Part 4

Ogilvie High School student BELLA YOUNG continues the never-ending story, starting part four with more on the encounter between Johnny and Eliza and the mysterious Rourke at his campsite, 20 minutes’ walk from where the plane crashed.

A SUDDEN shriek escaped from Rourke’s monstrous crow. It began to flap and caw, anxiously snapping its beak in the man’s face.
“Don’t cry sweetie, we’ll be all right darling. Don’t cry,” Rourke crooned to the feathered mass, stroking the crow’s breast nervously.
The crow’s squawks echoed round the bushland, ringing away into silence.
The company looked at each other, masked with curiosity on the children’s part, waiting.
Rourke’s face contorted into a fearful grimace and he began to shake and swear under his breath.
Several seconds passed, a reply could be faintly heard, and all of a sudden the party was surrounded by what soon grew to be a cacophony of growling crows’ voices.
“What’s happening?” Eliza whispered.
“They heard, damn, they heard US… I need to go… Hide before they find you!” Rourke’s eyes reflected his fear like a hunted animal and turning on his heels he staggered out of the clearing whispering to himself like a mad man.
“Wait, we never…” Johnny’s voice was drowned out over the growing babble of crows and he turned to face the girls.
Alice stared past him into the dim, enclosed path Rourke had taken into the darkening forest.
“We can’t…I can’t follow him, I don’t like that space,” she cried, promptly sitting on the ground, head buried in her hands.
“Well, what are we going to do? Eliza?” Johnny looked as lost as Alice, pale-faced and tear-filled eyes, crows’ calls echoing around him.
“I don’t know what to do,” he faltered.
Eliza glanced up at the dying sky. They needed to get help. They needed someone to help them! “GPS,” she murmured. “In the plane there must be a GPS phone, or a radar or something!”
“What? Alice can’t go back in there. I won’t.”
“I can,” Eliza replied and took Alice by the hand, helping her to her feet.
Johnny paused, and then followed the pair back through the tunnel of eucalyptus and wattle. Throughout the trek Alice watched as several crows landed on nearby trees, staring at her through glassy eyes.
Johnny tried picking up bottlebrushes and throwing them, but it did little to disconcert the birds.
As the trio left the scrub the sun’s last rays outlined the shore. The tide was out and they could finally get a full view of the coastline.
Dozens of large pieces of welded metal and greying plastic lay half exposed on the sand – the skeletons of planes revealed only at sundown and dawn.
They gasped in horror at the revelation and their hopes diminished like the fading light.
Their plane lay several metres away at an askew angle, the emergency exit repelling them with a sense of dread.
Johnny held Alice and they sat down on the shoreline, the young girl staring stubbornly at the gritty sand, the crows calling disconnected and far off.
As Eliza walked, almost timidly, towards the plane, she remembered the sickening feeling of falling through the air and the sudden loss of her senses.
Her breath caught in her throat, the ominous wreckage enticing a forgotten fear.
Johnny called out to her but she didn’t turn. She was determined to face the horror that she’d left only hours before.
But, there were no bodies, no blood, nothing. It was as if the crash had never happened and all that was left was the shell… the memory.
Eliza blinked and rubbed her eyes, this couldn’t be real. Johnny and Alice were calling again. She left the plane in a dream-like trance.
“Listen,” Alice whimpered.
“What? I can’t hear anything.”
“That’s what I meant,” she said, “They’re here.” Eliza looked out into the distance, feeling the gazes of the birds without needing to see them.
“This is eerie, why don’t we go into the plane; in there it’s as if none of this happening in the first place. The bodies are gone.”
Johnny and Alice hesitantly followed Eliza into the wreckage. Upon entering the craft, Alice covered her mouth, eyes wide as saucers, and bolted out.
“But they’re not gone, Eliza.” Johnny wavered, and went to console Alice.
Seated on the fallen log a lone crow perched, one gleaming eye watching the children from afar.
To be continued

First published in the Mercury newspaper, Tasmania, on March 27, 2012

FOUR students from Ogilvie High School’s Grade 10 writers’ workshop made the short-list for this week’s chapter of Lovesong of the Crow. Teacher Jan Hunt said the whole class tackled the task with excitement and it had been difficult making the cut. The work of Bella Young was selected for publication and it sets a cracking pace for the next student writers to follow.

Each participating school has a week to complete its task and for Bella and her peers, this was shortened by a public holiday, swimming carnival and preparations for the annual Taste of Ogilvie. Bella and her classmates certainly got the feel of meeting a deadline under pressure.

A keen debater, soccer player and pianist, Bella is enthusiastic about everything she puts her mind to. She loves words and finds the English language so descriptive she even likes to read the dictionary. Bella likes playing around with words, in both spoken and written form, and would love to write a movie script or direct a film.

