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I listened to the syncopated rhythms of the fat man as he patrolled the echoing halls of the boarding school, my personal prison. The sound of his leather-soled shoes and heavy key ring framed his every movement, and I knew exactly where he was throughout his nightly rounds. My escape, planned so carefully, was about to begin. Though I was nervous-even a little frightened-the freedom on the other side of the walls was far more important to me than any consequence I might suffer for what I was about to do.
The fat man's feet faded down the corridor. "Okay, guys," I whispered to the darkness. "It's time to go."
"I don't know, Tommy," Jerry's voice whined back. "Maybe this isn't such a good idea. Maybe we oughta just stay right here."
"Shut up, Jerry," Ernie hissed. "Tommy and me have examined every detail of the plan, and it's perfect. If you don't want to go, we're leaving without you. But remember, when they find out we're not here, you'll be the only one left to take the blame."
We heard Jerry sigh, resigned to his fate. "Okay, okay, I'm coming. I don't want to stay here by myself."
I was already at the window, tying off the sheets that we had strung together. I just hoped they were long enough to reach the ground. In every escape, there's stuff you can't be sure of, and I really didn't know exactly how far it was from the window to the earth below. It was early spring in New England, and the moisture of the night had released a potpourri of smells. My spirits soared as I took it all in-lilac, apple blossom, night jasmine, and freshly cut grass-all signaling that the world was out there, just waiting for us to set off on our grand adventure.
Ernie touched my arm. "Okay, Tommy, this is your idea. You go first."
"Oh sure," I laughed. "You just want to know if the sheets will hold."
"I know they'll hold you and me, pal," he said. "What I'm really interested to find out is what will happen when Fatty Jerry takes the death drop."
"Shut up, you guys," Jerry whined again. "I'm not that fat."
Our snickers told him we didn't agree.
I sat on the ledge of our third-story window with the sheet in both hands and took a deep breath. "Here I go, boys," I said over my shoulder. "Geronimoooooooo!" Swinging out into space, I lowered myself down the bed sheet rope. Ernie had tied all our bed sheets together with sheet bend knots he learned in Boy Scouts, and the material tightened under my weight. Reaching the bottom, I dangled for a moment, wondering just how far it was to the ground. I was relieved to find that I was only a couple of feet from terra firma. "I'm fine," I called up to my compatriots. "It's easy. Come on down."
Less than thirty seconds later, Ernie landed with commando-type grace.
"Okay, Jerry," I stage whispered, "it's your turn."
We waited and felt the sheet continue to wave in the night breeze. Maybe Jerry was chickening out. I added a little more urgency to my voice. "Let's go, Jerry! We haven't got all night!"
"What if I fall?"
"We'll catch you," I said.
"No, we won't," Ernie laughed. "Do you know what his fat butt would do to us in free-fall? We'd be smooshed."
Jerry was still whining. "What about my food? I can't find my food!"
I reached into my backpack and pulled out a paper bag, shaking it like I was signaling to Pavlov's dog. "I have your food, Fatty! Now, come on, or we're going to leave you, and I know you wouldn't really want that!"
"All right," he quavered, "here I come."
I finally felt the tension on the sheets. His nervous shakings were actually palpable under my fingertips as Jerry suspended himself in space. Unlike Ernie and me, who had descended quickly to the ground, Jerry made his way down painfully, haltingly hand-over-hand, as if he were working his way down the north face of Mount Everest. Then, about six feet from the ground, gravity overcame Jerry's grip and he dropped like a stone, landing in a heap at our feet. Soft spring grass and his ample padding prevented major injury. And after a little more whining, we moved out through the darkness, heading for the fence line at the Charles River.
Like all great escapes, this one had been meticulously planned with conversations whispered deep into the night. We knew exactly how to pull it off. Once outside, we would make our way to the compound's boathouse, where rowboats provided occasional exercise on the river for inmates on good behavior. The lock on the gate would be no problem because of the hacksaw we'd stolen from the prison shop and placed in my backpack, along with a set of wire cutters. All we'd have to do was drag the boat to the river and let the current take us out into Boston Harbor and freedom.
