A Question for Our Readers

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

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


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

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