Chapter One - Storm on the Horizon
“Katie Howard! That’s enough!” Miss Parsons snapped, her voice going all squeaky, the way it did when she got stressy. “There’s no island out there. There’s nothing in that direction until you reach America. Now stop being silly!”
I managed to rip my eyes away from the distant silhouette for long enough to glare at the stupid cow of a teacher. Of course there was an island out there. I wouldn’t have said anything if I wasn’t certain. In fact, I wouldn’t have said anything if I didn’t know it was important.
I mean… I didn’t even know why I bothered saying anything about it in the first place. There really wasn’t any point. There never was.
She tried to return my look for a bit but of course she was way too pathetic. I don’t know what it is but nobody can meet my eye for long. I mean… I don’t usually try it on with the other teachers… it just gets me into trouble… but Droopy Parsons is just too… well… droopy.
“I really don’t remember there being anything out there,” she went on, turning to stare out in the direction I’d been pointing. “Let’s have a look at the map together when we get back.”
But by now I guess she could tell that I’d stopped caring about what she thought and she turned to look at the other girls who were carefully avoiding the whole row. I guess they could see I was pretty pissed off with the whole thing and didn’t want to get involved.
“Come on gals!” Miss Parsons said in her phony jolly tone that basically set my teeth on edge… particularly as she had to pretty much shout to make herself heard over the breeze. “I know we’re all tired and a bit fed up after that long journey but let’s try to make the best of it. We need to keep moving if we’re going to get back before the rain arrives.”
She turned away and carried on up the steep, cliff edge path, looking like an overweight, two-legged hippopotamus. The chattering girls trailed on behind her like sheep.
I stuck my hands in my pockets and then trudged on after them, basically hanging back as far as I could. Megan dropped back to join me… loyal, wet Megan Dyson. She was the closest thing I had to a friend, I guess. At least she knew when to shut up… when to leave me alone with my thoughts.
And I had plenty to think about.
I mean… of course I was ‘a bit fed up’… and it wasn’t just the stupid journey. Let’s face it… anybody would be! Packed off to that stupid boarding school for months at a time and then… as if that wasn’t bad enough… getting shipped off on a school trip to the Scottish Highlands for the summer.
It was as if my dad didn’t want me around anymore.
And, without really thinking about it, my right hand kind of slipped to the bracelet I always wore around my left wrist. My mum had died when I was born and it was pretty much the only thing I had left from her so I never took it off. It was made of beautiful white leather and had this funny wavy pattern on it and, for some reason, holding it like that always made me feel better. It was as if it made the rest of the world go away!
“It’s good to be out in the fresh air, isn’t it?” Megan said at last.
I couldn’t really argue with her on that one. That journey felt as if it was just never going to end, first on the motorways and then along narrow, twisty lanes which seemed much too small for the minibus. And, as soon as we arrived, Droopy Parsons dragged us out for a ‘brisk stroll along the coast’ - trying to dodge a storm that was due later.
“Maybe…” Megan said, kind of hesitantly… “maybe it’s not going to be too bad here after all. It’s certainly pretty”
I guess she was right about the pretty bit too. The hills were this dazzling shade of green with flashes of pink and blue and yellow from the flowers. The sun was flashing in and out of the white clouds which were scuttling past on the wind and, off to our left, the rugged cliffs kind of tumbled down to the blue, blue sea.
“It’s certainly better than that stupid school,” I mumbled back, sort of half to myself.
The rest of the gaggle had stopped at a headland and Droopy was pointing north to this long finger of stone, sticking straight up out of the sea. It was separated from the cliffs by a narrow channel where the waves were crashing and boiling.
“That’s called ‘Seistethy Draig’ which means ‘The Dragon’s Seat’,” she announced. “It’s a sea stack.” I kind of tuned out as she started going off on one of her teaching moment things with caves and collapsing sea arches and stuff and looked out to the island again. It was even clearer from up here… and it looked as if there was a mountain in the middle.
“You really can’t see it?” I asked Megan.
“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” she answered carefully. “It’s just that it’s too hazy for me to make anything out.”
I nodded but I just couldn’t look away from the thing. When I screwed my eyes up I could make out some huge birds, wheeling about in the sky above it.
“What’s that over there?” somebody asked, dragging my attention away from the island and off to a serious looking line of clouds out to the west.
“If I’m not very much mistaken,” Droopy answered, “that’s the storm on its way in. And with this wind behind it, we really need to get our skates on or we’re going to get soaked.”
So we hurried back along the clifftop path and, by the time Megan and me had reached the top of the steep track down to the village, the wind was getting really wild. I kind of wanted to keep going but Droopy was wallowing along miles behind and, because the others were waiting, I kind of felt I had to do the same. I mean… I’d already got grief from her once today and didn’t need any more.
The line of clouds was much closer now, cutting out the afternoon sunshine and giving this ominous sort of a feeling. You could see the white painted houses in the village down below and they looked as if they were kind of huddling together in their little valley, sheltering from the menacing storm.
At long last Droopy lumbered up. “Keep going, gals!” she shouted… and she had to shout to be heard over the wind. “I just felt a spot of rain.”
I caught Megan’s eye and, with a sort of unspoken agreement, we started running down the narrow lane. By the time we reached the village, there were big drops landing so we charged on down the main street to the hostel place where we were staying.
It was an old building which looked as if it had once been some sort of grand hotel or something. But I guess the posh customers who used to visit had decided they didn’t want to spend their holidays in rainy Scotland. So the place had been turned into a hostel for kids like us who weren’t given any choice!
At least the place had a fancy entrance porch type thing, big enough to fit a car underneath which I suppose is handy if it rains all the time. So Megan and I dashed under there as the rain started to turn all serious. We waited there, feeling all smug, as the others trailed in.
And, of course, the slower you were, the wetter you got. By the time Droopy trundled up, she basically looked as if she’d just jumped in the sea.
“Well, that was exciting, wasn’t it?” she said as she dripped her way into the hotel lobby. I just about managed to avoid saying anything as we followed her in!