First story in The Lost Boys series.

Thanks to Jedikay for the great picture and to Antoinette for her Beta work.

The deck rolled beneath their feet as Ezra watched the other children playing on the lower deck. His mother forbad him to play with them, they were commoner children, below him. It looked like they were having fun kicking a ball of rags around. There were four of them, playing under the watchful eye of two women. An older boy moved around on the deck, cleaning up and emptying the waste cans. A Negro boy was mopping the deck. Maude sighed as she adjusted her parasol.

"Come along, Ezra dear, I've had enough of the salt air," she said as she turned to go back to their stateroom. With one final, wistful glance at the playing children, he turned to follow her.

That evening, as they sat at the captain's table having supper, Ezra saw the older boy again. This time, he was neatly dressed and helping to serve the meal. He also saw the Negro boy helping to clear the used dishes. None of the other children were in the dining room, the second and third class passengers had their own dining rooms. Ezra sat quietly during the meal, letting his mother talk with the other adults.

A woman across the table complimented Maude. "Your son is so well behaved, not like those children on the below deck. You must be very proud of him."

"He is quite the little gentleman," the captain added as he smiled warmly at the boy. Ezra blushed and folded his hands in his lap politely.

The ship was eighteen days out of port when the storm struck. Waves rocked the ship and spray kept the decks too wet to walk on safely. Maude was well in her element as she played a 'friendly' game of poker with several of the other passengers. Ezra was terribly lonely as he sat, ignored, in a corner of the room. Finally, he slipped out and went for a walk. He found one of the staircases that ran to the lower decks and with a quick glance to see if anyone was watching, he swiftly descended.

It was quieter in the lower corridors. Ezra walked the length of the ship, smiling and greeting everyone he passed. Most of the passengers ignored him but a few of them smiled back. As he reached the front of the ship, he heard peals of laughter. Curiosity snagged him firmly and he followed the sound to one of the dining rooms. The tables had been shoved to the side and the children were playing in the open space. The rag ball shot back and forth between them as they moved up and down the length of the room. When it rolled between two chairs, the boy who had kicked it raised his hands in triumph.

"Score!" Chris shouted. "That makes it four to two. One more and you have to make our beds for the rest of the trip."

The ball went back into play and the boys laughed as they chased and kicked it. Ezra wished he could join in, it looked like a lot of fun. The ball rolled to a stop in front of him and he stared down at it.

"Hey kid, kick it back, will ya?" The blond boy who had scored the last goal stood waiting for the ball.

Ezra kicked the ball to the boy and smiled when he called out his thanks. He continued to watch the kids play for several minutes before the littlest one, the one with dark hair, scored and ran back to the bigger boy with dark hair, leaping into his arms. The Negro boy came in from the other side of the dining room and stood looking longingly at the other kids.

"Hey, you two want to play?" The thinner boy with long brown hair asked as he retrieved the ball from under one of the tables. "Name's Vin Tanner, that's Buck and JD and the guy over there is Chris. We're on our way to America, to new homes and families."

"My name is Ezra. I'd like to play, if you would allow."

"Come on in. I haven't seen you around, where's your cabin?" Buck asked.

"Mother and I have a stateroom on the upper deck."

"Really? That sounds really cool! Could we go up and see it?" JD asked, his brown eyes sparkling with excitement.

"Could we play first and tour the ship later?" Ezra asked. "Are you willing to join the game?"

"Me?" the dark skinned boy asked hesitantly. "I'm not allowed to play, I got to work."

"Come on, a few minutes won't hurt!" Chris goaded. "What's your name?"

"Nathan, my name's Nathan," he answered, appearing painfully shy about stepping out of the doorway. He peered back over his shoulder to see if anyone had noticed him coming into the room. Seeing the other staff busy folding the laundry, he pulled the door closed behind him.

The boys played for nearly a half hour before one of the maids opened the door and called out in a scandalous voice, "Nathan Jackson! You have work to do, what are you doing playing ... with white boys?" Her voice dropped to a whisper, as if the others couldn't hear her. Nathan's shoulders dropped and he shuffled toward the door. The other boys looked at each other, sheepish and ashamed that the boy had gotten into trouble because of them. Ezra took that as his excuse to take his leave.

"I should go as well, Mother will be looking for me. Perhaps we can go on that tour of the upper deck another time?"

"Okay, see you around," Chris said before kicking the ball toward JD.

The storms continued unabated for the next two days. Ezra spent every spare moment below decks playing with the orphans. Maude never questioned his absence from the dining room or the lounge as long as he was there when she needed him to charm the people she was scamming.

A wave struck the ship hard enough to throw glasses from the tables and turn over chairs. Shrieks of fear were heard all over the place as people struggled to stand on a floor that was canted at an unusual angle. Water poured in under the doors and ran across the floors and down the staircases.

"We have to get out of here," Nathan said as he saw the water flowing down the corridor. He ran to the forward dining room and threw open the door. The four orphans and the little boy from first class were just getting up from being thrown across the room. "Come on, we have to get out of here!"

The children exchanged frightened glances before willingly following the older boy. Another wave swamped the ship again and the boys struggled through the rising water. When they made the open deck, a voice called out.

"Nathan, over here!" Josiah motioned for the boys to come to where he was working to release one of the lifeboats. When the small boat hit the water, he tossed a ladder over the side. "Go on, go down and I'll hand the others down to you. Go, now!"

Nathan nodded and tossed one long leg over the side to feel for the rungs of the ladder. He descended quickly to the small boat and looked back up to where five small, frightened faces looked down on him. Josiah grabbed JD and swung him over the side, dangling him by his wrists. The four year old screamed and flailed with his feet in complete terror. Nathan held up his hands and nodded for the other boy to let him go. JD dropped some five or six feet to be caught. Nathan quickly put the boy down and turned his attention to what was going on above him. Ezra was now dangling by his wrists. One by one, Josiah lowered the kids down to the lifeboat. When they were all down safely, Josiah swung over the side and lowered himself down the ladder until his feet reached the boat. Letting go of the ladder, he looked up to see three other crewmen coming over the side. Just then, another massive wave hit the side of the ship and the men fell, disappearing into the black water. The ropes holding the lifeboat snapped and they were free. The small boat was swept away, rolling violently so that the boys clung to it and to each other.

Josiah wrapped his arms around two of them and tucked them under the bench before reaching for another. He could see just for a second that Nathan was doing the same with the other two. The torrential rain made it impossible to do much more than struggle to breathe. The lifeboat rode the waves, up one side and down the other. The combined weight of the children was negligible, the small craft simply floated along wherever the water took it.

