"Steady, dear heart...there we go, look at you!"
Two-year-old Mercy McNeil grinned as she floated in the bay called Treacherous Landing, her mother Caitriona's hands nearby in case she should falter. A gentle wave came her way, and she laughed as she rose and fell with it. "Whee!" she squealed.
"Whee!" Caitriona smiled, scooping Mercy up and setting her on her hip. "Rowan, she's floating!"
"Good for her!"
Mercy's father, Rowan, was having his own problems. Something near him was floundering helplessly in the water, and Mercy looked on confused. "Wha's dat?" she asked.
"That's Da tryin' to teach Deydey how to swim."
"Deydey not swim?"
"Somehow, Mercy, Deydey never learned how to swim."
"Deydey old! Why not swim?"
Caitriona laughed. "I know. Let's go tell him you said that."
"Deydey!" Mercy shouted as Caitriona waded towards the fiasco in the middle of the bay. Rowan took hold of an arm, and the body it was attached to stopped floundering.
"It isn't difficult!" Rowan said.
"Aye, ye've said that!" said an elderly man with a Scottish brogue as he wiped seawater out of his eyes. "Memorizing the Greek alphabet isn't difficult either, but ye still can't get past theta!"
"You're a grown man, Lukas, how can you not know how to swim?"
"I'm sixty years auld. I shouldn't have to swim if I don't want to!"
Laughter erupted from the beach, where two boys were having a hole-digging competition. "Do you need help, Lukas?" called a thirteen-year-old twig of a boy. He was clad only in trousers, and his chest, where it was not sunburned or freckled, was as white as the sand he played in.
"He'll be fine." The second boy was legally an adult, but his actions had yet to catch up to his age. He had a beard and the broad frame of a bear, yet there was mischief in his eyes and a tone to his voice that suggested it would still get a bit deeper. "If anyone needs help, it's you, Tarin. You haven't even hit water yet."
"I have so," Tarin said.
The almost-adult stepped into the hole he'd made. "Come here. How's it feel being taller than me?"
Scowling, Tarin ran for the nearby woods. "I'm getting a shovel," he said.
There were plenty of twigs lying at the forest's edge, but Tarin wanted a broader one to dig with. So, spotting a fallen tree, he ran over to tear off a limb. "I'll beat you at somethin', Brett," he muttered as he pulled on a branch with all his might. "Someday, I'll win for once!"
Tarin fell down as the limb broke off, twigs and dead grass scratching his sunburned back. A nearby scuttling noise caught his attention. Hoping to see a deer or a rabbit, he stood and looked around. He saw nothing.
The noise stopped, and Tarin hopped onto the fallen tree to survey the forest. "No fair, Brett," he said. "You're twice my size. You don't need a shovel."
A twig snapped, and Tarin turned around to see a figure in the woods. He froze. Everything about it was wrong. It was too bony--its limbs too long, and bent at odd angles, as it crawled backwards into the underbrush. If it had a face, Tarin could not see it. There were only shadows.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.