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Animal Investigators: Book 3
by S. P. Gates
Animal Investigators: Team File ELLIS STRAKER: Expert tracker, trained in the African bush. MERIEL: Gifted animal-mind reader. Raised by wild dogs. PROFESSOR TALLTREES: Reclusive scientist. Guardian of Ellis and Meriel. MISSION: To stop the terrifying Killer Spiders. FILE NOTES: Famous explorer Jack Nelson has shut himself inside an experimental space dome on the polluted Wastelands. System reports state that everything is normal, yet in an e-mail to his son, Jack raves that he is being attacked by giant spiders ... Something has obviously gone badly wrong. Ellis and Meriel must enter the dome and find a way to combat the terror within. MISSION ACCEPTED.
“irresistible, adrenalin-fuelled reading”
Key Stage: KS2 E; Age 9+ (info)
198 x 130mm
Susan Gates is a highly acclaimed and award-winning author, and says she has been writing stories ever since she could hold a pen. Susan taught, in both Africa and the UK, for over ten years before becoming a full-time author. But she says if there was one thing she could be, instead of being an author, it would be a rock guitarist!
Ellis Straker came walking through a drift of black smoke.
Suddenly he felt the ground shift beneath him. He yelled out a warning: “Keep back!”
Meriel, as usual, took no notice. She came right up to join him, glanced down at the crack that had opened beneath Ellis’s feet.
“Wow, cool,” she said.
Ellis could feel himself sweating as he looked down into the black abyss. At the bottom he could see red fire. He shuddered.
Like the gateway to hell, he thought. Then a second tremor came and the crack closed up, as if it had never been there.
Meriel and Ellis were on a mission. They were looking for an escaped alligator in the Wastelands. Ellis was a top tracker and Meriel could read animals’ minds. Togther they worked as a team, with their guardian, Professor Talltrees, solving animal mysteries.
“This is a creepy place,” muttered Ellis, gazing around.
The Wastelands was a vast, unstable swamp, with creeks and quaking bogs. Dark trash mountains loomed in the distance. Fires smouldered beneath them all the time.
It looked like another planet. But in fact Ellis and Meriel weren’t far from home. They could see the city where they lived from here. The Wastelands was right on the edge of it and had once been a huge garbage dump. But it had been filled up and closed years ago. Now it was just a poisoned forgotten wilderness, wedged between the city and the river. Hardly anyone came here. Signs that warned DANGER! and NO ENTRY kept them out.
“We should have started earlier,” Ellis grumbled.
He’d been waiting since breakfast to set out on this mission with Meriel. But she’d done one of her usual disappearing acts, gone walkabout. She hadn’t showed up until well after dark.
“So where were you?” asked Ellis.
Meriel shrugged, as if that was her own private business. “This mission’s a waste of time anyway,” she said. “Let’s go home.”
Home was the city’s Natural History Museum – a massive, rambling Victorian building where they lived with Professor Talltrees.
“We might as well look, now we’re here,” said Ellis, kneeling down.
He was suddenly totally focused, like he always was when tracking, searching for signs in the mud that a gator had passed this way. It was almost midnight but he didn’t need a torch. Light from the city behind them lit up the sky and cast a spooky glow over the Wastelands.
“That guy who said he saw that gator was stupid,” said Meriel, in her most scornful voice.
“Who was he anyway?”
“One of the guys who was building Mars Base One,” said Ellis, his eyes still fixed on the swampy ground.
“Huh, Mars Base One!” Meriel spat out the name. She obviously didn’t approve of the big glass bio-dome that had just been built in the heart of the Wastelands. You couldn’t see it from here, it was hidden by a trash mountain. But Meriel shot a hostile look in its direction.
“Well, that builder guy was stupid,” declared Meriel. “We should just give up now.”
She glared at Ellis, as if daring him to disagree. Her gaze was fierce, unblinking – the kind wolves use to scare you. It would have freaked most people out.
But Ellis was used to Meriel’s wild side, including her wolf stares. He was surprised, though, that she was giving up so soon.
“We’ve only just started looking,” he protested.
The gator had escaped from the city zoo three weeks ago. The zoo director assumed it was dead by now. But the builder guy swore he’d spotted it
yesterday in the Wastelands. So Ellis and Meriel had been sent in to find out the truth.
“Your mission is simply to look for alligator signs,” the Prof had told them. “If you see any, get out of there, fast. Leave the rest to the zoo people. They’ll go in and catch it.”
But it seemed Meriel didn’t want to check for gator signs. She was agitated, pacing about. “I want to go home,” she said.
Why’s she so jittery? wondered Ellis.
The Wastelands was a dangerous place. But Ellis knew Meriel wasn’t scared. She wasn’t scared of anything much. And he’d thought she’d jump at the chance to get inside a gator’s mind. Alligators have jaws that can crush bones. They can run like an Olympic runner. They can make vertical two-metre leaps out of rivers, to snatch prey from trees. They were just the kind of top predators Meriel liked.
“I told you, it’s not here,” fumed Meriel.
“Let’s look a bit longer,” said Ellis.
“Ten more minutes,” said Meriel, her eyes flashing. “Then I’m out of here. This is a joke! Besides, do you know how to track a gator?”
“I told you,” said Ellis, patiently. “I’ve tracked crocs before.” He’d done that in Africa, where he’d learned tracking. “A gator’s not much different.”
“Huh!” snorted Meriel, as if to say, That’s what people think.
Apart from the Prof and Ellis, Meriel didn’t have a very high opinion of people.
Ellis sighed. “Look, if I can’t track it, maybe you can mind-read it, find out where it is.”
“No point in trying to mind-read it,” Meriel insisted. “Because it isn’t here.”
