Clever Competitions

COMPETITION NO. 37: AN OXCELLENT OX TALE!

Illustration by Harry Harrison from The Tale of Oswald Ox

Phew! It’s been great fun but VERY hard work judging my Oxcellent Ox Tale Competition! Thank you all for bearing with me!

This time there were a fabulous 44 entries from 19 schools in 6 cities around the world: Brisbane, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sydney, Taiwan and Ely in the United Kingdom! Now even though I specified quite a number of ingredients including certain characters, settings, events and even Wicked Words, I was amazed at the variety of story plots you came up with! There were tales of broken canal locks, daring escapes, marauding hyenas, evil twins, stolen dogs, magical herbs, missing frogs, powerful poems, mystical potions, and magic lanterns! There were numerous terrible crimes solved by daring detectives. There were droughts, fires, cyclones, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, and even a monsoon! It was all very exciting to read!

But you made my role as a judge horribly hard, because you all put so much effort into meeting my judging criteria! Congratulations to all of you who entered the competition; I hope that you all continue to enter competitions in the future (especially mine :))as this is a sure way to become accomplished writers!

A quick reminder that I judge my competitions blind: ie, all entries are anonymized as to student’s name and school before the judging commences and are only added on again once I have determined the final results.

A particular mention this time of the excellent writing of the younger entrants in the Years One to Three Category – your entries were of such a high standard that you would have given many of the Years Four to Six writers a real run for their money this time if I’d judged you all together!

The First Place Winner in each Category receives a free Zoom Author Visit by me of up to one hour for their school/class, PLUS 3 signed Chinese Calendar Tales of their choice, which will be sent to their school for presentation.

Second to Sixth Place Winners in each Category receive ONE signed Chinese Calendar Tale of their choice, which will be sent to their school for presentation.

So here, after a lot of careful deliberation, are the winners in each category, as well as some Honourable and Special Mentions. I hope you enjoy reading the winning entries as much as I have! Wicked Words in bold type. (The first 3 Wicked Words used correctly earned 2 points each. Further Wicked Words used correctly earned an extra ½ point each.)

YEARS ONE TO THREE

I was delighted to receive 15 fantastic entries in this Category, from 7 different schools in Hong Kong, mainland China and Australia.

FIRST PLACE: Sophia Dennison, Year 3, French International School Hong Kong, 8 years old

Huge congratulations to Sophia on this wonderful story about the mysterious silencing of a noisy frog by a lovelorn mosquito, solved, mais naturellement, by Onspecteur Ox! It made me laugh out loud! Sophia’s inventive plot, her stylish writing and sophisticated vocabulary, were all very advanced for her young age. This elegant tale scored big points for its WOW Factor! A brilliant effort and a well-deserved first place! I look forward to reading more of your stories in my future competitions!

Onspecteur Ox and the Muted Mystery

For once, it wasn’t the tuneless tones of Fi-Fi le Frog that woke the farm animals, but the rumbling of a truck rolling down the picturesque French farm hill.  Fi Fi, feeling robbed of her starring moment, harrumphed in the corner, whilst the others thanked their lucky stars they were spared a morning of woeful warbling. 

None had the courage to tell feisty Fi-Fi just how atrocious her singing was.

The animals gathered outside in excitement. The truck doors opened and out waltzed Penelopé, a beautiful pink pig. She paused; her chest puffed as if on stage waiting for the audience’s applause.  

No one made a sound.  

Penelopé, somewhat miffed, began trotting down the metal ramp, utterly unaware that the animals were rushing to cover their ears from her clattering, clunking trotters. In horror, they thought…” Not another noisy neighbour!”  Already suffering from Fi-Fi’s caterwauling, they didn’t think they’d survive another disastrous diva.  

Weeks later and unfortunately their fears had become reality… Penelopé stomped; Fi-Fi warbled. The rivalry between them seemed to grow as the weeks went by. One thing was certain, neither had any hope of an illustrious stage career.

One morning, however, the animals were woken only by the echoing clang of Penelopé’s prancing. No warbling was heard.

Maurice the mosquito turned to FiFi and said in his mischievous voice, ¨Why Fi-Fi, are you alright? We haven´t heard you this morning. Only the lovely Penelopé’s elegant strutting.’’ Penelopé beamed with pride at Maurice, while FiFi sat silently in her spot. She couldn’t make a sound. Not even a croak.

Just then the barn doors opened and in walked Felix the farmer, covering his ears. But realising the barn was quiet, he cautiously lowered his hands.

“Fi-Fi are you ok?” he asked. He was met with silence. When he looked around, all the animals wore the same perplexed expression. “What has happened to FiFi? I was expecting her, ummm, lovely singing this morning.”

Met with more silence, Felix suddenly exclaimed, “We must call Onspecteur Ox! With FiFi silenced, who will be our weather warning if there’s a sudden storm? This is tornado season.” Turning to Penelopé he said, “Call him at once!”

Meanwhile, in the nearby city of Des Monge, Onspecteur Ox was busy writing his reports when the shrill of his phone startled him and papers flew everywhere.  When he answered, the most tantalising voice said,

“Bonjour Monsieur Onspecteur. I ‘av a case for you!”  

He cleared his throat and in his smoothest tone said “State your case, mademoiselle…?” “Penelopé.” What a beautiful name thought Onspecteur Ox.  “State zis problem Miss Penelopé.”  “It’s FiFi! ‘er voice ‘as disappeared! It is so very, er, special to us because without ‘er, we cannot have early warning for ze weather. Oh, and she sings so beautifully…” Penelopé said with hesitation. “Oo la la! It’s a catastrophe. I am on my way!”  “A toute suite!”  They said in unison.

Onspectuer Ox hurried to fetch his monocle, top hat and coat and called to Eloise to join him as he sped out the door. 

At the farm, they were met with PANDEMONIUM! Gary the goat was whining loudly; Penelopé was strutting; Felix was trying to give Fi Fi medicine but she kept jumping everywhere, knocking it over; Maurice was buzzing and clapping at Penelopé and the cow’s bell was ringing loudly.  

When Felix saw Onspecteur Ox he whistled sharply and everyone came to an abrupt stop. They all stared warily at the Onspecteur, but they were happy to see Eloise. She was the friendliest egret they knew.  “Bonjour Onspecteur Ox we are so thankful you came!”   Felix exclaimed.  Nobody made a sound except for Eloise shaking hands and saying ¨Bonjour!¨ to everyone.  Onspecteur Ox simply said, “Where is Fi Fi? I must see ‘er.”

Penelope led the Onspecteur to Fi Fi who was sitting on her bed weeping noiselessly. “ Oo la la she eez as quiet as a mouse! This IZ most bizarre!” 

The two detectives pulled out their notebooks and began their questioning.  

Once finished, they compared notes. Eloise was quick to make Penelopé her No.1 suspect!

“I am convinced of it. She wants all the attention for ‘erself.”

The Onspecteur, however, was not convinced. He may, perhaps, have fallen a little under the charm of pretty Penelopé…

Just then, the wind began to howl and the shutters started slamming against the barn windows. The skies darkened ominously. 

“Tornado!” cried Eloise. 

“Where was our warning?” Oh No! There was no warning because Fi-Fi had lost her voice!

“Everybody run to the shed!” shouted Felix.  

With all the animals safely gathered inside the shed, Eloise began comforting a distraught Fifi.  Suddenly, Onspeteur Ox’s eyebrows began to twitch. A sign that he knew something was up! Glancing around, he heard weeping in the corner! Gently approaching, he noticed Maurice crying on a bed. “Maurice, is everything ok?” The mischievous mosquito looked around and saw his friends scared and panicked. 

Onspecteur Ox saw that his face was full of guilt…“Do you ‘av something to say?”

Maurice sighed sadly. “It was me! I switched Fifi’s food to cat food because it takes frogs’ voices away.  I wanted my darling Penelopé to have her shining moment. I didn’t know it would put us all in danger.”

Suddenly a flash of xanadu leapt out of Eloise’s arms and attacked Maurice with all her might. Onspectuer Ox rushed to pull FiFi off, and then hushed all the animals into silence.

“Well,” he paused, “it seems we ‘av solved our mystery. Ze small mosquito was overcome with love for Miss Penelopé.”

Luckily Eloise knew just how to fix FiFi. She gave her dog food and almost immediately, FiFi’s voice returned.

The animals were, for once, excited to hear FiFi’s warbling!

These days… if you visit the barn you will still hear Penelopé prancing and Fi-Fi warbling, but if you look closely, you’ll also see a mischievous mosquito cleaning up poop!

SECOND PLACE: Luke Jackson, Year 3, Arden Anglican School, NSW, Australia, 8 years old

Luke’s beautifully written tale of a mysterious drought whose origin was solved by a hard-working ox won high marks for originality, impressive vocabulary, great structure and excellent attention to setting and characters. I also appreciated his fluent writing style. Congratulations Luke on a well-deserved Second Place – you have real talent. Make sure you keep entering my competitions!

The Wise Ox and the Dry River

Once there was a hardworking ox, a friendly cattle egret and a loud frog that were very good friends.  They also had a secret friend, a mischievous mosquito, who liked looking after himself.  They lived in a big, wide, green farm with a gracefully flowing river.  The river was very important to the farm because it supplied the animals with water.  The farm was organised, with the noisy frog being the alarm clock for the time schedule, croaking for waking up and going to bed.  The magnanimous ox, honest and thoughtful, even towards people he did not like, loved the farm routine.  The farmer loved the ox’s quiet and patient nature, making him the favourite farm animal.  

The farm was next to a purplish, craggy mountain, overlooking the river.  There was a wooden Xanadu-coloured bridge, extending across the river, from which, after rain, the mellifluous water would turn a misty xanadu colour.  Each Saturday morning in summer, the ox, egret, frog and mosquito all enjoyed a walk, up and around the mountain, when the farmer was doing machinery work. 

One very hot day the ox went down to the river to have a drink because the scorching sun was making him thirsty.  When he got to the river the water was lower than normal.  He called over to his friends. 

“Do you think the water is lower?”

His friends replied, “Yes, it’s much lower than normal.”

The frog croaked, “With this lower amount of water I won’t be able to live.”

The mosquito buzzed, “I want to have water to breed in.”

The egret chirped, “I need to have enough insects to eat.”

The ox ruminated, “All of the animals rely on the water here to survive.  Let us go and investigate.”

They started to walk up the long river.  As time went by, the water got lower and by the time they arrived at the xanadu bridge the water was barely a trickle.

“The problem must be up river”, the ox said quietly.

“But how are we going to climb up the mountain?  The soil is really loose and easy to slip on,” the frog worried.

The ox said, “I can get some sticky tree sap, put it on each of my hooves and stick on four sticks.  When the sap dries, the sticks will be stuck onto my hooves and will poke deep into the ground.  Then I can carry you and won’t slip.”

The other animals were excited about the great idea. The ox and his friends started to climb with the sticks easily sticking into the soft, muddy ground.  Their hopes grew, climbing the familiar easy bit with ease but the rest was hard.  The day went on.  Their thirst grew and thoughts turned to finding water. 

The egret said, “I can help finding water but I don’t know how to track back.”

The frog shouted, “Sticks could make a pattern on the ground, to find us.”

