My very first “fan art”

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:

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fan art for Sea of a Thousand Words by Juliet Carson

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.

~Chris

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Old Massett

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.

~ C.761285

 

 


 

Old Massett. Jul 14. 2022

54°00’19.6″N 131°41’06.5″W

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.

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Mythical Threads

saka-em

 

 

 

 

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 ithaida-orca-totem

Buckle Up

Excerpt from Sea of a Thousand Words:  Chapter 38

By Christine Wallace


 

Queen Charlotte Strait. August 24 2033

52°20’32.5″N 129°33’34.3″W

 

“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.”

“I see.”

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!”

Casting Director

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.

 

One

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Hecate Strait. Jul 8. 2033

54°00’19.6″N 131°41’06.5″W

 

Tendrils of mist rose skyward as fog clung to the tranquil water of Massett inlet. A large raven perched alone on the high crags and waited—as he so often did—for the arrival of a small wooden boat with tanbark sails. As if on cue, a single mast appeared from the mouth of the bay. A crisp pop echoed from the cliff wall as the sail embraced the fresh breeze of Dixon Entrance. Even with the bird’s keen eyesight, the girl in the boat looked like a small dot. Her name in fact, was Dot, and in spite of her almost-eighteen years, she handled the boat with expertise. The raven cocked his head and then without further ado, extended his wings and coasted downward in a lazy spiral. Landing on the foredeck of the small craft, he danced around to gain his proper footing and bowed. Dot responded with three short clicks and tossed a piece of candied salmon on the deck.

He didn’t need a pet-name, although the island people called him “Monk” and since food often accompanied the sound of this name, he accepted it. Dot was different than the rest however, she needed no name or label for him. They understood each other plainly enough for the raven’s purposes.

They sailed along quietly for some time and after a while, the sun’s warmth dispelled the last of the fog. An expansive channel opened widely around them. Dot rolled up the sleeves of her blouse and tied back her unruly hair then looped a short rope to the tiller and leaned back in her seat with a yawn. A sharp pssssssssh broke the encompassing silence as a glossy black fin sliced the surface of the water, growing ever taller as an orca emerged from the depths below. By the time his blunt rostrum and white eye-patch were level with the boat, his dorsal fin towered several feet above them. Monk flew up to the crosstree, not so much from surprise or fear but from disdain of being splashed by the orca’s wake. The whale kept pace with the sailboat as they tacked, his fin withdrawing now and then between loud blows. Noisy wavelets slapped against the boat’s hull, filling the vacancies of his presence.

As morning subtly gave way to afternoon, the wind calmed to a gentle whisper. Growing restless, the orca slipped below the surface. Dot watched the whale’s silhouette fade into the blueish-green, his white saddle barely discernable before it merged into the darkness. She smiled to herself, happy hunting Saka. Reclining against the cockpit rails, she snacked on a loaf of bread and fish. Monk descended and took his place next to her on the bench. After tossing several more bites to her companion, the girl adjusted her sail and nestled down, allowing the boat to drift idly with the breeze. The swells from Alaska’s Gulf caused the sailboat to bob along in a rhythmic motion and its inhabitants relaxed, each in their own manner.

As the little boat neared Rose Point, the current of Hecate Strait met the stronger tide of the Pacific, creating a wash-bucket effect that made sailing uncomfortable. Dot turned her boat toward shore. As they rounded Rose Point, she kept an eye on the jagged rocks cropping up near the water’s surface. The lee of Haida Gwaii provided relief from the confused sea-state, so Dot doused her sail and reached for a paddle. A glint of bright color along the otherwise charcoal-hued coastline caught her attention and she paused to scan the rocks. Whatever she spied seemed to have vanished, or perhaps it was just an illusion—a reflection from the sun. She continued toward a shallow embankment up ahead and the object came into view again; so out of place in the earthy tones of the shore that it appeared garish in its intensity. Swinging the paddle to the opposite side of the boat, she steered in the direction of the color. The boat slid between some shallow rocks and she braced herself as its prow came to a stop—the keel rested upon the gravely bottom. Dot sprang from the cockpit and waded knee-deep through the chilly water, coaxing her boat further ashore. Once she’d secured the line, she glanced around and made a series of clucking noises with her tongue. The bird replied in kind and adjusted his course toward the mystery object, his long wings made a whooshing sound as he flew.

The rocks were covered with a slimy green algae and Dot slipped into the water several times while scrambling up the embankment. Monk hopped from stone to stone, pausing long enough to examine the narrow cracks and fissures between rocks with his dagger-like beak. He ruffled his feathers and bobbed his head several times as Dot reached the crest of the boulders. She stood upright and wiped her hands against her pants.

The bright color that had initially captured her attention was a large, rectangular bolster, similar to what one would find on a ship’s settee. The plastic-y orange cushion was covered with dried strands of eelgrass that clung to the coarse fabric. Monk pecked at the seaweed and a small beetle scurried for cover. Suddenly, a dirty bruised hand appeared from beneath the foam and groped towards Dot’s feet. She gasped and stepped backward, toppling over the rocks behind her. The arm extended and a soft groan could be heard. Monk flapped skyward with several throaty squawks. Landing a safe distance upland, he eyed the cushion warily.

Regaining her composure, Dot reached for a stick and prodded the cushion. The moaning intensified and a faint voice whispered, “Bāng wǒQǐng bāngzhù wǒ.

Dot had no idea what the words meant, but she understood the pleading quality in their tone. With apprehension, she moved closer and wedged her stick underneath the corner of the cushion, taking great care to stay out of reach of the groping hand. She held her breath and upended the water-laden foam, flipping it over to expose what lay underneath. She gasped.

An Asian man of about thirty years lay prone among the rocks, his right leg was bent at an unnatural angle. One of his arms was pinned underneath a heavy piece of driftwood, the one stretching out in front of him was badly bruised and had several deep scratches. His clothes were shredded and stained in blood and dirt. Resting beside him was a sodden briefcase, saltwater had formed lacy patterns across the leather as it dried. Dot examined the bag, hoping to find a clue as to the man’s identity. She noticed a narrow brass plate with several strange characters etched into the metal, below them she could make out the words “Dr. Kim Chen.” She twisted the hasp back and forth to no avail, the case was locked tight. Lifting it closer, she investigated its base and sides, finally giving it a good shake—the case was intact. Just then, Dot perceived that a slender cable connected the handle to the man’s wrist.

In the course of her investigation she jostled his injured arm. The man stirred again and murmured, “Hē shuǐ.

Dot knelt beside his head. She could tell he’d been trapped like this for several days by the condition of the brittle seaweed and his parched lips. She straightened up to fetch water from her gear but as she turned to go, the hand grasped at her leg. “Qǐng, bāngzhù wǒ.

