A Juniper Sawfeather Novel #3
Echo of the Cliffs
by D. G. Driver
of immortality to protect their people forever.
another was turned into a tree,
and the final warrior was turned into a stone.
Juniper Sawfeather has learned there is truth to this American Indian legend. She knows how it connects the mermaids she saved from an oil spill to the ancient spirit that trapped her in the branches of an Old Growth tree. Now she wants to find out if the final part of this legend is true: that some kind of magical stone exists. A lone mermaid finds her and shares a vision of a cliff along the ocean shore. This must be the place, and June knows she needs to find it.
Tragedy happens when June and her boyfriend, Carter, join her parents on a mission to the San Juan Strait to collect evidence of construction run-off pollution, and they are attacked by a killer whale. June is convinced that the killer whale was led by mermaids, and she is desperate to find out why they attacked and where they are hiding. Once again, Juniper is on a heroic mission, the most frightening adventure yet. A thrilling ending to this award-winning trilogy!
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Native American Legends
My birthday cake splattered all over the rocks. Haley and Carter dropped it to chase after me. I was already lowering myself over the side of the rocky cliff, and I heard them shouting after me to stop. I knew my feet weren’t healed enough to be attempting this descent. I was still recovering from my week in the tree and didn’t have a lot of strength. The rocks were slick with mist and ocean spray, and I had a hard time getting a grip. It didn’t matter. I had to get down there before the mermaid swam away.
“June! Stop!” Carter shouted down to me. Haley screeched behind him. I’m not sure if there were words involved.
He was coming after me, but I didn’t look up to see his progress. I had to stay focused on where I was placing my hands and feet. This wasn’t the steepest of cliffs, nor was it a simple staircase, either. My breathing came hard too quickly. I shouldn’t have been winded already, and that just ticked me off. I spit out a curse word or two and kept going.
I was almost close enough to the tide pools to let go and jump when Carter caught up to me. He swung down and put his body around me, pressing me into the rocks like some shield against the wind. His arms were stretched out to both sides of my head, and his feet spread out to both sides of mine. He had me trapped. I tried pulling my legs together and wriggling like I might slip underneath him. That didn’t work. He pressed his chest against my back and held me still.
“What are you doing?” He had to yell to be heard above the ocean surf, even though his mouth was buried in my hair.
“I saw her!” I shouted back and pointed behind me as best I could. “Down there! She’s down there right now! I have to get to her!”
“You’re crazy, June. There’s nothing down there.”
“Her hand took the wreath I made. You missed it because you were at the car.” I wiggled as hard as I could. “Just let me go before she gets away.”
“I can’t. You’re going to hurt yourself. You aren’t ready for this yet.”
“Then help me.”
From above us I heard Haley calling out, asking if we were okay. Carter waved at her, and when his hand lifted off the rocks, I slipped out the opening he gave me. I didn’t get far, though, because he grabbed my right arm. Good thing too, because my sneakers slipped, and I would’ve had a hard slide into the ocean. With a groan, Carter yanked me back up to where I had my footing again.
“Please let me go,” I said instead of thanking him. “There isn’t time. She’ll swim away.”
Carter glanced down at the tide pools and back at me. “There’s nothing there.”
He knew by my tone that I wasn’t kidding. Carter took a sharp breath and looked me squarely in the eye. “I don’t doubt you saw something. I don’t think I’ll ever doubt that again after what you’ve been through, but this is dangerous.”
“She won’t let me drown if I fall.”
“You don’t know that. You don’t even know if it’s your girl.”
“Of course it is. Who else would it be? Let me go see.”
“Fine,” he agreed, sounding a bit like my dad on those rare occasions when I’d win an argument by being more stubborn than him. “But let me help you.”
Somehow, while keeping a hand on me at all times, he guided me down the remainder of the cliffs until we were crouched on the tide pools where the wreath of Red Cedar tree twigs had been.
I leaned forward as far as Carter would let me. He kept his hands firmly around my waist, anchoring me in place. My feet throbbed inside my wet shoes. My thighs and calves burned from the strain I just put on them. I had no idea how I was going to get back up the cliff, but I couldn’t think about that yet. I dipped my hands in the water. The waves slapped at my forearms and spit in my face.
“Come on,” I moaned. “I know you’re there.”
I splashed and slapped the water, trying to draw attention to myself. Then I stilled and waited, allowing a couple minutes to pass.
“I don’t know how much longer I can hold you like this,” Carter said. “This is an awkward position, and my feet are slipping.”