Splendiferous idea! We need to hurry because night will soon close in,” concluded the ox.

After being told to squawk if needed, the egret was gone in a few seconds but soon was concerned the thick, bushy tree canopy would make searching harder.  Hovering over the spot below was the only way to not get lost.  Then lots of black spiders started to fill the trees.     

The frog croaked, “I think I see black shadows watching us.”  

“Yes”, said the mosquito, “They look like spiders.”

A gargantuan spider came out and angrily proclaimed, “Are you trying to hurt our kingdom?”

The ox said very calmly, “No, we just need to find some water.  Can you help us?”

The massive spider replied, “We can.”

The ox nodded respectfully. 

The spiders took them down to a nearby pond where they all had a refreshing drink. 

The next day they were back on the trail, easily climbing up.  The mosquito was tired of having no water, so snuck away to find some for himself.  He discovered the beginning of the river was not far ahead, but dry, so decided to return, telling the sad news.  The friends hurried.  Very soon they came to the top of the dry river, with no running water.  They thought how thirsty the other animals on the farm would be.

Looking up, they could see an inordinately large dam wall extending across, blocking the river from flowing.  The ox thought the water looked iridescent but was incredibly close to the top of the bank.  Dam workers, still finishing the construction, were sitting on the sloped edges, having a rest.  Astonished, the friends all ran and shouted, “The farm below has no water.”

The head builder gruffly stated, “We don’t care!”

The ox said quietly, “Well, I think that the dam wall does not seem strong enough, as it looks like it is about to overflow”.

The other builders shouted, “It is properly secure!”

That second, as the builders were on the dam edge, suddenly, the dam wall broke. Pandemonium followed as the builders were swept away.

“I’m a very good swimmer and can save them!” bellowed the frog.

“It is too dangerous.  We will need a rope.”  The ox took a long, thick rope in his mouth and leapt in.  Eventually catching up to the builders, the ox told them to grab the rope and hold tight.  The water tumbled rapidly down the mountain.

The ox threw one end of the rope to the egret, who tied the rope onto the xanadu bridge.  One at a time, each builder climbed up the rope and last of all came the ox.  All the builders were grateful for being saved and truly sorry for their thoughtlessness and atrocious behaviour. 

The water coming under the bridge had returned to being a misty xanadu colour again.

That evening the mosquito distracted the farmer so the animals could return without being noticed.  The next day, everything was back to normal and they all lived happily together with plenty of water.

THIRD PLACE: Seraphina Zhuang, Year 3, Arden Anglican School, NSW, Australia 8 years old

Seraphina’s story of a farm suffering from drought, and its worthy, long-suffering ox, included some of the best character descriptions – and one of the best described farms – in the entire competition!  This kind of attention to setting and characters will always attract high marks in writing competitions. I also enjoyed her excellent beginning and the use of some wonderful adjectives. Well done Seraphina!

The Magnanimous Ox

“Oliver, are you free to come and help me carry my box of seeds? I need them over at the crop farm so I can plant them today,” said Mrs Hen. 

“Of course. I just need to finish helping Mr Sheep move the boxes of wool to the truck. Just wait a minute,” replied Oliver. 

“Hurry, my seeds cannot stay under the sun for too long,” demanded Mrs Hen. 

“Yes. I will be there soon,” Oliver said calmly.

“Oliver, please help over here. I cannot close the gate and the mud is coming out of the pen,” Mr Pig said as he tried to use his whole body to block the mud from escaping out.

“Yes, I am coming. I just need to finish helping Mr Sheep put away some boxes of wool and Mrs Hen with carrying her seeds up to the crop farm,” Oliver said while he was juggling three large boxes of wool at once. 

The busy farm leader, Oliver the Ox, helped everyone in the farm with their work. The farm that Oliver lived on was far from the city and on a large piece of lush land. Oliver has shimmering eyes, brown skin and a long tail. His strong and sturdy legs helped him pull carts. His horns were like two shining spears pointing to the sky. Helping others was his favourite thing to do. 

After a long day of hard work, Oliver always liked to sit on his favourite xanadu coloured mat and have a big feast with his friends under the shadiest tree to hide from the estival heat. When they were munching, Oliver’s best friend, Eddie the cattle egret, would come over. Eddie helped Oliver when he had an itchy back. He was always appreciative of what Oliver did for the farm. Eddie was friendly and encouraging to all the animals. Mrs Frog who was the loudest singer and had a mellifluous voice always enjoyed telling everyone a joke at the feast. The feast was always a pleasant time for the animals to relax and enjoy each other’s company. 

A year later, there had not been any rain for 6 months. 

All the animals were very miserable. The ground was cracked. The air was dry, and all the animals were scorched. “What are we going to do?” Mrs Frog cried out.

“It’s all right. The drought will end,” Oliver answered. 

“Just try and get a good sleep! Next morning will be great, I promise,” Eddie added.

At the same time, Miss Miniesqueaks, the mosquito, was not content about the taste of her food. “I certainly miss the days when the air was moist and the food was juicy,” she sighed with displeasure. 

A few months later, the situation was even worse! None of the plants were growing and there was still no rain. “We’re not going to survive!”  complained Mrs Frog, “I’m going to die, there is NO water in my pond.” There was less food with each day, everyone was starving. All the seeds that Mrs Hen had planted had not been able to sprout at all.

Miss Miniesqueaks wandered around, “The food is running out! The animals will die and then I’ll have nothing to eat!”, she thought. Then she had another thought. “What if there are less animals to feed? Let’s start from the big guy,” she thought.

Miss Miniesqueaks went around the whole farm and whispered the idea to many animals. Eddie was horrified when he heard the news. He said to everyone, “We don’t have to get rid of anyone. The drought is going to end. We can get through the drought together but only if we have Oliver to lead us.”

“What happens if this farm has no leader?” Mrs Hen thought, “Oliver has helped me more times I can count on my chicken feet. If he leaves, then no one will help us with our work.” But some of the animals were convinced by Miss Minisqueaks argument. Then the farm animals went into pandemonium and they couldn’t stop arguing. The farm was a mix of chirping, bleating, grunting, hissing and croaking.

“Shush, everyone,” Mrs Frog bellowed. “The only way to solve this is to vote!” she announced to all the animals.

So, they voted. Every animal wrote down if they wanted Oliver to leave or stay. Then, they put it into a box. The animals counted up the votes nervously. 1 vote to stay, 1 vote to leave….4 votes to stay and 6 to leave.

The votes were added up. There were ten votes for Oliver to stay and ten votes for Oliver to leave. It was even! 

The room was dead silent, the animals looked at each other and they didn’t know what to do. Before anyone said anything, Oliver stood up and nobly announced “I will leave.” A lot of animals didn’t want Oliver to leave but they knew that it was his choice. The sky turned grey, and Oliver said a big goodbye and he sadly walked out of the farm gates, slowly trotting down the cracked path. Mrs Frog wailed with tears rolling down her green cheeks while Eddie covered his head with his wings and sighed.

Then, a dark cloud covered the whole sky and a gust of wind whirled around the farm. A loud boom suddenly burst out of the sky. Rain poured down and rushed across the field. “Hooray!” Everyone excitedly dashed to Oliver and gave him a big hug! What a magnanimous friend Oliver is!

The long-lasting drought had finally ended with the rain. Oliver could stay!

In the busy farm, Mr Sheep, Mr Pig, and Mrs Hen joined Oliver and Eddie to help the other animals. They become a friendly and helpful team. Instead of complaining, Mrs Frog cheered the animals up when they were working hard. 

What about Miss Minisqueaks? No one has ever seen her since the end of the drought!

FOURTH PLACE; Lillian Xue, Year 3, Arden Anglican School, NSW, Australia, 8 years old

Well done Lillian for this exciting story of a terrible virus spread by an evil mosquito and the wise ox who saves the day! Like Seraphina, you scored high points for setting and character description. I also loved your lyrical style which included such a wonderful beginning! Your appropriate use of 12 Wicked Words also boosted your score – well done!

The Tale of the Optimistic Ox

The thin, wispy clouds looked like pieces of cotton candy suspended in the clear blue sky. It was 7:45 in the morning when all the farm animals were wide awake, working on their chores and trying to finish as fast as possible. The farm was near a river and a forest full of poisonous plants and medicines. An ox named Oscar who was exceedingly generous, omniscient and calm, lived in the bright, red barn. There was a giant, circular window on the top of the barn. His friend Ellie, an elegant egret within iridescent feathers was kind and magnanimous. Oscar had another friend, a very noisy frog. Together with the egret, they lived in the pond since they were little. The heavy scent of lilies perfumed the air. The flowers grew in abundance. The pigs, chicken, dogs, and sheep were their neighbours. The shepherd dogs’ ears perked up like antennas whenever the sheep did not obey him. The chicken and the pigs loved jumping around in muddy puddles. They were all very jubilant animals except an intransigent mosquito named Makinpa. Makinpa always interrupted the animals by stinging them. They would all be incredibly happy if there was no atrocious Makinpa around.

It was a very peaceful time on the farm, until one day when the river wildly flooded after a month of non-stop rain. The water was ubiquitous! The water roared and climbed up to land. All the lovely and hard-working farmers’ crops were drowned in the soil. Once more, the flood rushed with white foams ready to spill on each of the animals. Soon, the river was calm and behaving itself. The animals tumbled through the water, drenched all over. None of them knew there was a virus in the water. Soon, Ellie the egret was complaining about her headache and tummy ache. So were some other animals. Makinpa, the egregious mosquito was the only one who was excited about it. He thought to himself, “Yes, this is the opportunity to spread the virus to all on the farm. How dare those stupid animals not let me have a little fun with you!” Soon, his plan was in action. He first flew over to Ellie the egret and sucked up some of her blood. Then he flew fast like the wind to try and sting everyone on the farm. All his blood was pumped up and got ready to spread the creepy virus. From the pigs, he spread the virus to the sheep, the dogs, the chicken and even Oscar who tried to keep the mosquito away. Now as time passed, the animals got worse and worse until they were all slumped on the ground and could barely move. The frog, who was the predator of the mosquito, did not get the virus. He was terribly noisy and a talkative chatterbox. He kept babbling, “virus alert, virus alert!” The frog’s sound was not mellifluous at all but croaky. Everyone else was terribly sick but tragically, they could still hear what the frog was shouting about. The farm animals were all faint-hearted, intimidated and horribly terrified. Now even Oscar was a little worried, especially about his dear friend Ellie. He decided to do something while he could still move.

Deep in Oscar’s memory, he recalled his grandma once telling him about a herb tale. There was a special kind of plant in the deep, dark woods which was believed to be able to cure any disease in the world. It was in the colour of xanadu. No one had ever found it before. Soon, Oscar carried his friend on his back and departed for the unknown forest. Oscar tried out many plants of greenish colour but none of them made him and his friend get any better. He was patient, so he kept going and trying until two days had passed. Fed up with the toilsome trip, Ellie the egret mumbled, “Let us go home, Oscar. I can’t take this anymore.”

“Hang in there, Ellie,” replied Oscar, “We never give up. I have a strong feeling that we are almost there.” Oscar added“I have a gargantuan feeling that we are close to finding the medicine.”