My friend Ernie was a genius. At eleven, he was already taking advanced calculus and physics. By using the almanac to determine times and tides and by dangling a fishing line in the river to calculate the speed of the current, he figured we could voyage to the Atlantic in about seven hours. He went on to elaborate that the current flowed at about two miles an hour, and we could go even faster if we picked a night when the tide was on its way out. So that's exactly what we did.
Nearing the boathouse, we dropped onto our bellies in an extended military crawl. This area of the yard was brightly lit, providing us with the greatest danger of discovery. As I arrived at the corner of the boathouse, feeling Ernie right behind me, Jerry's whines had turned to sniffling.
"What's the matter now, Jerry?" I asked.
"I think I crawled through dog crap."
"You sure did," Ernie confirmed, sniffing loudly and laughing in the dark. "That's dog crap, all right. Probably the excrement of a large German shepherd."
I stifled my own laugh. "You can wash it off in the river when we get there, Jerry. Right now, we've gotta pull this boat out of here."
Finding the boathouse door, I pulled the stolen hacksaw out of my backpack and prepared to go to work on the lock and chain. "Ernie, put your hands on each end of the chain, and keep it from flopping around so I can get a good pull with the blade of the saw."
"Okay, Tommy. I got it. Go ahead."
Placing the saw on the chain where the lock and hasp came together, I began to cut. The screech of the saw was like a siren going off in the night. "Wow," Ernie said. "You're gonna have to do this fast, Tommy, or they'll be right on our butts."
I sawed with all my might and, thank God, the padlock and chain were old. With just a few strokes, they broke and the door swung open. Four dinghies rested on boat stands, and within minutes we dragged one of them out onto the grass in front of the boathouse, tossed our belongings inside, and headed for the river.
The boathouse had been built on a downhill slant right up against the fence that bordered the Charles River. With a lot of grunting and some more complaining from Jerry, we arrived at the fence line. With a little more applied dexterity from Ernie, the wire cutters quickly sliced a hole big enough to fit the bow of the boat through the fence. The next part would take all of our strength. "Okay, guys, this is it," I told my friends. "We can do it. We can get to the river. Ready? Heave!"
All of us grunted, pushing in unison. No progress. Two more tries yielded nothing but a lot of heavy breathing. "I told you this wouldn't work," Jerry complained. "I told you! We should have just stayed in bed. I told you!"
"Listen, Jerry, I promised you and Ernie the best adventure of your life, as good as Huck and Tom, and that's what we're gonna have. We just need to try a little harder. Come on, boys, let's give it everything we've got."
Our Herculean effort was rewarded by the grating sound of the boat crunching through the ever-widening hole in the chainlink fence.
"Keep going," I cried. "We've got it! I know we've got it."
Seconds later, the boat was clear and we clambered through the fence. We could hear the river lapping just a few feet away. I moved forward to the bow. "Okay, guys, let's launch her."
With a couple more pulls and pushes, I stepped into the murky waters of the Charles, feeling the cold of the spring-filled river all the way up to my thighs. "Okay, guys, get in. I'll push us off, and then I'll jump into the stern."
Ernie quickly took his place. Jerry literally fell in like an old sack. "For God's sake, Jerry," Ernie said. "Can't you do anything right?"
"Oh no!" Jerry moaned, pulling himself up. "I fell on top of my food, and it's all crushed." I couldn't stop laughing as I pushed off and jumped in back. Even though it was pitch dark, it was easy to stay in the middle of the river. The banks were reinforced so the water was constantly gurgling against pylons, docks, and even reinforced concrete. After a few minutes, we were far enough downstream to speak in normal tones, and Ernie called for a cheer.
"Hip, hip, hooray!" we cried in unison.
"We're on our way to foreign lands," I told my fellow travelers.
"Dancing girls," Ernie put in, though we didn't really know what those were.
Even Jerry was optimistic. "Food from foreign places."
Ernie began to sing, "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me!" from Peter Pan, and we all joined in. That was followed by choruses of "Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall" and some pretty good rock-and-roll in three-part harmony: "Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow," "Duke of Earl," and "Get a Job."
All in all, this escape was going completely according to plan. The next few hours could only be described as blessed freedom, freedom to sing and freedom to dream. The stories got wilder and wilder, and the laughter-oh, the laughter-got sillier and sillier.