I craned my neck to look back at him. He had his left knee bent up beside my hip, but his right leg was stretched out as far as it could go, his foot wedged between two rocks for balance.
“Just hang on. Give it one more minute.”
“Seriously, June, I don’t think I can.”
“Then let go of me.”
He didn’t mean to. His left foot slipped backward, and he landed hard on his knee. That threw off his balance, and he rolled backward, away from me. The moment his hands left my body, I lurched forward. I didn’t realize how much he was holding me in place. I tumbled head first into the freezing Pacific Ocean.
It wasn’t a far drop, but the force of the water flipped me upside down. Water went up my nose and made my sinuses burn. My eyes were closed, and I forced them to open in the salt water. It didn’t matter, because I couldn’t see anything but froth. The pressure of the ocean banged me up against the tide pools over and over. Even as I struggled to get my bearings, all I could think of was how mad my mom was going to be that I let myself get hurt again so badly less than a week after coming down from that tree.
Then I felt hands. I’m sure they were Carter’s hands reaching at me from above, trying to catch mine as I grasped for the rocks, but there were also hands on my ankles, slipped under the cuffs of my jeans and above my socks. Wet, slimy hands that felt almost like they had suckers on them. Strong hands tugged me downward away from Carter. Away from the rocks. Away from air.
I was dragged backward into the deeper water for a moment, and then the hands let go of my ankles. Free, I kicked and tried to swim up. My lungs burned. I hadn’t taken a deep breath before I fell. Just as my face broke through the surface and I gulped in a lungful, an arm wrapped firmly around my torso and yanked me under again. My eyes couldn’t adjust to the darkness or the speed of the water going past, but I understood what was happening to me. A mermaid had me tucked close to her side like I was nothing more than a football. Her tail pumped up and down to propel us away from the shore at a crazy pace.
I heard screaming, and I imagined it was Haley and Carter. In reality, I knew I couldn’t hear them. The screams were mine – inside my head. I managed to twist my head and open my eyes to get a look at the mermaid holding me. Her giant, dark eyes focused straight ahead of her. The gills on her thin neck opened and contracted as she breathed. I was certain at that point the mermaid didn’t realize I couldn’t breathe under the water like her.
My head swam with dizziness as my lungs struggled to hold on to what oxygen was left in them. I had to get to the surface immediately, or I’d black out. Even if the effort of struggling against her used up the last of my energy, making me drown faster, I had to try. I pushed down on her arm as hard as I could with my hands and stretched my torso. Her grip tightened. I dug my fingernails into her thick-skinned forearm as hard as I could. I didn’t want to hurt her, but I had no choice. She made this horrible sound, some kind of underwater screech, and flicked her arm away from my hands.
That was my moment. I kicked as hard as I could and pulled with my arms at the water, feeling like I do in my nightmares when I can’t seem to figure out how to propel myself forward, away from the horrifying thing chasing me. What was chasing me now was death.
The mermaid reached for me and grabbed my shoe. It came off in her hands. I lurched upward with all that was left of my strength. At last my face punctured the surface, and I gulped in air. Black dots floated around in front of my eyes, and I fought the urge to faint. From what I could tell, the mermaid had taken me out past the breakers. I could see Carter on the tide pool rocks and Haley up above on the cliff, each no bigger than my pinky fingernail. The mermaid could swim so fast.
She was back. I felt her circling my legs that bicycled to tread water. I couldn’t do this for long, especially not in this coat and heavy winter clothes. I remembered the subliminal connection I had with my mermaid friend back in October, but I didn’t know if this was the same one. I didn’t think it was. I didn’t know how to communicate with her. Still, I tried as hard as I could to send my thoughts to her.
I can’t breathe under water.
I waited for a response, but nothing came. She hadn’t grabbed me yet to pull me back under. I wasn’t sure if it was because I hurt her, or she was still fascinated with my shoe. I felt her tug at my other foot and that shoe came off, too.
Where are you taking me?
Still nothing. A giant swell of freezing ocean water went over my head. I gurgled and choked on the salt water.
I can’t swim like you. I need to get to land.
I put an image of the beach in my head. Maybe she’d understand a picture more than words.
An image came back to me of the ocean splashing against tall cliffs with caves in them at water level. A forest of trees crowned the tops of the cliffs.
“Is this a place you know? Is it where you’re trying to take me?” I said it before I realized how stupid that was. I didn’t know how to think this in images, though. I simply pointed toward the shore and pictured it again. I needed to get to land. Wherever she was imagining seemed far away.
