At the Young Adult Author Rendezvous, we believe in fostering a love for writing in young people. One of our own, LJ Higgins, had the pleasure of judging a teen writing contest in September. We’re going to showcase each of the three winners. Enjoy the second story below.

A bit about the contest:

In September, Calliope, a small town in Central Queensland, Australia, held it’s annual Country Carnival. As part of the Carnival, YAAR Author L J Higgins was invited to judge a writing competition. She was blown away by the amazing entries, and along with two other judges, they chose one winner from each age category.

Swallow Creek Spring Fair

By: Cassie Laelyn

Hands firmly on the steering wheel in the ten and two positions, Amelia flicked a glance over at the passenger seat beside her, where her creased leather satchel sat in-lieu of an occupant, eagerly awaiting their adventure. A far better companion than the grouchy, uncompromising one she’d chosen to leave behind. Plus, she was the one who’d received the exclusive invitation, not him.     The high-gloss, trifold brochure poking out from the front pocket of the satchel, once again caught her attention, causing the butterflies to resume fluttering in the pit of her stomach. She’d been counting down the days until the annual Swallow Creek Spring Fair and now it was finally here.

Eyes back on the narrow, windy road, as the GPS, announced she was minutes away from entering the town limits. Easing off the accelerator, Amelia curved her Audi around yet another sweeping bend, treating her (and her stand-in-passenger) to uninterrupted views of the majestic landscape. Rolling forest green hills, worthy of a scene in The Sound of Music, filled the countryside for as far as her eyes could see, covered sporadically with fields of flowering canola, as though an artist had splashed patches of bright yellow paint across a green canvas. Squinting behind her shades, she spied an eagle in the distance, gracefully soaring in the cloudless, bright blue sky. Amelia wound the window down and sucked in a breath of clean, fresh country air, a stark contrast to the thick, foul, dirty stench her lungs were accustom to. It’s so much better out here. Rounding the final bend, the small township of Swallow Creek came into view and her excitement jumped a notch.  Amelia eased the car off the single lane bitumen road and pulled up before the weathered town sign to take a quick snap-shot with her phone.

 

Swallow Creek Est: 1873 Population: 607

 

Wow, for such a small town, they sure put a lot of effort into advertising their Spring Fair.  Resuming the journey, Amelia pulled the car back out onto the bitumen and headed towards the centre of town, where all the fun and excitement could begin. Choosing one of the many empty car parks at the beginning of the main street, Amelia wound the window back up and killed the engine.  She leaned over and grabbed her satchel before stepping out of the car. Her pastel, knee-length dress swayed in the gentle, balmy breeze, bringing a smile to her face; the first hint summer was around the corner.

Amelia paused for a few minutes to glance down the centre of the main street and take everything in, giving her an opportunity to prioritise her day of sightseeing. After waiting so long, she wanted to make sure she saw every inch of the historic township. The wide main street was flanked either side with a few weathered, stone buildings. The pathways and tin roofs were covered in a thick layer of creamy dirt like the sidewalks hadn’t been swept since the town’s birth. She half expected a tumbleweed to bounce down the road any minute now. Mid-way down the street on the right, was the Town Hall; a single-story red-stone structure, with a square steeple towering above the roof line, complete with a large roman-numeral clock on the face. On the opposite side was the sole pub, the only double-story building, complete with a wrap-around timber veranda on the upper level.  From first glance, the other buildings comprised of a general store, chemist, town library and historic homestead.  Craning her neck back, Amelia inspected a large tattered banner hanging loosely from its tether above her head, strung between two decaying wooden poles on either side of the street, gently flapping in the breeze.  The material frayed and ripped as though it had been subjected to the harsh elements over a period of decades.  Amelia could make out some of the faded words:

Swallow Creek Spring Fair 13 September Fun and excitement for all!