Gradually, the waters calmed and Josiah uncurled painfully cramped hands to look at the boys. The youngest one was red faced from crying but the other two just looked scared. Nathan was already sitting up and checking on the other two.

"You alright?" Josiah asked of the dark skinned boy.

"Yeah, you?"

"Yeah, I'm alright."

"Where are we?" the blond boy asked.

"Don't rightly know. But we're alive and that's what's important," Josiah told the boy firmly.

"I gotta potty," the littlest one announced. As soon as the other boys' bodies recognized the thought, they all realized that they needed to go. Moving carefully so as not to overturn the boat, they relieved aching bladders.

Introductions were next, each one telling Josiah their names. Then an awkward silence fell on them. Little JD climbed into Buck's lap and clung there.

"How old is he?" Josiah asked.

"He's four. His momma died not too long ago. We were going to America to get new families," Buck answered.

That opened the door for the boys to talk about themselves a little, to kill time. Josiah learned that, at 14, he was the oldest person in the boat. Nathan was almost 13, Chris was 10, Buck was 8, Vin was 7 and Ezra only six. All the younger boys except for Ezra were orphans. Nathan and Josiah had been working on the ship in the hope of earning some money to buy a better life for themselves. Ezra and his mother were returning from a tour of France and Spain. The little boy from first class was nearly paralyzed with fear and sat staring at the water all around them. It was getting dark and none of them wanted to even think about being all alone in the small lifeboat at night.

"I'm scared," JD plaintively announced.

"Then let me tell you a story so that you won't be scared anymore, JD," Josiah said, putting as much confidence as he could into his voice. "Have you ever heard of Odysseus?" By the time he reached the midpoint of the story, all except Nathan had succumbed to exhaustion.

"You might as well save the rest of the story for tomorrow," Nathan said softly. "Do you think anyone will find us?"

"I don't know, Nathan."

"Do you think any of the others survived?"

"I don't know."

Daylight came and with it, hunger and thirst. Josiah told them that they couldn't drink the salt water, so they didn't. To give the impression of doing something, the two older boys began rowing. It didn't matter that they didn't know which direction to go, it gave them something to do and it gave the others hope. JD whined and clung alternately to Buck and to Chris. Ezra continued to stare off in the distance as if he could, purely by the power of his desire, make a ship appear. Vin chewed at his fingernails until he worried them down to the quick. Josiah, when he wasn't rowing, entertained them with more of the story he'd begun the night before.

Night fell on them again. Josiah knew that they wouldn't make it too much longer without water. The littlest one was already becoming lethargic. Settling himself as comfortably as he could, he drifted off to sleep. Some hours later, it started to rain. Nathan shook each of them awake and told them to cup their hands and catch the rainwater. He made sure that JD got as much water as possible. As the rain tapered off, the wind picked up again and they curled up in the floor again, Josiah and Nathan holding on to the smaller, younger children.

The lifeboat ground against the sand as the waves lapped at it. The seven boys were asleep, having become exhausted clinging to each other. Nathan was the first to waken. He looked up at the sandy beach and back at the horizon. No sign of the ship or any other lifeboats dotted the horizon and he sighed. Carefully working his arm out from under Buck and JD, he sat up. The storm had obviously battered the island, as ropes of seaweed lay far up from the water's edge. Shifting his aching body, he climbed out of the boat and pulled it up on the sand. He knew that their first priority was water. Without it, they wouldn't last out the week. Josiah opened his eyes and looked around hesitantly.

"I'm going to see if I can find us some fresh water. You stay with them," Nathan said before turning and walking away.

As the other boy had done, Josiah turned his bright blue eyes to the horizon. Only a few wisps of clouds remained of the storm that had brought them to this place. Lifting his arm, he checked the three boys he had been holding on to. Chris had his arm wrapped securely around Vin, who had a firm grip on Ezra. All three appeared to be sleeping soundly. Getting out of the boat was another thing. His back and shoulders ached from the rowing he had done the day before. Stretching, he finally managed to loosen up enough to get out of the lifeboat. As Nathan had done, he took hold of the boat and dragged it farther up the sandy beach. He took in the long palm leaves torn from the trees, his mind already planning a shelter. He hoped Nathan could find fresh water for them.

JD twitched and the arm wrapped around him tightened. He grunted slightly as he levered the heavy limb off of him so he could sit up and look around. At first, all he saw was water. Then, he turned the other direction and saw Josiah standing outside of the boat.

"Are we there?" JD asked.

"Where?" Josiah asked, puzzled.

" 'merica, where we get our new families?"

"I don't know, kid."

"Where's Nathan?"

"He went to look for water."

JD giggled.

"What's so funny?" Josiah asked.

"There's lots of water right here."

Josiah drew a deep breath and blew it out before shaking his head at the boy. He couldn't believe that the kid didn't know you couldn't drink salt water. The other boys started to stir and he directed his attention to them. As each of the others had done, the boys turned to scan the horizon as soon as they opened their eyes.

Nathan came out of the trees, a broad smile splitting his dark face. "We're in luck! There's a fresh water spring back in there and I also found these." He dropped a couple of coconuts and some other edible fruit on the sand. "We should see about building a signal fire."

"That was the next thing," Josiah agreed. "Chris, Vin, will you two come and help me gather things to build a fire?"

All of the boys climbed out of the boat and Nathan dragged it up beyond the high water line on the beach. While Josiah, Chris and Vin trumped off into the trees, the others stood rooted to the sand and staring at the horizon. Standing there wasn't going to bring anyone to help them.

"Why don't you guys check on down the beach and see if there are any other lifeboats?" Nathan suggested. Immediately, all three boys turned and began walking toward the place where the beach curved beyond their line of sight.

Josiah pointed to the dried palm leaves that lay here and there and Vin gathered them in his arms. Chris picked up any sticks he could find while he followed the older boy. Josiah picked up some larger pieces of wood and the trio returned to the beach.

Ezra came running around the tree line, yelling for Nathan to come. Dropping the coconut he had been trying to free from its husk, he ran toward the smaller boy.

"Come see what we found! Come see!" Ezra shouted as he turned to run back the way he had come. As Nathan rounded the trees, he saw what had the boy so excited. Several dozen good-sized fish were trapped in a depression in the beach that was still filled with water. JD and Buck were poking at them with their fingers. The water was rapidly sinking into the sand and making its way back to the ocean, Nathan knew he had to move fast if they were going to be able to eat the fish. He dashed forward.

