H. W. "Buzz" Bernard

July 2016 $15.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-679-6

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, get ready to run for your life . . .
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If you live in the Pacific Northwest, get ready to run for your life . . .

In the face of a massive earthquake and tsunami in the Pacific Northwest, a respected geologist must make two gut-wrenching decisions. One could cost him his reputation, the other, his life.

Is the Northwest overdue for a huge quake and tsunami, or will the region remain safe for hundreds of years yet to come? No one knows… or does someone?

Dr. Rob Elwood, a geologist whose specialty is earthquakes and tsunamis, is having nightmares of "the big one” that are way too real to disregard. His friend, a counselor and retired reverend, does not think Rob is going nuts. To the contrary, he believes the dreams are premonitions to be taken seriously. No one else does, however, even after a press conference.

Some live to regret it, most don’t.

Rob’s drama becomes intertwined with others—a retired fighter pilot trying to make amends to a woman he jilted decades ago and a quixotic retiree searching for legendary buried treasure in the rugged coastal mountains of Oregon.

All are about to live Rob’s nightmare.

"Riveting, scary, and entirely believable . . . a compelling, page-turning thriller with the ring of truth.” Jerry Thompson, author of Cascadia’s Fault

H. W. "Buzz” Bernard, a native Oregonian born in Eugene and raised in Portland, is a best-selling, award-winning novelist. His debut novel, Eyewall, which one reviewer called a "perfect summer beach read,” was released in May 2011 and went on to become a number-one best seller in Amazon’s Kindle Store. Before becoming a novelist, Buzz worked at The Weather Channel in Atlanta, Georgia, as a senior meteorologist for thirteen years. Prior to that, he served as a weather officer in the U.S. Air Force for over three decades. He attained the rank of colonel and his "airborne” experiences include a mission with the Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters, air drops over the Arctic Ocean and Turkey, and a stint as a weather officer aboard a Tactical Air Command airborne command post (C-135).


"Buzz Bernard knows how to tell a story and keep you interested, and itching for more. This book made me feel for the characters and the elements they were dealing with. From the father and son dynamic to the old veteran and his dog friendship, I wanted to know everything. I was not disappointed. I was carried through the disaster and into the lives of these people that were facing the fight of their lives." - Vicki Goodwin, The Page Turner blog



Thunderbird and Whale

Clatsop Indian Village

The Oregon Coast Near Present-Day Seaside

January 26, 1700

THE YOUNG BOY, unable to sleep, opened one eye and surveyed the interior of the cedar-plank lodge. Embers in a fire pit near the center of the lodge cast a weak, flickering glow throughout its interior. Smoke spiraled lazily upward through a slit in the roof. Shadows danced on the walls. Cured salmon hung, like slumbering bats, from overhead racks.

A strange amalgam of sounds permeated the building: snores, wheezes, a soft belch here and there, the occasional sharp "blurp” of someone passing gas.

Other than these reverberations of life, the night seemed strangely silent. The endless dampness and incessant winds typical of the dark season along the coast had relented, at least briefly. But the boy, like all residents of the tiny village—four lodges perched above the banks of a short river rich in salmon and steelhead—knew the rains and gales would return. They always did. Thus, this period of relative dryness and calm offered a great reason for celebration.

That evening, the inhabitants of the community had dined on a special meal of elk and salmon, and berries and roots. Even now, the aromas of the feast lingered in the still air of the lodge.

After eating, the men had sat around the fire talking and smoking, sharing stories of adventures past, while the women and children busied themselves with chores: tidying up the lodge, cleaning utensils, and shaking out the sleeping mats to rid them of as many of the ever-present fleas as they could.

The pests could not be totally exterminated, however, and the boy scratched absentmindedly at a rash of bites on his hip. He sat up on the raised sleeping platform and gazed at the area around him. Next to him, his mother and sister slept. On the other side of the room, his father and grandfather slumbered, undoubtedly exhausted after their hunt for elk earlier in the day. They had brought down a large one.

They’d mentioned to the boy upon returning from their pursuit that they’d had to thrash their way deeper than usual into the dense forests of the coastal mountains. For a reason that mystified them, the elk had moved to higher ground. This, they explained, was strange behavior for the season, when moolackusually remained close to the shores of the ocean where they didn’t have to wade through the deep, wet snows that often coated the mountains.

The boy settled back onto his mat and closed his eyes, hoping sleep would overtake him. It didn’t. Outside, the kamuks, dogs, had raised a clamor, barking and baying, presumably at an unwelcome visitor—a bear, a mountain lion, a wolf—that had wandered too close to the village.

Normally, the ruckus would quiet after the intruder had fled, but not tonight. It continued, eventually morphing into whines and plaintive howls.

The boy arose from his mat and noted that several others had stirred. His father arose, too, picked up a spear, and, wearing nothing but his breechcloth, crept toward the doorway, motioning for the boy to stay put.

His father reached the door, then disappeared down a short ladder leading to the ground. Outside, the barks and yowls continued. The man returned shortly, clambering back into the warmth of the lodge and shaking his head—nothing out there.

At that instant, the ground beneath the lodge shuddered, then quieted, only to be followed by a second, more intense shake, then a third, even harder. Moments later, the earth heaved upward, a violent motion that tossed the boy and his father off balance, sending them sprawling onto the sand floor near the fire pit. As abruptly as the earth had risen, it sank, the boards of the sleeping platforms cracking like ice in a sudden winter thaw. Scattered screams and yells filled the semi-darkness as the remainder of the structure’s inhabitants jerked awake.

The boy attempted to stand, but another upward surge of the earth knocked him down once more. One wall of the lodge sagged, then, with an explosive crack, split. Two heavy logs, the overhead beams of the structure, plunged to the floor. Cries of pain and pleas for help followed, permeating the devastated interior of the lodge.