Dot backed away and climbed down the embankment. When she arrived at the boat, she paused to weigh her options. There was no possibility of moving the injured man. She couldn’t tell for sure how severe his many injuries were but even so, he was too heavy for her to move without help. Grabbing a pebble from the shore, Dot dropped it into her pants pocket. She stepped into the cockpit to retrieve her water bottle and snatched up the remainder of her lunch. Crawling over the transom, she walked down to the water’s edge and stooped near an outcrop of boulders. Dot took the pebble out of her pocket and began to tap it against one of the partially submerged rocks. She replicated her pattern for several minutes: two solid—pause—three solid—pause—two staccato—pause—one solid—full stop… repeat. Satisfied at last, Dot rose and, gathering her things, climbed back up the rocky bank.

Monk acknowledged her return with a nonchalant blink as Dot set her water bottle beside the injured man. She hoped he would have the strength to reach for it, but his arm remained motionless, the utterances had stopped. Panicked, she leaned over his face, tilting her head to listen for any breath. It was there, faint and uneven, but he lived. She sighed and slipped her hand underneath his neck. Gently, she tilted his head enough to drip small amounts of water through his cracked lips. He choked and sputtered, his eyes opened wide as he gulped at the reviving liquid. It reminded Dot somewhat of the chíin that Ol’ Pa used to throw onto the deck of his skiff each summer; their eyeballs bulging and mouths agape. The memory caused a shadow of a smile to play across her face as she held the bottle. At last, the man could drink no more so Dot placed his head back onto the rocks. His eyes fluttered closed.

Dot knew she was taking a big risk by remaining there with him. It was likely that the injured man was chipped and if so, he could be discovered by the Mossies. If he’d come ashore with any of the snakeheads or coyotes, then they would both be detained—or worse. Dot wished she had a personal scanner, but those were precious to come by, and usually in the possession of the fetchers who came over from the Greenwood. She found herself longing, for what seemed the hundredth time, to have a position among the select ranks of fetchers.

 

Mossies had been sighted in the archipelago with growing frequency over the past year. The HighTower trackers had been a fixture for almost a decade, although they were easy to spot and for the most part, avoidable. As HighTower’s presence along the borders became more prevalent, their reconnaissance methods became more advanced, and with waning oversight, their detention methods became even harsher.

The Canadian and U.S. solution to the escalating climate refugee problem had resulted in a contract with the private government contractor, HighTower Security Authority, or HSA. The crisis back in 2019 that caused the European Union’s collapse was enough to spur North America to close its entire borders to climate migrants. The Prime Minister in Ottawa and President in Washington D.C. granted full control to HSA’s director, and by 2020 HighTower had become synonymous with border defense. In the years to follow, the HSA had assimilated the departments of Customs, Homeland Security and Immigration, even the Coast Guard was requisitioned for offshore border patrols. The trackers—eighty-seven-foot former USCG cutters—ran along the Pacific coastline and the Inside Passage in search of unregistered vessels. If a ship did not carry a transponder chip, the trackers would fire a warning shot. If the ship did not respond, then it was typically destroyed. Only small vessels such as kayaks, native longboats and sailboats were permitted to cruise without these chips, and even then, there was a considerable risk of being boarded or fired upon.

Dot spent most of her life under the shadow of HSA’s scrutiny. The trackers in the northern islands recognized her little boat and paid her little attention. However, the Mossies were a different matter: The “Mobile Observation Systems-C” were HighTower’s “eyes in the sky.” MQ-9C drones deployed to scan for transponders and report undocumented watercraft to HSA’s marine traffic station. To be reported by a Mossie meant certain trouble. Recently, HSA had become disposed to skip warnings and simply sink any vessels that could not or would not identify themselves.

To make things worse, Tyee survivors continued to migrate, even after so many years. When the Tyee—the Cascadia Subduction mega-quakehit the Pacific Northwest in 2022, it destroyed hundreds of miles of coastline and decimated Seattle and surrounding towns. Suddenly there were tens of thousands of homeless refugees who were moving inland and northward. HighTower did not discriminate between nationalities. Their motto was: If it doesn’t scan, it doesn’t land.

Dot wasn’t really sure whether a specific person’s ID chip could be picked up by an overhead drone, but she didn’t feel the urge to find out right then.

 

Splashing noises from the shore below startled her and she turned to see Saka’s familiar markings as he spy-hopped several meters from the boat. She made her way downward as he emitted a series of noisy bursts, spray hung in the air above his head. Wading waist-deep into the water, Dot reached out to rub his nose as the orca swam near, then ran her fingers along his back as he returned to the deeper water. Clapping her hands three times, she waited for the Saka’s response. The orca rose higher out of the water and swayed his head to and fro—his giant flippers and dorsal fin now completely visible. Dot made a wide, pointing gesture with her left arm and swung her right arm in tight circles overhead, similar to that of a cowboy throwing a lasso. Saka rolled onto his side, exposing his expansive white belly. He slapped the water with his flipper and disappeared beneath the waves.

Dot returned to the narrow beach. The sun had already fallen behind Haida Gwaii and she knew that with its absence the temperature would be dropping soon. Her wet blouse and pants now clung to her skin. Shivering, she rummaged through the cockpit’s contents for supplies and found a raincoat, a flashlight and one tattered life-jacket. She sighed, this’ll have to do. Rolling her provisions inside of the jacket, she trekked back to the wounded man and began her vigil.

Whiskey Golf

The latest chapter revolves around our orca named Saka.

Bull_orca_victoria

Excerpt from Sea of a Thousand Words, (beginning of Chapter 33):


Strait of Georgia. B.C. Canada. Aug 20 2033

49°26’36.4″N 124°18’14.8″W

 

“Which way do we go, Kij’?” Táan looked back, shouting over his shoulder.

Dot tilted her head toward the right and they both pulled back on the starboard sheets. The Dyson sails rotated and the baidarka’s prow altered course in response. She felt the wind kiss her cheek as they settled into the new heading.

Dot and Táan had recently switched positions in the baidarka—Dot assuming the most aft position in order to control the sails. Táan now sat in the middle cockpit and paralleled his sail to match the main’s. The north breeze was at their back, allowing them to spend most of their time running downwind—they employed the paddles only for course adjustment or to steady their boat. Once past Jedidiah Island, the wind gained momentum as it funneled down the wider channel. Prior to departure, Kai had advised them to keep to the Vancouver Island side of Georgia Strait—avoiding the heavier concentration of marine traffic and denser population of the mainland. However, Dot noticed the wind veering eastward and observed the fetch start to build up in the channel. Selecting a point on the horizon, she adjusted their heading and sat back to monitor the sea state.

