Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Drafts: Frog Haven, Chapter 7

"Today" at 2 AM my mom died and I haven't done any more work on the novel. There are still a lot of notifications and arrangements to do, but I'm trying to take a little time for the novel. (I'm back posting this)

(chapter 6)(Chapter 1)

Chapter 7: Frog Haven

“What about the frogs?” Sissy finally asked, surprised when she thought of it that she’d gotten so distracted from their original mission. “Did you find a safe place to let them go?”

“I sure did! I found a great pond. It was big and beautiful. It was just a little bit beyond the dump. There were lots of trees at this end and it was swampy and more open at the other end. I saw ‘coon tracks, though.”

“Well, there are ‘coons at Blackfords’ Pond, and heron’s and stuff, too. Frogs have lots of enemies. But raccoons kill them for food, and that’s a lot different than killing out of meanness. Just for fun, if you call that fun. Fairer, too.”

“You really ought to see the ponds. There’s another one on the other side of the road. It looked like it was even bigger. It kind of went around a corner and I couldn’t see it all. I wanted to explore it, but I didn’t want to keep you waiting. Then, on the way back, I saw the fox when I stopped to check out the bottles. Really, Sissy, we should go back and explore.”

“Well, maybe, Garryd. I don’t like to do stuff I’m not supposed to do. Let me think about it a little, okay?”

“Sure, but if you don’t want to go, I’m going to go by myself.”

“Don’t take any of the gang with you, though, if I don’t go. Or tell them about it.”

“Don’t worry! The frogs are safe. I always keep my promises, and besides, I don’t want them killed any more than you do, Sissy!”

When they got to the dirt cliff, Garryd took the pail up and then came back down to help Sissy get the fox up. When they dragged it as far as the orchard, Sissy said, “Let’s bury it here.” She ran up and got a shovel from the garage and they took turns digging. The soil was soft sand so it didn’t take too long to dig a shallow grave for the fox and bury it. Sissy marked the head of the fox with a cairn of rocks so they could dig it up again later.

“Let’s go back to Frog Haven and the Haunted Forest right now, Sissy!” Garryd said.

“What do you mean, the Haunted Forest?” Sissy asked, a small shiver running down her spine.

“I was just joking. Because of the dead fox. It’s haunted with the fox-ghost, and besides, if we call it that, and the kids were scared to go there before, now they’ll really be scared. That is, they would be if we told them, but we won’t tell them,” he quickly amended, seeing the look on Sissy’s face.

“And what do you mean, Frog Haven?” Sissy wondered aloud.

“Well, when we lived in Florida, there was a place called Pelican Haven, where the pelicans were safe from being bothered. If they can have a Pelican Haven, why not a Frog Haven?”

“Good idea, it’s official, then.” Sissy smiled and reached out to shake Garryd’s hand.

“Come on! Let’s go back,” Garryd repeated.

“What time is it?” Sissy looked at her wrist, but her Super Girl watch wasn’t there. “Well, okay, I guess we can go now. But we’d better not stay long. I think it might be getting late, and I’ll get in trouble if I’m late to dinner.” They started back down the path through the yard, with Sissy dragging a little. She didn’t have the same enthusiasm she had when they were starting out to free the frogs. She was nervous, lacked the same sense of purpose, and was feeling a little tired, too.

“Why don’t we go by way of Blackfords’ pond and take another load of frogs?” she suggested.

“Good idea!” They veered left and headed toward Moores’.

“Watch for the boys. Maybe we can cop another pail so we can both take one.”

As they approached Blackfords’ pond, they heard the boy’s voices, laughing, and shouts of victory. They peered through the cattails and found the gang spearing frogs. They were using what looked like ski poles without baskets. Paul LeFevre shouted from across the pond, and Sissy looked toward him. He had three frogs speared on his pole and the one on the bottom was still kicking and thrashing.

Sissy turned quickly away, feeling sick, grossed out, and angry. Garryd just stood there staring. He looked as if he were about to charge into the middle of the gang, fists flailing. Sissy didn’t think that would help.

“Come on,” she hissed, dragging him away by the arm. She took him to the fort. They left the bucket with the crack and took two good buckets. And two lids. They headed down the pond side toward Dzabel’s, catching as many frogs as they could. They also caught some fat bullfrog tadpoles. By the time they got to the fence, the bottoms of their pails were covered solidly with frogs and tadpoles.

Garryd was right, of course. The first pond was just beyond the dump. The shape of the hill and the hemlocks growing there had hidden it from view. Near the road, the bank dropped sharply down to and into the water and there was no spot to stand near the shore. Sissy could see that farther down, the ground was flatter. She headed that way with her pail. She heard a giant splash and looked up in time to see a beaver slapping his tail on the water. A moment later, he resurfaced and looked at them again. Seeing that they were still there, he slapped his tail again. He did this three more times, and then climbed up onto a small island and began chewing the base of a young yellow birch.

