The Tale of Hilda Louise


Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 4.11.48 AMHard to believe that twenty  years ago a picture book that I wrote and illustrated titled The Tale of Hilda Louise was published.  This is the only time in my career that I did the illustrations in oils—large oil paintings 18″x24″.  I was going through my Edward Hopper phase and wanted the pictures to have the same stark moodiness that can be seen in his paintings.  The story is set in Paris at the turn-of-the-century.  I loved this book  until my editor convinced me to rip the heart out of the story.   This will never happen again.

Hilda Louise is an orphan.  Until one day something very strange and very magical changed her life.  She starts floating.  She floats all over Paris and in the pictures you see an artist below her busily engaged in painting.  She sees him, but he never sees her.

At the end of the original story Hilda Louise starts to descend from the sky, floats through an open window of a top floor garret, and there is the painter.  He looks up, sees Hilda Louise floating just above his head and cries out, “Ah, ma cherie, at last I found you.”  Hilda Louise replies “Non, Papa, it is I who have found you.”

My editor at the time felt strongly that Hilda Louise could NOT be an orphan IF her father was to be discovered to be alive and well at the end of the story.  I argued that at the beginning of the story the reader doesn’t know that the father is still around.  After many unhappy discussions I finally agreed to change the story from Hilda Louise finding her father to finding her uncle.  NOT the same impact.  NOT the same compelling reunion.  The heart of the story was ripped out.

AND…another wonderful line was cut from the story because of this change:  Hilda Louise asks her father where her mother is and his reply is, “Ah, I lost her somewhere on the Left Bank.”

As a result of this story being so drastically changed I learned to trust my own instincts as a writer.  Never again will I let any editor tamper with the original intent of my words.

There is a great deal of symbolism in this simple story.  The most important being that Hilda Louise’s “floating” symbolizes hope.  Her hope of finding her mother and father.  Her hope of having a better life outside the orphanage.

The final ending of the story did remain intact, thank the bees and trees.  When Hilda Louise and her father return to Mes Petits Choux Orphanage to visit Mme Zanzibar remarks to Hilda Louise, “Hilda Louise, did I tell you that little Marian Lee has begun floating?”  Hilda Louise and her father look up and there, above their heads, is little Marian Lee polishing the crystal chandelier.

Again, the concept here is that yet another orphan may have a brighter future.

The name Hilda Louise is taken from two of my favorite aunts—my mother’s sister, Aunt Hilda and my grandmother’s sister, Aunt Louise.  Little Marian Lee’s name is that of my mother.

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 4.18.35 AM

Writing is bringing me back to life!


It is amazing how much writing I can get done each night in just a few hours.  Once I gave myself permission to start working on Wythe’s End again I am writing (or re-writing) between 10-25 pages a day.  I honestly feel like I’m coming back to life after a long, dark year of feeling out-of-sorts.

I first started writing in a journal when I was 12 years old and kept writing in journals all through high school and college and graduate school.  Writing kept me sane and balanced.  In college, in addition to writing prolifically, I also started running.  Between writing and long distance running I was the calmest, most energetic, happy person you might ever want to meet.

Writing has always been important to me and trying NOT to write was killing me!  I just might be addicted to words the way some folks are addicted to alcohol or drugs.

The one good thing that came out of taking a break from working on Wythe’s End is that I so many new and fresh ideas occurred to me as I began rereading each chapter and character bio.   Some small ideas, some big ideas, that make the story just that much more interesting and lively.

I am grappling with the title of the book again, of course.  I keep asking myself if Wythe’s End really sound enticing enough to get someone to pick up the book and want to read it.   Or, should I go back to the original title: The Secret of Wythe’s End?  Or, go all out outrageous with  The Deep, Dark Secret of Wythe’s End?

Once the book is finished then I’ll settle on the perfect title.

I am now figuring out just what kind of car(s) this family would drive.  They have to be nice cars, but not flashy.   Stylish, sensible, and practical, but expensive and unexpected.


Chapter 3: Littie Pye Smokes a pipe


I just finished doing a bit of rewriting and revision to Chapter 3 in Wythe’s End.  This is another favorite chapter that gives a glimpse into the personalities of several of the family members.  I like the gentle humor and the patient understanding of the mother in this scene.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!


Chapter 3     Littie Pye Smokes a Pipe

(May) Several of the men in the Wythe family smoke pipes; Littie Pye decides that  she wants to smoke a pipe

Early spring is always a welcome break from winter at Wythe’s End. The skies are often blue and clear although there air might be a bit chilly with the breezes blowing off the ocean. Still, the flowers start blooming and it really does begin to feel like spring.

The family, or at least those who felt so inclined, liked to sit on the veranda in the late afternoon and have tea. Qwerty Gran always said it was the civilized thing to do.   At four o’clock every afternoon tea was served either on the veranda in the warm months or in the long parlor if the weather was wet and nasty.

Tea might consist of crisp, freshly baked pastries that Mrs. Goossens had made or small sandwiches made with meat spreads and cheese.   And, of course, there was the perennial pot of tea waiting to be poured for anyone who wanted it.   For the younger Wythes there was always an ice cold glass of milk or seltzer water mixed with cranberry juice and a slice of lemon.

As Qwerty Gran, Mab, the Aunts, and we four youngsters settled in on the veranda, Mrs. Goossens brought the tea tray out and set it near Qwerty Gran so that she could pour out the tea.   Sandwiches and cookies were passed around.   My brother, sister and I had only just gotten home from school and, after the forty-five minute ride back to Wythe’s End from Meequock, which was the town farther up Cape Haddock at the end of Meequock Pond, we were famished.

For some reason all the uncles, Pab, Gramps, and Pabby were off doing something else and didn’t join us for tea.

“Why did eleven-times-great grandfather Josiah miss the boat?” Littie Pye asked again stuffing a cucumber and tomato sandwich into her mouth.

“Littie Pye,” said Mab. “Don’t cram the entire sandwich into your mouth all at once. Take smaller bites, savor the flavors and try to appear a bit more ladylike.   No one enjoys sitting down to tea with a little miss piggy, now do they?”

Littie Pye shook her head and stuffed another sandwich into her mouth.

“Why did eleven-times-great Josiah miss getting his family on the Mayflower?” demanded Thaddeus. “Jane Childress says we’re not true Boston Brahmins because our family did NOT come over on the Mayflower.”   He crossed his arms across his chest emphatically.   “She says we’re odd.”

“We’re not odd,” declared Littie Pye. “We’re just different. We read. And our ancestors DID come over on the Sunflower six months later.   So we ARE Brahmins.”

“No, we’re not,” insisted Thaddeus. “In order to be a true Boston Brahmin you have to be able to trace your ancestors back to the Mayflower, not the Sunflower.”

Qwerty Gran and Mab stared out to sea, doing their best to ignore the discussion that was now swirling around the veranda.

The fact that eleven-times-great grandfather Josiah Wythe had missed boarding the Mayflower was something our family did not like to discuss. Apparently, it was the bane of the Wythe family’s existence in Boston and had become so intolerable that six-times-great grandfather Phineas Thaddeus moved the family from Boston to Cape Haddock.

Even though the Wythes arrived in Plymouth only a few months later on the Sunflower our family simply wasn’t considered true Boston blue blood.

“It is interesting,” I said. “That from everything we know eleven-times-great grandfather and his family were waiting on the dock to board the Mayflower. But why didn’t they go on board?
“Mrs. Pinkerton says that only the very aristocratic and landed gentry were allowed onto the Mayflower,” Littie Pye said matter-of-factly. “Most likely eleven-times-great grandfather Josiah didn’t have enough to pay for everyone to get onboard the Mayflower. And if everyone couldn’t make the crossing, no one would go. That’s what I think.”

“That’s crazy,” said Thaddeus, reaching for his glass of seltzer and cranberry juice. “James Braddock says that he heard from his grandfather that eleven-times-great grandfather Josiah was a criminal and that the police, or whoever made arrests back then, caught him just before he and his family could board the Mayflower.”

Throughout the discussion our youngest brother, Leaky Lou, quietly ate his cookie and sipped his milk. He was the most well behaved three year old I’ve ever known and the most civilized.   Leaky Lou watched Qwerty Gran intently, never taking his eyes off her.

I noticed that Qwerty Gran never took her eyes off the water and seemed to be fascinated by a boat passing by off in the distance.

“I’m certain there was a perfectly good, sensible reason that the early Wythes missed the boat,” said Mab diplomatically. “And at this point in time, what does it really matter?   Do any of you feel deprived because we cannot trace our ancestors back to the Mayflower?”

“I do,” grunted Littie Pye. “I feel deprived. And I feel disgruntled.”

Mab and Qwerty Gran and the Aunts smiled. Littie Pye’s vocabulary could be surprising at times for an eight year old.   And she never backed down from her opinions.

“Let’s change the subject, shall we?” said Qwerty Gran taking a sip of her tea.

“It’s the dark, deep family secret,” whispered Aunt Pru to Littie Pye.

“You mean, deep, dark family secret, dear,” corrected Aunt Que.

“Probably,” said Aunt Pru, not rising to the bait in discussing literary correctness.   She focused her attention back on Littie Pye. “And secrets are meant to remain secret.   I don’t think we’ll ever know why the Wythes missed the boat. But, here we are, happy as clams in the mud, living in a beautiful house by the sea. How can you possibly feel disgruntled.”

“Hmphf!” grunted Littie Pye. “I just do. Come on, Leaky, let’s go see what Pab is doing in the chicken house. There might be eggs to gather!”

Littie Pye grabbed Leaky Lou by the hand and swept him off the veranda, down the steps, and disappeared through the carriageway.

The conversation started me thinking once more about this deep, dark family secret.   Qwerty Gran and Mab and the Aunts could pretend that not being able to claim a connection to the first settlers to come across the Atlantic on the Mayflower didn’t bother them, but it did. It bothered us all.

If secrets are meant to be kept secret, they are also meant to be discovered.   And I was going to find out what our family secret was one way or another.

I excused myself and decided to take a walk and enjoy the afternoon and try not to think about this secret that no one even knew what it was.   It was a conundrum as Gramps liked to say.

It was cooler under the Gallery that crossed over the carriageway. I headed toward the garage.   The chicken coop was a tidy attachment to the garage where Pab kept his hens and rooster. The rooster’s name was named Ebenezer.   Pab said he always loved reading Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ and had named the rooster after Ebenezer Scrooge.

Ebenezer was a beauty. He was large, majestic, and looked like the roosters you see in children’s picture books– glossy black tail feather that shimmered blue and green in the sunlight. Reddish brown back feathers that melded into the lighter reddish feathers on his neck. His red comb stood upright and spiky. The wattles under his beak sagged and wobbled whenever he shook his head. He had piercing yellow brown eyes that could stop you dead in your tracks if he was in a foul mood.

All in all he was magnificent.

I could see Pab fussing about inside the chicken coop, raking out the old cedar shavings in preparation for putting fresh ones down for the chickens. Littie Pye and Leaky Lou were nowhere to be seen.

Pab puffed on his pipe contentedly, humming to himself and didn’t see me approach.

“Where’s Littie Pye and Leaky?” I asked him through the open window.

“No idea,” said Pab. “Haven’t seen them all afternoon.   Are they missing?”

“No, not really,” I said. “I thought they might have come down to play with the chickens and give you a hand cleaning out the coop. Littie Pye thought there might be a few eggs to gather.”

“Nope,” said Pab, leaning on the rake. “They’re not here. And I’ve gathered the few eggs and set them over there.” He gestured to a basket sitting on top of the nesting boxes.

“I’ll see you at dinner,” I said and walked toward the work shop.

I thought it was odd that Littie Pye and Leaky weren’t with Pab in the chicken coop. When Littie Pye said she was going to do something or go somewhere, she usually meant it.

I headed down to the train shed, thinking that they might have decided to see what Uncle Itchy, Gramps, and Pabby were up to.   If the men missed tea on the veranda it usually meant they were occupied with some mechanical problem with The Flying Orcadian.

From inside the train shed I could hear them discussing something about the steam value not closing properly and should be tightened.

I poked my head through the door and asked “Have any of you seen Littie Pye and Leaky?”

“No, they’re not down here,” said Gramps. “What have they gotten into now?”

I laughed and said, “I don’t think they’ve gotten into anything. Just wondered if they had wandered down here hoping to get you to fire up the engine and take them for a ride.”

“If we see them, we’ll tell them that you’re looking for them,” said Grumps.

And the three men continued working on the engine blissfully absorbed in all things train.

I was beginning to get a bit worried.   Littie Pye could get some odd ideas and her eagerness to have Leaky go with her seemed a little strange, now that I came to think about it.

“All right,” I thought. “She’s up to something, no doubt about it.”

A little girl could easily make herself scarce on two hundred acres of land. Or, if she had gone inside she could just as easily hide in one of the secret passages or rooms and no one would know where she was.   And on more than one occasion she had locked Leaky away somewhere, telling him that she would come back for in a bit.

With Littie Pye “a bit” could stretch into an hour or more.   Thankfully, Leaky never panicked and usually fell asleep while he waited to be retrieved.

“Littie Pye!” I called. “Where are you?”

No answer.

To be on the safe side I decided to check the smaller outbuildings, just in case.   Mab and Pab say that I’m like a mother hen the way I worry about everything and everyone all the time.   It’s in my nature to worry.

As I walked past the wood shed I smelled pipe tobacco wafting through the air. Uncle Myles or Uncle Bertram must have come over to get something or talk to Russ, I thought.   I headed toward where the smoke was drifted through the air.

Then I heard coughing, a lot of coughing.

When I turned the corner I stopped in my tracks not believing my eyes. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing.

Leaky Lou sat on a small pile of wood that Russ had been cutting into firewood.   He sat perfectly still watching intently as Littie Pye coughed a bit more and then tried puffing on the pipe she held in both hands.   As she tried to suck in the fragrant tobacco smoke she coughed even more and gasped for air. Her face was turning slightly blue, then red, from the exertion of coughing,

“Littie Pye,” I said quietly so as to not make her choke in addition to coughing. “What in the world are you doing?”

Littie Pye’s eye widened and her face disappeared behind a bluish cloud of pipe smoke.   Leaky Lou never took his eyes off his sister. He seemed fascinated by what she was doing.

“Littie, are you all right?”

She nodded her head vigorously but couldn’t speak.

“Give me that pipe before you burn the wood shed down.” I said firmly. “And you know you’re not supposed to play with matches. If Mab or Pab or anyone else had caught you, you’d be in deep trouble. You know that, right?”

She nodded again, more slowly this time.

“You won’t tell, will you?” she asked once she was able to suck in enough air so that she could get the words out.

“That depends,” I said. “If you will promise me that you’ll never do this again.   What in the world were you thinking?”

“All the men in our family smoke pipes and I decided it was time for a woman to smoke one, too,” she said with the firm conviction of an eight year old who was a bit too precocious at times.

“Woman?” I teased. “Where’s the woman that was going to be the first one to smoke a pipe in the family?”

Littie Pye glared at me. I thought for a minute that she might start to cry. But that was not Littie Pye’s style at all.

“You know I was talking about myself,” she said. “I may not be a woman, but I’m a girl. And that’s close enough. Mab, Qwerty Gran, the Aunts and even Brynnie or Mrs. Goossens would never try smoking a pipe. So I knew if a woman, I mean girl, was going to do it, it had to be me.”

You have to give her credit for reasoning an idea through.

“Well, how was it?” I asked. “Smoking the pipe, I mean. You certainly didn’t seem to be enjoying it and were coughing quite a bit. I’m surprised no one else heard you or smelled the pipe smoke.”

“It’s awful!” said Littie Pye. “And it’s not easy to hold the pipe and try to light it with a match and suck on the end all at the same time. That’s why I brought Leaky Lou with me. He holds the pipe for me while I light it and suck on the end to make it burn.”

“I see,” I said seriously. “Littie, you do see how dangerous this is. What if you had dropped the match and started a fire? What would you have done then?”

“I would have screamed for Russ,” she said without hesitation. “He’d save us and he wouldn’t tell anyone either. Now are you going to tell on me?”

“No, of course, I won’t,” I said. “But I want your solemn promise right here that you will never do this again. Promise.”

“Cross my heart and hope to die if I should lie,” she said. “I promise I won’t ever do this again. And neither will Leaky.”

I reached out and took the still warm pipe from her small hand. The tobacco was unburnt for the most part.

“Doesn’t look like you had much success lighting the tobacco,” I said. “You know how all the men are always packing the tobacco in just right so that it can ‘breathe’.   Uncle Myles says that it takes practice to tamp down the tobacco just right so that it will burn, but not burn too hot.”

Littie Pye nodded her head again. Leaky Lou sat quietly listening to the conversation as if he was taking in every word. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he took the pipe from my hand and knew exactly how to tamp down the tobacco, light it, and sit there puffing away on it like a seasoned pro.

I turned the pipe over in my hand. “Whose pipe is this, anyway?” I asked.

“It’s one of Pab’s old pipes that he doesn’t smoke very often anymore,” Littie Pye said. “I thought he wouldn’t miss it if I borrowed it.”

The smell of the pipe tobacco brought to mind all the times we sat in the libraries with the uncles puffing away filling the room with the bluish fragrant haze of smoke.   Pab said that I was too young to take up pipe smoking and that I could start after I turned twenty-one.   I had reminded him that he and Uncle Myles said they started smoking a pipe when they were at Harvard. And if they were smoking a pipe when they were undergraduates they were certainly not twenty-one years old yet.

