Sunday, November 9, 2014

Tales From The Frog Pond - Stories for Children Polly the Opossum

Tales From The Frog Pond - Stories for Children

- Polly the Opossum

Polly yawned a gigantic yawn, exposing a mouth full of teeth. She had slept away most of the day in her comfortable spot under the Hauschildt barn. Soon it would be evening and she would come out of the shelter where she had been sleeping all day. Her stomach was rumbling and it was time to hunt for food.
Polly wasn't picky about what she ate. She was a scavenger, and lived on whatever she could find. Tonight it was garden vegetables. She had spotted the garden full of carrots, tomatoes, and radishes when she found the spot under the barn.
Polly was pretty much homeless by choice. It was her nature to wander the countryside, seldom spending more than two or three nights in the same place. She would find a likely spot to sleep away a day or two and settle in there. She liked to sleep during the day and travel and find food at night. Polly was Nocturnal, which means she stayed up all night and slept all day.
Polly the Possum was very, very shy. She tried to avoid people and other animals, and most of the time she succeeded. She was happiest with her babies, and she carried them with her wherever she went. They stayed in a little pouch under her belly and when she walked through the countryside, it rocked them to sleep.
        The baby possums were called pups or joeys. They lived on their mother's milk, which was located inside the pouch. They were warm and happy and well fed there, and their mama loved having them close to her.
Polly had good reasons to feel shy. Often people were afraid of her, thinking that she was a rat because of her long tail. They did not realize that she cleaned the area where she traveled of grubs, worms, and pests like ticks that humans find annoying. Polly was peaceful in nature and not at all aggressive. She only wanted to be left alone to search for food and water and take care of her babies.
One particular evening just after dark, the Hauschildt boys heard their dog Beau, a black Labrador Retriever, barking incessantly at the back door. Something must be out there, thought Mike.
Mike poked his head out the back door and pulled it right back in.
"Mom, there's a rat in the yard," he called out.
"Where?" said Mom, as she flipped on the yard light near the door and peered over Mike's head.
"Over there," said Mike, and he pointed to the storage building some twenty feet from the house. They could see the eyes of the creature shining in the light.
"If that's a rat, it's the biggest rat I ever saw," said Mom. "That can't be a rat. It has to be two feet long. It must be a possum."
"What is it doing?" asked Mike. "Should we get the shotgun?"
"Absolutely not! They're gentle little creatures and they wouldn't hurt anybody or anything. It's probably just looking for someplace to sleep tomorrow. They sleep all day and hunt food at night."
"Well, what good are they? They sure are ugly."
Polly heard that and her little Possum feelings were hurt. What did he know, anyway?
"Aw, I think they're cute," said Mom. "Look at that sweet little face and it's cute little hands."
Polly felt a little better and sniffed. The mom had a little better judgement than the boy.
"Bring in the dog and shut the door," said Mom. "That possum won't hurt anybody, and will probably be gone in a day or two."
Mike brought Beau in on the porch, shut the door, and turned off the outside light.
"Mom, where did Possums come from? And what do they eat?"
"Well, from what I have heard, they have been around since the Dinosaurs. They are one of the oldest animal alive. They are marsupials. Do you know what that means?
"No, what?" Mike was naturally curious, and now his brothers Jimmy, David, and Matt had gathered around to listen.
"It means they have a pouch and they carry their babies around with them," said Mom. "They are the only marsupials on the North American continent. Kangaroos are marsupials, and they live in Australia."
"Can we catch her and keep her for a pet?" asked Jimmy.
"I don't think that would be a good idea," said Mom with a smile. "She would probably be a lot happier where she is, and the best thing we can do for her is leave her alone."
"What do they like to eat?" asked Matt.
"Well, they eat a lot of things. One thing they like is dog food. The dry food that we leave out for Beau probably smelled good to her and she came up to the house to investigate."
The boys were looking out the window, but Polly had disappeared around the side of the storage building.
"Can I put out some more dog food so she has something to eat tonight?" Dave looked up at Mom with a smile and she couldn't resist.
"Sure, go ahead, but we won't do this every night, OK? Matt, will you help your brother get the dog food?"
Matt held the big 20 pound bag of dog food while Dave filled a scoop, opened the door, and stepped outside into the dark. He dumped the kibbles into Beau's food dish by the porch and looked out into the night. He didn't see Polly but he could hear her rustling in the leaves by the shed. He decided to go back into the house and watch from there. Maybe the little possum wouldn't come up while he was standing outside.
Polly lifted her head and sniffed the breeze. The fresh dog food smelled wonderful and her little nose twitched in delight. She wished the boy would go back into the house so she could get some, and finally he did just that.
Polly waited for a while, watching the house, until she was sure nobody was coming back out. Slowly she ambled towards the door and the pan of kibbles near the porch. One at a time, she picked up the small round chunks and crunched them with her strong back teeth. If a possum could smile, Polly would have been smiling. She loved dog food, and this was really good. She didn't see Dave watching her from inside the house.
Polly saw something out of the corner of her eye and whirled to see what was there. Only a few feet from the dog pan, the head of a huge rattlesnake rose out of the Jonquils growing by the porch. Polly crouched and hissed at the poisonous snake and the rattlesnake hissed back, a terrifying sound in the night. They watched each other for a minute, neither one of them moving, and then the snake coiled into a tight ball and struck without warning. Polly jumped in the air and the snake just missed sinking its fangs into her neck. She came down on top of the snake and her jaws clamped behind the snake's head. With a violent shake of her head, she broke its neck.
"Oh man, that was awesome," whispered Dave from the porch where he had been watching. Matt was by his side and they were amazed at the little possum's courage. They ran back in the house to tell Mom and their brothers.
"You should have seen it," Matt said to Jimmy and Mike. "The rattlesnake went after the little possum and she killed it. It was so cool!"
"I've never seen that happen," Mom said, amazed that a little opossum could kill a snake. "Don't go near the snake in case it's still alive. They can be really hard to kill."
But in the morning, the evidence was there next to Beau's dish. A huge dead rattlesnake lay limp next to the flowers by the porch.
"She probably saved us from getting bit," said Mom. "We owe her a thank-you."
Polly was sleeping under the storage building nearby, and heard Mom's thank you. She smiled, curled up, and went back to sleep with a smile on her little Possum face. It was nice to be appreciated.

Facts about Opossums:

Opossums have existed in their present form since the days of the dinosaurs. Their non-aggressive nature combined with their ability to forage for their food have contributed to their survival. If Polly was attacked or cornered, she would show her teeth and hiss in a ferocious display that was meant to scare her attacker. Nothing could actually be farther from the truth. If she became too frightened or if she was hurt by an attacking dog or coyote, Polly would actually go into a seizure and become comatose. She was that afraid! She would fall down, foaming at the mouth, her eyes would roll back in her head, and she would leak obnoxious green fluid from her body.
Have you ever heard of "playing possum"? That means that someone pretends to be asleep. People mistakenly think that opossums are pretending to be dead when they actually have been frightened out of their wits. They can remain in this comatose condition for up to four hours. So if you see a possum that appears to be dead, just gently remove it from harm's way and leave it alone. It is very likely that the possum is carrying babies in her pouch and has become so frightened that she is having a seizure. Leave her alone, and she may come back to consciousness and leave the area. Don't be alarmed if when you come back to check on her, she will probably be gone. She will be on her way, happy to be free.
If you are tempted to take the possum home and keep it for a pet, please don't do that. Possums have very special dietary and habitat needs. They need to be left to roam freely, find their food on their own, and live in the wild. Their biggest threat is from cars, coyotes, wolves, and humans. They frequently get run over by cars at night when they are out looking for food.
Another little known fact about possums is that they are immune to almost all poisonous snakes. Only the coral snake is poisonous to the possum, which is another reason to allow them to roam in your territory. They just may be protecting you from the deadly snakes in your area.
They are really our little friends, and have been around since the beginning of history. They must be doing something right. All they need is a warm, dry place to sleep and enough food to sustain them. If you ever find one in your area, be kind to it. It is only trying to survive in a harsh world, and they just might do you a favor of killing a poisonous snake in your behalf.

The End

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Tales from the Frog Pond - Stories for Children - Susie the Squirrel

It was early Fall, and the walnut trees by the edge of the pond in Madison County were heavy with nuts. You could barely walk under the massive walnut trees without getting hit in the head by the big nuts falling to the ground.
The pungent aroma of the big green nuts filled the air, and the squirrels from the surrounding woods loved them. They were attracted by the perfume given off by the big green fruit and they stayed busy on warm sunny days picking them up and biting off the outer covering. Hiding inside the big green balls were the harder dark brown shells which protected the delicious nuts inside.
The bushy tailed squirrels scampered in the sunshine gathering the nuts. After Susie and her friends had cleaned off the green outer shell with their sharp teeth, they ate the nuts until their bellies were full or they buried the leftovers  underground.
When the nuts had all fallen and the cold north wind was blowing, somehow they would remember where they had buried each nut and they would dig them up and have a feast.
Susie was an Eastern Fox Squirrel, and weighed just under three pounds. She had a beautiful gray and white salt and pepper fur coating over the top of her head and down her back and sides. It covered her outer legs and went all the way to her paws. Her tail, chest, belly, and paws were a beautiful rust color that was the same color as a fox. It was a blend of orange and tan that gave her a colorful appearance. It was that fox color that gave them the name of Fox Squirrels.
Susie had tiny ears that stood up, giving her an inquisitive look. She had large dark eyes that were good at seeing everything for miles. She could spot danger in enough time to quickly run up a tall tree and hide.
Her little nose was black and almost came to a point. Her paws were tiny, and she had long fingers and toes that helped her grasp, climb, and hold objects securely while she inspected them.
The farm in Madison County had trees along the fences. There were walnut, hickory, elm, oak, and butternut trees, and it was a perfect sanctuary for both fox squirrels and their gray cousins.
Fox squirrels build their nests out of leaves and branches in the trees. The baby squirrels are born in late January and early February and again in August and September. They are born with their eyes and their ears closed. They are several weeks old when their eyes open and they are able to hear with their ears.
The babies stay in nests until they are six or seven weeks old, and then they begin to poke their heads out of the treetops for their first look at the world.
Fox squirrels eat a lot of different foods, but the buds and fruit of walnut, pecan, mulberry, elm, and hickory trees are their favorites. They also like mushrooms and vegetables from the garden.
In the spring, the squirrels will fill their bellies with mulberries from the trees  near the grapevines by the big house on top of the hill where the Hauschildt boys live. By late summer, most of the squirrels are deep in the woods feeding on hickory nuts. Later in early fall, they feed on the acorns from the oak trees. Then late in the fall, they return to the pond and the walnut trees that surround it. Then they have a banquet, squirrel style.
There is a stump near the pond, and Susie selected that as her perch. First she found what she thought was the perfect walnut. She grasped it in her paws, rolling it around and sniffing it carefully to make sure it was perfectly ripe. Then she climbed onto the stump perch with her walnut and began gnawing away the green husk. She turned it over and over with her paws while she cleaned the husk away with her sharp teeth, and in about ten seconds, she had a dark brown walnut in her furry little paws. Now she had a decision to make. Should she eat it now or save it for later? What do you think she did?
Well, if you guessed that she ate it, you're right.  Her sharp strong teeth bit into the hard outer shell of the nut and cleaned away the pieces of shell until she was left with a delicious, sweet kernel in her paws, which she ate quickly and carefully, not missing a single crumb. Then she cleaned her face with her paws, removing every trace of the walnut shell and nut. She flipped her tail several times and hopped down from the stump to scamper off and find another walnut. She would find a hiding place for the next one and bury it for later.
Some squirrels follow a special route back to the woods where they hide their nut prizes in a favorite hiding place that only they know. Susie liked to bury her snacks all over the yard in random locations. She would remember where each nut was hidden when she got hungry for a walnut snack. Nobody knows how they remember where they buried the nuts, but they're very good at it.
Fox Squirrels have long, fluffy tails, which they flick up and down when they are excited. They and Eastern Gray Squirrels are alike in many ways. They have their families at the same time of year, build their nests in the same kind of places, and eat the same foods. However, Fox Squirrels prefer more open habitat, whereas Grays prefer good tree cover. Fox Squirrels spend more time foraging and running about on the ground than the grays do, and may be encountered in fields quite far from any trees, where a gray squirrel would not stray.
Both species feed on acorns, which are rich in tannins. Tannins are poisonous to many animals, including worms, but tannins keep the squirrels free of roundworms and tapeworms. You and I would get sick if we ate acorns, but the squirrels love them, and are very healthy.
Fox Squirrels accumulate another chemical compound, porphyrin, in their bones and teeth, which makes their bones and teeth pink and bright red under ultraviolet light. Here's a mystery: Gray Squirrels eat the same foods and this does not happen to them—nor to any other healthy mammal. It's another thing that makes fox squirrels special.
Susie's teeth were bright pink, indicating that she was well fed and her body had all the elements it needed for her to be healthy and happy.
Soon the days would be getting shorter and the cold north wind would blow. Susie would spend more time in the nest, where she would stay safe and warm. Fox squirrels do not hibernate, however, and you might see one any time of the year.

