Sample Chapters: Island Treasure

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‘Buried treasure?’ Tonia squeaked. 

‘That’s what it says here,’ Daddo said, tapping a well-thumbed book that lay open on the little table in the ferry café. 

‘Let me see,’ Chris said, picking up the book. Stuart leaned in to read with him.  

Islanders claimed the place was rich in hidden treasure. Could this be from ancient civilisations, or a more recent shipwreck, such as the Tuscania or the Otranto? Currents around the island can be treacherous, and … 

‘But it’s an old book. I bet the treasure’s been found by now,’ Chris said, ‘if there really was any.’ He put the book down and gazed out at the sea. ‘Is that Sunnaig?’ he said, pointing. ‘Is that where we’re going?’ 

They all stood up and went to the ferry’s bow window. ‘I reckon so,’ Mum said, and showed Chris the map on her phone. ‘Look. That’s the port we left from and we’re about here, now. The ferry crossing’s around two hours.’ 

Chris tried to look interested. He hadn’t wanted to spend the October break on a small island with nothing to do. He’d wanted to stay in Edinburgh and go ten-pin bowling and skateboarding, and eat pizza with Ruth and his other friends from Energise Youth Club. 

‘Cheer up, Chris,’ Tonia said. ‘We might find the treasure and become famous.’ 

‘I don’t want to be famous,’ Chris grumbled. He took a deep breath. He didn’t mean to be grumpy. Stuart, taking on his bossy big brother role, had convinced him that Mum was fed up and needed a break. Their stepdad had arranged the trip and they should all look forward to it. 

The passengers were called over the loudspeaker to return to their cars. The ferry docked and the cars made their way, slowly, slowly, up the steep hill from the port to the road that ran the width of the island from east to west. ‘Western Road,’ Mum said, reading the directions. ‘That’s right. That’s where the holiday cottage is, about six miles further along.’ 

‘If you’re driving in the opposite direction, would it be called Eastern Road?’ Stuart asked with a grin. 

Chris groaned. He looked around. They were high on the crest of the island. They could see sea on three sides with rocky bays and sandy beaches. The road was only wide enough for one car, and there were occasional passing places, but they didn’t meet any other vehicles. A few bored-looking sheep watched them pass, and twice Daddo had to stop the car to let them amble across the road.  

‘Not many trees,’ Chris observed. 

‘Yeah, and they’re more like bushes than trees,’ Stuart agreed. 

‘Look how they all lean the same way,’ Mum said. ‘Shows how windy it can get here. Look! That’s the old Viking settlement,’ she added, pointing away to the right.  

Chris peered across the fields. He could see a few standing stones. ‘How do you know?’  

‘Daddo and I came here for our wedding anniversary a couple of years ago, remember? You kids stayed at home with Granny and Grandad and Crackers.’ 

‘Wish we could’ve brought Crackers,’ Tonia said. 

‘At least he won’t be in kennels. Granny and Grandad will walk him every day. Look, that’s the road to the capital, Kennicraggan,’ Mum said. 

‘The capital city?’ Tonia asked. 

Mum laughed. ‘I didn’t say city. It’s just a village, but it’s the biggest one on the island. We’ll go there tomorrow. The Sunnaig Hotel is just beyond it.’ 

‘Sunnaig has a hotel?’ Chris asked. ‘Why aren’t we staying there, then?’ 

‘Most of it is closed for refurbishment,’ Daddo said, ‘and it needs a new manager. Anyway, we can do our own thing in the cottage.’ 

‘Hmm. Our own washing-up, you mean,’ Chris said. Mum leaned over from the front seat and pretended to swat him. 

Chris had to admit that their accommodation was cool. On the outside it was an old cottage, but inside, everything was new and shiny. They were met by the owner. She wasn’t anything like Chris’ idea of a landlady. She was bouncy and smiley and younger than Mum. She wore patterned leggings and an artist’s smock and her hair had green streaks. 

‘I’m Anastasia, but call me Stacey. Anastasia’s such a mouthful! You’re so welcome,’ she gushed. ‘It’s fabulous to see you. I think your three-day stay will be much too short to see our beautiful island.’ She looked from one to another of them, slightly puzzled. ‘Are you family?’ 

Chris frowned. He knew what she was thinking – he and Stuart and Mum were pale-skinned with ginger hair, and Daddo and Tonia had brown skin and tight black curls. So what? Stacey’s hair was green. 

‘Er, we’re very pleased to be here,’ Daddo said. ‘I’m Sam Agard, and this is my wife, Jenny.’ Mum stepped forward to shake hands. ‘My stepsons are Stuart and Chris,’ Daddo continued, ‘and this is my daughter, Tonia.’ Were they supposed to shake hands? Stuart just nodded and said, ‘Hi,’ so Chris did the same. Big brothers could sometimes be useful. 

