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Authors: Pam Withers

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BOOK: Bungee Jump
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“No wonder people used to dump them on islands. Didn’t want anyone
else to catch the disease,” I say as she wanders up and peers over my shoulder.

“That was before they knew leprosy wasn’t very contagious after all,” Mrs. Dubin says.

“They are kind of ugly,” I muse. I turn pages that show medieval drawings. I see lepers slumped on village streets, collecting coins.

“Yes, the muscle weakness caused by the disease made their bodies crooked. That’s also why their toes and fingers shrank. And the sores didn’t help. People were deathly afraid of them. Those who helped sometimes caught the disease. There weren’t plastic gloves and mouth masks then.”

“So the doctor and nurse who helped leper children on Hospital Island were really brave, right?”

“Thorn Island,” she corrects me. Then she straightens, and her smile
lights her face. “Brave and generous, Chris. Heroes, I’d say.”

“Except then the doctor got the disease and—”

“No one really knows what happened to him,” she interrupts with a frown.

“That story about him stealing and hiding the money. What do you think?”

“I think you should stick to your school report,” she snaps.

Whoa, what’d she have for breakfast?
“And you should never, ever visit Thorn Island. It disturbs the children’s spirits.”

“Mmmm,” I reply.

She shuffles away. I look from the library book to my empty notebook page. I sigh and read more. Then I start writing so fast that my hand cramps:

Leprosy (Hansen’s disease)

Symptoms: sores, rashes and lumps all over the body. (Yuck!) Especially on eyes, nose, ears, hands and feet. Numbness and weak muscles that make toes and fingers shrink. Like they’ve fallen off or something. If they don’t get medicine, lepers eventually can’t walk, go blind and die. Children catch leprosy easier than adults.

Where lepers lived: in leper colonies, places that other people wouldn’t visit. Especially islands. Until about seventy-five years ago. Including Hospital Thorn Island.

History: Leprosy was considered incurable and very contagious. So lepers were banned and avoided. Only brave doctors, priests and monks would try to help them.

Cause: a germ

Cure: discovered in 1982 (whew!)


All right, the bell! Time’s up, and I’m out of here to play basketball with my friends before I head home.

“Gord’s not on the pipe,” Caitlin reports when I get home.

“He should be,” I say.

“You going to make him?” She smiles. “He’s on Hospital Island with some weird tool, wandering around like he’s lost something.”

“Let’s get the boat and go see.”

Minutes later I’m rowing our family dinghy over, ready to
disturb the children’s spirits
if I have to. I need to make sure Gord earns the money our family is paying him.

The engineer doesn’t notice us as we pull to shore.

“See?” Caitlin whispers.

He’s bent over a metal rod with a circle of black metal on the end,
hovering a few inches from the ground. He is wandering in circles, eyes intent on the device. “What’s that?” I wonder aloud.

Caitlin shrugs. “I dunno, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the bungee jump.”

I lift the oars out of the water, and we tie up the boat. “Hi, Gord!”

He jumps. “Oh, hi, kids. Didn’t know you were on the island. This is a metal detector. I lost one of my tools. Hoping it will help me find it.”

“Which tool?” I ask.

“Um, screwdriver.”

“It’s right there on your tool belt.”

He looks down. “Well, I’ll be! You’re right. Thanks, Chris.”

“Aren’t metal detectors for finding rings and coins and stuff?” Caitlin asks.

“Anything metal,” he says.

“Can I try it?” Caitlin asks.

“Um, sure, but—”

“—but right now we have to get to work,” I finish for him. “Walk you up to the pipe, Gord?”

His eyebrows slant downward for a moment. Then he nods. “Of course. Got to get ready for that crane tomorrow!”

We work hard for the rest of the afternoon. We clear brush and stuff from the road to make room for the crane and prefab catwalk sections. We’re so focused, we almost forget about Caitlin. She comes rushing up the Hospital Island rise, waving one hand and carrying Gord’s metal detector in the other.

“Look what I found!” As she greets us, she lifts something from a pocket before we can answer. “Four bracelets!” She flashes some old copper bangles. “I can wear them in the school play next week!”

“Just like a dancer’s bracelets,” I say, humoring her.

“Good for you,” Gord says less enthusiastically. “But you’ll put my detector away carefully in my trailer now, right?”