Suddenly, a giant round leaf in Xanadu caught Oscar’s eye. As they were getting closer, they found a cloud of Xanadu leaves dancing in abundance under the sunshine. The delicate plant flickered with the wind and painted a splash of colour around the forest. It looked sumptuous and resplendent, even though it cost nothing in the forest. At that moment, Ellie was almost at her last gasp. Her feet were scrawny, as if they were rotten pieces of seaweed. Oscar fed the leaf to his best friend immediately. Five minutes later, Ellie’s wings began to flutter and soon she was soaring into the sky and searching the way out of the forest. Tears of joy flooded Oscar’s eyes. He was ecstatic that he saves his friend. The helpful and calm ox collected bunches of Xanadu medicine and headed back as soon as he could.

In a hurry, Oscar handed the magical herbs he found in the deep, dark woods to all his beloved friends. Not long after, they all of them had recovered and started dancing around again! Makinpa, the troublemaker, finally was gobbled up by the frog. Three cheers for the strong-minded Oscar, the kind-hearted Ellie, and the helpful frog echoed through the wild farm. The virus was gone but the only thing that worried everyone was that the once terrific crops were now a drenched mess! Oscar decided to fix the problem again. So, he went near the river to take a sip of water. Surprisingly, he realized the soil was still super rich and fertile! Oscar knew they would be able to plant seeds in the soil and life on the farm would be peaceful again. Oscar is a voracious problem solver. Since then, animals near and far called Oscar The Optimistic Ox.

FIFTH PLACE: Muyao Zhang, Year 3, Arden Anglican School, NSW, Australia, 8 years old

Readers will remember Muyao’s name from Competition 36, where she also gained a place with her excellent story-writing! I loved the intriguing title of this story, and her beautiful setting and memorable characters. And her vocabulary was the best in this age group of the competition! She also earned extra marks by using a total of 8 Wicked Words! Fantastic work and a well-deserved 5th place!

From Solemn to Poem

Spring had sprung at Panorama Prairie as the grass was all sprinkled with dandelions. Under the blue sky which looked as if there was no end to its blueness, their dizzily luscious fragrance drifted off on the morning breeze to a bustling farm. This was the illustrious Fun-domino Farm, shaped like an origami domino folded with iridescent paper; this was also where all began.

“Good morning, Onyx Ox!”, husked Fizzy Frog as he yawned as loudly as rocks tumbling down the cliff in a landslide. “Judging from the sumptuous Xanadu garment you are wearing I can tell that you are on patrol this year, aren’t you?”

Onyx Ox nodded gently and looked gratefully at Cotton Cattle Egret, whose feathers were as puffy as cotton buds, while she was intently catching ticks and flies for him as usual.

Fizzy Frog intercepted the look and continued grimly, “Your cousin, I mean Rascally Rat, looked totally worn out after a rollercoaster of emotional spasms in the outside world last year…” The atmosphere of stewing melancholy was highly contagious, absorbing more and more early-rising neighbours into gloom like a gargantuan sponge soaked overnight.

Meanwhile, Onyx Ox blinked a witty blink through his black onyx eyes, chewing the cud as calmly as an awakening koala in front of a camera. He didn’t need to wait for Fizzy Frog to finish as he is no ordinary ox. Conversely, thanks to a cutting-edge technology called AI (Animal Intelligence), Onyx Ox had a supernatural ability of mind-reading and brain-racking, which functioned best along with his natural ability of rumination.

“Cheer up, my friend!” Onyx Ox beamed a warm smile at Fizzy Frog. “Have you ever heard of that ‘After every storm comes a rainbow’? So, this year will be undoubtedly more flourishing than ever before.”

“B-b-but,” faltered Fizzy Frog in his typically boisterous tone. “M-m-muzzy M-m-mosquito s-s-said…”

“Well,” Onyx Ox raised his eyebrows at Fizzy Frog and continued sternly, “I must say superstition is as old as the hills, let alone the gibberish from Muzzy Mosquito.” A laughter burst out crisply before everyone fell into reminiscence…

Muzzy Mosquito, who was once a fortune-teller residing on Fun-domino Farm, always gave her predictions to the wrong person or muddled up the words with signs. Even so, crazes for Muzzy Mosquito had never stopped boiling as everyone was curious and inquisitive about where their fates would throw them. However, tables turned suddenly when one day loads of sanitation supplies flooded in by contactless deliveries. Before long, cargo trucks carrying hygiene items whooshed on the roads as frequently as the dusk and dawn. Worse still, when the hideous lockdown loomed around, all the parents on Fun-domino Farm relented and reluctantly let their children “Zoom” online instead of zooming around on bicycles and scooters. Not surprisingly, Muzzy Mosquito’s business went bankrupt as the whole neighbourhood switched to the Internet to rummage around for more sensible ideas…

“Oh honestly,” blurted Cotton Cattle Egret, rousing abruptly from a long silence, “it is time to check on the latest Farmer’s Almanac and please let me get the device.” Without hesitation she fluttered and flapped her wings vigorously afar into the sunrise east, leaving a feverish excitement bubbling in the crowd below since everyone in the neighbourhood had been waiting day and night for the earliest hint to plough and seed. A moment later, when her resplendent silhouette re-emerged from the glistening horizon, a foldable tablet protruded noticeably from her sandy beak like a mellow lamp glowing with hope.

“Here! Here!” yelled Fizzy Frog over the racket of the crowd, flailing arms with all his strength.

By then everyone of Fun-domino Farm, even Rascally Rat whose face paled with gloomy weariness, gathered around Onyx Ox as soon as Cotton Cattle Egret landed on his back, and fastened their imploring eyes on the glimmering screen. However, the long-time companionship between Cotton Cattle Egret and Onyx Ox made the unspeakable solemnity on the former’s face only understandable to the latter.

“Oh no!” Cotton Cattle Egret drew a gasp of horror. “The meteorologist warned that a snot storm is creeping near because…because a cloud suffers from a queer disease!” Her delicate body trembled from head to foot while the atmosphere exploded like a bundle of firecrackers.

“But what is a snot storm?” Fizzy Frog interjected in a tone of bewilderment.

By now, it was broad daylight and a flood of cheery sunshine poured on the Panorama Prairie like a golden carpet knitted with flowery beads. The crowd scarcely noticed how arduously Onyx Ox was chewing the cud as he practiced mind-reading and brain-racking to forage for an answer and quench the confusion among them.

“A snot storm will shoot out lightning bolts of mucus and contaminate the water and soil.” Onyx Ox finally announced. “It is as tough as tough can be, yet we have no choice but to plough through heaps of challenges before a harvest.” Tremendous determination and a teeny bit of dread mingled on his face as though an atrocious calamity was around the corner. His persistent chewing sound, accompanied by the sudden eerie silence of the background, carried his mind aloft on the wings of imagination.

In the meantime, Cotton Cattle Egret perched gracefully on Onyx Ox with a wordless smile of friendliness on her face, lurching in the hope that a satisfactory solution could be promptly fetched.

Suddenly, a wild spark was detected in the eye of Onyx Ox. “Poem!” he exclaimed in glee. “A poem is the cure!”

“What are you talking about?” Pandemonium broke out among the crowd. “A poem? Seriously?”

“Yes!” Onyx Ox continued calmly despite of their flabbergasted looks. “A poem can be as strong as steel and as soft as silk. Most importantly, it can heal a sick soul after months of trauma……”

At that precise moment, the sick cloud, Candy Cloud, unexpectedly breathed out a tempestuous gale, followed by a mournful wail travelling down from the murky sky.

Onyx Ox looked up instantly and chanted, his face scarlet with delight.

Cheer up, Candy Cloud!

Let go all the miseries,

On hold the mellifluous melodies,                     

Up brighten your day with ice-lollies,

Double the joy with your families.”

Feeling a glow of exhilaration, Candy Cloud clapped and whistled to the fluent rhythm, vanishing without trace.

“Hooray!” Everyone shouted triumphantly and breathed a sigh of relief.

Unhurriedly as usual, Onyx Ox crouched down to let his Xanadu garment unfold neatly over and camouflage with the vast grassland, drifting luxuriously onto the dreamland for the very first time in the year of Ox.

SIXTH PLACE: Freya Bainbridge, Year 3, Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong, 8 years old

An excellent effort from Freya in this terrific story about lessons to be learned from being mean to people! I particularly enjoyed the attention-grabbing beginning and the description of the gorgeous setting. Well done Freya!

The Day the Hurricane Began

Have you ever been so angry that your emotions rise like a horrid hurricane and you can’t control your anger? Are you not able to stop yourself from doing something you’re not supposed to do even though it`s tempting? This is a devastating tale of what happens when you are unkind or mean to someone who has a nasty temper.

Faraway in a beautiful land, there was a luscious, green field which sat next to a wonderful, charming, sapphire blue pond. It was magnificent. Butterflies danced wonderfully to the sound of birds singing cheerfully. It was full of animals playing fun games.

There lived two best friends in the wonderful land: a friendly ox and noisy frog. The ox was always in the grassy field while the frog bathed in the cool pond. There also lived everyone’s enemy: the nasty mean mosquito. The good-hearted ox was clean, strong and was wise beyond his years. He was smart and sensible with silver horns and a walnut grey coat. He was a very unique type of ox as he looked after others and tried to keep the animals in harmony.  The animals thought he was omniscient. The frog was neat and willing to please everyone. She had a slimy green coat and absolutely loved swimming. The mosquito on the other hand was extremely untidy, didn’t want to help anyone, had no friends and was very lonely.

Nearby the pond, there was a farm with happy, smelly cattle, a dirty pig and some noisy chickens. The farmer never bothered to go outside and look after his animals as he hated the wind and the cold. The farmer never noticed that other animals came to the farm because he was fastidious and was always thinking what to wear and which food he should eat. In the morning, he liked to sit and read his newspaper. After a scrumptious lunch, he dozed lazily on his sofa throughout the afternoon.

It was a lovely spring day; everyone was happy including the mosquito.  Until, that is a disaster struck. A hurricane came, the wind whirled, rain pounded on the soft, green grass creating a stream and the ground rumbled. It was dreadful. No one knew what had happened but most animals suspected that the hurricane was made by the evil witch, even though she lived miles away.

The horrible, ghastly witch lived in the land of meanies, in a small cottage full of other witches. She had truly bad powerful magic and was always trying to destroy their charming, magnificent land. Although she lived miles away, the animals believed she had driven the hurricane all the way to their world.

‘‘What will we do?’’ wailed the noisy frog. The frog was so angry because the hurricane went past the pond making it a dark xanadu and it wasn’t a colour that any of the animals liked. As the ox was brave and clever, he watched the frightening hurricane’s path calmly and noticed that the mosquito was somehow its target. It was chasing the tired mosquito, so the ox thought that maybe someone had made the hurricane to punish the mosquito.  He asked the mean mosquito who he had last bitten.

He told him immediately, that he had bitten the juicy pig. ‘‘Why did you do it? You know how upset he gets.’’ the ox said with a disappointed voice.

‘‘I was hungry and wanted his blood and I could not stop myself from doing it,’’ said the mosquito, ‘‘but the cattle egret tried to stop me.’’

