Recently, I experienced the joy of winning first place in a fantasy short story competition run by the Hisbiscus Coast Writers, a group I am a member of. Steff Green judged the competition. Following, are quotes from her comments: ‘so much beautiful, evocative language – you make the weta’s come alive. Very early on you establish the protagonist as sympathetic. This could be a great picture/chapter book. This piece is awesome.’
This posts offering is my story.
The impressive Giant weta, the Wetapunga, roamed the world long-ago alongside dinosaurs. Kings of the insect world, the Wetapunga grew to the size of a small dog with the capability of flying long distances. Razor-sharp talons lined their legs. The Weta from yesteryear leapt from tree to tree. Their antennae squirted poisonous venom, paralysing predators and prey alike, and their large mandibles crushed bones in one bite.
The day twelve-year-old Toby Jacobson announced to his classmates that if he was an insect, he’d choose to be a Giant Weta, his classmates scoffed.
“Why would you want to be a Giant Weta? Weta’s are so ugly.”
“Yeah. Wetapunga, the Giant Weta means ‘God of ugly things.’ ” Charlie Hamilton said
“Well, that makes sense. God of ugly things, that’s you, Tubby Toblerone, to a T!” Chloe Ash sniggered. “With your bulging bug-eyes and scaly-raw skin, perhaps you’re meant to be a disgusting weta, living in rotting leaves.”
Toby scratched the red welts on his arms.
“Yeah, scurry away and find a pile of damp leaves to hide in, Wetapunga, if you don’t want to get crushed under-foot,” Charlie jeered, body-slamming Toby into the wall.
Toby, straightening his thick-lensed glasses, retorted in a shaky voice. “The Wetapunga is a noble creature. They’ve been around for one-hundred-and-ninety million years.”
“Hah, he even speaks like a weta,” Chloe said. “Or is it ‘squeaks?’”
“Actually, it’s neither. Weta’s, like crickets, communicate by rubbing their hind legs together. And they chirrup, not squeak,” Toby braved, wishing he could just shut himself up, wishing he could shed the skin that was him.
“Chirrup, chirrup, chirrup,” his classmates chorused. Toby’s face reddened.
The morning bell rang. The students of room thirteen moved to their seats. As Toby pulled out his chair to sit, Henry Stubbs flicked the chair back with his foot. Toby fell heavily. Tears smarted.
“Sit down, boy!” yelled Mr Rathbone, entering the room.
Mr Rathbone, the maths teacher, – otherwise known as Ratty Rathbone both for his temperament and his rodent-like facial features – picking up a white-board pen, wrote an equation on the board.
Toby sat. Without looking, he sensed his classmates’ sneers. The welts on his arms pulsed with pain. The urge to scratch, to tear away his skin, to rid himself of this disfigurement consumed him. The real wounds, the real hurt is within, Toby thought, burying his head in his arms. Word-knives slice my innards, venomous snares (sneers) poison my blood, body-slams broil my brain. I am a decaying husk. Shaking the vision from his mind, he looked up.
Ugh, long-division. He rolled his dark, round eyes as Ratty droned on. Closing his eyes, he imagined wriggling free from his skin like the juvenile weta. My new skin would be an impenetrable armour, he mused, able to deflect barbs, dilute venom, dodge body-slams. Be the real me. He smiled as he slumped lower into his seat.
“Toby Jacobson! Wipe that smirk from your face.”
Jolted from his reverie, Toby gazed glassy-eyed at the thin-faced Mr Rathbone.
“Don’t think you can doze off in my class, boy. Get out here and finish this equation.” Ratty thumped his open palm on the whiteboard.
Toby’s classmates sniggered.
Nor did his day improve in Physical Education. Dodge Ball. Toby stood with his team in the circle, alone.
“Get Weta Boy,” Charlie shouted from the firing line.
Balls zinged through the air. They bounced. They pounded his body. He jumped, he ducked, he spun around, crouched and covered his head. The balls smashed into his body. Sprawled on the floor, the balls kept coming. His skin itched.
“Nowhere to hide, eh Weta Boy,” Henry chortled.
At three o’clock, Toby trudged towards home, wearily.
When he reached the tumble-down barn along the way, he stretched apart the wires of the fence and scrambled through. He entered the dark, derelict barn. Inside, throwing off his bag, he lay on the pile of hay in the corner. With his arms behind his head, he looked towards the roof. Dust motes flickered in the splinters of light seeping through the holes in the rusty iron. Outside, a wind began to annoy the flimsy iron sheets on the far wall, causing them to rattle, to complain. He wrapped his arms around his torso and snuggled deeper into the hay. Nestling into the warm mustiness of the hay, Toby shed the horrors of his day like an unwanted skin.
A rotting-damp smell assaulted his nostrils. Opening his mouth to breathe, the taste of decomposing vegetation imbued. He felt his body being squeezed and pummelled. He tumbled into gloomy darkness, landing with a thump on his back onto a soft carpet. A carpet of rotting leaves.
