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When We Were Lost
Foreword by James Patterson
Read by Will Collyer
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It wasn’t that Tom didn’t care about the environment. He recycled and he liked those David Attenborough documentaries on TV, but he couldn’t help thinking there was a lot of hypocrisy out there too. Hypocrisy like burning a ton of fuel to fly a whole bunch of schoolkids from the richest country in the world to look at plants and butterflies in Costa Rica. He just didn’t buy it.
That was one of the reasons he didn’t want to be on this trip—because it was fake, a vacation dressed up as saving the world, a vacation without the fun, paying resort prices to stay in some insect-infested eco-camp.
Then there were the people—thirty-nine other kids, three teachers, one teacher’s wife. He supposed the other kids were okay, interesting in their own ways, probably friendly, certainly friendly enough that they were friends with each other. It was just that Tom wasn’t really one of them.
Once, when he was a little kid, he was given a jigsaw puzzle as a gift, a complex picture of a castle, and one wet weekend he’d completed it, only to find there was one piece left over. It wasn’t a duplicate, either, but an odd piece that had crept in from some other puzzle.
Tom had kept it, and still had it at home. At the time he hadn’t been sure why he’d kept it, but in the years since, he’d come to think that he was that jigsaw piece. He was shaped right. He looked right. At first glance, most people might have imagined him a perfect fit. But he didn’t fit.
Whichever picture he belonged in, it wasn’t this one, the one that was his life right now. And he was fine with that, because he realized that the spare piece he’d found in his jigsaw had probably been a missing piece from some other person’s jigsaw, and somewhere—maybe at college, maybe later—there’d be a picture that he would fit into.
It wasn’t just Tom who thought this way about him, either. The other kids knew that he was different, detached, playing the game by his own rules. Even the teachers saw it, and unfailingly mentioned it in his school’s uniquely lengthy report cards (which Julia never read), the most recent one being no exception.
Tom’s academic record speaks for itself and I have to commend him on it. I only wish he would make more effort to become an active part of our homeroom group. As it is, he’s aloof to the point of being unfriendly, which is a great shame because I feel he could contribute enormously to the group if he chose to do so.—Mr. Glenister, Homeroom.
Well done, Tom, on an impressive junior year! As you know, I’ve urged you to throw yourself just a little more into the life of Hopton High and I hope your involvement with the forthcoming trip to Costa Rica is an indication that you’ve heeded my advice and will take the chance to bond with your peers!!—Principal Rachel Freeman.
Tom is a puzzle. His work is of a consistently high standard, and his comments in class are always incisive and to the point. I only wish he would give a little more of himself, both to his studies and to his fellow students.—Miss Graham, AP English Literature.
Miss Graham was a puzzle too. She was young enough and attractive enough that it sometimes felt a little weird being alone with her, and she’d told Julia this year in a parent–teacher conference that she was “desperate” for Tom to become more involved with his classmates.
She was here now, one of the teachers on the trip, and she was currently doing one last head count before boarding, slowly working her way across the group, her mouth moving as she counted in silence. But she reached Tom and stopped dead, a look of amazement or confusion, followed by a strange smile, as if she still couldn’t quite believe that he was on this trip.
She cursed under her breath then and went back to the beginning, her mouth forming a silent and labored one, two, three… and perhaps that summed up as well as anything how Tom didn’t fit in, how unlikely it was for Tom to be part of a trip like this, that his very presence was enough to leave Miss Graham incapable of counting to forty.
“I’m glad you chose to come on this trip, Tom.” It was Miss Graham, sitting next to him on the plane. “Hopefully it’ll give us all a chance to get to know you better.”
“Miss Graham, it’s only two weeks.”
She laughed, as though he’d made some clever joke, which hadn’t been his intention, then turned to say something to Barney Elliott, who was sitting on the other side of her.
Tom had flown a lot with Julia and, while he had to admit she’d been more like an unreliable roommate than a parent, he could at least say she knew how to travel. They always turned left as soon as they entered the plane, heading for business or first class.
On this trip, though, he was at the back, as were most of them. Mr. Lovejoy and his wife were sitting in the middle section, near the door, with Jack Shaw, who was 6′7″ and needed the legroom, and Maisie McMahon, who was tiny, but who, for some undisclosed health reason, also had to sit up there.