"We gotta get them out of the water and cleaned before they die and start to go bad," he said as he reached into the water and hooked his fingers in the gills of the biggest one. It was a whopper, weighing more than twenty pounds. Nathan handed the fish to Buck, showing him how to hold it by the gills and away from his own body so the fish didn't cut him with its fins. He picked up another large fish and held it out to Ezra. The look of horror on the boy's face made him huff in disgust. "You want to eat? Put out your hand and take hold of this fish!"

Reluctantly, Ezra took the fish and held it as far from his body as possible. Seeing the fish gasping and fins twitching made him wonder if he'd ever be able to eat poached trout again. Nathan quickly realized that they weren't going to be able to carry all of the fish this way and he scanned the trees. Spotting what he needed, he ran to a tree and pulled down a long, thin, green branch. Stripping off the leaves, he took the fish from Ezra and threaded the switch in the gill and out of the mouth.

"Now you hold that end and don't drop it! You hear?"

"There is nothing wrong with my hearing. I just don't find putting my hands inside of a living thing to be a pleasant experience," Ezra answered, his little voice strident in his indignation.

Working swiftly, Nathan threaded all of the fish on the switch, saving a smaller one for JD, as the boy was hopping from foot to foot and begging to carry a fish. When the last fish was out of the pool, the boys returned to where the lifeboat sat. Josiah and the other boys stood, slack jawed at the sight of the four of them carrying so many fish. Josiah had managed to start a small fire with the flint he had in his pocket.

The boys spent the next hour cleaning the fish and Nathan cut the larger fish into smaller pieces. The younger boys were pressed into service cooking the fish on the end of pointed sticks. Both Josiah and Nathan had used the folding knives they carried in their pockets to sharpen the sticks before using them to clean the fish. Vin used a large piece of a palm leaf as a plate and soon they had a good pile of cooked fish.

Once all the fish were cleaned, Josiah called a halt to the cooking and they ate. There was some laughter when Ezra walked down to the water to wash his hands before accepting his food. While the others had peeled off their shirts and tossed them over the sides of the lifeboat, Ezra still had his long sleeved shirt and jacket on, complete with a tie. When they had all eaten their fill of the fish, they went back to cooking what was left. They really didn't have an idea what they were going to do with all of it but they knew it would go bad if they didn't cook it. Vin suggested bundling it in one of their shirts to keep it up off of the ground away from the ants. Nathan agreed that it sounded like a good idea.

With full tummies, the boys grew sleepy. While the others were content to lie on the sand, Ezra walked down to the lifeboat and tried to get comfortable. The others looked at him as if he was crazy and Buck went to ask him what he was doing.

"A gentleman does not soil his clothing needlessly. I simply cannot lie on the ground to take a respite."

"You'll get sun burned laying out here in the full sun. Come on up the beach and get in the shade."

"I can't ... Mother would never forgive me for getting so dirty," Ezra said with a hitch in his voice as he considered his soiled clothing.

Looking at the others who were watching from around the fire, Buck sighed. "Okay, get out and help me drag the boat up the beach into the shade."

As soon as the boat was up near the fire, Ezra settled down across one of the benches and dropped off to sleep. The others stretched out on the sand and soon joined him.

The next few days were busy for the boys. They kept a fire burning on the beach in case a search vessel should go by. They also worked to find food. Nathan seemed to have experience in what was safe to eat and what was not, so he was in charge of gathering food. Buck and JD eagerly jumped in whenever an activity was suggested and Chris and Vin took responsibility for gathering the firewood to keep their signal fire lit. Ezra did only as much as the others made him do. He spent the majority of each day sitting on the beach staring at the ocean. The only one of they who had a living parent, the other boys felt badly for him as he dealt with the fact that he might never see his mother again. Ezra cried out in his sleep sometimes, but he refused to talk about the dreams.

The boys had cleared and marked a path to the fresh water so that no one got lost. They dug a trench for a latrine using pointed sticks. Nathan regularly searched the trees and the ground to find them edible fruit and roots. When they had free time, they played like normal little boys. JD used the broken coconut shells to shape the sand and was soon joined by the others building a sand castle. Ezra looked on from where he sat near the fire. As badly as he would have liked to join in the fun, he couldn't afford to get dirty in case his mother came for him. Chris looked up the beach at the lonely boy and sighed.

"I tried to get him to come down here but he won't," Vin said. Buck pushed up from where he had been helping JD dig a moat for his castle and headed for the fire.

"Ezra, why don't you come down to the water and play with us?"


"What do you mean, can't?" Buck asked as he sat down beside the other boy.

"Can't get my clothes dirty," Ezra answered, never taking his eyes off of the horizon.

"Ezra, she won't care if you're a little bit dirty."

"Appearances are everything."

"Ezra, ... I don't think your Ma and the others made it," Buck said as gently as he could. Suddenly, he was faced with a furious, fist flinging little boy.

"You take it back! You take it back this very instant! You're a dirty liar, Buck Wilmington! I hate you! I hate you!"

The sudden outburst had all of them running back up to see what had so upset the other child. Buck stood, not even raising his hands to defend himself as Ezra swung blindly. Finally, the tirade ended and Ezra sunk to his knees pounding out the last of his anger in the sand. Buck then knelt and wrapped an arm around the smaller boy and just held him.

Buck had been in the orphanage for a while and had lots of experience with the kids who had only recently lost parents. Ezra had been in denial for too long. The older boy carefully rocked the younger one as the dam broke and his emotions spilled out. The others were amazed at how quietly Ezra cried. JD knelt down and leaned against the pair, having lost his mother only a few months ago, the grief was still too fresh for him not to be moved. Vin was next to join the huddle, he and JD had arrived at the orphanage about the same time but he had been alone longer, having turned to begging in the street before being picked up by the law. Chris hung back. He had been an orphan longer than any of the others, he had even been placed in adoptive homes only to be returned because of his outbursts of rage. Chris's family had been killed in a firebombing. If he thought about it, he could still hear his mother and brother's cries as they were trapped in the burning building. His father had already been taken off and hanged. In one night, the blond boy learned all he needed to know about the 'Troubles' in his homeland.

After Ezra had cried himself out, Buck continued to sit with him to wait for the inevitable questions that would certainly come, as they did to every orphan. 'What will happen to me?' Ezra didn't ask, though, and Buck feared that it meant that he still hadn't accepted his mother's death. Eventually, he got up and made his way back down to where the others were helping JD to fill his moat.

