Spy Story Fail

Lucky you – today I am going to treat you to another piece of cringe-worthy writing, part of a YA spy story that is so bad, I didn’t even bother finding it a name.

In this section, the local louts have set up James, a fifteen year old boy on holiday in Cornwall, and he accepts a dare hoping to impress Ashley, the girl he loves. He is going to swim to the pontoon floating in the bay and retrieve a large teddy bear, which he then intends to give to Ashley. The guy watching from a distance, David White, is a spy who is grooming James to do his dirty work for him. So, here goes:

The water was lapping against his body, cold and devious, ready to trip him up. He was past the shivers and ready to fight it all the way; the sea just didn’t feel friendly right now. Up to his middle, and rising. Up to his chest now. His feet felt their way tentatively around the bottom. Why didn’t that pontoon look any nearer? The power of the waves was enough to push him off-balance. Funny how still the water looked from the beach… He struggled to keep straight, using his arms as stabilizers. Up to his shoulders. Ugh, it felt slimy and hostile. On his toes now. ‘Oh, well’ thought James, ‘I may as well go for it. There’s no way I can go back now. What would they think? That I’m a coward! What would Ashley think? I can’t let her down.’ And with a slosh, James threw himself forward in his best swimming style.

It felt icy cold and awkward swimming in the sea, but still he pressed forward, trying not to think of the depth beneath him. His left hand touched some slimy seaweed, he shook it off, disgusted. Slightly off the level, the shallow ripple of a wave caught him in the face. He opened his mouth, desperate to get some air and spat out the salty water that had trickled down the back of his nose. His throat stung bitterly but he couldn’t afford to stop. He turned on his back and floated gently, trying to catch his breath. Count to twenty and swallow twice. Turn back again and concentrate on the pontoon. James found that talking to himself in a moment like this worked wonders. He felt too vulnerable to question the first thought that came into his mind, so he advanced instinctively. Fragments of conversations spun around in his head, Adam and Carl’s voices and jeers mixed in with his schoolmates’. His swimming instructor was tut-tutting about his style and generally finding fault. ‘At least they can’t see my style in the dark…’ James thought, amused. The pontoon was much closer now, a few more strokes and he’d get there. And the waves had died down, either that or he was protected, the pontoon forming a natural break water. Nearly there, easy does it…

James hung onto the slippery edge and rested for a minute. He was much too tired to attempt to get out of the water just yet. He turned towards the shore and waved at the small group watching him. They were shouting and whistling but he couldn’t make out any words and he was sure they wouldn’t be able to hear him either, so he saved his energy and floated there until he could hear the thuds of his heart slowing down. The most effective way to get up on the pontoon would be to float right next to it, he figured, and then pull himself up using both his arms and one of his legs. On the count to three… and with a loud grunt he pulled himself out of the water. James sat down for a minute, trying to regulate his breathing and heartbeat, propped up on his arms, looking back to shore. Somehow, it looked a shorter distance from out there.

He stood up and walked towards the teddy bear. He could see it well now; it was almost as big as a large dog. ‘Ashley will love it’ James looked at the toy approvingly. Its fur was so soft… It was the first time the thought had occurred to James, that after a swim back, teddy’s fur might be a little soggy and matted with seaweed. He stood there, holding the teddy bear at arms’ length and looking at it as if the bear could provide the answer to the question ‘How do I get it back to shore without ruining it and whilst swimming well enough to keep afloat?’ He looked around, in search of a bag or a piece of string that may be used to tie the bear around his middle. There was nothing on the pontoon. Nothing but James holding the bear… ‘How did they get it here?’ he wondered. ‘Probably used a bag to keep it dry’, he guessed. Whatever was used to get the bear as far as the pontoon was not available to transport it back again.

James didn’t want to damage the bear before Ashley even had the chance to touch it. The best strategy he could come up with, was to try to float on his back as evenly as possible, balancing the teddy bear on top of him. Perhaps he could make it most of the way back like that and then, when he got close enough to touch the bottom, he could walk the rest of the way holding the bear above his head, to keep it dry.