The End

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Tales From The Frog Pond - Stories For Children - Terry the Turtle

Terry the Turtle

Terry the turtle moved in slow motion. Every step was precise and he thought very carefully about everything he was going to do before he did it. Terry wanted to know exactly where the next step was going to go before he planted his foot down. He was a very cautious turtle.

Terry was not only cautious, he was beautiful.

Terry was a North American Painted Turtle, with colorful red markings on the underside of his shell and on his legs as well as bright yellow streaks on his head.

Terry watched the boy run down the hill towards him and he felt the vibrations through his feet. When the boy got closer, Terry pulled his head back a little into his shell just to be safe. He didn't know what this boy wanted.

"Wow, a turtle!" shouted the youngster. "Come here, Jim, look at this!"

Dave was curious and he didn't see many turtles on land. Most of the turtles he saw on the farm were swimming in the pond, but this turtle was different. The  markings were unusual and this turtle was a different color. His face and his head were a different shape.

"Let's show it to Mom," said Jim.

"Do you think we should?" asked Dave.

"Sure. Just be careful and don't let it bite you."

"Why me? You pick it up and don't let it bite you," was Dave's reply.

"If I pick it up and take it back to the house, it's my turtle," said Jim.

"Fine," was the answer, "if you get bit it's your own fault."

Carefully, Jim picked up the turtle by the edges of his shell, taking care to keep his fingers away from the turtle's head. He didn't have to worry. Terry pulled his head back into his shell as far as he possibly could. Being picked up by a boy was very scary.

Jim and Dave ran back up to the house and into the kitchen where Mom was washing dishes.

"Look what we found," said Jim. "It was down by the pond. Can we keep it?"

Mom turned around and dried her hands.

"What are you going to do with a turtle?" she asked.

"It will be a pet," said Jim. "We can get a box and keep it in our room."

"I saw it first," said Dave. Suddenly he wanted a turtle of his own for a pet.  Maybe they could find another turtle and they would each have one. They could have turtle races.

"What do you need to do to keep it alive?" asked Mom. "What do turtles eat?"

The boys looked at each other. Neither of them knew much about turtles.

"We'll find out," said Dave.

"If you keep the turtle, you have to share," said Mom. "I don't want you two fighting over a turtle. Agreed?"

"Deal," said Jim. "Right Dave?"

With a nod, Dave headed for the book shelf. This was before the Internet was available with all kinds of information on everything you could imagine. Google hadn't been invented yet. If they wanted to know about turtles, they would have to find a book about turtles.

"Look in the Encyclopedia," said Jim, and Dave pulled the huge book off the book shelf. He opened the large volume on the dining room table and Jim watched over his shoulder as his brother searched through the pages until he found turtles.

"What does it say?" asked Jim. "What do they eat? What do we need to feed him?"

"Well, they like the water, but we knew that, right?" Dave pointed to a chapter in the book.

"Look here. There are pictures of different kinds of turtles. Here's one that looks like ours. It says this one is a painted turtle. It's markings are just like the one we found."

"But what do they eat?" asked Jim.

"It says here they like fish, insects, tadpoles, frogs, crayfish, snails, and vegetation," Dave replied. "But this is most important. It says they cannot swallow their food out of the water."

"What? How can we feed him, then?"

Dave grabbed the turtle and headed back to the kitchen.

"Mom, we have a problem," said Jim, following right behind him. "This turtle can't swallow his food unless he's in the water. What will we do?"

Mom smiled. "Well, let's think about this, ok?" She took the turtle out of Dave's hands and held him up to look at him closer.

"Looks like he's a painted turtle all right. See the stripes along the side of his head? It looks like someone painted them on with a paint brush. Isn't he pretty?"

Terry was glad they thought he was pretty, but he wished they would put him down so he wouldn't feel so insecure hanging in the air. He hoped they wouldn't  drop him.

"He has yellow streaks on his head and red patches on his legs," observed Jim. "He's beautiful."

"Do you boys have enough money saved in your allowance to buy a big aquarium so he can swim?" asked Mom. "He's going to need a lot of water and he's going to need a log to crawl up onto so he can get out of the water. Either that or he will need a big rock to climb on."

Jim and Dave looked at each other.

"I have two dollars," said Dave.

"And I have three." added Jim.

"Well, I think a big aquarium is going to cost a lot more than all of us put together can come up with," said Mom. "And then where would we put a big aquarium like that?"

Jim looked at the turtle and Dave looked at Mom.

"Maybe it would be a good idea to take this pretty little guy back to the pond where he can be happy and swim all day," said Mom.

Dave looked at Jim. "What do you think?"

Jim looked at Dave. "I think maybe Mom is right."

Together the two boys took Terry out of the kitchen, back down the big hill to the pond where they had found him. Together they walked carefully to the edge of the pond and Dave gently set Terry down near the water.

The little turtle watched the boys from inside his shell and when they had backed up a few feet, he poked his head out and looked around.

He was glad to be back home at the pond.

Terry slowly - very slowly - stepped into the water and slid off the edge of the bank.

Ah, that felt good to be back where he belonged. He knew where to find food here, the water felt good on his shell, and it was comforting to be home.

The boys turned and walked back to the house. They knew they had made the right decision. They didn't see Terry wave good-bye.

Turtles live a long life, and the boys saw Terry often when they visited the pond. They would know it was him from the markings on his shell.

Dave and Jim are grown men now with children of their own. Turtles live a  long time, and it could very well be that Terry is still happily living in the pond with his friends the frogs. If you see him there, wave to him and say hi.

The End

Tales From The Frog Pond - Stories for Children

Matilda the Frog
Tales From The Frog Pond
NaNoWriMo 2014

         Matilda is small and green, has big eyes and very long eyelashes. Matilda is a frog.

Now maybe you have been told that frogs don't have eyelashes, but you have never met Matilda. She is one of a kind. She smiles a lot and likes to swim in the pond in the Summer with her friends.

Who are her friends you ask? Why, other frogs of course. Frogs, fish, turtles, and tadpoles. They all live together in a big pond in Iowa, South of Des Moines and West of Interstate 35.

Now there are a lot of ponds in Iowa and a lot of ponds around Des Moines, but there is only one pond where Matilda lives. That is where our story takes place.

In the evening, Matilda likes to sing. You can hear her singing all the way at the top of the big hill where the Hauschildt family lives.

"Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit," Matilda sings her song until the wee small hours of the morning. She only knows one song, and she sings it over and over and over until she is so sleepy that she can hardly keep her eyes open. Then she turns down the little light by her lily pad and goes to sleep.

Now perhaps you didn't know that frogs have little lights by their lily pads. Well, they do. Their little lights are made of the same substance that fireflies use to light their way at night when they fly around the houses and the trees. Little blinking lights at night let you know that the fireflies are busy and all is well with the world.

One morning in July, Matilda was swimming by the edge of the pond when her friend Boris the Bullfrog popped up beside her.

"Eeeeeeek," squealed Matilda. "You startled me, Boris. You should give a frog a little warning before you pop up like that."

"Sorry, Matilda," said Boris in his deep low down bullfrog voice, "I didn't mean to startle you."

"It's OK, Boris, just give me a little warning next time. You know, like a little croak or a giggle or something, just so I know someone's there."

Boris blinked twice and smiled. Actually, he enjoyed making Matilda jump when he popped up beside her in the water. It was fun. Maybe not for Matilda, but it was fun for him. I mean, after all, how much entertainment did a bullfrog have in a pond?

So he smiled at Matilda and bobbed his head. He wasn't making any promises that he knew he wouldn't keep.

"So Matilda, would you like to go for a swim?" he asked her.

"Sure, Boris," she answered. "Where would you like to go?"

"You lead the way and I'll follow," he said, and he took a deep breath of air and ducked his head under the water again.

Matilda thought for a minute and then she knew exactly where she wanted to go. With a swirl of water, she held her breath, ducked down and began to swim deeper below the surface.

Boris followed her, and together they swam along the edge of the pond towards the tall cattails at the other end. She could see Boris out of the corner of her eye.

Matilda loved to swim, and today was a perfect summer day. The sun was shining and the water was warm. A light summer breeze was blowing, and it ruffled the surface of the water, making it sparkle like diamonds.

Boris was a strong swimmer. As soon as he figured out where she was headed, he swam on ahead of her and reached the cattails before she did. They popped up out of the water in the middle of the cattails at nearly the same time. Boris was just a little bit ahead of her.

Boris had a much deeper frog voice than Matilda. He was a bullfrog. While Matilda made a frog song that sounded like "Ribbit, ribbit," Boris's voice sounded more like "Row-boat, row-boat".

Together, they sang a duet.  Matilda was singing "Ribbit, ribbit, ribbit", and Boris sang "Row-boat, row-boat, row-boat".  It made a very nice frog song on a warm Summer morning.

Someone else was there at the pond that day. Boris and Matilda were so caught up in singing together that they didn't notice when Goldene Ray joined them on the other side of the cattails.

Goldene didn't like to get his feet wet. He didn't like to swim either. What he did like to do was catch frogs. He would hide behind the cattails until an unsuspecting frog climbed out of the water. Then Goldene Ray would pounce on the frog in a very rude way, scaring them witless. Goldene Ray didn't want to eat the frog, he just wanted to make him croak. He loved the funny little sound the frog would make when he got the wind knocked out of him. Goldene Ray was a bully of a cat.

Goldene Ray was crouched down behind the cattails and he was trying to be very still and invisible. He was super quiet, barely blinking, and the only part of his cat-body that moved was the tip of his tail. When he was excited, he just couldn't keep the tip of his tail from twitching. It gave him away every time.

It was that twitching tail that saved Boris and Matilda from getting the wind knocked out of them on that summer day.

Boris looked up out of the water in the middle of his duet with Matilda and caught a glimpse of that twitching tail.

"Matilda, jump!" he croaked, and he went "Earp!" and jumped back into the water.

"Earp!" squawked Matilda, and she jumped right behind Boris.

They swam back out into the middle of the pond and looked back at where Goldene Ray was hiding behind the cattails.

"Meeeooowww!" said Goldene, annoyed that they had spotted him before he could leap. He stood up and whipped his tail a couple of times and trotted back up the big hill to the house. He would find something else to play with there.

"Oh, Boris, I'm so glad you spotted the cat," whispered Matilda, still frightened at their close call.

"Glad to be of service, Matilda," replied Boris. "Have we had enough of a swim for one day?"

"I think so," Matilda answered with a smile. "I think I'll go back to my little corner of the pond and take a nap now."

And she did, and they napped and ate bugs and waited for the sun to go down so they could sing again.

The end.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Fiber Arts Festival in Camdenton on October 18th, 2014

It's a nice cool Sunday morning and I'm writing, getting ready for a Fiber Artist's Festival on October 18th in Camdenton and relaxing. I will be giving a demonstration in needle tatting jewelry from 1:00 to 3:00 as well as selling my own craft items. I have jewelry, dog sweaters, hats, and slippers for sale. Most of my items are tagged and ready to go, and I'm making more little dog sweaters to keep my customer's poochies warm this winter. I have several sizes and all the models are different.  If I need to take custom orders, I'll be able to do that also.

As soon as the Festival is finished, I will start an outline for my favorite pastime, novel writing, in November for  You can sign up, it's free, and join me for writing fun in November. For once, I have an idea in advance.  I dreamed about a cute little monkey last week, and plan to build a story around him.  In my dream, I had been hired to deliver the little monkey to his new owner in a hospital setting, not knowing that he was going to be used in a lab for experiments. When I realized that he was going to be killed, I had to find a way to get him back.  That will be the storyline.  I will have just 24 hours to find a way to "Save Kimo".

I am scheduled to work the night shift tonight, 7 pm to 7 am, and it won't hurt my feelings at all if I'm called off to stay home.  When I left work last night we weren't busy, and I'm hoping we aren't busy tonight.  I have a lot of home work to get done.

So much for now, stay warm, and I'll talk to you soon.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Changing times

The healthcare industry is changing rapidly, and it is affecting everyone, patients and caregivers alike. Obamacare passed, and good or bad, it changed everything. Time will tell if it is a good thing or a disaster. I guess it depends on which side of the fence you stand on.  It is taking a bite out of my paycheck now. If we don't have patients to care for at the hospital, someone has to stay home. Last week there were only 38 patients in the whole hospital.  Only one mom and baby in OB, and I stayed home. We take turns in rotation.  My leave time is used up with low census days now, and if I don't work, it takes a bite out of my paycheck.  Soooooo, with more free time, I either go fishing and put something in the freezer or I write.

There is a writing seminar this Saturday in Camdenton to be presented by Elizabeth Simons, and I would really like to go.  I think she has a lot of knowledge to offer, and I love her sense of humor. But I'm scheduled to work. If I'm called off, I'll attend. Otherwise it will take Divine Intervention.

