Children’s: The Buccaneers of the Backwater

front cover

It has been raining for weeks. The school is flooded and the children are sent home. Three of them, plus a dog, decide to convert their tree house into Noah’s Ark. Strong currents snatch their vessel and carry it into the Atlantic Ocean. They are presumed dead, but they aren’t ready to die yet. They have a much bigger fish to fry because that’s where the adventure begins…

Life can be much more interesting – and petrifying – that the reality. In this story child’s innocent daydream of swashbuckling pirates and adentures came to a brutal awakening when confronted with the reality of the modern day piracy and child slavery.

EXTRACT:
The Buccaneers of Backwater

Anna Evans-Wylie
I
The creature reared its ugly head again. Kiera watched its every move. It had risen slowly to the surface, going round in circles as if to hypnotise her. Its forked tongue quivered between two fangs oozing deadly venom. One droplet could paralyse an elephant. The water rippled as the serpent’s fist-shaped head punched through. Kiera shot up into the air and came down like a missile. Water sprayed from under her wellington boots. The creature drew back. Kiera jumped again. And again. And again.
“Die!” she shrilled. “Die!”
She was covered in mud from head to toe, but that wouldn’t stop her. She stomped over the monster’s head. It recoiled. Hissed. She kicked at it – it slithered away. Kiera triumphed. She was standing in the puddle ankle deep, grinning. The victory was hers!
Only then did she realise she had an audience: Ella and Arleta, the two most popular girls in school.
Arleta looked at Ella. Ella looked at Arleta. They didn’t have to say a word. Their faces said it all: BONKERS!
With their clean, pink cheeks, slinky hair and glittering raincoats, they cut a sharp contrast with Kiera. She was filthy. She had no use for a raincoat – she didn’t even know where she had last seen it. Her hair was far from slinky. It never stayed where it was supposed to be. Her hair had a life of its own. It defied gravity. It frizzed over her head like blades of straw. Suffice to say, Kiera wasn’t the material for popularity. She didn’t look the part. And she didn’t act it, either.
She had to think quickly. Fighting imaginary serpents simply wouldn’t do.
“A worm,” she said. “There was a worm in the puddle. I…. I killed it.”
Arleta squinted at her, “You killed a worm?”
“What has the worm done to you?” Ella inquired.
“Nothing,” Kiera shrugged. “I just… well… I killed it, and that’s that.”
The girls weren’t listening to her lame excuses. They were strolling away, stepping gingerly over the wet patches Kiera had created on the path. Ella drew a circle around her temple and both girls chuckled.
Kiera watched them wriggle their bottoms as they promenaded towards the monkey bars. Suddenly, her defeating the venomous serpent seemed pretty stupid. Probably the stupidest thing she had ever done. She kicked the puddle in anger. She looked round to check if anyone saw her disgrace. Luckily, everyone was playing on the concrete playground. After six days of solid downpours, no one would venture onto the waterlogged field. No one but Kiera.
And it was beginning to drizzle again. Faint spitting at first. It almost made no difference to a day soaked in grey, wet mist. Tommy came out to play – at last he had finished his lunch: a horse sandwich with a truckload of crisps – but he quickly turned on his heel and went back inside. Tommy didn’t like getting wet. Especially not his feet. His trainers had holes in them.
The weird new boy, who talked like a toff (according to Tommy), appeared from nowhere and nearly gave Kiera a heart attack. He was standing face to face with her. His glasses were steamed up. He looked like a blind man lost in fog. His arms were drawn tight to his body. He opened his mouth, but said nothing.
For some reason he reminded Kiera of that trout her dad had brought home for Christmas last year. It was alive – to start with. It had been swimming in the bathtub, happy as Larry. On Christmas Eve dad fished it out of the bathtub and slapped it onto the chopping board. The trout went berserk. Wriggled madly like it had a bad itch somewhere where it couldn’t reach. It managed to escape dad’s grip and tumbled to the floor. There, by the method of thrashing and beating its fin against the lino, it pushed itself behind the fridge. Dad caught it and held its head down. Its eyes were bulging and its mouth was opening and closing like it was trying to say something. And this was exactly what the weird new boy looked like as he stood mute before Kiera.
He was giving her the creeps. Kiera was not afraid of weirdoes – she could deal with one any day, but this one was in a league of his own. For one, she couldn’t see his eyes so it was like he didn’t have a soul. It was her granny who had told her that eyes were the windows to your soul. No eyes – no soul. Secondly, there was no telling where he had popped out from. One minute he wasn’t there, the next – he was. Jack the Ripper used to come from nowhere – usually from behind – to strangle his victims. He probably wore steamed up glasses. Kiera didn’t know very much about Jack the Ripper, but she knew enough. Jack the Ripper was a killer. A serial killer.
Raindrops, heavy as cooking apples, were by now bombarding the playground. Splash! Bang! Boom! Kiera’s heart was pounding, too. Jack the Ripper reached out to her. His mouth moved again, but the cannonade of rain muffled his words. Kiera wasn’t the flinching type, but she flinched. Her back was against the wall. She wouldn’t go without a fight. Her fists tightened. She lifted them, ready to parry the first strike. “Come on then,” she looked The Ripper straight in the eye.
Mr Fletcher, the teacher, blew the whistle and started shepherding the kids indoors. He waved his long, octopus-like arm at Kiera. “Get off the field! Wet-play, everyone!”
Kiera was saved! She brushed by Jack the Ripper and darted inside. He followed and she could almost feel his clammy breath on the back of her head, but she knew he couldn’t hurt her – not in front of the teacher.