By lunchtime, they’d reached the southern tip of Texada Island—the last headland before open water and the commercial shipping lanes. Whiskey Golf lay off to the southwest. Kim unwrapped the last package of saltfish and passed back the loaf of bread they’d saved from Yaculta. The threesome laid their paddles across the cockpits and allowed the wind to propel them forward while they consumed their midday meal. Dot looked up and scanned the clouds for any sign of Monk. He often arrived at lunchtime for leftovers. However, today he was nowhere to be found. Dot tucked a chunk of the heel into her pocket in case he flew overhead later that afternoon. Kim turned around in his seat and held up the empty food bag. “We’re going to have to stop early enough to provision this evening. We’re all out of fish,” he called back. “I’ll set out some tackle once we’re out of this deep water.”

Before Dot could respond, their boat was hit with a jarring thunk. She laid her paddle flat against the opposing waves to keep the boat from capsizing. Kim turned around and yelled, “What was that?”

The baidarka was hit hard again—this time from directly beneath the forward part of the hull. Kim screamed as the bow was lifted into the air, then slammed back into the sea with an enormous splash. Táan and Dot leaned over the sides, peering into the shadowy depths for the source of the blows. A forceful spray of water from behind her right shoulder alerted Dot to the next assault. She braced herself as the orca’s pectoral fin slammed down on the baidarka’s aft section—grazing her right arm as it landed. Táan dug in hard with his paddle, “C’mon—pull! We need to get clear of this!”

As the boat lurched, Dot looked behind her. She saw a long shape underneath the water’s surface. It followed some ten or twelve feet below them. The whale’s giant head swung to and fro as it swam. As the whale twisted, Dot spied a lopsided saddle patch, and knew the whale’s identity at once. Saka! Why are you doing this? She leaned farther outboard to track the whale. It began to dive. “Kij’—get back in your cockpit!” Táan shouted.

Ignoring his pleas, Dot strained to catch a glimpse of Saka. All at once, she saw the white markings of the whale’s face appear from the murky depth—shooting toward the surface with increasing speed. She leaned back and grabbed hold of the combing as Saka emerged like a rocket, dousing the paddlers and tossing the baidarka onto its side. The whale fell backwards shaking his head—mouth open; rows of teeth visible.

Táan grabbed his paddle. “Holy shit! That’s Saka! What’s happened to him? Dot shook her head with an expression of concern.

“We’d better get as far away from him as we can—until he calms down.” Táan shouted. Dot touched Táan’s shoulder. He turned to face her and she pointed toward her ears, shaking her head back and forth. “He can’t hear us?” he asked her. Dot quickly nodded-yes… Touching her fingers to her forehead, she looked directly at Taan, then spiraled her palm outward in circles that grew larger as they moved forward. Táan watched her actions intently and said, “Saka can’t use his, uh…echolocation whatchamacallit—is that it?”

She nodded her head vigorously. Yes! That’s it!  That’s why he’s so shaken up—I just know it!

Just then, Kim shouted, pointing at the four-foot dorsal fin that cut through the waves as Saka headed toward an outcrop of jutting rocks. Dot seized the halyard from its cleat and doused her sail then pushed her paddle deep into the swells. Taan followed her lead and together the three paddlers aimed the baidarka north-by-northeast, fighting against the wind and current. As they came alongside Saka, Dot tapped the hull in a succession of short and long pauses, the whale closed in on the boat. As Saka’s face came closer to the surface, Dot caught a glimpse of blurry red markings near his eye patch. She strapped her paddle onto the deck and leaned out for a closer look. Saka’s head broke through the foam of a large swell and Dot saw that the red marks were blood dripping from the orca’s eye. Glancing at the shore of Rabbit Island, Dot quickly calculated their distance off the reef. Suddenly, Saka dove, reappearing in front of them, seven-feet out of the water. “Turn—now! We’re going to hit him!” Kim shouted from the bow.

The baidarka collided with one of Saka’s pectoral fins. The whale shook his massive head, causing swells to crash against their hull. Saka’s high-pitched screeches and whistles rent the air. He slammed sideways back into the ocean, drunkenly swimming toward the shallow bay. Táan cried out, “He’s going to beach himself—if he doesn’t run into those rocks first!”

Kim looked back and shouted to Dot. “What do we do?”

Dot’s thoughts raced madly through her head. She’d never seen her long-time companion behave like this before, not even when they’d first rescued him as a calf. The only thing she knew for certain was that Saka was in agony.  She had to act fast. Dot pointed toward the shore and dug in with her paddle. Táan and Kim joined in and they raced after the orca.

Saka headed straight toward the shallow water. Once the baidarka was between the whale and the beach, Dot tapped Táan’s arm. Placing her paddle inside the cockpit, she climbed onto the deck. Taan looked at her in disbelief. “You are not getting in the water with that whale, Kijii! Are you nuts?”

Dot shook her head and lowered herself into the frigid water. She needed to connect with Saka. It will be alright—it has to be alright. Taan grasped her arm, holding tightly. “Please—please don’t do this Kij’. Listen to me—he’s not safe right now.” She smiled and placed her hand on his, then took a deep breath and slipped below the waves in search of her whale.

.  .  .

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Good Bad Guys Are So Fun to Write

When you wind up with some really good bad guys—you know, the ones who revel in just being bad… Well, I’ve got to admit, it’s plain fun to write ’em. Sometimes I have to remind myself that Trip Ashfield is not the center of the story!

~ Chris


Excerpt from Sea of a Thousand Words. 

HighTower Corporate, Denver CO. Jun 7. 2033

39°45’13.2″N 104°59’55.4″W

Trip Ashfield tapped his finger on the rim of his cup and stared at the concentric ripples forming on the surface of his coffee. The split-screen conversation on Trip’s monitor had devolved into something akin to a shouting match as his employer Nelson Banks debriefed U.S. Secretary of State Maureen Gorton on the current Hong Kong crisis.

“So, what I’m not getting here, Nelson, is how in the year 2033, there can possibly be something as archaic as laptops and hardcopy emails just lying around a top secret laboratory? Because, it seems to me at least—and I am no scientist here—but it seems like that would be an incredibly asinine protocol to have in place.”

“Maureen, you’re preaching to the fucking choir, believe me. Allow me to have Mr. Ashfield describe—Trip—are you still there? Explain this all to Madame Secretary for me. I still can’t fathom the logic behind it.”

