Disclaimer: All excerpts contain some spoilers. This is an almost-finished manuscript with more typos than the final version. I reserve the right to change things.

The Eve and Malachi books are creepy children's stories. The first two are available in ebook, paper, and audio book. This is a planned 6-book series. You can start anywhere in the series, although the books will have a bit more impact read in order.
 

Malachi and the Deadly Pool

Eve and Malachi Book 3

Abigail Hilton

 

Chapter 1. Normal For Snakes

There once was a boa constrictor named Malachi who lived with a colony of rats in a dense stand of blackberry bushes behind a small farm. The rats and the snake had helped each other escape from the humans together, and they called each other family. It was a strange sort of family, but they were happy. Malachi’s particular friend was a young rat named Eve, and he was also quite fond of Eve’s little sister, Athena. Eve’s mother and father and aunts and cousins and brothers and sisters all appreciated Malachi’s protection from dogs and stray cats and foxes and coyotes.

Even the farm cat, Maleficent, who had once been an enemy, was on cautiously friendly terms with the rats and the snake. They had helped her deal with a dangerous ghost house earlier that year, and they had rescued a tiny black kitten who now lived on the farm. Maleficent had been the one to show Malachi how to get into the hen house, so that he could eat eggs, and was not tempted to eat his friends.

Everything was going very well until one day when Eve noticed that Malachi’s skin looked strange. It was not as glossy or bright as she remembered. He was also sleeping more than usual and moving sluggishly.

“Malachi, are you sick?” she asked. “You haven’t eaten an egg in a while. Aren’t you hungry?”

Malachi gave a long sigh. “I am about to shed my skin,” he said. “It makes me lose my appetite.”

Eve looked at him in alarm. “Your skin will come off? Won’t that hurt terribly?”

“Not terribly,” said Malachi, but he didn’t seem to feel very well.

Eve tried to imagine losing her skin. It was like trying to imagine having her head attached to her tail. Snakes are so strange, she thought.

“But what will you do without a skin?” she persisted.

“I grow another one,” said Malachi. “It’s already grown, actually. It’s underneath the old skin, but getting the old one off is uncomfortable.”

Eve was mystified. “Why would you do that?”

Malachi flicked his tongue. “Because my skin can’t get bigger like yours. When I get bigger, I have to get a new skin. It’s just the way snakes are, Eve.”

“Snakes are ridiculous,” said Eve, but she curled up in a crook of his body and kept him warm all evening while the other rats played.

Over the next days, Malachi’s skin got duller and drier, and he didn’t seem to feel any better. Even his eyes became cloudy, and he couldn’t see very well. During this time, he moved away from the rats into a different part of the blackberry bushes where he would not be disturbed by their chatter.

Eve became so worried that she plucked up her courage to go and see Maleficent, whose friends called her “Effie.” Effie was older than Eve and knew many things about the world. Unlike Malachi, Effie would not hesitate to give Eve bad news.

However, that cat did not seem concerned. “Snakes do that. I find their skins sometimes.” Effie shuddered. “It’s disgusting. They even lose their eye coverings!”

“But it’s normal?” persisted Eve.

“It’s normal for snakes.”

“Is it normal for him to feel sick while he’s doing it?”

“How am I supposed to know?”

Over the next couple of days, Malachi’s skin got a little brighter, and he grew a little more active, though still not hungry. One evening, he began rubbing his nose and face on thorns and sharp rocks in the blackberry patch. Slowly, with what seemed like a great deal of effort, his skin began to peel off. It was a little disgusting, although Eve would never have said so.

“Can I help?” asked Eve.

“No,” said Malachi. “Just leave me alone.”

He had never asked her to leave him alone before. It hurt Eve’s feelings a little, but she did as he wished. For three days, he left him alone. When she visited him on the third day, Eve was positive that something was wrong. Malachi’s skin had broken in many places and hung in shreds along his body. One of his eye covers had come off, but the other had not, and it shown a blind, milky white.

In a heavy voice, he said, “This is not working. I need to talk to the cat.”

 

 

Chapter 2. In which Eve Plans to Disobey

 “I need water,” Malachi told Effie when she came to the black berry bushes later that evening. “It is too dry here.” He looked a terrible sight with his skin dangling half off and one eye pale and cloudy.

Effie regarded him thoughtfully. “There’s water in a plant pot in the garden…and a birdbath that rarely gets emptied…and a sprinkler that sometimes leaks. And of course there is my porcelain water dish, but you can’t have that.”

Eve was about to say that Malachi had saved Effie’s life, and he could have whatever he wanted, but Malachi was shaking his head. “I need to lie in the water for several days. The humans would discover me in any of those places.”

