Monday, January 15, 2007

Drafts: Frog Haven, Chapter 6

In a few hours, my mother is going to die. I don't know that yet. Not on "this day," January 15th. She's been declining, but there is no imminent sign of danger. She will die, however, unexpectedly of late stage dementia and myocardial infarction at 2 AM on the 16th. (Obviously, I am backposting this.)

I've been so involved in notifying people and institutions and making arrangments etc, plus some health issues of my own, that the novel got put on the back burner. I still have more to do concerning my mother's death, some of it urgent. But I wanted a peek at the novel. Being away from it for so long has made me lose my place. A novel is big and unwieldy, and at least for me, I have to stay immersed in it. I have yet to find my place, but here, anyway, is the next chapter, chapter 6 (and the links to earlier chapters if you haven't yet read them):

read chapter 1 if you haven't already

read chapters 2 & 3 if you haven't already

read chapter 4 if you haven't already

Chapter 5: Getting Acquainted

Chapter 6, The Fox and the Skunk

“You shouldn’t agree to things until you know what they are,” Sissy said. She pushed her bedroom door shut, reached under her vanity and under the table in the corner between the vanity and the end of her bed, and pulled out the pail that was hidden there. She lifted the pillow from the bucket and she and Garryd both leaned over to look, bumping their heads together.

“Frogs!” Garryd observed, rubbing his head. “What are you going to do with them?”

“Let them go in a safe spot.”

“Then why did you catch them?”

“They weren’t safe where they were.”

“Why not?”

“The boys. They have a gang and they kill frogs.”

“That’s stupid, and mean! We’ll have to stop them!”


“I don’t know. We’ll think of something. In the meantime, we will rescue as many frogs as we can and let them go in a safe place.”

“Yes, that’s exactly it!” cried Sissy, jumping up and down and throwing her arms around Garryd and kissing him. “Oh, Garryd, I love you!”

Garryd unwrapped Sissy’s arms and stood there looking embarrassed, for once at a loss for words.

“I wish you were my brother, instead of those rats,” Sissy exclaimed.

Garryd looked visibly relieved. “I guess you’d be an okay sister. I never really wanted a sister. Usually I don’t like girls that much. All they ever want to do is play with dolls. Ugh!”

Sissy waved her arms around the room. “I don’t have any dolls. Not one single one. Come on, let’s go release these frogs. First we have to make sure the coast is clear. Put the hamster away.” Garryd did.

Sissy stuck the pillow back over the frogs. They went out the back door and looked around. There was no sign of the gang anywhere.

“You stay here and watch for the gang, and I’ll go in and get the frogs. If you see them . . .”

“I’ll whistle like this,” Garryd said, giving an ear-piercing whistle.

“Okay, and I’ll hide the frogs again if I hear it.”

Sissy ran in and grabbed the pail, tossing the pillow onto her bed. The pillow flipped over and there was a big circular spot of mud and slime on it. Sissy grabbed it and stuffed it under the bed. She dashed out through the house. Both her parents were bent over the keyboards of their computers. Sissy shut the back door slowly and quietly, not wanting to be slowed down by being yelled at for slamming.

She led Garryd down the path past the fruit trees and the vegetable garden and her Papa’s arboretum. When they got to the fence, Garryd took the pail without a word while Sissy climbed through. Then he handed her the bucket and climbed over. They slid down the dirt cliff on their butts and headed for Dzabel’s ponds. As they walked across the short-cropped grass to the ponds, Sissy [MNS1] told Garryd about finding the starling that had heat stroke. By the shore of the small pond, two starlings were feeding a bunch of noisy babies. The male, shining and black, looked like the bird Sissy had rescued. She hoped he was, because he looked healthy and happy.

“It didn’t take us very long to get here,” Garryd observed. “What’s going to stop the gang from coming down here and killing frogs.”

“Nothing, I guess. It’s closer than Blackfords’ pond. Kids don’t come here quite as much because Dzabel yells when he sees us here. But they could. But I didn’t know what else to do with them. There’s a pond beyond the Bushwhack, Coon Pond, but that’s not much farther away and it’s such a small pond. Unless . . .”

