MILTON HITS THE HEADLINES by Emma Dykes
Chapter 1 Running and Screaming
When humans scream, little spiders run.
So when Zoe started screaming, Milton ran in the opposite direction as fast as his eight little legs would carry him. Scuttling at top speed along the wooden floor, he scanned around with his side eyes, searching for somewhere safe, somewhere dark and dusty. He wondered if he could make it all the way home.
Zoe yelled up the stairs to her mum. Something about ‘IT’S GETTING AWAY!’ and Milton heard thudding footsteps coming from the landing.
Running away was preschool stuff—basic training. Spiders didn’t usually stop to think about it. But then Milton wasn’t your usual spider.
He was a thinker.
And right now, Milton’s brain was working overtime.
Zoe can’t be screaming at me? Surely she recognises her friendly false widow spider from the skirting board? Utterly un-screamworthy, utterly un-terrifying, occasionally mistaken for a raisin.
Milton was hardly the stuff of nightmares.
Gah! Why did house humans need such enormous rooms anyway?
As he ran, he became more and more worried. He liked Zoe, the smaller of his two house humans. He felt they had an understanding—a sort of ‘live and let live’ policy. And anyway, she wasn’t the screaming type, more of the ‘pretend-it’s-not-there-and-hope-it-doesn’t-move’ type. She’d occasionally greeted him with a surprised ‘eek’ if he appeared out of the blue (like from under the sofa while the telly was on, for example) but nothing like this. This was a full-on shriek—an all-eight-leg-wobbler as his dad would’ve said.
MILTON is a tiny but curious false widow spider, who lives an unremarkable life under the skirting board.
One day, after a long-weekend break in the downstairs loo, the smaller of his two house humans starts screaming at him. Milton is terrified—school-girl, ZOE isn’t usually the shrieky type. After a good deal of running and screaming, and Zoe chasing him with her mobile phone, Milton sees Zoe’s laptop and all becomes clear. On the screen, a tabloid headline declares him ‘The deadliest spider in the UK.’
Milton is resigned to packing his things and leaving, but as he is wrapping his belongings in silk, he discovers that Zoe has sent his photograph to an arachnologist, who has declared him: ‘perfectly harmless.’
Milton and his best-spider-friends, RALPH and AUDREY, watch as Zoe researches spiders on the internet for a homework project. The spiders are amazed by this different kind of web, but get confused by the inconsistency of the information available. Curious as ever, Milton is hooked. He also begins to feel a bond with Zoe.
Milton’s life goes back to normal, until he hears about other false widows forced from their homes. After witnessing a heart-breaking spider-exodus in the garden, he resolves to help them. With Ralph and Audrey’s help, he holds a meeting to explain the newspaper headline. His efforts backfire, and he is heckled for being small by garden spider bullies. The homeless false widows are also unimpressed by his pro-human stance.
Milton is crushed by failure. But when his friends rally round him, he dares to believe in his own potential. Ralph and Audrey understand that Milton has always been different—his dad brought him up that way, and they convince him to try again. Milton realises he’s been thinking much too small, and he decides to do something bold, something that would make his dad proud. At enormous risk of squishing, he does something no spider has ever done—he speaks to his house human.
Fortunately, Zoe is also a bit different. Not only is she determined to absolutely smash her homework, but she actually likes spiders. She and Milton become new BFFs and she promises to help him save the species. Together with her MUM, they start a social-media campaign: the Perfectly Harmless Challenge, raising money and awareness for good spidery-causes.
Finally, Milton hits the headlines again, this time on the BBC news, and for all the right reasons.
Tiny spider Milton, branded deadly by tabloids, risks a squishing to save his species by starting a ‘web’ campaign-—with a house-human!
2nd Place (JOINT)
ACCIDENTALLY CURSED by Loretta Chefchaouni
I would dance with Holmes Dubose tonight—despite the odds, against logic, it would happen. It wasn’t so much a feeling I had as something I knew in the roots of my soul.
Well, granting I didn’t break my neck first.
I concentrated on two things: the steady click-click of my new shoes perforating the silence of the empty street, and not eating concrete. Pavement was, for me anyway, an acquired taste. One acquired unwillingly, due to my remarkable knack for tripping over thin air. My repertoire of skills also included falling up stairs and choking on my own spit.
All sure to impress a veritable ninja like Holmes. I could see it already. Me: Ouch! My ankle! Him: Are you okay, Annora? Me: What—wait—that was (gulp) the newest dance move? Cue double thumbs-up and a cheesy grin. Yeah.