Convinced the plan was feasible, James put the toy on the edge of the pontoon, sat down and slithered into the water, still holding onto the edge. It didn’t feel as cold as before, and the journey back didn’t seem as scary as when he took his first steps into the sea. Reassured, James leaned back and floated alongside the pontoon. He reached over the edge and pulled the teddy over and on top of him with one hand, still holding on with the other. The fluffy beast was large enough to reach from under his chin to halfway down his thighs. He manoeuvred gently, turning towards the beach. Feeling with his feet, he pushed firmly against the pontoon. He was travelling slowly towards the shore, using mostly his arms to advance and direct him, as his legs were supporting part of the bear. Floating was easy in salty water, he knew all he had to do was to keep calm and relaxed and the water would take him there. He looked up at the sky as he allowed himself to drift in the general direction of the shore. It didn’t matter exactly where he landed, he was certain he wasn’t going wrong, he could see the pier from the corner of his right eye. He would have liked to watch the pontoon getting further away, but he couldn’t see past the big mound of fluff. He could tell one or two of the bear’s paws had got wet and it was soggy down its tummy, but that would be a small price to pay to have such a lovely toy.

James kept thinking positive thoughts, convinced this would help him pass the time whilst he waited for the sea to push him ashore. In his mind’s eye he could see Ashley holding the bear tight, then she was giving James a huge hug; he would sweep her off her feet and twirl her around and maybe even kiss her in full view of all of those heartless so-called friends who had set him this awful test. He glanced right at the pier to check on his progress. It didn’t look like he’d travelled far. If only he could see the shore for one split second… He tilted his head further back and tried to look over his head but all he could see was water. Perhaps if he could turn sideways on, he might be able to judge better. James started to turn and moved his legs slightly to help change direction. The teddy started to slip and one of its legs dipped into the sea. James tried to stop it slip any further and in doing so, lost the floating position. His bottom started to sink, and the bear went down with him, getting wetter and heavier by the second.

James pushed his body forward through the water, trying to float again and grab the sinking bundle of fur at the same time, but it was going down faster than he’d thought. His fingers just touched the last few strands of fluff but failed to grab it. He couldn’t reach deeper without putting his head under water. The bear was sliding down his legs now and soon it would be too late to do anything. With a mighty kick, James thrust the bear towards the surface. It broke the water with a splash, but only for a moment, and now it was going down again. Heaving such a weight made James lose all concentration, he wasn’t swimming and he wasn’t floating either, so with a resigned frame of mind, James took in a large gulp of air and went down after the bear.

He dived as fast as he could, stretching his arms far ahead – he didn’t know how far the bottom was and didn’t want to have to go down a second time. His left hand touched something silky – the bear! – and he grabbed it tightly, weaving his fingers through the soft tangle of fur. With a determined twist, he brought his feet down and pushed hard against the bottom. He was going up, but he was slower than he expected.

‘That teddy weighs a ton’, he thought. His head broke the surface and he got ready for the air, but the bear was dragging him back down, no, sideways. James pushed down hard with his free arm and once again out of the water, he opened his eyes and mouth wide. Air rushed back into his lungs and now he could see the teddy bear to his left, he could even feel the beast towing him. He looked at the bear again and he spotted an arm the other side of it. Someone was trying to steal his bear! After all this struggle! James wrenched hard with his left arm, trying to get the bear out of this other person’s grip.

‘James, stop it! You’re going to drown us both!’ he heard Ashley’s voice. What was she doing here? How did she find the bear? ‘Just float’, she commanded, ‘you’ll be easier to tow.’ And doing exactly what he’d been instructed, James thanked his lucky star.

Chapter 14 Bitter Taste

-in which James spots something odd in Paradise

David White had watched the show unfold from the relative anonymity of the pier. The lad was definitely not a proficient swimmer, although his ingenuity in finding a solution for getting the teddy bear back to shore as dry as possible had to be admired.

Both James and the girl were still on the beach, probably waiting to dry off a little, with the soggy lump of teddy bear slumped at their feet. The rest of the youngsters had long gone home, most of them completely unaware of the dangerous game unfolding right by their side.

