THE SEAKEEPER is a middle grade fantasy that I wrote for the Advanced Novel Writing Course at The Institute of Children's Literature. I workshopped THE SEAKEEPER in Holly Black's fantasy writing class at Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers 2011. (And I cannot say enough glowing things about WIFYR. It is worth every penny and every minute!) For the wonderful "30 Stories, 30 Days" event, here are the blurb and the first chapter:
Twelve-year-old Greer Callaghan never intended to return to the ocean, but she also never planned on Mama getting sick. Now, Greer and her family have moved to Brighid's Gatehouse, her great-uncle's bed and breakfast on the coast, in search of a cure. The bed and breakfast is abandoned, its gardens are dead, and the window of Greer's new bedroom faces the ocean. Despite the mound of pillows Greer crams into the window frame to drown out the rumbling waves, nightmares still invade her sleep.
Ever since something pulled Greer underwater in the Atlantic, the ocean has been her enemy.
When Greer finds a letter Mama never wanted her to read, she is plunged into the world of Mama's secrets--a world in which the Gatehouse guests are more than they appear and where magic is more valuable than air. As Greer searches for her missing uncle, she finds Brighid, the amphibious pixee for whom the Gatehouse is named. Suddenly, the ocean is unavoidable and Mama's life isn't the only one at risk.
For the first time in centuries, a magical civilization is without a Seakeeper and its power has fallen into traitorous hands. Greer's ocean enemy now has a face. Unless she confronts her water fear in time to remedy her great-uncle's mistakes, she'll lose the people she loves. Even the land will no longer be safe.
by Celesta Rimington
Chapter One: Brighid’s Gatehouse
Greer watched Dad pull on the gear shift and she wondered for the hundredth time how he could let Mama leave the hospital. For hours, she’d listened to Mama’s uneven breathing in the front seat until her own chest hurt. Greer scooted closer to the car door, her bare legs sticking to the station wagon’s vinyl seat. She wiped the window with her palm. Tree shadows stretched across the glass like witch fingers as moonlight leaked through the clouds.
“Are you sure Uncle Llewellyn won’t be here?” she asked.
“I’m certain.” Mama’s hoarse whisper no longer resembled her once honey-smooth voice. She rarely said more than one sentence at a time these days. She just didn’t have enough air.
The car drove through an open gate and rattled onto a gravel driveway. The shadows of her great-uncle’s mansion seemed to rise out of the ground and swallow up the surrounding forest.
“Sorry Greer, but I don’t think you’ll be seeing Uncle Llewellyn,” Dad said with a brief glance toward the backseat.
“I know. I know,” Greer said. “You think he abandoned the bed and breakfast. But, how do you know? Did you talk to him?”
Dad shook his head. “We couldn’t reach him. He doesn’t use email or cell phones…”
“…he writes letters,” Mama said. Even with her illness, she still finished Dad’s sentences.
Mama had secrets. And not just that she poured store-bought pasta sauce into a saucepan and called it homemade or that she could talk just about anybody into doing just about anything. Mama had bigger secrets than that. All Greer knew for sure was that Mama checked herself out of the hospital and convinced Dad to yank Greer out of school, sell their house, and move six states away because she thought some strange fruit would heal her.
Dad turned the key and pulled it from the ignition. “You made it,” he said to the car as it sputtered to a halt. He thought everything needed human encouragement.
Mama started another coughing fit and Greer gasped for air herself—like it would help. Dad reached across the seat and gently squeezed Mama’s hand. Suddenly, Greer couldn’t bear to be in the car anymore. She didn’t care about the creepy trees and Uncle Llewellyn’s big, dark mansion. She yanked on the stubborn door latch and shoved her way out into the thick Rhode Island night air. Hundreds of spherical lanterns bobbing from trees in a wooded garden cast eerie blue lights against the mansion’s stone pillars.
Thisis a bed and breakfast? She had thought bed and breakfasts were cozy cottages with old ladies having tea on the front porch. This place couldn’t be further from cozy, with its cold iron gates and monstrous steps stretching longer than the entire house they’d left behind in Bloomfield.
Greer’s tennis shoes crunched in the driveway gravel as she approached the wooden handrail and the porch. She climbed the steps and remembered how Natalie and Thomas had tried to help her feel better about all of this.
“You’re going to move where?” Natalie had asked when Greer had told her best friends she’d be missing the last two weeks of school.
“My mama’s uncle owns a bed and breakfast in Rhode Island.”
Natalie sucked in on her bubble gum and made a loud snap. Her face dropped and Greer knew she was thinking about all the things they weren’t going to be able to do now—their double thirteenth birthday party they’d been planning all year, their first attempt at an English garden that was just beginning to bloom in the empty lot behind the Greasy Grits Diner, and teasing Thomas about his tennis shorts.
But Natalie took one look at Greer’s face and did her look-on-the-happy-side thing. “A bed and breakfast! Greer, you are so lucky. My father says those old places are magical—you know, like old and mysterious. And you’ll eat the best food there.”
Greer didn’t want to tell Natalie that the only food she would be eating at the bed and breakfast was food she and Dad made themselves. Mama said Uncle Llewellyn didn’t employ any housekeepers or cooks.
