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.

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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.”

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