Flashlight (Part Two)


     I didn’t quite admire the idea of Oliver, James and Thomas. However, I have decided that I shouldn’t argue with them, lest the consequences. So at first, I walked after the boys and looked around to make sure we were safe. However, Charles and Julian saved me the labour by doing the work for me.
     We were walking in a manner that resembled a queue, with James as the guide, Oliver as the leader, Thomas and Kevin as its loyal members, and Julian, Charles and I as the lookouts. According to the leader, we were on a quest to discover the source of strange lights that were from the mountains. We all spotted the lights on the mountains before we entered our cabin, and everyone, excluding Charles and I, were interested in the topic. They talked over the lights as if they had come from the Lord, and was particularly exited about it. I must admit, if I am allowed to be frank, that my dear classmates were a little too adventurous. Some may even call them ‘daredevil’, in a negative light.
     I was nominated as the journalist of this part of the night, for Charles desires for a more neutral point of view. In my opinion, I do not really see how my authorship would help, but Charles has insisted on it.
     Back to our story, Oliver spotted the lights again in the mountains. ‘I knew they were still there, C,’ said Oliver. ‘It’s very naughty to assume what you can’t assume.’
     Charles rolled his eyes. ‘Only chance has made the lights stay. I could have said the same if the lights were gone.’
     ‘They aren’t,’ Oliver repeatedly muttered to himself without ceasing to do so.
     ‘Shush,’ said James, lowering his voice so much that it was barely possible to be heard at the back. ‘Listen, we need not cross the front door. I have noticed some lower walls around the border. We may climb to the other side.’ Please note that due to the quietness of his speech, I have missed some words. I have assumed them logically, and referring to the upcoming events.
     James led us to a path near the barbecue site. The dense growth of the trees completely blocked any walls from being visible to us. ‘Fancy climbing the trees and making enough noise to shake the whole world, J?’ Charles enquired.
     ‘I recall noticing another similar wall,’ Oliver rejoined, quitting his mutter. ‘I dare say they can’t plant enough trees to cover that one.’
     ‘You are also living around here?’ asked Thomas.
     ‘I have been here before,’ Oliver explained, ‘visiting Jamie.’
     ‘You promised to keep quiet about it,’ James scolded.
     ‘It’s an emergency.’
     The two continued to converse for a while; however, I did not perceive the rest of the conversation.
     Oliver was really taking the lead, while James was by his side, as if he would point out any mistake Oliver made. At last, we were approached by a lower wall, with mural paintings of scenes from the bible, such as Noah, Moses, and of course, the Creator.
     James, as I expected, took the lead to climb. Oliver volunteered to be the last. I think it was very generous of him, but Charles’ opinion was that he was acting, and that he simply wanted us to think he was watching.
     I had considerable difficulty climbing over the wall, as I was too short. I am therefore grateful for Charles and Julian for their considerate assistance. Once we were all over on the other side, Charles nudged me. ‘Why don’t we escape back to camp? I’d rather be caught than killed.’
     ‘I think we have no right to break up with them,’ I replied. ‘After all, it’s four against three. Nevertheless, I must state that I respect your opinion, and if an opportunity is offered by Fate, I will be pleased to follow you.’
     I suspect that Charles was slightly annoyed by my speech, but he did not show it. I guess I am too used to speaking like that.
     ‘Don’t you see that we are in the middle of a road?’ Kevin pointed out.
     ‘Yep, and we could run over by a truck anytime, man,’ Charles added.
     ‘A lorry,’ James corrected. Mature Charles did not trouble himself to argue, but let James explain how we were going to search for the light source.
     ‘There hardly ever are any vehicles around here,’ said James, flashing a look at Charles, ‘even the lorries – trucks, if you prefer – that carry furniture. They prefer the way we just went here this evening.
     I checked my watch. I read: 11.30. I was shocked. The passing of time was completely out of my expectation. I nudged Charles. ‘Would you please allow me to compare your watch with mine?’ I asked.
     ‘Sure thing, pal,’ he said.
     I fancy that I heard James’ voice calling, ‘you mean mate!’ but it may have been false. James was at the lead once more, and he now treated us like Miss Chung to naughty students.
     Notwithstanding, I am quite certain that what I heard next was genuine and not just a figment of my imagination. Oliver said, ‘It’s not right to “correct” people when you are in fact mistaken.’
