"Over the meadow and through the woods" was never like this... Sara hates visiting her grandmother’s shack in the bayou during her summer vacation. She hates the swamp, the mold, and the strange lights and sounds at night. Until, one day, she discovers what the lights are and how she is linked to them.
|Publisher:||Bedazzled Ink Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.40(d)|
|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
About the Author
Cat Jenkins' short stories in horror, fantasy, speculative fiction, and humor have been published in various magazines. With a checkered career in theatre, ballet, television, and radio that took her from coast to coast, Jenkins now lives in the Pacific Northwest. Sara When She Chooses is her first novel.
Read an Excerpt
SARA HATED EVERYTHING about Granny's house.
From the chunks of clay with symbols scratched into them that clattered in the breeze where they hung from the porch rafters, to the coarse pallets stuffed with Spanish moss that were supposed to be beds, to the murky bayou water that oozed all about the cabin and what passed for its yard, Sara hated it all.
Granny's house was more of a shack, really. It was built on top of massive, old stumps to keep it dry when the water would rise, but it still had a greeny-damp kind of odor that got into your clothes and hair. Sara said she could still smell Granny's place for weeks after one of her visits.
"That's mold," Amy-Dean, Sara's big sister, would interject into her complaints with a sniff of superiority. "Mold and mildew!"
"Greeny-damp!" Sara would insist. She never liked losing arguments, especially to Amy-Dean.
When Sara was seven years old, Granny had sent for her. Mama said Granny needed her to "help out for a spell." Sara protested that neither Amy-Dean nor her brother Michael had to leave all their friends and travel to some swamp to help an old lady they never saw or heard from any other time of the year. It wasn't as though Sara was the only girl or the eldest. It was just dumb, bad luck, she thought. Mama tried to make it sound as though it were an honor, but Sara could tell that something about it worried her. At times she even thought it scared Mama a little.
"Granny says it's got to be you. So, Sara-Jean Mayhew, you mind your manners and do what Granny tells you. It's only for two weeks. You'll have all the rest of the summer to waste time with your friends."
Late at night Sara thought she heard harsh whispering coming from her parents' room. Mama and Papa were arguing, and Sara's name popped up too often, but in the end, Mama packed Sara's bag and drove her all the way to Chalmette where Granny stood on the shore waiting for them.
Sara, already in a resentful mood, really didn't want to go any further when she saw that frizzy white hair, and that shapeless old dress, and the chipped-up, leaky rowboat that Granny said was their ride.
Mama loaded her bag into the boat.
Granny took her hand. "Don't fret, child. You might find yourself some wonders while you're here. Just keep your eyes and mind open."
Granny pulled on the oars and gained momentum through the rush-choked waters. Mama waved from the bank, getting smaller and smaller.
Sara let the anger and rebellion seething inside her grow as the little boat slipped deeper and deeper into the bayou. It didn't help when they finally tied up to a tree alongside Granny's watery back yard, and Sara lugged her bag toward the porch, bumping it loudly up the steps, that Granny put her face down close to Sara's.
"Shhhhhhhh ... Careful with that bag. You don't want to be wakin' any ghosts now, do you, child?" She laughed loud enough to rouse the dead herself.
Sara didn't laugh at all.
Sara was in for two weeks of bored misery. No electricity, no TV, no phone, no wireless, not even any books Sara wanted to read. To be fair, Granny did have some good stories to tell in the evenings, but Sara was determined to make sure her grandmother knew how miserable she was, so she kept her head down and didn't let on when she was interested. She hoped that if she were truly unpleasant company, Granny would send her home early and never invite her back.
The only thing Granny asked her to do every day was take a big, wooden bucket down to what she called "the river" and bring it back filled with water. Since the same slimy, murky water eddied almost right up alongside the house, Sara didn't see why she had to pick her way through the tussocks and pools to this one particular river place. When she asked, Granny just told her to do it with her mind and eyes open. It seemed to Sara that her grandmother really didn't need help at all. Sara became suspicious as the days passed, since "helping out" was why she thought she had been sent for in the first place.
A week and a half into her stay, Sara couldn't stand it anymore. That evening, as she watched her grandmother rocking methodically in her old cedar chair on the porch, she broke her sullen silence.
"Granny, why did you want me to come here? I haven't helped you with anything, except fetching water that you don't need. Why am I here?"
"You're here to see the laputa bird, child." Granny's rocking kept on in its steady rhythm.
Sara tried again after a long silence.
"What's a laputa bird? Tell me what it's like and I'll look for it."
Granny stopped rocking, turned, and peered through the darkening dusk for a long, slow moment at Sara. "You'll know when you see it." She resumed rocking.
"Why didn't you ask Michael or Amy-Dean to come here?"
"'Cause those two for sure will never see the laputa. You might not either, girl, but I'm a-bettin' you will."
That was all Sara could find out that first year. She was jubilant when the two weeks were up and Granny rowed them both back to meet Mama.
