Authors: Dianne E Astle
Tags: #Fiction, #Fantasy, #Epic
By Dianne Astle
Copyright © 2013 Dianne Astle
All rights reserved.
This book is dedicated to my children
and to Allison who lent her name to a character in this book.
Sink or Swim
Hide and Seek
Time for Tea
Rescued I Think
To Be or Not to Be
Return or Stay
A Change in Plans
To Tell the Truth
Friend or Foe
Die Another Day
Charla to the Rescue
Omnivores and Carnivores
The Uglies Cometh
Enemy or Friend
Rescue and Capture
In a Cage
The Dragon Wakes
The Girl in the Box
A New Student
A Family Reunion
My thanks to Jesse and Christine who willingly
gave creative advice and proof reading services.
1 Sink or Swim
It was 9:30 in the morning. Ben Taylor sat by a swimming pool, his feet dangling in the water. Ben’s head rested on his clenched fists. His brilliant green eyes were closed. His unruly dark brown hair had not been brushed. Anyone who looked closely could see that Ben was trembling.
At any moment the Physical Education teacher would call Ben's name. Phil Tanner expected Ben to jump into the swimming pool, do the front crawl to the other side, and return with a backstroke. Ben was not sure he could even stay afloat, let alone do two different strokes across the width of the pool.
The request that he swim across the pool was not unreasonable. Ben had been taking swim lessons for three months with his grade nine class. Not that Ben attended very many classes. He usually found some excuse. For a couple of weeks, he had a sniffle that turned into a raging cold just in time for the swim lesson. For a couple of weeks, he sported a thick bandage on his big toe. It covered a scratch, but only Ben and his roommate Denzel Carter knew the truth. Another week he managed to see a dentist when he should have been in the pool. Then the excuse was a sprained ankle. It was a legitimate excuse – he had suffered a mild sprain; however, Ben’s limp was much worse when it was time for swim class. Ben’s excuse this week was that he could not find his bathing suit. This excuse had worked once before, but this time Phil Tanner was prepared. Tanner handed Ben a suit left behind by a previous student: a student three times Ben’s size.
“Allison Sims,” Phil Tanner called. The girl sitting next to Ben slid into the pool. Ben’s mouth went dry. He clenched his hands even tighter, but they still shook. Taylor followed Sims on Phil Tanner’s list of students.
Allison made it look so easy. She swam effortlessly across the pool and back.
“Well done,” Phil Tanner said as Allison gracefully slid out of the water to sit beside Ben once again. She rubbed water out of her blue eyes and looked at Ben with concern. Ben's eyes remained closed. Allison took one of her copper colored braids in each hand, leaned towards Ben and squeezed. Ben jerked away as cold water hit his shoulder.
“Wake up, Ben,” Allison said. “You’re next.”
Ben said nothing. He was normally tongue tied around Allison, but always worked hard to come up with a witty response. This time he did not even try. His thoughts were consumed with what he would do when his name was called. He was desperate to find an excuse, any excuse to stay out of the water.
Phil Tanner spoke the words Ben was dreading. Ben hesitated, desperately searching for an excuse, but his mind was blank.
“Come on, Benjamin,” barked the teacher. “Into the water, we don’t have all day.”
Ben jumped and immediately knew it was a mistake. He sank like a stone. He came up spitting water, his arms and legs thrashing. Ben's frantic movement took him slowly forward in the required direction. For a moment Ben had some small hope that he might actually get to the other side. Then the bathing suit slipped down over his bum. Ben grabbed for the suit, but it was impossible to keep his head above water with only one hand free to dog paddle. So Ben did what any sensible person would do. He let go. The swim suit slid further down and Ben quickly learned it is impossible to kick your legs with a swim suit wrapped around your knees. Staying afloat demanded that he kick so Ben decided to retrieve the suit after all. Mustering his courage, he bent into the water and reached towards his knees.
It is a simple fact that when one part of the body goes down, another part rises up. None of the eight girls and ten boys missed the fact that Ben mooned them. They pointed, they hooted, they giggled, they hollered and they laughed out loud.
“Girls to the change room,” Phil Tanner ordered. All the girls left, except for Allison.