‘You must visit Kennicraggan,’ Stacey said. She looked at Tonia. ‘You’ll love the craft shop, and I’ll show you how the tumble polisher makes semi-precious gemstones into jewellery.’ 

‘Gemstones?’ Tonia gasped. ‘Like diamonds and rubies? Like buried treasure?’ 

Stacey laughed. ‘No diamonds or rubies, I’m afraid. You can find semi-precious stones, like zircon and agate, on the beaches here. They’re very pretty and make nice presents, but they’re not worth very much. And don’t take any notice of that old story about buried treasure. It’s just a tall story, like the Loch Ness monster.’ 

Tonia pulled a face. ‘But I like the Loch Ness monster!’ 

Mum laughed and hustled them all into the house. There was a smell of furniture polish and fresh bread. Stacey showed them how the shower worked, and the washing machine, and where the clean towels were stored. She had left milk, cheese and ham in the fridge. There were teabags, apples and a crusty loaf. ‘So you won’t have to go shopping straight away,’ she explained. She gave them her phone number in case they needed anything and, still smiling, left the house and drove away in her battered old car. 

‘She definitely didn’t believe the story of buried treasure,’ Stuart said. ‘You’d think it would help the tourist industry.’ 

‘Maybe there really is treasure, and they don’t want the tourists to be the ones to find it,’ Tonia suggested. 

Daddo took a deep breath and began to rap: 

Don’t be a dope
and set your hope
on gems and jewels
’cos back at school
you’d be a fool
to tell your friend
or to pretend
you’d found the treasure…

‘At your leisure,’ Stuart continued, ‘Just take pleasure…’ 

‘In beautiful beaches…’ Chris finished, ‘Without any teachers!’ 

Kennicraggan was small, but Stacey was right – Tonia loved watching the tumble polisher smoothing gemstones into usable craft pieces. They bought a pendant for Granny, to say thank you for looking after Crackers. The shop owner was old, but tall and spritely. ‘Bill Dougall,’ he introduced himself. ‘This is my wee business, and this is my wee girl, Stacey. But you’ll have met her already.’ 

Stacey grinned. ‘Yep, that’s my pa,’ she told them. ‘But don’t come into the shop too early,’ she went on. ‘Pa’s also the postie and my mother runs the post office shop. Pa does his rounds first, before opening up here.’ 

‘Wow, two jobs?’ Daddo said. 

‘You’ll find that lots of people on the island have two jobs,’ Stacey explained. ‘Ma bakes bread for the supermarket and homemade goodies for the sweets counter before opening the post office.’ 

‘But she must be exhausted!’ Mum said. 

‘Aye, but she goes to her bed at eight!’ 

Chris picked up a little bag. ‘Mmm, tablet! I’m gonna buy this for Ruth. When I say tablet, she’ll think of aspirin.’ 

‘I thought she was Scottish,’ Stuart said. ‘All Scots know what tablet is. It’s only English people that don’t know, then they think it’s the same as fudge.’ 

‘She is Scottish,’ Chris said, ‘but she was brought up in Egypt. I’m pretty sure they don’t have tablet there.’ 

‘What was it like?’ Ruth asked Chris at break on their first day back at school in Edinburgh. 

‘What was what like?’ 

‘The island – the ferry trip – the holiday. You know.’ 

‘It was better than I expected. I thought there’d be nothing to do, but there were so many little beaches and they were all a bit different. Daddo read in a tourist book that there was buried treasure somewhere on the island, so Tonia dug up every beach looking for it!  

‘The island’s very empty. At first, we only saw sheep. Then we came across little villages next to the bays. Daddo says they were built in places that were a bit sheltered from the wind.’ 

‘What was the ferry like?’ 

‘It was good. The sea wasn’t rough, but when you stood up, you could feel the boat just rolling gently. There was a cool café. We had burgers. You could always see land, even out at sea. We had to sail past little islands – just outcrops of rock, really – to get to Sunnaig. 

There were piles
of wee isles
and beaches with sand and rocks
and flocks of sheep
on the hills.
And a mill
by the river,
and we shivered
’cos it’s autumn.
But boredom
Could be a problem
if we’d stayed longer…

Ruth laughed and clapped as she always did when he made up a spontaneous rap. He claimed it was Daddo’s influence. Daddo reckoned that the original rappers were from the Caribbean, like himself. 

‘What did you do when you got there?’ Ruth continued. 

Chris told her about picnics on various beaches, about Kennicraggan and the craft shop, about Stacey with the green hair and about the other people they’d met. ‘There’s a hotel, but it needs a lot of work done. We didn’t stay there.’ He told her about the cottage and the little room he’d shared with Stuart. ‘From our window we could watch the ferry sailing round the bay. There’s also a hospital, but it looks like a row of terraced houses. No A&E.’ 