Trip cleared his throat and sat forward in the chair. “Madame Secretary, it goes something like this: When companies or individuals deal with sensitive material and if data breach is of high concern, they will typically opt for lower-tech methods. That is to say, they’ll use their own air-gapped systems, randomized operating systems on older models of computers. They tend to build in personal encryptions, combined with a variety of other security protocols. They will keep everything off the cloud so that hackers would have difficulty accessing the information. It’s not impossible, mind you—it can be hacked—but it becomes much more complicated to get inside.”

“Yes, thank you Mr. Ashfield, I believe I have a pretty firm grasp of espionage counter measures. But I am referring specifically to the emails right now. This doesn’t begin to explain the existence of the goddamn emails. I mean, who in blazes even prints out paper copies anymore?”

“Well Ma’am, I’m afraid that the weak link appears to be on HighTower’s…”

“Now, wait a minute here—I can assure you, Maureen…” Banks interrupted.

“Quiet Nelson. Please proceed, Mr. Ashfield.”

“Yes, of course. It appears that one of Huang’s scientists—a Zhao Xu—used a separate account when he corresponded with HSA’s contact. As I understand it, Mr. Xu was paid to pass along certain components of the human genome editing experiment covertly to HSA, dubbed ‘Project Revelations.’ My supposition is that the printed emails were sort of a C.Y.A. measure. Archaic? Yes. But in some circumstances—and with some types of people, still a highly regarded back-up plan.”

Maureen interrupted, “What in the hell is C.Y.A.?”

“My apologies—a protection measure—he was ‘covering his ass,’ you might say.”

“Ahhh—go ahead.”

“Now, Huang’s lead researcher—this individual named Chen—was unaware of Xu’s relationship with HSA concerning the weaponized variation. Chen apparently kept these documents that he discovered and, after he destroyed the lab’s air-gapped system, has added another layer of encryptions to the remaining data. We are working to crack his new codes of course, however as Xu’s personal computer was lost in the fire, so were the only existing copies of those downloaded files.”

“I see. And, Mr. Ashfield, how exposed would you say we are at this moment?”

“Well Madame Secretary, I can inform you that, at this moment, Mr. Xu is no longer a factor in our equation. My operatives have assured me that the other scientist—the Mr. Chen—should be in HighTower’s custody within the day. Cleanup is occurring as we speak… so my opinion is that our exposure risk is minimal.”

“There… So you see, Maureen,” said Banks, “we’ve put a tight lid on this matter, like I told you—the whole…”

“I have no interest in hearing about a lid, Nelson. There is not going to be any ‘put a fucking lid on it.’ Do you get my meaning, here? Am I being succinct enough for you? I want this entire matter to be dealt with… Disappeared, dissolved, dissipated—dis-effing-owned.”

“I hear you loud and clear Madame Secretary. Loud and cl…”

“…And furthermore, I am informing you that as of right now, the Administration has no knowledge of this Revelations project—absolutely none. We’re catching a lot of heat from people like Raj Kaleka and his organization about the whole immigrant thing. We cannot handle any more negative press—or god forbid, a scandal. So, if there’s any blowback, it will be your heads that swing—and only yours. The buck stops with HighTower, Nelson.”

“Maureen, I am acutely aware of this. Thank you for reminding me.”

Trip leaned back in his chair and folded his hands behind his head. Their chatter was beginning to give him a headache. He yawned and stretched his neck until the vertebrae popped, then returned his attention to the conversation.

“Gentlemen, I have to go down the hall now and debrief the President about your situation. Did you hear me say that— your situation? I can assure you that he will not be pleased in the least to hear this news. So now, is there anything else that I should know about before we end our conversation?”

“Only that Trip has been given full authority to clean this mess up using any means necessary—quickly and cleanly. And that by the next time we talk Maureen, this project will be concluded—history.”

“What project would that be, Nelson?”

“Right… Yes. Exactly, Madame Secretary.”

“Oh, and gentlemen… do I need to remind you that this matter must never reach the Prime Minister’s ears? It must be contained—correct?”

“That goes without saying.”

“Fine. I trust you’ll have some good news for me in the next twenty-four hours, Nelson. And thank you for your time, Mr. Ashfield. Good afternoon.”

“Thank you, Maureen.” Banks replied.

“My pleasure, Madame Secretary.” Trip pressed the escape key and the spit screen vanished. His mobile buzzed.

“Yes?”

“That is the absolute last ass-whooping I plan to receive from that obnoxious bitch—you got that?”

“I’m reasonably certain that I understand your meaning.”

“Excellent, as long as we are clear on that particular issue. So, what have you got on this missing celestial?”

“The search of Chen’s apartment yielded nothing. Two operatives are paying a visit to his associate—a woman named Jiang Lui—she’s one of the other researchers in Huang’s lab, apparently she was pretty tight with Chen. They’re currently interrogating her; I’ll receive a call once they’ve sifted out anything relevant.”

“Sift her fine, Trip. We need some solid results soon.”

“They know what’s expected of them. Look Nelson, we’ve got analysts checking scanners at all airports and docks. This guy’s going to turn up on our radar soon—there’s no other way around it.” Trip stood up and walked over to the plate-glass window with his cup. His reflection off the mirrored glass was clearly visible—golden hair, a deep set brow with steel blue eyes glared coolly back at him as he sipped the lukewarm coffee and said, “We’re not leaving any crumbs behind on the trail, Nelson.”

“Good, good. You know the consequences on this one.”

“Understood.”

“Oh, and listen—Trip—In the event that this intel should fall into the hands of a terrorist organization… Well, how soon would we know about—would we have the time…?”

“There’s no way to predict. They’re telling me that solving this encryption process could take a month or more. But from what I’ve seen so far, this guy’s clearly an amateur. He’ll be dealt with long before he could round up any buyers.”

“I need to hear from you that there will be no loose ends on any front.

“Relax Nelson, my advice for you is to handle things one crisis at a time. There will be no loose ends.”

“Alright then. Look, there’s a guy named Richard Cross—the director over in our west coast office—he’s up to speed as far as things stand right now. I’m sending you his mobile number. Keep him in the loop from here on out—I may need a few more ‘buffers’, if you know what I mean.”

“Roger that.”

Trip ended the call, swiped his screen and glanced at the text. Swallowing the last of his coffee, he turned to the clerical robot seated next to his desk. “Did you catch all that?”

“Yes, Mr. Ashfield, the conversation has been transcribed in its entirety.”

“Great. That’ll be all then.”

Inspiration Over a Cup of Coffee

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Lucky Jack likes to join me on the fantail for coffee. For the past week we’ve observed this gigantic school of fish travel around our gate in the marina. One of the old fishermen tells me that they are anchovy.”Hard to catch but well worth the eatin’.” 88c10ff8-a33d-46db-ad2e-261c1c09f78d

I don’t really fancy trying to catch any of them, but I do like to stare at them for at least two-cups-worth of coffee. So does the cat.