The girl appeared to have had a right go at James, in front of everyone. That can’t have done their blossoming relationship any good, White thought. He left his observation base and walked at a fairly steady pace back towards the place where from he was going to launch tonight’s little operation. Tonight’s mission was to gain access to local news through setting up a scanner-receiver port. And he knew exactly where the safest and most secret, perfect spot, was to be found.


Ashley was starting to feel sorry for James now – that’s why she stayed. She should have gone home long ago but she couldn’t bring herself to leaving him here, on the beach, all alone and miserable.

‘James? James, look at me!’ she asked him, gently. ‘I’m sorry I shouted at you, please can’t we just talk about this?’

James had gone through a whole range of emotions since emerging from the cold and vicious sea: he felt elation at first for completing the task, then it occurred to him that he might not have made it without Ashley’s help, and then he felt cheated of the chance to prove himself by the very person he would have expected to show him support and appreciation. Ashley had actually shouted at him for being so ‘pig-headed’ and not seeing how he’d been set up. He wasn’t sure he’d been set up, it was a mere challenge and he had chosen to go for it. He felt anger towards Ashley, but didn’t say anything, because he just couldn’t shift the feeling that she may have been right after all. It wasn’t until nearly an hour later that the conversation he’d heard by the Fishmongers’ the previous afternoon took centre stage in his tired brain and he finally made the connection – they had indeed set him up, but at least it didn’t go entirely to plan and the bullies had no reason to jump in and pretend to rescue them. The anger gave way to humiliation, and he sat there, on the same spot, quiet and ignoring every attempt at conversation Ashley had made, trying in some twisted way to make it all better by punishing her. 

‘James?’ She said again, tentatively.

James lifted his head up from his forearms, where it had been resting, looked her straight in the eyes and said, putting a heavy dose of sarcasm in his voice: ‘You mean, you shout, I listen. Come on, Ashley, I dare you to complete two whole sentences without shouting.’

‘That’s not fair!’ she raised her voice, and immediately regretted doing so. James was staring at her with a ‘see, I told you so’ expression in his eyes. ‘And I don’t do dares. Look at where they got you!’

‘I was fine…’

‘No, you were not’ she interrupted. ‘When are you going to stop pretending? I’m not stupid, James.’ The fire in her eyes was provoking him. This opportunity was too good to miss. James knew she came to help because she cared about him, but he had felt hurt and ashamed to admit, even if only to himself, that he really did need her help.

‘I was ok. But why did you come in? If you’re so ‘Miss Sensible’ you should have stayed on dry land and asked one of our mates to help. Or were you worried you were going to lose the bear?’ He knew he was pushing it but he wanted her to feel at least a bit of the pain he was feeling.

‘Shoot the bear! Who wants a soggy, muddy, tangled mess anyway?’ She was in full swing now. ‘And who do you think would have come to your rescue? Jars? Grow up, James! They set you up and you were too stupid to see it coming. Or too proud.’

‘I did it for you!’

‘No, you didn’t. You did it for yourself.’ Tears were flowing down her cheeks as she raged on. ‘You didn’t spend one second thinking about me.’

‘I care about you, Ashley. I only wanted you to be happy…’

‘And ignoring my wishes was the best way to go about it, was it? I asked you not to go…’

‘No, you didn’t.’

‘I did! See, you’ve blanked me out from the beginning! Tell me, James. When you look back to the point when you agreed to do this, whose face comes into your mind? I bet it’s not mine!’

James cast his thoughts back to the conversation they had on the sand. Adam and Carl’s faces drifted into view. Damn, she was right… He looked up at her. She was watching him closely.

‘I’m right, aren’t I? If you thing that’s caring… you’ve let me down…’ And with that she grabbed her clothes and marched off the beach.

‘What about the bear?’ he shouted behind her.

She turned back and made towards the floppy teddy bear. She grabbed it and marched back up the beach dragging it through the sand. On the promenade she stopped for a second to put on her flip-flops, then she walked to the nearest litter bin, looked back towards James, who was watching her, mesmerised, and with a theatrical gesture, she dropped the bear in it.


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