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Supergirl Sleuth - ch 3

by Catherine LW 

Posted: 22 September 2010
Word Count: 2430
Summary: I know I need to work some more on the family sub-plot, but all comments welcome!

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Polly scrambled out of the hole and gazed around her. The woods were much darker than the garden, but not scarily so. The floor was littered with bluebells and clusters of daffodils that basked in the patches of sunlight peeking through the gaps in the trees. The air smelled fresh, of wild garlic and damp grass, and a light breeze gently rustled through the leaves.
“Wow, look at this place,” said Polly, gazing around her in wonder. “Let’s start exploring.” Branston jumped up and went bounding off into the trees.
“Hey, wait for me!” she laughed, pulling her rucksack onto her shoulders and running to catch up with him.
The two of them spent a happy half hour exploring, climbing onto fallen logs, gathering pine cones and playing hide and seek amongst the trees and bushes. Then Polly remembered their mission.
“Enough playing now Secret Agent Branston – we’re supposed to be looking for a mystery to solve. Maybe we should start by trying to find that squirrel and following him. I’m pretty sure he could lead us on an adventure.”
Branston gave an agreeing woof and immediately began sniffing the air for squirrel smells. Polly picked up a big stick and starting poking it hopefully around in the clumps of bracken covering the ground.
“That squirrel must be nearby for him to keep coming into our garden,” she said. “I wonder if we can find where he lives.”

Supergirl Sleuth took her telescope out of her bag and scanned the branches of the trees around them. She wondered if the mysterious animal lived up in the trees or if he had a secret lair underground somewhere. She was sure he wouldn’t be too far away wherever he was hiding, and was confident that with their brilliant detective skills, it wouldn’t be long before they found him.
Secret Agent Branston sniffed his way in a circle around every tree trunk and bush, letting out a small whine every now and then when he got the scent of something and charging off to follow it. After a few minutes, he gave a woof as he sniffed at a big, stooping oak tree. He started urgently digging between the large roots that were sticking out of the ground.
Supergirl Sleuth rushed over. “What is it, Secret Agent Branston? What’ve you found?”
The secret agent’s nose and paws were firmly wedged in between the roots, digging frantically, so Supergirl Sleuth knelt down and leant in to have a closer look.
“Here, let me try.” Branston moved back so that she could reach her hand into the hole he’d made, which seemed to go right underneath the tree. Thrusting her arm in as far as it would go, her fingers touched what felt like a pile of pebbles. She grabbed a handful and yanked her arm back out, and then blinked in amazement. In the palm of her hand, she was holding a dozen or so glittering crystals. Smooth, shiny and pointed, like tiny diamonds, they caught the dim glimmers of light in the woods and reflected it in a hundred different directions, so it bounced off the trees.
Her heart was beating loudly with excitement. Had the detective duo stumbled across actual real treasure? It had to be something important - whoever had hidden it down here obviously didn’t want it to be found. Thank goodness for Secret Agent Branston and his amazing nose.
Supergirl Sleuth laid the stones out on the ground and reached in to grab another handful. By the time she’d pulled out all that she could reach, there was quite a pile in front of her, all glowing white and twinkling like tiny stars.
“Well, Secret Agent Branston,” she whispered eagerly. “I believe this to be ancient treasure, hidden here a hundred years ago at least, by pirates most probably who stole it from wealthy families.”
Secret Agent Branston buried his nose into the pile of stones to get a thorough sniff of them and then barked to show he agreed that it was most definitely pirate treasure.
Supergirl Sleuth grabbed her pen out of her bag and spoke urgently into it. “This is Supergirl Sleuth and Secret Agent Branston reporting from the Land of the Dark Woods. Well, having found the secret passageway into the woods in search of the mysterious beast, it looks like we’ve stumbled across a new mystery … We must now recover all of the missing pirate treasure and find out where it came from. Maybe there’ll even be a reward in it for us.”
She opened the top of her rucksack. “Let’s put the treasure in here and take it back to our den for further testing – it’ll be much safer there too, away from the pirates,” she said, leaning forward to scoop up a handful.
Before she had a chance to put them into her bag, a tiny, squeaky voice from somewhere above her suddenly cried out: “Oh please, I beg of you – don’t take my crystals.”

