Nory hadn't gone far, just over the rise, when she heard it.
"Ocras," it screamed. "Ocras."
Nory took another step and stopped. On one side of her were the dunes, on the other the great ocean. A strange place she was in, with wisps of fog drifting across the road. And again that sound.
The wind, she told herself, even though she knew it wasn't.
Granda had told her of selkies, half seal, half human. When they lived on land they wept bitter tears for the deep; when they returned to the sea they mourned for lost loves on the land.
Was that it? The cry of some poor selkie woman? Such an eerie sound.
The crying stopped and Nory began to walk again. One foot in front of the other. Away from home, away from that empty house with the door banging in the wind. The trip just beginning.
The sand drifted across the road, grains of it sticking to her bare feet. The crying reminded her of her little brother, Patch, and the last time she had seen him, his arms flung out to her from the back of her friend Sean Red Mallon's cart.
And where was that cart now, Sean pulling its heavy weight while Patch leaned against Mrs. Mallon in back? How far had they gone along that winding road toward the port of Galway?
She quickened her steps.
Don't think about Patch, or the Mallons, or the rest of the family, all gone ahead to find a ship, she told herself. Just keep going. Nearly at the crossroads.
"Ocras, ocras," came the cry again, and with it the sound of powerful wings.
That was what it was, then, not a voice but the call of a great seabird.
It swooped down over her head, too close. She dropped her bag and clutched the top of her head with both hands. As the bird rose she saw the snow-white body, the huge wingspan, the curved beak, and eyes that were strangely human.
She had seen such a bird once when she and Granda had walked along the cliff ledge. Granda had thrown it a piece of dulse from his pocket. "Travelers must give the white bird food. It will bring luck until the end of the journey," he had told her.
"But we're only going home," she had said. "Only a few steps."
Granda. How she missed him!
But what could she give the bird?
She had so little--papers Da had sent that would get her onto a ship, and a coin from her neighbor Anna sewed into her shawl, and what was in her bag, the bits of things Anna had managed to put together for the long trip ahead of her: herbs for illness, a biscuit so hard it had to be soaked in water, a bit of meat, and two pieces of brack, rock hard as the biscuit.
The bird circled over her, higher now. Nory dropped to the ground, scrambling for the bag, and reached deep inside for the biscuit. Anna's voice was in her ear: "There are only these bits of food between you and starvation. Guard them."
She held the biscuit in her hand as the bird wheeled over her head once more, but it was too hard to break into pieces. Suppose she threw all of it?
Between you and starvation, the wind said.
"Traveler's luck," Granda whispered in her head.
What should she do? Her mouth tingled with the thought of that biscuit, the softness of it when she'd find a stream for dipping, the taste of it on her tongue.
There was no time to think or the bird would be gone.
She took a step forward, reached over her head, and tossed the biscuit high into the air.
Effortlessly the bird swooped to catch it in its beak. It climbed high over the dunes with it and headed out over the waves that broke at the edge of the strand.
"It's the whole biscuit," she called. "For my whole family. Remember that." Her hair blew into her face and she raked it back impatiently so she could see where the bird went. "We're all of us traveling."
And that voice in her head again: But you, Nory, are alone.
The bird skimmed over the surf, but then, just before it was out of sight, it dropped the biscuit into the sea.
Nory's hand went to her mouth, hard against her teeth. Foolish girl, Anna would have said. You needed that food to stay alive.
Nory cupped her hands around her mouth. "Don't forget us. All of us. Da. Granda and Celia. Patch . . . and my friend Sean Red Mallon. Don't forget Sean."
The bird was almost out of sight. "We are trying for America," she called after it. "We want to stand at Maggie's door in Brooklyn."From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Maggie's Door by Patricia Reilly Giff. Copyright © 2003 by Patricia Reilly Giff. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.