The air was unusually still. Dark clouds hung low overhead, threatening rain. A thin sliver of a moon tried and failed to make itself known to the outside world. The waters of Lake Wendouree were black without a ripple to break the murky surface. Charlie trudged along slowly, the sound of his footsteps ringing loudly in his ears.
"Jeepers, it sure is a gloomy night for a late walk home, Rosie. Did you really have to attend that kipper eating contest at the church?"
Rosie, who had been keeping pace silently at Charlie's side, cocked her rusty head to one side.
"Yes you. At least you come in second."
Rosie let out a whine.
"Well you tried your best. I'll let you win next time."
Rosie looked skeptical.
"Well I can't help it. I love kippers. Speaking of which, lets get home. I'm hungry. And it's crazy scary out here."
Their fish-scented walk was interrupted by a sudden rustling in the reeds. Rosie barked.
"Quiet girl it's just the...ZOINKS!"
A terrible crashing noice came from out of the brush. A round dark form rose up from the lake. Its slimy skin was visible even in the scant light and tentacles hung off of it on all sides. Letting out a hideous shriek the creature splashed around in the shallows. Charlie leapt for cover behind a park bench and Rosie came hurdling after. Shaking, Charlie grabbed onto Rosie's tail and held it like a rag doll. From the safety of their hiding place they watched as the creature made its way along the edge of the lake. It passed no more than a few meters from their hiding spot where it let out another shriek. A sick yellow light emanated from what probably was its mouth. Charlie and Rosie did not wait around to see what would happen next. As soon as it turned its beady eyes away, they bolted and ran all the way home to the house on Mycroft Avenue.
Back at the house, everyone gathered around the kitchen table as Charlie told his tale. Jean, leaning against the kitchen counter in her customary purple dress and green scarf, looked skeptical.
"Are you sure Charlie? Maybe you just ate too many kippers."
Charlie protested, "But Rosie saw it too! I am telling you guys, the lake's haunted!"
Rosie had tucked her lanky russet frame onto her favorite cushion and watched the proceedings with interest. Jean sneered.
"Great, so we have your word and the word of an Irish Setter."
Charlie was about to protest but Alice stepped forward.
"It could be the Monster of Lake Wendouree. Haven't you ever heard of it?"
Everyone except for Rosie turned to look at her. Alice pushed back the sleeves on her oversized orange jumper and adjusted her thick glasses.
"If I'm not mistaken, there is an ancient legend that says the first settlers to arrive in Ballarat were cursed by a local shaman. The shaman conjured up a terrible monster that stalks the night, seizing anyone that lingers too long by the lake. For years people have reported seeing him. If someone goes missing or is murdered, the monster gets blamed."
Jean raised one eyebrow.
"Well Alice how come no one has actually seen the beast recently?"
"Maybe he was hungry," Charlie replied, running a hand through his shaggy hair. Jean rolled her eyes.
Lucien, who had been listening quietly to the argument, stood up from the kitchen table. He tugged his starched white shirt down over his blue slacks.
"It looks like we've found ourselves a mystery. We'd better get down to the lake and catch that monster before someone gets hurt. To the Mystery Mobile!"
"Ugh Lucien it's your fathers car. Why do you keep calling it that?" Jean grumbled as she sashayed past him and out the door.
A few minutes later they were all packed tightly into Lucien's father's antique car. Jean sat next to Lucien in the front. Charlie and Alice were in the back with Rosie sprawled out happily in their laps.
"Pipe down Rosie!"
"That isn't Rosie it's my car. The Mystery Mobile won't start!"
Lucien stared at the steering wheel in dismay.
"Again?" Alice sighed. "At this rate we'd better hope the monster is still there in the morning."
"I hope it isn't either way," moaned Charlie.
Suddenly the car lurched to life and they made their way slowly towards town.
At Lake Wendouree, the group scouted the shoreline where Charlie and Rosie first saw the monster. Lucien pulled torches from the boot of his car and handed them out.
"It looks like we'll have to split up. Charlie and Alice, you search the shoreline to the east. Jean and I will look around the marsh to the west."
"What about Rosie?" Charlie asked.
Lucien looked down at the dog.
"Rosie, I need you to stay here and guard the car in case the monster shows back up."
"Yes, alone. You'll be fine."
Rosie dove underneath the car, or at least she tried to. Her back end was still outside, trembling with fear.
"Oh come on Rosie, you can do it!"
Charlie stepped forward.
"Will you do it for a Rosie snack?"
Rosie stayed put.
"TWO Rosie snacks?"
Rosie's nose peaked out from under the car. Charlie reached into his pocket and held out two dog treats. Rosie's nose sniffed in his direction. With a happy yelp she jumped towards Charlie and caught the snacks as he tossed them into the air. She walked around to the front of the car and stood at attention.
Lucien smiled and straightened his neckerchief.
"Good girl, Rosie. Come on gang, we have a monster to catch!"
Lucien and Jean headed off into the shadows. They walked a long way, scouting the bushes and checking behind trees. There was no sign of the monster.
"I wonder how Alice and Charlie are doing?" mused Lucien.
Jean looked around hopelessly.
"Hopefully better than aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh!"
"I'm all right. But I can't see a thing. Toss down the torch!"
Jean groped blindly in the dark until Lucien carefully tipped the torch down to her and dropped it to the ground. She surveyed her surroundings.
"It looks like some sort of mineshaft," Jean called up, "I must have fallen through the entrance."
