Episode 1: The Adventure Begins

The alarm clock woke Bess with a start.

Warm daylight shone down on her bed through a gap in the curtains.

She looked over at the clock.

It was 7:30am on the very first day of the summer holidays. Three whole months of no school. Bliss!

She sat up, stretched and yawned contentedly.

What would she do with her summer holiday? Then she remembered, today wasn’t the start of just any summer holiday, but the start of the summer holiday.

Bess rolled out of bed, stood up, stretched again and opened the curtains.

From her little room above the shop, she looked down over the valley of Becclesbrook. Outside, birdsong filled the air. From the cloudless blue sky, to the lush green grass stretching out beyond the garden, the whole world looked vivid and exciting.

No time to lose!

She dressed, shook her dark curls free and headed downstairs for breakfast.

Now I’m sure you’re thinking at this point, “Back up a bit! Three whole months of summer holidays? What kind of world is this?” Of the two questions, the second is probably the best one to ask.

I had better explain.

Elizabeth-Alicia Veronica Postagestamp lives in a country where people have enough sense to see that holidays are just as important as lessons. So children get all three of the summer months off in the hope that they would get something the grownups refer to as “life experiences”. Teachers had enough time to find their sanity again from wherever they’d last seen it and you could really do something with the summer.

As you can see, Elizabeth-Alicia has a jolly long name. This is because her parents decided to give her a double barrelled first name. Seems a bit greedy of them, if you ask me. Haven’t a clue why anyone needs that kind of first name. But that’s what they did. Plus, in this part of the world, people choose surnames which remind others of whatever the family business was. It is a useful system. For one thing, it stopped anyone having pointless surnames like Brown or Jones. And for another, it saves on some of the polite questions grownups have to ask each other in our part of the world when they first meet. Bess’s father, Mr William Postagestamp, was the local postman and the family lived above the village post office which Mrs Phyllis Postagestamp ran. So now I’m sure you can see where they got their surname from and why everyone saved on time and called Miss Postagestamp Bess.

After Bess had eaten the waiting porridge as fast as it would let her, Mrs Postagestamp shooed her back upstairs to have a second go at dressing.

This time Bess remembered to wash her face, brush her teeth and changed into comfortable clothes. Slipping on her favourite beaded bracelet, she headed back down the stairs, clearing them two at a time.

She found her mum at the front desk in the post office, talking with the day’s second customer as she counted out first class stamps.

Mrs Haybale was in the middle of telling Mrs Postagestamp all about Mr Moo’s terrible new fence. White panels with black splodges all over. Black splodges! What an eyesore!

Bess didn’t care much about Mr Moo’s fence (when she went past later, she thought it looked kind of cool) and was about to butt in and ask her mum where Jake had got to when the shop bell tinkled and Jake’s head appeared round the door.

Who is Jake, you ask? Very good question. 

Jake Postagestamp was Bess’s older brother. Bess herself had only just turned 15. Tall and strong, Jake was almost 27, though his goatee made him look older. He didn’t fancy the surname Postagestamp, so after he’d left school Jake had chosen a different kind of job. Jake is a professional adventurer. His business card says so, right in the middle.

I bet you’re wondering what a professional adventurer does. Well, I’ll tell you. It’s simple really. They get money by going on adventures. All sorts of adventures. They might embark on a treasure hunt, be a guide through some untamed expanse of the Wilds, or go off to hunt a dastardly beast which happened to be terrorising some mountain village. There are a hundred and eleven other possible things a professional adventurer might do, but I really can’t be bothered to list them all here.

Jake had done rather well out of adventuring. He had even built a shiny new cottage for himself at the end of the village which he’s crammed with all sorts of strange objects from far flung corners of the world. Unfortunately, the village people still call him Jake Postagestamp, as he’s never been able to come up with a better alternative.

And here’s why Bess was desperate to see Jake, he had promised to take her on his next adventure. They were going to set off tomorrow and today they were going to meet the rest of the expedition at the inn.

