On a wooden platform a young cheetah basked in the morning sun.
Cara, the cheetah’s keeper, walked into the enclosure, her long blonde hair hanging loose.
“Hey, Samson,” Cara called softly. She moved slowly up behind the cub and crouched down. A cloud of dust swirled over her jeans. “How are you, wee man?”
Samson lay motionless, totally ignoring his keeper’s presence.
“Aren't you talking today, mister?” Cara smiled and gazed at the dark brown spots covering Samson’s creamy tan fur. Each one perfectly placed to form a unique pattern. And those fuzzy ears...so beautiful!
Cara’s blue eyes suddenly filled and her stomach churned. How could anyone kill such a magnificent creature?
Human greed had driven the cheetah to near extinction. But now, she could make a difference. Recently graduated from university, Cara was part of the team working on AranaPark’s cheetah breeding programme.
With one hand on the edge of the platform, Cara reached out and gently placed her hand on Samson’s head. His warm soft ear touched her palm.
“You’re such a gorgeous boy” she whispered. Just then, she felt a deep, vibrating rumble erupt from Samson. Cara’s face flushed with happiness.
Larisa slipped quietly through the door into a gloomy, smallish bedroom with wooden floorboards and a high ceiling. It smelt like Murdoch — old and musty. Larisa shivered, her breath coming out in tiny white clouds.
Hugging her chest tight, she looked around. Daylight struggled through a single bare window. Below the window stood a wooden desk cluttered with books and papers and empty whisky bottles.
An open fireplace sat against one wall, and along the thick wooden mantelpiece were photographs of families, and men dressed in army uniforms. They stared at Larisa with their empty eyes and stern faces.
Her heart thumped. It has to be here!
Kneeling beside the bed, she reached into the darkness and felt something cold and hard — a suitcase! She gripped the handle and dragged it out. Leather straps held the case shut. Larisa fumbled with the buckles. Then slowly, she lifted the lid.
Inside were bundles of yellowed letters bound together by faded ribbon. Larisa's stomach twisted in knots. The name on the envelopes was Lady Larisa Kirby. Her Great Grandmother.
A black cloak made from silk lay beside the letters. Larisa drew it from the suitcase. Suddenly, her breath caught in her throat. There it was! The dagger!
The silver sheath and handle were encrusted with rubies. Trembling, Larisa picked it up. She pulled the dagger from its sheath, the curved blade glinting in the dim light. With despair in her soul, she held it to her breast. She knew that her family's curse would never be broken until she killed him.
Standing on the other side of the glass door was the farmer from next door, Mr Mugford.
My tummy squished.
I slid open the door. Phew! Cowplop! Gross!
Mr Mugford’s gumboots were covered in poo and he was wearing baggy, green trousers and a brown jersey full of holes. I looked up at his wrinkly face and messy white hair. He must be the oldest person...ever!
“Where’s ya mother?” he grunted. “Those goats of hers are on the road again.”
Mr Mugford’s thick, bristly eyebrows glared at me like two angry caterpillars.
The smell of pine filled Tommy’s nostrils as he bounced along the path. He sneezed. Damn that high pollen count!
Just then, a strange, beaked creature darted across the track, disappearing into the undergrowth. Tommy slammed on his brakes. What was that? He dropped his bike and peered into the bushes. Nothing! Maybe it was some weird featherless bird. But instead of wings, Tommy was sure it had hands.
Tommy shrugged and mounted his bike. Suddenly, something landed on his back. Tommy yelped as he felt a sharp object puncture his skin. His bike wobbled and fell to the ground…