A group of islanders had gathered on the beach in front of The Beach Bar. They weren’t right up close to the water, out of experienced respect of the tide. They had dragged the abandoned beach chairs up closer to the front of the little restaurant/bar, added several others, and sat together, staring out to sea.
They were trying, in the waning light, to get a glimpse of the mainland.
As the day had moved inexorably toward dusk, they became more anxious, and now sat hoping for the return of Devin’s little skiff and a reunion with their companions.
“That’s not fog,” Vivian declared.
A few people jumped at the sound of her voice. They had been silent for quite some time—probably since the twins had drifted off to sleep on big beach towels in front of their parents’ feet.
“What do you—” Monique began.
“I can hardly see a lick, and even I know that’s not fog,” Vivian continued.
“It’s smoke.” Elvin said this with complete conviction.
“Yes,” Vivian agreed. “Something terrible has happened on the mainland.”
“Like what?” Monique demanded.
“Like…an explosion. A fire.”
“A bombing.” Elvin, emphatic once more; and yet, his voice was incredibly steady and calm.
“How do you—?”
“Know? I don’t. But…that’s smoke, okay? And it covers the whole horizon. We can’t see the mainland at all. What else would be that big? One fire? Or several?”
“Jesus,” Barnaby groaned.
Vivian’s face was a pale mask. Behind thick lenses, her eyes were red and puffy. She wasn’t crying—at least not yet. But it was a near thing.
Bill watched her with some concern—she was no spring chicken, and her light and love had sailed off in a skiff, headed for the mainland, hours ago.
Jessica slipped an arm around her. “What can we do?” she asked.
“I’d like to go to the docks,” Vivian replied. “Will you walk with me?”
“I’ll go, too,” Bill offered.
Barnaby looked at Lou Ann and at Paul and Pam, sleeping at their feet. He couldn’t imagine how his wife would feel if he’d been one of the people who’d left the island.
When he and Elvin had returned to The Beach Bar earlier in the day, Lou Ann and Monique had joined Vivian, Bill and Jessica’s quest to check on the others who lived on the island.
They busied themselves hauling beach chairs and setting them up in front of the little building.
When everyone had made their way back, they sat staring out at the water. Lou Ann told them about speaking with her father.
“I asked Daddy if there had ever been a time when the ferry didn’t make the regular run. He said the only time he could remember was when Pearl Harbor was bombed.” Lou Ann raised a hand and bit her fingernail. “That was years before I was born, and Dad was just a little boy—I can’t believe he even remembers, but he said his father was upset so it stuck in his mind.”
“That’s all the way on the other side of the country!” Barnaby protested.
“Upset about the ferry, or about Pearl Harbor?” Vivian asked dryly.
Lou Ann gaped, then burst out laughing. “I would imagine Pearl Harbor,” she said, “but what do I know?”
Vivian turned to Barnaby. “As to where Pearl Harbor is in relation to us, I suppose all water-based vessels were told to stay put.”
Barnaby shook his head. “It doesn’t make sense,” he reasoned. “Look at the time difference.”
“Maybe it was the next day,” Lou Ann argued impatiently. “Dad wasn’t much older than the twins when it happened. It’s not like we can ask Grandpa.”
“Not without a medium.” Elvin spoke in an offhand manner. It was absolute truth, and silenced everyone for a while.
Finally, Monique turned to Lou Ann and said, “Your Dad’s that old? Aren’t you, like, my age? My Grandpa was barely old enough for World War II!”
Lou Ann shrugged. “I’m the only child of his second marriage, after his first wife died. Mom’s a lot younger—I think I was a big surprise, though.”
“Well, for a guy in his—what? Eighties?—he looks fantastic.”
Lou Ann grinned. “Yeah, he does.”
It spoke volumes that the last time anyone remembered the ferry missing its trip was the end of 1941.
Something terrible had happened.
Barnaby smiled at his wife. “You mind if I go along to the dock, too?”
“No, go ahead.” Lou Ann nodded her head at the twins. “You wore them out—they’ll sleep all night, if we let them.”
Elvin said, “I’ll be here with the ladies, kicking back with a beer. If you need me, holler. I’ll hear you.”
“You know,” Bill said, “I’m surprised more people haven’t come down here to the beach. Everyone we talked to this afternoon said they’d rather stay home.”
“I’m not surprised,” Monique replied. “I’d be home, too, if I hadn’t already been out when all this started.”
She stared at the ground, thoughtful. Finally, she raised her eyes to meet his. “If Margo wasn’t out there—yeah. I’d be home.”
It wasn’t a long walk to the docks, but the sun was getting low in the west and they made their way slowly. Vivian’s vision wasn’t great in daylight; in low light it was terrible. They led her carefully.
As they got near, Bill snapped his fingers. “We need lights,” he said. “I’m going to run back and get some lanterns or flashlights or something.”
“What for?” Jessica demanded. “The power’s still on.”
“Just in case.” Bill shrugged. “I don’t feel good about this. I don’t want to be standing there in the dark.”
Barnaby muttered, “I’m not so sure I want to be putting myself in the spotlight.”
Vivian turned to Bill. “Go, Bill. Get your lights. Flashlights, so we can look out at the water. I think they’re coming. I feel it.”
Bill turned and sprinted back up the beach.
When he returned he had two large torches with lights as big as Barnaby’s twins’ heads.
The tide came in as the sun went down, and across the reach clouds had gathered in the sky above the smoke banks. Suddenly, there was a crackling flash, and then another, of lightning. It cut through the smoke and gave them a quick glimpse of the opposite shore.
There were no lights on over there.
Thunder crashed; crashed again. The storm was close enough to shake the dock under their feet.
The next flash of lightning lit the water in front of them. They could see the skiff moving toward them. Bill and Barnaby switched the torches on and shone them across the water.
“Oh, thank God! Thank God!”
It was Margo—Bill would know that voice anywhere.
“Melvin!” Vivian called.
“”We’re coming, honey!”
Boom! Thunder followed close on the heels of the last lighting flash.
“We’re in for it now,” Jessica said, and sure enough, the rain started pouring down.
“Jesus, that moved in fast!” Barnaby cried.
Now that they could see their goal, Melvin, Devin and Margo rowed faster, and soon enough Bill and Barnaby were hauling them in and tying the skiff to the dock.
They all hurried up the dock to the beach and made their way quickly back to The Beach Bar.
Monique and Lou Ann had gotten the toddlers inside just in time to stay dry. Everyone else was drenched.
Table cloths were fetched to use as towels, and the group sat down together after a few moments of chaotic cussing.
“Well?” Elvin asked, once everyone had settled down. “What happened?”
Margo, Melvin and Devin exchanged glances and Margo burst into tears.
“Oh, shit,” Bill sighed.
Melvin said. “Yup. You got that right.”
To be continued….