Peering back down the length of the main street, at the far end on the left, Amelia spotted a paddock filled with market stalls and the tops of amusement rides peeking above the tin roofs. That must be the Fair. Amelia eagerly slipped the brochure from her bag, folding it out to examine its content for the millionth time. Local produce, quality market stalls, and good old fashion country games were the taglines which had grabbed her attention, making the two-and-a-half-hour drive worthwhile. High on the priority list was buying homemade chutney or jam, from a region renowned for its ideal growing conditions. But first, she wanted to explore the hand-full of historic buildings, before she got carried away at the Fair and had to make the long journey home. Amelia crossed under the hanging banner and a wave of uneasiness trickled down her spine, frightening away the fluttering butterflies. She glanced back at the brochure clutched in her hand. There was something niggling her about the pictures on the brochure compared to the town before her. For starters, where were all the people? Shrugging off her paranoia—brochures always exaggerated anyway—Amelia strolled towards the first building on her list: the general store. Ding-ding! A tiny golden bell announced her arrival as Amelia pushed open the wooden fly-screen door and entered the store. Pausing inside, she cast her eyes over the cramped space; three rows of shelves huddled together in the centre, an unmanned counter on one side and a refrigeration section in the rear.

“Hello?” She called out to the empty store, receiving no reply.

Wandering down the first aisle, Amelia eyed the contents of the perfectly organised shelves. Reaching out, she ran her fingertip along the top of one of the tins and grimaced at the track it left through the thick layer of dust. The second and third aisles were the same, heavily coated in dust as though the store owner had neglected to clean for like, a century. She strode to the refrigeration section at the rear and covered her nose and mouth with one hand, as a foul stench filled the air. Leaning over, she poked her finger at a sealed bag of brown meat, laying at the bottom of a chest fridge, it bobbed back, swimming in rotten blood. Yuck!

Turning away, she grabbed a bottle of soft drink from the refrigerated shelves, its sides expanded as though it was going to explode, and inspected the used-by date. What? Did this store stock anything that wasn’t going to give her food poisoning? Quickly returning the bottle—she’d grab a cold drink somewhere else, thank you very much—Amelia turned on her heels and hot-footed it out the door. Back on the sidewalk, Amelia glanced up at the oversized clock situated on the face of the Town Hall’s tower. Weird. She could have sworn that was the exact time she’d arrived at Swallow Creek but according to the clock on her phone, she’d been here for over thirty minutes. Guess the ancient clock was broken. Crossing the bitumen, Amelia headed towards the Town Hall; the next stop on her list of things-to-see.  Amelia twisted the brass handle on the double wooden doors but it wouldn’t budge. Locked. Maybe it was closed and everyone was at the Fair?  Cheers and a loud ding suddenly rang in the distance, like someone had slammed down one of those large hammers, throwing the weight to the top of the tower and hitting the bell. Winning a prize. As Amelia turned away, she caught a shadow pass the uncovered window, out of the corner of her eye. She halted mid-step and peered over her shoulder towards the white panelled glass. A moment or two passed without the figure returning and she exhaled the breath she didn’t realising she’d been holding. Shaking her head to herself, Amelia continued back across the deserted main street to the sole pub in town. At least there was music coming from that building. A tingling sensation at her nape sharpened during the fifteen strides it took to cross the road and Amelia peeked over her shoulder several times, to check if someone was watching her. Unable to see the fiery yellow eyes staring back, her mind shrugged off the weird sensations.  Her body, however, was not easily convinced. By the time Amelia reached the pub’s entrance she was a flustered mess; her heart racing so fast it was at risk of a speeding fine and her mouth so dry she had difficulty swallowing. Calm down, Lia.  You’re overreacting. Any second now, she was going to waltz into the pub and be surrounded by town folk and tourists here for the Fair, all of which would laugh at her crazy story, assuring her it was all in her head. What was she waiting for? Deep breath in… and out, and Amelia pushed open the antique door… and froze. Her heart sank. Inside the pub, there were no town folk perched on the wooden bar stools, no bartender behind the fully stocked bar, no patrons occupying the hand full of round tables in the centre. Where the heck was everyone?   Amelia forced her shaky legs to cross the polished timber floor to the far corner and inspect the jukebox, mid-way through belting out ‘The Gambler’. The track listing set on random and continuous play. Her gaping eyes peered right at the burgundy carpeted staircase leading to the upper level.  Think there’s been enough excitement for one day. Amelia tucked her satchel closer to her body and rushed out of the pub through the same door she’d come. It was time to socialise with actual people. If there are any… Back out on the dirt covered sidewalk, Amelia flicked a final glance at the clock town across the street. Yep, still broken.

