Sarah Spellings & The Followers of The Grove

The Other Side of The Mountain

“We just got home,” said Sarah. “I don’t want to leave again.”

“If you believe in my visions, you’ll come with me. Sarah, there’s something important happening. We need to look west from the top of that mountain.”

The thought of another journey wearied Sarah. She replayed the past few days: brisk hike, harrowing rescue, strained reunion, long journey home, fiery battle. After the whirlwind mission, Sarah craved slow Sassamatta days. She wanted to garden, cook, and sip tea.

“Okay,” said Sarah, “But we can wait a few days, right? I want to spend time with my Dad and Sammy. You saw the attack way before it happened, so we probably have time—”

“No,” Levvy cut in. “This can’t wait. My instincts tell me an expedition should leave for Burnubbee Mountain today.”

“Fern and Murdock could go with you,” Sarah said. “Murdock would love it.”

Levvy stared directly into Sarah’s eyes. “You can’t pretend anymore,” she said. “Last night clinched it. I’m surprised, and it makes zero sense, but Quinn was right. You have crazy powers. I don’t understand the science, but seeing is believing, and I saw what you did.”

“I don’t even know what I’m doing!” Sarah exclaimed. “It’s like I’m possessed, and my body is taken over by an alien force. I’m not a Queen of Nature—more like a freak of nature.”

Levvy threw a pebble. It sailed over the lake, and dropped into the water with a soft plip. “You made it rain last night, and he grove would have burned if it hadn’t rained. Sarah, I think it doesn’t matter that you’re not in control. You have a responsibility to use those powers.”

“I’m thirteen years old.”

“So what?”

“What about your parents?” Sarah asked, groping for an excuse to stay put. “They should have found the grove by now. After our raid on the streets, and the attack last night, they’ll probably come looking for you, and you shouldn’t be away when they show up.”

“Here.” Levvy withdrew a crumpled envelope from her front pocket. “Spex gave this to me, the morning after the rescue. It’s a letter from my parents.”

Unfolding the creased paper, Sarah recognized Debbie Dwight’s tidy handwriting.

Levvy dearest, your father and I meant to join you long ago. You’ve acted wisely by sticking with Tomin, and not trying to find us. The storm has left hundreds of people without power and resources. We’ve been making delivery rounds to the most unfortunate, single mothers, elderly people, and the differently abled. Without our aid, these people would starve. In a few weeks, a fresh group of volunteers will be taking over, leaving us free to go. Please don’t worry about us. Know that your father and I have faith in your skills, and trust you are well. Before the snow flies we’ll be together again. Stay safe, lots of love from Mom and Dad.

Sarah folded up the letter and handed it back to Levvy. Her friend was disappointed, Sarah could tell. “I wish my Dad trusted me the way your parents trust you,” she said.

“Oh sure,” said Levvy sarcastically. “It’s really great, the way they let me do my own thing.”

Sarah wished she had Levvy’s independence, and wished she were less afraid of the world. Her father warned her about perils she might encounter, the dangers of strange people and places, and physical hardships she would encounter. When she compared herself to Levvy, Sarah thought her father’s strict rules hadn’t protected her, but prevented her from becoming brave and streetwise.

“It would have been better if you were the one with the powers.”

“Sarah, you’re tougher than you think.”

Sarah touched the hexagon necklace. It felt warm and heavy.

“Come on,” said Levvy hooking her arm through Sarah’s. “Let’s go find Quinn, and see what he thinks about the mountain vision.”

When they entered the clearing, people moved aside for Sarah to pass. Some bowed their heads in respect, as if she were royalty. Flustered, Sarah made a beeline for Quinn, who was gesturing at the treehouses, chin raised high, chest puffed up with pride. The city dwellers had eaten hunaja and were marvelling at the grove structures, asking questions, and exclaiming their delight. Some assessed Sarah curiously, and she blushed, intimidated by their stylish, bohemian appearance. A pretty girl in her late teens leaned against a tree, tie-dyed scarf knotted around curly red hair, carved wooden earrings, silky wraparound skirt, and light knit shawl. Her lips shone with a pink gloss, and she wore knee-high soft leather boots. Sarah glanced down at her own shabby moccasins, grass-stained boy’s jeans, and dirty, frayed hemp shirt. She felt like a frumpy mess. Quinn excused himself from his admirers.

“Levvy had another vision,” Sarah announced, once the three of them were alone.

Levvy described what she had seen in one long, exhilarated sentence. “I say we climb Burnubbee Mountain and then keep going, right intoVancouver,” she finished.

Sarah was alarmed to see Quinn nodding thoughtfully, as if he were seriously considering the journey. “We could take preserved food to trade,” he said. “Personally, I would love to ride the monorail, and see the Cycle Centres.”