Ellis frowned. For some reason, Meriel was being a real pain in the neck on this mission. “I hate the Wastelands too,” he told her. “It stinks. But I’m not going home until I’ve searched it.”
He dragged a plastic bag off his face that had blown from the nearest trash mountain. The stench from the festering rubbish and traffic fumes was overpowering. He turned round, letting the plastic bag fly off, like a giant white moth, into the night.
He didn’t see Meriel’s mysterious smile, or hear her murmur, “I love this place.”
“What’s that rustling noise?” asked Ellis. It was more than rustling, it was like the rushing of the ocean.
“Rats,” announced Meriel, grinning. “Millions of them, moving about in the trash mountains. There are cockroaches, too, probably billions of them.”
A long red cockroach scuttled over Ellis’s foot, its feelers waving. “Ugh.” He shuddered. “Maybe you’re right. I can’t believe that gator could be still alive. Not in this dump.”
But the Prof had said gators can survive in polluted places. That this one could have swum through sewers to get here.
Ellis moved off, circling a trash mountain heaving with rats and roaches. From here you could see Mars Base One, rising like a huge silver bubble from the Wastelands. But Ellis didn’t even glance at it. He was concentrating on the mission. And his sharp eyes had spotted something.
“Hey,” he said, waving Meriel over. “Think I’ve found something.”
Meriel crouched down beside him. There, in the mud, were some four-toed claw marks. They were on the banks of a creek. Little, twisty creeks, filled with water from the nearby river, threaded their way all through the Wastelands.
“It’s a dog,” declared Meriel. “A big dog. Bet there’s all kinds of stray dogs in the Wastelands.”
“Could be,” Ellis admitted. Gator prints looked like dog prints. What made them different were the sliding marks of a fat, scaly tail. And Ellis couldn’t see any tail tracks.
“It’s a dog,” insisted Meriel. “Anyone can see that.”
Ellis was used to Meriel being stubborn. But he was the tracker in the team. So how could she be so sure, when he wasn’t? It was almost like she was trying to throw him off the scent.
“Well, I’m going to look some more,” he told her. “You go home if you want to.”
Meriel didn’t start for home. But she didn’t seem interested in searching for the gator either.
“So are you coming or what?” asked Ellis. While he was waiting for her to decide, he picked a golden spider off a grass stem.
It was tiny, small as a pinhead. He watched it, fascinated, as it ran over his hand and looped sticky threads between his fingers.
But Meriel stiffened. She was too proud to panic. Instead she clenched her fists tight, until the knuckles were as white as bone.
She hated spiders, even small ones like this. It was a primal instinct, deep in her animal nature. It was something about their eight legs, the way they rushed about. Even big creatures, like elephants, are scared of tiny scuttling things.
But, typical of Meriel, she’d never told anyone about her fear. Not even Ellis knew.
The tiny spider abseiled down from Ellis’s hand on a long thread, then vanished into the grass.
Only then did Meriel relax.
Ellis said, “What’s wrong with you tonight?” He was itching to be off on the gator hunt. He had an intuition there was something out there. The back of his neck was prickling. It was his tracker’s sixth sense. You can be the most brilliant observer ever, see all the signs, but without that sixth sense you can never be a top tracker. Gift had it. Gift was the master tracker in Africa who taught Ellis his skills. Gift would say, “There’s a leopard coming.” And, ten minutes later, it’d stroll out of the long grass.
When Meriel didn’t answer, Ellis dashed ahead, then disappeared behind some pale, ghostly reeds.
Meriel didn’t follow. Instead, she waited until he was out of sight, then stood perfectly still. Her eyes took on a glazed look, as if she was in a trance. But her brain was active, searching urgently around, trying to pick up animal mind waves.
Maybe it won’t work, thought Meriel. But she thought that every time. Her power to read animals’ minds was unpredictable. Either it happened, or it didn’t.
But this time it did. Suddenly she was locked on. And she wasn’t Meriel any more. She wasn’t a rat either, sniffing garbage. She was something much, much bigger.
She wriggled further into the ooze to hide herself. Her belly was sunk in mud, but her eyes and snout were above the dark water. She stayed absolutely still. Her heartbeat was slowed right down, her cold blood barely moving in her veins.
A glittering firefly landed on her snout, before darting off.
Then high-pitched chirps sounded, like chicks in a nest. Suddenly she moved, clashing her great jaws, lashing her scaly tail. She hauled her heavy body up the bank, leaving sliding marks. She tunneled through pale reeds. Then she began digging like a dog, with her front claws, in a mound of mud. White leathery eggs appeared, the chirping grew louder, more shrill. Some eggs were already split and out of them wriggled black-and-yellow striped baby gators, glistening with slime. Another egg hatched, then another…
Meriel shook herself. The brightness came back to her eyes. She was back in her own body.
“You clever girl,” she murmured. “You’ve got babies.”
Inspired by real scientific research and charged with a dose of classic horror, this third paranormal animal mystery makes irresistible, adrenalin-fuelled reading!
Betty Bookmark - Four Star Review
This is a dramatic, pacey adventure with more than one hair-raising moment. Not recommended for arachnophobes – it made my skin crawl, and I like spiders.
A brilliant story by Susan Gates! In the story two children (Ellis and Meriel) are sent out on loads of thrilling adventures and in one of these terrifying missions they could end up in a giant spider’s stomach. The famous explorer Jack Nelson has decided to build a dome in the waste lands and stay in it for a month but Ellis and Meriel have found out something bad, very bad. They need to get into this dome to help. A page-turner, an absolute thriller, descriptions that sound so real, amazing. I would recommend this book to eight and nine-year-olds.
Reviewed by George Martin, aged 9, in Flapjack Magazine
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