A Question for Our Readers

My co-author and I are very excited about getting this book published in the near future. In a discussion yesterday the question came up as to whether or not this is the best title. A ten year old boy in England who read the book and loved it suggested that most boys would not be inclined to read a book with the word “Mermaid” in the title but he thought it was a great adventure and that his friends, both boys and girls would like it. I had always seen it as a book written primarily for girls but I’m happy that boys like it too! Would a title change to “Halley and the Sea Labyrinth” be a good alternative?

Here is Chapter 8. The Sea Labyrinth will now make sense!


I was still furious when I woke up the next morning. It seemed like everyone I thought I could depend on had turned out to be dishonest. Dad was leaving for work by nine o’clock and I had to figure out a way to get to the sea cave on my own. I decided to go the labyrinth alone. I knew that Dad had left the Gheenoe near the shore. He had it padlocked to a post and if I could get it in the water I thought I could get it started. It was a risk but I was desperate and I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t want anyone to come looking for me so I wrote a note saying that I was meeting Jonathan in the village and left it on the kitchen table. Adults weren’t the only ones who could lie. I could play the same game.
After Dad left I went into the shed and found a paddle and a life vest. I started walking down the path and saw Mr. Fraser up near the sheep pen. His dog started barking at me and Mr. Fraser narrowed his eyes but I couldn’t tell if he was looking at me or just squinting from the sun. He didn’t call out to me and I kept walking with my head down, pretending I hadn’t seen him. I knew it was unlikely that he would say anything to Dad. When I got to the Gheenoe I was able to unlock the cable. Dad always uses the date of their wedding anniversary as the padlock code. I made sure the motor was tipped up into the boat so it wouldn’t get stuck in the sand when I dragged it to the water. It was heavy and I was out of breath by the time I got it to the sand. I took off my hiking boots and threw them in the boat. I rolled up my pants legs and pushed the boat out until it was floating in the shallow water, then I climbed in and used the paddle to push myself out to deeper water. I said a little prayer that the engine would start before I pressed the starter button. It started right up and I breathed out a sigh of relief. I could smell the exhaust from the engine as I steered down the coast. The smell always reminded me of spending time with Dad on the water. He had let me drive the boat before and I knew it was almost impossible to tip over. He’d shown me by going in really tight circles until we were both dizzy. It was so nice to be out on the water again that I almost forgot why I was there and for a little while I wasn’t so upset. It was a beautiful day, clear blue skies and very little chop. As I made my way along the coast I saw the familiar landmarks and felt my stomach twisting when I thought about how different it would look if Caislin Cliffs was built there. There were some seals near the rocks, splashing in the waves. I wondered if I might see the mermaid but there was no sign of her.
I could feel my heart beating faster as I approached the sea cave. It would be dangerous going in on my own and no one even knew I was out here on the ocean. The cliffs were higher here and the waves were too. I remembered when I came with Dad that we had timed it just right with the tide. I cut the engine and used the paddle to go a little further south then turned around and came back to the entrance. I was able to paddle through the break in the rocks and then I was inside the domed roof of the cave.
It was even better than I remembered inside. A break in the roof let in the daylight and there was the sound of the water rushing over the rocks and sucking back out of the cave. I could smell salt and decaying seaweed in the air and it was damp and cool inside. The tide was low enough for me to pull the canoe up onto the sea cave floor, which had been worn smooth by the water washing over it for thousands of years. There were pieces of wet seaweed that had been left behind as the tide ebbed. As I climbed out of the canoe I avoided the barnacles that were clinging to the rocks. I had cut my webbing on one once and it really hurt. I looped the rope over some rocks at the front and rear of the canoe and sat down on another rock to put my boots on. I walked up to where the cave floor met the wall and looked around for an opening. From the map it seemed that the opening would be really obvious but I couldn’t see anything. I pulled a headlamp out of my backpack and scanned the rocks. I squeezed behind a big boulder and gasped as I saw an opening in the rock, low to the ground.
Could this be it? I had thought it would be much larger, more like a doorway. This was just a small opening and I would have to crawl to get through it. I hesitated for a moment and wondered if I should go back and ask Jonathan to come with me. Just because I couldn’t trust Mom or Mrs. Muir anymore didn’t mean I shouldn’t trust him too. But that would mean delaying by at least another day and I might not be able to get the boat out again without anyone noticing. I decided to take my chances. I got down on my hands and knees and poked my head through the opening. Even with the headlamp on it looked really dark inside. At least it was unlikely that there was anything else alive in the cave. I pointed the headlamp at the ground in front of me and crawled for a couple of feet. Once I was inside I found a cave large enough to stand in and near the back of the wall another opening that was almost as large as a doorway. I stepped toward the opening, hearing my boots crunch on the gravel beneath them. As I walked through the doorway into the labyrinth it was absolutely quiet except for the sound of my heartbeat drumming in my ears. There were no markings on the walls and it was pitch black except for where my headlamp shown in front of me. I couldn’t smell the sea anymore, just musty cool air like a cellar. The turns were quite tight and as I reached what felt like almost a full circle I made the first switchback. I had traced the path of the labyrinth with my finger on the map before I left home this morning and I knew that it had seven rings before it reached the center. It was hard to tell if I was walking in circles in the dark. I felt a little disoriented and my breathing sounded loud and strange to me. I started imagining what would happen if my headlamp batteries died. It would be pitch dark and I could get lost and die. How would anyone ever find me? I stopped myself from thinking any more scary thoughts and kept walking, one step at a time, following the path. I was becoming mesmerized, listening to the sound of my footsteps and breathing. I made turn after turn, walking in wider circles, then narrow spirals. And then suddenly I was at the center. I looked around with my light. I was in a small circular room, no larger than our kitchen at home. There were bits of seaweed on the floor covered with what looked like salt crystals and a sharpness to the air, like the ozone that I can sometimes smell before a thunderstorm. In the middle of the circle was a raised dais about two feet off the ground. There was nothing on the walls and the dais was empty, there was just a shadow in the center of it. I came closer and shone my headlight on the dais and saw a shallow bowl carved out of the stone was casting the shadow. I felt a little disappointed. I guess I’d been expecting to find a treasure or art or something, but it was empty. Why had Annabelle left a map of this place in her diary? I had thought I’d find the answer when I got to the center but there was nothing here for me. I shivered as I glanced around at the empty chamber. Suddenly I didn’t feel at all safe and I just wanted to get to the sea and back home. I turned and headed back the way I had come.
I looked straight ahead with my headlamp pointed at the floor of the cave. The walk seemed faster on my way out and I didn’t feel so afraid anymore. I just hoped that I could figure out a way to use what I had found to stop the construction.
I walked along the last few turns of the labyrinth. When I got to the mouth of the cave I got back down onto my hands and knees and crawled out. There was a shaft of sunlight shining through the hole in the ceiling and it was such a relief to be out in the salty air again. I took a big breath and stepped around the rocks to where I’d tied up the boat.
“Oh God.” It was gone. The paddle was against the cave wall where I’d left it but there was no sign of the boat. The tide must have turned while I was in the labyrinth and loosened the rope. I pulled my cell phone out of my backpack but of course there was no signal. Now what was I supposed to do? If someone discovered the boat floating at sea they’d probably panic and assume I was drowned, if they even knew I’d taken it. I could feel my heart pounding. “Okay,” I said to myself. “Calm down and think.”
I’d have to swim home. Now I really was going to be in trouble. I’d taken the boat without permission which was bad enough but I’d also promised both Mom and Dad not to swim in the sea anymore, especially alone. I figured it would take me at least thirty minutes of swimming to get to the beach where the sea path was and then I’d have to walk home from there. I didn’t see any other choice though. I looked down at the hiking boots I’d worn for the cave. They would drag me down. I took them off. I’d have to go barefoot. Then I took off my jeans and long sleeved shirt. They would only slow me down. I put the headlamp, my phone and my clothes in my backpack and left it behind the rock near the labyrinth entrance. Then I climbed down to the smooth floor and dove into the water.
It was rough going at first. The water was colder than I expected, probably because there was so little sunlight in the cave. The waves and current were pushing me this way and that as I swam to the entrance. Once I got through the opening I pointed myself in the direction of home. The waves were more gentle on the open ocean. It was actually quite wonderful to be back in the water and I loved the wetness on my bare skin. My feet were really pushing me quickly through the water and I got that feeling I’ve had since I was a baby. The water felt like home and I was being supported and carried. Everything was going to be okay.
When I was about half way there I started to feel tired and a bit scared that I might not make it. I turned onto my back and rested, floating for a few minutes before flipping onto my front ready to start swimming again. Just as I rolled over, I heard a slap on the water. I looked to my right, and there, about twenty yards away was the mermaid! Could it be Annabelle? I called to her and started to swim toward her but she shook her head and continued to swim forward, pointing toward the shore. She was guarding me, and guiding me home. We continued to swim and she would glance at me and smile every so often but she never got any closer to me. I was so excited to see her again my whole body was tingling. I desperately hoped I would get the chance to talk to her, to find out more about where she came from. When we got to the beach near the sea path I didn’t want to leave her. I really wanted to swim away with her forever so I wouldn’t have to go home and face Mom and Dad. I stood up as I got to shallow water and called out to her. “Are you Annabelle? It was you who gave me the key, wasn’t it?” She nodded her head, bobbing in the waves. I called again, “So that means you’re my great-great grandmother! Can’t you come onto the beach with me?” She shook her head. “I read your diary. I’m so sorry about what happened to you. And Margaret never gave the letter to Genevieve. I found it in the desk with the map and your diary.” Annabelle seemed to shimmer in the water and it looked like she was beginning to swim away. I cried out to her, “Can’t you come back? I need to talk to you.” She looked at me sadly then and glanced behind her. As I watched she seemed to fade slightly, so that I could almost see the waves through her body and then she disappeared.
I waded onto the shore and looked around. I felt like sitting down on the sand and crying. I was worn out from swimming and I knew I was going to be in huge trouble for losing Dad’s boat. I started to walk up the path. It was cold now that I was out of the water and I was shivering so hard that my teeth chattered against one another. I realized that if someone saw me in just my underwear it would be hard to explain. I kept walking and the sharp rocks were cutting my feet. I wasn’t used to being barefoot on land and I stumbled a few times. As I crested the hill I saw flashing lights. There was a police car at the cottage and my mother’s car was there too. My father saw me first and he and Mom came running toward me.
“Where in hell have you been and what’s happened to you? Where are your clothes? If that man did something to you I swear I’ll kill him! You’re bleeding Halley, your feet are bleeding. And you’re soaking wet.”
“Please stop yelling! Nobody did anything to me.” I looked at Dad, “I’m really sorry Dad, I lost your boat.”
“But you left a note that you were meeting Jonathan in the village. Did you take the boat out with him? Where is he?”
“It wasn’t true. I just wanted to get away to be by myself and I knew you wouldn’t let me go on my own because of what happened at the Corryvreckan. Why are the police here?”
“We called them because we were frantic and thought something horrible had happened to you. Mr. Fraser told your father he’d seen you going toward the sea path with your life vest and the canoe paddle. We didn’t know where you had gone. Why would you do such a thing? Get in the house right now and get yourself cleaned up and dressed. I can’t believe you would do this to us.”
“I had to swim home because the boat floated away. I know I said I wouldn’t swim and I know you’re angry.”
“You’re right I’m angry. You made the wrong choice to go out on the water without permission. I’ll deal with you in a few minutes. First I have to explain to James that you haven’t been abducted.”
My father took off his jacket and gave it to me to wrap around myself. Mom stomped up the path ahead of us toward the police car. I could hear her telling the officer that I was okay and that no one else was involved. Dad looked sideways at me and said “I wish this hadn’t happened Halley. I know you were upset last night after the meeting but this wasn’t a good choice on your part. It’s not the sort of behavior that we expect from you.”
“I know Dad. I’m really sorry. I’ll get a job or something and pay you back.”
“Honey, it’s not about the boat. That can be replaced. But you can’t be.”
Dad opened the door and I stepped inside. I hadn’t mentioned the labyrinth and now I didn’t know what to say. I almost wished that Dad would sound angry too, instead of so disappointed. “Can I get you some clothes?” he offered.
“No thanks. I can still climb the ladder.”I heard the door slam a minute later as Mom came in and she started to raise her voice again. Dad murmured something and she replied “It’s my decision if I want to sell this croft. It was left to me and I don’t have to stay in Scotland just because my daughter does. It’s not about her, Tom. It’s about us as a family. And you know I don’t want to stay here.”
I heard her call from the foot of the ladder. “Come down here when you’re dressed and I’ll bandage your feet.”
“I can do it myself.” I pulled on an old sweatshirt and some shorts and sat down on my bed. I didn’t want to go back downstairs to take a shower because I’d have to face my parents. Looking at my feet I could see that they were in really bad shape. Some of the webbing had torn and they were throbbing although most of the bleeding had stopped. I cleaned them the best I could and then found the puffball that Jonathan had given me the day I met him. I squeezed some of the powder onto the cuts and wrapped some bandages around my toes.
A few minutes later Mom climbed up the ladder. I sat on the bed and looked out the window. She crossed her arms and said “You have no idea what went through my mind when I first saw you.”
“I do, Mom and it’s horrible. Why would you think that Jonathan would do anything to hurt me? He’s not a bad person. And why did you lie to me? You didn’t tell me you were trying to sell the croft.”
“I didn’t lie to you, I just didn’t tell you. You know how I feel about living here and if I decide to sell it’s my decision.”
“This whole place is going to be destroyed by that stupid development and all you want to do is sell Nan’s house and land and leave here forever. I hate you!”
She narrowed her eyes at me. “Don’t say something that you’ll regret Halley. I’m going out to clear my head. We’ll discuss this later.”
I turned away from her and buried my head in the pillow. I wouldn’t let her see me cry.

