The words were like white-hot knives plunging into Tom's skin. His mahogany eyes were flaring at his parents' shouts. "You're banned from GameCube!" "You're grounded!" "No allowance!"
All Tom wanted was to run far, far away from here. His two little sisters, Hannah and Beth, huddled in a corner, wide-eyed with fear. Tom could take it no longer. Roaring like an angry lion, he charged out the door and slammed it behind him.
Tom was running like a rocket, his fine-tuned sprinter's legs pounding the ground. He didn't care if he had to slam through a brick wall, he just wanted to run. And it was pure coincidence that the first things Tom slammed into were his best friends, Andrew and Henry,
Wham! Tom fell to the ground, stunned by the sudden impact. Andrew lost his balance and started pinwheeling his arms. Henry, who had taken the impact full force, flew backwards and fell flat on his back, the wind knocked out of him. After Andrew regained his balance, he walked over to Tom and helped him up.
"Are you OK?"
"Fine," Tom replied.
Tom couldn't help feeling a bit envious of Andrew. After ten years of hard training, starting at age three, Andrew had convinced his father to sign a contract with the WWF stating that Andrew would be a pro wrestler when he graduated from college.
Henry staggered over, gasping for breath. "Man, you sure know how to rip a person's shirt." He looked down and added, "And his jeans!"
Andrew spoke up. "Why were you running?"
Tom shot a look at him. There was a long silence. Both Henry and Andrew knew what Tom meant. Tom had been failing in math for months. After many comments from the teachers, his parents blew a fuse.
A sudden noise broke the silence. It was the sound of a car speeding down the road.
"It's my mom!" Tom shouted, and they took off down the sidewalk. Henry, who was a little chubby, fell behind the other two.
The SUV pulled up alongside Henry. Tom's mother rolled dawn the window. Her pumpkin-colored hair was frazzled with stress, and even though she was wearing shades, Henry could tell there was a lot of anger in her eyes.
"Have you seen Tom anywhere?" she asked politely.
"Yes, ma'am. I saw him run past the school a minute ago," Henry lied.
"Thanks, honey," said Tom's mom, and she sped off down the street.
Henry caught up with Andrew and Tom and they decided to hide in the community boathouse.
"I stole the keys to our boat," Tom smirked. "There are plenty of islands off the coast. I'll just sail over to one of them and stay for a couple of days."
"What about us? You're not getting all the fun!" For the second time in two minutes there was a long silence. The boys' eyes drilled a hole through him as they waited for his reply.
"OK! OK!" Tom sighed. "You two can come along, but it's your own lives you're messing with."
Andrew beamed, "Thanks, dude!"
Grabbing a flashlight from the boathouse floor, Henry smiled, "Be prepared!"
The boys pulled the boat out onto the beach. Henry was dripping with sweat, muttering something under his breath, while Andrew was lifting it as if it weighed as much as a puppy. As for Tom, he was doing as well as an average twelve-year-old sprinter should, pretty well, but stumbling now and then. Finally, after what seemed like an hour, they set the boat down with a hollow thud.
Henry wiped his forehead. "Man, the only way I could take a step carrying that boat was to say its name over and over. Salmon, Salmon, Salmon! It makes my mouth water!"
The Salmon was sleek and smooth, like its namesake. The sail had a picture of a fish leaping up a waterfall. Tom smiled slyly at Henry and said, "You know, Henry, you really should get in shape because not all boats have appetizing names. See that one over there? It's called the Bloody Head." Henry gave a little gasp of horror when he saw the image on the sail.
Andrew gave a sharp whistle and shouted, "It's time to cast off." Giving the Salmon a final shove, they scampered onto the boat. Henry went to the navigation room, Andrew to the sails, and Tom to the wheel. Tom smiled as the sea sprayed his face. He knew this was where he belonged.
Henry was deep in thought. He was thinking about his social life, as they called it at school. Ever since kindergarten, every kid but Tom and Andrew had made fun of his chubbiness. Here was a chance to earn their respect. He was taking part in an adventure that no one in the history of Ponce de Leon Middle School had ever done before. He and his friends were running away; they were outlaws!
Andrew was looking across the water when something caught his eye. It was a huge mass of clouds moving across the sky. Suddenly the wind started to howl and the thunder boomed. The rain poured down and water churned around the Salmon. The Salmon creaked and groaned as she rocked back and forth. Then, out of nowhere there was a sucking sound. The boys looked behind them and saw a fifty-foot wall of water towering above them. Unbelievably, it grew still higher and then with a deafening crash it thundered down upon the Salmon.
Tom was flattened against the deck. He felt like he had been body-slammed by a sumo wrestler. With his strength to hold on failing, his last thought was of his fight with his parents. Then everything went black. Tom was now at the mercy of the roaring sea.