She quickened her step towards the Spring Fair but the lure of the old library building drew her in. How could it not? An entire building filled with books; countless stories and adventures held between the pages. Ok, she groaned to herself. One more building but then she was heading straight to the Fair. This deserted town was beginning to give her the creeps. The double wooden doors to the library creaked open as she entered, echoing off the exposed rich timber rafters under the pitched roof. Amelia descended three steps and wandered down the first isle of towering mahogany shelves, overflowing with deep brown and burgundy treasures. She couldn’t help brushing her fingers along one of the leather-bound books before her, its spine frayed and dusty, the pages yellowed with age. There was something magical about the musky scent of an old novel, the way it filled the reader’s soul with— Amelia’s breath hitched and her head snapped around as a shadow passed outside the panelled window of the library. Forgetting the book, she raced up the stairs, ripping open the doors to rush outside. Her heart speed as she flicked her gaze left and right, searching for the figure among the empty, deserted street. Nothing. Once again, it had vanished without a trace. She prayed at any moment now, the town folk would jump from behind the buildings to yell, ‘surprise!’ and this crazy day will be forgotten. Biting her lower lip, she tried to decide what to do. Stay or get the heck out of here? She had come all this way, it would be a shame to let a few creepy moments ruin her outing to the Fair. Especially one she’d waiting so long for.  Right, she was going to take a quick peek at the Fair, if there weren’t any people there either, she would high-tail it out of this freaky town and put her lead-foot to good use. Her summer sandals scooted down the cement sidewalk to the end of the street and she breathed a sigh of relief; beyond the two-foot wire fence in front of her, spread out across a lush grassy paddock the size of half a football field, was the Spring Fair. Cheers and laughter filled her ears, drowning out the country music blaring from the loudspeakers. Finally. A shiver ran down her spine as Amelia pushed open the rickety gate to enter the Fair but she was too distracted to pay it any attention. Stall after stall lined the rows before her, filled with jams, chutney, sauces, smoked meats, handmade goods; you name it, there was a market stall for it. The fluttering butterflies returned, filling her with the urge to leap and cheer. Taking her time, Amelia wandered down the stall aisles, stopping at a chutney stand to taste one of the jars on offer. Yummy mango. At least these jars weren’t coated in layers of dust. She dug inside her satchel and grabbed out her purse, to purchase a jar or two.

“Hello?”  Amelia leaned over the chutney table glancing left and right, in search of the stall holder. “Anybody there?” She called. No answer.

Purse in hand, she peered down both sides of the stall, in case the attendant was on a break. Nope.  No-one. The tingling at the back of her neck returned and Amelia spun around, scanning the aisles with fresh eyes. Her stomach churned. Each stall was packed with fresh local produce, yet had no sellers behind the tables. At the same time as her realisation, laughter echoed from the carnival rides to the rear of the Fair, as though they were beckoning her. Maybe all the people are on the rides? Stepping free of the unattended stalls, Amelia discovered the real excitement at the Fair. Loads of operating carnival rides spread out over the paddock; a merry-go-round, a gigantic ferris wheel, a swinging pirate ship, and bumper cars.

She gravitated towards the giant chair swing directly in front of her, the only ride stationary for thrill seekers to board. Choosing a vacant chair on the outer rim, Amelia used the hanging chains to lift herself onto the warm metal seat. The moment she attached the linked chain across the front of her, securing herself in, the centre of the ride began to rotate, as though the giant swing had been waiting for her and her alone. Gradually the ride increased its speed, floating her chair out the side, rewarding her with a panoramic view of the town. Strands of golden hair fell free from her braid, blowing across her face, and she tucked them behind her ear. Closing her eyes for a moment, Amelia relished in the warm, calming rays steaming over her wind-blown cheeks. On the third slow spin, Amelia opened her lids and glanced towards the centre of the ride. Her breath hitched. From out of nowhere, a male appeared on the chair to her left. Another person at the Fair.