I read everything I can read about the craft of writing. I want to make my stories as good as they can be. I have picked up ebooks on Amazon, and more and more writers are going "Indie" and publishing their own work. Among those Indie authors are successful writers who give encouragement and information on writing.  I'm learning with every new article I pick up.  Maybe when I grow up I'll be a great writer.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Edit Edit Edit

I made quite a few changes to the story. I killed off Nell's mother and left her with her Dad and brother and the boyfriend Liam.  Taking to heart the comments from my friends at the Writer's Guild, I cut some things and added others.  Here are the first three chapters for your consideration. I did change the first person perspective. 

Faraway Hills by Toni Lansing

Chapter 1

I was deep in sleep when angry bees invaded my dream and began swarming around my head. I swatted at them with both hands, and tried to keep them away from my eyes and my ears. I am terrified of bees. I danced around and waved my arms in the air trying not to get stung. Suddenly the bees disappeared and the buzzing noise became the sound of arguing voices. I pulled my pillow over my head and lay there for several minutes, not knowing what was dream and what was reality. As I drifted up through the layers of sleep, I realized the bees in my dream were voices. My brother Nick and my Dad were downstairs in the kitchen arguing and that was enough to bring me fully awake.
My bedroom was at the top of the stairs and the sounds drifted up to my room. I could hear their voices all the way from the kitchen.
"You don't know what you're talking about." Dad's voice was loud and angry. "You need to wake up and look around you."
"You are the one who needs to wake up," said my brother, "and you had better be quick about it. Time is running out."
I heard a noise that sounded like Dad pounded the table with his fist. One loud noise like a hammer hitting a board.
"So you think you're big enough to tell me what to do?" Dad was scary when his temper was riled, and he definitely sounded riled.
"I'm telling you that you need to look around you at what's happening. The neighbors have all moved out, and we need to think about doing the same thing."
"This farm has been in our family for generations," shouted Dad. "I'm not leaving our home because of rumors. And that's all you have is rumors."
"Every family with kids has moved away. Stop and think about it, Dad. It's not safe for any of us now. You know what I'm saying is true. If you want to keep Nell safe, we have to get her out of here."
"Do you think I can't protect my own family? Is that what you're saying?" Dad sounded furious. What did all this have to do with me? Protect me from what? A shiver ran down my back and goose bumps raised up on my arms. What exactly was going on that put me in danger?
I threw back the covers, slipped into my sweats, and tiptoed halfway down the stairs. Sitting on the steps, I peered down through the railing into the kitchen. Dad was still sitting at the table and facing me. His brows came together over his nose, and deep creases lined his forehead. He looked tired and angry. Nick was turned away from me, and he was shaking his head back and forth. I could hear Dad's voice, but I couldn't hear what Nick was saying with his face was turned away from me. He was speaking softly and the words were so faint, I couldn't hear everything.
I was only getting bits and pieces of what they were saying. If this involved me, I needed to know what was being said. I thought about going down to the kitchen and joining the conversation, but if I did, they might stop talking. I could usually find out more by eavesdropping. 
They had stopped shouting and now they were discussing something. It was totally not like them to fight. When our mother died and Nick quit school, Dad and Nick worked our little truck farm together. From the beginning of the day until late in the evening, they were side by side, and my brother worked as hard as our Dad. Our small farm of eighty acres was planted in vegetables, a few fruit trees, and a vineyard. A fenced in pasture close to the house was seeded in orchard grass, and between our farm and the village were rows upon rows of grape vines. The harvest went to the village winery to be made into the best wine in the country, and we were well paid for our grapes. We had a cow that provided milk for our family and several others, and it was my job to do the milking every morning and night. Our little flock of twelve sheep gave us wool to sell in the village every spring. Our land had provided for us for as long as I could remember.
"I think you're blowing this all out of proportion," Dad said to him. "It can't be as bad as you say."
Nick stood up, pushing his chair behind him.
"I can't tell you who my sources are, but they are going to round up all the children old enough to walk. Once the roundup begins, there won't be anything we can do about it. If we're going to act, we have to act now. Dad, you've got to listen to me. I can't save Nell if you won't listen. I can't do it by myself."
Things suddenly got quiet in the kitchen. I was sixteen. If there was a roundup of the children, they would probably come for me too. I was small for my age and I was frequently mistaken for being much younger than I was.
"Do you expect me to just take this as truth? This is crazy. What would they want with the children? Who is behind all this?" Dad sounded calmer now and he was asking questions. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. I didn't realize I had been holding my breath as I listened to them argue. I was straining to hear every word.
"What I'm telling you is the truth, Dad. You have to believe me. We need to go now, tonight. Tomorrow may be too late. Nell is in danger, and if we don't go right away, they may come for her."
"You still haven't told me where this is coming from. Who is making all these plans? Is it the rebels or the militia?"
This was insane. Where would we go? Surely Dad wouldn't listen to this crazy talk. There was no other place for us. Coming for me? Who was coming for me? And why?  The people in the village were our friends. I knew there had been some incidents lately, but they were caused by people from the city coming out and stirring up trouble. Weren't they?
Nick was eighteen and thought of himself as a man now. When he wasn't working with Dad, he spent a lot of time in the village with his friends. Dad just looked the other way. As long as his chores were done, Nick was free to come and go as he pleased. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
"The rebels are planning the roundup and the militia will fight them. They are arguing among themselves about some things but once they have their plans in place, anything can happen. I don't know how much time we have, but trouble could break out soon."
"What part do you have in all of this?"
"You know the side I'm on, Dad, and it's not with the militia."
"All right, son, tonight we leave," My mouth dropped open. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
"I won't take a chance with your sister's life. I will go to the village and make the arrangements. Pack only what you can carry. We won't be taking the truck. We need to just disappear. I don't want anyone following us. Bring any money you can get your hands on. Talk to your sister and tell her to have her things packed and ready. We will leave tonight."
What did he mean, just disappear? Just leave everything? This couldn't be happening. Can our life change that fast? I sat there on the stairs, stunned. I heard the back door slam as Dad left. I heard Nick walk through the dining room and when he reached the bottom of the stairs, he looked up and saw me sitting there.
"You listened?"
I nodded my head, still too overwhelmed to speak. He came up the steps and sat down beside me. He put his arm around me and tried to console me, "Nell, it's not your fault."
My heart wrenched. It was my fault, no matter what he said. We wouldn't be going anywhere if Dad wasn't worried about me. I felt tears begin to run down my face. My brother and my father would give up everything to keep me safe. I felt guilty already. Guilty and scared. All of our lives would be changing, and what could I do about it? Nothing. A wave of anger washed over me. It was my home too. Nobody had even asked my opinion. If they had, I would have told them I wanted to stay, not run away. Stay and fight whatever and whoever it was that was threatening us. Isn't that what Dad had always taught us? Don't run away from trouble. Nick and Dad had made this decision without including me.
"Nell, we can't count on anyone but ourselves. The whole country is on the brink of another civil war, and Militia groups are springing up everywhere. It hasn't been safe here for a long time, and everything is about to fall apart."
Deep down I knew he was right. Young girls in our village were not allowed out of the house after sunset. It wasn't safe, and the police were just as likely to rape and steal as the thugs that roam the streets. I always felt lucky that we lived where we did. We were about equal distance from the village and the ocean.
"If Dad moves us to the city, I'll run away," I threatened. "I hate the city. You and Dad go on without me. I want to stay here."
My brother smiled at that idea and shook his head.
"What?" I said, "you don't believe me? You don't think I'll run? Just watch me."
I don't know if I was trying to convince him or myself at that point. I like to sound tough, but my brother knew me better than that.
"Nell, staying here and waiting for something to happen just isn't smart. We need to leave before even more trouble breaks out. Now is the time, and we're leaving tonight. It's already been decided. And you can't stay here by yourself. You know that's not going to happen."
"It's not fair," I whispered, as much to myself as to my brother. "We have to think of some other way. This can't be happening."
A shiver runs down my back and I stand up and look down at him.
"I'm going out for a while. I need to think."
He didn't try to stop me. I walked down the stairs to the front door, slipped the latch, and let myself outside. There would be plenty of time to pack if all I could take with me is what I could carry. I needed to breathe fresh air, and suddenly I couldn't breathe in our house. The fear and anxiety were suffocating. I had never known my Dad to be afraid of anything.
The morning air was crisp, and I could smell rain on the breeze blowing in from the ocean. After today, I might not be able to take a deep breath and feel the ocean in my lungs, the wind blowing my hair, the mist kissing my cheek.
I wanted to go to the beach one last time before we left, but right now I wanted to see Liam. I had to tell him what was happening. How could I not? He was my best friend. He would have been so hurt if I didn't give him a chance to say good bye. As I looked to the East, I saw the sun beginning to rise above the hills that separated our farm from the village. I pulled my jacket tighter around my shoulders and ran down the steps and across the field beside our house.
It took me about ten minutes to run across the field and the orchard, and then I was in the trees and safe. Maybe I'll just keep running, I thought. Maybe I'll let Dad and Nick leave without me. Would they? Would they leave without me and let me stay here? I was only sixteen years old, but in just a few days I'll have another birthday. I do know how to do some things. I could make it on my own. I knew I could.
A wave of sadness washed over me, and I missed my mom. She was my best friend, and I could talk to her about anything. We laughed over the silly things that Dad and Nick did, and I cried on her shoulder when I was sad. When she died, it left a giant hole in our family. Each one of us grieved for her in our own way. Dad kept all of her things in his bedroom just the way she had left them. Her clothes still hung in his closet and her perfume sat on the dresser. I guess he kept her things so he could pretend she was still there, because that's the way it felt to me too. There were times when everything was very quiet in our house.  I could imagine her voice talking to me, and it was almost like she was still there. The plague that had taken her life had taken Liam's dad too. There was hardly a family in the village that hadn't lost someone.
The sun had risen above the treetops and was casting shadows on the ground. Warmed up from running, I stopped, took off my jacket and wrapped it around my waist. It wasn't very far to Liam's house. He and his mom lived near the village and he worked in the fields. He was probably up and working. I came to the edge of the pasture and I could see him in the distance. He sensed me watching him and stood up and stretched, one hand shading his eyes. Then he waved to me over his head. He knew it was me. As I walked towards him, the tears started leaking out of my eyes. I didn't want to cry, but I couldn't help myself. It was embarrassing and I felt my face getting red. What a sight I must have been with my hair all over the place. I was dirty from running through the field, had tears streaking down my cheeks, and my face felt flushed. I got closer to him and he stopped.
"Nell, what's wrong with you," he asked, looking distressed. "Why are you crying?"
Between sobs I told him, "We're leaving tonight. I don't know where we're going, but probably to the city. Nick told Dad something that made him decide to leave."
The tears were really coming down now, and I wiped them away with the back of my hand. More leaked out.
"Calm down," said Liam. "It can't be all that bad, can it? The city isn't such a bad place, is it? There's lots to do, and more work, really. I could come and see you and your family in the city."
"But I love it here," I wailed. "I don't want to live in a stinking old city. I will hate it."
He reached out and put his arm around my shoulder. I snuggled in closer and buried my wet face in his shirt. This was what I would miss most of all. I always felt better when I was with Liam. I was too old to snuggle with Dad and Nick would have been appalled if I had tried to snuggle with him. I liked the physical sensation of being held in his arms. 
"I will miss my walks on the beach. I will miss the ocean," I said.
He asked softly, "Is that all you'll miss?"
He wanted to hear me say it. "I will miss you too," I whispered. I don't know if he even heard me.
"Come on," he said, "we'll go up to the house and see what Ma has in the kitchen. You look hungry."
I grinned up at him through my tears. He always thought I looked hungry. We walked back to his house and entered his mother's kitchen by the side door. She was just taking something out of the oven and it smelled wonderful.
"Look, Mom, what I found out in the bean field," he grinned at his mother. "It's pretty skinny, can we feed it?"
His mother took one look at me and laughed.
"Child, whatever have you been doing? You're a mess!" she said. "Go wash up and come back and have some cobbler."
She didn't say anything about my tears. I knew they were all over my face, but she just ignored them and invited me to her table. I loved Liam's mother.
The washroom was off the kitchen and there was a little red pump and a basin beside it. The pump was old fashioned, but a lot of the farms had their own well. The pump made a squeaky noise as I filled the basin and I splashed water on my face and washed my hands. My hair felt tangled and I tried to smooth it down. There wasn't a mirror, so I couldn't see my face, but it felt like I got the tears and most of the dirt washed away. I wiped my hands on the towel beside the basin and walked back to the kitchen.
Miriam had set places at the table for the three of us, and we all sat down to a heaping dish of warm cobbler fresh from the oven. I took a bite and it was wonderful. The taste of fresh berries and apples burst in my mouth.
"Thank you, Miriam," I said when I remembered my manners, "It's wonderful."
"Good job, Ma," said Liam, "You got her to stop crying."
She smiled at me and I thought that it was odd that she didn't ask why I was crying. It made me wonder if she already knew more than I did about what was going on? That wouldn't have surprised me at all. Everyone always kept me in the dark.
"We're leaving tonight," I blurted out. "I heard them talking this morning. We're going away and I don't know where. Maybe to Messina."
Miriam reached out across the table and grabbed my hand beside my plate. 
"You must not tell anyone else about this," she warned, and she suddenly looked worried. "Nobody else can know that you are leaving, and nobody else can know where you are going. This is very important. All of our lives may depend on you being able to keep your mouth shut now."