     I feel the obligation to inform you, my dear reader, that the arguments about words that you have seen are in fact a matter of British and American English. I shall provide explanation in full detail. The first argument between James and Oliver was ‘torch’ and ‘flashlight’. ‘Flashlight’ is the American term for ‘torch.’ Likewise, ‘truck’ is the American term for ‘lorry’. The word ‘pal’ is used more frequently in American English, while the informal ‘mate’ is restricted to British English.
     Both Oliver and Charles devote their development of the English language to the American style, as compared to James and me. I do not think that Kevin, Julian and Thomas have decided upon their destination towards their English studies for the time being, for they still have a Cantonese, or rather, a ‘Hongkongers’’ style in their speech. I wish that I may be allowed to be frank about this, but I despise Oliver and James as they seem to be too attracted to the ‘accuracy’ of the words. Neither Charles nor I approve of these arguments, for they seemed immature and sounded annoying and troublesome. Please note that most of what I said in this paragraph is merely opinions of my own. Do not take them seriously.
     Back to our watches, Charles’ watch read 11.07. But I had just adjusted it, I thought. I readjusted my watch to 11.07.
     James announced, ‘We are now walking uphill. Watch where you’re going, and stay focus. We may encounter police officers. They often roam around here somewhere.’
     ‘If they see us, then we’re toast,’ Oliver added.
     Then we saw a duo of policemen. They were holding torches that blinded us. We could be spotted. James signaled us to switch off our torches and hide. I hid behind a lamppost. I only hoped it would work. But before they could see us, they turned away. Everyone crept out of their hiding-places and marched on.
     We tiptoed uphill slowly. The road turn the corner, and we found ourselves walking on a broad path. From time to time, we heard people talking, but we did not see anyone.
     The path narrowed and became slightly sandy. The night was unwelcomingly cold, and I had to put on a jacket to keep warm. There was no moon to guide our path, and there were no streetlamps, so we had to shine our way with our torches. After having marched uphill for a couple of hour, we were tired. The mysterious lights had disappeared from our sight, so we had no guide to our destination.
     ‘Anyone got a map?’ Julian asked. Although his voice was calm, I think he was also worried, as I was.
     ‘Baloney,’ Oliver replied. ‘Codswallop,’ Thomas agreed. ‘Who would bring a map with James here to guide us?’ Kevin said. James blushed. I was convinced that he himself was not completely familiar with this place, but he dared not admit it.
     ‘Can’t we just turn…’ Charles’ speech was interjected by James. ‘Shut up, dipstick,’ he threatened. ‘If you say another word again, you’ll be the only one staying here!’
     We were now surrounded by large pieces of rock and dense forests of trees on our sides. Had we stepped into the forests, we can be sure that we would perish. The rocks only went up, and were impossible to climb.
     James found a black cat lying in the middle of the narrow path. Apparently, James and Oliver were so excited about our adventure that they would be furious if anything ever got into their way. They started insulting the cat.
     ‘Shoo!’ cried James.
     ‘Go to hell!’ cried Oliver.
     ‘Shove off, you git!’
     ‘Get lost, brute!’
     ‘Scat, you dummy!’
     ‘Out of my way, you bozo!’
     ‘You blithering idiot!’
     ‘Listen! Do you need your brain tested?’
     ‘Get out of my sight, you bloody fool!’
     ‘Just drop dead!’
     The cat meowed and purred. Unfortunately, it fuelled their anger even more.
     ‘Shut your gob and buzz off!’
     ‘Belt up, dimwit!’
     Oliver could stand no more meowing. He kicked the cat down the forest to ‘shut the cat up for good,’ according to Charlie. Neither he nor I approved of the insults or violence.
     We went on. I think I heard more insults from in front of me. Oliver and James were not the only ones insulting. Thomas and Kevin were starting to complain why Oliver and James had planned the trip. Julian could have sworn had Charles not stopped him in time. But Oliver said if we don’t follow, he’d accuse us of some imaginary offences. None of us wanted to see Miss Chung just because of disobeying Oliver, so we went on. As Charles has put it, ‘The Ultimate Golden Rule of Dealing with Oliver is to obey.’ And I must admit, he was quite right.
     After a while, I looked at my watch again. This time, I was not surprised to see a strange time on it. It read: 2.00. I decided that my wristwatch was too slow. I checked it with Charles’, and got 1.00. It was already morning. I was afraid that we could not get back before dawn. Then we would be caught and punished.
     ‘Dan,’ Charles said to me. ‘They don’t seem to be watching. Any plans of escape?’
     I thought for a while. Then it hit me. I remembered that we could be caught without Oliver or James as the guide. They were less obedient children, and often evaded punishment by their ‘skills’. Charles and I were different. We did not have any skills of such sort. If we got away, we would be punished.
