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An air of utter despair hung over the occupants of the little craft, clinging to them like a cold, heavy, wet blanket. Staring hopelessly into each others' eyes, the unasked question on their lips was obvious - will this latest mishap cost us our lives?
Through sheer carelessness they'd just lost the last of the paddles, and the ever-changing wind now took complete control of the small rubber dinghy.
The three occupants, Tom, Will, and Sam, huddled closely together. If the expressions on their faces were anything to go by it looked as if they were definitely finished, and had already accepted the inevitable.
"I'm really hungry," Will said suddenly. The exchanged glances and nodding heads confirmed that his two companions shared the same sentiment.
Tom looked up at the ever darkening sky, and a worried frown began to crease his sunburnt features as the storm clouds gathered ominously overhead. The once bright blue sky had taken on a purplish, threatening, angry hue, and jagged streaks of lightning could be seen flashing ominously in the far distance. Freshening winds were now driving the small rubber dinghy effortlessly before them, and with no paddles the rudderless craft took up a course dictated entirely by the wind and waves. Nature, it seemed, now sought to demonstrate her complete power over them as heavy rain suddenly began to lash into their exposed faces and rapidly threatened to fill the small craft. Tom spoke sharply to Sam, the smallest occupant of the dinghy; "You'd better try bailing some of this water out with your hands Sam, otherwise we're going to sink!"
Sam, the youngest member of the trio, began to bail vigorously, his blue eyes widening with alarm. Both of his companions were well aware that he was the only one of the trio who was a non-swimmer. His frantic efforts caused the small dinghy to rock so violently that the other two quickly joined him before he overturned the tiny craft and they all finished up in the water.
Their combined efforts soon had most of the water out over the side.
The wind strengthened yet again as the rain squall swiftly died away, leaving them all shivering in their sodden clothing. The strength of the wind also had its effect on the water; the gentle ripples rapidly became large waves that were soon splashing more dangerous liquid into the little vessel.
As the wind thankfully died away, the rain, which had only ceased a mere ten minutes before, now began to fall again in torrents. They could hardly make each other out as it beat mercilessly into their eyes.
Suddenly Tom let out a feeble cry. "A boat, a boat!" His arm outstretched, he pointed over Will's shoulder. "Do you see it?" His now almost hysterical voice rose to a shriek as they all stared desperately in the rain-shrouded direction he was pointing.
Will and Sam never saw it, and as the driving rain eased, they both wondered if it had ever really existed, except in Tom's imagination.
"They can't have seen us," Tom declared quietly and defensively, then his voice dropped as he said despondently, "Surely they'd have turned to rescue us if they'd seen us?" His companions, attempting to revive his flagging spirits, both agreed, and Will said brightly that if they'd seen one vessel they might well see others. Mother nature too seemed to be helping to raise their spirits, because the rain stopped altogether and the dark cloud formation overhead vanished. This, plus the fact that the wind had died down now, seemed to cheer them all up.
Moments later, Sam bent down and began to scoop up some of the water that lay swishing about in the bottom of the dinghy. Thirstily, he fed a handful of it into his mouth, but Tom the eldest of the trio grabbed his hand in a vicelike grip and told him very firmly to stop. "But why, Tom? I'm very thirsty!" Sam pleaded in vain, his plaintive voice now almost tearful.
Releasing his hold, Tom shook his head, adamant that he must stop. "That water's dirty Sam, it's contaminated." He spoke with a note of authority in his voice, and was obviously emphasising his position as the senior member of the dinghy's occupants.
In stark contrast to the violence of the storm, the sun now blazed down silently and relentlessly on them from a cloudless, bright blue sky. Their spirits rose as its warmth, and their body heat, began to dry their saturated clothing.
As all three sat, soaking up the welcome sunshine, their heads began to droop forlornly and wearily. Sam, looking out over the side of the dinghy murmured quietly, almost sleepily, "What's that?"
Will silently reached out and hauled the article aboard. It was a dark, water-sodden crate made of wood.
Sam, his spirits reviving, asked eagerly, "What's that written on it Will, is it a message?"
Will, a wan smile creasing his face, dutifully read the two words out loud for young Sam's benefit. "Fyffes Bananas."