A foghorn at the entrance of Boston Harbor was the North Star of our voyage. Night after night it beaconed to us while we planned our escape. Once we reached it, we would have left the confines of the Charles and moved into the vast, open water of the bay. And as dawn was rising in the east, we came abreast of the horn's warning sound.
The poet was right-the plans of mice and men often do go astray, especially the schemes of eleven-year-olds whose only motivation is escape and adventure. The future was something we hadn't even considered. Just as we entered the harbor, Ernie voiced the question we all were thinking, "Now what?" But we didn't have time to think of an answer before we heard a deep-throated rumbling coming toward us out of the fog.
In 1959, Boston was one of the busiest ports in America. Because of its deep channel, freighters and ocean liners could move expediently, especially when, without the aid of tugs, they unlawfully ignored the five-knot limit. The rumble was quickly joined by the sound of propellers slicing a path through the water, seemingly right down on top of us.
The three of us screamed as the freighter bore down, missing us by less than twenty feet. "Hold on," I yelled. "We're gonna be in her wake."
Our twelve-foot dinghy was literally tossed into the air like a twig in a hurricane. By some miracle, we came down on the other side of the wake, still upright, but completely flooded.
"We're sinking," Ernie yelled. "Oh my God, we're sinking!"
"Just bail! Bail!" I yelled back. "Use your hands! Use anything!" As we worked desperately to save the little boat, we became aware of other ships moving through the fog.
Jerry was crying, "We're gonna die out here! We're gonna die!"
At that moment, I couldn't say I disagreed with him. What had begun as a little adventure had evolved into a life-and-death situation, and our earlier fun and boyish bravado had been replaced by panic and fear. The single foghorn was now drowned out by the early morning din of commerce, and we were right in the middle of it-three little boys in a twelve-foot boat, like minnows in a pod of whales.
"Oh God," Ernie said. "Here comes another one." But this time, the speed seemed to slow, and then the pitch of the motor changed.
"They've stopped," Ernie gauged. "For some reason, this one stopped."
The reason became clear as a bullhorn announced, "Ahoy the boat, ahoy the boat! This is the United States Coast Guard. Prepare to accept a tow."
"How do we do that?" I asked Ernie.
"I don't know. I guess they'll tell us."
Something landed on the bow of the little dinghy with a thwack.
"What was that?" Jerry asked, the alarm obvious in his voice.
"I don't know," Ernie said.
Thirty seconds later, the thwack happened again, but still we didn't understand what it meant.
The voice on the bullhorn was speaking again. "You have ignored our tow line. Prepare to be boarded."
"Prepare to be boarded?" I said. "I guess this is the end of our adventure."
The Coast Guard boat had moved in close astern, and in a moment a man landed on the bow of the dinghy.
The surprise was evident in his tone. "What are you boys doing out here in the middle of the shipping lanes? Don't you know you could get killed? And why did you ignore the command to tie off our line and be towed to safety?"
In the early morning light, the way we looked at him must've given us away. We heard his radio crackle. "Captain Edwards, Lieutenant Carson here. Sir, I can't believe it, but what we have out here are three little boys who are"-he paused-"who seem to be"-another beat-"blind."
Excerpted from ADVENTURES IN DARKNESS by TOM SULLIVAN Copyright © 2007 by Tom Sullivan. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
1 The Great Escape 1
2 Da 11
3 Expelled 19
4 The Red Sox 41
5 My Backyard 53
6 Peggy's Blind Date 67
7 Kentucky Blue 81
8 Want to Play? 93
9 Summer Solstice 99
10 Fog Bound 111
11 The Quarry 119
12 Faith and Friendship 129
13 Pitch and Catch 137
14 The Game 145
15 The Sweet Science 157
16 The Fight 169
17 Change 183
18 Reflections 189
Posted November 12, 2013
Posted July 25, 2012
Posted February 12, 2011
This was an interesting book about a young blind boy trying to find his way in the world. It was easy for me to continue reading because the writing style was smooth and the plot was simple. There where some ups and downs but overall it was a good read and something i would recommend for someone looking for a real-life adventure story. I think that what really made the book was the simple fact that it's a true story that was told in a way that gives the reader the ability to step into the character's shoes.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 12, 2011
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Posted March 23, 2011
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