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Authors: Tanya Landman

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BOOK: Mondays are Murder
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I piled up my plate with food and tucked in, but all the time I was eating I was studying the instructors.

There was Bruce, keeping himself to himself at the far end of the table. Mike was sitting next to him and it looked like he was having to work quite hard to think up things to say. Isabella was still horribly white and wasn’t eating much: as far as I could see, she was just pushing her peas in circles around her plate with a fork. There were two more instructors who we hadn’t met earlier: the canoeing guy Donald Shaw, who said he’d been at university with Mike and Isabella, and a younger woman called Cathy Price, who was going to teach us how to ride a horse. Donald was a cheerful, outdoors type, all ruddy cheeks and big biceps. He kept cracking bad jokes and laughed his head off when Graham asked about the statistical risks of drowning in a canoe.

Cathy, on the other hand, hardly said a word.

It was all very interesting. Isabella – who was married to Mike – didn’t look at him once. If I hadn’t been told she was his wife I’d never, ever have guessed it: she acted like Mike meant absolutely nothing to her. But Cathy couldn’t keep her eyes off him. They kept flicking sideways every thirty seconds or so, which gave me three things to consider:

  1. She fancied him;

  2. She thought he was up to something; or

  3. She
    was up to something and was worried that he might notice.

None of the grown-ups said anything particularly interesting so, once I’d had enough of studying them, I started to read the week’s timetable, which was scrawled on a whiteboard hanging on the wall opposite me.

Tomorrow was Monday, and it looked like we would be rock climbing with Mike and Bruce in the morning and horse riding with Cathy in the afternoon.

I’d only been on a horse once before but I’d quite enjoyed it, even though I’d got a really sore bum. It would be nice to have another go. As for rock climbing… I just hoped the weather would be better by the morning. Clinging to a wet, slippery cliff-face in a high wind wasn’t my idea of fun. I suspected Graham would feel the same.

Tuesday was canoeing with Donald in the morning and more riding in the afternoon. Wednesday was abseiling and then walking with Isabella and Mike. Thursday would be spent doing something called survival skills. It was then that I noticed the original instructor’s name had been wiped off. It had been done quickly and the shadow of the letters remained. When I squinted I could just make out the name “Steve Harris” underneath the freshly written “Bruce Dundee”. I wondered again exactly what had happened to Steve and why he wasn’t here.

We finished our sausage and mash. Steamed treacle pudding with plenty of custard was next. Now, I’m not a big fan of custard – I overdosed on too many lumps once at school. I must have made some sort of face when it was put on the table because Cathy, in between looks at Mike, said, “Do you want ice cream instead?” When I nodded she said, “It’s in the freezer. Over there – that big door in the corner. Help yourself.”

The freezer was massive – a walk-in thing stuffed with enough food to feed us all for months. I found a tub of vanilla that was so big I could hardly lift it and scraped off a little dollop to melt over my pudding.

When the meal was over and we’d stacked our plates neatly in the dishwasher Mike announced it was time to relax. “Everyone into the sitting room,” he said.

“Great,” said Alice. “I could do with a bit of telly.”

But when we got into the room the only thing we could see was a roaring log fire surrounded by a sofa, several comfy armchairs and a lot of squashy beanbags. Nice enough but not exactly entertaining.

“Where’s the TV?” demanded Alice, grabbing the best seat in front of the fire.

“There isn’t one,” replied Mike.

“What?” demanded Jake incredulously.

“The reception’s so bad here it’s not worth bothering with,” Mike said cheerily. “And before you ask, no, you can’t get a mobile signal either and we don’t have a phone. We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“But you’ve got computers, right?” asked Graham, looking as if he were about to faint.

“No,” said Mike. “We do all the bookings by post and that only comes once a week on the ferry.”

“But what if there’s an emergency?” Meera sounded panicky.

“We can radio the police or the coastguard and they’ll send a helicopter – there’s no need to worry. This is an outdoor activities centre. We chose an uninhabited island so that people could get away from it all, and I mean
. We’re entirely dependent on our own resources here. What you need to do is rise to the challenge.”

“But we’re not outdoors now. It’s dark,” said Alice. She sounded really fed up. “What are we supposed to do?”

