Thursday, May 28, 2009

Friday Fiction for May 29, 2009

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Joanne over at An Open Book. Hopefully, Mr. Linky is working better this week than last, when the server was suffering overload problems. If you don’t find Mr. Linky there at first, be sure to check back later.

This week’s submission is from the second chapter of “Lana’s Pack”, when the main character, Lana, is finishing up a backpacking trip with her old college roommate, Cece, in the Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe, California. “Lana’s Pack” is the fifth book in the Pod series, and the first where I set the action in very specific real locations. This excerpt picks up as the two women arrive back at the trail head parking after the weekend.

Meeting the Pack
From Lana’s Pack
By Rick Higginson

“I’ve got to make a living; lofty dreams don’t pay the rent or keep food in my stomach,” Lana said.

Cece sighed and shook her head. “You’re so hung up on making a living that you’ve forgotten what it’s all about. The whole point of making a living is to enable us to have a life, and you haven’t got one.” They came within sight of the cars and slowed their pace. “No excuses, Lana; the next time you talk to me, I want to hear that you’ve made some outrageous change in your life. Come on, are you even dancing anymore?”

“Not much.”

“I rest my case.” Turning towards her, Cece stopped her with a finger placed in the center of her chest. “I watched you belly dance enough times to know that you were good and you enjoyed it. You’re not dancing, and you’re not loving, and you’re not living right now, and it worries the snot out of me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry don’t cut it, girl; you need to change, so you get out there and you start living again, and you start dancing again, and I bet it won’t be long until you find someone to start lovin’ again.” She turned back towards the cars and started walking again.

“I’ll try, Ceese.”

“Don’t try; just do it. Get that cute butt of yours back into costume and dance, and get that butt out of that apartment and chase down some life.” She unbuckled her waist strap and slipped the pack from her back.

Lana took out her keys and opened the hatch on the back of her car before removing the pack. Flexing her shoulders in relief at having the load off of them, she stretched and yawned. “I hope you don’t mind if I chase down a motel for a shower and a real bed first.” She peeled off her t-shirt and mopped the sweat from first her face, and then from the edges of her sports bra.

“Can you still do those isolations?”

She stretched her arms up and rippled the muscles in her belly. “Not as good as I used to, but I still know how.”

“You’re going to have to teach me that one of these days.” She spread her arms out for an embrace. “Take care of yourself, Lana, and please, think about what I said, okay?”

“I will Cece, and you take care too.” She watched and waved as her friend got into her car and drove away from the trailhead. When the car was out of sight, she grabbed a clean t-shirt from the back seat and pulled it on, and then changed out of her hiking boots into clean socks and a pair of sneakers.

Standing at the back of the car, she used a stiff brush to knock the dirt out of the tread of the boots before loading them, and was just closing the hatch when she noticed the two dogs standing by the trail. At first impression, she thought they were wolves and felt a slight rush of panic until she saw the red and blue collars around their necks. She waited, expecting the dog’s owners to emerge from the forest, but no one appeared, and the dogs never looked back as though watching for a follower.

They were beautiful dogs, and she found it hard to believe that they had been dumped in the wilderness. Two such gorgeous dogs should be easy to find a home for if the owner wasn’t asking some outrageous price for them, and they looked too well cared for to be strays. They had to be lost, and since they had collars, there was a good chance there was information on them that would let her return them to their home.

Taking a couple of steps towards them, she stretched her hand down and in front of her in what she hoped would be a reassuring gesture. The larger of the two walked towards her, his eyes watching her from a dark mask of fur surrounding them. His focus was eerie as he sat down a few steps away from her. “Come on, boy; it’s okay. I won’t hurt you,” she said. She took two more steps towards him, and he responded by standing and walking the rest of the way to her, first sniffing and then nuzzling the hand she offered.

Scratching his ears, she laughed at his enthusiastic response. “You are beautiful,” she said. She reached back and turned his collar until she found the tag, disappointed that it contained only a single word. “Freki,” she read. “Is that your name, boy?” He wagged his tail and pushed his head back under her hand for more scratching. “Well, Freki, I can’t find anything on your collar about who you belong to, so I don’t have any idea where you should go.”

Freki sat down and looked at her, and she was again struck by the strangeness of his gaze. “Cardan,” he said. “Go Cardan.”

Lana stepped backward, her mouth open and eyes staring at the dog, until she stumbled and fell back on her behind. “This isn’t funny, Ceese. Where are you?”

The other dog trotted over to her and sat down beside her. The silvery-gray female looked at her with the same kind of comprehension. “Cardan safe,” she said. “Go Cardan.”

Freki took a position on her other side and watched her.

“Cece!” Lana yelled. “Enough!”

The big male sniffed her. “You hurt?”

“What?” She watched the dog’s face; it would be easy enough to have a transceiver built into the dogs’ collars to create the effect, and if so the mouth would give it away.

“You hurt?” Freki repeated, his mouth and tongue moving to form the words.

“You really talk,” she said.

“Yes,” he said. “You hurt?”

“No; just surprised. Where did you come from? Did the Cardans have anything to do with you?”

“Leave lab,” Freki said. “Lab bad. Go Cardan; Cardan safe.”

“You’re in danger and the Cardans will keep you safe?”

“Yes. Lab bad; kill pups.”

“The lab kills your pups?”

“Yes. Geri pups; go Cardan; pups safe.”


The female nudged her with her muzzle. “Geri.” She looked around and sniffed. “We go?”

Once upon a time, she would have thought she was having a nervous breakdown if she had heard dogs talking to her. That was before meeting the Pod. If the world could have mermaids and a flying man, why not talking dogs? She shifted to her side and started to get up. “Get in the car, and let’s go. I’ll take you two back to my place and call Marcel Cardan.”

Freki perked his ears. “We go Cardan?”

She scratched his ears again. “Yes, we go Cardan.”

Note: Freki and Geri are Alaskan Malamutes – large, powerful sled dogs. Malamutes are known for their strength, endurance, intelligence, and almost obnoxious independent streaks.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Friday Fiction for May 22, 2009

Welcome to Friday Fiction, which I’m privileged to host this week! Mr. Linky will take you to the terrific submissions this week from the other participants, so enjoy some great Memorial Day reading!

I’m pleased to post the conclusion to the story “Allison” this week. This portion is once again long, and I thought of dividing it so it would conclude on Monday. I really didn’t want to leave the reader in such a place as would have been good to split it, so I decided to risk the length in favor of the conclusion.