“We stayed at a bed and breakfast in Tennessee once,” Thomas said. “The place had a huge forest behind it. Best hiking trails ever.”
“But what about your mama? Isn’t she still in the hospital?” Natalie always tilted her head when she spoke of Mama and her illness. It made Greer feel itchy all over.
She shrugged and wished she had an answer that didn’t make her family sound crazy. “Mama checked herself out of the hospital. She thinks she’ll get better in Rhode Island.” Greer left out the part about Mama believing that a fruit at Uncle Llewellyn’s bed and breakfast would make her better. And that Mama wouldn’t tell her any more about it.
Now, as the wind pressed against the trees in the distant garden, the lantern lights bounced like giant fireflies onto second-story arched windows. The stiff breeze carried with it a familiar smell and the crashing sound that followed made Greer feel five years old again. The ocean lurked just beyond the reaches of the lanterns.
Greer hated the ocean—the salty stench it thrust into the wind, the way it crept up the beach, the frothy foam of its waves as it salivated for its next victim. She leaned against the porch railing and rubbed her shoulders.
“Everything okay, angel?” Dad had climbed to the top porch step and she hadn’t even noticed.
“Listening to the ocean?”
Greer shrugged. She didn’t want to have this conversation for the hundredth time. She didn’t want to talk about why she never went in a swimming pool, why she never filled the bathtub with more than an inch of water, and why she would never go in the ocean again.
“I’m sorry the water scares you. Maybe you can try it again while we are here…” His voice lifted like a question.
“I don’t think so.” Greer shrugged again, wishing she had another summer to spend with Natalie. Natalie never pressured her to go swimming on hot days. Instead, they’d go summer sledding at Bloomfield park using ice blocks from the walk-in freezer at the Greasy Grits.
She turned her back on the ocean sounds and focused on the mansion’s front doors. They had an unusual seashell pattern carved into their mahogany surface. The shells spiraled inward, shrinking as they approached a large carving of sea coral at the center.
“Curious,” Dad said. He grabbed the iron loop handles and pulled. The doors didn’t budge.
“Wouldn’t Uncle Llewellyn have locked the doors?”
“Not according to your mama.” Dad yanked harder on the handles. “Come on,” he groaned between clenched teeth.
No luck. Dad stood frozen on the porch with his hands resting on the iron loops.
His head and shoulders drooped like the hosta plants Greer had planted on the west side of their house last year. “Hostas need shade,” Dad had told her. Like she and Dad needed Mama.Nothing ever seemed to frighten Dad until the doctors said Mama might die. But he had let her leave the hospital and drove her all the way to Rhode Island, anyway.
Mama called to them from the car’s open door. The ocean still rumbled beyond the garden, but Greer had trained herself to always listen for Mama.
Still, Dad didn’t move. Greer reached out and touched his hands. They were warm, his knuckles rough from years of working outside. “Daddy, Mama’s calling you.”
“Graham.” Mama’s voice came a little louder this time.
Dad let go of the door handles and hurried down the porch steps. Greer followed close behind.
“The doors are locked,” Dad announced when they reached the car. His gentle voice sounded tired. “Didn’t Llewellyn tell you they would be open?”
Mama’s chest compressed and staggered with her effort to breathe. Much worse than yesterday. Please don’t die. Dad adjusted the pillows behind her back and neck. Her blonde hair blanketed her shoulders and moist curls stuck to her pale face. Despite the dark circles that shadowed her eyes, she remained the most beautiful woman Greer had ever seen.
Mama patted Dad’s arm. “I’m all right.” She took a purposeful breath to prove her point.
“Aleera, please. I’ve called Portsmouth Medical in New Hampshire.” Dad closed his eyes and touched his forehead to Mama’s. “Please let me take you there.”
So he'd had a plan all along. Greer fidgeted with the baby ring on the necklace Mama had given her. She slid the ring over her pinkie finger until it got stuck on the knuckle.
“I’ve already told you the doctors will not have the answers,” Mama whispered. “This place is the answer.”
She should have known Mama wouldn’t go for it. Her insides squirmed. Sometimes Mama asked too much.
“Greer must open the doors,” Mama said, talking about her as if she wasn’t standing right by the car.
“But, if Daddy can’t open them, why do you think I...”
“Please.” Mama’s breathless request was insistent.
More secrets. Greer nodded. She took the wide porch steps two at a time until she reached the gigantic doors. They looked impossibly heavy. She took a deep breath, grabbed the handles with both hands, and pulled. The doors didn’t move and she fell backward into the railing.
“Ouch!” As she rubbed the scratches on her arm left by a splintered baluster, the sidelight windows framing the doors glowed orange. Greer scrambled to her feet. Two lanterns above the doors flickered on, illuminating script lettering carved into the white stone wall: Brighid’s Gatehouse.
Someone turned those lights on from inside. Mama and Dad were wrong. Uncle Llewellynwas here.She knocked on the door’s thick hard wood but, despite bruising her knuckles, it made only a feeble noise. No one answered. She grabbed the handles again and pulled.