The Ghosts of Moonlight Creek

 

The third in the Spooky Adventures series is now out. It’s set on a film location near Queenstown in New Zealand’s South Island. Here’s Chapter 1 to give you a taste.

CHAPTER 1   ACTION!

‘Quiet please everyone,’ called the cameraman. He muttered a few words into a walkie-talkie, gave the director a nod and picked up the clapperboard.

‘Aaaand … action!’ he shouted, smacking the black-and-white striped arm down.

Boxes on the board had been filled in with black marker pen:


Production: Dragonlord Rising

Date: 21 January 2016

Location: Moonlight Creek, Otago

Director: Roberto Johnson

Scene: 42


Beneath the word Take there was a large 1.

The cameras began rolling. One was trained on the bridge behind the crew, where Siofra, the Faerie Queen, stood gazing upriver, waiting for the good knight Agravain to appear on his white steed. The second was pointing at the bend in the river ahead.

Joe could feel the tension in the air as everyone waited for the movie’s star, Craig Hardman, to appear.

A minute passed. The only sounds were the babbling of the river and the breeze rustling the trees.

The director turned to the nearest cameraman and raised his eyebrows questioningly. There was a crackle from the walkie-talkie on the cameraman’s belt.

‘Cut!’ he called, lifting it to his ear.

‘And?’ said the director.

‘The horse veered off. Apparently it spotted something tasty.’ He shook his head and rolled his eyes.

‘Goddamn it! I thought we’d paid for the best trainer. I said I needed the BEST!’ shouted the director.

‘She says they’re going to put the horse’s blinkers on, no worries.’ The cameraman spoke into his walkie-talkie, then called, ‘Go again, everyone.’

He rubbed out the 1 on the clapperboard and replaced it with a 2.

Again they waited in silence, all eyes on the bend in the river. Then in an instant there it was, a magnificent white horse galloping through the shallows towards them. Its flowing mane and tail streamed out behind as it dashed through the water, sending up spray that transformed into diamonds as it caught the sun. On its back, wearing a cape of silver-and-white fur and a look of grim determination, sat action hero Craig Hardman – Sir Agravain.

‘Perfect. We got it,’ said the director.

Queen Siofra’s voice rang out from the bridge above them. ‘My Lord Agravain, he is come!’

‘Keep everything crossed, kids,’ whispered the director’s assistant, Sissie, to Joe, Ed, Beckie and Anastasia.

As Joe went to cross his fingers there was a cry from the river as the horse suddenly stopped dead in its tracks then reared up, neighing and wildly kicking its front hooves.

‘Keep rolling, keep rolling!’ called the director, not taking his eyes from the scene in front of him. ‘If he can keep it under control, that’ll work.’

But even before he’d finished speaking, everyone gasped in horror and Craig’s look of determination turned to one of naked fear as the horse flung its head to one side, pulling Craig, still gripping the reins, over its neck and into the water where he landed in a sitting position, a stunned look on his face. The horse reared again, turned, and bolted back down the river, disappearing round the corner.

‘Craig! Are you okay?’ called Sissie, running into the water and splashing her way over to the fallen knight. Before she helped him up, Joe saw her rub his back and put an arm round his shoulders, like a mum would do. The pair began wading towards the crew, the once-magnificent cape hanging from Craig’s shoulders like a wet blanket.

Thankfully, it looked as though the only part of Craig that had been wounded was his pride.

Joe’s friend Ed nudged him and looked over at the bridge. Following his gaze, Joe was surprised to see Siofra, Queen of the Faeries, doubled over laughing.

‘What in the hell happened?’ yelled the director. ‘Oh god, the cape … the goddamn most expensive fake fur cape in the history of Hollywood,’ he moaned. ‘Wardrobe will go ballistic.’

‘Don’t worry, Roberto,’ said Sissie as they reached the riverbank. ‘I’m sure it’ll be drip-dry.’