“I want to walk on the beach,” said Levvy.

“In my time, there’s a grove on Burnubbee Mountain,” said Quinn, “From a treehouse at the summit, you can see for miles in every direction. If there is cause for alarm, we would definitely be able to see it from the viewpoint. Also, this is a good time to travel, before winter preparations begin.” “We could travel back to Vancouver with Vinnie and those guys,” Levvy added.

Sarah examined her feet to hide her dismay.

“What are you worried about?” Levvy waved toward the treehouses. “Look around, Sarah—everything’s fine! The attack was yesterday, so the grove is safe now.”

“I really missed my family,” Sarah admitted. “Also, and this is kind of silly…”

“Go on,” Quinn said.

“It’s September fourteenth tomorrow, my fourteenth birthday. I’ve always spent my birthdays with my father and brother. It feels wrong, somehow, to go away.”

Levvy whooped. “Sarah, it’s your Golden Birthday! That’s an even better reason to go to Vancouver. You want to do something memorable, don’t you? How cool would it be to wake up at the beach on your Golden Birthday?”

“We could make the journey in under a week,” Quinn said, placing a reassuring hand on Sarah’s shoulder. “Perhaps it could be a diplomatic trip as well. We could meet this municipal leader, Grizzella Sticks, and thank her for sending reinforcements.”

Sarah picked up a flat stone, and skipped it across the surface of the lake. Rumpus skittered in the pebbles on the shore, his tail wagging. “Can Rumpus come?” she asked.

“I don’t think—” Quinn began, but Levvy interrupted him.

“Of course she can bring Rumpus. It’s her birthday.”

The thought of bringing Rumpus cheered Sarah up, and lessened her fears. She went back to the clearing and scanned faces, looking for her father. Did she need his permission to go to the city? What if he wouldn’t consent? Noticing a scorched place where a fireball had struck the ground, Sarah felt a slight sensation of heat in her hands. She passed her hands over the swath of blackened soil. Under her outstretched palms plants greened up, moss grew over burned earth, and a few small yellow flowers bloomed.

“At it again, I see.”

Her father’s judgement broke Sarah’s trance. The tingling in her hands ebbed away. Where had the friendship they used to share gone? Feeling sulky, she explained her travel plans.

“So I won’t be here for my birthday,” she finished.

“Sure,” her father said. “Fine with me. Have a good time.”

Sarah resented how easily her father had offered his lukewarm blessing. She wanted to scream at him that disasters might befall her, an earthquake, a storm, a kidnapping! Why wasn’t her father worried about all the things he used to warn her about endlessly? Where was the overprotective parenting she had so recently begrudged him? He stared at her, his expression craggy and distant.

“Thanks,” Sarah said bitterly.

“I can’t shelter you forever, you know,” her father said gently. “These are strange days, and kids have to grow up fast. I guess it’s time for you to spread your wings. You know, I think I’m still in shock from losing our house on Wailsmouth Street. It’s easier for you and Sammy to adapt, but I’m an old guy, and kind of stuck in my ways. Plenty of happy memories were stored in the walls of that house. Fortunately, I kept this one in my emergency pack.” He handed her a small package, wrapped in gold foil, and tied with hemp ribbon. “Happy birthday, Sarah.”

Carefully, she unwrapped the little present. Inside was a cardboard jewelry box, and she lifted the lid to reveal a silver chain and a locket, heart-shaped, and engraved with her initials: SOS, Sarah Olivia Spellings. An delicate filigree border of flowers and vines surrounded the heart.

“It’s beautiful. Thanks, Dad.”

“Open it,” her father said gruffly.

Sarah found the locket’s tiny clasp and clicked it open. Inside was a single photograph, trimmed to fit the heart. A woman’s face looked up at Sarah. Her kind, affectionate eyes were focussed on the camera. She had heavy black eyebrows, high cheekbones, and a tiny nose were framed by two curtains of thick black hair. Tears filled Sarah’s eyes; it was Victoria Spellings, her mother.

“I had it made for you soon after she died. I’ve been saving it for your Golden Birthday.”

“I love it.”

Sarah’s anger melted away like magic as he gazed at the little image. Tony Spellings took the locket, placed it around her neck, and secured the chain.

“There,” he said. “Now she’ll always be close to your heart.”

The tender moment was ended by happy shouts, and a bustle of activity in the grove. Vinnie Vantego and the visitors from Vancouver were presenting Sassamatta Grove with coastal delicacies: tea, rice, dried seaweed, and salt fish. In return, the Followers of the Grove gave their rescuers dried fruit and mushrooms, pickled vegetables, and strips of lake trout. Tomin pledged the grove’s assistance, should downtown Vancouver ever come under siege from enemies. Handshakes and hugs were exchanged. Out of the corner of her eye, Sarah noticed Murdock leaning against a tree, watching Fern Phractle speak sternly to Hanx and Trig. She joined him.

