The Island of Lost Horses
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
First published in hardback and paperback in Great Britain by HarperCollins Children’s Books in 2014
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Text copyright © Stacy Gregg 2014
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Source ISBN: 9780007580262
Ebook Edition © 2014 ISBN: 9780007580286
12th April, 2014
I am writing this as fast as I can. The doors on the Phaedra don’t lock, and Mom could walk in any moment. I have no privacy. I am the only twelve-year-old girl I know who has to share a room with her mom. I have pointed out how unfair it is, the way the jellyfish equipment takes up the whole front of the boat, but Mom won’t listen. Typical – the jellyfish get their own room and I don’t.
I’m not trying to make excuses for my handwriting or anything, but if it is all scrawly that’s because my arm’s so trembly I can hardly hold the pen. I think it’s from gripping on to the tractor for so long. The entire way home I had to cling to the wheel arch, sitting up there behind Annie like a parrot perched on a pirate’s shoulder. The way she drove along those rutted jungle tracks, I was petrified I was going to lose hold and fall beneath the wheels.
By the time we reached the bay and I could see the Phaedra, my body had been shaken up like a can of fizzy drink.
There was no sign of Mom as the tractor lumbered over the dunes and down the beach towards the sea. I was kind of relieved, to tell the truth. The whole time at Annie’s house I had been desperate to get back to the boat, but now that I was home I felt sick at the thought of facing Mom. She would be furious with me. I had been gone for two whole days…
Annie jolted to a stop and I lost my grip on the wheel arch and fell to the sand, collapsing like jelly out of a mould, my legs giving way beneath me.
“Bee-a-trizz!” Annie leapt down from the tractor and hooked her arms under my armpits to lift me to my feet again.
“For heaven’s sake, child!”
She was really strong for a little old lady. She held me like a rag doll, so that my feet dragged through the sand and my face was buried against her chest. I could smell the cotton of her dress and see where the blue floral pattern had gone all yellowed with sweat.
Annie carried me up the beach to the tidemark where the sand was dry and I lay there for a while with my eyes shut, taking deep breaths, trying to make the sick, dizzy feeling go away.
That was when I heard the Zodiac coming. I recognised the familiar whine of its outboard motor and the slap-slap the rubber inflatable made as it smacked across the waves. I opened my eyes and there was Mom steering the Zodiac to shore. She gestured frantically to me and I gave her a feeble wave in return. I felt like I was going to throw up.
“Wait here, Bee-a-trizz.” Annie headed down to the water to help bring the Zodiac in. She stood knee-deep in the waves, holding it steady, and Mom jumped out and left her there as she ran up the beach to me.
“Beatriz!” She dropped to her knees beside me. “Oh my God, Bee!”
“Hi, Mom,” I managed a weak smile. When she touched my face her hand felt like ice against my skin.
“Beatriz, you’re burning up!”
“I’m OK,” I insisted. “I just got a little sunburnt.”
“OK?” Mom looked horrified. “We have to get you to a hospital…”
“No.” I pushed myself up off the sand. The world was spinning around me. “I’m fine. Honest…”
“De child be al’right.”
It was Annie.
“I’m sorry?” Mom said, clearly shocked at the declaration from this stranger. “Are you a doctor?”
“Bee-a-trizz don’ be wantin’ no doctors,” Annie replied. “Child had de fever real bad, so I keep her to sleep at ma crib til day-clean. De fever broke, so she be al’right now…”
“At your place? She’s been missing for two days…” Mom’s voice was tense. Here we go, I thought. Mom was going to grill Annie until she got the whole story. She was going to hear all about the horse and the mud flats and Annie finding me…
But Annie’s attention had been caught by the Phaedra, moored about forty metres offshore. She gave a flick of her head, gesturing at the boat with her lips, using them the same way other people used their hands to point at stuff.
“You all alone on dat tink?”
Mom’s eyes flitted briefly to the boat, then back to Annie. I could see that she was suddenly aware that we were in the middle of nowhere with no one else around except this weird old lady with her tractor.
“Yes,” Mom said warily. “I mean, alone with Beatriz – the two of us.”
Annie frowned. “You takin’ a vacation?”