     I told Charles exactly what I thought. To my surprise, he did not agree to it. ‘I thought you have always been a responsible kid,’ he said. ‘And besides, we have been forced. Teachers cannot punish children for that.’
     ‘If we go away,’ I retorted. ‘Oliver and James will be mad. They will tell everyone you came out the toilet, naked.’
     ‘You know?’
     ‘I heard them talking about it outside, when I was in the toilet.’
     Then he walked in silent again.
     I could hardly conceive that I could not build up the courage to turn back. Besides, with every step taken, we are a step farther from the camp. I knew there would be no point regretting it in the future, but I could not bring myself to do it. My only option was to go on. I supposed it was more sagacious to do so.
     Suddenly, Oliver announced that he sighted the lights. The announcement excited our nerves. It also caused a certain degree of fear in me. They called me a coward. Josephine (whom people call Jojo), who was a girl in our class, said I was so chicken-hearted that I could be startled by a rubber duckie. It was untrue, but my fearfulness was close to this extreme.
     I could not stop myself imagining what the lights could be. Mainland officers? American Tourists? Robin Hood? Dr Jekyll? Bogey man? I know my imagination was absurd, but I was unable to stand it. I could not cease to worry. I could see a similar expression of terror and anxiety on Charles’ face. Julian seemed to be fighting within himself, trying to show his cowardliness. Kevin and Thomas were only excited. Our leaders were looking impatient.
     The group started to advance with speed. We could only try to follow. It was not easy, but achievable. We were soon near to the light source. This time, James was the first to sight the lights. ‘They appear to be hikers,’ whispered James. ‘Hikers lost in the middle of nowhere.
     ‘I just thought of something,’ said Kevin. ‘We are lost as well. We will not have lights to guide us on our way back.’ Everybody was given a start. Kevin was right. We would have difficulty finding our way back to the camp. All the lights were out at midnight.
     ‘What are we going to do?’ Thomas said, his eyes wetting, his body even wetter with cold perspiration.
     ‘We do have one hope,’ Oliver said as he signaled us to march forward. ‘The hikers.’
     We had no choice but follow him. It took us little time to reach the hikers. ‘Excuse me, sir,’ James said to one of them politely. They turned out to be Europeans. ‘Could you help us find our way back to our camp?’
     The quest for the light source had transformed into the search of the way back. I dare say even Oliver may slightly regret having ever thought of the trip in the first place. I could only hear my heart pounding.
     Thud. Thud.
     The foreigner replied a disappointing reply. ‘I’m afraid we’re lost as well,’ he said with a French accent. ‘We do not even have the assistance of a mobile phone or a map. We have brought but a little water. I fear that we may be on our last legs now. We might as well go together.’
     ‘We’re done for!’ cried Julian.
     ‘Our hour has come,’ said a younger hiker.
     ‘Let’s spend our last hour in enjoyment,’ said the first hiker. ‘Anyone brought games?’
     Nobody raised their hands.
     ‘The only we’ve got is playing with the torches, but it’s too dangerous to do so here,’ Kevin informed him.
     ‘Let’s chat, then,’ the first hiker said. ‘My name’s Laurence.’ Pointing to a woman, he said, ‘This is my wife Laura.’ Then, pointing to the younger hiker, he said, ‘This is our son, Derek.’ To a man with a long beard, he said, ‘My brother Mike.’ He then invited another man to introduce his family. We met Maxine, Gerald, Grace and Quinn. Altogether, they had eight, which added up to fifteen with the seven of us.
     ‘I’m Oliver, but you can call me Ol,’ he told the foreigners. ‘This is my friend Jamie. These are my friends Tom and Kevin. And those three at the back are Charlie, Danny and Julian. Derek shot a look at us, as if to say ‘so they aren’t your friends then, Oliver?’ Oliver seemed to understand as he nodded at him.
     We both explained our stories. Grace said we were ‘too naughty’. The comment left Oliver speechless. The foreigners turned out to be Anglo-Swiss people who lived in Brussels, and they were visiting Quinn and Mike, who lived in Hong Kong. The two families knew each other, so they planned a hike together. They had been there since one o’clock, before we came to camp.
