” Part imaginative dystopian future, part environmental warning, Wallace’s new book is fitting for a climate in which The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 have regained public prominence. Sea of a Thousand Words pulls off the best trick in imaginative fiction — so creative you couldn’t think of it yourself, yet so plausible that it feels a moment away.”
–Third Place Books, Seattle WA.
After the last month, post-release of Sea of a Thousand Words, I’m settling into a normal pace once again. The whirlwind of setting up the author events and fulfilling special orders has passed and I’m now filling my days by contacting independent book sellers and establishing a (less-political) presence on social media.
The interesting thing that I’ve learned however is this: I expected that the most exciting part of finishing my book would’ve been the much-anticipated publishing-day, but that is not so. The most rewarding part of this adventure has been hearing from my readers–a diverse group of fans to be sure. Many of whom were drawn to the book because of its environmental and geo-political issues, others because of the action and adventure and still others for the science and technology aspects. I’ve also heard from much younger readers who were focused on the relationships between several of the characters. (I didn’t anticipate having a YA audience)! This very morning, I hopped on Twitter to discover that people were retweeting a recommendation for my novel–that’s an exhilarating feeling for an author, to be certain.
Perhaps it is because much of what occurs within the plot is relative to the current–and at times–controversial events that are happening (or threatening to happen), in our own world, but quite a few readers have been sending me articles about these issues. For instance, here’s a link that I recently received in an email from a fan regarding the CRISPR enzyme. It’s on a Radio Lab podcast and is quite fascinating. It got me thinking: Even though my novel is set 15-years in the future, this technology is far closer than I envisioned. Certainly, the ethical questions are no longer hypothetical–scientists are already facing these dilemmas. Give it a listen, it’s well worth it.
The genre for Sea of a Thousand Words has been called “speculative fiction.” I feel that is an adequate description for a novel that’s not too dystopian sci-fi/ fantasy, but not rooted completely in the present. However, as I start the research for a sequel, (which will reach even farther into the future), I doubt that the follow-up novel could even be labeled “science-fiction” any longer… more like, “science-probability or science-inevitability.”
It is great to hear from everyone who has sent their feedback. Your cards, letters and emails have been such a treat, and to hear that my characters are loved by others is more than gratifying. It quite simply inspires me to get back to work and find more adventures in which to immerse them. (Remember, posting your comments on Sea of a Thousand Words Amazon’s page as well as sites like Goodreads helps to spread the word). I’ll continue to post more reader remarks, links and sources that I get from fans of the book. Please feel free to contact me with your insights or opinions on the subjects.
And as always, thank you for supporting this indie author!
The book is finished at last! I am eagerly anticipating the official email that it’s available through Amazon, Ingram and Smashwords in print and e-publication. While I wait, I am working on a print of Monk the raven.
If you would like to own a signed copy of my book and receive a free 6×9″ original hand-cut block print of Monk, please click this paypal link and pre-order yours today.
Print copy–$16.00 plus 4.00 shipping USD
And remember, $1 from every hard copy and e-reader purchase goes to water.org efforts to provide clean drinking water across the world. So, with every copy ordered, you are helping to find a solution.
This novel is a special project for me and I hope that you’ll not only enjoy the cast of characters, but will find inspiration from the story. I look forward to your feedback–(please write a review)! I depend on you all to spread the word about the book to others. Avid readers and fans are the best marketing platform any author could ask for.
Thanks in advance for your purchase–and happy reading!
*(For purchases after the pre-order deadline, I’ll soon be posting links for where to find the book. Author event schedule is forthcoming).
Several months ago, I entered Sea of a Thousand Words into an international book-to-script competition. Earlier this week, I received judges’ feedback. I’m quite pleased that out of thousands of entries, my novel made it into the top 100 candidates for adapting to screen.
Read what the judges said about Sea of a Thousand Words:
Sea of a Thousand Words
This has become the winter of my discontent. Made less tolerable by events that daily appear in my newsfeed.
When I began Sea of a Thousand Words last January, I started with the premise, “What if a Trump-style government ever came to power?” And because my story is set in the future (2033), I extrapolated what might occur with an isolationist administration that places nationalism above all else. The phrase “lottery of birth” became central to my theme.
The world of my novel occurs at a time when the Cascadia quake has destroyed much of the west coast. The earth’s temperature continues to rise, creating a global crisis of climate refugees. Technology has advanced as predicted, and the chasm between those with power and wealth versus the rest of the world has widened to extremes. Countries have closed their borders and hired privatized, militant contractors to oversee the perimeters.
My manuscript was complete before the November election occurred, and since then I wonder if my speculative-fiction outlook for our future is perhaps too naïve. As I witness these very events starting to occur–three weeks into the new administration–I imagine myself in Emma Thompson’s role in the movie Stranger than Fiction. It is a rather unnerving thought.
And yet, I am reminded that the protagonists in my novel could also be in our future. And in that case, hope is not dead. It is likely that we already have young people in our midst who will grow up to be the heroes of our story: Somewhere out there, a leader like Reba is acquiring wisdom; an Ooligan and a Kai are learning how to resist; a warrior like Adili takes a stand. Somewhere in our world, a young girl like Dot–who may not yet realize her strength, will challenge those in power, and fighting beside her will be a loyal friend like Táan. One does not have to look to works of fiction to understand that there will always be those who will rise up against injustice.
