Book 3 of Petal and Ben’s Adventures in Thailand.
“Sorry Petal, you cannot take your phone to school,” mum said.
“But mum, everyone has got a mobile but me,” said the unhappy girl.
“What about me?” asked Ben.
“No. Neither of you, phones, have been banned at school. We received a letter from the headmaster. He said that too many went missing and caused too much trouble. So, sorry, no, and that’s final.”
“That’s not fair,” echoed along the hallway as the siblings trudged off to school.
“It’s no good asking me,” said their father as he started the car.
Their pet dog, Giggles, felt nothing like giggling. She hated it when ‘her’ family argued.
Petal and Ben entered the school gates, “That’s funny, why is everyone looking at us?” asked Petal.
Their school, like every school, was a place where you met your friends, a place of fun, and a place of noise, lots of it, at least until the school bell rang, but today it was different. Where was the noise, the running, the squabbles and all the chatter?
Everybody was looking at Petal and Ben… in silence.
“What’s wrong?” she said as she checked her uniform. Ben was making sure his zipper was up.
Then… as quickly as it started, all their friends were running, shouting and playing as normal.
A gang of Petal’s friends pulled her off to join their gossip about who had forgotten their homework. Ben’s buddies invited him to join one team engaged in the FA Cup Final under the basketball hoops.
Later at home, Petal pulled Ben out of earshot of their parents, “What happened earlier at school?”
“Dunno, weird, wasn’t it?”
School – as normal?
“I wonder what will happen at school today?” said Ben.
“What do you mean?” asked his dad.
“Oh, nothing, I was talking to Petal.”
Petal kicked her brother in the backseat of their car.
“Sssh,” she whispered.
“Come on you two, what’s going on?”
“You know mum said we can’t take our phones to school?”
“Yes, I remember what she told you,” said their dad.
“All our friends still have their phones.”
“That is up to them, if they want to get in trouble and have their mobiles confiscated.”
“Yes, but dad, no one is losing theirs.”
“They will, I expect.”
“Not only that…” started Ben, as his sister kicked him again.
They were nearing the school dad was losing his patience, “And?”
Petal put her hand over Ben’s mouth to stop him answering.
“Nothing really,” she said. “They looked at us funny, that’s all.”
Petal and Ben quickly jumped out of the car and waved a hasty goodbye to their father as they entered the school drive. As the car slowly moved off, their father was watching.
The same thing happened as the day before. Silence, stillness, and everyone had turned to look at Petal and Ben.
“I don’t like this,” said Ben.
“Nor do I,” agreed his sister.
They continued walking towards their classrooms, then shouting, playing and jumping continued, but this time it took longer to return to normal.
Petal approached one of her friends, “What was all that about?”
“What do you mean?” she answered.
“The silent treatment to my brother and me?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Forget it,” Petal groaned.
They lined up for the morning assembly.
“It has come to my attention that some students are still using their phones at school,” said the headmaster.
“All except us,” whispered Ben to no-one in particular.
“You were all told, and your parents received a letter,” continued the head.
Petal looked around. All the children were tapping messages into the phones. Nobody was listening to the speaker on stage.
The teaching staff were oblivious, in fact most of them were checking their phones.
As soon as assembly was over Petal ran to find her brother, “Keep your eyes open, I feel something odd is going to happen today.”
“Come to my office,” bellowed the headmaster.
“You mean now,” said the science master Herr Hoffenheim.
“Yes, this minute,” said the head as he waltzed through his door.
“What can I do for you, Sir?”
“Your appointment was a mistake, I blame myself. The children can’t understand your English.”
The science teacher smiled.
“What is so funny?”
“Oh, nothing, trust me and I’ll sort it out.”
“What are you talking about?” The headmaster was fidgeting in his chair. The meeting was not going as he had planned.
Herr Hoffenheim leant back in his chair and lit a cigarette.
“What are you doing? You know there is no smoking in school.”
The science master blew out a long cloud of smoke.
“See you later,” he said, as he dropped the cigarette and marched to the science block.
Ben was looking over the second-floor balcony. There was a great deal of rushing around by pupils. He could hear Herr Hoffenheim bellowing orders.
“What is going on?” Ben said to himself. As his classmates pushed passed him and rushed to the staircase. Just then he saw his sister looking perplexed.
“Petal,” he shouted. “Wait there, I’m coming down.”
Brother and sister watched in wonder, their friends, classmates and other students were all walking in the same direction with their arms stretched in front. All were looking at their phones.
“Let’s follow them,” suggested Petal.
“I wish we could phone mum,” said Ben.
“I don’t know why, but I’m glad we haven’t got our phones with us.”
The column of school children stretched all the way to the gates, with Herr Hoffenheim at the front. Everyone was skipping from one leg to the other. The security man guarding the entrance was too busy with his mobile to even look up.
