There was the rumble of thunder almost overhead and another flash of lightning. We cowered in the shelter of the boathouse. The rain poured down and the pier swayed and creaked as the waves crashed into it.
Dad had packed his notebook, his lunch, and a spare water bottle on to a small motor boat and set off for the day. He hadn't returned!
He, Alinea and I, and my pet Beeper, were on holidays. We were staying at a small stone cottage by the coast. Miss Smith wanted a quiet place to write up her theory on migratory waves of early man.
Dad said he just wanted to potter. That was until he heard that there was supposed to be some sort of old wall which was a pre-settlement ruin on the small island on the horizon. He had immediately hired a boat, promising to be back in the afternoon.
The fishing boats had headed back to the small harbour as the weather turned nasty. There was no sign of Dad chugging home in the small boat. It got dark. The wind pushed the rain into our faces as we stared across the water. Then the thunder and lightning started.
"Probably staying overnight," old George the fisherman who had hired Dad the boat said. "If he got into trouble, he's got flares and a lifejacket."
"He's got his mobile," Smithy snapped. "He could let us know."
"Reception no good around here," old George reminded her.
Smithy checked her raincoat was buttoned, and pulled her shapeless hat further down on her gray hair. "Well, he must be staying the night," she said. "We'll come back in the morning."
She walked briskly along the pier, her raincoat flapping as the wind caught it. Alinea and I followed more slowly, heads down as we came into the full force of the wind. Beeper waddled along behind us.
We had dinner and pottered around until bedtime. I lay awake for a while, listening to the wind howling around the cottage, and worrying about Dad.
In the morning the rain had gone, but the waves were still high and choppy. There was still no sign of Dad. It was noon before old George grudgingly agreed to run across to the island.
He took his pipe out of his mouth as Smithy, Alinea and I swung down the ladder and dropped to the deck. "About that animal?"
Beeper paused, one clawed foot clutching the shifting side of the boat, and the other three clinging to the wooden ladder of the pier. He raised his ears and looked hopeful.
We always told people that Beeper was a rare Tibetan hound. He had bowl-shaped ears, and large jaws filled with green stained teeth. He had a heavy long body and an abnormally long tail ending in a spike. Instead of fur he was covered in what looked like scale. The claws in his feet were retractable. He was the nearest thing I ever had to a dog of my own, but he didn't exactly look like a dog.
"He always goes with Mike and Alinea," Smithy said crossly. "For goodness sake, don't waste time."
Beeper sprang aboard, and old George cast off. Outside the harbour the water got rougher. It was a two-hour trip across to the island. The sky darkened and the wind got stronger.
"I hope the Professor is ready and waiting," old George grumbled. "It's blowing up again. We're going to have to get straight back."
We got closer to the island. It was a desolate heap of tumbled rocks that reared high out of the foaming white water around it. It looked black and threatening, with the seagulls circling and screaming.
"Something's disturbed them," Smithy mused.
The boat edged closer, veering past a jagged rock, to nudge between two more rocks and nearer the small shingled beach. Even before George pointed, we saw the small motor boat pulled well out up from the water line.
"You'll have to wade in," George ordered. "Bring your father straight back and we'll tow the motor boat home."
I jumped. Beeper splashed over beside me. I heard Smithy protesting as Alinea splashed down beside me.
"Hurry back," George warned. "That storm is working up again, and I can't wait."
Alinea, Beeper and I sloshed out of the water, and clambered past the beached motor boat. Tucked under the lee of the hill was a small stone hut. Dad's notebook, untouched sandwiches, and his small shovel were in there, but there was no sign of Dad. We ran out of the hut.
"Dad!" I yelled above the howl of the wind.
"Professor, where are you?" Alinea called.
There was only the cry of the gulls, and the roar of the sea. We kept searching and calling. Rain started falling, and the wind got stronger. It was a very small island. Almost just a peak of rock, with a few shrubby low trees and outcroppings of rocks.
We heard the insistent blaring of the horn of the boat, and ran back to the small shingled beach. The two black rocks the boat had edged past were covered in a foaming bursting surf. The big boat had moved out into the clear water.
"Shelter in the hut," George bawled. "Collect you when the weather improves."
We waved. Smithy gave a distracted wave back. The boat rolled and dipped as it turned, its engine coughing deeper as it battled back towards the mainland.
We turned and ran for the hut. My mind veered to the hot thermos of soup Smithy had clutched. She had thought Dad might feel like something hot on our way back. The small stone hut was just a shelter. No fireplace and no stored fuel for a fire. We pushed the door shut on the rain and wind.
I was miserable as well as cold. My father must be somewhere on the island if the boat was still here, but where?