As I watched them maneuver around our boat, switching directions instantaneously with some unspoken communication, I got to thinking: What if our favorite harbor seal was nearby? Then the story grew… What if they were up in Johnstone Strait (where my story’s heroes are currently travelling southbound)… And then: What if “Saka”, my  orca was also nearby? Hmmmm

Well, lets just say that my little coffee-break-buddies are now in the book. Immortalized in fiction.

They seemed okay with it.

Here’s a short excerpt from the current chapter, still in progress as I write this post (but it comes with anchovy).


                 

Chapter 29 excerpt.      Sea of a Thousand Words

by Chris Wallace

Kim bent over his outstretched leg and concentrated on the serrated knife wedged between his shin bone and the dirty cast. Yaculta’s ancient dock wobbled and creaked as he vigorously rubbed the blade back and forth—his strokes sawing through the soft padding and into the fiberglass shell. Sweat formed across his forehead as he hacked away at the resilient encasement.

Dot sat beside him and repaired the bolt-rope in her Dyson sail. The whippings had torn during their open crossing and now the entire leach threatened to unravel. She glanced up from her stitches to observe her friend’s progress. Dot realized that Kim’s hair had grown quite long in the last couple months; the ends now curled all around the base of his neck. His shoulders and arms had become muscular, bearing the marks of a serious paddler. With the return of his physical health, Kim’s mood had improved as well. Days upon end with nothing to do except reach for the next paddle stroke had healed his mind from its habitual worrying. There was nothing for one to do on the open ocean but fall into a ritual of breath and movement, and it had proved to be restorative for them all.

Dot smiled inwardly as she watched Kim remove his cast. He certainly doesn’t look like a brainy scientist who used to just sit behind a desk. She stared down at her own well-defined biceps and deltoids. I am beginning to look like Reba and Oolie now too—that is good. Their non-stop voyage from Calvert Island, across Queen Charlotte Sound and Johnstone Strait had been arduous, but had succeeded in shaping them into hardened, resilient voyagers. The rough weather, torrential rain and biting wind tested everyone’s resolve—but as she reflected on the past two weeks, Dot appreciated the transformation that her relentless paddling had produced. The motion of the sea had become part of her—or she part of it. It pulsed through her veins in the same rhythmic motion as the tide. The skin of the baidarka’s hull, measuring only a few millimeters, transmitted the songs of the ocean through Dot’s bones as she rowed upon its surface. Melodic calls of humpbacks; the sonorous drumbeat of the grays; staccato clicks of the orcas and porpoise, even the rustling sound of kelp forests… all were felt and amplified through the baidarka’s covering. Dot recalled her last two nights of paddling under the shadow of a crescent moon—the margin between sea and sky was indiscernible—so black were the nights. Phosphorescent plankton burst into firecracker-like explosions every time her paddle dipped through the water and sparkling beads fell from her blade at each arc, splashing back into the inky depths. Even at her weariest, those silent light shows kept Dot awake and entranced. Happy as she was to be back on land for a spell, Dot couldn’t wait to step back into the baidarka and revisit the liquid environment to which she’d grown so accustomed.

 

“It’s finally off!” Kim separated the halves of his cast and rubbed the pale, wrinkled skin of his lower leg. “Oh man, that feels so good.” He muttered while massaging the exposed limb. Rising to his feet, he exclaimed, “Look at how much thinner it is than my other leg, Dot!” He shook the fiberglass crumbs from his leg and tested its strength, slowly placing weight on his foot. “All is well.” He smiled and hobbled around the dock.

Dot returned to her needle and stitching palm. She pulled the length of waxed twine through the canvas and then stopped—a glint from the water caught her eye. She leaned forward and looked below the dock. Ripples formed in collective rings as three-inch anchovies revealed themselves. Diminutive splashes occurred randomly as the fish jumped for food. Dot set aside the sail and laid down on her stomach—her chin resting on the back of her hands. She spotted the school of tiny fish as they swam several feet below the water’s surface. There must be hundreds—if not thousand—of these little guys! The fingerlings crowded together, moving as one body, then instantly shifted in another direction. The sunlight glistened off of their silvery sides as they turned. Dot waved Kim over and pointed at the swiftly moving school. He sat on the edge of the dock and dangled his feet over the side as he watched them feed. Suddenly, the swarm of fish compacted—swimming tighter together in a massive, undulating orb. Kim leaned forward to get a better look at the shape-shifting anchovies. Dot’s attention was drawn to a slow moving shape in the background. She watched as an oblong head glided stealthily toward the school of panicked fish. Its sleek fur was dotted with brown and white spots, its dark eyes skimmed along the water’s surface; intent on its prey.

“What is that?” Kim asked, pointing toward the harbor seal as it approached. Dot held her finger to her lips, indicating not to spook the animal. They observed the seal as it rounded up the school of fish, drawing them into a constricted noose. Kim remained transfixed by the seal’s tactics. A subtle movement in the distance prompted Dot to look up. She caught a glimpse of Saka’s dorsal fin near the entrance of Mudge Bay. Anchovies aren’t the only item on this morning’s menu, she mused. Dot nudged Kim and gestured toward the fin, now only eight-inches above the waterline and moving swiftly. Kim looked back toward the unwitting seal as it prepared to dive into the condensed ball of fish. He flashed a concerned glance at Dot.

Dot shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. After so many years, she’d grown accustomed to witnessing Saka’s hunts. She briefly considered sparing Kim the shock of seeing the kill, but held back. He’s a scientist, he can be objective… Besides, one can’t exactly be companions with an apex predator and not acknowledge its feeding habits. Saka’s dorsal fin submerged completely. Dot knew exactly what was occurring at that moment: The whale had just increased his speed; planning to strike the distracted seal from behind and below. She rolled over onto her back and closed her eyes. Kim’s sharp intake of breath informed her that Saka had found his target. She didn’t need to turn around to picture what transpired—the orca most likely shot out of the water with the injured seal in his teeth… If he was feeling particularly playful, he would perhaps let it go—giving the mortally wounded creature a chance to escape. Dot had seen this tactic many times—Saka would allow the seal to swim some distance and then grab it once again, rattling it in his strong jaws until the bones were pulled from the meat. Occasionally she’d observed him tossing his catch into the air—like a cat teasing its mouse before the final kill. Dot loved Saka with all her heart, but preferred not to watch the orca play with his food.

Kim shook his head and tapped Dot’s arm. She opened her eyes and rolled onto her side. “Now I see why they are called ‘Killer whales’… that was pretty intense.” He looked back to where the kill had transpired, the scene appeared undisturbed, save for a red tinge in the water. The anchovy school spread out once again and resumed their plankton feast.


