“Marco Cortes, hurry up!” Zak called from outside my house. “We are going to be late for school! I really don’t want a detention again like last week.”
I knew my best friend was angry with me when he referred to me by my full name. Frantically, I sprinted around my small house, trying to find my tie whilst throwing my textbooks into my bag and peeling a banana all at the same time. I was a mess. I had slept through my alarm for the third time that week and my parents had already left for work. I found my tie underneath the sofa and wondered how on earth it got there as I located one of my shoes in the living room and hastily slipped my right foot into it.
“Marco, come on man!” I heard Zak impatiently calling.
“Where’s my other shoe?” I grunted to myself.
I ran to the dining room and saw the shining Nike logo of my left shoe and instantly inserted my left foot into it, not bothering to tie my laces. I dashed to the door and before opening it, looked myself in the mirror. My morning hair was a small forest, with brown tangles here and there. Dark circles surrounded both of my eyes and I cursed myself for forgetting to moisturise. It was too late for that now. I opened the door and stepped outside into the beautiful sunshine. Birds were chirping harmoniously, enjoying the warm and dazzling sun rays. Cars, lorries and buses whizzed up and down my road in the morning rush hour as the pavement was streaming with people rushing off to work. I slammed the door shut.
“About time! You look terrible,” Zak teased, inspecting me with his sky blue eyes. His blonde hair was tidily combed to one side and unlike me, he had his shirt and tie buttoned up to the top.
“I can’t believe I overslept again man. I promise this won’t happen again,” I replied.
“That’s what you said yesterday!” Zak laughed. “Come on, let’s get going.”
We raced down my road and reached my other best friend’s door.
“Rachel!” I called.
“Coming!” she replied, as she stepped out and joined us. Her long brown hair swayed gently in the morning breeze and the bright shining Sun made her skin look almost golden. She stared at me with her hazel eyes. “Marco, you look terrible.”
“That’s exactly what I said!” Zak was in a fit of laughter.
“Shut up you two,” I replied, smiling in amusement.
Together we darted off to our school, weaving in and out of the oncoming flock of scurrying pedestrians. If we were late, I sincerely hoped that our principal Gerard Ramirez – who we were obliged to call ‘Señor’ because of his Spanish ethnic background – would not punish us.
My lungs were screaming at me to slow down just as the grand white building of our school finally came into sight. The gleaming sunshine reflected off the big letters ‘Tranquillity Valley High School’ that were carved in gold on the magnificent black gates, casting golden rays all around the school’s vast perimeter.
And standing at the front of the gate with his arms folded was Señor Ramirez.“Follow me,” he ordered.
That was not a good sign.
He briskly stomped through the narrow corridors that were filled with the buzzing of students who were eager to start the school day. Some were laughing, some were gossiping, some were playing cards and some were exchanging paper airplanes. Seeing us closely following Señor Ramirez, their expressions darkened and they exchanged nervous looks with each other.
We reached the end of the corridor and Señor Ramirez unlocked his office door, with a grim, sullen look glued to his face. What had happened? And why were we called to his office?
We stepped in, and it seemed like all hell had broken loose in Señor Ramirez’s office. Scattered books, broken wardrobes, dusty shelves and smashed glass lay scrambled in a heap on the floor. He sat down behind his desk and put his head in his hands. Something had happened. And it was something big. Thinking deep and precisely about what he was going to talk to me about, I retraced the past few days of school, trying to figure out what he was going to discuss with us. Zak and Rachel were as clueless as I was, as we exchanged bewildered looks with each other.
Señor Ramirez looked at us. “The Golden Leaf has been stolen.”
I gasped in horror, as did Zak and Rachel.
Silence hung in the room.
“No way,” I finally said, my voice trembling.
“I received a call last night from my good friend from my time with the
Army. He asked me to hand over the Golden Leaf for his research project with this organisation called Obsidian. I asked him what the research project was about and he refused to give more details. I told him that there was no way I could hand over the Golden Leaf. After all, we discovered it buried underneath one of the pavements in Central Park on one of our school expeditions last year, remember? Then, when I come into my office this morning, it’s gone! Gone! Just look at this mess. That treacherous man came and stole the Golden Leaf from me,” Señor Ramirez explained, infuriated.
“Have you called the police?” Zak asked.
Señor Ramirez laughed incredulously. “The police! As if they will bring the Golden Leaf back to us. If I involve the police, there will be zero chance of finding the Golden Leaf. I would have to fill out forms and then an investigator would be assigned to my case. And until they try to solve the case, who knows where the Leaf will be or what’s happened to it. The Golden Leaf is worth so much and we must bring it back for the longevity of this school. This Golden Leaf is so special that it actually helps fund your education and the facilities we have here. Without it, this school is doomed.”
