"Arghh! I just don't get it! Daddy, why do I have to learn this stuff? I'm never gonna use it."
It was obvious that neither one of us wanted to be here, but my dad was insistent that I learn this boring geometry.
"Just try it again sweetheart. You never know when you're going to need it. And it's important that everyone in our little community gets an education. Who knows what we'll discover because of something one of you learns that they thought was unimportant. Remember Andrae? We almost lost all of the discoveries he made in metal working because he was never allowed to come to Oakheart's school. It was fortunate for all of us that he and Meaghan fell in love."
I sighed heavily and went back to the problem at hand. As I worked it through, it gradually started to make a little more sense to me. But I hated to be reminded of that wolf Andrae. Because that inevitably lead to thoughts of his sons - and the fact that one day I'd have to produce children with one of them. Bleh. Jaxon was okay, but nothing special. The other two - Ezra and Mica - I had a hard time stomaching the fact that they were wolves like their father. But the fact remained, that they were the only unrelated boys on our little island. And one day, I'd have to choose one of them. And make babies. What a depressing thought.
Most days I managed to push my inevitable future out of my mind. My baby brother was a big help with that. I loved little Andru to death, and he was always happy to be cuddled by his big sister.
My other little brother, Gerry, was always bugging me to play with him. One of his favorite activities was building sandcastles. We'd play in the sand and watch the ocean and talk for hours on end.
"Someday I'm gonna swim out to that island," I whispered conspiratorially. "You want to come along?"
"What? No way! I'm gonna tell Dad! Besides, you'll get your wings waterlogged and you won't be able to fly."
"Shhh.. Don't tell Daddy. I was just kidding."
But I wasn't kidding. And I didn't believe my wings would get waterlogged. Someday I would swim out there.
We had always gotten along great, ever since I was a little girl. He always understood when I complained about geometry, and more important, he understood my dilemma with the four wolf boys. He didn't seem to care at all that he wasn't contributing to the population growth on the island.
"Don't let anybody tell you what to do with your life, Freya. It's your life, you deserve to be happy."
Great advice, but I don't think he understood the pressure I was under.
I was barely able to walk the first time I climb the lighthouse's ladder all the way to the roof, and it was still one of my favorite things to do when I came to visit.
I could see for miles from up there. Uncle Marlin said that once, great fires burned at the four corners of the platform, but they had been allowed to go out when the ships stopped coming, centuries ago, and then the great storm blew what remained of the pyres away out to sea.
I stared out across that vast ocean, and daydreamed of a time when giant ships with billowing white sails came and went, bringing wonderful things like the Victrola from far away places. Below me was the tiny island, the one I planned to swim to one day. But always, when I was up there, my gaze would eventually wander to the left.
Far off in the distance, at the very end of the barrier peninsula, was a house that was shadowed in mystery. Even from this distance, I could see that trees and other vegetation had overgrown the entire place, inside and out.
But whenever I asked Uncle Marlin about going to explore out there, he stopped me before I got started.
"No. No how, no way. Your mother would kill me if I let you out there. That place - it's just not safe. There's - something - that lives there that doesn't like visitors.
"I don't know what, I only know that the one time I set foot there, I heard - noises; not natural noises either. Almost like voices, but not quite. I'm not ashamed to say I turned tail and ran as fast as I could back here."
And so, as I helped my uncle with his herbs, I daydreamed of the forbidden places I would visit someday. First the little islet, and then the haunted bungalow.
I'm not sure if anyone else knows about Uncle Marlin's herbs. He said they are a secret, and if I helped him, he would let me try some, if I promised not to tell anyone.
"This is a fairy secret, Freya - passed down from your grandmother Fawn, who learned it from her mother, before the Great Flood. There used to be many kinds, in the old days, but this one bush is all that survives, and it's seeds refuse to germinate for me."
He had found just the one plant, growing outside his door one day. The seed blew in from somewhere across the water, and found the perfect place to germinate.
After trying out his Buzzberry, as he calls it, I could see why he wanted to keep it a secret. This stuff was fantastic! I couldn't remember a time when I had so much energy. I was capable of doing anything!