If you’re just starting the story, please take the time to start with
Part I, and work through the posts for the complete story before concluding here.

Part V - Conclusion
By Rick Higginson

If the farewells had been the only indication, Erin would have thought her daughter had been a part of the Pod her entire life, rather than just a couple of days. They were all as enamored with her as she had always been with them. It was good that they had purposed to leave early; by the time the good-byes were finished, they would end up with just enough time to make it to the airport for their flight home.

The parting between Allison and Charles was especially prolonged, and despite her maternal urge to keep a close watch on the two, Erin turned her attention elsewhere. Let her enjoy the moment; tomorrow she’ll return to the hell of another round of treatments.

A hand slipped into hers, and she turned to her daughter. “Are you ready, sweetheart?”

“Not really, but Eva said if I made another round of the Pod, we would miss our plane,” Allison replied. She sniffed, and wiped her cheek with her free hand. “She said I can come back for another visit, if I want.”

“That’s certainly something to look forward to,” she said. Looking back towards the pool, she gave one more smile and wave before leading Allison from the Family Room.


Marta gave both Allison and Erin a final embrace. It was easier to do, lying on the bunk aboard the Bitter Pill, and gave a nice conclusion to what had been a rather subdued crossing to the mainland.

Josh was topside, giving instructions to the driver that would take the Quantz’s to the airport, and Erin glanced at her watch.

“We need to go, sweetheart,” Erin said.

“You will come back and visit us again, won’t you?” Marta asked, just as they were about to go through the cabin door.

“I would love to,” Allison said. “Good-bye, Marta, and thank you so much for letting me visit. I really enjoyed myself.”

“We enjoyed having you.”

Allison gave her a sad smile before climbing out of the cabin, and then there was silence for a while.

Marta watched through the porthole as the driver carried the luggage away from the boat, followed by the mother and daughter. You will come back; you’re strong enough to beat this thing. You both are.


Allison gazed through the airliner window at the ocean receding in the distance. She thought over the time spent in the old chamber and smiled. It had been a crazy, impetuous thing to ask, but with God whispering so nicely to her, it had seemed the most logical prayer to make.

I’m trusting You on this one, Lord. I know everyone will say it’s impossible, but You can make it happen.

When the coastline vanished beneath a layer of clouds, she turned straight in her seat and closed her eyes. I’m going to hold You to the promise You made to me in the old chamber, too, Lord. We’re going to win this battle before I’m sixteen. You promised.

“Allison, sweetheart? Are you all right?” Erin asked.

She opened her eyes. “Yeah. I was just thinking about a couple of prayers I made yesterday.”

“I think we both said a lot of prayers yesterday.”

“Mom, do you think Peter really walked on the water?”

“The Bible says he did, sweetheart. I think he climbed over the side of the boat, and just started walking right to Jesus.”

“That was impossible, wasn’t it?”

“In human terms, yes. For God, though, it wasn’t any problem at all. Why do you ask?”

“Because I started thinking yesterday, that if Jesus could let Peter walk on water, why couldn’t He let Marta walk on land?”

“Well, He could, if it’s in His will that she do so.”

“That’s what I prayed for, Mom. I prayed that Marta will get to walk on land.”


Marta took the envelope from Josh. “This is from Erin? What’s it been since they were here? Three months?”

“Four,” Josh said. “I double-checked the calendar in my office to be sure.”

She slipped one finger under the edge of the flap, and tore away the glue that held the envelope shut. The card inside had a photo of Allison on the front, looking very much the typical young girl with long hair, mischievous eyes, and a toothy grin. After showing the picture to Josh, she opened the card and read inside.

Dear Marta and the Pod,

Allison asked me to send this photo to you, because this is how she wants you to remember her. Yesterday, just before noon, Allison’s battle with cancer ended. She is home now, with the Savior she loves and in a new body that will never feel pain again. While we are grieved that she is no longer with us, we praise God that she is free of the disease and all it entailed, and that we will see her again in eternity. Allison specifically asked that we not act sad at her passing, but that we would rejoice, even as she is now rejoicing in the presence of God. We had hoped that she would hold on another couple of weeks until she turned sixteen, but she said she was ready to go now.

Our family wanted to thank you once again for the joy you gave her in these final months. She loved sharing with the doctors, nurses, and other patients about the fun she had visiting the Pod. She never told me just what went on down in the old chamber, but during the worst of the treatments and the cancer, she said she just imagined herself back down there again, and would be encouraged by the memory. We can never hope to repay what you gave her, but we pray that God would indeed bless all of you for your kindness.

Sincerely, Erin Quantz

“No,” Marta said. She dropped the card and crawled quickly towards the water.

“Marta?” Josh called after her.

She ignored him, and dove for the exit as soon as she entered the pool. This isn’t how it was supposed to go. She was supposed to get better, and to come back to visit us. She turned sharp as soon as she cleared the outside of the tunnel, and skirted along the rocks towards the old chamber. The dark passageway quickly gave way to the subdued light inside the cavern, and she broke through the surface to the lagoon, screaming. “NO, NO, NO! ARE YOU HERE, GOD? MAYBE YOU WHISPER, BUT THIS TIME I’M GOING TO SHOUT!” She spun one direction and then back again, looking around the chamber. “DIEGO SAYS YOU’RE ALL-POWERFUL, BUT YOU COULDN’T SPEND JUST A TINY BIT OF THAT POWER TO HELP A LITTLE GIRL? WHAT KIND OF GOD ARE YOU?”

Splashing the water in her frustration, she yelled invectives towards the ceiling. She stopped splashing and held her fists at her side. “She was like a member of my Pod, and YOU LET HER DIE! You can’t be that loving God that Sally tells me about, can You? How could You be? A loving God would have helped Allison. A LOVING GOD WOULDN’T HAVE LET US BE BORN THIS WAY, EITHER! WHAT ARE WE, GOD? SOME TWISTED GAME FOR YOUR AMUSEMENT?”

She dove for the bottom, and snagged a rock in one hand. She surged towards the surface and beyond, and hurled the rock with as much force as she could muster towards the ceiling. Her landing was nearly flat, and sent a huge splash to all sides. When she surfaced again, she continued her tirade for nearly a half-hour, revisiting any offense she could think of before she finally was too tired to shout any longer.

Crying and out of breath, she muttered between sobs, “Why, God? Wasn’t it enough for Dr. Marcel to curse us as he did? Why couldn’t You help Allison? She loved you.”

