© S I Richards
YouWriteOn offers publishing for writers to help them reach new readers who like their writing.
Click here to email us for details.
I’m trying to ignore my mum. I can hear her shouting for me at the top of her voice from downstairs. It’s mid-morning and I’m relaxing in bed, reading a book about piracy, my all-time favourite subject. I carry on reading, annoyed because I can’t concentrate and it’s not just because of the shouting. I can’t concentrate because I’m too busy worrying about the start of the new term, or ‘semester’ as they call it at my school here in America: the school I’ve been trying to fit into for the past six months. Trying and failing.
‘Robert… Robert!’ Mum sounds almost hysterical as she thunders up the stairs, straight into my room.
‘What?’ I snap.
‘I’ve just had a phone call from the police. We’ve got to go to Bermuda right away!’ She’s still shouting, despite being in the room with me.
‘Bermuda? What for?’
‘It’s your sister.’
‘Sophie? What about her?’
‘She’s been knocked down by a car!’
I shoot bolt upright in bed, my annoyance dissolving in a heartbeat, replaced by a sickening lump in my chest. ‘No, no, no, not Sophie.’
‘Is it serious?’
I want her to reassure me, to say, ‘No, don’t worry, she’s fine,’ but she doesn’t. Instead, she nods and wipes her eyes. Her hands are shaking.
She doesn’t reply. She takes a deep breath, trying to calm herself, trying not to panic me. But, by not answering the question, she panics me more.
‘How serious?’ I repeat, louder.
My older brother, Jamie, sticks his head into the room, ‘Stop asking questions, Rob, and get ready now!’
‘How serious?’ This time I'm shouting too.
‘The hospital says she’s in a critical condition.’ Mum’s voice shakes. ‘We need to leave straight away. I’ve rung Dad. He said there’s a company plane we can use because it’ll get us there quicker. Come on, Robbie, get dressed now!’
So, here I am, less than half an hour later, on a tiny private plane, trying to get my worried brain to focus enough to fasten the seat belt. When it finally clicks into place, I look up. Unluckily, so does Doctor Baines, my Dad’s boss. I can’t understand for the life of me what she’s doing here with us. She doesn’t even know Sophie and, from what I’ve heard, she never puts herself out for anybody, even in an emergency.
I’ve only met her twice before and that’s one time too many. The first time I saw her I thought, *Wow—she’s gorgeous!* She’s slim with big blue eyes and long blonde hair. But, when I looked closer, I realised she’s just a bit too thin, like she’s got too many sharp corners.
That’s when I nicknamed her ‘Doctor Bones.’ She might seem attractive on the outside, but it doesn’t take long to suss out that it’s a very different story on the inside.
She’s sitting opposite me now, flashing a perfect smile without a flicker of friendliness in it. She rummages in her handbag and sprays herself all over with perfume. In this small cabin, the smell’s overpowering. It catches the back of my throat and makes me feel sick.
‘Do you like it?’ she asks, but she doesn’t wait for me to answer. Just as well really; I’m a thirteen-year-old boy, perfume is not really my thing.
She snaps the blue lid back onto tiny the silver bottle. She leans over towards me and lowers her voice as if she’s telling me a secret, ‘These bottles are made of solid silver, so it’s extremely expensive. It’s called *Status*.’
And I think, *Why am I not surprised?*
I don’t know what to say, so I just do a stupid half smile.
As the pilot makes his way to the cockpit, he turns towards me, raises his eyebrows and shakes his head slightly, as if to say, *Can you believe this woman?*
She inspects her makeup in a mirror and runs a tiny brush over her eyebrows. I close my eyes and pretend to sleep in case she starts talking to me again.
*This is going to be a long flight.*
I eventually fall asleep and into an endless, drawn-out, horrible dream—a dream about Sophie lying there, broken, not breathing, heart stopped …
I wake up with a start and check the time on my mobile. I’ve been asleep for an hour; we’re not even half way there. Behind me I can hear Mum talking quietly to Jamie. I don’t move in case she stops; she treats Jamie and Sophie like adults, but she still treats me like a child.
‘She’s on a life support machine, love,’ she’s telling him.
A life support machine? Just the sound of it sends a cold chill through me; that’s the thing they hook you up to, so your family gets a chance to say ‘Goodbye’. Then, with one flick of a switch, the machine stops working and you die. How can that apply to Sophie? She’s the most alive person I know. She’s always laughing, always enthusiastic about everything and everyone. Even me, her wimpy little brother.