Ben didn't hear the laughter. He had more important matters to deal with. He was swallowing pool water and the swimsuit was not cooperating. It was hanging around his knees. Spots gathered in front of Ben’s eyes. His arms and legs were beginning to feel heavy. Everything was going black as he finally kicked off the bathing suit.
Phil Tanner was not watching Ben. He was puzzled as to why Ben was such a poor swimmer. He was counting the absent marks beside Ben’s name in the record book. He muttered, “Taylor, you have some explaining to do," and slammed the book shut. He needed to speak to the substitute teachers who taught for him when he was away.
“Mr. Tanner! Mr. Tanner!” An urgent voice broke the Physical Education teacher’s concentration. Phil Tanner transferred his attention to Allison Sims, who was standing before him.
“I said girls to the change room. That includes you.”
“But Mr. Tanner, Ben needs help,” Allison persisted. Phil Tanner looked up to see Ben’s borrowed swim suit floating on the water, but no sign of Ben.
Phil Tanner pushed his record book into Allison’s wet hands, and dove into the pool. In a few quick strokes the teacher reached the swimsuit, jackknifed, and with eyes wide open swam underwater. The teacher found Ben and dragged him to the surface. When Allison saw that Phil Tanner had Ben in tow she did as she was told and left, after giving the record book to one of the boys.
Phil Tanner dragged Ben out of the pool and threw a towel over his naked body. Then the teacher began to press on Ben’s chest. One…and a two…and a three. Water flowed out of Ben’s mouth, but he was still not breathing. Phil Tanner pinched Ben’s nose. He took a deep breath and bent over to give Ben mouth to mouth.
At that moment Ben took a deep shuttering breath. Phil Tanner let go of Ben’s nose, but remained hunched over the boy. That was a mistake. Ben brought up the considerable breakfast he had eaten earlier. It spewed in all directions. Pieces of orange and bacon hung in Phil Tanner’s hair.
There was shocked silence at first, then suppressed laughter from the boys in Ben's class.
“Everyone to the change room,” Phil Tanner roared after wiping orange and bacon off his face. When everyone was gone the teacher shouted at Ben. “Tomorrow before breakfast and every morning after that, I want you here with a swim suit that fits,” Phil Tanner thundered, stressing the words a bathing suit that fits.
“No…I…don’t wa…,” Ben started, unsure of just what to say.
“Failure is not an option for the son of Andrew Taylor,” the teacher continued, without listening to Ben. “You will have another test next Monday and every Monday after that until you pass.”
By the time Ben arrived at the boys’ change room, everyone else was nearly dressed. There was suppressed laughter from everyone but his roommate Denzel. Denzel held a towel towards Ben in his dark hand. His brown eyes were full of concern. “You okay?” he asked.
Ben shrugged as he took the towel; he was afraid words might bring tears.
“Do you want me to wait for you?” Denzel asked. Ben shook his head no.
Ben took a long shower. The water was cool, but Ben did not turn off the tap until the talk and laughter died down and the door banged shut for the last time. When he finally turned off the tap, a clock hanging on the wall told him math class had already started. He rammed one wet leg and then the other into his blue jeans and struggled into his shirt. He picked up his socks, but realizing they would be too hard to put on wet feet shoved them into his gym bag. He threw the gym bag over his shoulder, stuffed his bare feet into his runners and sprinted out the door.
“Ben! Wait!” called a voice, “Are you okay?” Allison was waiting for him outside the change room door. Concern was clearly written on her freckled face.
Ben shrugged and then said, “you’ll be late for math.”
“You too, but I’m sure you could write the test later. Almost dying is a good excuse.”
“Uhgg. I forgot the test.”
“Like I said, you could take the test later.”
“I might, but what about you?” Ben replied, as they left the Physical Education building and ran towards the castle.
Ben and Allison were students at Fairhaven Private School. Fairhaven was a school for students from Grade 9 to 12, where it was as important to learn to hang glide and rock climb as it was to learn algebra. Most students had parents and grandparents who attended Fairhaven before them. But there were a few like Allison, who received a special invitation to come. There were only 58 students at Fairhaven. They came from many different countries of origin. Money or the lack thereof was not a barrier as no one paid tuition.