The echoes died away in the chamber, and before long there was only the gentle sound of the small waves. Even her weeping had run out of energy.

I know what I’m doing. Trust Me.

She quickly pivoted, looking for the source of the whisper, but there wasn’t even evidence of a dolphin in the lagoon with her. I heard it, but it can’t be real. She waited and listened, trying to decide if she’d imagined it. God?

Every other sound faded until the chamber was deathly quiet. Even the water seemed to settle into a glassy smoothness, as if any source of turbulence was blocked from reaching the subterranean pool. There had been a breeze earlier in the day, but now it seemed the air was motionless. She felt her heart pounding in her chest, but didn’t hear the blood pulsing against her ears. Even her voice refused to make a sound.

Allison says ‘hi.’

She closed her eyes and saw the girl as the photo showed her; young and healthy and full of life. She was not trapped in a body that was slowly being taken over by cancer, unable to fully live, and yet not able to die, either. You’re no longer trapped between life and death, are you, Allison? Did cancer make you a mermaid of sorts between this world and eternity? You’re free now, aren’t you?

She floated on her back and stared at the ceiling. I thought we were giving you strength, but you were the stronger one all along, weren’t you? She covered her eyes with her hands. God, I want to be that strong.


Marta crawled into their room to find Josh sitting on the floor, waiting for her.

“I read the card,” he said. “The whole Pod has read the card now. Are you all right?”

She nodded. “I wasn’t at first, but I am now. Josh, if I asked you to get me something, would you do so?”

“Almost from the day I first met you, I would have given you anything you asked. Whatever you want, if I can get it for you, I will.”

“You’re probably going to think this sounds strange.”

He shrugged. “I don’t care.”

She smiled, and shared her thoughts with him.

“Are you sure about this?” he asked when she finished.

“I’m sure. I mean, it’s what people do, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it’s what people do, and I promise you, I’ll help you however I can.”


Diego concluded the sermon, and reverently closed the well-worn Bible on the pulpit. Usually, he would give a closing prayer which would segue into a basic invitation, asking any who might be interested in knowing more to raise their hands and then meet with one of the deacons or elders after the service. His parents were visiting, though, and his mother had lamented the loss of the old-fashioned altar calls.

“Would you please stand,” Diego said. “If you’re here today and you’ve made that decision to surrender your life to God, I invite you to come forward and make a public confession of your decision. Perhaps you gave your life to Him a long time ago, but you’ve drifted away and you’ve felt Him prompting you to get your life right again; this is the time to listen to that prompting and take that first step towards reconciliation with your Father.”

The musicians started playing the tune softly, and he nodded to his engineer. The screen on the back wall displayed the lyrics that were also projected on larger screens behind him. “As we sing the words of this great old hymn, I ask you to think about the lyrics and to make them the prayer of your heart today.”

The song leader stood to one side of the dais, and started singing, joined quickly by the congregation.

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,
Oh Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Diego glanced at his mother in the front row, and she gave him a big smile between verses.

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot,
To Him, Whose blood can cleanse each spot,
Oh Lamb of God, I come, I come!

The door at the back of the sanctuary opened, and a woman shuffled through, leaning heavily on a walker. It took a moment before she lifted her face to look at him.

Just as I am, though tossed about,
With many a conflict, many a doubt.
Fightings and fears, within, without,
Oh Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Diego stared, and lost his place in the song. Marta? She wore a long dress that draped down over her tail, though the tips of her fluke would poke out from beneath the hem as she moved. With great effort, she would scoot the walker forward while balancing her weight on her tail, and then lean her weight on the walker to bring her tail beneath it again. He looked around for the deacons, making a subtle gesture for a couple of the men to help her.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind.
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
Oh Lamb of God, I come, I come!
She shook her head, refusing any help, and continued her slow progress down the aisle. The singing dwindled from those close enough to see the fluke that carried her instead of legs. Her mouth moved to the words of the final verse, but whether her voice made any sound, Diego couldn’t tell.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve,
Because Thy promise I believe,
Oh Lamb of God, I come, I come!

It was just as well the song was finished, because by that point, everyone in the congregation watched Marta progressing down the aisle. Diego motioned for the musicians to keep playing the tune, and smiled encouragement while he waited for her.

Sally came and stood beside him, laughing and crying all at the same time.

When Marta scooted to a stop in front of them, he could barely contain his own emotions. “Marta, you could have crawled up the aisle like you crawl in the Family Room. We could have rolled you up here on a gurney, if you wanted. I would have come to you, if you’d asked.”

Tears poured down her cheeks. “You would have brought the whole church to the Family Room, if I’d asked. That’s not how it’s done, though, and I was going to walk down this aisle if it killed me,” Marta said.

“Why did you need to, Marta?”

“I want that joy that you and Sally have, Diego. I want to trust like Allison did.” Her voice broke as Sally’s arms wrapped around her. “I want to know this God that whispers.”

He joined his wife in embracing Marta, and though he whispered to her, his lapel microphone picked it up and let the whole congregation hear it. “You welcomed me to your home and your family so many times, and I’ve longed for the day when I could welcome you to mine. Welcome home, Marta.”


Erin sat on the grass by the headstone and plucked a stray weed from the base. She adjusted the flowers and smiled. “Joshua Cardan sent these flowers, Allison,” she said. “He sent a video along as well, and I think you would have found it interesting. Marta walked, sweetheart, just like you prayed for. She walked on land, and for the same reason Peter walked on water – she was obeying her savior.”

I learned so much from you, sweetheart. I don’t know if I would have been strong enough to pray for someone else in the midst of so much personal suffering, but you did, and God heard it. Marta wants me to come visit, but I’m not sure I can.

Somehow, it just won’t be the same without you, Allison.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

More for Monday - Allison, Part IV

As promised, here is Allison, Part IV. If you’re just getting to this story for the first time, you might feel a bit lost unless you start with Part I, followed by Part II and Part III, before reading this installment.

Part IV
By Rick Higginson

The first order of business the next morning was a visit to the old chamber. Marta had decided the previous afternoon - when Allison had been too tired after the dancing to make the short trip - that fulfilling her wish would have top priority for the day. She let Allison and Erin know the plan, and reminded Charles that he had lessons that morning which precluded him from accompanying them.

She played with her own children in the shallows while their guests finished breakfast, and through the time when the two disappeared to where Allison could get suited up for the swim. Once the girl returned in the wetsuit and carrying the mask and fins, she entrusted the kids to Leanna, and gestured for Allison to join her.

