Still holding the emergency flag under one arm and the clock under the other, Verona went out to the flagpole on the ship’s rear deck. She removed the Wicklow flag, which bore the family’s cheerful sun-and-compass insignia, and tossed it in a crumpled pile on the deck. In its place, she strung up the emergency S.O.S. banner, colored in loud, alarming tones and featuring several exclamation points.
“And if no one chances to pass, and we aren’t rescued?” she thought to herself, clutching the mantel clock tightly. “I’ll think of something, yes. I’ll think of something.”
Tick, tock went the clock.
“Bombs away!” cried a voice.
“Look out below!” called a matching voice.
Verona looked up to see Fritz and Felix, each holding a coat-hanger, zipping down the clothesline which ran from the roof to the flagpole. Clothespins snapped and trousers, shirts, and stockings rained from the sky as the twins swooped down the line. They leapt off at the last minute and tumbled to the deck, laughing and whooping.
“Let’s do that again!” said Fritz, wobbling on dizzy knees. “This time, we’ll try to knock each other off with oars!”
“Ha ha! What fun!” said Felix.
“It won’t be fun for much longer,” said Verona, pulling a stray sock off her hat. “If we don’t start moving soon, Cabin Fever will set in. When you catch Cabin Fever, your dearest friend becomes your worst enemy! What will you do then?”
The twins frowned and exchanged a worried look. “That can’t happen,” said Fritz uncertainly.
“Can and will,” said Verona. “So watch out.”
“He’s already got Cabin Fever!” said Felix, pointing to his brother. “I can see it in his eyes!”
“You’ve got it! You’re looking at me funny!” said Fritz.
“Keep away from me!” said Felix, backing up slowly.
“Don’t touch me!” said Fritz. “You’re infected!”
The two of them ran off in different directions, screaming.
Verona spent the rest of the afternoon writing “SAVE OUR SHIP” and “STRANDED IN DOLDRUMS” and “SEND HELP” on little slips of paper. She then corked them into bottles and hurled the bottles overboard. “Surely someone will find one,” she reassured herself. “Someone will come to our aid.”
But without the wind to carry them on the waves, the bottles had nowhere to go. By the time the sun set that evening, hundreds of messages in bottles cluttered pathetically around the Merry Mariner, clinking against the hull and bobbing up and down, as stranded as the ship itself.
Verona slumped over and put her head in her hands. She felt like she was going to cry. She grabbed two handfuls of hair to pull it out in tufts, but little Pip came wandering by. He giggled to himself, still holding his colorful pinwheel. When he saw Verona splayed out on the deck, surrounded by bottles and scraps of paper, he stopped and stared at her.
“Easy for you to have your fun,” said Verona, “but we’re in real trouble here!”
Pip stared, but said nothing.
“Oh, you’re too small to understand!” she said, glaring.
Pip bent down and patted Verona’s hand, then went on his way, blowing into the pinwheel and giggling.
Verona stared out at the horizon.
Tick, tock went the mantel clock.
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