The water sparkled in the dim twilight beyond the smeary window of the Harbour Café. Little boats bobbed into view as gentle waves lifted them above the stone wall. The bulb of Jessie’s camera flashed as I lifted my tea to my lips, bringing me hurtling out of my thoughts. Tea spilled down my arm and into my lap. The shutter clicked.
“Oh Kari. That’s beautiful,” Jessie beamed. “I’ve got the tea splashing out and everything.”
“Thanks Jess,” I groaned, putting down the flimsy cardboard cup and mopping at my arm with a napkin.
Jessie had been one of my best friends ever since we had started junior school. She sat next to me on the first day and, during an art lesson, we had started swapping pencils. Jessie’s stuff was all expensive and shiny, while mine was cheap and nerdy. Jessie had thought that my rainbow pencil was the coolest thing on the planet and by the end of the lesson, we had swapped nearly everything but the cases themselves.
Waiting for sunrise in the cheapest café in Pestana Harbour, I remembered the time Jessie and I had sat on the wall outside during a school trip, watching the little pleasure boats darting about on the water. We had wanted to go out on our own voyage ever since, saving up pocket money and pointing out places in brochures, dreaming about where we’d go.
That dream fell by the wayside as the pocket money got spent on books and make-up, but then a few years ago Sam began to work in the harbour, learning to pilot boats along the way. Unlike Jessie, Sam was just some scruffy kid I met in a park. It was only later that he moved to the same school as us. He was a year above and one of the oldest in it, which made him pretty handy when it came to fending off bullies. He was a good person to know at school. I still think I got really lucky with my friends.
“Right, girls,” Sam said, slamming his hands down on the wobbly table. The cups jumped and tea sloshed over the table’s edge. “What crap have you got in your bags that doesn’t need to come with us?”
I scowled at him as he continued to talk, either not noticing or not caring that my lap was fast becoming a tea reserve. I piled napkins into my lap. “Never mind what crap we’ve got. Your bag’s twice the size of mine. What crap have you got?”
“We’re about to travel two hundred and fifty miles across the sea. I’m carrying all the ‘crap’ that’s going to keep us alive, should the worst happen,” he said.
“Way to brighten the mood, Sam,” Jessie teased.
He looked at her, a knowing expression on his face. “How many pairs of shoes?”
She sighed. “As many as I need.”
He raised an eyebrow. “How many?”
“Urgh, three! Trainers on my feet, sandals in my bag.” Jessie threw her long, golden hair over her shoulder and rolled her eyes.
“Leave the sandals in the car. You don’t need them. Or any make-up. In fact, gimme your bag.” Sam snatched the bag up from the chair next to Jessie before she could stop him.
“Give it back!” she huffed, letting her inner-princess rise to the surface – not that it had far to go. She looked like a princess, lived like a princess and was usually treated like a princess.
“Jessie! How many bags of sweets do you need?” Sam placed five packets of wrapped sweets on the table. “Pick one and put the rest in here.” He handed her a cloth bag. “And why do you need to bring so many clothes? Are you planning to open a shop over there‽”
“Look, I’m wearing trousers because it’s cold. I’ve got shorts because it will get hot and cut-offs in case it rains. And be careful with that cardigan. It’s wool.”
“Pick an outfit and wear it. You’re only going to buy more stuff once we get there anyway, so you’re not taking all this.”
I smiled. He was dead right. Our destination was Minatokou, an island renowned for its unorthodox subcultures, atypical architecture and fabulous food. It had been a no-brainer. Jessie could trawl the shops, trying on all the strange clothes and picking out the brightest colours that no one in Pestana would dare to wear. I would plot routes through the city that would take us past all the monuments and tourist attractions, posing while Jessie took photos. Sam would try to force us into some grimy backstreet kitchen for lunch, saying it was the only way to experience authentic Minatokon food like hafa fruit and noodles and Jessie would take one look at the place before steering us into a restaurant we couldn’t afford saying she’d rather pay for us all than let him poison us.
Jessie tutted. “When did you get middle-aged?”
“He always has been,” I joked.
“All right then. Let’s see what you’ve got.” Sam turned his attention to me. I grimaced and handed over my rucksack.
“Oh, that’s not too bad,” he said, testing the weight in his hand. “But the books are staying in the car. You won’t be able to read them anyway. There’s far too much to do.”
“We’re going to be on the boat for five hours, Sam. Can’t I take just one? I’m sure—”
“Nope. I’m gonna keep you both really busy.”
“Not even the Tour Guide to Minatokou?” I begged as I surrendered my books to him, along with most of the contents of Jessie’s bag. “I bought it especially for today.”
“Go on then,” Sam sighed, pulling his own enormous backpack onto the table. “I suppose it might come in handy. As will these.” He began handing things to Jessie and me. “First aid kits – just in case. Everything in there you’ll need: plasters, bandages, painkillers.” He gave us each a small, rolled up, red case. “Radios, in case we get separated.”