The rest of the party took up two blocks of seats at the back of the cabin. Coach Holdfast, the gym teacher and football coach, sat at the front of the first block with the members of his team who were making the trip—he was laughing and joking and occasionally chanting “Go Hawks!” like he was still a kid himself.
Miss Graham was in the other block at the very back of the plane, with Tom on the aisle next to her. Boarding was almost finished now, and she turned to Tom and said, “Can I make a confession?” He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear it, but he made a show of looking interested and she smiled, a little embarrassed, before saying, “I’m kind of scared of flying. Always have been. Turbulence—that’s the worst.”
“So why did you come?”
She shrugged, as if to ask what other choice she’d had.
Barney, on the other aisle seat, who was the same age as the rest of them but looked smaller and younger, said, “You know, Miss Graham, it’s almost impossible for a large aircraft to be brought down by turbulence.”
She turned to him and said, “Really, is that true?”
“Absolutely. The structure’s never compromised and pilots really don’t have a problem with it.”
“Oh. But how come planes crash then?”
“They don’t, statistically. I mean, yes, of course planes crash, but it’s so statistically improbable that your plane will crash, it’s really not worth thinking about. I mean, you don’t go to sleep every night worrying your house will burn down, but it’s more likely you’ll die in a house fire than in a plane crash.”
“How interesting.” She turned back to Tom. “Did you hear that, Tom?”
He nodded. He was actually thinking that the statistics probably weren’t much comfort to people sitting on a plane that was hurtling in a ball of fire toward the earth. But he was saved from having to say anything because a girl named Olivia stood up a few rows ahead of them and looked at Miss Graham.
“Miss Graham, can you tell Chris to stop annoying us?”
Miss Graham gave a knowing look to Tom, as if they were both adults, a look he actually mistrusted in some way, and then she said, “I’ll be back in a minute.”
He let her pass and as he sat again, Barney said quietly, “I think Miss Graham has the hots for you.” Tom looked at him, and Barney added defensively, “It does happen. You see it in the news all the time.”
“Do you have a statistic for it?”
Barney wasn’t sure how to react, but settled for saying again, “It happens, that’s all I’m saying.”
Tom noticed movement up ahead and, although he didn’t believe Barney was right about Miss Graham, he was fairly relieved to see she’d decided the best course was to swap seats with the oafish and apparently annoying Chris Davies.
He came clumsily down the plane and said, “Graham said I have to sit here. Can I have the aisle seat?”
“No.” Tom got up to let him in, then sat down again.
Chris shook his head. “Olivia—what a bitch. I can’t help it if I had a dream.”
Chloe, sitting in the row behind them, said, “Not the dream again! Chris, just shut up about it.”
He didn’t turn in his seat but raised his voice slightly for Chloe to hear, sounding too loud as he said, “You won’t be saying that if I’m right and the plane crashes.”
Barney said, “What?”
“I dreamed it. And it was exactly this plane.”
Joel Aspinall was sitting across the aisle from Tom—student rep on the school council, son of some local politician—and he leaned forward now and said, “Chris, bro, you need to keep it down or we’ll get thrown off the plane.”
“Maybe we should get thrown off. Then you’d all be thanking me when it crashes.”
There was a murmur of voices in response, the talk clearly getting to some of them, but then from somewhere behind, possibly the back row, a very clear voice sounded, not raised, but deadly serious.
“Christian!” It was Alice Dysart, who’d known Chris since kindergarten and whose family was close to his. They were nothing alike, but the connection, whatever sort of connection it was, obviously carried some weight, because Chris yielded instantly and slumped down into his seat.
He still couldn’t resist turning to Tom and whispering, “This plane will crash. We’re all gonna die.”
He was such an attention seeker that it was hard to tell whether he’d really had a dream and was genuinely nervous, or whether it was some poor attempt at causing a stir.
Either way, Tom looked at him and said, “I don’t care.”
Chris kept eye contact for a few seconds, then seemed to give up and faced forward again. Tom did too, staring at the seat in front of him, struck by a strange realization.
He didn’t believe for one minute that Chris Davies had been having prophetic dreams, but he also realized he’d been telling the truth, that he actually didn’t care. Whatever was going to happen would happen anyway, and one day or another they would all die. The way Tom saw it, there wasn’t any point worrying about whether that day might be today.
The first time Tom flew in a plane he’d been really excited beforehand, but also bored and impatient in equal measure. He’d been excited boarding, and really excited and a little scared for the first ten minutes. After that, it had been really boring and he’d fallen asleep.