I stare out of the window. The sky has turned steely grey and threatening. The vast expanse of sea below us, a stunning bright blue earlier, now looks dark and menacing. A string of jolts and shudders soon has me tightening my seat belt as we fly into a wild, multi-coloured electrical storm.
Mum squeezes my arm from her seat behind mine. When I turn around, she looks terrified—her face is pale, almost grey. I follow her gaze out of the window. Blinding flashes of lightning shoot out one after another. In between each of the flashes, the sky turns blood red.
Suddenly there’s a noise, like a car backfiring, and a jolt that sends Jamie’s mobile skittering down the aisle towards the front of the plane. He swears and unlocks his seatbelt to retrieve it. That’s when the plane plunges so unexpectedly that Mum screams. All we can do is watch as Jamie’s thrown about the cabin like a plastic bag in a breeze. He slams into the front wall with a sickening crunch. He lets out a harrowing scream, then falls silent.
We’re still dropping and, as we drop, the whole plane starts to rock. The door to the cockpit flies open and I see the pilot struggling with the joy stick, his knuckles white as he fights to get the plane back under control. But it’s not working; we’re going down fast.
He turns to shout to Dad, who’s sitting across the aisle from me, ‘Grab those flight charts and strap yourself in!’ but Dad just sits there like he doesn’t understand.
‘Move yourself man! These charts are the only way we have of figuring out where we are. Don’t lose them!’ He grabs them and thrusts them towards Dad. His hands are shaking so much it look as like he’s waving the papers at Dad rather than trying to hand them over to him. He knows something we don’t and it’s clearly not something good.
Dad frantically stuffs the maps down the front of his shirt and struggles back to his seat as the pilot shouts into the radio, ‘Mayday, Mayday, Mayday…’ And still the plane keeps dropping.
The first time the plane hits the sea, my seatbelt locks across my middle like a kick in the stomach. The second jolt slams me back into my seat, so the breath explodes from my lungs. When I inhale again, they fill with thick, bitter smoke that scorches my throat.
*Oh God, we’re going to die!* Time becomes scrambled. Things happen so fast, yet, at the same time, everything is so vivid that it’s like watching it all in slow motion. I feel eerily calm. As the plane bounces across the water, I suddenly have a flashback to when I was six. Jamie was eleven and he was teaching me to skim a flat stone on a pond. It skipped across the surface of the water three, four, five times before it sank without a trace. We crash into the waves again and I’m jerked sideways—my face smashes against the window and I’m jolted back to the present.
*Oh God, how many more until we go under?*
I sit there, paralysed. I’m witnessing the chaos, hearing my family screaming, but it’s as if I’m not really there, as if it’s all happening to somebody else. Dad’s voice snaps me out of my daze, ‘Get out, Robbie! Get out!’
I grapple with my seat belt, but I’m blinded as seawater pours in from all directions. It tastes of petrol and makes my face sting. The stench of burning plastic makes me gag.
I try to stand up and walk towards the front of the plane, but the water’s rising so fast that I stagger around like someone drunk. Arms and legs thrash all around me. A rucksack floats past, level with my waist... and still the water keeps rising.
*Oh God, where’s the door?*
The plane’s still the right way up, floating on the sea on its belly, but the water’s up to my neck now. I press my face up as close as I can to the ceiling. I want my mum.
‘Mum! Dad!’ The desperation in my own voice scares me.
I look around, but the smoke and stinging seawater in my eyes make it pointless.
‘Where’s the exit? Where’s the exit!’ I’m screaming it out, but I can’t hear myself. My voice is drowned out by the deafening screech of the engines as the propellers churn into the sea. Now that the plane’s stopped skimming along I know what’s coming next.
Someone thrashes about under the water by my legs, then breaks through to the air pocket.
‘Dad!’ I roar.
He grabs me and bellows down my ear, ‘I’ve found the door, but it’s jammed!’ He fills his lungs with fume-filled air and dives back under.
‘Come back Dad!’ I plead, ‘Dad! Dad!’
My screams are a waste of precious oxygen as the plane begins its final descent. *I don’t want to die like this.*
Suddenly, I’m aware of light; brilliant, blinding light. I’ve heard about this—how people see a bright tunnel of light just before they die. *So, this is it.* The tunnel of light grows wider and I stop fighting. I’m mesmerised, calmly facing the inevitable.