My mom shook her head. “I’m a marine biologist. I’m working on a research paper for Florida University, studying the migratory patterns of sea thimble jellyfish…”
Annie grunted. She had lost interest and began to walk back to her tractor.
“Wait!” Mom said. “I mean… Thank you. For bringing Beatriz back. I have been worried sick…”
“De child be al’right. No need for worryin’,” Annie said. She clambered back up on to the tractor seat, yanking at her skirt to get comfortable. Then she turned the key in the ignition and stuck her bare foot down hard on the tractor pedal. The rattle and burr of the engine instantly killed any hopes Mom might have had for further conversation.
Annie shoved her straw hat down hard on her dreadlocks. “De island be a dangerous place,” she said. She was gazing over at the dunes where we had come from, taking in the far distant end of the island where the mud flats lay. “Very dangerous. You best be careful…”
Then, the tractor rumbled forward and Annie swung the steering wheel, turning the tractor so close to me, I thought she might run over my toes with those giant tyres. Then she raised her hand to flick me a goodbye wave and set off, the tyres digging zigzag patterns into the smooth white sand.
Annie’s battered straw hat was the last thing I saw as she crested the dunes and sank out of sight.
“That woman is flat-out crazy.”
My mom, making her usual proclamations.
“Annie’s not crazy,” I countered. “She’s my friend…” Although that really wasn’t true, was it? Annie gave me the creeps. The whole time I had been at her place I had wanted to leave. But I would never admit that to Mom.
“You stayed at her house?” Mom launched into it. “What were you thinking? Why didn’t you call me?”
I pulled my phone out of my pocket. It was sandy and crusted with salt, its insides totally soaked.
“It died,” I said. And the thought briefly flashed into my mind, should I tell Mom what had happened to me? No. I stopped myself.
If she knows what happened then she won’t let you go back there – and you must go back. You have to see your horse again…
“Mom?” I took a deep breath. “Can we go back to the boat, please? I think I’m going to throw up…”
I managed to control the nausea, even with the Zodiac bouncing and skittering across the waves. I sat in the prow on the bench seat, focusing hard on the horizon, which is what you do to stop feeling seasick.
When we reached the Phaedra, Mom tied off the inflatable while I dragged myself up the ladder and on to the deck. I was still a bit shaky and I stumbled and fell forward, grabbing the side of the boat to stay upright.
“Are you sure you don’t need a doctor?” Mom asked. It was a silly question. Even if I did need a doctor where would we find one in a wilderness reserve on the outer edge of the Bahamas?
“I just need to lie down,” I insisted.
“Do you want me to make you something to eat?” Mom offered.
I shook my head gently. “No thanks, Mom. I just need to sleep.”
I made my way past the steering cabin and the kitchen on the upper deck, gripping the railings the whole way, and then down the narrow stairs that led to our room.
Below deck there are two rooms. The room at the front of the boat is where the jellyfish tanks and monitors and equipment are kept. And the other room is for me and Mom. On my side the walls are covered with horse pictures. The best one is of Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum jumping her horse Shutterfly over this huge water jump at the Olympics.
I flopped down face first on my bunk mattress, my sunburn throbbing, body aching. Then I thought about the diary and I forced myself to sit up again.
I had dumped my backpack on the floor and I reached out and grasped it, dragging it closer so I could unzip it. The ancient diary was right at the top where I had packed it, bound up in filthy, grey cloth.
I noticed as I unwrapped it that the rags were trimmed with tattered lace and there was even a collar with a buttonhole. I guessed the cloth had once been an old-fashioned shirt, but it was so decayed it was hard to imagine anyone ever wearing it.
I put the cloth aside and held the diary in my hands, my fingers tracing the stiff cracks in the leather, the letters stamped on the front.
I was about to open it to the page where I had last finished reading when there were footsteps on the stairs.
“Bee?” I hurriedly wrapped the diary in its cloth and shoved it back inside the backpack. My heart was pounding. I waited a beat, expecting the door to open.
“I’m going to cook some pasta. You want some?”
“Uhh,” I hesitated, “no thanks, Mom. I’m not hungry.”
I waited for a heartbeat or two and then I heard her go back up the stairs. I was about to reach over and take the ancient diary out of the backpack again when a thought occurred to me.