Herr Hoffenheim halted the traffic by raising his arms. Drivers on both sides of the road were unhappy, having to wait for the long line of children to cross to the beach side of the road. Eventually they entered a small Soi, or lane as we know it in England. This narrow road starts as concrete, but as it nears the sea, it is a dusty narrow footpath on to the sand.
Nobody was speaking, the only sounds that could be heard were the slap of school shoes as they skipped from foot to foot.
“Where are we all going?” whispered Ben.
“Look, they are turning right at the beach,” said Petal.
“Maybe they are going to our house?”
“I hope they are not. Mum will go mad.”
“Where then?” asked Ben.
Back at the school, the headmaster was busy writing a note to parents. He looked up.
“Miss Yangaluk, come into my office, please.”
The door did not open. The headmaster slid his chair back angrily and marched across the office. He pulled the door open.
“I asked you to come in.”
The lady continued tapping keys on her phone. The headmaster shouted, “Why is there no noise? What is going on?”
The secretary ignored him again. The master tried to snatch her phone.
First she glared, then she growled. The man let go instantly. The lady continued tap tap tap.
The headmaster went to the window and looked out. There was nobody in sight, no noise, nothing. He checked his watch and ran down the stairs to the ground floor.
The skipping column of boys and girls was nearing Petal and Ben’s house. Ben grabbed his sister’s arm.
“They are going to ‘our mountain’, I want to keep it as our secret place.” he said.
“I think you are right, they are going that way, but why?”
“Petal, look up there,” Ben pointed to an enormous circle of birds flying round and round above the rocks. “I think I can hear the monkeys squabbling?”
“Yes, I can hear them too.”
In Petal and Ben’s house, their mother was folding the washing as she saw all the children coming along the beach.
“How lovely, they must have a school excursion. I wonder if our two are with them?” she called to her husband. He left his laptop to check.
“I can’t see them, they are too far away, but getting nearer quickly.”
“Is that them? Near the back.”
“The school didn’t inform us about a day out of the classroom.”
“I’d better ring the secretary and check alls okay. It is odd that all the children leave school together. Do you know the teacher at the front?”
“It’s that German fellow. Why is there only one person looking after such a vast group? My goodness, it looks like the entire school.”
Petal’s mum looked worried as she put her mobile on the ironing board.
“No answer from the school secretary, I tried Ben’s class teacher, no answer from her too.”
“This is strange, we had better keep our eyes on them all.”
“There, I can see them, the only ones without arms sticking ahead.”
Yes, what are they doing? And why are our children not copying the rest? Look, our two are not skipping in time with the rest. We had better try phoning some parents.”
Herr Hoffenheim clambered over the rocks at the base of the hill, followed by the leaders of the pack. The birds were now squawking louder and louder. The large circle had now broken into half-a-dozen smaller circles. It was as if the rings were bouncing on the children’s heads. The kids didn’t seem to notice, all except for Petal and Ben, who were ducking as each bird dived at them. Monkeys were jumping and waving their arms like cavemen hollering as loud as they could.
Giggles came rushing from home barking. She rushed up to Ben, and tried to knock him over, Ben remained on his feet so she tried Petal. She was stronger than her brother, Giggles failed again. She jumped and bit into Petal’s school shirt, and pulled for all she was worth.
“Giggles, stop it, you’ll tear my blouse.”
Giggles was shaking her head with a mouth full of uniform. By slowing the two down, they were now at the back of the line. The leaders were halfway up the rocks.
The parade kept skipping forwards over rocks, marching higher and higher.
Monkeys got noisier with their screeching, bouncing higher and higher. The birds flew closer and closer to the unaware children.
“I don’t like this, Petal, let’s go home,” said Ben as he tugged his sister’s arm. It was as if Giggles nodded in agreement.
“No, we’ll follow them to see what they will do.”
Call the police
“Should I ring the police?” asked the children’s mum.
“I don’t think they have broken any law.”
“What about an ambulance?”
“No one has been injured, yet,” told her husband.
“We must do something!”
“Our children are there, possibly in danger. I’m going to catch them. You stay here. When I wave my arms ring the police. Okay?”
“I don’t want to stay here. I’m coming too.”
“Right, grab your mobile, let’s go.”
Petal’s mum and dad put on sensible shoes to prepare for the climb. They briskly walked to the hill.
Herr Hoffenheim and the leading children were now out of sight at the top of the hill. Petal and Ben were halfway up. The birds tried to fly between them and the rest.
“It’s okay birds, thanks, but we need to see what is happening to our schoolmates,” said Petal.
The birds flew back to the front. The monkeys were also at the front, making themselves as noisy and distracting as they could.
Ben pulled his sister to a stop, “Look, they are going into our hole.”
Giggles bark to a halt. She knew what the hole meant, danger. A year ago, when Giggles was a puppy, she had gone into the hole and faced danger with the plastic monster. She wasn’t keen to do it again.
“Don’t worry, Giggles, the rubbish has all been cleared away,” said Ben.
“But what is in its place?” wondered Petal. “Come on!”
