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Authors: Pam Withers

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BOOK: Bungee Jump
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“The engineer for our bungee jump just got here,” I say.

“Excellent. You’ll learn a lot from him if he lets you hang around while he’s working.”

I nod. It’s what I’m hoping.

“Did I tell you I studied to be a structural engineer before I decided to be a teacher instead?”

“Yup.”

“I could be building bridges now instead of correcting papers,” he muses.

“Thanks for helping me with my bridge.”

He pats it. “The whole town’s waiting for your bungee jump to open. It’ll be the best entertainment in town.”

“Got that right,” I agree. I get saved from further conversation and zombie encounters by the bell.

“Traitor,” I say accusingly to Caitlin after the day’s final bell. She has just
caught up to me on my way out of school.

“I only told one person,” she insists.

“Bella, I bet. She has a big mouth.” I pick up my pace, so Caitlin has to jog to keep up.

“I’m sorry—” she starts.

“Ahoyyyy there! You two!”

The bellowing voice comes from Misty Passage. We’ve just turned onto the path along it.

“It’s that crazy fisherman,” Caitlin whispers.

“He’s not crazy. Just not friendly. Ignore him,” I advise her.

“Ahoyyyy there! You two!”

I look at the tall barrel-chested man in the wooden rowboat. He’s standing up, oars trailing as he shakes his fists at us.

“Stop! I wanna talk to you!” he shouts.

“What do you want?” I ask. Caitlin slams into me as I stop on the path.

“You get that man off the island!” he commands, eyes narrowed.

“What man?” I play along.

“The one with the trailer! You get him off!”

“Or what? It’s
our
island!” I toss back.

The fisherman looks so startled that his body tilts toward shore. He is on the brink of tumbling in. Caitlin grabs my arm like she wants us to run.

“It’s not yours. It’s
theirs
!” he thunders. “Better watch out if they wake up!” The fists are punching the air again.

I’m tempted to laugh, but he seems mad enough as it is. I calculate how fast he could row to shore and sprint after us before I wave and turn away. I head for home at an unhurried pace. Caitlin is on my heels.

I have a bad feeling as we walk through the front door. Dad and Mom are
sitting serious-faced on the sofa. Dad is comforting Mom, who has red eyes.

“Chris, Caitlin,” he says in a quiet tone as we enter.

“What’s up?” I ask, looking from one to the other.

“I’ve been offered a great new job,” he says. “But it means I have to move to the city for a little while. I start next week.”

“Huh? Why?” we ask in unison.

“We really need the money.”

Mom turns away to wipe her eyes, then faces us. “It won’t be for long, kids. We’ll be okay.”

Dad walks over and puts his hand on my shoulder. “Chris…”

Sadness and anger well up. He hasn’t asked us if he can disappear off to the city. Or given us any warning.

“You really have to?” I challenge.

Caitlin throws her arms around Dad like she can stop him. Mom is biting her lower lip.

We’re losing Dad all because he has done a lousy job of managing the tree farm, I think. Or maybe because he agreed to pay this Gord guy too much. No, wait, he told me Gord was way cheaper than other engineers who’d applied. Lots of good that did.

We talk, we hug, we finally eat supper together. When I go to bed, I punch a pillow so hard that feathers fly.

Chapter Three

“Chris!” Mom calls after breakfast a week later. “Dad’s on the phone.”

I finish loading my books into my backpack. “Hi, Dad!”

“Chris, son! Good to hear your voice.”

“How’s work in the city?”

“It’s tough,” he says cheerfully. “But it sure pays well.”

I stay quiet. I’m not about to tell him how glum we are without him. Or how Mom, Caitlin and I are working ourselves to exhaustion every day chopping firewood. He usually did most of that.

“How’s the bungee jump looking?”

I brighten. “He’s patched the pipe and is painting it. I helped. And a pile of steel supports has arrived. For the gridwork upgrade.”

“That’s super. Two engineers at work together,” Dad jokes. “Well, that brings me to what I want to ask you.”

I wait.

“While I’m not there, Chris, I need you to be my man, okay? Keep an eye on Gord. Make sure the project goes like it’s supposed to. Supervise him and report the progress to me.”

Me, in charge of an engineer? I’m just a kid!
“Um, okay,” I say.

Dad’s voice lowers. “That bungee jump is our future, Chris. Without it, we and the farm go down. I need you.”