A cold feeling crept over me and I felt my stomach knot up with fear. I didn't understand what was happening. What did she mean when she said everyone's lives depended on keeping this a secret? What did it have to do with her and Liam?
"What's going on," I whispered to them as if there were somebody close by and listening. "What is this all about?"
Liam looked at her and says, "I think you'd better explain."
She still had my hand in hers, and she frowned. "I can't tell you everything I know, but I can tell you that this is necessary. You won't be going alone. Others will be going with you."
She patted my hand then as she drew away and said, "Trust your father to do what's best for your family, and don't tell another soul about this. That's all I can say," and she gave Liam a warning look and shook her head. He nodded and smiled. They were all making me crazy. What did Liam and Miriam they know that I didn't? Was everybody in on this? What on Earth was going on?
"You will know everything soon enough," said Liam, as if he could read my mind. "Have patience, and be silent."
Suddenly I choked up and couldn't eat another bite. I pushed my plate away and stood up. Everyone was keeping secrets from me, and it was making me angry. I wasn't a child, and they shouldn't treat me like one.
"I'd better go now," I said, and nobody tried to stop me. I was angry with Miriam for not telling me what she knew and with Liam for keeping secrets from me. I thought we told each other everything, but evidently I was wrong. It's not nice to keep secrets if you care about someone. It's not fair. Then suddenly I heard their thoughts and saw the images in their minds. It was a confusing jumble of fire and explosions. I heard gunfire and screams and I felt the fear behind their smiles. Something awful was about to happen. That was what was behind all of these secrets.
Ever since I was small, I had been able to hear the thoughts of others. It didn't happen all the time, but when it did, it came in flashes like just now. I don't know how to control it. If I could, I would. But it usually manifests when I need it most. It's like a warning.
"Well," I said, "Good bye and thank you for being our friends". That was all that would come out of my mouth without crying, so I swallowed down the tears and walked out of the kitchen and across the little porch. All I wanted to do was say good bye. I didn't want Liam to wake up in the morning with me gone and wonder what had happened to us. I was trying to think of his feelings, but neither of them seem too concerned about mine. They were too caught up in their own fears.
"Remember," said Liam as I was walking away, "don't speak to another soul about this. It's very important." I didn't answer and I didn't turn my head. I just kept walking. I could feel their eyes on my back as I walked away. At the edge of the field, I broke into a jog and jogged the rest of the way home. At the edge of the clearing, I stopped. Our cottage was on the edge of the forest, and the cow and the sheep were grazing peacefully in the orchard. Beyond the cottage lay the hills, and beyond the hills was the ocean. Wispy white clouds were air brushed over the blue sky, and a soft breeze was blowing from the West. My heart felt like a stone in my chest. This was all I had ever known, and I loved it there. I had never thought about living anywhere else. I had always felt so safe.
Our house was a modest little log cottage with a fireplace shared by two rooms, the kitchen and the common room.
When I entered the house, first all I heard was silence, and then I heard Dad in his bedroom. My room was at the top of the stairs and to the left and Nick's room was on the other side of the hallway. The window in my room was open and the breeze from the ocean was stirring the curtains. What would happen to our house when we left? Would someone else be living here? Would they be using all of our things that we couldn't take with us? I didn't see my Dad, but I could hear him moving around in his room. Maybe he was packing. I moved towards his bedroom. There were things I wanted to know.
I stood at the doorway to his room watching him stuff belongings into a backpack. I was very still and watched him until he realized I was there and slowly turned around.
"Where have you been?" he asked, and his voice was soft. His eyes looked sad, and it broke my heart.
"I heard you and Nick talking this morning," I accused. "Don't I have anything to say about this?"
He didn't answer for a long moment. He took a deep breath and let it out, as if he was trying to find the words.
"Not this time, honey. Now listen very carefully," he said, "and remember what I am going to tell you. It's very important that we keep this a secret. There are other people who know, but you're not going to know who you can trust and who you can't."
This was making me crazy. Why all these secrets?
"What's the deal," I asked, "and does Nick know what's going on? Where is he anyway? Isn't he coming with us?" It was all coming out in a rush. I needed answers. "Where are we going? I heard the two of you talking this morning, and I know we're moving somewhere else. Where? Why? And why can't I tell anybody? Why the big secret? And why am I in danger?"
Dad walked across the room and put his arms around me, but I didn't feel like being pacified. I pushed him away. "No," I said, "Tell me what's going on."
"You might as well know now, but I can't tell you where we're going, only why. There are some of the villagers who are planning a major rebellion. The Militia thinks that if they have the children, the parents will do anything they say, and they're probably right. We are on the verge of another civil war. Sicily has too many provinces, and way too many officials. We won't be safe here any more, Nell. It's my job to protect you, daughter. I can't let anything happen to you."
"Are you sure?" I realized how lame that sounded. Of course he must be sure. Otherwise we wouldn't be running away.
"I promised your mother I would take care of you and Nick," he said, his voice hoarse with emotion. "She made me promise to keep you both safe."
"Why can't I know where we are going?" I asked. I hated that my voice was starting to sound pleading, and I wanted to sound grown up and strong.
Dad clenched his jaw for a moment, and then he said, "It is better for you not to know until we get there. The less you know, the less danger you will be in."
"Danger from who?" I asked. "Danger from the Militia?" I guessed, and I must have been right, because he didn't answer.
"I want you to pack now, and take only what you can carry with you," he said. "Take a blanket, warm clothes, and an extra pair of shoes. Take whatever you hold most dear. Whatever you leave behind will be gone. We are not coming back."
So that was it. We would not be coming back home. Ever. I could tell from the look on his face.
"Where is Nick?" I asked. "Is he coming too?"
"Your brother is fine, and he will meet us later." His expression didn't match his words. He looked worried. Maybe Nick wasn't as fine as Dad wanted me to think.
"Where is Nick?" I asked again. "Why isn't he here packing too?"
"He is in the village. He has some business to take care of before we leave," he said. "When he gets back tonight, we will leave."
That didn't satisfy my need to know, but I would have to live with it. I wasn't going to get any more out of him.
"Now go and pack," he said, and turned away to finish packing his own things. "Remember that whatever you pack you will have to be able to carry." He had his back to me now and I couldn't see his face.
Well, that shouldn't be too hard to figure out. I really didn't have that much. I left Dad to his packing and slowly climbed the stairs to the loft. My bed was small, and covered by the quilt mom made for me when I was little. It was faded from many washings, but it still kept me warm on cold nights when the offshore winds blew. I had to take it. It was all I had left of her. Maybe if I rolled it up really tight it wouldn't take up too much space. It didn't weigh that much. It should be easy to carry. I opened the dresser, gathered up my clothes and laid them out on the bed. I chose clothing that could be layered to stay warm, and a knit jacket and leggings. The only jewelry I owned were pieces passed down from grandmother, and they were in a little bag with coins I had been saving. I wrapped the things in a scarf and packed them carefully inside the extra pair of slippers to take up less space.
I pulled out my duffel from under the bed and began packing my clothes, putting the things I used the least at the bottom. I sensed his presence before I turned to see Dad at the top of the ladder to the loft. He had something in his hands.
"I want you to carry this for us," he said, and he pressed a little bag into my hands. "It's money that we will need to survive." he said. "It's better that we all carry a little with each of us instead of one person carrying it all. That way if anything happens to one of us or if we are separated the others will have something to fall back on."
"What do you think might happen, Dad? Are we in that much danger?" I asked.
"It's just a few coins," he said softly, "but every little bit is precious." He didn't answer my question. "I'm going to go cook supper now." He turned and went back downstairs. I looked around and decided that I had packed enough.
The little bag was small, but it was heavy. I pushed it down into my duffel close to the slippers and my tools. 
Smells of cooking rose from the kitchen, and I could hear the sounds of pots and pans rattling below. I threw my duffel over my shoulder and carried it down the ladder. I tucked it in the corner by the door where I could grab it if we left in a hurry. That had taken all of fifteen minutes and I was packed.
The kitchen and the Great Room were combined into one open area separated by the island where the cooking utensils were stored. A walk-in pantry was at one end of the kitchen, and the door to the patio was at the other end, along with a coat tree to hang jackets and hats. Everything was made of brilliantly polished cedar, even the ladder to the loft. Huge slabs of polished cedar made up the steps, and they were set into the wall and held in place by big beams that ran parallel to the wall. My great grandfather had built the house and our family had lived here ever since that day.
I took down the dinner plates from the cabinet above the sink and pulled out the drawer that held the silverware. All of this would be left behind. Somebody else would probably move into our house and then it would be theirs.
"What will happen to the animals?" I asked. "We can't just leave them behind. They will die without someone to take care of them."
Dad's face turned red with emotion. This might be hard for him, but he wasn't changing his mind.
"I signed everything over to the Church this morning. The nuns will move in here after we leave."
I still couldn't believe that we were going to leave it all.
"Aren't we ever coming back?" I asked him, and then I wished I hadn't. The look on his face made my heart ache.
Just then we heard footsteps on the deck. The back door opened and a huge furball raced into the kitchen, followed by my brother Nick. The furball raced around the great room, tail wagging and slobber flying, and Nick shrugged out of his jacket and hung it on the tree by the door. Dad looked at him with questions in his eyes, and Nick nodded.
"It's all taken care of. We leave tonight," he said, and Dad looked away. I think maybe he was hoping, like I was, that something would happen, a miracle perhaps, and we wouldn't have to leave. No miracle this night.
"Any word from our neighbors?" asked my father, his face unreadable.
Nick nodded and said, "Everyone is ready."
We ate in silence. The clock on the mantle was ticking, and the only other sounds were the sounds of the leaves rustling in the trees outside and the dog snoring at my father's feet.
The silence was oppressive. I could feel my emotions swirling beneath the surface and I could barely control them. Then I felt my face turning red and I lost it.
"Why do we have to do this?" I shouted at them. "Why aren't you telling me anything? Don't I matter at all?"
My father's face flushed and he pushed back from the table and stood. "You talk to her," he said to Nick, and walked away to his room off the Great Room. Furball followed him, tail wagging.
"You have to trust us, Nell," said Nick, his eyes like blue steel in his face. "We wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't the best thing for all of us. You have to have faith."
He walked to the door and picked up his jacket on the way.
"I have to leave for a while, but I'll be back soon. Get packed and be ready to leave when I get home."
It was dark now, and Dad was in his bedroom. I assumed he was finishing up with packing, and I was right. When he came out, he was carrying his backpack over one shoulder. Dad quickly went through the kitchen and pulled out a few things - not many - and wrapped them in a cloth and tucked them into his backpack. I saw that one of the things he packed was a knife.
My father looked at his watch and said, "All right, time to go. Your brother will just have to catch up with us when he can." He shrugged into his coat, pulled on his hat, and tossed his backpack over his shoulder. I picked up my duffel bag and followed him outside into the darkness. Furball followed us, tail wagging. He must have sensed that something unusual was happening, because he pressed close to Dad's leg and watched nervously, his eyes darting left to right and back. It surprised me a little that Dad hadn't asked me what was in my pack, but he evidently thought I was grown up enough to pack on my own. Or maybe he just had bigger things to worry about.
We walked down the path worn between the house and the pasture, and then my father surprised me by turning toward the hills instead of the village. I thought we were going to the city. Instead we were headed for the hills, and on the other side of the hills was the ocean.
"Why are we going this way," I asked. He didn't answer me. We reached the top of the first hill and he turned and took his last look at our house. There was just enough light from the moon to see our cottage and the animals grazing peacefully in the pasture. Then he turned and I followed him over the hill.
The moon was nearly full, and we had no trouble at all walking through the low hills and following the path. I felt strange leaving our house in the night. This just didn't feel right. I was relieved that we weren't going to the city. An place at all was better than crowded streets and swarms of people. If I had known what was ahead, I might have changed my mind.
The light from the moon revealed a ship out in the bay, and a small dory was waiting for us on the beach. A group of people stood near the little boat, and Miriam was one of them. She had two young girls with her. I didn't know them, but I recognized them from the village. One man was with the dory, and he helped us throw our belongings into the boat. When Miriam and the girls climbed in the boat behind me, she took a seat across from me.
"I'm sorry I couldn't tell you more, Nell. Liam and your brother are still in danger, and they will be until they can join us. Forgive me?"
"Of course, Miriam," I said to her. Then my father climbed in and Furball jumped in beside him. I should have known that Dad wouldn't leave him behind. Furball had been his best friend since he was a puppy.
The man with the boat tossed the rope in and pushed off, jumping in at the last minute and the boat glided out into the water. A nearly silent motor whirred and we slowly moved toward the ship.
Behind us, a huge explosion thundered and echoes rolled across the water. Looking back over my shoulder, I could see a ball of fire rising in the sky. Then another explosion and another ball of flame lit the night sky. I looked at my Dad in dismay. What on Earth was happening? My God, where was my brother? Did he and Liam have anything to do with all of this?
"What is happening?" I screamed at them. "Where is Nick? Did you know this was going to happen?"
Everyone was silent, and stared at me like I had gone crazy. I knew somehow all of these events were connected. At the very least, Dad knew more about the explosions than he was letting on. This could have been what he and Nick were talking about in the kitchen. Of course they wouldn't have let me in on their plans. Three more explosions rocked the boat. Shockwaves created huge waves that washed us toward the ship. Almost there now, and I could see men standing on the deck with guns. Behind us, huge fires burned in the distance.
Furball was whimpering and pressed up close to Father's leg. Miriam's face was twisted with worry, but my Dad looked like he was carved in stone. He still wasn't saying anything.