“Ah…” Effie considered. “Well, there’s the drainage ditch between our house and the next…there are two swimming pools I know of…and there’s the stream in the woods.”

Malachi thought about it. “I would be the least likely to be disturbed in the stream.”

“Least likely to be disturbed by humans, perhaps,” said Effie, “but there are foxes and coyotes and eagles and even a mountain lion that sometimes passes that way. I don’t go out there at night.”

Eve felt alarmed, but Malachi said only, “I will take my chances. Can you show me the way?”

“Not at night,” said Effie, “but I will come at dawn and take you out there.”

Eve felt like arguing, but she could tell that both Malachi and Effie were trying to be civil to each other. They had not always gotten along, so she said nothing.

When the cat had gone back to the house, Malachi said, “Eve, I don’t want you coming with me. It’s too dangerous for a little rat.”

“I’m not little anymore,” protested Eve.

“All rats are little in the woods,” said Malachi.

“I’m afraid you won’t come back,” admitted Eve and she thought she might cry.

“I will come back,” said Malachi. He spoke gently, but firmly, and Eve was afraid to argue anymore.

However, after Malachi had gone off to rest in a separate part of the blackberry patch, Eve crept over to her sister, Athena, and said, “I want to follow Malachi and Effie into the woods at dawn. Will you come with me?”

Athena, who had overheard everything, did not have to think very hard about it. She had always been a daring rat. But she had a request that surprised Eve. “Can Bartholomew come?”

Bartholomew—“Mew” for short—was the name of the black kitten they had saved from the Man with the Dead Eyes in the ghost house. Mew was still a young kitten, and Eve hesitated. “Can he keep up?”

“He can more than keep up,” said Athena. “He carried me around the yard on his back yesterday.”

“I hope no one saw!” exclaimed Eve, thinking that her sister was too daring by half.

“No, of course not,” said Athena. “Anyway, he can carry us...one of us, at least. And I know he’d like to come.”

“He will have to be very quiet,” warned Eve. “Malachi and Effie must not know we’re following them.”

“He’ll be quiet,” said Athena.

 

 

Chapter 3. In Which Beautiful Places are Dangerous

Eve woke among her cousins the next morning, just as the branches of the blackberry bushes began to make dark silhouettes against the pale, morning sky. She was dismayed, however, to find that Malachi was already gone.

“Athena! Athena!” she squeaked in her sister’s ear. “We’re too later! They’re gone!”

Athena sat up.

“Effie must have come early,” moaned Eve.

Athena considered. “Or Malachi guessed what you’d do.”

Eve stared miserably at the dirt beneath her paws. “I’m just worried about him alone out there. He can hardly see with the old skin still over one eye, and he doesn’t feel well.”

Athena disentangled herself from the other sleeping rats. “Don’t worry. They can’t be long gone. Maybe we can track them.”

“Maybe…” said Eve doubtfully. Like all rats, she had a good nose, but she didn’t have much practice following a scent trial.

“Mew is good at tracking,” continued Athena. “We play hide and seek sometimes.”

Eve laughed in spite of her worries. “You do know that kittens grow up to be cats, right?”

“Says the rat who calls a snake her best friend,” scoffed Athena. “Come on; let’s go find him.”

Mew was a good tracker, but easily distracted. He was delighted by the grasshoppers skipping through the morning dew. Every time one shot under his nose, he darted off after it. He stopped to chase a moth through the tall grass just beyond the back fence. When a lizard raced away through the bushes, Eve thought they would never get him back.

Still, bit-by-bit Mew led them into the woods, and Eve could tell that they were on the right track. Every now and then, she caught a trace of Malachi’s scene. Twice, she saw strands of Effie’s white and orange hair clinging to branches.

Eve had never been in the woods before. She had expected it to be scary, but it wasn’t. In fact, the woods looked enchanting as the sun rose, illuminating ferns and brambles, dried leaves, moss, rocks, and twisting tree roots. Birds began to sing. Light fell in brilliant shafts through the filter of green leaves overhead.

Eve was about to comment on the beauty, when Mew stopped suddenly, ears twitching. “What is it, Mew?” asked Athena.

“Dunno,” he whispered. “But I think…”

Eve’s keen ears caught a soft pad-pad-pad sound.

“Climb a tree!” hissed Mew, and he shot up a trunk so suddenly that Eve barely had time to realize what had happened. She and Athena looked at each other. Then Athena shrugged and they scampered up after him.

“Squirrels make this look so easy,” Eve grumbled.

“I know,” gasped Athena.

“Stupid squirrels,” said Eve.

“Show offs,” agreed Athena.

