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WolfSinger Publications

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The Moleskin Cap
- M.R. Williamson

The Moleskin Cap

Helen is trying to get over the recent loss of her mother. Seeing the struggle, her father sends her to live with her grandparents.

Now among the forests her mother loved, Helen connects with her mother's hobby, photography. With her mother's first camera, an old Nikon, she snaps a shadowy figure in the early-morning shade of a fir tree.

The resulting friendship not only pulls her from the destructive depression she was sinking into, but leads Helen into a world of magic and adventure and gives her a new purpose in life and a new reason to live.


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Part One

The Moleskin Cap

Helen Durkin sat quietly on the back porch of her grandparent’s home in Wendover Woods of Mid-Southern England. Twisting her long, blonde hair around her right index finger, she watched the forests around their old home. The majority of her eighteen years had been spent in London with her parent’s. But after her mother died of cancer two years ago, the woods and its wild things around the little cottage had become a calming balm to her soul no medicine could ever match.

“Don’t wander off now.” Her grandmother looked from the partially open kitchen window. “I just put the rolls in and when they brown we’ll have supper.”

“Yes, Grandma.”

Helen’s smile widened as she looked through the open window at her grandmother’s expression. It was one of those don’t get into anything looks.

Narbie Tucker had always been there for Helen, especially during the last two years. Now, the forests of Waltham and her mother’s parents were all she ever thought of—that is except her mother’s SLR Nikon camera. She always had it with her. Now, with the scent of fresh-cut hay in the air, she closed her eyes and leaned back in the old rocker. As she was about to doze off, the sharp chatter of a bird broke the silence.

Goshawk? Strange to see one in this part of the wood.

She eased her hand to the camera sitting on the little table next to her chair. Raising it up, she focused the zoom in on a high, jiggling limb at the lower edge of the back yard. Spotting the brown and white bandit was no problem. His bright flashing, grey banded tail was like a beacon in the shadows. One snap and she had him.

Haven’t seen one of you in a while. But what are you fussing at?

Lowering the zoom to just beneath the hawk, she used it to search through the goldenrods and thistles.

“There you are,” she said softly, noting the flash of dark brown fur in the scrub.

With at least forty yards between them, she knew this shot wasn’t going to be as easy as the little weasel-like bandit. Giving up on the distance, she crept from the east side of the porch.

Let’s see how shy you are.

Slipping from the yard and into the woods, she brought the camera up again and checked the goldenrods. They were still moving back and forth, but she still couldn’t see the creature.

I’ll flank him.

With the chatter of the finches and the still fussing goshawk in the background, she hoped her target would be none the wiser to her presence. A warm, September breeze wisped about her face as she crept to a weak stone’s throw from the goldenrods. But now, there was nothing to be seen on the ground. Even the hawk had grown silent.


She knelt next to a little spruce and watched patiently. After about ten minutes or so, she had just about given up when someone from behind her spoke.

“Human girls are easy.”

The voice was soft a quiet. Whoever it was sounded as old as her Grandfather Martin.

Helen spun around so fast she all but dropped the camera. “Who are you?” she blurted out.


Helen slowly stood, but the extra height did nothing to help her put a face to the voice.

“Hello,” she said timidly again. “I heard you…I know I did.”

Still, there came no reply.

“Helen,” called Narbie from the back porch. “Helen!” The cry louder this time.

“That certainly wasn’t who I heard,” grumbled Helen.

She carefully backed out of the goldenrods and into the lower edge of the back yard. As she did, something moved not far in front of her and it wasn’t a shadow.

“No-it’s-not,” she said, letting her chin drop slightly.

There, in the shadows next to a spruce sapling, stood a little silhouette all of three feet tall. It tipped its floppy cap, turned, and then walked toward the darker shadows just passed the spruce. Helen stood there as still as a stump, completely ignorant of the Nikon in her left hand. Then, finally she raised the camera, focused the zoom, and then snapped the shutter as fast as she could work the thumb crank. With her target finally gone, she lowered the camera, backed up a bit, and then trotted toward the cabin.

“I wish you wouldn’t ignore me, Helen,” complained Narbie.

Helen turned to see her holding the back door open with a disgruntled look.

“Martin’s already at the table and laughing at your antics. What has captivated your attention now?” Her grandmother waited patiently for an answer as she dried her hands on her apron and straightened the snood holding the little salt and pepper colored bun on the back of her head.

“Grandmother…” Helen hesitated, wondering what to say to keep from sounding foolish.

“Yes, dear,” prompted Narbie as she held the door open.

Helen slowed just inside the doorway, stepped into the kitchen, and then looked at Narbie. “Grandfather knows just about everything that breathes or grows in these woods, doesn’t he?” she finally asked.

“Yes, dear. He’s been a botanist and a naturalist for as long as I’ve known him. Just what did you find this time?”

