There’d been a few mishaps. Well, that was an understatement. Major traumas the size of Australia sinking into the sea was how The Doll had described it. The Prince had expressed much the same sentiment but not in printable words. A full three weeks had passed since Explorer’s daring plan to travel to where the sun rises aboard a flying vessel comprising of a bunch of dandelion seeds tied together using spider’s silk. Jester, who was forever making parodies of real life, had named the vessel Apollo.
The first attempt had been comical to say the least. The seeds had been straining to fly due east much as a kite looks on a windy day. Everyone had been firmly strapped on board, everyone that is except the Writer. Horace, the giraffe, was just about to bite through the final retaining silk cord when Explorer realised someone was missing and shouted for him to stop. Horace stepped back to see what the problem was, but in the process had fallen over. He crashed into the silk cord, pulling the flying vessel towards him. The result looked like sugar being poured off a tea spoon, for the whole RB gang had fallen back to earth with a bump. Each could count at least four bruises the size of conquers. It was fortunate that no one had broken anything. It turned out that the Writer had been engrossed writing the exciting end to an exciting chapter in his exciting book. Explorer had refused to speak to him for two whole days. It was only when the Writer had bought Explorer a set of binoculars that she’d relented and forgiven him.
The second attempt had not been quite so fortunate. This time they were all strapped aboard, waiting for Horace to bite through the remaining silk cord. As he did so, the wind changed direction and but twenty seconds later Apollo 2 crashed into the branches of a tree. The Captain had fallen badly and had been knocked unconscious. Doll at first thought he was dead and was distraught. When he mumbled incoherently she thought him brain damaged. And she wasn’t the only one. Thankfully it was only mild concussion, or so the Prince said. The fact that he’d been lucky enough to land in a pile of horse muck probably helped. He was soon right as rain though even after four baths there was a whiff of something not entirely pleasant.
The following week had comprised a large number of such attempts. There are not enough pages in the world to contain the escapades, bruises, faces, humour, anger, frustration, fear and mishaps that the gang endured. Suffice it to say, Apollo 13 was now tied securely to the tree trunk in the middle of the clearing, and ready to go.
The wind had changed direction again, and was judged at a bend 4 towards the east. A bend ten would snap a tree in half, a five was enough to make walking difficult, one enough to stir a tall blade of grass. So a bend 4 was almost perfect, if not a bit wild. Explorer had been up at the crack of dawn, joining The Captain for breakfast. They were talking about the day ahead and the Captain could sense Explorer was nervous. He talked her through the planned departure, and bit by bit he saw Explorer’s confidence return.
The time for departure arrived, and although they’d done so twelve times before the RB Gang reiterated their fond farewells to Horace. They’d grown to like him, with his deep Congolese accent and happy go lucky manner. They promised they would never forget him, and there were some tears. The RB Gang climbed reluctantly on board, and strapped themselves in tightly. The Captain winked at Explorer, and Explorer smiled in return.
‘Are you sure about the wind?’ shouted the Prince. He was holding onto Cheeky the money as tightly as he could.
‘Yes. It’s perfect’ replied Explorer, hiding her own uncertainty.
At that moment the wind picked up yet more, and Biscuit the dog started to wail. Doll stroked his head whilst hiding her own sense of fear.
‘If we are going to go, now is the time..’ encouraged the Captain.
Explorer signalled to Horace, for shouting would have done no good. The wind was far too strong. She signalled a count down with one hand, starting at five for him to bite through the silk cord.
‘This is it. Hold tight everyone’ she said.
Horace saw Explorer’s signal, and bit through the cord at one.
The gang felt the g force against their bodies as they rose and were carried by the wind. They held tightly onto each other, as well as their possessions. But despite the wind they were too close to the ground. They were also flying in the wrong direction.
‘What do we do?’ asked Explorer trying to stem the rising sense of panic.
‘Just wait’ replied the Captain. ‘The wind will turn.’ Personally he wasn’t worried about the wind, but he knew they weren’t high enough, and that concerned him greatly.
As he finished speaking the gang’s eyes flashed fear for they rose over a small hillock and were heading straight towards a large outcrop of rocks which rose majestically into the air. On any normal day they would have been a magnificent sight. To the gang, however, it looked like certain death.
They were seconds from being smashed into pieces when their vessel skewed to a stop and crashed into the ground. After the screams had stopped echoing off the rocks, they heard a deep guttural groaning noise. The Captain was trying to work out the source of the groans when the wind picked up again and took them all into the air. This time heading east.
None of the gang noticed the direction, for they were in fear of their lives. Each had their eyes closed and hands over their ears. Except Biscuit of course. He used his paws.