"Ohhh!" Moaned Tom. He was in such agony he almost wished he was dead.
"Arghhh!" another voice answered. Andrew shouted to Tom and his call was returned. The boys dragged themselves towards each other with new strength and hugged.
Andrew dropped down on the sand, exhausted, and told Tom his story. "Do you remember that when the wave hit I was up in the mast? I found myself hanging twenty feet up in the air when it broke off. I thought I was a goner, but the sail caught a wind! I was flying when I saw you on the beach. So I tried to swing down to you, I lost my grip and fell. I think I broke some ribs."
Suddenly all the events of last night came pouring through Tom's brain. He wondered how he could have gotten them all into this trouble over a fight with his parents. "Hey!" he yelled. "Where's Henry?"
Andrew stared at the ground before he could manage an answer. "He went overboard."
A knot tightened in Tom's stomach. Then Andrew reminded Tom how much Henry would hate them acting sad. Tom agreed, but the pain about their friend was still a growing cavern.
Then Andrew's eyes widened. He noticed Tom's backpack. Tom told him it was his survival kit. He showed Andrew the contents: a knife, some rope, a first-aid kit and some dry matches. Perfect.
They needed to decide where to live. The first place Tom suggested was the woods. Andrew didn't think much of that idea. He didn't like mosquitoes, ticks and other germ-spreading bugs. He said he'd rather live in an igloo.
Tom thought again and his face lit up. He got to work, starting to make large bricks out of the damp sand. Andrew didn't really get what Tom was up to but he tried to help him anyway.
The procedure was quite simple when Tom explained it. The boys would make sand bricks and leave them to bake in the hot sun. After they were hard, Tom and Andrew stacked them on top of each other. There was plenty of time to talk about their situation.
"So," said Tom, summing it all up, "we're stranded on an island with a sunken boat and our best friend is gone. There's no way we can go back home now, is there?"
"Yeah," said Andrew, "that's right."
The two friends worked till noon in the hot sun. When they were done, they stood back to admire their work.
"Wow!" exclaimed Andrew. "That's like the best sand castle I've ever made."
What they had created looked like an igloo made out of sand. There was room to sleep and stretch out a little bit. There was a small hole in the ceiling for air circulation.
The boys decided to split up and see what else each could accomplish. Andrew set off into the woods to make an air freshener for their salty-smelling home. Tom stayed on the beach and started digging a fire pit. After he was finished he found some driftwood and made a roasting spit.
When Andrew came back, he tied Tom's knife onto a stick and made a fishing spear.
"Man! We like made all of this stuff in like two hours. Your ideas rock!" said Andrew. "I just wish old Henry was here to do all these things with us. I miss him."
Tom crawled into the igloo for a rest and said, "I know, I miss him too much to talk about it."
Some time later Tom lifted his head off the ground. It was evening now, and through the ceiling hole he could see that the moon was up. Far above him a few stars twinkled. He crawled out of the igloo and saw Andrew roasting a large fish over the spit.
"Man, you sure are a sound sleeper, Tom! Come on! I'm just finishing cooking dinner."
"Where did you get all of this food?" asked Tom.
"Well, I was walking in the woods and found some edible plants so I brought them back. Then I nailed this weird fish. So, for dinner we have fresh coconut milk, roasted shredder fish (I named it that), Gift of the Woods salad, and for dessert . . . Guardian Angel Crystallized Fruit."
Tom nodded and munched, "You are a culinary god!"
Suddenly, he saw a light from a nearby island! "Hey, Andrew, what do you think that is?"
Andrew squinted his eyes for a moment, then his mouth dropped open. "That's got to be Henry's flashlight!" he breathed. Andrew sprang into action. "I'll go save him!"
"No!" Tom yelled. "You're not going out there with those ribs of yours!" He untied the knife from Andrew's fishing spear and strapped it to his belt. Then, silent as an otter on the hunt, Tom slipped into the pitch-black ocean.
Tom was swimming with all his might. He could see Henry lying on the sandy shore, but was he alive? That was when it hit him. Well, it almost hit him! A huge sea-beaten log came hurtling past him. Tom ducked, but some other creature was not so lucky.
Tom saw a huge shark floating limply in the water. Knowing the shark would soon regain consciousness, Tom knew he had very little time. Taking the log with him, he swam to shore and found Henry. He was cold and clammy, but breathing. Tom heaved Henry up on the log, took a deep breath and dove back into the water to do battle with the shark.
Tom drew his knife and looked around. He looked left and right but saw no shark. Then a sinking feeling came over him. The shark was below him! Tom looked down and saw two deadly eyes flash back at him. There was a pause as the shark stared at Tom, then it attacked. But Tom was faster than the stunned shark. He dodged to the side and slashed at the shark's back. Then the enraged shark whipped back, its long tail curving to swipe at Tom's arm. Tom plunged the knife into the top of the shark's head. The shark gave one shudder and sank to the sandy bottom, never to rise again.