The cattle egret lived on the other side of the pond as the chickens were too noisy but liked to visit the farm to visit her friend the pig. Ox knew that the cattle egret was the pig’s best friend, had a temper and was able to make different types of weather. That was it! What if the cattle egret got so mad at the mosquito for biting the pig, she made a hurricane to punish the mosquito?

Suddenly, the ox had a brilliant plan and explained it to the mosquito. ‘‘I think the cattle egret is controlling the hurricane, so if you bite one chicken to make it quieter perhaps the hurricane may stop following you! The cattle egret will be grateful for less noise.’’ He explained.

‘‘So, our prediction must have been wrong, it wasn’t the nasty witch who sent the hurricane.’’

‘‘Yes, I think so,’’ the ox replied

‘‘Well, we should act fast if we are going to stop this hurricane,’’ the mosquito cried, ‘‘It is chasing me!’’

The two animals raced to the farm house. Chased by the hurricane, the mosquito flew laps round the farm while ox searched for a chicken. Ox grabbed the nearest chicken and stood outside waiting.

When the mosquito flew round the corner, he immediately saw the chicken and knew what to do. He hurried towards the chicken and bit it.

As quick as a flash, the hurricane stopped and the cattle egret appeared out of nowhere. She was grateful for the mosquito for making the chicken quiet but was furious at him for biting her friend the pig.The mosquito said sorry to all of the animals, especially to the pig and the chicken. The chicken did not mind being bitten by the mosquito at all as it had stopped the hurricane. The mosquito had learnt his lesson and gave a big thank you to the ox. Everyone was happy once again as the hurricane had stopped. The mosquito was delighted because all of the animals became his friends and he was no longer lonely. All the animals learnt what could happen if you were mean to someone.

The animals decided to live in unity and no one was ever lonely. As the dreadful hurricane was over, the animals had nothing to worry about and lived happily ever after.

HONOURABLE MENTION: Ivan He, Grade 3, Stamford American School Hong Kong, 8 years old

An honourable mention to Ivan Ho, whose exciting and scary story of an ox who saves his friends after a  dam explosion very nearly made the final 6 in this category. I thought his story was very original, and particularly liked his Ox! Well done Ivan! Make sure you enter my next competition!

The Dam Explosion

On a remote island lying 2,000 miles away from Guangxi, China, lived an old farmer called John. Despite being the only person inhabiting this small, isolated place, he never felt lonely as hundreds of animals surrounded him every day. He also created vegetable farms and fruit orchards with a lot of xanadu plants so that he had sufficient food to feed himself and the animals.

Among all the animals, the enormous, brown ox was the most hard-working. He was solid and reliable. Therefore, he was responsible for transporting materials and pulling crops out of the ground. However, he was very reserved and quiet, so he had no friends except the cattle egret, the most popular animal on the farm. This white, tiny bird was amiable and kind-hearted. She always assisted her friends with their work.

“Lovely cattle egret, do you mind helping me catch some fish from the pond? John said we needed them for dinner tonight,” asked a handsome frog who sang at full blast every day. He thought he got the sweetest voice and was born to be a singer,

“Why don’t you do it by yourself?” the egret asked.

“I am busy practicing my new song!” the frog yelled while jumping up and down excitedly.

Although the animals argued sometimes, they had a very close relationship with each other. Everything seemed to be beautiful and peaceful there, except that the northern part of the island lived a mischievous mosquito that relied on animals’ blood to live. Whenever she was hungry, she came to the farm and attacked the animals.

One morning, the mosquito woke up feeling extremely hungry. “Time to get food!” she said and then flew all the way to the farm. “The horse over there looks yummy. I think you will be my prey,” she whispered with a devilish grin and then flew to the horse with high speed, fed on his blood, and flew off.

 “Argh! That hurt, you ugly evil mosquito!” The horse let out a piercing scream. He was so sore that he lost control and kept running forward. Suddenly, he fell into a dam nearby. “Help! I can’t swim!” He screamed for help, but unfortunately, all the other animals were working on the farm so no one could hear him. “Help……” his voice became weaker and weaker, and he disappeared in sight within minutes. His body hit hard on the base of the dam, causing a catastrophic dam explosion, followed by an uncontrolled flood wave,

Seeing water pouring down the hill, the animals on the farm were frantic. They stood still, not knowing what to do and where to go. “Everybody, run!” The ox shouted with his loudest voice and instructed all the animals to run uphill, but he did not follow the crew, neither did the frog and the cattle-egret. “We can’t leave John alone!” exclaimed the ox.

 “Yes, the old man needs us, and we have to protect our home,” the cattle-egret nodded.

 “I want to sing my last song here,” the frog sobbed, getting ready to perform despite the danger facing him.

The ox dashed into the farmhouse to look for John.

“John, where are you? The dam has cracked, and we must evacuate immediately!” The ox shouted continuously with no replies, “Where are you, John?”

The cattle-egret warned him, “We don’t have much time. This place is too dangerous. The impounded water flows too rapidly. Hurry up!” Then the next minute, she flew up in the sky, higher and higher.

The frog spotted her and thought that she was trying to escape. He despised her for being a coward and said, “You selfish bird, how could you leave us at this critical moment!”. The cattle-egret didn’t answer him and flew higher and higher.

After a few moments of silence, a loud voice came from the sky and said, “John is napping on the bench next to the apple tree! I found him! Go get him, ox!”

At that moment, the frog knew that he was wrong about the cattle-egret- she flew up in the sky to navigate John so that the ox could save him immediately. “Everyone is contributing. I have to do something too,” the frog murmured and then dived into the floodwater and swam against the current, trying to approach the dam and fill its crack with pebbles. “I must stop the flooding and save everyone, he thought.

After saving the old man, the ox came to help him too. He carried some big rocks to build a wall to stop the leaking water. The two cooperated really well and stopped the flood.

 “Good job, ox!” the frog exclaimed with a lethargic smile.

 “You are good too, little frog,” the ox gave him a proud smile.

When they returned to the farm, all the animals were waving to them. Once the flood stopped, the cattle erect called everyone back with a shrill whistle.  John walked towards the two heroes and gave them a big hug. “Thank you, buddies, and you have saved us. You have saved our home,”

Looking at the farm, which was destroyed by the angry flood, the animals were miserable. “It’s OK! Do you all remember that once there was nothing on this island and we created everything with our own hands? Now we can do the same!” said John, encouraging everyone. Everyone started to work except for the frog. He went to the cattle erect, begging for forgiveness, “I sincerely apologize for misjudging you earlier today. From now on, I will cooperate really well with others and not sing any noisy songs again!”

The friendly bird replied, “You are exonerated for that. Remember this is our home, and we have to work together to make it the best place in the world.”

Since then, the animals on the farm had not seen the mosquito again. They guessed she might have been killed in the flood and no one would disturb the peace and harmony there anymore.

SPECIAL MENTION

For the two youngest entrants, who, each at the age of 6 and only in Grade One, made fantastic first efforts! I hope you enjoy reading their adorable stories as much as I did! Well done Leona and Louise – keep up the good work and you will be excellent writers in no time!

Leona Huang, Year 1, Arden Anglican School, NSW, Australia, 6 years old

Never Stop, Little Ox!

‘Francien, wake up! We will be late for gymnastic competition at sunny farm!’ said little ox’s mother. Francien the little ox slowly woke up and got ready for her first-time competition.

Francien took the sunny farm bus and arrived at the competition place. Everybody has already been there for a while. Teacher egret was called Mrs Jessica. Mrs Jessica was calling students for group competition. The students were called Pisy the pig, Rose the rabbit, Daisy the duck, Fred the frog, Michelle the mosquito and Francien the ox. 

Today’s competition is to do the back walk over. The winner will get an award for their farm. It is Francien’s turn to play back walk over. She is very nervous because everybody did it very well.

The first time little ox tries to do the back walk, but she falls down because she straightened her legs. The sky suddenly becomes Xanadu. She is quiet because she is thinking of an idea to make her move better. Everybody is quiet and watching her at the stage.

The second time she falls down again because Francien has bendy her legs. Her tears drop to the tip of her nose while the clouds are sadly raining. Fred the noisy frog is laughing at little ox and saying ‘ hey, you guy, can you do a back walk over? Are you omniscient? ’ ‘No’ answers Francien. ‘Easy peasy lemon squeezy, you can’t even do it! How funny is it?’ Fred says. Francien the ox is still quiet because she is thinking another idea to make her back walk over better. Mrs Jessica teacher egret is watching her at the stage with a smile.

The third time, she dose it again. This time it is correct and almost perfect. However, Michelle the mosquito flys to one of the legs of little ox and makes mischief, tickling her leg. Francien falls down again. She is very lackadaisical.  The sky is shouting and the storm is coming with thunder. The big rain drops with big wind hit to all the students. Francien is still quiet. She really wants to give up. Mrs Jessica is watching her with same smile and saying, ‘Don’t give up!’.

The fourth time, everybody is quiet and watching little ox at the stage. This time she slowly moves her legs and carefully completes each position. Finally, she does a terrific ending. All of the students clap their hands. Mrs Jessica’s smile is so much more iridescent than before.

At the end of the competition, Rose the rabbit won the first prize. Pisy the pig and Fred of frog won second and third prize. However little ox got a pink ribbon for rewarding her never give up. Let’s forward little ox next time competition.

Louise Pan, Year 1, Arden Anglican School, NSW, Australia, 6 years old

The Mysterious Mosquito

One day a five-year-old ox called Austin was munching on some hay when suddenly the ground began to shake, and it sucked up his mum.

‘Oh, no!’ Austin cried, ‘how can I get her out!’

The wise old egret flew by. ‘I can help you.’ He squawked, ‘I have seen that a mischievous mosquito built a machine that can suck things up.’ The wise old egret was the most omniscient animal on the farm.

So, they made a machine that can suck things out. They tested it and started the engine but as it hit the road, Benny the frog hopped on the roof. Benny was Austin’s best friend but sometimes he was a little bit noisy. He croaked every time the machine hit the road. Then, a storm came. What a pandemonium!

Because the machine was made of metal, it started to rust. The wise old egret pressed a button. An umbrella appeared on the roof and they finally saw the mosquito’s lair and Austin’s mum. She was trapped in a cage. She looked sad. Then she saw Austin and the wise old egret. They broke the cage, and his mum came out. ‘Thank you.’ said Austin’s mum. ‘I’m glad you are ok.’ said the wise old egret as he flew away.

They went back to the farm. ‘You can have a sleepover with Benny the frog if you like. ’said Austin’s mum. Austin was so effervescent with the news that he could not help thanking his mum. They had a picnic on the Xanadu-colored grass before they had the sleepover.

YEARS FOUR TO SIX

In this Category there were a total of 31 entrants from 16 schools in Hong Kong, Taiwan, mainland China, Australia and the UK. It was exceptionally difficult to judge! Well done to all of you who entered!

FIRST PLACE: James Bruser Zarin, Year 5, Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong, 10 years old

Congratulations on winning again James! Readers will recall that James placed First in my Rascally Rat Tale Competition last year. So it was great to see him entering again with such a fantastic result! I loved this story, from its spectacular beginning right through to its very satisfying conclusion. James scored particularly high marks for his excellent grammar and seamless writing style, with no discernible errors – a great achievement! And on top of that he managed to use a hugely impressive 14 Wicked Words in a very natural and appropriate way.