“I’ll tell you what, Littie,” I said conspiratorially. “What if we try smoking the pipe together, you and me. Leaky won’t tell anyone, will you, Leaky?” Leaky shook his head solemnly. He never spoke but the could nod or shake his head to let us know that he understood whatever we said to him.

Littie Pye’s eyes lit up with anticipation. “Oh, Phin!” she cried. “You are as bad as I am. I like it that we can be bad together and not get into any trouble.”

“Tell you what,” I said. “Poke your head around the woodshed to make certain nobody is around or might see us. If they smell the pipe smoke they’ll just think it’s one of the men and not think anything of it.”

Littie Pye nodded her head and scooted off to scope out the area around the woodshed.

“Leaky, you have to promise that you won’t say a word to anyone, all right?” I said. Not that I expected an answer but since he was here I wanted to make him feel part of the pipe smoking conspiracy.

Leaky Lou shook his head solemnly from side to side.

Littie Pye had circled the woodshed and came gasping around the corner to where Leaky Lou and I waited.

“All clear,” she said breathlessly. “I didn’t see anyone and I don’t think anyone knows we’re here.”

“All right,” I said. “Let’s light this thing and I’ll show you how it’s really done.”

I sat on a large upturned block of wood not yet split by Russ.   Littie Pye and Leaky Lou watched me intently, not daring to blink for fear of missing something important in the pipe smoking ritual.   Even though they had seen all the men in the family stuff and light their pipes countless times and contentedly puff away and blowing smoke from the corners of their mouths, it was a novelty to see me performing the ritual.

I must confess that I had no clearidea exactly how the ritual was done. I could only try to imitate what I had seen Pab, Gramps, Pabby, and the uncles do thousands of time.

“Littie, where’s the tobacco?” I asked. “I think we should start with a fresh bunch.”

Littie Pye reached into the pocket of her dress and pulled out a tangle of shredded pipe tobacco and handed it to me.

“Matches?” I asked. Again she reached into her pocket and took out a small box of wooden matches. “Don’t you ever let me catch you with matches again, understand.”

“Yes,” she said. “Quit stalling and put the tobacco into the pipe. You will know exactly how to do it and maybe it won’t be so difficult.”

I knocked the partially burned tobacco out of the pipe bowl and carefully stuffed the cherry scented tobacco that Littie Pye had ‘borrowed’ into the pipe bowl. I wasn’t certain how much I should put in and how much tamping I should do. But, I did what I had seen Pab and Uncle Myles do and it seemed to be right.   I stuck the mouthpiece in my mouth, trying to hold it in my teeth, but the pipe jiggled up and down forcing me to hold it steady with one hand.

“I see what you mean about trying to hold the pipe and strike a match at the same time,” I told Littie Pye.

“I know,” she said in a hushed voice. “I don’t know how they do it with one hand and not set the house on fire.”

After a few tries I managed to hold the pipe steady in my mouth while I took out a match and struck it on the side of the matchbox.   The match flared up in a bright flame and Leaky Lou clapped his hands as if I had performed a magic trick and had made fire.

Slowly, I brought the match flame to the bowl of the pipe and held it against the tobacco. I took a few exploratory puffs but the tobacco didn’t seem to light.

“Try pressing the match a bit more into the tobacco,” urged Littie Pye. “And suck real hard to pull air through the pipe and make the tobacco burn.”

She sounded like an expert. It made sense. I struck another match and pressed it against the tobacco and at the same time took a deep draw on the pipe. My mouth filled with burning smoke and slid down my throat.   I started coughing and sputtering from the surprise and bitterness of the taste of the tobacco.

“See,” said Littie Pye triumphantly. “Not so easy, is it?   Try taking not such a deep breath on the pipe and see if that works.”

Again I struck a match and held it against the tobacco.   This was trickier than the looked I had to admit. Slowly I tried an experimental sucking on the pipe, not quite as hard as what I had done previously. I felt the hot smoke fill my mouth, but didn’t let it slide down my throat. I waited a few moments and then let the smoke escape from my lips.

Littie Pye was delighted. “You did it! You did it! Do it again and then let me try.”

I held the pipe with my right hand and tried a few more experimental puffs. I was beginning to get the hang of it and the tobacco seemed to have caught.

Littie Pye reached for the pipe eager for her turn at the ritual of puffing on it.   I handed the pipe to her and said, “Don’t suck too hard on the mouthpiece. Just suck hard enough to feel the smoke come into your mouth. And don’t swallow any of the smoke or you’ll start coughing again. Got it?”

She nodded vigorously.   Miraculously, the pipe was still lit as she placed it between her lips. Carefully, she slowly sucked on the end, but didn’t start coughing.

“Let the smoke out from the corner of your mouth,” I said. “But don’t drop the pipe.”

Littie Pye did as she was told and the bluish smoke rose from both ends of her mouth. I couldn’t help but laugh.

“You look like a little dragon smoking at the mouth,” I said.

Little Pye laughed, too and sputtered as a bit of smoke slid down her throat.

Leaky Lou found our attempts at pipe smoking fascinating and never made a sound. His small hands seemed to mimicking our gestures as he held and lit his own imaginary pipe.

For the next few minutes Littie Pye and I handed the pipe back and forth, not puffing very much, but we managed to keep the pipe lit.

“I’m starting to feel a bit lightheaded,” Littie Pye said.

“Me, too,” I replied. “I think the tobacco is a bit strong.

“WHAT on earth are you two children doing?” said a voice behind us in shocked consternation at catching us smoking the pipe behind the woodshed.

It was Mab. And she didn’t sound too pleased to have discovered our illicit activity behind the woodshed.

“Honestly, Phin!” she said, as if unable to believe her eyes. “I would like an explanation as to just what you think you’re doing.   And letting Littie Pye smoke a pipe!   Have you lost your mind?”

Mab had startled us so much that Littie Pye tumbled off the log she was sitting on, sputtering and coughing from the burning smoke in her throat and the lightheadedness we were experiencing.

“Mab, don’t blame, Phin,” Littie Pye said. “It was all my idea.   And Phin just sort of got caught up in it with me.”

“I see,” said Mab, her tone softening a bit.   Littie Pye was never one to skirt blame or fault when she knew she was in the wrong.   “And Leaky, has he been smoking the pipe, too?”

Now I knew that Mab wasn’t as mad as she pretended to be.   Whenever she made a comment like that it meant she could see the humor in a situation.

“I’m still waiting for an explanation, “ said Mab, looking first at me then at Little Pye.

Littie Pye calmly explained why she had decided to try smoking the pipe and how she had been caught by me.

“I’ve already given Phin my solemn word that I will never ever do this again and I will never ever strike another match so long as I live,” said Littie Pye in her most serious and sincere voice.

“And you will keep your solemn word, Littie?” asked Mab. “Will you give it to me as well that you will never ever play with matches or try smoking a pipe again?”

“I do,” said Littie Pye, raising her right hand and sounding as if she was on the witness stand in a courtroom and was solemnly swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help her God.

“I believe you,” said Mab. “Now, Phin, hand me that pipe.”

I handed the pipe to Mab and expected her to round on me again for being so irresponsible in hiding behind the woodshed smoking a pipe with my little sister and brother.

“Is there any more tobacco left?” Mab asked us.

Littie Pye reached into her pocket again and pulled out another clump of tangled tobacco.

To our surprise and amazement Mab knocked the burnt tobacco out of the pipe and began to refill it with the fresh tobacco. Littie Pye and I looked at one another incredulously.   What was Mab doing?   Was she going to make us smoke the pipe again to teach us a lesson and make us really choke on the strong smoke?

“Phin, hand me that box of matches, please,” said Mab.   “Well, don’t look so stunned,” she said. “Now that we’re here, and we have the pipe and some tobacco, I might as well give it a try. Just don’t you dare tell your father or Gramps or Qwerty Gran. They will truly think I’ve completely lost my mind.”

Littie Pye, Leaky Lou, and I could only stare dumbly at Mab.

“Any words of advice before I give this a try?” Mab asked us.

“Don’t suck too hard,” said Littie Pye.

“And don’t let the smoke slide down your throat,” I added. “It’ll only make you start coughing.

Mab’s eyes sparkled and she nodded.

Then our mother sat down beside us, struck a match and lit the pipe.   She tentatively drew in a mouthful of the fragrant smoke and nothing happened. Suddenly her eyes grew wider and she began coughing, smoke billowing out of her mouth.

Littie Pye, Leaky Lou, and I burst out laughing.   There was nothing else we could do. Mab continued sputtering and coughing and finally managed to get her breath.

“This is awful,” she said. “I love the smell of pipe tobacco when Brews smokes his pipe. But, it doesn’t taste anything like the wonderful smell.”

Littie Pye and I agreed. And so did Leaky Lou.

“Promise me,” said Mab seriously. “You three will not speak a word about this to anyone.”

We promised again. Leaky Lou even crossed his heart the way he had seen Littie Pye do to show that he was promising not to say a word either.

“All right,” said Mab. “Let’s get back to the house and wash up for dinner. And brush your teeth so that no one can smell pipe tobacco on your breath. This has been quite an experiment,” she said standing up and smoothing down her skirt.           “Littie Pye, would you mind poking your head around the corner to make sure no one is out there who might see us sneaking out from behind the woodshed?”

Littie Pye cautiously peered around the corner of the woodshed. “Coast is clear,” she said in a hushed whisper. “Just act normal in case anyone sees us walking up to the house together.”

Mab and I looked at one another and did our best not to laugh.

One by one we stepped out from behind the woodshed walked together as normally as we could back to house. Leaky Lou kept looking behind us to make sure no one was going to sneak up on us and cry out “Caught you!”



4″ by Gabe Hooton


IF you’d like to read yet another experimental writing style, go to Amazon and type in 4″ by Gabe Hooton.  This is an edgy, coming-of-age story that I wrote several years ago and self-published it on Amazon.  It’s written in a very terse, staccato style at the beginning and evolves into a more traditional form of narrative.

The book is written in four parts or four inches, if you will.

4″ is the first book in a trilogy: 4″, 8″, 12″.   The three books together cover ONE year in the life of a seventeen year old boy named Gabe Hooton who struggles to find his way in the world.  The measurements are the connecting threads in each book.

For example, in 4″ the reader learns that Gabe is 5’4″ tall and longs to just be four inches taller so that he would at least be of average height. OR…be four inches shorter so that he would be a dwarf and therefore be more interesting.  The pattern of four inches appears several times throughout the narrative.

4″ starts in January 1971 and ends in June 1971.

8″ starts in June 1971 and ends in September 1971.

12″ starts in September 1971 and ends in January 1972.

Momentous and life-changing events happen to Gabe in the course of this one year in his young life.

Cover Design 3

The screenplay version


As promised here is the beginning of the screenplay version of The Kidnapping of the Boy with Red Hair.

Note: When writing screenplays there are several “set” rules that must be followed.  For example, all screenplays must be written using Courier typeface and should not be more than 110 pages in length.  The screenplay is then printed on 3 hole punched paper with binder grommets only in the top and bottom holes.

Yes, this is how very specific they are about writing and reading screenplays.






The Kidnapping of the Boy with Red Hair


Olivier Dunrea

Based on the short story “The Kidnapping of the Boy with Red Hair”

by Olivier Dunrea © 2013


Later in the screenplay…         1









Writing styles can vary


I pretty much have my own voice as a writer.  But, from time to time, I do write manuscripts that I experiment with writing in a different style.

Usually these manuscripts are what I call “back story” projects.  I don’t intend for them to be published unless as an appendix to a larger work.  Such is the case with The Kidnapping of the Boy with Red Hair.  This is the back story as to how one of the central, and most important, characters came to the Islands on the Edge.  I wanted to make certain that I understood his back story and how he came to be a part of the narrative I am writing in such an important role.

His name is Maol Rudha.  He is the boy with the red hair.

I wrote the back story in scenes.  Just enough detail to give me guide posts if I ever decide to write this out as a proper short story.  You can watch and listen to me reading this back story on Youtube.  Simply type in “The Kidnapping of the Boy with Red Hair”.  The story is recorded in six parts.

Here is the original back story as written in “scenes”:


21 March 2007

Video Recording: 1-7 November 2013

Revised manuscript: 9 November 2013

Introduction:  It’s a stormy night here in the Highlands and you’ve asked me to tell you a story to pass the night, a rough, stormy night like this.  I’m going to tell you a story, a very old, ancient story.  It’s called “The Kidnapping of the Boy with Red Hair.”

 Part 1:

Scene 1:  Late winter.  March.  A large, black-bearded man, Skar Crombie, treks across the rugged Highlands.  He is clad all in furs, wears a peaked fur hat, and fur boots.  Strapped to his back is a large leather rucksack crammed with furs and provisions.   His eyes are alert as he scans the rocky landscape.  The man stops, scratches his beard, and studies the ground as if looking for something.

 We change scenes…

Scene 2:  A small Iron Age settlement on the edge of the sea.  Primitive, smoky, and untidy.   People are busy going about their daily chores.  Children play in the frozen snow.   One boy stands out: he is smaller than the others and has bright red hair.  He seems quieter, less rowdy than the other children.  His attention is focused on a small carved figure he carries in his hand, held close to his chest.  The sea is close to hand and the tangy salt air permeates the settlement. 

 Scene 3:  It is dusk.  Skar Crombie stops and makes camp for the night.  He builds a small fire and sits with his back against a large stone.  The stone seems to protect him from the cold night.  The black-bearded man prepares a simple meal of dried strips of meat, broth, and tea.  He reflects back as to how he came to be on this quest to find a boy.  The boy with the red hair.  And bring him back to the islands—the Islands on the Edge.

 So now … we go back to the people at the settlement by the sea…

 Scene 4:  The people at the settlement prepare their evening meals inside their primitive round huts.  The animals are penned in their sturdy enclosures. Wolves howl in the rocky crags.  The children are safe and snug inside the huts.

 Loud rain outside.  Grandfather clock strikes twelve…

 Do you want to get back to the story and what’s going on with Skar Crombie?

On a stormy night like this, it’s the perfect night to tell a deep, dark story…

So, where were we?  Ah… you remember that back at the settlement by the sea the wolves were howling.  So now we go back to Skar Crombie’s camp…

 Scene 5:  Hungry wolves circle cautiously around Skar Crombie’s camp.  But, something is amiss.  The black-bearded man cannot be seen.  Suddenly a huge black bear rears up on its hind legs and roars into the night.  A large grey wolf lunges at the bear.  A powerful blow from the bear’s huge paw kills the wolf instantly.  The wolf drops to the ground.  The other wolves stop and stare at the massive creature.  They hesitate and then they turn and flee.   The bear drops to all fours and circles the camp. 

 Scene 6:  Skar Crombie has been searching for the boy with the red hair since early autumn.  The Oldest Old Ones, the Atecotti, had come to him back in the islands and told him that he must undertake the near impossible quest to bring this boy back to islands.  “It is the boy’s fate.  It is the boy’s destiny.   And the boy is needed for the very survival of the islands—the Islands on the Edge,” the Atecotti had said. But, Skar Crombie is reluctant to embark on such an impossible quest.  He is an Island Bear, not a Wandering Bear.  The Atecotti tell him that he is the bear that must find this boy.  If he agrees to take on the quest of finding the boy with the red hair they will work their powerful magic to change the bear into a shape-shifter.  He will be a bear-man.  In time the bear will be able to assume whichever of the two shapes he desires to be.  As a man he will have the strength of a bear.  As a bear he will have the cunning of a man.  

            And when Skar Crombie finds the boy with the red hair he must decide then which shape he will take in order to bring the boy back to the islands.

 And now we go back to the settlement by the sea…

 Scene 7:  The boy with the red hair collects shellfish from the shore with the women and other children.  It is cold work.  The boy shivers and looks around.  His carved figure of a bear is tucked deep inside his tunic.  He glances upwards at the steep crags that hover just over the settlement.  The boy sees a strange figure.  He can’t tell if it is a large man or a large animal that stands at the edge of the craggy cliff staring down at the settlement, watching.  Watching.  Waiting.

 Scene 8:  Late afternoon.  Skar Crombie, in the shape of a giant, burly man, strides into the settlement.  The people are alert, wary, but they sense no harm from him.  The children watch the giant man from the safety of dark doorways or from behind their mothers’ skirts.  The boy with the red hair is unafraid.  He boldly stands in the open, tightly holding his carved bear, watching the man.  Skar Crombie glances at the boy and nods.  He seeks out the boy’s father.   The boy’s father, Oother, invites Skar Crombie join the family for a meal.  After making the customary small talk Skar Crombie tells the boy’s father the reason he has come to their settlement.

 Now we come to the next part of the story…

 Scene 9:  Skar Crombie chooses his words carefully.  His voice is deep and rumbles in his chest when he speaks.  His voice is low and hypnotic.   He tells the Oother that he has come for the boy with the red hair—to take him back to the Islands on the Edge.  The boy’s family gasps in disbelief.  Skar Crombie tells them that it is the boy’s Fate, his Destiny, as was foretold by the Oldest Old Ones. The boy with the red hair listens to the talk from the safety of his sleeping place.  He is supposed to be sleeping.  The boy with the red hair holds his carved bear close to his heart.  Skar Crombie tells the boy’s father that if he gives him the boy he will reveal to the father a great secret.   He says that this great secret is the secret that is vital for the very survival of this clan. 