I’m waiting for the cover art design and for proof-readers to check the accuracy of the story’s myriad of languages. As I revisit certain chapters, my excitement builds–because I realize that this isn’t so much a dystopian future as a manifesto. We will be OK just as long as there are people who possess the courage to fight.
The tagline of this novel is “Who deserves to inherit the earth?”
It is a question that, soon enough, we must all answer.
Less than a year has passed since I began writing my novel and I approach the finish line at last. At a final count of 145,000 words, with a new epilogue recently added, I am feeling satisfied. Sea of a Thousand Words has made the rounds of a very dedicated group of beta readers and, in its third rendition of revisions, the novel is tight and reads very well (in my humble opinion, of course).
As I wait to hear back from interested parties, I was recently surprised by a gift: My very first fan art. My daughter drew a poster of the book and presented it to me on Christmas day. It was such a trip to see my beloved characters, but through her imagination–her version… It was quite an unexpected rush and I actually broke out in tears when I unwrapped it.
Here is the poster:
I have no idea what lies in store for this book. I’ve received some good feedback from my readers and encouraging critiques from literary agents. Should the final word-count prove too lengthy for mainstream publishing, I may opt to self publish and release a hardback as well as e-reader edition. What I am confident of however, is the timeliness and importance of this story. It rings eerily familiar, given the state of our politics and environment these days. I feel certain that readers will agree.
Stay tuned, keep your fingers crossed for the novel and I’ll let you all know what transpires soon. Thanks for your interest and support.
As I begin to tie the various strands together to finish the tapestry of my story, I am looking back to early chapters in which many of the main characters and settings are introduced. This is one of my favorites, in large part for the description of the Haida longhouse and establishing the relationship between Ol’ Pa and Marta.
Old Massett. Jul 14. 2022
An elderly man and his daughter wandered along the beach, their footprints paralleled the foamy margins of the ebb tide. Every so often, one of them knelt beside a shallow pool and plucked out a spiny urchin or purple sea cucumber. The woman placed them into the basket that she’d slung over her arm.
The recent earthquake made foraging more of a challenge; entire ecosystems had been damaged by the Tyee’s tsunami as far north as the shores of Haida Gwaii. As the northwest coast disintegrated, fish and marine life abandoned their habitats—waiting, it seemed, for the earth to calm itself. The Tyee’s catastrophe had only worsened the already tenuous conditions created by the ocean’s climbing temperatures. The chíin had long since abandoned their Inside Passage runs for cooler water offshore—and once there, massive factory trawlers scooped up the precious salmon. Few now returned to spawn. The local fishermen lost their livelihood and the islands’ residents, their main food source.
The old man veered off his path and began to follow a zigzagging trail of moist sand. He paused abruptly, stooping over a soggy patch to poke at the wet area with his walking stick, creating a miniature well. “Marta, come here—I bet there’s some k’áag hiding down there.”
The woman walked over to the puddle, already refilling with seawater. She bent down and swirled her fingers in the pool, creating a little funnel. “Hmm, maybe so… Did you bring your spade this time, Chiinga?”
He shook his head.
“I figured as much.” She sat the basket down beside her and helped him dig, using both hands to push away the sand.
“Here, try this.” Handing her a flat piece of driftwood, he continued to shovel with the end of his stick. Eventually they uncovered a few dozen butter clams and rinsed them in the saltwater, placing them on top of the catch in Marta’s basket.
“C’mon Ol’ Pa, let’s go home now, I want to soak these before they dry out.” Adjusting her straw hat so that the brim covered the back of her neck, she muttered, “Whew, it’s warm today.”
“OK—OK. Just hold on a minute. I want to take a look at what’s over by the point—see it?” He pointed toward the bluff, “I know for a fact that wasn’t there a week ago. I dug for k’áag at that very spot on Tuesday.”
“It’s just another boat washed up on the rocks, Ol’ Pa. They’ve been coming in all week—ever since the big quake. It’s getting too hot for you to be walking that far—forget about it.”
“Shush girl, I’m going to take a look.” He set off in the direction of the bluff.
Marta caught up with her father and they walked together for some time, the old man humming as they plodded along. The shipwreck was further away than he’d reckoned and it hovered, mirage-like, across the expansive beach. At last, they came upon their target: A blue hull resting askew on two large boulders with a gaping hole at its waterline. On the transom was painted a faded red flower, and beneath it, two words were stenciled in tarnished gold letters, “Dottie Rose.” Marta placed her hands on her hips and stared at the vessel, “We shouldn’t get too close, it might be one of those coyote boats.”
Ignoring her cautionary advice, the old man stepped inside and looked around. His voice echoed through the hull as he spoke. “There might be some stores inside. If there’s a transponder chip, we could salvage it and who knows, maybe sell it. I think I’ll check this out.” He disappeared completely into the boat’s cavity.
Marta sighed and sat down on one of the logs. Removing her hat, she twisted her greying hair into a thick braid. She knew there was no use arguing with Ol’ Pa, he was going to do whatever he wanted to—he always did. She hoped he didn’t get stuck inside the wreck, as she didn’t fancy going inside that dark, smelly thing to rescue him. Shifting her basket into a shadier spot, she covered it with her hat and waited for him to return.
“Daughter—come here! I’ve found something!”
Marta walked over to the hole and peered inside. The interior was dark and she had difficulty locating where his voice came from. Eventually, her eyes adjusted to the shadowy surroundings and she spotted his outline near a companionway. He carried something heavy in his arms. “Chiinga, what do you think you’re…?”
