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Authors: Pam Withers

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BOOK: Bungee Jump
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Mrs. Dubin will probably kill me when she sees them. They have a ghost figure on them. And she always calls it Thorn Island. But Dad and Gord said my idea was clever.

Over his T-shirt Chuck is wearing a harness with metal rectangles clipped all over it. Dad arranged for him weeks ago. I just had to phone up and say we were finally ready. He’s as stoked as I am about the test today.

“Hey, kids.” Chuck waves at them. “Yes, normally I make sure jumpers have the gear on right. And that the rope’s good. I also tell them when they can leap. But today I’m doing the actual test jump. Next week when we open, I’ll be helping all of you!”

“Yeah!”

The kids gape at the metal stuff hanging off his harness. They stare like he’s a Martian or a god.

“You three can now come through the gate,” Caitlin informs Chuck, Gord and me. Her voice is loud and bossy.

“How come you guys get to go and not us?” demands Tom. I roll my eyes ’cause I’ve already explained it to him.

“We’re not insured for anyone else to be on the pipe bridge till the test jump is completed,” Gord tells the crowd.

Gord, Chuck and I walk past Caitlin. I nod to her and turn to wave at my friends. But everyone’s eyes are fastened on Chuck, who is walking ahead of me. Gord is behind me.

Caitlin remains where she is to guard the gate. No one’s going to get past her easily, I reflect with a smile.

My hands are sweaty on the catwalk’s cable railing. I look down through the metal grating my feet are creeping along. Below me is the old pipe. Patched and painted silver, it looks new. But it’s the same old pipe I crawled on top of many times. It was dumb doing that without railings, of course—but so fun. I never could handle being inside it like Caitlin can.

I look past the pipe, down at Misty Passage. Waves whipped up by the
afternoon breeze dance. Droplets spit into the air. The water’s waiting for Chuck to drop down. A brave, flying leap. Then
boing, boing, boing
. I shiver. I’ll be doing it next week.

Watching the currents below makes me a little dizzy. So I study the back of Chuck’s T-shirt instead.
Everything’s going to be fine. The kids will be impressed. Word will spread. Next week’s opening will be everything we’ve waited for.

The crowd goes quiet as our little parade nears the middle of the bridge. We pause on the platform, which is a metal cage with a gate and wooden “tongue” sticking out over the water.

Chuck steps onto it first. He has already checked and rechecked the rope. It’s as thick as my wrist. It’s anchored to the cage floor and coiled inside the gate.

“What all does a jump master do?” I ask Chuck.

“I keep a log of the rope’s condition. I check wind conditions. I look for objects that could cause problems—telephone wires, boulders. None of those here.” He points to a scale. “I have to weigh each jumper. Then I adjust the cord’s length for their weight. No one under seventy-five pounds is allowed.

“After someone jumps and stops rebounding, I activate the electric winch. That brings the jumper back up. By then the next jumper is ready.”

“I get to operate the winch today,” Gord says proudly. He pats the winch machinery. Its cable disappears through a hole in the pipe. “So, Chuck, will you touch the water before the rope stops?”

“No worries. No one’s going to touch the water. Almost, but not quite. I’ve made sure.”

Chapter Eleven

“Okay, it’s time,” Chuck says, winking at me.

He pulls on gloves and a helmet. His harness looks like suspenders over his shoulders and a strap around his chest. A giant metal rectangle hangs from where the two meet. He clips the big cord into this.

“Now I’m going to stand where the big red footprints are,” Chuck says. He pushes open the little gates. He moves to the end of the platform.

“Go! Go! Go!” the students near Caitlin chant.

She stands with arms out to block them from going onto the catwalk. But they’re pressing against her and the gate. They’re clapping and getting excited.

“Is your bridge ready?” Chuck teases Gord. “Because my rope system and I are.”

Then he steps off the board as casually as if he was walking through a doorway.

Whoosh!
He’s gone. At the same time, I hear a burst of cheers. I also feel the catwalk floor and platform vibrate.

As Chuck free-falls toward Misty Passage, the students push past Caitlin and the gate for a better view.
The walkway above the pipe shakes. I grip the railing.

“Chuck is rebounding, Gord,” I report. “Okay, now he’s done rebounding.”

Gord pushes the winch button to pull Chuck up. Nothing happens. There is no buzz telling us the machinery is working. Chuck remains dangling over the water.

