Indian arrowheads have been turning up in the fields since before Grampa’s time, but no one imagined the secret that would reveal itself to Barbara.
In the summer of 1948, Barbara Reilly discovers something truly magical in the woods of her parents’ upstate New York farm. Her stunning encounter compels her to defy the wishes of others, setting in motion events that invite a dark invasion to the wholesome family home.
As danger descends, Barbara is the only one fully aware. What sort of power can a thirteen-year-old girl summon, to stand up to the threat? What help can she hope to muster, through her connection to another girl, from the distant past, who lived and struggled on the same land?
BARBARA REILLY is a historical fantasy woven with mystery and courage.
Excerpt: Prologue + Chapter 1
Prologue: Long Ago
Gatoweh, Autumn, 1779 by the Whiteman’s calendar, midday by the sun’s position, but twilight for the Iroquois people, dusk for a centuries-old way of life.
A village stood, fourteen log-built houses beneath the crowns of giant oaks and elms, a village and its garden field in the midst of ancient forest. Along the winding avenue, and in the houses, people hurried without rest. Women toted baskets sagging low with cook-pots, clothes, and called to children, shrill, full-throated calls. Old men stooped in doorways fixing bundles, fumbling with cord. Boys heaved doeskin bags and strapped them to the backs of horses. And in the field, where corn leaves waved among the climbing beans across a green squash sea, a hundred busy hands swam, reaping what small portion could be saved of a harvest meant to last through coming winter. Uncertainty and fear filled each one’s heart as all prepared to leave this forest, field, and these communal homes.
At stream’s edge, Nawa bent to dip her bucket. She bent like a bough about to break. Through long hair hanging loose she saw her shadow in the water, and the color of her dress, blue broadcloth, mingling with the waves. She was daughter of Oyanri and proud Kowanea. They had given her a body strong and fair, a body in which happiness once dwelled. Then, getting water was a simple task, a pleasure even, following the path where sunlight played, bringing the herons stitch-designed upon her moccasins to water, which herons love.
But that was long ago, many helpless yesterdays, many red-rimmed moons ago, in a time more distant than a dream. Now the face that tilted down was feverish, etched with pain, and aged beyond its eighteen summers. The eyes, once sparkling like dew, were glazed. The hand that held the bucket trembled.
Chapter 1: School’s Out
“Goody,” said Barbara, flipping her hair back and scanning the sky as though for rain. “I love the falls.”
Halfway across the group, the motion of her head made Tommy Doeg’s heart leap. It wasn’t just the jaunty snap. It was her hair, honey-brown, shoulder length, straight with that slight curve at the bottom. And the way it swung.
“I like the falls, too,” said Janice Yaple, sitting next to Barbara, and swallowed the last of her juice. “What are you looking at?”
The seventh grade was finishing its 1948 school year on an outing at Taughannock State Park, with a picnic lunch sprawled on the grass, after games of tag and exploring the rocky shore of Cayuga Lake.
“I don’t know,” said Barbara, bringing her eyes down and staring at Janice.
It was better when girls were poison, thought Tommy. And when they were invisible. How had they gotten to be such bad news? Most of them, anyway. Except the ugly ones. Barbara was the worst. She was like one of those goddesses from Greek mythology. She was perfect.
Mrs. Wakefield had just cleared her throat and announced, “Everyone, please pack your things, and assemble by the drinking fountain. We will shortly begin the final portion of our field trip, our walk to Taughannock Falls.”
A low cheer had rippled over the fifty-eight students of the two homerooms. It didn’t matter that the park was only a ten-minute ride from Trumansburg Central, and that most of them had been there umpteen times with their parents. The sun was out, never a given in the Finger Lakes in June, and ten glorious weeks of no school lay ahead.
Tommy was in sad shape. There was no getting around it.
What was it that attracted him so completely to Barbara? He had already decided to analyze it. Beyond her perfection. That wasn’t an answer. He needed specifics. If there was to be any hope. Of rescue. From being doomed to eternal, pathetic weaklingdom.