‘What happens when people get seriously ill, then?’ 

‘They go to Glasgow in an ambulance.’ 

‘An ambulance, but…’ 

‘It’s a helicopter! It lands on the airstrip – they call it an airport – that runs along the coast. There’s a daily plane from Glasgow, but it doesn’t fly if the wind’s too strong.’ 

‘Wow! Better not to get sick, I reckon.’ 

‘There are schools, too, of course. There are two primary schools – one teaches you in Gaelic only – and a high school. We drove past one of the primary schools. It had a huge playground with a football field and a trim track – Tonia thought it looked great. The high school was just a bit further along.’ 

‘How many students in the high school?’ 

‘Dunno. Not many.’ 

They both turned to look up at the windows of their own enormous school. ‘How many here?’ Ruth wondered. 

‘I think they told us there’s almost 2,000.’ 

‘Did you like it?’ she asked finally. 

‘It was OK for a weekend, I suppose.’ 

They were silent for a moment, then Chris dug in his bag. ‘I brought you this.’ He handed her the bag of tablet.  

‘Thanks.’ She peered inside. ‘Toffee?’ 

‘It’s a bit like fudge, but Scots call it tablet. One of the ladies on the island makes it. She also runs the post office.’ 

Ruth popped one piece into her mouth. ‘Mmm. It’s very sweet. Like baklava.’ 

‘Balaclava?’  

Ruth laughed. ‘Baklava. A kind of cake made with very thin layers of pastry. It’s usually dripping with syrup or honey. We used to get it in Egypt.’ She licked her fingers. ‘So… do you think you’ll ever go to Sunnaig again?’ 

‘I sincerely hope not!’ Chris said, and the very idea seemed to lie heavily like a rock on his chest. 

 

2 

‘A family conference,’ Daddo said. 

‘What about?’ Chris asked, suddenly wary. His family didn’t have family conferences. They did have dinner together most evenings, and family holidays and sometimes Sunday afternoon walks, though Chris and Stuart often grumbled about those. Tonia would always trot along happily swinging Crackers’ lead and occasionally tugging him away from rabbit holes. 

So here they all were, round the dinner table on a Friday evening, and Daddo was clearing his throat. Stuart’s eyes were fixed on the table in front of him. Chris was suspicious. Stuart knows something I don’t know. 

Daddo cleared his throat again and Mum took his hand. Chris looked down. He was glad Mum and Daddo loved each other, but he hated it when they went all soppy and romantic. ‘Sunnaig,’ Daddo said. ‘It’s a beautiful place and we enjoyed our wee holiday, didn’t we?’ 

‘Yes!’ Tonia squeaked. ‘And we found so many shells and next time we might find gemstones! And you said we’d take Crackers next time.’ 

‘Who said anything about next time?’ Chris said. Something was going on.  

‘Well,’ Daddo continued. ‘You know how Mum’s been quite unhappy at work recently?’ 

Chris looked up. Unhappy? He didn’t think of Mum as unhappy. She often came home grumbling about work. She said that some things in her office were organised badly. She wanted to make improvements, but she only worked part-time, so she didn’t get the chance. He’d seen her reading job adverts in the local paper and drawing circles round some of them with a red pen. But unhappy? 

‘Your mum’s a very clever lady,’ Daddo said, smiling. ‘She could do a much more important job. She just took the job she’s got now when you three were small. Now she would like to use that fantastic brain of hers, and there’s a perfect job going – in Sunnaig. She’s going to manage the Sunnaig Hotel.’ 

‘Mummy, you can’t go to Sunnaig without us,’ Tonia wailed. ‘We’d miss you too much, even if Granny and Grandad came.’ Even though she was almost nine, she climbed onto Mum’s lap and put her arms round her neck. 

‘No, of course not, pickle. That’s just it. We’d take you with us. We’d all go.’ 

‘What? Move there?’ Chris felt panicky. ‘What about school? What about my friends? And swimming club? And Energise?’ He looked at Stuart. ‘What about Stuart’s exams?’  

Stuart looked up at last, but still he didn’t speak. But Daddo did. ‘In fact, we’ve already spoken to Stuart about it. He’s only got one more year at school after this, then he’s hoping to go to university. And we’ve been in contact with Cathy’s family. Stuart and Cathy have been friends since the beginning of high school, so we feel we all know each other well. Her family’s going to take him in, as a lodger, for his last year of school.’ 

‘You’ve spoken to Stuart but not me? That’s not fair!’ Chris was furious. He stood up so suddenly, he knocked his chair over. ‘What about my education? What about if I want to go to university in a few years’ time? How come he gets a choice and I don’t? You’ve all organised everything without even telling me!’ 