“Unless what?”

“Well, a couple weeks ago, we were doing a unit in school on maps, and Papa got out a topographical map of this part of Burnt Hills. It showed Blackfords’ Pond (I mean Moores’ Pond) and the swamp around it, but it did not show Coon Pond because the dam hadn’t been built or Dzabel’s Ponds because they hadn’t been dig yet when the map was made. It did show two ponds I’ve never been to, in the woods over there,” she said, pointing across the pastures and scrubland.

“Well, let’s go them,” Garry said, picking up the pail and starting for the woods.

“Wait a second,” Sissy called running to catch up. Garryd kept on walking. “I’m not allowed to go there. None of the kids in the neighborhood are.”


“I don’t know. I just know it is strictly forbidden. Not even Paul LeFevre goes there,” she added, as if that would clinch it.

Garryd kept walking. Sissy felt really nervous. She did not like to directly disobey her parents. What if there was some really good reason not to go there? Sissy pictured bad men with guns who would kidnap them or kill them or something. Maybe torture them.

“Do you want these frogs to be safe, or not?”

“Yes, but . . .”

“Look, we’ll go to the edge of the woods together. How far is it to the ponds from the edge of the woods?”

“Not far, according to the map.”

“Okay, no one has forbidden me from going there. I’ll find one of the ponds, the first one I come to, and let the frogs go. It will only take a few minutes and then we can go back together.”

“Okay.” Sissy was satisfied with that plan. At least she would not be disobeying. “But we will have to watch out for the farmer. Dzabel. He doesn’t like kids on his land. He’s afraid we’ll bother the cows or drown and cause him to get sued or something.”

They covered the distance to the edge of the woods faster than Sissy expected. It didn’t really seem that far, though she had always thought of it as a really long ways, and had never considered going there. As they approached the woods, they noticed a dark area that turned out to be an opening, so they headed for that. As they got closer, they saw it was an old road, an old gravel road grown up with weeds. Small trees were starting to invade the edges, but it was still quite walkable. Sissy walked along with Garryd until tall trees came up on either side. She stopped, backed up a little, and waited. Garryd went on. The road turned into the trees, and Garryd was lost from sight.

Sissy felt very alone. Not frightened exactly, just alone. The sun was shining and the woods smelled sweet and fresh. A tiny breeze played around her face. She sat on a mossy spot on the roadside and waited. An ant crawled over her bare foot. She watched it, but couldn’t feel it. Then she felt it, and it tickled so much she picked a blade of grass and encouraged the ant to climb onto it. She held the grass up and watched as the ant crawled toward her hand. Then she took the other end in her other hand. When the ant got to the far end, it started back toward her other hand upside down on the bottom of the blade. Sissy set the ant down near a squashed wild strawberry. Maybe it would like to eat it. There were lots of wild strawberries. Sissy started picking and eating them.

Garryd came running down the road, swinging the empty pail. “Sissy, Sissy, come here!”

“I can’t.”

“You’ve got to! I want to show you something. It’s a wolf or a coyote or something.”

“Is it alive?” Sissy asked, jumping up and backing away from the woods.

“No, it’s dead, but it’s really cool.”

“How far away is it?”

“Just around the corner.”

“Well, okay,” Sissy half-heartedly agreed. She walked beside Garryd. The sun was warm and she could hear insects buzzing around them, and birds calling: a crow, a veery, and others, too, farther away. A wood thrush deep in the woods. Everything seemed peaceful. There was no feeling of danger in the air. The trees arched up over the road and became a forest, a nonscary, park-like forest.

They walked a short ways into the woods along the road and Garryd shouted, “There it is!” At first, Sissy saw nothing but fallen leaves and branches. Then the shape of the dead animal formed itself before her eyes. It’s body was exactly the color of the fallen, faded leaves, but its face, ear-tips, and feet were black, a shining black that was not the dull black of coal or the iridescent black of her rescued starling. At first, she thought it was a dead dog, and not a very big dog, at that. Certainly not a wolf or coyote.