A Tale of Oxcellent Wisdom

BOOM! The sound of thunder shook the walls of Empress Yang Chen’s resplendent room. She lay in her bed, soporific. Bzzz. A mosquito! Yang tried to get up to swat at it, but her legs gave way beneath her and she tumbled to the ground. Her vision filled with black spots and the last thing she heard was the buzzing of the mosquito in her ear.

“Your time hazzz come.”

Later, the Empress’s servant knocked on Yang’s door. When there was no answer, she opened the door carrying a tray. She stopped dead in her tracks. In front of her, the Empress lay on the floor, effervescent foam escaping from her mouth.

“Ahh!”

The next day, when Taio ducked outside of his tent he saw a growing line of people waiting in the morning sun to learn their fortune. “Yes!” the ecstatic boy exclaimed as he began an exuberant dance. He quickly rushed back inside.

 Ong, the only ox for miles around, was mid-way through telling someone’s fortune. He gestured for Taio to come over. Taio didn’t know how, but the Ox’s omniscient eyes told him everything he needed to know.

 “You will live a great life but die filled with jealousy and hate,” Taio said to the startled man.

Turning to Ong, Taio asked, “Are you hungry?”

The Ox nodded slowly and Taio was off, dashing through the waking streets. He was a skinny seven-year-old boy who was surprisingly quick and nimble for his size. When Taio returned to his tent with their breakfast, there were four Royal Guards waiting.

“You need to head to the Royal Palace immediately,” one said. “It’s an emergency. Bring the Ox!”

Ong and Taio were swiftly rushed into the Empress’s chambers. Ong ordered Taio to check Yang’s pulse whilst he sniffed the Empress, felt her temperature, inspected her hair and scanned her face. He told Taio to bring him a map and stomped on where he wanted to go.

“Wait, there are only mountains there!” Taio exclaimed. “No herbs to cure the Empress!”

Ong shook his head and stared into Taio’s eyes.

“That’s where the lost city of Xanadu is?” Taio asked, adrenaline filling his young body. “Let’s go!”

Departing midday, Ong let the cattle egret, Yu, accompany them. The journey was hard, and they encountered a dangerous dust storm that slowed their progress.

Eventually Yu flew down squawking, “I saw it! I saw the lost city of Xanadu!” 

The ruins soon came into sight. Covered with dust, there was an eerie silence when the trio entered. Ong seemed to know his way around, and stormed ahead through the shadowy alleyways to a garden where all the herbs had died. 

“No!” Taio gasped.

Yu looked at the ground in sheer disappointment. Ong used his eyes, hazel with specks of purple, once again to tell Taio to get the map. Ong stomped on a spot not far away from their location. It was labelled the Farm of Zhong Ho. 

“There are more herbs there?” Taio asked and Ong nodded. Taio filled with hope but the Ox’s eyes were filled with pure terror.

They had been travelling for a couple of hours when they saw the farm in the distance. Ong stopped suddenly at the edge of the farm. 

“Come on,” Taio said, “We need to hurry.” 

“No,” said Ong, low and tough.

Taio gasped. It was the first time he had ever heard Ong speak. “Why not?” 

“This is where my wife died. I can’t go in. Too many memories.” 

Taio’s face filled with shock. 

Gesturing toward the farm, Ong asked, “Do you see that frog engulfed in mosquito bites? The Empress had a similar injury!”

Sure enough, a brutally injured and swollen frog was visible outside the farm.

“You need to go inside and retrieve the herbs,” the lugubrious Ox said. “Now go!”

 Taio, still surprised, staggered into the farm with Yu by his side. It was dark and creepy. 

“I don’t like this,” whimpered Yu.

“Me neither,” Taio said. “Let’s just get the herbs and get out of here.” 

Taio found a trap door and gasped. Inside he saw the most beautiful looking plants growing everywhere. While everything else in the farm looked dark and dusty, these plants looked vibrant and alive. 

“I found them!” Taio shouted and Yu came flying towards him. 

“WOW!” Yu said. 

Then another voice made them both jump.

 “I’m zzzorry but I can’t let you take zzzoze.”

They saw a dark figure, made of an inordinate number of mosquitoes, standing in the corner. One mosquito was flying away from the rest. “Call me Night Crawler,” she said.   

“Huh?” Taio said, indubitably bamboozled

“Let me elucidate,” the Night Crawler continued. “I have raised an army of mosquitoes to take over all of China. I bit the Empress to make her sick and to have royal blood in my blood line. Soon, the humans will have no leader, and I’ll have a child of royal blood who will lead us to victory!” Night Crawler finished, proud of her plan. “Now I can’t let you go because you know too much. End them!” 

The mosquitoes flew closer. When they were about to bite them, pandemonium erupted and Ong smashed through the wall, recovered from his ineffable sadness. 

Qiang, a splendiferous frog, leapt from Ong’s back and caught hundreds of mosquitoes with his gargantuan tongue. Ong’s problem solving saved the day, as he rolled over the other mosquitos, defeating the Night Crawler.

“Quick!” Yu exclaimed, “We have to get back to the palace before it’s too late!”

They arrived just in time, delivering the herbs to Empress Yang and saving her life. Everyone who participated in the journey was rewarded with a fortune and beautiful xanadu-coloured medals.

Overcome with joy, Qiang would croak songs for years and years. He was exceedingly noisy.

Despite becoming fabulously rich, Ong worked hard and patiently shared his wisdom for the rest of his days. 

SECOND PLACE: Reva Kamath, Year 4, Discovery College Hong Kong, 8 years old

Reva’s clever, very original tale of a sinister farmer whose wicked timber-smuggling business is thwarted by a quartet of firm farm friends was absolutely outstanding, particularly given her young age! I was so impressed by her story, in particular her excellent climax and resolution, as well as the highest-scoring ending in the competition! And her story proves the point that less can be more – at just 634 words, Reva’s story was one of the shortest in the competition; because it was so well-structured, however, it scored higher than many much longer stories.

Monsters and Mayhem

Chomp! Chomp! Smack! Cocundala Bubalis Vikkett (CV for short) was a hard-working ox in the Hayfigger farm. If friends are family, he had 3 dear ones. Peggy, the fluffy white egret, lived on a tall sandalwood tree in their beloved Greenwood Grove (GWG). Peggy always got news. Croaker, the Xanadu frog had glowing yellow eyes and hopped lily-pads in the picturesque pond in GWG. Mooki, the mischievous mosquito, played hide and seek in CV’s tail, far away from Croaker’s sticky tongue. 

CV would slog all day, and some nights, lugging logs of precious trees which the greedy farmer Deeler chopped down to sell to smugglers. Deeler did so many bad deeds that he never slept well, he would dream of mythical creatures attacking him. CV was sad to see the gentle giants being poached. The 4 friends wanted their homes to be saved. Something had to be done before GWG was destroyed completely. 

One day Mooki was buzzing around Deeler’s window and overheard the weather forecaster speaking on TV. “After more than a decade, a big typhoon is headed in the direction of GWG in 2 days, so please stay alert”. Mooki called for a meeting. Peggy seated herself on CV’s back and they headed to meet Croaker. CV had a sparkle in his eyes; maybe the moment had come. He had a secret plan to scare Deeler and his friends out of Hayfigger farm forever. The stormy night would be the perfect setting to create the worst nightmare Deeler had ever had! Everyone had a part to play no matter how big or small. Mooki and his friends were great at buzzing. Peggy had wings that spread wide. Croaker could hop up and down and glare with his yellow eyes.

The night had arrived. Everything was in place. Deeler greedily polished off his meal of crocodile roast and got into bed for his daily snores. He was so full that he forgot to brush and draw the curtains. He was also scared of the storm that would come. 

The wind started howling, the rain pattered on the roof, trees swayed and leaves flew hither and thither. Thunder and lightning flashed through the skies. The curtains blew on to his face which stirred him from his slumber. A faint tapping… “tic tic tic” on the glass made him sit up with his eyes wide open. “Is this one of my nightmares?” he said to himself. A fresh flash of lightning made him bolt out of bed and creep towards the window. He peeped out of the window and froze. There stood a monstrous beast, it had scary yellow eyes on its head, a menacing halo that buzzed and vampire-like wings that flapped.  Two threatening horns loomed at his face. He ran out of the door as fast as he could towards the gate, but the beast followed him till he jumped the farm gate and disappeared. 

The next morning, a very groggy team met by the pond, CV had lots to clean. The mud that had glued all those fallen leaves, Peggy cleaning her stained feathers and Mooki and friends resting their aching wings and Croaker’s voice hoarse from the long night. Their plan had worked. They had managed to create the scariest creature that Deeler could ever imagine. 

After a few days, a kind couple – Mrs and Mr Volt – moved into the farm. They cleaned the farm, fed the animals and loved the trees. CV overheard Mrs Volt say “But honey, what if this place is really infested with monsters” To which Mr Volt replied “Monsters only live in our heads”. Peggy nestled into her cosy nest looking down on Croaker who was dozing on a fresh green lily-pad. Mooki landed on CVs back. CV smiled. Chomp! Chomp! Smack..chomp chomp smack!

THIRD PLACE: Therese Li, Year 4, Arden Anglican School, NSW, Australia, 8 years old

Readers may remember that Therese won First Place in the Year One to Three Category in my Rascally Rat Tale competition just last year. And now that she has entered the older category, her story has gained a strong Third Place! Her tale of an evil wolf and his murderous pack whose plans to take over a farm are thwarted by a wise ox scored high on originality and that elusive X-Factor. I loved it! Well done Therese and keep up the good work!

A Maybe Deadly Flash of Silver

On a spindly throne made crudely out of sticks and stones, Malumclaw sat under the shadows cast by the dull moonlight, his dark eyes fixed on a wolf beside him. “Trix, is the poison ready?” he snarled.

“Yes sir, it’s ready. We measured it just right for Oddette’s size,” she replied, pulling out a flask of bubbling xanadu liquid, glowing ominously under the moonlight. “Are you sure?”. whispered Malumclaw. “I am quite sure sir,” said Trix. “It’s so delicious that you can’t stop drinking it. Until you fall dead. Buuuurrp!” Trix covered her mouth and muttered “Hopefully there is still enough to kill her.” Malumclaw eyed it eagerly, his mind racing with all his evil ideas of how he would finally be able to take over Happy Fruit Farm.

He smirked. “Perfect.”

A pencil of smoke swirled up from the forest floor, billowing above the treetops. Around the campfire sat the most feared animals in the forest. At the end of the circle was the throne, upon which was the most feared leader of this gang of villains, the Great Grey Wolf, Malumclaw.

“The first thing we need to do is get rid of those pesky animals,” snarled Malumclaw.  “I keep catching them listening in on us.” He smirked. “And I’ve got just the idea.”

* * *

“Hey Jordan!” Catherine the cattle egret cried out. “Fred and Mike are annoying me again!”

“Really?” the ox replied, waddling over to the pond. “Come on now, Mike, give her some space.”

“Sorry Jordan,” said Mike the mosquito, Fred the frog croaking a loud apology in response.

“It’s all right,” Jordan naturally responded, smiling back at them. At the sound of the farmer’s wife arriving with their daily feed, the animals all scurried back to their spots.