A pang of panic stabbed across my chest.
I should have stayed home.
Streetlamps cast pale rings of empty light at even spaces along the sidewalk. Bright pockets in the wall of darkness. I rubbed early autumn’s goosebumps from my arms and rounded the last corner from school, the rooftop visible over a line of trees. But the next ring wasn’t empty.
I froze and glanced around, making sure I hadn’t taken a wrong turn. The scruffy man slumped against the nearest lamp pole could have been sleeping. Hard to tell. His presence was odd this far from the city. So odd, the pulse in my neck twitched like a fishing line.
TOTALITY by Caroline Murphy
I hate the sun.
I’m sure the feeling is mutual. It sees my ghost-white skin — a perfect target — and shoots invisible lasers that burn, burn, burn. And all the while, it shines with merry yellowness. “Ooh, isn’t the sun glorious today!” people say. I snort in reply.
Adjusting my heavy-lensed sunglasses on my nose, I squint at the brightness. That ball of hot misery will shrivel me to an ooze of melted flesh one day.
One day it will kill me.
I slip my bottle of Factor DoYouWantToLookLikeAGhost? back in my school backpack. I’ve slathered it on. Probably got a white blob on my nose, but who’d notice.
Mum used to.
“Come inside, Phoebe. Remember what the doctor said!” I would hear this even when the sun was skulking behind clouds. “Long sleeves? Sunglasses? Don’t forget your sun screen!” Mum could have set this refrain to music, she chanted it so often.
I miss Mum’s nagging. She spends more time moping in her room than chivvying me these days. “Just tired.” “Not feeling one hundred per cent.” (Kyra says Mum’s ‘depressed’ – Yeah, I’d be depressed too if I had an older daughter like her.) Kyra has taken over Mum’s chant, but I guess her musical score says “With Attitude”. She yells, “Hey, eejit! Don’t forget your sun screen,” and throws a bottle of Factor 50+ at my head.
I wipe my greasy hands on my blazer.
Armoured up, I step through the school doors into the hostile world.
4th Place (JOINT)
TROGLODYTE by Lydia Massiah
The tracks had been laid. We were meant to find the cave, I realise now.
Its entrance was a dark gash in the cliff-side. Ropes of ivy bound the crags but did not conceal the opening completely. As I watched my comrades file down into the narrow ravine, I noticed marks on a rain-smoothed bank, and beneath, a run in the scree, as if someone had recently climbed up there.
“Sir.” I called quietly to my commander, acutely aware of how the gully channelled the sound of our every footfall.
Vectios halted ahead.
“Over there.” I pointed. The whole troop paused, heads tilted up. Had I discovered our prisoner’s hideout, here in this secret fold of enemy territory?
Vectios’ eyes darted to where I’d indicated. In the stillness, the crowding woods seemed to crane slender trunks at the cliff edge. Barely perceptibly, Vectios nodded. “Martialis – follow me,” he muttered.
I hurried forward at his command, swallowing down the dryness in my mouth. If Teutorigos was inside, we had him trapped like a fox in his hole. Edging past my fellow soldiers to get to the front of the line, I caught Segonix’s eye.
“Good work,” he mouthed. His nose still trickled blood from where our prisoner’s fist had struck.
“The rest of you, guard the approach,” Vectios instructed as he set off, scrambling up a path no wider than a goat track. He paused at the tell-tale marks, while I caught up.
“You’re right,” he said in an undertone.
DEMELZA CLOCK & THE SPECTRE DETECTORS
by Holly Rivers
“Lights out, Demelza!” called Grandma Maeve from the bottom of the attic stairs. “And no sneakin’ outta bed to work on yer inventions again tonight, d’you hear me?”
Under her patchwork quilt, with soldering iron in hand and fully dressed in her lab coat, Demelza grinned. “Yes Grandma! See you in the morning!”
She switched off her bedside lamp, and through the darkness listened as Grandma Maeve hobbled the seventeen steps across the landing back to her own bedroom. There was the rustle of curtains being drawn followed by the thud of slippers being kicked off, and before long the purring of the old woman’s snores echoed through Frogmore Cottage.
Demelza kicked off her quilt. “I’m sorry Grandma,” she muttered to herself. “But nothing is going to stand in the way of me winning this year’s ‘Young Inventor of the Year’ competition, especially something as unnecessary as sleep!”
Wasting no time she reached for the torch under her mattress and pulled on her pair of ‘Inspection-Spex’, from which a series of magnifying lenses hung down over her eyes like jam jars.