Sissy fingered a little white medallion that she wore at the base of her throat, saying, “Thank you, St. Francis,” in a quiet whisper.

“St. Francis?”

“Yes, you know, he talks to the animals. If I could have one wish, I would wish to be able to talk to the animals.” Garryd was looking at the medallion, which she still held in her free hand. “Oh, my grandmother gave me this. She’s Roman Catholic. She gave it to me because she knows how much I love animals. See, it’s St. Francis talking to the birds.”

“Wow, that’s really cool,” breathed Garryd, “do you think she’d give me one, if I were her grandson?”

“Oh, I’m sure she would. She’s a great Grandma! I mean a wonderful grandmother. She won’t be a great grandma until one of us has kids.”

“They walked slowly down the shore. The beaver didn’t move. He stared at them and then casually went on chewing the yellow birch. They slowly and carefully laid their pails on their sides at the edge of the pond and watched the frogs leap out of the pail and the tadpoles swim out of sight to the bottom of the pond. Most of the frogs followed suit. Some resurfaced and stuck their heads out, dangling their legs down into the water. Tadpoles began emerging from under leaves and submerged branches. The children sat on the damp ground and watched the beaver, the frogs and tadpoles in silence. Thrushes sang in the woods, and a veery called.

After a few minutes, Garryd reached out and touched Sissy’s arm. A heron had landed behind her, only a few feet away. The frogs dove into the pond again. Sissy sat absolutely still. The heron took three steps in their direction. Suddenly, the long neck shot out. The beak plunged into the water like a spear and came up with a fish. Sissy was glad it was a fish and not one of the frogs they had just brought. She knew some of them would be eaten. Some would have been eaten at their old home, too. But after she rescued them, she didn’t want to see it happen immediately.

Garryd and Sissy watched as the heron swallowed the fish. Sissy was straining her eyes to see, and then she realized it was almost dark. She had missed supper and her parents would be worried and angry. She jumped up, sending the heron squawking off and the beaver splashing into the dark water.

“Garryd, it’s dark! We’ve got to hurry back!” They started off through the woods running, but it was too dark to run. Instead, they had to walk slowly, because it was darker in the woods than it had been by the pond where it was more open. If they hurried too much, they smashed into bushes and prickers. Sissy had bare feet and couldn’t see to pick a safe trail. Luckily, her feet were already getting tough, as they did every year in the spring.

Once they got out into the pastures, they began to run again. It was easy, running in the sort cropped grass, but once, Sissy stepped in a cow flop in her bare feet. Garryd laughed, but a moment later, he stepped in one, slipped, and sat down in it. Then it was Sissy’s turn to laugh.

Sissy stacked the pails and stashed them under a pile of bushel baskets behind the garage and dashed into the house.

“Sissy, where have you been? We’ve been looking all over for you! Garryd’s parents are frantic, especially his mother! What a way to welcome our new neighbors! Where have you been?” Mom was steamed. Sissy could tell she’d been worried about her.

“Down at the pond,” Sissy said, waving in the general direction of Frog Haven and The Haunted Forest, which was also, luckily, the direction of Dzabel’s Ponds. “We were watching a heron. It caught a fish. It was only a few feet away and I could see it swallow. We were trying not to move and scare it. We were so excited we forgot about the time. I’m really sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean to be late, really.”

Sissy could tell that her mom was calmed by the news about the heron. Mom loved herons and all of nature and loved having Sissy enjoy it too.

“Well, be more careful next time. You’re not supposed to go out of range of the whistle—listen for it. See that this doesn’t happen again. Maybe you should wear your watch.”

Papa came in and started in on her again. Mom stopped him and told him about the heron. “Don’t let it happen again,” he said, firmly but not angrily. “We were really worried. You’re lucky it’s a Saturday night and not a school night. If it happens again, we’ll have to punish you.”

“Okay, Papa, I’ll try to be more careful,” Sissy promised. He got her supper out of the oven where it had been staying warm. Sissy realized she was famished. It was just macaroni and cheese, and it was dry and crunchy, but it tasted heavenly to Sissy.

Sissy worried as she ate that somehow, her parents would find out where she had been. Should she just tell them and get it over with? But she was afraid, so she ate her supper quietly and headed for her room.

“Not so fast, young lady. First, take a quick but thorough shower. You are filthy.”

When Sissy got in bed, her pillow was missing. She knew she had done something with it, but was too tired to remember what.

Chapter 8; P365-07W

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