“You bet!”

“And if you find an old rusty box,” he continues, “don’t dig it up. Tell me first. It could be dangerous. Could be the leper doctor’s tools. They might infect you.”

Caitlin’s eyes grow large. “Oh. Okay. Thanks, Gord.” And with her bracelets jangling, she and the metal detector disappear down the hill to Gord’s trailer.

Chapter Six

Mom is wearing a dress and lipstick for a night out to watch the school play. She’s making a real effort, even though she has been working long hours.

“I’m so proud you got one of the dancer parts, Caitlin,” she says. “And you planned your costume all by yourself.”

I’ve decided not to make fun of my sister’s strange outfit—pink tights,
sparkly slippers and a too-large silk dress from a charity shop. Around her neck, several bright scarves flutter as she twirls on the path.

“I’m sooo excited!” she says as she shakes her arms to rattle the copper bracelets. “I’ve found sixteen so far! So I have eight on each arm. Had to polish them, but aren’t they shiny now?”

“They’re lovely,” Mom says, inspecting them. “I feel sorry for the person who lost them.”

“Finders keepers,” Caitlin says quickly. “No names on them. Just little numbers on the inside.”

We deliver my hyped-up sister to the gym’s back door. We seat ourselves in the gym. I wave to some friends. The place is full.

The teachers are seated a few rows ahead, close to the front. Mr. Roth turns and waves at me. I wave back. I spot Mrs. Dubin in the row behind him.

I look around. Craven is a few rows behind me. It’s nice to see that he gets out of his boat and joins the community sometimes. No sign of Gord. Wonder what he’s doing tonight? Resting after the crane and catwalk sections finally came? Maybe playing cards with himself in the trailer? Or wandering around with that stupid metal detector.

“Too bad you didn’t audition, Chris,” Mom says.

“Not my thing. And it’s not like I have the time,” I say. “But it’s great that Caitlin got a part.”

“And her friends Bella and Anya.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the drama teacher says. He’s standing in front of the red velvet curtain. “Tonight we are proud to present the play
Tiny Dancers
. Let the show begin!”

We clap, and the older actors come out first. As they recite their parts in flat
or overdramatic voices, my mind drifts to the bungee-jump project.

Gord has patched and painted the pipe. He has replaced the steel straps and some gridwork around it. Now the catwalk is here. Tomorrow he starts installing that. Next, the gated platform goes on. Then, maybe in five weeks, the grand opening. If only Dad would finish earning what he needs to and come home to see it.

“The dancers just came out,” Mom says, nudging me.

Music has started from some boom box behind the curtain. I sit up straight and try to concentrate. Caitlin, her two friends and three other girls in her grade step into view. The stage lights make their costumes sparkle.

Caitlin is in the middle, grinning like a fairy. She spins, glides and takes over the floor. She’s leading the other girls, brimming with confidence.
Way to go, Caitlin!

In the middle of the number, she dances close to stage’s edge, near the teachers. She lifts her arms like a ballerina. Then she does a spin and shakes her wrists. Even people in the back row can probably hear the jingling.

Mom is leaning forward, smiling like crazy. She presses her palms together. One of the teachers rises. Her large body blocks our view. She pushes slowly through a sea of knees to reach the aisle. Lots of people look annoyed.

“Sit back down!” I hear someone shout.

“That’s your librarian, isn’t it?” Mom asks.

We watch Mrs. Dubin charge up the aisle, finger pointed at Caitlin.

Caitlin stops moving. Her sweaty face reveals confusion and fright.

Mrs. Dubin halts in front of the stage and stares up at Caitlin. Then she collapses onto the floor.

A big commotion starts. Someone shouts, “Call an ambulance! Is there a doctor here?”

Caitlin backs up slowly, as deflated as a punctured balloon. The drama teacher ushers everyone off the stage.

“Poor Caitlin,” I mutter.

“Poor Mrs. Dubin,” Mom says at the same time.

Chapter Seven

“Hey, Caitlin, how do I spell
?” I’m two years older, but she’s sometimes better at spelling. And she needs a distraction from her glum mood this morning.

“Dunno,” comes my sister’s flat voice. She’s lying on the living room sofa. Mom’s gone to work already. Caitlin’s supposed to clean the house
before we head for school. I’ve already done my chores.