* * *

Startled, Polly dropped the handful of stones. She looked up to see where and whom the voice had come from. As her eyes rapidly scoured the trees, there was a soft thud and someone jumped down from a branch. Polly looked down again and, to her utter and total astonishment, found herself face to face with the squirrel.
“P-p-please can I have my star glass back?” the little squirrel squeaked, his voice barely louder than a whisper. He was trying to look brave, standing firmly with his small paws on his hips, but his whole body shook with fear.
“Oh, yes,” stammered Polly, open-mouthed with amazement. “I’m really sorry, I didn’t know they were yours. We were just playing a game with them.” She scrambled around, gathering the crystals up and dropping them back into the hole under the tree roots, Branston helping to push them in with his paws.
The squirrel watched anxiously and, as soon as the crystals were all back safely in their hole, he heaped a pile of soil and leaves over the top of the hole and sat himself purposefully down on them, as if to prevent anyone else from taking them.
Polly could tell he wanted her to go – he was still trembling wildly and his tail was thumping from side to side – but there was no way she was leaving yet, when her head was buzzing with questions. Most of all she wanted to ask how it was he could talk, but thought that might not be polite, so instead she said, “So, um, what exactly is star glass?”
The little squirrel twitched nervously, then, looking at the ground, squeaked, “I can’t be telling you anything. I shouldn’t even be talking to you.”
“It’s okay, you can trust us – can’t he, Brannie?” Polly said, trying to recover her cool and patting the dog’s head to keep him calm too. Branston wagged his tail softly. He was sitting down now and keeping very still, as if he understood that any sudden movements might frighten the squirrel further.
The squirrel shook his head. “I’m not supposed to trust humans,” he said. “I’m – I’m not sure about dogs though,” he added, looking curiously at Branston.
“But we’re not like grown ups,” Polly said, keeping her voice gentle and soothing. “We’re excellent at keeping secrets. And we’ve already proved you can trust us – we’re much bigger than you, so we could’ve just taken your crystals from you if we wanted, but we’ve put them back and hidden them again, like you asked. It’s only fair really that you tell us what’s so special about them.”
Branston lifted his head up and nodded in agreement, then tilted his face to one side and looked as appealing as he could, with eyes wide open and ears pinned back.
“Hmm, I suppose that’s true.” The squirrel still seemed hesitant – they could see him looking around as if deciding whether to run away or remain guarding his stones.
“Oh please tell us,” begged Polly, clasping her hands together. “We’ve only just moved here and we don’t have any friends, and Dad and Jo only care about their stupid new baby, so there’s no-one we could tell even if we wanted to. We’ve seen you in our garden and we’d love it if we could be kind of friends with you – we don’t have anyone else to talk to. Please?” She gave a sad sniff to add to the general effect.
It seemed to work. The squirrel was looking at them with some sympathy now, although his paws were still a bit shaky.
“You must absolutely promise not to tell anyone at all about this,” he squeaked.
“We promise,” said Polly earnestly, crossing her heart with her hand. “It’ll be our secret, won’t it, Branston?” Branston nodded.
“Very well,” said the squirrel somewhat grandly, “Prepare to be amazed.” He took a deep breath and puffed out his chest. “When a star dies, most humans think it just fades away in the sky and that’s the end of it. And most of the time, it is. But on very rare occasions, when the planets are aligned a certain way and the weather conditions are just right, a star falls to earth and shatters into thousands of tiny pieces. Most of these fragments lie buried in the ground, too small to be noticed by humans.”
“Cool,” exclaimed Polly, looking around hopefully as if she might spot some on the woodland floor.
“This shattered star glass is very valuable – it’s worth more than diamonds or gold or mountains of treasure,” the squirrel went on. “Stars contain an everlasting energy. You saw the light shining from the crystals? Well, that light will never die.”
“So what do you do with it?” Polly asked.
“A long time ago, a star died and fell to these woods, shattering into a million tiny pieces. Pettiwin, a squirrel at that time and one of the cleverest squirrels ever known, found some of the star glass and discovered that as well as having everlasting energy, the crystals contained a special kind of healing power. Used in the right way, they could make even the sickest animal or plant well. Birds and animals found out about Pettiwin’s discovery and began coming to us from all over to be treated by it.”
“That sounds amazing. Pettiwin must’ve been a very smart squirrel,” said Polly. “How exactly do you use it? I mean, how do you make the crystals into medicine?”
The squirrel was trembling less now - he seemed to be enjoying telling the story and was quite obviously delighted that Polly was so impressed. “Well, you see, Pettiwin carved out a fountain on the site of an underground spring in these woods. It took months to make – it was very intricate work. Once it was finished, he blended the water with the star glass fragments he’d collected and then used the liquid as a medicine. Since then, the animals of Helleborus – that’s the name of these woods where we live – have looked after it, topping it up with more star glass as we find it, to keep the water strong.”
“And no-one – no human I mean – has ever found the fountain?” Polly asked.
“No,” the squirrel let out a squeaky chuckle at this. “Firstly, the star glass fountain is hidden deep in the woods where humans don’t tend to venture. And secondly, Helleborus is very good at keeping out unwanted visitors. These are special woods, you know – thanks to the star glass, we have powers above those of regular animals and plants. We guard the fountain day and night, using our extra strong senses of sight, sound and smell. The trees and plants help too – they can place themselves so that anyone who wanders in is unable to find a path through. Usually, the trees crashing their branches fiercely around and the animals howling and cackling is enough to scare even the bravest human away.”
“But me and Branston aren’t scared,” pointed out Polly.
“No, but then you haven’t tried going deeper into Helleborus,” said the squirrel. He peered around him, as if he had just suddenly remembered the other animals guarding the woods. “Actually, I think it would be better if you were to leave now. If any of the others come by and see us talking, we’ll all be in big trouble.” He looked anxious again.
Polly was disappointed; she was really enjoying talking to the squirrel and was eager to hear more of his woodland tales. She glanced down at her watch and pressed a button on it. “Blimey, it’s half past four – almost teatime. We’ve been gone ages. I guess we should go, before Dad comes looking for us.”
The squirrel frowned at the mention of her Dad.
“It’s okay, we’ll keep your star glass a secret – thank you ever so much for telling us about it. It was really nice meeting you,” she added, as the squirrel stood up and brushed the leaves and mud he’d been sitting on from his bushy tail.
“It was a surprising pleasure to meet you both too. The others would never believe it if I told them that I actually had a conversation with a human,” he said, his furry face breaking into a smile. He stuck out his paw towards Polly and added, “My name’s Pip, by the way.”
“Hello, Pip. I’m Polly and this is Branston,” said Polly, eagerly shaking his paw. “Maybe we’ll see you in here another time?” she added hopefully, but the squirrel had scampered off, disappearing into the undergrowth.
“Come on Branston, time to get back into the garden before Dad sends out a search party,” she said reluctantly, standing up and dragging herself in the direction of the distant hedge.
As they scrambled back through the hole, Polly gave the woods one last look. In spite of what Pip had said, she didn’t think it was scary in here at all and, what’s more, she had already made up her mind to come back in here tomorrow, as soon as she could escape Dad and Jo. Just think – if on their very first trip into the woods they’d made friends with a talking squirrel, imagine what else could be waiting for them to discover in here. This was shaping up to be an even bigger adventure than she’d read in any of her favourite story books.