Granny gave her head the tiniest shake and Mama's anxious, inquiring look turned to one of relief, but Sara didn't really notice; she was that glad to be headed home.
The next summer it was the same thing. Only this time Sara knew what was in store for her and made even more of a fuss about going.
"Only two weeks out of your whole year, Sara-Jean. It makes your Granny happy to see you. How can you be so selfish? Just go and show her the respect she's due. She's my Mama, after all."
Sara's mother didn't give an inch. Her father kept quiet, but looked a bit thunderous about the brow. Her brother and sister snickered at her whenever they thought their parents wouldn't notice.
Because youngest daughters in Sara's family were powerless to decide things like when they'll go to bed or what they'll eat for dinner or where they'll spend the summer, the visits to Granny became a dreaded routine.
When Sara was nine she asked Granny how much longer she'd need to come to "help out." Dark eyes glinting in the glow shed by the kerosene lamp, Granny gave her the long, slow regard she'd come to expect.
"Once you see the laputa bird, you don't have to come back no more, lessin' you want to."
"There're lots and lots of birds around, Granny. Maybe I've already seen it," Sara offered with a hopeful, but disingenuous smile.
"No. When you see it, you'll know." Granny gazed out into the bayou blackness, the way she did every night. "I'll know, too," she added.
Sara thought it sounded ominous.
"What's so special about this luh-laputa bird?"
The silence lasted so long, Sara wondered if she'd been heard, but Granny was just thinking, considering which words would be best to turn the knob of a door that maybe wasn't ready to be opened yet. Strengthening her resolve that she had not invited this sullen child to her home in vain, she decided to answer ... just a little.
"If you see the laputa bird, it'll mean our blood is still runnin' true. It'll mean you can take the world your mama chose out city-way, or you can come here and learn the swamp-works like I know, and my mama knew, and her mama before her, and back before ever there was a city could steal a girl away. See the laputa and you'll be able to hear the bayou lullaby. See the laputa and you'll have a choice to make."
Sara didn't really understand, but it shivered her skin just the same.
Another summer passed, Sara's tenth, and she could tell Granny might be starting to have some doubts. Sara had resigned herself to the two week interruptions in her regular life, but a thrill of anticipation shot through her anyway. If Granny gave up, she might not want her there anymore and she'd be free. Sara was surprised to discover a little corner of her would miss Granny and her quaint, creepy home. But she comforted herself with the thought that maybe they could bring her grandmother inland to Sara's house instead for a yearly visit.
That hope made Sara's eleventh summer, her fifth visiting Granny, a little easier to take. By now Sara didn't hide that Granny's stories, told on the porch in the sultry night air, caught her interest. She could even admit that there was a disheveled kind of beauty in the swamp. She still didn't like the murky, brown water, though. She always felt as though something was hiding, lurking in it; something that was keeping secrets or concealing crimes.
But even the strangest things could become normal if you had to confront them on a regular basis. So Sara didn't think twice anymore when Granny asked her to fetch water, as she'd been doing every day for every visit for every summer since she was seven.
Even with the tricky tides, she could now pick her way easily over to "the river." So this unremarkable day in this un-special visit, she crouched down on one of the firmer mounds of reeds and swung the familiar bucket down into the feeble current. She watched the brown-gray water slowly gurgle its way over the thick, wooden rim. "Sluggish" was the word Sara favored when describing to herself how the water around Granny's place moved. Now, as she waited for the bucket to fill, she hummed the word to herself, like the melody of a secret little rebellion against this chore she saw as useless.
"Sluggish," she breathed as the scum and small swamp-life circled itself into rounded patterns on the water's surface.
"Sluggish," she murmured as her eyes grew unfocused with boredom while she dipped the bucket a little lower to speed things along.
"Slug ... gish."
Sara blinked. Her scream echoed through the bayou.
Granny heard her all the way back at the cabin. She stopped harvesting swamp-greens for a moment and smiled. A deep sigh of relief that had been pent up inside her for long years broke loose.
Half an hour later, Sara dragged herself up the porch steps, panting, slimed from hip to heel. The bucket was empty and dripping.
Granny smiled. "I'm thinkin' you saw the laputa bird, girl. I hoped you would."
Sara closed her eyes and could still see them. Mottled toad-brown and frog-green. Eyes like oily rainbows. Wings outstretched. Flying fast. Beneath the water. Making a clicking sound that had seemed to echo Sara's breathy, little hum.
"I guess you got some choices to make now," Granny said as she spread the swamp-greens she had harvested out to dry. "But I'm a-bettin' you'll need another look at the laputa. That's how it usually goes. If you're agreeable. If the blood runs true."
Sara plopped onto one of the old hewn-wood chairs, bucket still gripped in her white-knuckled hands, mud and marsh-goo drying on her clothes and skin.
"Tell me about the blood, Granny." Her voice creaked faint and rusty.
