Take a peek at Something's Fishy at Ash Lake – written with Anne Stephenson!
That Sinking Feeling
Eugene Sharkman, a.k.a. Jaws, hitched up his plaid shorts and surveyed the two dozen campers scattered around the computer lab. He recognized several of them from his classes at Ash Grove Junior High, including two of his grade seven students, Amber Mitchell and Liz Elliot.
“I’m pleased to see you’re enjoying your first afternoon at Ash Lake’s computer camp,” he called above the din. “But remember, the next two weeks aren’t going to be all fun and games. Programming starts tomorrow!”
A collective groan rose from the room.
“That’s it. I’m out of here.” Amber shut down the computerized quest they’d all been on and got up to leave.
“Hang on a minute,” Liz called, eyes firmly fixed on the screen in front of her. “I’m twelve hundred points ahead!”
Amber ran her fingers through her copper- red curls and grinned. “Too late, Elliot. Looks like you’ve just lost your last player.”
“Rats!” Liz cried in dismay, as a miniature warrior tumbled from sight. Logging off, she raced to catch up with her best friend and together they headed outside to explore their new surroundings.
The camp had been built years ago in the middle of a thick forest of pine, surrounded by stands of white ash that gave the lake its name. As the girls followed the well-worn dirt paths that criss-crossed through the trees connecting the various buildings and the beach, they could see the vibrant blue of Ash Lake shimmering ahead.
“I definitely like it here,” declared Liz, as they stepped from the shade into the full glare of the sun.
“Me too.” Amber pulled a tube of sunscreen from her pocket and slathered some of it on her nose. “I just wish my freckles would stop dividing and multiplying.”
“What do you think happened to Craig and Jonathan?” Liz tightened the elastic holding her dark hair in a ponytail as they plowed their way through the soft sand.
“Don’t worry, they’ll show. No one turns down an opportunity like this.”
Eastern Technology, one of the biggest high- tech firms in the country, owned the computer camp. And Craig’s father, Robert Nicholson, was one of the company vice-presidents.
“Craig’s probably giving Jonathan the royal tour.” Amber bent down and tested the cool water with her fingers. Tiny pebbles glistened invitingly beneath the surface. “Let’s go for a swim,” she suggested.
“Didn’t you see the sign?”
“The one that says no unsupervised swimming.” Liz pointed to a white board with red lettering affixed to the base of the lifeguard’s chair.
“Does it say anything about boating?” Amber asked, her eyes on a small flotilla of colorful paddleboats bobbing gently at the dock nearby.
“Then let’s go.”
Liz hesitated a moment. “Shouldn’t we have life jackets?”
“It’s only a paddleboat. What could possibly go wrong?”
Shrugging, Liz followed her friend onto the wooden dock. There were about a dozen paddleboats in all. Amber chose a yellow one and hopped aboard. “How do you work these things, anyway?” Liz asked as she cautiously climbed onto the seat beside her friend.
“Easy, it’s like riding a bike. You just pedal and use this stick to steer.” Amber grabbed the rudder in her left hand. “Okay, go.”
The two girls pedaled furiously. The boat lurched forward and then stopped abruptly.
“Stupid thing must be broken,” muttered Amber, face flushed with exertion.
“Perhaps if we untied it…”
Amber climbed back onto the dock, released the boat from its mooring, and took a flying leap onto the seat beside Liz. “Okay. Now we’re ready.” They started pedaling again.
“Just like riding a bike, is it?” Liz demanded several minutes later. “Four feet and three crashed boats. I think we need training wheels.”
“Don’t worry,” Amber reassured her, “I’ve got the hang of it now.” She swung the rudder to the right, narrowly missing another sailboat.
Liz giggled and pedaled harder. They zigzagged past the roped off swimming area and headed for open water.
It was definitely cooler out on the lake. They stopped pedaling and put their feet up on the fiberglass prow. Amber closed her eyes and let the boat drift idly.
“This is the life,” sighed Liz.
“You said it,” Amber agreed. “No parents, no brothers, and no one to bother us.”
“And no cell phones,” Liz added.
“Don’t remind me. How am I going to stay connected?” Amber grumbled. “They advertise a technology camp, but don’t allow phones.”