But Ezra wasn't in denial any more. He was now sinking into depression. Without his mother to tell him what to do, he was lost. Fortunately, the others were determined to keep him too busy to allow him to think about much. Buck took on the challenge of bringing Ezra around to being like the rest of them. From the moment the green eyes opened in the morning until they refused to open again in the evening, the older boy kept on him, talking, teasing and just being with him. It had an effect, Ezra began to open up and clung to Buck. They were finally certain that Ezra was going to be alright when he peeled off his jacket and long sleeved shirt and tie and slipped out of his shoes and socks. Rolling up his pants, he joined the others playing in the surf.

The sky was dark and an ominous rumbling mingled with the winds that whipped across the beach. The boys were scared, they didn't have any shelter to protect them from the wrath of nature. Josiah led them into the trees, where he hoped to find some kind of cave or some kind of rock overhang. Nathan and a couple of the other boys were carrying the food they had gathered, they couldn't afford to lose it. Ezra and JD carried the clothing that they had quickly plucked from branches before the wind carried it away. Not too far from the spring where they got their water, Josiah spotted an opening in the rocks. He led the group over and stopped at the deep, dark hole.

"Stay right here while I see if it's safe in there," Josiah yelled over the wind. He felt his way into the opening, praying that there wasn't a drop off or something poisonous in there. The opening went back about twelve feet before he felt another wall. Stretching his arms as widely as he could, he felt for another wall. He found it after taking a couple of steps, making the cave roughly eight by twelve feet in a roughly oval shape. The floor was strewn with rocks he discovered as he tripped over one, falling hard. Picking himself up from the ground, he went back to the opening and motioned the others inside, cautioning each of them to be careful of the rocks on the floor. The boys moved along the wall and hunkered down. Vin hung back, staying near the opening where he could see the darkening sky and the trees being whipped by the wind. Josiah came in with an armful of broken limbs and some dried palm leaves and coconut husks he had found on the ground. By feel, he gathered some of the rocks into a circle and began to lay a fire. Striking the steel against the flint, he created a spark to light the husks and leaves. In the weak light, he saw that the cave ended high above his head and he hoped the fire wouldn't smoke them out. When the fire had a good hold, he called to Vin.

"Why don't you come over here and sit down?"

The soft blue eyes were filled with fear as the boy shook his head and edged closer to the opening. Chris looked at his friend and realized that he was breathing too fast for the little bit of exertion they had gotten, he was terrified.

"Vin, are you afraid of small spaces?" He knew that the other boy always slept near the windows in the dormitory and never went into the stairwell unless he could see that there was no one else there to block his path. It made sense. "Vin, will you at least sit down?"

Crouching down near the opening, Vin wrapped his arms around himself and shook. Chris got up and went to sit beside the other boy, even though the sight of the trees waving in the wind made him slightly queasy.

The storm struck with the same intensity as the one that had marooned the boys on the island. For the better part of three days, the pouring rain and lightning kept them in the cave. The boys quickly became bored. JD amused himself by burning the end of a stick and using it to draw on the walls. In his childish scrawl, he drew stick figures representing the seven of them and asked Buck to write their names under each one.

On the third day of the storm, a bolt of lightning struck a tree near the cave opening. The explosion was so loud that it woke all of them, scaring them nearly to death. The tree split where the lightning had burned a huge bowl in it and it toppled to the ground. Vin, in his terror, tried to get up and get out of the cave. Chris and Buck were both trying to keep him down. JD burst into tears and clung to Nathan as the others watched the drama play out.

"Get offa me! I can't breathe! Get off! Get offa me!" Vin screamed as he thrashed. It was Josiah who ended the argument when he knelt and slapped the hysterical boy. Vin's cries stopped immediately as he clung to Buck, now more afraid of the older boy than the small space where he was smothering. Chris came off of the floor in a murderous rage.

"Don't you EVER hit him like that again! I'll kill you if you do!"

"Chris, I'm sorry, I had to get him calmed down before he ran out into the storm and got hisself killed. I wasn't trying to hurt him, I'd never hurt one of you like that," Josiah said as he backed away from the angry boy.

Everyone got settled down again and the storm blew out a few hours later. Banking the fire, Josiah suggested that they go out and see if there were any more fish stranded in the hollow on the beach. Ezra offered to stay behind with JD, since the boy was asleep. None of them had slept well the past two nights with all of the lightning and thunder. As soon as it had gotten quiet, the little one had dropped off to sleep.

The five boys carefully picked their way back to the beach and stood staring in shock. A small ship lay on its side part way up the beach. Hopeful that there were other people, they darted forward and began shouting. They found only one man and he was dead, killed when the mast had snapped and broken his neck. He was tangled in some of the fishing nets. Leaving Josiah and Chris to explore the little fishing trawler, the others ran for the place where they had found the fish when they first arrived. They were not as lucky this time, there were only a few fish in the pool. Buck impulsively stepped into the water and reached for a fish only to leap back, crying out in pain. A jellyfish, albeit a small one, had stung him on the side of his foot. Nathan held Vin back from the pool and moved to help Buck. His ankle had already started to swell. It took both of them to get the boy up and stagger back to their beach.

On the small ship, Josiah and Chris struck gold. In the lower hold of the ship, a veritable fortune in fish was still trapped in the net and they hadn't gone bad. They also found things that were even more precious, a lantern and a small keg of lamp oil, a trunk filled with blankets and sheets and a crate of cooking and eating utensils. They immediately started to clean the fish.

Setting Buck on the overturned lifeboat, Vin went to yell for the others. Josiah raced to Buck and knelt to examine his ankle.

"You sure it was a jellyfish that stung him?" Seeing the nod, Josiah pulled his knife and wiped it on his pants. "You have to get the stinger out, then he'll be okay as long as he keeps it clean."

Nathan looked at the knife and then at Josiah. Did the older boy actually think he could do that, cut out the stinger? Buck moaned as his ankle throbbed with every beat of his heart. Nathan knelt down and studied the spot where the stinger had gone in. Looking to the others, he waited for them to take hold of Buck.

"Now I need ya to lay as still as ya can Buck. Can ya do that?" Seeing the tired boy nod, he took the knife and reached for the swollen ankle. Buck screamed as the knife burned across his skin. The stinger was still there and Nathan nudged it loose with the point of the blade, letting the blood wash it away. Josiah let go of Buck's thigh and bolted for the wrecked ship. He came back a few moments later with a roll of cloth. Nathan mashed on the swollen ankle a few times to drive the poison out before pouring the water Chris handed him over the wound. The salt water burned and Buck hissed. Nathan took the cloth and wrapped the wound securely.

When the boys didn't come back right away, Ezra grew nervous. He checked to see that JD was still sleeping and put some more wood on the fire so that it didn't go out before pacing the length of the cave. A couple of hours passed before his worry drove him to waken the younger boy. JD whimpered and didn't fully waken, so Ezra picked him up and carried him back toward the beach. The smell of cooking fish made his mouth water and he hurried through the brush.