“Oh, Garryd, it’s a fox! It’s beautiful!” Not many people would have called the dead fox beautiful. It had decayed to the point where all that was left was the somewhat rotted fur and the bones. The stiff, dried out, tattered fur was beyond saving, but the bones . . .

“Let’s take it home. We could bury it in the sand and dig it up later. Maybe we can reconstruct the skeleton. That would be great fun.”

“Yes, it would, but how would we get it home?”

“Hmm . . . maybe with a burlap bag. Papa uses them at the arboretum.”

“A burlap bag? I saw some in the woods near here. A whole pile of them! Come on.” They went down the road a little farther and came to a stop sign. It was a regular six-sided stop sign, but it was rusty yellow instead of red and had diamond-like things embedded in the letters and around the edges. Sissy took new interest in the road, looking up and down it.

“Never saw a stop sign like that. Why do you think it’s here?” Sissy asked.

“I’ve seen stop signs like that. Way out in the country on old dirt roads, near my Grandmother’s house. It’s the old kind they used to have a long time ago.” Garryd said. Then Sissy thought, yes, she too had seen some like that, when they were camping, and maybe near uncle John’s. She touched the diamond-like shiny glass pieces and rubbed the dust off some of them. Then looked back at the road.

There was no intersection, but as Sissy looked around, she spotted an old split rail fence in the woods that was mostly tumbled down, and barbed wire. There was an old gate, open, and lying half buried in the woods. Behind the gate was a tree with a board sign that had a paper sign hanging off it. Sissy walked up, and standing on tiptoes, lifted the paper sign and read it. It said, “NO TRESPASSING” in large black letters. It was signed Judson A. Williams.

“This stop sign is here because Judson A. Williams, whoever he is, doesn’t want people in his woods. Like Dzabel doesn’t want us in his pastures,” Sissy murmured nervously.

“I didn’t even see that posted sign,” Garryd said.

“Well, you couldn’t read it upside down and it was pretty hidden in these branches,” Sissy said.

“But it doesn’t matter. The burlap bags are thrown away. Look, they are right over here.” Sissy followed Garryd a few steps off the road where they found an old dump. There were cans and bottles and old lamps and galvanized buckets and washtubs and broken crockery. There were also old dolls, broken metal trucks, a rotted red rubber ball and other toys. “I came over to look at this stuff because my old neighbor, Mrs. Larson, collects old bottles and crocks. I found some good ones, too,” he said, pointing to a small stash he had made in the gnarled roots of an old beech tree. “And there are the burlap bags. I was going to take one to wrap the bottles and stuff in for Mrs. Larson.”

There was no doubt they’d been discarded, so Sissy figured it wouldn’t be stealing if they took a couple. But the bags were pretty rotten. They were almost as rotten as the fox. In the middle of the pile, she found a few that were fairly strong, and headed determinedly back toward the fox.

Garryd wrapped his bottles in some of the burlap and put them in the pail. He ran after Sissy, who had stopped in the middle of the road. A skunk was headed toward her. It looked friendly. Sissy stood holding the burlap and looking at the skunk. The skunk sat down in the middle of the road, facing Sissy.

“At the science museum in Syracuse, they have a take skunk named Willie, only it’s a girl. I’ve held it and fed it mealworms; it’s really nice. It doesn’t bite or anything,” Garryd said.

“But I don’t think this is a tame skunk. It could have rabies. Let’s try going around it. Nice skunky, nice skunky,” Sissy crooned. The skunk titled its head and looked at Sissy.

“Nice skunky,” Garryd said, too, imitating Sissy’s tone of voice. The skunk tilted its head the other way and looked at Garryd. “I think it’s friendly,” Garryd said, as they skirted around the skunk through the woods. The skunk watched them as they walked, standing to turn when it couldn’t move its head any further. Then it sat back down in the middle of the road facing them.

Garryd helped Sissy get the dead fox onto the burlap. They started home, taking turns dragging the fox, and carrying the pail. At first, the fox seemed very light, but it seemed to get heavier and heavier. Sometimes, they both dragged it, and took turns with the pail. The trip back seemed a lot farther and a lot longer.

[MNS1]The prior part of this story has been removed, so this reference either has to be expanded or deleted!!!!

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