“When are you coming home, Dad?”

He sighs. “Soon as I can, Chris.”

“Okay. Got to go to school now. Bye.” I want to say,
I miss you
, or ask why he got us into money problems or tell him to come home now. Instead, I hand the phone to Mom and run out the front door.

“Chris, wait!” Caitlin chases after me.

I wait just long enough for her to catch up.

“Science-fair results today,” she reminds me.

“Uh-huh.” My heart beats faster as I spot the big Science Fair banner over the school’s front door.

We enter the gym. There’s a ton of students and parents. They hover over and gawk at the dozens of displays on tables around the room. I attempt to
elbow my way over to mine, where the thickest gathering is.

“Here he is!” I hear Mr. Roth’s voice. People turn, and the crowd parts to let me through.

My eyes fix on my bridge. It’s just like when I turned it in—slim pillars, vertical suspender cables, tons of tiny wires and cables and plates. Except for the blue ribbon hung on it.

“Congratulations!” Friends punch me in the shoulder, smiling at me. They say things like, “Way to go” and “Knew you’d do something great.”

“You rock!” says Tom.

“It’s amazing,” crows Bella.

Then suddenly everyone’s pressing around it. They ask me questions. I answer them all. After all the research I had to do to make the model, I know a lot about bridge construction.

“It certainly deserved to win first place!” Mr. Roth says, and I turn pink.

“All it’s missing is a bungee-jump rope!” Anya says. The next thing I know, the kids are crowding around Caitlin and me to ask about the bungee jump.

“How long will the rope be?”

“Can you go on it upside down?”

“When is it opening?”

“How much will it cost?”

“Wow, I can’t wait!”

By the time the bell rings, I’m standing with my head held high. And thinking maybe the bungee jump really will save our tree farm.

Chapter Four

“Chris!” Gord greets me as I arrive panting from climbing the bluff. He places his measuring tape back into his tool belt and plops down on the newly painted pipe. “Home from school already? No homework?”

That probably means I bug him too much. But hey, nothing can keep me away. It’s cool watching him work.
I really like seeing the trestle part (steel beams around the pipe) getting repaired. And I especially like asking Gord questions.

Gord studies the plans he keeps in a red binder. He flips pages back and forth like he’s confused about something. He wipes sweat from his neck.

“You have to calculate for loading and size, right?” I ask.

“Of course,” he says, frowning.

“My science teacher says the welding is the most important part.” Welding, of course, is joining metal pieces together—fusing and hammering them.

“Is that so?” His eyes are still on the plans.

“When does the boom crane come to put in the catwalk?” I ask.

“The what? Oh. Soon, Chris.”

“And what’s the catwalk made of?”

“Steel mesh. Twenty inches wide.”

“My science teacher says you’ll get a shop to pre-make it in pieces. Then you’ll use the crane to put them together.”

“Uh-huh.”

“I can’t wait till the platform is on. Can I see the plans again, please?”

Gord slams the binder closed and hands it to me.

“Something wrong?” I ask. I hope he’s not going to send me away. He hasn’t yet. I’m the boss’s son, after all. Or the boss, if you read Dad’s most recent letter to Gord. It’s in my jeans pocket, ready to deliver to him.

“Just trying to make sense of some stuff.”

“Oh.” I turn back to the binder.

The final drawing shows the fixed-up pipe surrounded by stronger steel casing. The repaired frame resembles a long, airy boxcar with steel Xs on the
top, bottom and sides. Like a freight-train section frozen midair over the channel, carrying the pipe.

On top is a narrow walkway with sturdy railings. That’s the catwalk. Halfway across the bridge, the catwalk opens onto a platform. It sticks out over the water, a sort of topless metal cage with a gate. Under the cage is the bungee-jump anchor and winch. (A winch is machinery that pulls things up.) Whoever steps through the gate is on a plank like a diving board.

Two diagonal railings support the jump-off point like it’s a drawbridge about to be pulled up. Giant red footprints are painted on the end of the board to show where the jumper stands before leaping.

The jump master—that’s the guy in charge of checking jumpers’ equipment before saying, “Go!”—will stand inside the cage.

“So the platform is eight by eight feet,” I muse. “Whoa, can you imagine standing on it, ready to jump 150 feet down into—?”


Ahoyyy up there!

“Oh no, not him again,” Gord mumbles.