“I don’t like this,” said Ben as Giggles was pulling him backwards.
“If you want to go home, go,” said Petal.
The children’s parents were now jogging across the sand, they could no longer see the children as they had all reached the top and were hidden by rocks.
“Nearly there, are you ready for a climb?” called their father.
Ben and Giggles were both in two minds. Shall we go, stay, or run home? They both thought.
“Come on, I’m with you Petal,” Ben and Giggles climbed on and up.
“Look,” she pointed, “They are going down the hole.”
“Then what?” asked Ben.
There was a queue at the hole. Gradually the children were dropping from view. Petal and Ben knew only too well that after clambering down the rocks inside, then you have to drop into the sea. They could hear, splash, splash as their friends were entering the waves.
“Quick, quick, we are nearly there,” shouted their father.
Mum grabbed his arm, with a terrified look, said, “What, what if we lose our children?” Tears were running.
“Come on, let’s rush.”
They ignored the screaming animals and screeching birds and raced forwards as quick as they could move.
Petal, Ben and Giggles were at the entrance of the hole, “Now or never,” called Petal as she went down, followed by Ben and Giggles.
Where are they?
“Where are the children? Our children and the rest?”
“What was that teacher thinking of, bringing hundreds of young ones up here?”
“Oh, God, they must have gone down the hole!”
“Quick, let’s go,” they rushed to the edge, and looked in.
“Petal, Ben, stay where you are, do not move another step,” shouted their father.
“We are not going with them, we just want to see where they go,” called up Petal.
“Stay where you are, then gradually turn and get up here,” screamed their mother.
By the sound of her voice, she really meant it, no arguing.
Petal knew she was risking big trouble. Petal lay down and peered through the hole.
“What is it, Petal? What can you see?” called her brother.
“They are jumping into the sea, and… and…”
“You two, get back up here now! I mean it!” shouted their father.
Petal looked terrified, “Dad, run around the rocks to where you can see the sea. Are the children there?”
“What does she mean?” asked her mum.
Father ran around the big rock to the edge of the cliff. He peered at the gently waving sea. The birds were now flying in their giant circle formation out to sea.
He put his hands to his mouth and bellowed, “There are no children here, none I can see.”
He rushed back to his wife and children.
Ben helped Giggles back to the top, then climbed out of the hole. Petal followed him. The only sounds you could hear was the lapping of waves at the bottom.
The children were full of questions. Dad only said he would ring the police and then the school. It delighted giggles her family were safe. A worried mother put her arms around her children and guided them home.
Here come the police
Both mother and father’s mobiles were hot all the way home. Petal kept looking around to see if her friends were following, they weren’t. Ben’s eyes were red and puffy from tears.
Soon sirens could be heard and father rushed out to meet the police chief and the ambulance team.
When he came home, he had slumped shoulders and said, “Sorry, children, there is no sign of Herr Hoffenheim or any children. I must meet the headmaster and tell him what we saw. Cheer up. I may have some better news later.”
An hour passed. Mother tried to brighten the mood of brother and sister. They didn’t even want to look at their phones.
Dad came home. He shook his head and gathered his thoughts.
“Have you ever heard the story of the ‘Pied Piper’?” he asked.
Mother knew the story, but only the Disney version. Giggles settled down for a long rest.
“Many years ago in Europe, I think it was Austria. Rats and all the germs they bring invaded a town. The town folk insisted the mayor did something.”
“What has that got anything to do with our town?” asked Petal.
“Let’s see if you can tell me. When I finish telling you the folktale, okay?”
“The mayor employed a rat catcher. This man played a pipe. The rats were at first transfixed and then followed the ‘Pied Piper’, they tailed him all the way to the outskirts of the town. The town-folk and the mayor were all so happy, no more rats. All was well until the ‘Pied Piper’ asked for his payment. The mayor laughed at him and refused to pay. The ‘Pied Piper’ walked out.”
“Just walked out? Wasn’t he annoyed?” asked Ben.
“I haven’t finished,” said dad, “The ‘Pied Piper’ started playing his pipe… All the town’s children followed him, off and away, never to return. It is an ancient tale, but historians say there is a lot of truth to it.”
Petal spoke up, “How has that got anything to do with what happened here?”
Mother understood, Giggles grunted and turned over, Ben was scratching his chin. Petal was deep in thought.
“So, you are saying, Herr Hoffenheim was our ‘Pied Piper’?”
“Yes, he had been fired by your headmaster.”
A little while passed with Petal and Ben deep in thought.
“The rats are today’s mobile phones?”
Tears were rolling down Petal’s cheeks, “Did those children ever come back?”
“It was a long time ago. We don’t really know what happened.”
“Was it not on the news?” asked Ben.
“They had no WiFi then,” answered dad.
By Colin Devonshire
NOT FAR ENOUGH FROM WORRIES
WORRY NO MORE
CHILDREN WITH NO WORRIES
WE HAVE MORE WORRIES
All in the ‘No Worries’ series – Available from