 Now, the secret that Skar Crombie will tell the boy’s father, if he gives him the boy with the red hair, is the secret knowledge of the underground “weems”—earthhouses, deep in the stony crags and moors.  It is in these earthhouses that the clan can hide in and “disappear” from the Faarlanders in times of peril.  These secret tunnels lead for miles underground and anyone who knows how to find, and open, their secret entrances can be safe and get far, far away from whatever danger threatens.  The boy’s father nods his head, as if in agreement.  Skar Crombie tells Oother only part of the secret. 

And it this part:  He tells him that the Mad Marauders, the Faarlanders, will land on the beach near their settlement in a few days.  These ferocious and vicious sea wolves will attack and destroy everyone and everything.  He urges the Oother to pack up his family and belongings and move to higher ground in the Highlands for safety.  Skar Crombie reminds the father that he must now give him the boy with the red hair if he wants to hear the rest of the secret.   Because without knowing how to find the secret entrances to the earth-houses, there is no hope for the clan.  The father will not agree to let him take the boy.  Oother and other men refuse Skar Crombie’s counsel.  The risk is too great to make the move to the higher crags.  To move the settlement in late winter is too dangerous.  They will stay where they are.  Skar Crombie, not believing what he’s hearing, slowly shakes his head and stares into the fire and is silent.  He discretely eyes the dark nook where the boy with the red hair sleeps.  Skar Crombie leaves the settlement by the sea without the boy.



Introduction:  Are you ready to continue the story?  Let’s see where was I?


 Part 2

 Scene 10:  Three days pass since Skar Crombie’s visit to the settlement by the sea.  The villagers are on edge.  Restless.  Uncertain.   Will the Mad Marauders attack their settlement as the giant man said they would?  Should they heed his warning and pack up their belongings and move to the rocky highlands? 

 Scene 11:  On the third day after Skar Crombie had visited the settlement by the sea he works out his plan as to how to kidnap the boy with the red hair.  When all the preparations are finished Skar Crombie sits quietly and waits until nightfall.

 Now here’s a flashback…

 Flashback:  Skar Crombie had found the settlement by the sea several weeks prior to his visit to the boy’s father.   He had watched the villagers unobserved, except by the boy with the red hair.   Skar Crombie had built a sturdy sledge to hold his backpack, provisions, and the boy with the red hair.

 Scene 12:  Dusk.  The villagers secure their huts and outbuildings for the evening.  The sheep and cattle are safely penned in their sturdy enclosures.  The children are fed and tucked into their sleeping furs.  The fires burn low, the embers glow in the growing gloom.  The boy’s family eats their meager evening meal.  Sleepily, the boy goes to his sleeping place.  He carries his carved bear to bed.  The rest of his family crawl into their sleeping furs for the night.  The visit from the giant man is seemingly forgotten.  It has been three days since his visit and there is no sign that he will return.  Nor has there been any sign of the Faarlanders, the Mad Marauders.

 Scene 13:  As quiet as a phantom the gigantic black bear makes his way down the snowy slope.  His massive paws make no sound on the frozen ground.  His breath steams from his nostrils.  He shakes his huge head and sniffs the night air.  There is no other way to bring the boy with the red hair to the islands other than taking him by force.

 Scene 14:  The giant bear stands on his two hind legs, silent as a stone, on the edge of the settlement.  The black bear waits.  He listens for sounds of anyone who might be stirring within the huts.  Slowly, cautiously, he strides to the hut where he knows the boy with the red hair is sleeping.

Now here’s another flashback for you…

Flashback:  When the Atecotti had come to Skar Crombie they had told him that once he had found the boy with the red hair he must bring the boy back to the islands, by force if necessary.  They told him that the powerful Storm Hags would raise a ferocious snowstorm to aid his escape from any pursuers.  But, they warned Skar Crombie that he must have everything ready, and flee with the boy with the red hair as fast as possible, if he wanted to live to see the islands again.   If he is caught, he will be killed.

Scene 15:  In a sudden mad rush Skar Crombie bursts into the hut!  Before the boy’s family know what is happening, the bear grabs the boy with the red hair, grabs him right in his powerful jaws, and bounds out the door.  The boy tightly clutches his carved bear, his eyes wide with terror, but he does not cry out.  The family’s screams and shouts wake the rest of the settlement.  Against the frozen whiteness the villagers see a giant black bear dragging the boy out of the settlement toward the looming snowy crags.   And in that instant it begins to snow hard. 

The wind howls and blows the snow in swirls of blinding whiteness.  The black bear and the boy quickly disappear in the swirling snow.  The men grab their weapons and pursue the bear and the boy, their cries and shouts are torn from their lips and stolen by the fierce, howling wind.  

Scene 16:  The swirling snow blurs Skar Crombie’s vision.  The fierce snowstorm roars in his ears.  He only hears the howling wind and nothing else.  The bear does not pause to look back to see if he is pursued.  He knows he is.  The boy with the red hair struggles and beats at the bear’s face with his small fists.  Skar Crombie knows he cannot escape his pursuers carrying the wee boy in his mouth.  The bear stops and drops the boy to the ground.  He pins him to the ground with his massive forepaws. 

Skar Crombie puts his face close to the boy’s face.  The boy is certain the bear is going to eat him.  But, the bear does not eat the boy.  He breathes his warm breath into the boy’s face.  The bear’s breath calms the boy and makes him feel drowsy.  In a matter of seconds the boy is fast asleep, still holding tight to his carved bear.  This is the magic of the bear’s breath. 

Scene 17:  Skar Crombie changes his skin into that of the burly, black-bearded man.  His pursuers cannot see him in the blinding snow.  Skar Crombie scoops up the boy and runs faster than he could in the form of a bear carrying the boy in his jaws.  The snowstorm prevents the men from following Skar Crombie’s footprints.  The men are stunned and blinded by the swirling whiteness.  The angry, howling wind makes them afraid.  Pursuit of the giant bear is hopeless.  The boy is lost to them.  Forever.

Scene 18:  Skar Crombie scrambles up the snowy slope to a small cave where he has hidden the sledge, his rucksack, and provisions.  The boy with the red hair still sleeps.  The calming sleep will not last long.  Skar Crombie quickly drags the sledge out of the cave.  He unpacks the fur skins from the large leather rucksack.  Quickly, he makes a nest of fur skins in the sledge and tucks the boy into it.  Skar Crombie wraps furs around the boy to keep him warm in the bitter cold.  He picks up the boy’s carved bear and stares at it curiously.  He carefully places the carved bear inside the furs next to the boy’s heart and gently covers the boy’s face with a soft fur skin so that his face is protected. 

Skar Crombie stows his rucksack, extra fur skins, and provisions at the boy’s feet, in the front portion of the sledge.  These will help keep the boy’s feet from freezing and provide a bit more protection from the bitter wind.  The boy slowly wakes from his sleep, opens his eyes, and pulls the fur skin away from his face.  He sees the giant man who had come to his father’s house.  The boy looks around for the bear wonders where the huge black bear has gone.   Had this man rescued him from the bear?  Was he taking him back to his family? 

Skar Crombie stands behind the sledge and slowly begins to push it through the deepening snow.  He is strong and the runners of the sledge are slick with animal fat.  The sledge glides easily through the snow. 

Scene 19:  Skar Crombie pushes the sledge all night through the thickly falling snow.  The Storm Hags have whipped up the most ferocious snowstorms for man or beast.  It is late in the winter.  The milder spring weather is only a few weeks away.  Skar Crombie is anxious to reach the western coast of the Highlands.  From there he and the boy must make the dangerous sea crossing to the islands.

Scene 20:  The boy with the red hair is wide awake.  He stares around him in wonder at the violent whiteness of the snow.  He cannot see more than a few feet in front of him.  The man pushing the sledge seems to know exactly where he is going and he keeps the sledge moving briskly through the snow.  At the edge of a steep ravine,  Skar Crombie stops, just for a moment, to catch his breath.  He rubs his frozen hands together in their fur mittens and glances quickly around in order to get his bearings.  The sledge slowly begins to slide down the steep ravine.  Before Skar Crombie can stop it, the sledge is sliding treacherously toward the snowy bottom of the ravine. 

Scene 21:  Skar Crombie throws back his massive head and roars in rage.  He bolts after the sledge.   The bear-man hurls himself over the edge of the ravine and grabs the back of the sledge and holds tight.   He cannot stop the careening descent of the sledge but he can control its direction.  The boy gasps and holds onto his carved bear tightly as the sledge skids, and skitters over the rocks and snow.  It is a wild, frantic ride.  The boy with the red hair can only hang on for dear life.  He dares not look back to see what has happened to the black-bearded man.

Scene 22:  The sledge plows through the snow and slams into solid rock.  The boy is thrown from the sledge and disappears into the deep snow.  Skar Crombie tumbles backwards as the snow swirls around him, cursing under his breath.





Scene 23:  Stillness.  A hushed silence.  Skar Crombie stands and shakes the snow off himself and searches for the boy.  He reaches into the snow and yanks the boy out by the scruff of his neck.  The boy with the red hair blinks and dangles in the air.  Skar Crombie growls: “We’re here.”

Scene 24:  The rock that the sledge crashed into is a cromlech—the remnants of an ancient burial mound long forgotten among the stones.  Three large upright stones, weighing several tons each, form the sides of the cromlech.  A fourth stone serves as a roof over the structure. 

Now here’s another wee flashback…


Flashback:  While Skar Crombie had been searching for the boy with the red hair he had come across this cromlech and had cached a supply of dry firewood, nuts and berries.  He had strewn fresh bracken on the floor and had stuffed the open cracks with thick moss.  He had arranged stones in the center to serve as a fire pit.  In the center of the fire pit he had placed a large flat stone on which the fire could be built. 

            Skar Crombie had planned to bring the boy to this cromlech so that they could rest for a few days, and gather their strength, before making the arduous trek over the rugged Highlands to the west coast.  They could shelter in the cromlech while waiting for the Storm Hags to put an end to the snowstorm.

Scene 25:  Skar Crombie cradles the boy in his huge arms and carries him into the cromlech.  It is pitch black inside.  It is deathly cold.  Dank.  But it is a good shelter from the snowstorm. 

Skar Crombie sets the boy down on a large stone and grabs several pieces of wood and dried bracken and moss.  The large man huddles over the makings of a fire.  He takes out a worn piece of flint and striking stone.  In a few minutes a thin spiral of smoke begins to rise.  The boy can hear a faint crackling sound.  He knows that the man has lit a fire.  And the fire, to the boy, meant life.  The boy lets out his breath.  He had been holding it without realizing he was doing so.


Scene 26:  In a gruff voice Skar Crombie tells the boy to stay by the fire.  He brings in the rest of the fur skins and rucksack from the sledge.  In a dry corner, close to the fire, Skar Crombie arranges the furs to make a sleeping place for the boy.  Skar Crombie tells the boy to wrap himself in the furs and warm himself by the fire.   Silently, the boy obeys.

Once Skar Crombie has the boy settled he strides out the door and upends the sledge over the entrance to the cromlech.  The sledge serves as a rough door to keep out the blowing snow.  Skar Crombie hangs several of the extra fur skins over the inside of the door to provide further protection from the relentless wind.  The only light inside the cromlech comes from the wee fire.

Scene 27:  Skar Crombie sets three of the larger sticks to form a tripod on the flat stone in the fire pit.  He lashes the sticks together with strong sinew and rigs a small chain from the top of the tripod just over the fire.  The black-bearded man takes out a small skin bag, blackened by many fires.  He fills the bag with snow and hangs it over the fire.  As long as the skin bag has liquid in it, it will not burn. 

 The boy watches as Skar Crombie takes out dried strips of meat and dried berries and places them carefully on a flat stone.  From another skin bag he takes out dull, dried leaves.  The boy can smell their fragrance as Skar Crombie crushes them in his fingers.  Tea.   The snow melts into water and in a short time the water begins to boil.  Skar Crombie adds the tea leaves first.  Once the tea is made he pours some of the hot liquid into two small horn cups.  One for the boy.  One for himself.  

 From deep within his fur coat he takes out the greatest prize of all: a sticky piece of honeycomb.  Skar Crombie breaks off a small piece of the honeycomb and drops it in the boy’s bitter tea.  The boy is amazed and delighted.  The two drink their tea in silence.    Skar Crombie then adds strips of meat and dried berries to the boiling tea in the skin bag hanging over the fire.  Water is too precious to waste. The meat and berries will turn the tea into thin, watery soup.  This will be their staple diet until they reach the Western Sea.

Scene 28:  Skar Crombie and the boy with the red hair shelter in the cromlech for five days and nights.  They speak very little.  The boy fondles his carved bear lovingly.  On the third day, feeling a bit braver, the boy with the red hair had pointed to the bearlike man and asked: “What is your name?”  Skar Crombie remains silent.  When the boy asks the question several more times Skar Crombie stares hard at him and grunts:  “Skar Crombie.”   

Emboldened, the boy asks: “Are you taking me back to my family?”  Skar Crombie growls: “No!”  He is not taking the boy back to his family.  For a moment the boy sits quietly, stroking his carved bear.  Then the boy asks: “How long will we stay in this place?”  Skar Crombie roars “Until it is time to move on,” and turns his back to the boy.

Scene 29:  The snowstorm ends.  Skar Crombie and the boy with the red hair continue on their long journey to the Western Sea.  The journey takes three weeks.  The boy with the red hair no longer fears the gruff, bear-man.  They leave the higher ground and begin making their way toward the sea.  There is less snow and the ground becomes muddy and treacherous.  There are bogs and marshes.  They abandon the sledge.  Once again Skar Crombie crams what provisions and furs that remain into his large rucksack.  He makes a small rucksack for the boy so that he can carry his share of the burden.

Scene 30:  They reach the Western Sea.  Skar Crombie scouts the area from the highest cliff.  He and the boy trek northwards, following the coastline.  They travel for four days until they reach a sheltered cove that is littered with a great number of tumbled stones.  Skar Crombie tells the boy that they will make camp here and wait.   “Wait for what?” the boy asks.  Skar Crombie grunts: “We wait.”

Are you ready to continue with the story?

Scene 31:  They make camp.  Skar Crombie and the boy with the red hair gather stones and construct a small, rough beehive shaped bothy.  The bothy is just large enough for the two to crawl into along with the fur skins and provisions.  The boy feels safe with the large man.   He trusts the black-bearded man.  On the fourth night in the camp, the boy asks if the Mad Marauders attacked his family’s settlement.   Skar Crombie hesitates and answers: “Aye.  You are the only survivor of your clan.”

Scene 32:  Every day Skar Crombie stares out to sea.  He watches for something or someone.  The boy watches him wondering what he is looking for.  A week passes.  The boy with the red hair gathers shellfish along the shoreline.  Something makes him look up.  He is startled when he sees a flotilla of six small skin-covered boats bobbing on the surface of the sea coming toward the shore.  Are these the Mad Marauders?  The boy drops his shellfish and runs to tell Skar Crombie.  But Skar Crombie has already seen the boats and he is waving his arms over his head to signal them.

OK, we’ll continue on with the story…

Scene 33:  Six small boats crunch onto the rocky shore.  The boy stands beside Skar Crombie and stares in amazement as the people in the boats scramble out.  They are men.  But they are not much taller than the small boy.  Skar Crombie tells the boy that these men are called “First Footers”.  Their bodies are tattooed blue and brown all over.  Skar Crombie tells the boy that they are clever with their hands—they are diggers and miners; forever digging for the raw materials from the earth to forge into bronze and iron.  The First Footers will make the dangerous crossing to the islands with Skar Crombie and the boy.  These men will help Skar Crombie build a skin-covered boat large enough to carry the giant man and the boy to the islands.  Their payment will be permission to settle permanently on one of the islands.

I need to give you another flashback here…

Flashback: The Mad Marauders have killed nearly the entire clan of First Footers.  These remaining few are a small handful of survivors.  They seek protection from Skar Crombie and a new life.  When the Atecotti sent Skar Crombie on the quest to find the boy with the red hair they had told him to seek out these diminutive men out and ask for their help.   Skar Crombie had found the surviving Foot Footers hiding in the crags among the bracken and heather far to the north.

Scene 34:  The First Footers are an ancient race of small statured people from the northernmost reaches of the Highlands.  Later, they will be called Picts.   The boy sees that the First Footers scrambling out of the skin boats are not only men, but women and children as well.  The six small boats hold at least forty First Footers.  Skar Crombie greets one of the First Footers by name: Elb.  They seem to be friends, or at least on friendly terms. 

Elb is tiny standing beside Skar Crombie.  Elb and the male First Footers gather around the fire to talk with Skar Crombie while the females and children drag the skin boats onto the shore.  The small boats are turned upside down and become makeshift shelters for the First Footers.  The women and children gather driftwood and shellfish from the shore.  Wee fires are lit by each upturned boat and small iron cauldrons are set over the fires.  The boy watches the activity with great interest. 