II

From the corner of her eye Kiera saw Mrs Antwerp collect Arleta at the front gate. A pang of regret twisted Kiera’s heart. She and Arleta used to walk to school together. They used to be friends. Best friends. Everything they did they would do together since the day they were born – and they were born on the same day, only three hours apart. But all of that was now a distant and misty memory – all because Becky, Kiera’s big sister, couldn’t be bothered to do her job properly.
Becky’s job had been to take the girls to school in the mornings and pick them up at 3:15pm at the gate. Becky was supposed to be the responsible adult. But, at 15, she was neither an adult nor responsible, so she would let the girls trail ten steps behind her on their way to school and then would let them loose on the roundabout from where she would carry on to Backwater Secondary; they were expected to go straight to their school which was a hundred yards down the road. Except that one day they did not do as they were expected to.
Kiera couldn’t remember whose idea it was to swerve into a bushy pathway that led to the river bank. It seemed like a great idea at the time.
Firstly, they had a picnic. They munched on crisps and chocolates from their lunchboxes and gave their boring ham sandwiches to the ducks. Then they lay down on the grass, watching clouds scud across the sky like galleons with puffy sails. They found a dead field mouse and gave it a burial. They dug the grave with a spoon from Arleta’s yoghurt pot, and even made a little cross from sticks and propped it on top. To this day Kiera remembered the stench of the dead mouse when they picked it up and discovered that it had been half eaten by maggots. The maggots were the most disgusting creatures Kiera had smelled in her life.
After the mouse’s funeral, they played hide and seek. Things went pear-shaped from there. Kiera had found Arleta without any trouble, mainly because she had been spying on her with one eye when counting to ten. When it was her turn to hide, she went too far. Literally! The bushes by the river weren’t good enough so she went further. Hunched, she crossed the road to the other side where a fenced off electricity pylon stood, buzzing away like a nest of wasps. It was generally a no-go zone. Behind it, a red-brick bunker from world war two was stooping like an old mushroom. It was dark and smelly. Kiera loved it! Arleta would never find her here.
Kiera watched her friend wander along the riverbank, searching for her, peering behind tree trunks and bushes. She was going in totally the wrong direction.
Slowly Kiera’s eyes adjusted to the dark. She scanned her hidey-hole. It was a grim underground dungeon with brown water seeping from the ground, rats scuttling underfoot and spiders weaving deadly traps overhead. There was no way out.
Kiera was the prisoner of a powerful wizard who had crossed to the Dark Side. He was planning to sacrifice her at dawn by throwing her off a cliff into the gaping mouth of a bottomless pit. Chained to the wall, Kiera awaited her sad end. She was tired and hungry, hadn’t slept for days. She was overcome by fever. Scarlet fever.