Sitting down at the water’s edge first, Allison took a moment to slip the fins on her feet and rinse the mask before donning it. A couple of easy kicks brought her within Marta’s reach. “You want me to grab your wrists again?” she asked.

“Not this time,” Marta said. Pulling the girl into more of an embrace, she added, “Wrap your arms loosely behind my neck, and hold on that way. I think this trip will be a little easier if we stay closer.” Starting with a slow lap around the pool on her back to make sure the tow would be okay, she then dove for the exit with Allison held close in front of her.

Startled seabirds scattered as she surfaced outside, voicing their displeasure at the interruption of their morning foraging. She lingered only long enough for Allison to take a few breaths, and then headed for the still familiar passageway in the stone.

The tunnel flared open to the subterranean lagoon, and she first dove a bit deeper before charging for the surface. She breached with sufficient speed to carry both of them a few feet into the air, rolling so that her back would take the brunt of the splash as they crashed back into the water. With a flick of her tail, they turned upwards again, and their heads bobbed out of the brine.

“That was awesome!” Allison said.

“I thought you’d enjoy that,” Marta said, releasing the girl to float on her own. “This is it; this is where we lived before the Family Room was built.”

She slowly turned about to take in more of the view. “It’s so beautiful in here,” she said. Looping the strap of the mask over one arm, she gazed at the ceiling with her mouth slightly open. Tears began to trickle down her cheeks.

“Allison? Are you all right?”

She gave a small nod in response, but continued to stare at the ceiling.

“What is it?”

“God whispers in this place,” Allison said.

“You’re probably just hearing the breeze through the cracks in the ceiling,” Marta said.

She gave an emphatic shake of her head. “I hear the breeze, but I also hear Him.”

Just what kind of meds did your mother give you this morning, Allison? She thought. I’ve spent as much time in here as any member of the Pod, and I’ve never heard anyone whisper to me, but that they weren’t right beside me in the water where I could see them.

Allison closed her eyes and continued to just listen. The lower lip trembled a bit on the thin face, but she made no attempt to speak.

If God whispers in this place, Allison, then why hasn’t He ever whispered to me? With all the questions I’ve had over the years, why can’t I hear Him answer?

“Thank you, Lord,” Allison finally spoke, just barely loud enough to be heard. She opened her eyes and smiled. “Of all the things on this trip, I think this is the one I needed most. Thank you, Marta, for bringing me here. It’s been so long since I heard God whisper to me.”


Erin sat on the stone bench, overlooking the steep hill that dropped to the surf below. Joshua Cardan had suggested it was a good place for quiet reflection, and she was glad that she had followed the modest path to the vista point. She could find solitude in her room on the island, but this place had serenity.

She sang a hymn, letting the lyrics focus her mind on her faith instead of on the storm that having a sick child presented. Her pastor taught often that worship and praise were a means of entering into the presence of God, and her daughter’s illness had proven that time and again. When she concentrated on singing His praises, she found the awareness of His loving arms around her.

Oh, the deep, deep, love of Jesus,
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean,
In its fullness over me.
Underneath me, all around me,
Is the current of His love,
Leading onward, leading homeward,
To my glorious rest above.

When her mind had quieted, she opened her Bible and looked up a Psalm.

Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders; the Lord is over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

Powerful and majestic
, she thought. Louder and more persistent than even the waves of the ocean. Speak, Lord, Thy servant hears. She bowed her head, and let the words of her Bible speak to her.


Allison lay on her back, using the removed wetsuit for a cushion between her and the stone floor. The sunlight beaming through the cracks overhead were almost directly vertical, meaning it had to be around noon, and she thought she should head back to the Family Room for lunch. I don’t wanna leave. Just let me stay right here and listen for a while longer.

From time to time, dolphins would come into the cavern and accent the ambient sound with their noises. The occasional splashes, spouts, and whistles didn’t detract from the spiritual atmosphere, as far as she was concerned. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord; they praise Him in their own way.


“Huh?” She lifted her head and looked towards the water. “Eva? Where’d Marta go?”

“She was needed back in the Family Room. I came down here to tell her, and now you get me for a while,” Eva said. “Whatever you were looking at must be pretty interesting; you didn’t even hear me the first time I called.”

“I’m sorry; I was just listening.”

Crawling up beside her, the eldest mermaid gave her an interested look. “You were listening? Just what were you listening to?”

“The voice of God; He’s whispering to me. I don’t think Marta believed me, though.”

“Does it matter? If God is speaking to you, then all that matters is that you hear Him. If I told you something, would it change the meaning at all if no one else believed I’d done so?”

She sat up and pulled her knees to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. “No, I guess not. She probably thinks I’m nuts, though.”

“If she did, she would also have to think Diego was nuts, and Sally, and her parents, and her brother, and even me.”

“So you’ve heard God whisper, too?”

“God speaks in a lot of ways, Allison. I’ve heard Him speak through Diego and Sally, through things that I’ve read, and even in the forms of the stones around this island. For some of us, one form is better than another.”

“So, what form is better for Marta?”

“I don’t know; I can’t even guess whether she’s ready to hear Him if He has been speaking to her.”

“I hope she’s ready.”

“So do I. Now, are you ready to head back for lunch?”

She listened for a moment. “I think so; I think He’s done whispering for now.”

To be continued; Allison Part V will post on Friday, May 22.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Fiction for May 15, 2009

Friday Fiction is hosted this week by Shelley Ledfors, on her blog, The Veil Thins. If you’ve clicked here from there, then you already know about the list of terrific writers participating in Friday Fiction this week.

As promised, today’s posting is the third part of Allison. If you’re new to this story, you’ll probably want to go read
Part I and Part II before reading this section. Part IV will post on Monday, May 18, and I expect to conclude with Part V on Friday, May 22. Part III is a bit long, but it really seemed this was the most natural division point.

Part III
By Rick Higginson

Marta waited until Erin finished giving Allison her morning meds, before crawling up to them. “Well, Allison; what would you like to do today?”

The girl looked surprised. “You mean, I get to pick? I just thought I’d get to hang out with the Pod as you did your normal stuff.”

“I’m not sure that would be much more fun for you than it would be for us. What did you hope to be able to do while you were here?”

“Oh, wow,” Allison said. She seemed hesitant to ask. “I was hoping to have a chance to dance with some of the guys in the Pod, and to see the cavern where you all used to live.”

