Chapter Seven - The Storm
Over the next couple of days, the idea of going to the island just kept growing in my mind and I spent all my spare time down by the harbour, spying on the old fishermen. And, on the last afternoon, I’d gone back into his cloud and got him to leave the boat full of diesel and the key in the lock. I mean… it was by far the trickiest cloud thing I’d ever done… he really didn’t want to do it… but, in the end, I’d managed to persuade him.
Then, after dinner, I told Megan. “I’m off to the island tonight.”
She stared at me for a bit then said, “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Tonight’s the night,” I told her with a nod. “There’s a full moon and it’s as flat as a pancake out there.”
“But how’re you going to do it?
So I explained about my plans to borrow the boat.
Megan thought about this, hardly believing what I was suggesting. But at last she said, “I’m coming too.”
I should have known she’d never want to be left behind on an adventure like this.
Just after midnight, I flipped into the cloud world and felt out. There was Droopy with the funny pulsing wave pattern that I now knew was sleep… then Mrs Andrews… and her husband… and the rest of the girls.
“Everyone’s asleep,” I told Megan. “You’re really sure you want to come? It could be dangerous.” For some reason, I didn’t like the idea of her coming with me.
She thought about it for a few seconds then nodded.
So, touching my mother’s white leather bracelet for luck, I slipped to the window and, holding my breath, I eased it open. I was pleased that I’d spent so much time that morning scraping away the rust and paint. It opened without a sound.
After checking that the lane was empty, I stepped over the balcony rail. Then I reached across and down with a foot until I found the flat roof of the entrance porch and stepped down onto it. Once I was steady, I hissed to Megan to follow.
The next bit was going to be the trickiest. I had to get down onto the dining room window sill. There was some sort of ventilation pipe sticking out from the wall but it looked pretty flimsy so I just grabbed the balcony railing and lowered myself down.
Megan tried to do the same but she was too heavy and had to rest a foot on the pipe. It gave a horrible creak so, without really thinking, I grabbed her round the waist and lowered her down.
“Sorry about the noise there,” she murmured.
But I didn’t reply… I was already back in the cloud world and checking round the hostel. “Everyone’s still asleep,” I whispered as I eased myself down to the ground.
“How are we going to get back in?” Megan asked as she climbed down.
“We’ll sort something out,” I answered. By now, the pull of the island was completely filling my head and I couldn’t think of anything else. So I set off down through the silent village with Megan trailing on behind.
The moon was full and, when we reached the harbour, we could see that the boat had risen on the tide. I stepped easily down onto it and went into the little cabin. But Megan stayed on the harbour wall. I guess she was starting to have second thoughts… and I suppose she was right, really. I mean… this was pretty wild, even for me.
But I just kept on getting the boat ready as if I did this every day. I’d watched the fisherman guy enough times so I could copy what he did. “Heater coil on…” I chanted like a prayer or something… “wait a few seconds… ignition on.”
The engine sounded terribly loud in the sleeping village. Megan flinched but I didn’t care. I was on my way now and, even if somebody woke up, it was too late for them to stop me.
“Right,” I said to Megan who was still standing on the harbour wall, chewing her lower lip, “go and undo the ropes.”
Looking sort of numb, she went to the back of the boat and untied that one. And she was moving towards the front when she turned to look at me. “Are you really sure about this?” she asked. “You know how much trouble we’re going to be in if we get caught.”
“I’ll understand if you want to go back,” I said as I hopped out of the boat and stepped past her. “You can even wake Droopy and tell her that you were trying to stop me. But I have to do this…” I untied the second rope… “just have to.”
For a moment I turned to look at Megan, still holding the rope to stop the boat from drifting off. “I’m going now…” I gave her a smile. I mean… I just had to get to the island but she was still my friend. “I totally understand if you don’t want to come. It’s up to you.”
I stepped back down onto the boat and, with my weight, it began to drift away from the harbour wall. For another moment, Megan hesitated then, at the last moment, she threw herself across the gap and stumbled onto the deck. I sort of knew she was looking at me but it just wasn’t important… that sort of stuff didn’t matter anymore.
I was already steering the boat out towards the harbour mouth… towards open water… towards the island.