You see, Bess had heard the exciting stories Jake spun of his daring escapades and seen all those weird and wonderful things he’d filled his home with and had decided, “I’d like to be an adventurer too.” Mr & Mrs Postagestamp were a little disappointed about this. Adventuring can be a dangerous job and you are away from home for months at a time. But they had agreed to let Jake take her on an adventure during the summer holidays. “Hopefully,” they thought, “when she realises what an adventure is really like, Bess will see sense and aim for a safer career, like a village postie, for instance.”

“You ready?” asked Jake “ Let’s go.”

Becclesbrook village was small and it wasn’t long before they reached the doors of the House of Darwin, number 221, Main Street. 

Inside the Inn, Jake asked a waiter if the others had arrived. They were led over to a cosy corner where six figures were crammed into two comfy, leather sofas. 

When Bess saw the group, her blood ran cold.

There on the edge of one sofa was Ollie and, even worse, a grinning Arnie Oink!

She blankly pulled up a chair and collapsed into it. This couldn’t be happening!

“Want a drink, Bess?” asked Jake.

She heard herself mumble something about a strawberry milkshake.

Jake went over to the bar to order, leaving Bess alone, sitting next to Arnie.

“Hi!” he said ever-so-sweetly.

“Just blank him,” thought Bess, “and tell Jake about this terrible mistake as soon as you can!”

So she sat there silently looking around the group of adventures, all the while racing through her mind about what she should say to Jake to stop her adventure from being ruined before it had even begun.

They were certainly an odd group. Opposite her sat a tall, slender man, with boney features and the longest moustache Bess had ever seen. He was dressed in a red and white uniform.

Have you seen one of those old black and white movies which have a lady walking around in a really posh dress? Next to this strange soldier was a lady who looked like she had come straight out of one of those films. Only she was full colour, with rich red hair and she didn’t seem like she would enjoy wearing a posh dress.

On the far end of the sofa was another soldier but he didn’t seem as important as the first one. He didn’t have the moustaches and his uniform had less brassy bits.

Opposite them, on the other sofa, next to Ollie and Arnie, sat an older man with a long white beard, neatly trimmed, flowing over a round tummy. Long strands of hair stood straight up in the air from his bald head. A pair of small, square spectacles sat halfway down his nose. He looked a bit like one of those pictures of Santa Claus you may have seen on a Christmas card, except for the pristine tweed suit with leather elbow patches.

But it was the supersized badger that made the group seem weird. He was supersize for a badger but shorter than almost everyone. His face was grizzly and his right eye had been replaced by a red lens. Bess couldn’t help staring. He scowled back at her until Jake returned with her milkshake and his own coffee.

Jake stood back and cleared his throat importantly and the room fell silent.

“This is it!” thought Bess, “My adventure begins!”

“OK. Listen up!” began Jake, “we’ve got some new faces in the team. Let’s go round the room so everyone can introduce themselves.” 

The tall, thin man with the moustaches stood up and bowed theatrically.

“Hello, my friends. Captain Rodrigo Fatal, at your service. I shall be taking good care of your safety as we journey together.”

“Geraldine Rubbish, Professor of Ancient Languages and Archaeology at Krank City University.” Said the red-headed lady.

“Private Smelly,” said the other soldier.

He was a bit. Bess had to stop herself from laughing. She heard Arnie snigger.

“I’ll be assisting with security and equipment.”

“Larry, excavation and explosives,” growled a voice.

Larry was the badger.

The old man with the white beard had been listening eagerly as each person had spoken, murmuring “splendid, splendid!” or, “delighted, I’m sure!” in a grand sort of way. Now he half rose in his eagerness to speak. 

“Mr Malcolm Muser, at your service. I say, Mr J, what a splendid team you’ve put together for me – as you always do, I daresay.”

Bess had heard of Muser Books; they supplied books to every bookshop and library in the land, making Mr Muser enormously rich. 

“Now I know most of course,” Mr Muser was continuing. “Worked with Dr Rubbish many times before and I simply insisted that you, Captain and the Private join us. ‘Don’t break up a well-oiled machine’, that’s what I said. But I am most eager – most eager, I say – to make the acquaintance of our youngest members here.”

“Ollie Foureyes,” said Ollie.

“I’m Arnie”, said Arnie, “thanks for letting me join the team, Mr Jake – you won’t regret it.”