I finished NaNoWriMo!

I just uploaded 50,000 plus words of a new novel to the NaNoWriMo website and have been proclaimed an official winner! Whoo hoo! And to celebrate I’m posting Chapter 7 of Halley and the Mermaid. Thanks again for continuing to read along!


 Halley and the Mermaid

Chapter 7

I woke around midnight and at first I didn’t know where I was. I’d fallen asleep with Annabelle’s diary still on my pillow. I put it back in the treasure box and slid it under my bed. I looked out the window and saw that the sky wasn’t quite dark because of the Summer Dim. They call it that here in Scotland because it stays light almost as long as it does in Alaska in the summer. I thought about getting back in bed and trying to fall back asleep again but I knew it was no use. I quietly crept down the ladder of the loft. I saw that the kitchen door was slightly ajar and I looked out the window. Dad was awake and I could see him in the moonlight. I grabbed a jacket off the peg on the wall and went out the door. He was sitting in a lawn chair, with a pair of binoculars pointed at the moon.
“Hey Halley, you couldn’t sleep either? With the light from the sky it almost seems like daylight…”
“Yeah Dad, it’s really beautiful.”
“Grab a chair and come sit with your old man awhile.”
“You’re not that old”, I laughed as I pulled a chair up next to him. He handed the binoculars to me.
“If you look right there, near the teapot, you can see the teaspoon tonight!”
“That’s a silly name for a constellation.”
“I know, it was probably a British astronomer who named it.”
“I thought maybe you named it, Dad!”
“No, I haven’t discovered anything to name yet. Maybe someday… Hey, speaking of discovering, why don’t you come with me tomorrow to Callanish. I need to figure out where to place the telescopes and cameras for next month’s full moon. It’s the one we’ve been waiting for! I’ll lend you my camera and you can take some pictures.”
“That sounds like fun, Dad. I’d like that.”
“Good, it’s a date. I’ll pack one of my famous picnic lunches for us.”
“Very funny, Dad. You always pack the same thing. Turkey sandwiches and apples.”
“That’s why it’s famous, honey. You know just what to expect.”
We sat quietly for a while longer. Dad told me a long time ago that he thinks he became an astronomer to give himself something to do when he couldn’t sleep at night. I wished that I could tell him about the diary and Annabelle and the letter to Genevieve. I was so confused by how I was feeling. It seemed like something that I should share with my mother but I didn’t want to and I wasn’t sure why.
“Are you alright Halley? You seem kind of sad tonight.”
“Yeah, I’m okay Dad. I think I’ll go back to bed and see if I can sleep. Are you staying up?”
“Just a little longer. Maybe I’ll discover something new tonight.”
I went inside, climbed back up the ladder and hoped that I could sleep.

The next morning Dad and I drove to the Callanish standing stones. He was happy that I had come with him and he wanted to tell me all about the history of the area.
“These stones were placed around 3000 years B.C. by people in the Stone Age and-”
“I know, Dad” I interrupted. “Jonathan told me about them.”
“Hey, I was just trying to teach you something.” Dad looked a little hurt. “What else did Jonathan tell you?”
“He said they don’t know how they were able to lift them into place or exactly why they’re in the design that they’re in but it probably had something to do with the seasons. The solstice and equinox and that stuff. Kind of like a giant calendar.”
“He’s right. And about every 18 years the moon seems to skim right along the tops of the stones. That’s what I’m preparing to film at the next full moon. That’s why I’ve been researching here this year. We’re hoping it might reveal something we haven’t noticed yet in the stones. You can also see different stars and constellations highlighted by the largest stones if you come at the right time. Look at this center monolith. It’s more than twice as tall as me!”
“And Jonathan said they may have done ceremonies and stuff like that here. So it was like a religious place, only not a church.”
“Here’s something you probably don’t know yet. These stones are made of Lewisian Gneiss, which is a metamorphic rock. They started forming over 3 billion years ago. They were exposed during the ice age about two million years ago.”
“You’re right, Dad,” I countered.”I didn’t know that. Thanks and I’ll try not be such a brat.”
“It’s okay honey. You know I’m just used to being the only man in your life.”
“Oh God Dad. It’s not like that. Jonathan’s nice but he’s old.”
“I’m just teasing you a little. He’s a pretty smart guy” continued my Dad. “I’m glad you’ve found someone that you like to talk to and you seem to be learning a lot from him. Your mom worries though, you know.”
“I know, Dad” I sighed. “She thinks I should have friends my own age. But I really don’t have much in common with the kids here. And I like talking to Jonathan. He doesn’t treat me like a child. I’m not lonely, Dad, really I’m not. Can’t you get Mom to back off a little?”
“I’ll do my best, honey. We both love you and want you to be happy, that’s all. And your mom is still really shaken up about what happened at the Corryvreckan.”
“Yeah. I guess you’re right. But I am happy. I love it here and I’m learning so many new things. If we can just do something to make sure the development doesn’t happen…”
“Well, kiddo, I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t see how we’re going to stop that. It’s been approved by the council and seems to be moving forward.”
“What do you mean it’s been approved by the council? You said you’d go to a meeting with me. When was it approved?”
“I read something in the paper about it recently. We could go to the next meeting though if you want. I never got around to putting it on my calendar last time. You know I can be a little absent minded like that right? How about if you find out when the next council meeting is and I promise I’ll go with you. I know you’re upset about this.”
“Okay, I’ll do that as soon as I get to the village. Hey, remember when Jonathan came for dinner you said we could we take the boat out one day. I want to show him around near the coast.”
“Not without me. I don’t know if we’re ever going to be able to convince your mother to let you out on a boat again.”
“Please, Dad. Just talk to her. I promise I’ll be safe. I’ll wear a life jacket and you’ll be with us and there are no whirlpools and it will be fine, really.”
“Does Jonathan really think there might be something closer to home?”
“Yes, Dad! That’s why he came here. Oh I’m so excited, thank you, Dad!”
“Wait a minute, I don’t remember saying yes to any of this.”
I gave him a big hug. He gently pushed back my shoulders and looked at me.
“Hey, that’s not fair” he warned, but he was smiling.
“So you’ll ask her?”
He nodded and hugged me back.
Mom was back to her regular schedule the following Monday and had already left for Edinburgh when I woke up. I told Dad I was going to the library and left for the village on my bicycle. I found a notice on the bulletin board at the library that the next community council meeting was in two nights on Wednesday evening. I wrote it down in my notebook so I could show Dad later. After I left the library I pedaled over to the guest house where Jonathan was staying. I hadn’t seen him since before our trip. He wasn’t there so I wrote a note and left it with the owner telling Jonathan to meet us at the community center for the council meeting on Wednesday and that I had something really important to share with him. I couldn’t believe that he didn’t have a cell phone but he was a little bit old fashioned in that way.
Dad and I ate dinner early on Wednesday so we could go to the meeting. I was nervous and had no idea what to expect. We walked into the community center and there were six chairs facing us from behind a long table. There were more rows of uncomfortable metal folding chairs set up facing where the council members would sit. Lots of people were milling about and talking in small groups. I was surprised when the council members went to their seats to see Mrs. Muir sitting with them. I hadn’t known she was part of this.
I was happy to see Jonathan slip in at the last moment before the chairman called the meeting to order. “Thank you for turning out for this special meeting in such numbers tonight. We’ll have a short presentation about the resort from Mr. MacDonald, our representative from the Western Isles Council, and then we’ll open the floor to questions.” There was a PowerPoint presentation with pictures of what the luxury resort would look like. It focused on the money that would be brought to the community. It looked horrible to me. There were big stone houses that were supposed to look like Scottish castles which is why it had the name Caislin which means little castle in Gaelic. It’s pronounced Cash leen which is just perfect because the only reason the council approved this is because of the money they think it will bring to the village. There was also a central building that would be available to rent for conferences, some fake looking plants and rocks that they claimed would enhance the local landscape and worst of all a swimming pool. Who would want to swim in a swimming pool when the sea was right there? But then the picture zoomed out to show the whole resort and it was surrounded by a high metal fence. It looked like it would run right across the sea path. I was getting a headache from clenching my teeth so tightly. The whole thing was infuriating. When the presentation was over the people in the room started applauding politely.
“And now Mr. MacDonald will take comments and questions from the community members. Please raise your hand and you’ll be called in order.”
My father glanced around to see if anyone wanted to speak but no one did. He raised his hand and the chairman nodded to him. He stood up and said “Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Tom Armstrong. My wife Genevieve Irving and our daughter Halley are all living at the Irving croft where my late mother-in-law, Kate Irving, lived for many years. We understand that the proposed development will be on land that separates our land croft from the sea. Halley and her mother spend a great deal of time at the shore. Genny collects algae samples there every week that she’s analyzing at the University of Edinburgh. My question is will the sea path remain in the public domain or will it only be available to the residents and guests of the Caislin Cliffs resort?”
“Thank you Mr. Armstrong for your question and we do hope that you’re finding Scotland to your liking. At this time we don’t have a representative from Caislin Cliffs here but if your wife still needs to get to the shore I don’t think there will be a problem with her continuing to use the path. Of course I can’t guarantee that but the developers have been most accommodating thus far. Next?”
Now Jonathan raised his hand.
“You, sir?”
“I’m Professor Baines from the University of York. I’m an archaeologist and I specialize in the artifacts and settlements of ancient Great Britain, particularly those of prehistoric and early Bronze Age people. I understand that the development company completed an archaeological study with an in-house team and I would like to know if this council ever requisitioned an independent survey of the land to determine whether or not there may be artifacts or structures at the site?”
“Thank you for your concern, Professor Baines. We’re confident that the survey is accurate and at this time we have no plans for continuing to delay construction. This has been a long process and we voted on it months ago. Now are there any residents from the town village who have questions?”
I groaned inside as I heard this. That meant he saw us as outsiders whose opinions didn’t matter. Several more people came forward with questions. Most of them wanted to know about employment opportunities during the construction phase and as workers at the resort after it was built. I tried to catch Mrs. Muir’s eye but she was looking at Mr. MacDonald. She and Mrs. Fraser had both mentioned how the economy was still in poor shape and I knew people needed jobs. But I kept thinking of this beautiful land being bulldozed so that giant houses could be built for rich people and fences put up to keep the rest of us out. My stomach felt like it was tied in knots. I couldn’t sit still any longer. I got up my courage to speak and raised my hand. The chairman looked surprised when he saw me. My heart was pounding and my mouth was dry. I stood up and could hear my voice shaking. “My name is Halley. I’ve only been living here since October but I love it so much. I’ve never seen so many different types of birds and wildlife in any other place that I’ve lived. I’ve been studying the bird population. There are a lot of nests during the spring in the area that’s supposed to be developed. I know the village needs more income but what if we built a wildlife sanctuary or something like that instead of houses?” I sat down suddenly, surprised that I had talked for so long.
Mr. MacDonald cleared his throat. “I’m sure that Caislin Cliffs will follow the best practices for ensuring the birds and other wildlife are safe during construction. This item was placed before the community council months ago and has already been approved by the Western Isles Council as well. Construction is due to begin on the first of August and we don’t anticipate any delays. And now, if there are no more questions we’ll prepare to adjourn.
I felt sick inside when I heard this. The construction was already scheduled. Why hadn’t Mrs. Muir told me? She hadn’t even told me she was a community council member. If we could have come to a meeting much earlier maybe we could have made a difference but I doubted it. The only way to prevent this from happening was to find something so big, so huge, that the council wouldn’t be able to ignore it. Dad put his arm around my shoulder as we started to file out of the building. Mr. Cruickshank, the local council chair, pulled us aside on our way out. “Frankly Mr. Armstrong I was a little taken aback at your question. Genny already spoke to me about this and I assured her we’d do what we could to get you a fair price for the croft.” I felt like my body tense. I looked at Dad and he seemed as surprised as I was. Maybe this was why I hadn’t told her about Annabelle. She didn’t have any intention of staying here in Scotland and she didn’t care about her ancestors or where she came from. How could she be so dishonest? Then I saw Mrs. Muir standing near the door. “Halley, you were so brave to speak up like that. I know this is hard for you, dear. The plovers and oystercatchers will adjust, they always do. Now you cheer up and I’ll look forward to seeing you tomorrow at the library.” I brushed past her, keeping my head down.
“I don’t think I’ll make it tomorrow Mrs. Muir. I have something else to take care of.”
Dad stayed inside to talk to Mrs. Muir but I left the room and went outside. Jonathan was waiting for me. “You said in your note there was something really important you wanted to tell me. What is it?” This was my only chance to talk to him privately but suddenly I didn’t want to tell him about the map or the labyrinth.
“It’s nothing. I thought I’d found something important but it turns out it wasn’t.” For a second I felt guilty about lying to him, but I was so upset that I didn’t want to trust anyone, not even Jonathan.
“Can’t you want to tell me what you thought it was?”
“No. I said it was nothing,” I said angrily.
Jonathan looked disappointed as he turned to leave. “You know where to find me if you change your mind.”



What’s in the locked drawer?

Here is the next chapter which some of you  have been asking for! Thank you for your patience and I hope it was worth the wait. This was one of my favorite chapters to write and it answers some very important questions in the story.  Please let me know what you think and I’ll post another chapter soon, maybe even on Thanksgiving! We’ve also gotten another choice for the cover and this one is my favorite.WaveforPatCOVER

Chapter 6

Even though my falling overboard had been an accident it almost seemed like I was grounded. Mom was watching me so closely I felt like I was in prison. She had postponed her trip to Edinburgh until the following week so she could keep an eye on me and she kept checking to see if I was alright. The whole time I was thinking about the key. I wanted to try it on the desk drawer when no one was around. I wasn’t sure why I was being so secretive but it felt like something that I had to do alone. For some reason I felt sure that it would work. I tried my best to be patient by staying in bed, reading, sleeping and waiting.

