Excerpt from The Sandbox
“So what are you doing in Oklahoma? Isla Duncan from the Kingdom of Fife,” asked Dan, competing for her undivided attention.
“I’m doing a sponsored handcycle for charity. The more miles I rack up, the more funds we raise. My dad’s driving my support van, a camper van, you guys call them RVs. He’s writing a book on the Scottish diaspora where all the Scottish emigrants ended up in America, so we’re visiting libraries all over. Tracing family names, contacting descendants. That sort of thing. Oh and our route takes in as many of the Wild West movie sites as possible. We’re driving down to Texas next.”
“You a big Cowboys and… Indians fan, huh…” said Dan.
She nodded hesitantly, “My dad is.” She threw him a sidelong glance, uncertain if that was OK or not. Dan busied himself nursing their nascent fire, neither judging her or letting her off the hook. Sonny returned to the cave mouth to watch nature’s spectacular demonstration of raw power outside, his eyes shining with excitement as he stood as near to the entrance as he dared.
Settling on to the ground mat, tracing out the pattern of a glorious sunrise with her fingertip, Isla took time to assess her predicament. As her eyes became accustomed, she realised the cave was the size of a large basement, with a wide entrance and several smaller caves off-shooting in other directions, into ever deeper, darker areas.
Sonny, hair rippling in the wind, grinned at Isla, but startled by a sudden, especially large gust, he staggered backwards, then quickly regained his composure to prove he wasn’t scared. No sireee. But Isla didn’t care.
The incessant howling wind, and the intense whistling outside began to worry itself deep into Isla’s skin. She shivered — then looked up. Even the massive walls and ceilings of solid stone now seemed vulnerable. Each boy was trying to be brave but when one spectacular gust reached deep into the cave as if some invisible giant was groping for them, Sonny scurried back to join them by the campfire. Dan grinned at Sonny’s failure to keep his cool.
Isla covered her ears from the incessant roar of the beast and stared at the cave mouth as if some horrific monster was about to burst inside at any second. Now the wall etchings of birds flickered in the firelight and she felt surrounded, and watched, by crows and by hawks.
Dan shuffled closer to her and put an awkward arm around her back which she accepted gratefully and spoke in her ear:
“This is quite unusual. A really big one!”
“No kidding!” she yelled back, eyes wide with fear.
“You couldn’t ask to be in a safer place though.”
Isla didn’t seem at all convinced. Behind her back, Sonny and Dan exchanged another rapid-fire series of glances and expressions:
I don’t know!
You do something!
“So what happened to your legs?” asked Sonny, finally.
Dan rolled his eyes. Dude! How could you?
What? What did I do?
“Car accident when I was four. My mum died. It was me that killed her.”
JW Patrick lives in Scotland and has written voice-over scripts for television in the UK and USA.
I most recently completed a non-fiction book called Why have Adventures? for parents of young teens exploring the benefits of outdoor education.