"Think it's been in the water long Will?" The casual inquiry came from the ever tightening lips of Tom.
"Years probably, Tom, see how the water's dimmed the writing," Will replied dully. The absence of enthusiasm from the usually ebullient Will seemed to depress his companions still further.
The dinghy aimlessly drifted on. Sam, although complaining constantly about his thirst, now seemed to liven up a little. "Think there could be pirates in these waters Will?" he asked matter-of-factly. He was quite serious, and his lack of levity seemed to indicate that he hoped there might be!
Will smiled confidently. "No Sam, I don't think so." He glanced at Tom looking for support.
"No, pardner; no pirates," Tom said, forcing a smile, and giving his best impression of a western accent. He could see that young Sam was attempting to put on a brave face in front of his older companions.
The thought idly crossed Tom's mind that he'd read somewhere that pirates still operated in the "Malacca Straits" off Indonesia, even today.
Sam gazed all around him, awed by the vastness of the water that surrounded them; then he lay back and stared up at the endless sky. Twice they sighted aircraft, but as Tom pointed out, the planes were just airliners bound for some exotic destination, and judging by their vapour trails they were probably flying at a height of thirty thousand feet or more as they passed overhead. "Even if they were searching for us they wouldn't see us from that height," Tom said to Sam.
Sam, his dark hair bedraggled with the effects of wind and rain, rested his chin on the side of the dinghy; Sam was bored as well as hungry. He peered curiously into the deep, dark, mysterious water. Stretching out his arm, he absent-mindedly trailed his fingers in the water over the side and wondered how far down the fish were. Affected by the thought, his stomach began to rumble noisily again as he idly, and hungrily, envisaged one of his favourite meals.
"Fish and chips." Sam was very fond of fish. If only they had a fishing line, he thought. He'd heard somewhere that there were some really big fish in these waters. Thinking about the size of the fish, he snatched his hand out of the water, badly frightened for a moment or two. What if sharks were now inhabiting these waters? His vivid imagination conjured up a vision of himself being dragged overboard and down into the murky depths by some huge monstrous shark. Having seen the film "Jaws" fairly recently, Sam wasn't about to take any chances. He resisted the urge to ask the others whether they might be at risk of a shark attack.
"Think we'll ever see home again Tom?" he said, an element of fear creeping into his voice.
Reaching over, Tom laid a hand on the youngster's shoulder reassuringly. "Of course we will Sam, of course we will, just you wait and see." Tom spoke out with more confidence than he felt.
Lying flat on his back, Sam listlessly eyed the blue unending sky and thought of his mother safe and secure in her little house back home. After a while he sat up and turned to look at his two companions. They gazed at each other wordlessly, bonded together by a common adversity.
The silence was finally broken by Will, who spoke in a flat, uninterested monotone. "I think the wind's starting up again; if it is, at least it'll get us moving." During the period since the storm, the dinghy had remained almost stationary, just drifting around in ever widening circles.
Will was right, the wind did pick up, and soon the little craft was moving through the dark grey water at a good rate of knots.
It was late afternoon when the rubber craft made landfall. Its three weary occupants clambered with some difficulty up a steep, smooth concrete surface after struggling to retrieve the little dinghy that had finally brought them to the safety of the shore. Green, empty fields stretched out before them.
Tom and Will carried the dripping dinghy between them, and the sorry looking, but relieved, figure of Sam trailed tiredly far behind them. In the distance they saw a building, and as they drew near the trio saw that there was a large, rosy-cheeked woman standing outside the door of a small cottage.
Apprehensively, they approached. After eyeing them suspiciously, she greeted them somewhat ironically.
"You've all missed your lunch, but your tea will be ready soon," she announced abruptly. Still frowning, she stood immobile, with her hands on her ample hips as she surveyed the hapless trio sternly. Her fierce expression became increasingly severe as she took in their crumpled, and still damp, clothing.
Then, addressing the two elder ones, she said sternly: "And how many times do I have to tell you that the reservoir is dangerous? Just look at you Tom, good heavens lad you're twelve years old. You should be far more responsible. And as for you, our William. You too should know better at your age, after all you're over ten now." She paused, then turned and said proudly, a huge smile creasing her rosy cheeked face, "Our Sam's got more sense than the pair of you together, and he's only seven!"
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