Finally on Wednesday morning Mom decided to go into the village for groceries. I think she was getting a little stir crazy too. Dad was meeting with Dr. Brayer and would be back at lunchtime. Mom kept asking me if I was sure I’d be okay by myself and I finally convinced her that I would be fine for an hour. As soon as I heard the car leaving the drive I jumped out of bed and climbed down the ladder from the loft. I tiptoed into the library and knelt down in front of the desk. I held my breath as I put the key into the lock. It slid in but when I tried to turn it, it stuck. I wiggled it a little bit and it came out. I couldn’t believe that a key would fit in this old lock and not work. Maybe it had rusted from not turning for so many years. I remembered a spray can of oil that I used on my bicycle chain and went outside to get it. I sprayed just a little inside the lock and sat waiting, counting slowly to 100 and feeling my heart pound. Then I tried the key again. It turned. I couldn’t believe it. It actually turned. Very slowly I opened the drawer.

I’m not sure what I expected to find but I was disappointed at first when I found what seemed like a bunch of junk. There was an oil paint palette with dried up paint in it and several paintbrushes wrapped in a rag. There was a nearly empty bottle of linseed oil, the cork had dried up and most of the oil had leaked out. There was another green glass bottle with tiny bubbles in the glass. Under the bottle was a pair of stiff black leather gloves with buttons on the side. They felt like they would break if I bent them. At the very bottom was an old book. Everything looked old and worn out and kind of useless. I slumped down in the chair, feeling tired and hopeless. Why had I had been holding onto the idea that this desk had some kind of secret in it that was going to save the shore? I put the palette and gloves and bottle on the desk and took out the book and opened it. Inside the front cover were written the words “The Diary of Annabelle Lee”. I wondered who she was. There was an envelope that was sealed with wax and it was addressed “To Genevieve on her 20th birthday”. That was strange. Why would there be a letter to my mother in here? Next to the envelope was another folded brown piece of paper. I carefully opened it and realized it was a hand drawn map. It was hard to read in the light and I moved closer to the window. It was written in the same handwriting as the diary and the letter, slanted and faded and it looked like it was at least a hundred years old.
It was so delicate I was afraid it would crumble in my hands. The map looked like a coastline. The boundaries were uneven and showed a faded blue that seemed to be water and brown and black for land. There was a symbol that looked like a labyrinth laid out over the surface of the land. And I could see as I looked more closely that the area was actually somewhere very familiar. It was of the land right near here, our land, our coast, right along the path to the seashore. I had butterflies in my stomach as I looked more closely. We’ve never seen anything like a labyrinth here, there are no rocks or standing stones. What if someone had already destroyed it? Maybe a farmer had dismantled the whole thing and used it to make a rock wall to keep his sheep from wandering. I couldn’t tell from the map where the entrance to the labyrinth started, it almost looked like it started in the ocean. I thought I heard a car in the drive and my stomach knotted. I quickly locked everything back in the drawer except the diary. I put the chain with the key around my neck and tucked the map inside the diary. I wanted to put it somewhere that it wouldn’t be discovered. I crept up the steps to my loft, holding the book carefully.
I slid my treasure box out from under my bed. There was just enough room inside for the diary. I climbed back into bed and lay there trembling and listening to my heart pound.
I waited until everyone was in bed that night to slide the box from under my bed. I carefully unlocked it and removed the diary. Even though it seems strange to read about someone else’s private life I was sure that whoever wrote it had been gone for a long time. And I wanted to read the letter to Genevieve too. It couldn’t be for my mom if the key has been lost for such a long time. Maybe it had been written to my great grandmother.
I opened the diary to the first page.
I am so excited to be on land at last. After much talk I have convinced my family to allow me to work as a “Herring Girl” during this summer in Stornoway. It is one of the few ways that people such as myself can slip into the world of humans without arousing suspicion. Here I can walk around on land and be with the people who only come to the water in their boats, seldom swimming and when they do, they struggle so! After completing the spiral walk I have transformed and can speak as they do. I have clothing now, dresses and petticoats, hats and shoes! The shoes are the hardest to grow accustomed to. They squeeze my feet and I have had to learn to fold the webbing so it doesn’t rub against the leather. My shoes are larger than any of the other girls who work here, but none seem to notice. We have a good time talking together, gutting the fish and throwing them into the barrels with salt to preserve them. I cannot eat my fish like that, I prefer it fresh and cold as it is when caught in my hands. But here I pretend to be like everyone else and eat the food that the other girls eat. There are two of us gutting the fish and one who packs it into the barrels. I bought myself a pair of soft black leather gloves to cover the roughness of my hands when I am through working. There is a fine looking man who comes round to inspect the barrels and he has caught me looking at him more than once. Tomorrow I shall be bold and ask him his name.
So it wasn’t just my imagination! There were actual mermaids! And they could live on land and work and talk and everything! I kept reading, growing more and more excited…
Today I asked the man his name and he is called Caillum. He acted pleased that I had asked him and then when he came back later to weigh our barrel he asked me if I would go to a Ceilidh with him later this week. It is a dance and there is music. I surprised myself by saying yes. His eyes are the clearest grey I’ve ever seen, like the clouds right before the hard storms in autumn. I told him my name is Annabelle and that is all.

The Ceilidh was like nothing I could have imagined. There was music and dancing and food and drink. I danced until my poor feet could take no more and then Caillum came and sat with me by the docks and brought me something to eat. He asked me where my family lives and I told him it’s far from here. How he would run if he knew the truth!

I am still here in Stornoway and Caillum comes by every evening to walk me to the boarding house where I stay with the other girls. He is such a fine man, so gentle and sweet to me. He tells me his family has land here and he works it with his brother when he is not inspecting the herring. I am afraid that he is looking for a wife and I could never be his. I can’t bear to send him away though. I look at his eyes and imagine what my life would be like if I were to give up the sea and stay on land. But I could never…

It was as I feared. Caillum is looking for a wife and thought that I would be his. He looked so hurt when I told him no, I cannot be. He asked why I could not love him and I hesitated to answer. Finally I told him that it is because my family is depending on me to bring money home to them at the end of each summer of work. He asked again if I could ever love him. And then he told me that he loved me. My heart aches at the thought of leaving him. How could I have allowed myself to fall in love with a man?
I felt so sorry for Annabelle as I read this. How terrible to love someone and not be able to be with them because you’re different.
Caillum was back today and in fine spirits. I thought that perhaps he had found another woman to be his wife but that is not it. He said he has discovered a way for us to be together and he will tell me at the next dance.

Caillum came tonight and brought with him a ring, a ring that he would have me wear as a symbol that I will be his wife. He said that I should go back to my family and tell them that they are to receive a flock of sheep that will provide a steady income for them. He and his brother have a sheep farm and he has convinced his brother to offer them half the flock in order that I might come here and not leave my family to starve. Oh, how can I ever explain this? What would my family do with sheep? They would drown in the waves in an instant. Caillum would not let me say no. He said I must talk to my family and he will go with me to ask for my hand in marriage. I cannot imagine how I will let the poor man know my true story. My heart is filled with sadness. Summer is nearing an end and I see no way to happiness.
My eyes were stinging with tears. She couldn’t have left, could she? That would be too sad. And if she had left there wouldn’t be a diary here, right?
I cannot believe what has happened. I sit here feeling as stunned as a fish about to be gutted. There was no other way to let Caillum know why I could not be his wife except to show him my true nature. I asked him to come to the sea with me on the night of the new moon. I feared that he might kill me when he saw what I meant to reveal. At least I knew I could swim away if needed. He sat patiently on a rock as I unlaced my boots. He watched in wonderment as I removed the heavy woolen stockings and stretched my toes. There was the webbing for him to see. I slipped out of my dress and into the sea, reveling in the feel of the cool water against my skin. And then from the shore I heard him calling me. Annabelle, please be my wife. I love you all the more. And I swam back to him. And I said yes.

Autumn 1912
My name is Annabelle and I am the woman of this house. How strange that sounds, coming from the likes of me. Well, ’tis true. I have married this fine man, Caillum, and together we live in this little stone cottage. I am close to the sea but often yearn for it. My days of gutting fish are over for now as I learn to work on the land.

Winter 1912
I am gradually becoming accustomed to this place and to my role here. Caillum has taught me about the seasons and years that humans use and now I will record them each time I write. For the holiday called Christmas Caillum bought me a little packet of paints with brushes and a palette. The bottle of oil has a beautiful smell when it is mixed with the paints. I have made a picture of this place, where the land meets the sea and of the cave from where I swam. Caillum hung it on the wall of the library. The labyrinth within remains my secret. I often look at it and remember watching my sisters swim away as I waited to enter the spiral.

Summer 1913
Our child is born at last. We have a daughter, Genevieve and she is beautiful. She looks much like her father and shares his clear grey eyes and good nature. We were both relieved to see that her feet appear as any other child’s. Her life will be easier without that burden to bear. Caillum rocks her to sleep and gazes with such love at her. I sing to her and she responds with the most charming sounds. We are blessed in so many ways. While I do miss my people I feel that I can be happy here now, with a child to care for and the love of my husband. I no longer grieve for what I lost when I came to this place. Here I have love and my own family.

Summer 1914
Sad news today. It seems that Caillum will go to fight in this terrible war that is raging through Europe. I have begged him not to go but he feels that he must. He comes from a long line of men who have fought to defend this land. He assures me that he will return in the spring. I am afraid but must be brave for him and for Genevieve.

Winter 1915
Words cannot express the pain in my heart. We have had a letter from the Army and my dear Caillum has died in the trenches of this horrible war. I am so lost and terrified. I am afraid for myself but even more for our daughter, Genevieve. What chance does she have in life with a woman like me as her mother? I cannot work this farm alone and what man would have me? Other than Caillum who looked beyond my differences and loved me as I am, I feel that there is no chance for me to find another. Margaret, my sister in law, who I trusted with my secret, now looks at me askance as if to say that I deserve this fate. My brother in law is a simple man, kind, but unaware of what I face. I am so lost. I miss my own people. Somehow I will find an answer but now I only want to sleep.

Summer  1915
I have made a fateful decision. Margaret has agreed to raise Genevieve as her own daughter, finding her “without obvious faults”. When she was born I secretly wished for her to share my characteristics, the feet that send me flying through the water like a seal, the love of the sea. But Genevieve looks like any other baby and seems content to crawl about on land with no yearning for the water. Thus far Margaret has remained without her own child and I know that she will care for her lovingly. Genevieve will be told about me when she reaches her twentieth year. I will write her a letter and leave it for her to read then. She will live her life as a good Scottish girl and needn’t be afraid of what the women of the village will say about her. But if she starts to feel need of the cool water upon her skin she must have the means of return. I will leave her what she requires and she will know what to do when the time comes, when the moon returns to the stones.
My heart breaks to leave her but I see no other choice. If I stay I will only be a burden on this family and my daughter will have no chance of a normal life. I must go now while I still have the strength.
Let me lock this up for the final time and give Margaret the key. I pray she can be trusted with it and to give it to Genevieve when the time comes. I am keeping the other key for myself as a memory of what I am leaving behind.
My throat felt full and tears trickled down my face as I read the last entry in Annabelle’s diary. I wanted to know more about the woman I now knew was my great-great grandmother. Why hadn’t she written any other entries? Was she too busy working the land and caring for her family? Maybe she found writing difficult. I looked at the envelope containing the letter. I opened it carefully, breaking the wax that sealed the envelope closed.
Dear Genevieve,
I am sending you birthday greetings far into the future. It will be 1933 by the time you read this letter. You don’t know me but I am someone who loved you so dearly that I did the hardest thing in the world to do. I left you in the arms of another woman. Margaret, who you have only ever known as your mother, is truly the one who raised you. But it was I who carried you in my womb and carried you in my arms for the first year of your life. Your father died in the Great War and I could not raise you on my own. Your father and I met when I was working near the docks packing herring. It is work that many young women love here on the coast. He asked me to a dance and I loved his laugh. Caillum and Rob shared that same laugh. I do hope that Rob talked about him with love. You might have known Caillum as your uncle, and nothing whatever of me. And now comes the time to tell you why you knew nothing of me until this day. I am fearful that you will not understand and yet you must know. The reason I left and did not stay here in this house and marry another man is that no man other than your dear father would have me. I was not born here. I was born in the sea and my body is different from your own. My feet are webbed and permit me to fly through the water like a fish. Some would call me a mermaid or a selkie. My people have our own name for ourselves and it is impossible to write it in any language known to humankind.
But you have been born as human as your father and your aunt and uncle who you know as your own parents. We agreed before I returned to the sea that you would be told on your twentieth birthday the true facts of your birth. I will always love you and my heart breaks as I leave you. It is all for your good. I pray for your happiness and health and that when you have children of your own that you have no cause to ever lose them.
With all my love,
Your mother,

A diversion and another chapter

In the 8 days since November started I have had my attention turned to the bright, shiny new thing that is NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don’t know, it’s National Novel Writing Month and I’ve taken on the challenge of completing 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s a little over 1666 words per day if I write every day. So far I’m on track but it’s definitely taken my attention away from revising Halley! However, for those of you who have asked, here is Chapter 5 and I’ll try to get the next few chapters revised and online in the upcoming weeks. My goal is to have the entire story uploaded and live on Amazon Kindle by Christmas. Thanks again for following along and I’d love to hear from you, either here or through my email address or Facebook!HalleyandtheMermaid1NEW

Chapter 5

It seemed like the week before we left for the Corryvreckan took forever. I finally finished the wildlife report so I was officially done with school for the year. The weather turned stormy and I was only able to go to the shore twice before we left. Both times I waited to see if the mermaid would appear but there was nothing. I began to wonder if maybe I’d imagined her but then I remembered her eyes and how she had looked at me. She had to be real and I wouldn’t give up hoping to see her again.
Every time I saw the sign for Caislin Cliff my heart seemed to sink further. I wondered if Jonathan would be able to find anything to stop it from being built and I was glad that he was going to let me help look too.
Dad had agreed to go to the Corryvreckan on the condition that I do some research on the history of the area we would be driving through and map out the trip. We weren’t taking the most direct route because he wanted to make some side trips to see landmarks and standing stones along the way. It was going to take us over 9 hours between driving and going on ferries.
Although Mom and Dad agreed to the trip I couldn’t convince them to let me swim the Corryvreckan. We found out that the youngest person so far to swim it was a fifteen year old boy, but I’m going to try next year when I turn fourteen. We’re crossing in a boat with a group of other people, wearing life vests. It’s not as wild as I had hoped, but I’m sure it will still be amazing.
The morning of our trip I woke up feeling very excited. I’d been awake since five a.m. when I heard Dad calling to me.
“Happy birthday, Halley! It’s time to wake up!”
“I’ve been awake for hours, Dad! How soon can we leave?”
“Let’s eat some breakfast first. Your mom has already packed a picnic for us to take for lunch. Did you remember your camera and your binoculars and your bird guide?”
“Yes, Dad, I’ve had everything packed since last night. I wish we could leave right now. Can’t we eat breakfast in the car?”
“We’ll have plenty of time Halley. We’ve got a long drive ahead of us and I don’t want to rush.”