Toby looked up at splintered shards of light filtering between leaves on tall trees stretching skyward. He scratched his exoskeleton abdomen in wonderment. He heard a chirruping sound and then another. The chirruping grew louder, came closer.
“Oigh! Who are you and where have you come from and why are you here?” Toby, turning his head sideways saw himself reflected in a pair of large glassy eyes. He very much liked what he saw in the reflection. An armour-plated suit, two twitching antennae and six very sturdy legs.
He rolled his body and stood proud on his six legs. An assortment of Giant weta’s scrambled from under leaves and bark, forming a semi-circle around him.
“You can call me Toblerone.” Rasping his back legs together, Toby chirruped. “It’s difficult to explain where I’m from but the reason I’m here is to help you. I believe you lot are endangered, am I correct?”
“Yes. Hordes of rats have over-run this once safe haven, the island of Wetapungapu and decimated our population. Are you familiar with this cunning vermin?”
“Oh yes, very much so,” Toby nodded solemnly.
“No matter how carefully we choose our hiding places, those nose-twitchers manage to ferret us out. Our numbers have dwindled to a mere fifty.”
“You need a strategic plan and I am the man, ah weta for the job,” Toby chirruped. “First we must locate the purple trumpet flower and drink the nectar.”
“The trumpet flower. Suck the nectar before it’s petals close as day turns to dusk, and be transformed into the noble creatures of your forbears.”
“Long ago, Wetapunga, the size of small dogs, with the ability to fly ruled the land. They leapt tremendous distances, paralysed predators with a venomous spray and crushed bones in one bite with their powerful mandibles. The barbs on their legs were lethal talons.”
“Ah, yes, I have heard such stories,” the Chief of the tribe chirruped, nodding his head.
“By consuming this nectar, we’ll transform into the weta of yesteryear?” another chirruped.
“Yes,” Toby’s glassy eyes sparkled. “But the powers last only ‘till the moon is at its height. You must complete your mission by this time.”
“And if we don’t?”
“Your exoskeletons will be shed for the last time and the nectar will poison you from within. You will die an agonising death. Your tribe will be no more,” he answered in a solemn tone.
“You mean extinct?”
Toby looked into the stunned eyes of his fellow creatures and nodded.
“Let the search begin!” the Chief, standing upright on his rear-legs, rallied. “There is no time to waste!”
The weta’s fanned out. They hunted under leaves, poked behind tree-bark, scuttled along fern branches, scurried over rocks and boulders, and scrambled through the undergrowth. Dusk encroached.
“It’s here, it’s here!” the Chief screech-chirruped.
The tribe gathered. The trumpet flowers drooped from a low lying bush on a mound, their petals beginning to curl inwards.
Toby held up a fore-leg. “You must suck every morsel of nectar. The taste is unpleasant and you will experience discomfort as your transformation begins.”
With antennae twitching, the tribe listened. Heads nodded, fore-legs waggled and reached towards the flowers.
“Wait,” Toby harrumphed, looking into those eager eyes before him. “When the battle is won, I will utter an important final order: Excrete, excrete! ”
“Excrete?” many chirruped in unison.
“Yes, excrete, poop. You must poop every last morsel of nectar from your body, squeeze out every last teeny-tiny droplet.”
“Ugh, that’s disgusting.”
“Disgusting it may be but totally necessary. If not excreted, the poison of the nectar will be fatal to yourselves. Now, choose your flower.”
With flowers clasped between their front legs, the weta’s slurped the nectar. Some grimaced at the taste, others squirmed in pain but they continued to suck and as they sucked, their bodies grew. Wings sprouted, barbs became talons, antennae plumped.
“Let’s do this!” the Chief exhorted.
“Take your positions,” Toby ordered.
With a mighty leap, all but ten ascended into the darkening sky. The flurry of flapping wings caused branches to bend, trees to sway and a deafening, swooshing sound filled the night air. In the light of the early moon, sharp-edged talons glistened from dangling legs as the Wetapunga Army took-up their battle positions.
The remaining ten, hiding under foliage on the mound, began their chirruping chorus.
From beyond, detecting the sound, furry, grey ears perked, trembled. Sharp noses twitched, gleeful eyes gleamed. The mass of sleek bodies surged through damp vegetation like a rushing, grey river. Around sharp stones and rocks, over humpy tree roots, the rodent-river flowed. They paused. They listened. They sniffed the air. They twittered. Their whiskers quivered, salivating the promised feast ahead. On and on they scurried towards the chirruping chorus.
Hidden, the front-guard ten, sensed the approach of the enemy. They listened. A rustle of a leaf, the clang of a rock, the padding of paws. They waited. They held their breath. Their antennae poked through their camouflage. Fear and anticipation pounded in their hearts.
The padding paws reached the mound.
