For those of you who enjoyed reading Kid Island, you’ll also enjoy Alvin O’Kricket which serves as Kid Island’s prologue.
Written by: Katya Szewczuk
Old man Alvin O’Kricket was a cantankerous coot with a shaggy, white beard and silver hair. He was tall and lanky like a sharpened pencil, his eyes were beanie and his nose was fat.
Each day he read the daily newsprint, finished the crossword puzzles and lit his wooden pipe. He was wary of the neighborhood children and chased them off with a baseball bat when they tossed rocks at his windows and played near his street. The townsfolk said he was a backbiting, vicious old man. He was like a red-eyed, venomous snake that poisoned the town and needed to be put in a wildlife sanctuary——some would call it a nursing home.
I first met the old fellow in a rundown café that was famous for serving the poor folk of the town. It was the stroke of dawn. The little golden bells on the door ‘jingled’ over the threshold, warning the customers that a new face had entered their territory. These blokes smoked all kinds of junk, slurp down their bottles of whiskey and argued about politics. O’Kricket was one of them. He was sitting in the corner of the room, sucking on his pipe and playing poker with a few gents who scratched at their whiskers and grumbled.
Eyes stared at me from all directions, and when I ordered a cup of decaffeinated coffee and a morsel of crumb-cake, a few chuckles were heard.
The moment I took my seat and enjoyed my breakfast, O’Kricket and a few blokes joined my table and made a fuss.
“No rich boys are welcomed here,” a mangy old man said.
“What’s your name, rich-boy?” asked another bloke with long whiskers.
“Booker Darcy,” I answered.
O’Kricket laughed within the sea of faces.
“The big-shot, English columnist for Ship Wreck Newsflash?”
“That is correct, my lad.”
“A bunch of naysaying poppycock!” O’Kricket shouted, “Your stories are fictional baloney. Back in my time the reporters had sense to tell the truth, not stretch it.”
“I’ll have you know, sir, our stories are legitimate.”
“Let me tell you something boy, the media is running out of information these days. You’ll write about any senseless story just to get a fat check.”
For hours O’Kricket debated about the modern day media, and though I was slighted, I couldn’t help but agree with his judgments.
It was a stale month for me. The topnotch editors at Ship Wreck Newsflash said my stories were hackneyed and sluggish and needed more of a hook to grasp my readers. O’Kricket called them hooligans and wished I left the mob of know-it-all swindlers for a press that cared for honest stories.
He took me up for a challenge and said he’d accompany me for my next report to show me how a real story was told. Though he was cruel and bent-out-of-shape, I took him up for his offer.
The following day I met with O’Kricket outside of the slipshod café.
“What part of England did you grow up in, Darcy?” O’Kricket asked.
“Norfolk, England, sir, in a market town called Attleborough.”
“Were you a columnist back then?”
“Yes sir, for five years. I used to work at Attleborough Academy as an English professor, but got terribly ill——ended up in the bloody hospital for months. After my bout of illness I worked for a local newspaper and picked up journalism quite quickly. The rest is history.”
“Back in my day I opened a small publishing house in New York. Worked there for thirty-five years until I went bankrupt. I’m a big stickler for good writing.”
O’Kricket took me to his home in the borough of Ship Wreck. He lived in the dumps of a small apartment that was infested with rats and all kinds of vermin. The rooms in his apartment were stacked with boxed knickknacks, dusty toys and old books that were sodden from previous rainfalls. He collected all kinds of treasures that sticky-fingered children would try to steal when he was fast asleep.
He handed me old stacks of documents that held reports about petty crimes and robberies throughout the borough from 2010 to the present, and told me to read what professional columnist writing looked like. As I studied them carefully and sipped at my stale coffee, one report staggered the eye. The title read:
THE CASE OF THE RUNAWAY SISTERS
“What is this?” I asked O’Kricket who was fiddling with the television remote.