“Hurry up girl, she’s too heavy for me. I think she’s still alive. Come on—help me before I drop her.”
Marta stepped across the debris and realized that he held an unconscious little girl. She grabbed the child’s legs, supporting one foot on each hip as Ol’ Pa carried the girl by her shoulders, her head against his chest; tendrils of curly brown hair spilled across his arms. The two of them crab-walked over the frames, trying not to drop the child. As Marta backed out of the hole, her foot went through one of the vessel’s rotten planks. Marta fell, letting go of the child as her hands hit the rough wood. She felt warm blood trickle down her calf as she struggled to extract her leg from the broken hull. “Careful there, daughter! Pick her up again… OK, now take another step—nice and easy. Let’s put her down right here… Ah, good.”
They laid the girl on the warm sand and slumped down next to her, both winded by the exertion. The tiny girl looked so fragile, her pale face was peppered with dozens of freckles and a nasty gash ran along the side of her forehead, looking as if it might become infected. Marta placed her fingers under the girl’s chin to check for a pulse, the skin felt clammy to her touch, but Marta detected a feeble heartbeat. She glanced up at Ol’ Pa and nodded and then offered him her canteen. “OK, she’s alive–barely. Now what, Chiinga?”
The old man looked toward the ocean, the horizon was clear. “No trackers as far as I can see,” he said. Taking a long swig from his daughter’s canteen he handed it back. “They must not know the boat is here.”
Marta gulped down the water. “What do you suppose she was doing all alone in that boat? Perhaps somebody else went looking for help?” She poured some water on her shirt tail and squeezed the cool liquid onto the child’s lips.
“I don’t see any other footprints in the sand,” Ol’ Pa said. “Maybe if there were others, they got swept overboard?”
“Hmm, I don’t like this. Strangers bring trackers and trackers bring trouble for the village—you know that.” Marta ran her fingers through the child’s tangled hair, brushing several fine strands away from the girl’s eyes. It was a maternal gesture, one she had not used for many years. “Ol’ Pa,” she whispered, “If this little hlk’ín-giid is chipped, then what?”
“Well, there’s no sense worrying about what we can’t fix. Right now, we need to figure out how to get her back to the village.”
Marta stood up and instantly felt the pain in her calf. “Ahhh—that really smarts!” She rolled up her jeans and examined the wound. The bleeding had stopped but the cut looked jagged and deep. “Ugh, Doc’s going to want to stitch this up for sure,” she mumbled.
“Can you walk on it? If so, you go for help. Leave me the water and I’ll stay here,” he gestured inland. “But get Doc Gravin to take care of that cut first—it needs looking at.” He pulled himself up and dragged the little girl farther into the shade. Before Marta could argue, he continued, “Stop at Billy Telford’s place. He’s got that dune buggy—he’ll come for us… And besides, I’ve always wanted to ride in that contraption.”
Marta handed Ol’ Pa the canteen and took her basket of seafood. “Chiinga, please be careful. I’ll be back in a few hours. Promise me you won’t go back inside that boat—not for any stupid transponder chip… I don’t care how much you could get for it.”
Ol’ Pa waved her away. “Yeah, yeah—now off with you, girl. I want to be home in plenty time for my dinner.”
The Old Massett longhouse sat in the heart of the village and served as the assembly hall and community center for the inhabitants. The century-old structure was constructed of massive trees from the Naikoon forest and fastened together with wooden spikes. Inside its thick walls, the polished logs were decorated with carvings of ceremonial masks and stylized animals from Haida lore. Complex and colorful figurines of bears, whales and eagles were mounted next to mythical Thunderbirds. Wall-hangings made from roots and cedar bark hung beside woven tapestries that depicted events from long ago. These tactile works of art—created by many hands over the years, kept the Haida history alive. Outside, the building’s ancient timbers were protected by eaves of heavy, roughhewn beams. Columns of steel crabpots stacked along the walls awaited the coming húugaa season—when the spiny Dungeness returned to the shallows. Weathered totem poles towered over the grassy lawn, standing sentinel in front of the double doors. They varied in shape; some stout, others reaching over seventy-feet high. Faded colors clung to the crevices of the totems’ aged caricatures; their eyes—both human and animal—observed all who passed beneath. These gyáa’aang had witnessed many generations of Haida who gathered at the longhouse for potlatches, marriages, births and deaths for hundreds of years.
On this particular evening, the longhouse was packed to the rafters. From a distance, the rows of mullioned windows glowed amber as the oil-lamps burned within—power had not been fully restored to the island since the Tyee. It seemed as if the entire village had heard about Ol’ Pa’s discovery and wanted to see the shipwrecked girl for themselves. Chairs and tables filled the hall and, where there was no room to sit, villagers pressed themselves against the walls. The elders sat on the long bench near the end of the room and whispered amongst themselves as they sipped gángk’an from ceramic mugs. A large black raven perched quietly on the sill of an open window not far from the front doors.
Marta and her father sat near the table where the child rested, laying curled in a fetal position and staring impassively as Doc Gravin performed his examination. He listened to her breathing through his stethoscope, tapped her chest as she coughed and shined his otoscope into her ears and eyes. Marta leaned over to her father and whispered, “Why doesn’t she speak?”
“Well, I s’pose she’ll say something when she has something to say.”
Doc straightened up and looked around the room. “She’s a tough little survivor, this one. Aside from the cut on her head and a bout of chest cold, I’d pronounce her a pretty healthy little girl all in all—and a lucky one—very lucky.”