Jessie took it from his hand and held down the button. “How big is this boat?”
Sam huffed and his shoulders slumped in despair. “You’ve got to turn it on before you can use it— don’t even think about it,” he snapped as Jessie began to search for the power switch. “Anyway, the boat’s not the problem. I want to know I can contact you, if something goes wrong.”
“That’s why we have phones,” Jessie sang, waving her smartphone at him. It was one of the newest on the market, a sleek, brushed metal case making it virtually indestructible and waterproof. It was very unlike mine, which was a standard wood type, the once shiny lacquered case now scuffed well beyond restoration and beginning to split.
“Yeah. That will only work in range of a tower. These will work anywhere. Just keep them safe, because they were very expensive and I want them back.”
“Is that everything?” Jessie grumbled, stuffing Sam’s things into her bag. “I wanna get going. And this bag is getting heavy.”Sam shook his head. “Sure. The first aid kit makes it heavy,” he muttered. “Come on. Let’s go.”
“Hey, Kari. You hungry?”
I looked up. It was about the fourth time that morning he’d asked. From where I sat at the rear of the boat, I could just about see his outline in the shade of the interior. He was standing in the galley, hovering near the stove.
“Not really,” I said, but I could already hear the hiss of the oil as he loaded the stove with more fish. We’d been on the boat for over four hours and while Sam was not a bad cook at all, there are only so many fish sandwiches you can eat in a day before you feel sick. Like, say, one.
“Never mind. I’ll wrap it in foil. You can save it for later.”
“Thanks,” I muttered and glanced at my watch. It had already gone ten o’clock. How long did he expect us to be out here? We were due to arrive on the island in less than forty-five minutes.
“Jessie?” Sam called. “You hungry?”
Jessie didn’t reply. She was sprawled over the bow of the boat, her top rolled above her belly, trying to sunbathe. Sam had given her a lifejacket. She had been using it as a pillow.
She got up as Sam called again, stuffing the lifejacket under her arm and shuffling towards the rear of the boat. Throwing herself down beside me, she gave Sam a withering look.
“Are you trying to make me fat?” Her voice took on an accusatory tone. “You keep feeding me. Constantly.”
“Hey, I’m just trying to look after you. Jeez, girls are so fussy.”
“It’s not easy looking this good,” Jessie retorted. “It takes a lot of hard work. Not to mention access to shorts when in the prime location for a brilliant suntan.”
Sam stepped out of the boat with a sandwich in his hand. He looked at Jessie and frowned. “What have I told you about that lifejacket?”
“And what did I tell you?” Jessie pouted.
“Jessica Louise Stills, put it on or I swear—”
“Urgh.” Jessie’s face took on a look of utter displeasure as she shoved it over her head. “Come on! You know I hate being called that.”
“What would you rather I called you? Janine?” Sam waggled his tongue and hoisted himself up onto the bridge.
“Jessie. Or Jess.” She sighed. “I hate my name.”
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked. “It’s better than Hikari. I sound like someone hiccupping.”
“Yeah, but at least that gets shortened to Kari. I don’t mind Jessie. It’s Jessica Louise that I hate. I mean, what the hell even is that?”
“Your name?” said Sam. “All right then, if you could change your name, what would you change it to?”
Jessie paused, looking thoughtful. “I don’t know. I quite like Marissa. Jessica Louise was dad’s choice. Mum wanted to call me Jessica Amari, but he said it was stupid.”
“Amari?” Sam frowned. “Is that a name?”
“Apparently, it’s traditional on mum’s side of the family. All the girls have had it as a middle name – mum will be Georgia Amari Artan when the divorce comes through – and all the first born boys had it too. But my dad said no. I couldn’t have it. It’s funny though, because even though it’s not my name, I kinda feel like it should be. Jessica Amari Stills sounds right. Jessie Amari Artan sounds better.”
“Why don’t you change it?” Sam suggested. “I changed mine. It’s not difficult.”
I laughed. “Oh yeah. I remember my mum saying ‘Don’t you let that Sam Banks get you into trouble – he’s a bad’un, that one.’ And then you came round for tea and she just fell in love with you. Didn’t stop banging on about how polite you were for weeks.”
“Sam Banks?” Jessie asked. “Since when?”
Sam shook his head. “Not for a long time. Even before I changed it legally, I was calling myself Sam Forten.”
Sam hesitated. “Oh, uhh—”
“Freddy’s dad was always more of a father to him than his own,” I interrupted.
Sam clenched his jaw and stared into a corner. “Yeah. Something like that.”
“Anyway, it’s a long story and not one you want to hear today.” I knew Sam’s story and him telling it would bring the mood right down. “And if I hear one more mention of your mum’s divorce, I might be sick,” I said, pointing at Jess. “No family talk, okay?”