“I’m definitely not going to miss them,” Liz said. “My mother’s on hers all the time…. What’s
that noise? Sounds like someone crying in the distance.”
“Probably a loon or something.”
Liz shielded her eyes from the late afternoon sun and peered across the sparkling lake. She could see a canoe about half a mile away, with two very familiar paddlers wearing bright orange and yellow life jackets.
“Hey, look! We’ve got company. It’s Craig and Jonathan, and they’re acting very strange.”
Amber opened her eyes and sat up. The two boys had raised their paddles and were gesturing wildly. “I didn’t think they’d be that glad to see us here,” she commented. “They’re even turning around.”
Sure enough, the canoe had swung about and was heading towards them. Jonathan Weiss, straight up as usual, sat in the prow of the boat, with Craig Nicholson providing the muscle behind him.
“There’s a white thing in the water up ahead. Do you think that could be what they’re yelling about?” Liz pointed to a white plastic cone bobbing in the water a short distance away.
“It’s just a marker,” answered Amber. Probably some underwater rocks there. We’ll steer around it.” She moved the rudder to the right and they began pedaling in a wide arc around the buoy.
“Amber, look out!”
Jagged rocks suddenly loomed beneath the surface just ahead of them. Amber viciously cranked the rudder.
“The brakes! Put on the brakes!”
“What brakes? Boats don’t have brakes.”
The fiberglass hull dragged slowly across the ragged submerged rocks. The boat lurched, came to a momentary stop, then gently drifted free.
Liz cleared her throat. “I think we have a problem.”
“No kidding.” Amber watched as the water slowly rose up the soles of her sneakers. “I have a sinking feeling we’re about to go down with the ship.”
“That’s not funny,” snapped Liz. “We’ve only been at this camp two hours and twenty-five minutes, and already we’re in trouble.
“Some people might say that’s an improvement,” Amber retorted hotly.
They looked down at the water seeping in, looked up at each other, and then burst out laughing.
“Do you remember the time Lindsay Watson said she’d give you a quarter if you spit on Jane Dobbs’s shoes?” Liz chuckled.
“Yeah,” said Amber wistfully. “It was the high point of my primary school career.” She laughed. “I’ve never seen Dobbsie so mad. She’s such a snot-nose.”
“I’m just glad she’s not here to see this,” said Liz. “She’d be on our case about it the whole vacation.”
“Don’t you think there’s something fishy about this?” Amber swung her arm in the direction of the plastic cone. “The marker is over there, but the rocks are over here.”
Liz shrugged. “Maybe it drifted loose.”
“Ahoy there!” shouted Craig. “Having a little trouble?”
The sun had bleached Craig’s hair a pale blonde, while Jonathan’s dark curls had grown noticeably longer since the end of school.
“The dynamic duo strikes again,” called Jonathan as they drew closer.
“Yeah, a rock!” snickered Craig.
“You should have warned us!” Amber told them. “What did you think we were waving and yelling for?” asked Jonathan, drawing his paddle from the water.
Amber stared down at her wet sneakers. Liz focused on the far shoreline.
“You know what I think, Jonathan,” Craig said mischievously. “I think that they think that we like them.”
“Listen, you idiot! While you’re having your little joke, we’re taking on water!”
“If we don’t get to shore in a hurry,” added Liz, “we’re going to sink.”
“You can swim, can’t you?”
“Of course we can swim,” said Amber through clenched braces. “Come on, Elliot, let’s head for the dock.”
“You guys don’t have a bailing can, do you?” Liz asked calmly.
“Just thought I’d ask.”
Amber turned the rudder and the girls began to pedal again, steering a wide, erratic course around the rocks. The water in the boat had risen past their ankles, making it harder and harder to pedal.
“This’ll be the shortest camp holiday on record,” huffed Liz. “I don’t think my allowance will cover a boat.”
“Then pedal harder! If this thing sinks, we might as well pack up and head for home.”
The boys slipped alongside in their canoe. “Camp just wouldn’t be the same without you,”
observed Craig. “Better, maybe.”
Both boys laughed. The girls stopped pedaling and glared at them.
“Still, the boat’s worth saving,” added Jonathan. “We’d better tow them to shore.”
The boys maneuvered in front of the laboring boat. Craig grabbed the mooring line and tied it to the stern of the canoe.
“You two keep pedaling and we’ll paddle,” he instructed.