"Shouldn't somebody go get Ezra and JD?" Buck asked. He had been settled near the fire and given the task of cooking the fillets while the others cleaned the fish as quickly as they could.

"I'll go," Vin offered. "Just let me take a dip in the water first."

"That won't be necessary, JD and I grew weary of waiting for your return," Ezra called as he strode toward the fire. "What happened to you?"

"Jellyfish stung my ankle. Do you see what the storm left us?" Buck pointed to the great hulking shape. In the dim light, Ezra hadn't even noticed the ship.

They cleaned and cooked the fish well into the night. Josiah filled and lit the lantern and hung it on the side of the ship that faced the water in case a ship went by. He also rummaged around in the galley and found several empty kegs that they could put the cooked fish into to keep the bugs from getting to it. It was nearly daylight before the exhausted children stopped their labors and collapsed to the ground to sleep.

Their lives improved after the trawler landed on their beach. They now had the materials to make fishing poles and they had the nets. Chris found a box of tools, a couple of saws and a small keg filled with nails. He suggested that they try building a shack or some kind of sturdy shelter.

Nathan was appalled at the idea of breaking up the ship. He wanted to try to get it back into the water. Josiah dragged the dark skinned boy around to show him the 18 feet of sandy beach between the bottom of the boat and the water. Even at high tide, it was still 12 feet or more to the water. JD wanted them to build a tree house and Ezra suggested building beds so that they weren't sleeping on the ground. Vin agreed that the idea of a tree house sounded pretty good. He slipped away from the others to survey the island.

They were still arguing about what to do with the boat when Vin returned. "Come see what I found," he said as he strolled through the camp. The others immediately stopped arguing and followed him into the trees. Not far from where they got their fresh water was a tree that would make a perfect tree house. It had a massive trunk and some twenty feet from the ground, the branches spread out nearly level on three sides of the trunk. "If we laid beams across those three limbs, we could put down a decent floor. At least we'd be up off of the ground."

"How are we going to get all of the materials up there?" Ezra asked as he tipped his head back.

"Pulleys?" Nathan suggested.

"You think?" Josiah returned.

"We ain't got anything else to do with our time," Buck put in.

"What if another storm comes?" Ezra asked.

"We're close to the cave. We could even build some shelves in there and store stuff inside," Vin said.

With the decision made, the boys set to work dismantling the trawler. It was back breaking work but as Buck said, they hadn't anything else to do with their time. Using the lantern, they cleared the floor inside of the small cave and moved all of the small items inside. There was a table and some chairs, several crates of bedding and clothing and dishes that they stored. Ezra asked permission to use one of the pieces of the net that had holes in it. In no time at all, he had reworked the ropes and slung it between two trees. The hammock became a favorite place to kick back and relax.

Using carefully cut planks, Josiah made a ladder up the side of the tree. When he reached the 'floor limbs,' he stood up and hung the pulley they had found. After threading the rope through it, they hauled up their first board. JD begged to go up in the tree but the others decided that he was too little to be up there until they had the floor down and some kind of railing up around the perimeter. Instead, the little boy was put to work fetching water for the older boys who were up in the tree working. A second pulley with a lighter rope was used for sending small things up.

Laying the floor took most of a month. Spring waxed into summer and the days grew hot. The boys worked in the early morning and the late evening, spending the heat of the day splashing and playing in the water. Constant exposure to the sun had bronzed all of them except for JD, who for some reason just never browned. Vin and Chris's hair lightened until Chris was almost honey blond and Vin was golden brown. Ezra's hair lightened too, turning to a copper red. All of the boys' feet had toughened from going without shoes until they could walk on the sharp rocks without wincing. Any baby fat they had melted into lean muscle from the hours of work they each put in.

JD was playing in the surf under Vin's watchful eye when the little boy cried out and took off running. Vin shoved the fishing pole into the sand and took out after the youngster. JD picked something up and carried it back to show off.

"Look! Look! I caught a turtle! Can I keep him? Can I Vin?" JD pleaded as he held up the turtle for the older boy to see.

"I don't see why not. You'll have to ask Josiah to make you a box to keep him in and make sure he has food and water."

The turtle kept JD amused for hours on end. He built sand castles and the turtle walked around and sometimes over them. Josiah made him a box for his pet and they all helped him gather the grasses and bugs the turtle ate. It was because of the turtle that they almost lost their littlest friend.

JD was walking along the edge of the stream with the turtle, talking to it as he usually did. He tripped and the turtle flew from his hands, landing with a splash on the other side of the stream. The turtle immediately began to climb out.

"No! No Turtle, don't run away," JD shouted as he started into the water. His feet slipped on the slimy stones and he fell, striking his head.

Buck and Chris were coming back from the beach with another stack of boards for the tree house when they spotted the very pale body lying beside the stream.

"JD!" Buck screamed as he dropped his end of the boards and ran for the little boy. Before Chris could even caution him about moving him, Buck had scooped the child up into his arms. "Chris, go get Josiah and Nathan!"

Dropping the boards, he ran for the tree house. Vin and Ezra were carefully sawing the previous delivery of boards and they looked up when the blond came crashing through the brush. Hearing that JD was injured, Josiah and Nathan quickly descended the ladder and ran for the stream. They had found a book on the trawler that had rudimentary first aide for common injuries and had read it from cover to cover. They found Buck sitting beside the watercourse holding the unconscious boy in his arms. When he looked up at them, they could all see the tears rolling down his cheeks. Josiah scooped the boy up and they hurried for the beach where the light was better. Nathan ran back to the cave where the book was kept and grabbed some of the bandages they had found. By the time he reached the beach, Josiah had placed the boy on the sand and was checking him for broken bones.

"I can't find anything except a knot on his head. He's breathing okay but he won't wake up," Josiah said. He backed away to allow Nathan room to look. He had at least some understanding of the way the body worked from when he lived with his family, his momma had been a midwife. Nathan gently prodded the knot under the long, dark hair and then carefully studied the pupils of his brown eyes. He listened to JD's breathing and heartbeat before sitting back and opening the book. He read over the paragraph he remembered about getting hit on the head and nodded.

"He has a concussion. It says to keep him still until he wakes up."

"How long will it take?" Buck asked as he looked at the small still form.

"It says it can be hours or days or never."

"Never?" Ezra questioned, his eyes suddenly stinging with tears.

"It says sometimes that people just stop breathing and die. They don't know why it happens. But the dark part of his eye is still moving a little, it says that's a good sign," Nathan offered, it was all he could say.