--- Chapter 2 ---

 When we reached the ship, Dad was behind me. He guided me to the rope ladder hung over the side and steadied me as I climbed up. He helped the others one by one up the ladder and the sailors on the deck pulled us over the side. Dad made sure that Miriam and the girls made it to the top before he climbed up. The sailor in the boat attached ropes to the bow and stern, climbed up the rope ladder himself, and then the boat was winched up behind him.
Everyone on deck had a job to do and the men were scurrying around preparing to take off. The deck began to vibrate when the engines started up and the ship slowly moved through the water into open sea. Dad was standing between me and the sailors with his hand on my shoulder. Someone shouted, "Look over there!" and every head turned to watch a small boat racing through the water towards us. They were being chased by a coast guard cutter and we heard gunfire echo across the water. I heard Miriam catch her breath and she gave a little cry.
The look on Dad's face was one of helpless terror.
"Come on, Son," he whispered under his breath, "You can do it."
"Isn't there anything you can do to help him?" I turned to the men standing on the deck watching the scene being played out. Surely they weren't just going to stand by and watch my brother be killed.
The captain shouted an order, "Fire," and three men raised guns and fired at the boat chasing him.
The cutter swerved in the water, made a large circle, and turned back, headed for the shore. Nick was safe if he could just make it to the ship. One of the sailors threw the rope ladder back over the side and my brother and whoever was with him climbed up. Father reached out and grabbed Nick by the back of his jacket and hauled him onto the deck. I peered around his shoulder to see who was with him. It was Liam! Suddenly Nick's legs gave out under him and he sank to the deck, holding his shoulder.
"He's been shot," I cried out. I could see blood dripping down his arm onto the deck. Dad helped him to his feet and Liam stood beside him, holding him up.
"Here, this way," said one of the sailors, and Dad and several others helped get him below. I was furious and I turned to Liam and yelled at him. "How could you let this happen? Are you crazy? You both could have been killed."
He shook his head. "Nell, it's not my fault. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time." He took my hand in his and tried to pull me into his arms, but I pushed him away. I didn't feel like being nice. I had so many questions I didn't know where to start. One thing was certain, Liam and my brother weren't as innocent as they wanted us to believe. I could tell from the guilty look on Liam's face.
"What have you done? Did you and Nick have anything to do with those explosions?"
Liam glanced around us and saw several sailors watching us. They looked eager to hear what he had to say.
"Come with me," he said, and he steered me in the direction where Dad and Nick had gone below. We crawled down a dark ladder and at the bottom of the stairs, Liam took me by the arm and pulled me in the direction of an open door spilling light into the dark hallway. Dad was there treating Nick's gunshot wound. He had stripped off my brother's jacket and shirt, and we could see that the bullet had gone right through his arm. It was a big gaping hole torn out of shoulder muscle. Dad was trying to stop the bleeding with bandages but it wasn't helping much. Blood was still running down his arm, and he looked pretty bad.
"Will he be all right?" I asked.
"The bullet missed the bone," said Dad. "Nothing is broken. He will be fine if we can stop the bleeding and keep it from getting infected. I could use your help, Nell. Press this rag against the wound while I stitch it up."
I took the rag and wrapped it into a ball and held it against the wound. Dad would tell me when he wanted me to back away so he could sew another stitch. He was using an ordinary needle and thread and Nick was a pasty shade of gray, but the bleeding was slowing down. I would dab with the rag and Dad would sew a few stitches, dab and sew. Finally he was done, and he put a dressing on the wound and wrapped a bandage around the dressing to hold it in place. Nick looked over at me and smiled weakly. For some reason that made me furious. This wasn't funny.
"What were you thinking?" I yelled at him. "You could have been killed!"
"Yeah," he replied, "and then who would you have to fight with?"
"Don't you ever do that to me again." My legs were shaking now and I stepped closer and put my hand on his other arm.
I looked over my shoulder to Liam. "Now will somebody please tell me what's going on?"
"It is a full rebellion, Nell," he said, and his expression was bleak. "The Militia declared war. Our village is completely destroyed, and the militia is on their way to take the city. They are taking captives along the way to use as collateral."
"How many rebels are there?" I asked.
"Almost everyone who is old enough to shoot a gun. Probably a couple hundred, and it's not enough," he replied. "But we can't live under a corrupt government any longer, Nell. If we had given them what they want, we would starve to death this winter. Sometimes I think that's what they want. The whole reason for pushing to leave when we did was to get you and Mom out of danger before war broke out. We made it out just in time."
"Liam, what do you have to do with all this? Are you and Nick with the Militia? Is that how you knew what was going to happen?"
"Hardly. We stand with the Rebellion, Nell. The Militia have turned rogue. There is no leadership and they are just randomly killing and looting. We had to stand up for what we know is right. Your brother and I both tried to save as many people as we could, but we didn't have much time. Once it started, there was no going back."
I had no reply to that. I had heard enough accidental conversation to know that he was right. But I thought we were leaving our home and our land to avoid the war and not to participate in it. Was that what we were doing? Were we helping the rebels? What part did Liam and my brother have with the destruction? How much was he holding back from me?
"It's late," Dad said to me, "and you need to get some rest. Get your duffel, keep it with you, and Liam will find you someplace to sleep."
Then Dad turned to me and took me by my shoulders, pulling me close. I began to argue with him and he cut me off. "No arguments, Nell. For once, just do as I say and don't argue with me."
"I'll go get your things," said Liam. "Wait here." He disappeared up the ladder and in a few minutes he was back with my little duffel bag. "Come with me," he said, and steered me back into the hallway and down to the end. He opened the door to a small cubicle with two bunk beds and a little table.
"You can sleep here," he said. "I will be back as soon as your dad finishes with Nick." That sounded fine with me. I was exhausted. I climbed up the ladder on shaking legs to the upper bunk so somebody else could have the one below.
"Why didn't you tell me all this before?"
"The less you knew the better. It was safer for you this way."
"Safer? You think keeping secrets like this from me keeps me safer?" I couldn't believe he would hide something this big from me. "Just how did you think that keeping me ignorant would keep me safer? And what if you had needed my help? What then?"
He was right, of course. I've never been good at hiding my feelings, and I've never been good at lying. I guess I realized this at a young age and stopped trying because I always got caught. Dad could take one look at my face and I was busted. But I wasn't going to admit it to Liam. I wanted him to know that keeping secrets from me was a big mistake.
Liam stepped close to my bunk and took my hand, This time I didn't pull away. I was totally exhausted. As soon as I relaxed I felt it all fading away. I must have fallen asleep immediately. When I woke, it was morning and Liam was gone. I recognized the sound of Dad's breathing in the lower bunk and the rhythm told me he was sound asleep.
I lay there for a while listening to his breathing and thought about how my life would never be the same. We had abandoned the only home I had ever known, and probably most of the people I knew were either dead, captured, or in hiding. I didn't get to be a kid any more. It was time to grow up. I wasn't ready.
I didn't make a sound sliding out of the bunk and very quietly climbing down the little ladder. I had slept in my clothes and they felt crusty with salt water. My shoes and jacket were right by the door where I had left them last night and I slipped them on in the dark room. There were no windows, only a tiny porthole that let in a small amount of light. It appeared to be early morning. I let myself out of the room without making a sound, and stood in the hallway, trying to get accustomed to the rocking motion of the ship. How did anyone ever learn to walk on a ship without falling down? I had no sense of balance whatsoever. My legs were rubbery and weak, and I had a growing feeling of dread. If this rocking and movement of the ship got any worse, I would probably throw up. As soon as I thought about throwing up, I had to make a mad dash for the deck and fresh air. I bolted up the steps, threw open the door at the top of the stairs, and a blast of cold ocean spray hits me in the face. I leaned over the railing and retched. My stomach was empty and that didn't help the nausea. That feeling stayed with me as long as the ship was in motion.
There were sailors on the deck, each one working away at something. Some were scrubbing the deck with mops and buckets of water, and some were checking ropes and equipment. Everyone seemed to have a job to do. I looked around for any familiar faces, and I saw Liam talking to a group of sailors. He saw me and said something to them that made everyone laugh. He had a little swagger in his step as he walked towards me.
"What's so funny?" I asked him and felt my face flushing.
"Oh, nothing," he grinned, and it felt like I must be the butt of some kind of joke. Right away I'm annoyed with him.
"Private joke, huh?" I must have been scowling and he laughed.
"Something like that," he said. "I'm sorry, Nell, it's just that your face is a peculiar color of green right now. You look just a little seasick. Don't feel bad, it happens to a lot of people." Then he changed the subject, and I was grateful.
"Have you seen your brother yet this morning?" he asked.
I shook my head, and he pointed to a bench nearby.
"Let's sit," he said, "We need to talk."
We sat down and he turned to me with a serious look on his face. "Your brother is below decks, and he's not doing very well. He's running a fever. I am afraid infection is setting into the wound, and your father may need to take him to the mainland. We have to get him to a hospital, or at the very least, to a doctor with some antibiotics."
"You mean there isn't a doctor on the ship?" I couldn't believe it. "Not very good planning, is it? Where is Dad now?"
"He's with Nick.", said Liam. "The captain is getting ready to send them ashore."
"Tell me something," I began, "How did you and Nick get involved in all this mess? How long have the two of you been stirring up trouble?"
"Stirring up trouble? Is that what you think we've been doing?" His face flushed and he looked angry. "For your information, what we have been doing is trying to keep our families alive. You have no idea what's going on outside of your little fantasy world. Come on, Nell, give me a break."
I realized he was right, but I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of backing down. Or apologizing.
"Come with me and I'll take you to them," said Liam with a scowl on his face.
We went back down below, and I found my brother and my Dad in the same small room where they had been last night. Nick didn't look good. His color was pale gray and his eyes were closed. His lips were a shade of blue that I have only seen on someone about to die. Dad looked worried.
"When are you taking him back," I asked, and Dad raised both hands helplessly.
"As soon as they can send a boat to pick us up, we are going back to the mainland. Nell, I hate to leave you like this, but I can't just sit back and let your brother die. You will be safer with Liam than you would be going with us, and we will catch up to you when we can. Things are so crazy back on the island right now, I will worry less about you if you're here with Liam on the ship. Can you do this?"
I nod. I can do whatever I have to do. I am tougher than they think.
"Just take care of Nick, Dad. I'll be fine with Liam."
He didn't tell me where they were going, and I didn't ask. I was getting used to the fact that the less I knew, the better for everyone concerned.
Then Dad took me by the shoulders and looked directly into my eyes. "Nell," he said in a gentle voice, "Take care of yourself and listen to Liam. He will be in touch with us. We have to try to keep your brother alive, and the only way he will get better is in a hospital. Do you understand?"
I nod my head and hug him tight. "Just take care of Nick," I said. "I'll be ok. Don't worry about me."
Two sailors came in with a stretcher. They carefully lifted Nick onto the stretcher and carried him out. Dad followed, and Liam and I came out last.
The boat was tied alongside the ship, and they lowered Nick in a basket over the side and down to the waiting boat. Dad was already in the boat. When everyone was secure, they untied and sped away from the ship. Far in the distance I saw land, and they steered the boat in that direction. I didn't know where we were, but then, nobody was telling me anything. I was getting used to it.
"Where are we going, Liam?" I ask. "Don't you think you could at least tell me that much?"
"I am taking you to a safe place," he said. "The less you know, the better for your family."
I am so sick of hearing that I am better off not knowing where I am going! It's ridiculous!
"If you say that one more time, I am going to punch you in the face!" I threatened, and I shook my fist at him. He didn't look very worried. At five feet tall and ninety pounds I didn't command much fear.
The boat carrying what was left of my family was just a little speck in the distance. My heart felt like a lump in my chest. What if I never saw them again? I didn't get to hug my father good-bye. He was busy taking care of Nick and getting him into the little boat. I felt tears beginning to well up in my eyes. I tried to swallow down my sadness. I had to be brave now. Without Dad and Nick with me, I felt truly alone.
Liam noticed that I was getting quiet.
"Come on," he said, and he grabbed my arm and turned me away. I could tell he was distracting me, and I didn't care. I wanted to be distracted so I let him lead me.
"Listen, Nell, you need to get your sea legs or you're never going to make it." He was glancing at my feet and grinning.
"Sea legs? What are you talking about?" I was clueless.
"It's kind of like rolling with the waves and staying in rhythm with the ship," he smiled. "Bend your knees a little, and try to anticipate what the ship is going to do."
I mumbled something like sure, easy for you to say, you monkey, but did it under my breath. I felt awkward and self conscious at walking with my knees bent, but it did seem to help me with my balance.