We took the ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool on the mainland. That took a couple of hours and then we had a long drive south to Oban. The drive was beautiful but I was so excited it was hard for me to pay attention to what we saw. I didn’t really want to stop for long at the places along the way that I’d researched. I had made a map of some of the Pictish stones that were still part of the landscape and we took pictures of each one for Jonathan. Some had symbols that no one knows the meaning of and some of the ones carved more recently had Christian symbols on them, like the cross. My favorite was a stone with a picture carved on it that looked like someone wearing a cape or with wings. Its feet looked webbed to me. We stopped at one of the sea lochs on the way and I was disappointed to see a big white sign blocking the view. The same company that was planning to build the luxury resort back home had built a huge development here right near the shore. I wondered for a moment if maybe I should have stayed home this weekend so that I could help Jonathan search for artifacts. I’d wanted to come to the Corryvreckan for such a long time though and if we moved away from Scotland I might never get the chance again.
When we finally arrived in the small town of Ellenabeich we got a room for the night and had some dinner. We walked around the village admiring the little white houses with slate roofs. I thought I would be too excited to sleep but I must have been tired after the long drive. I slept all night and dreamed that I was swimming side by side with the mermaid.

The next morning the sun was shining and there was a strong breeze. I was so anxious to get started that I didn’t eat much for breakfast. There was another ferry ride from Ellenabeich to Easdale. I pushed the button at the pier to call the ferry. The button sounds a loud bell that signals the ferryman to come across from Easdale. Here, instead of white houses, the houses were made of slate and it gave the village a somber feel to be surrounded by all that grey rock. I would have liked to stay longer in Easdale to swim in the empty slate quarries but we had to get to the boat on time or we would miss our excursion. We had already made our reservations online and bought our tickets. The trip was timed to coincide exactly with the changing of the tide so it leaves at a different time each day. We had to wear heavy plastic suits to keep us from getting soaked by the waves and spray. We would be in a RIB which stands for rigid inflatable boat. It was the closest we could get to the water without actually being in it. I listened to the safety instructions being read by our tour guide and I admit I wasn’t really paying attention to him as he droned on about staying seated and how dangerous this crossing could be. I could hardly wait to get on board. We had to straddle the seats like when you ride a horse and I smiled thinking of Amy and how we used to sit on logs and pretend to ride horses. Dad sat next to me with Mom on his other side. There were grab bars in front of each one of us, kind of like on a ride at the fair but nothing to strap us in.
When we first started the crossing it was really smooth. It wasn’t until we got closer to the center of the channel that we could see the ocean roiling around us. We could hear the water crashing and strange noises; booming and sucking sounds. I shivered when I thought about swimming it. It was much more frightening than I had imagined. The island of Jura was on one side of us and Scarba was on the other. It felt like being in the bottom of a canyon with the dark cliffs looming over us. There are two deep troughs and a large peak of rock about 100 feet below the surface that causes the whirlpool to form. Sometimes the water looked smooth as glass and then it would start to swirl and suck down into small whirlpools and then large waves would come out of nowhere.
It was getting louder and louder as we approached the center and I wanted to get a good picture of the waves and a small whirlpool that had formed off to the side. As I stood up I felt something hit the bottom of the boat hard. My camera was knocked from my hand and splashed into the water. Before I could think I reached to grab it and lost my balance. I was overboard! I was swimming the Corryvreckan! My parents jumped up and screamed for the captain to stop. I called out that I was okay and saw the boat slowing to circle back to pick me up and suddenly I felt a strong tugging at my legs. This was stronger than any rip current I had ever felt. I struggled to stay afloat and then I saw a huge wave appear and I was under the water. I surfaced as the boat swung around but I lost sight of it as another wave broke over my head. I was being pulled under by some invisible force. I held my breath and tried not to panic. I kept getting sucked further down and couldn’t see anything except the water. I knew the life preserver would bring me back to the surface if I could get out of the pull of the whirlpool and I started to kick and swim but it was harder and harder to hold my breath. My lungs felt like they were going to explode. For the first time in my life I was terrified that I was going to drown. I could see the surface but I couldn’t get back to it. I had to breathe! As the water rushed into my lungs I was suddenly calm, and knew that no matter what happened I’d be okay. It felt like I was being held in someone’s arms and their hair was gently draping over my face. I went limp and the water took me, then everything went black.


When I came to I was back on board the boat and someone was pushing on my chest and blowing air into my mouth. I gasped then gagged up the seawater I had swallowed. Mom was kneeling next to me and crying hysterically. She lifted my head and shoulders onto her lap and held me while she wiped my face clean with her hand. I could see my dad over her shoulder, holding the grab bar so tightly his knuckles were white. I had been so afraid that I was drowning, but instead of feeling relieved at being safe I started crying. My life jacket and rain gear had been loosened and Mom was stroking my face and neck. She touched my throat and gently tugged at something that was stuck under the rain gear. It was a gold chain with a small key. She looked at it for a moment then let it fall back onto my chest. I had a flash of memory of something that had been placed around my neck when I was being pushed back to the surface of the water. But wait, I couldn’t have been pushed to the surface, I was being sucked down into the whirlpool. I reached to touch the key and closed my eyes. Maybe I was hallucinating or dreaming, none of this felt real. How could a key have gotten around my neck while I was in the whirlpool? I knew it wasn’t there before I fell in the water. But now I remembered seeing a tangle of hair swirl in front of my eyes when I was struggling toward the surface. And I felt like there had been hands pushing me to the surface, even as the whirlpool continued to pull my body down.
The crew member who had done C.P.R. on me stood up and told the captain to continue toward the shore. He had already motored us away from the crossing to calmer waters and now he revved the engine and started toward the shore. Apparently I had been under for longer than 5 minutes before I was pulled out of the water by one of the crew with a life ring and a boat hook. Paramedics were already waiting on the shore and they wrapped me in warm blankets and put me on a stretcher. I didn’t want to go in an ambulance but the paramedics said anytime someone has a near drowning accident they have to be taken to the hospital. In the ambulance the paramedics helped me out of my clothes and covered me with blankets. My mom rode with me and my dad came behind us with the car. When we got to the hospital in Oban Mom and Dad filled out paperwork and the nurses dressed me in a hospital gown. One of them tried to remove the chain and the key but I held onto it. I hadn’t stopped shaking and shivering since I’d gotten out of the water and now I was exhausted. The last thing I remember doing was touching the key that was still around my neck.
When I woke up the next morning I didn’t know where I was at first. Then it all came back to me. I saw my parents asleep in the chairs near my bed. There were a couple of other beds in the room but only one other patient. My throat felt sore from swallowing the sea water and my chest hurt but other than that I felt okay. I touched my hand to my throat and felt the key. So it hadn’t been a dream after all.
Just then a nurse came into the room to take my temperature and blood pressure. “You gave everyone quite a scare, miss. Imagine, a young girl like you surviving the Corryvreckan. That captain ought to lose his license.”
“Oh no, ma’am please don’t say that. It was my fault for falling overboard. It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to do it again.”
“Not while I’m still breathing.” I looked to my side and saw that my mother was awake and she didn’t look happy.
“If I have anything to say about it you’re never going into the sea again, Halley. That’s an experience no mother should ever have to go through. Nearly seeing you drown was the most horrible thing…” and here she choked up and started sobbing. My dad had his arm around her shoulders as he reached down to take my hand.
“She’s right, Halley. You’re our only child and I don’t know what we’d do without you.” I squeezed my eyes shut so I wouldn’t start crying too. I just wanted to get back home. The nurse handed us a box of tissue and turned to leave.
“The doctor will be here within an hour. Can I bring you some breakfast?”
“Yes, I’d love some scrambled eggs.”
“Sorry, love, you get the same as everyone else and this morning it’s porridge.”

After I was examined by the doctor he asked to speak to my parents outside my room. I strained to hear what he was saying but only heard fragments of the conversation. “…surprisingly, there was no water in her lungs…unusual physical features…consider genetic testing.” When Mom came back into the room she was pale and her mouth was set in a hard line. I asked what the doctor had said but she just told me to get dressed because we were leaving. I heard her muttering something about backwards, superstitious so-called professionals. Dad had driven back to our hotel room late yesterday and picked up our suitcases so we could start for home immediately. I slowly dressed myself in a fresh change of clothing and slid the key into my jeans pocket. “Halley, you were wearing a key around your neck yesterday. Where did it come from?” I panicked for a second and then stammered the first thing that came to my mind.
“J-Jonathan gave it to me. For my birthday.”
“Well you should put it back on so you don’t lose it.” I wasn’t sure why I told her that but I knew I couldn’t tell her it had appeared around my neck in the Corryvreckan.
The drive home seemed to take forever. I dozed for most of it and we didn’t stop at any of the places we had planned on going to. Mom and Dad seemed determined to get back as quickly as possible.

The Plot Thickens

I am attaching Chapter 4 for those of you who are following along on Halley’s adventures. Thanks so much  for your feedback and interest. After all of this time spent writing privately and only sharing with my writing partner it’s reassuring to hear that readers are enjoying the story, especially those of you who are reading it with your kids!

Here is the next chapter and yet another cover option. This has the front and back cover and spine pictured.