Here is a brief video of my little fishy pals, taken from Kwaietek’s fantail. (And thanks for the story idea, lil’ guys).

 

 

Adios, Astoria.

Astoria bridge at sunset

Certain parts of my novel are in flashback–they of course all tie together and are a big part of what has happened to the world by the year 2033. This particular chapter occurs fairly early on in my novel (chapter 7) and is one of those flashbacks. It’s a biggie as far as our main protagonist goes.

Realizing that I needed to accurately describe what would occur in the event that a Cascadia Subduction Zone mega-quake should happen in the next 5-50 years (which, by the way, all signs point to “yes”). I did some extensive research on the CSZ and the resulting tsunami. I’ll give you a hint: You do not want to be anywhere near Seaside Oregon, Ilwaco or Long Beach, Washington when it happens!

I’ve spoken and emailed back and forth with some very knowledgeable and passionate experts on the CSZ quake. This chapter, set in Astoria Oregon, takes place in  July, 2022. I am currently trying to figure out which portion of the chapter to submit for the forthcoming edition of CLOVER Literary periodical. So, if you’re enjoying the story tidbits that I tend to throw willy-nilly onto this site–then by all means, read ahead and enjoy. Just don’t read it while vacationing at the Pacific NW coast!

(I’d  like to thank Chris Goldfinger, OSU Oceanographer and tectonic plate specialist, for his advice and recommendations–even while on vacation!

(PS: Things don’t end very well for our little seaside town of Astoria).

~ Chris


 

 

Astoria Oregon. Jul 3. 2022

46°11’26.5″N 123°50’59.8″W

 

Evie stood upright on her pedals and forced her bicycle over the steepest portion of the bridge’s ramp. Beads of sweat formed on her freckled face as she pumped the last few yards. Come on almost… there. Motorists sped past her, oblivious of the girl’s struggle as they focused on the four-mile overpass. Once Evie reached the first span—where the sidewalk separated from the two-lane traffic—she hopped off her bike and slid the pack from her shoulders. She unzipped its pouch and grabbed her handheld radio and the binoculars that her parents had given her on her recent birthday. She unclicked her bike helmet and slung it over the handlebars. Now all she had to do was wait.

The new binocs were heavy, but the magnification was strong and they automatically focused as she scanned the horizon. With these new glasses and the added height of the bridge, she figured that she could spot her dad’s boat as it crossed the Columbia bar. To kill time, she aimed her spyglasses at the waterfront and watched the activities below.

Astoria’s waterfront was jam-packed with cafes, hotels and gift shops as well as warehouses and freight yards. A giant cruise ship dominated the wharf alongside the Old Cannery Mall pier. Sunlight reflected off its alabaster hull and twenty decks-worth of windows. Evie zoomed in to observe the dockworkers as they rushed up and down the ramps to load supplies and fuel onboard the vessel. Groups of early-bird passengers mustered near the boarding gate. She magnified her lenses further and searched for her mother inside the boarding kiosk. The building was partially obstructed by the large HighTower offices, however she managed to spy her mother’s face from the open ticket window. Evie thought about radio-ing her mom to tell her she’d made it to the bridge, but knew that boarding-days were her busiest, so she just watched through the binocs as the line of eager cruisers sprawled down the pier.

Growing tired of spying on the passengers, Evie raised her glasses toward the boardwalk. Sightseers ambled along the wooden walkway that stretched from the wharf toward Smith Point Park. Tour groups—fresh off the buses—clutched visitor’s maps and paused at historical markers to snap photos. She adjusted the focus to watch Mr. Dunsmuir’s rusty tug push the fireworks barge upriver for tomorrow’s Independence Day celebration.

Astoria’s busiest weekend was in full swing as vacationers flocked to the Oregon Coast to explore its beaches and see the fireworks show over the Columbia. It seemed to Evie that everywhere she looked there were hundreds of gapers—her dad’s favorite word for the out-of-towners. She yawned and rested her elbows on the rails. A horn blast from below the bridge caught her attention. Shielding her eyes from the sun’s glare, she gazed across the river toward Washington’s shoreline. A RORO—one of the big ships that imported cars overseas, motored underneath the bridge. Evie liked the way its nickname tripped off her tongue. “Ro-ro,” she murmured. “Roll on—roll off.”

The Columbia River’s anchorages were full of these mammoth cargo ships and freighters, but from Evie’s lofty vantage they resembled a fleet of toy boats. Commercial fishermen maneuvered around the behemoths, taking care to stay well away from the oversized anchor chains. Evie absentmindedly peeled a flake of green paint from the railing and flicked it over the side, staring as it fluttered toward the water. Suddenly a familiar red-hulled vessel appeared in the distance. She reached down for her binocs and flipped the knob of the handheld.

Evie’s father Brock, steered his sixty five-foot boat Nomad, past the Cape Disappointment lighthouse. After two weeks at sea, he returned to Astoria with his hold full of Albacore tuna. The crew were anxious to cash in their shares and Brock looked forward to spending the Fourth with his wife and daughter. Conditions on the bar were rough that morning and large waves rapidly stacked up as Columbia’s current confronted the Pacific’s strong flood. Brock throttled up and Nomad plowed through the fourteen-foot waves. Once they crossed the bar, things calmed down somewhat and Brock checked his GPS, making a brief note in the ship’s log.

A static-y voice came over the VHF. “Nomad, Nomad, Nomad. This is Buttercup, do you copy?”

Brock smiled and pulled the radio’s mic from its hook. He replied, “Buttercup, this is Nomad, switching over to six-eight.”

“Six-eight, Nomad.” Brock turned the dial on his VHF and spoke into the mic. “Well, hello there! What-up, Buttercup?”

“Dad? Is that you over by Fort Stevens?”

“Yep, that’s us. I’d say in about an hour we’ll be tied up at dock. I’m sure glad to be home.”

“I thought so—these new binocs are awesome! I’m on the bridge looking right at you guys. Can you see me?”

Brock picked up his binoculars from the dash and scanned the bridge. “What are you doing up there on a busy holiday? Does your mom know where you are?”

“Mom said if I wore my helmet I could wait up here—I’m standing just past the on-ramp by my bike. I’m waving… see? It’s totally safe, there’s lots of other people up here too.”

Brock set his glasses back on the counter as he turned the helm to avoid a rolling wave. “Ah, OK then. Hey, I should be back in time to pick you and Mom up for some lunch—is she working at the terminal this morning?”

“Yeah, she’s down at the kiosk right now. I can see her through… Wh­—what’s going on?” …Dad?”