Sam nodded and Jessie sighed. Well done, Kari. Another conversation effectively murdered. My eyes searched around for something I could use to change the subject. Even though we were due to arrive soon, there was no sign of land. The silence was edging towards that four-second threshold of awkwardness when I caught sight of Jessie’s fairy-shaped earrings.
“Fairy tales. What’s your favourite fairy tale?” I blurted. Subtle, Kari. Real subtle. Sam frowned at me, but Jessie grinned.
“Ooh, Amaracia and Lucifaer,” she said. “I once played her in a school play. You must remember, Kay?”
“Wasn’t it an assembly about mythology?”
“Oh yeah. Anyway… I was Amaracia – you know, the beautiful saviour of the world, vanquisher of the evil Lucifaer.”
Sam nodded. “I know the story. I once played the evil Lucifaer.”
“Boo! Hiss!” Jessie grinned. “Still, I’m sorry I missed that. I’d like to see you in a toga.” Jessie winked at him, before glancing at me. “Didn’t you play the Lady Torchbearer?”
Sam frowned, still blushing from Jessie’s toga comment. “I don’t know that story.”
“Yeah, you do,” Jessie replied. “She guides the spirits to the afterlife.”
I nodded and put on my best mysterious voice. “You must follow the light. I will guide your way.”
“She’s called The Lady of the Flame.” Sam sighed. “No wonder I never know what you two are talking about.”
“It’s girl-talk, honey,” Jessie flashed him her pearly-white teeth. “Maybe when you’re older, you’ll understand.”
“I dunno.” Sam shook his head. “Seems like a pretty solid code to me. I’m surprised you even understand each other.”
“That’s so we can talk about boys without them realising.” She stood up. “Anyway, I need to pop to the little girls’ room.” She smirked at Sam. “That’s ‘the loo’ to you.”
Sam slapped his thigh and clutched his stomach, a humourless expression on his face. “Oh Jessie. Stop. You’re too funny.”
“I know, right?” She winked and wiggled her fingers. “Toodles.”
I watched Jessie disappear inside the boat. There was still no sign of land at all, not even in the distance. And no other boats.
“Sam, what’s happening?” I whispered as I heard the bathroom lock click.
“What d’you mean?” He smiled but it didn’t convince me he was relaxed.
“I mean the boat. Where are we going? I thought we were supposed to be nearing land soon.”
Sam’s smile dropped. “I don’t know, but I can’t correct it. We keep drifting off course. I don’t know what else to try. Jessie’s gonna kill me.”
“It’s okay. She won’t have noticed anything is wrong yet. Maybe we can figure it out before she does.”
He nodded, his smile more convincing than before, but that worry was still there. Sam always tries to act tough, but he sometimes overplays it when he’s worried and it gives him away.
“I don’t—” Sam began to say, but at that moment, Jessie reappeared from the bathroom.
“Got no signal,” she said, waving her phone at me. “Can I use yours?”
I held my hands out. “Sorry. Left it in Sam’s car. Who are you trying to call anyway?”
“Well, unlike you two, I have friends who aren’t in this boat.” She tried to hide a smile and rubbed her temple. “And I wanted to call my mum,” she added, quietly. She turned hopefully towards Sam, a sweet smile on her face. “Please?”
Sam pulled his phone from his pocket and glanced at the display. “Sorry, looks like I’ve got no signal either.” He held the device out to Jessie.
Jessie took the phone and pretended to drop with the weight. “Jeez, Sam. This must be at least ten years old. Why don’t you get a new one?” She held it sideways. “Was it carved with a chainsaw? It’s like an inch thick!”
“There’s nothing wrong with it.” He shrugged, grinning. “If it’s not too heavy, you can keep hold of it.”
“It’s no wonder you’ve got such big muscles,” she giggled. “I’d probably look like you if I’d been carrying this for ten years.”
“Then it’s a good job you didn’t.”
I laughed to myself, but they both thought I was laughing at their jokes. If either of them ever noticed the other was flirting with them, it would surely be a miracle.
“Urgh, look at the sky,” Jessie spat as the sun dimmed for a second. “If it rains—”
“It’ll mess up your hair. I know,” Sam replied.
“Too damn right.”
“Bet you’re glad you’re not wearing shorts now.”
“Yeah, but if you’d let me bring trousers, I wouldn’t be cold now.” She pouted. “I dunno why we couldn’t have left stuff here rather than in your car. There are wardrobes on this boat, Sam. Wardrobes.” She turned and stepped inside.
“Can you imagine what she’d have brought if she’d known there was a wardrobe?” Sam turned to face me. He was biting his lip.
“What?” I asked. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. We’re good.”
I closed the cabin door. “Sam. What’s wrong?”