At first they barely moved. Then as they gained momentum, the paddleboat wallowed after the green canoe.
“This is humiliating,” muttered Liz.
They had almost made it to shore when a young woman dressed in the camp T-shirt, khaki shorts, and a baseball cap walked onto the beach. She paused for a moment, staring out at the two boats and their occupants, then strode out onto the dock.
“Oh, no,” groaned Liz. “Who’s that?”
“Kelly Slemko, the athletic director,” said Craig over his shoulder.
“Is that good or bad?” asked Amber. Jonathan shrugged. “She seemed okay to me.”
“What’s going on here?” demanded the director as the paddleboat bumped gently into the dock.
“We, uh, hit a rock,” Liz confessed. “Craig and Jonathan helped us in.”
“Are you all right?”
The girls nodded. “Shouldn’t those rocks be marked though?” asked Amber. “We could have really run into trouble.”
Kelly stared down at her in surprise. “All the dangerous rocks in the lake are marked.”
“Those ones weren’t.”
“That’s ridiculous. I checked them only yesterday.” The athletic director looked at Craig and Jonathan for verification.
“Amber’s right,” Jonathan told her as he and Craig put up their paddles and clambered onto the dock. “The buoys are all out of position.”
“We tried to warn them,” said Craig.
Kelly Slemko turned back to Amber and Liz. “Jonathan and Craig asked my permission to take
out the canoe,” she said pointedly, “but I don’t remember giving it to you two.”
“We, uh, didn’t know we needed permission,” offered Liz.
“Haven’t you read the camp handbook yet?” “We just got here,” Amber protested.
“We were going to get to it tonight…” Liz faltered. “What are your names, and what cabins are you in?”
“Amber Mitchell, Cabin Three.”
“Liz Elliot, Cabin Three, too.”
“Well, Amber and Liz, when you have read the handbook you’ll know that no boats are to be taken out without permission.” Kelly paused and looked each of them in the eyes in turn. “And not without life jackets.”
Amber opened her mouth to protest, but thought better of it. The athletic director was right. Going without life jackets had been dumb.
The paddleboat was now almost completely immersed. Kelly pursed her lips. “Just get this boat out of the lake before it sinks, girls. And for your sakes, I hope the crack in the hull can be fixed.” She gave them a brisk nod and left the dock, heading up the path through the trees.
“I’d feel better if she had yelled at us,” said Liz. “Me, too.” Amber stood up, water sloshing around her legs. “These boats probably cost a lot of money.”
The two girls slipped over the side and into the waist-high water. With the boys pulling on the paddleboat’s mooring line, they managed to push it out of the water and up onto the beach.
Jonathan prodded the hull of the damaged boat with his foot. “It’s not that bad. Fiberglass can be patched and repainted. Shouldn’t cost too much.”
“I hope not,” Craig said. “My dad told me if the camp doesn’t at least break even this year, the company will sell it.” He bent down and fingered the jagged edge of the crack.
“But that’s crazy,” interjected Amber. “The camp’s part of Eastern Technology’s educational program. And we get a course credit for it.”
“They still have to make money,” Jonathan pointed out.
Liz pulled off her wet sneakers and tossed them onto the beach. “They wouldn’t send us home for this, would they?”
Jonathan put his arm around her reassuringly. “I’m sure that as long as the vice-president of finance doesn’t know about you two, it’ll be okay, won’t it, Craig?”
“Maybe if I put in a good word for them,” drawled Craig. He straightened up just as Amber’s water-logged sneaker flew across the prow of the paddleboat.
“I think it’s time to go, Craig,” advised Jonathan. “Yeah, it must be almost dinnertime.” Craig gave the girls a last salute, then the two boys trotted across the beach in the direction of the cabins, leaving the girls fuming in their wake.
“Those guys really irritate me,” Amber grunted as she and Liz heaved the boat over. The water sloshed out and made brown sugar patterns before disappearing into the sand.
Liz leaned against the hull of the overturned boat and stared after the boys. “I think someone should take the wind out of their sails, don’t you, Amber?”
“The sooner the better.”
Liz gave her a brisk nod. “Agreed. Tonight after campfire.”
Amber retrieved her sneaker, and the two girls picked their way carefully back to the camp in their bare feet.
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