“We make our own entertainment.”

“Such as?”

“Charades, board games, quizzes. I thought we could do some storytelling right now. Anyone care to start?”

I decided then that Mike was what my mum would call thick-skinned. The loud groan of dismay that echoed around the room, bouncing from wall to wall and back again, would have made anyone else shrivel up. But Mike just sat there grinning and looking totally untroubled. There was a long silence, broken only by the crackling flames from the log fire.

Then from the depths of an armchair Bruce, who’d been pretty quiet all evening, spoke up in his broad Aussie accent.

“I can tell one, mate. I heard it from the ferry skipper on the way over here. A ghost story. Do you lot want to hear it?”

Alice and Jake said yes immediately. Meera bit her lip but then smiled and nodded. Graham – who had plunged into an epic computer-withdrawal gloom – said absolutely nothing.

I was looking at Isabella. Her mouth had gone into a string-thin line. “I don’t think we should be scaring the kids,” she said. “Not on their first night.”

“We’re not babies,” Alice replied witheringly.

So Bruce cleared his throat and started his story. He spoke in a soft, low voice, so you had to concentrate hard to catch every word. It made the atmosphere in the room really tense.

“It happened on Murrag a couple of hundred years ago, according to the skipper. In those days there were a few families farming on the island and plenty of fishermen living in a village down by the harbour. One of them was a young man by the name of Iain. His best mate, Sean, was as close to him as a brother and life was good for them both – until Iain fell in love with a farmer’s daughter. Her name was Katriona and she was a real beauty. Pale skin, blue eyes and dark hair – half the men on the island wanted to marry her, but she chose Iain.

“Iain was poor, and he wanted to offer more to the woman he loved. So he decided to serve in the King’s navy. They needed men to fight the war against Napoleon. Three years he’d be gone, he said, but then he’d come back for her. Katriona promised to marry him: she vowed she’d always wait, no matter how long it took for him to come home.

“For three years he toiled in the King’s navy. Three years of terrible danger and hardship. Three years when each and every day the only thing he thought of was Katriona. The only face he saw when he shut his eyes at night was hers.”

Bruce’s voice became deeper and quieter. We all leaned forward to catch what came next.

“Three years to the day after he’d sailed away he returned with a handful of gold coins clinking in his pocket. It was a fine morning, with the sweet smell of wild thyme and heather hanging in the air. With joy in his heart, he went to the farm and called his love’s name. But the house was empty.

“Then the peal of bells ringing out for a wedding was carried on the warm breeze, and so he walked towards the sound.

“Who should he see coming out of the church in his wedding finery but his best mate, Sean? And who was the smiling bride on his arm looking lovingly into Sean’s face? Katriona!

“Torn with misery, Iain ran to the headland and, cursing them both, he threw himself into the sea. They never found his body. Seems there are currents around Murrag that suck you down to the depths. He’s still out there somewhere, his bones picked clean by the fish.

“No headstone marks his grave. He does not rest in peace. You can still hear his ghostly cries carried on the wind as he curses the woman and the best friend who betrayed him. The story goes that one day he’ll be avenged.”

Bruce’s voice had dropped to a whisper. For a moment there was total silence. Then the wind whistled outside like a soul in torment and the room seemed cold despite the warmth of the fire. Goosebumps prickled down my arms and I shivered.

Someone gave a small, strangled sob. I looked around and realized it was Isabella. Mike had his hand on her arm and was asking her, “Are you all right?”

She didn’t answer him. Her mouth opened and closed a couple of times. Then she got up and ran out of the room. She looked absolutely terrified. There was a moment’s shocked silence and then Mike followed her, closing the door firmly behind him.

“Weird!” said Alice. “What was all that about?”

“Maybe she doesn’t like ghost stories,” suggested Meera. “Some people don’t. I’m not that keen on them myself.”

Meera’s unfortunate confession set the spiteful Alice off into a story of her own – a long, rambling tale involving headless horsemen and psychotic axe-wielding skeletons with red eyes. Luckily it was so dull that it had the effect of sending Meera to sleep rather than scaring her witless.

“Poppy, I didn’t hear the captain telling Bruce that story on the ferry,” Graham said quietly. “Did you?”