A sudden jolt slammed the bridge where Evie stood and knocked her away from the handrail. Her bike fell over onto its side and rattled against the pavement. A noise, like the roar of a speeding train filled the air. People on the bridge fell or knelt to the ground as the shaking rumble increased. “Daddy! What’s happening?” Evie shouted into the radio, “Everything’s moving!”

Brock stared out his window to see the bridge sway back and forth. Sections of the middle crumbled into the river. “Evie! Evie—stay where you are! Do not move—do you hear me?”

“Dad—it’s coming apart! Daddy—it’s an earthquake!”

Brock slowed Nomad’s speed and turned the boat toward shore. The two deckhands ran into the wheelhouse. One of them screamed, “Look at the city! Jesus Christ—look at the hillside!”

The cliffs above Astoria began to move, trees toppled onto roofs and took out telephone lines. The roar of the quake was deafening. Suddenly, a large cloud of dirt mushroomed skyward and entire neighborhood collapsed down the hillside. The noise of the earthquake was augmented by the sounds of houses and vehicles crashing into the waterfront below. The grinding sound of earth and rock increased, reverberating over the river and off the opposite shoreline.

Brock’s attention was on the remaining span of bridge where his daughter gripped the railing. “Evie, are you there—you OK?” From Brock’s position, he saw the ramp tear away from the bridge, cars, bicycles and pedestrians were hurled into the rushing water beneath. “Dear God. This is the one—this has gotta be the big one.”

Evie’s trembling voice emanated from the mic in his hand. “Daddy? What should I do? I can’t get down from here. Dad, I’m so scared.”

“You hold on tight Evie. You hold on very tight… and pray—you hear me?” Tears rolled down Brock’s face as he spoke.

“Uh… Hey, Brock—man, what’s happening?” His first mate asked.

Nomad rocked violently and loud bangs echoed from its steel hull. The crew grabbed onto counters and bulkheads as the vessel slammed about. Brock looked out the wing-door as chunks of concrete and debris hurtled toward them. Suddenly, Nomad began to move backward as the current’s speed increased. “What in the hell?” He throttled up and tried to fight the current, but his boat made no headway. Then with a resounding thud, its lead keel settled onto the muddy river bottom. He laid the mic on the dash and climbed out the port door. Nomad leaned into the mud as dirty water swirled all around them. There was no way to move the boat—the mighty Columbia River was now below his propeller. He looked around—ships and other vessels lay drunkenly along the riverbed. The earthquake’s tremors shook the muddy current like a blender. Holy mother of God.

 

Evie fell to the pavement, closed her eyes and grabbed the bars with all her might. The sounds of screams and asphalt crumbling could barely be heard over the intense rumble of the quake. The pillar of bridge upon which she sat swung back and forth, cars skidded across the two lanes. Evie felt the binoculars slide off her lap and she opened her eyes long enough to grab them before they fell. As she looked up she saw a huge fireball on the pier, right behind the cruise ship. The fuel dock exploded as the waterfront fell six feet toward the water. Pipes burst and sent geysers of fluid and steam shooting above rooftops. Evie grasped the rail with one hand and tried to steady her binoculars, scanning the dock for any sign of her mother. The kiosk and HighTower office building were obscured in smoke. The radio beeped and she heard her father’s worried voice.

“Evie—Evie are you there? Please God, be there, Evie.”

The bridge segment pitched violently forward and Evie gasped. One of the pedestrians nearby was thrown off the side of the bridge, Evie watched her land on the rocks below. She placed the binoculars in her lap with her free hand and reached for the radio without letting loose of the railing. “Daddy—people are dying! I’m afraid the bridge is going to break apart! Help me!”

“Honey, I can’t get off of the boat. We’re stuck here. I love you—you know that right?”

“Daddy… help me!”

“Listen Evie—listen to me! You hold onto the handrails of that bridge and you don’t budge—you don’t move one inch. Do you hear?”

“Y… y… yes, I get it,” Evie cried as she spoke. “Dad—I love you.”

“Oh Evie…” Brock removed his thumb from the speaker button as a racking sob escaped from his mouth. He paused and regained his composure before pressing it again. “You’re my brave girl and you’re going to be alright. You’ll find your mom after this and both of you will get up the hill—OK?”

“OK Dad.”

Brock heaved a sigh. He looked over at the waterfront and noticed the flames near the cruise ship. “Evie, hey Evie—can you see the cruise terminal from your location.”

“Daddy—I can’t see Mom. There’s too much smoke down there. Do you think she got away?”

Even through the radio’s tinny speaker, Evie discerned the strain in her father’s voice as he replied, “Sure she did, hon’. They’re all safe inside the terminal, don’t worry about Mom. She’ll know what to do.”

The shaking stopped almost as abruptly as it began. Evie held her breath as she listened to the bridge’s support beams groan and crackle. All around her, people moaned and cried—screams originated from several cars that hung over the edges of the broken overpass. A cacophony of noises rang from the town below—explosions, car alarms and shattering glass coalesced into white noise inside Evie’s head. She held the binoculars to her eyes, and saw a sailboat aground on Front Street, one of the city garbage trucks lay on its side on top of Mason’s Pharmacy. Sewage sprang from the street in front of the Cannery restaurant. The cruise ship was now completely engulfed in smoke and flames. Passengers scrambled away from the docks as crew leapt from the upper decks two hundred feet into the shallow mud. To Evie, life had now taken on a slow-motion, surreal quality. She closed her eyes and pressed her forehead into the cold steel rails.

Several minutes passed and she heard footsteps as a number of survivors gathered near the railing. People filed past her without even noticing her as they looked for a way off of the piling. She heard them talking and then all at once, four men climbed onto the rail. She peered over the edge and watched them start to descend the steel girders. The space between the beams was over five feet in some places; even more where the beams had broken off or been crumpled by the quake. As they fought their way down the hundred-foot structure, those who remained on the bridge shouted encouragement. At last, the four men reached the bottom. They scrambled over slimy rocks and mud to find firm ground. Waving at the six others on the bridge, they yelled, “It’s do-able! Come on–climb on down!”

Evie stared as the stranded people climbed over the rails, one by one. They called down to the men below for instructions. “Where do I put my foot?” “…I can’t see the next step—where should I go next?”

Her radio beeped. It was Brock’s voice. “Evie, are you still there?”

She held the radio close to her cheek and replied, “Yes—are you okay, Dad?”

“Still hangin’ in there, Buttercup. How are you?”

“Daddy, there are some people climbing down the steel beams. Some of them are already on the ground. Do you think I should follow them?”

“Evie, no. Don’t leave the bridge right now—not now. This is really important. Promise me that you will stay put.”