"If you try to keep the horizon in your vision, it will help too, and when you see a wave coming, try to be ready for the motion. It will help keep you from getting queasy."
"Not easy, is it?"
"No, but with practice it should help."
I sighed and tried to watch the horizon as we walked down the deck.
"Where are we going?"
No response. He just kept walking. Sometimes he made me want to scream in frustration. I hate to be ignored.
As I looked out over the waves at the horizon, the beauty of the ocean was breathtaking. The sun was shining, and the waves were fairly calm. Light puffy clouds were scattered across the sky as if God had taken a paintbrush and dabbed white paint on the blue sky. In contrast, the water was a deep navy blue. The tips of the waves were sprinkled with foam, and the rolling motion of the ship was gentle. The sunlight would flash through the top of the bigger waves, turning them a beautiful shade of pale green.
In the distance I saw a spray of water rise in the air. Liam pointed to it and said, "Look, Nell, see the whale?" Then we saw another spray of water and we watched the whale dive beneath the surface, smacking the water with his enormous fluted tail. It was awesome. Nature at its most beautiful.
As we passed one of the lifeboats tied just outside the railing, Liam pulled me into the shadows. He leaned close and said, "I don't have much time, and I have to be very careful nobody hears me. We are in danger here, and I have to know that you will be prepared."
"What are you talking about?"
"Sssssshhhhhh! Be very quiet, Nell. There are spies here, and they are watching our every move."
"Who are they?"
"I don't know names, just faces. One of them is over there."
He nodded towards the lifeboat, and I saw a sailor pretending to check the ropes on the boat. He glanced at us, and when he saw us both watching him, he quickly looked away and moved on. I tried to keep my expression neutral.
"Why would anyone want to spy on us?" I asked, and shivered.
"It's me they are watching, and you are in danger just by being with me. The rebellion is strong, and there are hundreds of men and women involved. Whole families are at risk, and yours is just one of the many in danger now."
Liam slipped something into my hand, and I looked down and saw a small dagger pressed into my palm. It had a narrow blade and an ornate handle studded with jewels and wrapped with leather cord.
"Hide this inside your boot. Don't let anybody know you have it. It's not much, but it may come in handy."
"Can the captain of the ship be trusted? Can I go to him if I need help?"
"Trust no one," he replied. "I will do everything in my power to protect you, Nell, but you have to start relying on yourself now. I may not always be able to be there for you."
"Why would you say something like that, Liam? Why would I not be able to count on your help?"
"There may be times when I'm not right by your side. I can't be with you every moment. If I have to leave suddenly, I may not have time to explain myself."
For the first time, I was truly afraid. I had always counted on Liam for support, and my Dad had trusted him to take care of me. Something was wrong.
"I don't believe you," I whispered. "Why would you say something like that to me? If I can't trust you, Liam, then who?"
"Trust yourself and nobody else."
"Where is your mother? Where is Miriam?"
"She is below in her room, seasick. I gave her some Benadryl and put her to bed with a bucket."
I felt sympathy for her. I knew what it felt like to be seasick and it wasn't fun. Lucky for me it had passed.
We arrived at the door leading down to my room, and Liam opened it and let me go in first. We climbed down the stairway, and walked to the end of the hall. My things were still there, my duffel and my clothing. On the little table by the bunks I saw a letter addressed to me. It was in my father's handwriting, and I looked at Liam. His expression was blank. For some reason I didn't want to open it in front of him. If it was something that would make me cry, I didn't want anyone watching me. I tucked the letter in my pocket to read later.
Suddenly I didn't want to be there a minute longer. "Let's go back topside," I said. "I can't stand to be down here any longer than I absolutely have to."
Liam nodded and opened the door and the sailor we had seen topside was standing right outside. It appeared that he had been listening at the door. He had certainly followed us down. He began to whistle and walked away, trying to look as if he was just passing by. It didn't work. Liam took my arm and we hurried back up the steps. Now everybody I saw seemed threatening. One sailor in particular was watching us very closely. He looked older than the others, probably in his mid thirties. His dark skin and dark hair and eyes made him look middle Eastern. His eyes followed us everywhere. He was short and wiry, scruffy looking, and had a huge nose that looked like it had been stuck on his face. His eyes darted everywhere, but always ended up focused on me. He gave me a creepy feeling in the middle of my back. Then he smiled at me and it was the scariest thing I had ever seen. When he smiled he looked like a devil.
"This is making me crazy," I whispered to Liam. "What am I supposed to do? They're all watching me like dogs getting ready to fight over a bone. What is going on?"
"You just have to act like you don't notice anything out of the ordinary, and be ready for trouble from any direction."
I didn't like this feeling at all. On a ship, there is nowhere to run. We were surrounded by thousands of miles of water.
"A lot of help you are," I snapped, "What am I supposed to do if one of them comes after me? Jump overboard?"
"I am going to have to take care of some things," Liam warned me. "Do you want to stay up here on deck or go back to your room?"
I couldn't stand the thought of being closed up in that little room.
"I'll stay on deck, thank you." I said. "Why can't I go with you?"
Liam looked impatient. "I can't explain right now, but you can't."
That hurt my feelings. He pointed to a seat outside of the galley and said "Wait for me there. I won't be gone long."
"I don't have to listen to you," I said, suddenly fed up with his attitude. "You're not the boss of me, Liam. You just go take care of whatever it is that's so important and don't worry yourself about me."
He looked frustrated. I understood that he couldn't keep me at his side every minute, but he could at least explain himself. No need to be so secretive and rude.
"Fine," he said, and stomped off, leaving me to take care of myself. I looked around me and several sailors, including big nose, were watching. I felt very vulnerable, and angry with Liam for leaving me like this, defenseless. Some protector he had turning out to be. I waited until he turned the corner at the end of the walkway and then I got up and followed him. I wanted to know what was so important that he couldn't take me with him? I was thankful that the wind had shifted and the ship wasn't rolling quite as much. I didn't feel as queasy as I had felt at the beginning of the day. My stomach was beginning to rumble with hunger, though. Didn't these people ever eat? I walked past an open door and came to a sudden stop. Wonderful smells of cooking food were coming from the door, and I had to make a decision. Follow Liam or stop and see if I could find something to eat. Hunger won.
I stood at the open door and peered inside. The small room was bustling with activity. A big man wearing an apron was standing in front of the stove. Three burners were fired up and I could smell bacon cooking. One huge pot was being stirred by a young man with a scarf tied around his head. He looked to be about my age. The big man had to be in charge. He was shouting orders at the other two and his face was red from the heat of the kitchen, or from anger - I couldn't tell which.
"Stir that porridge," he shouted at the youth, "If you let it scorch I'll throw you to the sharks."
That sounded pretty drastic. I hoped that he wasn't serious, but I wasn't so sure.
"Excuse me?" I called out, and all three men turned their heads. I worked up what I thought was a stunning smile. "Is there any chance I could get a little something to eat?" My face must have told them how hungry I was, because the Chef waved me into the kitchen. He pointed to a table at one side of the kitchen.
"Sit down there, little girl," he ordered, and I did. Gladly. The Chef motioned to the young assistant and said, "Get her something before she passes out. She don't look so good."
He kept on with his cooking, and the assistant brought me a plate with wonderful golden topped biscuits, a bowl of creamy gravy, thick slabs of bacon, and some scrambled eggs. If the breakfast tasted half as good as it looked, I was in heaven. I devoured every morsel and mopped up the gravy with a piece of biscuit. It was fabulous.
"Thank you," I called out to him. He made some kind of waving gesture in the air, and smiled.
"That was the best breakfast I ever ate." He just nodded and turned back to his stove.
Since he seemed too busy to chat, I slipped back out the door and nearly bumped into Liam, who was scowling at me.
"I thought I told you to wait for me where I left you. You can't just be wandering around the ship. You'll get into trouble for sure."
"What do you care? You have more important things to do than to watch over me. You must not be too worried about what happens to me." I felt really neglected, and I wanted him to feel sorry for leaving me alone.
"Listen, Missy, I had business to take care of. You can't be with me every minute. I have to be able to trust you to stay where I put you. Can't you handle that one little thing?" His face was getting red and he looked angry.
I looked away and ignored him. Let him stew for a while. I would give him the silent treatment and he would be sorry he ever scolded me. I was even more furious when I felt tears coming. I didn't want him to see me cry, but instantly he got over being angry with me and put his arm around my shoulders.
"Don't cry, Nell," he pleaded, looking both upset and angry. "I'm sorry if I made you feel bad, but I had business to take care of, and I couldn't take you along. Can't you please try to understand?"
I shook my head, hid my face in my hands and peeked out at him from between my fingers. Was it working? Yes. He looked distressed, and was fidgeting with my jacket.
"Promise you won't do it again," I demanded, and he grudgingly nodded his head. He mumbled, "I don't know how I am ever going to get things done with you tagging along, but I guess I'll have to try."
"If you would explain what you're doing, maybe I could understand."
He took a deep breath, as if to think about what to say.
"The Rebellion is important for our survival, Nell. You do understand that, right?"
I nodded.
"There are people on this ship that are aiding the Rebels and they do not necessarily want to be identified. Do you understand?"
Again I nodded.
"That is the reason that the less you know, the safer you will be. Understand that?"
Again I nodded.
"This is something I can tell you - your Dad is walking into a hornet's nest by taking Nick back to the mainland. I am trying to make things easier for them by finding places for them to hide until we can all meet up later. Your brother needs help. He needs antibiotics, or he will probably die."
That I did understand.
"Have you heard from them?" I asked. "Are they all right?"
"It's been too soon. They probably haven't reached a hospital or a doctor yet. I have people in place on the mainland to help them when they need it, but they have to get there first."
I put my hand on his chest and felt his heart thumping. He was a lot more worried than he was letting on.
"What else, Liam? There's something you're not telling me."
"Come with me," he said, and walked away. I followed, trying to keep up. He was in a hurry.
Down the deck, a left turn past the galley, through a door, and then down another hallway. He stood in front of a small door set off to the right side of the hallway under the stairs. He knocked three times, paused, and knocked twice more. We could hear someone unlocking the door and it slowly opened. I couldn't believe my eyes. The room was filled with people from my village. I recognized all of them, even the people that I didn't know by name. About a dozen families were packed into the little room. Everyone looked at me with a question in their eyes. They all knew me and my family. I stepped into the room and Liam closed and locked it behind us.
The Chief of Police, Gregori Martin from the village, was there, and he stepped up.
"Why have you brought her here?" he asked, and he sounded bitter. "Her brother is the reason we are running for our lives."
Liam said, "You can't blame her for her brother's actions. She had nothing to do with the bombings. Her family is running too."
Gregori's eyes narrowed as he squinted at Liam. "Really? And that is supposed to reassure us?"
"She has no place to go, Gregori. Her people have left her with me, and I can't leave her on deck with those wolves. It's not safe."
"I don't like it, boy, and I want you to know I hold you responsible. If anything happens because of this one, it's on your head."
"Fair enough," said Liam.
"How much have you told her?" he asked.
"Only what she needs to know."
"That doesn't tell me anything."
"She knows very little."
"Now she knows about us, and that puts us - and her - in even more danger."
I finally spoke up. "You don't have to worry about me telling anybody that you're here. Why would I do that? My family's lives depend on Liam's help, and probably all of you also. Nick is wounded, and my Dad is trying to find help for him. I know how to keep my mouth shut."
Gregori didn't trust me. I could tell by the look on his face. All I could do is try to prove to him that he has nothing to fear from me. That may take some time.
"Just give me a chance, Gregori," I said, and Liam nodded his head. "I will prove my loyalty. You'll see."
Suddenly I remembered the letter in my pocket.
"Take me back to my room," I ordered Liam. I wanted to be alone when I read Dad's letter. If it made me cry, I didn't want anybody to see me.
Back at the room, I asked Liam to let me be alone for a while. "I need some time to pull it together, Liam. Just leave me for a while. Go do whatever it is you need to do and I will catch up with you later."
He looked at me like he thought I must be crazy, and honestly, I wasn't sure of myself. One minute I wanted him by my side and the next minute I was so angry with him I couldn't stand the sight of him. But I wanted to read Dad's letter while I was alone.
"Fine," he said, obviously annoyed, and left me by myself.
The letter began: My dearest daughter, It tears at my heart to leave you, but I have to get your brother to a hospital. He needs antibiotics or he will surely die. Remember always that you are loved, and that we will find each other later. Listen to Liam. He has good judgement and you can trust him. Follow your heart and use your head. Love always, Dad.
Then I cried like a baby, and I was glad I was alone. Climbing into the top bunk, I sobbed into my pillow until there were no more tears left, and and then I smoothed out the wrinkles in the letter and hid it in my duffel. I stayed in my room the rest of the day, bored out of my mind. There was nothing to do but sleep, so I slept.

