Saturday, November 18, 2006

Chapter 5 Owning Up

The morning started as usual with the red glow of the sunrise and the blue glow of the sea. But Jessie and everyone else knew that today would be Judgement Day.
As soon as she woke up, the smell of charred wood filled Jessie’s nostrils. It was as if she was waking up in the middle of a dying bonfire after Guy Fawkes Night. She’d seen a hedgehog do that once – uncurl and scurry away from the cinders.
The smell reminded her of the terrible events of the day before. She sat up and looked around. The island was very quiet. All the birds seemed to have flown away after the fire. A few of the children were awake but they spoke only in whispers. No-one had run down to the sea. Jill was crying quietly from the pain in her leg. Jessie noticed for the second time that Ali was missing.
Jessie joined Callum on the beach. He was shading his eyes and looking back into the forest. There were tails of smoke rising from the black sticks of trees, but no signs of any flames now, and none of the wild crackling and blasting heat which had been so frightening the night before. We’ve been lucky, she thought. Half the island was still green and had not been affected by the fire. Then she almost laughed at herself. Lucky? Were they really lucky to be blackened by fire and all alone on an island?
There was something happening back at the camp. Jessie and Callum found that Ali had returned and was kneeling next to Jill. He sliced open a big green fruit. The flesh was orange inside. He scooped some out with a knife and mashed it up. Then he spread it onto the raw burn on Jill’s leg.
‘Papaya,’ he soothed her. ‘Good for healing.’
‘Ouch,’ she squealed with pain.
‘Give it time,’ he said.
Then Ali took some curly green leaves from his pocket and put them in an empty coconut husk. He poured in some water and began to squeeze the juice from the leaves. He took it to where Lizzie lay on her side on a special sand-bed they had built for her. She was breathing noisily.
‘What is it?’ asked Jessie.
‘If she drinks this it helps to relax the breathing.’
‘You’re so clever,’ said Jessie.
Ali just smiled.
Callum helped Lizzie to sit up and drink from the coconut. They had taken turns all night, an hour at a time, to sit next to her and listen to her breathing. If there was any problem, they were to wake up Callum or Trigger who both knew how to do mouth to mouth life-saving.
After everyone had calmed down a bit the night before, the story had been partly told. They had heard how Lizzie had asked Jill for her inhaler when she’d been in the forest running around with the Red Devils. But when she puffed it, she discovered it had run out. They were all so busy running around and shouting that no-one took much notice of how worried Lizzie was. When the smoke started rising, she had collapsed.