I got up from my bunk and pulled open the drawer underneath where my books were kept. I had to dig through the pile, and for a moment I thought maybe it wasn’t even there. But here it was, right at the very bottom. It was smaller than I remembered it, with a blue cover and pale yellow lined pages. I opened my ‘Year 5’ diary and was relieved to find that, as I remembered, most of it was blank.
My handwriting hadn’t changed much over the past three years since I wrote these entries.
The diary had been a school assignment and our teacher Mrs Moskowitz graded it. We were supposed to write our feelings but I never did. Even though Mom and Dad were fighting. This was just before they broke up, before we left Florida.
I didn’t mention anything about horses either. I was worried that someone might grab the diary off me in class and read it out loud and I already got teased about being a ‘horsey girl’.
Most of the entries were about what I ate for lunch and who I sat next to in class and stuff. On the last page I had written all about how Kristen Adams and I were the bestest friends in the whole of Year 5. I winced a bit when I read that. Some BFF. She hadn’t returned my emails for at least two years.
Anyway, once I’d read that page I ripped them all out – the ones with writing on them. I tore them carefully so as not to disturb the blank pages and I balled up the used ones and tossed them aside on my bed. Then I propped myself up on my pillows and smoothed down the first clear page. It felt good to have that empty page looking back at me – waiting for me to put something on it.
I thought back to when Annie had given me Felipa’s diary. She had acted really serious about it, handing it to me like it was a big deal. “Bee-a-trizz,” she said. “You be de guardian of de words now.”
At the time I thought she meant that because Felipa’s diary was written in Spanish and so I could understand it, I should look after it. But now I realised that maybe Annie meant something more than that. She said I was the guardian of the words. So maybe my own words mattered too? After everything that had happened to me over the past two days, out on the mud flats and at Annie’s house, I finally had something important to write. I had my own story to tell.
It wouldn’t be like the old pages that I had torn away. It would be true this time, like diaries are meant to be, but it would be amazing too. And it would begin with the day that I found my horse. Running wild in the most impossible place you could imagine. Here, on this tiny island, a million miles from anywhere, on the outer edge of the Caribbean.
If things are going to make any sense at all then I need to backtrack a little and explain how I came to be on Great Abaco Island.
Mom and I had arrived, like we always do, in the wake of a bloom. A bloom is the name for a herd of jellyfish. That is what Mom does – she tracks jellyfish and studies their breeding patterns.
I was nine years old when Mom yanked me out of school and straight into the middle of nowhere. She’s been dragging me around on the Phaedra with her for three years now, back and forth around the islands so that a map of the Bahamas has been seared into my brain.
Jellyfish, by the way, are totally brainless. I’m not being mean just because they are taking up what should be my bedroom – it’s the truth. Mom says they cope perfectly well without a brain. She says that Nature, unlike people, is non-judgemental about such matters. But I think Nature needs to take a good hard look at itself because it has invented some really stupid stuff. Did you know that a jellyfish’s mouth and bottom is the same hole? Eughh!
Even without brains, jellies can get together and bloom, and when they do we follow them. Our boat, the Phaedra, is real pretty. She’s painted all white with her name written in swirly blue letters above the waterline so that it seems to dance on the waves.
The Phaedra was designed as a lobster trawler, so she can only do 12 knots an hour. Which is OK since the jellyfish blooms that we chase never move faster than two knots.
Some of the islands that the jellies lead us to are really small, not much more than a reef and a few trees. Others are huge with big hotels and water parks, and at Christmas time when the tourists come they turn into Disneylands.
This was the very first time we had been to Great Abaco. It’s a remote jungle island, a long way from the mainland of Nassau, and we had charted our course to arrive at the island’s marina at Marsh Harbour so we could take a mooring for the night and buy supplies and refuel.
That first evening, instead of cooking onboard in our tiny kitchen, we went ashore and Mom treated us to dinner at Wally’s. It’s the local scuba divers’ hangout: a bright pink two-storey place, run-down but in a nice way. We sat on the balcony and I had a conch burger, which I always order, and fries and key lime pie. I was halfway through my dessert, when I asked Mom about moving back to Florida.