Eli Hammond the grocer, asked, “Has she said where she came from—how she got up here?”
“Not to me she hasn’t.” Doc said.
Marta inquired, “Do we know if she’s spoken at all… to anyone?”
Billy Telford leaned over from his bench against the wall and spoke. “She only moaned a little—y’know—when we set her in the buggy. Not a word after that for the entire ride back.”
Heads shook throughout the room and people began to murmur. The little girl had been in the village for several hours, but had not opened her mouth since regaining consciousness. Several voices from the back of the hall called out, “Has she been scanned yet?” … “Yeah, do we know if there’s an ID chip?” … “She’s Yáats’ Ýaat’áay, so she’s definitely got to have one.” … “That’s true—all the whiteys are chipped at birth these days.”
The chatter increased until at last Doc Gravin waved his hands to bring about order. “Quiet please, folks—let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I don’t have a scanner, so there’s no way of telling… but there’s nothing saying we can’t get over to the Greenwood to borrow theirs. Have any of their fetchers been spotted recently?”
The longhouse erupted in conversation as everyone spoke at once. Had the fetchers been across the strait? Were any of their tlúu spotted in the bay?… The consensus was that no one had seen any of the fetchers for the past few weeks. Annie Taw suggested that they send a message to the Greenwood in the morning, it was roundly approved by those gathered around.
“Where’s this hlk’ín-giid going to stay for now? who’s taking responsibility?” asked Russell Guujaw, one of the elders. Everyone looked around the room, wondering who would volunteer. It was one thing to rescue an outsider, but food and supplies were scarce these days. Who would be willing to share provisions with a stranger? Especially if that stranger brought trackers to the village.
A chair skidded noisily across the floor as Ol’ Pa rose to his feet. He stood up straight, hands resting on the tabletop for support. He looked around at his neighbors and said, “I will take care of the girl. Me and Marta, that is.”
Marta smiled as if she’d already guessed what her father was going to say.
Two and a half months had passed since the discovery of their young castaway. Autumn’s early morning chill crept up the island chain and lingered until well after noon on most days. The humpbacks had reappeared in Dixon Entrance; their colossal flukes slapping the water could be heard from shore. Haida’s fishermen took hope from the whales’ return, trusting that the chíin might soon follow. They mended lines and reinforced their nets in preparation for whatever sockeye run might appear. Families of young children prepared for the onset of classes. Old Massett’s schoolyear was off to a late start as a result of the Tyee disruption. Many children who lived in the more remote parts of Haida Gwaii had not been to the village since the earthquake. There was an air of excitement and anticipation in the town that had not been felt for quite a while.
Ol’ Pa sat on the front porch, splicing his fishing lines. The little girl sat cross-legged on the floor in front of him and stitched whippings into the bitter-end of each rope. She’d taken to the job naturally and needed no instruction. She bent her head over her handiwork, ringlets of her soft brown hair curtaining her face as she moved the needle in and out. The deep cut on her forehead had healed, in its place was a white scar that ran parallel to her eyebrow. The faded denim overalls that she’d been given hung loosely on her slender frame. Marta appeared from the kitchen holding two cups of salal tea, she paused on the other side of the screen door and smiled at the sight of them both diligently working. “You two might want to stop for some lunch now,” she said, opening the squeaky door with her foot. “There’s a plate on the table for anybody who’s hungry.”
The little girl smiled, dropped her needle and stitching palm onto the floorboards and sprinted past Marta. The door slammed noisily behind her. Marta set the cup on the table next to Ol’ Pa, he grunted thanks while parting the strands of the braided line. Marta shielded her eyes, watching several of the neighbor’s boys wrestling in their yard across the street. One of the older boys turned on a garden hose and sprayed his brothers. Their mother’s voice screamed from inside the house, “Táan Olsen—you turn off that hose right now!”
Marta turned to Ol’ Pa and said, “This little girl of ours needs some friends her own age.” Ol’ Pa snorted and shook his head, mumbling under his breath at the twisted pile of rope on his lap. “How will we ever get her to speak someday, if her only companion is an old cuss whose vocabulary consists of assorted harrumphs and grunts?” Marta put a hand on her hip, shifting her weight onto the same leg. “Look here, school’s going to begin soon—I believe she should be enrolled… That is, I mean, if they’ll accept her—being mute and all.”
Ol’ Pa continued with his splices. “I should think any teacher would appreciate a kid who can keep their mouth shut. “
“Chiinga, be serious.”
“I am being serious, woman. Have you walked by that damn school when it’s in session?” He paused for a moment and took a drink. “Ahhh, that tastes good.” Returning to his handiwork, he grumbled, “What is formal schooling worth nowadays? Our children should be taught the old ways—especially now. That’s how we’ve always survived, that is how we will continue to endure. Ýaat’áa k’adangéehl— ‘Haida educated’, daughter.”
“Yes Ol’ Pa, that’s true. But if we’re to exist in this world, we must continue to know the other ways too. And need I remind you—this child is not Haida.” Marta continued to watch the rowdy boys playing as she spoke. Inhaling deeply, she stated, “Nope, I’m going to register her for school this week. I’m just not sure how old she is… I’d guess about nine or ten, but who knows? And we don’t even know what to call her… What name should I put on the enrollment form?”
“Put down ‘Dot’. Her name is Dot.”
Marta snickered. “You’ve been calling her after the name of that old boat lately—what’s the story, Chiinga?”