This made the grownups laugh good naturedly. Mr Muser said “Splendid, splendid!” again.

Bess almost lost it on the outside! Arnie Oink was sucking up to her own brother! Pretending to be all sweet and innocent. What a nasty, little pig! 

She was supposed to finish the introductions by saying something next. But she couldn’t get a word out.

Finally Jake had to help her out, “This is my sister, Bess.”

“Capital, capital!” said Mr Muser. “A shy one, eh? I shouldn’t worry, my dear. We’ll all be old friends in a week.”

Embarrassing! Like SO embarrassing! What a mess!

Fortunately Jake was speaking again and they all forgot about her for a while.

“And now, over to Mr Muser,” said Jake, sitting down and reaching for his coffee.

Mr Muser sprang to his feet, adjusted his jacket, put both hands in his trouser pockets, cleared his throat and began.

“So glad you all could come on this little adventure of ours. Um, how to begin? Erm, Oh. Yes. I am sure you’ve heard of the lost city of Everlight?”

Mr Muser peered through his spectacles at his audience expectantly.

For a few moments there was silence while everyone waited for someone else to answer. Eventually, Prof Rubbish helped them out.

“Everyone this side of the great sea must have. Although Everlight is probably not what the ancients called their first home. But that’s what all the stories call the place. And we have thousands of written stories about the city, stored in the archives at Krank University. Technology, knowledge and wealth far greater than anything we have, even with all our modern steam power and electricity. We’re pretty sure that at least some of the legends are true. One or two remains have turned up from Everlight. But to this day we don’t know what happened or where it’s ruins lie.”

“Ah!” said Mr Muser, “but after your expertise and help over the past year, Professor, I think we shall soon find out!”

He reached down and picked up a large, black briefcase. He laid this on a coffee table in the middle of the group, flipped the catches open and lifted the lid.

Everyone leaned in to take a look.

Professor Rubbish smiled, slipped on a pair of white gloves, reached inside and picked up the small, black ball. She held it up for everyone to see.

It was very black and polished to a shine. It was covered in little, bright dots, like someone had sprinkled the ball lightly in glitter. It looked like many of these dots were joined up with white lines, like someone had been playing dot-to-dot.

The dots and lines were giving off a faint white light so even though the ball was mainly black, it was glowing in the Professor’s hand.

“Beautiful” murmured Captain Fatal.

“Expensive,” replied Professor Rubbish, smiling. “We’ve analysed it at the university. The stone is made from polished basalt – volcanic rock. But every dot and line is made from flakes of Flamestone. It is certainly the oldest object I have ever come across. It could be Everlightian made. It is very, very old.”

Private Smelly whistled.

“Humph!” said Larry impatiently. “Very shiny. What does that have to do with our expedition?”

“Good question, Larry,” said Jake. “This is a map. A star map.”

Professor Rubbish put the star map back down on the table.

“What’s that noise?” asked Ollie.

“You have good ears,” said the Professor, smiling at him.

She pressed somewhere near the top of the black ball. There was a click and the ball broke into two. She removed the top half. Inside the bottom were two disks spinning inside one another. Their whirring sound was what Ollie’s sharp ears had picked up.

As the disks slowed down, regular markings could be made out on their surfaces, like the markings on a compass.

No one spoke for a minute while the disks settled down, their markings pointing in different directions. 

“The big one is pointing north,” observed Ollie. “The little one is pointing to something in the east.”

“Exactly, my boy,” said Mr Muser, “a compass that points in two directions at once.”

“Rubbish compass,” said Larry.

“Where is the little disk pointing?” asked Bess.

“The very question,” said Mr Muser, frowning at Larry in a disappointed-sort-of-way. “Tell them Doctor!”

“It is impossible to say for sure, but we have several ancient manuscripts that talk about such tools – a star map on the outside made using Flamestone and a compass on the inside so you can find your way even in the blackest night – but I’ve never heard of one which had a second compass inside. But in every case, these way-finding tools were said to be very old – family heirlooms, or discovered as part of ancient treasure. And the ancients are sure they came from one place.”

“Everlight,” said Private Smelly. “That’s where the Flamestone is supposed to have come from originally.”