She must have dozed off. When she woke up, she peered through the slot in the bunker wall and looked for Arleta. It was now as dark outside as it was inside. Arleta was nowhere to been seen. Kiera was deeply hurt. She couldn’t believe that Arleta had left her for dead! Her best friend had given up on her! The evil wizard would be here at sunrise to drag Kiera out to the top of the cliff, and… Goodbye world! Goodbye life!
Kiera had to think of a plan. She had to free herself from the chains that were clutching at her wrists and ankles. There was no way she could shake them off or prise them open. They were too tight and she would have to dislocate her thumbs before her hands could slide through the narrow locks. The pain would be unbearable! She decided to free her legs and walk home through the night with her arms in bondage. Still, she was alive.
When she finally made it to safety, she was greeted by a large gathering of very angry adults. There was a police car with blue lights flashing and two constables leading Arleta, wrapped in a grey blanket, into her house.
“Oh my God! Kiera, my baby! Where on earth have you been?!” her mother shrilled and threw herself at her as if she had not seen her for at least two thousand years.
“Nowhere,” Kiera informed her. She resented being called a baby. And of course, she couldn’t tell mum about the wizard. There was no point. Mothers don’t believe in wizards – they are very narrow-minded.
Kiera got kissed from head to toe until her skin felt itchy. Becky was sitting in the corner, sulking. Her eyes were red. She had probably been crying, but it wasn’t Kiera’s business to ask why – she would only tell her to get lost.
Mum made hot chocolate with marshmallows.
“I can’t believe my little girl played truant!” she exclaimed. There was a tinge of pride in her voice. Mum could be a little weird at times – and this was one of those times.
Just as Kiera was beginning to enjoy her hero’s welcome and thinking that she should do the playing-truancy business more often, Arleta’s mum burst in, screaming her head off.
“You are a bad, BAAADDDD influence, Kiera Wolf! Stay away from my daughter! Stay away from her or…. or… or ELSE!” She stuck her finger in Kiera’s face. It wasn’t very pleasant. She then went on yelling at Becky about how badly she had let her down and what a selfish pimply girl she was. She waved her fist at poor Becky. She was foaming at the mouth – hyperventilating – until at last she was gone.
It turned out Arleta had strayed quite a long way along the riverside, all the way to the motorway, in fact, where, soaked in tears, she was picked up by a passing police car and delivered home. Everything ended well and Kiera couldn’t work out what the whole fuss was about. But that was the end of their friendship. Arleta wasn’t speaking to Kiera anymore. Maybe because she wasn’t allowed, maybe because she didn’t want to – Kiera would never find out. Arleta refused to say a word. She became best friends with Ella and turned into a stuck up, bottom-wriggling prima donna. Arleta’s mum employed Mrs Antwerp to take over the school runs from Becky. All the ties between Arleta and Kiera were severed. That was the end of an era. Two years ago, almost to the day…

Tommy stood beside her with his tiny school bag in one hand and an enormous lunch box in the other.
“Let’s go,” he mumbled.
Kiera took her eyes off Arleta. “Yeah, let’s go.”
They set off on their daily trek home.

