Four Becomes Five
Still holding Sally’s hand Archie pushed his way through the crowd holding the cup high above his head with his other hand. A lot of the villagers were patting him or the back and Sally found the same thing happening to her, although she did not know any of the crowd saying ‘well done’ to her.
Archie’s mum gave Sally a hug and a kiss but the asked her, “What is wrong Sally?” “You have such a worried look on your face”.
Sally almost blurted out the story about Starbird but instead suddenly burst into tears.
Archie’s mum tried to ask her what was troubling her, but when she did not answer decided that she was just overcome with the excitement of the occasion.
Archie quickly tried to cover up Sally crying by saying, “Don’t worry Mum, you know what girls are! We are both fine, I expect winning was too much for her. We are just going to take the fishing gear and trolley back to the boat.”
Archie’s dad watched with a puzzled look on his face as the two children disappeared back into the crowd to join up with Jack and Jane. Her turned to his wife and told her “I don’t like it, something is very wrong. Young Archie for once is not telling us the whole story. It’s so unlike him.”
As they went into the Smugglers Rest with a group of their laughing friends for drink in celebration of winning the cup, Archie’s dad paused in the doorway with a very puzzled look on his face. He watched as the four children hurried away from the crowd, pushing the trolley back alongside the harbour wall.
By now Sally had stopped crying and told the others that she was sorry for her outburst, but she was so worried about the fading health of Starbird. As they walked Archie had become silent and he too had a very worried look on his face.
As they passed underneath street gas lamps at the top of the slope down to the quay, Jack stopped and asked, “Come on Archie, what is the matter?”
Archie explained, “I am worried sick. It’s down to me to sail the boat, in the dark, to the most dangerous spot off the coast.”
“Sure I understand. What worries me is Smugglers Rocks are haunted. Everyone knows it, even my dad and he’s a butcher, not a sailor” replied Jack.
“Don’t be daft Jack,” said Jane a bit too quickly. “There is no such thing as ghosts.” But the look on her face said that she was not too sure deep down.
Jack said, “I am not worried about the boat trip. You are a good sailor Archie, and you have been out to the rocks several times before.”
Archie explained, “But I have always been with my dad. Even he had never tried to sail near the rocks in the dark in our fishing boat.”
He went on to explain further just how dangerous the area was and, how it was near Smugglers Rocks that his dad, together with the rest of the Lifeboat crew, had risked their lives to save the five sailors last winter.
Jack replied, “That night was horrible. It was the worst storm I can remember. Still, tonight the sea is dead calm so we won’t have the same problems”
However, Jane agreed with Archie saying that it was going to be very dangerous.
Sally said, “I don’t think the danger is the main thing that is worrying you Archie. It’s something else much deeper. You know I’m right.”
Archie was silent for a while and stood with his head down looking at the cobbled path and not his friends. Slowly he lifted his head and told them in a very quiet voice his main concerns.
“I have always been very close my dad and I have never told him any lies about anything. We are now planning to take the boat out without his permission and put the boat and ourselves in grave danger. All of this is for a horrible looking thing from another world!”
“He’s not a horrible looking thing. He’s our new friend Starbird,” retorted Sally.
“I don’t know about that. It looked pretty horrible to me,” said Jack
However, Sally pleaded with them to continue the rescue plan.
She said, “We can’t tell any adults about what has happened. They would never believe us.”
Sally went on to say that they were the only hope that Starbird had of firstly surviving and then being able to rejoin the rest of his space travellers.
The four friends stood in silence under the flickering street lamp.
Archie suddenly said, “Right let’s do it. We are right to try and save him. We are his only chance!” He started to pull the trolley down the slope and onto the quay with a determined look on his face.
The quay was not very well lit, having only a few street gaslights shining down from the harbour wall high above them forming small pools of light with deep shadows around them. They pushed the cart with all its decorations still in place carefully along the quay until they arrived at the boat. When they stopped and looked down at the inky dark water below, they discovered something that Archie had not considered. The tide had gone out a long way since he was last on the boat with Sally earlier in the day.
From where they were standing on the quay, the boat deck was now some ten feet below the point it was before. This meant there was now a drop of almost twenty feet from the quay to the oily water below them.
Archie explained, “The good thing is, the boat is still floating. If you look, several boats moored further back along the quay are now sitting on the mud banks, with only tiny streams of water around them. They are not floating.”
He went on to explain to Sally that this end of the quay was the deep-water mooring for bigger boats. He also pointed out that it was the reason that the Lifeboat was located this end of the harbour, so that there was always plenty of water under the keel, even at low tide, when it was launched down the steep ramp. The four friends stood together looking down at the boat tied below them.
It was now very dark and they could only just make out the shape of the boat with the mooring ropes securing it.