I’m brutally jolted back to reality when hands grab at me and shove me upwards, towards a widening hole in the roof. Above my head, the plane’s literally ripping itself apart like a giant metal zip and the light’s streaming in. When my nose hits the edge of the jagged fuselage, it makes me gasp in agony.
Fresh air fills my lungs.
I know I’ve got to get as far away from the plane as I can, or be sucked down with it. Wave after wave pushes me back towards the wreckage, but I fight against them for all I’m worth.
*Don’t look back, don’t look back,* I repeat over and over. I don’t want to see what’s behind me. If Mum and Dad are alive, they’ll shout my name, so I battle on, praying to hear them.
After ten minutes I’m exhausted. My lungs hurt and there’s a stabbing pain deep in my chest. It’s no use—I can’t go any further. A wave lifts me high and I look up for the first time to see where I’m headed. There’s nothing there. Just miles of empty sea and sky.
Above me, the lightning storm rages on, spitting out bolt after bolt of electricity in every colour, including some I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.
I tread water…and listen. My wet clothes are a dead weight, slowly dragging me down. I’ve got to take them off. I start with my jumper but get tangled up in the sleeves and give up—I’ve got no strength left.
I feel the pain of every passing second. My arms and legs are heavy and numb. I’m moving them so slowly now that my face is barely above the water. Still no sound from my family.
I don’t want to acknowledge what this means. The idea of being left alone with no Mum, Dad, Sophie or Jamie is unbearable, so I give in to the temptation of letting myself sink. I don’t want to live without them—I just want it to be over. As the water closes over my face, I feel light-headed and peaceful again.
But something hard hits me in the back of my head. I yelp in surprise and the shock brings me scrabbling back to the surface, coughing up sea water. I feel like crying when I see what’s hit me—my dad’s briefcase. Instinctively, I grab it and cling on tight, using it as a float. As I wipe the water from my eyes, a searing pain shoots up through the bridge of my nose from where I hit it on the way out of the plane. When I pull my hand away, my fingers are covered in blood.
Now I’m petrified by every ripple on the choppy water, as my imagination turns each one into a pointed black shark’s fin. I know they are all around, I know they can smell the blood, I know they’ll be here soon, and I know there’s no point trying to out-swim them.
I squeeze Dad’s briefcase to my chest and float on my back, my heart pounding. Every so often, I raise my head to check if I can spot anyone else, but I know it’ll take a miracle for that to happen. Eventually though, I get a glimpse of movement and I wipe the salt water out of my eyes. What comes into focus is a tall black shark fin slicing through the water straight towards me. I don’t want to keep looking but I can’t help it. I stop breathing. All I can do is hope the end will be quick. Terrified tears begin to mix with the seawater on my face.
I won’t survive the attack so there’s no point in fighting but, when something latches onto the neck of my jumper, I scream and lash out, as survival instincts take over. But I’m caught.
‘Robert! Robert! It’s me!’ It’s Mum’s voice!
My parents haul me in over the side of the plane’s inflatable dinghy. I kick and claw my way out of the water and land with a thud in the bottom, still clinging on to Dad’s stupid briefcase, as the shark brushes its unblinking face along the thin rubber sides and then circles back to look for me.
I lie face down, gasping for breath. I smell the rubber of the dinghy floor and wonder helplessly if those few millimetres of thickness will be enough to keep me safe. The muscles in my arms and legs tremble and twitch with exhaustion as I pull myself up to hug Mum and Dad, sobbing like a toddler. I catch sight of a crumpled shape at the other end of the boat and my stomach lurches.
‘What’s wrong with Jamie?’ I ask.
He’s unconscious; his leg’s sticking out at an odd angle, like a broken twig.
‘He needs help,’ is all Mum says.
The image of Jamie being tossed into the air and smashed against the wall of the cabin flashes through my mind as clear as a film-clip. I shake my head to erase it.
I sit and stare blankly ahead. I still can’t take in what’s happened to us. The move from England to Florida six months ago was supposed to be a great step forward for all of us. Dad was thrilled when he got the job of head of research in Dr Baines’ brand new, multi-million-dollar laboratory, Jamie and I got places in a shiny new, all-American high school and Sophie wangled a place at a college in Bermuda.
