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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
The Adventures of Fish and Chips - Book 5

“I'm glad you suggested coming for a picnic today, Chips. Mum made some sausage rolls last night and I knew I'd get a few more than Harry if we went on the picnic, so thanks.” Fish pushed the flaky roll into his mouth.

“They look delicious. My mum sent some meat pies with me, though she doesn't make them, she buys them at the bakery. How did you get out of the house without Harry anyway? He's such a pest. It's like he doesn't have any friends of his own so he always bothers us.” Chips unwrapped the pie nested in a paper napkin.

“He's got lots of chums, but most of them are busy helping their fathers. Harry's just lucky that Dad does most of his work from the computer at home.” Fish brushed crumbs off his fingers and licked them.

“Loch Gormlaith is pretty. There's Haggis Island. We'll have to go there another time, when it's not stormy and without Harry,” Chips said.

“You're right. It's pretty and it's deep. They say it's even deeper than Loch Ness.” Harry rummaged through his bag for the caramel shortbread.

Chips gazed out at the midnight blue water. There was just enough wind to cause ripples across the surface. Something moved, coming into view from the corner of her eye. She turned her head to look. “What is that?”

Fish followed her gaze. He dropped his shortbread and stood. “It looks like humps.”

“It's a serpent, like Nessie. See the three humps and the top of its head sticking out of the water?” Chips pointed.

“Wow! Nobody's going to believe us when we tell them there's a Loch Gormlaith monster.” Fish gulped as the beast disappeared under the water.

“I've never heard anyone in Inverlarich talk about a serpent before. Maybe I'll go to the library and look through the old newspapers. We actually saw a monster. What should we call it? What if we're the first ones to ever see it? I want to call it Blair.” Fish ran down to where the water lapped against the sandy beach.

“What makes you so sure it's a boy serpent? I say it's a girl, like Nessie. I want to call it Morag.” Chips nibbled on a ginger biscuit.

“Morag? I suppose that's better than Blair. It probably is a girl. Girls are beasts!” Fish giggled, but stopped when he saw the scowl on Chip's face. “Um, let's keep this to ourselves until we've done more research.” Fish nodded.

“You're right. I'll stop by the library and you can start questioning some of the older folks, who've lived here all their lives.” Chips lifted her foot and brushed the wet sand off her shoe.

After cleaning up their picnic mess, they parted ways, Chips heading for the library and Fish heading into town.

Opening the library door, Chips tiptoed inside.

Morna Borgach sat at the desk. When she saw Chips she adjusted her glasses, looking over the top at her with curiosity. “Can I help you, Fiona?”

“I'd prefer it if you called me Chips, Miss Borgach. Yes, I'm wondering where you keep all the old copies of the Inverlarich Reader. I'm doing a school project,” she lied, “and I need to look up some things from past local newspapers.”

“I see. Very well. If you'll go down the aisle to the end and then turn right, you'll see a sign that says Archives. Just open the drawers and look for the year. Did you have a specific time in mind, dear?”

“No, Miss Borgach. I am not sure what time frame I need,” Chips said.

“Perhaps if you tell me what you're looking for, I can be of more assistance.” The librarian stood, pushing her chair back.

“I'm sure I can find it on my own. Thank you for offering.” Before Miss Borgach could utter another word, Chips darted down the aisle. She spotted the drawers and opened them, pulling a stack of old newspapers out and carrying them to a nearby table. “I imagine they'd be on the front page. Nothing much happens in this town.” As she sifted through one after another, Miss Borgach came back to check on her periodically, without saying a word. When Chips looked up, the librarian merely smiled and turned away, as though she was tidying the books.

Fish stopped by the home for the elderly to visit with some of the older folks. When he saw Mr. Ross sitting in a wheelchair by the window gazing out at a rabbit hopping across the peat bog, Fish walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. “Mr. Ross, can I talk to you?”

The man with the wrinkled face looked up at him. A withered hand reached for Fish's. “Aye laddie, sit doon.”

“I was wondering if you could tell me if...” Fish hesitated.

“Go on. Tell you what, laddie?”

“Have you ever heard of a serpent, like Nessie, being in Loch Gormlaith. Chips and I were having a picnic and we saw something.” Fish bent his head in embarrassment.

“Ah, so you've seen ma wee serpent. I used to call her Dolly. What name did you give her?” Mr. Ross winked.

“Chips and I named her Morag. She thinks it's a girl.”

“She's right.” Mr. Ross glanced around the room to see who was nearby. “That's a good name, laddie. Morag. Tell me about her.” He clasped his bony fingers together.