"Surely, child, but we'll be needin' some water first." Her smile was warm as she raised an eyebrow at the empty bucket. "You don't have to go back to the river. You can fill it right here off'n the back deck. Water is water, after all."CHAPTER 2
THAT EVENING SARA picked at her boiled greens and fresh catfish fried in crispy butter. She couldn't get the laputa bird out of her thoughts. It jumped and swirled and swam, claiming all her focus. When she judged Granny was done eating and ready to take her place in the old rocking chair on the porch, the way she did every night, Sara knew the time was right.
"What were they, Granny? I saw them, but ... what were they?" The dark, muggy air seemed to draw in closer, as though it wanted to hear the answer, too.
"The laputa? Why, it's a harbinger, child."
"That's right. A harbinger is like an introduction, tellin' of things to come."
Sara frowned. "A harbinger of what?"
Granny rocked in a slow, methodical rhythm, her gaze darting about as if she were following the movements of things in the swamp and the thick, night air. Sara had often wondered about Granny's active eyes. Even when she'd be telling her stories, her eyes were never still. Sara had decided it was just one of those things old folks did; some peculiarity that she rather hoped she'd never understand. Not first-hand, anyway. Now she wondered if there was more to it than that. Now she wondered what other strange creatures might live unseen in Granny's bayou.
"Laputa is a harbinger of knowledge."
"Knowledge of the truth of things. Understandin' of the power that the Deep Places have to offer."
"But that's just it! I don't understand, Granny." Sara wanted a simple answer. She wanted to hear that that underwater bird was some rare, strange species that no one had officially discovered yet. She wanted to hear that it wasn't a bird at all; just some kind of odd, sort of musical fish. She most definitely did not want to hear that it was the beginning of something. Especially when that something made her skin shudder and bump in a cold, shivery way.
"Anything I tell you now, child, won't mean much." Granny sighed. "The understandin' will come in its own time." She focused intently on Sara. "But nothing will come at all if you decide you don't want to go any further."
"No buts, girl. The next thing you have to do is choose. Do you want to learn more, or do you want to return to your home and your family full time? No more summer visits. Or do you want to learn the swamp-works, like me, and my mama before that, and so on and so on back to the Beginnin'?"
"I don't even know what that means, Granny. Beginning of what? Beginning when and where?" Sara was having a hard time figuring out where all this was headed. She felt as though she'd suddenly become an exchange student in her own life. Words that had nice, solid, comfortable meanings had been turned strange, foreign, and ungraspable. Sara pulled her knees up to her chin and squinched in on herself to become as small and tight and safe as possible.
All this talk about choices was hard. So far in her young life Sara hadn't been allowed to make many choices at all. Everything had been decided for her based on what her parents thought was best, or on the pecking order between her and Amy-Dean and Michael. The only time Sara got to make a choice about anything was when it wasn't important or didn't seem to matter to anyone else.
The choice Granny was talking about sounded as though it would matter a great deal, and not just to Sara, but to everyone. It sounded big. Too big for her — a small, plain girl — to choose correctly, or choose right now!
Granny sensed the turmoil raging through Sara. "Don't fret, child," she said in soothing tones. "You don't need to speak tonight. You'll be here a few more days yet. Just keep your eyes and your mind open."
Granny creaked her way out of her rocking chair, glanced once more at Sara, then made her way across the old porch and through the front door to prepare for bed.
Sara could hear her tossing the leavings from their dinner off the back deck for the fish and 'gators to feed on, and then washing dishes in the big, galvanized bucket filled with soapy water kept for just that task. The clinking and clanking finally stopped and it sounded as though Granny had settled into her big, Spanish moss bed. Sara sighed, unfolded herself, and went inside, too.
There were no mirrors in Granny's house, which had made Sara uncomfortable at first when she had to brush her teeth or hair. But tonight it didn't matter at all. Her mind was a whirlwind of worry, confusion, and an excited kind of thrill, too. As she dipped a dented, tin cup into the boiled-water barrel to rinse her teeth, she was struck by how, in a heartbeat, Granny's house, nestled in the swamp, had become the least boring place she'd ever been.
Sara brushed her normally straight, brown hair. She ran her hand down its length on one side, feeling a little wave and frizz that was only there during her time in the humid air of the swamp. Pulling a lock in front of her eyes, she wondered for a moment what it looked like here. Once, during her first visit, she'd complained and demanded to know why Granny couldn't have even a tiny shard of a mirror just to help a girl keep herself neat. Granny had looked at her as though she were announcing the sky had cracked in two.
"Mirrors are only reflections," was her cryptic reply. "If things go the way I hope, you'll be learnin' to see the real, not the image."
Sara let go of her hair. She dropped the hand holding the brush to her side. Seeing the laputa bird chased her thoughts around and around, sending them off to places they'd never been before. If the laputa hadn't flown (swum?) by just as she was filling the old bucket, if it had been there all along, that would mean that the change was in Sara, in how she was seeing things. Could that be what Granny had meant all these years about keeping her eyes open?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sara When She Chooses"
Copyright © 2018 Cat Jenkins.
Excerpted by permission of Bedazzled Ink Publishing, LLC.
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