For the next few days, they remained huddled around JD, waiting. One at a time, they would slip away to fish or gather firewood but they never stayed away long. Buck sat beside JD, holding his limp little hand and lightly stroking his head. The waiting seemed to go on forever. Finally, he moved. His hand twitched slightly and his forehead knit as if he was in pain. It was still several hours before the dark eyes opened and JD looked at them.

"You see my turtle?" he whispered weakly.

"I put him in his box for you," Vin answered as he smiled. JD smiled back and drifted off to sleep again.

The boys kept an extra close watch on JD for the next few days as he recovered from his fall. With the floor of the tree house finished, the boys turned their attention to building a low wall so that no one fell out. Buck suggested that they use some of the oiled canvas to make a roof over their new home. Vin and Ezra were busy twisting fibers from the various vines into cords that they were using to make another hammock, patterned after the fishing net they had taken from the boat. It was slow work, but it kept them occupied and out of the way while the others worked on the tree house. It was finally deemed safe enough for JD to come up. They had also brought the ladder from the trawler and leaned it against the tree, making it easier for them to get up and down. The tree house wasn't large but it was big enough for all of them to have a space to sit or lie down. For a celebration, they broke into the kegs of smoked fish that they had stored for an emergency. They ate as much as they wanted from their cache and then stretched out on the blankets they had brought up. Buck and Ezra slept lightly, as they were on either side of JD and were worried that he might wake during the night and try to get down by himself.

With the tree house in a finished stage, the boys turned their attention again to securing more provisions for the coming winter. Not knowing how far off course they had drifted, they were uncertain as to how severe the winter would be. Josiah and Nathan waded out into the surf with their net and tried to catch fish. It worked, after a fashion, and they hauled in several medium sized fish. Vin and Buck were having better luck with their fishing poles. They had each caught three larger fish.

Nathan and Josiah swung the net and cast it out again, letting it go as far as the long cords they had tied to their wrists. When the net sank from sight, they began pulling it back. Pay dirt! The net was heavy, they had hit a large school of fish! Both boys struggled to keep their footing as they dragged the net into the shallows.

"JD, Ezra, Chris, bring the baskets! We got a haul!" Nathan yelled over his shoulder. By the time they were in the fringes of the surf, all three boys were dancing in excitement at the sight of so many fish. Buck and Vin pulled in their rods and raced to help.

They were cleaning the fish as quickly as they could when they heard JD yelling. Dropping what they were doing, they ran down to the net where the little guy was tugging on something with all of his might. A water turtle had gotten caught in their net and JD was trying to set it free but it kept trying to crawl away and getting more tangled in the net.

"What are you doing, JD?" Buck asked as he reached the net.

"Letting him go back to the water. Help me, Buck."

"JD, I was planning on making turtle soup out of that one," Nathan said as he looked to the others for support.

"Nooo! You can't kill him! Let him go! He wants to go home to his momma and dada!" JD bellowed as he tried to lift the turtle. The boys exchanged a glance. It was a nice, big turtle and would make a wonderful change from the fish they had been eating but the horrified look on JD's face made them reconsider. Sighing, Nathan turned and walked back up the beach. Josiah helped to untangle the net from the turtle and watched as JD carried it back to the water and put it down.

As they started trying to dry and smoke the fish, they discovered another problem. A flock of birds had come upon them and was dive-bombing them to steal their catch. Vin ran from the beach and returned with the remnants of the other fishing net. Josiah and Chris immediately recognized what he had in mind and went to find some long sticks to prop it up. With the net stretched over the fire, the birds couldn't get to the tender fillets and had to content themselves with the innards and heads that the boys discarded down the beach.

It took a day and a half to clean and cook all of the fish. When they finished, the boys were exhausted. The kegs were carefully stored in the cave and Josiah declared a holiday. He wanted them to explore more of the island. Taking only what they absolutely had to have, they set out down the beach. JD was thrilled because he found several pretty shells to add to his growing collection. Several hours into their walk, they came upon a sight that thrilled them right to their toes. A pod of dolphins was playing in the shallows. One of the larger dolphins was wiggling on its side and they thought it was in trouble at first. When it suddenly rolled over and began to wiggle in the other direction, they realized that it was playing or hunting for something. They watched for the better part of the afternoon before Nathan urged them to move on.

Before dark, the boys found a nice place to camp for the night. Nathan and Chris went into the trees to look for edible roots and fruit. They had already decided that if they couldn't find fresh water that they would have to go back in the morning. Nathan found water to refill their canteen so they could continue exploring. In the morning, they set out again. By mid afternoon, they were walking parallel to a great grassy area. Nathan squinted at something before taking off running, leaving the others behind. Josiah hoisted JD up on his shoulders so they could see what their friend had found.

Everything has a purpose and a place in life. Some large bird had gotten hold of a couple of peach pits and they passed through its digestive system to fall in the fertile soil of the island. Bees pollinated the blooms and the trees had ample water to produce fruit. Nathan was pulling down the peaches and stacking them in the tail of his shirt. Ezra was next to recognize the familiar food and took off running. Nathan pulled down a peach and handed it to the younger boy who immediately sank his teeth into it. After all the months of fish and coconuts and roots, it was like manna from Heaven.

The boys had their fill of peaches and then gathered all that they could carry. They decided to spend the night there and then return to their tree house. Nathan wanted to try to preserve the peaches for the coming winter. Josiah promised that they could come back for more. They didn't see the dolphins on the way back and JD was bitterly disappointed. Once home, they immediately started cleaning and cooking the peaches. They filled two of the small kegs before running out of storage containers.

Running out of the little kegs caused Josiah and Nathan to panic. Without the ability to store food, they might go hungry. Josiah suggested putting the dried fish in cloth bags and hanging it in the cave to free up another keg or two. Nathan agreed and they spent a day working to wedge a tall straight sapling between the walls to hang things from. Inside of the shell of the trawler, Nathan also found a broken keg. A few of the pieces were intact and he got an idea. Josiah also had an idea about making storage containers. He took the small handsaw into the woods until he found a suitable tree. It took him most of a day to cut it down and cut the trunk into manageable sections. He carried them back to the tree house one at a time.

For the next several days, the two older boys worked on their projects. Nathan was carefully whittling pieces of wood to match the shape of the pieces of the keg while Josiah was working to carve out the section of tree trunk. The other boys entertained themselves making toys to play with JD. Their youngest friend was blithely unaware of the tension between the older boys as the nights grew cooler and the days shorter. He was content to play with the things they made for him and to play with his turtle.