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Comments by other Members

Freebird at 09:50 on 23 September 2010  Report this post
Aw, this is just the sort of thing I would have loved as a little girl

I love the idea of the starglass and the fountain - this is becoming more of a magical mystery than the straightforward adventure I was expecting. I'm personally not a fan of talking animals, but I wrote about them all the time as a child, so you're tapping into the childlike mind very well.

It reminds me very much of some of Enid Blyton's stuff, but without her old-fashioned style of writing.

Good job!

ShellyH at 13:05 on 23 September 2010  Report this post
Hi Catherine, this was really good, very magical. I love the part when she is being supergirl sleuth, brilliant.
Only one tiny nit-pick, you say Branston puts the stones back in the hole and then sits down on them, then a few sentences later you say that Branston is now sitting down. This just jarred a little for me.

But this is a great story and girls will love it. I think there is a definite gap in the market for a book like this.


Catherine LW at 14:33 on 24 September 2010  Report this post
Thanks very much for your comments, it's so helpful having feedback. And it's fantastic to know that people have such nice things to say about my book!

Funny that you mention Enid Blyton, Freebird, as my daughter is currently addicted to Malory Towers, as I was when I was younger - in fact, I've just re-read them all. So maybe she's sneaking into my writing.

I'm not going to put any more chapters up for a bit now I don't think. I want to spend a few weeks editing them, taking on board everyone's comments. I defnitely need to work more on the family scenario and how that plays out, and I need to show things rather than 'tell' in places. And I'm thinking I might try and increase the italicised Supergirl Sleuth parts, as they seem to be what people like the most.

Issy at 22:34 on 01 October 2010  Report this post
Hi Catherine, developing well, lots of exciting magic.

Just a couple of suggestions - the part in italics is usually when we're in sleuthgirls imagination and I assumed then that they were ordinary stones, not something special as in fact they were. Maybe a suggestion in the part before the italics that they are in fact more, light dancing off stones or something unusual which they are trying to locate.

It would be an idea to suggest something about the squirrel talking in the first part back in chapter 1, perhaps she hears a voice and doesn't know where it comes from.

But enjoyed it enormously and I think its fine to leave the family story for the moment and concentrate on the magic.

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