The kids charge toward us. Some are screaming. Some have fallen onto the catwalk. They’re trampling over each other. Any more panic and someone is bound to fall off the bridge.

“What should I do, Gord?” I ask, my pulse throbbing.

“Run to the Hospital Island end, Chris. Before the kids get here. Then crawl into the pipe. In the middle, right below us, there’s a cord for the winch. It must have come loose. Plug it in.”

“Okay.”

Gord turns to the kids and shouts, “Freeze! Now!”

“Is Chuck stuck?” I hear Caitlin’s voice behind the kids.

I don’t hear Gord’s reply. I’m too busy sprinting along the catwalk, away from the pack.

Get to the end of the pipe. Fast.
That’s the easy part. On the Hospital Island side, I step onto solid ground. Then I spin around. I know the combination to open the new locked door on the pipe’s end.

I know where Gord put the electrical outlet inside the pipe. I saw it on the plans. I watched him crawl in to install it. He put it inside to protect it from weather, he told me. The vibrations on the catwalk must have disconnected the cord.

Mr. Roth would say that’s bad planning. But all that matters right now is that Chuck is helpless till I reach that outlet. And seeing him hanging there could make the kids panic more.

Crawl inside the pipe! I order myself. But my knees refuse to cooperate.

My fear of small, dark spaces comes spiraling down and crushes me. I collapse into a useless heap. My chin is on the grass just inches from the pipe entrance. My hands are clutching my head. I try, but I just can’t make myself enter that dark space. Not even to save Chuck.

After several minutes of misery, I hear a buzz and a rumble. I look toward the water and see Chuck traveling upward. Through the air, courtesy of the winch. He’s smiling with relief.

The screaming on the bridge has stopped. But a noise just inside my end of the pipe draws my eyes into the darkness. The next thing I know, Caitlin leaps out and throws her arms around my neck. I topple backward.

Caitlin’s frightened, sweaty face looks into mine as she hugs me tightly.
“I was so, so scared,” she says. “I came through the pipe to help you. From the other side. Gord said you were plugging in the cord that got loose. When I didn’t see you there, I did it. Are you okay? Will Chuck be okay? The kids were horrible. They pushed each other. They knocked me down. Is everyone going to be all right?”

Chapter Twelve

“No one was hurt badly,” I tell Dad over the phone. “A couple of kids got scrapes and bruises.”

Mom is beside me. She’s replacing a bandage on Caitlin’s shoulder, where the edge of the hatch that hangs down from the middle of the pipe scraped her on her way to the electrical outlet. The outlet I should have gotten to first.

We’re on speaker phone so we can all chat.

“The kids panicked when the catwalk started to vibrate,” I add.

“They weren’t supposed to be on the catwalk! They pushed right past me!” Caitlin adds.

“Is Chuck okay?” Dad asks.

“Yeah, Gord pulled Chuck up as soon as Caitlin plugged the cord in. Chuck was spooked, but he says it was a problem with Gord’s plans. Nothing to do with the rope itself.”

“And what does Gord say?”

“That it was just the winch’s cord pulling out. He says it was no big deal.”

“No big deal?” Mom and Dad echo in stunned tones.

“But Mr. Roth told me something.”

“What did he tell you, son?”

“That no qualified engineer would’ve put the outlet inside the pipe like that. Too inaccessible. That it
should be outside and waterproofed. He says Gord seems sloppy. But he says it won’t cost much to change it so that it’s right.”

“Hmmm,” is all Dad says.

“Can you send us money to move the outlet, Dad?” I ask. “Otherwise people will think we have a real problem.”

“They already do,” Caitlin mutters.

“What are you saying, Caitlin?” Dad asks.

“They say the bridge is haunted,” Caitlin blurts out. “That the leper children won’t let us bungee-jump there. That there were ghost howls on the island when it happened.”

Dad laughs so loudly I have to back away from the phone. “That’s a good one. Way better than a structural problem.”

Caitlin frowns. Mom pats her on the head. My sister says nothing more.

“Well, I’ll send what I can,” Dad says. “Better get that outlet moved and the bridge inspected again.”

At school, the kids are divided into two groups. There are those who believe the island and bridge are haunted. And the rest make fun of them. Luckily, most of the kids who whisper about ghosts are too young to go on the bungee jump anyway. They are under the required seventy-five pounds.

