“Duck!” cried Clifton. A strong breeze had blown a page of the local paper in his face containing the opinion piece his rubber duck had written about him. He couldn’t understand most of it, but there were enough uppercase QUACKs for him to know the article was scathing. Clifton spied the cannon.“Get your head down, Li!” cried Clifton. “No, keep going! I want to know what the future of tomorrow’s future will be,” said Pip. The cannon fired and the ball flew past Li, knocking Aldous’ boater off his head. Ghostly troops appeared on either side of the river. On one side were the soldiers who stopped the boat race, on the other were a strange militia in red robes. The militia’s opacity faded in and out, but their robes remained solid. The two forces raised their guns and fired. Clifton and Pip dived to the bottom of their dinghy and the students screamed. The water’s glow dissipated and the troops disappeared. Li threw her lectern into the water. “The hell with this!” she yelled. “I hate public service!” Li dived into the water and swam ferociously back to town. “Li! Come back!” called Pip. “Can I read the rest of your speech online?” “Li,” said Clifton, “can I have your oars?” “Oh no… Li, come back, blah-blah,” said Aldous, pretending to care as he restrung the old wooden tennis racket he carried with him. Brigitte was shivering in terror, but took a deep breath and repressed it with the rest of her emotions. “I guess I’m school captain now,” she said, “and vice captain and a member of the SRC.” “That sounds like a big conflict of interest,” said Pip, checking the twelve volumes of law books she’d brought with her. “Let’s move out, people,” said Clifton, grimacing as he realised he sounded like a character in an action movie. “So lame,” muttered Aldous. They paddled on. Brigitte was having trouble containing her fright and began humming nervously. “Aldous,” she said, “are you rowing?” “Dunno. Probably,” he replied. Brigitte hummed again, this time slightly louder. “Shall I sing the school song to keep our spirits up?” Brigitte suggested. Pip excitedly readied her mandolin. “A cappella,” Brigitte insisted. Pip disappointedly threw her mandolin overboard. “Qui Lono et un Cliftonus,” sang Brigitte. Clifton rolled his eyes. “A sweater tied around our shoulders,” Brigitte continued. There was a blood curdling scream from behind the reeds. It was so curdling, it turned Aldous’ chocolate milk sour. Brigitte sang louder. “Protects our necks from the wind of our helicopter’s blades.” There was another scream and a pained voice cried, “Please, no more cutting!” A torn sleeve flew out from the reeds and landed on Brigitte’s head. She let out a half-scream, but contained it by continuing the song even louder. “We are born to rule!” The wind blew the reeds over until they were lying flat. Behind them surgeons sawed at the bodies of wailing, wounded soldiers. “Stop! Those are new trousers! Don’t cut them open,” pleaded a soldier. “Unpick the stitches! Don’t slice my new uniform, I only got it yesterday,” cried the ghost of a young private. “I don’t care about my leg, those boots are imported leather, you bastard!” shouted another. “It’s so horrible,” said Pip. “As soon as I get home, I’m going to hug my tailor. What do we do?” “Don’t worry, it’ll pass,” assured Clifton. Brigitte, now shaking so violently that she was rocking the boat and turning Aldous’ sour milk into a milkshake, sang even louder. “Or live an idle life by the pool. Ah! Ah! Help! Ah!” Brigitte’s sudden cry for help was actually part of the school’s song and not related to the haunting scenario playing out in front of her. The song’s author had written the final verse as he was travelling in a light aircraft that crashed into a mountain. The surgeons and their patients faded into the swamp. There was a moment of calm. The leaves of the trees rustled gently in the breeze. “Another verse?” offered Brigitte. “Any requests?” The breeze quickly became a gale and as though carried by a tornado, shreds of fabric flew in the faces of Brigitte, Aldous, Clifton and Pip. They swatted at the fabric like they were shooing insects. The cloth whipped their bodies with increasing intensity and then vanished without a trace. Brigitte snapped. “That’s it!” she cried. “I hate the school song! Someone died writing it and I’m not dying singing it!” Brigitte dove off the boat, but misjudged the dive and landed face first into Clifton’s dingy. She picked herself up and launched off the dinghy, but landed on a log. Groggily, Brigitte stood and leapt from the log but face-planted onto an iceberg. “Ok, I’ll just walk,” said Brigitte. “Climate change,” said Pip, shaking her head. They continued downstream. The band had not travelled twenty-five metres when the water glowed again. Moaning echoed through the trees, the wind howled and the water bubbled. Clifton and Pip braced themselves. “Oh no,” whispered Pip. Aldous checked his phone to see if his father had replied. His face turned white with terror. “There’s no phone coverage!” he cried. “The horror! Ah! The horror!” Aldous somersaulted out of the boat, taking a selfie mid-air. He splashed into the water and swam hastily away. “Let’s take their boat,” said Clifton. The ghost cannon rose from the water and fired into the students' boat, sinking it in seconds. “Oh, come on!” said Clifton.
TO BE CONTINUED…
What a song... More of Clifton and Pip’s folkloric adventures next Saturday.
If anyone has any thoughts on the story, or rowing tips, comment away!