Fish's eyes sparkled with excitement. “You believe me then? You've seen her too? We saw three humps. They were dark green and the humps sort of had spikes. They weren't sharp, but rounded. Her head had two stubs, like horns. She seemed to like us. She wasn't afraid, but she didn't stay around long.”

“That's my girl. When I was a lad, I used to go doon to the loch and watch her. She came close enough for me to pet!”

“Wow! You got to pet her?”

“I stroked her head. If you want to do that, you have to go when the tide comes in. The best spot to see her is Searlaid Point. That's where the water is deepest around the shore.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ross. If I come back another day, would you like to go for a walk? Maybe you could come with us to Searlaid Point and see Morag, I mean Dolly, one more time.” Fish gazed into the man's sky blue eyes. A tear puddled in the corner.

“I'd like that, lad.”

The nurse came and wheeled Mr. Ross away. “It's time for his bath,” she said.

Fish waved goodbye and ran to the library to find Chips.

“Fish, what are you doing here? Did you find out about Morag?”

“We didn't make it up. Mr. Ross saw her. He even got to pet her. He called her Dolly, but thinks Morag is a better name. I told him we'd come and take him for a walk in his wheelchair.” Fish stopped to catch his breath. “He wants to see her again.”

“I'm glad you had luck. There's nothing in any of these newspapers except the cost of heating oil and fishing wars.” Fish carried them back to the drawer. “Let's go tomorrow.”

Miss Borgach eyed them suspiciously from behind a book as they walked past.

“Mr. Ross said to go to Searlaid Point when the tide is in. That's tomorrow morning. We'll stop by and pick him up on the way there. Don't tell anyone.” Fish held the door open for Chips.

“I won't, but don't you tell Harry either.” Chips sighed. “We can't let anyone know because it will disturb Morag's peace.”

“I know. Well, I need to get home and help Mum. She was going to pick turnips today. Meet me at 8 A.M., right here, and we'll go and pick up Mr. Ross.

Fish could hardly contain himself. He wanted so badly to tell his Mum about Morag, but he didn't. After a few hours of picking turnips, he helped his mum peel and chop them for a stew and then read a book. The night passed slowly.

As Fish was getting ready for bed, Harry stuck his head in the room. “You've been quiet today, Fish. What are you up to? You should know you can't hide anything from me. You might as well tell me.”

“Go away, Harry. I am not up to anything.” Ignoring his brother, Fish climbed under the covers. “Turn out my light and shut the door, will you?”

Harry stood at the door in silence, contemplating his next thought. “I know you're up to something. I'll find out.” The door slid shut behind him.

At 7 A.M. Fish climbed out of bed. A quick glance out the window assured him of fine weather that morning. He gobbled down a bowl of cold cereal, left a note for his mum saying he'd be back in the afternoon, and left. Chips was waiting for him. “I'm glad you're here. Harry's suspicious. Keep an eye out for him. I wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't hiding behind one of the buildings watching us.”

They ran to pick up Mr. Ross. At first his nurse wasn't going to let him go, but when she saw the twinkle of life in the elderly man's eyes, she changed her mind. “Wrap him up good. You children make sure he keeps that blanket on. The sun's out, but mornings are always a bit chilled here.”

They nodded in agreement.

“Will you have him back in time for lunch? He's just had his breakfast. Wait right here.” The nurse disappeared and came back a few minutes later with a paper bag. “I put some muffins and scones in there. If he gets hungry, give him a few. There's enough for you too.” She winked at Fish. “Enjoy yourself, Mr. Ross.”

Fish pushed the wheelchair. Mr. Ross sat quietly. His eyes wandered from side to side. “It's been three years since I've been out for a walk like this. Thank you both. Look at the bluebells and heather. Even the thistles look lovely.”

Chips snapped a branch of heather off and put it in Mr. Ross's hands.

“We'll take you out for more walks, Mr. Ross. We'll come at least once a week. Would you like that?” Chips smiled at him.

“Thank you, lass. Are we going where I think we're going?” He clenched the flowers and put his hands under the blanket.

“We're going to Searlaid Point. The tide's in. I'm hoping you can see Dolly today,” Fish said.

“We'll call her Morag, as Chips suggested. I like that much more than Dolly.” Mr. Ross nodded.

Half an hour later Fish parked the wheelchair on the grass. He put a stone under each wheel to stop it from rolling. “There you are now. You can see the whole loch from here. The tide's way high this morning.” He picked up a stone and threw it into the water to test the depth.