Just before turning back, Jordan squinted his eyes as he watched a flash of silver fur dash across the edge of the pond. He blinked, and after a split second, it was gone. `

* * *

The sun had risen, and the Oddette stepped outside into the dewy air for her regular morning walk. Strolling down the stone pathway towards the wooden table, she picked up the juice glass, still half-full of the night before. Tipping it up to her mouth, she noticed a strand of grey fur lingering on the edge of the table. ‘That’s odd’, she thought to herself. ‘One of the dogs must be shedding.’

When the juice began to drop into her mouth, a strange tingly feeling touched her tongue. Silver flashed across her eyes, her vision beginning to blur. Her limbs froze, and she slowly felt herself swaying to the ground. She could not move one muscle, her eyes filling with fear. Before long, she took her last breath.

The air was still. Jack stayed inside the house, unaware that his beloved wife was now dead.

* * *

Jordan could see Jack was mourning, his lugubrious face revealing just how much he was grieving. Now that Jack’s wife was gone, the farm had gone into pandemonium. Being the ox, the other animals looked to him for guidance.

“Jordan, what do we do?” asked Catherine.

Racking through his mind for clues on the culprit, Jordan walked over to the scene of the crime, spotting a stray grey hair floating by the ground. A spark of recognition shot through him, the snarling face of the Great Grey Wolf coming into view.

“Malumclaw…” Jordan whispered.

“Who?” asked the other animals.

Jordan always knew that wolf was up to no good. He had overheard their malicious plans often when he would stray too far close to the Dwarves’ Forest.

Malumclaw had to pay.

Heading over to the fishing hut, Jordan quickly retrieved the large net Jack would often use when he would go out to the lake. Grabbing the net, he walked back to the crowd of farm animals, determined to give Malumclaw a taste of his own medicine.

“Everyone come with me,” declared Jordan.

***

In the Dwarves’ Forest there was a big celebration, and in the middle of it all sat Malumclaw with his head held high, a crown of thorns on his head and a big evil grin on his face.

“You’re a genius, Malumclaw!” one of the wolves said.

“Now Jack is really going to have to sell off the farm,” said another. The wolves all cackled in unison. Ecstatic that his plan had worked, Malumclaw thanked all his comrades one more time, before heading off to his bedroom, which was a little further away from the rest of the pack.

Walking across the mossy earth floor, Malumclaw’s foot suddenly slipped against the moss, and he fell forward. Before he fully hit the ground, he felt a thick rope envelop his entire body, tightening across his chest and lifting him up into the air.

Suddenly a lightning bolt boomed through the air and rain started to pour. In amongst the chaos, and reorienting himself to this new angle, Malumclaw opened his eyes to find Jordan with an axe in his hand, the stupid ox from the Happy Fruit Farm, was staring up at him.

“Malumclaw, you’re an atrocious wolf”, said Jordan, “I know what you did, and why you did it.”

 Malumclaw snarled.

With one look at Jordan, He trudged back into the forest with a new mindset to be a good wolf.

***

“I really don’t know,” replied Jordan thoughtfully.
“I have a plan. What about I go to the farmer’s wife’s grave and kiss her on the lips. My great grandpa’s cousin was a prince. Maybe that will make her come to life,” whispered Mike.
“That’s actually a good idea Mike,” spoke Jordan.
Mike quietly creeped over to where the wife lay. With one look he stung her on the lips, and she
awoke with a start. Mike giggled. A few minutes later the farmer’s wife was in the embrace of her husband. She asked with wondering eyes “Why are my lips are so itchy?”

FOURTH PLACE: Akshadha Madan, Year 5, Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong, 9 years old

Akshadha’s story of a mystical Golden Horn and a frightening tornado, with its fabulous vocabulary and detailed setting, won her a well-deserved Fourth Place. I particularly appreciated the lyricism of her descriptions and the old frog’s fabulous and witty rhymes! Beautifully done Akshadha!

A Golden Mystery  

As the sun beat down on the shiny slate roof of Cherry Blossom Farm’s barn, a mystery brewed.

Old cobblestone paths lined the lush, grassy pasture surrounding the run-down smokehouse. The stifling summer atmosphere sliced through the soothing scent of hay and lemongrass. Hapless farm animals were forced to slave away under the eye of a stern master. Yet another ordinary day. Until…

 “Signalling Ribbit,” Momo the mosquito called from above, “Signalling Ribbit the frog. There is a tornado on the way. I repeat there is a tornado on the way. Over!” He lackadaisically drifted to the ground.

“Ribbitttt! Ribbitttt,” the tiresome old amphibian croaked,

“There is a tornado coming away,

 And it will not be kept at bay.”

“ I say, it isn’t even a smidge chilly,” squawked Cackle, who was a cattle egret.

“ It doesn’t have to be chilly to be a tornado. I know when there is a tornado. They smell like Chicken Noodle Soup,” said Momo.

Cackle mumbled, “As far as I know you are indubitably a space cadet!”

As they bickered mercilessly, Onyx linger near. Onyx was an ox, a gargantuan ox. Though an unusual name for one, his mother meant for it to describe his iridescent cloak of sharp, black fur. He pulled carts on the farm, he mowed lawns by eating long grass, he worked day after day, night after night.

At three minutes to dusk, the farm was busy to the brim with bees buzzing, hens clucking and pigs rolling. Suddenly, a mighty forceful torrent of wind ambushed the idyllic scene. There was no stopping it . The TORNADO! It spun round and round like a ballet dancer doing a pirouette. Caught up in its spiralling web were screaming pigs, rusty roofs and brightly coloured bicycles.

As chaos rang in the animals’ ears, they soporifically floated into their dreams.

“Rrrrrribbitttttttttt!!!!” Ribbit screamed, his xanadu coloured skin blurring into the vortex,

“ This tornado is destroying our home,

 Lands far and wide it will roam!”

The next thing Onyx knew was that he was waking up. It was peaceful once more, still and quiet like the sand dunes of the Sahara desert. But something very peculiar was left behind. A shimmer of gold flashed before his eyes. Hidden among the long grasses was an ox horn, fashioned from pure gold. Pawing at it with his hooves, he noticed an engraving etched into it. It read:

Find a place to insert this key,

Granted one wish, you will be,

Once you have done so, turn and flee,

For the great ox God will be set free.

He gazed at it in wonder. “ Cackle? Momo? Ribbit?” he said “Where are you? ” Where are you ?” he screamed even louder. Searching under the dust and debris, they were nowhere to be found. As he thought, seconds turned to minutes, minutes turned to hours and hours turned to days. Then it dawned on him, it was an ox horn. “Now, how do I find the head of the ox that fits this golden horn? It cannot be any ordinary ox.”

The pale blue sky endlessly stretched across the horizon as Onyx made sense of it all. He then remembered the myth of the Old Ox O. He was a courageous ox. He fought many a battle to save his clan. This would have belonged to him. Legend has it that his remains lay in these very hills.

He trundled off in search of fossils between trees, underneath twigs and branches and alongside leafy ferns. He waded across rivers and streams cooling off his fatigued hooves. Finally he arrived at the musty depths of a fast flowing stream. Mahogany mud lay sprawled beneath the tightly knitted canopies. The place itself looked like a warty witch’s backyard from a fairy tale.

He stepped closer, closer and closer until he was level with a mushroom colony thick with flies. Swatting them away he accidentally set foot in an ant hill. Hopping from the ubiquitous pain, he ran to rub his hooves on a decaying tree stump. Just then, something caught his eye. He moved the bushes aside only to find the Old Ox O’s shrivelled remains. There it was! Shimmering in all its beauty was the other golden horn. Onyx gently set the horn he had into its socket. A gigantic grey plume of smoke emerged from the it’s pointy tip. As smoke slowly faded away, there stood in front of him the Mighty Ox God.

“Thank you for taking the horn to its rightful owner. To return the favour, I shall grant you one wish!” said the Great Ox God.

“Cackle, Momo and Ribbit were lost in the tornado. Will you bring them back?” Abruptly, a croaking voice called:

“Every nook and cranny has been searched,

 Where may our good friend be perched?”

“Ribbit? Is that you?” asked an overjoyed Onyx.

“Onyx?” another familiar voice said. Right then there was a buzzing in the air. It was Momo! “Where were you? We were looking for you everywhere.” Cackle and ribbit joined the reunion. With a puff of smoke, the Great Ox God was gone. But they didn’t mind because they were ecstatic to be reunited.

Upon returning to the farm, they realised that their cruel master was nowhere to be seen. He had been sucked in by the tornado. They were finally free!!!

The sky turned blue, the grass turned green, the roses turned red,

And merrily into the sunset they gazed.

FIFTH PLACE: Renee Wong and Kate Chiu, Year 6, Renaissance College Hong Kong, both 11 years old

Writing partnership Renee and Kate placed a well-deserved 5th in this Category with their very entertaining story of a farm full of playful animals which is threatened by a ferocious storm. Their writing style was excellent, with few errors, and the dialogue and interaction between the characters convincing! It’s hard to write as a couple – so very well done, girls, on this excellent result!

Not all Storms are Bad

“Let’s play a game!” shouted the farmer’s son to the animals, waking up Bluebell the ox. All the animals from the farm brightened up. They all liked the little boy, and although he was cheeky and playful at times, and the boy didn’t speak animal language, he was great fun for them to have around.

“Here, the piggies, chicken and all you birds can be in a team. Ox, bunnies, frog, and ducks, you can be on the other team.” The animals squawked and squealed, mooed and oinked, moving noisily into their teams. It was true that the boy couldn’t understand the animals, but the animals understood the boy perfectly (this was a good thing, not just because they could play with the boy, but also because they could eavesdrop on the farmer on who was going to be eaten next). 

“Now, you have to find the squeaky rubber ball that I hid in the barn this morning. The first team who finds it wins!” he announced grandly, “Three, two, one, start!” 

The animals rushed to each and every corner of the barn, but no squeaky ball was seen. Bluebell was the only animal that didn’t move from her spot. Usually, the animals thought Bluebell wasn’t smart because she was quiet and never spoke up, but the truth was, she was clever, patient, and hard-working. She never spoke to anyone, and the only thing she did everyday was work for the farm. She pulled goods to far places, she helped the farmer whenever he needed him, and he did everything he was told to do. 

While the animals were busy running around the barn as if they were crazy, Bluebell sat quietly and thought of a plan. “Maybe we could -” she started to think. But suddenly, a huge bang shook the ground and made everybody topple over. 

“WHAT WAS THAT?!” croaked a surprised Chatter. Chatter’s actual name was Freddie the frog, he loved talking so much that the animals teased him and called him Chatter, and that name stuck. He was a common frog, but he was special because he was a shade of dark xanadu. He was called Chatter by everyone who knew him now. 

“It’s an enormous storm, and it’s coming our way!” yelled the little boy after he had a look outside. 

“Ahhhhh!” 

“Save us!”

“Guys, I-” Bluebell started.

“We’re dead for sure!” someone interrupted. 

“Guys, listen. I-”

None of the animals listened to Bluebell, and there was utter pandemonium inside the barn with all types of animals shouting crazily.

