Clifton arrived to the river early. First light was breaking over the water and Clifton admired the beauty of the blue-green algae. The surface bubbled and Pip emerged from the water in a 19th century diving suit. “Pip? What are you doing?” asked Clifton.
“Early morning swim,” said Pip, unscrewing the helmet.
“Isn’t that suit a bit restrictive for swimming?”
“Not comparatively,” said Pip. “I usually take my submarine.”
Clifton helped Pip onto the shore and out of her diving suit. “Have you come to see me off?” he asked.
“No, I’m coming with you,” Pip announced.
“But what about the post? Who will deliver the mail?”
Pip explained she had quit the post office. After being in the game for 57 million years, it was time to move on. Plus she had been stealing rubber bands and was worried management was starting to become suspicious. If they ever saw the duck she gave Clifton, she’d be prosecuted for certain.
The Mayor’s barge pulled into the dock and she slowly descended the gangplank.
“Clifton! Good to see you,” said Mayor Birch, eating a popcorn bag full of diamonds.
“Aren’t they bad for your teeth?” asked Clifton.
“Not as bad as sugar,” countered Mayor Birch.
“2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,” counted Pip.
“I wish you well,” said Mayor Birch in between sickening, teeth shattering crunches. “The town thanks you. But you will not be alone. The students of Brandon College were so inspired by your brave offer that several have been forced to volunteer for the mission.”
From the school’s boat shed emerged the prefects of Brandon College. They were Li Huang, who was so respected she was both the school captain and vice school captain; Brigitte Rae who was a member of the Student Representative Council, appointed for no other reason than she could sing the school song with the right amount of gusto; and Aldous Malone, whose father bought a bunch of stuff for the school.
“We don’t need accompaniment,” Clifton protested.
“I do,” said Pip, tuning her mandolin.
“I insist,” said the Mayor, forcefully.
Li, who had brought her own lectern, gave a forty-five minute speech on the importance of public service, Brigitte performed a stirring rendition of Brandon College Born to Greatness and Aldous texted his father to tell him he’d crashed his Mercedes into an orphanage. Mayor Birch could see that Clifton was still not convinced. She took him aside and placed her arm around his shoulder. Mayor Birch’s arm was so heavy from the robes that it pushed Clifton down through the soft Earth up to his knees. “They’re the best and brightest of their generation,” Mayor Birch assured. “Plus, they lobbied for you to be given a new boat for the journey.”
“I didn’t expect them to be so selfless,” said Clifton.
“I know you had a different educational experience, but these kids may just surprise you,” promised the Mayor.
“Ok,” said Clifton.
The Mayor clapped twice in quick succession and called for everyone’s attention. “For the best results, you need the best,” she began, “and it is my privilege to present you a gift from the town to assist you on your journey. Li, Brigitte and Aldous, please make fine use of your new boat.”
Two footmen presented the students with a brand new, professional racing rowboat. It was a sleek and beautiful design: light weigh, carbon fibre and with oars that gently massage your palms as you row.
“And to Clifton,” said Mayor Birch, “um, here, have this.”
The footmen lobbed a rusty dinghy into the water. The boat was leaky and had exposed wires protruding from its sides even though it had no motor or electric components.
“Can I at least have a paddle?” asked Clifton.
“Sure,” said Mayor Birch and she tossed him a rotting fence pale.
“I don’t think the distribution of boats here is very fair,” Clifton objected.
“You may be risking your life to help this town, but you’re still from Destitute High, so get in the damn boat.”
Clifton begrudgingly rolled-up his pant legs and climbed into the dinghy. Pip put back on her diving suit, minus the helmet and joined Clifton. The footmen pushed down handle of a TNT plunger and a mound of dirt exploded into the air, revealing a wooden barricade. The footmen lobbed two grenades at the barricade, completely obliterated the obstruction. A vine fell across the new clearing and one of the footmen aimed a tactical nuclear weapon at it. Mayor Birch gestured for the footman to stop. “I think they can just push past the vine,” she said.
The defences had been hiding an entrance to an offshoot of the river that winded through the hills. Mayor Birch pointed. “Through there,” she said. “Five kilometres and you shall find the Military Academy.”
Mayor Birch fired a starting gun and Li, Brigitte and Aldous sped away. Clifton dipped his fence pale into the water and rowed, but the water resistance caused it to snap. “We should have asked for a tow,” said Clifton.
Using the remaining wooden stump, Clifton paddled through the clearing.
The area of the river Clifton and the crew found themselves was dank and swampy. The surrounding hills and thick canopy blocked the sun light, as did Brigitte’s SPF 1,000,000+ sunscreen, which she applied liberally to avoid a “worker’s tan.” Clifton shakily stood, the dinghy rocking and bobbing. “Excuse me,” he called out. “Students? Hey, kids? Excuse me, youths? May I please have your attention?”
The students ceased rowing and grumbled.
“Yes?” said Li, impatiently.
“Thank you. I thought we’d better run through a plan of attack. It could get dangerous and we need to stick together,” instructed Clifton.
“You’re so lame,” whined Aldous.
Li, who had managed to bring her lectern aboard, adjusted the microphone and leant in. “I think we know what we’re doing,” she said. “We have the better boat and our generation is forty per cent more likely to actively engage the paranormal than previous generations.”
“Where did you get that statistic?” asked Clifton, suspiciously.
Li ignored the question and instead read a section from her Brandon College Awards Night opening address entitled The Promise of Tomorrow: The Internet Etc. As Li orated the final sentence, which contained the word “future” at least seven times, the water began to glow. A gleaming cannon broke the surface and aimed at the students.
TO BE CONTINUED…
A cannon! Gasp! More of Clifton and Pip’s folkloric adventures next Saturday.
If anyone has any thoughts on the story, or rowing tips, comment away!