He watched her rise to a standing position. Unfolding to her tall, thin height. Rangy, and coltish. That’s how the guy in that cowboy movie had described a girl like her. With a … body … He coughed. Like hers. Not boney, though. A well-fed colt. A body beginning to show a woman’s figure. Yow.
She took a few steps, then stooped and untied her shoelace. She removed her shoe and shook out … a pebble. Uh! Her white-stockinged foot looked impossibly smooth and shapely. An angel’s. And her face in profile, rose-lipped, rimmed in light, with the delicate upturned nose … Uh! Where were her wings?
Baseball. Joe DiMaggio. Anything. Chicago White Sox … white socks. Ohhh. Bad. Stop looking. Look away. Oh no, she saw you.
Tommy felt his face burn. He hurried to the drinking fountain bursting in sweat.
The combined classes crossed the road as a column of twos, with Mrs. Wakefield at the head and Mrs. Thornton behind, and the drivers guarding for motorists but not accompanying the group onto the three-quarter mile Gorge Trail.
“Doesn’t this just feel like an Indian place?” said Barbara when they’d entered the canyon, into woods fragrant with pine and alive with birds chirping.
“I suppose,” said Janice, gazing up the slope to the left, and then to the right where the bright stream rushed. “Except for that guy down there with the paint easel.”
“Can’t you imagine us walking along and an Indian stepping out of those bushes right there?”
“One Indian against two homerooms?”
“Not against.” Barbara’s nose crinkled. “She’d be friendly. And just us.”
“You mean we’d be way back in time?”
“No, us today. But a real old-time Indian.”
“I’d rather see Elizabeth Taylor. On her horse. Like she was in National Velvet. And Mickey Rooney, even though he’s old.”
“Greatest picture ever,” Barbara agreed, then glanced upward, as if expecting to spot something between the treetops.
“What’s the matter?” said Janice.
“Huh? Nothing I guess.” They kept walking. “Got any gum?”
Janice took out a pack and doled them each a piece.
“So when did your dad say you could get a horse?” said Barbara, chewing.
“When I get older. As always.”
“Same here,” said Barbara.
“Probably when I’m an adult,” said Janice.
“I know. I keep reminding Dad that Grampa and him worked horses. All he says is it’s the last thing we need right now. Even though I’d be the one taking care of it.”
“Hey, I know, let’s start a club,” said Janice. “Horseless Riders of Trumansburg, New York.”
Barbara laughed. “Horseless Underprivileged Riders. HURT for short.”
“Yeah,” giggled Janice. “We’ll shame them into getting horses for us.”
Behind the two girls, Tommy’s friend Paul reached over and waved his hand over Tommy’s glazed eyes, as though testing him for hypnosis. “They’re dangerous,” he said in a ghoulish whisper. “They’ll ruin your mind.”
“Anyway,” Barbara said, shaking her wrist, “with my charm bracelet, we’ll be safe from trouble, even if it’s Mickey Rooney.” The metal and celluloid figurines rattled, among them a lion, a star, a pony, an Indian head with feather bonnet, and a pair of owls perched on a laying down crescent moon.
Janice chuckled. “I can’t believe Mrs. Wakefield let you wear it to school today.”
“Maybe it will protect me from excessive haying, too.”
“Tell me about it. I’m driving rake again this year. Full time.”
“Me, too,” said Barbara.
“Look,” said Janice, pointing. A man with a camera knelt in front of a woman posed on the trunk of a fallen tree by the stream. “You should have brought your brother’s Kodak.”
“You kidding?” said Barbara. “John would never let me. He doesn’t even use it.”
Tommy had guessed right on the horse connection. But Indians? Charms? Farming? Not his subjects at all. But that only made her more interesting, didn’t it? The same way he was never going to shop for brassieres, had utterly no use for them, but found them curious.
So, yeah, intriguing in every way, she was. All of her. Her very her-ness. Besides being too beautiful. Excessive, to use the word she’d said about haying. She was too everything. Too … different. From him.
That was it.