     We chatted on every single subject we knew about. I enjoyed talking to Grace about Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. Jamie enjoyed herself with Derek about the War of the Roses and the French Revolution. Oliver enjoyed himself talking to Laurence and Laura about the Laws of Thermodynamics. Quinn and Kevin seemed to have great fun with the Pythagorean Theorem and René Descartes. Charles and Maxine enjoyed talking about the National Basketball Association and the Olympic Games. Thomas and Gerald adored the Surrealist and Impressionist Movements. Lastly, Julian and Mike were excited about J. S. Bach and the Baroque Period.
     When Thomas and Gerald were starting to argue, Thomas announced that we could play ‘a new game. It involves everyone’s coöperation. It is called Silence. The first person to speak loses.’
     Although we could choose not to participate, everyone did not want to lose. We began gesturing for communication. I do not wish to harm Thomas’ feelings, but I felt rather silly. I read my watch, completed the checking process with Charles, and understood that it was 3.30.
     After a while, Kevin broke the silence. ‘I just remembered,’ he said, ‘that I forgot to take out my mobile phone from my backpack last night. We can contact the police to be rescued!’
     ‘But being lost isn’t a reason to contact the police,’ Oliver said.
     ‘It’s our only option other than contacting our mums,’ Kevin replied.
     ‘We’ll vote,’ Charles suggested. ‘If you want to contact the police, raise your hand.
     Julian, Mike, Maxine, Kevin, Charles, Quinn and Grace raised their hands.
     ‘Or put them down,’ Kevin said, trying to make the vote unfair.
     ‘That’s a heads-you-win-tails-you-lose-situation,’ said Oliver. ‘And it’s naughty and not right.’
     Laurence counted the number of people, ignoring their ‘silliness’, as Thomas put it.
     ‘Who does not want to contact the police?’ Charles asked.
     This time, Thomas, Laurence, Laura, Derek, Oliver and James raised their hands.
     ‘That’s six votes for either one,’ said Laurence.
     ‘But there are fifteen of us!’ James’ quick reaction was of my disadvantage.
     Oliver scanned us. When he saw me, he shouted, ‘Danny is naughty! He didn’t vote!’
     ‘Whoa,’ said Julian. ‘We don’t need a phone. They could hear us back at camp!’
     ‘What’s your opinion?’ Charles asked me politely.
     I hesitated. I have little to say in such situations, especially when my decision could affect a great number of people. I considered not contacting, but that would lead to our deaths. I considered contacting, but we could be accused of misusing emergency services. A ‘could’ was not as strong as a ‘would’. I therefore chose to contact.
     I informed Charles, who told everyone. Kevin flipped open his mobile phone, pressed the buttons 999 which made three high-pitched beeps. He informed the police of our situation and our location. Then he switched off the phone.
     Kevin told us that the police had agreed to send coppers over to find us, and we were exceedingly gratified and relieved. While we waited, we continued the game of Silence, in which nobody ever lost.
     The police came at 4.30. They consisted of three males and a female. Two of them, including the female, led us back. The remainder led the hikers.
     ‘How did you kids get messed up in this mountain in pyjamas?’ The police officer demanded.
     ‘I’m sorry, madam. We have been curious about the lights the tourists produced. We were only expecting to have a look, but then we realised we were lost,’ Oliver explained.
     ‘You should be less nosy next time,’ the other policeman advised. ‘You could have starved to death.
     ‘Sorry,’ Oliver repeated. ‘I guess we deserve to be punished for this. We were way too naughty…’
     ‘Us? Us? As in, me and Charlie and Danny as well? Forget it. You four were the ones who wanted to come. We were forced.’ Julian stamped his feet. Charlie and I looked at each other.
     ‘Punished?’ laughed the female officer. ‘No, we certainly won’t punish you. You are only kids, and kids don’t get punished by that – at least, not by the police. After all, you six saved another seven!’
     ‘And Kevin should have most of the credit,’ Charles said humbly. ‘Oliver should also have some of it, since the trip was his idea. Jamie is our guide, so he has some of it. The rest of us are just accompanying people.’
     Oliver blushed. Kevin glued the floor, while James was expressionless.
     ‘In fact, we’re thinking of a reward,’ added the male. ‘Perhaps the Children of the Year Award would do?’
     ‘Albert,’ the female scolded. ‘It isn’t funny.’
     ‘I wasn’t kidding,’ he replied. ‘Haven’t you heard of the Student of the Year?’
     ‘You could become the Debater of the Century.’
     ‘And you could become the Sarcastic Debater of the Millennium.’
      I will not record the rest of the debate here, for it is rather long and uninteresting.
     I noticed that we were on a different path from before. I was not surprised, especially as we had not exited the camp in a proper way. It was 7.15 when we were back to our cabin.




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