Scene 35:  Skar Crombie and Elb discuss how to build a skin boat that will be large enough to carry him and the boy, all their provisions, as well as four male First Footers who will help paddle the boat.  Time is pressed.   Elb tells Skar Crombie that the sea will be calm enough to make the crossing in another week when the moon is full and the tide is high.  Even so, the crossing will be dangerous, not only from the unpredictable sea and wild storms, but also from the constant threat of meeting the Mad Marauders…and sea monsters.





OK, now you’re wondering what’s happening with Skar Crombie and the boy with the red hair…

Scene 36:  Skar Crombie, Elb, and the First Footer men construct a watertight skin-covered boat that is large enough to carry the giant man, the boy, and four First Footers who will  paddle and help control the boat on the open sea.  The men use the giant ribs of a beached whale for the skeleton of the boat.  Sealskin is used for the covering; fat is rendered so that it can be used to waterproof the boat.  It will take eight days to build the boat.

Scene 37:  On the fourth day, as the men and Skar Crombie work on the boat, the women and children and the boy with red hair collect seaweed, shellfish, and driftwood.  They do this every day.  Suddenly, one of the tiny girls screams and points out to sea.  Several large, black boats are fast approaching the shore where the smoke from the fires drifts skyward signaling habitation.

Scene 38:  The women and children scramble from the shore and scatter among the rocks, hiding themselves as best they can.  They seem to disappear into the grey-green landscape.  Skar Crombie and the men rush to meet the invaders.  Mad Marauders.  Faarlanders.   Wolves of the Sea.  Skar Crombie has no time to hide the boy before the Mad Marauders swarm from the boats onto the beach.  Their shrieks and yells freeze the blood of the First Footers. 

The diminutive men seem like children compared to these rough seamen and Skar Crombie.  The Mad Marauders slay several First Footers within minutes of landing.   Screaming in agony from the violent blows from the Mad Marauders’ axes and swords, the stout First Footers collapse to the ground writhing in agony.  Their mutilated bodies thrash on the rocky shore like forgotten gutted fish.  The Mad Marauders spy the boy with the red hair and scramble toward him.  Skar Crombie realizes that there is only one hope if he is to save the boy.

Scene 39:  The boy runs toward Skar Crombie seeking protection.  As the boy reaches the spot where Skar Crombie stands, suddenly the man is no longer there.  In his place is a gigantic black bear.  The bear rears up on its hind legs and roars its rage at the Mad Marauders.  The boy is stunned to see the bear again.  Instantly, he realizes that the bear is Skar Crombie. 

Scene 40:  In the form of a massive black bear Skar Crombie lunges at the Mad Marauders.  With swift swipes of his massive paws he slays the demented men as they try to encircle him.  Emboldened by the sight of the bear the First Footers run to help the bear fight against the Mad Marauders.  The small men duck and dodge the blows from huge axes and swords, and are too fast for the Mad Marauders to catch and kill.  The Mad Marauders’ attention is locked onto the black bear.  Its rage and throaty roars are deafening.  No sword or axe can strike the large black bear.  In a blind fury the bear rips off heads and arms of the Faarlanders.  Their fallen bodies litter the beach.  As more and more of the invaders die from the powerful blows of the bear and deep spear wounds from the First Footers, the remaining Mad Marauders turn and flee to their boats.  They plunge into the icy water and scramble into their boats, bleeding and cursing, and push off from the rocky shore.  Screaming with newfound courage, the First Footers shake their fists and hurl spears and curses at the retreating Faarlanders.   

Skar Crombie drops to all fours, turns and faces the boy.   Even on all fours the gigantic bear towers over the boy with the red hair.   The boy is not afraid.

Scene 41:  Skar Crombie stares at the boy.  He shakes his massive head and growls.  The boy does not flinch.  The huge bear thrusts his face close to the boy’s face. The boy breathes in the bear’s breath and immediately is calmed.  His heart stops pounding and he can breathe more easily. 

Scene 42:  Skar Crombie leaves the boy standing quietly alone and disappears among the huge rocks.  Within moments he returns in the shape of the large, black-bearded man.  The boy with the red hair runs to him and throws his thin arms around Skar Crombie’s waist.  The bearlike man softly strokes the boy’s head.  There is an unspoken understanding between them.

Scene 43:   That night, Elb and the First Footers celebrate their victory around their meager campfires.  They gathered swords and axes and other useful items from the bodies of the fallen Mad Marauders before placing all the bodies together and covering them with a huge cairn of stones.  Skar Crombie is silent and stares into the fire.  He and the boy sit close together sharing the evening meal.   Sitting quietly by the fire Skar Crombie makes a tiny skin-covered boat for the boy’s carved bear.

Scene 44:  Elb and Skar Crombie rise early the next day and stare out to sea.  Elb scoops up a small handful of seawater and tastes it.  He nods his head.  The time has come to launch the boats and to begin the treacherous journey to the Islands on the Edge.  As quickly as they had set up their camp, the women and children break down their makeshift shelters and drag the skin-covered boats to the edge of the sea.  They pad the bottoms of the boats with waterproof skins and dry bracken.  Water skins are filled with fresh water.  The water will have to until they reach the nearest of the Outer Islands where they can refill the water skins.

Scene 45:  The boats are ready.  The First Footers place the women and children in the six smaller boats, covering them with soft furs and hides to protect them from the sun, wind, and icy cold water that splash into the boats.  Elb chooses the four men who will travel with Skar Crombie and the boy with red hair.  These men have never paddled such a large boat before.  Their faces show apprehension but no fear.  The boy stands silently beside Skar Crombie.  His small hand reaches for the man’s strong, hairy hand.  Skar Crombie squeezes the boy’s hand reassuringly.  He looks down and smiles at the boy.  This is the first time he has ever smiled at the boy.  In his other hand the boy clutches the tiny boat and the carved figure of the bear.

Scene 46:  The boats are pushed out to sea.  The journey to the Islands on the Edge begins.

Scene 47:  Like the smaller skin boats, Skar Crombie’s boat is lined with waterproof sealskins with bracken underneath to help keep their feet dry.  The boy sits still as stone in the middle of the boat, huddled between Skar Crombie’s massive legs.   He has never been in a boat before.   He has never been on the Great Sea. 

Two First Footers sit in the bow of the boat; two sit in the stern.  Skar Crombie sits in the middle.   His great weight must be kept balanced so that the boat does not capsize.  The five men paddle the boat out to sea without mishap. Three small boats on either side flank the larger boat. 

Scene 48:  The first few days at sea are calm.  They come within sight of the Outer Islands and keep them to their left.  The Outer Islands lie to the west where the sun disappears each evening.  The First Footers are strong boatmen.  Skar Crombie keeps his eye on the distant horizon.  Watching.   Watching.

Scene 49:  Five days after they began their journey the sky turns a leaden grey.  A dark storm approaches.  Skar Crombie tucks the boy under the warm fur skins and covers him with seal skins.  He lashes down their provisions and braces his legs against the sides of the boat.  The First Footers in the smaller boats do the same.   The storm is upon them in a blinding instant.  Lightning flashes.  Thunder crashes overhead.  The boy shivers in the bottom of the boat.  He is terrified.  The boats are tossed about on the waves like bladders.  The skin-covered boats are sea-worthy and ride the waves easily.  The boy with the red hair is violently seasick.

Scene 50:  The storm ends.  As all storms do.  All seven boats survive.  No one is lost at sea.  Everyone is wet and bedraggled but will dry out soon enough.  The boy with the red hair recovers from his seasickness but looks pale and wan.   Skar Crombie gently holds the small boy and murmurs to him softly under his breath.




Scene 51:  The boats make for the northernmost shore of the Outer Islands so that fresh water could be found.  The women and children scramble out of the boats and quickly swarm over the land searching for fresh water.  Several women and children frantically gather shellfish in the shallows.  Fresh food is scarce.  They all eat dried fish and strips of tough, dried meat.  Everything is eaten cold.  Skar Crombie and the boy with the red hair chew the dried meat slowly, making it last. 

Scene 52:  The sea journey continues peacefully.  Skar Crombie tells the boy that they should reach the Islands on the Edge within seven days, if all goes well.  The danger of meeting the Mad Marauders on the sea looms ever present.  The small boats would stand no chance against the larger boats and more experienced seamen on the open waters.

Scene 53:  The day is calm.  The boats skim across the endless water.  Elb scans the horizon and guides the boats with his hand to keep them on course.  There is no rest for the paddlers.  Their arms ache.  Their hands are blistered raw from the constant spray of sea water.  Suddenly a hideous spiked head rises from the sea near one of the smaller boats.  The women and children in the boat scream in terror.  The men paddle furiously but the sea monster is too close.   Its eyes blaze blood red.  Its fangs drip green slime as it crashes down on the tiny boat, sinking it instantly. 

Skar Crombie and the boy with the red hair watch in horror as the sea monster thrashes the water with its gigantic body and tail.  The First Footers are thrown into the boiling water.  The sea monster seizes the flailing bodies of the men, women, and children, biting some in half and swallowing others whole.

There is nothing anyone can do except paddle away from the scene of carnage as quickly as possible.  The boy with the red hair looks back over his shoulder and watches as the sea monster searches the waters for all the victims.  He bows his head and grips his tiny boat and carved bear tightly, trembling uncontrollably between Skar Crombie’s powerful legs.

Scene 54:  The boy is stunned.  He does not move.   The boy looks up at Skar Crombie, almost not recognizing him.  Skar Crombie’s eyebrows, moustache, and beard are bleached white by the salt spray of the sea.  His face is tanned to a leathery brown.  The boy’s skin has been kept covered from the sun.  His skin is too fair for the strong rays and he would fry under the blazing sun if exposed for too long. 

Unexpectedly, Elb cries out:  “Land!” 

The six boats have reached the Islands on the Edge.

Scene 55:  Skar Crombie is relieved to see his islands again.  He is now in familiar waters and directs the other boats to follow.  The islands are rugged but not barren.  A thick white mist hovers above them.  Skar Crombie tells the boy that the white mist is the last remnant of the dragons’ breath from a long forgotten time when dragons roamed the islands, imbuing them with their powerful magic and mystery.

Scene 56:  The six boats make landing in a small sheltered cove on the largest island.  The First Footers and Skar Crombie give thanks to Erce, the Great Mother.  Skar Crombie thanks the First Footers for being such stalwart sailors and brave fighters and tells them that the Atecotti will grant them permission to settle on the easternmost island that the Oldest Old Ones have named Hylde: The Hidden Island. 

The First Footers are pleased.  They are eager to go to their own island and make camp before nightfall.  Elb and Skar Crombie grasp forearms and bid one another farewell.  Skar Crombie and the boy wave their arms in farewell to the First Footers as they make their final journey by boat to their own island, Hylde.  The First Footers will never make another journey by boat again.

Scene 57:  Skar Crombie and the boy stand alone on the rocky shore.  The black-bearded man tells the boy that his cottage is in the northern reaches of the main island in the region that the bears call Mowdie.   It will take several days to reach the cottage.  The terrain is rugged and not easily crossed.  The two begin their trek to Skar’s Gaard, Skar Crombie’s home.  As always, the boy with the red hair carries his toy boat and carved bear close to heart.

Scene 58:  Skar Crombie’s cottage sits on the edge of the great Northwoods.  It is made of wood and living grass grows on the roof.  The boy is delighted to see such a marvelous house.  It is nothing like the primitive, leaky half sunken round hut his family lived in. 

Skar Crombie’s cottage is crammed with all sorts of odds and ends that the boy has never seen before—hornets’ nests, large clay pots and bowls, large mugs, large creels, thick furs, and gigantic carved tables and chairs.   There is a huge rounded stone fireplace where a large black kettle sits, as if waiting for Skar Crombie’s return.  It is a comfortable home.  The two settle quietly into Skar Crombie’s cottage. 

Every day Skar Crombie gives the boy chores and small tasks to do in and around the cottage.   The boy doesn’t mind.  And he is happy to be useful.  The boy plays with his skin-covered boat and carved bear and acts out wild adventures with them.  One bright sunny day the boy with the red hair looks up from his play and watches Skar Crombie.   The boy with the red hair asks:  “Are you a man or a bear?”  Skar Crombie stares out the window.  He does not answer the boy’s question.   

Over the weeks and months a strong bond has grown between the bear and the boy.  The boy feels safe and protected with the brusque, burly bear-man.

Scene 59:  In time, when the leaves turned bright red, golden yellow, and began to drift down onto the cottage, the Oldest Old Ones, the Atecotti, send a message to Skar Crombie.  They tell Skar Crombie that he is to bring the boy to the standing stone circle, called The Pipers, on the tiny island-within-an-island named Eynhallow:  the Hallowed Isle.  The Pipers is the most powerful standing stone circles in the islands.  It is has five huge standing stones—one stone for each of the five Atecotti. 

            “Who are the Atecotti,” the boy with the red hair asks.   And much to his surprise, Skar Crombie tells him their story.

            “The Atecotti are the Oldest Old Ones,” Skar Crombie says.  “On a becalmed, mist-conjured day, they wandered out of the Timeless Mists onto the rugged west coast of North Island, that is now called Skrael.”

            Skar Crombie rubs his black beard thoughtfully, takes a deep breath, and closes his eyes. He begins a slow, rhythmic chant:

Thence came the Atecotti

who know much,

            Three from the hall beneath the stones:

            The first was named Grainne (That Which Is)      

The second, Nuala

(That Which Has Been).

            The third was named Oona

(That Which Should Become).

            Two from the hall beneath the oak:

            The fourth was named Aengus (Origin),

            The fifth, Gaeth (Becoming).


            “The trows tell the tale that when the five Atecotti walked out of the Timeless Mists, having walked from the Land of the Midnight Sun far, far to the east, across the Widest Sea, it was the beginning of the Misty Age—the Age of the Dragons.  The trows, or Skraelings, as they are sometimes called, are the descendants of these five Atecotti.”

            The boy with the red hair sits silently, not moving, fascinated as he listens to the story.

            “There are five Atecotti,” says Skar Crombie.  “According to trow beliefs, it is the Atecotti that choose the lives for the Children of the Ages, the trows.  And know the fates of men and bears.  It was the Atecotti that brought their beliefs with them regarding the Mother Goddess, the Great Mother, Erce.”

            Skar Crombie continues his tale:

            “The trows are great lovers of stone.  That is what the word ‘trow’ means—he who loves stone.   The Atecotti passed on this great love of stone to the trows.    When the Atecotti first arrived in the islands they erected five solitary stones throughout the islands through which they could be — aware, of the life of the islands.”   Skar Crombie yawned loudly.

            “You can’t stop now!” cried the boy with the red hair.   Skar Crombie smiled and said:

            “Well, Grainne erected her stone in the farthermost northeastern reaches of the largest island, the Ooterlands.  It is called the Winter Stone.  The power of this stone is greatest in the long, dark winter months.

            Nuala chose Moel Terre for her stone.  It is called the Summer Stone and is a powerful stone during the months of growing.

            And Oona chose the northern reaches of Moel Weorpe for her stone.  It is called the Autumn Stone.   Its power is greatest in the changeable autumn months.

            These three stones are revered most by the women in the islands.

            Gaeth, one of the two males, chose Moolland, the wettest, low-lying region in the southern part of the large island.   His stone is called the Spring Stone.  And, of course, it is most powerful during the early springtime months.

            And that leaves only Aengus.  His stone is not connected to the seasons.  His stone is a darker, more mysterious stone called ‘Mên Scryfa’—the Written Stone.  Of these five powerful standing stones Men Scryfa is the most secret, most hidden, and perhaps the most powerful.   It is said that the fates of men, trows, and bears are written on the heart of this stone.  Aengus placed his stone deep in the treacherous Fens.”

            The boy’s eyes are wide open as he listens to this marvelous tale.

            Skar Crombie stretches his huge arms wide and smiles at the boy.

            “Are these standing stones still here in the islands?” asks the boy with the red hair.

            “Of course, they are,” Skar Crombie growls.  “I will take you to visit each stone, if the Atecotti allow it.”

            Skar Crombie finishes the story by telling the boy that it was the Atecotti who erected the powerful stone circle called the Pipers.  

            “Each stone in the circle is a soul-link to each of the Atecotti.  Be aware when you step inside this great circle.”

            The boy with the red hair holds his breath.  He has never heard such a story like this one before!

Scene 60:  Skar Crombie and the boy with the red hair make the long trek to Eynhallow on the appointed day of the meeting with the Atecotti.  The boy is nervous.  Anxious.  His small hand constantly seeks Skar Crombie’s hand for reassurance.  The large man grabs the boy by the arms and swings him up onto his shoulders.  He can walk much faster than the boy is able to keep up.  At dusk they reach the water’s edge of the loch that surrounds and protects Eynhallow. 

The mists hovered thickly over the water.  There is a small dugout boat waiting with a sturdy boatman at the helm.  The boatman will ferry them through the thick mists to Eynhallow.  The Atecotti wait for the two within the protection of The Pipers.

And now we come to the very special part of the story.  This is where the boy with the red hair first meets the Oldest Old Ones…

Scene 61:  Meeting the Atecotti.  Skar Crombie and the boy step out of dugout boat and slowly walk to the center of the small island where the magical standing stone circle stands.  They see the five Atecotti, each one standing silently beside one of the five standing stones.  The boy observes that each Atecotti resembles the stone by which it stands, or the stone resembles the Atecotti. 

