An Excerpt from Chapter 22
Monday morning on Hornbeam Lake. Norman and Randy tiptoed out of the bunkroom and down the hall avoiding any squeaks and creaks that might awaken the sleeping dragon: Mrs. Black. They grabbed apples from the kitchen then carefully, quietly eased back the sliding glass door and stepped out onto deck. It was early Monday morning. Not long past sunrise. Sunlight slanted through the trees. The air was redolent with the fresh smell of pine and cedar.
“Listen,” Randy whispered.
“To what?” Norman mouthed. “I can’t hear anything.”
“Exactly! Isn’t it great?”
No one from any of the neighbouring cottages was out on the water or the docks yet. To Norman and Randy it seemed like the lake was their own private dominion.
Hornbeam Lake was picturesque but it was just one of a thousand similar Ontario lakes, some enormous, some the size of a small backyard, each one formed by the advance and retreat of glaciers. The boys sat down on the end of the dock and dangled their feet into its clear blue waters. This morning the lake was glassy and still except where their toes broke the surface. The boys sat silently on the edge of the dock, eating their apples and staring across the water to the other side of the bay.
In one spot, far in the distance, a cliff rose straight out of the water. Mr. Black had pointed it out to the boys on their one and only boat ride. He’d called it Divers’ Rock. Near the top of the cliff a lone tree grew from a crack in the rock face. It was a white pine. Not too long ago the entire province, from the north shores of Lake Ontario to the Hudson Bay basin, had been a solid forest of white pine trees. This tree stood alone: solitary, spare and wizened with a permanent lean. Even on a perfectly wind-still morning like this one, the tree had the appearance of being pounded by heavy gales.
“Mr. Black said he’d take us cliff jumping off Divers’ Rock when he gets back,” Randy said through a mouthful of apple. “He should be back tomorrow.”
“Yes,” Norman said. “It sucks to have to wait though.”
Randy shrugged and threw his apple core into the lake. “Hey, I’ve got a great idea! Why don’t we try to row the Pumpkin across the lake?”
“All the way into the Sound?”
“Are you kidding? That would take forever! I was thinking just here, across the bay. We could explore the hill on far side. We could make a game out of it like we would if…” Randy didn’t finish the sentence. Neither boy said it aloud but both of them were thinking about Alex and the Game. They missed it. They missed her.
Norman sighed. “It’s a great idea, Randy. But Mrs. Black is never going to let us do that.”
“What if we promised not to go to Divers’ Rock.
“I don’t think that’s the problem,” Norman said. “She doesn’t want us anywhere near the water if there’s even the slightest chance of an electric storm.”
“She does get scritchy about that.”
“Yes. And have you noticed the weather pattern since we’ve been here? The mornings are pretty good. But the clouds start to build around noon and by mid afternoon we get the rain.”
“You’re right, Norman. So far Donny hasn’t hauled himself out of bed until eleven, so that’s most of the good weather wasted. Do you think it will rain again today?
“I hope not.”
“Me too. Because…” Randy said, “If we could row across maybe we could find enough deadfall trees on the far side to drag down to the shore. Then we could build a raft.”
The boys looked at each other and smiled wistfully, remembering the raft ride down 14 Mile Creek and their dramatic climb up the towering clay bank at Old Man Wilkins’ farm.
“We could do that anyway. On this side of the bay,” Norman said. He’d already given up hope that Mrs. Black would agree to let them take the Pumpkin all the way across.
“What if we say we’re going fishing and promise to come back if there’s any sign of thunder?” Randy suggested. “She doesn’t seem to mind when we take the Pumpkin out around the dock to fish. Once we’re on the water we could just keep rowing. What’s to stop us?”
Norman considered it for a moment then answered, “Mrs. Black.”
Randy nodded in agreement. Let sleeping dragons lie.
The twins were rapidly discovering how difficult it was to like Donny Black. He was moody, controlling and selfish. Now, since his dad had gone back to Scotch-Gully, Donny’s behaviour had gotten even worse. He seemed continually angry. Yet despite this, Norman and Randy felt sorry for him. Donny’s mother was horrible. With Mr. Black gone she spent every waking minute criticizing, nagging or correcting Donny. She was constantly in his face. It made Norman and Randy uncomfortable. The twins were unused to adults like her. They’d grown up with the expectation of strict, yet supportive parents. Donny might be selfish and abrasive, but Mrs. Black would set anyone’s teeth on edge.
“Who does she remind you of?” Norman asked.
“In real life? No one!”
“No, I mean as a character. Does she remind you of a character in any of the books we’ve read?” Norman looked expectantly at his brother.
“I’m not sure. We’ve read a lot of books.”
Norman looked over his shoulder to make sure they were alone and then, because they were lakeside and sound travels so well across water, he leaned in and in the lowest possible whisper he said, “The Grand High Witch.”
Randy exploded with laughter. “Of course! That’s it! From Roald Dahl’s book The Witches.”
“Shhh! You don’t want to get fried do you?” he laughed. The Grand High Witch would exterminate anyone who crossed her with a laser-beam-like stare from her eyes.
The twins laughed.
Then they sighed.
Then they returned to staring out over the lake and swirling their toes around in the water.
Photo by Nancy Palermo