Her face rose out of the water, only to the chin, so her gills could stay under and help her breathe. Lucky her. Water kept slapping me in the nose and mouth, and between the struggle to stay afloat and constantly gulping in sea water, I wasn’t breathing well at all. Those giant, midnight blue eyes focused on me. Under the water her thick tail slipped behind my thighs and tugged me close to her. The flipper worked rapidly to keep us afloat. With her support, I could lift my face higher out of the water. I said, ‘thank you’ in my mind, but I’m sure she didn’t understand.
Her webbed left hand came up out of the water, and I expected to see my shoe in it. Instead, she held the wreath of twigs. She put it in front of her face and peered at me through it like it was a window. I nodded, expressing that I recognized it or that I made it, not quite knowing what she would understand or want to know.
The other webbed hand came out of the water, my shoe dropping from it as she gestured to the north. Pointing might not be a thing for creatures that have webbed fingers and live under the sea, but I understood she was showing me where those cliffs were located. Somewhere to the north. She pushed the wreath at my face so that it touched my forehead and then brought it back to her again followed by more urgent gestures to the north.
I closed my eyes and pictured the woods and the magical Red Cedar tree I’d saved only a week ago. When I opened my eyes again, her head was cocked like she was struggling to understand.
Then a barrage of images attacked my mind. A waterfall. Not a big gushing one. Small. Trickling over the side of a cliff. A cave in the cliff only approachable by water. A killer whale swimming near the cave. A killer whale dead on a pebbled beach, seen from a distance. Ocean water, brown with murk and filth.
It was awful. When she was done, I felt a deep aching in my chest that made the feeling of suffocating a few minutes back seem like nothing. Something horrible was happening up north. Pollution causing the death of killer whales, I guessed. I’m not sure if that was all her images meant, but I think that was part of it. Had she been looking for me? Had she been waiting for me to show up? Had my mermaid sent scouts out for me, hoping I could help them?
The mermaid grabbed my left arm, and her tail slid away from my body. With a tug, she began swimming again, carrying me along beside her. Not as fast this time, thankfully. I fought the current to get my right hand across my body and peel her hand off me. I didn’t want to hurt her again. I think she feared my fingernails, too, because she let go easily.
I pointed to the shore. “I need to go to the shore,” I told her. I knew she didn’t understand my words. I pointed again with more insistence.
She again gestured toward the north. The mermaid wanted to take me with her right then and there. She didn’t understand that I wouldn’t survive the trip. All I could do was imagine a vivid picture of me dead at the bottom of the ocean as fully and completely as I was capable. I ran my hands along my throat to show her I didn’t have gills like her.
The mermaid stopped swimming, and her eyes grew even larger than I ever thought possible as she began to comprehend. I wasn’t like her. I would die before I could help her. She looked at the twig wreath, her brow wrinkled as she tried to decide what to do. My coat was heavy with water and weighing me down. I don’t know how long it had been going on, but I realized my teeth were chattering. I would freeze or drown, not sure which first, but very soon. I needed her to make a decision fast. That decision needed to be her helping me swim back to shore. I felt certain I wouldn’t make it on my own.
“Please,” I croaked out. My strep throat from last week’s exposure had just cleared up, and if I survived this, I knew I’d have a relapse. Not to mention hypothermia. Maybe pneumonia. Mom would freak if I had to go to the hospital again. She’d been complaining about the bills already.
Somewhere in the distance, above the sound of the ocean and wind, a horn blasted several times in succession. There was a pause, and then the blasts started again.
The mermaid went rigid. Her face expressed a level of terror I’d never seen before on a real person. Then she sank, like an anchor, straight down. Within a moment, I had no idea where she was under all that dark water. It was January in the Pacific Northwest. I couldn’t see through the water at all. I couldn’t feel her swimming around my frantically bicycling legs.
The mermaid had been frightened off by that horn, I was sure of it. The horn blasted again, closer this time. That wasn’t going to bring the mermaid back, and I needed her desperately to help me swim. I tried not to panic. I reached out my right arm to try to swim on my own. It felt so heavy I could barely move it, and the tide was pulling me away from the beach, not toward it.
The horn blared. I looked around for the source. Coming around the cliffs to the south was a Coast Guard ship. It had a ways to go before it reached me, and I doubted I could make it that long. I was so cold. It made being up in the tree during a winter storm seem like a summer campout. My tongue was dry, my lips numb. My legs barely moved. I couldn’t feel my feet.
I sank. My mouth, nose, and eyes going into the blackness.