Buck awoke one morning to JD sobbing softly in his blankets. He reached for the little boy and pulled him close. "JD, what's wrong?"

"My Turtle, he's dead," JD murmured as his tears bathed Buck's shoulder.

Turtle was buried with all the pomp and circumstance that the boys could give him. Josiah fashioned a cross to mark the grave and the other boys helped to make a circle of stones so that they would remember where it was. Little JD was inconsolable for the next few days.

Nathan had finished carving the pieces for the sides of the keg and he needed help figuring out about the bottom. He gathered the pieces together and tried to figure a way to measure for the vital missing piece. Ezra happened up on him as he was close to losing his temper.

"What are you doing, Nathan?" Ezra asked as he peered curiously at the unsteady collection of wood.

"I'm trying to make a keg so we can store more food but I can't figure out the bottom."

Ezra studied the situation from all sides for a minute, visually comparing what Nathan had made to the small kegs stored in the cave. "Do you have a metal rim for it?"

"Yeah, the one that was on the broken one I was trying to copy."

"Do you have that bottom piece?" Ezra asked innocently. Nathan lifted his hands from the pieces and let them fall apart as he stared at the younger boy. Clenching his jaw, he began to shake his head. "Have I said something to upset you, Nathan? If so, I'm sorry."

"No, you ain't upsettin' me. I was just trying to figure how you got to be so smart so young," Nathan said as he smiled.

"You would have figured it out. I'll bet you're lots smarter than I am," Ezra said as he blushed at the unexpected compliment.

"Come on, you can help me find the bottom."

Vin licked his lips as he looked at the hole where the bees were flying in and out of the hollow tree. He had placed an ember from the fire in a coconut shell that he had filled with sand. Making himself a small torch, he blew on the ember and was rewarded with a fire. Using the smoky brand, he drove the bees away and stuck his hand inside of the hole. Breaking off a section of the comb, he lifted it out and put it on the palm leaves. Gathering up the small torch and the coconut shell, he wrapped the honeycomb and raced for the tree house.

Josiah's hand ached as he dropped the knife on the floor and shook his arm to try to restore circulation to his fingers, too long clenched around the knife handle as he gouged out the tree trunk. It was coming along very well in his opinion. Another cool breeze blew across the island and he shuddered. They had to get more food stored. Picking up the knife, he attacked the wood again.

Ezra carefully picked through the broken pieces of wood until he found the round piece that had come out of the broken keg Nathan had found. Holding it up, he called to the older boy. They hurried back to where Nathan had placed the iron rings and then on to where he had been carving the sides. It was much easier with two pairs of hands to stand the pieces up and hold them together. Ezra suggested that they put the bottom piece inside before they fit the metal rings around the wood. Nathan recognized that the edge was tapered so that the outside of the bottom piece was smaller than the inside and he carefully put it in so that it was right side up. With a little careful maneuvering, they got the pieces together and secured with the metal rings. Nathan knew that the rings would have to be driven down somehow. Picking up his keg, he followed Ezra back to the tree house.

"Nathan! Ezra! Come see what Vin brought!" JD yelled as soon as the other boys entered his line of sight. They hurried over to find the others dipping their fingers into something and putting them in their mouth.

"Is that honey?" Ezra squeaked.

"Yep, found a big old hollow tree where they live. Smoked 'em out and grabbed me a handful."

Nathan and Ezra dipped their fingers and sucked the sweet, golden substance into their mouths. Moans of pleasure sounded from both of them.

"What have you got there, Nathan?" Josiah asked as he noticed the keg.

"Oh, I was going to ask you to help me with this. I whittled the pieces and fitted them together but the bands need to be tightened down to make it watertight."

Josiah turned the keg in his hands and admired the workmanship. Nathan had indeed made a fine container. He checked the inside and saw the bottom fit tightly into place. Driving the bands down on the sides would force everything together tightly enough for the keg to be used to hold the cooked peaches. An idea came to him and he smiled.

"Vin, can I have the honeycombs when you're through with them? I think the wax will help seal the inside of Nathan's container and we can put up some more of the peaches we found."

"Sure, you can have it. I can get more. It's a big old tree."

Josiah and Nathan carefully tamped the rings down on the sides of the little keg. When they finished, they took the leftover wax from the honeycombs and smeared it around the bottom and sides and set it aside to dry. Josiah showed his container and Nathan decided that it was just as good and they would smear it with honeycombs when he finished sanding the inside. Nathan went to work on carving a new top to replace the broken one they had found. It was easier because Josiah used the cross cut saw to cut a piece of the green trunk, which was easier to work.

The temperature took a drop and the boys moved out of the tree house and into the cave. They had pulled the old mattresses from the trawler and stuffed them with fresh grass, gathered when they went for the peaches. Laid together, they made an adequate place for all seven of the boys to sleep, sharing the blankets. The clothing they had found was hopelessly too large for the littler boys but they wore it anyway. Ezra had gotten pretty good at twisting the fibers into twine and they used it to cinch up the pants and snug the long shirts at the waist. They laid in a supply of firewood that they hoped would see them through the worst of the cold weather. Having exhausted the small supply of lantern oil, they had only the firelight inside of the cave.

They were doing better than they expected when a freak winter storm struck. They awoke to a severe drop in the temperature that had them reluctant to leave the warmth of their little nest. Vin was the first to bravely venture out and only because he couldn't hold it any longer. As soon as he reached the opening, he gasped.

"What is it?" Buck called.

"Come see for yourself," Vin answered.

Curiosity was strong in all of them, but it was strongest in JD. The little boy crawled out from under the blankets and rushed to Vin's side.

"Ohhh," JD said, his voice thick with awe. The others exchanged puzzled glances and then tossed the blankets aside as they rushed to see outside. Only a dusting had made it to the ground because of the proliferation of evergreen trees but they could see to the small clearing they had made, it had snowed.

The boys bolted out to the clearing to play in the crystalline precipitation. A snowball fight immediately ensued. After a while, they were back in the cave holding their hands over the fire to warm cold fingers. Nathan took a couple of ragged shirts and tore them up to wrap their feet before they went out to play again.

The snow didn't last long and the weather warmed slightly. Life settled into a routine for the boys, fishing in the mornings, playing through the midday for the younger ones while the older boys worked on whittling more containers for storing food and then fishing again in the evening or walking and gathering the edible roots Nathan had found. At sunset, they gathered in the cave and played games of their own invention. Ezra played a shell game with three halves of a coconut shell that he had carefully cut with the handsaw. He used a small, rounded stone. At first, the older boys assumed that it wouldn't be a challenge; after all, they had only the three shells to watch. After a while, they walked away shaking their heads in confusion and outright consternation that they could only get the right shell one time in four or five tries.