cover 4

Chapter 4

I called the number on the card that Jonathan had left for me and invited him to dinner on Saturday. When he arrived my father greeted him at the door.
“Hi, I’m Halley’s dad, Tom Armstrong. What can I get you to drink? We have wine, whisky and water.”
“I’m Jonathan, pleased to meet you. I’ll have some water for now but I’d love a whisky after dinner.”
Dad and Jonathan sat in the library and talked while I helped Mom finish preparing the dinner. She came out, wiping her hands on Nan’s apron and held out her hand.
Jonathan stood up and said “Mrs. Armstrong, how nice to meet you. I’m Jonathan Baines.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Jonathan. I’m Genevieve Irving.”
“Please accept my apology, Ms. Irving. I shouldn’t assume that you would have taken your husband’s name. I forget that isn’t the custom so much in America, especially when you’ve already established yourself professionally. Oh dear, it’s probably Dr. Irving, isn’t it?”
“Please, everyone calls me Genny.”
Mom had made salmon with brown rice and asparagus, one of my favorite meals. She and Dad quizzed Jonathan while we ate. It turned out that he lectured at a university and they soon got his entire background and compared notes on where they had all studied. I was glad the food was good because I started feeling bored by all the adult conversation.
Mom seemed to notice I was drifting off so she brought the topic back to something I was interested in.
“So Jonathan, Halley tells me not only are you a brilliant archaeologist, you also practice a little alternative medicine. Her elbow has healed so nicely. What did you use on her injury?”
“I spent some time on the coast in the northern U.S. researching some Native American tribes and one of the remedies they use for bleeding is a form of dried mushroom called a puffball. It has coagulant properties and stops any bleeding quite quickly.”
“I’ve heard of using certain dried seaweeds for the same reason” said Mom. “It seems to have helped the healing process also. She’ll have a little scar but for such a deep wound it’s healing remarkably well.”
Jonathan answered, “It’s always good to learn what we can from ancient cultures. I believe there’s a great deal that we don’t know about the plants that are all around us. Halley told me you’re studying some of the local algae for their possible medicinal value?”
“Yes, I collect the specimens here at the shore and then take them to the university in Edinburgh. We haven’t been able to keep them alive in the lab for over a week so it’s a fair amount of travel back and forth. But it works out because Halley and Tom stay here at the cottage. Halley loves the shore as you already know. She and her father have done some exploration along the coast in his canoe. You might enjoy going out on the water with them sometime.”
“I do love the ocean. But aren’t canoes notoriously tippy?”
Dad loved to talk about his boat and he jumped into the conversation. “Oh this is a wonderful little boat, it’s almost impossible to tip over. It’s called a Gheenoe and it has a small outboard motor. They’re custom built in Florida. We bought it when we lived there and I had it shipped over once we realized we’d be staying in Scotland awhile. You’re welcome to come with us or you could even take it out yourself sometime if you’re comfortable with it.”
“That sounds like great fun. I may just take you up on it.”
Now Mom interrupted. “I’m curious…do you really think there might be something of significance here that could prevent the resort from being built? I know the council is looking forward to an infusion of money into the area.”
Jonathan looked thoughtful. “Well, there’s evidence of civilizations having been here for over 9000 years and I’m certain there must be something of interest in the area. The company that’s building Caislin Cliffs already did an archaeological survey and claimed there they didn’t find anything. I don’t expect that they looked very carefully though. They wouldn’t want to find something that could prevent them from building.”
“Halley said you had mentioned something about Goddess cultures. When I was first in college I intended to major in Women’s Studies and I learned about some of the religions that were more female oriented. It was such a revelation to me that people could think that way and that the God I learned about at church wasn’t necessarily the whole story. But I must admit I didn’t meet many men who were involved in the field.”
“I didn’t know you were interested in Women’s Studies.” I said.
“Yes Halley, don’t interrupt.”
“It’s alright. It’s interesting to learn more about our parents as we mature. My mother was a strong influence on me. She helped to widen my horizons when I was young by questioning the status quo regarding religion. I had an unorthodox childhood. My father died before I was born and left us quite a bit of money. My mother was a great traveler and we were always on the go. It’s why I became interested in archaeology.”
“I suppose I was raised much more traditionally. I never discussed any alternative with my mother. My father had already passed away by then, but it certainly wouldn’t have been something he would have listened to.”
“Yes, religion has certainly caused a lot of controversy in this world. I suppose that’s why we’re admonished not to talk about it in mixed company.” There was a pause in the conversation and then Jonathan asked my mother “Since Halley has shown some interest in archaeology I’d love to show her some of the exhibits at the Historical Society in the village. Perhaps I could pick her up Tuesday morning?”
“Tom could you drop her off on your way to meet Dr. Brayer? Of course only if you want to go, Halley.”
“Yeah, I’ve never been there before. It sounds interesting.”
“Good, then it’s settled.” Jonathan replied. “And Tom, I haven’t heard anything about your work yet other than what Halley told me the other day.”
Dad was happy to take over and started talking about astronomy and the standing stones at Callanish. He’s really excited about the full moon that will occur at the beginning of August. He and Dr. Brayer are looking at how some of the stones in the outside circle may point to something that hasn’t been observed for nearly 20 years and they’re hoping to publish the results. He and Jonathan talked about Stonehenge and other archaeological sites that may have been tied to the movements of the sun and the moon and stars.
Finally it was time for dessert. Mom had used my Nan’s recipe for cranachan and it was delicious. It’s made with raspberries, whipped cream, toasted oatmeal, whisky and heather honey. It’s just a tiny bit of whisky so I’m allowed to eat it too. Jonathan loved it and had seconds. When we were done I started to clear the table and Dad invited Jonathan outside to look at the boat. I brought out two glasses of whisky for them. This one smelled like a campfire and I couldn’t imagine drinking it. When I came back inside Mom was in the kitchen washing a plate and humming a song that sounded kind of sad to me. She was staring out the window and didn’t notice me come in. I picked up the pan from the cranachan and brought it to her.
“What is it Mom?”
“Hmm? Oh nothing. I was just thinking. I’m so pleased that you’ve found someone you enjoy spending time with and he’s really very nice.”
“I’m glad you like him Mom. Thanks for letting me invite him to dinner. He seems to get along with Dad too.”
“Yes he does. That’s why it seems a little odd to me that he’s so friendly with you. He must be in his late sixties and you’re only twelve. I really wish you would make some friends your own age here. Maybe you should go to the village school next year.”
“I’m nearly thirteen. And please, Mom, don’t say that. I love doing all of my education by Internet. And I do have friends. There’s Mrs. Muir at the library and I can talk to Mrs. Fraser and well, I’m really okay Mom. I don’t have much in common with a lot of kids my age.”
“Joanna Muir is my age, Halley. We went to school together.”
“Really? But she looks so much older than you. Her hair is grey and she wears those old lady dresses…”
“Well thank you Halley, but yes we’re the same age. And Mrs. Fraser is no friend to young girls. All the women around here are so sanctimonious.”
“What do you mean Mom? Mrs. Fraser is okay. She just feels badly that Nan was by herself for so long. I talked to her yesterday morning when I went to ask about the key to the desk.”
“I thought I told you she wouldn’t know about that key. What did she have to say, anyway?”
“Oh, you know Mom. Just about Nan being heartbroken that you left to go to college and well, she did say something about Nan going to church every week. I never knew Mrs. Fraser had a son.”
“Yes, Colin… That’s one of the reasons she dislikes me so much. He was interested in me but I didn’t see myself staying in Scotland and raising sheep for the rest of my life. She’d never say anything directly but I can just feel her judging me. I was fortunate to get an education and have a life where I can actually do something that might help people. I’m sure she blames me in some way that he was killed. If I’d stayed and married him he wouldn’t have joined the army.”
“Do you really think she blames you? That’s not fair. I mean you didn’t make him go to war. He could’ve married someone else, right?”
“Yes, I suppose he could have. I just know she and her husband have never been very welcoming to me since I left and she’s not happy that we’re here. This was a difficult place for me to grow up. It seemed that everyone was always watching you and just waiting for you to slip up and do something that they could gossip about for the rest of your life. You would have hated it. You couldn’t have gone swimming, your interest in biology and wildlife would have been looked at as abnormal. My becoming a scientist is a complete anomaly for this village Halley. The other women my age got married and moved in to their husband’s homes. They had babies and cooked and cleaned and went to church. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just that it’s not for everybody. It wasn’t for me and I’ve never been forgiven for it.”
I put down the dish I was drying and looked at Mom. “It was good that you left when you did. If you hadn’t gone to college and met Dad I never would have been born. I’m happy you’re a microbiologist. It helps me to know that I can be anything I want to be when I grow up. I didn’t know you felt this way about Scotland, Mom. You never really talked about it.”
“That’s why we visited so rarely Halley. I would’ve liked to see Mum more often but something always happens every time I’ve come back here to remind me of why I left. It’s been good to be in Edinburgh every week. And I know people probably talk about your dad going into the village to buy the groceries but he doesn’t know that or even mind. He’s American and doesn’t care what these people think of him. I don’t know why I care myself anymore. You would think I could have gotten over it in the past 30 years.”
She loosened her pony tail and shook out her hair. I noticed the streaks of white but I still thought she looked much younger than Mrs. Muir. She took off the apron and hung it near the sink. “Well, let’s go outside and say goodnight to Jonathan. We’ve got to be up early to collect specimens.”

After I went to bed I started thinking more about what Mom had said it was like when she was growing up here. Maybe she’s upset that I don’t have friends because she didn’t have many friends either. I never really thought about her feeling like she was different from other people before. In a way it would be nice to have a friend but it’s hard for me to make friends. Maybe I would have had more friends if my feet didn’t look like they do but I doubt it. I’ve always felt shy and I prefer to be by myself with my imagination. I did have a friend named Amy for a couple of years when we lived in Florida. We used to pretend we were horses and gallop around on the playground together whinnying and neighing. We would draw animals together and I thought she was a really good artist. She didn’t care about my feet and I guess she felt different too. She got teased by the other girls because she had a cleft palate and had a scar on her lip. She moved away when we were in third grade and we lost touch. I don’t know where she is now. I miss having a friend but it’s hard to know who you can trust.
I got teased too because of my webbed feet. When we lived in Florida some of the girls at school noticed and started calling me names. I didn’t tell anyone for a long time because I was embarrassed. But one day I asked my mom why my feet looked like this and eventually I told her that some of the kids were teasing me. I wouldn’t tell her their names. I think she must have mentioned it to my teachers even though I asked her not to. After that the girls stopped teasing me but they also stopped talking to me. Since we moved to Scotland I’ve been careful not to let anyone see my bare feet. No one here really knows that I’m different other than that I’m American. I’d like to be friends with the mermaid. She’d know what it’s like to feel different. I smiled as I thought about her kicking up her feet in the waves and drifted off to sleep.


The next morning was Sunday, which is the day that Dad makes pancakes for all of us. When we finished breakfast I went to the shore with Mom to collect specimens before she went back to Edinburgh. I’ve been going to one ocean or another with her since I was a little kid and it’s always fun. We collect plankton and algae from the little pools of water that are left behind on the rocks after the tide rises and falls. They’re full of sea life but you wouldn’t really notice unless you looked carefully. There are tiny shrimp and lots of species of snails and mussels. Sometimes I see sea anemones waving their tentacles at me and small crabs scurrying around, feeding on whatever washes in with the tide. I like to watch the snails move slowly along the rocks. They’re very elegant in the water and move differently than a land snail. They move their antennae around like they’re picking up signals from outer space. I could watch them for hours. This morning I kept looking out to sea for the mermaid but I didn’t see her.

One of the reasons I was excited about moving to Scotland is because of all of the interesting places to be near the water. You can swim in lakes here, which they call lochs, and my favorite place of all which is the ocean. Scotland is small compared to the U.S. but it has a lot of coastline and islands so there are beaches and seashores everywhere and lots of places for wild swimming. Of course I want to swim the wildest place of all which is the Corryvreckan. While we were collecting the samples I brought up the idea with Mom.

“My birthday is coming in July and I’ll be thirteen.”
“Yes, Halley, I haven’t forgotten how old you are. I’m not that forgetful!”
“Well, I was wondering if we could do something really special…”
“What is it honey, do you want to have a party?”
“Seriously, Mom? You know I hate birthday parties. I want to go to Jura and swim the Corryvreckan.”
“Halley, that’s a very dangerous whirlpool. I know you’re a strong swimmer but I don’t think it’s safe for you to swim across that, even if you are turning thirteen.”
“Mom, I would only swim when it’s calm during the turning of the tide. I’ve looked into it and you just have to swim for 30 minutes. I know I can do that. And Dad could swim with me. There’s a swimming adventure company that even has boats go alongside you for safety cover.”
“I don’t know Halley. That still seems risky to me.”
“Could you talk to Dad about it and see? It’s a big birthday for me, Mom. I’ll be a teenager! Please? I won’t ask for any other presents.”
“I’m sure you’ll get a present to open. Is there anything that you’d like?”
“I really like your jade ring.”
“I’ll leave it to you in my will but I’m not giving it to you now. It belonged to my grandmother, Genevieve. Maybe I could find another jade ring for you though. I didn’t know you liked jewelry.”
“I usually don’t but the color reminds me of something…”
“Let me discuss the Corryvreckan with your father. I know you’re a strong swimmer, but you have your whole life ahead of you to do things like this. Enjoy your childhood a little longer.”
“I’m not a child anymore, Mom. I’m becoming an adult. I’m very responsible. Even you say that. You leave me by myself for almost a week when you go to Edinburgh and I take care of myself and the cottage and even Dad.”
“Yes, you are responsible and I appreciate it. I’ll talk to your father and we’ll see what happens, okay?”
“Thanks, Mom. It means a lot to me. I really want to do this swim.”

That night I was having a hard time sleeping. Mom and Dad were talking in the library and I could hear a little of what they were saying. I thought Mom said something about the Corryvreckan so I got out of bed and went closer to the opening of the loft so I could listen more closely.

“I don’t know if it’s a good idea, Tom. It’s a really long drive and I’ll miss collecting on Sunday. And you too, don’t you have a lot going on with Dr. Brayer next week?”
“It’s her thirteenth birthday, Gen. I think we should do something special for her, don’t you? She loves it so much here in Scotland and she loves to swim. Let’s do something to make her happy. Especially since we might not be here next year.”
I knelt down on the floorboards to make sure I could hear what they were saying. Since they were talking about me I didn’t really feel like it was eavesdropping.
“Speaking of next year, I talked to Mrs. Fraser the other day. I mentioned that if we stay here we would be moving to the house and they can have the cottage. She wasn’t very pleased about it. Just looked at me with that dour look and said that whatever I wanted would be fine by her. I still can’t believe Mum put a clause in her will that allows those people to stay on.”
“Genny, the Frasers have lived here for over 30 years. Where else would they go? I know you don’t necessarily like them but they do keep the farm running.”
“It’s a croft, Tom. Not a farm. A farm sounds so much nicer. Something with cows and chickens. Not these stinking sheep. I swore I would never come back here. I can’t believe we’re still here. Mum’s been gone for nearly six months.”
“Halley really seems to be thriving here. And it’s not so bad for right now, is it? You’re in Edinburgh most of the week. I need to finish up this project and then let’s talk some more about it. I wouldn’t mind being based here in Scotland… Of course if you’re unhappy we’ll have to reconsider.”
It was getting uncomfortable to stay in position so I shifted my weight and the floorboards creaked. It got very quiet and then Mom said “Let’s talk more about this later. I’m too tired to discuss it anymore tonight.”
On Tuesday I rode into the village with my dad to meet Jonathan at the Historical Society.
“I’ll be back around 1:00 to pick you up. Do you have your lunch with you?”
“It’s in my backpack. Thanks Dad, see you later.”
Jonathan was waiting inside for me at the first exhibit. “Good morning, Halley! I’m so pleased you could come today. This museum doesn’t have much for archaeological exhibits. The Museum nan Eilean in Stornoway has more of those but it’s closed for renovations. They may open for some special events later in the summer so perhaps we’ll get a chance to visit there as well.”
“This is fine. Like I said, I haven’t been that interested in history before but maybe this will change my mind.”
We walked through the exhibits and the first thing Jonathan wanted to show me was a statue of a Herring Girl. I’d never heard of anything like them before and it was interesting to find a whole exhibit that was about women. Women and girls had worked gutting and packing fish for several generations in and around Stornoway on the isle of Lewis. It was unusual for them to have jobs outside the home at that time in history and they were happy to have the income. Most of the herring industry disappeared after World War II.
Jonathan found another plaque and read it to me. “This says that this area has been settled at least since Viking times although there is archaeological evidence of Neolithic activity in the near vicinity of the town. That’s what I’m hoping to find more of near where the development is scheduled to be built.”
“So what exactly are you hoping to find at the shore?” I asked Jonathan. He looked at me intently and once again I noticed the blue of his eyes.
“Any artifacts of ancient civilizations would be important to find…but what I’m most interested in and have in fact been looking for my whole life is a labyrinth.”
“A labyrinth? Like a maze?”
“Well actually a labyrinth is a bit different from a maze. In a true labyrinth there’s only one way in and one way out. A few have been found in Greece and other locations, and they’ve been used in Christian churches as well. They can help people to enter a meditative state as they walk the path. There have been rumors for centuries that there were ancient, pre-Christian labyrinths in the Scottish Isles but no one has ever found one. It’s likely that they would have been obscured by erosion or the build up of peat.”
“Can you show me what one looks like?”
“Yes, actually, I find it quite fun to draw them. Let’s go and have our lunch. The light is better outside.”
Jonathan took a notebook from his briefcase and sketched a cross in the center. From there he drew curved lines from one side to the other. The pattern became more complicated with spirals and switchbacks. He drew the final line with a little flourish. “And there you have it, a classic labyrinth!”
“That is so cool! Can you show me how to do it?”
“Yes, once you’ve learned the steps it’s quite easy. But it does seem almost magical at first, doesn’t it? Here, watch again and you try it.”
I pulled out my notebook and a pencil and carefully imitated the same lines as Jonathan while he drew. And there it was, my very own labyrinth! Just then I saw my father drive up to the curb and wave to us. He called out the window. “Are you about ready to go? I’ve got to get you back out to the cottage and go meet Quinn again this afternoon.”
I turned to Jonathan. “Thanks so much. I really enjoyed myself today. I almost forgot to tell you Mom and Dad are taking me to Jura to see the Corryvreckan whirlpool for my birthday on the weekend but maybe we can get together again after that?”
“I would like that very much Halley. Enjoy your birthday celebration and do be safe.”