Ahoyyy down there!
” I dare to shout to the rowboat. “That’s Craven, the fisherman,” I tell Gord. “He’s grumpy but harmless. You can ignore him.”

“The more I ignore him, the more he bugs me,” Gord says.

“You tell her to stay off the island!” Craven instructs me.

“Who?” I respond impatiently.

“She’s disturbing them.”

“Who’s disturbing whom?”

“You’re disturbing us!” Gord inserts for good measure.

Craven shakes his head like we’re the troublesome ones. “Your sister is bothering the children!”

I stand up so fast I almost fall off the pipe.

“Is Caitlin on Hospital Island? By herself? Now?”

“She’s on Thorn Island. She was bothering the children. They got mad.”

“Where’s Thorn Island, and what children?” Gord asks me. He pauses from scribbling numbers on the plans.

“Thorn Island is what Hospital Island used to be called. And he’s talking about the leper children. I mean, the ghosts of the leper children.” I attempt a chuckle, but it comes out like a hiccupy cough. “Sorry, Gord. Gotta go. But Dad asked me to give this to you.”

Gord accepts the envelope and stares at me. I scramble up and start crawling. My knees are on the pipe. My hands are on the cagelike structure around it.

“Hey! That’s not safe, Christopher Bigg!” Gord calls out to me. “You get
down right now. Safer to crawl
through
if you have to go across, you know.”

“Caitlin crawls through. I crawl on top,” I inform him. Halfway across, while crawling over the hatch, I glance down at Craven. He scowls upward.


You’re
in charge?” Gord shouts suddenly, waving the letter he has just opened. “A thirteen-year-old is my boss?” He laughs like it’s the best joke he has heard all day. “Now I’ve heard everything!”

I should answer back, but I know I have to check on my sister. My knees go into high gear. I move like a jockey on a racehorse. When I reach solid ground, I sprint downhill. Into the hospital ruins, down the corridors. I zigzag from one cruddy room to another, trying to locate a faint shouting.

“Chris! Someone!
Heeeelp!
” comes her muffled voice. I enter a room that ages ago must have been tiled from
ceiling to floor. Now the squares of ceramic are covered in filth. Half the pieces are missing. Rusty pipes run down the walls. Piles of moldy leaves mush underfoot.


Heeelp
me!” Banging is coming from under a big rotted square of heavy wood. It must have fallen from where it was leaning against the wall.

I grab hold and try to lift it. It won’t budge. Grunting, I try again. This time it comes up. “Quick!” I urge my dirt-covered sister as she pokes her tear-stained face up from some kind of former hot tub. “Get out before I lose my grip.”

She bolts free like a rabbit out of a hole. The second she’s clear, I let go, and the wood comes crashing down again. It cracks and sends dust flying.

I’m sneezing. Caitlin clings to me.

“What are you doing here? What happened?” I ask.

“Exploring this old pool. I was wiping dirt off the tiles. Underneath, it’s kind of pretty. There are lots of colors and designs.”

“And the leper children didn’t like you here. So they crashed the board down and trapped you,” I say dryly.

Caitlin’s eyes grow big. “D-d-do you really think so?” She clutches me harder and looks around the room.

“Of course not. But that’s what Craven told me.”

“How’d he know I—?”

“Probably got out of his boat and saw you. I’ve seen him using the outhouse on the island before. Then rowed out to tell me. Anyway, it’s not safe here. Especially by yourself. If Dad knew, he’d—”

“Yeah, well, he’s not here. And you’re not Dad. And you’re never around to play with anymore. All you care about is Gord and that stupid—”

“It’s not stupid, Caitlin. And it’s my job to make sure Gord is doing it right.” At this, she peels herself away and crosses her arms. The glare on her filthy face is enough to scare away a roomful of ghosts.

“Yeah, right,” she huffs.

“Did you hear any noise before that board came down?”

Caitlin uncrosses her arms and looks around warily. “I don’t think so.”

“So it came down all by itself?”

“I guess.”

“’Cause if someone is trying to scare you, they’ll be sorry. No one messes with the Bigg family!” I say it loud enough for trespassers, vandals, jokers and ghosts to hear.

Chapter Five

I’m in the school library, looking at books on leprosy. Mrs. Dubin was right. The people in the photos and drawings are gross. Weird lumps and sores all over their bodies, toes and fingers like scarecrow sticks.

BOOK: Bungee Jump
13.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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