Sharp little rat claws could climb trees, but it wasn’t easy. Eve and Athena had never done such things before, and their muscles weren’t in shape for it. They were gasping by the time they reached the branch were Mew had flattened himself. “Mew,” began Athena, “why did you—?”

And then Eve saw the coyote. It came pad-pad-padding through the woods, daintier than a dog, moving almost like a cat. The kitten and two little rats crouched as still as stones on the branch…the rather low branch.

The coyote passed beneath them. And paused. He raised his head, and his nose twitched. Eve held her breath. The coyote put his head to the ground again and made a couple of slow circles. He raised his head and whined—a hungry sound low in his throat.

Then something rustled in the distant ferns. The coyote turned in that direction and loped away.

Eve let out a long, shaky breath. The woods were certainly beautiful, but she could see why Effie didn’t like to come out here. Did Effie and Malachi run into the coyote? wondered Eve, suddenly very worried.

But then she heard a scrabbling noise and looked up to see Athena climbing higher, peering at something further away down below. She looked back at Eve and smiled. “I see them!”

 

 

Chapter 4. In Which Eve Overhears a Troubling Conversation

The stream lay at the bottom of the wooded ravine. Malachi and Effie were standing beside it, where a pool had formed below a small waterfall. Eve could see them from high in the tree, although she never would have been able to pick Malachi out of the underbrush without Effie standing beside him. Malachi’s patterned skin blended in perfectly, while Effie stood out like a brightly colored handkerchief—white and orange and black. Eve wondered whether she and Athena stood out just as vividly with their pale fur. We will have to be careful.

“I’m going down there,” said Eve. “Athena, I think you and Mew should wait.”

“Why?” asked Athena. She sounded suspicious.

Because the coyote doesn’t need to eat all of us, thought Eve. But she knew she couldn’t say that to Athena. “If you see the coyote heading towards me, have Mew call a warning.” Eve doubted that Athena could call loudly enough, but she knew that cats could make loud noises. “Then, you can look out for me. If the coyote doesn’t come, then it’s probably safe for you to follow.”

Eve could tell that Athena did not like the idea of hanging back while someone else did something dangerous. Before her little sister could argue, Eve scrambled down the tree and scurried through the brambles and dried leaves towards Effie and Malachi. The ravine was steeper than it had looked from the top of the tree, and she practically slid the last of the way.

Eve managed to stop herself in the shadow of a twisted root. She could hear the gurgle of the little waterfall. She could also hear Effie and Malachi talking to each other. “I really think you should just return to the humans,” Effie was saying. “The boy took good care of you.”

“The rats cannot return there,” said Malachi.

“They’re rats,” said Effie. “They’ll be fine outside. But you and I both know you won’t survive the winter.”

There was a long silence, during which Eve hardly dared to breathe. Survive the winter? Malachi had never mentioned winter. Eve knew the weather would get cold, but she hadn’t known that might be a problem.

“They’re not wild rats,” said Malachi. “They need help now and then.”

“What do you want me to do?” demanded Effie. “Promise to look out for them?”

A long silence.

The cat spoke again. “You can’t be serious.”

“You owe me for the ghost house,” said Malachi.

Effie sighed. “Will that debt never be paid? Yes, alright, I’ll look out for them if you die this winter. But I still think you’d all be better off if you went back to the humans—the rats, too. You’re not wild animals. You’ll see what I mean if you meet actual wild animals. Speaking of which, I’d better go. There’s a coyote that prowls this stretch of woods, sometimes even in the daytime. If you meet him, you won’t have to worry about dying this winter, because you’ll be dead now.”

“And you’ll look out for the rats if that happens?” persisted Malachi.

Effie sniffed. “You are such a strange snake. Go shed our skin, Malachi, and come back alive so that I don’t have to look after any rats.”

At that moment, Athena slid into Eve on her way down the ravine, Mew just behind her.

“Shhh!” hissed Eve.

“What’d we miss?” demanded Athena, just as Effie jumped over the tree root.

Eve thought for sure they would be discovered. However, Effie trotted on up the ravine without a backwards glance. Eve thought quickly. “Mew, I want you to follow Effie back home. Try to stay out of sight, but if the coyote comes, at least there’ll be two of you.”

Mew glanced at Athena, who bobbed her head. When he was gone, Athena asked, “And what are we going to do?”

“We’re going to keep the coyote from eating Malachi,” said Eve.

Athena looked doubtful. “How?”

“I don’t know yet.”


_________________________________
Malachi and the Deadly Pool will be available sometime in the latter half of 2017. Subscribe to my mailing list if you want to know the second it's released!

If you want to read the Eve and Malachi books from the beginning, start with Feeding Malachi - ebook/paper/audio.