Another week, another chapter!

For any of you contemplating sharing something of your creativity I encourage you to Just Do It! Anticipating all of the terrible things that could happen (they won’t ) is just a way of letting fear rule your life. Share your creativity and joy!

Here is another potential cover and Chapter 3.  I’d love to hear what you think. Please feel free to post in comments or send me an email.cover 3

Chapter 3

My second attempt to get to the library went more smoothly. Mrs. Muir was always very helpful when I went in to research a project but everything I had done so far was based on facts and science. I certainly couldn’t bring up the mermaid with her. My report on the wildlife of the Outer Hebrides wasn’t complete but I couldn’t even think about it when I had all of these other questions tumbling around in my brain.

Mrs. Muir greeted me from the reading room with a “Hallo, Halley.” She had already pulled out some books for me and I went through to where she was sitting at her desk.

“We missed you yesterday. Is everything alright?”

“I was actually on my way here and had a bit of an accident on my bike, but I’m okay. I need to ask you about something else though. Have you heard anything about some kind of buildings being planned near the shore?”

“Oh, yes of course I’ve heard, dear. There’s been talk of developing out there on and off for years but with the economy in the shape it’s been lately I know the council is quite excited about the possibilities. It may change the shore a bit but the area could use the income. I don’t think it will affect our bird population though. You must be nearly done with your report. Is there anything else you need? I’m off to assist Mrs. Glen with her genealogy search.”

“Oh thanks, Mrs. Muir. I’m sure I can find what I need. Do you have Internet service today? We lost it at the cottage from all the rain.”

“Yes, indeed. The signal is quite strong today.”

I sat down at one of the computer monitors to look for information about mermaids. At first almost everything I found was about Disney mermaids like Ariel and Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid. My mermaid wasn’t like that. I kept searching and came up with something called selkies. They seemed to fit more closely with what I’d seen. Some people who lived in ancient Scotland dressed in seal skins to keep warm. When other people saw them from a distance as they took off the skins to dry them on the rocks they may have thought they were actual seals. There were legends that said selkies were able to live on land like humans and then go back to living under the water. I wondered if the person I saw was actually a selkie. I thought about looking for another book about the history of Scotland and the civilizations that Jonathan had told me about but I was getting tired and wanted to leave. I signed out the books that Mrs. Muir had saved for me and put them in my backpack. As I pedaled home I wondered if Mom was back from Edinburgh yet. Maybe it would cheer me up to spend some time with her.


As I bumped up the path I saw Mom’s car was already in the drive. I parked the bike and went into the cottage.

“Mom, I’m home!”

“Hey sweetheart, I’m home too!”

“Yeah, Mom, I saw your car.”

“You could pretend to be happy to see me.”

“Of course I am.” I said as she gave me one of her sideways hugs. I winced a little when she brushed against my elbow.

“Oh, Halley, are you hurt? What did you do to your arm? ”

“Well it’s kind of a long story Mom. Can we sit down and I’ll tell you about it?”

“Of course. Let me put my things away and you start the kettle for some tea.”

As I filled the tea kettle and got out the cups I thought about what I should tell my mom. She always seems to notice small things that other people would easily overlook, like my arm being hurt. Dad hadn’t noticed anything at all. I decided to tell her about the luxury resort and meeting Jonathan, but not to mention the mermaid.

A few minutes later we sat down to drink our tea. She pulled my shirt sleeve up over my elbow and lifted a corner of the Band-Aid. “What happened to your arm?”

“I was riding into the village on Tuesday morning and I almost ran over this man named Jonathan. He’s an archaeologist. He put some weird powder on the cut and gave me a bandage.”

“Well, this doesn’t look too bad at all. You say this happened on Tuesday? Whatever he put on it seems to have healed it quickly. There’s hardly even a scab but I can see that you’ll have a scar.”

I pulled my arm back impatiently and said “Mom, did you know that they were going to be building a resort out here?”

“Yes I knew that the council was considering allowing the development but I didn’t think it would go anywhere. They usually take so long to make a decision, there must have been some incentive for them to agree to it so quickly.”

“But Mom, they can’t build a resort here.  It’s perfect the way it is and I won’t be able to go to the shore anymore if they build between our land and the sea. Can’t you do something to stop them?”

“Oh Halley, I don’t think that’s going to happen. When Mum passed she left this place to me but I haven’t decided what we’re doing long term. Besides, my going to the council wouldn’t be very effective. No one thinks of me as being from here anymore so why should I have any say in what goes on?”

“Well what about Mr. and Mrs. Fraser? Can’t they do something?”

“I don’t think they’ll want to cause a stir at a council meeting, especially if things have already gone this far. Besides, I don’t know how long we’ll be staying in Scotland. I just came to help out Mum when she was ill. With our work we’re always moving from place to place.”

“But I don’t want to move again! I love it here. I love the cottage and the shore and the sea and how wild everything is. I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to stay here.”

“I know Halley. I know you love it here. And it is where I grew up so it does feel like home to me. We’ll see what we can do. How about if you help me get dinner started now?”


Later that evening Mom and I were in the library. I sat at Nan’s old wooden desk and started going through the drawers. Mom said it’s actually called a secretary. It has a tall cupboard in the back and an area for writing in the front. There are drawers on either side of the desk and some in the cupboard that have stamps and Nan’s old stationary. I liked looking through them. Most of the things had belonged to Nan but some were from before she was even born. “Do you know anything about that picture on the wall? Jonathan noticed it when he was here.”

“I don’t know anything about it. Mum liked old things, like you do. She probably bought it at a rummage sale. You didn’t tell me you brought Jonathan to the cottage.”

“I invited him for tea after I almost ran him over.”

“Tell me more about this Jonathan character.”

“He’s not a character, Mom. I told you he’s an archaeologist. He’s looking for something that could stop the development from happening.”

“Really? Well perhaps I should meet him. I’m sorry I called him a “character”. It’s just that I don’t know him and I’m always a little suspicious of older men taking an interest in young girls. But he sounds like a decent person. Would you like to invite him here for dinner on the weekend?”

“That’s a good idea, Mom. I think he’d like that. He’s staying at a guest house in the village and he’s probably tired of eating at restaurants. Can I invite him for Saturday?”

“Sure. We’ll let your father know when he gets home tonight that he’ll have someone new to tell about his latest discoveries in the cosmos.”

As I looked through the desk I found black and white photos of Nan when she was young and a tortoiseshell hair comb with rhinestones on it. There was a little yellowish white carved box with a lid that held a tiny spoon. Mom told me it’s an ivory snuff box which long ago women would use to inhale snuff or tobacco. I thought that sounded disgusting but I really loved the little box. It has a carving of a stork and a tiny house in the distance. She told me I could keep it. I tugged at the bottom drawer but it seemed to be stuck.

“Mom, what’s in this drawer?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Probably more old musty things.”

I tried to pry it open but it was definitely locked.

“Do you have the key for this somewhere? I want to look inside it.”

“No, I think the key is lost. I asked Mum before she died but she said she couldn’t remember ever having seen it.”

“I really want to open it. Maybe it has a treasure or something… I could ask Mrs. Fraser.”

“I doubt that Mrs. Fraser would know anything about it. They only lived here at the cottage for a short time. After my father died Mum decided to move back here and she had them move right into the new house. My father would have been so angry about that. He loved the new house.”

“But Mom, aren’t you even curious about what’s inside the drawer?”

“No, I’m not. This house is full of things that have outlived their purpose. When I have some time I’m going to start getting rid of all this old junk.”

“Why can’t we just leave it the way it is? I like it like this. It has a lot of history. You don’t always have to try to change things. It doesn’t make it better.”

“My goodness, you’re sensitive tonight. Not everyone feels the same way that you do, Halley. I’m not going to live in a blackhouse for the rest of my life. If we were to stay in Scotland we’d definitely move into the new house. If Mr. and Mrs. Fraser stay on they could move in here. It was good enough for Mum but it’s not comfortable for three people. We’re practically on top of one another. And I’d like to modernize things a little and buy some furniture that doesn’t look like it belongs in the 19th century.”

My eyes stung with tears. I loved the cottage. I sighed and said goodnight. I’d go ask Mrs. Fraser about the key tomorrow. If Mom was thinking about redecorating that might mean that we’d be staying in Scotland after all. When I got up to my loft I pulled out a locked box that I keep under the bed. I had put the white feather in from when I’d seen the mermaid and now I put in the ivory snuff box. I’ve collected lots of little treasures and sometimes I like to look at them when I’m feeling down. I have a book of poems that Nan sent to me when I was about 5 years old. We read it together here at the cottage before she got really sick. I also keep some pieces of wood that were cut from the branches of a tree I used to climb when I was small. One day I came home from school and someone had cut the tree down. I cried and cried because I loved the tree so much. Dad knew how upset I was so he cut little disks of wood for me from the branches and sanded them smooth. I like to rub them on my cheeks. They still smell like a Christmas tree. I kept the collar from our dog, Finnegan. He was a big smelly black Labrador. He ran away and got run over by a car. I guess none of the things in my box really cheer me up but I love all of them. They remind me of things that I’ve lost. I closed the box and locked it then slid it back under my bed.


The next morning when Mom left for the village to run errands I went to the new house and knocked on Mrs. Fraser’s door. It’s funny that we still call it new because it’s at least 40 years old. Almost everyone who lives on a croft has built a more modern house. The cottages are small but they’re so much more interesting. A year after my mother left for college my grandfather died of cancer. I had asked my Nan why she moved back into the cottage and she told me she always liked the old ways better than “all these so-called modern conveniences.” I laughed and teased her about preferring to use an outhouse but she said that having indoor plumbing was one modern convenience she could live with.

When Mrs. Fraser opened the door I saw that she was wearing an apron just like my Nan’s. They must have sewn them from the same pattern. “Good morning dear. Two visits from the Irving girls in one week. What a surprise. And why aren’t you in school today, is something wrong?”

“Remember I’m doing all of my schoolwork on the computer Mrs. Fraser. I’ve been working on a project about the wildlife here along the coast. I was at the library all day yesterday working on it. Mrs. Muir had some books for me on the oystercatchers.”

“Oystercatchers? Well, we certainly have our share of those around here. Would you like to have some tea? I’ve just put the kettle on.”

“Yes, I’d love some. Do you have any more of those cookies you made last time I was here?”

“Cookies?” Mrs. Fraser looked puzzled. “Oh, you mean biscuits. Yes, I do believe I have some. Let me get them from the pantry.”

I sat at her wooden table in the kitchen and looked out the window. From here you could see the moor, and beyond that the sea. Mrs. Fraser set the tea and cookies down and poured me a cup.

“It’s nice to see you Halley. You’ve got a look about you that reminds me of Mrs. Irving. I mean to say your Nan. I suppose you favor your mother as well but I see your grandmother’s face when I look at you, especially around the eyes.”

“Thank you Mrs. Fraser. I found some pictures of her yesterday from when she was young and I guess I do look a little like her. I wish she were here to see the view today. She loved looking out to the sea. By the way, did you know that there’s a luxury resort that’s going to be built right near here? In fact, the other morning I saw the survey flags when I was coming back up the sea path.”

“Yes, of course. The Council has been working on it for some time. The village needs all the help it can get and I know some of the people are rather excited to have a place to work.”

“But aren’t you upset that it will block your view? And they’ll be tearing up the land and building giant houses on it. I wish they wouldn’t build anything here.”

“No, it won’t block my view in the least. Didn’t your mother tell you that we’ll be moving into the blackhouse if you stay? And what’s good for the village will be good for us too. I’m too busy working to be looking out the window anyway. I’m pleased that some of our young people will have a place to work. Perhaps they won’t feel that they have to move away and leave this place. They could stay here and be close to their families.”