Tom was victorious, but he did not win the battle unscathed. His right arm had a long wound with a tooth embedded in it. Tom winced as the salt water splashed into his wound. He was dripping a trail of blood through the water and knew he had to get to shore soon, before other sharks followed his scent. On the beached log, Henry was starting to stir.
Tom dragged Henry and the log into the water with him. "What's going on?" asked Henry groggily. A dark fin speeding through the water answered all of Henry's questions. Just then, a shark rammed the log and Tom fell into the water. Henry bent over and pulled Tom out just in time.
Suddenly they were picked up by a wave. Tom grabbed Henry, held onto a knob on the log's surface and prepared for the ride of his life. The wave dropped them on the shore and the sand rushed up to meet them.
Andrew nearly tackled his friends with joy. Henry gave Andrew a noogie and wrestled him to the ground. While they were at it, Tom found the first-aid kit and treated his wound, pulling out the tooth and dropping it into his pocket. Then he put on some disinfectant and a tight bandage to stop the bleeding. Henry was half-starved, and started to devour the leftovers from their dinner.
As Henry and Tom were horsing around on the beach doing a victory dance, Andrew silently moved off to the woods and returned with two pieces of vine.
"I prepared some entertainment," he smiled. Much to their surprise he lit the ends on fire. He twirled them around and around his head until he let go.
Fooush!!! The vines whirled upwards, two flaming rings against the night sky.
Then suddenly, Bang! The two vines exploded in a flash of fire. The glare lit up the whole island. Seconds later, all that was left were ashes blowing in the wind. Tom and Henry, jaws slack, eyes wide, looked like they were about to pass out.
Andrew explained casually, "Remember in history class, when we learned about the Native Americans? Well, they used this weird plant oil as a fire starter and I found a whole patch of it growing next to the river. So I picked some and squeezed it out onto the vines. I'm hoping the cops will see the explosions."
Soon the air was filled with smoke and the noise of exploding vines. Tom was content. He would soon be reunited with his family and somehow he felt everything would be all right. Suddenly a giant wave of fatigue swept over him. He slipped to the ground in a deep slumber . . .
Tom awoke but didn't want to open his eyes. He just wanted to stay and sink into the covers and absorb the warmth forever. He finally peeked one eye open and saw four blurry figures standing next to his bed. He rubbed his eyes and they turned into his mother, his father, Hannah and Beth.
He heard his dad pick up the bedside phone. "Yes, Tom just woke up. I want to thank you, Officer Bailey I'll never forget what you and your coast guard have done for us."
An alarm bell went off in Tom's mind. He wanted to escape.
No, he thought. It wasn't right to run the first time, and it isn't right to run again.
Finally, he summoned enough courage to speak. "Mom, Dad, I'm so sorry I ran away like that. I'll try harder in school, I promise. I am at your mercy. You can ground me, make me give up my allowance, anything, because that's what I deserve."
His parents looked at each other. "Only one wish," his dad said.
"Please be nicer to your sisters."
Tom jumped out of bed, looked at the twins and shouted, "Race you down the stairs!" He charged down the hallway, got to the stairs and jumped on the banister. Meanwhile, Hannah launched off the banister and, while in midair, grabbed hold of Beth's shoulder and gave a slight backwards push. Beth fell down the stairs on her bottom with a soft thump. Then, with the added momentum from her sister, Hannah flew through the air and landed on Tom's back.
Hannah strode over and snapped, "Ha! Who said girls can't play rough?!" And she disappeared into the kitchen.
"The plane will be lifting off in five minutes," said the flight attendant.
"Yippee!" said Tom and his friends simultaneously.
"Thanks for persuading your parents to let us come," said Andrew and Henry.
"Don't mention it," said Tom.
After weeks of studying hard, Tom had gotten an A in math. To celebrate, his family was taking a trip to the Homestead Resort in Virginia. Henry and Andrew were invited along.
"Those two days on the island sure were crazy," said Tom.
"I wouldn't have made it through without you," said Henry.
"Same here," said Andrew.
They were all quiet for a moment, thinking how each of them played a part in the game of survival.
"I wouldn't have made it without you guys either," said Tom.
Henry looked Tom in the eye and said, "I didn't do anything important, but I survived through the whole thing, that's what matters."
"No way, Henry!" argued Tom. "You did do something important—you pulled me back on the log after that second shark rammed into us! You saved my life too!"
They were quiet again until the pilot's voice came on the speakers.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we now have clearance for takeoff. Thank you for choosing American Airlines."
And with a mighty roar, the plane's engines propelled it down the runway and lifted it up in the air. Tom looked down and saw the island that they had run away to. In that moment, he realized that part of him would always be stranded there.