“Hi!” She waved over to him.

But he didn’t respond. Didn’t turn his head to acknowledge her. His gaping eyes stared straight ahead, gripping a small piece of paper tightly in his hands. Wait! Squinting, she discovered the male was clutching an ancient copy of the Swallow Creek Spring Fair brochure, its cover page faded to a sepia tone like an old family photograph on her grandmother’s mantelpiece. Not at all like the glossy one she’d received— Dread filled her stomach as she peered down at the brochure in her hand, it gradually changing to the same sepia tone. A date appeared through the paper as though she’d used a magic marker to reveal the ink.

Swallow Creek Spring Fair 13 September 1967 Fun and excitement for all!

What? How could that be? Her heart pounded behind her ribs and her lungs struggled to inhale a breath. Frantically, she scanned the ride and found more people appearing on the seats one by one, each of them dressed in various fashions as though they belonged in different decades. Each person clutching the same sepia tone brochure tightly in their hands, their eyes wide with horror. Amelia’s pulse pounded in her ears as she desperately tried to pull back the clasp with her thumb, to release the chain in front of her but it refused to budge.

“Help!” She yelled.

It made no difference, the people on the ride were oblivious to her screams. On the fourth rotation, she viewed the township below—or rather, the ruins. Decrepit buildings lined the main street she’d strolled down, stone bricks tumbled over the cracked sidewalk. All that remained in tack was the Town Hall clock tower, still displaying the same time she’d seen all day. Wait, was that— On the fifth rotation, Amelia narrowed in on the wooden slates directly beneath the clock face.  Oh my god. A pair of haunting yellow eyes were locked like laser beams on an unsuspecting tourist, about her age, strolling down the deserted street. Heading towards the Fair. A glossy brochure pinched between his fingers. No! She had to stop him. Amelia yanked harder at the chain on her seat, again and again, until her hand cramped. It was no use. The metal clasp was fused shut, as though she’d signed her fate to ride the swing forever, the moment she’d linked it to the opposite side.

“Stop!” She screamed at the top of her lungs down at the male, but he couldn’t hear her.

Sixth rotation and the tingling sensation at her nape intensified. Peering over her shoulder, she swallowed the lump forming in the back of her throat, as a monstrous black fog drifted across the grassy field towards the Fair. Towards her. The fog thickened and darkened the closer it crept, like a vicious thunderstorm rapidly building in intensity. Screams echoed in the distance as the fog swallowed the carnival rides whole on its approach. She frantically searched for the young male on the sidewalk. He’d reached the gate of the Fair, his face lit with excitement and anticipation.

“No!” She shouted, “Don’t go through the gate!”

The male paused, tilting his head to the side as though he’d heard a noise. A split second later his grin widened and he pushed open the gate, entering the Fair… at the exact moment, the population figure on the town sign increased by one. For the second time, today. Below, the sickening fog crept closer, nearing the chain swing Amelia helplessly hung from. Amelia’s screams joined the hundreds of others, the terrifying moment black tendrils of fog stretched up from the sinister darkness below, reaching for her feet like long whispery fingers. Oh god, please no… But it was frivolous to try and escape her pending doom. Because once more, the quaint country town of Swallow Creek had lured an unsuspecting tourist to their annual Spring Fair, with the prospect of fun and excitement for all. But only now, would the fun truly begin…

About the author:

After living in many different towns across Australia, Cassie Laelyn now calls coastal Queensland home, with her husband and two energetic boys. 

 She’s a self-confessed bookworm who admits to being slightly obsessed with stories involving otherworldly characters – everything from gut-wrenching romance to killer suspense!

 When she isn’t narrating the characters in her own head, Cassie enjoys binging on TV shows, spending time at the beach and going on adventures with her family.


The first story can be found HERE.

This post was created by Michelle Lynn

The contest was judged by LJ Higgins

Don’t forget to check out more posts by the Young Adult Author Rendezvous HERE.

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