“Still opening next week?” Tom asks as he walks down the hall with his arms full of books.

I hedge. “Maybe two weeks. I can let you be the first to jump, if you like.” “Awesome! Do I get a Hospital Island T-shirt too?”

I grin. “Twenty bucks. And a promise to never wear it into the school library.”

We both laugh, since he knows all about Mrs. Dubin and her thing for
respectful history
.

“What’re you doing your science paper on this week?” Tom asks me.

I squirm. “Claustrophobia. That’s a fear of small spaces.”

“Oh. That’s science?”

“Well, scientists have studied it and looked for cures. Mr. Roth said it was okay. Have you picked a topic yet?”

“Yes! Bungee-jump engineering!”

“Cool! Gord’s got books in his trailer if you need to borrow any.”

“I’ve been up to the bridge a couple of times. Hoping to talk with him. But he’s never there. Always on the island with that metal detector. Walking back and forth, back and forth.”

I sigh. “Well, I guess he’s allowed to do that on breaks.”

“Think he’s looking for the gold?”

“What gold?”

“You know, the gold the doctor hid.”

“That’s just a dumb story, Tom. And it wasn’t gold. Cash, people say. In a metal box.”

Tom shakes his head. “Why else would he spend all that time with a metal detector? Maybe he’ll find the box and get rich.”

“He’s not going to get rich from a couple of coins that don’t even exist!” I say it forcefully, because I suddenly wonder if Tom is right. Even if the money box is a made-up story, Gord might believe it. That may explain why he’s not getting enough work done. Or being sloppy when he does do it. I grit my teeth and decide to confront him.

“Chris!” It’s Mr. Roth.

Tom gives me a thumbs-up and disappears.

“Hi, Mr. Roth.”

“So, I went up to the pipe bridge like you asked.”

“Already?” I hope he didn’t tell Gord I sent him.

“Your engineer wasn’t around, so I went looking around without permission.”

“Fine with me.”

“I gave the new outlet and cable a close inspection.”

“Yeah?” The city-hall inspector approved it already, but I figured a second pair of eyes wouldn’t hurt.

“It’s all good now. Too bad he didn’t do it right the first time.”

“So it’s not haunted,” I say, trying to joke.

He smiles. “All phenomena can be explained by science.”

I nod slowly. “Even claustrophobia?”

“Tell me why you ask that.”

Since no one is within earshot, I spill the whole story. About how I’ve never been able to crawl inside the pipe. About how I failed everyone during the
bungee-test crisis. How Chuck might have been hanging for way longer if not for Caitlin.

He nods all the time I’m talking. He doesn’t look at me like he feels sorry for me. He doesn’t tell me I’m a chicken.

“All phenomena can be explained,” he repeats.

I wait.

“Everyone is born with survival instincts, Chris. Some small, dark spaces can make people suffocate—die for lack of air. So it’s natural to be cautious. It’s a good reaction. Claustrophobic people—6 percent of the population—just have that instinct stronger than the rest of us. They usually get it from an experience when they were young.”

“I got trapped in a closet when I was little,” I admit. “Is there a cure?”

“Actually, there are two cures. One is talking yourself out of it. Making your brave, logical voice louder than
the scared one. The second is making yourself go into a small, dark space for a really short time. Then slightly longer. Then slightly longer. Till you aren’t scared anymore.”

I feel released from a weight of shame and misery.

“You’ll learn more when you work on your report,” he adds, winking. “Good luck, Chris.”

“Thanks, Mr. Roth. Tell the kids who are scared of ghosts too, okay?”

“Tell them what?”

“That all phenomena can be explained. And that science is—well, cool!”

He laughs as he walks down the hall.

Chapter Thirteen

After school, Caitlin and I climb up the bluff to the bridge.

“Hey, Gord and Chuck!” I say.

“Hey,” they reply. Both have long faces.

“Something wrong?”

“Your dad called,” Gord says. “Said he can’t pay either of us after next week. He got laid off.”

“Oh.” I hang my head, even though it means maybe he’ll come home. Caitlin’s hand goes to her mouth.

“So if we don’t open next week, it’s all over. Unless we work for free. Which we don’t,” Gord adds firmly. Chuck nods.

“Can you finish it and open by next week?” I ask, my stomach tightening.

BOOK: Bungee Jump
13.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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