For half an hour there was silence, broken only by the quiet throb of the engine and the occasional slap of waves. The sea stretched ahead of us in oily blackness with the occasional flash of silver as moonlight caught a ripple. In the distance, I could see the vague silhouette of the island and, as we got closer, the mountain in the middle got clearer.
“I can see it too,” Megan said suddenly in a quiet, awed voice.
I gave her a tiny nod but there was no room in my head for anything other than the idea of getting to the island. She made her way forwards to the front deck and stood there for a bit, staring out into the darkness. “There’s something odd out there,” she called back. “It looks like there are some funny sort of clouds or something.”
I didn’t reply. I mean… I could see them too but somehow they didn’t seem terribly real… and they certainly didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except this unstoppable force dragging me onwards.
Then, after a couple of minutes, Megan came back to join me in the cabin. “I really don’t like the look of those clouds,” she said. “They just don’t look right at all. I think it’s some sort of storm. We’ve seen the island now. We ought to turn back.”
I could hear her fear… and was kind of feeling it too… but, for some reason, it just wasn’t important. “We’re going to the island,” I told her calmly, without even bothering to turn round. “I’ve already told you I’ve got to go there. Nothing is going to stop me.” I continued to drive the little boat onward into the gathering gloom.
Gradually the wind rose and, as the sea got more choppy, our little boat was thrown from side to side. The wall of cloud seemed to gather and rise above and around us and, as it did, it carried this terrible feeling of foreboding.
“Katie!” Megan said, her voice getting louder and going all trembly, hovering on the edge of panic. “Something dreadful’s going to happen! We need to turn back right now!”
I could feel it too but the pull of the island didn’t leave any room in my head for doubt or fear. In a way, it was like the feelings were happening to someone else.
Then the clouds closed in over us, shutting out the moonlight and plunging us into total darkness. The only light came from the instrument panel in front of me and that made the blackness beyond even more intense.
“We’ve got to go back!” Megan shouted over the wind. “This is just too dangerous!” She grabbed at my shoulder to steady herself as the boat lurched from side to side but I just kind of shrugged her off. She stumbled out of the cabin and fell to the deck. And she just knelt there, clutching at one of the benches as we were thrown violently to one side.
But I ignored her. There was just the island. I couldn’t see it anymore but I simply knew where it was. And that same absolute certainty kept driving me onwards into the blackness.
And then the full force of the storm hit. The wind came tearing in ferociously, carrying rain and salt water. Waves started to splash in over the bow of the boat, soaking us both.
I suppose I was sort of vaguely aware of Megan’s frantic screams but they didn’t seem to mean anything… they just weren’t important. There was just me and the island… me and the island… me and the island…
A particularly violent wave smashed over the boat, shattering one of the windows and showering us with splinters of glass. I was sort of half-aware of Megan being rolled across the deck and lying where she landed, whimpering hysterically. But I just couldn’t think about that sort of thing. We were so close now… and getting closer.
But then there was something new… something was coming towards us… and I didn’t even have to flip into the cloud world to know that it was burning as bright as the sun. It was coming towards us from above and to our right. And it was moving astonishingly quickly.
Then I realised that it was another one of those imperious minds. Like the terrifying stranger I’d glimpsed a few evenings before. And then I worked out that it was minds like this one that had been pulling me to the island. That was what was behind the overwhelming force.
It was basically as if someone had put a spell on me.
As it got closer, nothing else mattered. My eyes followed it even though I couldn’t see a thing through the violence of the storm.
And Megan must have felt it too because she was staring in the same direction.
Suddenly there was an explosion of red through the tattered shreds of cloud that vanished as quickly as it appeared. The thing was circling us. Another flash of red! This time there was a hint of a huge, powerful, reptile’s torso and a bat-like wing. Yet another flash as it spiraled in towards us. We saw a long, thin neck ending in a horse-like head.
Megan could see it too and she fell silent as she followed it with a stare of wide-eyed horror. It circled ever closer… ever closer… ever closer.
Then it swept down, out of the clouds, to reveal itself in all its appalling majesty. It seemed to defy logic. Such an enormous creature should never be able to fly.
But there was no longer any doubt.
It was a dragon.