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.

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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.”