STRANGE HAPPENINGS: Riley Lamb and Jacob Hagan with the anthology Something Strange Happened in Rotorua, which includes their writing.

WHAKATANE High School students have performed with distinction in the New Zealand Secondary Schools Writing Competition, Write Off Line. Riley Lamb won the poetry competition and Jacob Hagan was second in the prose section. This is the third year in a row that Whakatane High School students have been among the winners in this competition. The competition is run by Young NZ Writers, which has been providing writing and publishing opportunities for school students since 2011. See


By Jacob Hagan, year 10, Whakatane High School

ON the top of a hill, placed on a seat with two wheels, I was staring down a dip, about sixty degrees steep, ten metres deep, speckled with sharp, jagged gravel like the mouth of some alien sea creature ready to consume all those who’d venture into its mouth. My friends were on the opposite side of the dip, waving with shouts of encouragement.

But I could only think of everything that could go wrong. I could skid on the gravel and fly head first into the thick stump of a redwood tree. I could hit an unsuspecting kiwi bird and have its beak embedded deep into my heart. This sea-monster dip screamed 100% certain death.

And as if he was reading my mind, Jerry, my best friend, shouted from across the dip,

“You’re not gonna die, bud! We’ve made it! You can too!”

I considered what he said for a moment.

I mean, I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a kiwi in the wild, but I do know they exist …

And then my leg just kicked forward, without my consent, and my right hand released the brake, and as my whole body broke from my command, a cheer broke out in front of me but soon became silenced by the wind rushing past my ears … and also by my primal, involuntary scream.

As soon as I gained speed, my hands tightened on my brakes by instinct, and the sole of my right shoe reached aimlessly for the spraying gravel.

When I hit the lowest point, I swivelled my head to the left, checking for any birds passing by. And when I was about to exhale a sigh of relief, I spotted something rather bizarre in the middle of some ferns.

An abandoned mountain bike. It was very different from the ones I’d usually encountered; it had strange multi-coloured buttons on the handlebars and some kind of engine box. But the most mysterious of its mysteries was how it stood.

The bike wasn’t leaning on a tree, it didn’t rest on a kickstand, it just stood.

As the terrain made a sudden switch from downwards to upwards, my bike veered to the right. I heard Jerry yell, “Pedal!” but it was far too late. I face-planted into the gravel, and kept rolling until I became the moutainbiker equivalent of a crumbed chicken.

“You all goods, bro?” He reached out his hand.

I nodded, and got up without his help.

The rest of the group just stood at the top, examining the mess of my face and my clothes.

My pride ached. I wished the ground would swallow me up. They’d be laughing at me for days. Finally, they turned around, continuing on their Redwoods adventure. Me and Jerry clambered up the hill with the burden of our bikes on our backs, shouting, “Wait for us!”


After catching up to them, out on a dirt road, Jerry and I chatted on the outskirts of the action.

“Good job at getting over your nerves at that drop,” Jerry said smiling.

And before I could reply, he broke in with another statement. “If only you weren’t so distracted, what’d you find that was so interesting at the bottom?”

I considered telling him about the bike but I hesitated.“Oh, nothing. Nothing at all.” What was worse than being the only kid to fail the course? Confessing to hallucinations.

Jerry was suspicious, I could tell looking at his animated expression. It led to an uncomfortable silence. Thankfully, speeding up to us on his bike, one of Jerry’s friends butted in.

“It’s getting a little late,” he murmured. “My mum will be worried. Do you maybe know the quickest way outta the woods?”

I looked at Jerry, he just shrugged.

Then out of nowhere, I felt something strange, a supernatural presence, shifting my gaze towards one of the nearby tracks.

The track was barred off by a couple of traffic cones and a yellow and black caution sign.

It was one of those kind of tracks…

The “Grade: Death” kind.

Shivers ran the length of my body.

I was aware of the presence. Somehow I knew it was a two-wheeled presence..

“Good idea, bud! Let’s go!” Jerry shouted and I jumped.

“Can’t you see, Jerry? That track is closed.”

I felt the urge to warn them about the mountain bike I knew was somewhere down the track, but it couldn’t be real. The bike does not exist, I repeated to myself. But if it did, it was surely haunted.

“Let’s go, people,” Jerry called, making an attempt to sound heroic. “Our mums and dads shouldn’t … be … worried.”

With barely a hesitation, everyone sped off after him, knocking over the cones, denting the plastic sign, and riding blindly into the approaching darkness.

After another great deal of disagreement from my feet, I kicked forward and rode into what I assumed to be my final resting place.

Darkness had fallen over the Redwoods, and my attempt to catch up to the group had left me lost somewhere very far from the track. I was alone. Light was precious with only the small lights of a Lego figurine attached to my rucksack. I shouted for my friends as loud as I could but not a soul could hear. Forget wanting to disappear. I didn’t want to die!

That bike was out here somewhere doing …whatever a haunted bike did in its workday of terrorising Rotorua citizens.

An eternity later, my Lego figurine having breathed its last breath, I heard the squeak of tyres and the sound of dirt being flung.

There it was. The creepy bike’s light flashed in front of me. I covered my eyes and shrieked,“Bike! I’m not afraid of you!” Peeking through a gap between my finger and my thumb, I saw its riderless form. I fell backward into the nearest bush. What did it want with me?

The bike rolled closer and closer until I could read the writing stretched across its frame. INVISIBLE BIKE MK.1.

“Hey there, young boy,” said a disembodied voice, breaking my focus.

“I’m not playing your games, you —”

“I ain’t no ghost,” it laughed. Then a man suddenly appeared, holding the bike. He was wearing a lab coat and a peculiarly shaped beard. “I’m an inventor. I created a bike that turns the rider invisible! What a great innovation, isn’t it?”

“What innovation?” I cried. “What is this?”

“Well, I just thought I needed to build something,” he rambled, looking in random directions. “Y’know, to keep your generation entertained. You got stuff like foldable phones now and who knows what—”

I never let him finish.

Instead, I punched him in the face. I stole his bike and rode home completely invisible to the human eye. I could recover my pride now, completely on my own, and only show up again when I’d gotten my life back on track.

Hot mud

by Riley Lamb

WHAT are these things that were gone, in days of yore
men, women whose faces twisted we abhor
bones of old souls, that were wrought with fear
the fathers of the fathers who left them here

gone were their days of skin, and of flesh
yet they will return to start half a life afresh
these bodies rotten; eaten by the mud where they drowned
brought back to this life which cast them down

they will crawl from the mud; the earth’s mighty womb
a casing by which their pain was made; a boiling tomb
they felt the flesh being torn from vein
this was the promise; eternal pain

the mud from which they will be reborn has turned cold
this thick muck, caked to these bones of old
we will watch what were people emerge, with faces like chalk
surely tonight the dead will walk