We’re supposed to be living the American Dream, but it’s turned out to be a complete nightmare instead. Dad hates his new job and, no matter how much I try to fit in at school, I’m still the puny weird kid with the strange British accent. And now all this…
‘What happened to the pilot and Doctor Baines?’ I ask. There’s no reply.
We sit dazed, as the stormy red sky crackles overhead and throws a weird, unnatural glow over everything in the boat.
Mum and Dad take it in turns to check Jamie’s pulse. I can tell from their expressions that he’s in a bad way.
Jamie drives me mad at times. He’s so perfect. He’s good looking, clever and sporty. He knows everything there is to know about the great outdoors. He knows how to start a fire, build a shelter and hunt for food—basically he’s exactly the kind of person you need in an emergency like this. I wrack my brains to think of what he would do now, so that *I* can do it instead and, just for a minute, I imagine *me* rescuing my family, *me* being the practical one, *me* having the survival skills. I’d laugh if it wasn’t so ridiculous.
Dad moves over to check the automatic beacon. The regular distress signals it beams out are supposed to tell the Air-Sea Rescue services exactly where to find us. He straightens up slowly and says, ‘It’s not working.’
Mum frowns. ‘How will anyone know where we are then?’
At first Dad says nothing; he just looks for a long time at Jamie, unconscious, in the bottom of the dinghy.
‘They won’t,’ he replies.
‘But Dad, I’ve still got my mobile!’ I pull it out of my pocket, but it’s ruined after being in seawater for so long. Mum’s left hers on the plane.
‘Is yours in your bag?’ I ask Dad.
‘I don’t know, I don’t think so.’
But anything’s worth a try so I force myself to move. I pull the briefcase up onto my knees, click open the locks and rummage around inside.
I pull out three new white lab coats, crisp and clean in their cellophane wrappers—at least we can wave them if a rescue plane flies over us. I burrow further down through the mess of scientific papers, reports, notebooks and garish, fluorescent laboratory stickers that scream out: *Warning! Bio-hazard!*
Finally, at the bottom of the case, my fingers brush against something hard and rectangular. My heart leaps. Got it!
‘Dad, I’ve got your mobi…’
But as soon as I see the logo on the wrapping I know it isn’t the phone at all. It’s just a parcel from a stupid joke shop back home in England. Just another silly prank for Dad to inflict on us. His hobby is playing practical jokes; he’s well known for it and some of them are amazing—really clever and funny—but, right now, this is more disappointment than I can stand. I slam the lid shut.
‘Nice try, son, but I don’t think you can even get a mobile signal out at sea anyway,’ Dad says.
I force myself to focus, to think of something else that might help. I spot the boat’s emergency tool kit and wrench it open. Binoculars! I scan the horizon with them, turning full circle. The lenses magnify the movement of the boat and the swelling of the waves, which makes me feel sick. I keep going anyway. But I see nothing; there’s nothing but sea and sky in all directions…for mile after mile.
I don’t want to believe my eyes, so I do it again, trying to ignore the worsening seasickness. This time I catch a glimpse of something floating on the surface of the water.
‘It’s Doctor Baines!’
There’s no sign of the pilot.
We take almost ten minutes to row to her through the storm. None of us say it, but we all know that we’re racing to reach her before the sharks realise she’s there. Although she’s clinging to a piece of floating wreckage, she’s still clutching her designer handbag and high-heeled shoes.
We haul her into the dingy where she sits shocked and shivering.
‘Can I have some water?’ she croaks.
Dad holds a water-bottle to her lips, and she drinks greedily, eyes closed. When she opens them again, I smile at her, expecting her to thank us for saving her. But she doesn’t. Instead, she screams at Dad, ‘I can’t believe you left me in the water all that time. I could have drowned out there! And you’ve crashed my father’s plane, you idiot! Where are we anyway?’
Before he can even reply, the awful truth dawns on me. Even though it terrifies me, it feels good to be the one to tell her the bad news...to tell her that we are in one of the most dangerous and mysterious places on Earth—to pay her back for speaking to my dad like that.
‘Don’t you know? We’re in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle.’
She glowers at me.
‘Oh, for goodness’ sake, if you can’t say anything sensible, just be quiet! Bermuda Triangle my ass! Everyone knows that’s just a myth.’