“Well, it’s better than calling her nothing, and nothing is exactly what she says. I can think of a lot worse names than Dottie Rose for a little girl.”
“Alright, alright, old man, I’m not going to argue with you. We’ll play it your way. ‘Dot’ it shall be—for now. I suppose if she doesn’t like it, maybe she’ll say something about it.” Marta turned to open the screen door, she paused as if to add something, but just shrugged, smiled and said, “I think I’ll take Dot with me to pick some blackberries, can you survive by yourself for the afternoon?”
“Get on with you, woman.” Ol’ Pa waved his splicing fid in her direction as she closed the screen door.
Excerpt from Sea of a Thousand Words. (Chapter 22)
“Hey, Dot—c’mere and take a look at this sail, will ya’—is this what you wanted?” Ooligan spread the canvas out on the grass.The sail began to take on the shape of a large clamshell as she unwrapped its accordion-like folds. Dot backed out of the inner hull where she’d been lashing the last of the three mast steps to the frame. Tucking the leather strips into her pocket, she stepped over the cockpit and stood next to Oolie with her hands on her hips, carefully studying the sail. Ooligan pointed toward the base, where the battens would meet the mast once the sail was bent on. “I’m pretty sure that I got them long enough this time. What do you think—wanna try it out?”
Dot nodded and the two women lifted the scalloped sail upright, carrying it over to the baidarka. Pasha glanced up from his stitching, clambered over the pile of old sail material and grabbed one of the masts that lay beside the boat. He carefully stepped it into its slot and twisted until a solid thunk emanated from inside the hull. Ooligan and Pasha held the fabric as Dot fastened the gaskets around the mast. They stepped back and admired the new fan-shaped sail rising from the baidarka’s deck like a peacock’s tail. “Bravo—one down, two more to go!” Oolie exclaimed. Dot smiled, it was her first attempt at sail design and she was pleased that her creation worked. Climbing back into the cockpit, she squeezed herself underneath the decking. The muffled exchanges between Ooligan and Pasha drifted into the hull as she sweated with her lashings in the confined chamber—their constant bantering now a part of the ambient sounds of her workday. She detected a new voice joining in the conversation and picked out the low cadence of Adili’s Kenyan accent. Dot backed her way out of the baidarka and pulled herself out of the mid-section cockpit. She wiped the perspiration off her brow with the back of her hand and waved at Adili.
“Hello Dot, I see progress is being made on your baidarka. This sail is most unusual, how does it work?”
Dot tied together two lengths of her leather straps and attached an end to the most outside batten of the sail. She sat back into the cockpit and then pulled on the strap. The sail pivoted toward her. Pointing to the opposite side, she mimed pulling a strap the same way. She brought her hands together, as if pulling back on the reins of a horse, and mimicked tying the straps onto a cleat. Adili nodded, “This is a remarkable design. You are a clever woman, Dot.”
Ooligan picked up her second sail and walked over to where Adili stood. “That’s not all—check out this slick feature she just added.” Oolie flipped the partially finished sail she was holding upside down—spreading the battens out into a circle on the grass and brought the clamshell shape together at its ends. The upside-down sail became a conical tent. “Isn’t this cool? We should’ve thought of this years ago, Adili. Just think about all those nights we’ve had to camp al fresco!”
Pasha set his canvas down and stood up, squinting toward the channel. He pointed toward the water, past where Dot’s little boat bobbed along the shore. “I think that your Saka is wanting for you to play, no?”
Dot looked toward the channel in time to see a black and white fluke slap the water. She tossed her gloves and straps into the boat and walked toward the shore. Saka surfaced a hundred yards out and flapped his pectoral fin on the waves as he splashed sideways. “He’s sort of like a kitten when he gets playful, isn’t he?” Ooligan said. “A great big, seven-thousand-kilo kitty.”
Dot looked around the row of kayaks and spotted several spare paddles. She motioned to the baidarka they were working on and pointed to the whale. Adili watched her and said, “Are you asking if Oolie and I want to go with you to see this whale?” Dot shook her head, pointing to where Pasha stood. “Ah, just the three of us? But your Saka does not know us. How will he react?”
Dot nodded her head and gestured again to the baidarka. Ooligan sprinted over to the paddles and grabbed three. “I don’t know about you, Kenyan… but I’m game for this!”
Pasha smiled, lifted the mast and sail from the hull and grabbed the prow of the baidarka. “Count me in.”
Adili squinted and looked skeptically at the black fin cutting through the water. He sighed and said, “Well, never let it be said that a Maasai warrior would be outdone by a skinny Russian.” He bowed and pulled a beaded necklace over his head, handing it to Dot. “Hold onto this for me please. There is a photo of my wife and child in the locket—I never wear it in the water.” He walked back to the baidarka and grabbed the stern. Hefting it onto his shoulder, he followed Pasha to the shore’s edge where Ooligan waited with the paddles. Dot smiled as she watched her friends launch the three person kayak and venture out to where Saka frolicked in the deeper water.
The sound of gravel under foot startled Dot and she turned to see the chief walking down the footpath toward them. She nodded at Reba and pointed to the threesome playing with the whale. Reba held her palm across her forehead and watched the fetchers as they laughed and reached out to pat the large fin. Saka dove beneath the baidarka and surfaced eighteen-feet high with a full body spy hop. Ooligan shrieked with delight. As the whale fell back into the water, the vessel and its three occupants were drenched in a column of water. Even Adili laughed with enjoyment at the soaking, “Kubwa!”
