutched Sam’s hand, and he squeezed back. Yup, Rach — I see it, too, even if I have no idea how we got here!
Through the swirling clouds of steam and smoke they caught glimpses of the glowing crater across from them, where bubbling lava looked for all the world like red jelly boiling on a stove. Beside Rachel was Guld, grinning fit to burst. The Controller was there, Sam and — surprise, surprise — a dumbstruck Choky lay flat on the ground. He still had his front paws over his head, although one eye popped open and looked about.
‘What happened?’ Rachel wasn’t sure whether to be scared or not.
‘Transmogrification, of course — Eerie’s speciality. Eerie’s great at this,’ said Guld proudly smiling into space, possibly where Eerie was. Who could tell? Certainly not the children.
‘Wow, that’s fantastic! Just like in the movies, or Doctor Who! Won’t my friends be mad, missing all this?’ Sam was so excited he forgot to be frightened. His eyes bright, he looked down at his feet in the snow, then across to the volcano next door, with its new shape and bubbling crater, and laughed with delight. He was beginning to enjoy himself. It was an adventure.
Choky barked, as if that was the right thing to do, which for a dog it probably was.
‘Sorry about the small hairy one,’ said Eerie. ‘Don’t know how it got here.’
Buy and read Taupo Blows! to see how Rachel and Sam’s adventure plays out.
By Doug Wilson
Published by Bateman Publishing