She snatches the chart from Dad and peers at it, as if willing land to appear on the map where there’s only a vast expanse of sea. The chart shakes in her hands.
‘Well? Are we even in the Bermuda Triangle?’ Her voice is a thin screech, just a couple of notes down from hysteria. ‘Oh God, we’re miles from anywhere.’
I ignore her and scan the horizon again. I know that sighting land is our only real hope of survival...I also know that there is no land to see.
Hours pass. The continuous sizzling explosions of lightning are so intense that it’s physically painful. I put my head in my hands to give my eyes a few minutes’ rest from the glare. When I look up again, the strange colours have faded, leaving behind the blinding white of a normal lightning storm and I begin to wonder if I imagined them.
I check how much water’s left in the bottle. I’ve read enough about pirates running out of drinking water to know that dying of thirst is one of the most painful ways to go. It’s less than half full.
We’re hundreds of miles from land and nobody knows where to look for us. It could be weeks before we’re found…if we ever are.
Mum and Dad tend to Jamie, I use the binoculars to look out for boats, Doctor Baines puts on more lipstick. And then…
‘I can see land!’ I shout.
‘That’s impossible. There isn’t any land around here for hundreds of miles,’ says Dad. He snatches the binoculars from me.
But it must be possible because suddenly we can all see it, a tropical island right in front of us.
We sit in shocked silence, confused for a moment, before we start to paddle towards it as fast as we can. When I finally clamber out onto the warm, soft sand, I’m baffled, disorientated, exhausted.
‘Where did this island come from?’
No-one answers me.
‘It wasn’t there five minutes ago,’ I insist.
‘It must have been,’ Mum says.‘We’re probably all just in shock from the plane crash.’
I glance over at Dad. He looks just as mystified as me. Mum helps him lift Jamie out of the dinghy, then they both collapse on their backs on the sand. I do the same, closing my eyes to bask in the sensation of safe, solid ground beneath me.
I eventually look up to see Doctor Baines hopping about as she puts her shoes back on. She staggers towards Dad, her high heels sinking into the fine golden sand with each step. She waves the map under his nose.
‘That stupid pilot took us completely off course before we crashed; I can’t even find this island on the map.’
She stabs one of her long red talons at it, ‘Wait a minute,’ she says; ‘it must be that one.’
‘We’re nowhere near there,’ Dad replies. He takes the map and shows it to Mum instead.
‘I know exactly where we are now. Mr Brooks showed me just before we crashed.’ His voice shakes as he speaks of the lost pilot. ‘But there’s not supposed to be any land around here for hundreds of miles, so where did this island come from?’ He scratches his head. ‘And that storm? It wasn’t like any storm I’ve ever seen; it blocked all the controls at once. We just stopped flying and fell out of the sky!’
‘I told you before Dad,’ I explain patiently. ‘It’s the Bermuda Triangle. Planes and boats have been disappearing around here forever.’
Jamie moans faintly. He’s still unconscious, which is probably just as well—he’ll be in so much pain when he comes around.
‘We need to get him somewhere comfortable,’ Dad says and heads off into the palm trees.
It seems like ages later that he comes back and it’s starting to get dark. He points up the hill through the tropical forest, ‘There’s a small cave just up there. Help me carry him. We mustn’t put any weight on his broken leg.’
The three of us struggle to carry Jamie’s limp body through the lush vegetation and up to the cave. Doctor Baines drags behind complaining about the heat.
‘I’m hungry,’ she whines.
When we ignore her, she sighs loudly, ‘I’ll definitely need to eat something soon.’
The sound of her whinging voice makes me feel like punching something.
‘I wish she’d shut up,’ I snap.
‘Robert, leave her alone, she’s been through a lot,’ says Dad.
*‘She’s* been through a lot?’ Mum hisses, stopping in her tracks. ‘What about us? What about Sophie and Jamie? Why are you sticking up for her? She’s done nothing but make your life a misery since you started working for her. Everyone from the lab says the same thing—she steals their ideas and takes the credit! But they’re too scared to say anything because she’ll have them sacked.’
Her voice is high pitched with rage. ‘If her dad didn’t own the lab, she’d never have got a job there in the first place.’
My mum is usually lovely. She’s tiny, with long dark hair, soft brown eyes and a very pretty face. She’s the calmest person I know. She teaches yoga and meditation so it’s her job to be calm, but Doctor Baines presses all Mum’s buttons.
