Fiction, The Rain Catcher

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

Aunt Claire 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.

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Glen Coe, Scottish Highlands

 

“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. 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.

The Rain Catcher

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.

“Nothing.”

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.

Book Reviews

Review: The Demon Headmaster!


In keeping with The Apple Core’s first issue about writing suspense, I thought I’d talk about a great children’s book that I read when I was younger, The Demon Headmaster by Gillian Cross.

I read this book when I was about 9 or 10 years old and immediately loved it! I still have my copy and will pass it along to my daughter when she’s old enough in the hopes that she enjoys it, too. In this novel, Dinah is an orphan who has spent the first 10 years of her life in a children’s home. She moves in with a foster family, the Hunters, and must adapt to having two brothers, one of whom (Lloyd) seems extremely upset about having a sister! Besides hanging up pictures of flowers and ballerina’s, a new sister (he believes) will mess up things at school. This is our first clue that all is not well …

Harvey, the younger and friendlier brother, is philosophical about Dinah moving in: “Might be a good thing. She might be on our side. Another Normal.” Lloyd is doubtful: “No, she’ll be one of them.” We are left to wonder what on earth is going on at that school!

While waiting to go inside on her first day, Dinah notices that the kids don’t run around and play like normal kids — they walk in single-file lines and stand in groups reciting their times-tables. Things get even stranger when the headmaster (British version of the principal) calls the students into an assembly… Later, Dinah can’t remember anything that happened. Everyone is scared stiff of the headmaster, but why? Dinah is determined to find out!

The book was first published in 1982 but has been reprinted several times since then and even (I found out recently) was made into a TV series! I also discovered that Gillian Cross has written several more books about Dinah’s adventures with the Demon Headmaster. I’m reluctant to read the others, as I love this first one so much I worry that the others won’t be as good and will somehow spoil it! Here’s my battered old copy; the cover is so wacky, I love it!

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P.S. Full Disclosure: Southern Bend Books is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. This basically means, that if you choose to click on a link and buy a book from Amazon, Southern Bend Books could potentially earn a few pennies, which Louisa will then put back into the business of creating books!