Lucien ran his hand along the rough wooden beams where Jean had fallen.
"It sure looks like it. I wonder how no one ever found this before?"
"Lucien, I think I found something. It's a..."
Jean's last words were cut off. Lucien called her name but she did not respond. She couldn't hear him over the sound of the shrieks. Down in the mineshaft, a slime-covered creature lumbered towards her, leering at her with beady black eyes. The light from its mouth lit up the walls around it. Jean shouted to Lucien for help but didn't wait for a response. Knocking over some fallen beams she gained enough height for Lucien to grab her by the arms and haul her out of the pit.
Back on the other side of the lake, Charlie was upside down.
"Cheer up Charlie, you were the tumbling champ of Ballarat West!"
"This is a little different Alice! No one ever tricked me into stepping into a giant net hanging from a tree! How do I get out of this thing?"
Alice grinned and pulled a small satchel out of one of her large orange sleeves.
"With this scalpel. I'll cut the ropes and free you."
"Jeepers, Alice! Why do you have that?"
"In case someone gets caught in a net, of course."
"Whatever, just get me out of here!"
While Alice was busy freeing Charlie, Lucien and Jean were running for their lives.
Jean panted, "It feels like we have been running past this same spot for hours!"
"Just keep running!" Lucien shouted.
They would have run right past the car if they hadn't collided with Charlie and Alice first. Everyone tumbled onto the floor in a big pile. Rosie ran over and barked with glee. Once they were sure they were no longer being pursued, everyone gathered in a circle, excitedly talking over each other about traps, mineshafts, and monsters.
Lucien raised his voice "See here, I think Jean found a clue."
Jean held out her hand. In her palm was a large gold nugget.
"Zoinks!" Charlie exclaimed, "it must be worth a fortune!"
"I think so too. And I think it's the key to solving our mystery. But first, we have to catch that monster."
"But how?" Alice asked.
Lucien narrowed his eyes.
"I have a plan."
Charlie was sent to fetch the police while Lucien pulled a spade from the boot of his car and started digging a ditch along the nearby shoreline. Alice retrieved the net and ropes from the trap that had caught Charlie. Within a short while they were ready. Jean volunteered to be the bait, taking Rosie along with her for protection. Swallowing her fear, Jean and Rosie walked along the shoreline, pausing a short distance away from the mineshaft. Jean raised her voice.
"Gee, Rosie! It sure is a dark night for a walk. And we are all alone!"
Rosie barked in response.
"I hope we don't run in to anything scary, Rosie!"
A rumbling from the direction of the mineshaft told Jean they had been successful. They could hear the monster climbing out of the pit, and a horrible screech told her it had seen them. Rosie yelped.
Jean needn't have said anything as a rust colored blur shot past her. For the second time that night, Jean sprinted back towards the car. Jean was close on Rosie's heels and the monster was close on hers.
Near the Mystery Mobile, Lucien and Alice were crouched in the bushes, waiting to spring the trap. They could hear the monster pursuing Jean and Rosie in the distance. The hole that Lucien dug was covered in grass and branches to conceal it. First Rosie, then Jean ran past the ditch, knowing just when to jump over it. The monster was not so lucky. With a shout the monster slipped into the hole, tentacles flailing as it fell. But before Lucien could trigger the trap to capture him, Rosie came sailing past, diving into the bushes and knocking him flat.
Rosie wailed in fear. The monster let out a very unmonsterlike laugh, reaching out a slimy arm to climb out of the pit.
"He's going to get away!" Jean cried.
"Oh no he isn't!"
Alice climbed over Lucien and Rosie, who were still struggling to get free of each other in the bushes. Reaching in front of Lucien she grabbed the rope and pulled as hard as she could. Jean ran up behind her and did the same. The net snapped closed over the monster's head. Unable to escape and held down by the net, the monster screamed but struggled helplessly. As Alice and Jean were tightening the ropes a light blue police car drove up, sirens blaring. Rosie bounded over, tail wagging furiously. Charlie jumped out the car with the Ballarat sheriff in tow. Lucien brushed the leaves and paw prints off his white shirt and walked over to greet them.
"Well, it looks like you kids caught yourself a monster! I have been hearing reports about this for months, but no one could find it. I was beginning to think it was a ghost story."
"It's no ghost story, Sheriff Lawson, but it's no monster either," Lucien replied.
He looked in the direction of Alice, who grabbed a hold of the monster's slimy head. After a moment of struggling she ripped off the head and held it in the air, revealing a heavyset man with gray hair stuffed into an elaborate monster costume. He wore old miners head lamp which cast an eerie yellow light on the crowd. Sheriff Lawson gasped.
"It's Old Man Tynneman!"
Lucien beamed with pride.
"That's right. Jean and I found an abandoned mineshaft on the edge of the lake. Everyone thought the gold mines around here petered out years ago. I think Mr. Tynneman discovered gold and didn't want anyone else to know about it. So he invented the story of the Curse of Lake Wendouree and published it in his newspaper. Then he dressed up as the monster to keep people away from the lake."
Old Man Tynneman spat on the ground.
"I would have gotten away with it too if it weren't for you meddling kids!"
Charlie walked forward and slapped one of Tynneman's tentacles, which now looked sad and rubbery in the glare of the police car headlights.
"You mean groovy monster-fighting kids!"
Lucien and Jean laughed. Alice laughed. Sheriff Lawson laughed. The sea-creature hiding in the lake laughed. Rosie, feeling victorious, crowed.