Jacques Cousteau is watching nervously on the bridge of his ship Calypso as it slowly makes it way through a maze of razor-sharp coral tow
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Charlie Lupton and the Orchid Princess
Charlie Lupton Adventures , Book 3, 2015,
– CHAPTER 1 –
Before you take a shortcut across a field, always make sure that it is not the field in which the farmer keeps his bull.
Charlie Lupton and Mickey Dewhurst had not carried out this simple check.
`Run, Charlie, he’s gaining on us!’
`I am running,’ said Charlie, `it’s not easy with an artificial leg.’
`Why is he chasing us?’ said Mickey.
`I don’t know.’
`I don’t think ... he likes us ... and ... I don’t ... like him,’ said Mickey, who was getting out of breath.
They were running towards the gate at the far end of the field. They still had a long way to go. Charlie glanced behind him. The bull was charging with its tail up and its head down. His horns were pointed forward, glinting in the sun. Why was the bull chasing them? Then Charlie had an idea. `Mickey, it must be your parka ... Take it off.’
`It’s the red stripe on the back ... Bulls don’t like red ... Take it off!’
`I don’t think ... that’s a good idea.’
`Mickey, just do as I say ... Take it off!’
Charlie was watching the ground to avoid tripping over any bumps. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Mickey’s parka in his hand. Phew, he had taken it off. But then Charlie did a double-take. `Mickey, you’ve got a red shirt on!’
`I know ... I told you it wasn’t a good idea.’
`It’s a Welsh rugby shirt ... What are you wearing one of those for?’
`It’s a present ... My mum insisted I wear it.’
`A present? Who from?’
`Uncle Dai from Pontypridd. Anyway, never mind my shirt, he’s going even faster! Run!’
They reached the edge of the field, threw themselves at the gate and tumbled over the other side. The bull arrived seconds later and snorted at them. Charlie felt its warm, smelly breath in his face and took a step back.
`There’s no need to be scared,’ said Mickey, who now seemed to be very brave. He walked up to the gate. `What are you gonna do now, ugly features?’ The bull bellowed and pushed the gate with its horns.
`Mickey, I don’t think you should annoy him, he ...’
A Land Rover drove up the lane and pulled over onto the verge. It was Mr Bennett, the farmer. Charlie and Mickey stood back as he got out and walked towards the gate. `Mornin’ boys,’ he said, as he touched the front of his cap, `I see you be admiring my prize bull. He be the finest bull in these here parts.’
`He’s a bit scary,’ said Charlie.
`Scary? He’s not scary. People get the wrong idea about bulls, they do.’ The bull poked his head over the gate and nuzzled up to Mr Bennett. `You wouldn’t hurt a fly, would you, Blossom?’ he said, as he stroked his snout.
`Blossom?’ mouthed Mickey to Charlie.
`You be looking forward to the Heatherbridge 800 Summer Fair, aren’t you, young fella? I’m going to show him off with his big blue rosette he won at the County Show. There will be a competition to guess his weight. It’s all for charity, of course.’ Mr Bennett leant on the gate and looked across the field towards Heatherbridge and the mountains beyond. `It doesn’t seem possible that Heatherbridge is 800 years old this year,’ he said, as he straightened his cap, `no, it doesn’t seem possible. Well, I best be getting back to the farmhouse. Mrs Bennett will have my guts for garters if I’m late for lunch.’
He climbed into the Land Rover and started the engine. `Cheerio,’ he said, through the open window, and drove off down the lane.
As soon as Mr Bennett had gone, the bull started to paw the ground.
`Come on, then,’ said Mickey, as he beckoned to him with his hands, `wanna take me on?’
`I don’t think you should annoy him,’ said Charlie. `He doesn’t look very happy.’
`You wouldn’t be very happy if your name was BLOSSOM.’
The bull narrowed its eyes and fixed Mickey with a menacing stare.
`Leave him,’ said Charlie. `Let’s go back home.’
They set off down the lane. When they got to the bend, Charlie looked back. The bull was still by the gate, glaring at them.
They got back to Charlie’s house and went up to his bedroom. Charlie wanted to show Mickey the model of the International Space Station which he had made. He had bought it with the money given him by Deacon Savage’s parents. It was a reward for helping to save Deacon after the avalanche.
