Alone

Beatrice was propped up on hospital

pillows. She was anxious, fiddling with

her freshly bandaged arm. She sprung

at me for information. I assured her that

Uncle would be fine. I have been so

worried. Poor Father alone all night

on that horrible mountain. It must have

been unspeakable. The colour had fled

from Beatrice’s face. She was re-living

her Father’s horror. I said something

inane about this being the holiday from

hell, but Beatrice wasn’t listening.

Casualties

I wasn’t permitted to travel

in the helicopter. As it span

away, we moved slowly down

the mountain. The morning was

beautiful. I could see the lake

stretched out below, a gorgeous

shining ribbon. It was hard to believe

yesterday’s misery had ever happened.

Vivienne said she’d drive me to the

hospital. It was in Kendal. The name

sounded familiar. We motored along

windy lanes. Vivienne cursed the blind

bends, driving erratically. I wondered

whether we’d become another casualty.

Light

I didn’t sleep a wink. I lay rigid in my

makeshift bed, desperate for the dawn

to come. When a measly light finally

fingered the drapes, I was thoroughly

fatigued. I thought how the day would

caress Uncle’s stubbly chin, shine on his

cold, cramped limbs. I wondered if he’d

found shelter, behind a rock, or down a

craggy gully. I heard soft, gruff voices

below. The rescue team were stirring.

I dressed. The men were donning their

gear, slurping at mugs of black coffee.

Vivienne was rallying around, preparing

an impromptu breakfast. We ate hurriedly.

It was time to set out.

Search

We found Beatrice crouched behind

a big black rock, shielding herself from

the buffeting wind. Her lips were ghostly

blue. Her speech was slurred. I thought it

must be hyperthermia. There was no sign

of Uncle. The mist was dissipating. Two

burly men wrapped Beatrice in a tinfoil

blanket, and escorted her slowly down

the mountain. The light was fading. It

was almost dark. What if Uncle had

wandered from the path, or stumbled

into a crevice? Our leader halted, and

debated with his colleagues. My stomach

sank inside me. The men patted their big

hands, stomped their cold booted feet.

Our search had been called off. Until the

morning.

Lost

Beatrice had disappeared. She’d been

trudging along behind me, but the mist

had cowled her completely, and she was

gone. I thumped Uncle’s shoulder. We

both shouted Beatrice’s name, but there

was no reply. The weather worsened.

We’d need to raise the alarm, call a

search party. Uncle tried his mobile

phone. There was no signal. Augustus,

you will need to go down the mountain,

and summon help. I nodded. The wind

caught our hurried farewells, tossing them

around, until they were indistinguishable

nonsense. I straggled back downhill.

Soon, Uncle’s stocky figure was

swallowed by the flying mist.

Summit

I slept heavily and late. I was oblivious

to the tree roots gnawing into my spine,

and the earthy smell pervading our tent.

When I unzipped the flap and stepped

outside, Uncle and Beatrice were

preparing breakfast in bright sunlight.

Good, Augustus, you’re awake. I hope

you’re not suffering any agues after last

evening’s drama. I assured Uncle that I

was perfectly well. That is good to hear.

Because today, the weather being so fine,

I had thought we might all climb that peak

across the water. Uncle pointed to a

cloud-capped hill. The view from the

summit will be absolutely incomparable.

Beatrice chuckled, then smirked. It was

agreed we’d go.

Dunked

Suddenly I was caught between two

paddle steamers. The huge wash

threatened to capsize my tiny craft.

I struggled to right myself with the

paddle. I could feel my heart crashing

inside me. Uncle was making ridiculous

gestures. I signalled back, and lost my

balance. I was tipped into the lake. It

was like an icicle had knifed me. The

water was frigid. After an eternity, my

life-jacket buoyed me up. I spluttered

and snorted and shivered all at once.

Uncle was beside me, fishing me from

the opaque depths. I scrabbled at the

bobbing hull of my overturned canoe,

but I couldn’t get a foothold. Uncle

righted my boat, and I was there.

I was trembling helplessly.

Rowing

Two red canoes bobbed on the water.

Uncle rubbed his hands together. We

strode along a brief pier, and I scrambled

inside. It was a rocky business. But I

didn’t overturn my boat. Uncle made

sweeping gestures, instructing me how

to handle the paddle. It was surprisingly

simple. I pushed off, and we were floating

on the gentle current. There was a lot of

traffic on the lake. A big pleasure steamer,

many smaller leisure craft. I didn’t much

like rowing. The paddle bit into the sore

callouses on my palms. But Uncle was

having a ball. He sliced through the water

like a magnificent swan. The shore grew

far away.

Holiday

We were to camp beside the lake,

which was a long sliver of silvery water

between pastel-green hills. It had an

opaque look, like it might be haunted

by water monsters. I didn’t quite trust its

gentle surface. We motored through a

picture-postcard village, searching out the

camping grounds. The hedge-lined lanes

were surprisingly busy. Beatrice squealed

out. Uncle slowed the car, and pulled off

down a gravel track. We had arrived.

There was a small, quaint lodge straight

ahead. We all got down from the car,

stretching our stiff limbs. Uncle guffawed

heartily, clapping his hands. I could espy

a small village of erected tents in the

misty distance.

Popsicles

I had done nothing to deserve such

misery. I’d heard of stowaways climbing

up into the landing gear of long-haul jets.

At high altitudes, they would go into

suspended animation, and fall out like

frozen popsicles on landing. I could be

one of those daredevils. Imogen and I

would be spectacularly reunited. I

entertained notions of a grand life in

the Gulf. But the ghoulish spectre of

the Davenports curdled my fantasies.

They would surely scupper all my crazy

plans. They despised me, and my

middle-class sensibilities. It would be

best to forget everything.