“No,” I replied. “But I was pretty busy being sick most of the time. I didn’t pay much attention to anything else.”

“Me neither,” Graham replied. “I suppose that would explain it.”

We both took a quick look in Bruce’s direction. There was no trace of the embarrassment or confusion everyone else had experienced when Isabella had run out. He didn’t seem to have even noticed that he’d terrified her. He’d sunk back into his chair as relaxed as a well-fed cat. I decided that he must be as thick-skinned as Mike. Perhaps it was a common characteristic among outdoor types.

When Alice had finished her story, Cathy took charge. “I think that’s enough for now. You all look terribly tired after your journey. How about an early night?” We leapt at the suggestion, yawning and complaining of total exhaustion as we left the lounge.

When we’d arrived, we’d claimed a room each but as we climbed the stairs the wind picked up as if the tormented soul was now screaming for revenge. I guess everyone was thinking about Bruce’s story because, when we got to the top, Alice and Meera moved in with me. They didn’t ask, they just dropped their bags on my bunks as if I’d invited them for a sleepover. Across the corridor I could hear Jake carting his stuff into Graham’s room.

But the long day and the sea air had made everyone tired. Despite the eerie noises it wasn’t long before they fell asleep.

And I was left alone in the dark to think.

climbing accident

wind had dropped a little by the morning. It was still gusting but at least it didn’t sound quite so scarily insane.

Us kids went off for a spot of jolly rock climbing led by Mike and Bruce. Donald stayed in the centre to prepare the lunch and so did Isabella. She’d refused Mike’s invitation to come along “for a bit of exercise”, jerking away with visible irritation when he’d put a hand on her shoulder. But Cathy had leapt at the opportunity of going out, saying she could do with “a breath of fresh air”.

I discovered straight away that Graham was right about the midges. The moment we stepped out of the door we were savaged by a grey cloud of teeny-tiny flies. They were practically microscopic but they must have had very big teeth. Within seconds everyone was scratching at angry red bites as we walked through the heather towards the cliffs.

The coastline of Murrag was jagged, as if a very large dinosaur had once taken bites out of it. Mike led us to a place where a U-shaped chunk cut through the cliffs all the way down to the broiling sea. We stood on one side, looking across to the other. The land sloped upwards over there and a section of bare, black rock rose from a narrow ledge a hundred metres above the water. “That’s where we’ll be climbing,” Mike informed us. We all gulped nervously.

The wind was stronger here.

“At least it means no midges,” Graham told me.

“No,” I replied. “Now all we have to worry about is frostbite.” Because, despite my super-duper-thick walking socks and specially-purchased-windproof-waterproof-all-terrain jacket, I was freezing.

Mike and Bruce started with a safety check. It took so long that my fear evaporated. I was dying for them to finish so we could get on with the actual climbing – I was sure I wouldn’t feel quite so cold if only I could get moving.

Meera was peering down anxiously at the raging sea. Jake was hopping from one foot to the other, whether from cold or excitement was hard to tell. Alice was paying extremely close attention while Mike explained about his climbing gear, but Graham was staring at the distant horizon as if he hoped a passing ship might come to his rescue. He’d informed us over breakfast that, “Climbing is number eight on the list of most dangerous sports according to the website I looked at.” It wasn’t exactly an encouraging statement.

“Now pay attention guys,” said Mike. “As you can see, we’ve both checked and double-checked our equipment. You must always do that – your life depends on it. We’re going to climb up then fit a top rope so it will be extra safe when you lot have your turn. During our ascent, Bruce and I will be roped together. That way if the person climbing falls, the other one is always there to stop him.”

“What happens if he pulls you off with him?” asked Alice.

“Can’t happen. Not with this system.”

“Not even if he’s heavier than you?” persisted Alice.

“No. Believe me, Alice, it’s not possible. What we’re going to do now is a little piece of theatre just to prove to you how safe this is. Bruce and I will go around this chasm and begin our climb on the opposite side so you can see what we’re doing. We’ll start at that ledge there. I’ll climb a little way up, and then I’ll fall – are you all right with that, Bruce?”

BOOK: Mondays are Murder
12.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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