            Skar Crombie and the boy with the red hair greet the strange looking figures that stand silently waiting.  The Oldest Old Ones bow to Skar Crombie and the boy. 

            “Well-come, Skar Crombie,” says one of the females in a deep dry voice.  It is Nuala. 

            The man bows his head before the Oldest Old Ones.  The Atecotti cannot take their eyes off the boy with the red hair.  The Atecotti ask Skar Crombie to tell them of his quest and trials in finding the boy with the red hair.  And Skar Crombie tells them the entire story from beginning to end, barely pausing for breath.

            When Skar Crombie finishes his tale the Atecotti turn to the small boy.   One of the males, Aengus, leans low to the boy and it a dry, deep voice says:

            “Your Fate and Destiny lie here in these ancient islands.  The Orphir, the Stone of Truth, has foretold of your greatness.  We will train you and guide you as best we can so that you may fulfill your life’s path.  And if you are willing, Skar Crombie will be your Guardian and Protector throughout your life’s journey.  He will stay by your side wherever you go, so long as you are content with his companionship.  He will be with you always.  At all times.” 

            The boy with the red hair is silent.  He stares wide eyed at the Atecotti.  But, he is no longer afraid.   Slowly, he nods his head.  He has no words for these strange creatures.

            “From this day forward you will be called Maol Rudha: The Red Maol.  Your totem, as it was revealed to us, is that of the secretive and hidden mole.   And the wee moles that dig deep down underground will be your scuppers, your messengers in the islands.   Any time you need to speak with us you only have to send a scupper.   Or, come to these standing stones and send us your message to us using the power of the stones.”

            As Skar Crombie had done, the boy, now called Maol Rudha, bows his head to the Atecotti.

            “W have only one gift for you, Maol Rudha.  It is the same gift we bestowed upon Skar Crombie.   You, too, will become a shapeshifter.  And will have the ability to change your shape as suits your need when necessary.”




Scene 62:  You need to know that at this time the Atecotti instructed Maol Rudha and Skar Crombie to establish a settlement in the far southwest tip of the largest island on a small, rugged island protected by strong tidal waters.

            “In time,” says Gaeth.  “You, Maol Rudha, and your companion, Skar Crombie, will protect and keep these islands well hidden from the Outside World—especially the Faarlanders, who crave to possess the magic in these islands.  More than anything else they covet The Magic and Mystery of the Three Great Sleeping Dragons.” 

            It is Grainne who speaks now and says:

            “Maol Rudha, Skar Crombie, the two of you will found the Cymry of Maols—the Brotherhood of Mythographers.   Others will come to join the Cymry—men, bears, trows, and even First Footers.  Choose your companions wisely.” 

            Oona places her large leathery hand, with its gnarled and twisted fingers on Maol Rudha’s small shoulders.

            “Your greatest life’s task will be to keep the myths and stories of the islands alive and remembered.  When a story is allowed to perish, so do the people whose duty it was to keep the story remembered.  When a story is forgotten, it dies.  And when the story dies so do these.  Never forget these words.”

            The Oldest Old Ones look deeply into Maol Rudha’s and Skar Crombie’s hearts, as if to make certain that they understand the words that they are hearing.        

The white mists thicken and swirl around them.  The Atecotti, the Oldest Old Ones fade into its shrouded mystery.  Maol Rudha and Skar Crombie are alone.   They can hear, or feel, the soft breath of The Pipers around them.

Scene 63:  Slowly, Skar Crombie and Maol Rudha make their way back to Skar’s Gaarde.   They pack only the belongings that they will need with them to their new home.   Skar Crombie softly closes the heavy door of the cottage.   He places his large hand against the ancient wood as if saying good-bye to the home he has loved nearly his entire life. 

            Skar Crombie turns away from the door and takes Maol Rudha by the hand.  Together, they make the journey by boat down the western coast of the islands.  They reach the tiny island that will become their new home.  Over the course of the next few months, Skar Crombie and Maol Rudha build a cluster of small bothys—for shelter and for storage.  They call their new home Moolstery—the Place of Maols.   In time these first bothys will become known as Old Moolstery.

Scene 64:  Skar Crombie and Maol Rudha spend many months walking throughout the islands, talking to everyone they encounter and listening to their stories.  The boy with the red hair, Maol Rudha, asks a thousand questions, about a thousand things the see and hear.   They meet islanders of every type—crofters, fishermen, villagers, craftsmen—men, women, island bears, trows, and First Footers (who travel to the main island to barter their metal goods for other items).  From time to time they visit the Atecotti and are taught to read and write by the venerable Oldest Old Ones.   The Atecotti teach Maol Rudha and Skar Crombie the Great Secrets of the islands as well as the depths of their mysteries. 

            It is the beginning of Maol Rudha’s and Skar Crombie’s understanding of the Great Mysteries in the islands—the three dragons that lie sleeping beneath the rocky islands; the magic of the white mists—-dragon’s breath; the Mystery of the Ley Lines; the Mystery of the Mool Dykes; and the greatest mystery of all—how the standing stones breathe and communicate.

Scene 65:  Many winters pass.  Maol Rudha grows into a handsome young man.  He and Skar Crombie share a deep and abiding love for one another.   They are as one, inseparable.  They will spend a lifetime together, never to be parted.   And just as the Atecotti had predicted, in time, men, bears, trows, and a First Footer join them at Moolstery.  More beehive bothys are built.   Maol Rudha and Skar Crombie carefully choose the new maols to join the Cymry of Maols: The Brotherhood of Mythographers. 

            With the strength of the men, and the knowledge of the stones from the trows, Skar Crombie and Maol Rudha draw the plans for the expansion of Moolstery: the Scriptorium, where maols can collect and study books and stories, will become the heart of the settlement.  Living quarters, studios, and other buildings are built surrounding the Scriptorium.   All the buildings and structures are round with stone or slate roofs.  Everything is built of stone. 

            The First Footer, Dunaddy Strongarm, calls upon his kindred to come to Moolstery in order to dig the deep Catacombs and secret tunnels that will serve the settlement for centuries to come.  Only maols will be buried in the Catacombs and their stores along with them.

Scene 66:  Maol Rudha becomes the Penkyrdd of the Cymry of Maols—Head of the Brotherhood of Mythographers.   Maol Rudha and Skar Crombie, following the advice of the Atecotti, decide that there will be twenty-four maols that will always dwell at Moolstery.  There will be twelve “moermaols”— master maols, including Maol Rudha, Skar Crombie.   And twelve ‘maermaols’—steward maols.  They Cymry of Maols will guard and protect the ancient standing stone circles, or ‘rigs’, that had been built by the Atecotti and the oldest trows.  

            In time, each of the twenty-four maols will have two apprentice maols, ‘maolts,’ who will serve them.    Each maolt must undergo five initiations and will study for twelve long years at Moolstery in order to become a fully fledged maol.

Scene 67:  On a dark stormy night, the Atecotti meet Maol Rudha and Skar Crombie at the Pipers on Eynhallow and tell that the white mists are thinning, fading.  

            The Cymry must protect the islands from being discovered and beware that the Wolves from the Faarlands who have become aware of existence and ancient magic in the islands.   The Oldest Old Ones tell Maol Rudha and Skar Crombie that they must befriend the nine sacred skeely-wifes of the Cymrood of Skeely-wifes—the Sisterhood of Healers and Charmers—in order to ensure that the islands remain safely hidden.  

            The skeely-wifes are the only ones who are able to call down the white mists, dragons’ breath, that hide and protect the islands in times of great peril. Maol Rudha and Skar Crombie seek out the three oldest skeely-wifes—Ancrene Wisse, Ancrene Rood, and Ancrene Riwles, and ask for their help.   It was these three powerful skeely-wifes that founded the Cymrood with Ancrene Wisse as it Penwryn.

Scene 68:  The Cymry of Maols and the Cymrood of Skeely-Wifes join forces to protect the islands from invasions.  

            It was a bleak, dreary day when the Faarlanders slipped through the White Mists.   The islanders fought the Mad Marauders with all their heart and strength. Skar Crombie was killed in a ferocious battle in the Fens. 

            Maol Rudha is heartbroken and lost with his constant companion.   On Hallows Eve, Skar Crombie returned to his beloved companion as ghost.   The ghost of Skar Crombie reminds Maol Rudha of the words that the Atecotti had spoken:  “He will be with you always.”  Even in death Skar Crombie remains faithful to the boy with red hair and protects him from all dangers.

Scene 69:  During the Black Years of Invasion the islands and islanders suffer greatly.  The Atecotti tell Maol Rudha that the worst years are yet to come.  The Oldest Old Ones tell him that he will be needed at a “time when the islands will seem without hope.” 

            At this time, the Atecotti tell Maol Rudha that there is only one way that he, and he alone, will be able to protect the islands in their darkest hour—he must be placed into an enchanted sleep by the three wisest skeely-wifes—Ancrene Wisse, Ancrene Rood, and Ancrene Riwles.  And he will be reawakened at the time when he is most needed.  

            Maol Rudha is astounded and alarmed by this news.   But he agrees to let himself be placed in the enchanted sleep.  

            “Skar Crombie will guard and protect you during your long, long sleep,” Aengus tells him.   “He will be with you always.”

Scene 70:  For nearly a thousand years Maol Rudha sleeps the sleep of the dead in a tightly sealed stone cist deep in the Catacombs beneath the Scriptorium.   His body is constantly guarded by the ghost of Skar Crombie, who has become known as the 13th Maol, or Old Dobby.  

            At the time of Maol Rudha’s re-awakening, the Atecotti are now living mummies, guarded and protected by the trows, or skraelings, on Skrael—the farthermost tiny island in the archipelago.   

            The Cymry of Maols has a succession of Penkrydds.  And each new Penkrydd learns, and safeguards, the dark secret of Maol Rudha’s enchanted sleep.

Scene 71:  It is Hennock Pyn, the Penwryn of the Cymrood, that wakes Maol Rudha from his long enchanted sleep.   She is a trow-wife, ancient beyond winters.  Together, Maol Rudha and Hennock Pyn become the two most powerful and revered inhabitants in the islands.   They learn from the Storm Hags that the prophecy of the “a boy who will come and a boy who will leave.”

            What boy will come?  What boy will leave?  Who is this boy?

Scene 72:  Hennock Pyn consults the Skeel Peek stone in the Noorderlands, not far from her small bothy, Henwoodie, to learn who this boy is.  At the Skeel Peek stone she discovers a dark, dark secret regarding the taboo marriage between a bear named Brom Powys and an island woman named Hanne Bumbry.  

            Hennock Pyn tells Maol Rudha:  “Och, and there be more to learn.  There is a wee bairn.   Two wee bairns!  Twins.”

            Maol Rudha and Hennock Pyn stare at one another for a long moment.  Then Maol Rudha says:  “A boy who will come and a boy who will leave.”

Scene 72:  On a cold winter’s night, Brom and Hanne Powys receive a mysterious message from Moebius Myr, the scupper mole that serves Maol Rudha.  The message tells them that they must seek the ancient skeely-wife, Hennock Pyn, in the Noorderlands.  

 Scene 73: The Prologue begins.


Moel Eyris Studio at Henwoodie




/* Style Definitions */
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;


Note:  You can read the Prologue to The Secret Book of Moolstery at my website.

Interestingly enough, a Hollywood studio contacted me after watching the videos on Youtube and wondered if I would let them read these scenes.  I sent the scenes to them and they liked them so much they asked if it might be possible for me to revise them into the proper screenplay format.

I told them that I would give it a try.  I bought a professional screenplay writing app and several books as to HOW to write screenplays.  In addition I looked up screenplays for movies (such as Raiders of the Lost Ark) and gave the screenplay adaptation of my “scenes” a shot.

My next post will contain the first few pages of the screenplay formatted version of this back story manuscript.

The Genesis of Wythe’s End


It was at 4:30 am on 24 August 2014 when the very first strange sketches were scribbled onto my desk blotter while I was working all night in the studio.

I reached the point where I simply could not draw another cute bear cub or gosling. I had to draw something completely and radically different.

Here are the strange drawings that poured out of the tip of my pencil:

Original Sketches

I called these odd characters The Wide Eyes.  I even spelled it The Wydeyes for effect.

I wanted to create an eccentric family along the lines of the Addams Family, Giles, Calvin and Hobbes, Li’l Abner, and so on.

Very quickly The Wydeyes evolved into The Wythes.  And just as quickly the Wythes began to take on a life of their own.

I always tell writers and illustrators: Never throw out your weirdest or roughest ideas.  Keep them.  You never know just where they may lead you.

From these strange sketches came two books: Wythe’s End and Little Red Riding Gosling.

Final Note: All you need is an idea. There is no great mystery to writing. You don’t need magic to be a good writer, but you can create magic with your writing.

Writing. Just writing.


These past 1 months have been difficult ones for some reason.  They say that when too many extremely happy or tragic events happen in your life in a very short span of time it’s not good for your heart…or soul.

This past year has been just that.  Extremely GREAT things happening and the tragic death of our beloved Molly almost a year ago.  She would have been 9 years old today.

In an attempt to keep from sliding back into the depths of despair and depression I gave myself permission to let go of a couple projects and to do something I love doing more than anything else—writing.  Just writing.

After having made the decision to ease up a bit with two book projects and allowing myself to read and work on Wythe’s End I am feeling happier than I have in a long time.  It’s not that I’ve been unhappy.  I’ve just not been happy.

I allow myself 3-4 hours each afternoon to write, edit, revise parts of Wythe’s End just to stay connected to this project that I am absolutely obsessed with.  If nothing else it gives me the sense that I’m being productive  at least.

I work on picture deadlines all night in the studio as usual.  So, writing during the daylight hours and painting and drawing in the nighttime hours.  I really am a vampire.

I had posted one of my favorite chapters from Wythe’s End so I thought it only fair to show the chart/family trees of the eccentric families that I am writing about: the Wythes and Braithewaites.   These two families have been close friends since 1621 when Josiah Thomas Wythe and Thomas Josiah Braithwaite met onboard the Sunflower and discovered that their names were reversals of one another.  The two men became best friends and their families have remained best friends for 373 years.

You have to remember that the novel, Wythe’s End, is set in 1994, not 2016.

I chose 1994 because it was the last year before I got a computer and connected to the Internet.  For me, it was the last “innocent year” year being off-the-grid.  Nowadays I am more connected than I like to think or ever thought I would be.

Here is the family trees for both the Wythes and Braithewaites:


This chart/family trees work brilliantly for me as a writer because I can see at a glance who is who and in which family and how they are connected.  I didn’t plan this Family Tree I simply laid it out not thinking that I might want to add photos later.  NOW that i see how useful this technique is I will draw another chart/ family trees allowing for inclusion of photos and more notes on each character—key traits that I need to keep in mind while I’m writing.

These family trees for each family go back to 1575 but in my notes for the novel I have actually worked out the families’ history to the 7th century.  Just for my own knowledge (it might come in handy at some future point in time).

When I used to teach writing workshops I always told the story about my fourth grade teacher who used to like to say:  “Today we’re going to write a story!  Start writing!”

Everyone in the class would immediately start scribbling like mad on their paper andI would simply sit there, staring at the blank piece of paper, having no clue as to where to begin.

NOW…if my teacher had said “Draw a picture and then write a story about it.” I would have had no problem whatsoever in getting started.

Today I don’t need this ‘prompt’ to start writing.  But in that I am a visual person it does make it easier when I have a drawing or photograph to look at and start imagining a story from there.

For Wythe’s End I scoured the Internet and photos of friends and families to find photos of people that looked like how I imagined the characters and members of each family would look.   Each photo that I chose to represent a character/family member captures the essence of their personality and style.  It’s a great springboard to have these photos to look at and imagine exactly what each character is like, how they , talk, how they dress, even how they walk.

Some back story about how I got my start in publishing as both a writer and illustrator:  When I first ventured to NYC in 1979 to show my portfolio, meet art directors and editors, there was ONE very small 4″x6″ pen and ink sketch that every single editor and art director commented on and liked.

Here is that sketch:

Chicken Talk

It’s a simple sketch but you can easily see its promise.  Is the chicken talking to the girl or is the girl talking to the chicken?  This is the first question that comes to my mind when I look at this picture.  I have used this picture to demonstrate where to begin writing when I used to do school visits.  Children almost always scream out: THE CHICKEN IS TALKING TO THE GIRL!  And that always prompted me to say “Now…wouldn’t you like to know WHAT that chicken is saying to the girl?”

And from there we would start writing.

All these years later I am following my own writer workshop advice and started writing Wythe’s End by looking at pictures.  Pictures of the house that I imagined a wildly wealthy and eccentric family would live in.  Pictures of the people that I imagined would be a part of this eccentric family and live in the house.  I even went on to use Google Earth to find the exact location where the house would be located between Boston and Plymouth.

I went on to draw maps of the fictional peninsula that Wythe’s End stood, where theta Flying Arcadian railroad tracks would be, where Grebe’s Rest and Gull Cottage would be located; where the Old Cemetery is; where the Salt Marshes are; and so on.

I now know the world of Wythe’s End as well as I do the world of Henwoodie, where I live.

As I write each chapter it’s easy for me to hear the voices of the characters and visualize exactly where they are at any given time.

Yes, I’m back to writing because it keeps me balanced.

Yes, I’m back to drawing and painting because I do love it.