“Yes,” said Professor Rubbish, “and so the chances are that if one such tool has another compass needle inside, it would be pointing back to Everlight. Even if it wasn’t, it must be pointing back to something which the maker of the device considered to be important. So we’re going to find out.”

“And how,” said Mr Muser, eagerly snatching up his prized artifact, “do you suppose I discovered such a fascinating little trinket? Well at the annual Krank City market of all places!”

He paused, expecting somebody to express their astonishment. But nobody did, so he went on. 

“Just a month ago I was looking at all the stalls to see if there were any old books worth buying. I wandered quite by chance into the food area and met this fishmonger. As he had a strange accent, I wondered where he was from. While we were busy talking, I spotted this very stone ball in a pile of odds and ends he was selling along with his fish. It smelt, well, fishy, but looked very interesting. I bought it right then and there for a mere half star and dropped into the university the next day to see if it was worth anything.”

“I got the results back from Prof Rubbish a week later. She was good enough to drop in on me personally. When I heard her explain what she had found inside the stone, we both hurried back to the market. But the fishmonger had left. In our conversation the week before, he had told me where he was from – a small village on the shores of the Silver Lake, in the Wilds, at the foot of the northern mountains.”

“That’s when Mr Muser got hold of me,” said Jake. “We intend to travel to this village and find out where this stone came from. It is dangerous out there, but in three months’ time we hope to have discovered the remains of Everlight – or whatever the second needle points to.”

Mr Muser was barely able to contain himself. “Think of the lost knowledge we may discover! The treasure! The writings! The artwork! Why, if we are successful, this will be the greatest discovery of the last hundred years!”

“Yes,” said Jake quietly, “which is why we are meeting up and discussing our plans here. There are a lot less prying eyes in a remote village than in Krank City. We must keep our plans a secret until we are far away from civilization. There are others who would want the treasure of Everlight if they knew where we were heading and would stop at nothing to take it from us.”

“Sky Pirates,” said Mr Muser with a snort.

“Yeah – and if they were to catch us out there in the Wilds -” Jake didn’t finish the sentence.

“I have to ask the question,” he said, “now you know what we are after and some of the dangers we could run into, does anyone want to pull out?”

“If anyone chooses not to come, I can arrange for them to spend the whole summer in Krank City, all expenses paid for,” put in Mr Muser. “It would be most disappointing, of course, and you would be bound to secrecy until the end of summer.”

No one spoke up. 

“Good,” said Jake finally. “That’s settled. We catch the 2:30 train to Krank City today,” Jake said. “Tomorrow we head out into the Wilds. Here’s a list for you, Ollie and Arnie, make sure you pack everything on there and be at the train station for 2:15 sharp. Remember – not a word about the purpose of the expedition to anyone. If anyone asks at home, just say we are exploring the Wilds. Say nothing more.”

Jake took a final swig of his coffee.

“Come on, Bess. Time to get packing. I’m all ready to go so I’ll give you a hand and catch up with Mum before we go.”

Bess’s head was so full of Everlight that they had almost got home before she remembered about Arnie and Ollie.

“Jake!” she cried, “how could you let Arnie and Ollie come with us?!”

“Shhh!” said Jake. “Because their parents paid good money for them to come with us and we could do with the extra pairs of hands. Why, what’s wrong with them?”

“Arnie is the worst kid in school! He’s a nasty little bully who ruins everything for everyone. Didn’t you hear what happened yesterday?”

“Yes – so it was Arnie you got into a fight with?”

“He said I’d been passing him love notes in class! He even read a fake one out to Mr Scratcher in front of the whole class!”

“So he lied about you?”

“That’s how he’s been for weeks. Then Ollie said that he’d seen me writing the note. Covering for Arnie like he always does. And I then missed the school play! You’ve got to stop them from coming – he’ll ruin summer.”

“Not sure I can. It’s too late. They know too much now.”

“But Jake -”


They had reached the post office by this point.

Bess turned and stormed through the door.

“Bess, what’s wrong?” asked her mum.

“Jake has let Arnie come on our adventure. My summer is ruined!” With that she stormed upstairs and slammed her door. Jake and Mrs Postage-Stamp followed.