“Two sisters ran away from an orphanage three years ago, and still haven’t been found. The orphanage says they hitched a ride with a few strangers, but for now it’s a cold case.”
“What do you think might have happened to them?”
“Worst case scenario——kidnapping.”
As I stared at the photographs of two freckle-faced, skinny, little girls, my heart felt crushed. They were merely eight or nine years old and had the sweetest dimples. Right away I thought of my own daughter who was just around their age.
O’Kricket saw the interest I had in the photographs and laughed.
“You look concerned, Darcy.”
“I’ve a darling girl waiting for me back home. If she were to be in this situation I wouldn’t be able to stomach it.”
“I got myself a daughter,” O’Kricket said with a scornful tone, “Lives in Manhattan with her greedy, bigheaded husband and two ungrateful brats. Before she met the man she wrote me every month, but now she forgot who bought her all those fancy clothes when she was a whiny, rebellious youth.”
O’Kricket turned off the television, stood up and joined my rummaging.
“—–Enjoy your little doll while she lasts. They grow up fast and become society’s sniveling little drones, so hypnotized by the media and its scandalous advertisements.”
As I pilfered through the documents and clippings of articles, I discovered a small, pink bow that one of the sisters was wearing in the old photograph. O’Kricket was surprised.
“Mighty find!” I shouted.
“Now how did that get in there?”
“We must take it to the police at once.”
“No, boy’o!” O’Kricket shouted, “Rusty move.”
“We are not detectives, sir. We cannot keep evidence.”
“You studied journalism, Darcy.”
“I’m a columnist who gets little pay. Investigative Journalism is not my style.”
“Take chances, boy’o. This is why Ship Wreck Newsflash lacks charisma.”
“If we are to get caught——“
“Shut that trap you wuss. I served in the Cold War when I was your age and lived on gumbo and prayers. Your generation is spoiled by technology and processed foods.”
Blunt and persistent, O’Kricket swiped the bow and shoved it into his coat pocket. He fixed his laces and headed for the door.
Two, fussy thugs smoked on roll-ups outside. Their tank tops were torn and their pants were baggy. They stared at us and made sour faces.
O’Kricket raised a brow.
“Mind your business, y’hooligans,” he said.
A lanky thug with a dark beard approached us. He smelt of whiskey and smoke.
“Heard you’re bein’ tossed from your piss-smellin’ apartment, O’Kricket,” the thug said.
He looked at me. With a smugly grin he laughed.
“Watch him, man.”
“Hush up, Tank” O’Kricket said.
The thugs moved out of his way, blew smoke in his wrinkled face and hooted.
* * *
O’Kricket took me on a trip to the beach, where the wind was violent and ‘whooshed’ like a fighter plane’s wings. The air was salty and rough and the sky was glum. The ocean’s waves crashed against the shores and roared tremulously. Kids played war on slippery rocks listening to rock and roll music and shouting nonsense. Gulls glided against the strong gusts and were being fed by local residents at a small eatery.
For hours we wandered around aimlessly until O’Kricket grabbed a plump burger from the eatery.
“Hungry?” O’Kricket asked.
“No. My stomach is in knots.”
“I still think we should return the bloody bow to the police.”
O’Kricket shook his head. He rushed over to the playing boys and wiped his greasy fingers on his rags. He called out the boys by name:
“Agapito, Camilo, John, Felix.”
“It’s Pit,” said the tan-skinned Agapito.
“Don’t be coming round here ol’ man,” the fair boy John said.
“You runts break into my apartment again?”
“You can’t prove nothin’,” John argued.
O’Kricket held out the bow and tossed it at the boys.
“Mary Anne’s bow!” shouted Pit.
“You leave that at my place?”
“John must’ve dropped it,” the fat boy named Felix explained, “We were playing war at your place when you went out.”
“Don’t be blamin’ me, pissant,” John said, “It was your idea to break into the ol’fart’s place.”
“Shut your yaps,” he commanded, “Stay away from my place.”
“Yes, sir,” whispered the boys.