“We can arrange both of those. What else?”

“Well, we already played Marco Polo, and I didn’t even know about Movie Night, but that was awesome, and then spending a night in the sleeping rooms with Leanna keeping me warm like she helped you keep Mr. Cardan warm. Would it be possible to hide beneath the dock and wait for a boat to come in? Or are any boats scheduled to arrive while I’m here?”

“Diego is on his way to the Island this morning. We could watch for him to arrive.”

“Oh, could we? That would be perfect, since it was Rev. Hyland that you and Mr. Cardan waited for under the dock.”

“I’m not sure the water outside is warm enough for you to be out there that long, sweetheart,” Erin said.

“We might be able to do something about that also,” Marta said. “Josh?”

Josh looked up from the coffee he was preparing, and came over, stirring the cup as he did. “Need something?”

“Do we have a wetsuit that will fit Allison?”

He sized the girl up with his eyes, while twisting his mouth to one side the way he always did when considering a problem. “I think we do, and I think we also have dive booties and fins that will fit her as well. Come on, Allison; let’s go see what we can do.”

Allison and her mother headed off with Josh, pausing long enough at the coffee maker for Erin to pour herself a cup. When they had left the room, Marta looked around.

She spotted Charles on one of the computers, and went over to him. “I’m going to take Allison out to watch Diego’s boat arrive,” she said, when he noticed she was there.

“Is it okay if I come along, too?” he asked.

“I thought you’d want to. Charles, you do understand she can’t stay out here with the Pod permanently, don’t you? She has to head back day after tomorrow for another round of her treatments.”

“I know; maybe it’s crazy, but when we were playing Marco Polo yesterday, it was like I’d known her all my life. I mean, with everything she’s going through with the cancer, she is still just so incredibly alive, you know?”

“I noticed that, too, and it’s probably why she fits in so well with us. Still, I want to remind you that, just because she’s an unusual situation, doesn’t mean our rules are suspended for you.”

“I know that, too, and I think that, even if I thought to risk breaking the rules and suggested it to her, she is so devoted to what she believes, she would never agree to it.”

“I didn’t think I really needed to remind you, but I think Erin will appreciate knowing that I didn’t just take it for granted.” She gave him an approving smile. “I think Allison will like it if you take her out to watch for Diego’s boat. I’ll go along so that the rules are maintained, and you two are not alone together, but I’m sure she’ll enjoy it more if she’s waiting with you.”

“Marta, she asked me to kiss her good-night last night, and I did. That was okay, wasn’t it?”

“I don’t know if Erin would agree, but I think it was quite okay.”


Allison floated in the shade of the dock, watching seaward for a boat that they, as yet, could not see. The wetsuit was a good idea; not only was she staying plenty warm, but the neoprene made her float better. Between it and the fins, treading water was much easier than it had been the day before.

Not that there was even the least chance of her sinking with Charles holding onto her. He floated just behind her, with his arms wrapped gently about her waist, occasionally whispering assorted tidbits of trivia about the Island and the sea life surrounding it.

Several dolphins stayed close, and they seemed to pay a great deal of attention to her. One larger one, especially, never strayed far from them.

“This is Andromeda,” Charles said. “Dolphin pods are matriarchal, and she’s one of the dominant females. She’s very protective of all of us.”

“Why is she so interested in me?” Allison asked.

“I’ve read that some scientists think dolphins can ‘see’ inside our bodies with their sonar, so she might be able to sense your cancer. Dolphins have been witnessed taking care of their sick and injured, so she might be staying close in case you need help.”

“Kind of like all of you take care of each other,” she said. “Is that why you’re out here, Charles? Are you just staying close to me because I’m sick and might need some help?”

“Why are you out here, Allison? Are you just here because we’re all freaks that were given tails by Dr. Marcel instead of legs?”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

He turned her around to face him. “I’m out here because you are one of the most alive people I’ve ever met, and I enjoy your company. Now, what about my question – did you want me to kiss you good-night last night, or did you just want a merrow to kiss you good-night? Would you like me if I was just a normal boy you knew?”

“Something strange happened when the doctor told me I had cancer,” she said. “Kids that never looked my way before started talking to me because they felt sorry for me, and some of the friends I had all along quit talking to me, because they didn’t know what to say. It was like, all of a sudden, I was no longer Allison; I was cancer.”

“Am I Charles, or am I a merman?” He gently lifted her face, and she looked into his eyes again. “Are we defined by the things we have no control over, or are we the people we choose to be? I don’t know much about cancer. I don’t know anything about how they treat it, or where it comes from, or what would be different about you if you didn’t have it. All I know is, I like you, Allison, and I really hope you like me for more than just my tail.”

She kissed him, without waiting for any further invitation. His first response was surprised hesitation, and then he reciprocated the affection.

“There’s Diego’s boat,” Marta said, from beside the Bitter Pill. She chuckled. “It’s not the first time his arrival has interrupted kissing beneath this dock.”


Somewhere, Erin was certain, a classical music instructor was rolling over in his grave. Maybe several instructors, and possibly even Bach himself, she thought. Joshua Cardan and Diego Hyland performed a clarinet duet of the Minuet in G, but by their lack of seriousness, they might as well have been playing Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.

At that moment, it sounded like the most beautiful music she’d ever heard. Allison was in the Family Room pool, dancing in the manner of the Pod, and it looked like every merman would take a turn spinning her about in time to the music.

The girl could not have beamed more if she’d been chosen as Prom Queen, and although she was so tired that her dancing was mostly just being carried through the motions by the boys, she refused every time she was asked if she wanted to take a break.

If they weren’t doing all the work, I would make you take a break, Erin thought. It’s just so wonderful to see you so happy, though.

There was a touch on her ankle. “Would you like to dance, Erin?” Charles asked.

She shook her head. “I don’t really know how to dance like that, and besides; this visit is for Allison.”

“You’ll never learn if you don’t try, and Allison is afraid you’re not having any fun. All you’ve done since you arrived is sit back and keep an eye on her, and she said that’s pretty much what you’ve been doing from the day she was diagnosed with cancer.”

“That’s kind of the lot in life for the parent of a child with cancer. There’s so much they have to endure that all we can do is watch helplessly from the side.”

“This is something you don’t have to watch helplessly from the side. I think your daughter would love it if you got in the water and danced with the Pod.”

“I’m not dressed for swimming, either.”

“Would a bathing suit be much different than the shorts and tank top you’re wearing?”

“They might get a bit transparent when wet.”