“What about you Mrs. Fraser, do you have any children?”

I heard a sharp intake of breath and when I looked up she was staring at me.

“I had a son, Colin. I’m surprised your mother didn’t tell you about him. He was quite fond of Genny. He left to join the service after your mother went away to college. He didn’t make it back from Iran.” She stepped out of the kitchen and came back with a framed picture of a young man in uniform. She set it on the table between us and gazed at it for a minute.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” Mrs. Fraser glanced at me then looked away.

“No reason why you would have I suppose.”

“I’m sorry Mrs. Fraser. He was very handsome.”

“Yes, and he was bright too. Had his whole life ahead of him…”

Nan had told me once that when my mother left for college they assumed she’d come back home after she graduated, especially since my grandfather died. But then she surprised everyone by moving to the U.S. and marrying my father. She and Dad visited Scotland a few times but she never moved back home. If my grandmother hadn’t been sick we probably wouldn’t have come to Scotland.

“Your Nan was a strong woman. Her heart must have been broken by first losing her daughter and then her husband. But she kept working right up until she took ill. And she was a religious woman too. She was in church every Sunday, rain or shine.”

“Mrs. Fraser, she didn’t lose my mother. Mom left to go to college. She always loved Nan and Nan knew that. And if my mother hadn’t left then I never would have been born because she wouldn’t have met my father. And we have to collect the specimens on Sunday so Mom can take them back on the Monday morning flight to Edinburgh. What she’s collecting could really help people.” Mrs. Fraser disapproved of the fact that Mom and I were at the shore every Sunday morning collecting algae. The only time we’d gone to the church since we moved here was for Nan’s funeral. I finished my cookie and got ready to go.

“Oh, before I leave I wanted to ask if you know where the key is to the desk drawer, the one in the library at the cottage?”

“No one knows where that key is Halley. Your grandmother looked for it and your great-grandmother before her. That’s a mystery that must have gone to the grave with Margaret. She was your great great-grandmother, Genevieve’s mother. Genevieve was your Nan’s mother and the one that your own mother is named for. It’s funny to think of all these generations of women living in that little cottage and now you’re here to live in it too. It nearly skipped a generation when your mother left. It was nice to see you today. I didn’t mean to upset you by saying what I did about the young people who’ve gone. It’s always been a struggle for families who lose their children to the wide world. And don’t worry yourself about the shore. Ah, there’s Mr. Fraser. He’ll be wanting his dinner soon.”

I avoided Mr. Fraser’s eyes as I left the house. He was always scowling whenever I saw him. I pulled my jacket tighter around me and slipped sideways out the door as he was coming in. His dog barked at me from where he had chained it outside the house. I could still feel him looking at me as I walked down the path toward our cottage.

Chapter Two

I’ve incorporated some suggestions that I received on Chapter One of the story and edited the previous post to reflect them. Now I’m on to Chapter Two and introducing a second cover.  Our cover designer has made several beautiful designs and I’d love your feedback on which one is your favorite. I’ll post a new one when the next chapter is released.

cover 2Chapter 2

After Jonathan left I sat down at the desk to think for a bit. I wondered how my parents would feel if something happened to change the land here. They’re both so wrapped up in their work I’m not sure they’d notice. Dad’s always looking at things far away and Mom’s always looking at things too small to be seen. Sometimes they miss what’s right in front of them.
It wasn’t like that with my grandmother. I miss her so much. We were with her for three months before she died. I called her Nan although her real name was Catherine. She was the kindest person I ever met. Even though she was sick she always had time for me and loved to read to me. As she got weaker I would read to her too. We read poems and all the classics for children; Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, the Chronicles of Narnia. I imagined what it would be like to live in those places long ago but of course I wouldn’t have had as much freedom as I do now, especially being a girl.
Nan loved this place even more than I do. What would she have done in this situation? I know she’d try to stop the construction. Mom and Dad will probably listen with that somewhat distracted look they often have and shake their heads and say something not very helpful like “That’s progress for you.” I don’t want progress. I want everything to be just as it’s always been. And if I could have told Nan about the mermaid I know she would have believed me. She may have even seen a mermaid herself after living here for her whole life. If I told my parents or Jonathan that I’d seen a mermaid they’d think I’d imagined it. I wasn’t sure how I felt about Jonathan. He was interesting to talk with and it was nice to have someone listen to me and not treat me like a kid, but I didn’t know if I could trust him yet.
I realized it was too late to go into the village so I decided to look through some of the books at the cottage. Most of the books were about the local birds and plants. There were a couple of books on the history of Scotland and the British Isles and even a handwritten album of the genealogy of some of our ancestors.
My elbow was throbbing as I started looking through the shelves. But it was a strange tingly sort of pain, almost as if the skin were being knit back together. I picked up a book and started leafing through it. It had a brown leather cover and the title read in faded gold The History of Ancient Scotland. I expected it to smell musty but it actually had an odd smell when I opened it. Like the Thanksgiving turkey dressing that my Nan had made. What was the herb that she had used… rosemary? No…was it thyme? No, that smelled more like pencils being sharpened. Oh yes, from the song; parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. It was sage. How odd for a book to smell like sage. There were chapters about the groups that Jonathan had mentioned; the Beaker People and the Picts, Pagans, the Gaels, even early Romans and Christians.
As I turned the pages I occasionally came across small line drawings. The illustrations showed how people might have performed ceremonies and prepared their food. There was a picture of some people standing among a circle of stones wearing what looked like animal skins. And then I found a picture that made me freeze. It was of some of the people wearing animal skins standing on the rocks by the sea and climbing out of the sea was a woman with long hair. And guess what, her feet were webbed.
I realized I had stopped breathing again and now I took a deep inhale. Webbed feet. So was this real or was it fiction? I looked more closely at the drawing and in the distance I saw some rocks and cliffs that looked like the ones near the sea cave that I explored with my dad. We had gone there in Dad’s canoe. He let me swim even though it was like being surrounded by tiny icicles when I dove in. I swam for a few minutes until I began to feel numb. When I got out my skin turned tingly and electric as my blood warmed me. I felt my heart beating all through my body. I shook my head to bring myself back to the present and looked down at the drawing again. I wondered what Jonathan would have to say about this book and the pictures in it. Do archaeologists believe what they see in pictures or would he assume it was a myth? He didn’t know about my feet. There was no reason to have told him or shown him. It’s something I usually avoid because it leads to too many questions and the only answer I have is that I was born this way.

I heard the clock chime and realized it was nearly 5:00. I’d been daydreaming again and Dad would be home soon. Mom prepares meals for us to heat up every week before she goes to Edinburgh. I usually make a salad or a vegetable to go with our dinner and I like to have it ready for Dad when he arrives. It makes me feel like I’m almost grown up.
Dad and I get along really well. We have the same silly sense of humor and we both have brownish blond hair and a gap between our front teeth. When I was younger the dentist mentioned that I should get braces but I like that it makes me look like Dad. We can shoot water out from between our teeth which is a lot of fun when we’re swimming. He has really nice brown eyes that have smile lines around them. He said it’s because he’s always squinting into a telescope. My eyes are the same color as my mom’s and my grandmother’s. They’re kind of grey and stormy looking.
Mom had frozen enough casseroles for three days. She made shepherd’s pie with ground beef and mashed potatoes, a tuna casserole with noodles which looks disgusting but actually tastes pretty good, and lasagna with meatballs and tomato sauce. She cooks on Sundays before she gets ready to leave. I could make our meals myself but she said Dad and I would just eat sandwiches and cookies while she’s gone.
I took my Nan’s old apron off the hook in the kitchen and slipped it over my head and tied it in the back. I don’t really need to wear an apron to make a salad but it reminds me of her. It’s so soft and worn that you can almost see through it. She used to keep things in the pockets like safety pins, sometimes a butterscotch candy or a caramel and always a few tissues.
I had already put the lasagna in the refrigerator to thaw this morning so now I put it in the oven. I was just getting the vegetables out for the salad when I heard Dad’s car in the drive. The screen door to the kitchen swung open and he came in and hung up his jacket.
“Halley my girl.  How’s it going?”
“Hi Dad, everything’s good. Just fixing some lasagna. Do you want olives on the salad?”
“However you make it always tastes good to me. Need any help?”
“No, it’s almost ready. I’m just going to slice some cucumber.”
“Great, I’ll go get washed up and make myself a drink. Can I get you anything?”
“Yeah, I’ll have a ginger ale. ” I said.
“One ginger ale coming up.”
Dad brought our drinks to the table. I like it when he pours my soda in a wine glass and I pretend I’m drinking champagne. We’re both a little silly like that, especially when Mom isn’t here. As we settled in to eat Dad asked me in his best imitation of an English upper class accent “And how is everything proceeding at the Irving-Armstrong Estate today Lady Halley?”
I giggled and replied “Splendidly Lord Thomas, just splendidly. Although I did hear some rather troubling news today.”
Here we both dropped our accents and Dad looked more closely at me.
“Really? What happened?”
“Well, I saw a sign near the shore that there’s going to be some kind of luxury nature resort built here. And there are already those little orange survey flags all over. Did you know about it?”
“Mm hmm,” he said, chewing thoughtfully. “I did hear something but I thought it was further north of here. That would be a shame. I know how much you like to go to the shore.”
“Dad, it wouldn’t just be a shame. It would be a tragedy! It will ruin the view and scare away the birds and destroy the environment. And I won’t be able to walk on the sea path anymore and I might not be able to swim from the beach. ”
“Well Halley, I don’t know if it really constitutes a tragedy but I can tell that you’re upset by it. Let me look into it a little. Maybe we could go to a council meeting and find out what’s going on.”
“Do you think that would do any good, Dad? I mean haven’t they already decided by the time they have a meeting?”
“There’s always a chance that a decision could be reversed. Their job is to represent everyone and weigh the pros and cons. That’s what government is supposed to do anyhow.”
“Thanks Dad. I really love it here and I don’t want it to be ruined.”
“You’re most welcome Lady Halley”, Dad replied, resuming his upper class British accent. “May I serve you another ginger ale and offer some of our fine chocolate chip cookies for dessert? And where is that maid? She never comes to clean up after us.”
I laughed when Dad mentioned the maid. We always pretend we have one and that she only comes on payday to collect her check.
“I’ll get the cookies Dad, you get the ginger ale. I don’t think the maid is coming tonight.”

The “write” path

In my last post (in February!) I explored the idea of being on a path that wasn’t right for me. Since that time I’ve been exploring other paths and the one that seems to be the best fit for me at the moment is writing. As much as I enjoyed writing blog posts when I first began, I’ve found that I enjoy writing fiction even more! I’ve been working with my writing partner in England and for the past 9 months we’ve  been working on a fantasy novel for young readers. It’s begun to feel as if the story is “finished” and we’re getting ready to self-publish on Kindle Direct Publishing.

Creativity is the subject of one of my favorite new books:  Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. The subtitle “Creative Living Beyond Fear” has helped inspire me to share my story.  Because it is scary to put yourself out into the world through your work, through what makes you feel joyful and alive, and through sharing your vulnerability.  The question she poses in the first chapter is this “Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?”

As an experiment I’m posting the first chapter of the story “Halley and the Mermaid” here. I’m sure there’s a way to post it as a link that can be opened separately but I don’t know how to do that.  And I’m worried that if I don’t just do it I’ll let my fear overcome me and will never post it! So, here goes.  Feel free to share this with any young readers you may know, particularly girls in the 9-14 year old range. It’s still in draft format so if anyone has any constructive criticism they would like to share I’m open!HalleyandtheMermaid8