A furry nose poked into the enclave. Sniffed and smiled a mean smile. A talon swiftly slashed the rodent from ear to ear. Blood spurted, a shriek pierced the quiet night. As one, the ten wetas threw aside their blanket of camouflage. A row of stunned rats, standing on their hind legs, squealed shrilly. Flashing talons tore at the bellies, at the legs and at the snouts of those front-row rodents. Cries of pain and panic swamped the forest. Entrails and gore spurted forth. Congealing blood pooled, caking the leaves, soaking the soil.
The surviving rodents fled westward. From the skies came a whooshing flurry of wings. The west guard wetas flew towards the grey torrent, unleashing venom from their antennae. A sticky syrup sprayed the rodents. The rodents collapsed, clasping their bellies. Writhing on their backs, their legs waggling in the air, they howled in pain. A foul-some smell lingered.
In a panic, the remaining rats scattered. From the east, from the north and from the south swooped the mighty Wetapunga Army.
The air sang with the whooshing of wings.
And echoed with the crunching of bones.
The sky glistened with the spraying of lethal syrup.
The forest sparkled with the silver glean of slashing talons.
And roared with the death throes and anguished cries of the rodents.
Rodent carcasses covered the land but still, the mighty Wetapunga was not finished. They searched every tree cavity, lifted every rock and boulder, pounded every rotten log until certain their former foe was no more.
Regrouping on the mound, Toby gave his final order. “Excrete, excrete!”
The great Wetapunga pooping began. Cow-patty splatters, elongated sausages, perfectly spherical marbles, boulder poops, mushy poops, squishy poops and pea-sized poops.
They moaned. They squirmed. They grunted. They squeezed and then squeezed some more. And as they pooped, their bodies shrunk, their wings disappeared, talons returned to barbs and antennae de-plumped.
Exhausted, Toby lay on a patch of vegetation, tucking a purple trumpet flower inside his exoskeleton. His body snuggled into the warmth of the leaves, he closed his eyes.
Rejuvenated by his metamorphosing experience, Toby announced at the dinner table that evening that he is now a herbivore.
“A herbivore, dear? Don’t you mean vegetarian?” his mother commented.
The boy smiled.
Toby woke refreshed from his deep, peaceful sleep. His skin glistened with droplets of early morning dew. A soft chirruping chorus sang. The dawn light trickled through the curtains. He wriggled his toes, bent his legs, rubbed his stomach and stretched his arms wide. Throwing back his bed-covers, Toby bounced out of bed ecstatic in his new skin. Renewed.
As he bent to pull on his socks, he noticed the exoskeleton on the wooden floor by the end of his bed. Gently, he picked it up and sat it on his dresser. From the glass of water on the dresser, he took the trumpet flower and carefully wrapped it in a tissue, placing it in his back-pack.
On arriving at school, several of Toby’s classmates loitered on the steps leading to the main hallway. He leapt up the steps two at a time.
At the top, Charlie Hamilton stuck out his foot. “Hey, Weta Boy’s here. Let’s all chirrup for Weta Boy.”
Toby swiftly swirled, avoiding Charlie’s foot. “Ah, Charlie. You have to be quicker than that to catch-out Weta Boy.”
As the morning bell rang, room thirteen students entered their classroom. Maths was the first period. Ratty Rathbone was not there. The class waited. They noticed Toby’s empty seat at the back of the room.
Tick-tock, the minute hand ticked to five past nine. Still Ratty didn’t appear. Not like Ratty to be late.
Tick-tock. Ten-past nine. No Ratty. The students, becoming restless, squirmed in their seats, fired paper darts across the room, shouted insults at one another.
Charlie Hamilton swaggered to the white-board, picked up a white-board pen and began to draw.
“Guess what I’m drawing,” he laughed, swooping a long black line across the board.
Tick-tock. Twelve past nine.
Charlie kept drawing, chuckling to himself.
Tick-tock. Thirteen past nine.
The brass knob door-handle squeaked, turned. All eyes swivelled from the board to the door. Charlie stopped drawing, erased the marks from the board with his sleeve and slunk back to his seat. Slowly, the door opened. A leg appeared. A bendy-thin leg with a claw at the end. Mouths dropped open. The door edged open a little more, another leg appeared. The students at the front clung to their desks and lent forward to peer around the door.
With an almighty thrust, the door swung fully open. Hands flew to faces and bodies dropped to the floor, huddling under desks. Gasps, shrieks, screams then stunned silence. Frightened eyes shot around the room, assessing escape possibilities. The students whimpered.
The large armour-clad figure strode to the front of the room. His glassy-round eyes glowered behind thick-lensed glasses. Wings, folded across his back, flickered. His large mandible clicked alarmingly as his head slowly swivelled from side to side, surveying the snivelling students.
His antennae twitched as if sensing a foul smell. The creature snorted. His eyes alighted on Charlie in the second row. He took a long stride towards the cowering boy.