         --- Chapter 3 ---

 I woke early and slipped out of my bed, dressed quickly, and double checked my duffel.  The little bag of coins was still there, and so was my dagger. I decided to keep the dagger with me, and tucked it into my boot. On a hunch, I pulled out the little bag of coins and stuffed it in my pocket.  It flattened out and it was hardly noticeable. My shirt pulled down over my jeans and hid everything. There were no  mirrors in this room, but that was no problem. I finger combed my hair and tied it back with a band.  Being watched constantly was making me more than a little paranoid. Everywhere I went, somebody's eyes were on me.  Big Nose was one who was watching me, but who else? I felt so alone. I couldn't trust Liam to always be there when I needed him. He even told me so.  Sometimes we only get one warning, and if the little voice in our mind speaks to us, we'd better listen.  I remember Dad telling me that the things people tell you about themselves are usually true. In so many words, Liam had told me that he had other things to take care of that were more important than me. I couldn't expect him to always be there when I needed him. It was time I was able to take care of myself.
   I climbed the ladder to the deck and as soon as I opened the door the smell of food was everywhere. It permeated the air, it drifted around corners, and smelled wonderful. Like home. This time I knew right where to find food. The Chef was at work making his kitchen magic.  I followed my nose toward the wonderful aroma and peered into the galley.
   "Hey, Missy, how are you this morning?" He smiled and waved me in, pointing to the table, and within minutes I was having the best tasting biscuits and gravy ever.
"Why are you so nice to me?" I asked him between bites.  
"You look just like one of my daughters," he said with a smile. "I only get to see her a couple of times a year. I like having you around."
"Does she have red hair and freckles too?" I asked. 
He chuckled as he chopped peppers and onions and tossed them into a huge pot on the stove.
"She does that, and eyes as green as the ocean. She's little just like you."
I really didn't care what his reasons were, I was grateful. I couldn't help thinking about all the people crowded into the little room below the decks.  I hoped they were getting fed as well as I was, but I couldn't ask for food for them without giving them away. I could only hope that Liam and the Captain were taking care of them.  Gregori didn't trust me, and I didn't want to give him any justification.
The chef wiped his hands on his apron and came over to my table. He turned one of the the chairs around so it was facing out and straddled it, propping both arms on the back of the chair. He spoke very quietly and looked me directly in the eyes.
   "You must be very, very careful, little one.  There are dangerous men on this ship, and they are up to no good.  Trust no one, and as soon as we are in a port, any port, slip away.  Get to land where you at least have a chance.  On this ship, you have nowhere to run."
I felt like ice water had been poured over me. I was getting warnings from every direction, and I felt so helpless. 
   "What should I do?"
   "Just keep your guard up," he said. "At night, stay in your cabin. Lock the door. Don't let anyone in that you don't trust. Don't come out until it's daylight and you see everyone else is about."
I nodded my head. I believed him and I also felt like I needed to find out more. I wanted to know exactly where the danger was, and the sooner the better.
I stood up, leaned over, and kissed him softly on the cheek.
   "Thank you for being so kind to me," I whispered in his ear. "God bless you." I left to go look for Liam.
Everywhere I walked, eyes followed me. I found Liam on the Captain's Deck. He and the captain were leaning over a map spread out on the table, and Liam was pointing out something to the Captain. When I walked in, they were both startled and the Captain rolled up the map immediately before I could get a good look. He slipped it into a leather map case at the back of the room. I couldn't believe they would be so rude. I turned around and walked right back out the door before he could say another word. I knew that whatever came out of his mouth right now would probably be a lie or a lame excuse. I heard him behind me, hurrying to catch up.  He grabbed my arm and spun me around.
   "Don't even say it," I cut him off before he could say another word. "All that will come out of your mouth right now is lies and more lies."
   He flushed and shook his head. "Nell, what are you talking about?"
   "Liam, you have guilty written all over your face. Whatever you plan to say to me, don't.  Don't even go there.  Better not to say anything at all than to lie to me."
He stood for a long moment, looking into my eyes, and what I see in his eyes breaks my heart.  This wasn't the Liam I knew.
"Who are you protecting, Liam?  I know it's not me.  I don't think it's the rebels.  Is it just yourself you're really looking out for?"
"Nell, why can't we get along?" he groaned. "I just wish we could go back to the beginning. I don't understand why you're so defensive. Why don't you trust me now?"
He shook his head and tried to put his arm around me. I shook him off and stepped back.
    "Don't do that, Liam. I don't feel like being messed with right now." I pushed him away and said, "You hide things from me, you don't give me straight answers, and your friends don't like me. Tell me why I should trust you when you spend more time with your friends now than you do with me?"  When I turned to leave, I glanced back once and the look on his face was hard as stone. He was playing me.
The wind was blowing much harder now than it had been an hour ago. A fine spray of water broke over the side of the ship and made the deck a little slippery.  I noticed a cloud bank moving in from the West.  It looked like a storm might be headed our way.
I stood there for a few minutes trying to decide whether to stay topside or go below. The thought of sitting in that little room while the ship tossed and rolled was depressing.  Liam and Nick had caused trouble that I had nothing to do with, and yet I was paying for it along with all of the other fugitives.  Maybe they were just caught up in a situation bigger than all of us.  I just wished someone would tell me the truth.
I had no way of knowing that soon none of it would matter any more.
I stepped behind a barrel, thinking it would be a great place to watch the storm and be out of the wind.  I watched as a bolt of lightning snaked across the sky, dividing the rolling black clouds from the ocean swells below.  The waves were getting taller and now they were capped with white foam. As the sky grew darker, so did the ocean. The swells were as high as the sides of the ship.  Every time we plowed through a huge swell, we dove down into center of the next one and huge waves broke over the bow. How did a storm just appear out of nowhere?
All of the sailors were on deck tying things down and watching the storm. The Captain was struggling with the ship's wheel. I could hear the engines straining,  chugging, fighting the stormy seas. There was no way to keep my balance without holding onto the railing or the ropes.  I could barely take a step without being tossed against the wall.  I kept losing my footing on the slippery wooden deck. Where was Liam when I needed him?  Holding onto the railing for dear life, I made my way down the deck to the door leading below. The waves were smashing into the ship and with each booming crash, the entire ship shuddered.  A huge wave hit the ship broadside and cold ocean spray hit me in the face, taking my breath away.  Thinking that it would have to be worse below,  I decided to stay on deck near the door.  I could always go below if it got much worse. I grabbed a railing to keep my balance, but my hands were so cold that I could barely hold on.  The ocean was rolling like a huge pot of boiling soup, and massive waves were crashing over the bow.  Then I spotted Liam helping the sailors secure the ropes, and I heard someone shout, "Get below and check on the girl."  Liam turned and saw me standing by the doorway. He frowned and shouted at me, "Get back below. Can't you see there's a storm? Have you lost your mind?" 
 I lifted my chin defiantly.  Who was he to tell me what to do? A little storm never stopped me from being outside in the past. Why should this? Stubborn, I shook my head and hung on tighter.
"You're crazy," he shouted, and then he was too busy to worry about me. 
 The clouds were black now and the waves were enormous. I saw one gigantic wave building momentum, headed for the ship, and I changed my mind about watching.  I opened the door and ducked inside just as the huge wave broke over the ship.  The impact rocked the ship, even as big as it was.  Then I heard someone shout, "Man Overboard," and I realized just how dangerous it was out there.  Who had been  washed away? Terror gripped me when I thought it might be Liam in the water. I opened the door a bit to peek out and the wind tore it out of my hands. Rain and wind blasted at me and in a second I was drenched with icy cold water.  The waves were breaking over the side of the ship and water sloshed on the deck. The sailors that I could see were all hanging onto something - anything they could find to keep from being swept overboard. The storm was tossing our ship like a tub toy. Suddenly vertigo hit me and I fell back into the stairwell.  Someone was shouting but I couldn't make out the words. Then Liam's face appeared in the doorway and shoved a life jacket into my hands.
    "Here," he shouted over the noise.  I could barely understand him over the shrieking storm.
   "Put this on. Now." I struggled into the jacket and he helped me tie the straps. It was oversized for me, but I felt more secure. My heart was pounding and adrenaline was racing through my veins.
  "Where's your jacket?"  He reached behind him and pulled out a life jacket for himself.  He shoved it into my hands and said, "Here, hang onto this."
Hanging onto the railing inside the hallway with one hand, I tried to hold his life jacket with the other hand. The waves were crashing over the ship now, and waves slammed the side of the ship with blow after blow. The metal actually groaned as if it were in pain. Liam leaned closer and tried to make me understand what he was saying. "The ship is going down," he shouted. "The engines are flooded."  I must have looked terrified, because I was. 
 "Hang on here, Nell. I'll be back for you."  He patted the side of my face and kissed my lips.  His were like ice. I don't know if was the cold or my fright,  but my teeth were chattering.  I wrapped my arms around the railing and tried to hold on while  Liam disappeared down the dark stairwell.  
   "Liam," I screamed at him, "Get your mother. Bring her up here with me."
The lights were all out now, and only the flashes of lightning from the storm lit the decks. It seemed like he was gone for hours but it actually was only a few minutes. Liam scrambled up the stairs, pulling Miriam behind him and hanging on to the railing with the other hand. He reached the top of the stairway and wrapped one arm around me and the other around Miriam.  He shoved the extra life jacket into her hands and grabbed a life ring for himself off the wall at the top of the stairway.
"When the ship goes down," he shouted over the wailing wind, "our only hope is to jump. We will have to get clear or it will pull us down with it." 
"Hang on to me," I yelled to Miriam, and tried to hold onto her with freezing hands. Just then the ship lurched to the side and water washed over us.  I could feel the wave sucking me back out onto the deck, and I held on to Liam's mother with everything in my being.  Then Liam gave us both a mighty shove, and suddenly we were all in the water.  
"Swim away," he shouted to us. "Get away from the ship."  
   Another wave tossed me into the side of the ship and slammed me into the iron railing. Lights flashed behind my eyes. I remember hoping I wouldn't pass out  and drown. Everything was wet and incredibly cold and then I went numb.  Somehow Miriam  slipped out of my grasp, and I didn't even know when it happened. The water was the coldest thing I had ever felt.  It penetrated to my bones and turned my muscles to wood.  When the side of the ship brushed against my shoulder,  I tucked my legs underneath me and pushed away with my feet as hard as I could. Then I clung to my life jacket and tried to keep my head above water. The waves broke over my head, stinging my eyes and tossing me about. The storm raged on, flinging me wherever the waves rolled.  My body felt beaten, but my spirit wouldn't give up. Somehow I managed to hold onto the life jacket and although the waves broke over my head, I was able to breathe enough to stay conscious. A body floated by me face down, and then it disappeared below the waves. My heart ached for Miriam, for Liam, for my brother Nick. I didn't know if Dad was still alive. They may have been captured and killed by now.  I thought of the others from the village who were hiding in the little room below decks. I didn't see how they could have possibly survived. Lightning flashed again.  Only minutes ago the ship had been beside me on its' side. Now not even a ripple showed where it had been. It was on its way to the bottom of the sea. Finally sheer exhaustion took me and I closed my eyes.  I was so tired and cold I really didn't care if I lived or not.
I don't even remember being pulled from the water into a life raft. The ocean was calm now. The huge rescue raft was filled with weary, bedraggled sailors. I saw Liam at the other end of the raft.  He didn't look good at all.  He had a gash on the side of his head and he was holding a bloody rag to the wound.  He opened his eyes and when he saw me he smiled weakly. Then he raised his hand and waved at me. 
"You made it, Nell," he called to me, and closed his eyes again.
I should have felt happy that we both survived but I just felt numb, like all of this was happening to someone else and I was watching from a distance. Surely this was just a bad dream. I looked around me at the men who had rescued me. They all looked battered and exhausted too.
"Aren't there any other survivors?" I asked, and suddenly I am ashamed. I hadn't meant to sound critical, but that was how it sounded. I should have felt lucky they saved me.  Most of the men just looked away, too exhausted to bother talking to me. One sailor, the one who pulled me into the raft, shook his head.
"It was too dark to tell who was able to save themselves," he answered. My heart sank.  I thought of the room full of rebels from the village and hoped they were able to save themselves. I was too tired to crawl over to Liam where he lay propped up on the side of the raft. I closed my eyes and sleep took me again. 