“Don’t know or don’t care?” I ask. “You’re not still moping about the school play, are you? You were great. So what if you didn’t get to finish? Everyone saw how awesome you were.”

“It’s not that.”

“They said all Mrs. Dubin did was faint. Wasn’t a heart attack or anything,” I say. “You never liked her anyway. Now she’s off school for a week. So what’s the big deal?”

“You didn’t see her face.”

“I’ve never seen anyone’s face right before they fainted. But get over it already, Caitlin. I need your help writing the bungee-jump website.”

She turns toward me with a sour face. “Why do we need a website?”

“To get customers, duh.”

has an
at the end.”


Caitlin looks over my shoulder at the screen. “Why would including a history of Hospital Island help bring people?” she asks.

I sigh. “It’s interesting, Caitlin. There are bungee jumps all over the world. But how many are on a historic island?”

“Historic or haunted? Some of the kids at school say there are really ghosts there.”

“You and I know that’s baloney. Anyway, it’s not going to stop anyone from coming. This is the most exciting thing that has happened to our town in years. All the kids can hardly wait. Are you going to help me or not?”

She shrugs. “Do you think I could get leprosy from touching those copper bracelets?”


“If they belonged to the leper children from the hospital.” She’s looking
at me with pleading eyes. Sometimes I forget she’s only eleven.

“Caitlin, first of all, tons of people have explored that island since the hospital shut down. So the bracelets could’ve been anyone’s.”

She waits. I lift my bowl of cereal to my mouth and drain it. “And second, leprosy isn’t as contagious as people think.”

“Says who?”

“The experts I quoted in my school paper.”

“But the doctor got it.”

“You can only get it if they sneeze on you or something. Doctors back then didn’t have rubber gloves. Or masks to breathe through like today.”

She lifts her wrists and studies them like she’s looking for leprosy sores. “I just know they belonged to the children.”


“The look on Mrs. Dubin’s face that night. And the numbers on each bracelet. Those bracelets were their identity tags, Chris. That’s what I think now.”

“You think too much. You can’t catch leprosy from old copper bracelets. Trust me.”

“Gord says we could get it from the doctor’s tools. That’s why we’re not supposed to touch anything if we find a rusty old box.”

“Gord’s an engineer, not a doctor. Speaking of Gord, I’d better get up to the bridge before school. Have to see how things are going. Promise you’ll read this over so I can post it when I get back? Then I’ll walk with you to school.”

“I don’t need you to walk with me. Hey, you’re going to post it without Gord’s permission?”

I glare at her. “Dad approved it. Gord’s in charge of building the jump,
not advertising it. And I’m the boss. Dad said so.”

“Yeah right,” she says, rolling her eyes. She picks up the broom and starts sweeping the kitchen.

Gord’s not on the half-installed catwalk. I decide to crawl on the pipe beneath it to inspect his latest work. The first few sections of the walk are in place. They look awesome. Rivets, check. Bolts, check.

I run my hand over a brand-new weld. Someday, I’m going to build bridges. Suspension bridges, Bailey bridges, all kinds of bridges. Maybe even bridges with bungee-jump platforms. I’m going to be a great engineer.

My fingertips pass over a joint I can’t see. It’s behind a steel piece of the trestle. I pause. And I pass my fingers over it again.

Prickles run down my neck. Something’s not right. I grip two steel plates for support. Then I twist my body around to see behind them. Sure enough, there’s a hairline crack, a tiny gap in the weld.

What do I do? Ask Gord? Or—wait, I have a better idea!
I pull my cell phone out and drape my body in an even crazier position. I aim the phone behind the weld and snap a photo.
I nearly tumble off trying to get the phone back into my pocket.

“Christopher Bigg!” Gord calls from above me on the catwalk. “What are you doing down there? I swear you’re going to fall one of these days. Then everyone will blame me, eh? Your interest in engineering is getting crazy dangerous, kid. Just ’cause your father isn’t here doesn’t mean you can—”

I catapult myself up to the catwalk. “Sorry, Gord, gotta run. But hey, check
out the website today!” And I sprint away toward the peninsula side. I want to get to school early so I can talk to Mr. Roth.

BOOK: Bungee Jump
13.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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