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by L. H. Hall

Chapter 24 - Unhappy Birthday


by L. H. Hall

Chapter 24

Unhappy Birthday

The dolphins were chattering at us before we could see the sun. Then Sheba and the pups were still lying lazily around us. They had not bothered to go hunting. "Where's our breakfast, Sheba?" I rubbed the sleep from my eyes.

She answered me with a low, "Woof," got up and disappeared from my line of vision above my head. I assumed she was going hunting, but the next second she dropped a two-foot long fish on my face. "Ooh! What's that?" Momentarily startled, I knocked it off onto Julie. Then I realized the little whales had delivered breakfast.

"Ooh! Get that cold fish out o' the bed." Julie awoke, throwing it onto Jamie who lay on the opposite side of her.

"What did you do that for?" Jamie wanted to know.

"I just wanted to get it off o' me." Julie wiped her chest where the fish had been.

"Happy Birthday, Jamie." I was laughing at their reactions.

"That's not a very good way to wake the Most Important Person of the Day up." Jamie was ready to fight.

"I'm sorry, Jamie." Julie tried to be serious. The rest of us were laughing, and she was beginning to feel the humor. It might not have been funny to Jamie, but it got us all up. Even the dolphins were chattering from the cove, like they thought it was funny.

Jamie poured the water from the canteens into the cups while I cleaned the fish, and Sarah stirred up the fire. While the fish was cooking, Jamie and I ran to the stream above Crescent Lake to refill the canteens for the day. When we returned, the girls had breakfast cooked and the bed tied up in five tight rolls. They seemed to be smaller, and tighter than normal. I picked one up. "Did you leave something out of the bedroll?"

"No." Sarah handed me a dish of fish and half a mango. "We just rolled them tighter. I thought maybe we could tie them to the belts, and ride the dolphins down to the end of the other side of the island. We can make them go wherever we want them to."

"Yeah, sure we can!" I was purposefully sarcastic. "If they don't want to go somewhere else."

"I ain't had no trouble." Jamie took a bite of fish.

"You weren't out there with me when she took me for that ride either. I leaned 'til I almost fell off, and she went where she wanted, but we'll try it. I don't want them to punish me again for not trusting them."

The top rim of the sun was barely visible over the trees when we made sure the fire was out, and waded into the ocean, with our belts looped over our shoulders and our bedrolls on our backs. A dolphin slid up beside each of us, almost resting on the bottom to make it easy for us to straddle them, and we were off. We headed generally toward the south but took a lot of detours on the way. One time, we must have been at least a mile out to sea. We did not care; we were having fun. We trusted our dolphins, and we learned to trust them even more. One time Debbie slipped off and fell into the water, but she hardly got her face wet before the sixth one picked her up. The rest of us did not even slow down. Julie's bedroll came untied from her belt, but the extra dolphin picked it up and carried it almost to the southeast tip of the island where she threw it up onto the bank to wait for us. After about a half hour, our dolphins nosed in toward the shore where Julie's bedroll was, and stopped, chattering as if they were waiting for us to get off. We did not want to get off. We wanted them to take us on around the tip but they would not take us any further in that direction. A couple of times they turned and went out to sea, and back up toward the cove, but would not go any closer to the tip of the island.

"Maybe they know something we don't." I realized the sea seemed to be rougher farther East. "It looks like we walk from here."

"I wonder why they won't take us around the corner." Jamie reluctantly started to shore.

"They must know something we don't." I pointed to the East. "Look how rough it is close to the shore beyond that point."

"They're looking after us. You can bet it isn't safe around there, or they would have taken us." Sarah retied Julie's bedroll to her belt.

"You're right," I listened to the sound of the waves in that direction. "The surf is louder over there. That must be the reason."

The dogs, who had run along the shore barking, joined us, and we walked on around the point staying close to the edge of the jungle. As we rounded the point a hard east wind hit us. The island and trees had sheltered us from it. It was quite a shock. "Do you think a storm is coming?" Sarah asked.

 "I don't think so. Look at the sky. There isn't a cloud as far as we can see." I lifted the binoculars to my eyes and scanned the horizon. The sun was well off the horizon, but it was still low enough to cause a glare in the glasses. "Look at those waves. Those dolphins knew what they were doing. Can you imagine trying to hang onto a dolphin if one of them broke over you?"

"Yeah!" Jamie exclaimed. "I wouldn't want none of that."

"Me neither!" Julie grabbed my arm as if the wind might blow her away.