Part 3

Elizabeth College student EMILY SAAL presents part three of our never-ending story, continuing from where Johnny Dance and Eliza Chan discovered a video camera hidden in a tree, recording their every move.

ELIZA sat on the ground close to the fire. It was getting close to evening and the temperature had started to drop. The little girl, who had revealed herself as Alice, sat huddled against Eliza. They occasionally shot glances towards Johnny, who had attempted to climb the tree and retrieve the camera but had now resorted to throwing whatever he could find to knock it down.
Eliza felt her eyes drooping and her thoughts wandering. She wanted to be back home, in her bed, in her house with her brothers and her parents. What a stupid idea it had been to agree to come on this flight.
“Hey! Eliza! Look!” Johnny’s voice came through her daydreams and she stood up as he skipped over to her. In his hands was the now broken and disfigured-looking video camera.
“Johnny, what use was that? Trying to get that down.” Eliza sighed, and slumped back to the ground, the sleepy Alice cuddling close to her again.
“Well, at least it’s not recording us any more,” said Johnny grumpily. He’d thought she’d be impressed that he had finally knocked it down, especially as his wrist was still sore from the crash.
As he sat down on the ground next to her, a voice suddenly said: “And who said it was recording you?” Both Eliza and Johnny jumped up, turning frantically to pin-point the voice, while Alice screamed and grabbed on to Johnny’s legs.
“Who’s there?” Johnny called out, putting himself in front of Eliza and Alice to protect them from whatever had spoken.
“Relax boy, I ain’t gonna harm you. I might just take my camera back though, if it’s alright with you.” A dark shadow stepped into the clearing.
A man in his 30s came out of the blackness and snatched the camera from Johnny’s hands.
“Who are you?” demanded Eliza, stepping out from behind Johnny’s protective shield.
The man glanced over to her as he started pulling his camera apart.
“I’m Rourke, and this is my camera that you’ve nicely destroyed,” he said, shoving the camera into a pocket of his long coat.
“Well, what’s a man doing out in the wilderness, video-taping?” asked Johnny.
He was worried, scared even, that their momentary peace since the crash had been disrupted.
From above, he heard a loud cry and a dark shape flew from the trees and landed on Rourke’s shoulder. The stranger put his hand up to the crow and stroked it softly, cooing to it as he did so. Alice looked on in terror and Eliza had a look of confusion. Johnny was trying to be brave for them both. “You didn’t answer my question, Rourke.”
“I didn’t think there was a need to, boy. It’s my business and mine only. A bunch of scruffy lookin’ kids trampin’ around my camp site ain’t gonna change that,” he said, lowering the crow from his shoulder, letting it take off again into the tree-tops.
“Please! You have to help us! Our plane crashed and we don’t know where we are.
Everyone else was … killed …” Eliza broke off as she tried to keep calm, but frightening images from the crash were coming back.
Johnny picked up where she left off. “So do you understand? We are lost. We are injured. We are hungry. Come on man, we’re just a bunch of kids who have lost practically everything!”
Okay, so maybe he wasn’t tackling this the way he planned. He was losing his temper.
Rourke stood up. He was a big man, big enough to put fear in a teenage boy.
“You ain’t lost nothin’. I’ve been in this goddamn bush for over a year now. I’ve been trapped here since the day my aircraft went down. You see me complaining?”
Eliza stood in horror, the words turning over in her head. Trapped here since the day my aircraft went down. A year now.
How was that possible?
“I suggest you start getting used to this bush livin’. You’ll be here for a while, that is, unless the crows find you first.”
To be continued. 

First published in the Mercury newspaper, Tasmania, on March 20, 2012

THE writer of part three of Lovesong of the Crow is Elizabeth College student Emily Saal. Emily loves literature and has set herself the challenge of reading 100 books each year.
“Since 2009 I have read 317 books,” Emily said. “I also love writing stories, creating fictional places and people. One of my aims is to publish my stories in the future or write scripts for movies,” she said.
The Year 12 student has attended many schools in the past, including a year studying in Ireland. She completed Year 11 at Guilford Young College.
Art is her hobby, spending most of her spare time painting and drawing.
“I am currently planning on studying an English course outside school that will enable me to receive a diploma in teaching English as a second language,” Emily said.
“One of my future aims is to teach English privately in China, or lecture at a university.”
Teacher Veronica Connolly said the never-ending story activity had been enjoyed by all the students in her English Writing class at Elizabeth College.
“The levels of excitement and enthusiasm when we first discussed the project, read the chapters and brainstormed some ideas were huge,” Ms Connolly said.

