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
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.
“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.”