"Isn't the difference between this and where we've just been amazing." Sarah looked at the breakers to the East and turned to see a much calmer sea to the South.

"Yeah," I agreed. "Angry and violent on one side, and peaceful and sleepy on the other. It's amazing what a few feet of land and jungle can do."

 "I don't think we're going to walk down this beach, either." Sarah pointed out the coastline.

 A nice gradual wave swept beach followed the jungle for three or four hundred yards. Then, cliffs rose from the sea, and the angry waves lashed at them. I considered the high water marks at the edge of the jungle. It was obvious that the tide was near its lowest. It had probably just started coming in. "Can you imagine what it will be like this afternoon when the tide gets up? That wall will take a beating."

"I hope it doesn't cave in. We'll be up there somewhere." Jamie acted like he would just as soon go the other direction.

I started toward the cliffs. "Yeah, and it looks like we might have a lot of jungle to fight too. We better get started."

"Let's stay on the beach until the cliff starts. I want to see it up closer." Debbie tried to keep her long brown hair out of her face.

"Yeah, and let's stay pretty close to the edge so we can look down on it when the tide is all the way up." Jamie suggested.

"Aren't you the one who was afraid it would cave in." I questioned his inconsistency.

"Yeah, but it ain't goin' to. The tide hits that cliff every day."

"And some days part of it falls into the sea. That's how the cliff was made. If the world lasts long enough, in a few thousand or million years this beach will come all the way up to the cave," I told them.

"How do you know?" Debbie asked.

"I don't know," I said slowly, "but I know."

"Jesus told him." Sarah knew she was right, and did not hesitate to say it. "I know it too. I knew every word he said before he said it, and it's true. It's really weird to have somebody say what your thinking the second after you think it."

"I told you I could think your thoughts." I kidded her.

"Hush! You cannot." She hit me playfully in the belly. "Jesus just told us both at the same time. That's how it happened, and you know it!"

The kids laughed at us, but they missed out on the private part of the joke.

We stood at the southeastern end of the cliff, with the incoming waves lapping at our feet, looking north along the cliff. The water was several feet deep farther north. Apparently that part of the shoreline was always underwater all the way up to the cliff.

At first it was easy climbing where the high tide washed sand over the lower ledges of the cliff into the jungle, but when we got above the sand, the jungle grew more dense. I started chopping the underbrush. "I hope it isn't all like this, or we'll need another week vacation to get to the north shore. It was nearly noon before we stopped climbing and the trail leveled off into a slight descent some fifty or sixty feet above the ocean. I stopped to take another drink from my half empty canteen. I realized that we had not found a place to camp, and it was already too late to build a fire unless we went back down to the point of the beach to camp. It was not over a half mile from where we were, but by evening, I hoped it would be much farther. "It looks like we'll have a cold camp tonight, unless we can find a sunny spot in the jungle."

"That's all right. We have plenty of jerky." Sarah lowered her canteen.

"Yeah, but it's all wet from riding the dolphins." I started hacking at the brush again.

"If it is, we've got wet beds too. I tried to wrap it and the salt in the bedrolls so it would stay dry inside the ponchos."

"This sure ain't much of a birthday," Jamie growled. "First I get slapped in the face with a fish to wake me up; then, I have to cut my way through the jungle at about a foot an hour."

"It was your idea." I took another whack at some vines. "I was content to stay at the cave, but you wanted to explore."

"I'm glad you did too." Sarah moved a branch out of the way.

"Me too!" Julie sat down in the trail to look at a new hurt on her tough foot. "Look how much fun we've had at the lakes, and with the dolphins."

"Yeah, but this ain't fun, an' this is the most important day," Jamie complained.

"I'm sorry, Jamie." I paused for a few seconds. "You can't expect exploring to be all fun and no work. That's the fun of exploring, we never know what is around the next corner, or behind the next patch of underbrush we cut through."

"Yeah, I do too." Jamie was having a real pity party. "Just another bunch of underbrush, and after that there's another bunch. It'll take a week to break out of this."

"We better get back to work then, or it'll take a month." I started hacking again.

Jamie had been wrong. We had not gone ten feet, before we came to a sharp drop in the terrain. I almost fell into a stream rolling down into the sea below. It was not very swift, but if I had fallen, I could have been swept the few feet over the waterfall; and found myself in the turbulent sea, which was really beating at the foundation of the cliff.

