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.