I’m sorry to say that Bess ended up saying some things that she shouldn’t have said and she came very close to having her adventure cancelled right then and there. In the end she calmed down and made up with Jake. Mum heard the post office bell tinkle below and headed downstairs, leaving Bess sulking on her bed and Jake sitting in her chair wondering what to say.

“Bess,” he said at last, “I really can’t do anything about the boys. Now they know where we are headed, they have to come with us. Anyway if all you learn this summer is how to get along with difficult people, the whole expedition will be worth it. Accepting people as they are and not expecting too much of them is a very rare skill.”

Bess stayed silent, playing with the beads on her arm.

“You know,” said Jake, “if this was my final adventure, I would want it to be in the Wilds. It is a very special place. Mountains and grasslands as far as the eye can see. The only trees are by the river. The only people out there live by the river. The river is so wide that fish as big as you live in the water – bigger fish in some parts. They say the Silver Lake is home to all kinds of monsters. At night you will be able to see every star. And the mountains – the mountains! They are scary places. Dragons, goblins and fire blimps live in those mountains. You’ll have plenty of stories to tell when you get back.”

Bess sniffled and gave a sort of half smile.

“Come on,” said Jake encouragingly, “we’d better get packing – we haven’t much time left before the train comes.”

Bess gave up then. Seemed like Arnie and Ollie would have to come with them – she wasn’t going to miss out on the adventure because of them.

Within an hour Jake thought they had Bess packed. Another half hour and Bess said she was and they carried her bags downstairs.

Dad had the afternoon off and they all sat down to grab a bite to eat.

Mum kept reminding Bess about manners, listening, keeping safe and such like. Dad kept telling Mum how Bess was going to be fine (they knew about Everlight, Jake had told them a while ago) and then kept making comments to Jake about how exciting and dangerous the Wilds were. Jake kept promising Mum that he’d keep Bess safe.

What with all the reminders and promises, hardly anything was eaten. Bess didn’t mind. She was too excited to eat anyway. Her adventure had started! She was going to see the big city for the first time! And then out into the Wilds!

After lunch they walked down to the station together.

They got there at 2:14 – a minute to spare!

There was a mountain of luggage on the platform which Smelly and Larry were adding labels to. The labels read “Adventures Incorporated, 234 Becclesbrooke Village, Becclesbrooke Valley” (that was Jake’s house). Captain Fatal was supervising from the station bench – arms crossed and eyes closed.

Ollie, Arnie and their parents were there too. Everyone said the usual polite things and then, before they realised it, the train pulled up in a cloud of steam and a cacophony of sound.

For one final time Bess hugged her parents, promised to be good and stay safe and then climbed aboard.

Everyone waved out the windows as the train slowly pulled away from the station. Then with a hiss and a whistle, the engine put on some speed, the train rounded a corner and Becclesbrooke Village was out of sight.

Ollie, Arnie and Bess continued looking out of the window as the countryside flashed by.

“I’m only saying this once,” said Bess. “Stay out of my way! I wish you stupid boys weren’t here. And if you do anything dumb – I’ll make it your worst summer ever!”

“Oooohhh!” Said Arnie, “Get my mummy – I’m scared! NOT! We’re real members of the adventure. You’re just here because Mr Jake has to drag his baby sister around with him. So stay out of my way, little girlie!”

Bess slapped him. Hard.

Arnie started crying.

“Would you shut up?!” said Ollie. “Stuck outdoors for the whole summer – and with two idiots?! Go fight somewhere else!” 

They sat in an angry silence. Bess not sorry but knowing she had gone too far. Arnie rubbing his cheek and plotting revenge. Ollie peering out the window, notebook in hand, ready to jot down engine numbers as they whooshed by.


One thought on “Episode 1: The Adventure Begins

  1. Andrew Pendleton

    Looks like this is going to be a great story! Pacing is great, with the right balance between narration and dialogue. You’ve done a brilliant job of introducing us to the characters and building up their personalities. I also like the humour that runs through…….people with double-barrel first names – who’d have thought it 😉 . Looking forward to the next instalment!

    Liked by 1 person

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