* * * *
The next thing I remember was throwing up on the deck of the Coast Guard Response Boat. When I finished, I rolled back on the cot and whimpered as I was lifted up and carried. When next I opened my eyes, I noted that I couldn’t see the sky. I’d been brought to the Survivor’s Compartment where a man in uniform knelt beside me. Another officer wearing a dripping wet rubber jacket and pants passed him a small towel, and he used it to clean my face.
“Can you hear me?”
“Okay. We’re taking you to the Aberdeen docks where there is an ambulance waiting. I need to get you out of your wet clothes, or you’ll freeze to death. Do you understand?”
All I could do was nod again, barely. I couldn’t actually feel my limbs and was unable to move them. I closed my eyes while I endured the embarrassment of having my clothes taken off by a strange man. He immediately covered me in warm blankets, lifted me into the cabin, and placed me on a cot. The heated room instantly soothed me, and I began to doze off again.
I know I was barely conscious, but I swear I heard the wet officer say, “I’m telling you, it was like something was holding her up. She was just bobbing there. She should have sunk.”
The officer tucking the blankets tightly around me agreed. “She’s lucky to be alive.”
When I woke up again, the boat had docked. One of the Coast Guard officers was gently nudging me awake before slipping his arms under me to hoist me off the cot. He carried me all wrapped up in blankets like a burrito off the boat where a stretcher and EMT was waiting for me. I saw the ambulance at the base of the dock. A local police squad car was there, too.
“Please,” I told the Coast Guard officer. “I’m okay, really. I don’t need go to the hospital.”
“You nearly froze to death and drowned in the ocean,” he replied, placing me on the stretcher. The EMT strapped me down and wheeled me toward the ambulance. The officer followed. “This is protocol. If you’re fine, you won’t have to be at the hospital long.”
“Please! I’m fine! I promise.” I wiggled as much as I could to show how much energy and vigor I had. “I’m not hurt. I just need to get in a car with a heater and go home. That’s all. Please, my parents will be so mad if I go to the hospital.”
My mom was going to have a fit about this. She’d complained so much about how much the last emergency visit cost. This was going to be so much more. I just got things kind of okay between her and me. I didn’t want money to be the thing that divided us again. Not to mention the fact that my parents were still working on repairing their reputations in the press as bad parents for “allowing” me to tree-sit in the middle of January to protest the logging of an Old Growth tree. It did not need to get out that their daughter almost drowned a week later.
He squinted at me like he was trying to make a decision about something. After a moment he said, “You’re Peter Sawfeather’s daughter, aren’t you?”
I hesitated to answer. “Yes. Do you know him?”
“Oh, yeah,” he nodded vigorously, smiling. “We go way back.”
“In a good you-helped-each-other-out way or a bad you’ve-arrested-him-a-bunch-of-times way?”
“I arrested him once, and we’ve helped each other more times than I can count since then.”
That was a story I’d have to probe out of my dad later. He rarely talked about the times when his protests got him locked up, like he didn’t want me to know there was a down side to his exploits. I’d always suspected it had happened a time or two.
“Well, then,” I tried, “as a favor to my dad, please don’t make him waste all his money on hospital bills when you know I’m fine.”
He cocked his head like he was considering it. “What were you doing out there anyway? Looking for more mermaids? Do you have any idea what a mess that whole mermaid event caused us?”
I wondered if he expected an answer to those questions. Thankfully, before my not responding got too awkward, I heard my name being called.
“June!” Haley’s voice shot above the noise of the men around me and the few onlookers in the parking lot. Carter’s voice called my name, too. Their timing was perfect.
I grabbed the EMT’s wrist and pointed with my other hand. “Look! See? My friends are here. They’ll take me home.”
Carter beat Haley to my side, and she jogged up a second behind him, both out of breath. Carter put his hand on my leg. “I’m so glad you’re all right. That was really scary, June.”
Tell me about it.
“I couldn’t believe how fast you went,” Haley said. “That was crazy.”
I gave her a sharp look to try to get her to shut up about it. I didn’t need these men asking more questions. She made a little “sorry” face and lowered her eyes.
“Carter, tell these guys that you’ll take me straight home. I don’t need to go to the hospital.”
Carter nodded at them. “Oh, yeah. Our car’s right over there. We can take care of her.”
The Coast Guard officer gestured to the EMT and said, “My job is to deliver her to you. You have to make the decision of what health care she needs.” He patted me on the foot and then pulled the EMT away from me for a second. I’m sure he was giving a full report of what he thought happened and how I passed out while on the boat.