He laughed, and rolled on his side to look up at her face. “Every merrow in the Pod is naked; do you think it’s going to be a problem if anyone here sees your underwear through your clothes? Even if your undies became transparent, too, no one here would notice, and if it did bother you, you can always wrap a towel around yourself when you get out of the water.”

“All those girls out there; surely you really don’t want to dance with someone old enough to be your mother, do you?”

“There’s always one more excuse for not dancing, but if this were the last time Allison would have a chance to see you dance, would those excuses matter?”

She considered his question for a moment, and then kicked off her shoes. “You had better never be that persuasive with my daughter regarding something she shouldn’t do.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he said, rolling onto his belly to crawl to the water. “Besides; I won’t get in trouble with Eva and Marta for persuading you to dance.”

Letting Charles tow her out to the deep part of the pool, she remembered the line from an old song. I hope you dance, I hope you dance…


Marta crawled through the quiet Family Room, peeking into each sleeping room as she made her circuit. She lingered at the door of the third one. Allison slept near the center of the room, with Charles little more than an arm reach away. Gretchen was perhaps just a bit closer on the girl’s other side, while Kelli, Mark, Brenda, and Rachel were jumbled together in the corner.

All in all, not much different than what she saw in the other sleeping rooms. Everyone seemed worn out that night, and no one stirred as she made one final check on her Pod.

The dancing earlier had been nice. That Josh and Diego had taken the time away from whatever business it was that had brought the pastor to the Island, just to play the Minuet on their clarinets, had been an especially thoughtful touch. The only drawback had been, with Josh playing, he couldn’t get in the water himself.

He waited for her by the pool, mask and fins in hand, smiling in the dim light as she crawled up beside him. “Ready?” he whispered.

She gave his leg an affectionate rub in reply, and slid into the pool ahead of him. When he joined her in the water, and had his mask and fins in place, she took his hands and dove for the exit tunnel. They surfaced once under the moonlight outside, surrounded by dolphins, and then dove again for the natural tunnel into the old chamber.

Once inside the dark cavern, she waited while he placed the mask on a rock ledge above the waterline, and then floated with him close beside her in the deeper water.

Wrapping his arms around her, he brought his lips close to her ears. “You are still the most beautiful, and the most human, person I have ever met,” he said.

She kissed him in response, and then harmonized along as he sang the tune of the Minuet for their dance.

To be continued – look for Part IV on Monday

“I Hope You Dance” by Mark Sanders and Tia Sillers, performed by Lee Ann Womack.

Monday, May 11, 2009

More for Monday - Allison, Part II

“Allison” is currently up to around 4500 words, and I still have several important events in the story to get to. Rather than make you wait a week between each part, I thought I would post fiction twice a week until the story is concluded.

If you are new to this story, it will work best if you read
“Allison Part I” before proceeding with this installment.

Those familiar with the Pod stories will already know that, culturally, the Pod has a rather different mindset concerning certain things than we do. Throughout the series, the Pod shares a communal sleeping arrangement. To them, “sleeping together” means nothing more than occupying a common space for the night, and has never included a sexual connotation. Please keep this point in mind while reading this installment.

Part II
By Rick Higginson

The force of the water pressed the goggles tighter against Allison’s face, but the discomfort was hardly worth noticing. She held tight to Marta’s wrists, though it was the reciprocal grip that kept her securely moving with the mermaid. Several dolphins swam alongside them, and their frequent, close passes indicated they were as interested in her as she was in them.

Marta surfaced for air often, lingering far longer than she suspected any member of the Pod would normally do so. Did Mom have a talk with you while I was on deck? She wondered. It was something her mother would do, despite the number of times she’d tried to explain to her mother that it would be hard for things to get much worse than the cancer she already had. Could drowning be any worse than chemo? At least it wouldn’t last nearly as long.

“We’re about to take a longer stretch underwater, through the tunnel into the Family Room,” Marta said. “Are you going to be okay?”

She nodded. “Compared to some of the medical tests that I have to hold completely still and not even breathe for, this is easy,” Allison said.

“All right, then; deep breath and hold it.”

She sucked in as much air as she could, grinning with her cheeks puffed out.

Marta smiled, and then dove for the geometric shadow below them. The dolphins sped ahead, leaving trails of small bubbles for the human swimmers to pass through. When filtered light replaced the shade of the passageway, they turned upwards and came to a stop when their heads broke through the surface.

Allison removed the goggles, finding it more difficult to see things out of the water with them on. She and Marta were in the center of a circle of faces, and the mermaid beside her gently turned her until they were looking at one she recognized.

There was just a hint of a smile as Eva rose slightly in the water. “Well, Marta; now that she’s here, what are we going to do with her?”

“Play Marco Polo?” Allison ventured.

The circle broke into laughter as Eva approached her. “Well, you’re obviously not intimidated by us. Welcome to the Pod, Allison.”


The first day had gone well enough, Marta reflected. If she overlooked the fact that the girl had no hair left, or that she tired out quickly, it would have been easy to believe there was nothing wrong with Allison. She’d made a valiant effort at playing Marco Polo with them after the initial introductions, and had not Charles volunteered to carry her on his back for the bulk of the game, it would have ended almost as soon as it started.

The Movie Night had seemed to mortify Erin, though, when some of the humor degraded into a rather bawdy exchange between Gretchen and Brenda. Allison, though, had nearly laughed herself sick, much to her mother’s horror. Remember this when your daughter is fifteen, Marta reminded herself. Will I still look at this the same way when my children are old enough to potentially be influenced by it?

Their young guest joined with the other younger members of the Pod to listen to Angela Williams reading a story, clearly enjoying the teacher’s talent at bringing the tale to life. Like the Pod members, she was stretched out on her belly as though she also had a tail behind her instead of legs. Charles was next to her, and stole an affectionate glance in the girl’s direction. She smiled back at him, and he ventured a hand towards hers.

Erin saw the exchange, and started to stand up.

Marta moved closer, and gestured for the woman to stay seated. “It’s okay,” she said.

“She’s only fifteen,” Erin said.

“And Charles is sixteen, which is why it’s okay. Charles knows that no one under eighteen is allowed to be alone with anyone of the opposite sex, and he will not dare defy both Eva and me on that.”

“I don’t want my daughter to get hurt.”