He’d hit on it. She was of another species. From outer space. And he without his ray gun. Ha.
No, he was on to something. There was scientific principle behind this, wasn’t there? Which one? Magnetism. The fact that positive and negative charges attract. Meaning that polar opposites are drawn to each other, inevitably. Great. He was doomed, by physics.
At the first bend in the gorge the level path broke clear of the trees, revealing the extent of nature’s work there. Walls of crumbly, sun-bleached rock vaulted up on both sides, capped by blockier stone bluffs, split-faced and creviced, and crowned with a mantle of evergreens that seemed to scrape the sky.
Faces tilted up and gawked.
Someone murmured, “I wonder if anyone’s ever fallen from there.”
Another piped, “Maybe we’ll see an eagle.”
“I’m pretty sure eagles do live here,” said Barbara, gazing upward and around, until her eyes met the noon sun shafting between the cliffs, and squeezed shut.
Mrs. Wakefield dropped back into the column to conduct one last teaching, a walking geology lesson. “Ten thousand years ago,” she began, “after Cayuga lake was scooped out by glaciers, this stream, filled with melting ice, flowed all the way up there, on top. Who can tell me, by what force of nature the stone was worn away to create this gorge? Sally?”
“Erosion, Mrs. Wakefield.”
“Very good. How many of you already figured, then, that the many tons of debris washed from here are what formed the point of land where we just enjoyed our lunch? Three?”
Ahead the canyon walls stretched even higher.
Look at her moving, thought Tommy. Uh! Those curvy shoulders. That graceful back. This is the longest I’ve ever gotten to walk behind her. I am so lucky.
“Look there,” said Mrs. Wakefield, “We can nicely observe the strata, the layers of limestone and sandstone and shale. These are sedimentary rock types, formed from sand and mud, along with plant and animal particles, from an inland sea that covered this entire area millions of years before the glaciers.”
She’s more mysterious when I can’t see her face. I wonder what it’s like being that amazing. I wonder what she’s thinking.
Barbara reached over her shoulder and scratched. As her arm swung down, the charm bracelet fell off. She stooped to grab it, then glanced back to see who might be bearing down on her. For an instant her eyes locked with Tommy’s.
Ah, the cornflower blue of hers. The color of his favorite crayon. Forget that. The prettiest color for a girl’s eyes God ever made. He’d never seen into them directly. Not with them looking back. They were magical.
Janice halted in that moment, too, forcing Tommy to pass between them or be trampled himself. Now he was ahead, marching with Paul, looking at the back of two thick-necked Joes from his own homeroom.
Drat. He wasn’t in touch with her anymore. He couldn’t try to read her. He couldn’t drink her in. Just like the rest of this dratted year. Two classes, and he’d been plunked in the other, not hers.
“Weird,” said Barbara, re-snapping the clasp on her bracelet.
Weird? She means me, thought Tommy. I almost stepped on her. The look she gave me. Phooey. No mystery what she’s thinking now. What a dolt he is. I’ve been a nothing to her all year, and on the last day I graduate to dolt. And that’s how it will end. I can’t stand it. I want to die.
“You will learn about this in eighth grade,” Mrs. Wakefield continued. “How sediments compress into stone by their own great weight, over eons.”
I won’t learn it in eighth grade because I won’t be here. I’m leaving. This is my last day in your stupid school.
My last chance to say something.
“See how the softer sandstone and shale degrade more quickly, flake away, causing the limestone above it to break off in chunks, continuing the process of erosion even today? Isn’t geology fascinating?”
This time there was no response from the class, because the class itself was flaking away and breaking off in chunks. They’d entered a band of hemlocks that had trails going down to the stream, and the lure had become too great.
Mrs. Wakefield raised her whistle to her lips, then relented. She waved off the remainder with a not-quite smile, and called after them, “Stay out of the water.” Mrs. Thornton, huffing up the path, added a phlegmatic, “Play safely.” Both teachers sank onto a nearby bench.
“Let’s run this trail,” said Paul.
“Nah, go on, I ate too much,” said Tommy.