He’d never really enjoyed flying since, because the little peaks of excitement he used to feel had flattened out and the boredom had swept over them. Just about the only thing he did enjoy was the dream. He always slept on planes, and for at least the last five years he always had the same dream, or more or less the same one.
And it was the only time he had it, never at home, never sleeping anywhere else. He’d wondered a few times if it was something particular about the cabin pressure or the engine noise, but he was none the wiser—it was just his airplane dream, and this trip was no exception.
It was one of those strange dreams in which he still felt partly conscious, aware of the seat he was sitting in, vaguely aware of the low engine whine in the background. But rather than being strapped in, he felt like he was floating in the darkness, still in the seated position, but free of the seat and the plane, adrift in the open air.
And then, all at once, he seemed to become acutely conscious of the entire world around him, of the air and the cold and the moisture, of the land below and the stars above. He was aware of countless people living and dying, and could see them all within that moment, some in daylight, some in the depths of night on the other side of the world, children playing games in a dusty street, lovers kissing in a twilight park, an old man surrounded by family as he rattled through his final breaths, images swarming around him from every part of the planet, oceans and deserts and hushed-breath forests and forlorn streetlights and empty amusement parks.
It was as if his mind had opened, fully opened, but what he really loved about these dreams was that he felt connected, to everything. He spent so much of his life feeling like he didn’t have a place in the world, and yet here he felt he completely belonged, an integral part of all those lives and non-lives, of all those places and non-places.
Finally, as it always did, the dream ebbed away from him, but one last vision crashed into his mind from the void. He was on a rough ocean at night, feeling almost a part of the waves, conscious of something seething beneath him, and then he realized it was a whale, gliding and crashing through the heavy swells, dark within darkness, a massive mournful muscular presence, and for those few moments Tom was part of that too, pulsing through the darkened ocean, a black abyss below, an endless sky above, and he felt at peace there.
He was woken by a jolt, thrusting him upward against the restraint of the seat belt. He opened his eyes, saw the strangely half-lit cabin, took a second to remember where he was and immediately understood.
Turbulence. He thought of Miss Graham, but also thought of Barney’s reassurance. He heard a couple of mumbles from here and there, guessing everyone had been sleeping, that they’d all been woken by it.
The oxygen masks had dropped down, as if they’d been knocked loose by the turbulence, and they danced around now above the seats. Tom had seen that happen once before on a flight and he knew it was nothing to worry about—
Another thud came, so hard that it jarred through the seat and up his spine even as he took off and his body yanked against the restraint of the seat belt. People were awake now and cried out, some even screaming, and Tom felt the adrenaline run through him and a sickly clench in his stomach. This was no ordinary turbulence.
The next jolt was bigger still, juddering through the structure of the plane, and there was a strange wrenching noise that he could hear even over the screams, which were everywhere now. Things fell from the overhead bins, and somewhere up ahead, maybe ten rows in front, someone catapulted into the roof before crashing back down.
There was noise all around them, but Tom realized there was one sound missing—he could no longer hear the engines. Tom wondered again if this could really be just turbulence, or if they were no longer flying at all, if they were actually in the process of crashing.
He was tilted backward in his seat, but it didn’t feel like they were climbing. He tried to look toward the window but could only see darkness beyond, and then another wrenching crash shook through them and more screams filled the air and Tom felt a pain in his arm and realized Chris had grabbed hold of him.
A bigger thud, Chris released his grip, Tom was lifted out of his seat, grateful for the fierce restricting pain of the seat belt. Then a shearing of metal that he could feel in his teeth, and somewhere through all the noise, the sound of someone in front crying softly.
An odd, violent tug threw him forward before the incline increased and he flew back and down into his seat, the incline steeper again, another wrench, sounding this time as if the entire body of the plane was about to rip apart.
Then a percussive jolt, almost like an explosion, and the floor seemed to buckle under his feet, and the air filled with debris and the roof above him tore open and before he could even see what was happening, the seats in front of him were hurtling away into the darkness, air was rushing in, and for the briefest moment it seemed they had stopped, but the seats in front—the rest of the entire plane—had kept going and vanished into the night.
Barney was screaming, his voice surprisingly deep, not the scream of someone injured, but of someone in shock, repeating some formless and desperate syllable over and over. And he didn’t stop as they instantly started to move again, backward, gaining speed.