I am a Writer…


I often say that I am a writer that illustrates rather than an illustrator that writes.  Writing comes much more easily to me than illustrating.  To this day I struggle with deadlines to finish the illustrations for any given book.  This ordeal has plagued me since 1982 when I signed my first seven book contracts.   It remains a mystery as to why I get so white knuckled when I’m sitting in the studio at the drawing board working.

But, there you have it.

It’s simply how I am as a writer and illustrator.

A Corner of Studio

A Chapter from Wythe’s End


STUDIO UPDATE: Here’s something I think you might like. As you know, I’m writing a sprawling family saga about one of New England’s oldest, richest, and most eccentric families—the Wythes. I’ve written 18 of the 28 chapters (possibly more, if the story takes odd turnings and needs expanding).

The Wythe’s and Braithwaites have been close friends for 300+ years. The two families founded and still run one of the oldest publishing houses in Boston: Braithwaite & Wythe. The Wythes and Braithwaites live on a 200 acre estate on Cape Haddock called Wythe’s End.

Here is one of the rough drafts for one of my favorite chapters in the book: Chapter 22: Thanksgiving.

You may be lost as to who’s who, but it’s a lively chapter to read.
I’ll be curious to see what you think.

Note 1: The Orcadian is the family’s private narrow gauge railroad that runs between the village of Peequock and Wythe’s End. Ester Pyn is the 203 year old ghost that inhabits and haunts Wythe’s End. The Aunts are lesbian lovers and wildly successful murder mystery writers and had been friends with Agatha Christie. Ester Pyn tells them the details of their bestselling murder mystery series titled: Mind Your Ps & Qs.
Note 2:  Main story line in the novel: 15 year old Phineas (Phin) Wythe is determined to discover the “deep, dark secret” of the Wythe family. WHY did eleven times great-grandfather Josiah Cottington Wythe NOT get the family onboard the Mayflower when it sailed to the New World?

Note 3:  I have written 18 chapters so far.  I stopped working on the novel until I finish the very last outstanding picture book contracts.  I am obsessed with this novel and my reward for finishing 6 last picture book contracts will be to allow myself to finish writing this sprawling family saga about one of New England’s oldest, richest, and most eccentric families—The Wythes.

Notes for the Chapter:
(November) –The family settles into the holiday season with a traditional New England Thanksgiving feast
–Big snowstorm over Thanksgiving
–Augustus cannot leave
–The older boys show Phin another secret passage and tell him an interesting clue
–Ester Pyn makes her presence felt more
Scene: A blizzard blankets Cape Haddock. Wythe’s End is without power. The family gathers in the library where there is a cheery, cozy fire burning as well as oil lamps and candles. They play cards, play RISK, Monopoly, and Clue. But as the night wears on they begin to tell family stories. The children plead with Aunts P & Q to tell them a murder mystery that Ester Pyn told them about.
Scene: Phineas stood and stared out the library windows. The blizzard raged on; snow swirled around Wythe’s End blanketing the house in glistening silence. All the Wythes had gathered in the library where it was snug and warm. A cheery fire burned in the fireplace. Candles and old-fashioned oil lamps gave the warm a warm glow. Everyone was wrapped in their favorite blanket or flannel robe and warmed their hands around hot mugs of coffee or hot chocolate.

Note:  The above are my notes to myself as to what will happen in any given chapter.


With the arrival of Caleb and Mathias life at Wythe’s End felt livelier than ever. Uncle Itchy and his sons took turns firing up the Flying Orcadian and making several trips to Peequock for no other reason than for the sheer pleasure of being together, just the three of them and Scout.

By Monday, the temperature had dropped and the skies became dark and brooding.

“Feels like snow,” said Pab. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if we get snow by Thanksgiving.”
“Just so long as it doesn’t snow until the turkeys and ham are delivered,” said Mab gazing out the windows. “The Aunts say that Ester Pyn predicts a severe winter with lots of snow.”
“We must be the only family with our own weather forecasting ghost,” Pab laughed.
Mab, Pab and I were sitting in the kitchen having a snack that Mrs. Goossens had prepared. A fire crackled in the kitchen hearth making the large kitchen feel cozy and safe. Mab glanced at the antique kitchen clock and compared the time to her watch.
“I do wish those turkeys would get here,” she said. “Then I can relax if it does start snowing. We have everything else we need for the Thanksgiving dinner. I want this year’s dinner to be extra special for Caleb and Mathias. I can tell that those boys are homesick no matter how much bravado they put on.”
“They’re not boys, Iris,” said Pab. “They’re grown men and they’re having a great time pursuing their own interests. Wythe’s End will always be here whenever they need a break or just want to be with family.”

Brynnie opened the kitchen door looked around. She spotted us sitting by the fire.
“Mrs. Wythe, the turkeys are here,” she said excitedly in her soft Scots brogue. “And the ham. And it’s huge!”
Mab quickly stood up and set down her mug of hot coffee.
“Thank goodness!” she said. “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!”
I stared out the window and almost as if on cue the first large snowflakes began lazily drifting down from the leaden skies.
“It’s snowing!” I cried. “I can’t wait to tell the little ones!”
Winter had arrived at Wythe’s End.


The next few days brought an even more intense frenzy in kitchen with Mrs. Goossens, Nanny Bryce, Mab, and Uncle Myles all making lists as to what needed to be made, who was going to make what and when, and where everyone was going to sit for the family feast.

Wythe’s End is a large, rambling house and the rooms are a good size. Mab, Qwerty Gran, and Mrs. Goossens decided that all twenty-four of us could comfortably sit at the large dining room table that had been custom made to accommodate such a large family and guests.

Wythe's End Front 1

“The smaller children can sit at their own table with Phin and Thaddeus,” Mab said, surveying the dining room. “What do you think?”
I had suspected that this was going to be the strategy for the sitting arrangements and I had made it my business to be on hand when the women were deciding the sitting arrangements.

“Why do I always have to sit at the kids’ table?” I complained. “I’m not a kid anymore. Let Thad sit with them and keep them under control. And you know that Sarah and Brynnie are more than willing to sit with them.”
“Hush, Phin,” said Mab. “Let me think. If Thaddeus and the three little ones have a table in the bay, Sarah and Brynnie could sit down at the far end of the table and help them with their dinner. That means that…yes… All right, Phin, you can sit at the main dining table. I think there’s plenty of room. Good, that’s settled, what’s next on the list?”

The three women pored over a piece of paper like commanders planning the next tactical move on the enemy.
I left them to their planning and made my way back to the West Library. I decided to go outside and crossed the carriageway so that I could gauge how much snow was really coming down.
There was a light dusting on the ground and the snowflakes seemed to be getting smaller, but certainly weren’t in a hurry to make us snowbound for Thanksgiving. I was worried that if it snowed too hard Gus wouldn’t be able to make the crossing across the bay and join us for dinner. If that happened it would make for a miserable Thanksgiving for Russ. This was his first relationship and his first Thanksgiving that he could share with someone, the special someone, in his life.
Ever since Bear Week the family had been following the progress of Russ’s love life as avidly as they would follow a soap opera on television. If our family had watched soap operas.
Every visit to Provincetown was discussed and imagined. Mrs. Goossens always sent a small care package of baked goods to Gus as if she was under the impression that he was underfed or not being given enough home baked goods.
“Mrs. Goossens,” I said. “Gus’s sisters owns and runs one of the best restaurants in Provincetown. She makes sure he eats well.”
“Oh, I know, I know,” sigh Mrs. Goossens. “But, still, I don’t suppose she can make the special pastries and pies that I make, now can she?”
I couldn’t argue with her there.
Uncles Myles and Bertram and I had to repeat all the details as to what Gus’s cottage looked like, what the Leaky Lug was like, time and time again.
“You know,” said Uncle Myles. “It would just be simpler if you all went for a visit and saw the cottage for yourselves.”
“Oh, we couldn’t do that,” cried Mab. “We wouldn’t want to intrude on their privacy.”

The Wythes valued privacy and politeness and courtesy above all else.
Each time Gus visited Wythe’s End the family did their best not to hover and intrude on their privacy. Not that they seemed to need much privacy because Gus was a hard worker and more than willing to help Russ with the outdoor chores. When he saw the Flying Orcadian it was love at first sight, thus endearing him for all eternity to Uncle Itchy. Gus was as mechanical minded and as skilled with steam engines as Uncle Itchy and the two of them spent hours fussing with the engine in the train shed.
But Gus never let Russ feel neglected or unappreciated. The two of them found plenty of time to be alone in the wood shed or work shed. Watching them from the upstairs windows strolling the grounds like two burly giants with their arms thrown across one another’s shoulders was one of the best things to see.
Naturally, they liked to visit Uncles Myles and Bertram whenever they felt they needed extended privacy.

I had always known that Uncles Myles and Bertram were gay and it was never a big deal or anything out of the ordinary at Wythe’s End. And even though the Aunts never talked about their relationship everyone knew that they were partners, not only in writing murder mysteries, but in life as well. They were inseparable and had always been that way ever since I could remember.
Then there was Mathias, who was gay, but not in an overt gay sort of way. He tended to keep to himself more than the rest of the family. Secretly, I always wished that I could be more like him: tall, dark, handsome, quiet, and mysterious. Mathias did spend time a good amount of time at Gull Cottage.

Therefore, when Bear Week brought Russ and Gus together the family took it in stride and were thrilled that Russ finally had met someone. The only person who wasn’t quite so thrilled with the arrangement was Brynnie. She had lusted after Russ ever since her arrival at Wythe’s End.
“Och, that man gives me the shivers in me knickers,” was her oft said phrase every time she saw him.
The snow didn’t really amount to more than an inch much to everyone’s relief. Thad, Littie Pye, Chatty Pye, and Leaky Lou seemed to be the only ones who showed disappointment that it hadn’t snowed more.
Gus arrived late Wednesday afternoon. Uncle Itchy, Russ, and I fired up the Flying Orcadian to bring Gus back to Wythe’s End in style.

The Leaky Lug was securely moored in the harbor. Gus leapt onto the dock bundled in a thick pea coat and scarf tied around his neck. He had a woollen knitted cap pulled down over his ears that made him look like a slightly demented Santa Claus or oversized elf. Thick leather gloves kept his hands warm and he carried a large parcel under one arm.

“Bets insisted that I bring something for the feast,” said Gus, lovingly patting the large box he carried. “She made these special for the occasion. Of course, she told me that she would never forgive me for abandoning MY family on Thanksgiving, but what can I say. I wanted to be with Russ and sometimes, just sometimes, love trumps family. Right, Phin?”
“Right!” I said, not quite certain I agreed with this or not. But, then, I had never been in love so I didn’t really have anything to base my judgment on.
Gus and Russ never ceased to astound the Peequockers with their immense size and height. I felt like a dwarf walking beside them from the dock through the village to where Uncle Itchy and the Flying Orcadian were waiting for us. But, I still took great pride in that I actually knew these two ruggedly handsome giants.
Uncle Itchy was fussing with the engine and giving it one last spit polish as we approached.
“Hallo, Gus!” cried Uncle Itchy when he spotted us. “Thought we’d bring the old boy down to meet you and bring you back to the house in Wythe style.
“Hello, Itchy,” Gus boomed as he gave Uncle Itchy a firm bear hug. Gus took great delight in calling Uncle Itchy, Itchy. “I like the sound of it,” he said. “It fits. You are Itchy.”
As the Flying Orcadian huffed and puffed its way back to Wythe’s End, Gus, Russ, and I sat in the passenger carriage. Even though we wore our heaviest winter coats and gloves we could still feel the penetrating damp chill swirling around us.
“I believe it’s going to snow,” said Gus. “And by snow, I mean SNOW!”
“It sure feels like it,” agreed Russ. “Luckily, there’s plenty of food just waiting to be cooked and eaten. We won’t go hungry, that’s for sure. Wait until you see how this family does Thanksgiving.”
Russ gave me a nudge with his elbow as if it was all my doing that so much food was ordered and prepared to feed the Wythes and Braithewaites.
“And, I’m sure glad you’re here to give me a hand with all the firewood,” Russ said as he leaned in to kiss Gus on the cheek.
“I knew there was a reason you were so insistent that I come for Thanksgiving,” said Gus. “Just to put me to work so that you can slack off.”
“I can help with the firewood, too, if you like,” I said, not wanting to appear lazy or unwilling to do my fair share.
“I’m going to hold you to that, Phin,” said Gus seriously. “And when the snow is three feet deep I don’t want to hear one word of complaint, you hear?”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “Just because I’m not a giant like you guys doesn’t mean I can’t work hard, too.”
“Giants? Did you hear that Russ, he called us giants right to our bloody faces,” said Gus reaching over and grabbing me by the head and roughing me up.
Russ seemed to glow just like he did the first time we had met Gus in Provincetown. I had always heard that pregnant women glow when they are expecting. I had never seen a pregnant woman up close so I don’t know how true this is. But, I can certainly say that when two men are in love, they glow. They actually beam out the love that they feel for one another and simply glow. No doubt about it.

As the Flying Orcadian passed through the ancient Wythe cemetery it started snowing. Really snowing. And this time the snow would blanket our world and everyone in it.
By the time we reached Wythe’s End the snow was coming down fast and furious. During the short train ride two inches had already accumulated on the ground.
“You boys go on up to house,” Uncle Itchy said. “I’ll put the old boy to bed and make sure he’s snug and warm for the night. I think we’re in for quite a snowstorm.”
As we walked up to the house Gus stopped and stared.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite as beautiful and magnificent as this house. With the snow coming down it’s like walking into a fairy tale. How lucky am I that I get to be here during the first big snowstorm.”
And then before Russ or I could respond Gus bent down, scooped up and handful of snow and smashed it over my head.
“Not fair!” I cried. “I wasn’t expecting that and you’re…”
“I’m what?” laughed Gus. “Bigger? Stronger? Faster?”
While Gus was taunting me Russ had scooped up a large snowball and pushed it down onto Gus’s head.
“Pick on someone your own size, pipsqueak,” he said laughing and turning to make a mad dash up to the house before Gus could retaliate.
“I’ll get you, my pretty,” Gus called after him. “Don’t you worry. And you’re little friend, too.”
We stomped the snow off our boots on the back porch of the East Wing. When we entered the kitchen the smell of bread baking assailed our noses and Gus breathed in the fragrance deeply.
“Ah, just smell that,” he said. “Real home cooking by the best Belgian cook ever.”
Mrs. Goossens turned and beamed at Gus.
“Oh, I’m not the best by far,” she said smiling. “But, I don’t think there are too many that can touch my cooking skills all that closely.”
Gus gave Mrs. Goossens one of his famous bear hugs and a wet kiss on each cheek.
“I just love a man in a beard,” sighed Mrs. Goossens. “It brings back memories of Mr. Goossens, let me tell you.”

Mab and Qwerty Gran and the Aunts entered the kitchen talking quietly amongst themselves. When they saw the three of us standing there they fell silent.
“Gus, we are delighted, absolutely delighted, that you could join us,” said Qwerty Gran.
“We hope you didn’t have too wild a crossing,” said Mab. “Thankfully, you made it here safely. Welcome, Gus.”
“Hello, Gus!” said the Aunts. “You are in for a Thanksgiving like you may have never seen before.”
Gus kissed all the women once on each cheek like a real blue blood gentleman.
“Thank you for inviting me,” said Gus. “I’ll try not to eat too much.” And he winked at Mrs. Goossens. “Bets sent this as the McBride contribution to the dinner. It’s her own special pickled herring and a few other delights. She says she hopes that you’ll enjoy them.”
“How did she know that we love pickled herring?” said Aunt Pru.
“I think a little bearded bird told her,” said Russ. “The same little bearded bird that caught those herring in his nets.”
“Gus, you really shouldn’t have,” said Mab. “But, thank you. These will only add to the feast we have planned.
“Now, you men scoot on out of here,” said Qwerty Gran as Uncle Itchy came in through the kitchen door. “We have a lot to do to get ready for tomorrow and you’ll only be in the way. Mab, do you think we should call Tobias and have them spend the night? It looks like this snow could turn into quite a storm.”
“It might not be a bad idea,” said Mab. “I’ll call right now and tell them to pack up everyone and the dogs and plan on spending the night here. It’s like an early Christmas with everyone here under one roof. Well, almost everyone.”
“Let’s just say a prayer that John William and Sparky are all right over there on Mt. Everest,” said Qwerty Gran. “I do wish they were here with us.”

Note: John William and Sparky are two Braithwaite boys that are searching for Yeti in the Himalaya Mountains.


That night, as everyone slept, the great snowstorm began. Silent and white as ghosts the snowflakes swirled and drifted down onto the house quietly blanketing it in thick white layers. As the night wore on the snow fell faster and thicker so that by morning ten inches of snow covered the ground as the snowflakes relentlessly continued to float down from the leaden sky.