Sometime during one of the long evenings, the boys learned that Vin couldn't read. Nathan and Josiah immediately decided that it was important that he learn and that they continue the younger children's education. Before long, large sections of the cave walls was covered with letters and words. Ezra and Chris could read and write pretty well but Buck struggled with his writing. Josiah fashioned him a board with raised edges that he filled with sand. Using a pointed stick, Buck practiced writing his letters while the others worked on other things. Nathan used the one book they had for spelling words for the others and even challenged them to a spelling bee.

Spring began to bloom on the island and the boys were busier than ever. Mid-afternoon storms popped frequently, forcing them to stay close to the cave. As the stormy season passed, they began to explore the island again. Nathan kept busy digging up small plants and moving them to his garden so that he wouldn't have to go so far to find them. Josiah and Chris explored the beach going away from the direction they usually went. They spotted a vertical rock face that was filled with birds. Every little niche in the rocks seemed to have a bird or two in it. The boys exchanged a glance and raced forward, eager to see if there were any eggs to be found. They managed to gather 15 of the eggs before Josiah called a halt. They quickly plucked handfuls of grass to cushion the eggs that they wrapped in Chris's shirt. Continuing around the beach, they found a long line of broken boards and other things littering the sand. They hurried to pull anything they could above the surf line before taking a good look at what they had found. A crate was half buried in the sand. Josiah pried the lid off to discover tins of vegetables! Farther down the beach, they found a couple of suitcases filled with clothing and another crate. Although not as exciting as the food, the books were good to have too.

In order to get all of their 'loot' back to the tree house, they built a sled that they could pull. The boards were stacked near the tree house in case they decided to build on to their home. One of the suitcases was full of women's clothes and of no interest to the boys except for use as rags or bandages. The tins of vegetables were stacked in the cave to be rationed out. Although they would have liked to eat their fill of something different, they all understood the importance of having something on hand in case of an emergency. The eggs they ate immediately. They did find a sewing kit in the suitcase with the women's clothes, along with a pouch of buttons.

When it was warm enough, they moved out of the cave and back into the tree house. Ezra brought the hammock he had made from the repaired fishing net and climbed up to hang it on branches several feet above the floor. JD immediately clamored for a 'swing' to sleep in. Ezra and Buck spent the next several days mending another piece of the damaged net for their youngest friend. The only problem became where to put it. Josiah and Nathan adamantly refused to allow it to go up as high as Ezra's and they had cut down all of the other branches so they could walk around without running into them. Josiah finally consented to building a frame to hold the hammock. JD was thrilled to have his own bed.

The boys decided to routinely patrol the beaches to look for things they could use. Buck found a bottle and Vin picked up a couple of candles on one of their patrols. Josiah and Ezra took JD with them on their patrol. The little one merrily raced along the beach, picking up shells and tucking them into his shirttails. The older boys didn't have the heart to tell him that it was pointless to gather them since he already had a huge box of them in the cave. Suddenly, JD's attention was drawn to something else. He dropped the shells and raced toward the rock wall. A fledgling had fallen from its nest and was calling loudly as it tried to fly. Not having all of its feathers, it could only hop along the rocky ground. Before either of the older boys could stop him, JD had caught the little bird and was holding it in his cupped hands. The parents, or the boys assumed it was the parents, began to squawk loudly in protest and swoop down on the little boy. JD dropped the little bird and covered his head with both arms as he cried and yelled for the others to come and get him. Josiah rushed in and gathered the youngster up and hurried away. JD cried and cried, not for himself but for the baby bird. Even as he was getting into his hammock that night, he wept over the bird.

Josiah and Vin went on patrol the next day. The older boy surveyed the rocks. He heard the faint cries of the fledgling and walked over to see if he could find the little bird. Ants had found the baby bird and it was getting weak. The parents were gone, along with a large majority of the other birds. Without anyone to protect it, the little bird was a goner for sure. Josiah scooped the bird up and blew the ants off of it. He tucked it into the pocket of the shirt he was wearing and hoped that it would live, for JD's sake. The boys finished their patrol, picking up a couple of bottles and a battered but usable bucket.

The little bird was still alive when they returned to camp. Buck asked Ezra to help him make a cage for it, to prevent JD from sleeping with it. Chris and Vin dug up worms and bugs to feed the fledgling. The bird ate as much as its little stomach could hold before falling asleep in the coconut shell Ezra gave them to put in the cage. JD was thrilled with his new pet, hovering nearby to watch the little bird sleep.

Much to everyone's surprise, the bird survived. Josiah built a large cage for it, with help from the others. They discovered, much to JD's disgust, that the bird liked fish innards. While making it easier to keep it supplied with food, it grossed the little boy out until Vin agreed to take over feeding it everyday. JD kept it supplied with water and cleaned the cage, lining the bottom with the broad leaves of the palms that Na

han cut down for him.

Spring waxed into summer and the boys' lives went on much the same. Josiah pointed out that they had been on the island for at least a year. It was sobering to them, they had expected to be rescued. Nathan broached the subject of trying to build a boat and leave the island. The discussion became heated as Josiah argued that they had no idea of which way to go or where they were. Nathan countered that they were obviously in some kind of shipping lane from the stuff that washed up on their shores.

"If you're so eager to get off of this island, why don't you build yourself a raft and go? If you get to the real world, you can send back help," Josiah snarled before storming off to cut down another tree. Chris and Vin turned to reluctantly follow the older boy since they had promised to help. JD leapt up and ran to Nathan.

"Please don't go, Nathan! We need you! If you go out on the water you might die," JD begged as he clung to the older boy.

"I won't go if you don't want me to, kid. I just thought you were in a hurry to get to America and get a new family."

"I got a new family right here. We live in a tree house and I have Birdie, it's terrific!" JD exclaimed.

"You're right, I forgot about that. You want to go on patrol later with me and Vin?"

Summer waned and the weather grew cooler again. The boys had dried and stored several kegs of fish and had preserved several bushels of peaches from the trees on the other side of the island. Josiah had made more of his 'tree trunk' containers to hold their stores. They also built a more solid wall around the perimeter of the tree house, with the goal of being able to stay in it longer as the weather grew cooler. As they grew more confident of their abilities, they brought up the large kettle they had found on the trawler. It had a hole in it and wouldn't hold water but they partially filled it with sand after patching the hole with palm leaves. Carrying up a load of rocks, they were able to build a small fire in it and they slept near it as the nights grew cooler.