Monday, October 30, 2006

Chapter 2 Rules or No Rules?

Callum Knight’s question hung around the group of children as they stood on the beach, kicked sand over their feet, and rubbed at bruises. Jessie noticed that Kia had already gathered the youngest children together and was giving them hugs and telling them that everything was going to be OK. She’d had a lot of practice at babysitting.
‘I’m hot!’ shrieked Scarlet. ‘I’m too hot.’
Her loud voice set off a whole chain of voices agreeing.
‘Me too’.
‘So am I.’
‘I’m frying’.
‘I know,’ said the boy they called Trigger. ‘Let’s cool off in the sea.’
He was very good at water sports so this wasn’t a big surprise. He was also Captain of the Football Team.
‘But..’ said Callum Knight. ‘We need to talk about what to do.’
Jessie nodded. But Rachel Wellard, the most sporty girl in the school, was already running towards the waves. ‘We can talk about it in the water,’ she called over her shoulder.
Trigger was catching her up. ‘Last one to get their head underwater is a boiled potato.’
A herd of children followed him, howling as they ran. But Jessie stayed at the back. She didn’t run. And she found herself standing on the shore with Dennis J Joans and Lizzie Huston. They took off their shoes and dipped their toes in, but they didn’t need to explain to each other why they weren’t swimming. Everyone in the school knew they were afraid.
Most of the other children had dived straight in and were splashing and dive-bombing each other.
‘It’s way warmer than Annan swimming pool’, shouted Kieran Cootser. He’d taken his water pistol with him and was shooting at anyone he could get close to.
Jessie heard a wail go up and saw the twins coming out of the water. KC was rubbing at a cut on her sister’s arm.
‘It stings, it stings,’ wailed Karen.
Kia was following close behind them. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said to Karen. ‘It’s doing it good. Salt cleans wounds. I read it in one of my encyclopaedias.’
Jessie noticed that the twins, with their strawberry-blonde hair and pale skin were already looking sunburnt. She was about to suggest that Kia took them and the youngest children into the shade under the trees, when a terrible scream went up. It was so loud and shrill that the silence afterwards seemed to echo and turn everyone to statues for a few seconds.
Jessie saw a flash of Scarlet’s red hair, the sun glinting off all her piercings, as she charged towards the shore. She sucked behind her all the others, shrieking, running, splashing, their mouths like square black holes.
Trigger was at the front, running the fastest. ‘Is it a shark?’ he shouted.
The children behind him caught at his last word, and echoed it back louder, and with more certainty. ‘Shark! Shark!’
When they reached the beach, they clung to each other in a huddle of wet, shaking, jabbering bodies. The murmur, ‘shark, shark,’ continued until Scarlet piped up.
‘Shut up, idiots,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t a shark. It was a jelly-fish. And it was this big.’ She held her hands over a metre away from each other, which produced more gasps and shrieks.
A small voice came from the back of the huddle. ‘I want to go home’. Then the beach was a chaos of wails, sunburn, cuts fizzing with salt, and a strong thick smell. Jessie knew it was the smell of fear.
Callum Knight stood tall again, and stepped forward. Jessie could see that he was being brave. Although he took a deep breath and spoke loudly, she noticed his hands shaking very slightly.
‘I think we need to talk about this sensibly,’ he said. ‘It might be two weeks before anyone even realises we’re missing. We’d better get organised.’
There was a lull in the noise. Somewhere in the throng, Scarlet’s voice mimicked, ‘Sensible, sensible. Organised, organised.’
‘He think he’s Mr Barker, or what?’ said Jill Beaddie.
Jessie pushed her glasses up her nose. She stepped forward. She heard her voice come out in a high squeak which she didn’t recognise, but she said, ‘I agree with Callum.’
A murmur of agreement came up from the crowd, and drowned out Jill and Scarlet. They all walked towards the trees.
Soon they had spread some big palm leaves on the ground and were all sitting down in a clearing. It was much cooler under the trees, and they had found some half-drunk bottles of water floating in the sea which they took with them. By that time they were all very thirsty. Jessie felt like she had sandpaper for a mouth.
‘So,’ said Callum. ‘We’d better work out what are the most important things we need.’
‘I’m hungry,’ said one voice.
‘So am I. I want chips.’
‘I want chocolate mousse with smarties sprinkles,’ said someone else.
‘We’ll finish the bottled water soon. Hadn’t we better find some more?’ Callum tried to get back to reality.
‘But what are we going to eat?’
‘Terrys Chocolate orange.’
‘My mobile phone’s full of water. How are we going to call mum and dad?’
‘If we’re going to be here two weeks, we’ll need a TV.’
Jessie sat quietly, bewildered by all the voices shouting at once. It got so loud that you couldn’t make out any individual voices, it was like standing on a roundabout in the middle of Glasgow. She put her hands over her ears. She could see Callum looking red in the face. She saw that the only other one who wasn’t saying anything was Ali, the boy from Iran.
‘SHUT UP!’ Trigger stood up and shouted. He had a voice like a foghorn. He was used to shouting at the team during football matches. Everyone stopped and looked at him but he just sat down again and didn’t seem to have anything to say.
‘OK,’ said Callum. ‘We need to decide what’s really important and do something about it before it gets dark. Who has an idea?’
Jessie put her hand up. ‘I think it would be a good idea if we had some rules about how to talk about it,’ she said.
‘Why do we need rules?’ said Jill Beaddie.
