“We must be nearing land!” cried Captain Bob. “Watch the horizon, boys!” They peered intently ahead, willing the land to appear with all their might and were at last rewarded by a faint strip in the distance.
“Ahoy there!” everyone cried excitedly.
“Where do you think it is?” asked Joe.
“Oh, somewhere friendly, I hope!” The Captain was so pleased at having arrived anywhere, the exact location didn’t really matter. Besides, the mere sight of the island as it blossomed into view was enough to lift the saddest of spirits. Fringing the beach of perfect white-gold sands, palm trees and other exotic plants swayed in the warm breeze and beckoned invitingly. The waters surrounding this jewel were a clear turquoise rippling gently over reefs of spectacular coral. Joe and Odi had, of course, visited many islands during their voyage with Mr Smyle, but this was different. There was something magical about the place that took the breath away.
As the Mersey May drifted slowly towards shore, its passengers heard the beat of distant drums and other instruments; pipes and flutes and strings; all united in the sweetest melody. “It’s like a dream,” whispered Joe. “A wonderful dream.”
The ‘Exquisite One’
“Salutations,” replied the visitor. “I am Nimros, High Priest, devoted to the humble service of ‘She whose feet must never touch the ground’ and on whose behalf I command you and your party to attend her at the temple tomorrow.”
“Thanks very much, but we’ll be far too busy working on my boat, which is why we came here in the first place.”
“No!” boomed the visitor. “It is forbidden for any work to take place on the Island of Dreams until ‘She whose feet must never touch the ground’ has departed.” Bristling at the word ‘forbidden’, the Captain snorted derisively. ”Oh really!” he bellowed, “We’ll just have to see about that!”
“Tomorrow,” Nimros insisted, “you will pay homage to the Exquisite One at the temple.” Captain Bob was about to tell this Nimros chappy exactly what he thought of that idea, when the High Priest gave another imperious wave of his hand and turned to leave.
“Until tomorrow then!” he concluded, only adding to Abihu as he passed, “All must attend, or be cursed for ever!”
Pulling alongside the Mersey May just long enough for the children to climb aboard, the Captain sped off in his dinghy again, heading straight towards the nunjas’ canoe. “Geronimo!” he yelled, as much to encourage himself as scare the women, and he veered dramatically in front of them, cutting right across their bow.
“Out of the way you old buffoon!” bawled Prism contemptuously. Captain Bob’s reply was to turn back and once again attempt to head the canoe off course. Unfortunately, his inflatable was no match for the heavier craft, and when the two collided, it was Captain Bob who ended up in the water, his great weight dragging him down to the coral reef below. “Goodbye fool!” Prism cried exultantly, before turning her attention towards the Mersey May.
“And now for the brats!”
For the second time that day, Bob Craddock prayed, but the wave kept coming, closer and closer, remorselessly rising higher and higher all the time so that, when at last its shadow towered over them, it was topped by a foaming white crest of surf and began to curl over, set to crush them under a trillion tons of saltwater.
"What we have here, Miles, is the world of the future. Concrete as far as the eye can see. Flyovers, runways, carriageways, motorway services, leisure complexes, shopping malls, skyscrapers five miles high. That's the future, Miles. The day will come when there won't be a tree, or a straggly blade of grass, or one nasty, messy, prickly plant to spoil the view!”
"You can't have a world without trees!" Miles argued, lamely. "They provide oxygen and shelter and homes for the birds....and, anyway, they look nice!"
He was answered by a contemptuous snort. "Now you sound like Roots! Miles, Miles, Miles. I can see you have a lot to learn about economy. You can't have trees taking up all that space just because they look nice! If it's nice you want, you need solid things - like gold and diamonds, things that last forever!" Then he paused, bending down to stare eyeball to eyeball with Miles so as to have the maximum effect. "Like ME!"
"Never mind the old guy!" yelled Mordant from a very safe distance. "It's the kids we want - especially the blond one! Come on, lay off the old geezer!"
Skinner, Brown and Griswold would have been only too glad to lay off Captain Catastrophe. The only problem was Captain Catastrophe refused to lay off THEM. He'd already brought Griswold to the ground and was sitting quite comfortably on the poor man's head, while at the same time twisting Skinner and Brown's neckties with such an iron grip, their faces had turned puce.
"Pick on little children, would you?" he was growling "I'll teach you to pick on people smaller than yourselves!" and he bounced on Griswold for all he was worth and gave the other two men's neckwear an extra tug for luck.
The Fond Memories
"I feel very bad about what happened," Wisteria kept saying "But then, if things had been different, I'd never have met my Gordy!"
When he could get a word in edgewise, Gordon took up the tale from when the children had disappeared.
"As you know, we put up a terrific fight against the sheriff and his mob, so much so, they called in the Marines......."
"Not to mention the riot squad and the entire mounted police......" Wisteria echoed.
"Black Marias, fire engines, armoured cars, ambulances....." mused Gordon, his eyes dewy with happy memories.
"Poor Gordon broke his finger!" Wisteria exclaimed.
"Aye, and a few ribs besides!" he crowed. "In fact, if it wasn't for Wisteria here...."
"I shudder to think what would have become of him!" His wife took up the tale. "There he was lying face down in a hollow, right in the path of an enormous digger crashing through the forest at full throttle......"
"When the brave lass grabbed me by the feet and pulled me to safety! We've been an item, ever since.” He stopped to beam fondly at his wife who gazed fondly back at him.
The Roots of the matter
"But that's Roots!" said Joe, reeling with shock. "I thought he was your friend!"
"Not any more!" said Gordon "Oh, we've tried. When he returned here at first, we were forever inviting him round, cooking him meals, washing his clothes....."
"Darning his socks" Wisteria chipped in. "Cutting his hair, cheering him up....."
".....but it wasn't any use. He'd just sit there accusingly, as though we were to blame for his stupid forest being chopped down. Anyway, I couldn't handle it any more, so I told him to go...I mean it got to be embarrassing....."
The final showdown
Huddled under a rock in the shadow of Flinder Mount, Roots sniffed the air. "There's a storm brewing," he said "about two hours away if I’m not mistaken."
"Do you think Prism's still looking for us?" asked Joe anxiously.
"You know her better than I do, Joe," his companion replied "but we'll be safe here, at least for a while...
Joe nodded wearily. He just wanted a place to rest his head and was content to let Roots make the decisions. If only he could sleep.....
Before long, he felt himself drifting and was vaguely aware of Roots putting a fleecy jacket on top of him. He began to dream that he was home again with Mum and Dad and his brother and sister, sitting in front of the fire with a mug of steaming chocolate and the neighbour's cat rubbing itself against his leg. It was all so quiet and peaceful.......until Mum switched on the vacuum cleaner!
"Wake up!" she said "Wake up Joe!" and he opened his eyes to see it wasn't his mother but Roots, shaking him urgently.
"We've got to get out of here, quickly!" Sitting up, Joe became aware of another noise, the noise of several engines, and he could feel a stiff breeze swishing through the valley.
"Choppers!" cried Roots. "We'd better find some cover."