‘Calm down, Emma,’ Dad soothes. ‘This isn’t helping anyone.’
‘No, I won’t calm down!’ Mum turns around and glares at Doctor Baines, lagging way behind us. ‘She shouldn’t even be here. She only lent us her dad’s plane, so she could wangle a weekend shopping spree in Bermuda. I’ve never known anyone so heartless in my life; we’re going to see our dying daughter and she comes along to buy a new spring wardrobe!’
The word ‘dying’ hits me like a punch in the face. Now Mum’s outburst makes sense. *‘So that’s what she’s doing here… shopping.’*
‘This isn’t the time, Emma.’ Dad says. ‘She’s scared.’
‘Scared or not, she’s still a nasty piece of work.’
None of us can argue with that.
The cave is small, clean and wonderfully cool. We make Jamie as comfortable as we can. Doctor Baines follows us in and slumps down against the cave wall. Dad and I tell her we’re going back out to look for branches to make a splint for Jamie’s leg, but she doesn’t offer to help.
He’s still not fully conscious but, as we strap the splint in place with our belts, he whimpers like a wounded animal. We’ve got no medicine to stop his pain.
When we’ve done as much as we can with the splint, Dad announces, ‘I’ll see if I can get some help.’ His face is lined with worry.
‘There’ll be a hotel on the island,’ Mum says; ‘It’ll have a telephone.’ She says this in an oddly cheerful way, as if she’s trying to convince herself.
Dad nods and smiles at her, but I can tell he’s just doing it to be encouraging. This island’s miles from anywhere and it isn’t even on the map. No-one will live here.
‘Stay hidden and keep quiet,’ Dad instructs as he turns to leave.
‘What?’ Mum asks.
‘I don’t want to frighten you, darling, but listen to me for a minute. This is an uncharted island so very few people will know it’s here and that can be attractive to the wrong sort of people—people who want to stay out of sight of the authorities.’
‘What are you talking about?’ Doctor Baines demands.
‘The papers call them ‘Modern Day Pirates’. They attack boats out at sea and rob them. There’s usually violence and guns involved.
I'm talking about serious, organised criminal gangs. They use small islands as bases to smuggle drugs and weapons into America. Mr Brooks was telling me all about it before we crashed. If one of these drug gangs is using this particular island, then we’re in even bigger trouble than we thought.’
‘But surely even they won’t refuse to help someone in pain?’ Mum asks.
‘Emma, we’re talking about gangland killers. With the plane going down, people probably already think we’re dead, so they’d have nothing to lose by getting rid of us—witnesses are the last thing these people want.’
‘What will you do if it is a gang?’ she asks.
‘Criminals or not, they’ll need a radio to communicate with the outside world. All I can do is try to get to it and call the police. But, first, we need to find out if there actually is anyone else on the island.’
The smell of wood smoke drifts in through the cave entrance.
‘Well that answers your first question,’ Doctor Baines says; ‘there’s definitely someone else here.’
Jamie’s eyes flutter open. Awake now, he’s in terrible pain and groans with every breath. When he tries to adjust his position, he yelps in agony.
‘Can’t you do something with him?’ Dr Baines complains.
‘He’s got a broken leg and no painkillers. What do you suggest we do?’ Mum replies. Her icy voice matches the cold glare from her eyes. Those same frosty eyes land on Doctor Baines’ designer handbag and she demands, ‘Have you got any medicines in there?’
‘No.’ Dr Baines sits in sulky silence, holding it tightly by her side.
The faint but unmistakable smell of roasting meat begins to mingle with the smoke. This is too much for Doctor Baines.
‘This is ludicrous! They’re having a barbeque down there and we’re stuck in here, starving. They’re probably just tourists off a cruise ship.’
She jumps up abruptly and marches towards the mouth of the cave. ‘You losers can stay here if you want to but I’m going down.’
‘Don’t!’ cries Mum. ‘Just wait until we can be sure who they are.’
‘You’re being ridiculous,’ snaps Doctor Baines. ‘Killers my ass!’
‘If you go now you might put everyone in danger, so stay right where you are!’ Mum’s voice is steely.
Dr Baines ignores her and walks towards the exit, nose in the air. Big mistake. Mum’s leg shoots out, Doctor Baines trips over it and lands on the floor with a satisfying thud. She drops the bag and its contents scatter everywhere: lipstick, nail varnish, even her silver bottle of perfume with ‘Status’ picked out in blue letters.