I was strong enough to swim to my little island ten times if I wanted! In fact, I was on such a roll, I would have swum right past it and out to sea, if my eye hadn't caught sight of a Buzzberry bush at the edge of the vegetation.
How exciting! Next to the Buzzberry, were several other plants I'd never seen before. Perhaps seeds had blown across the water to my tiny island as well.
Suddenly I was acutely aware of the haunted bungalow behind me. Somehow I knew that these plants were somehow connected to that place. Quickly I gathered as much as I could carry and swam back to Uncle Marlin's. Maybe he could shed some light on what these new herbs were.
I closed my eyes and heaved a huge sigh. After I had returned from Uncle Marlin's, Mom had sent me on an errand that I was not looking forward to - visiting the Wolves' household. Her excuse was that she needed a new cooking pan from Andrae - something suitable to bake a cake in, she instructed, but I was well aware of the real reason.
I began my visit with a little chat with Mica. He didn't seem nearly as bad as I remembered. Perhaps I should consider him instead of Jaxon or Ezra. I didn't know him well, but I knew he was a wolf like Ezra. After inquiring about the pan, Mica asked what I'd been up to lately, so I told him about my visit to Uncle Marlin's - leaving out the herb gathering, of course. And that's when things began to fall apart.
"That good-for-nothing? Why do you want to hang out with him, anyway? He spends all his time hiding out in that lighthouse of his, not contributing a lick to the community. What a loser. He doesn't even have a girlfriend."
I was livid! No one talks about my Uncle Marlin that way!
"Loser? I'll tell you who's the loser! You! Loseerrrrr!"
He stuck out his tongue in reply. Very mature, Mica. I rolled my eyes at him. No amount of cinnamon was going to make that creature attractive.
I was still furious, and for some reason thought that grabbing Ezra and engaging in a impromptu makeout session in front of Mica would even things out. Ezra of course was happy to oblige. Hmm. He actually wasn't that bad of a kisser. If only he weren't quite so hairy. And a wolf.
Angry and confused, I left in a huff, forgetting the blasted cake pan. I didn't want to go back for it, and didn't want to go home without, so I wandered around for a long time, until eventually I found myself approaching the forbidden bungalow. I shrugged inwardly. I'd come this far, I might was well check it out. It couldn't be that scary.
Cautiously I tiptoed up the steps onto the porch, fully expecting a ghostly voice to warn me off immediately. Most of the porch was overgrown and impassable, but the way to the door was clear.
No voice broke the silence, so I slowly turned to handle and stepped inside. It was still light outside, but the sunlight barely reached into the interior. The entire room was covered in vines and bushes, blocking the light from the many windows. There were even a few trees bursting through the floor, with their branches snaking through widening cracks in the roof. There was no way I could get further than the front door without doing a lot of clearing.
Instead, I made my way down to the beach. I was thrilled to see a small boat half buried in sand at the edge of the water, but as I waded in closer I could see the large hole in the bottom. How disappointing. Maybe it was fixable. I'd have to ask my dad.
The old dock had seen better days, and was in dire need of repair, but there appeared to be a place to tie the boat to, if I could get it fixed. This place was looking better and better to me. It was obvious to me now that Uncle Marlin's story was just that, a story. And I would be needing a place of my own soon. My birthday was just around the corner.
There was only one more spot to explore. I made my way up a creaky set of stairs to the flat rooftop. The sun was setting as I reached the top. Suddenly a torch at the top of the stairs flared up, lighting the way in front of me. My breath caught in my throat and my heart began to pound.
"Who's there?" I whispered breathlessly.
My query was met only with silence.
"Is anyone there?"
I stood rooted to the spot for at least a full minute, my ears straining to hear any unnatural sound. But there was only the creaking of tree branches scraping against the roof.
When there was no reply, I relaxed a little. I grinned to myself, and shook my head at my unfounded fear.
"Nah Nah, you don't scare me!" I called out in a louder voice, just to show myself that I wasn't afraid.
I stopped to listen again, to assure myself that there was nothing to hear. There. There it was - at the edge of my hearing, a low rumble, almost a vibration instead of a sound, that gradually increased in volume until the words were unmistakable.
"I am pleased you are not afraid, little one. Perhaps we can help each other."