Later in the morning, Callum, Trigger and Scarlet were standing up in front of everyone. Scarlet was scowling and had her hands on her hips.
Callum had called a meeting as he did each morning. But this one was different. The sun glittered through the leaves onto them as usual. But without the bird-song it didn’t seem as beautiful as before on the island. And they had to decide who was to blame.
At the beginning of the meeting, they only spoke when they were holding the ….., as they had agreed, but gradually people had started to call out and interrupt each other. And now a curtain of silence had dropped around them.
‘It’s ridiculous,’ said Callum. ‘Having to wait five minutes for the answer to one little question. This is serious. Someone might have died.’
‘I saw Trigger. He was running around with fire in his hand,’ said one of the children. ‘He was barking like a wild dog.’
‘You all heard Scarlet,’ Trigger said. ‘When the first boat went past, she said she wanted to set the island on fire.’
‘And she made everyone join the Red Devils and broke all the rules,’ Jessie said.
Scarlet turned her back on everyone, hugging herself with her arms. Then she suddenly turned around, head low and hissed out, ‘OK. OK. I’m sorry.’
There was so much surprise that no-one spoke. They knew how much Scarlet hated to say sorry. She was famous for it at school.
‘There. I said it,’ she whispered. ‘Are you happy now?’
Still no-one spoke. Scarlet’s head was down, but when Jessie looked closely, she could see that tears were dripping onto her arms. Plop. Plop. Plop. Jessie felt a bit sorry that she had spoken against Scarlet. She wondered if anyone would say anything to defend her. She always got the blame for everything.
Ali took a deep breath. ‘It’s not that fair,’ he said. ‘Shouldn’t we ask Trigger about his stick of fire?’
Trigger looked away. Everyone was looking at him.
‘Well?’ asked Callum.
Trigger turned and stomped off onto the beach.
‘Get here now,’ roared Scarlet.
Trigger kept walking.
‘You heard what Scarlet said,’ shouted Callum. ‘We’ve got to do this properly or we won’t get anywhere.’
Trigger stopped walking. He turned around and moaned, ‘It was an accident. I didn’t mean to.’ He slunk back to the group under the trees. ‘One of the little ones thought they saw a plane. I dropped the stick to wave my arms at it. Before I knew it, everything was on fire.’
‘So you were both to blame. Scarlet for causing chaos. Trigger for dropping the fire.’ Callum said. ‘But at least you’ve been honest. What does everyone think. Should we give them a punishment?’
They debated this for several more minutes until it was decided that for their punishment, Scarlet and Trigger should build a boat for the children to take on fishing expeditions.
‘How do you build a boat?’ asked Scarlet.
Trigger shrugged.
‘Good time to learn,’ said Dennis J Joans. ‘You’ll have to work as team.’
Trigger and Scarlet looked at each other. It was clear they were not looking forward to their task.
‘That idiot won’t be much help,’ said Scarlet.
‘Shut up,’ said Trigger.
Kieran suddenly stood up and sprang towards Trigger and Scarlet, with their sad, dreadful faces. Out popped his water pistol. Squirt. Squirt. Each got a faceful of water. They jumped back in surprise, wiped their eyes. They were shocked into smiling. Suddenly everyone was laughing. Even Lizzie Huston, who was still lying on her side nearby, gave a little chuckle. Then Kieran turned on Callum, and he got a faceful too.
‘OK. Now can we have fun again?’ Kieran sang out. ‘If we have plenty of fun, no-one will have to make a separate group and cause trouble.’ A big group of them ran for the sea, taking huge plunges into the turquoise water as if they were a school of dolphins.
Scarlet, for once, didn’t lead the charge, and Trigger stayed near her. Jessie heard Trigger say, ‘Actually, I’ve got an idea. Do you remember all that bamboo we saw?’
‘For building a boat? That’s a good idea,’ said Scarlet. ‘As long as I didn’t all get burned down.’
‘Shall we go and look?’
And off they went.
Jessie paddled on the shore. She was still a bit afraid of the water, how deep it might be, swallowing her up. Or there might be beasts in there like sharks or jellyfish. But this time, she went a bit deeper, wading in and feeling the water lapping against her legs. It made her feel happier. When Ali and Rachel went past and swiped great waves of water at her to splash her, she laughed, and did the same back, even though she could only see them as blurs because her glasses were covered in salty water.
As she swished her hand in the warm water, it bumped against something hard. She flinched away from it. But when she wiped her glasses on her T shirt and put them back on, she saw that it was just a floating water bottle. She picked it up, and looked at it. It looked just like the bottle that she had sent off across the waves a few days before. And in fact, inside was a crumpled leaf, just like her own. Had it just turned around and floated back to her?
She carried it onto the beach and opened the bottle. She pulled out the leaf, but already she could see that it was longer and yellower than the one she had used. When she uncurled it, though, there were words on it, words that made her heart race.
‘Look,’ she shouted. ‘Look what I’ve found!’
Everyone gathered around her, amazed to hear Jessie Mousefield making such a loud noise. They all stared at her, waiting to know what it was.
She held the leaf in her hand, and read it aloud: ‘We are teachers and pilots stuck on an island. We have no water or food. Help us please. 29 children also lost.’
There were gasps. Hands went over mouths.
‘But where could they be?’ asked KC.
‘We haven’t seen any sign of them here,’ added Karen.
‘Ah!’ Rachel Wellard sprung forward. ‘We never got a chance to tell you.’
Everyone turned their round eyes on her.
‘What we saw from the top of the island yesterday. We forgot to tell you all, with all the other things happening.’
‘Did you see land?’
‘Not exactly,’ said Rachel. ‘Not the mainland. But there’s a very small island with just one or two trees and some big rocks on it. It’s not very far. In that direction.’ She pointed away around the corner of the island, where they could no longer see the water which they knew lay between.
‘So that’s what’s happened to them,’ someone said.
‘Poor things,’ said someone else.
‘Hadn’t we better help them?’ asked May.
And they all looked at each other for an answer.

To be continued…..


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