“MOOOO!” Bluebell mooed loudly, getting other animal’s attention, “Guys, listen to -”

“Stop being so loud, old ox! We’re trying to get killed here! I mean, get not killed, no, not get killed!” shouted Chatter, getting muddled. 

“I have a plan,” Bluebell said in her soft, low voice, ignoring Chatter “but I need all of you to work together.” The animals didn’t have a better idea, so they listened to Bluebell nervously. Suddenly, the boy, who noticed there was something going on, asked, “Will one of you please tell me what is going on and how we prevent getting killed?” 

The animals laughed, and Bluebell wrote down her plan for the boy and the animals to see. 

“What?! Go in the rain?!” a duck squawked. 

“Ooo…I want to go and play in the rain! Can we climb trees too? Or maybe jump in puddles?” Chatter said, jumping up and down noisily. 

“I’m sorry, Freddie, but storms can be dangerous. If you go near trees, poles, or fences, you have a pig chance of getting struck by lightning, so you shouldn’t go close to any of those things,” Bluebell explained to Freddie patiently and calmly, “We aren’t safe in this old and rickety barn, so we should get to shelter as soon as possible!” 

The boy looked up from the piece of paper Bluebell wrote on. A determined look grew on his face, and he said to the animals like a captain ordered his crew, “This is not the best plan, but it’s not too bad and it’s the only thing we can do. We will have to be brave and go on out into the rain!”

“Okay, let’s go!” squealed Chatter, “What are we waiting for? Let’s go be safe! Let’s go have fun! Let’s go play! Let’s…”

“BE QUIET!” thundered the animals simultaneously. 

“I wish Chatter wasn’t born as a voracious chatterbox!” the bunny added quietly. 

“Who doesn’t?” muttered a pig, “We all wish Chatter didn’t talk so often!”

“Moo,” Bluebell reminded them of their task, “let’s go!” 

The animals and the boy took a deep breath, opened the farm doors, and rushed out into the freezing cold storm. Raindrops splattered all over their bodies, making their arms and legs soaked. Even the little flies and the mosquito that was usually so mischievous followed them obediently without a complaint. At last, they reached a safe place where they could rest peacefully. The beautifully blue morning sky from minutes ago had turned into a dark and thundering image. It was scary, so the animals cuddled up together. Even the rabbit and the frog, the duck and the ox, and the pigs and the birds, they all cuddled up together, although they were usually enemies. 

The next day, the storm passed and the animals were chatting happily about it. The old and weary barn that they were in yesterday had collapsed, and everything in it was broken. The farmer told his men to fix it, and they were going to build a new barn in its place soon. The storm had brung the animals together, and from that day on, Bluebell became illustrious in the farmland for saving the animals (and the farmer’s son), and all the animals became warmer towards each other. Only the mischievous mosquitoes stayed atrocious, buzzing around everywhere and feasting on other people. Otherwise, the farm life became the most splendiferous life there ever was. Seems like not all storms are bad after all!

SIXTH PLACE: Tanvi Pati, Year 4, Renaissance College Hong Kong, 8 years old

Tanvi’s story of an ox who saves the hide of his greedy lotus-loving horse friend included one of the best descriptions of a farm setting in the competition! I also loved her attention to detail when describing the characters, and the strong structure of her story with its excellent beginning through to a very satisfactory ending. Well done Tanvi!

Xanadu: The Audacious Amigo

 In a small village in India, there once lived a farmer with his wife and daughter. They owned a big farm with a whole lot of animals. There were cows, oxen, horses, goats and hens.

Among all these animals there was a big strong Ox with shiny brown skin but with an unusual little green patch on head for which he was named “Xanadu”. He was intelligent, patient and hardworking. He helped the farmer plough the veggie patch and pulled the cart of produce to from field to home.

Xanadu had two best friends. Dandi the cattle egret and Mandy the horse. Dandi had a long yellow beak, white body and thin black legs. Every morning after Xanadu walked through fields and finished his chores Dandi would perch on him and start plucking the bugs and flies sitting on Xanadu and they would chat with each other.

Mandy was a strong, agile, beautiful and shiny brown horse with a thick white mane, but she was impatient. She wanted everything very fast and hated waiting. She helped the farmer’s wife in carrying the produce cart to the market. After the day’s work just before sunset when the farmer and the wife came back home, they would clean the animals and serve them their food, after which all the animals would go back to the shed. This is when Xanadu and Mandy would catch up with each other.

Some days when there was a lot of harvest to get from farm Mandy would accompany Xanadu to field to get the produce home. One such day, while walking through the fields Mandy saw their village pond was filled with lotuses. Lotus stem and lotus seeds are a delightful treat for the farm animals. So, Mandy was ecstatic and she couldn’t wait to share the news with Xanadu. When she reached the field, she saw Xanadu chatting with Dandi. She galloped up to them and barged in to their conversation saying you won’t believe what I just saw” the pond is filled with lotus”. Let’s go now and gobble a tummy full of lotus stem.

Xanadu said ” Ohh Mandy! Be patient, whenever the farmer has time he will get some for us as he does every year.”

But Mandy won’t budge she said you are too pusillanimous. What if other farmers take all annothing is left for us, or else the farmer forgets. Besides this way we will get more. In fact we should do it the everyday till the lotuses are there in the pond.

Dandi objected Mandy it’s not wise to do so in the rainy season the pond is not very safe and you are here to help as a cyclone is brewing up, so it’s best to wrap up the work and return.

Mandy got lugubrious and fumed you guys are so boring you never do anything fun nor let me.  What’s the use of such friends and saying so she walked away from them.

Xanadu felt very sad about Mandy but Dandi explained true friends give honest opinion rather than leading their friends straight into danger. Soon Mandy will realize that.

Xanadu then helped the farmer wrap up and just before the huge black monstrous cloud started roaring and throwing out bolts of lightning they were back in the shed. The farmer gave them an early dinner and closed the shade to keep the animals safe.

By evening the cyclone had subsided but after causing a havoc by uprooting trees and rattling the door of the shade and leaving it ajar. Mandy saw her chance and escaped. Xanadu tried to stop her, but in vain.

Xanadu was out of his wits so he started mooing continuously. In the meantime, Mandy started galloping to reach the pond as soon as possible she had waited enough thanks to her foolish friends.

She reached the pond and without trying the depth of water or thinking about other animals in the pond she jumped right in. She kicked a noisy frog who was having a little concert in the bog. The frog was shouted hysterically hey!! watch out.

Mandy didn’t care instead she bent down and nibbled the first lotus. Mandy couldn’t imagine she did it alone and would have missed this had she listened to her friends, she went on nibbling and getting deeper into pond.

When she was full, she thought of returning back, but suddenly she realized she is not able to buzz her hooves were stuck. Lotuses grow in swamp. She panicked and started neighing for help. To make the situation worst Tiny the mosquito and his group had found the perfect opportunity, they settled on Mandy’s back for a sumptuous dinner started pricking her.

Meanwhile in the farm hearing Xanadu moo the farmer had come over to check and found that Mandy was missing. As soon as Xanadu saw the farmer, he started running towards the fields the farmer’s little daughter suggested dad might be Xanadu knows where Mandy is let’s follow him.

So, the farmer and his family wore boots and raincoats took big flashlights, ropes and sticks and set out to look for Mandy, in same direction as Xanadu. Soon they reached the pond and found Xanadu standing near it and Mandy stuck in mud and drowning. They thought quickly and tied one end of rope to Xanadu. Then the farmer carefully navigated his way to Mandy and tied the other end of rope around her and then Xanadu tried to pull her with all the force. It worked slowly and they pulled Mandy out of the pond.

Mandy was badly hurt she had displaced a bone and was stung by mosquitoes. The farmer and his family tended her. Mandy had learnt her lesson had it not been her friend she would have lost her life. She apologised dearly to Xanadu and thanked him for saving her life. And guess what the famer gave them lotus stem each week the entire rainy season.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

I am delighted to award Honourable Mentions to three further writers in this age category whose stories very nearly put them into the top six.

Amira Datwani, Year 5, Renaissance College Hong Kong, 9 years old

Amira’s story was witty and original, and I loved its setting of a farm where the oxen had no idea that burgers were made of beef! Well done on this hugely enjoyable story Amira – though you do need to look up what an “egret” is :)!

The Truth About Burger Valley

Once upon a time there was a farm. It was called Burger Valley. It was called Burger Valley because it was where the town got its most delicious burgers. You see, at that time no one knew where burgers came from.

Even the oxen, the smartest animals in the farm, didn’t know it was beef, which came from cattle.

Oxen ARE cattle.

Every month, the farmers would slaughter an egret of cattle and cook them into burger patties. One day, the oxen overheard something.

“Okay, how are we going to kill them this time around?”

“Arrows, maybe?”

“Great idea!”

“WHAT”?  cried Mai, one of the oxen.

“Burgers are made from…from…cattle?” said Marion, another ox. “That’s atrocious!”

“I’m bamboozled. Why would they do such a thing?” asked a third ox, Molly.

“Business.” replied Mai grimly. “No wonder they have that Xanadu silk over the farm! They don’t want anyone to know how they make those sumptuous burgers!”

She blinked her big, blue eyes. It was horrifyingly windy. The wind blew her grey fur. Then it blew over her head, into something that looked like a tornado.

“Great. A tornado AND our lives are on the line.” said Marion.

“Everyone, RUN”! yelled Molly. The tornado was nearing. They ran into a shelter that the farmers had built.

 “Hee hee hee!” They heard a gleeful laugh. It was a mosquito. “Stinging time!” He jumped onto Mai’s grey coat, then Marion’s brown one, then Molly’s mikado yellow one. Reddish bumps popped up on the oxen.

“Ha ha ha!” said the mosquito, zooming off.

“That pest.” muttered Marion, her green eyes filling with tears from the pain. “I can’t even walk with this thing.”

Suddenly, they heard a croak. And another. And another.

“Mai, is that you?” inquired Molly.

“Nope.” Then –

“It was me.” A frog was down at their hooves.

“Well, you’re very noisy.” said Marion. The frog did not apologize. He just said:

“I am the Healing Frog. I can heal those mosquito bites, if you wish me to.”

“Yes, please!” said Molly excitedly. The Healing Frog jumped onto each of their coats and spat a greenish liquid onto the bumps. They turned green.

“You liar!” shrieked Mai, looking at her green bite. “You’re the Poison Frog!”

“I’m not. The Poison Frog is my archenemy,” said the frog. “And look.” The bite had disappeared.

“Oh, sorry.” said Mai, embarrassed. “Hey, the tornado stopped!”

It sure had. The sky was now a pale blue, the sun half hidden beneath a cloud. A rainbow stretched across the sky. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple and pink, it was a beautiful sight.

“Molly, stop fawning over the weather and help us not get killed!” said Marion sharply.

“Right.” said Molly, embarrassed.

Suddenly an arrow landed in the grass, narrowly missing Mai. The frog hopped away. They all screamed.

“We have to get out of here.” said Mai, who was shivering from the shock. Another arrow flew overhead. Then they heard whispering.

“Those oxen are so annoying. They’re such know-it-alls. Did you hear those big fancy words they were using? Bamboozled. Really?” It was the pigs.

“Ignore them,” muttered Marion. “Focus on escaping the farm.”