The stream was only a couple feet wide and came up to my shins. It looked like the easiest path to follow. There was not much brush to cut. I asked Jamie and Sarah to take the lead and clear the path. Jamie did not like it. He did not think the Most Important Person should have to cut a trail for the others to easily follow. When I explained that I wanted to stay back to make sure one of his little sisters did not get washed over the cliff, he thought it was a good idea for him to blaze the trail.

Carefully I stepped into the stream, hanging onto solid vines, and stood not over six or eight feet from the waterfall behind me. Jamie and Sarah helped each other into the stream, and Jamie took the lead. Sarah then helped each of the girls into the stream, and they went ahead of her. "Hang on to the brush, tightly now." I advised.

We followed the serpentine stream north a hundred feet or more, before we broke out into the twilight of the jungle. The canopy was so dense nothing could grow below it for lack of sunlight. We could still hear the raging surf below, but the underbrush shielded us from the strong east wind. We climbed out of the water, and sat down to rest. Jamie was right; we had done a lot of hard work that morning. If we had thought to turn inland earlier, we would have had much easier going.

"I think this is a good place to have lunch." Sarah began to unwrap one of the bedrolls. "Dry as a bone, just as we had hoped."

I filled the canteens with fresh cool water. It was a good thing we found the water. Julie's and Debbie's canteens were almost empty. "When we don't know where the next water is, we have to be careful not to drink so much, and save the water," I handed them their canteens.

"But I was thirsty. I got all that sea water in my mouth riding the dolphins," Debbie argued.

"Me too." Julie put her canteen back in its pouch.

"If we hadn't found anymore water 'til we got back to the cave you really would have been thirsty, and so would I. I would have had to let you drink mine. We all would have been thirsty."

"But when I'm thirsty, I gotta drink." Julie started to cry.

"Yeah, but drink just one small mouthful, and see how long you can hold that in your mouth before you swallow it. That will help you not drink so much."

"And, remember, Timmy, Daddy used to tell us to wipe off a small stone or stick and suck on it." Jamie reminded me. "That'll make the--a--a--spit run in your mouths and help keep you from being so thirsty."

"Yeah. I remember that. It works too. I've done it lots of times when I was thirsty going to the villages with dad," I remembered. "Thank you, Jamie."

I used my bedroll for a pillow and lay back looking at the canopy far above while I ate my jerky. I could not see even a pinhole of sunlight shining though. It was kind of eerie, but peaceful, only the sound of the angry waves crashing against the cliffs below, and the screams of the birds in the canopy above invaded the serenity of the mood. After they had eaten, the noise of playful children and barking dogs was added to the previous ones, but I did not hear them. I do not think I was asleep, just in a peaceful meditative mood that blocked out the outside world.

The next thing I knew a fly or bug of some kind was tickling my nose. I swatted it away a few times. Sarah began to giggle. I opened my eyes to see her sitting there with a leaf tickling me. "You've had it now." I warned, but before I could get up she was gone. I was up and after her, but she got behind a big tree and stayed on the opposite side from me. No matter which direction I went she went the other way. She also had some help from the others who always took her side in situations like this.

"Don't you think we ought to call a truce, and move on while we can still see?" she asked on about our hundredth trip around the tree. "This is the long side of the island, remember, and we have barely got started."

"Are you gonna apologize?"


"Then there's no truce. I'll get even for today and the other day too." I made about ten more trips around the tree without a glimpse of her. I could not understand how she could stay out of sight so long; then, I heard her giggle behind me. "That ain't fair, you switched trees," I yelled, running after her. She jumped behind that tree. The others had all the bedrolls, and she switched trees repeatedly always in the direction we wanted to go. When I realized I was traveling ten miles for every mile we advanced, I called a truce, but swore to get even when she least expected it.

"No." She claimed the victory. "You gave up. I won. Admit it."

"Not on your life. I just called a truce. I WILL get even! You'll see."

"You'd better not, or you'll be sorry."

"Oh, yeah? Whatcha gonna do about it? You'd better watch out, or I might break the truce and getcha right now."

"You wouldn't do that, Timmy, you promised."

"I agreed to a truce, but I didn't say for how long. We've already had a truce."

"You'd better not! That ain't fair." She put a little distance between us.

"I'm not going to chase you. I'll just wait 'til you aren't expecting it, like you did me."

"If I hadn't, you'da slept all day."

"I wasn't asleep. I was relaxing from a hard morning's work."

"It sure sounded like snoring to me."

"I don't snore."

"Oh Yes, you do!" Came a chorus of four.

"I do not. I stayed up one night to see."

"Timmy, you're silly! Julie exclaimed. "You know you won't snore if you stay awake. But you really do snore, and loud too. Sometimes I have to poke you to make you shut up, so I can go back to sleep."