‘You did that on purpose! How dare you!’ she squeals, greedily sweeping up her possessions.
Mum opens her mouth to explain exactly how she dares when she notices something by her feet—it’s a plastic container of painkillers!
‘These were in your bag all the time!’ Mum gasps. ‘You’d actually let a child suffer, rather than give away a few tablets?’
‘I forgot I had them. You don’t think I’d be selfish enough to keep them back on purpose, do you?’ Doctor Baines sneers.
‘You’re here to go shopping when you know my daughter’s dying… believe me, you really don’t want to know what I think about you. Sit over there and don’t move!’
Mum points to the spot the furthest away from the entrance. Doctor Baines slinks off to do as she’s told while Jamie gratefully swallows the tablets.
‘That’s stealing, you know,’ Doctor Baines accuses. ‘And don’t think I’ve forgotten how you left me in the water for so long. I could have died!’ Her lower lip trembles with self-pity.
‘We all could have died,’ replies Mum, ‘but I think you were safer than the rest of us.’
‘What *are* you talking about?’
Mum looks her straight in the eye, ‘Some things are too unpleasant even for sharks to eat.’
Dad beams at Mum and then turns to me, ‘Robert, stay here and look after Mum and Jamie. I won’t be long.’
‘But I want to come with you. Please Dad!’
I’m terrified of what we might find outside the cave, but the idea of just sitting here waiting for a gang of potential killers to find us is even worse.
‘No! It might be dangerous,’ Dad replies.
‘But if it is dangerous, and you get into trouble, I can come back and warn the others,’ I argue back.
Dad hesitates, then, ‘OK. You might be right. But be very quiet. We need to find out if these guys are a threat or not. God, I really hope Dr Baines is right, and that they really are just tourists.’
When I say goodbye, Mum hugs me so hard it hurts. ‘Stay close to Dad and do exactly as he tells you!’
Outside, Dad gives me instructions, ‘Whatever you do, son, keep low. Don’t stand up; you’ll be too obvious.’
After all that talk of gangsters with guns, I don’t need telling twice. I bend double, keeping close to his heels. As we edge our way through the thickening darkness, I’m startled by every cracking twig or rustling leaf.
Eventually, from inside the tree-line, I make out shapes and movement on the beach just in front of us. Everything near the campfires is tinged with an eerie red. Anything not close to the flames is in complete darkness.
I dimly make out three poles, as thick as tree trunks, sticking up from behind a sand dune, disappearing up into the black sky. I crane my neck to see the top but can’t. The moon hides behind a cloud and deeper darkness descends.
‘This looks promising—they look like totem poles,’ Dad whispers.
At least twenty long wooden tables are dotted at random on the beach. They’re spread with food and drink and illuminated by thick flickering candles. People bustle between them, handing out platters of steaming roast meat, fresh from the fires.
Seated around each table, are men, women and children of all ages with tanned, coffee-coloured skin. Both the men and women wear breeches, tied below the knee, with baggy white shirts on the top, although some of the men are bare-chested. The women wear strips of material knotted around their necks; the men have the same around the tops of their muscular arms. All go barefoot.
Men and women alike wear hooped earrings and have long, black hair in plaits, extravagantly decorated with shells, beads and colourful feathers.
‘They look like Native Americans, and that would make sense of the totem poles.’ Dad breathes a sigh of relief as he says it. ‘Thank goodness for that—they’ll definitely get help for us.’
A few of the revellers wear jackets with complicated beading down the front. The most extravagant and exotic of all is worn by a man in his forties sitting at the head of a table which is raised up higher than all the rest. He’s tall, handsome and muscular with a neatly cut black beard. When he laughs, he throws his head back and roars a booming laugh deep from his belly and everyone else laughs too.
‘That must be the Chief,’ whispers Dad. ‘I’ll go and talk to him.’
But I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. Something isn’t quite right, but I don’t know what. Their clothes remind me of something very familiar that I can’t quite put my finger on. Dad must feel it’s odd too because he hesitates and stays in our hiding place behind a palm tree.
Three large barrels stand just in front of us on the sand. I nudge Dad and point. Someone’s left a jacket on top of the one closest to us.