‘Now, steady on,’ Daddo said, putting a hand on Chris’ arm. ‘Sit down, son.’ 

‘I’m not going to sit down, and I’m not your son!’ Chris shouted. He marched into the hall, grabbed his jacket and his bicycle helmet and stormed out of the house. He heard Tonia burst into tears just before he slammed the door behind him. He didn’t know where he was going. He felt so angry he just wanted to use up all that furious energy pedalling as fast as he could. He headed out to the Pentland Hills, where he could see the dry ski slopes. He left the main road and cycled uphill, standing on the pedals, working hard until he was sweating and panting. He felt his mobile buzzing in his jeans pocket, but he ignored it. 

He reached a lane where there was no tarmac, only stones and gravel, and he began to worry about having a puncture. There was a stile leading to a path along the edge of a field. Rats! He hadn’t taken his bike lock. He stopped and looked around. No one. Not even a dog-walker. So he hid his bike behind a hedge and climbed the stile. Running uphill was hard work, but he ran until his legs felt like jelly and his mouth was as dry as desert sand. He wished he’d brought a bottle of water. 

There was a drystone wall, and he paused and sat on it. Once he’d stopped running and panting he could listen to the silence around him. There was a faint muffled sound of traffic from the city bypass far below him, and the occasional mournful bleat from a sheep. But nothing more. 

He fingered a wristband that Ruth had given him: WWJD. What Would Jesus Do? He probably wouldn’t be rude to his stepfather, nor slam out of the house without saying where he was going. But Chris remembered that Jesus didn’t hide it when He was angry. When He went into the temple, He found people selling animals for sacrifice and charging much too much. Jesus was so angry He overturned the tables and shouted at the cheats to get out. 

What Daddo had said churned round and round in his mind. He thought about all the things he’d miss if they moved to Sunnaig. What about an Olympic-sized swimming pool, or a football team? What about a church with a club like Energise Youth? What about school? What about Ruth and other friends? And Stuart? It was so unfair. Stuart would be OK with Cathy’s family. They’d been friends for ages, and Stuart and Cathy had been going out together for about a year. Chris liked Cathy. But he would miss both of them unbearably. His anger had all drained away, and now he just felt sad. So sad, that tears pricked the backs of his eyes. He looked around again. He was alone, so he let the tears slip down his cheeks and didn’t even wipe them away. 

A curious sheep came to stand in front of him and stare. ‘It’s all very well for you,’ Chris sobbed. ‘You’ve got your own hillside and lots of grass and a stream to drink from…’ He looked around at the rest of the flock, ambling and nibbling, ‘… and all your mates here with you!’ I’m talking to a sheep. I must’ve lost the plot, he thought. 

His phone buzzed again in his pocket. This time he read the screen. Ruth. He gave a huge sniff and wiped his face on his sleeve before answering. ‘Hi, Ruth.’ 

‘Hi, Chris. Are you busy? Where are you? D’you want to hang out?’ 

‘Ah, I can’t just now. I’m, um, I’m on a bike ride. In the Pentlands.’ 

‘Oh, nice. Who with?’ 

‘Um, no one. Just me.’ And a few sheep. 

‘Er, are you OK, Chris? You sound kinda funny.’ 

‘It’s the hill. Not very good reception up here,’ he lied. So much for living honestly – in the light, he thought, remembering the theme of the previous summer’s holiday club. Suddenly he longed to tell someone what was happening to his family. Ruth would listen. Her own family had had a big move. Even bigger, in fact, when she and her mum had moved back to Scotland from Egypt.  

A brilliant idea suddenly hit him between the eyes. If Stuart could lodge with his girlfriend’s family and continue at the same school, maybe he could stay with Ruth and her mum. Now he felt ashamed of saying ‘I’m not your son’ to Daddo. Ruth’s dad had died when she was a toddler and she said she sometimes worried that she couldn’t remember him at all, but Daddo had been a wonderful father to Chris and Stuart for years. He’d played with them, stayed up all night with them when they were sick, bought them presents and trips out and pizzas, and he came to every swimming gala to cheer Chris on. Chris decided to go home, apologise to Daddo, and suggest his idea. 

‘Listen, yeah. I’d love to hang out. Maybe tomorrow?’ 

They made their plans and said goodbye. Chris put his phone back in his pocket and walked down the hill to his bike, still safely untouched under the hedge. He cycled home, put his bike away in the shed and went indoors, almost holding his breath with hope and anticipation. 

 

 

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  • Helen Parker

    Helen worked as a primary school teacher in Coventry, before teaching English to adults in Cyprus, Egypt and now Edinburgh...

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