Part 2

New Town High School student TOM SHERIDAN continues our story, picking up where Lian Tanner left off with Johnny Dance and Eliza Chan trying to make sense of their plane crash

ELIZA and Johnny looked at Pete’s dead body in disbelief. Sabotage? Why would anyone want to sabotage the flight?
The little girl had started to cry again. The old man next to her, who had a stern face, looked deathly pale.
Eliza crawled over to the seat he was sitting in and checked for a pulse. Nothing.
He was gone. It seemed that Eliza, Johnny and the little girl were the only ones left alive.
She brushed the wispy white hair out of the old man’s eyes and used her shirt to dab at the blood that was slowly trickling down his face. He looked surprisingly peaceful.
Eliza looked at the little girl sitting next to him. She was curled up into a ball in her chair, rocking back and forth.
“Was he your grandfather?” Eliza asked softly. The girl burst into tears again and sunk lower into her seat. Eliza put her hand firmly on the little girl’s shoulder.
“Shhh, it’s going to be okay. We’re gonna be fine.” The girl only cried harder.
Johnny had crawled out of the plane wreckage to inspect the area. It was a lush green forest except it had sand instead of dirt. Johnny bent down and ran some of it through his battered hands. It had more of a gritty feel to it than normal sand. As he sifted it, he noticed a tiny little bone. It looked too big to have belonged to anything smaller than a mouse. It kind of reminded him of a wing bone from a crow’s skeleton he had once seen in a museum.
Johnny pocketed it and stood up. He gazed around the area; he walked over to a nearby fallen log and sat down. Eliza was crawling out of the plane with the little girl following behind her. She helped the little girl up and walked over to Johnny. The little girl stayed standing by the wreckage of the plane, still quietly sobbing to herself.
“Where exactly do you suppose we are?” Johnny asked.
“I honestly have no idea.” Eliza scratched her head. “We’re still in Tassie, I guess, unless we’ve been magically transported somewhere else.”
Johnny laughed nervously. The little girl slowly walked over to them. She’d stopped crying, but now seemed numb.
“We’re sorry about your grandfather, little girl,” Johnny said.
The little girl didn’t respond; she just kept staring into the distance.
“What’s your name?” Eliza asked.
“Smoke,” whispered the little girl.
“Smoke? What an unusual name,” Johnny said thoughtfully.
“No, smoke!” The little girl was pointing straight ahead, into the distance. Johnny and Eliza turned to see smoke trickling from the tree tops.
“Should we go check it out? This could mean there are other people here! They could help us get back home!” Eliza said, standing up and grabbing the little girl’s hand.
Johnny paused to think. “Sure, why not? Couldn’t hurt.”
After trekking for 20 minutes through the thick forest, Johnny, Eliza and the little girl arrived at a campsite.
The smoke from the fire had stopped but some embers were still glowing red hot. A kettle was swinging in the breeze over the campfire. Some food wrappers were blowing across the ground. It looked as though it had been deserted. A tent door was flapping wildly in the wind. The little girl and Eliza walked over to investigate.
Something caught Johnny’s attention. From the corner of his eye, he could see a blinking light situated at the top of a nearby tree. He strolled over to the tree and his jaw dropped.
A video camera was recording them, the red light flashing on and off.
To be continued

First published in the Mercury newspaper, Tasmania, on March 13, 2012

FAME and food are the rewards being sought by the young writer of the second chapter of Lovesong of the Crow.

Students in the writers’ workshop class at New Town High School were invited to write the response to Lian Tanner’s first instalment.

The work of four students was sent to the Mercury for review, and the chapter written by Tom Sheridan was the one that was selected for publication.

Tom says he enjoys “eating KFC, socialising and then eating more KFC”.

After the visit of internationally renowned author Tanner to his classroom and then having his version of the story chosen to appear in the Mercury, a jubilant Tom says he hopes a publisher will ask him to write some novels so he can “earn stacks of cash and buy more KFC”.

Following its launch, the project won praise from the managers of the National Year of Reading (NYR). “It’s a fantastic idea and really exciting to see this collaboration between your paper, an author and school students,” NYR project manager Donna McDowell said.