“I think this thing found me,” Helen all but whispered. “Does Grandfather still use his dark room?”

“From time to time,” replied her grandfather as they stepped into the kitchen.

Martin resembled Mr. McGoo, complete with the required squint, but that and his wire-rimmed glasses didn’t fool the people who lived in and around Waltham Forest. Even though his hair was thin as corn silk and he walked with a bit of a wobble, he was still considered one of their sharpest minds.

Helen turned to her grandfather, “I’ve got a picture of something, grandfather and…and…it spoke to me just before I took it.”

Martin’s eyebrows raised as he looked at her over his glasses. “Spoke to you did it?” he echoed with a bit of a chuckle. “What did it say?”

“I’d rather not say.” Helen lowered her head.

“Helen,” Narbie explained with a slight smile, “these old woods will work their magic on a young mind like yours just like alcohol on an old fool.”

Martin rolled his eyes and then looked back at the still warm rolls in the basket on the dinner table.

“Maybe so.” Helen held up the Nikon. “But this young mind has pictures.”

“After supper,” said Narbie. “Those pork chops and chips are best when they’re hot.”

~ * ~

After supper Martin and Helen stood over the developing pans, moving the prints pack and forth in the solution.

“The butterfly is nice,” replied Martin as he handed the picture to Helen for the drying line. “Good. You’ve got a prize here in this hawk moth.” Helen pinned the picture on the line as her grandfather fiddled with the goshawk. “This fellow seems to fuss at me at least once a week,” he added with a smile. “I think he’s drumming up the courage to try one of Narbie’s smaller hens.”

She moved closer to her grandfather’s side. “What about the last four?”

“Can’t figure them out,” responded Martin as he pushed them under the solution again. “I don’t think that zoom helped you at all in the shadows of the forest. But, all in all, I do think you’ve got something here even if it is just a hint in a shadow.”

Martin then picked one out and pinned it on the line.

“Spoke to you he did?” he asked.

“He?” Helen opened the door a little to better see her Grandfather’s expression. His eyebrows were raised and he wouldn’t make eye contact. That wasn’t at all like him. “You know what, or who, this is don’t you?”

“Uhhh…” Martin slowly turned back to the solution pan. “It’s just not easy making sense of these shadows, Pumpkin.”

Helen cocked her head sideways and studied his answer. She knew a battle of wits with him would often leave her in second place, but what to do?

“I won’t use the zoom tomorrow. Perhaps I can get another shot at him if I can get close enough.”

Martin paused, removed his glasses, and then looked back at her. After a deep sigh, he pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and started wiping them. “Perhaps you should give the woods a rest for a while, Pumpkin. You can happen upon the wrong sort there at times—both two-legged and four-legged. That’s not to mention that we have the occasional poacher prowling about. I’ve got a new book on old cameras; I’ll lay it out for you. I’m sure you can find something in it to hold your interest for a while.”

~ * ~

The next morning, the thought of Martin’s old, field glasses tempting her, Helen rose almost as early as Narbie. Easing the bedroom door open, she peeped down the hall. The glasses were still in their place on the back of the door, and her grandmother beyond them in the kitchen. The light aroma of fresh-perked coffee tweaked her curiosity.

“Didn’t think you and Grandfather liked coffee, Grandmother,” Helen quickly donned her trousers and pullover shirt.

“One of Martin’s American friends got him started on the stuff. Actually, it goes pretty well with breakfast.”

Helen pulled her hair back in a ponytail, fastened it with a black hair band as she eyed the binoculars. She then noticed her grandmother had the back door open to let a bit of cool air in the kitchen.

“Would you mind if I eat my breakfast on the back porch?” asked Helen. “It’s so lovely out there and I wouldn’t want to miss an early riser.”

“I’ve already nibbled my way through breakfast, child.” Narbie glanced at her. “Your grandfather has already finished his. He’s off to pick up a few things at the grocery and the meat market for me. After that, I’m sure he’ll make his stop at the Boar’s Head Inn, if it’s not too early for his daily ‘nip’. It’ll likely be past noon before he gets back.”

Helen slipped on her loafers, picked up her camera, and then walked briskly to the kitchen.

“Tea?” asked her grandmother as she held up a hot kettle from the stove.

“Please. I’m not much on coffee.” Helen glanced back at her grandmother, grabbed a sausage, stuffed it into a roll, and then asked, “Would it disappoint you if I took my breakfast to the table on the back porch? I would like to look for that goshawk again.”

Slowly shaking her head, Narbie made another and placed it upon a cloth napkin. Laying it on the counter by the teacup in front of Helen, she said, “You’re just like your grandfather. You had rather chase after something in the woods than eat or sleep.” She then placed a gentle hand on her granddaughter’s left forearm. “Don’t wander off too far away from the cabin, Helen. You don’t know these woods like Martin does and I wouldn’t want to have to call for Dempsey’s hounds to come and find you.”