Dad creeps out, grabs it and scurries back. He starts searching through it for anything that can tell us whether these people are dangerous or not. But there are no pockets for wallets or phones, not even a label. The jacket’s handmade. Instead of buttons, it’s got the pearly insides of sea shells.
‘They’re definitely Native Americans,’ Dad says decisively. He passes the jacket to me and starts to walk out from the shelter of the trees.
I peer down at it in my hands. Close up, it looks just like…what?
I wrack my brains.
Suddenly the answer comes to me. Now I know why I recognise this particular style of jacket! The material may be different, but I’ve seen jackets exactly like them hundreds of times in my books at home.
‘Wait Dad!’ My voice comes out as a trembling squeak, ‘They’re not Native Americans, they’re…’
But he’s gone.
‘… pirates!’ I say, too late.
The full moon reappears from behind the clouds and beams like a spotlight onto one of the poles. A gust of wind blows, unfurling the banner at the top to reveal two crossed swords and a fearsome grinning skull,
With the moonlight at its brightest, it’s all plain to see; there are no totem poles, just three tall masts.
Dad freezes in his tracks. In the broad moonlight, away from the cover of the trees, he’s totally exposed. He looks around at me in panic, not daring to go forwards or back.
‘Dad! Come back!’ I whisper and he darts back to me.
We move along until we have a better view of what lies beyond the sand dune. What we see is breath-taking. The masts belong to an enormous, majestic galleon. The low trees between us and the ship mean we can only see its top half, so I have no idea if it’s in the sea or run aground on the sand.
People appear on deck as if from nowhere and begin to climb. Using the rigging around each mast as a ladder, they race effortlessly to the top.
Both the ship and the style of clothes look like they belong to pirates from the 1700s and I wonder whether we’ve stumbled onto a film set, but I can’t see any cameras or a film crew. A fancy-dress party then? But I can’t think of a single reason why anyone would want a pirate fancy-dress party on a desert island in the middle of nowhere.
Dad’s clearly just as baffled as I am. He shrugs at me and says, ‘Well, I can’t see any weapons and they look harmless enough.’
He’s right. Everyone’s relaxed, enjoying the festivities. But then some kind of disagreement breaks out and it all changes in a flash. There’s yelling and confusion as two young men spring to their feet, exchanging insults.
Within seconds they're grappling with each other, upturning chairs in their fury, then crashing onto one of the tables. Rolling over and over in a tangle of limbs, they smash dishes and overturn candles. When they break apart, they stand facing each other, breathless and cursing.
I make out a metallic glint in the flickering torchlight as one of them draws a blade. In seconds, the crowd is in uproar.
The leader climbs up on his chair, glowers down on the pair and angrily barks out an order. Almost immediately, the young man with the weapon finds himself surrounded by six beefy men. One of them grabs his arm and twists it, forcing him to drop the knife. Another man kicks it out of his reach.
Still up on his chair the leader motions for silence which falls instantly. His next order, is so quiet that I can’t hear what he’s saying but, one by one, the others join in until they are all chanting the same thing over and over:
‘Walk the plank. Walk the plank.’
Slowly, steadily, the chanting gets louder:
‘Walk the plank! Walk the plank! WALK THE PLANK!!!'
The young man struggles and shouts as he’s marched up the gangplank and onto the ship, but they ignore his protests. He’s herded across to the far side of the deck where a thick plank juts out into the blackness below. Two of the pirates lift him up onto it.
He walks unsteadily, but with as much dignity as he can muster, along its length. When he reaches the end, he hesitates, looking around pleadingly. It's pointless. One of the pirates simply joins him on the plank and pushes, hard. As he disappears into the void, the crowd erupts into wild applause and whoops of delight.
Only one of two things can have happened to him. If the ship is on the sea, he’ll be at the mercy of the sharks in the deep water. If the ship’s on land, he’ll hit the ground, a bone-breaking forty feet below.
There’s nothing we can do for him. Terrified, we retreat back into the jungle.
‘Robert,’ Dad pants, ‘They mustn’t know we’re here! We’ve got to bury the dinghy NOW!’
So, we have no choice—we leave that poor young man to his fate. As we sneak away, two emotions battle inside me. The first is horror; horror that the rabble actually find that brutal punishment funny. The second is relief: relief that they are still laughing so loud that we don’t hear the splash...or the young man’s agonised screams.