Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Legend of Tabby Hollow by Kathi Daley Excerpt

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A cozy mystery series set on Madrona Island, a fictional island within the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State. As a fourth generation islander Caitlin Hart is struggling to make her way as the economy and culture of the island evolves toward a tourism based industry. Cait lives in a cabin on her aunt's oceanfront estate where she helps her aunt run Harthaven Cat Sanctuary. When she isn't working with the cats, she helps best friend Tara, operate the coffee bar/bookstore/cat lounge they own, named Coffee Cat Books. In the fifth book in the series, Cait and Cody join forces to track down a killer when a body is found in the hollow.

Chapter 1
Monday, October 19

The hollow is a mystical place located in the center of Madrona Island. Given the rocky cliffs that encircle the area, it is protected from the storms that ravage the shoreline. The hollow is uninhabited except for the cats who reside in the dark spaces within the rocks. While most of the island’s residents stop short of referring to the hollow as haunted, it is widely accepted that not everything that happens there can be explained.

I enjoy the pilgrimage I make to the area on a monthly basis. After Aunt Maggie founded Harthaven Cat Sanctuary, I took on the role of guardian to the island’s cats. When visitors first come to our island they’re surprised to see such a large feral cat population. Most assume the immigrants who settled the island four generations ago brought the cats, but the truth of the matter is that the cats of Madrona Island were here before the founding families arrived.

No one knows for certain how the cats came to be on the island, but local legend tells of a man named Ivan Valtranova. Ivan was a merchant from Russia who supposedly found the island when he was blown off course during a storm. He took refuge in the hollow with the twelve cats with whom he traveled. If folklore is to be believed, he fell in love with the beauty and isolation of the island and decided to stay after the storm had passed. Most assume the cats Ivan brought with him served as the base from which the current cat population was bred.

According to the story, Ivan lived alone on the island for a number of years, until the founding families arrived and built the fishing village of Harthaven. It is said that one of the settlers killed the Russian over a land dispute. Although the account of his demise has most likely been sensationalized, it seems that after a hard-fought battle to retain his isolation, he was beheaded and his headless body was left in the hollow. The legend tells us that the head was never found and is in fact buried within the hollow. There are those who believe Ivan’s spirit is trapped in the hollow and that he still wanders the area, looking for his head and exacting his revenge on those who would disturb his solitude.

Personally, I hope the legend isn’t true. I don’t want to believe that one or more of the founding fathers killed the man in cold blood in order to steal the land he claimed. And, although I come to the hollow on a regular basis, I’ve never been bothered by Ivan or any other spirit. But most legends are based at least in part on reality, and anyone who has been around for any length of time will tell you that there have been a number of strange and unexplained deaths in the area over the years.

Whatever their origin, the cats of Madrona Island are considered to be part of its charm. They were allowed to wander freely until Mayor Bradley lost several of his prize koi to the cats, motivating him to pass a law making it legal to remove the feral animals from ones’ property by any means necessary. When Aunt Maggie realized the cats were in danger of being trapped and killed, she founded the sanctuary as a refuge for the beautiful and graceful animals.

Today, I chose to abandon any thoughts of death or vengeance from beyond the grave and concentrate on the beauty surrounding me. One of the things I like best about the hollow is the whispers in the air. Most believe the sound is created as the wind echoes through the canyon, but I believe the whispers are the cats, heralding my arrival.

I took my time as I walked along the narrow footpath, looking for signs of felines in distress. More often than not I leave the cats to their own devices, but occasionally I come across a tabby who is sick or injured. When this occurs I trap it and take it back to the sanctuary, where it can receive medical attention. Occasionally, I’ll come across a cat who seems ripe for domestication, but most of the time I return the healed cats to the place in which I found them.

Today, I’ve come to the hollow for a very specific purpose. Today, I’ve been sent to find a messenger. Tansy hadn’t given me a lot of information about him, other than that he would meet me in the hollow and lead me to that which was mine to find.

Tansy and her best friend, Bella, are rumored to be witches. Neither Tansy nor Bella will confirm or deny their witchy status, but both women know things that can’t be empirically explained. Bella and Tansy live in the touristy village of Pelican Bay, which is located on the southern end of the island. The women own and operate Herbalities, a specialty shop dealing in herbs and fortune telling. While both Bella and Tansy seem to be more in tune with the natural rhythms of the universe than most, it’s Tansy who demonstrates a level of intuition that’s downright disturbing.

While venturing into the hollow to meet a feline messenger may seem like an odd thing to do, Tansy and her cats had never misled me in the past. I don’t really understand why I’ve been tasked with the responsibility, but I know deep in my soul that working with the cats is my calling and destiny.

“Ichabod?” I asked the large black cat with glowing green eyes and pointy ears who had wandered onto the path in front of me.

The cat didn’t answer, but somehow I knew I’d found my messenger.

“Tansy said to follow you, so here I am,” I said aloud. “Lead the way.”

The cat looked me up and down before he turned and started up the rocky trail that didn’t appear to lead anywhere. The trail was steep and covered in shale, creating a difficult and dangerous passage. I run with my dog Max almost every day, so I’m well equipped for a laborious hike, but the sun had already begun its descent and I was concerned that the darkness would arrive before I was able to make my way back down the trail and out of the hollow. Still, over time I’ve learned to trust the felines Tansy sends my way, so I dutifully followed in spite of the risk.

The trail narrowed as it wound steeply up the mountain. My legs burned as I struggled to keep my footing on the unstable ground. The trip back down the path wasn’t going to be fun at all.

Once I arrived at the summit, I paused to catch my breath and admire the view. The setting sun glistened off the still water of the ocean as seabirds glided above the surface, looking for their evening meal. It was too bad I hadn’t thought to bring a flashlight. I imagined that sitting atop the rocky bluff as the sun set with only the cats for company would be a magical experience.

Apparently, Ichabod wasn’t the patient sort because after only a minute’s rest, he began meowing at me to continue the journey. I figured we must be coming to the end of the journey because since it wouldn’t be long before we would run out of trail. I turned away from the spectacular view and continued to follow the cat. He led me inland just a bit and then back toward the sea.

I’m not entirely certain why no one has ever developed this part of the island. I imagine it could be due to the rough terrain, although, while the current trail system is perilous at best, it wouldn’t be all that hard to run a road into the interior of the unpopulated space. There’s a rough dirt road that runs along the perimeter of the hollow. Most use it to access the area before continuing on foot.

I supposed the legend could also play into the equation. Most islanders won’t admit to believing in the power of Ivan’s ghost, yet few seem willing to put the legend to the test.

Ichabod stopped and sat down at the point where the trail met the edge of the cliff. I wasn’t a huge fan of heights, but I walked up beside him and looked over the threshold. Lying at the bottom of the bluff was the body of Mayor Bradley. At least I thought it was Mayor Bradley. It was hard to know for certain because the face of the victim gave evidence to the fact that scavengers live in the area. But the body was dressed in the same suit I’d seen Mayor Bradley wear on many occasions.

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