Reba shook her head and smiled, “A good omen, that.” Without turning her gaze away from the antics on the water, she asked, “Tell me Dot, in your adopted language, Saka’s kind are called ‘sgáan’, correct?” She glanced at the girl for confirmation and Dot nodded yes. Reba tilted her head to one side; lost in thought as she looked across the channel. Eventually she said, “In the tongue of my ancestors, orca are called ‘ska’ana.’ Did you know that ska’ana are considered extremely good luck by our people?” She pointed in the direction of Saka, “It has long been held that, at one time, orcas would capture our canoes and take them under the water to transform the occupants into ska’ana. For that reason, we have always believed that an orca near the shore is actually a human—transformed—trying to communicate with his or her family.” She looked over at Dot and smiled at the girl’s wide-eyed fascination.”What do you think of that?” They stood together on the shore and regarded the whale interacting with the fetchers for several minutes. Reba murmured quietly—almost as if to herself, “It’s also said that to be splashed by a ska’ana—like Saka out there—will ensure great luck and happiness because they are the guardians of the ocean and all who travel upon it. And so Dot, I believe that this is quite a good thing… What’s taking place out there right now.”
Dot beamed as she listened to Reba speak of the old legends. She turned her attention to her friends paddling in the channel with her old companion. She’d never given much thought to the lore of the sgáan. It had always been enough for her–the gift of Saka’s friendship. She’d never really attributed any special meaning to it. Now she felt an overwhelming sense of pride, knowing that Saka and his kind were held in such high regard by others.
Reba turned to go, but after taking a few steps toward the woods, she paused and looked over her shoulder at the girl standing alone on the beach. Reba thought about the other great significance of the ska’ana; that important chiefs were often reincarnated into orca when they died, returning as messenger spirits to guide the chosen ones. Reba considered sharing the story with Dot, but something held her back. It’s best to leave that myth alone for now. She’ll find her own truth as she needs it.
Excerpt from Sea of a Thousand Words: Chapter 38
By Christine Wallace
Queen Charlotte Strait. August 24 2033
“I don’t believe this is what this aircraft was designed for, Kai,” Adili muttered as he reached for the grab-rail above his shoulder.
“Are you kidding me? This is exactly the kind of thing these birds were made to do—just ask HighTower’s guy in back there… Hey, Ashfield—you awake?”
Adili turned to check on the prisoner when he failed to hear any response. His cold stare was returned by a disinterested nod from Trip, who upon acknowledgement, returned his gaze out the side window. Kai sent the helo plummeting toward the ocean sideways. “Man, I miss flying these things. I almost wish we weren’t so close to our destination… I don’t want to give this baby up.”
Adili frowned and shook his head. He didn’t share his partner’s enthusiasm for the whirling helicopter and would be glad to put his feet back on solid ground again—even if it was to be enemy soil.
It had been twenty-four hours since Kai piloted the HighTower helo off Haida Gwaii, leaving Mike’s bloodied corpse on the gravel below. Since then, Adili spent much of his time staring out of the copilot’s window in a brooding silence. The violent hand-to-hand combat and its grisly aftermath had taken a heavy toll on the Maasai warrior and memories from long-ago returned to haunt him. Kai glanced across the cockpit at his sullen friend, he could only guess what was troubling him, as they’d never spoken of Adili’s life back in Kenya. With an inaudible sigh, Kai returned his attention to the skies ahead.
A fuel alarm began to beep and a red button on the instrument panel flashed. Kai tapped the readout. “Shit.”
“What—what’s wrong?” Adili asked.
“Fuel. That kerosene we used from Eli’s stock must be a lot less efficient… Damn.”
Adili watched nervously as his partner scanned the GPS screen. “Now what do we do? Will we crash into the—the…?”
“Shhh! Let me look—OK, I’m pretty sure we can make it to Campbell Island… I’ll put her down in Bella Bella.” With that, Kai turned the controls and the helo tilted shoreward, heading toward the hilly green archipelago of the British Columbia Coastal Islands.
A short time later, they touched down in Bella Bella on the outskirts of main street. Trip had been staring out the back window for the entire ride and suddenly recognized the run-down store where he and Mike had quizzed the Native girl about Kim Chen. He cleared his throat and shifted his gaze to the opposite window. Kai jumped out of the cockpit and threw the headset on the seat. “What do you want to do with him?” he asked, gesturing to Trip.
Adili shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll stay here with him.”
“Nah, I’ll need some help with the jerry-cans. I don’t think we’re going to find a gas station that will let us pull in with a helo, mate.”
Adili walked back to the passenger compartment and unlatched Trip’s harness. Without a word, he grabbed the six-foot-one prisoner and hauled him to the ground. Trip winced as his wounded leg folded beneath his weight. “Can you walk?” Adili asked.
“Gee, I dunno. What do you think, Kunta Kinte?”
Adili pulled Trip to his feet and wrapped his long arm around the hostage’s waist, gruffly leveraging the injured man’s weight onto his hip. Together, they hobbled their way toward the village. Kai walked ahead, counting out the money.
They reached the general store and Kai nodded at Adili. “Wait out here, I’ll ask where we can find some fuel.”
Adili deposited Trip into a folding chair and stood beside him, arms folded across his chest, eyes fixed straight ahead. With a heavy sigh, Trip straightened out his leg and adjusted his position. He glanced up at the big man next to him, scrutinized Adili’s expression and then looked away deep in thought. Finally, he coughed and chuckled aloud, as if enjoying a private joke. “You always the farmer’s dog?”