“Oh, my!” cried Mrs. Goossens, who was the first to awake so that she could begin the preparations for the feast. “It’s a blizzard out there!”
One by one the family awoke to the Winter Wonderland that had appeared overnight outside the windows of Wythe’s End.
“Thank goodness everything we need to make dinner is already on hand,” said Mab as she stared into the swirling whiteness.
“It’s snowing!” exclaimed Littie Pye. “Leaky, look! It’s snowing! And it’s snowing hard!”
“Wow! It really is coming down hard,” said Thaddeus peering out the front door. “It looks like there’s a foot of snow on the ground already.”
“We’d better call Gull Cottage and Grebe and tell everyone to pack what they might need and head over here now, if they want to share Thanksgiving with the family,” said Qwerty Gran. “I have the feeling that this snowstorm is going to get worse and we may be in for a long day and night of heavy snow.”
“Phin, would you call your uncles and tell them that they should not wait until this afternoon to come over,” said Mab.
“Sure,” I said. “What should I tell them to bring?”
“Anything that they think they might need for the holiday weekend,” said Pab. “We’ll be lucky if we don’t lose power. And if we do, it’s best that we all stay put in one house.”
“It might be a good idea to ask Russ and Gus if they would mind helping Myles and Bertram get here with the springers,” Gramps said. “Henry can make sure that Tobias and the others get here from Grebe. Did anyone know this snowstorm was coming?”
Wythe’s End became a beehive of activity. Mrs. Goossens had things under control in the kitchen—turkeys were roasting, pies and breads were made, the side dishes could be made an hour or so before dinner was to be served.
“Brynnie, we’d better get the spare rooms ready on the third floor, so that everyone has a place to sleep,” Mab instructed. “Oh, Caleb, Mathias, there you are, do you think you could give Brynnie a hand with the spare rooms?”
“Of course, we can!” said Caleb energetically. “Whew! The snow is really coming down fast and furious.”
“Caleb can help Brynnie,” said Mathias. “Perhaps I should head over to Grebe and see if they need any help over there.”
“That’s a good idea,” said Qwerty Gran. “Chatty Pye and her four little dogs will be a handful. And Nanny Bryce will need assistance, I’m sure. Mathias, thank you, perhaps you should head over there now before the snow gets any deeper.”
“Phin, why don’t you and I get the fires lit so that we can make the house feel cheery and warm when everyone starts arriving,” said Pab.
Pab and I lit fires in the fireplaces in the downstairs rooms. Later, Caleb, Mathias, Russ, Gus, Thad, and I could stack firewood on the back porch so that it could be easily brought in to keep the fires burning bright and warm.
Thankfully, we didn’t have to go outside in order to move about between the two wings. The upstairs gallery became the main thoroughfare for the household. Qwerty Gran and Mab thought it would be best if we all planned to spend the afternoon in the parlor and West Hall while waiting for dinner to be served. Add something more here.
By ten o’clock Uncles Myles and Bertram had arrived with Molly and Gabe. They brought cameras and bags filled with Uncle Myles’ manuscripts so that he could work in the library here.
“You boys made it!” cried Gramps. “Did you drive or use snowshoes?”
“We couldn’t get through the deep snow with the car,” said Uncle Bertram. “So, Russ and Gus helped us carry everything we thought we’d better bring in case we get snowed in.”
“In case?” laughed Gramps. “I think you already are.”
“Oh, Myles,” cried Mab when she saw them standing in the back hall brushing snow off their coats. “I’m so glad you’re here. We would be worried sick if you two were stranded alone down at Gull Cottage. “If you didn’t drive, how did you get here?”
“Molly and Gabe ran ahead of us and we followed them,” said Uncle Myles laughing. “You know how much they love the snow and they know their way here even with the snow coming down as hard as it is.”
“Let’s get you boys something hot to drink and some a bit to eat,” said Qwerty Gran.
“Mrs. Wythe, should Gus and I head over to Grebe to see if they need any help getting here?” Russ asked sounding concerned. “It’s pretty bad out there.”
“Oh, Russ, would you two mind?” said Mab sounding relieved. “Henry may be able to plow the road between here and Grebe, but still, extra hands would be appreciated over there.”
“No problem,” said Russ cheerfully. “It’s at times like this when it pays to be big. Right, Gus?”
“You said it!” replied Gus clapping Russ on the back.
“But, have some hot coffee first,” said Mab, handing them each a mug of steaming coffee.
“Thank you, Mrs. Wythe,” Russ and Gus said together.
They gulped down the hot coffee and headed back out into the snowstorm. No one would rest until everyone was safely gathered at Wythe’s End and was accounted for.
Qwerty Gran stood at the windows in the East Library watching for Uncle Toby, Chatty Pye, Nanny Bryce, Sarah, Henry, Mathias, Russ and Gus to return. She would not be able to relax until she saw them trudging through the deep snow to the house.
“Here they are,” she cried. “They made it!”

There was quite a bit of commotion on the small back porch as the newcomers stomped snow off their boots and exclaimed how cold and snowy it was. Chatty Pye burst into West Hall with her four small dogs.

“It’s snowing!” she cried. “Everyone had to carry a baby so that they wouldn’t freeze to death in the snow. And Russ had to carry me so that I didn’t drown in the snow!” The four small dogs barked happily and ran around Chatty Pye to show her that they were eternally grateful not to have been left behind in the snowstorm.
Everyone was talking at once as coats were brushed off and hung up to dry.
“Coffee and sandwiches are in the Hall,” Mab called out over the hubbub. “No one is allowed in the kitchen so that Mrs. Goossens can get everything ready. Sarah, why don’t you get Nanny Bryce settled by the fire where it’s warm. And would you mind getting her something hot to drink. I don’t know if she prefers tea or coffee.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Wythe,” said Sarah. “I’ll make certain that she is comfortable and has everything she needs.”
“Sarah, what would we do without you?” Qwerty Gran said.
The East Hall was filled to capacity as everyone sorted themselves out, got something hot to drink and something to eat.
Nanny Bryce was settled in a large comfortable armchair by the fire with a fleecy throw over her lap to keep her legs warm. Sarah and Brynnie rounded up the three little ones and the small dogs as well as Scowther and got them settled by the fireplace as well.
Gramps, Grumps, the Aunts, and all the uncles took their mugs of coffee and sandwiches and joined Nanny Bryce. Caleb, Mathias, Thad, Russ, Gus, and I remained standing, talking and watching the snow falling thickly outside.
“Who’s up for working on the snow shoveling brigade?” Russ asked. Of course, we boys and younger men as well as Uncles Myles and Bertram said we all
were ready to tackle the task of shoveling pathways to the wood shed as well as clearing off the steps to the back porches and verandas.

Outside the snow was falling faster and thicker than ever. We were bundled in coats, scarves, and gloves as we each found a snow shovel and began tackling the path to the wood shed so that more firewood would be able to be brought up to the back porches.
Even with all of us shoveling it seemed that as soon as we cleared a path the snow quickly began filling it in behind us. Finally we reached the wood shed.
“We need to shovel a path to the chicken coop behind the garage so that the chickens can be fed and watered,” said Uncle Myles. “Bert and I will tackle that job.”
“Let’s start hauling firewood up to the back porch,” said Mathias. “I don’t think we’ll be able to keep this path cleared for too long with the snow coming down so hard.”
Russ found the wooden cart that was used for hauling. We quickly filled it with firewood and set off back to the house. Thad, Caleb, Mathias, and I shoveled in front of the cart that Russ and Gus pulled through the deep snow. It took six more trips before Russ was satisfied that we had enough firewood to last into the night at least.
Scowther, Molly, Gabe, and Sophie bounded through the deep snow not seeming to be bothered by the cold.

When Uncles Myles and Bertram returned from shoveling the path to the chicken coop we all tackled the massive task of clearing snow from the carriageway that ran between the wings of the house. The carriageway provided protection from the falling snow but the winds blew it into drifts beneath the Gallery.
“Look out at the water,” Uncle Myles said.
We stopped shoveling and stood in the swirling, blinding snow and looked out to where the ocean could be heard but not seen.
“See what I mean,” Uncle Myles continued. “You can’t see anything in this blizzard. Gus, I don’t think you’ll be heading back to Provincetown tomorrow. You might as well make up your mind that you’re going to be stuck here for the weekend at least. I’m sure Russ won’t mind.”
Russ grinned at Gus.
“I don’t mind at all!” he said. “Besides an extra pair of hands will come in useful when there’s more shoveling to be done and more firewood to be brought up to the house.”
“How romantic,” said Gus pretending to be annoyed. “Whatever happened to cuddling in front of a cozy fire?”
“There’ll be plenty of time for that,” said Uncle Bertram. “Trust me.”

While we outside shoveling and hauling firewood, Mab, Qwerty Gran, the Aunts, and Brynnie crowded into the kitchen to give Mrs. Goossens a hand with the feast.
Brynnie and Sarah set the long table in the dining room and made certain that there were fresh beeswax candles ready to be lit when the feast was ready. They lit the fire in the fireplace. Brynnie and I had gathered wild rose branches with the red hips still on them as well as various dried wildflower stalks to make festive table arrangements. Pumpkins and squash clustered in the center of the table and would be moved once the turkeys were ready to take their place.
Every year Mrs. Goossens outdid herself with preparing a feast that could easily feed the two families of Wythes and Braithewaites. This year’s feast included three roasted turkeys, the large Smithfield ham, baked sweet potatoes, candied yams, Brussels sprouts sautéed in lemon and butter, pickled beets, fresh cranberries (not the canned cranberry jelly), squash, collard greens with small red potatoes cooked with salt pork, freshly baked breads, cornbread, New England brown bread baked in cans, and apple pie, cherry pie, and pecan pie as well as an assortment of pastries and cookies that Mrs. Goossens had been baking all week.
It truly was a feast fit for Pilgrims, had they been so lucky.
Mrs. Goossens timed all the cooking and baking so that dinner would be served exactly at four o’clock. This was earlier than the usual dinnertime at Wythe’s End and Mrs. Goossens said that more time was needed to digest so much rich food therefore dinner should be eaten earlier rather than later.
Exactly at four o’clock Brynnie rang the dinner gong, another Wythe family tradition for big, holiday meals.
The family made quite a procession to the dining room.

When we entered the dining room we saw that it was filled with a warm glow from the candles and fire in the fireplace. Sideboards groaned under the weight of the turkeys and ham and various side dishes. Mrs. Goossens, Brynnie and Sarah would be kept busy bringing hot dishes out and would be the very last ones to finally sit and enjoy the feast.
Once all the food had been brought in and everyone’s glass had been filled with champagne or Ginger Ale for the younger Wythes, Gramps stood up and raised his glass.
“To Mrs. Goossens and kitchen helpers: We raise our glasses to show our gratitude and appreciation for another delicious feast prepared for Thanksgiving.”
“To Mrs. Goossens and kitchen helpers!” everyone said enthusiastically.
“And let us add our prayers of thanks for this bounty that we are about to enjoy,” Gramps concluded.
There was a moment of silence then everyone took another sip of champagne and lively conversations erupted all around the table.
“Mrs. Goossens, you outdid yourself again,” said Qwerty Gran. “I believe we must be the most fortunate family to have such a delicious feast.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Wythe,” said Mrs. Goossens pleased with the compliment. “I’m more than happy to do it. I’m thankful that this snowstorm arrived after all the foodstuffs were delivered or bought for the meal.”
Gramps, Grumps, and Uncle Toby each carved one of the three turkeys. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that they would not be eaten and whatever was leftover would be used for making sandwiches or soup. Everyone was either eating or talking. Sarah sat with Thaddeus, Littie Pye, Chatty Pye and Leaky Lou and kept them focused on their dinner.

“Phin, I hear that you are probing the depths of darkness of Wythe family history,” Mathias said to me. We were sitting next to one another and this was the first chance I had to have any real conversation with him.
“I am,” I laughed. “I’m going to find out once and for all why eleven-times-great grandfather Josiah missed the boat.”
“Making any progress?” Mathias asked biting into a warm piece of cornbread slathered in butter.
“A bit,” I said. “I’ve been reading as many old diaries and journals as I can find in the library as well as studying as many of the old documents as I can find. I even visited the public library in Boston just in case there might be something there that we might not have here at Wythe’s End.”
“Sounds like you are going about in the right spirit,” said Mathias smiling. “Leave no stone unturned. And, I mean…no stone, understand?”
I watched his face for a sign as to what he was hinting at, but could see nothing that gave me a clue as to what he wanted me to say.
“Caleb told me that he showed you the secret hiding place in the West Library,” Mathias continued. “Any luck with the diaries in there?”
“He did?” I said not quite believing that Caleb had divulged this information to his brother. “I mean, did you know about that secret hiding place, too?”
“Of course,” Mathias said. “Caleb and I grew up here, too, remember and we must have scoured this house for every secret passage and hiding place we could find. I bet you haven’t found them all yet, have you?”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “I even found the old architectural plans of the house but the secret passages don’t seem to be shown on them.”
“Which ones have you found?” Mathias asked taking a bite of turkey and stuffing followed by a mouthful of cranberries.
“I know about the secret room beside the fireplace in the West Hall,” I said, before taking a bite of ham and sweet potato. “Thad and I found the two secret hiding places in the upstairs hall as well. And a couple months ago I discovered the secret passage opposite the main stairs between the reading parlor and the gallery.”
“Impressive!” said Mathias. “You have done well. But, listen, before Caleb and I leave at the beginning of the New Year, if this blizzard doesn’t keep us snowed in until Spring, we’ll take you down to the cellars and will show you one of the longer, deeper and more mysterious secret passages. I have to tell you in all honesty, it’s creepy.”
“Wow!” I exclaimed under my breath, not wanting everyone at the table to hear what we were talking about. “Mathias, that would be great. We might even find more diaries and papers down there older than the ones in the library.”
“Possibly,” said Mathias cutting into a slice of ham. “I have to say that I do miss good ol’ American cooking sometimes. I haven’t eaten this much since I left Wythe’s End for Edinburgh. Scottish food is good, but nothing like this.” Mathias studied my face for several long minutes before continuing. “But, listen, Phin, I’m not joking when I say that it’s creepy down there. Both Caleb and I felt a presence down there, and it wasn’t Ester Pyn. To be honest we didn’t stay in that secret passage long enough to explore all the nooks and crannies to see what might be hidden down there.”
“Really?” I asked, not believing what I was hearing. “So, there really might be documents down there that no one knows about or has read.”
“Could be,” said Mathias taking a large bite collard greens and red potatoes. “Maybe with three of us down there together, it won’t feel so eerie.”

“Mathias, how are your studies coming along in Edinburgh?” asked Aunt Pru, interrupting our conversation.

As I finished my dinner my mind was reeling from what Mathias had told me. Would the answer to the mystery be down in that secret passage?
Once everyone had finished eating it was the men’s turn to clear the table since the women had prepared the food and set the table to begin with. There was lots of teasing and a big show of putting on aprons to clear away the dishes. Once this was done Mrs. Goossens, Mab, and the Aunts disappeared into the kitchen in order to take the pies out of the ovens that had been warming. Freshly brewed coffee was poured into the coffee urn on the sideboard for easier serving. When the pies and pastries and Belgian chocolates were brought into the dining there was a loud chorus of “Oooohhhh, they look delicious!”
“It’s still snowing hard!” said Chatty Pye staring out the window with her nose pressed against the glass. Leaky Lou pressed his nose against the glass, too, and stared in wonder at the swirling whiteness outside.
“We might be snowed in for weeks!” said Littie Pye excitedly. “I read a book about a group of climbers in the Swiss Alps that were snowed in for three weeks by an avalanche! They had to eat strips of their own shoe leather to survive.”
“Well, if we do get snowed in for three weeks,” said Uncle Itchy. “I don’t think any of us will be reduced to eating shoe leather. I think there’s enough food to last at least three months.”
Everyone laughed. I saw Gramps and Grumps exchange worried glances and knew that this snowstorm was of some concern.
Three hours later everyone had eaten as much as they possibly could.
“Mrs. Goossens, that meal was beyond extraordinary,” said Pab giving her a hug. “I don’t know how you do it.”
“With lots of help,” said Mrs. Goossens smiling. “With lots of help.”
The table was cleared and Mrs. Goossens, Brynnie, and Sarah began the washing up and putting away of whatever food hadn’t been eaten. There were actually quite a lot of leftovers.
“I’m going to give them a hand in the kitchen,” said Mab, dabbing at the corner of her mouth with her napkin one last time. “The rest of you should head over to the parlor for one last bit of coffee and cookies later.”
“Iris, let us help,” said Aunt Que. “We’re old, but we can still work as hard as anyone else and it’s not fair to let those three do all the drudge work in this house.”
Uncle Toby and Henry helped Nanny Bryce up the stairs and got her comfortably settled once more by the fire that had been built up by Russ and Gus. We all followed in twos and threes and everyone found their favorite place to sit. Qwerty Gran fussed over Nanny Bryce and brought her a small cushion to put behind her back. Thaddeus and three youngest ones sat on the floor in front of the children’s fireplace and began to play cards.
Uncles Myles and Bertram, Caleb, Mathias, and I set up card tables so that we could play card games, Monopoly, RISK, or CLUE to pass the evening and let our big meal digest. It was the perfect night to play games with two cheery fires blazing in the fireplaces and a snowstorm raging outside.

Gramps, Grumps, Uncle Toby and Uncle Itchy retired to the library where they could smoke their pipes and have a bit of peace and quiet amongst the books and discuss the snowstorm. Russ, Gus, and Henry made the rounds of each fireplace, added more firewood where needed, brought in more firewood from the back porches, before settling down in the library with the uncles and me.
The kitchen workers could be heard on the stairs laughing and talking animatedly amongst themselves. The women entered the parlor bearing large trays of cookies and more Belgian chocolate as well as mugs filled with hot coffee and hot chocolate.