Chips sat next to the wheelchair. Three sets of eyes scanned the horizon. Seagulls flew overhead, squawking in a cacophony of noise.

A pine green hump appeared in the distance. “There she is!” Fish jumped up and waved his hands. “Morag, we're over here. We brought Mr. Ross to visit you.”

The serpent kept its distance.

Chips stood. “Mr. Ross, what is your first name. Maybe she only knows you by that.”

“My name is Magnus.”

Fish shouted. “Morag. Magnus is here to see you. He's in a wheelchair now, but he remembers you from when he was a wee lad. Come and see him.” Fish watched in amazement as another hump appeared and then another.

The water swirled towards shore as the serpent moved in. “She's coming. Look Mr. Ross, Morag's coming to see us.” Excitement grew in Chip's heart.

A head, larger than a car exploded to the surface. Water rushed in all directions, sending a rippling wave towards Fish and Chips and Mr. Ross. Fish was about to grab the wheelchair and run. “Leave it alone, lad. The wave won't reach us. We're high enough. Stand still. No sudden moves from either of you.”

Frozen in place, Fish and Chips stared in awe at the creature.

Its long snout, thick and covered with scales was cupped by two knobby horns that grew out from between two ears. Two large opal-colored eyes gazed at them. “She's beautiful,” Chips whispered.

Morag lowered her head closer and focused on Mr. Ross.

“She remembers you,” Fish said, his hands covering his nose. “She smells like rotting seaweed.”

Mr. Ross raised his shaky arm. Morag moved in toward him. She stayed still as his withered palm stroked her cheek. “Go ahead. It's all right. Pet her.”

Fish and Chips raised their hands slowly, gently caressing the leathered face. “Hello, Morag,” Chips said. “Your scales are smooth, like the polished pebbles on the beach.”

Fish added, “Yes, hello. Thank you for letting us pet you.”

A misty vapor snorted from her nostrils, spraying tiny droplets all over Fish and Chips. “Och, it blew goo all over me.” Chips wiped her face with her coat sleeve.

Water dripped from the serpents head, splashing on Mr. Ross's blanket. “Let it be, lad. It's only water.”

After a few minutes, Morag raised her head. She looked longingly at the small group and then slid silently under the water.

When Fish looked at Mr. Ross, he saw a parade of tears running down the aged cracks of his cheeks onto his skin-folded chin. Fish turned his head while Mr. Ross wiped the tears away.

Chips was crying too. “I can't believe we saw a serpent and we can't ever tell anyone.”

After composing himself, Mr. Ross took both their hands. “Morag is our secret. Tell nobody, or she'll not be able to come again. Once people find out about mysterious things, such as our Morag, they tend to go overboard with curiosity and enthusiasm. It would be the end for Morag.”

“We won't tell anyone. Maybe you can come with us again soon and see her again,” Fish said.

“Aye, laddie. Maybe.”

Fish pushed the wheelchair back to the home.

Before the nurse pushed Mr. Ross away, Chips wrapped her arms around his neck. “We'll see you again soon, Mr. Ross. Thank you.”

He patted her arm, unable to speak.

Fish ran his fingers up the man's arm. “Thanks, Mr. Ross. Morag was happy to see you.”

“I know, laddie. I know. I was glad to see her too. You've done me a grand favor by taking me to see her one last time.”

“It's not the last time,” Chips said. “We'll go again.”

The nurse pushed him back to his room, leaving Fish and Chips alone with their thoughts.

That night as Fish lay reading in bed, Harry burst into his room. “Hey Fish, what were you up to today. I don't like the thought of you doing something without me knowing.”

“Nothing, Harry. Go away.” Chips lay the book down on the bed and dropped his head on the pillow.

Harry turned to leave, but stopped. “By the way, Miss Killbride came by on the way home from work. You know her, don't you? She's a nurse at the home for the elderly. She told Mum that Mr. Ross had passed away this evening. For some reason she thought you should know. She told Mum to tell you that you made his last day a happy one. What did you do, my wee brother?”

Fish couldn't speak. “Mr. Ross died tonight?”

“That's what I said.” Harry shut the door behind him.

Fish slid out of bed and stood at the window. He saw millions of stars sparkling in the moonlight. Moonbeams danced across the loch. “Mr. Ross is dead. At least he got to see Morag one more time. I think you knew, didn't you Morag,” he whispered through the pane of glass. “Cheerio, Mr. Ross. I'll take care of Dolly for you.” He pulled the curtain shut and went to bed.

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