As she tiptoed across the attic her torch cast a dim, yellow light across the walls. Shelves were lined with antique microscopes and piles of scientific books, and jars of nuts and bolts glimmered like colonies of metallic beetles.
At her desk, Demelza quickly got to work. She had to get her prototype finished by tomorrow if she had any chance of bringing home the illustrious ‘Golden Lightbulb Trophy.’
WEIRDOS OF LONDON by Ellie Lock
“Freddie! Where are you, you little rat?” rasped Grandma.
Freddie hunched further behind the sofa.
“I know you’re down there.”
Grandma’s bony hand appeared above him, clacking about like an angry crab. Freddie tried not to breathe.
He heard puffing and scraping, then the sofa springs creaked and the black stick appeared. Time to break cover.
“Sorry Grandma,” Freddie crawled into the open ground of the living room, caught in the blue glare of Grandma’s crackly TV set.
Grandma jabbed him in the side with her stick.
“Sort out the telly, Skinnyribs, I can’t miss the wrestling.”
Freddie crawled across the thick brown carpet to the flickering TV and poked among the cables and cobwebs.
“That’s it!” said Grandma.
Freddie shuffled back. A huge bearded man in a leopard print swimsuit filled the screen.
“Massive Mick’s on tonight,” said Grandma, “He’s a dirty one, someone’s going to get a bashing.”
As Freddie straightened up, Massive Mick flickered and vanished in a white blizzard.
“Stop,” yelled Grandma, “it’s gone again. Your ridiculous hair’s interfering with the reception. Get it back!”
Freddie tried to flatten his springy hair, then crawled forward and gave the cable a good shove into the socket.
“There he is. Get stuck in boy, go for the rice bags!”
Freddie started reversing out of the corner.
“Stop – Freddie, you idiot, the picture’s going fuzzy again.”
“But Grandma, I can’t…”
“That’s it, perfect,” said Grandma, “stay exactly where you are.”
7th Place (JOINT)
HOPE RUNS FREE by Martha Taylor McKiever
At least for now, this piece of sea and sky is all ours. It’s like Mom and I are inside a gigantic bottle filled with golden sand, breaking waves, and salty sea spray, all under a blue dome. We
hold hands and wade knee-high into the surf.
The ocean inhales and sucks sand and bits of shell back over our toes. It tickles, and we giggle. I hook my arm through hers as a wave builds, and call out, “One, two, three … jump! We rise
weightless over the crested swell and land on out feet. Our laughter blends with sea gulls’ cries.
I step on something smooth and cool and bend over to check it out. An emerald stone glints at me. I swoop it up and turn it in my hand. “Look, Mom, sea glass—your favorite color, too.” I
don’t see her deep green eyes much now. Ever since her dark days took over, she’s worn sunglasses, even inside the house. When I raise the jewel to her face, the sun beams through and it
sparkles. Her mouth twitches and turns into a smile. My heart warms.
“A sea jewel. I love it!” she says.
Right when I place the sea jewel in her hand, a giant wave from out of nowhere body slams us, knocking me clear off my feet. Salt water burns my nose and stings my eyes. I stand up and
wipe my face with my arm. Mom slumps down in the water. Her pale face and raised arm blur before me.
DRAGON LIES by Hannah Samson
Criminals and gangsters always litter the crowded streets of the Northern Markets. They prowl the roads scanning for loose coins in pockets and people to sell overpriced goods to. Evil men with elaborate robes, strange beasts and scarred faces. But today is worse. It’s recruitment day for the most brutal gangs and dragon hunters, and I need to infiltrate the deadliest one.
I push past an old lady with a tattered red cloak. Her eyes remain on her rotting fruit. She doesn’t want to anger me, mistaking me for a dragon hunter. I blend in well here with my thin armor made of dragon scales. They shine black and the headdress covers my forehead and neck, leaving only my eyes exposed. Unlike the dragon hunters I didn’t kill anything to get this. Besides, the real power lies on the other side of the scales.
A man with facial tattoos smokes something in an elaborate tent, filling the street with a blue vapor. People cough and wave it away but no one dares say anything. The foreign smell burns my throat. My knees shake when I pass and I hunch my shoulders. He can’t recognize me. Underneath the tent with gold jewels, six tattooed men sit on the stairs below the smoker. I study the smoker’s tattoo as discreetly as I can. The black ink swirls around a red beetle and drips drown his neck before disappearing into his cloak. The beetle. He must be the leader of the Kever gang.