There were stone steps leading down to a small landing from which a metal ladder fixed to the stone wall of the quay went down into the water beside the moored boat. The stone steps were still slightly wet where the tide had gone out, but the rungs of the ladder were covered with seaweed and slime, making a very dangerous climb to anyone who was not used to these tricky conditions.
It was not this climb that was worrying Archie as he had done it many times before. It was how they were going to get the space probe and Starbird down to the boat deck safely.
Jack said, “It’s easy. We can use the ropes to lower it down.”
Archie told him that this would not work. He pointed out that although they probably could get it down the stone steps, although that would be difficult, the main problem would be getting down the shear wall to the boat from the landing.
He went on to explain, “The ladder is very slippery for a start. Then somehow we will have to swing the dangling probe away from the wall by several feet to get it to land safely onto the deck. It’s impossible!”
Jack and Archie argued loudly for several minuets, until finally Archie lost his temper and turned back to the trolley and began to throw ropes and crab pots onto the cobble of the quay.
He finally shouted to Jack, “If you think it is so easy, then you do it!”
The four children grouped around the trolley, all talking at once at the top of their voices. They all had the fright of their lives when a loud voice from behind bellowed, “STOP IT!”
Out of the deep shadows stepped a tall dark figure, and when the light from the street lamp above shone onto his face, they realised it was Archie’s father. They all became silent and backed away from the angry fisherman who glared at them with a face like thunder. He grabbed Archie by his shoulder and shook him like a puppy shakes a rag toy.
He shouted at Archie, “What the hell do you think you are playing at?”
He continued shouting with his tanned face getting redder and redder, “I have trusted you to behave sensibly and safely regarding the boat and everything to do with the sea. You have let me down.”
Archie was crestfallen and, shaking himself free from his dad’s grip, backed away until he stood with his back against the harbour wall.
Everyone stood still and silent for several seconds until Sally stepped forward and faced Archie’s dad.
Once she started to speak the whole story poured out. She started from the beginning with the bouncing stones, then the white bird, the cave and then seeing Starbird for the first time.
Archie’s dad listened in silence until she reached the point where she described the space pilot when he stopped her speaking.
He angrily stopped her speaking. “I have never heard such a cock and bull story in all my life. I am very disappointed with you Sally, in fact all of you, for concocting such piffle.”
Sally did not back away, nor did she raise her voice. “I know just how difficult it is for you to believe me. However I will prove it to you.”
She beckoned to Jane and the two of them returned to the trolley and began to unload every thing. Finally, they removed the artificial grass and the only thing left on the trolley was the probe, still wrapped in the canvas sling they had constructed on the cliff top.
Sally asked Archie to untie the canvas and when he finally pulled the canvas back the probe sat on the trolley lit by the street lamp above.
Archie’s dad stepped forward to closely examine the smooth stone like surface. He lifted his head and said, “Well I can’t see any strange markings you told me about.”
He continued, “It’s just a round stone ball that has been in the sea for a very long time so that it had become very smooth. Although that was unusual, it certainly has not arrived from another world!”
Sally said, “Starbird must have become very weak. That is why the markings have disappeared as his powers have faded.”
With tears in her eyes she bent forward and put her arms as far around the probe as she could reach, then put her face against the smooth cold surface.
She spoke in a soft voice but it was just loud enough for every one to hear, and they all, including Archie’s dad, moved closer to the trolley.
“Starbird, we have all tried so hard to save you. I now realise just how low your enormous powers have become.”
She pleaded with Starbird, “Please, please make a big effort to give us a sign to show that you are still alive. I know you can do it.”
Nothing happened. It was just Sally quietly sobbing, with her arms around a smooth round stone ball.
Gently Archie’s dad bent forward to lift Sally up and to comfort her. As he touched her shoulders he stopped, then put his own ear against the probe.
The round stone was making a very faint throbbing noise. The cold surface was becoming warm against his ear and the throbbing became louder.
He stood upright and stared in total amazement. Slowly strange markings began to appear, with two round eye shapes becoming more and more distinct. As he watched one of the eyes opened, and then the second one. He yelled out in frightened surprise when both eyes winked at him. His mouth dropped open and his own eyes opened wider than they had ever done before. In a split second he knew that the story Sally had told him was correct.
He turned and opened his arms to Archie who rushed over to hug his father and clung to him.
When they looked back at the trolley the spacecraft markings had faded and it had become a smooth round stone ball again.
Sally, looking at the amazed look on the fisherman’s weather beaten face, burst out laughing and said, “I told you it was difficult to believe”
Archie’s dad replied slowly and very quietly, “OK, I do believe. I am sorry I had yelled at you all. But most of all I am sorry that I doubted you son.”
For the first time in many years Archie blushed. However, deep down he was so relieved that he and his dad were friends again.
Mr Smith went on to say, “If we are to save Starbird we will have to get a move on. If you let me, I will help you to Smuggler Rock.”
Archie simply replied, ’Yes please dad!