By Abby Sewell, 13
Illustrated by Alexis Melusky, 12
The headland was gray and deserted, almost sinister, with the heavy silver clouds gathered overhead. The only signs that it was not entirely dead were the slender girl, her golden-brown hair blowing around her face, and her black dog, who was straining forward against the leash. The two of them were walking quite close to the edge, on the mud left over from the rain of the day before.
Jen glanced down and felt a pleasurable tingle of fear in the knowledge that one wrong move would send them both keeling over the edge to meet the rocks below. Beyond the shore, the sea rolled on to the horizon in wild abandon. This was what she loved about her visits to Maine, the shore and the gray ocean, so different from her own beach at home in California. Here there was the long, lonely stretch of headland with the long, lonely stretch of sky above it and the long, lonely stretch of water below it.
The dog was less interested in the scenery than her mistress was. What she wanted was a brisk run. It was all Jen could do to keep the animal from dragging her across the headland.
"Annie! Here, girl," she called, stopping to catch her breath. Annie stopped pulling against the leash and turned her head inquiringly. Then she made a full circle and ran back toward Jen, lashing her tail. In a sudden fit of affection, she sprang up on her hind legs to put her paws on the girl's shoulders.
The impact set Jen off balance; she lost her footing and fell backwards, dragging Annie along with her. Too startled even to scream, she clamped her eyes shut and waited for the end to come.
An instant later, she landed, but not as she had expected to land. A kind ledge had broken their fall. It was just big enough to support the two of them—bits of the edge had crumbled and fallen when they landed. Jen crouched back against the side of the bank and took a firm hold on Annie's collar. She heaved a couple of sighs to relax her trembling body.
"Well," she said shakily, for Annie's benefit, "looks like we may be here for a while."
She looked up. The drop was long but not terribly steep, and there were plenty of footholds. She could get back up without much trouble if she was on her own, but what about Annie? There was no way to get the dog up, and if Jen left Annie alone on the ledge, she would probably panic and go over the edge.
"No, girl, I can't risk that. I'll stay with you until help comes." She did not say "if it comes," even to herself. It might be hours before her grandfather started to worry about them. Jen often took Annie and disappeared for most of the day, returning just in time for dinner. ("I think it's only cupboard love with both of you," her grandfather would remark cynically.) As for the chances of anyone else passing by, it was unlikely. In all her prowls on the headland, Jen had never seen another living thing, let alone a human being.
Girl and dog curled in an unhappy huddle. The sea wind was cold and damp. Now that she was no longer in motion, Jen began to shiver. The wind bit her, nipped her, tasting her like some dainty morsel put before it. She tried to squeeze Annie closer for warmth, but the dog was getting restless, and she wiggled away, sending a volley of stones crashing down. Jen pulled her back as the side of the ledge crumbled again.
Annie settled down with a soft whimper. Jen was beginning to get stiff with cold, but she did not dare to move. Her joints were creaking, but she managed to hold perfectly still. They sat that way for a long time, punctuated by Annie's whimpers. Jen allowed a few tears to wander down her face and wiped them off on her shoulder, since both of her hands were full of dog.
"I'm cold, I'm tired, I'm hungry," she said out loud. "I want to go home and take a long hot bath and then sit in front of the fire and eat gingerbread." She was about to elaborate further when an unexpected noise stopped her. It was a rhythmic slosh-slosh—the sound of someone walking through the mud! Annie raised her head and whined, pawing at the rocks.
"Help!" Jen's voice cracked. "Whoever you are, come help us!"
The wind that had chilled her came to her aid now. It carried her voice up to the top of the headland, and the unknown rescuer must have heard it, for the slosh-slosh came nearer. A moment later, a young man's face appeared at the brink of the cliff, about twenty feet above her. His cheeks were ruddy from fresh air and exercise and his face was well sculpted.
"Are you stuck?" he called down. His voice reached her faintly, since he was calling against the wind.
"In a way. I think I could get up, but I'm afraid to leave my dog. She would have fallen already if I hadn't been holding her."
There was a muffled exclamation and then, "How long have you been there?"
"Hours and hours," she replied vaguely. Really, it could have been anywhere from twenty minutes to five hours. It had felt like five hours to Jen. She added with sudden fierceness, "And don't tell me that I should leave Annie and save myself. I won't! She's my grandfather's dog and he would never forgive me if I let anything happen to her." She would have looked almost comical, glaring up at him from her position, if either of them had been in a laughing mood.
Jen stroked Annie thoughtfully. Now that help had arrived, her mind was strangely clear. "I have an idea," she said, unhooking Annie's leash from her collar. The dog squirmed and barked, sensing that her rescue was near. "I'm going to throw the leash up to you, and you hold on to one end and lower the other one down to me. I think it'll reach. Do you have anything I could use to make a sling? I could tie it around Annie and you could hoist her up, see? She's not heavy. I could lift her myself, if it would do any good." She was talking so fast in her excitement that all of this came out in a jumble, but he seemed to understand her.
"A sling? What exactly do you have in mind?"
"I don't know." Annie barked again and Jen had to clutch at her to keep her from getting loose. "Don't you have anything I could use?"
"Well … Oh, of course! Why didn't I think of it right away? There's my flannel. Hold on." The face disappeared briefly and re-emerged, grinning. He dropped the flannel down to Jen, who grasped it with sudden hope.
"Won't you be cold?" she asked.
"Doesn't matter. Here, throw me the leash." She tossed it up to him and he caught it neatly in one hand. One end of it came hurtling down.
Jen set to work immediately. With her left hand she held onto Annie's collar, while she tied the flannel around the dog's chest by the sleeves with her right hand and fastened it to the leash. The knots were misshapen but strong—she had not been a Girl Scout for nothing—and although the flannel was old, the material felt sturdy enough.
"OK!" she shouted up and let go of the collar.
Annie whimpered as she was hoisted off the ledge. Inch by inch, she was pulled upward. The leash strained; it swung from side to side with Annie's struggles so that one moment she would be hanging out in the open air while Jen watched, biting her lip. The next moment she would hit the side of the cliff with a thump. A seam ripped somewhere. Jen chomped down on her lip in an agony of suspense.
At last the young man was able to reach the dog and set her up beside him on the ground. Annie showed her elation at meeting solid earth by running in circles, waving her tail wildly, and covering her savior with doggy kisses. He reached down and rubbed her ears with a smile.
Jen waited to see that Annie was safe before she scrambled up, nearly losing her hold a dozen times, and dislodging half of the rocks she met. As she came within his reach, the young man gripped her arms and heaved her over the last bit. Jen plopped down, as happy as Annie was to be on the ground. Having received an enthusiastic greeting from the dog, she got to her feet, stretching her cramped muscles, and looked at her rescuer. He was massaging his arms.
"Thanks," she said. "If you hadn't come along, I might… we might…."
"No problem," he interrupted. His dark hair was matted and tousled and he smelled of sweat, but he made a splendid figure all the same. "You don't live around here, do you?"
"No, I'm visiting my grandfather, Mr. Slater." Jen looked up at him shyly and a little bit archly out of her fringed green eyes.
"We're neighbors then. I'm Dave Kelly—I'm home from college for the summer." So this was the "Kelly boy" her grandfather had talked about so often! He was not what she had expected, and she had certainly not expected to meet him this way.
Jen said suddenly, "Would you like to come to dinner? Grandfather won't mind—he'll be grateful to you forever for saving Annie."
"Sure," he said, and flashed her a grin that made her feel that it had all been worthwhile. The two humans set off along the headland, with Annie rushing ahead, still wearing Dave's flannel.
The headland was deserted once more, and the only sound was the sighing of the sea.