“I don’t want Charles to get hurt either, but neither can I deny him the ability to live and take chances. The only way we can hope to protect someone from getting hurt is to try and keep them from ever experiencing all that life has to offer.” Do you wonder what it’s like to be human, Allison? Will you ask him what it is like to dance? “Let her enjoy being found attractive by someone her own age. I suspect with everything she’s gone through, she hasn’t had much chance to see what that’s like.”

The weariness appeared in the woman’s eyes again. “It’s strange; when she was younger, I thought she had so many years ahead to experience what life has to offer – boyfriends, proms, love, marriage; but then the doctors said that awful word and I saw all those years disappearing.”

“You don’t know that all those years are gone; Allison is still very much alive.”

“Yes, and I thank God that she is, but after so many ups and downs on this emotional rollercoaster, it gets more difficult to let go of the lows and embrace the highs. You don’t know how many times I’ve prayed that God would let me take her cancer and give her my health.”

“Does it help?”

“What? The praying?” She nodded. “Sometimes I think God created praying specifically with mothers in mind. You agreeing to invite her out here was an answer to prayer; ever since you called it’s almost as though she’s forgotten how sick she really is.”


The night was winding down, and the Pod members crawled to the various rooms where they would spend the night. Erin regarded the hopeful look in her daughter’s eyes, and wrestled with the question.

“Please, Mom? Can I sleep down here in the Family Room with the Pod?” Allison asked.

With Charles, the unspoken implication filled her with dread.

He would not dare defy both Eva and me on that, Marta’s assurance replayed in her mind. Consequences, however, hadn’t been that much of a hindrance to countless young couples in the past.

Including me, and I somehow survived my own folly, she thought. Would you possibly making a mistake be better or worse than implying I don’t trust you? “Who all is going to be in the room with you?”

“Leanna, Ophelia, Patricia, Brenda, Mark, Andrew, and Charles. It’ll be okay, Mom. If I do have an episode, Leanna can get Dr. Jenkins down here, and call you.”

It’s not an episode I’m worried about; then again, that’s a lot of chaperones to inhibit improper behavior, too. She forced a smile and nodded. “You just make sure you keep your phone by you, and call me immediately if you need anything.”

“Thanks, Mom,” her daughter said, and then gave her a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. “See you in the morning.”

She stood still, watching her daughter disappear into the sleeping room with the others. Lord, this entire trip is a gift from You; please keep my daughter safe and close to You.

Joshua Cardan stepped up beside her. “You can sleep down here tonight as well, if you’d like,” he said.

She thought for a moment, and then smiled. “I think it will be better for Allison if I just go back to my room, instead.”


Allison was exhausted, but for once, she didn’t mind. She stretched out on the padded floor, and smiled at Charles in the dim light. They held each other’s eyes for a few moments, before he tentatively scooted closer to her.

“Was today everything you thought it would be?” he asked.

“It was more wonderful than I ever imagined,” she said. “There’s just two more things that would make this day perfect.”

“What’s that?”

She felt a nervous flutter in her stomach as she answered. “First, for you to kiss me good-night; and second, to be held close and kept warm all night long.”

He closed the distance between their faces. “I think I can accommodate that,” he said, and brought his lips gently to hers.

The first kiss was brief, and she put her hand behind his head to pull him in for another, longer kiss. “Good night, Charles,” she said.

“Good night, Allison,” he said. “Do you want to roll over so I can scoot up behind you and keep you warm?”

“That would be very nice, but would you mind too terribly if I said I wanted Leanna to keep me warm tonight, since she helped Marta keep Mr. Cardan warm when he was first brought here?”

The look he gave her was genuine. “I wouldn’t mind at all, but if Leanna can’t stay in that position all night, I’ll be happy to take over.” He touched her nose with his finger, and lowered his voice to a whisper. “If you’re going to ask Leanna, though, you’d better do so quickly. She looks like she’s almost asleep already.”

She crawled over and made her request, receiving a smile and an upraised arm in response. Snagging a pillow for her head, she wiggled back into the warm embrace, and soon drifted into a restful sleep.
To be continued - Look for Allison, Part III on Friday, May 15

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Friday Fiction for May 8, 2009

Friday Fiction this week is hosted by Julie, The Surrendered Scribe. If you haven’t already been there to find Mr. Linky, be sure to click over there.

This week’s submission is a bit longer than I prefer to post for Friday Fiction, but I wanted something to go with a Mother’s Day theme, something that hasn’t been posted or read before, and something that will have a good, positive message to it. This story contains some spoilers to what happens in “Marta’s Pod”, the second book of the Pod series, but I wanted to share it anyway. This story is mentioned in the fourth Pod book, “Merrowsong”, and ever since writing that scene, I’ve wanted to flesh out this scenario into its own narrative.

This story takes place between one and two years after the closing scene of Marta’s Pod, and will be shared in probably three parts. Not only am I looking forward to sharing this incident in Marta’s life, this will also give me extra incentive to finish up the story.

Part I
By Rick Higginson

Marta Cardan dried her hands before wrapping the towel around her dripping hair. “Diego gave this to you?” she asked, taking the letter from her husband. “Where did he get it?”

“It was sent to him by another pastor that he knew from his seminary days. The family attends the other pastor’s church,” Joshua Cardan replied.

She sighed as she read the letter. “I don’t know anything about the condition this woman’s daughter has. Is it serious?”

He settled to a seated position on the floor, and gave her a single nod. “I checked online, and asked Dr. Jenkins about it as well. It’s a form of cancer that has a very low survival rate, and Dr. Jenkins says that, from the way the mother describes things, the girl isn’t responding well to the treatments.”

“She wants to come and swim with the Pod; in her condition, is that safe for her? Is there anything we can do for her?”

“From a medical standpoint, no; there is nothing we can do for her. There are a lot of doctors, including Melanie, that point to patient morale and attitude as having a dramatic effect of how well they respond to treatment, though. She said if the girl finds the idea of meeting the Pod that fascinating, it could make a big difference in her prognosis.”

She looked back towards the pool. “Leanna,” she called to her sister. “Pass the word to the Pod that we need to discuss something just as soon as everyone gathers.”


Erin Quantz closed the lid on the washing machine, and rushed to grab the phone before it switched to the answering system. If I hurried just to hear another sales pitch, I may scream, she thought as she spoke the neutral “Hello,” into the handset.

“Hello,” a pleasant, but unfamiliar feminine voice said. “Is Allison Quantz there?”

“May I ask who’s calling?”

“This is Marta Cardan.”

She leaned against the counter. “This isn’t some kind of joke, is it?”