They were sitting on the edge of all that remained, their feet hanging into space, and Tom could see and was sure for the first time now that they were moving not in the sky but on the ground, could see some sort of vegetation in the darkness beyond the snowstorm of debris that trailed in their reversing wake.
They were sliding downhill, and he was bracing himself, knowing the real impact was yet to come, and Barney was still screaming, more screams behind them, Chris scarily silent next to him. How far did they slide, how quickly? Tom could only see the cluttered green darkness hurtling past before his eyes.
And then they seemed to level out a little, and more, and with one last unexpected snap and grind of metal, the plane, or what was left of it, seemed to shift slightly on its axis and came to an abrupt stop, thrusting him back so hard into his seat that he felt he might go right through it.
The silence was immediate and total, and so unyielding that Barney and the others briefly hushed too. Only now could Tom feel his heart thumping along in his chest, and all at once he was aware of the night open in front of him, the blanket of warm air, the strange noises of insects and animals like a constant background interference.
And he understood. They had been in a plane crash. Their plane had crashed, torn itself apart, and they had survived.
Everyone started talking and shouting at once. There was no screaming now, no crying, just manic and garbled conversations. Chris said to Barney, “I told you we’d crash.”
“You said we’d all die too. Didn’t he, Tom?”
Tom turned from the compelling darkness of the night in front of him and looked at Barney. “We still might.”
Chris laughed nervously as he said, “Jesus, I was just joking around. I didn’t dream anything.” He had blood running down the side of his face from a small gash on his forehead.
Tom said, “You’re bleeding.”
He nodded, apparently pleased for the change of topic. “Something hit me.”
Tom glanced up, curious that he could see anything at all. Some sort of emergency lighting system had come on, filling the cabin with half-light, even though the wiring must have been torn to shreds.
Barney said something else, but the noise of the other voices drowned it out, and then above them all, Joel shouted, “Quiet!” The voices fell away, the silence almost as full of shock as the babbling had been. Tom looked across the aisle to where Joel was also half-dangling over the drop, like they were on some particularly extreme roller coaster.
He had everyone’s attention now and Joel turned awkwardly in his seat and said, “Okay, is anyone in this section hurt? Check the people next to you. Or if you’re hurt yourself, speak up.”
There was a flurry of responses as they relayed what seemed incredible, that no one had gotten any serious injuries.
The noise seemed once again in danger of building into a barrage of conflicting voices, but Joel put his hand in the air, silencing them. “Okay, quiet again. I think we’ve crashed in the rain forest or jungle, so it could be a while before a rescue party arrives, but that means we have to stay calm and organized.”
Chloe’s voice came from behind, saying, “Where’s the rest of the plane?” It was as if she’d only just noticed it was missing.
“Gone,” said Chris, no longer sounding like much of a joker. “It just tore off.”
“So there could be other survivors.”
No one answered her. Then Joel said, “Me and Chris’ll climb down and see what the ground’s like below.”
Chris was quick to say, “Why? I think we should stay on the plane.”
Barney leaned forward to look at Joel. “We should all get down, if it’s safe.” He looked up at the dull glow of the safety lights. “There’s still electricity coming from somewhere, maybe the auxiliary power unit, which means there could be an electrical fire—until we’re absolutely sure there isn’t, we should all be out of the plane.”
Shen was sitting across the aisle from Barney and said, “It’s strange that the lights are working at all.”
Barney started to reply, but Joel cut in, saying, “Okay, you’re right. But I still want to check the ground out first.”
He released his seat belt and looked forward, like a nervous kid on the edge of a diving board, but Barney said, “Whoa, don’t even think about jumping down there.” Joel looked at him. “The cargo hold’s below us, so that’s a ten-foot drop, onto a fuselage that’s just been torn apart. There could be jagged edges, all kinds of debris.”
“So I’ll climb down,” said Joel.
“Or you could use the doors behind us. If we can get one open, we’ll be able to engage the emergency slide.”
“Okay. You come with me.” He swung out of his seat onto the safety of the aisle floor. “I’ll check outside. But everyone turn your phones on. You never know, one of us might just get a signal.”
Joel seemed to be taking on the role of leader and they all did as they were told. Tom and Chris both switched on their phones in unison, but there was no signal on either of them, and the mumbled comments from around the cabin suggested it was the same for everyone.