"Now you're the one being silly."

"No she ain't either." Jamie took her side. "I wish I'd had that fish you threw in my face last night. I'da shut you up good."

"I didn't throw that fish in your face. Julie did"

"But you threw it on me, and I hadda get rid of it."

"You didn't have to throw it on me, the M.I.P. I sure don't feel like I've been the Most Important Person. It doesn't even seem like a birthday."

"It will now." I grabbed him and threw him on the ground. "C'mon girls. It's spanking time. I'll hold him."

"That ain't fair. You're bigger'n me."

By the time the girls all got through with him, the backs of his legs were pretty red. I did not hit him very hard, but I got my eight licks in, with an extra, one to be good, and a pinch to grow an inch."

"That ain't fair." He rubbed his behind. "You didn't lick Julie."

"She kept us so busy all day, I didn't even think about it until the next day, and then it was too late. I'da prob'ly forgot yours too, if you hadn't reminded me."

"Just wait 'til your birthday, I getta whack you eleven times."

"Huh uh! ten!"

"The extra one to be good, makes it eleven."

"You gotta hold me down first."

"We'll all help you, Jamie," Sarah laughed, "won't we girls?"

"Yeah! The other two agreed."

"You'd better watch it, girl." I made a start toward Sarah. "You're in enough trouble already."

"I ain't scared of you." She increased the distance between us again.

"You'd better be, if you know what's good for you."

"Huh uh, You love me too much to hurt me very bad."

"Yeah, I guess you're right."

The frivolity continued as we followed the ever narrowing stream. Little tributaries branched off up the hills until the stream was nothing but a trickle. Splotches of light began shining through the canopy, and the underbrush was getting thicker. "We must be close to the top of the ridge." I pointed out the changes in the scenery. "I wonder where we are. The water's running out. We'd better fill our canteens. Better still, maybe we ought to go back down the stream where we've got plenty of water and make camp. I don't think it's too late yet but I would like to have plenty of water where we camp."

We started back the way we had come, but Sheba barked. "You don't have to go hunting today, Sheba. We don't need any meat. We don't have a fire." I called her back.

 She barked again and started down the hill in the other direction; then stopped, barked again, and waited for us to follow.

"I hope you know where you're going." I started after her. "You've never led us wrong yet."

The ridge still seemed to be running in a northwesterly direction, but Sheba led us down hill, traveling almost due north for several minutes. Then we turned northwesterly until we came to a place where we could see the ocean through the trees. I was not sure where we were, but we were not far inland, and were still on the east side. The strong east wind was blowing through the trees.

After we had rested there a few minutes, Sheba barked again and continued leading us along the side of the hill, descending slightly, for at least another half hour. The canopy was still solid overhead, but we could see the sea occasionally. When I looked at the compass again we were traveling due west. "Apparently we're on the north side of the island. There's a good beach below us."

I started toward the beach, but Sheba barked, and continued to lead us along the hillside at about the same level.

We came to a fairly level place forty or fifty feet in diameter. At the upper side, a small spring flowed into a rock basin about a foot deep and ten feet in diameter. Sheba had led us to a good flat place to camp, with plenty of water. The canopy still covered the sky above us, but we had a clear view of the sea and sky to the North. There was some vegetation, but we had no trouble moving around, or clearing a spot for the bed.

We played tag. When we tired of that, we tried to play hide-n-seek, but with eight puppies, you can bet one of them pointed us out every time. "It would be nice to jump in the lake at home." Debbie remarked.

"Maybe tomorrow night." Sarah put the last blanket on the bed. "I'm getting homesick too."

I gazed out over the ocean. I tried to see the beach, but it was hidden by the jungle. "It shouldn't take more than a couple hours to get home by way of the beach, even if we have to walk all the way around to the west side below the cave. However, it might take all day to cut a path to the beach. I really want to follow the beach back to the northeastern corner and see what the eastern coastline looked like from there."

It was starting to get dark when we ate supper and got ready for bed. It was eerie under the canopy in the dim light of the day time; but at night, it was more so. There was not a light of any kind. It was as dark as the passages in the cave. We went to bed far earlier than usual. What else could we do in the blackness of the jungle. There had not been a sound, except that of the surf, for about an hour when suddenly the fluttering of wings and high pitched squeaks told us the bats had entered the canopy. It was scary at first, but we soon got used to their rhythm and fell asleep.

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Copyright 1995
Leonard H. Hall, Sr.

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