“I would hope not; I’d hate to think someone was joking when they wrote this letter.”

“You got my letter? Pastor Black was able to get it through?”

“If you’re Allison’s mother, then yes, we got your letter. How is she? May I speak with her?”

She ran through the house towards her daughter’s room. “Of course,” she said, and then covered the mouthpiece with her hand. “Allison! Allison, honey; pick up the phone!”

There was a click, and her daughter’s quiet voice on the extension. “Hello?”

“Allison? This is Marta Cardan.”

“Marta Cardan; you mean the Marta Cardan of the Pod?”

“I don’t know of any other Marta Cardan, and if this wasn’t just ordinary telephone service, you could see the Pod behind me.”

“Oh, wow; I can’t believe it’s really you. I’ve read the book about you and Mr. Cardan and the Pod like five times, and I have all the television specials about the Pod recorded so I can watch them when I can’t do anything else.”

“So your mother said in her letter to us. She also said that you would really like to visit us on the island and meet the Pod. Is that true? Would you like to come and meet us?”

“I’ve dreamed of doing so ever since the first time I saw all of you on television. Could I really come to the island and swim with the Pod, Mrs. Cardan?”

Erin brought her free hand to her mouth, and met the enthusiastic look in her daughter’s eyes. She nodded even as the voice came through the phone.

“The whole Pod would love to meet you, Allison,” Marta said.


Marta rested on the bunk aboard the Bitter Pill, reading a book while waiting for their guest to arrive. So close, she thought, glancing out through the porthole at the town just beyond the marina. I’m closer to the human world than I ever thought I would be, and it’s still out of reach. She returned to her book, and tried to put the thought from her mind. It wasn’t like it was the first time she’d ridden along with Josh to the mainland; still, it would be nice if just once, they could leave the boat and go into town like normal people.

She heard Josh talking to someone outside, and a moment later he dropped into the cabin.

“Watch your step,” he said, turning back to offer his hand to the teen-aged girl that followed him.

So very thin, Marta thought, looking at the girl. She wore a baseball cap on her head, from under which no hair showed. For that matter, she had no eyebrows, either, though the eyes shined with a brightness that matched the colorful shorts and tank-top she wore.

The eyes grew wide when they spotted her. “Oh, wow,” she whispered. “I didn’t think I’d get to meet you until we got to the island. Are you Mrs. Cardan?”

“The only person who ever calls me Mrs. Cardan is my husband. To everyone else, I’ve always just been Marta. You must be Allison,” Marta said, extending her hands towards the girl. “You’ll find the only person on the island that accepts such formality is our teacher, Mrs. Angela Williams.”

“Thank you so much for inviting me to stay with the Pod, Mrs. Cardan.” She took the offered hands.

Her hands are almost skeletal. “Before we go to the island, do you know the two rules of the Pod?”

“Yes, Mrs. Cardan; never argue with Eva, and what you say goes.”

“Now, I’ve told you already, the only person who ever calls me Mrs. Cardan is my husband. He does so only in private, and as a term of affection. Everyone else calls me Marta, okay?”

An older woman came in to the cabin with a large shoulder bag, and stopped short on seeing the two.

“Okay, Marta,” Allison said.

“Allison,” the woman said. “Remember your manners.”

“But, Mom,” she started to object.

Marta met the woman’s eyes. “You must be Erin Quantz,” she said. “I’m Marta Cardan, and as much as I hate to contradict a mother’s instructions to her child, the Pod has always gone by first names. You can return to the formal courtesies when you return to your world, but here in our world, the surnames are just part of a culture we’ve only recently been allowed to pretend to belong in. For the Pod, they just remind us that we are still on the outside.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” Erin said.

“It’s all right; I understand. If you wish, the Pod will address you as Mrs. Quantz, though they will take that as an indication that you wish to maintain your distance from them. You may want that, and we will respect it if you do.” She released one of Allison’s hands and extended her free hand to the other woman. “Now, how shall I introduce you when we arrive at the island?”

“I’m Erin,” she said, accepting the hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Marta.”

Her grip was every bit as strong as her daughter’s was weak, and there was a weariness in the woman’s face that seemed to lift a bit as she gave the woman a welcoming smile. “You’re free to stay down here with me for the trip, but the view is much better from the deck.”

“Can I get either of you anything before we cast off?” Josh asked. “We have water, coffee, a few cans of assorted sodas, and I think I have some cranberry juice in the cooler. If you have any problems with seasickness, there are ginger chews in the bag by the table. I’ve always found they work about as well as any drugs to settle the stomach, and don’t leave me feeling like my head’s in a fog.”

“Nothing for me, thank you,” Erin said.


She had thought her daughter was excited that morning on the plane; that had been nothing compared to the enthusiasm Allison exhibited talking with the mermaid.

My daughter is talking to a mermaid, Erin thought, listening to the exuberant exchange. It wasn’t that long ago you were talking to your mermaid doll, slipping the satin fish tail on and off the plastic legs, and telling me how you would love to meet a real mermaid. I told you mermaids were make-believe, didn’t I?

She watched Marta, patiently entertaining every question posed to her by the teenager. Marta was lying on her side, her back against the hull of the boat and her tail curved forward. She seemed oblivious to the way the sailboat leaned with the wind, or the constant rise and fall as it rode over the waves. If the mermaid lacked any confidence in either the boat or her husband’s seamanship, she didn’t let it divert any attention from Allison.

It was worse than this when You slept in the boat, wasn’t it, Lord? This is just a steady breeze on a beautiful day, unlike the stormy sea that You called Peter to walk on, isn’t it? I’m trying to keep my eyes on you, Lord, but I’m still sinking. Did you send Marta to lift Joshua Cardan when he was sinking? Did you send her to life me up as well? She sighed quietly and looked through the window closest to her. Waves regularly splashed the glass as if to remind her that the ocean was ready to burst in at any time.

A brass plaque on the wall by the cabin door quoted Psalm 107. “Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business on great waters, they see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep.”

Closing her eyes, she recited instead the words from Isaiah that she’d repeated more times than she cared to remember now. Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…

“Mom?” Allison’s repeated question broke her train of thought. “When we get to the island, is it okay if Marta takes me into the Family Room through the water?”

Marta met her eyes, and there was both strength and understanding in them. The mermaid’s hand moved slightly across the pink scar on her belly, and the unspoken message was clear – I have a daughter, too. I won’t let anything happen to yours.

Doing her best to smile encouragingly, she nodded her permission.

To be continued.