“A few of us are going to Vancouver,” said Sarah. “Want to come?”

“Nah, but thanks anyway. I already heard from Quinn that you guys were going, but Fern and I are gonna stay here in case there’s another attack. We have the prisoners to release, too.”

“I didn’t want to leave you out of the loop again.”

“Fern’s amazing, isn’t she?” Murdock said. “She’s not afraid of anything.”

“Yeah, she’s awesome,” Sarah said.

Levvy arrived boisterously, a waterproof jacket tied around her waist and a large backpack suspended from her shoulders. “Sarah, get packed! We leave in ten minutes, and we have to make it to the monorail by sundown.”

Sarah rushed to fill her backpack, and returned to the clearing.

“Murdock’s gonna show me his biking tricks,” Sammy said, as she hugged him goodbye.

The travellers formed filed out of the grove with Vinnie in the lead. Sarah trailed along at the rear, touching her new locket. She kept checking over her shoulder, expecting her father to change his mind, and demand that she stay. But the front runners were already circling the lake, putting distance between themselves and the grove, and Sarah had to jog to catch up. Warm autumn sunlight filtered into the forest. A cool breeze hinted at colder weather, and grew stronger as they walked westward. After an hour’s hike, Sarah’s boots began hurt her feet. The air had a tangy aroma of salt water. An opening in the trees led to a rocky shore, and ahead lay the choppy ocean inlet separating Sassamatta from Burnubbee. Buildings on the far shore stretched out, grey and industrial.

“The bridge is gone!” Quinn exclaimed.

“There’s never been a bridge here,” said the pretty redheaded girl. She tossed her curls and laughed, as if Quinn had made a foolish error. She had attached herself to Quinn, Sarah noticed, and peppered him with questions about his clothes, and his mysterious home.

“Don’t know what I was thinking,” said Quinn. “How do we cross the inlet?”

“In the canoes, of course,” the girl chirped.

“Is it just me,” Sarah muttered to Levvy, “or is that girl flirting with Quinn?”

Levvy rolled her eyes. “Her name is Jellica, and she’s been all over Quinn since yesterday.”

Sarah’s stomach flipped, but there was no time to dwell on Jellica. The downtown residents had uncovered five dugout canoes, hidden in bushes near the shore. Each one, Vinnie said, had been carved from a single gigantic tree. With practiced teamwork, they carried the boats down to the inlet. They took a paddle each from between polished wooden gunwales, and clambered in.

“Hurry up and find yourselves a spot,” a woman with bulging biceps ordered.

Sarah, Levvy and Quinn rushed to obey, each boarding a different canoe. Sarah placed Rumpus between her knees, gripped her paddle, and splashed it into the water. The seasoned rowers inserted their paddles in oarlocks on alternating sides of the canoe. The muscular woman produced a drum, and as the canoes glided out from shore, the paddle strokes matched the drumbeat. Salt water splashed Sarah’s face and hands, and sunlight shimmered on the choppy waves. The current in the ocean inlet was strong, but the paddlers were skilled and vigorous, and the canoes skimmed across the water like arrows flying to a target. The crossing was over before Sarah was ready for it to end. Teamwork was seamless on the opposite shore as well; in a few minutes they had the canoes out of the water, tipped upside down over logs, and covered with protective branches. With a regretful glance over her shoulder at the rocky shore, Sarah tightened the belt of her backpack, and started up the steep path on the east side of Burnubbee Mountain, worn smooth by foot traffic.

“This is the path from my vision,” Levvy said quietly.

Jellica skipped along beside Quinn, chattering happily. Sarah glared balefully at the fitter, stronger hikers on the path ahead of her. Salty sweat stung her eyes, and her pack made her shoulders ache.

“We’re almost at the summit!” Quinn called out.

“Finally,” Levvy muttered, and Sarah grunted in agreement.

The first travellers to reach the summit cried out in astonishment. What could they see from the viewpoint? Sarah redoubled her hiking efforts. Levvy reached the top and pushed through the crowd, binoculars in hand. Gasping for breath, Sarah crested the mountain, and an astonishing vista unrolled before her. First there were blocks of houses and gardens, then the crumbled ruins of high-rise office buildings, and last the blue expanse of ocean. Green peninsulas jutted on either side of the city. It was a remarkable sight—but Sarah saw nothing unusual.

“What do you guys see?” Levvy demanded, binoculars pressed to her eyes.

“Ships,” Vinnie said excitedly. “Three of them!”

Sarah looked where Vinnie pointed. Three tall ships were gliding toward Vancouver, sails snapping in the wind.

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