By seven-thirty everyone had settled in the parlor sitting on sofas or on chairs or sprawled on the floor. Those who wanted to play games or cards sorted themselves out at the various tables. All eight dogs joined us and were pleased to have all their humans in one room where they could keep an eye on them.
“This is the last time you menfolk get waited on like this,” said Mab. “Next time all of you can do the washing up while we women sit by the fire and put our feet up.”
“Hear! Hear!” cried the women and girls.
As the grandfather clock in the West hall struck nine the game playing members of the family took a break from a marathon of playing Monopoly and Clue. Brynnie had made more hot coffee and hot chocolate as well as hot sugar cookies right out of the oven.
“Where’s Russ, Gus, and Henry?” asked Mabs looking around the room for them. “They should be in here with the family where it’s snug and warm.”
“They’re outside shoveling snow,” said Pab. “Russ doesn’t want it to get too deep around the house.”
“But, it’s a blizzard!” exclaimed Mab. “Thaddeus put your coat on and go find them and tell them to get in here this instant and get warmed up.”
Thaddeus reluctantly got to his feet off the floor and left the room.
In a few minutes we could hear him and the three men stomping snow off their boots on the back porch. When they entered the parlor their faces were red from the cold. Russ’s and Gus’s moustaches were iced over.
“You boys get some hot coffee,” said Mab. “And change into something warm and comfortable. We’re camping out here in the parlor for the duration.”
It was getting late, but no one felt like going to bed.
“I’m tired of being beaten by Leaky Lou,” said Littie Pye. “He always wins at Monopoly.”
Leaky Lou solemnly nodded in agreement. Littie Pye sipped her hot chocolate thoughtfully and stared into the fire. It was true, Leaky Lou was one of the best Monopoly players in the family and he never said a word, but he seemed to understand the rules of the game nonetheless.

Suddenly, the lights went out. Except for the warm glow from the fireplaces the large room was plunged into blackness. A hush fell over the family as if we, too, had been snuffed out with the lights.

“Damn!” said Pab. “I knew this would happen sooner or later. Power outage.”
“Don’t panic,” said Mab. “Brynnie and I made sure that candles are in every room and the oil lamps are in the back hall, filled and ready.
The only light in the room came from the two fires burning in the fireplaces. Leaky Lou and the two girls sat at Nanny Bryce’s feet with all the small dogs and Scowther crowded around.
“Phin, you and Thad bring in the oil lamps, please,” said Mab. “Sarah would you mind giving Brynnie a hand going upstairs and checking the fires up there. And, Brynnie, perhaps you could bring down some comforters and blankets. We might as well make ourselves as comfortable as possible in here until bedtime.
“Slumber party!” cried Littie Pye.
“Slumber party!” cried Chatty Pye.
Leaky Lou had fallen asleep, wedged between Nanny Bryce’s blanket covered leg and Scowther.
“Slumber party it is!” cried Grumps. “What better way to spend a dark, snowy night, eh?”
“We’ll give Brynnie and Sarah a hand with the blankets,” said Mathias. “C’mon Caleb. And you, too, Phin.”
“I have a suggestion,” said Aunt Pru. “If we’re going to have a slumber party we should all change into warm flannels and robes before settling down here in the parlor.”
Everyone agreed. With candles in hand we all made our way to our rooms to change, grab extra blankets and pillows, and return to the parlor. Card tables were cleared and put away. Extra candles were found. Sofas and chairs were arranged so that everyone could be as close to one of the fireplaces as possible.
As excited as Littie Pye and Chatty Pye were at the thought of having a slumber party the two girls could barely keep their eyes open. Within minutes of having spread out their blankets and pillows on the floor in front of the small fireplace, with all the small dogs buried deep under the blankets with them, they were sound asleep. Sarah, picked up Leaky Lou and gently carried him over where the two girls were soundly sleeping. Scowther stretched out alongside Leaky, keeping his back warm.
“Those two are going to be so disappointed that they slept through the slumber party,” laughed Grumps. “Chatty Pye has been begging for a slumber party for months.”

The Aunts sat in chairs on the opposite side of the large fireplace while Nanny Bryce began to doze in her chair on the other side. Mab, Pab, Thaddeus, Uncle Itchy, and Scout squeezed together onto one sofa. While Uncles Myles and Bertram, Mathias and I settled on the other sofa. Sophie wedged herself in between Molly and Gabe that were stretched out on the floor near Uncle Bertram’s feet. Thaddeus and Caleb sprawled on the floor with their backs against our legs. They were wrapped in thick, fleecy blankets and pillows underneath their heads. Sarah, Brynnie, and Mrs. Goossens commandeered the third and smaller sofa with fleecy throws and cushions. That left Gramps, Grumps, Russ, Gus, and Henry to pull up armchairs or claim a place on the floor.
Finally, everyone was settled and ready to enjoy the peace and quiet. It really was like camping out in the parlor. The oil lamps added extra warmth to the room, the fire crackled and created the focal point for everyone to watch as if mesmerized by the leaping flames. Everyone had blankets and pillows tucked around them. I lay my head against Uncle Myles’s shoulder. He put his arm around my shoulders and pulled me in closer.
For a few minutes no one said a word. The only sound came from the fire. Outside the snow continued to fall, it had not slackened in the least. Gus said that there must be more than two feet on the ground already. It was going to be a long weekend of eating and playing games.
“Well, what do you want to do now?” asked Gramps, sipping his coffee. “Anyone want to play games or cards or even charades?”
No one felt like stirring from their warm nook and was content to just be still.
“I know,” Uncle Itchy said. “Let’s tell stories. This room is crammed with more writers than most book stores and one of them should be able to tell us a good story until we get sleepy.”
“That’s a great idea!” chimed in Uncle Bertram. “Perfect night for storytelling. It’s a shame that the little ones will miss out.”
“You mean you want to hear about a deep dark murder that we’re writing?” asked Aunt Pru, her eyes sparkling with mischief.
“Yes!” I said enthusiastically. “It’s the perfect night for that kind of story and the little ones are asleep so you can make it as gruesome and graphic as you like.”
“Wait a minute,” said Caleb, raising his head. “If we’re going to listen to a murder mystery may I make a suggestion?” He looked directly at the Aunts as he said this. “I know that family tradition always has the Aunts tell the “Sad Tale of Ester Pyn” on Halloween. But, I know that they always tell the G-rated version for the sake of the little ones. Tonight, may we hear the R-rated version?”
He smiled over at me. I knew exactly what he was up to.

“Well, I don’t know,” began Aunt Que. “The unedited version is a bit, um, racy, you know.”  She glanced at Mab, knowing that Mab always edited the racy bits out of any story.
“I know,” said Caleb. “Remember, you told it to me right after I graduated from Harvard before I headed over to Basel. I think Phin would find the “no fading to black version interesting.”
“Oh, yes!” I said leaning forward and giving the Aunts my most imploring look. “I would love to hear this version. And nothing scares Thaddeus, you know that, he can handle it. Can’t you, Thad?”
“Of course, I can,” he said yawning. “I’ve heard this ghost story so many times.”
“Ah,” said Caleb smiling. “But, not this version.”
“Well, if everyone really wants to hear it,” said Aunt Pru. “We can tell it. But, we don’t want to be interrupted while we’re telling the story. It’s best to hear it all in one go.”
“Should we turn down a few of the oil lamps?” asked Grumps. “Atmosphere is everything when listening to a good ghost story.”
“All right,” said Mab whose famous “fade to black” phrase was used whenever a conversation or story became too racy or too graphic and was often quoted in fun by most of the family. “I promise not to say ‘fade to black’.”

Pab nodded to Russ and he got up and went around the room turning the oil lamps down low. He blew out most of the candles as well. The parlor seemed to shrink as we all crowded around the fireplace eager for a good story. Russ sat on the floor with his back against Gus’s legs. Gus ruffled his hair and gave his shoulders a squeeze.
“As you all know,” began Aunt Que. “Ester Pyn Wythe died two hundred three years ago. The circumstances of her death only came to light about a hundred years ago. And Ester herself has confirmed what was read in the letter written by the groundskeeper’s son in 1823.”
“Here is the true story of Ester Pyn’s … murder!” said Aunt Pru in a hushed voice. “I believe this is the first time the entire story will be told to the entire family.”


“This is Ester Pyn’s Story,” said Aunt Pru quietly. “Listen and know that she  walks among us still.”  She paused, took a deep breath, and continued. “Ester Pyn Wythe was born in 1771 in the original house that is now called Gull Cottage.”

“She was a dutiful and obedient daughter in all things except for having fallen in love with the wrong man,” said Aunt Que, picking up the narrative. “Her life was uneventful and dull, her daily routine never varied. She was expected to excel in all the domestic skills deemed appropriate to a young woman of her station in life. However, she longed for something more and found it in a bold, adventurous sea captain.”

“Ester Pyn had fallen in love with a romantic burly sea captain—Captain John Wright. Their love affair was kept secret because the family would never approve a marriage to a sea captain. The two lovers met in secret in the village or Boston,” said Aunt Pru looking around at us with a twinkle in her eye.

“Captain Wright was duly entertained by the Wythes without their knowing of the affair between him and Ester Pyn,” said Aunt Que. “He was a respected sea captain and well liked by everyone.”

“His ship was anchored off the tip of Wythe’s Point,” continued Aunt Pru. “Late one night, thinking to surprise her lover with an unannounced visit to his ship, Ester Pyn had the groundskeeper, Rollins, row her out to Captain Wright’s ship in the dead of night so that she could surprise him.”

“And the family would be none the wiser,” chimed in Aunt Que. “Secrecy was of the utmost importance in this daring escapade.”

“Rollins was very fond of the young woman and willingly did as she asked,” said Aunt Pru. “He understood why Ester Pyn wanted no one to know of her midnight escapade. He had been instructed to return to shore and wait for her signal to row back out to the ship in order to fetch Ester Pyn back to shore.”

“When the small dinghy reached the ship Ester Pyn quietly climbed the ladder and boarded the ship,” Aunt Que said breathlessly. “She knew where the captain’s quarters were and made her way there unseen by the sailor on late watch. When she slipped into the captain’s quarters she was stunned to find him naked in the arms of another man!”

Mab gasped and opened her mouth as if to say ‘fade to black’! But, Pab nudged her in the side and she kept silent.

“Yes!” exclaimed Aunt Que. “In the arms of another man and both of them quite bare. Bare bears you boys would say,” she smiled at Uncles Bertram and Myles and then at Russ and Gus.

“Ester Pyn grabbed a small revolver that was lying on the captain’s desk,” continued Aunt Pru, ignoring the interjection about bare bears. “The two men covered themselves and leapt up and tried to reason with Ester Pyn but she would not be reasoned with. She sobbed and wailed and threatened to kill them both and then throw herself into the sea. If her life had been dull, her death would be dramatic. A brief struggle ensued and the firearm was discharged by accident mortally wounding the distraught young woman.”

“Poor Ester Pyn collapsed to the floor, shot through the heart,” sighed Aunt Que. Captain Wright and his lover, a young man from the village, wrung their hands and decided that the best thing to do was to return her body to shore and bury her secretly on the property.”
“The last thing they wanted to face was her father’s wrath,” said Aunt Pru. “More likely than not, five-times-great grandfather Theo Atticus, would have killed both men if he knew what had happened.”

“They wrapped her body in a large piece of canvas sailcloth, carried her on deck, and gently placed it in a small dinghy,” Aunt Que continued. “They lowered the dinghy and rowed back to shore not realizing that the groundskeeper, Rollins, was watching, waiting for his mistress’s signal to return to fetch her.”

“Unseen by the two men Rollins watched as they hefted Ester Pyn’s body out of the dingy and up the bluff,” said Aunt Pru looking directly at Thaddeus. “The groundskeeper hid behind a tree and watched as the captain and his lover dug a deep grave, deeper than most graves, at the very tip of Cape Haddock.”

“Ester Pyn had been wearing a loose, flowing chemise that reached her ankles,” Aunt Que added. “The same chemise she wears now as she prowls the house and cellars.”

“At the graveside,” said Aunt Pru giving Aunt Que a knowing look. “The captain and his lover tied the sailcloth around the corpse, binding it at the ankles, across her waist, and at the top of her head.”

“Then,” said Aunt Que quickly. “The two men embraced and kissed in the moonlight, weeping with guilt and shame. As they stood beside the grave saying a silent prayer of forgiveness for what they had done, Rollins crept up behind the men and struck each a fatal blow with the shovel they had used to dig the grave. He rolled the men into the grave on top of Ester Pyn and silently filled the grave in with dirt.”

Aunt Que had been leaning forward as she told this part of the story. Now she leaned back and wiped her hands together as if she had done the deed herself.
“Rollins, the groundskeeper, had been a loyal friend to Ester Pyn,” continued Aunt Pru. “And he, too, was fearful of the wrath he knew would come if Ester Pyn’s father knew what had happened. When Ester Pyn’s absence was noted the next day he kept silent and never betrayed her secret. He preferred to let the family think that she had fallen off the bluff and drowned or had been captured by Indians.”
“Ester Pyn’s parents never discovered what had become of their daughter,” said Aunt Que sadly. “Their other children prospered and grew to adulthood and carried on the Wythe legacy.”
“In 1823, as Rollins lay on his deathbed,” said Aunt Pru quietly. “With his final breath he told the entire story of what he had seen to his wife and oldest son. He had his son write the story down, seal it in an envelope, and hide it amongst the family papers in the library until the day might come when a family member might discover the piece of paper and learn the true fate of Ester Pyn.”
“And so that envelope was found and opened?” I said, not being able to keep silent.
“Oh, yes,” said Aunt Que with a twinkle in her eye. “It was found by someone sitting in this room at this very moment.”

We all sat up and looked around, expecting to see the ghost of Ester Pyn hovering in a dark corner about to reveal herself to the family at last.
“Who found the envelope and read the true story of Ester Pyn’s murder?” asked Uncle Myles suddenly very interested in the story.
The Aunts turned their heads and looked directly at Gramps.
“Gramps!” I cried. “YOU found the envelope!”
“I did,” said Gramps smiling. “And let me tell you, it gave me quite a shock. But, I don’t believe that’s the end of the story, is it Pru?”
“Oh no,” said Aunt Pru. “There’s a bit more.”
“Before Wythe’s End was built family members sometimes thought they saw the pale figure of a woman standing at the edge of Wythe’s Point staring out to sea,” said Aunt Que in a soft voice. “Everyone who saw her said she was the saddest and most forlorn ghost they had ever seen.”
“It was about sixty years later,” interrupted Aunt Pru. “Unknown to great-grandfather Theo, well, OUR great grandfather, that is, Wythe’s End was built over the grave of Ester Pyn and the two men that had betrayed her.”
“And when the builders discovered the bodies,” chirped Aunt Que. “The ghost of Ester Pyn appeared and forbade them to move her body or those of the two men. At her instructions the workmen dug beneath the bodies so that they slid deeper into the ground.”
“When the stone floor of the cellars was laid they marked the silent grave with a thick slab of stone as part of the flooring and marked it with an “X” in one corner,” added Aunt Pru with a knowing nod. “The workmen never spoke a word to anyone as to what they had done for fear of the ghost coming back to seek revenge on them.”
“To this day,” said Aunt Que in a reverent voice. “Ester Pyn haunts the cellars of Wythe’s End and can still be heard weeping and moaning. On a pale moonlit night her ghost can sometimes be glimpsed standing at the edge of the bluff staring out to sea as if waiting.”
Both aunts sat back, nodded to one another as if they had concluded an important deal, and waited for the family’s reaction.


Everyone started talking at once.
“That story gave me the goose bumps,” said Mrs. Goossens, shivering slightly. “I know I’ve felt her presence more than once in the kitchen.”
“Gramps, you knew about Ester Pyn’s murder all this time,” I said excitedly. “And never told anyone about it.”
“I told your grandmother, of course,” said Gramps. “And, Matthew, as well as Pru and Que. Who else should I have told?” he asked mischievously.
“Me!” I cried. “You should have told me.”
“Well, now you know, Phin,” said Gramps. “Remind me to show you that document one of these days.”
“One of these days?” I said a bit too loudly. “Why not now. Or, at least tomorrow.”
The family laughed at how excited I was to have learned this bit of news. I wasn’t sure how it might help me solve the mystery I wanted so desperately to solve but there was something that Gramps wasn’t telling us.
Mab and Pab stood up and stretched as everyone began to stir and stand up as well.
Pab strode to the windows and looked out.
“Still coming down hard,” he said. “This is a honest to goodness full blown nor’easter blizzard, if ever there was one. You’re all here for the duration until the snow lets up and we can dig ourselves out.”
We all walked over to the windows and gazed out into the whiteness. There was nothing to be seen but snow falling fast and furious and laying in deep drifts on the ground.
As we stood watching the snow come down a soft moaning could be heard coming from the West Library.
“Did anyone hear that?” whispered Caleb.
“Hush,” said Aunt Que. “It’s Ester, I know she was in this room while we were telling her story. I’d know that moaning anywhere.”
We turned to look toward the library. Without a doubt a soft moaning and weeping sound came from the other side of the wall.
Outside the snow swirled as the wind whispered around the chimneys.Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 6.04.03 PM.png

The Aunts

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 6.06.10 PM.png

Ester Pyn