Chris held his phone up in the air, moving it around, trying to find a stray signal. Tom simply turned his off again, figuring it was probably best to save the battery power for some time they might need it.
Here and there behind him, people were starting to mention their parents, how worried sick they’d be when they heard the news of the crash. The irony was, Julia had flown out to Italy a few hours before Tom’s plane had left, and the yoga retreat was a tech-free zone, so she might not find out about the crash for two weeks, anyway.
He was pleased about that, although a little part of him was curious to know how she’d have responded to the news if she had been at home. She’d be shocked, of course, but he wasn’t sure how much deeper her feelings would go.
He remembered as a little kid that he’d always talked to his mom about the school day, what they’d done, what he’d enjoyed, who he liked, who’d annoyed him, all the petty triumphs and grievances of being in elementary school. Then the accident had happened, and he only remembered fractured moments of the months that followed.
One of those moments was the day Julia had arrived and said she’d be coming to live with him. Live with him, not, look after him. And even as a nine-year-old, he’d known somehow that Julia didn’t want to hear about his day at school, about the things that excited him or bothered him, so he’d stopped talking about them, and in time, not much had bothered or excited him anyway.
He didn’t blame Julia. It was just the way she was, and he’d reached the point of admiring her and being grateful that she’d been willing to take on a responsibility she’d never foreseen and for which she wasn’t well suited. It was no one’s fault, and no one was to blame, except maybe the guy who’d killed his mom and dad.
He saw a light appear down below in the darkness and realized it was Joel, using his phone to show the way in front of him. Barney had been right about the drop and it was a shock to see Joel so far beneath them.
Joel called up now, saying, “Okay, there are some branches and stuff to climb over on the side, but it’s pretty clear here in front of the plane. We could smell burning near the back—it doesn’t mean anything’s on fire, but I think we should all come out front for now.”
It was only then that Tom saw Barney standing right next to Joel, so deep was the darkness and so weak the light from the phone. People started moving, a controlled rush to disembark, as if they’d simply arrived at their planned destination and everyone was eager to be on their way.
Tom undid his seat belt and Chris finally gave up on his phone, turning it off before releasing his own belt. Tom watched him as he shuffled over onto Barney’s seat, then into the aisle on that side.
Tom didn’t move himself, but sat there listening to the sounds of the others making their way out of the plane, down the emergency slide, the gentle ripple of voices moving away from him and then back toward him as the first people appeared below.
There was silence then in the cabin behind him and he readied himself to move, stopping only because something appeared to be happening in the area around the plane. It was getting lighter, not a creeping dawn, but the urgent daybreak of the tropics.
Suddenly he could see the trees rising up on either side, the hill in front, the same hill they’d so recently slid down. Within a minute or so he could see Joel and the others clearly, the daylight flooding across the sky so quickly that it was disorienting.
And now he could see the reality of what had just happened. Stretching uphill from where he sat was the path that had been swathed by the back of the plane, trees torn up and thrust aside, the earth gouged, debris littering the slope, so much debris that it was once again hard to believe that the small group of people gathering below him had managed to walk out of it completely unhurt.
Tom made his way to the back of the plane. The emergency slide had twisted a little, but it was still workable. He slid down and clambered over the few strewn branches to the area at the front, skirting around the group so that he was on the far side of them.
Praise for When We Were Lost:Amazon Best Book of the Month
"The constantly building tension and dread will propel even the most reluctant readers through to the end."—Booklist
"An adrenaline-fueled adventure, which meditates on fate while exploring the effects of adversity and grief. Nuanced character interactions help ground the action-studded plot."—Publishers Weekly
"To survive the heat and predators, the group will have to rely on their skills and each other-easier said than done when insecurities and stubbornness become lethal...The tried-and-true tropes of survival narratives along with empowering teen expertise are featured well."—Kirkus Reviews
"Equipped with only what they've scavenged from the plane, Tom and his surviving classmates must try to escape through a hostile environment aswarm with predators. Mr. Wignall's cool tone and light touch keep an intense, exciting story from seeming far-fetched."—The Wall Street Journal
"A brilliant blend of modern adventure and Lord of the Flies, When We Were Lost is a riveting contemporary page-turner and ideal reading for teenage boys."—Sarah Pinborough, bestselling author of 13 Minutes and Behind Her Eyes
- On Sale
- Jun 4, 2019
- Hachette Audio