Craig sank down onto a canvas chair that said ‘Director’ on the back, while Sissie began wringing water out of the cape.

‘Well, don’t ask how I am,’ said Craig, checking his body bit by bit.

‘You okay, Craig? What in the hell happened?’ said Roberto. ‘That horse was guaranteed unflappable.’

‘Not. My. Fault.’ Craig continued examining his legs, arms, fingers, fingernails. ‘Seriously. And I am totally ticked off – I had so mastered the galloping along the river thing. Did it many, many times this morning before Wardrobe arrived.’

‘So? What happened?’ pressed Roberto.

‘That idiot guy. How did he get through security to the riverbank? Didn’t your people do a sweep for onlookers?’ Craig looked up, and for the first time properly noticed Joe, Ed, Beckie and Anastasia watching him. ‘Oh, hey guys. Well that was embarrassing, huh?’

‘No, it was scary! I was so worried for you,’ said Joe’s sister, Beckie.

‘Thanks sweetie. I’m okay.’

‘Must be a totally stupid horse,’ said Beckie’s friend, Anastasia. ‘A Hollywood horse would never do that to an actor. Would it, Dad?’

Roberto looked at Craig and hesitated, before saying, ‘Not usually.’

‘So who was the imposter?’ said Craig. ‘He completely spooked the horse, and now we gotta start over. Not to mention the fact that I’m lucky to be alive. And not a paraplegic. Actually, the stuntman can do it next time. I am not risking my career for the sake of one lousy riding-on-a-horse scene. Let’s go straight to the bridge scene. I’m over horses, totally over them.’

‘There was no one on the riverbank, Craig,’ said Roberto. ‘The shot was clear, the crew double-checked.’

‘Yup,’ said Ben B, the second cameraman.

‘I’m telling you, there was a guy there. In a hat. And carrying something. It must’ve been a fan, you know how they sneak in. The trainer said the horse would be good as gold – and it was until the stupid fan arrived.’

‘You must have imagined it, I’m one hundred per cent certain there was nobody there,’ said Ben A, the first cameraman.

‘Shall I go and take a look?’ said Joe.

‘That’d be great, Joe,’ said Cam, the director of photography, who’d said nothing until now, just shaking his head in disbelief when Craig had taken his tumble.

‘I’ll come with you,’ said Ed.

The two boys sprinted back the way they had come, slowing to a walk as they reached the track, scanning the way ahead and looking down into the trees bordering the river below. A few hundred metres away, in a clearing on the opposite bank, they saw a small group of people and the white horse, now quietly grazing. But otherwise, the land was deserted for as far as they could see.

‘The people with the horse may have seen someone?’ said Ed.

‘Well, there doesn’t seem to be anyone around now,’ said Joe.

‘Look – ruins,’ said Ed, pointing.

Up ahead, the track widened, and off to one side was a pile of rusting machinery and a few tumbledown stone huts.

‘Those must have been the gold miners’ cottages,’ said Ed, going over to the old equipment.

All that remained were low rectangular walls of grey stone, and piles of rubble; just one dwelling had an intact wall with a fireplace and the stump of a chimney.

‘I guess this is Moonlight? The ghost town?’ called Ed, bending down to examine the remains of something with cogs.

‘I suppose so,’ said Joe, going over to the cottage with the fireplace. He carefully picked his way through a tangle of prickly briars growing around the ruin, then climbed over a low wall into the tiny single room of the miner’s hut. Tufts of grass grew between the few remaining flagstones on the floor.

A sudden gust of wind blew and a cloud drifted in front of the sun, darkening the day and cooling the air.

Joe poked around in the ruin. He tried to imagine what it must have been like in winter, when the surrounding hills, now golden with gently waving tussock grass, would have been under a deep blanket of snow. He supposed they’d have needed pretty good fire-lighting skills to survive the winter months. And they probably didn’t have lighters in those days. Or even matches. Did they have matches? If not, how …

His thoughts as he gazed across the hills were interrupted by a sudden noise behind him – several thumps and a rattling of stones. He jumped, and spun round to see a narrow river of dust and gravel trickling down from the top of the ruined chimneystack, and a small pile of stones at its foot. He felt a familiar prickle of unease.