Halley and the Mermaid

Chapter 1

My name is Halley. Yes, like the comet, and before you start laughing let me tell you that it could have been worse. My dad is an astronomer and he’s the one who chose my name. My mom is a microbiologist and if she named me I could be called something really crazy like Protozoa. So I’m named after a comet that won’t be seen from Earth again for another 47 years. I’ll be nearly sixty years old by then and right now that seems like forever away.
This morning was the first time I’ve been able to go out for a walk for days. It’s been raining for a week but the mist had finally stopped and a breeze was blowing away the clouds. I put on my rain coat and boots just in case the weather changed again and took the path to the shore. I smelled fresh dark earth smell mingling with the scent of salt and seaweed. The sun was breaking through a solid patch of grey when I looked up and saw a full circle of light like a rainbow cast over the sea. I reached for my phone to take a picture but then remembered that I’d left it at home. I can’t get a signal at the shore. The rainbow was amazing. I stood there and watched until it faded and then I continued along the path toward the rocks. Looking down I saw a white gannet feather on the sand. I picked it up and smoothed it between my fingertips until the barbs were all connected again and tucked it in my shirt pocket. Whenever I see a feather I think of it as a message from my grandmother. Before she died we talked about what happens after you leave your body and she told me that if there was a way for her to communicate with me she would send a white feather. I wondered what she was trying to tell me now. As I came closer I looked out to sea and it was a beautiful color. Not the usual grey. There seemed to be an aqua light shimmering just under the surface. Then I saw something moving through the waves. At first I thought it was a seal because I’ve seen them here before, then I realized it was a person, a woman actually. She had long brown hair that looked almost like there was seaweed in it. The waves splashed over her head but she didn’t seem to mind. She seemed to smile at me before ducking back under the water and disappearing. I turned to see if anyone else had seen her but I was alone.
Usually I’m the only one who will go in the ocean here because it’s really cold, even in the summer. I stood waiting for her to surface. I can hold my breath for a pretty long time so I wasn’t worried at first. But she didn’t come up and I started to feel like something bad must have happened to her. Maybe she was trying to get my attention because she needed help. I hopped on one foot as I took off one boot and then the other and stripped off my jeans. Even though I didn’t know where she was under the waves I couldn’t just stand there helplessly. I pulled my shirt over my head and threw it behind me on the sand as I started to wade into the water. The water splashed up to my chest and I dived under to see if I could spot her. Would I be able to save someone from drowning? What if she had already drowned? It seemed like at least five minutes had passed and she hadn’t come to the surface yet. I kept diving under and searching but I didn’t see anything. There was no way she was holding her breath for that long. I took another deep breath and went under again. I felt my heart pounding in my throat and I wanted to scream even though there was no one to hear me. Just then I heard a splash like a hand slapping the water and there she was with her head back out of the water. I called out “I’m coming to help you, stay right there!” She looked directly at me this time and her eyes were an amazing color of green. For a moment I felt like I recognized her from somewhere. I started to swim toward her and then she dived back under the water and her feet kicked up into the air. Her feet looked different. They looked like mine.
My heart continued to pound as I waded out of the water. I climbed up on one of the big black rocks that are scattered around the beach and the shore. I kept looking out to sea for her but she seemed to have disappeared. I waited to see if she would come back. Finally I climbed back down from the rock and used my flannel shirt to dry off my arms and legs. I slipped my t-shirt back over my head. I shivered in the cool air and tugged my jeans over my damp legs then spread my rain slicker on the sand so I could sit down. I looked at my feet. When I said the woman’s feet looked different I know I didn’t really explain what I meant. Her feet were webbed. And mine are webbed too.
No one knows why my feet are like this. Mom said I was born this way and it’s not a big deal. I looked online and most people who say they have webbed toes just have regular skin between the big toe and the one next to it. Mine look more like a water creature’s feet. It’s probably genetic but if one of my ancestors had something similar they must have kept it hidden. I kind of like looking at my feet, especially in the water. I like to spread my toes and see the light coming through the skin. There are small blue veins that look like little rivers on a map. When I was younger I pretended that it was because I had a mermaid as a relative. Now I’ve seen someone who really could be a mermaid. If I told my mother or father they’d probably just laugh and say I’d imagined it. But I know she was real.
I stayed at the shore for about an hour, wondering if she would come back. I thought about going in the water again but I’m really not supposed to go swim alone. I love to swim. When I was a baby I used to slip under the water in my bath and it scared my mother until she realized that I knew to hold my breath and I always came up smiling. The water holds me and carries me. When I stay calm I can almost hear it speaking to me. It’s like it’s singing sometimes and it’s so beautiful but I haven’t quite figured out what it’s saying. Maybe the mermaid knows. Finally when I realized she wasn’t coming back I stood up and brushed the damp sand off my feet. I slipped my boots back on, tucked the white feather behind my ear and started walking toward home.
We live on an island off the coast of Scotland in the Outer Hebrides. We came here a little less than a year ago from the U.S. to live with my grandmother when she was sick. She passed away in January and for now we’re staying in her cottage. Even though I miss her so much I love living here. It reminds me of her and of the time we spent together before she got sick. It’s often cold and windy here and storms whip up out of nowhere. There are giant boulders and slippery kelp and corals that look like fingers and the ocean smashes against the rocks so hard that spray shoots into the air. It’s beautiful and wild and I love this place more than anyplace else on earth.
Walking back along the path I heard the distant sound of a car engine starting and then Mr. Fraser’s sheepdog barking. He was probably snapping at the tires and trying to catch the car. Mr. Fraser and his wife live on the same property that we do. It’s on a patch of land called a croft. The Frasers live in a more modern house and he takes care of the sheep and Mrs. Fraser spins wool to make yarn. Our cottage is called a blackhouse and it’s made of stones and has a roof made of thatch and turf. It looks like it grew right out of the ground.
Scotland is a good location for both of my parents’ work. There’s not much light pollution so Dad can see the stars. My mother is researching a type of algae that may have medicinal properties. It grows here near the seashore and she needs to collect it every week while it’s still fresh. She travels by airplane almost every week to the University of Edinburgh to take her latest specimens to the lab. She usually comes back on Thursday afternoon. I really wanted to tell someone about the mermaid but I didn’t think anyone would believe me. I decided to keep her to myself.

That night I dreamed about the mermaid and she was the first thing I thought of when I woke up the next day. I got dressed and headed back to the shore. Waling along the sea path toward the ocean I noticed something that I hadn’t seen yesterday. It was small and orange and waving in the breeze. I bent over it and saw that it was a tiny rectangular flag on a thin metal rod stuck in the ground. I saw more little orange flags in the distance. Then I noticed a sign. How could I have missed it? It was facing the other direction and I ran toward it. It was a big white sign with wooden stakes that were driven into the ground. “Caislin Cliffs – resort and luxury apartments for nature lovers- coming soon!” Someone had actually torn up pieces of peat to put this stupid sign in the ground. I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. Luxury apartments aren’t for nature lovers. They’re for people who don’t even like to get their feet wet. This shore has always been deserted. It’s too isolated to be of any use to anyone. It’s a wild and empty place and it has to stay this way. What was I supposed to do? I turned and ran back home.
When I got to the cottage I grabbed my bicycle to ride to the village library. I’m friends with the librarian and she’d be able to tell me what was going on with the construction sign. I started pedaling as fast as I could but my mind was racing ahead of me. How soon were they going to start building? What if there was no way to stop it? The flags were on both sides of the sea path. Did that mean they were going to build right over it and up to the sea? How would I be able to get to the sea if there was a big resort between our cottage and the shore? And the construction noise would scare the mermaid away. How would I ever see her again?
I was so upset I didn’t see the old man until I was nearly on top of him. He shouted out to me and I swerved to avoid him. I hit a rock and lost control of my bicycle. I tipped over the handlebars and sat stunned on the ground for a moment before I realized I’d cut my elbow pretty badly. My shirt was torn and was already turning red from the blood that was seeping out. The old man held out his hand to help me up.
“Are you alright? That was quite a spectacular spill. You came right over the top of your handlebars!”
“I’ll be okay but I need to get a bandage for my elbow.” I answered.
“Well young lady, you’re in luck because I always travel with a first aid kit. Let’s take a look at that wound, shall we?”
I felt curiously calm as he pulled up the sleeve of my shirt. There was a small sharp rock embedded in my skin and he gently plucked it out with his fingers. He peered closely at the cut and said “I don’t think you’ll need stitches but let’s put a bit of medicine on it and cover it. Wash it with soap and water once you get home.”
“I’m Halley, by the way. Please excuse me for nearly running you over.”
“What a lovely name. And by your accent I assume you’re from America. I’m Jonathan.”
He removed a small green cloth bag from an old leather briefcase that he was carrying and pulled out what looked like a dried mushroom. He squeezed the mushroom over my cut and it was soft like a marshmallow. A light brown powder emerged and covered the cut. For a moment I wondered how safe I was and I started to pull away but by then he was putting a regular Band-Aid on my elbow.
“Good as new in a day or two” he declared. “Now where were you headed in such a hurry?”
“I was on my way to the library to see if I could find out what’s happening near the shore. I was walking there this morning and I saw a sign and some survey flags and I’m really worried about it.”
“Ah, yes, Caislin Cliffs, the luxury resort. I’m actually headed up that way myself to take a closer look.”
My heart fell. “Oh, so you’re with the construction company.”
“No, far from it. I’m an archaeologist and I’m looking for ruins and artifacts. I believe that there may something significant in this area that was left behind by an ancient culture. The construction firm had one of their own archaeologists do a survey and he found nothing, but I want to take a look around.”
I looked at Jonathan once more. I felt confused about whether or not I should trust him. He looked directly at me and I noticed his eyes were an odd shade of light blue, almost like a Siberian Husky. I hesitated a moment and then said “Well, maybe I can help you. Do you want to come to my house for some tea and we can talk a little more about it?”
“That sounds like the best idea I’ve heard all day.”
I turned my bike around and started pushing it toward home.
As we got closer to the cottage I asked Jonathan what he was doing walking way out here. He told me he’d left his rental car at the end of the paved road when he saw the private road for our land. He knew the resort was supposed to be built near the shore and he’d started walking on the dirt path when I’d nearly run him down. He told me he was staying in the village in a guest house.
Jonathan was a small sandy haired man in a sport coat, tie and checkered shirt. He spoke as if he were used to being listened to and I wondered if maybe he was a teacher or a college professor. In the U.S. I never would have invited a stranger home with me but it’s different here. He’s actually from England which explains why I’d never seen him before. He told me he’s been searching for ancient sites around the U.K. and trying to prevent them from being developed.
“Many people have lived in this area over the past several thousand years” Jonathan said. “We’re still discovering civilizations. We’ve had Beaker people and Picts who built some of the early stone circles like Stonehenge and left smaller carved stones that you still see in some of the fields. There’s even evidence of an ancient Gaelic culture that worshiped Goddesses. I haven’t found any of their sites but I believe there may be some in the Scottish Isles. ”
“My father is studying the standing stones at Callanish.” I told him. “He’s an astronomer and said that the stones are related to how the sun and moon move through the sky. He told me there’s some big event with the moon that takes place every 18 years and it’s due to happen later this summer.”
“Ah, then you probably know more about this than I can tell you,” said Jonathan.
“Not really, just what my dad has told me. I’m more interested in wildlife and birds than astronomy,” I replied.
As we walked into the cottage through the kitchen I invited Jonathan to sit in the library. It has a desk and shelves full of old books that have been here for generations. I cleaned my elbow and then I made some tea. As I came in with the cups he pointed to an old painting that was hanging on the wall above the desk. “That’s lovely. Do you know where it’s from?”
“No, I don’t. I’ve never even noticed it before. It does look familiar though, maybe it’s someplace nearby.”
“Yes, it looks quite a bit like the coastline near here. I wonder how long ago it was painted.”
“My mom might know. She grew up here. I’ve only been living here about nine months.”
I told Jonathan a little about the places we had lived in the U.S. as he finished his tea.
“Well, Halley this was a delightful way to spend an hour of my day. I trust that your elbow will heal quickly.” He handed me a card for the Tower Guest House. “This is where I’m staying in the village. Each summer I choose a different island to explore and I’ll be here for the next two months. I hope to see you again sometime soon.”


When the path you’re on is not the right one…

This morning I decided to go to the beach (with apologies to my northern friends).  I drove to Matheson Hammock and parked my car at the entrance to the path that leads through the mangroves and eventually to the bay. I ignored the sign. The last time I had come the same sign was up and the way was clear until I got close to the end and could come out on an alternate path. 20150222_125548[1]As I walked I ignored other signs, not written like the first one  but certainly signs of high water. The water was flowing through the mangroves and the path was wet.  Coming to a low point it became obvious that unless I wanted to get very wet I was on the wrong path. I thought about taking off my shoes and wading through but the water isn’t particularly clean and I didn’t want to risk stepping on anything sharp (or icky).20150222_110037[1]So I turned around and headed back. I tried warning another person headed toward the underwater path but he had earbuds on and didn’t hear me. I found another narrow path that led back to the road and kept walking toward the beach. It wasn’t as pleasant as the path had been. There were cars and not as much shade. I stopped and took a picture of this amazing spider that was eating a beetle for breakfast.

Beetle for breakfastBeetle for breakfast

When I got closer to the water a woman asked me to take a picture of her and her family, and I asked if I could take a picture of her daughter’s awesome shirt.

Girls Never Give Up Ever!
Girls Never Give Up

When I got to the ocean I swam a little. Even though it’s much warmer here than where I grew up it IS February and we just had a little cold snap. I hung out on the beach for a while and was just getting ready to leave when I saw some kids dressed in red caps and gowns. The colors looked so wonderful together that I walked over and took a picture. I started talking to one of the grandmothers who was with the group. They were 5th graders and were having their graduation picture taken (better now than in May when it’s too hot and muggy to be at the beach). It turns out one of the students had been in my class 6 years ago. His parents suggested that maybe I would want to look for a job at his school.  I smiled and thanked them but said I’m taking a break from teaching. It doesn’t feel like my right path anymore.

Graduates on the beach
Graduates on the beach

When I left my job I had already ignored the signs for a while. When it came time to turn back I didn’t know where that would lead me and I still don’t. The path I’m on right now isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes the traffic moves too fast. But I think it’s taking me where I need to go and I’m meeting some amazing people and having wonderful experiences along the way.

The beach at Matheson Hammock
The beach at Matheson Hammock

I hope your path is taking you where you want to go. If it isn’t, maybe it’s time to find another…

A Piece of Quiet

When my son was five he once told me “All I need is some piece of quiet.” We smiled and wrote down his “mistake” in a notebook that we’ve kept to remind us of the funny things he’s said over the years. Today I was contemplating the need for peace and quiet while I was at the park.  Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her book Women Who Run With the Wolves urges us toward the regular experience of solitude. “Long ago the word alone was treated as two words, all one. To be all one meant to be wholly one, to be in oneness, either essentially or temporarily.”  I’ve been seeking out solitude on a daily basis and finding it so much easier now that I’ve left my job.  But even in my solitude I could hear the sounds of others… airplanes crossing the sky, the recycling truck picking up the bins and putting them back down, even the sound of my son’s P.E. coach drifting on a public address system from his school’s field day events. The wind blew and there were sounds of palm fronds rattling, wind chimes tinkling, the constant buzz and hum of the city in the background.

I realize that true silence is nearly impossible to find. I realize that true solitude is also nearly impossible. We’re filled with the sounds of others even at our most alone. Rewinding old conversations, composing future blog posts, singing snatches of a song that plays in our head sometimes for days… So my goal is not complete silence, nor complete solitude. Just a piece of quiet.

I hope you find time for a piece of quiet today too.

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