Sunday, 2 March 2014

"The Runaway Children, Vol 3 - Showdown at Shivering Mountain". Sample

          After Joe and Odi fell overboard, there was pandemonium as Mr. Smyle took charge of the rescue. "Over there! No, over there! They can't have gone far! Please help those poor, poor boys! I don't know, turn your back for five minutes and this is what happens! I'll never forgive myself! Never!" So he continued, ranting and raving, blubbing and bawling, determined no one should rest until Joe and Odi were safely back on the Smyle of the Ocean.
Finally, it was left to the Captain to explain to Mr. Smyle, as gently as he could, that there was no chance of either boy being found alive.
On hearing the news, Alice and Miles were devastated. "But what happened? How did they.....?"
"It was dreadful," sighed Mr. Smyle, shaking his head with disbelief. "One minute they were laughing and shouting in that endearing way they always had, and then..." he brayed loudly, as tears flooded, like fountains down his cheeks. "I blame myself. If only I hadn't left them. I only nipped back to the galley for a few moments...and when I returned, they just weren't there any more!" He paused to blow noisily into his massive silk handkerchief. "Naturally, I just assumed they'd gone to their cabins, but, alas, they were overboard, struggling and screaming and screaming and struggling...all alone, entirely alone! Two helpless little boys in a sea of sharks!"
He tried to lay his head on Laurel's shoulder, but she moved away instinctively and put her arms round the children instead. Alice was sobbing uncontrollably and Miles’ face was the colour of chalk. “Do Mum and Dad know?” he whispered.
“Yes, and of course they’re devastated. Devastated. But listen Miles,” Mr Smyle drew the boy away from Laurel into the far corner of the lounge where they couldn’t be overheard. “You mustn’t blame yourself.”
“Why would I?” asked Miles, confused.
“Well, as the older brother, I’m sure you must feel a little responsible. But then, you’ve been so busy lately, it can’t have been easy looking out for Joe – and, of course, your parents understand that.”
Miles gasped. “They think it’s my fault?”
“No, no, Miles. I’m sure they don’t think that. After all, your parents love you and they’re sure to forgive you in time. Now, I’d better see to Alice, she must be feeling dreadful.”
Stung by Mr Smyle’s comments, Miles blurted out, “It was more her fault than mine!”
Alice looked up briefly, shocked by Miles’ outburst, then dissolved again into tears and fled back to her cabin.   
"Ah well" said Mr. Smyle finally, and Laurel couldn't help but notice how quickly his eyes had dried. "No use crying over spilt milk...I mean Boys! We who survive must carry on.” Laurel sighed and made for the door, intent on finding Alice. “No, don't cosset her, Laurel” he advised, “it will only prolong the agony. After all, we can't grieve forever, can we?” With that, he ruffled Miles' hair and sauntered off for his daily sauna.
That night, they had fish fingers for tea - tactfully cut into shark shapes, causing a fresh outbreak of tears – which, of course no one wanted to eat. Miles just sat there gazing into space, much to Mr Smyle's irritation.
Alice annoyed him too. Even before the tragedy she’d been moping in her cabin day after day, listening to dreary music about lost love and stuff. Her humiliation at the party left her totally unwilling to resume her social life, and the thought of facing a barrage of cameras every where she went filled her with dread. And now, with Joe and Odi, it was unthinkable.
Of course, Mr. Smyle didn't see it that way. He had quite enjoyed watching Alice hold court amidst the glitterati, especially as it helped her to develop such awesome attitude! In fact, it was widely reported that when Alice Hadwin threw a wobbly, she made even temperamental film stars seem positively mouse-like in comparison. She was Mr. Smyle's experiment; Eliza Doolittle to his Professor Higgins, and it offended him to see his monstrous creation going to waste. 
Miles, however, was a different story.  For several weeks, Mr. Smyle had been giving the children pocket money in which, he noted to his satisfaction, Miles was showing an extraordinary amount of interest, counting it each night and sleeping with an ever-increasing stash of coins beneath his pillow. "Why Miles!" Mr. Smyle remarked "I do believe you're becoming a miser!"  Yes, Miles was shaping up nicely and, as Mr Smyle hoped, it wasn’t long before his young friend started taking an interest again. Also, since Joe’s unfortunate accident, there was a certain coldness in Miles which Mr Smyle hadn’t noticed before and which pleased him immeasurably. It was as though the old Miles had withdrawn out of reach, and a hard shell had formed over the new version. Yes, Miles was shaping up very nicely indeed. 
Every evening, after supper, they'd stroll round the deck together, discussing banking and finance and takeover bids.  In this way, Mr. Smyle kept their conversations strictly controlled so that if Miles happened to pose an awkward question - for example, 'when will we get to Australia?' or 'have you heard from my parents yet?' - all Smyle had to do was draw attention to the Dow Jones Index, or the latest fall in interest rates, and Miles would give up asking.
The last time the Hadwin parents come into their conversation was during a rare journey ashore some days before Joe and Odi went missing. While picnicking on a glorious desert island, Mr. Smyle took an urgent call on his mobile. "Oh good!" he shouted "Oh, that's marvellous news! The children will be thrilled! Yes, of course, I'll tell them!" He clicked off his phone as Miles, Joe and Alice gazed up at him expectantly. "That was your mother!" he exclaimed.
"Mum?!" said the children in unison. "Can we speak to her!? Where is she? How's Dad!?" The questions rapped out fast and furiously.
"Calm down, calm down! One at a time!" Mr. Smyle exhorted. "Your mother couldn't speak because she and your father were just about to catch a plane to England! But she sends her love and says your father is much better now. No doubt we'll see them when we get home!"
After that, Miles rarely referred to his parents and, since Joe’s accident, not at all, spending most of his time either locked in his own office on the yacht, or talking to his mentor about the state of the economy.
"If only I'd had a son," Mr Smyle would say "I'd want him to be exactly like you, Miles. In fact, you play your cards right, and I might make you my heir! How would you like that?"
"Me?" Miles gasped. "But I'm not anyone important."
"Stick with me, son, and one day you could be the second most powerful person in the universe!"
"And when you die, I'd be the first." reasoned Miles.
"Yes, well, let's not dwell on details. Besides, plans are already in progress to make sure I don't die. Isn't that marvellous!? An immortal Smyle on the face of the earth!"
          At that moment, he was interrupted by Soames, who crept towards his boss and whispered something and a shadow flickered across Mr Smyle’s face. “Are you sure?” he asked and Soames nodded gravely.
          “I’m needed on the bridge, Miles,” he explained leaping to his feet.  “You stay here and buy some more commodities - Cereals, grain, that’s what we want. Anything edible.”
“Is something wrong?” enquired Miles.
“Oh, nothing for you to worry about,” Mr Smyle replied. “A matter of some urgency has arisen which requires my immediate attention. However, I must insist that you children stay in your cabin until further notice.”
          What that matter was, Miles never found out, but he noticed that, all of a sudden, the Smyle of the Ocean seemed to change course and accelerate quite alarmingly.

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