While they talked, my friends came closer to me. Carter put his hands on my face. “I thought I lost you,” he said. “I thought you were going to drown.”
“Me too for a minute,” I said.
All three of us were quiet for a second as we let that heavy thought pass.
“I’d kind of like it if you could stop doing terrifying things for a bit,” Haley said, and we all laughed to break the uncomfortable feeling.
Carter leaned close to me and whispered. “It was a mermaid, though. Right? Is that what had you? Was it the same one we rescued?”
“It wasn’t her,” I said, “but I got the impression the mermaid had been looking for me. She was making a big deal about taking me with her to some rocky shoreline up north.”
“That could be anywhere,” Haley piped in. “It’s practically all rocky cliffs from here to Canada.”
“That’s true, but I have a clear picture of it in my head. Maybe I could figure out where she meant.”
The Coast Guard officer walked back up the dock to the Response Boat, and the EMT came back to the stretcher. “I tell you what,” he said. “I’ll check your vitals in the ambulance and make sure everything is what it should be. If it’s not, you’re going to the hospital.”
“Okay,” I said.
He rolled me away from my friends and put me in the back of the ambulance which was nice and heated. My friends waited outside while he took my temperature and blood pressure. The EMT stuck his head out of the back of the ambulance, and I heard him tell Carter to get the heater started in the car. He asked Haley if she had any extra clothes with her. She didn’t.
He came back to me. “I’ll let you go, but you’ll have to head home in this blanket. I hope that motivates you to go straight home and to bed.”
“It will,” I said.
“It’s against my better judgement.”
He unstrapped me from the stretcher and helped me to my feet. I held the blanket tightly around me. I didn’t have a stitch of clothing on underneath it. Not even underwear. I was trying very hard not to think about those Coast Guard officers taking all my clothes off. The EMT handed a bag of my wet clothes to Haley and then helped me down the steps where Carter wrapped his arm protectively around me. Carter nodded thanks to the EMT and guided me to the car, which was idling in the parking lot.
I got in the front passenger seat and aimed all the vents toward me. I was still chilled.
Carter and Haley got in the car, and we drove off.
“Your lips were so blue,” Haley said after a minute. “They look a little more normal now.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’m actually surprised they didn’t take me to the hospital. Pretty sure I was super close to being dead.”
“Why didn’t they, do you think?”
“I pulled the Dad card.”
Carter nodded. He understood. My dad’s name had some weight in the right circles.
“Hey, is my phone in the car anywhere?”
Haley dug it out for me. I’d left it in the car while we were hanging out, which was lucky. If I’d had it on me, it would’ve been ruined.
“How did the Coast Guard find me, anyway?” I asked as I scrolled through my contacts.
Carter answered. “I have the number saved on my phone. We had to deal with them a lot when I worked with Dr. Schneider at AMARC.”
That was still a sore subject between us. Affron Oil shut down the funding for the Aberdeen Marine Animal Rescue Center after we rescued the mermaids back in October. Carter loved interning there and didn’t so much love his job at the pet store selling fish and aquarium parts. I thanked him for his smart thinking and let the subject rest.
I found the phone number for Juarez Peña and hit call. I put him on speaker and told him all about my experience with the mermaid and the vision she shared with me. I figured I could tell him, and thereby Carter and Haley, all at the same time. Juarez was beyond excited. He asked about getting more twigs from the tree and trying again to see if the twigs immersed in the ocean triggered mermaids to appear. I told him instead that I needed him to research places along the Washington coastline that had tall cliffs with forest on top and caves down below. I told him I believed strongly that was where the mermaids were living, and if we could find those cliffs we’d find the mermaids. He was so eager to start on this mission that he hung up while I was still talking to him.
We all laughed. Carter took us through a coffeehouse drive-through and got us some hot drinks for the hour ride home. I was nice and toasty inside and out by the time I got there. When I walked in the door, however, I was attacked by some seriously frozen glares from my parents. Clearly, they had been contacted by that officer from the Coast Guard.
Carter backed out of the door quietly and left me alone with them. I was yelled at for a bit. Fussed and worried over for a second or two. Then grounded.
Yep, not even a week after my eighteenth birthday. Grounded.
I’d never been grounded before and didn’t know exactly what that meant at first. I learned quickly it meant no Carter, no Haley, no phone, and no internet. Yay. I found a mermaid and clues to where they were living, and now I could do nothing about it. It was pointless trying to convince my parents of the importance of this, because every argument I gave them added a day to my punishment. Right now, I was looking at two weeks.
Two weeks with that mermaid swimming far away from me before I’d be able to find her again.