‘That sounds just like being at school again,’ agreed Scarlet. ‘How are we going to have any fun if we’ve got rules?’
Jessie pushed her glasses up her nose and tried to stop her voice squeaking like it did before. ‘We need rules so we can hear each other speak and so that the shyer ones get a chance.’
No-one disagreed. They were perhaps a bit surprised that Jessie had pushed herself forward like that. They agreed on a rule for meetings. Jessie found a stick and wrote in a bare patch of sand near where they were sitting: ‘We can only speak at a meeting if we are holding the …..’
After that it was easier, and they soon agreed that the most important things they needed were clean water, protein and fresh food, and to feel safe and be protected from wild animals if there were any. They would need fire if they found anything to cook and also it would help them to be spotted by a passing ship or aeroplane. And they agreed that they needed to be protected from the sun which had bitten at them while they’d been on the beach so that some of them were now very pink and even feeling a bit sick. It wasn’t like the sun they saw at home in Scotland. Kia also reminded them that Lizzie Huston had asthma, and she needed to be careful not to run around too much in case her inhaler ran out.
‘OK,’ said Callum. ‘We’ll all have to do different jobs.’
‘I’m the fastest runner, so I’ll go all round the island and look for a lake or a river,’ said Dennis J Joans who was training to run a marathon.
‘I’ll go with you,’ said Trigger. ‘We can take some of these empty bottles to fill.’
‘I’ve already seen some coconuts, and I think those are banana leaves,’ said Rachel Wellard. She was very practical because she had a horse. She had also done some rock climbing. ‘I’ll find out what’s growing that we might be able to eat.’ A couple of others volunteered to go with her.
‘You can take my penknife if you like,’ said Trigger.
‘Thanks. We’ll need that to cut down any fruit we find.’
‘I meant to kill the monkeys or the pigs or the frogs we can eat.’
‘Urghhh,’ went up the cry.
‘We’re not going to kill any animals are we?’ said May.
There were lots of disagreeing murmurs of yes and no around the group.
‘I’ll put the penknife on a stick and look for fish to spear,’ said one of the other boys. ‘I do loads of fishing with my uncle.’
Soon it was decided who would do what. The twins would stay in the shade and help Kia look after the little ones. They were going to make up stories to tell to them so that they felt more at home and might go to sleep when it got dark. The twins were really good at cooking so if anyone found any food, they would be ready to cook it. Callum and some others were going to look for a way to make fire – by making friction with a stick and string like they’d seen on TV, or maybe with a lens from Trigger’s watch and the sun, or they would see if they could find flints to make a spark. They’d build a fire in the clearing with the twigs and branches that Jill and Scarlet were going to collect. Another group were going to see if any of the luggage from the plane had floated out when it crashed.
When they talked about the crash, everyone went a bit quiet, and eventually May Pillow said. ‘What about Mr Barker and Ms Chess.’
‘The Duchess,’ one of the boys corrected.
No-one really had an answer. A picture floated into some of their minds though, that they tried to push out again.
‘Right.’ They were all ready to run off and do their jobs, when Callum said, ‘Be careful everyone.’
‘Bark, bark, Mr Barker,’ mimicked Scarlet.
‘We should stick together shouldn’t we, no-one go off alone once we’re out of sight of the camp.’
‘And we shouldn’t harm anything on the island, the trees or animals. Not unless we really have to,’ said May. ‘It’s a beautiful place isn’t it, and it looks like no-one’s lived here before us.’
‘Everyone agree?’ asked Callum. They all nodded. ‘And we all report back here, before it gets dark.’
‘Bark, bark, Mr Sheepdog,’ Jessie heard Trigger say to Scarlet as they turned away, and they both laughed.
Jessie realised that she had been forgotten. No-one had given her a job to do. She could collect firewood or look for the luggage. But she’d had another idea. She picked up an empty water bottle and felt in her pocket for the pencil and notebook she always kept there. She knew everyone would laugh at her for doing this, but it might be worth a try. She would keep it a secret. But when she found the notebook, the paper was wet and the inky words she had written had run all over the pages into a blue blur.
A big surge of sadness came over her and she sat down suddenly, and tried not to let the tears come out of her eyes. Her hand fell on a dried brown yellow leaf. She put the pencil onto it, and it left a mark. She wiped away the tear and thought hard about what she would say in her message. She wrote ‘Help’ on one side of the leaf. On the other side she wrote more explanation. ‘We are crashed on an island. Please help us.’
Then she walked to the edge of the water, and threw the bottle as far as she could out to sea and watched it bob away towards the horizon.
But she didn’t watch for long because at that moment a huge shout went up.
‘Look everyone!’
A group of children were pulling something big and heavy-looking from the sea. They banged it down on the sand, and then opened it up, screaming with delight.
Jessie ran over to them. By the time she got there, there were little flashes of silver and red flying through the air around them, and they were all chewing something, grabbing down to the thing on the beach for more. Through the scrum of arms and legs, and pushing and shoving, and mouths being crammed with something, she saw what it was. And she wanted to tell them to stop, because it wasn’t fair.

To be continued…..


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