The sense of g force increased and Jester, against all his instincts forced his eyes open. He prodded the others, and they, gingerly, opened their eyes. Explorer whooped as the fear was quickly replaced with smiles, and they all high fived each other. They were flying high over the tops of trees as graciously as, well, dandelion seeds. The view was magnificent, and it took their breath away. The Prince breathed deeply, exhaling the stress and cooped up feeling he’d been harbouring these past weeks. He loved open spaces, and this was wonderful.
They sailed over an oak tree, an ash, a beech, a clearing. They saw deer in the distance. They heard the chirps of the Winged Ones, but thankfully, wonderfully, the sounds came from below them.
‘Explorer’ said Jester. ‘I take it all back. You were right. This does work. Congratulations.’ He beamed at Explorer.
The Captain just smiled at her and winked.
Explorer smiled, and tears welled up into her eyes.
‘Thanks’ she managed.
The rest of the gang hugged her, and she felt wonderful. She felt on top of the world, which, in a way, she literally was.
After they’d been sailing majestically through the air for what seemed like hours, Biscuit’s ears pricked up. Doll noticed and asked him what was up. In response Biscuit barked excitedly as if he was trying to see over the edge. No matter how much Doll tried to calm him down, it was clear Biscuit was excited about something.
‘I think Biscuit thinks something is beneath us or something’ Doll said.
Cheeky the Money, who by now was getting restless being held tightly broke free and looked over the edge. He chattered with his high pitch voice, looking alternately at what lay below and the faces aboard.
‘You’re right, there is something down there!’ replied the Prince. He unstrapped himself, and slowly moved to the edge. The elation he’d felt was replaced with abject fear as he saw the tops of the trees skimming just below him. He knew that if he slipped he would fall for an eternity before meeting a certain death. He mustered all of his courage, and looked further below the flying craft.
‘It’s Horace!’ he shouted. ‘Quick. Someone help me!’
The others looked at one another dumbfounded.
‘Horace?’ asked the Captain. ‘But we’ve left him behind!’
‘No, it’s Horace all right, he’s tangled up in some silk cord. Here, help me pull this.’
The gang used all of their strength, with Prince in particular risking his life to pull him up. Five long and exhausting minutes later, Horace was aboard. They were happy, nay ecstatic to see him, but he was not his usual self. Instead of a lovely shade of golden brown with darker brown spots his fur looked a dull grey, with black spots. He had a bump the size of an egg over his right eye, with a plethora of scratches around his head. Doll burst into tears, for this was not how Horace should be looking. He lay panting for a full five minutes before he managed to say something.
‘Hello.. dere mans.. I dought.. I would.. come.. along.. afder all.’
The Gang smothered him with affection, and allowed him some time to recover. With some difficulty he managed to explain what had happened.
At the exact moment he’d bitten through the cord the wind had changed direction. In the confusion that followed he’d managed to get his legs tangled in the trailing silk and found himself yanked into the air. It was, he’d described, the most frightening experience he’d ever had. More frightening than when Scarface the lion had cornered him as a kid. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he was caught by his ankles, and as such was flying through the air upside down. He wasn’t good with heights at the best of times, but being upside down had turned him into a shuddering wreck. Poor Horace had been flying through the air upside down, close to the earth, completely and utterly helpless. In order to keep some sense of sanity he had shut his eyes tight to stop seeing the world flying by. He hadn’t seen the bush till it was too late, and he’d got caught in it, slewing them to a sudden stop. That’s the last thing he could remember until being pulled up by Prince.
‘Oh Horace’ cried Doll, wiping the tears from her face, her face creasing into a wonderful life giving smile. ‘You saved our lives! If it wasn’t for you we would have been dashed against the rocks!’ She hugged Horace tightly with all her might and heart, and all at once the colour came back to Horace’s long body. He smiled a broad giraffe type smile, his dark eyes danced and he was overcome with the joy that permeated out of Doll’s every pore. He did what giraffe’s have never been seen to do, and cried. But these weren’t tears of sadness. These were tears of being rescued, of being found, of finding belonging. And Doll loved him all the more for it.
The gang had, in some way that no one could explain, become closer than ever. And they spent the next hour chatting excitedly about the launch, the rocks, Horace, the wind, and the place where the sun rises. They broke open the first of the meal boxes they’d brought and enjoyed rat’s cheese, cold worm burgers and a drink of nettle juice. They sat back contentedly, being pushed along at a bent three towards the east. They were relaxed, not needing to say anything, just content. The sun was starting to set, and the Captain wondered what adventures lay ahead. He concluded he didn’t care, for he was with the best group of friends he’d ever known. He felt his heart must explode with the sense of joy and happiness he was feeling right now. And as he looked around, he saw every set of eyes saying the exact same thing as his. Oh the joy..
Chapter 3 of the RB Gang’s adventures. Will Explorer’s idea of flying dandelion seeds tied together by spider silk carry the brave gang towards where the sun rises? Can it really work or will they be dashed to pieces?