“I promise Dad, but… but don’t you think I should get down there and find Mom?”

“Evie, it’s not over yet, honey. There’s going to be a big wave pretty soon—a really big one. You’ll have to stay up there where it can’t get you. Understand me?”

Evie frowned and tilted her head. “Dad… are you talking about a tsunami?”

“Yeah babe, a tsunami.”

“But if it could get me way up here…”

“Evie.”

“Yes?”

“You are going to hold onto that railing and… Please. Just do it.”

Evie stared at her father’s distant fish boat while they spoke. She imagined he was sitting there next to her, his arm around her shoulder. As she looked toward Nomad, she noticed a white wall on the horizon. It covered the entire ocean as far as Evie could see. She placed the binoculars to her eyes and said, “Dad—there’s a huge cloud or something right near the water.”

“Hang on a sec.”

Brock stepped on deck and walked to the stern. His crew sat on fish crates and smoked, staring at the white wall across the sea. “Get below guys, let’s have this old girl fired up and ready to roll once there’s some more water under her keel.”

“It’s gonna be a wild ride huh, boss?”

“It’s gonna be somethin’, that’s for sure.”

“Well, Yippee-Ki-Yay, then says I.”

Brock returned to the wheelhouse and picked up the mic. “Calling station Buttercup-Buttercup, this is fishing vessel Nomad. Do you copy?”

Evie smiled and returned the formal hail, “Nomad, this is Buttercup. I copy you loud and clear. Over.”

“Buttercup, it looks as if we’ll be heading in to town real soon here. Thinkin’ I might be a little busy for the next hour or so… Maybe I could use an extra pair of hands after that. What say we transmit our coordinates once this little ride is over and meet up?”

Nomad, I copy. I’ll be waiting for your call. Over.” Evie sighed and smiled, then pressed the transmit button again, “Nomad?”

“Buttercup, this is Nomad.”

“You should’ve taken me with you like I asked.”

“Yeah, well I sure could use an extra pair of hands in the wheelhouse at this point. You may just be right about that. I’m sorry I didn’t listen.”

“I really love you, Dad. I’ll see you in a little while, OK?”

“See you soon sweet girl—what did I say about staying put?”

“You said, ‘hold tight—don’t let go’ Daddy. I swear I won’t move.”

“That’s my gal! I love you. Don’t ever forget it. This is Nomad signing out.”

“Buttercup, out.” Evie gulped and set her radio in the backpack. She grabbed the bars of the railing and shook them with all her might. Then with a sigh, she bowed her head and waited.

Ten minutes passed, and then ten more. Evie dozed off a little and when at last she opened her eyes, the white wall had reached the mouth of the Columbia. The wave spanned the entire horizon, reaching up to sixty feet above the ocean’s surface. A thunderous roar echoed from the shores of the Columbia River. The river’s current, shallow as it had become, now ran backward—toward the Cascade mountains. The tsunami forced the water in front, overtook it and assimilated it into the furious mass of destruction.

Evie was fixated on the wave’s sheer size. She stared at the towering cliff of water for some time in disbelief. Her gaze moved toward what lay ahead in the tsunami’s path and she saw Nomad; it looked so tiny now. Its keel was no longer embedded in the mud, the boat—like many others—was motoring at full throttle upriver, attempting to outrun the calamity behind them.

 

Nomad powered forward at thirteen knots of speed. The extra push of the receding river gave them several knots advantage, but Brock knew that the pursuing wave traveled much faster than his engine could turn. “Arrrrgh! Move forward, you bitch!” He shouted at the controls and pushed the throttle to the dashboard. The ocean’s roar boomed all around them. He dared not look over his shoulder for risk of losing his nerve. His deckhands stood behind him and clung to the doorway—their life jackets strapped on tightly. A large shadow suddenly blocked the sun across Nomad’s port windows. Brock leaned forward and looked up toward the sky. One of the freighters careened sideways toward them. The broadside of the freighter’s hull filled the entire window. As the ship bore down on Nomad, Brock looked over at his crew and said, “Fellas, this is it.”

 

From her perch atop the bridge piling, Evie stared across the Columbia as Nomad disappeared underneath the freighter’s keel. The tsunami came upon them and swallowed both vessels. She held tightly to the railing and clutched the handheld radio against her chest, whimpering, “Daddy, Daddy… Daddy don’t go. Please, come back.”

 

The wall of water consumed the town’s waterfront. It broke over seawalls, flooded roads and forced everything in its path into a raging torrent of debris. People were swept into the crush as they grasped street posts and doorways. Evie spotted a couple clinging to a restaurant balcony, then suddenly the woman was gone. The people who had climbed down from the bridge were devoured where they stood—sucked underneath the filthy whitecaps. Nothing remained but the surging sea. Astoria and the Columbia belonged to the Pacific Ocean now.

The crippled cruise liner, still ablaze, was lifted and deposited on top of the Old Cannery Mall. The building collapsed into splinters as the sea carried away its beams and walls. Bodies poured out of the wreckage and were swept into the current. Evie screamed and hugged the railing as the tsunami roared around the base of her feeble pillar. She felt the entire structure vibrate, heard the metal creak and felt the damp air rise from the energy of the wave. At last, when she had no voice left, she squeezed her eyes and silently mouthed, I love you.

 

For the next four hours the tsunamis returned, as if each new surge meant to claim what its predecessors had been unable to destroy. Evie sat alone on the bridge’s sidewalk and hugged her little section of rail, dully observing the water’s progress and retreat. Her radio that lay across her lap now transmitted only a low static. Suddenly, the entire piling shuddered. Evie jumped, the radio slipped off her lap and tumbled ninety-feet into the water. She gripped the hand rail and peered below. Pinned against the side of the piling was an old fishing schooner. The current had pulled it close to the shoreline as the last wave receded. Its bow was now lodged between the bridge and the rocks but its hull was intact. From where Evie stood, she could make out the name on its transom: The Dottie Rose. Evie stared at the boat for some time, wondering if she could reach its deck from her precarious location.

An aftershock threw her to the pavement as the ground trembled. The damaged trusses began to crumple as the vibrations continued. Sounds of sheering metal reverberated through the asphalt. Evie realized that the time for escape was now or possibly never. She threw her leg over the side and without looking down, reached for the beam and placed her weight on it. Step by step, she crawled down the framework. The last two supports were missing, torn away by the tsunami’s rampage. She drew a big breath and looked beneath her feet—there was a twelve to fifteen-foot drop to the deckhouse roof on the fishing vessel. If she miscalculated, or if the boat shifted, she would be engulfed in the flood.

Evie shut her eyes and let go.


 

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