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!
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.