His shoulders sank and he exhaled loudly. “We’re lost.”
“Oh.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“The GPS,” he continued. “I’ve done everything right, but it’s just not working.” He bit his lip. “I’m sorry, Kari. I have no idea where we are.”
“How long have we been going without GPS?”
“I don’t know.” Sam shrugged. “I didn’t realise it was broken until about half an hour ago. Then, when I did, I didn’t want to worry either of you, so I tried to fix it.”
“You should have told me earlier,” I hissed, slapping his elbow. “Give it here.”
Sam handed me the device as I climbed up onto the bridge. “I’m sorry.”
“What if we drift too close to The Edge‽”
“That would take hours.”
“Sam, people don’t come back from The Edge. If they stay afloat, the sky krakens get them.”
Sam shook his head, grinning nervously. “There’s no such thing.”
“Go and distract Jessie,” I said, just wanting to end the conversation. “I’ll see what I can do before it starts raining.”
“I owe you.”
“I won’t forget it.” I turned my gaze away from him and towards the maps. I heard the door shut behind him as I began to reboot the GPS device. Imagine not believing in sky krakens. The museum in Pestana had a ten foot long piece of tentacle on display along with what was recovered of an airship it wrecked over a hundred years ago.
I looked out to sea, searching for anything that would help me pinpoint our position on the map. There was no land, no sea defences, nothing. Below the water’s surface, I could see a school of silver fish. No help.
We had headed east from Pestana, straight into the Border Sea. The journey should have lasted four and a half hours tops, but we were now fifteen minutes overdue and, it seemed, no closer to land. We were lost somewhere in the Border Sea, the biggest sea on Lucacia
My attention was drawn by the GPS device bleeping at me. ‘Error,’ the screen read, through the spits of rain. ‘No satellite found. Please check and reboot.’ Check what? The satellite? I’ll just pop up in my personal rocket, shall I?
I glanced up at the sky, wondering where the sun had gone. Thick clouds were expanding in all directions, attempting to block out all light. The map fluttered as the wind picked up, almost slipping from my fingers. I began to wonder why they hadn’t built the bridge inside. Sure, it had a little cover, but trying to pilot a boat and read a map in weather like this was not easy. I suppose that’s why we were only allowed out in favourable conditions.
As the weather had changed, I probably should have concentrated a little harder on what was happening to the boat. However, in my infinite wisdom, I thought I could just get us back on track before the rain came and then dash inside. If I had been paying attention, I might have seen the wave heading towards the boat. I might have had time to brace myself.
Instead, I saw nothing as the boat lurched, hurling me from the bridge. I flung my arms out to the sides, trying to get a hold on anything. The sea lunged at me, but just before I could fall into its cold embrace, the deck snatched me from the air. The impact knocked the breath from my lungs.
Through the ringing in my ears, I could hear screaming, shrill, piercing screaming. Jessie. In panic, I tried to pull myself up. Water rushed over the side, soaking me and I went skidding across the deck, crashing beneath one of the benches. The map flew towards me, then shot up into the air like a missile, wrenched away on the wind.
“Sam!” I gurgled, gasping for air and finding a mouthful of brine.
The boat rocked again and the GPS smashed against the hull in front of me, bubbles burbling from a crack in the cheap plastic casing. The cabin door flew open and the screaming within became horribly loud. Jessie was crying and Sam was shouting.
“Kari,” he roared. “Get inside!”
“Sam!” I wrapped my arm around the leg of the bench, feeling the waves growing rougher. Rain like ice pelted down. Droplets of water bounced off the deck, splashing in my face. “Sam, I can’t make it!”
Jessie was still howling as Sam leaned out of the cabin, reaching for me, his arm outstretched.
“Come on, Kari. You can do it!”
The boat pitched, almost ripping my arm from its socket. I lurched towards Sam, his fingers, inches from mine, dragged away at the last second as he stumbled back.
“Sam!” This time it was Jessie, screaming, in pain now, her voice reaching breaking point. She needed him more than I did.
“Jessie,” I bellowed as Sam reappeared at the door. “Help Jessie!”
“I’m not leaving you out there.”
“Help Jessie.” He hesitated as I shouted. “Go!”
Sam turned away and rushed back into the cabin. It was then that the boat began to roll. Jessie was still screaming, but even at the top of her impressive lungs, she was drowned out by the storm. A horrible silence fell on me as the crest of an enormous wave broke over the side of the boat. The deck rose above me and I was thrown against the metal rail, my fingers grappling at it.I felt my grip on the rail slip as water rushed over me. Swallowing more disgusting seawater, the rail slid through my fingers. After that, I couldn’t tell what was happening. There was noise; thunder or crashing waves, I wasn’t sure. Everything went dark. It might have been the sky clouding over, the waves dragging me down or my brain being starved of oxygen and me blacking out.