 When I woke up, for a moment I didn't know where I was. Someone had thrown a jacket over me and I was beginning to dry out a little. One of the sailors shouted and pointed. There was land ahead and we were drifting with the current  in that direction.  There were no oars in the boat. Everything had been lost in the storm. Gradually we drifted closer, and one of the men slipped over the side and began swimming,  pulling us behind him with a short rope tied to his waist.  He swam like that, pulling us along, until he was too tired to swim any longer and then someone else helped him back into the boat and took his place in the water.  There were five sailors in the raft with me and Liam.  I am not sure how much time passed, but all of them except Liam took a turn in the water and finally we were close enough for the men to climb out of the raft and pull us up onto the beach.
"Where will we go now?" I asked. "Will someone come looking for us?"
   The sailor who had helped me shook his head. "I doubt if anyone is looking for us yet," he said. "Maybe in a few days they might, but not yet."
"I'm so hungry," I whispered, and I felt my stomach clench and ache. I hadn't eaten for twenty four hours. I was weak from hunger and thirst.
"We need to find food and water," said the sailor. "You two need to get off the beach and find shelter.  I will go see what I can find."
He pointed to a few small palm trees and some bushes nearby.  I plodded through the sand in that direction and Liam drug behind me, looking as tired as I felt. He was bleeding through the rag bandage wrapped around his head. I saw a shady spot with a sandy area and a few trees where we would be sheltered from the bright sun.  Liam looked pitiful.  If I wasn't so mad at him, I might have felt sorry for him.
"Was all this worth it?" I asked. I didn't mean to sound so bitter, but there it was in my voice anyway.
 "Our family is torn apart, we have left our friends behind, God only knows where Dad and my brother are.  I just can't imagine what you and Nick were thinking."
Liam dropped his head and stared at his hands. I didn't care if he felt bad. I wanted  to make him feel as bad as I felt. This might not have been all his fault, but he was the only person I had to vent my wrath. My world had turned upside down, and it had to be somebody's fault.
"Your precious brother is just as responsible as I am," he mumbled.
"What?" I screeched, "You both planned this and didn't let me know what was going on?  How could you leave me out?"
"Because we knew you would act just like you are right now," he countered. "Like a girl."
Well, I am a girl. That is pretty hard to dispute. Then it hits me. I don't see Miriam or any of the people from the village.
"Liam, where is your mother? Is Miriam all right?"
"She's gone, Nell," he croaked with a hoarse voice. "I saw her trying to hold on to the life jacket and then the waves swept her away. I didn't have enough time to help her buckle the straps."
    He closed his eyes and shook his head at the memory. Suddenly I felt terrible. I wished then that I hadn't opened my mouth.  It really wasn't all Liam's fault.  He was just doing what he thought was right.
   "Oh, Liam, I am so very sorry.  I loved your mom."  He looked away and I could see the anguish written on his face.  
    From where we were sitting, we had a view of the coastline for miles each way. There were no buildings, no structures, no signs of life whatsoever other than for ourselves and the sailors still standing near the water. They were arguing about something. One of them pointed up the coast and the others shook their heads vigorously. There was definitely a disagreement. Then the one who had pointed up the coastline took off walking by himself, and the others turned and walked the other way.  They were splitting up, and they were leaving us! 
"Hey," I yelled at them, "Where are you going?"
Nobody even turned their head. 
"Don't leave us here," I called out, but nobody was listening. They just kept on walking. 
I turned to Liam, furious again. "See what you have done? This is all your fault. If you hadn't blown everything up, none of this would have happened."
Liam finally snapped.
 "Will you get over it already?"  he shouted at me, "It's done! There's no going back now. It was your precious brother who planted the bombs and pushed the button. I had nothing to do with it.  It was my job to stay with the boat till he got there. Right now I can't even stand up, much less run down the beach!"
"I don't believe you," I snap back at him," "and you're despicable. You always blame everyone else for your problems and then want someone to fix it"
"Not true!"
"Is true!"
He rolled over onto his side with his back to me and ignored me. What a baby, I thought. Just like him to pout now. 
"Fine, go ahead and sulk," I snapped at him. "You deserve to get shot." As soon as I said it, I regretted the words.
 "I'm sorry, Liam, I didn't mean that," 
"Yes you did, " he said, "and you're probably right. But what else could we do? Just wait to starve? Our parents agreed, Nell, that something had to be done. Our government is corrupt from the top to the bottom.  All they care about is lining their pockets. They don't care who dies while they're doing it."
"I hate you," I sobbed then, "and I'm never going to forgive you. You've ruined our lives. I blame you and Nick both for this."
His face turned bright red, and his eyes glistened with the tears he held back. I felt guilty for yelling at him when he was hurt and in pain, but I wasn't going to take a word of it back. I didn't apologize. He deserved to feel bad.  I wanted to scream with frustration. My life was a mess. I had no idea where we were, The best I could hope for was that Dad was still alive  and had managed to get help for Nick.
The bushes behind us rustled and one of the sailors stepped out from behind the tree. He had something in his hands, and he pushed it at me. I had never seen anything like it. It was hard, green, and about the size of a football.
"It's a coconut," he said, "drink."  There was a hole in one end and I could hear liquid inside. I put it to my lips and tipped my head back. Wonderful sweet coconut nectar slid down my throat, quenching my thirst. I wanted more.
"Save some for somebody else," he said gently, and I suddenly felt guilty.  I frowned and handed the coconut over to Liam. 
"Here," I said very ungraciously, "drink." He glared at me and drank from the coconut.
The sailor reached out his hand to me, and said, "My name is Beau. I know your name is Nell. We haven't been introduced properly, but if we're going to be shipwrecked together, we should at least be on a first name basis." 
 I picked out a strand of seaweed from my hair and sighed. It was a poor time to meet someone as handsome as Beau.  I could only imagine how I must look.
His long sun bleached hair was pulled back in a ponytail that made it seem shorter than it was. Beau was really very good looking in a wild sort of way. He had a short beard and deep blue eyes the exact color of the ocean.  I took the hand he offered and it was warm.  He had big hands. Big hands and a big smile. I hadn't noticed his smile before now. It made me feel comforted somehow.
"Do you have any idea where we are?" I asked Beau. He frowned slightly and hesitated, as if he was choosing his words carefully. Immediately I was on my guard. What was his problem with telling me the truth?  I felt like the next words to come out of his mouth would be a lie. 
"We are probably not far from where we started," he said carefully, "but I am not sure if we are on the mainland or the island."
That didn't sound right. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but something was off. The cook had told me not to trust anyone, and that was probably good advice.
We heard voices in the distance, shouting. I started to call out to them to let them know where we were. Beau grabbed me and clamped his hand over my mouth to keep me quiet.  
"Hush," he whispered into my ear, "don't make a sound.  We don't want them to know where we are."
Our eyes meet and I see his fear.  He took his hand off my mouth and held up a finger to his lips for me to be quiet.
"Sssssshhhhh. There is danger there."
It was too far away to tell what was being said on the beach, but someone was giving orders and someone else was arguing.  We could see two men struggling, and then one man fell on the sand and wasn't moving. I think he was dead. I think the other man killed him. I saw the four men who had left together, but now there were more. It looked like the sailors were on their knees, and the other men were gathered around them.  I look at Beau and he shook his head.  "Pirates," he whispered. 
"What do you mean Pirates," I croaked. I didn't believe him. "You're kidding, right?"
"They cruise the islands and the coastal areas looking for recruits. Once they have you, you either go with them as a pirate and fight beside them, or you die.  No choice. Once they have you, they own you."
This triggered a memory of my mother forbidding me to go to the beach near our house by myself. What was it she had said? Never by yourself. The pirates will get you.  I thought she meant something like ghosts or goblins. I thought she was just trying to scare me, but she had been serious.  A wave of sorrow wash over me.  Had Dad and Nick survived?  Maybe they were still alive.  I can't think otherwise.  If I lose faith, my heart will break. I have to believe that I will see them again.
Beau grabbed my arm and shook it to get my attention. "If they come this way, I will try to hold them off so you can get away.  You are in no condition to run or to fight, and I don't know what they will do.  You have to get away. Don't let them catch you alive, Nell."
"Nell, you have to listen to Beau," Liam pleaded. "Get ready to run and don't stop running until you're safe."  He reached into his pocket and pulled out a little lock blade knife, pressing it into my hand. 
"Take this with you, and run now!."  Liam's face was a grimace of pain and fear, and I suddenly realize that he is more afraid for me than for himself.  I have a pang of guilt for all the hateful things I said to him.
"Liam," I said, and then I had no words. I didn't know how to tell him how sorry I was, how much I loved him.  I felt hot tears running down my face and I didn't care. 
The pirates were coming toward us now, and there were more than a dozen of them. We didn't  have a chance.  I didn't know what to do. I was terrified and I wanted to run away, but Liam was helpless, hurt, and he needed me.  If I left him, he would die. They would kill him.  I didn't know what I might be able to do for him, but I couldn't leave him. Beau gave me a push, and said, "Go, Nell. Go now!"  I shook my head, stubborn and determined to stay and fight. 
The pirates were about a hundred feet from us now, and it was obvious they had seen us. They were shouting and waving their arms.  Some had machetes and some had knives. Beau groaned and said, "Too late.  They see you.  I'll do what I can, but I don't know what they'll do."
I put myself between Liam and the pirates.  They would have to kill me to get to him. I tucked the little lock blade inside my boot and picked up a big stick to use for a club.  The pirates were almost on us now, and they fanned out into a circle and surrounded us.  I waved the stick at them and shouted, "Get away from us.  Leave us alone, you cowards. You would fight a girl and a wounded boy? You should be ashamed of yourselves."
I must have been the funniest thing they had ever seen, a bedraggled little girl waving a stick at them and threatening them. They were all laughing and shouting now. I realized I was absolutely no threat to them at all. They thought I was a joke. I had never felt so weak and helpless in my life. It was infuriating.
Beau put his hands in the air and dropped to his knees.  He was surrendering.
"You coward," I spat at him. "Some big brave protector you turn out to be."   I gritted my teeth, dig my feet into the sand and held my ground.
His face flushed, but he had no reply.  Beau would do whatever he had to do to save his own skin.
I swung the stick at the pirate closest to me, and he grabbed it out of my hands and threw it into the bushes, laughing. He reached out a filthy hand and grabbed me by the hair. He was not only the ugliest man I had ever seen, he smelled like rotten garbage. My stomach rolled and I screeched with pain at having my hair pulled. I tried to kick him, but his arms are too long and I just lost my balance and fell to my knees.  He swung his huge fist and connected with my jaw.  The blow was  a stunning shock, and then lights flashed behind my eyes and I blacked out.  
When I regained consciousness, I had no idea how long I had been out. I was lying on my side with my face in the sand.  I kept my eyes closed and listened to what the pirates were saying. They were trying to decide what to do with me, and arguing about it. I hoped that Liam is all right, but even if he wasn't, there wasn't much I could do about it.  I tried to move very carefully and found that my hands were tied behind my back.  My feet were tied around the ankles, and very tightly, I might add. I couldn't move at all.
Someone was saying, "I say we sell them on the slave market. We can get a lot of money for the little redhead." Yuck, they are talking about me. We are going to be sold as slaves. The very idea terrifies me.
Another voice, much deeper and sounding a lot older said, "I say they're not worth the trouble. I think we should just cut their throats and get it over with."
That gave me cold chills. Either way, alive or dead, I was totally helpless and at their mercy. Our fate was in the hands of barbarians and cutthroats. Then someone else spoke, and I couldn't believe my ears.
"She will bring a lot of money on the market, I guarantee it."  It was the Captain's voice, and my eyes snapped open. What was going on here?  
The captain was standing at the side of the clearing, and the pirate who looked like he might be the leader, only because he was the ugliest one and had the biggest gun, was standing beside him.  They were looking at us like we were cattle to be auctioned off.  I realized that to them, that is exactly what we were.
The captain hold out his hand, and the leader of the pirates handed off a bag of coins.  Then they both laughed and shook hands.  
"Good trade," said the Captain. "These three plus the others from the ship should get you a tidy little bundle.  The girl here is worth all of them put together."
"You are despicable," I groaned. "We all trusted you."
"Keep your mouth shut, Missy, if you know what's good for you.  I could hand you over to the others, you know.  You'd better be nice."
He grins an evil grin, and I decide that maybe it would be a good idea to keep quiet.
One of the sailors moved toward us with his arms full of leather straps.  He stopped beside Liam first and buckled one of the straps around his neck, finishing it off with a padlock. They were collars. Liam looked beaten, and when the padlock snapped shut, his eyes flash up and locked with mine.  I saw the humiliation on his face and my heart twisted. I  did feel sorry for him, and at the same time I was glad. He was partly responsible for all of this, and it is only right for him to suffer.

Faraway Hill
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(To be continued)