Adili looked down with distaste. “What do you mean by that?”
Trip stretched and sucked on his teeth as he looked down the empty street. “Nothing really—just observing, that’s all. I see you, always at the beck and call of these people—you fight their battles for them; carry their cargo…” gesturing toward himself, “you’re their boy. I’m just rather surprised that you’re OK with it Adili, that’s all.” Picking a stalk of dried grass off his trousers, Trip waited for his words to sink in and take effect. After a moment of silence, Trip looked up. He found Adili in the exact same position, his focus had not changed, nor his expression. At last, the big man looked down at Trip with a withering gaze.
“I am who I am. I do what I want for my friends—my people. Tell me, why did you bring this helicopter up to the islands, Mr. HighTower suit? Who is really the boy, here?”
Kai pushed the creaky screen door open and rejoined them. “They say they’ll have to send a boat over to Shearwater for fuel. I told ‘em we can’t go there ourselves—too risky.” He tossed a package of jerky at Trip and handed Adili one of the bags of provisions. “Let’s get back to the bird—we might be here for a while.”
As they spoke, young woman climbed the stairs and reached for the door handle. She glimpsed at Trip as she pulled the door open and did a double take. “Hey, I remember you—you’re the one who gave me all that cash for the salmon! You almost got me fired, mister.”
Trip nodded with a frown and gave her a cursory wave.
“Did you ever find your friend—the one who was travelling with Ooligan?”
Kai and Adili exchanged glances as Trip mumbled, “Nope, I never found him.”
“Huh, OK. Well then… have a good’un.” She shook her head and walked into the store, letting the screen door slam behind her.
“Let’s go,” Kai said. He helped Trip to his feet and motioned for Adili to lead the way, saying, “I got him this time.” As the two stumbled back to the helicopter, Kai said, “You know, we’re not you’re enemy. Why does it have to be like this?” He paused and knelt lower to get a better grip on Trip’s waist. “These people here—and back in Old Massett—they’re all just trying to live their lives. What have they done to HighTower? Why is it we’re all so expendable to you folks in your big cities and fancy buildings? Man, we’re all in this together… It doesn’t make any sense.”
Trip gritted his teeth as he half-stepped across the grassy meadow. He let out a terse laugh and said, “I’m just earning a paycheck, my naïve Kiwi friend.”
“Trust me, mate—there’s better ways to earn a buck.”
“You think so? I happen to be pretty good at my job. And, most of the time, I enjoy it.”
“I’m sorry for you, Trip. Really sorry.”
As the men approached the helicopter, they were met by two elderly Heiltsuks. The pair introduced themselves to Kai as friends of The Greenwood’s—code speakers. The elders had family members who lived in Tsawwassen. A three-person baidarka had been stopped by ferry officials close to shore several days ago… a baidarka that resembled the one that had been seen near Bella Bella recently.
Adili and Trip waited beside the helo as Kai spoke at length with the elders. Upon his return, Kai announced that they would stay the night in Bella Bella to learn more about the fate of the paddlers and why they’d chosen to move closer to the mainland shore.
They set blankets underneath the helicopter and ate a frugal dinner of apples, jerky and flat bread. The sun began to sink behind the hills of Campbell Island and Kai rose to leave. “I’m heading into town—the code speakers may have received more news about Dot and Táan—and that guy you’re so hot to locate, Mr. Ashfield.”
Adili tied Trip’s hands together and lashed them both to the skids. He moved himself apart from the other bed rolls yet sat near enough to keep a wary eye on their prisoner. The two of them spent the next few hours in silence with only the soft sounds of the trees and the water around them. Trip rolled onto his side and stared up at the yellow moon.
Kai returned to camp with some good news: the code speakers confirmed that the paddlers had been released and, from their general descriptions, Kai was certain that the three were indeed their friends—and that they all seemed to be unharmed. He’d asked the code speakers to send word throughout the southern network—that should anyone encounter their companions, aid would be rendered and word sent back to The Greenwood at once.
The men settled into their bed rolls but sleep was soon interrupted by the buzz of Trip’s mobile; the electronic device vibrated so loudly that it fell from the dash and landed on the footboard above Kai’s head. He grabbed the mobile and looked at the display. Urgent texts from Amanda Terrance demanded that Trip respond immediately. Despite several tries at unlocking the protected device, Kai was unable to respond to the director’s requests. After his last attempt, the screen went dark and would not open back up. They spent a restless and troubled night underneath the helicopter; each man pondering what the messages foretold.
The fuel arrived early the next morning and after Kai had poured the jerry-cans into the helicopter, it was time to leave. They silently lifted Trip into the seat and climbed into the pilot and copilot seats. Before he pushed the ignition, Kai turned around to address their hostage. His face was somber as he spoke. “Okay, I can’t think of any other way to say this. You’re going to have to cooperate with us, Trip. There is only one way.”
Bringing his bound hands up to scratch the stubble on his cheek, the cleaner raised one eyebrow and offered a sardonic smile. “It always comes down to ‘only one way’, Kai. That’s what you’ve missed.”
“Look… We need to help our friends. I don’t give a shit about your loyalty to your craft—or to HighTower, or to what-the-fuck-ever. It’s simple, you help me out or you don’t. But if you don’t, I’m going to lighten the load in this bird by about a hundred and eighty pounds over the Pacific.”
