It’s quiet and dark here, and the forest floor sways and rolls beneath my feet. Sometimes I stumble, but I do not fall over, because I’m trapped inside this tree where it is always dark. Oh, how I long to see the sun again.
How did I get here? I can hardly remember . . .
Ah, yes, that’s it. I followed my tongue. The sweet petals tasted so good, melting in my mouth, until I walked into this tree and got trapped inside.
Now there is no more sun. Just quiet and darkness and swaying. I feel so sad. My heart is so full of sadness that it must surely break . . .
I will sing to let the sadness out. Perhaps if I sing, the forest will stop rolling and swaying, and the sun will come back, and my heart will not break . . . just yet.
The S.S. Euphonia, ablaze with twinkling lights, glided across a moonlit sea. Its funnels were topped with streams of frothy white smoke, its gleaming sides peppered with brightly lit portholes and its decks thronged with glamorous promenaders, taking the air and watching the stars.
It was all so wonderful. So magical . . .
Corby Flood reached up and touched the glass that protected the faded poster. She traced the lettering in the starry sky above the beautiful ship with a finger.
‘The S.S. Euphonia,’ she read. ‘“Empress of the Seas”. Enjoy the voyage of a lifetime aboard this miracle of modern nautical engineering! Cruise the oceans of the world and explore the magical places along the way! Book now for the deluxe ten-ports-of-call cruise and receive your free copy of the famous Hoffendinck’s Guide.’
Corby’s grip tightened on the battered leatherbound book she was clutching under her arm.
‘Why, if it isn’t one of those Hoffendinck’s Guides,’ said a gloomy voice.
Corby turned to find Captain Boris Belvedere standing before her. The captain — never cheerful at the best of times — was looking gloomier than ever. With his sagging skin and drooping moustache, he looked like nothing so much as a disappointed walrus.
‘Didn’t think we had any of those left on board,’ he said. ‘After all, it’s not as if the poor old Euphonia stops anywhere interesting any more. In fact she doesn’t stop anywhere at all any more! Dandoon to Harbour Heights non-stop, and back again . . .’ His voice was low, lugubrious and tinged with regret. ‘More’s the pity.’ He sighed. ‘Hauling cargo is all the old “Empress of the Seas” and I are fit for. That, and the odd passenger or two who can’t afford anything better . . .’ He looked Corby up and down somewhat disapprovingly.
‘Well, I think she’s a lovely ship,’ said Corby. ‘And after Father’s great disappointment . . .’ Her voice wavered for a moment and she swallowed hard. ‘Mother says we’ve got to learn to make the best of things and try to stay cheerful.’ And she gave the captain what she hoped was a meaningful stare.
‘Yes, well, ahem . . .’ The captain turned away. ‘Sometimes that’s easier said than done, little girl. Especially when the bilge pump has broken and your first and your second engineers have left for better jobs.’
He cast a gloomy eye over the chipped paintwork, rusty railings and scuffed decking of the old ship.
‘Still, that’s only to be expected when hardly anything works any more,’ he went on. ‘The automatic parasols, the self-adjusting railings, the moving windbreaks . . .’ He gestured about him in a wide arc. ‘The Euphonia’s only fit for the scrapheap,’ hemuttered, shaking his head. ‘Just like me!’
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