III
From the corner of her eye Kiera saw a dark figure. It jumped into a bush just as she stopped and turned back. She stood motionless for a few tense seconds. The leaves on the bush trembled. Her gaze was steady. Unwavering.
“What you doing?” Tommy had gone a few steps forward, obviously talking to himself, before he realised Kiera wasn’t there to listen.
“I’m watching him,” she muttered. “I want him to know.”
“Know what?”
“That I know he’s there.”
“Who’s there?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ugh?” Tommy was staring at her. Was Kiera losing her marbles? He scanned the hedge that lay between the path and the fields. There was nothing there apart from a Mars bar wrapper he had dropped yesterday and couldn’t be bothered to pick up. Usually the wind dealt with Tommy’s discarded wrappers. “Don’t freak me out, Kiera. No one’s there. It’s our path. No one comes this way but us.”
“We are not alone,” Kiera whispered back. “It’s Jack the Ripper. I know.”
“Jack the Ripper! Are you nuts? Jack the Ripper is, like, dead. Or even, he’s like Santa – like he doesn’t exist. He’s been made up by grown-ups to scare kids off from going out at night. No such thing as Jack the Ripper… What you on about?” There was little conviction in Tommy’s words. He glanced about him nervously. He could swear he saw something move in the bush. It could be a bird. But then it could be something else. Or someone… He grabbed Kiera by the arm and pulled her. “Let’s go. I’m hungry.”
They were walking as fast as they could, but didn’t run, to ensure the killer didn’t suspect for one minute that they were afraid. Which they weren’t. They were just walking fast because they felt like it.
“Do you know – Jack the Ripper was never caught?”
Tommy didn’t answer. He just picked up the speed.
“Does that mean he’s still somewhere out there?”
“He’s dead! He lived a long time ago. Like in Roman times…”
“You said he wasn’t real. Now you say he’s dead. How do you know for sure? Maybe he’s both real and… alive!”
On her long, spidery legs Kiera could run a marathon without any trouble, but Tommy was getting out of breath. His face had gone worryingly red. It was the kind of face that could explode with blood any minute even without Jack the Ripper slashing it to stripes. Tommy stopped and doubled over. He was hyperventilating. He caught a sight of the path darkening behind him. The daylight was feeble and played tricks on his eyes. The rain started whispering again. It blurred Tommy’s vision. Kiera stood over him with her hands on her hips, nattering.
Then he saw him. At first it was only a shadow, but soon a head popped out from the hedge. It was a small head. It had curly black hair.
“It’s him! I saw him!” Tommy sprung back up. “It’s the toff!”
“I know. I told you!”
“No, you said it was Jack the Ripper.”
“He tried to take me by surprise at playtime. Had me cornered… Luckily, Mr Fletcher saw us-”
Tommy was walking again and, this time, Kiera could hardly keep up. He sounded furious when he asked, “Why is he following us?”
“Told you!”
“Why are we still running?” Tommy was panting.
“He’s dangerous, believe me, Tommy!”
“No, he’s not. He’s only a stupid toff and I’m gonna teach him a lesson. Are you with me?”
Kiera nodded, her eyes rounded with excitement.
“Have you ever done an ambush?”
Kiera shook her head.
“Okay, no worries. Pretend as if nothing, yeah?”
Kiera nodded again. She was keen to do it right. It would be her first ambush ever.
“Let’s just walk to the bend, yeah? Then we split up. See that tree?” Tommy was pointing to a gnarly old thing with a half-burned trunk. Some people in Backwater remembered the day when the tree was hit by lightning and burned for hours before the rain put out the fire.
On Tommy’s instructions Kiera climbed up the tree and lay flat on a branch that was overhanging the path. Across the path, Tommy was squatting in the hedge. They gave each other thumbs up, and waited.
It was a while before the toff got there. The rain became thicker and louder. It filled to the brim the ankle-deep puddle that lay on the path, separating the two assassins. They grinned at each other. How easy it was to turn the tables on the toffee-nosed spy! In a matter of seconds they transformed from prey into predators.