It must have been the wind. Yes, the wind had dislodged a few stones from the chimneystack. As he moved over to the foot of the chimney, another gust blew through the ruin, making a faint moaning sound. Joe shivered, even though the day was warm.

Then he noticed something next to the fallen stones. Bending down, he saw an arrow drawn in the dust. Who could have made that? It looked fresh. As his gaze followed the direction of the arrow, moving from the ruined wall to the hillside beyond, something else caught his eye. For a moment he thought he saw a figure, on the edge of his vision. A man, in a hat, with something over his shoulder. But when he blinked, it had gone. Or it had never been there in the first place. The wind had picked up and was blowing the tussock grass this way and that, forming shapes and shadows and waves. A trick of the eye.

‘Reckon that’s an old sluice box,’ said a voice behind him.

Joe jumped again. ‘Hey, don’t creep up on me like that!’ He could feel his heart thumping in his chest.

‘I didn’t creep,’ said Ed. ‘You were miles away. Dreaming of finding your fortune in gold?’

‘I thought I saw someone – maybe the fan. No, I don’t know …’ Joe’s voice tailed off. ‘Didn’t Craig say the man was wearing a hat? It might have been a man in a hat.’

The boys looked out across the landscape. There was no sign of life, and no place to hide on the bare hillside.

‘Or maybe not. It must have been a shadow or something.’

Ed turned to look at Joe. ‘Uh oh.’

‘No, seriously – it was out of the corner of my eye.’ He glanced down at the pile of stones and the arrow. Ed followed his gaze.

‘Did you draw that arrow?’

‘No, not me.’

‘Anything else, Joe? You’ve got that look again.’

The wind gave another moan as a chilly breeze passed through.

Joe said nothing. Not only did he have ‘that look’ again, he had that feeling again. That sixth sense telling him they were not alone.

‘It’s a bit spooky here,’ said Ed. ‘Maybe that’s why you’re seeing things.’

‘Imagining things, you mean?’ said Joe.

‘When it’s you, Joe, very possibly not,’ said Ed.

Joe sighed. ‘You’re right, Ed. I do have that feeling again. And stones fell down off the chimney, and that arrow definitely wasn’t here when I came in.’

‘Seriously? You sure? What’s it pointing to?’

‘I don’t know. I looked up to see where it was pointing and that’s when I thought I saw someone. Question is, was it a fan, or a fan-tom?’ He smiled weakly.

‘Nice pun,’ said Ed, gazing out at the empty hillside. When Joe didn’t reply, he said, ‘I guess we should get back? Report what we’ve seen? Or maybe seen? Or … what are you going to say?’

Joe still didn’t reply. He was thinking that his suspicions as to why they’d been invited to visit the Dragonlord Rising film location were possibly confirmed.

‘Come on, let’s go and see if Craig’s recovered,’ said Ed. ‘That was a spectacular tumble. No wonder they’re saying this film’s cursed. Hey, do you think they’ll put him falling off his horse in the bloopers?’

Joe finally paid attention to what Ed was saying. ‘No way – imagine what it’d do to his action hero image. It’d be like ALL the lawyers if they did.’

They carried on discussing their first impressions of the Hollywood megastar as they made their way back down the track to Moonlight Creek. Above them the clouds parted, letting the sunshine through once more. Behind them, the shadows flew from the old ruins.


© Sue Copsey, 2016

Teacher resource on the Otago goldrush here … find out the size of NZ’s biggest-ever golden nugget!

Spooky news! The Ghosts of Moonlight Creek is a finalist in the Sir Julius Vogel awards, in the category Best Youth Novel. Whoop!