`That is a serious piece of kit,’ said Mickey, as he looked at it hanging from the ceiling.
`Yeah, it’s pretty cool,’ said Charlie.
`Hey, I like the spider,’ said Mickey.
It was big, plastic and hanging in the corner.
`It’s a tarantula,’ said Charlie.
`We’re doing spiders and insects in class next week,’ said Mickey. `Maybe you should take it in.’
`It’s not real,’ said Charlie. `It’s no big deal ...’
`Charlie, your drinks are ready,’ shouted his mother from downstairs.
`Coming,’ said Charlie.
Charlie went down and collected two glasses of squash. It was tricky climbing back up the stairs with his artificial leg whilst holding two full glasses. He walked along the landing and nudged open the bedroom door. Then he stopped and stood with his mouth wide open. Mickey was standing with one foot on the windowsill, the other on the chest of drawers and was holding on to the curtain with one hand. `Mickey, what are you doing?’
`Practising? For what?’
`I’m going to Emma’s birthday party tonight and there is a rumour that one of the games will be The floor is lava.’
`The floor is lava? How do you play that?’
`Basically, as soon as somebody says The floor is lava you have to get off the floor. If you don’t, your feet are toast. Last one off the ground is out.’
`Why don’t you just sit on a chair with your feet in the air?’ asked Charlie.
`Because,’ said Mickey, as he jumped onto the floor and took a glass off Charlie, `there may not be enough chairs to go round. You have to be ready to improvise.’
Charlie sat on the bed sipping his squash.
`Anyway,’ said Mickey, `why aren’t you coming? You never seem to go to parties.’
`They’re not really my scene,’ said Charlie.
`There must be a reason,’ said Mickey. `Aren’t we good enough?’
`It’s not that,’ said Charlie, who was beginning to feel irritated.
`Okay, what is the reason?’
`There’s no reason, really.’
`Come on, there must be.’
`Okay,’ said Charlie, `if you must know, it’s the balloons.’
`Yeah, there are usually balloons at parties and I don’t like balloons.’
`What’s wrong with balloons?’ asked Mickey.
`They go bang, and I don’t like bangs. You got a problem with that?’
`Whoa, chill out,’ said Mickey. `But it doesn’t make sense. How can the boy who rode his sledge flat out through Heatherbridge and who climbed up Blue Ridge Buttress, be scared of balloons?’
`I didn’t say I was scared, I just don’t like them. That’s the way it is.’
Mickey sat down on a chair and they both sipped their drinks. `You know,’ said Mickey, looking up at the ceiling, `that spider has got a lot of potential.’
`Potential? For what?’
`I’ve got a spare cage at home from when I used to have a budgie. I think we could have some fun if I took the spider in the cage to school. Can I borrow it?’
`Be my guest,’ said Charlie. `But I don’t think you’ll fool anybody. They’ll know it’s not real if it just sits there doing nothing.’
`Who said it’s going to do nothing?’ said Mickey, as he pulled it down from the ceiling and stuffed it in his pocket.
Charlie shook his head and finished his drink.
`Time for me to head home,’ said Mickey, looking at his watch.
They went downstairs and out onto the driveway.
`Enjoy the party,’ said Charlie. `Don’t burn any holes in your shoes.’
`I’m sure it will go with a BANG,’ said Mickey, as he clapped his hands together.
Charlie shuddered. `That’s hilarious, Mickey.’
`Anyway, I’m going to wear my new suit,’ said Mickey. `I got it for my cousin’s wedding earlier this year. It’s about time I wore it again. They don’t call me a fashion icon for nothing.’
`Why don’t you go early and help with the balloons? You’ll be able to provide plenty of hot air.’
`Very funny ... whoa, what’s all that about?’
They looked down to the main road. Two police motorbikes were going by. Close behind them was a long black car with small flags at the front. Its driver was wearing a cap. Darkened windows hid the passenger seat in the rear of car.
`That was a limousine of some sort,’ said Mickey. `I reckon it was a Cadillac.’
`Who was in the back?’ said Charlie.
`Not sure, mate, I couldn’t see. Maybe there was no one.’
`There were police,’ said Charlie. `There must have been someone important inside.’
`In Heatherbridge? Why would anybody important ever come to Heatherbridge?’