Part 1

Internationally renowned Tasmanian author LIAN TANNER provided the first instalment of Lovesong of the Crow

WHEN Johnny Dance woke up, he was lying at an unwieldy angle and his wrist felt as if it was on fire. Somewhere nearby a seagull mewed.
Johnny tried to lift his head, and yelped aloud at the pain that shot through him. The seagull went quiet for a moment, then started up again louder than ever.
Someone crooned to it in a voice full of love and terror. “Don’t cry, sweetie, we’ll be all right. Don’t cry, well be all right. Don’t cry.”
Stupid thing to say to a seagull, thought Johnny, and he tried his head again, more slowly this time. Where am I? he thought.
Then he remembered. A plane. I was in a small plane. He put his hand to his waist and fumbled for the clip of his seatbelt.
Eliza Chan had been dreaming about her brothers, dreaming that they were all down at the Marion Bay shack, playing cricket and arguing. When her youngest brother Matty fell against her, she shouted, “Hey!” and shoved him away.
Her head felt blurry and sick, and someone was crying, right behind her. A kid. Hang on, she thought. Marion Bay was last week, wasn’t it?
That’s when she too remembered the plane, and the pilot, Pete, joking with her ‘cos she’d been given a seat on this scenic flight over South West Tasmania for her 15th birthday.
“All I got for my 15th birthday was a ruptured appendix,” he had said, laughing uproariously.
The flight had been good. It had been just as good as she had thought it would be. Only then something had happened. What was it?
All she could remember was the boy next to her introducing himself as Johnny, and a moment later the sickening slew of the plane, and Pete swearing. And the sea coming up to meet them, as grey as storm clouds.
Someone kicked her. “Don’t–” she said, and opened her eyes. Johnny dragged himself away from the girl – what was her name? Eliza? and rubbed his forehead.
None of his fellow passengers were moving. No, hang on, Eliza was struggling to her feet; she was all right.
But the two women who had been sitting right at the back of the plane were sort of dangling from their seatbelts with their heads at an ugly angle.
He looked away. Directly behind him, the seagull, no, it was a little girl with pigtails and a streak of blood across her forehead.
She was quieter now, sobbing into an old man’s shoulder. Her grandfather, Johnny thought. The old man looked at Johnny and nodded towards the water that was seeping into the cabin. “That going to be a problem?” he asked quietly.
Johnny bent down, trying not to groan, and peered out one of the windows. He could see sand – a great long strip of it in both directions – and nothing else except bush. Dark bush.
“We’re pretty close to the beach,” he said. His voice sounded strange in his ears. “Don’t reckon we’ll sink any more than this.”
“Good,” said the old man. Then he called out, “Pete? You okay? Pete?” There was a groan from the pilot’s seat. “Pete?” said Eliza, stumbling over the edge of her seat. She looked back at Johnny and the old man, then clambered up next to the pilot, her breath coming quick and shallow.
The front of the plane was a crumpled mess. Eliza had done a first aid course last year, but even without it she would’ve known that Pete was in trouble. The lower half of his body was stuck right in the middle of that mess, and there was blood everywhere.
For a moment she couldn’t think what to do. Then Johnny climbed up beside her, and her head cleared a little. “Have to stop this bleeding,” she said.
But when she tried to open Pete’s shirt, his hand came out of nowhere and gripped her wrist. “Birthday girl?” he said, without opening his eyes, and he tried to laugh.
“Ha! You’ve trumped that appendix…” His voice trailed off. “Maybe we should try to get him out,” whispered Johnny.
“No!” Pete’s eyes flickered open. His face was as white as paper. “Don’t move me,” he whispered.
“Listen…shouldn’t have gone down like that…plenty of fuel…something wrong…cross feed switch.”
Pete was panting now, and his eyes were glazed. Johnny had no idea what to do, so he put his hand on Pete’s shoulder and let it rest there.
“Something wrong,” Pete whispered again. “Don’t talk,” said Eliza, but the pilot would not be stopped. “Maybe… maybe” His voice was so faint that Eliza had to bend to hear him.
“Maybe sabotage,” whispered Pete. “I think… sabotage.”

To be continued

First published in the Mercury newspaper, Tasmania, on March 6, 2012

LEADING Tasmanian author Lian Tanner was pleased to be asked to give life to the Mercury’s “never-ending story” concept for the National Year of Reading.
Tanner is the author of The Keepers trilogy for young readers and has seen her books translated into seven languages. She has been published in Australia, the US, India and Germany.
Having written the first chapter of the Mercury’s creative writing project, Tanner said she had deliberately not thought about where she would like the story to go.
“I’m just waiting to see what interesting ideas crop up,” Tanner said. “It has so many possibilities. Who knows where Eliza Chan and Johnny Dance will end up?”
As for the title, the author said “The song of crows is harsh and ugly to human ears but is presumably very beautiful to other crows. So to me the title speaks of something that looks or sounds one way but is really quite different which is a good place to start a story.”
Tanner said she hoped each writer would approach the story with generosity, not trying to force it down any preconceived track.
She recommended picking up on what has gone before in the story and dropping clues for the next writer (or the one after that) to run with. “I also hope very much that both readers and writers enjoy themselves.”
Tanner has published some advice for young writers on her website at liantanner.com.au