Around the next curve the main waterfall inched into view. There Taughannock Stream, the whole small river of it, fell from a second, higher canyon, into the bowl-shaped amphitheater at the end of the main gorge. Two hundred feet down it crashed into the plunge pool, drenching the walls with spray, before forcing its way out through the jumbled boulders and gushing under the plank bridge that led to the observation point, where it slicked the ground and filled the air with fine rain. Each step nearer increased its roar until it howled like a hurricane.
“I’m not going over,” said Janice. “I don’t feel like getting wet.” She sat down on the bench at the head of the bridge and folded her hands. “Go on. Shoo. I’m fine.”
Barbara crossed. But instead of proceeding left to the lookout, she turned downstream and descended to the water’s edge. She stood on a stone shelf that slanted into the water, and from there she studied the top of the falls, where the stream hinged over the precipice. Her eyes followed the curtain of water dropping, then flowing out toward her. She searched the water in the dark under the bridge, and into the sun, to the shoreline lapping her feet. Then her gaze returned to the top of the falls.
Tommy also turned right after leaving the bridge. Pretending interest in a huge sycamore that had a hollow in its trunk big enough to crawl into, he ambled past Barbara behind her, to where it was anchored in the shale at the base of the cliff.
Then, with her facing the falls, he turned toward her, feeling safe to look upon her, that is, to regard the falls with her deliciously silhouetted form in the foreground.
School was over. He would never see her again. His father got the college teaching position. His mom was already packing for the move to Massachusetts. They’d only been here a year. New York had been a mistake, it felt like. All except maybe for this.
The whole time he hadn’t had the courage to speak to her. Now he wanted badly to say, “Hello.” Or, “Goodbye.” Or, something. But he just stood there with his hands in his pockets and his mouth glued shut. Feeling terrible and stuck. And wondering why it was so God-awful pitiful being thirteen.
Now the thunder of Taughannock Falls was joined by the whoops of boys. Seven of them burst from the pines, their faces streaked with mud, most stripped to the waist, their shirts tucked into their belts, flapping like loincloths. They waved stick spears and driftwood war clubs, and raced over the bridge like a pack of Iroquois braves, shouting, “Woo-hoo, school’s out!” and, “Scalp the teacher! Scalp the teacher!” At the far end of the lookout, they jumped up and down and howled at the falls until they were soaked. Then they dashed back over and rambled down to the stream, where they jostled each other, stabbed the water, and laughed.
Mrs. Wakefield and Mrs. Thornton were nowhere to be seen.
In the same moment Tommy stepped forward and tried to speak, the warriors spied Barbara.
“Look! Indian princess of enemy tribe. Indian princess, enemy tribe. Woo-hoooo!” They flung their spears and clubs across the stream. Sticks skittered over the flat rock around her. She barely seemed to notice. She was focused on the stream. Stones began to fly at her, plooshing the water and clattering against the cliff base. As she stooped to pick something up, one hit her. She jerked back, clutching her shoulder.
She collided with Tommy. They both fell, his head clunking the rock slab they were on. He felt her slide between his legs, watched her skirt ravel up and her feet go in the water.
A riptide of laughter erupted across the stream even as a thrill shot through Tommy.
“Look, they’re going to make out.”
A stone struck Tommy in the side. He felt his face wrench in anger. He snatched the stone and reared back to hurl it. Then he saw Barbara struggling to climb the loose shale. He dropped the stone and grabbed her.
Her arm felt warm and firm and completely wonderful as he pulled her. Other than during their collapse just now, it was the first time he had ever touched a girl. He guided her behind a boulder. Crouched they heard the tweet of a teacher’s whistle.
“Boys!” came Mrs. Wakefield’s voice. “That will be enough!”
“Are you all right?” said Tommy huskily.
“I think so.” said Barbara, gasping. “Hi, you’re Tommy, right?”
He gulped and nodded. “You’re Barbara.”
She smiled. Her eyes sparkled.
They both glanced down to see what she was holding. A long white feather.