“I don’t doubt you, Kai. And I don’t think for a second that your big friend here wouldn’t hesitate to do the same thing to me that he did to the mercenary.” Adili looked back over his shoulder with a scowl but Trip pressed on, “It’s nothing personal. This is just how it goes. Trust me.”
Kai started the ignition and the dual rotors began to hum. The helo rose slowly, parting the dried grass beneath the skids into flaxen furrows. As they flew over Queen Charlotte Sound the mobile buzzed again with a flurry of messages from HighTower. Kai glanced back via the mirror on his dash. He had a strange look in his eyes—as if concentrating on a puzzle. He closed one eye and squinted with the other—wrinkling his bronzed brow as he blurted out, “Adili—grab that mobile off the dash… OK right… Now try entering the words ‘Sun Tsu’, only all one word—lower case.”
After asking Kai how to spell the name, Adili punched in the six letters and the screen flashed back to life. “It says it needs a fingerprint,” Adili muttered and without hesitation, reached behind him and grabbed Trip’s hand. Pressing the astonished prisoner’s thumb hard onto the display, he shouted, “Got it!” Kai shook his head and chuckled.
Trip grabbed the edge of Kai’s seat and leaned forward as far as his restraints would allow him. “How in the hell did you figure out my password?”
Kai smiled and adjusted the mirror. Looking back at the cleaner, he smiled as he replied, “I didn’t. But you’ve got to be careful what you give away when sparring with my wife, mate. She’s a fan of The Art of War as well… And from what I hear, you two traded some quotes during your friendly little chit-chat back at Doc’s house.”
Trip’s eyebrows shot up and he opened his mouth to speak—thought better of it and collapsed back into his seat, shaking his head. At last he muttered, “I’ll be goddamned.”
Adili whispered, “God damned is right.”
With little time wasted, they were able to access the texts and learn that Kim had been detected at a charter dock in old Seattle earlier that morning—around one o’clock according to Amanda’s terse communication. Kai directed Adili to respond that Trip was southbound and would check in as soon as he arrived. Before long, another incoming message flitted across the screen.
“Ashfield—get your ass to the compound. I want both of Chen’s family members and the journalist taken care of: Disappear them. Do it today. Banks.”
“What is this about?” Adili asked of Trip. “Who is this ‘Banks’?”
Trip shut his eyes and rolled his head toward the window. “Guys, I don’t have any problems with telling you who Nelson Banks is or what he’s referring to—you can look it all up on my device for Chrissake. But I think I should warn you—you’re in so far over your heads right now… There’s absolutely no way out of this.”
Kai twisted the controls, sending the helicopter into a side-slip toward the water. “All the more reason to go big or go home!” he yelled. “Now or never, Ashfield. You want to stay in or are you ready to swim?”
Trip clutched the grab-rail above his head as Adili leaned back to unfasten the harness that kept him inside the compartment. The helicopter continued its sideways dive toward the Pacific. “In! Goddamn it—I am in for Chrissake!”
The helo levelled off and ran parallel with the surface of the ocean. Trip shut his eyes and took a measured breath. He exhaled and looked down at the water to confirm he was still above it. “Alright. We’ll try it your way for now,” he said. “We’re dead men either way—you realize that at least. But it seems logical to hedge my bets for the short term.”
By the time they’d reached the San Juan Islands, Kai had a hashed out a rough plan. Armed with the knowledge that Trip was ordered to appear at the compound by HighTower’s senior executive, Kai decided he would land the helo on top of the roof. With Adili’s assistance—and close oversight to ensure cooperation, they would take their wounded hostage straight to security and order the guards to deliver them the prisoners, citing the need to dispose of them offsite. Beyond rescuing Kim’s family members—and some unknown French journalist—Kai had no comprehensive strategy. “We’ll just wing it,” he’d explained.
“How much longer?”
Kai checked the computer on his instrument panel. “I’d say we’re only about thirty minutes out. Let’s hope that this plan works.”
Looking back over his shoulder, Adili shot Trip an intimidating look—the same one he used when hunting lions in the savannah as a Maasai ilbarnot.
Glancing out the corner of his eyes, Trip acknowledged the threat. He cleared his throat and spoke loudly enough to be heard in the front compartment, “It’ll work. Just don’t overreact.”
The HighTower helicopter approached Puget Sound—which meant that old Seattle was only eighty miles away. Some distance below them, a solitary red navigation buoy bounced about in the waves. Kai spotted it out of his side window. “Hang on, Adili—I’m takin’ her down for another dive—Whooohoohoo!”
My youngest daughter is an avid writer, and I have learned many valuable things from her in the last three years. One of the latest ideas is to “fan cast” (her words, not mine), my novel.
Now, like most authors, I’ve become intertwined with every one of my characters—inseparably so, and I’ve developed a detailed image of each of them in my brain. Some of them were fully created before I put pen to paper, others came gradually as the story progressed and still others popped off the page after a certain scene, “Bam—here I am!” Initially, I was hesitant to commit trying to match my characters into flesh and blood people, but once I began the process I couldn’t stop. (Yeah, thanks a lot Pinterest).
It’s taken a while to assemble them all, and my apologies of course to those who have already formulated different looks for their favorites, but here is my casting director’s collage of the cast from Sea of a Thousand Words. *If you hover over the photograph, you can see the character’s name… or try guessing who they are from what you’ve read.
And hey, thanks for another great tip, kiddo.