The school was located on its own private island in the Pacific Northwest not far from the small community of Gold River, British Columbia, Canada. Through natural means it could only be reached by boat or float plane. However, many students reached the school by means that were far from natural. There were portals in various parts of the world that brought students to Fairhaven the moment one stepped through them.
As well as the Physical Education building, there were residences for students and teachers, a stable, barns and chicken coops. There were horses in the stable as riding was part of the curriculum. Most of the island was forested, but the area close to the school had gardens, hayfields and a pasture, as well as sports fields. The school farm grew most of the food eaten in the dining hall. The surrounding ocean provided fresh fish.
The largest building was a small castle made of large gray stones. In the basement of the castle was the community kitchen, dining hall and common rooms. On the main floor were classrooms and offices. The second floor had guest quarters and an extensive library. The third floor held a large meeting hall, as well as the office space and residence of Mariah Templeton, the principal of Fairhaven. On the fourth floor there was a small deep pool and a hexagonal shaped room with six walls and six doors. No one was allowed on the third and fourth floors without an invitation.
Ben and Allison stopped and stared when they reached the castle. To Ben’s dismay the large swimsuit hung out the window. Words in large print said, “Lose something, Ben?”
Ben muttered, “Oh no. Now everyone will know.”
“Everyone was going to know anyway. This is a small school,” Allison responded before sprinting up the stairs.
Ben steeled himself for laughter when he walked through the classroom door, but there was no laughter. Yoko Suzuki was away. In her place was William Smith, a substitute teacher with a permanent scowl on his scarred face.
“No point in asking to postpone,” Ben whispered. “Smith would insist a corpse write the test.”
“And the corpse would if it knew what was good for it,” Allison whispered back.
William Smith glared at them with his one good eye. The other eye was covered by a black patch. Where his left hand should have been there was a hook. William Smith used his right hand to beckon Ben and Allison forward. He growled, “You’re late. Five percent will be deducted from your marks."
“But…” Allison began.
William Smith, cut her off, “I am being lenient, since I understand Taylor came close to death this morning.” He passed them a copy of the test with his hook.
Ben took his seat behind Denzel, who flashed Ben a quick smile, his teeth white against his dark skin.
As the students finished, they silently filed out of the classroom, until only Ben and Allison were left.
“Time’s up,” William Smith said in his gravelly voice, just as Ben finished the second to last question. Ben and Allison laid their tests on the desk in front of Mr. Smith.
“So I understand you haven’t learned to swim yet, Taylor,” William Smith growled.
“I’m not planning to learn,” Ben stated flatly.
“That’s a problem.”
“Doesn’t matter, I’ll just stay out of the water.”
“It matters! You get serious and listen to me. Anyone can learn to swim and that includes you.”
Ben started to turn away, but the substitute teacher grabbed Ben’s sleeve with his hook and said, “Hear me, Ben Taylor, and hear me good. I don’t want to hear about you missing your swimming lessons. You are not going to disappoint your father. He is my friend and one of the best students this school produced.”
Ben jerked his sleeve out of the hook’s grasp and sprinted for the door. Denzel was waiting for him on the other side.
“You O.K?” Denzel asked.
“Yeah,” Ben said. “I hope Suzuki is back soon. Smith is just plain scary.”
“Too true! But then there are a lot of scary teachers at this school. And Smith isn’t the only one with battle scars. It’s creepy.”
“I wonder where Suzuki went?” Ben asked.
“Who knows! She’s away a lot,” Denzel responded. “So is Tanner and some of the other teachers, I’d like to know where they go and why we have so many substitutes.”
The two friends walked to their next class. Throughout the day, Ben had more than one teacher and several students offer him advice on what to do in the water.
That night Ben had the same dream that he had almost every night since coming to Fairhaven. It was dark. Two moons hung in the sky. His mother had disappeared. Ben was flying through the air, suspended by the claws of a giant scaly bird. Over and over he cried, “Momma, Momma.” Tears ran down his cheeks. The creature holding Ben gave a piercing cry. It released its hold. Ben fell through the air into deep dark water. The cold stunned him. The blackness terrified him. He tried to call his Momma, but no sound came. There was only water. He couldn’t breathe.