O’Kricket pointed to me and laughed.
“This is Booker Darcy.”
The boys stared at me with buggy eyes. They wiped their runny noses and scratched their bare chests.
“So?” said Pit.
The boy named Felix grumbled and kicked at the sand.
“He’s going to help solve the case of the missing sisters,” O’Kricket told.
The boys gasped. Running in circles they reached out for me.
“You gon’na solve it?” Felix asked.
“These boys were friends with the missin’ girls. They’ve been trying to find them ever since their disappearance.”
“Please find them mister,” the smallest fellow pleaded.
“I’m not sure if I can.”
“Just ‘cause you don’t wear any badges like them police folk?” wondered Pit.
“I don’t have any detective skills.”
“Neither do we, man,” said Felix.
“C’mon, they’re our friends,” whined John.
The boys cheered.
“Do you know anything else about the girls?”
Pit wiped his nose on his slender arm and said:
“Their names are Mary Anne and LuAnn.”
John piped up and said:
“They were playin’ on the orphanage’s playground when some scumsuckling pussbuckets in a big, ol’ Jeep kidnapped them.”
“That’s not true!” shouted Felix, “They ran away.”
“Not what I heard.”
Pit shook his head.
“All I know is that them older boys were riding in a Jeep,” John mumbled.
Contemplating and running a hand through my curly, brown hair, I stared at the batty faces and felt anxiousness shoot through my gut.
* * *
O’Kricket had taken the kids and me to the outskirts of Ship Wreck where an orphanage rested on the corner of a foggy, abandoned road. His 1962 Ford Thunderbird sounded like an old man as it coughed up smoke and rumbled through the crisscrossed roads. Parking on the right side of the road, he stared through the fog and groaned.
“How do you know, ol’man?” wondered Pit.
“There’s no sign of life.”
“Let’s go check it out,” said John excitedly.
As barmy as it was, I followed O’Kricket and the kids into the orphanage where a cold wind chilled my bones. The orphanage was built out of red, craggy bricks with ivy crawling up the sides. A thicket of trees enclosed us and lent over as if to whisper secrets. The salty wind danced through the trees’ leaves and whistled as it passed our ears. The kids were excited and roared when the wind howled. I was frightened out of my wits.
The boys climbed the rusty gates of the orphanage and hopped over to the other side. I watched them in awe and knew it would be a foolery if I dared to act like a wild chimpanzee. Instead, I squeezed through the gates with O’Kricket and made a fuss. Taunting me, the boys giggled into their palms.
“You’re a klutz, man,” said Felix.
“A spaz!” the others shouted.
“Keep it down,” O’Kricket scolded, “This dump sure is abandoned, but that doesn’t mean we won’t attract any unwanted guests.”
The boys pondered.
“Ghosts and ghouls?”
O’Kricket growled. He urged me forward and pushed me into the ‘creaky’ main doors.
“Stop being a fraidy-cat and man up, boy’o.”
I frowned at the old coot, but hadn’t complained.
Pushing the doors open, I peeked inside and was invited by a big puff of thick dust. Coughing, I startled a few filthy rats that scurried across the wooden floorboards. Moths scattered. All around cobwebs sheathed the ceilings and walls and made comely patterns. Pulling out my trusty penlight, I checked my surroundings. O’Kricket and the boys followed me.
“It stinks here,” mumbled John.
“Sure does,” Felix said.
“Maybe nobody’s here after all,” said Camilo.
Each time I crept forward the floorboards ‘creaked’ like an old rocking chair. I flashed my penlight in every direction, searching for some sign of life when a shadow skidded across the hall and caused a racket. There was a sound of cheeky laughter and a haunting feel in the air. O’Kricket swiped the penlight from me and limped forward. He sucked on his pipe and blew smoke from his thick lips.
“Bloody hell,” I mumbled, “What is that?”
“Wild boys,” O’Kricket told.
The boys looked up at him, confused.
“What do you mean by that, ol’man?” asked Camilo.
“This place was shut down,” O’Kricket mumbled, “Some boys were left behind, young’uns at the time. Sounds like they’re livin’ here.”
“How do you know for sure?” asked Pit.
“I’ve seen them wandering round. They steal from markets, live off the streets and pickpocket local folk.”
“Are you one of the victims?” I asked.
O’Kricket scowled. He banged on the wooden walls, whistled and eavesdropped on the dancing wild boys.
“Raggedy urchins steal from me almost every month,” he whispered.
O’Kricket signaled us forward. We took one step into the wreckage and spotted the savaged boys. Their bodies were bare, their hair was matted, their motley skin was dirtied and their eyes burned with fear. Many of them hooted and ran behind fusty furniture, while others stood upon the wreckage and stared with batty eyes.
“Wicked,” I mumbled.
“Who goes there?” questioned a boy with a painted face.
“You’re the sniveling li’l bunions who steal my treasures?” O’Kricket asked.
“The Old Man!” shouted the wild boys.
“Is that what you ingrates call me?” O’Kricket wondered.
The wild boys crawled out from their hiding places and stared at us. The sight churned my stomach.
“You’ve made us rich!” shouted the painted boy.
O’Kricket raised a brow.
“——All of your stuffs helped us survive.”
The wild boys cheered.
When O’Kricket was about to scold them, I stepped into the rubble and took a deep breath.
“Who’re you, dildarse?”
“Booker Darcy. I’m here to help find Mary Anne and LuAnn——the missing girls.”
The wild boys sucked their lips and mused over my words. They bumped heads and whispered secrets.
Then Pit said:
“He’s tellin’ the truth.”
“He don’t look like no detective,” said John, “but he’s not lyin’.”
The painted boy jumped down from the wreckage and said:
“They’re dead as doornails.”
“No their not,” claimed Felix.
“Some Jeep took ‘um,” John continued.
The painted boy nodded.
“I ‘member that. They were bigger boys. They had lots of art supplies in that dang Jeep.”
“What kind of art supplies, runt?” asked O’Kricket.
“Clays and paints.”
“What’s your name?”
“Sure live like one.”
The boy called Maggot snarled and kicked his feet. He studied me and wiped his dirty cheeks.
“You got kids, man?” he asked.
“A little girl.”
* * *
Maggot told the story about how the mysterious Jeep drove around the orphanage hundreds of times before the sisters disappeared. He said four older boys would sit on the hood of the Jeep, listen to loud music and drink cans of stale beer. They’d watch the kids like hungry vultures and tease them behind the gates.
Before we left the orphanage, Maggot told me to visit the local park where a young fellow played baseball on the sandlot. He said that he would be able to help.
O’Kricket told Pit and the others to hurry home before their parents got worried. There were many whines and nitpicks, but with one loud shout, O’Kricket scared them out of their socks.
The park was filled with happy-go-lucky folks that skipped around and enjoyed the handsome day. O’Kricket couldn’t stand the sea of joyful faces. He pushed through them, chewed on his pipe and buried his hands into his pockets.
“Do you know your way around, sir?” I wondered.
“I’ve lived here for years——course I know, boy’o.”
“It must be tough living all by your lonesome, mate,” I said.
“It’s been this way for twenty years since the ol’ lady died. What about you Darcy, you got a li’l lady waitin’ for you back home?”
“I’m divorced. Once our daughter was born Maggie couldn’t take responsibility. She left me for a wealthy gent.”
“Is that why you came to Yanks’ Country?”
“To be truthful——yes. My daughter, Abby, she’s attending boarding school.”
“Leaving you alone.”
O’Kricket clapped his hand onto my shoulders and my knees buckled.
“Once you hit my age, boy’o, you’ll learn that silence is golden.”
Just then, we reached the sandlot where a fair, young man dressed in a baseball uniform was swinging a bat. He fixed the helmet on his head and dug his shoes into the dirt. Right when he was about to swing, O’Kricket shouted:
“Hey batta, batta, hey batta, batta, swing!”
The poor lad was so surprised that he fell onto his rump.
“What’s your problem?” he stuttered.
O’Kricket sucked on his pipe and blew the smoke in the lad’s face.
“What’s your name son?” he asked.
“Louis. Can’t you see I’m a little busy?”
“A brat named Maggot said you’d be able to help us. That true?”
Louis laughed and picked up his bat.
“You’re that old guy, O’Crumpet or somethin’.”
“Right. What do you and your buddy want?”
Louis stared at me for a moment, spat, took off his helmet and shook his blonde hair.
“——You’re that columnist, Booker Darcy, right?”
“A pleasure to meet you, Louis.”
“The pleasure’s all mine, sir. I’m a fan of your work. You wrote about my game last month, The Blue Birds. I have your article hanging on my mirror.”
“It’s nice to know I have a fan.”
“Don’t get cocky, boy’o,” O’Kricket said.
Louis frowned at the old coot and said:
“What do you need, sir?”
“Do you know anything about the missing sisters, Mary Anne and LuAnn——runaways from the orphanage?”
Louis tapped his bat against his filthy shoes and looked around cautiously.
“Maggot told you about the Jeep?”
“Those guys are bad news. I used to volunteer at the orphanage a few years back when I kept seeing those losers hangin’ round, smoking junk and messing with the kids. They call themselves traveling artists, or something.”
Whipping out a pad, I scribbled down notes as Louis told the story of the nasty thugs.
“——A bunch of my buddies said they live with this creepy old dude, who’s some kind of starving artist. He pays them for doing his dirty work.”
“What kind?” I asked.
“Rumor has it, this guy adopts kids so he could make his Ma Famille masterpiece. He sure is a starving artist, but his pockets are fat.”
O’Kricket cleaned the soot out of his pipe and asked:
“What’s this about Ma Famille?”
“You mean you guys never heard of it? The guy wants to make a real life family tree using sculptures and junk he finds in the city.”
“Do you know this man’s name?” I asked.
“The goons ‘round here call him Caper. No one really knows his name.”
“Do you know where he lives?”
Louis shook his head.
“Thank you, Louis,” I said.
Then O’Kricket and I left the sandlot and hurried into the streets.
* * *
The following week I returned to Ship Wreck Newsflash and worked on a column that concerned the case of the missing sisters. Sure enough, the Editor in Chief bombarded me with questions and said that if this case were solved then it would be the ‘scoop of the century’. Anxious, I left work early and hurried to O’Kricket’s apartment.
The old man was smoking his pipe outside and listening to Oldies music over a portable radio.
“O’Kricket!” I called in excitement.
“Boy’o,” said the old man, “Come for a visit?”
“If we solve this case then it’ll be a story to remember.”
O’Kricket looked disinterested.
“I thought you were nervy about this whole shoddy mess?”
He grabbed my shoulders, shook them hard and walked towards my smashed-up van.
“Bloody hell mate, where are we headed?”
“Caper’s apartment building.”
O’Kricket jumped into my van and slammed the rusty door shut.
“A few of my buddies found something interesting.”
When we arrived at Caper’s abandoned apartment building, three of the four blokes I met at the café, waited outside. They all sipped at cups of strong coffee, smoked cigars and dressed in loose clothing. The hot sun sizzled over their dark faces and made them sweat.
“Nice to see you again, Booker,” the thinnest man said.
I nodded and wiped the sweat from my brow.
“Boy’o, this here is Jeremy, Darrel and Fender——war buddies of mine. Darrel here ranked colonel.”
The colonel raised his cup of coffee.
O’Kricket checked his surroundings.
“Fuzz used to watch this place like a hawk,” he said, “They were real cautious about these parts of town.”
The colonel laughed hard and said:
“They’re just children.”
“Back in the ‘70s, hordes of orphans ran wild. They showed no mercy to the townsfolk.”
“Survival of the fittest, that’s what these poor dopes lived by. They’d no parents, no guardians——dumped to die.”
“It was one of the biggest stories Ship Wreck Newsflash ever covered,” said Fendor as he sucked in some smoke.
The air was dry and brushed beneath the collar of my shirt. My stomach twisted in knots.
“You look like you downed some horseradish, boy’o,” O’Kricket said.
“Stories like that disturb me.”
The blokes laughed at me and went around the back of the apartment. With cigars clenched by their rotten teeth, they climbed up a rusty fire escape and shouted. O’Kricket hushed them.
When I reached the top of the fire escape I looked down to see dirty-nosed children huddled in a smashed-up car that was dented and filled with graffiti. They were slender to the bone, willowy and in desperate need of a bath. They munched on sloppy, brown rubbish and fought over their food like beastly animals.
The colonel smashed the apartment’s window with his heel and headed inside.
“What’d you find mate?” I asked.
The colonel said:
“Some rag-tag clothes, photographs and documents.”
He scurried over to the corner of the room, knelt down and rummaged behind a dusty blanket. He tossed a box of evidence at my feet and whipped out a black and white photograph of old man Caper. Fascinated, I took out my phone and started snapping photographs of the evidence, when the colonel stopped me. Taking me by surprise, he grabbed my phone and smashed it into bits.
“Bloody hell!” I shouted, “What’s the matter with you?”
“This is nobody’s business but ours!” the colonel shouted.
O’Kricket raised a brow and said:
“Darrel, the kid needs this as proof for his article.”
The colonel laughed.
“What’s more important, a stupid article, or findin’ these girls?”
“Their disappearance has cursed this town for years. Nobody’s the same ‘cause of it.”
“You’re so obsessed with changing Ship Wreck Newsflash, that you’ve failed to see what’s truly important, Alvin,” Jeremy criticized.
“We brought you here for an intervention. This needs to stop.”
O’Kricket hadn’t said a single word. He took out his pipe, lit it and sucked in a mouthful of smoke. Hoisting up the boxes of clothes, photographs and documents he turned towards the window and let out a wild scream.
Savagery melted his smoldering eyes. Boxes in hand he hurried down the fire escape. As if he were my shepherd, I followed him loyally.
O’Kricket tossed the boxes, jumped from the fire escape and rolled. He landed in a pile of sweaty trash bags and hadn’t gotten a scratch. He shouted for me, but I was too frightened to follow.
The colonel and the blokes caught up to me and begged me not to follow mangy O’Kricket, but I was dedicated. Sucking in my pride, I jumped from the fire escape and hurried down the streets with O’Kricket. My body and face got scratched up from the fall and a sharp pain stripped my stomach. Soon, a dark haze of thrill fogged up my mind.
* * *
“You barmpot!” I shouted, as we made it back to my van, “Do you enjoy living the life of Billy-No-Mates?”
O’Kricket placed the boxes of evidence in the back seat and scratched at his beard. Catching my breath, I drove away and sat in silence.
Clouds sailed over the sun and a strip of lightening brightened the sky. Once I pulled into O’Kricket’s apartment lot and stared at the purple thunderclouds, the sky poured buckets of water.
Inside, we dived into the boxes of junk like a couple of kids on Christmas Day. There were old toys, sailor uniforms, photographs of a sailboat called Ma Famille, and crumpled sea maps of the Atlantic Ocean. When I turned to look at O’Kricket’s face, it beamed with a sort of delight that smoothed his wrinkles.
“Doggonit,” he grumbled, “That’s ol’ man Henry Houston. He was Ship Wreck’s fisherman when I was a young fella.”
“We’ve done it!” I shouted, “All we need to do now is tell the police.”
Shaking his head, O’Kricket laughed.
“They can track Mr. Houston down and———“
“What will that do? Months, years will go by before any of this gets solved.”
“Why do you doubt the authorities?”
O’Kricket looked into the box of junk and scratched his balding, crusty head.
“Those haggard suitors never solved my wife’s case.”
Hesitant, I said:
“My condolences, I didn’t know.”
“They say she died of natural causes, but I don’t believe a darn thing those paramedics say.”
“Who would have killed your wife?”
“Wild boys,” O’Kricket growled.
“Why would children do her harm?”
“She scolded them; acted like a parent. They’re savages I tell you.”
Suddenly, there was a rustling behind the stacks of knickknacks and boxes in O’Kricket’s grimy kitchen. We turned and listened, carefully observing the shadowy movements.
“Who’s there?” shouted O’Kricket as he grabbed his wooden bat.
There was a muffled sound of shouting. Though, as O’Kricket raised his bat, Pit, John, Camilo and Felix jumped out, filthy and excited. Their eyes welled with tears. Walking up to them I asked:
“What is the matter, boys?”
“Took…him…he’s all bad…you see?” Pit muttered.
“Bite your tongue, boy!” O’Kricket shouted.
Pit shook his head, groaning.
“It’s Maggot!” shouted Felix.
“He’s all smashed-up,” said Camilo, “and…and…”
“Caper got them boys!” John cried.
O’Kricket and I shared a look of dismayed stress and held our breaths.
“We followed the Jeep with them boys,” explained John, “But we lost them.”
“Yeah, they got away in some boat!” shouted Pit.
Without another thought, I grabbed my keys and hurried to my van. Everyone followed me screaming with thrill.
It didn’t take long to get to the beach. When we arrived the boys pointed to the docks where hundreds of boats bobbed in the water. We searched for many minutes, until Pit spotted Ma Famille. Its engine rumbled. It was about to depart.
The skipper was a dopey man with rotten teeth and a scratchy chin. When we hopped onto the boat he hadn’t even realized us.
Soon the boat floated off into the violent sea. Waves crashed against the sides and soaked us with salty water. The boys cried silently. They crawled around in search for Maggot, but he was nowhere to be found.
It was a long trip, but when the boat docked on new shores we had little time to escape. O’Kricket grabbed Pit and John, while I helped Camilo. Felix tried climbing off the sides, but was too pudgy to lift his leg. The boys cried in fear for their friend’s life. He groaned and moaned and when he finally fell off the sides he made a loud “SPLASH”!
The skipper turned his head and checked his surroundings. Coughing and struggling to swim, Felix lolled chin deep in the water and rushed over to us. Then the skipper was gone.
“C’mon!” Pit shouted, “Maggot’s got to be around here somewhere.”
“You sure this is the place?” I wondered, helping Felix to his feet.
“It ought to be.”
We clambered up the sandy, pink shore until we reached a forest that was tangled with foliage. Creeping things prowled around us, birds took flight, pesky insects buzzed. As I pushed through the creepers and tripped over broken logs I stopped in my tracks. Someone was following us.
My eyes closed.
For a moment I imagined the fat, grisly skipper holding a loaded pistol against my neck, where he would take a shot and slaughter me like swine. I imagined him laughing over my body and chasing O’Kricket and the poor boys.
When my eyes shot open I saw crowds of painted boys and girls standing over me, shrouded by the trees swaying leaves. Their clothes were raggedy, their hair was long and their bodies were covered in mud.
“Who are you?” asked O’Kricket.
The children laughed and grunted. Many snarled and made ugly faces.
Soon they surrounded us, tied us up with ropes and held sharp spears to our necks.
“Our commander would like to see you.”
The children dragged us through the forest, until they reached the environs of the shore, where the tide thrust against slippery rocks and roared like a ferocious lion. There were little huts built out of sticks, stones, banana leaves and coconuts. A fire pit smoldered beside the huts. Children danced round it, chanting and applauding.
Then the assembly stopped. A boy, tall, sunburnt and handsome stepped over the hot stones that surrounded the fire and stared at us from behind his long, tatty hair. He wore a leaf crown upon his head and carried a bent branch that had coconuts dangling from its tip.
The dancing and cheering had stopped.
“Welcome to Kid Island,” the commander said, almost snarling like a beast.
“Why have you brought us here brat?” O’Kricket asked.
“Aren’t you looking for me?” the commander asked.
The children huddled round him and made a path. Then a boy with frightened eyes stepped through the path and fell to his knees. To my surprise, it was Maggot.
“Maggot!” Felix shouted.
Maggot shook his head.
“What’re you doing with Maggot?” asked Pit.
The commander laughed.
“He found out about this place. He wanted to come here to have fun all day long.”
“Who are you?” asked John.
The commander laughed and pushed Maggot forward with his walking stick.
“Go on, tell them.”
“But…but…” Maggot mumbled.
Maggot lowered his head and hugged at his dirty knees.
“Caper,” he whispered.
My blood boiled. My head and stomach ached. I balled up my fists and shouted:
“What is this a sick joke?”
Everyone stared at me with batty eyes.
“What’s going on?”
Caper grinned uncannily.
“Grandpa always told me that one day we’d find someone to take care of us. He did, he did.”
“Your grandfather is Henry Houston?” asked O’Kricket.
“He left me a real long time ago.”
“That’s why we’re here,” said a skinny boy.
“We don’t want Caper to be lonely no more.”
Caper slowly approached me, but I fought back.
“Don’t be afraid,” he whispered, “I wanted you here.”
“What did Booker ever do to you?” asked John.
“Yeah?” mumbled Camilo.
“Nothing,” Caper said, “But he’s been looking for us.”
“Us?” I asked.
Caper looked to the crowds of children. As they moved like diligent soldiers, two, little girls walked up to me and touched my hands. When I got a good, long look at them my stomach sank to my toes.
“Mary Anne! LuAnn!” cried Felix.
Pit, John, Felix and Camilo jumped on top of the girls and cried like innocent pups. I watched them, amazed.
“Now we’ll never be lonely again,” Caper said.
“What are you saying?”
“You can never leave. It’s Kid Island’s only law.”
“Darcy has a family—————a li’l girl’s waiting for him to return home!”
“Ma Famille,” Caper mumbled, “He’s part of Ma Famille now! You can add your piece to the tree, Grandpa always said you could!”
“No, I’m sorry,” I whispered, “I can’t stay.”
Caper and the wild children started crying and throwing temper tantrums.
“If we can’t have you then nobody can!” Caper cried.
The children started pushing me towards the fire pit. I fought against them but was outnumbered.
Caper stood on a small pedestal and raised his walking stick. The children cheered and pushed me further into the flames. Though, when my chin was burnt to a crisp, O’Kricket thrust his way through the horde of children and knocked me off my feet.
“Run! Go!” he shouted.
Pit and the boys rushed to my side and helped me gain my balance. The wild children scratched, bit, punched and clawed at O’Kricket as he shouted and commanded I left him behind.
“I can’t!” I cried.
When O’Kricket said his final words to me, the boys pushed me through the forest, headed for Ma Famille. We saw the skipper whistling and stocking the boat with nets filled with fish and sneaked inside. The boys were hysterical, while I calmed them and held them tight.
Then Ma Famille sailed across the ocean and headed for Ship Wreck.
* * *
Many years later I left Ship Wreck Newsflash and returned home to Norfolk, England. I became a professor at Attleborough Academy and taught as an English professor. I spent the long summer days with my daughter and enjoyed every, single moment.
One morning I received a letter in the mail addressed to me. It read:
Hope all is well. Maybe one day you can come back to Ship Wreck. It was a fun, little adventure we had together. This story deserves to be told.
That day was a day of celebration. I decided to one-day return to Ship Wreck to visit O’Kricket and the boys. I promised myself to never let my insecurities take the best of me. If I had worked hard and stayed at Ship Wreck Newsflash then I wouldn’t be filled with naysaying poppycock. I’d be more like Alvin O’Kricket and less like those wild boys.