We remained silent, overwhelmed with shock.
“I remember that friend of mine telling me about Obsidian being based in Stingray Island. I’ve never heard of it and it’s not on any map or satellite navigation system. But all I know is that it’s near and around the coast of Lower New York Bay. The precise location, I don’t know.”
“Why are you telling us this?” I asked tentatively.
“Because I want you three to find the Golden Leaf and bring it back,” Señor Ramirez replied simply.
“What?” Rachel blurted.“Señor, you know how much we love this school and respect you as a principal. But how do you expect us to bring back the Golden Leaf when it could be anywhere? And what about danger? Who knows what obstacles we will face?” I explained.Señor Ramirez stood up and bore his eyes into us. “Hear me out before you overthink the situation and make a decision. Look Marco, your combat skills with a sword and shield are second to none in your weekly classes. Zak, your martial art skills are the best in the whole school. How many tournaments have you won consecutively? And Rachel, your archery ability is unr
“You will head off in the afternoon. I have arranged a taxi for you which will drop you off at a hotel in Midtown Manhattan that I’ve reserved for you. The Benjamin. I’m sure you’ve heard of that five star hotel. You can stay there for the night. Tomorrow you will begin your journey to Lower New York Bay. It’s a twenty mile journey. Stingray Island is somewhere around there. Take public transport and stay in crowded places. Be careful of the people around you. And most importantly, and I cannot stress this enough, trust each other and each other only. No one else,” he explained. “Go to one of the changing rooms, get changed, get freshened up and go to the canteen where the chefs have prepared you three a good meal.”Señor Ramirez stood up strai
Just as we arrived, the lift door opened and a couple walked out, holding hands and laughing. We entered the lift and I pressed the button for the third floor, where our room was.Even the lift was special. An Alpana themed golden wallpaper ran around the lift and the black marble floor was sparkling in the bright in-built light. The lift door opened and we walked slowly down the corridor, taking in the unique designs and patterns of the walls and ceiling. “This is the room,” Rachel said.
“Come on!” Rachel screamed.I tried again, this time barging into it with my shoulder. The door remained shut.“Wait, I’m going to use my knife to open the lock. Face the guards,” Zak said hurriedly, as he inserted his blood-soaked knife into the keyhole.Rachel and I squared up to the guards, as they closed in on us.12 feet… 11 feet… 1
Having hiked infinite miles, hopped on and off buses and taken four gruelling train journeys, we finally reached the coast of Lower New York Bay, as the Sun began to settle. In front of us, the vast Atlantic Ocean sparked in the dazzling sunset. In the distance, I managed to see a faint silhouette of a few mountains, surrounded by rocks and forests. Zapped of our energy and strength, we slumped on a nearby bench.“Is that the place?” I asked, squinting and pointing out in the direction of the silhouette.“Looks like. We made it guys,” Zak sighed tiredly.I heard footsteps from my left coming towards us. A dockworker. His cl
We jumped off the ship to be greeted by thunder. Dark clouds in the night sky obscured the glinting moonlight, our only natural source of light. The sky rumbled, clearly sending a message to us that we should leave while we had the chance. Adrian and Zak took out their torches as we stepped through the rocks and pebbles of the cold ocean and onto the beach. I felt a gentle drop of water on my head and looked up. Rain. Gaining momentum. By the second. Then, I felt a slight breeze, which grew in intensity and it was only within moments that we began to experience an intense tornado. Rusty leaves, sand grains, and water particles exploded from the ground, causing an aggressive whirlwind that sunk our hearts and zapped us of our confidence. “Guys, listen to me carefully. Let’s get underneath a tree, find some wood and make a fir
We managed to find a safe spot to sleep and recuperate just off the beach. Rachel’s bruised ankle was now swollen whilst I struggled to push the sight of my best friend disappearing right before our eyes out of my mind “Get up, you two. New day, fresh start!” Adrian said, trying to sound enthusiastic. The morning air felt as hot and heavy and moist as steam, as the scorching Sun’s radiance beat down on the island’s inhabitants. Bees and dragonflies buzzed around the bushes and trees, whilst birds chirped and flew around elegantly. The beaming sun rays reflected off the waves, emitting splashes of heat, as it gently caressed the coast. &nbs
Bringing the three of us back to reality was the hunger that was growing in the pit of our stomachs. Our minds had been so preoccupied with the tiger, Zak going missing and Rachel’s ankle that we had forgotten about our own health. Looking around in this vast island with the rocky plains and towering trees obscuring our far-sighted vision, finding food seemed impossible.“Adrian, what do we do about food?” I asked.Adrian laughed, his laugh echoing around the island. I looked at Rachel, puzzled.“Look over there, just look,” Adrian said, smiling. He pointed out to the ocean to our impressive cruise ship. “Guys,