The funny thing is, when we left Florida Mom had me totally convinced about how much fun our lives would be. It would be an adventure. I’d be skipping out on school and travelling the high seas – like a pirate or something.
Trust me – it is not like that at all.
For starters, I still do school. Only now I am a creepy home-schooler. I do correspondence classes and workbooks and talk to my tutors over the internet.
“I have no friends here,” I told Mom as I ate my pie.
When I left school everyone made this huge fuss about how much they would miss me and stay in touch. Especially Kristen, making a big show of how we would be Best Friends Forever. Forever, it turns out, was a couple of months and then the emails and Skype just stopped.
“Well maybe you need to make more of an effort,” Mom countered.
This was what she always said. But she couldn’t say it was my fault about the horses.
In Florida we had a stables just down the road. I would park up my bike there after school on the way home and feed the horses over the fence. I had been begging Mom for lessons since I was really little and right before we left she had promised I could start.
“You did,” I said. “You promised.”
Mom sighed. “Sometimes things don’t work out the way we want…”
The thing is I have this whole plan where I become an amazing rider and go to the Olympics. Mom knows this because it is all I talk about.
“I am running out of time,” I told her. “Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum had already won her first Grand Prix by the time she was my age. How am I supposed to train for the Olympics when I’m stuck on a boat?”
Mom reached over with her spoon and helped herself to a chunk out of my key lime pie.
“Why don’t you train for the swim team instead?” she offered.
“Mom! You’re not taking me seriously,” I said. “I want to go back to Florida.”
“You can’t just say no. I am a US citizen and I have rights.”
“You have the right to remain silent,” my mother said.
“How about if I lived with Dad? I could visit you in the school holidays…”
“Beatriz!” I cannot even mention Dad without her getting mad. “I have told you to drop it, OK? That’s not an option. You live with me. End of discussion.”
The following morning we set off at dawn, chugging out of the marina and heading South along the shoreline of Cherokee Sound where the tangerine, mint and lemon-sherbet-coloured beach cottages dotted the shore. By the time we reached the end of the Sound, the cottages with their bright colours and pretty gardens had disappeared and the coastline had become colourless and windswept. The white sand beaches were deserted, and instead of manicured flowerbeds there were nothing but tangles of sea grape, mangroves and cabbage trees.
This was the Great Abaco wilderness reserve. The whole southernmost end of the island was uninhabited, cloaked in jungles of Caribbean pine, snakewood and pigeon berry. From the bow of the boat the jungle seemed to sit like a black cloud across the land as we moved by.
“We’re going to anchor here.” Mom throttled back the engine.
“Where is here?” I asked, peering out suspiciously at the desolate shoreline.
Mom kept her eyes down on the scanner as she steered the Phaedra.
“Shipwreck Bay,” she said.
She handed me the map, her eyes still glued to the scanner and I could see now why she was steering so carefully. There was a hidden reef at the entrance to the bay, so close to the surface that it was almost impossible to navigate your way through.
I went to the side of the Phaedra and stared down into the water. It kept changing colour as we passed over the reef, turning dark indigo where the water was deepest. I could see shadows moving beneath the waves. Reef sharks, big ones by the look of it. And then another shadow, deeper down below, which looked like the outline of a ship. I lay down on the deck of the Phaedra and hung my head over the side so that I could get a better look, staring down into the dark water. It was a ship all right. As we motored over it I could make out the shape of the mast.
“Bee?” Mom called out to me. “Go drop the anchor for me, will you?”
Mom kept the engines of the Phaedra running as she turned into the wind and I ran downstairs, going through our room and into the jellyfish quarters to engage the anchor winch. I pressed down hard on the button and the motor began to grind, unravelling the chain link and lowering the anchor into the sea. I watched it unravel until the marker hit twelve metres and stopped. The anchor had struck the seabed.
By the time I got back up on deck Mom had already started work. She had her laptop out and various sea charts were spread over the kitchen table.
“What are you doing today, Bee?” she asked me.
Sometimes when Mom is working, I stay onboard and lie on the deck and read books. I am brown as a berry from all that reading. Mom says it’s our Spanish blood – we tan easy. She is dark like me with the same black hair, except mine is long, hers is short.
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