The boy approached stealthily, like a thief in the night. He was avoiding the centre of the path, swerving from shadow to shadow. Only guilty people move like that. There was murder on his mind, Kiera was certain of that. All her muscles tensed up. She was waiting for Tommy’s signal. And as the boy, hunched and soundless, walked into the trap, Tommy expelled from his lungs a wild war cry of AAAAAARGGGGGGGGG, and launched himself at the boy.
He was like a charging bull. He collided head-on with the boy’s midriff and almost carried him across the path. At that very same moment, Kiera came crashing down from the tree with a Tarzan-like yodelling on her lips. She landed on the two boys, and all three of them rolled into the puddle.
Kiera and Tommy worked in perfect unison. They were – sort of – natural born killers or, as Kiera would remember it later, they had the killer instinct of a black panther… and a rhino (she being the panther and Tommy, the rhino). In no time, they had their victim lying flat on the ground, with his glasses askew on his face, his eyes bulging out in terror and the two assassins sitting astride him: Tommy on his chest, Kiera on his legs.
The boy wasn’t fighting back. He was just lying there, covered in mud, crying. Big torrents of tears flew from his eyes. Tommy jumped to his feet.
“Oi, you! Are you all right?” he asked the boy. “Can you move?”
Kiera stood behind Tommy. “Is he dead?”
“He can’t be dead,” Tommy shouted. “He’s crying! How can he be dead and cry at the same time?”
“Are you hurt?” Kiera craned her neck over Tommy’s shoulder to take a closer look at the state the boy was in. All his body parts were in their usual places, but that didn’t necessarily mean he was well. “Can you get up? You’re giving us the creeps.”
The toff rose to a sitting position. “Leave me alone! Go away!” he sniffled and wiped his nose with the wet sleeve of his jacket.
“You was the one following us!” Tommy pointed out.
“And you attacked me at school,” Kiera added helpfully.
“I didn’t attack you. I asked to play with you!” more tears rolled down his cheeks. “Go away! I’m fine. Leave me alone.”
Tommy and Kiera looked at each other, mulling over their options. They couldn’t leave the injured toff alone in the puddle. Plus, there was the small matter of their guilty conscience. He was crying and they were the ones that had made him cry. Something had to be done.
“You could’ve asked instead of following us,” Kiera tried to save face.
“I did ask you. I said, Could I join you, please. And you threatened me with violence!”
“I didn’t hear you.”
“It’s not my fault you can’t hear.”
“It’s your fault you can’t speak proper,” interjected Tommy. “You talk like a toff. That’s why we can’t hear you!”
The boy looked at Tommy resentfully. He pursed his lips and pressed them tight together. He was probably stopping himself from crying some more. “Then leave me alone,” he said through his teeth.
Deep down, Tommy was a big softy. A gentle giant, if there was one. He stretched his hand out to the boy. “I’m Tommy,” he said. “Give me your hand. I won’t bite!”
The boy narrowed his eyes and fumbled on his forehead for his glasses. He pushed them back on his nose. He took his time to answer Tommy. “I’m Winston.”
“Winston?” Tommy smirked. “You mean, like in Winston Churchill? What a stupid name!”
Kiera nudged him in the ribs. She could see the boy – Winston – was getting upset again. She stepped forward, “I’m Kiera.”
“I know,” he replied with a shrug. After a short, uncomfortable silence, he took Tommy’s hand and was pulled out of the murky puddle. He stood stiff and awkward, dripping with water and gaping at his feet. His shoes squeaked strangely as he stepped from one leg to the other. They all laughed.
Tommy spoiled the fun, “Let’s go. I’m hungry. Which way you going?”
“The same way. I live across the road from Kiera.”
“What? At Mrs Churchill’s?”
“She’s my grandmother.”
“So you are Winston Churchill!” Kiera was gobsmacked.
“No, she’s my mum’s mother. I’m Winston Arrama. But we are related to the real Winston. That is why I was named after him. He is my great-great-maternal-grand-uncle.”
Tommy blinked rapidly and cocked his head. He couldn’t take much of that gobble-do toffy-nose talk. “Are we going, or what? Like I said, I’m hungry.”

Advertisements

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Happy new beginnings « abevanswylie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: