The Rain Catcher, Snippet 7

After replacing the mangled tire with the spare “donut,” Mom and Aunt Claire had an argument about which road to take. Aunt Claire wanted to keep going straight, but Mom wanted to take a detour to a place called “Rest and Be Thankful,” where Great Auntie Fiona used to take them to when they were kids. She said that the pendulum had answered “Yes” when she asked it if the detour would bring us “good fortune.”

“Are you bonkers? It’ll add at least an hour to our trip,” Aunt Claire cried.

“Um…don’t we need to get a real tire soon? Those donut tires are just for emergencies.” Ever since I was tall enough to reach the clutch, Dad had drilled the basics of road safety into my brain.

“Doughnuts? What’s she talking about?” Aunt Claire jerked her head in my direction.”

“The spare tire, Claire,” Mom explained. “That’s what they call it in America.”

“Pffff! We don’t have time for all that. We need to get a move on.”

“I thought we were sightseeing,” I said. “Why are we in such a hurry?”

As usual, they ignored my question.

“All I know is, we don’t want to go against fortune. We need to stop at Rest and Be Thankful.” Mom folded her arms. I guessed that was the sign that nothing Aunt Claire said would make any difference because she groaned and turned left at the next intersection onto “Old Military Road.” She must have seen me staring at the sign.

“The soldiers who built the old road called the place we’re going to Rest and Be Thankful because the climb was so steep that they were thankful to have a place to stop and rest afterward,” Aunt Claire said.

“Is it? I didn’t know that?” Mom wove her hair into a long braid with her broad-knuckled fingers. I have Dad’s slim fingers, thankfully.

“Just because you did a year of art college doesn’t mean you’re the genius of the family!” Aunt Claire jerked the steering wheel as she maneuvered around a sharp bend in the two-lane road.

“Did you go to college, Aunt Claire?”

She huffed. “I did nursing for a while, but … it wasn’t really for me.”

“Mavis didn’t like it,” Mom sneered.

“Mavis? Ewan’s mom? What does she have to do with it?”

“Exactly!” I felt glad that Mom agreed with me but also a little sorry for Aunt Claire, who sank down into her seat.

“It didn’t work out, that’s all,” she said. No one spoke for a while. We rounded a bend, and the trees opened up to reveal a beautiful valley.

“Wow!” I rolled the window down, enjoying the feel of wind brushing against my face after being in the stuffy, burnt-rubber-dead-cat smelling car for what felt like hours.

Aunt Claire parked at a small overlook, and we got out and stretched. Grassy hills with purple flowers spread before us, and a little stream trickled through the middle. The wind pushed clouds across the sky, and the valley grew dark, then light, as if giant fingers played across the sun.

“Just breathe in that air!” Mom closed her eyes and took a deep breath. I copied her, breathing until my nostrils stung with the chill. I smelled grass, damp and mossy, and the icy water in the stream (which I imagined tasted like peppermint). When I opened my eyes, the view looked brighter, as if someone had poured cold water over everything, washing away the dust and old faded colors.

“I wish I lived here,” I said. “Then I could see this view every day!”

Mom stood with her face to the sun, her eyes still eyes closed. Aunt Claire sat on the grass, still wearing her sunglasses, legs tucked under her. She plucked a blade of grass and chewed on it like I’ve seen Granddad do. He lives on a farm in Mebane that his family used to own. Granddad still plants tobacco. He lets the leaves grow bigger and bigger until Dad gets tired of looking at the overgrown field and hauls out the tractor. Then Dad and I help Granddad hang the tobacco leaves in the barn and hose them down to get rid of all the bugs and dirt.

The leaves dry in the barn for about two weeks, and then Granddad sticks the leaves in the old pottery kiln Grannny made back when she was still alive. He bakes them for days and days – I don’t even know how long – and then he sells the tobacco at the farmer’s market and to old-timers who live near him and make their own cigarettes. Sometimes, a lady from Asheville buys the leaves to make dolls and wreaths out of them. He’s pretty busy, my Granddad.

I didn’t tell Mom any of this; she looked too thoughtful on the hillside, her braid bobbing in the wind. I thought about what my life would be if we’d stayed in Scotland instead of moving to North Carolina when I was three. Would we live in a tiny flat like Mom, or would Dad have bought something bigger with its own yard? Did they even have private yards over here?

One thing was for sure – I’d have to wear a school uniform.

Aunt Claire groaned. “I’m knackered! Let’s get a bacon roll and a cup of tea.”

“What’s a bacon roll?” I ran to keep up as she marched toward a van parked at the side of the overlook. I hadn’t noticed before, but it was actually a tiny cafe out here in the middle of nowhere!

Mom strolled behind us. “Your Great Auntie Fiona used to take us here on Sundays in her old banger.”

“What’s an old banger?”

“It’s an old car. The rust had worn through the floor, and the car got puddles when it rained.”

“Why didn’t she buy a new one?”

“We’re not rich like you Americans!” Aunt Claire snapped.

I frowned. “We’re not rich.” Dad has an old truck, too, but he’d get it fixed if holes started to wear in the floor.

We reached the tea van, and Mom started digging in her bag. “Oh, I need to stop by a bank. I’ve no cash.”

Aunt Claire folded her arms but didn’t say anything.

“I have some money,” I piped up.

“No, I’ll pay,” Aunt Claire said, holding up a hand. “Liz can pay me back later. She’s due.”

We sat on the grass eating bacon rolls (Delicious! Rolls are like floury hamburger buns but with more flavor, and Scottish bacon is juicy and thick like Canadian ham.)

“Ewan was born here,” Aunt Claire said, her mouth full of food.

“Really?” Mom leaned forward to look at her sister. I sat in the middle, stuffing my face; I hadn’t realized how hungry I was. Even though we’d left Edinburgh super-early, the flat tire and tea stops had slowed us down, and it was nearly lunchtime.

“Aye, Mavis was eight months pregnant when she and Eddie drove up here for a picnic. That was before they were married, and before Eddie drank himself to death, obviously.”

I glanced at my aunt. People didn’t say stuff like “drank themselves to death” in front of me in North Carolina. Dad was careful about what I watched on TV (which is aggravating when all my friends are allowed to watch “Saturday Night Live,” and I’m not!). He doesn’t even want me to watch “The People’s Court” when I’m home sick.

“They hit a bump, and her water broke,” Aunt Claire continued. I winced, hoping she wasn’t going to go in to a lot of details about fluids and umbilical cords. In health class, the teacher showed us a movie about the beauty of childbirth. I missed the actual “beauty” part because my eyes had been closed the whole time.

“So, Eddie parked here, bought two cups of tea and a bacon roll from the van, and by that time Ewan had made his grand entrance.”

“Good grief!” Mom slapped her forehead. “He was eating a bacon roll while Mavis was giving birth?”

“Sort of tells you the kind of person he was…”

“I can see why Mavis is the way she is,” Mom said. “That must’ve been quite traumatic.”

Aunt Claire brushed crumbs off her jeans and stood up. “We’d better start movin’, folks,” she said in a fake American accent, winking at me.

“Is that supposed to be American?”

She laughed – the first time I’d heard her laugh – and patted me on the back.

On the way back to the car, we stopped to listen to a bagpiper who’d appeared a few feet away from the tea van. His face swelled as he blew into the pipes and squinted against the wind.

“That’s ‘Flower of Scotland’.” Mom threw a pound coin into the cap by the piper’s foot.

“I thought you didn’t have any cash,” Aunt Claire cried.

Mom hurried toward the car, apparently not hearing her sister. “Time waits for no man!”

“Hmmph!” Aunt Claire stomped toward the car, her good mood trampled like the muddy ground under our feet. A few minutes down the road, Aunt Claire’s cellphone began to buzz. Mom and I held our breaths as she wedged the cell phone between her chin and shoulder and tried to steer and shift gears at the same time. The car wobbled over to the wrong side of the road for a few seconds. I closed my eyes.

“Mavis? I have no idea where he is. Don’t phone me again.” Aunt Claire threw the phone behind her; it bounced off my seat and landed on the floor.

“What did she want?” I asked, curious.

“None of your business!” Mum and Aunt Claire barked at the same time. Jeez!



The Rain Catcher, Snippet 6

Hello! I’m just posting another snippet from my middle-grade novel, The Rain Catcher, which I hope to publish sometime this century! It’s about an American teenager, Katie, visiting her estranged mother in Scotland for the summer. The day after she arrives, her mom and aunt whisk her away on a bizarre road trip to the Highlands… If you’d like to catch up on the previous snippets, just click on The Rain Catcher under “Categories” in the right-hand column. Thanks!

Snippet 6

I must have fallen asleep because when I opened my eyes, we were parking in front of a building with a bright orange sign that read, “Have a Cuppa!” Then in smaller letters: “Hot filled rolls, white coffee, tea, and biscuits!”

“What time is it?” I stretched and tried to swallow, but my mouth felt like sawdust.

“Time for a cup of tea,” Aunt Claire said, opening her door. The wind blasted the car, and she nearly fell back into her seat. “Bloody hell!”

Mom was already out of the car and into the cafe by the time my aunt and I shuffled through the doors. She’d found us a table, and we sat down, suddenly boiling hot. I undid my layers and wiped the sweat off my forehead.

“They have the heat a bit high!” Aunt Claire exclaimed. “It’s like a sauna in here!”

A lady in a yellow cardigan appeared at our table. “Hullo,” she wheezed, obviously a heavy smoker. “What would you like today?”

Aunt Claire ordered a “fried egg roll,” Mom got a “sausage roll,” and I stared at the little menu, not sure what any of it meant.

“Uh… what’s a ‘toastie’? Is that like a grilled cheese?”

The waitress stared at me.

“She’s American,” Mom said, scrunching her nose in my direction.

The waitress raised her eyebrows. “Ooh. That explains it.” She leaned down, speaking loudly in case my ears didn’t work properly: “It’s toasted bread with cheese melted on the inside.” She motioned with her hands, laying one on top of the other, apparently showing me how sandwiches work.

“Yes, I figured that–”

“OR…” She didn’t like being interrupted. “You can get cheese and tomaaahtoes…” She winked at Mom, as if to say, “See these Americans? You’ve got to watch them like hawks.” Mom nodded and smiled sagely.

“I’ll just take a sausage roll,” I mumbled. “And a water.”

“A water? You mean, like, Perrier?” The waitress sneered at me. “Would you like ice cubes in that as well, Madame?”

I sensed that I was supposed to say no, that apparently ordering plain iced water in a Scottish café was not done. “Um…on second thought, just bring me a Coke, please.”

The waitress rolled her eyes and shuffled off to fill our order. Aunt Claire stared at the “No smoking” sign on the wall. At least, I think she was – she still had her sunglasses on. She kept them on throughout our tea break, almost as if she didn’t want anyone to recognize her. Mom kept twiddling her thumbs and glancing out the window behind her.

As soon as I’d taken my last bite, we were back on the road; wasn’t this supposed to be a relaxing sightseeing trip?

Aunt Claire lit up a cigarette and cracked her window.

“Oh, don’t, Claire,” Mom said, waving her hand in front of her face. “It’s cancergenic.”

“I need a ciggie for my nerves,” Aunt Claire hissed.

“What’s wrong?” I piped up from the back. “Why are you nervous?”

Aunt Claire didn’t reply, just heaved on her cigarette and held the smoke in for longer than was safe for any human being. Then she hissed it out between a tiny hole in her teeth, as though savoring the burning smoke feeling.

“Really, Claire!” Mom tutted and coughed. “I don’t know how you can concentrate with all that smoke!”

“Well, who’s driving? Me or you?”

We passed a sign for Dumbarton, and I zonked out again. When I woke up, we were driving past a lake, which sparkled bright blue when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds.

“Where are we?” I asked. Mom had her eyes closed but wasn’t asleep; she was humming to herself, sort of like she was in a trance.

“Loch Lomond,” Aunt Claire called over her shoulder. She looked more awake now, and was actually smiling, glancing every now and then at the lake. “Gorgeous, isn’t it? You can see why they wrote a song about it.”

“What song?”

Aunt Claire stared at me in the rear view mirror as though I was a complete idiot. “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond, of course! Don’t they teach you anything in those American schools?”

I smirked. “Okay, what’s our national anthem?”

“The Star Spangled Banner. Any dunce knows that!”

Maybe my aunt was right about the education system in North Carolina!

The two-lane highway surrounded by trees reminded me of being on the Blue Ridge Parkway with Dad. He has a friend, Jeb, who lives across the border in Virginia, and every so often we’ll visit him. Jeb lets us feed the cows and fish in his pond. He has a mad cocker spaniel who nips the cows’ ankles and yaps at anything that moves.

Suddenly, a truck zipped around the bend in front of us, making the car shake.

“Bloody hell!” Aunt Claire swerved left, too close to the rocky roadside, and there was a horrible scraping sound.

“What was that?” Mom jerked out of her trance.

“Hopefully nothing,” my aunt replied. But now the road felt lumpy, and it was obvious we had a flat tire. We poked along until Aunt Claire spotted a gravel pull-off and parked in a cloud of dust.

Aunt Claire jumped out and ran to the back of the car to inspect the damage. She gave a wail and kicked the tire with her boot. Then Mom and I got out. The wheel was flatter than an iron skillet, and the hubcab was twisted like a crushed Coke can.

“Wow! I’ve never seen a tire so flat,” I said, shaking my head. “You have a spare?”

“Of course I have a spare! I’m not a complete idiot!” Aunt Claire spat.

“We’ll handle it, Katy. Why don’t you go over there?” Mom pointed across the road at some cows.

“And do what?”

“And look at the beautiful Scottish wildlife!” Aunt Claire yelled. “Now, get out of here so we can fix this tire!”

“But do you know how to change a tire? Dad showed me—”

“Go on, Katy.” Mom waved her hands at me as though I was a wasp buzzing around her head..

I backed up. “Fine. I guess you don’t need my help.” Never mind that Dad had showed me how to change not only tires but also the oil in his truck. I was pretty sure my mom and aunt had never changed a tire in their lives.

I crossed the street and stood in front of the wire fence, watching orange shaggy cows with gigantic horns and pink wet noses. They were kind of cute, I had to admit. I pulled a handful of grass out of the earth and held it up for the cows. A smallish one trotted over and sniffed it before huffing and sauntering away again. I laughed.

“Sorry, I don’t have any treats!”

I turned around to see Mom and Aunt Claire leaning over the trunk of the car with their “bums” sticking up in the air, trying to pull out the spare tire. Did they even know what a jack was? They could figure it out for themselves.

Raindrops began to fall, hitting the back of my neck and making me shiver. Just what I needed. I pulled my jacket collar up and folded my arms for warmth. The cows huddled together. Luckily for them, they had their thick coats!

Finally, after what seemed like an hour, Mom shouted, “Okay, you can come back now.”

“Gee, thanks!” My knees were stiff with the cold, and I couldn’t stop shivering.

Back in the car, Mom waved a smoking leaf-thing around.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Sage. That dead cat in the boot is a bit pongy.” Aunt Claire started the engine.

“You still didn’t bury it?” I couldn’t believe we’d been stranded for an hour in the countryside and they hadn’t buried the dead cat.

“When was I supposed to bury it, smarty pants?” My aunt spat. “Before or after we struggled with nuts and bolts and a rusty jack? Before or after I ruined my nails?”

“Not my fault,” I said. “You didn’t want my help.”

“You know how to change a tire?” Mom asked, turning around in her seat to look at me properly.

“Of course. Dad showed me how. I tried to tell you before you shooed me across the road to look at cows for an hour.”

Mom and Aunt Claire looked at each other.

“Let’s just get out of here.” My aunt pushed up her sleeves and slammed on the gas, spinning the tires in the gravel as we hurtled back onto the road.

“Don’t get another flat,” I warned her.

Aunt Claire glared at me, and Mom covered her mouth with her hand to hide the smile.

Character Intervention. (Short Story And A Huge Thank you)


I’m sharing my writer-friend Katie Hart’s short story here. It’s not only a great read, but she makes such a fascinating point about honoring your fictional characters! Until reading her story, I’d never really thought about the characters that way before — I am usually more consumed with the situation, the plot, the feelings going on in the story. But, of course, the characters are central to the story! So, Katie’s post is a “warning” to me to stop neglecting my characters!

Originally posted on Katrina Marie:

For blog story

Character Intervention.

Fiction Short Story

Harvey: Writers Should Never Ignore A Character.

Harvey sat in the waiting room clutching the flyer that had been pushed through his door only an hour ago. He hardly ever took note of mail that found its way through his letter box, but this one felt different, it had no flashy offers or huge wording that stood out to capture the imagination. Instead the paper was a pastel green just like the walls around him and in the centre in small bold print read: Dear  Mr Harvey, we have summoned you to attend our writers convention at midnight tonight. Bring your published book and novel in writing don’t be late. Along the bottom was an address he had never heard of before, but he felt compelled to go and find out just what was going on? Maybe they were the fans of his latest novel When…

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A quick post because I have a pile of laundry to fold…

Sorry for the delay in postings — and in replies to comments! I’ve been busy with the kids, other family stuff, and trying to not get heatstroke with the 95+ degree weather in NC! The water in our paddling pool is like a Jacuzzi’s! Needless to say, not much reading being done, but I did manage to finish the mammoth 1Q84 (over a period of months) and am currently working on another Haruki Murakami novel, slightly shorter!

I love Murakami’s clear, ram-rod-straight writing. I love the way he creates mystery and gradually reveals what he’s up to, like weaving embroidery threads together. But you don’t end up with a plain-old woven braid; his stories are never predictable. At least not the ones I’ve read so far! He’s not afraid to be different, and he doesn’t sacrifice a good story for elitist-sounding “literature”!

Write ruthlessly! Advice from David Morrell…

A few weeks ago, I attended the Write Now! conference in Raleigh, NC. David Morrell, prolific thriller author and the mind behind Rambo, was the keynote speaker. He also taught several workshops, which I was lucky enough to attend. Talk about words of wisdom — I must have scribbled several pages of notes, and I bought his book so I could read more!

Probably the most interesting (and possibly, valuable) lesson I learned from Mr. Morrell was his idea, “Every person has a dominant emotion.” According to Morrell, all writers have some “defect” that pushes them to be writers. Otherwise, why would we sit alone for hours a day, writing in virtual solitary confinement? For Morrell, his dominant emotion is fear — fear based on traumatic early childhood experiences with an abusive step-father. That’s what drew him to write thrillers, a genre where the main character must escape at all costs, where his/her life is at stake. Morrell says that we all have things inside ourselves “that are desperate to be communicated.” That’s why it is so important for writers to write for themselves, and not to please others.

“Are you willing to be open to yourself?” Morrell asked the crowd that Saturday. He encouraged us to have the courage to write what we’d always wanted to say. He gave the example of Edith Wharton “breaking ranks” and writing about the oppressive, superficiality of the wealthy society she grew up in. As Morrell talked, I tried to figure out what my dominant emotion was; what were the words I’d always wanted to say but had been afraid to write? If you want to be a writer, it’s worth finding out!

A short-short with no name!

I found this story scribbled on two sheets of paper while I was going through old notebooks, etc… I think it pretty clearly shows my state of mind during my graduate school creative writing classes! Not sure what to call it — any suggestions welcome!

All day, I couldn’t get the image of someone chopping down a tree out of my head. I was sitting at Servio’s Pizza with Mack, scribbling in my notebook while he lectured me on the proper way to write a cover letter. He thought I was taking notes; I was drawing a picture of Professor Wheeler wielding an axe, his sleeves rolled up past his elbows.

“Are you listening?” Mack cocked his ear toward the door “That’s the sound of your career options floating out the window.”

“Oh, whatever.” I closed my notebook. “I’m going to be late for class. Better go face the music.”

Mack’s lips were pinched together. He patted my arm. “Good luck.”


Professor Wheeler sat in the square desk at the front of the room, while the rest of us faced him in a horseshoe formation. Faces were blank. My story was up.

“Harhum! Who wants to start?” Wheeler let his straight eye roam over each of us in turn, his wobbly eye rolling up toward the ceiling, as though trying to escape out of the socket. When he got to me, I looked down at my desk.

Lucretia raised her hand. She was a freshman with two jet-black braids that she purposely wore at each side of her head. At the end of each braid was a purple bow. She liked to wear black shiny shoes with little straps across the ankles.

Wheeler waited a few moments, letting his eye shift around the room before finally settling on Lucretia.

“Yes?” He never said her name unless he had to.

“I liked Janice’s story, her use of the strong male protagonist. I thought he was very believable in his weakness, his fears about writing. He was just like one of us.” She swept her arm around the room. “He wasn’t snobby or pretentious when it really came down to it. It was all an act.”

She stopped and looked at the manuscript on her desk. Wheeler waited. I clenched my hands in my lap.

“I disagree.” It was Benny; he always sat on the left side of the room, always wrote with a red pencil, sometimes combed his thick hair while others spoke.

“I didn’t like the narrator. I thought he was arrogant and overbearing.”

I bit my lip. Slowly, I raised my eyes to Wheeler. His cheeks were pink under the spokes of hair on his chin, and he was staring at Benny. Benny shrugged and began combing his hair.

Wheeler put both his hands flat on the desk, big pink fingers like rolls of unbaked dough. He looked at me suddenly, and I lowered my eyes quickly, studying the cartoon I’d scribbled at lunch.

Wheeler was smiling as he chopped down the tree, a big willow with graceful drooping branches that dripped around his shoulders and head. I’d drawn beads of sweat popping out of his forehead, surrounding his face like little flies.

“Well, come on. What does everyone else have to say about the story?”

Beatrice, an Ecuador woman with a kind smile, stared out of the window. Mike, a sports fanatic who wore his soccer cleats to class, sat looking straight ahead, a fake smile etched in place. I held my breath and prayed that I would suddenly wake up and find myself in bed in my small apartment. What had I been thinking, writing a story like that?

“I suppose I could add something to the conversation,” Wheeler said, cracking his knuckles. He rested his chin on his hand and tilted his head at me.

“A very unusual approach, Janice. I don’t think I’ve ever had a student do this before.”

I sucked in my breath, looking straight at him. In my drawing, my arms and limbs stretched into the sky, reaching out to the air as he crashed through me, toppling me over into the rough, dry grass.

“I applaud your honesty, your attention to detail.”

I blinked.

“Finally, you’re writing about what you know.” He tapped his forehead. “You’ve stopped writing clichés, plastic, polystyrene. Now you’re playing with fire. Now you have the power to inspire.” He stood up. “And to hurt.”

I covered my mouth with my hands as he walked out of the room.

The Raincatcher, Snippet 5

Hello, Everyone! I really appreciate all who have been reading the little snippets from my novel, and although it may take me a while to get back to you, I will do my best to reply to all comments!

Here is another “snippet”… Feel free to comment, and I hope you enjoy it!

Recap: Katie arrived in Scotland from the United States the day before and is staying with her estranged mother, Liz, who seems quite scattered and disorganized for someone who hasn’t seen her daughter in 10 years. Last night, Katy was surprised to hear Liz coming back from somewhere at 2 in the morning and has no idea where she went…

Snippet Five

A whistle woke me. Then the sound of feet thumping across floorboards, a woman sneezing, and finally I was able to pry my eyelids open. Sleep hung over me like a soggy blanket. Where was I?

I pushed myself up and felt around for my glasses. They were under my pillow. So was a brown bottle of oily liquid, labeled “Sinus Surprise Therapeutic Oil.” Then I remembered.

“Mom?” I called

The whistling stopped. “Yes?” Mom poked her head out of the kitchen.

“I thought you’d left me,” I said, before realizing how babyish I sounded. Mom came over and sat down on the couch, her hip against mine, warm and reassuring. She must have been boiling water for tea. I imagined the steam from cups of tea, warming her tiny kitchen, scrambled eggs and buttered toast on the coffee table for breakfast, and smiled.

“Come on, sleepyhead.” Mom yanked my blankets down, and I gasped at the cold air on my bare arms. She handed me a pair of felt slippers shaped like bananas.

“What time is it?”

“Four o’clock.” Dark circles hung under her eyes.

“Why are you up so early?” I asked, shoving my feet into the bananas for warmth.

“It’s a long drive to Ullapool, and we want to get there before dark.”

“Where? What?” Was I still dreaming?

Mom clapped her hands together. “A surprise treat for you, Katy! We’re going on a tour of the Highlands, all the way up to Ullapool on the west coast. Won’t that be nice? You’ll get to take lots of pictures to send to your dad, and we’ll ride in a ferry and maybe even see the Loch Ness monster!”

“Loch Ness?” That woke me up. Ever since I saw the movie, “Water Horse,” about a boy who finds a special egg that hatches into a sea dragon, I’ve wanted to try to spot the Loch Ness monster.

Mom hopped off the bed, scooping up a pair of tights from the floor and stuffing them into a tote bag made out of what looked like shoelaces.

She handed me a granola bar. “Here’s breakfast.”

I forgot my camera in the rush to get our bags packed – Mom said to only take a few things from my suitcase and put them in my backpack because we couldn’t use the trunk. Aunt Claire had run over a cat the night before. She’d put the dead cat in the “boot” of the car to bury later.

“Why did she do that?” And where had she been driving to last night? I suddenly remembered my mom creeping into the flat at two in the morning and wondered if I should ask her about it.

“Och, you know your aunt; always an animal lover! She wanted to give the cat a proper burial, somewhere nice and scenic up in the Highlands.”

“Really?” I tried to imagine Aunt Claire wiping her eyes over a little mound of dirt and placing pink flowers under a cross made out of popsicle sticks. All I could think of was her shrieking at getting mud on her fancy leather boots.

“Um, Mom? Did you go out for tea bags or something last night?”

She looked at me strangely. “No. Why?”

“I thought I heard the front door opening, that’s all.” I blushed.

“Och, it’s probably just jet lag. You’re exhausted, and your mind’s’ playing tricks on you!”

“Hmm. It didn’t seem like my imagination. Did you go outside to check the mail or something?”

“For goodness’ sake, Katy. I didn’t go anywhere!”

“Okay, okay.” Obviously I’d had some kind of out-of-body experience where I’d hallucinated the door closing and floorboards creaking. It had happened before when I was five and we’d just driven 11 hours from visiting Aunt Marsha in New York City. Dad put me to bed, and two hours later, I’d sleep-walked downstairs and began crying when I couldn’t get my arm into my coat sleeve. Dad found me in the coat closet, wrestling with a giant scarf and jabbering about going to the jungle to get more bananas.

We ran down the street, Mom’s shoelace-bag bouncing up and down behind her like a flag. I dragged myself along, wincing as the cold air pierced my nostrils. The sky was already tinged with pale blue, hinting at the promise of a sunny day. The stars had started to fade and only a few remained, blinking lazily.

Aunt Claire stood smoking beside her car, which was parked in the middle of the street. She wore a huge pair of sunglasses, and I wondered how she was going to see when it wasn’t even daylight yet. She jerked her head at us to get in and then threw her cigarette butt onto the ground and mashed it with the toe of her boot.

“Do you think it’ll start?” I asked from the back seat as Aunt Claire got in. “Do you need to rock it?”

“Hmph! Smart arse.” Aunt Claire turned the key, and the car made a whining noise as though it didn’t want to get up this early either, but then the engine caught and we all let out a sigh of relief.

The streets were empty, so Aunt Claire took every corner at blazing speed, bumping over the cobbled streets of the older parts of the city and making the whole car rattle. I hoped we’d make it to the Highlands without the car falling apart.

Tall buildings stood dark in their own shadows, as the sun hovered low in the horizon, not yet ready to make the climb. Mom pulled something out of her pocket. I leaned forward – it was a silver chain with a crystal pyramid pointing to the floor.

“Not the pendulum again!” Aunt Claire stared at the roof as though begging God to please give her a break.

Mom sat up straight and frowned at her sister. “It will guide us in our journey.”

“I thought the map was supposed to guide us,” I said.

“Shh! I have to concentrate.” Mom closed her eyes and breathed in and out loudly. “Should we take the A82? Or should we take the A9?”

“The A82 will take forever,” Aunt Claire blurted out.

“We’re not in a hurry, are we?” I wanted to see Loch Ness and castles and sheep!

“Ssshh!” Mom stared at the crystal. “Ah ha!” She nodded encouragingly as it began to move in circles. To me, it looked like Aunt Claire’s jerky steering was causing the crystal to move, but what did I know?

“We will take the A-82,” Mom declared.

“Fine!” Aunt Claire squealed the brakes and made a huge U-turn in the middle of the street, just about causing the car to flip over.

“Take it easy!” Mom gripped the dashboard.

“Thank God for seatbelts,” I mumbled.

“What was that?” Aunt Claire glared at me in the rear-view mirror through her gigantic sunglasses.


As we drove out of the city, the sun climbed higher, turning all the stone buildings and trees a beautiful golden-red color, and we all sighed at the sight. But then, almost immediately, clouds piled into the sky, as though late for work, and swallowed the sun up.

“Typical,” said Aunt Claire.

We passed the same hilly suburbs and fields as the day before, but under the gray sky, the purple-green hills and yellow flowers seemed “drab” (one of Mom’s words) and lifeless. And then the rain came, spattering onto the windshield and blurring Aunt Claire’s view. She slowed a little, but her driving still felt jerkier than the day before.

Cold began to seep up my legs, and I rubbed my knees to keep warm. Mom yawned and dozed in the passenger seat, while Aunt Claire turned the heater on high, which only fogged up the windshield and made the car smell like burnt rubber and dead cat.

I studied the back of Mom’s head, her long brown hair spilling over her shoulder as she slumped to the right. Her hair fluttered in the wind from her open window, and I had the urge to touch it and see if it felt like mine, which was shorter and darker. Also, mine was bone-straight, like Dad’s blond hair, while Mom’s had a loose wave in it. Was it soft like mine, or coarse? I leaned forward, but something held me back – a voice: “Don’t do it; you’ll just get hurt.” And I believed that voice because I’d been hurt in the past.