"What was that?" shouted the man at the wheel, craning his neck to look around.
The other man, Nathan Jordon, the first mate, yelled back, "I don't know." He bounded over to the lee rail and peered through the darkness into the opaque waters. While he gripped the rail, he felt the ship tremble under his feet, and heard her creaking groans in the wallowing sea. The lumber schooner, Neosha, sloshed ahead as before, seemingly unaffected by the strange sound.
"Does she feel OK? Nothing fouling the rudder?"
"No, Sir. She feels fine."
"Sing out if she fails to answer."
When the noise subsided, the helmsman shouted, "I've never heard anything like that before."
"I haven't either; it seemed to be coming right out of the ocean."
The eerie silence that followed left a strange feeling of emptiness in the quiet still of the morning.
"Maybe they're shooting cannons somewhere," the helmsman added.
"It's too dark for that and I didn't see any flashes. I better roust the captain," said Nathan. Turning he stepped toward the deckhouse. There was a commotion and Jamal Britt burst through the door, his nightshirt half tucked into his trousers.
"What was that noise, Mr. Jordan?" He growled as he rushed to the rail where Nathan had been standing.
"I don't know, Captain."
Looking over the side into the darkness, he growled, "Did we hit something?" His tone was accusatory.
"I don't think so, the ship seems okay."
"Helmsman, how does she feel?" Jamal yelled.
"Any speculation, Mr. Jordon?" he asked, stepping to the stern rail and looking down into the swirling waters of the wake.
"No, sir, I don't know what it was."
"Humph," Jamal snorted, turning to the mate. "It seems to be over now. Why didn't you come and get me? Or didn't you think this was important?"
"It was over too fast, Captain."
Jamal snorted again, then cast a look around and went to the door. "Keep a sharp look out and next time call me if something happens. I'll be in my cabin. Note the time and location in the log book."
"Aye, aye, sir."
With that the captain went through the door.
"Yes, sir, captain," Nathan mumbled, slapping the rail with his hand. Then he looked over his shoulder to make sure his actions were unobserved by the man at the wheel. He need not have worried, in the darkness of the pre-dawn he knew the helmsman could barely make him out. Nathan stepped toward the deckhouse. "I'm going below, watch your helm," he said.
In the tiny chart room he fixed their position and noted it in the log, along with the date:
April 18, 1906. Fourteen miles south-west of Bodega Bay. Winds light, sea calm, course south-by-south-east. Heard strange rumbling noise at 5:12 AM. Source unknown.
Riding low in the water with a full load of lumber, the schooner, moved through the rolling seas and fickle winds, her crew unaware that fifty miles to the south, San Francisco had just been torn apart by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Nathan returned to the deck and searched the horizon. Then he shrugged his shoulders, grunted and moved to the rail once more, still mystified by the sound.
700 miles to the north, in the town of Clarkson, at the mouth of the Columbia River, Emily Britt, Jamal's young wife, was just beginning to stir. She snuggled deeper into the warm covers and rolled over on her left side. After a few moments, her eyes fluttered then opened and she glanced toward the window to see the morning was still shrouded in black.
Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding the clock on the mantle downstairs chimed. "Oh, be quiet," she muttered, pulling the covers higher. "I don't have to be up yet."
For the past three weeks, she had been enjoying the silence and solitude of the house, as she always did when Jamal was away on a voyage south. Of course, it was not a joyous or raucous household when he was home, but at least there wasn't the underlying tension and danger she felt at his constant disapproval of her when he was there.
"Mrs. Britt, explain this bill for cloth?"
"I was going to make you another shirt."
"I don't need another shirt, and if I do, I'll purchase it myself. Take this stuff back and stop squandering money."
Now she reveled in the solitude even though in the back of her mind there was a tiny pocket of apprehension. A nagging dread tied to his eventual return. She sighed and pulled the covers higher, closed her eyes and slipped back into her world of slumber and dreams.
Two hours later, she awoke and lay for some time, letting the grogginess drain from her mind. The clock downstairs sounded seven times, filling the house with its cheery voice. Gathering all of her courage, she threw off the heavy covers and jumped up to wriggle into her robe and icy slippers. Downstairs, in the parlor, she put a match to the kindling in the fireplace. When the fire was crackling in the hearth, she stood before it warming her hands. Next, she went to the kitchen and lit a fire in the cook stove, put on a kettle for her morning tea and warm water to wash up.
"I wish the sun would shine," she muttered, looking out the window. Black clouds scudded in at treetop level, dumping rain on an already soggy landscape. "I get so tired of gray skies."