They quickly and quietly clip-clopped over to the Xanadu silk. Molly ripped it off, as quietly as she could. But they met a locked door.

“Oh, come on!” said Molly irritably.

“Molly, be quiet!” hissed Mai. She tried to break the door down with her horns, but she couldn’t.

“It must be cattle-proof.” said Marion quietly. “Hang on!” She fixed her mouth onto the doorknob and opened the door. She said, “They think we can’t use doorknobs. “What’s this?” A sign was inside. It read:

TO ESCAPE BURGER VALLEY, YOU MUST COMPLETE THREE CHALLENGES. EACH CHALLENGE IS HARDER THAN THE LAST. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

CHALLENGE ONE: FACE THE RIDDLE DRAGON.

CHALLENGE TWO: SLAY THE UTMOST CHEATER.

CHALLENGE THREE: APOLOGIZE FOR YOUR BAD HABITS.

GOOD LUCK. YOU’LL NEED IT.

“Okay, said Molly. “Let’s do them in order. Face the riddle dragon.”

At that moment, they heard a loud “ROAR!” They turned in surprise. A dragon was before them.

“I am the Riddle Dragon. Answer my riddle to proceed. You are trapped in a room with three doors. Door one has hungry lions that haven’t eaten for a year. Door two has a machine that launches knives that never miss. Door three has an electric shocker. Which do you choose?”

“The lions,” said Mai. “They will be dead if they haven’t eaten for a year.” The dragon slumped. She was correct. “Proceed.” said the dragon, gesturing to another door. Marion opened it with her mouth. “What was challenge two again?” she asked.

“Slay the utmost cheater,” said Molly. “What does that mean?”

“Wait,” said Mai. “Does it mean what I think it means? The rat in the Zodiac race jumped off the ox’s back and cheated!”

“You’re right!” gasped Marion.  “We have to kill a rat!” At that moment, they heard a squeak. Mai stamped on the place the sound had come from. When she stamped on it, she could feel the shape of the rat and the warm blood.

 She said, “Okay, let’s do the last challenge. What was it?”

“Apologize for your bad habits,” said Marion. “Apparently that’s the hardest one? I don’t know why. Anyway, I apologize for my habit of being a little rude.”

Mai said, “And I apologize for acting before I think.”

Finally, Molly said, “I apologize for my habit of losing focus easily.”

The door crumbled just as a farmer shot another ox with an arrow. “This one will be good for at least forty patties!” He said happily. As the door had been opened, people could see into the farm. They gasped in shock. The farmer turned white.

SIX MONTHS LATER…

Burger Valley had been shut down. People were getting burgers from a vegan meat company. And the three oxen were living in the wild in a herd.

Abigail Wright, Year 6, Oxley State School, Brisbane, Australia, 10 years old

It was great to get an entry from Brisbane student Abigail Wright, whose story of a farm threatened by a fierce fire had a very distinctive Aussie ring to it! Abigail’s story had an excellent beginning, used some outstanding vocabulary and contained a great description of the farm and its inhabitants. Well done Abigail!

Xanadu Jacket

“Morning, Olive!” Farmer Mel ran her hand down my back, refilling my water trough. Most oxen liked the free life. But me, on the other hand, wouldn’t rather be anywhere but my small farm, with Lime, the rowdy tree frog, Heather, the graceful cattle egret, Penelope, the sweet, little piglet, and even Buzz, the cheeky mosquito. It wasn’t much, but it was just enough to call home. I eagerly slurped up my water, and rubbed my head against Mel’s favourite xanadu jacket. I loved it. It was such a pretty green, especially on her tan skin, and with her emerald eyes. “Ouch, Ol! Your horns!” she laughed, jumping back. Oops. That’s right. Sometimes I forgot I wasn’t human.

Later on that day, I was lounging around my paddock, when Lime hopped through the miniscule gap in the old spruce fence.

“HEY THERE, OLIVE!” he shouted. I nudged him, to gesture he was being too loud again. “Sorry,” he frowned, “Anyways, did you hear about the fires at old Watson’s farm down the countryside?”  I cocked my head in confusion. What fires, I wondered. “Yeah! The whole barn burnt to ashes! Rocko the worm wriggled into my pond to warn me! Apparently they’re spreading up North!”

Worry filled my body. We couldn’t have that! Where would we all go? What if we don’t survive? The thoughts spiralled in my brain, causing even more stress. Luckily, being an ox, I  managed to convince myself it would be okay, and calmed down. “We need to find a way to stop this, before we lose everything,” I told him with determination. How, I wasn’t so sure.

Days passed, and we told the other animals. Nobody had any ideas as to how we could stop it from dominating our farm. We were running out of time. The fires had spread to Reese’s chicken farm, two down from ours. If we didn’t act fast, everyone would have to go back to the wild. Who knows how we would survive? A group of farm animals that had been nursed all their lives, having to fend for themselves. I didn’t know what would happen, but I did know it wasn’t good. I began conjuring ideas like never before, even making models of the barn with Mel’s wood and testing things on them. Still nothing. No solutions the next day, or the next, or the next, and so on.

The fire was only one farm away now. We were next. Panic erupted inside of me. I was supposed to be the intelligent one, but I honestly felt like the dumbest creature alive. My lack of ideas had a hefty cost, and the price would be paid very soon. I wanted to cry. To give up on the spot. But I couldn’t do that. Not to Mel, or Lime, or Heather, or Penelope and Buzz. I had to try. So, with a deep breath, I put my closest to successful plan into action.

“Buzz, you’re on surveillance. Keep an eye on the fires and alert me if they get too close,” I directed the other animals, “Pen, you and Heather need to get the hose from Mel’s shed, and set it up on the tap.” “Yes mam!” they chorused like soldiers. “Lime, you’ll start getting the essentials out of the barn, just in case we do fail,” I sighed, the existence of this duty scaring me. He nodded. “And I’ll do the construction and grab the stones and clay.” With that, everyone got to work. Brick after brick of stone, I spread a thick layer of clay with my hoof and placed a piece on top. Layer, brick, layer, brick, the process was long and tiring. But it was rest, or the farm. The girls arrived with the hose, and hooked it up to the tap.  Everything was going well. Until…

I had about half of a wall to go, but was waiting for it to dry so the turret didn’t crumble. Buzz came rushing over, nerve plastered on his face. “THEY’RE HERE! THE FIRES ARE HERE!” he shrieked. I looked up, and the fire was bigger than I could’ve ever imagined. A gigantic, red blaze spun evilly towards us, eliminating everything in its path. What I had would have to do. I rapidly turned the hose at the demon’s disaster, but to no avail. It kept racing toward me, like the water made it angrier. Before I knew it, the barn was in flames. My eyes darted around. Where was Lime!? I felt a tear trickle down my face. Heather gave me a hug. “It’s not your fault, Olive.” Suddenly, a figure bolted inside. Who was that? Then I spotted it. A xanadu jacket.

I raced inside, despite Heather’s screams of disagreement. We were all going to make it. I just knew it.  A cry echoed from the hay bales. It was Mel. She was stuck under a support bar, and the fire wasn’t backing down. I tried to push it off of her. It didn’t budge. Oh no. An idea crossed my mind. The crowbar! I bolted to the other side of the barn, like those rodeo bulls in the West, and grabbed the crowbar in my mouth. When I got back to Mel, I wedged it between it and her, and with all my might, pushed down on the handle. The beam flung off, into the flame. Mel was safe. But we still needed to find Lime. I scanned the room, but there was no signs of him. I could feel the fiery wrath now. It was close. At last, I spotted a green splash in the corner, right in front of the fire. It was a risk, but I had to save him. I scooped him up just in time, sliding out he door by the tip of my hoof.

Everyone cheered. We still didn’t have a barn, but at least we were safe. Without that jacket, Mel and Lime would have been done for.

Jake Jung, Year 5, Ermington Public School, Sydney, Australia, 10 years old

Jake’s story of a selfless Ox who sacrifices himself in a fire lit by a careless farmer was beautifully written and contains an excellent description of the devastating effects of fire, as well as some lovely Australian expressions. Thanks Jake for making me smile! And do keep entering my competitions!

The Sacrifice

The landscape unfolded before the newborn ox’s naive eyes; his eyes darting from here to there, taking in the vast sight of the neatly stacked hay bales and fresh shamrock grass. The ox was the only ox on the farm as the farmer was too poor to afford many animals. It had been transferred from the nearby village. Its mother had died of Mad Cow Disease immediately after giving birth, and its father had been taken by the sudden outbreak of the Salmonella virus. 

As time flew by, the ox had befriended some of the animals on the farm like the noisy, chartreuse frog who chatted monotonously, non-stop; the mischief-making mosquito that was always making the farmer itch; the indolent pig who “apparently” had a disease that got him out of work; three small plump chickens and a friendly cattle egret. Working day and night, the ox was tired but the farmer still had the highest hopes in the ox. “There is no time to kill young lad, only time to work,” he had once proudly quoted to the hardworking ox. The ox, taking in the farmer’s words like the bible, worked strenuously without any unwillingness at all. 

The serene hills were filled with xanadu trees. Because of the ox, the vegetation was always very lush and verdure. The farmer’s crops were now of the highest quality and the most superb vegetables were grown at the now luxurious farm. The ox gradually became the farmer’s pride and hope for the future. Even when he needed to burn the midnight oil, he did it without any reluctance in his mind! If the ox hadn’t been on the farm, the farmer would most likely be cash strapped and flat broke.

Then, on one dark, dreary, dreadful night, after the animals had all long hit the sack, the farmer, who was drunk, was smoking in the bushes of the vineyard. He carelessly tossed the tip of the charred bud and walked back to his farmhouse humming an untuned melody. The fire spread in a click of a finger, burning the vines, trees and devouring all the land it came across. It wasn’t long before a sooty smell suddenly disrupted the forty winks of the noisy frog. It took two seconds for the frog to notice the intense, burning heat of the blazing fire next to it. Fully awake now, the frog screeched “FIRE!” as if to pull its lungs out. At once, all the animals, half-awake, looked around to see the merciless flames hot in pursuit of their stalls! Awestruck, the mosquito quickly buzzed off into the night sky. Panic-stricken, the ox blasted open the doors of the barn. Debris of embers and ash were flying everywhere. THE ANIMALS WERE SURROUNDED IN THE CRUEL HANDS OF THE FIRE!!!

Intense heat blasted and blared in all directions! All the animals were sweltering in despair as the flames crackled like they were laughing wickedly. Just when all the animals were on the verge of their lifeline being cut, they heard a familiar buzz and humming sound. Out of the blue, the Mischief-making Mosquito triumphantly flew into action along with the cattle egret and its friends, holding nets woven from vines. “Quick! Get on these nets!” the mosquito screeched impatiently! Hurriedly, the noisy frog jumped onto a majestic looking egret that at once took flight gracefully into the sky. Next, all the other animals like the rabbits, chickens and the Lazy Pig jumped onto the net carried by large albatrosses, the egret’s friends. This left only one animal – the ox. He didn’t want to leave his home, the farmer, and most importantly, his hard work. Knowing he had a productive life just like the farmer had said, he charged into the flames disintegrating into the ashes. To this day, the ox is remembered for its devoted hard work. The farmer regretted the day he lost his faithful ox due to his thoughtless action.

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