Again the ground subsided, only to be followed by yet another swell. The boy staggered to his feet and stumbled toward the exit, or at least the place where the exit had been. Nothing more than split and rent wood now marked its presence. He turned to look for his father and grandfather.

Through a gaping hole in the roof, light from a waxing moon illuminated in feeble light a horrific carnage within the lodge. Friends and relatives lay maimed, many motionless. The boy spotted his father and grandfather attempting to pull people from beneath the massive timbers that had fallen from the roof. He staggered toward them as the earth continued to roll in jolting surges. It felt no different than riding a large dugout in heavy seas. The sickness that sometimes afflicted him on the ocean attacked him now. He bent over and regurgitated his evening meal.

The violent shaking continued, unrelenting in its ferocity, and the boy fell several more times as he struggled to reach his father and grandfather. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, but probably covered no more time than the life span of a spring rain squall, the convulsions slackened.

The boy reached his father and grandfather and joined them in attempting to pull his bleeding, unconscious kahpho, sister, from beneath a pile of splintered wood. They labored fruitlessly, unable to tug the heavy debris from her body. With each lingering, albeit less violent, heave of the ground, additional parts of the lodge, already weakened by the initial tremors, collapsed. Finally, the boy’s grandfather stood and pointed outside.

"We must go,” he said.

The boy’s father shook his head. No.

The grandfather knelt beside his son and rested a hand on his shoulder. "It is too late. We must leave or we will die.”

The shaking of the earth, now no more than dying ripples, at last relented. "It is over,” the boy’s father said, "finished.” He continued his frantic efforts to free his daughter.

The grandfather, with a strength and swiftness belying his age, jerked the man to his feet. "No, it is not finished,” he said, his words commanding, forceful. "The flood is coming.”

"What flood? There is no water falling from the sky.”

"The flood from the great water.” The grandfather inclined his head toward the ocean.

Outside, an orange glow filled the night. One or more of the destroyed lodges had apparently caught fire.

"Hurry,” the grandfather said.

"Where to?” the boy’s father asked, his voice tight with emotion as he stared down at his trapped and injured daughter. Moans and groans from others filled the weakly lit darkness.

"Thecanims,” the old man said. The canoes.

"Mama?” the boy asked, tugging at his father’s breechcloth.

"She’s gone,” his father said. A tear ran down his cheek. The boy had never seen that before.

He followed his elders outside. They scrambled over piles of sheared and splintered timber, the young Indian blinking back his own tears. Smoke drifted through the ravaged village. The wails of the injured and dying mingled with an eerie chorus of barks, yips, and howls from animals in the nearby forest. The boy grasped his father’s hand with a firmness born of fear.

Together they stumbled through the chilly darkness, through their ruined settlement, toward their canoes resting on the mudflats of the river. They slashed through soggy eelgrass and deep depressions and ponds that hadn’t been present a short time earlier. The boy’s father stopped to look in the direction of the ocean. The boy looked, too. The weak moonlight glistened off wet sand as far as he could see. It appeared as if the tide had receded beyond the horizon, into the depths of the sea.

"See that,” the boy’s father said, pointing. "The great water has retreated. There is no flood coming, old man.” He touched his head in a gesture suggesting the grandfather had lost his senses.

"You are wrong,” the grandfather snapped, glaring at his son. "There is a deadly flood coming, one in which the waters will flow uphill. Our ancestors knew of it. They warned us in their stories.”

The young boy looked from his father to his grandfather, trying to comprehend.

"I will explain when we get to safety,” his grandfather said. "Now we must move quickly.”

The boy’s father stared back at the remnants of the lodge, then down at his son, as though weighing the consequences of an impending decision.

The old man rested a hand on his son’s shoulder. "I am sorry,” he said, "but you must live for the one who lives.” He shifted his gaze to the boy.

From somewhere distant, well beyond the exposed tidal flats, well out over the depths of the ocean, a hissing, like that of a massive snake, cut through the human and animal cries that suffused the darkness.

"Run,” the boy’s grandfather commanded.

The boy looked around, not understanding from what they were fleeing. His father grabbed his hand and tugged him toward the canoes. A few residents of the village had already paddled into the stream. But others, ignoring the exhortations of the elders, continued rescue efforts in their crumpled homes, two of which burned with the ferocity of a wildfire.

They reached the canoes. The boy and his grandfather clambered into one. The boy’s father pushed the dugout into mid-stream, then climbed into it himself. The two older men began paddling, heading upstream. The sound that had begun as a hiss, grew louder, like rushing water or a breaking wave.

The boy’s father and grandfather stroked furiously in a desperate effort to outrun whatever was coming. Initially, the river’s course paralleled the shore, but eventually turned inland. The boy had no idea how far they had to go to find a place of safety. He knew only that something evil pursued them. He could hear it clearly now, grinding and chewing its way through the forest and up the river, snapping trees in violent thunderclaps of destruction.

Then he saw it and gasped. A massive surge of black water, not just in the river, but on both sides of it, closing in on them like a beast from the depths of the sea. Within an instant, the surge caught them, lifting the canoe as if it were riding a huge ocean swell.

The men ceased paddling and clung to the gunwales of the canoe, the vessel now merely riding the flood like a chunk of driftwood in a cascading stream. The roiling water, filled with trees, dead animals, and—the boy’s gut lurched—two bodies clothed in the garb of his tribe, churned around them in an angry surge.

Even after the initial rush, the water continued to rise, hoisting the canoe ever higher, until it reached the tops of the shorter trees along the now-inundated banks of the river. A whirlpool snatched the dugout and slammed it into a stand of towering spruce, the needled boughs of the trees clawing, like wild animals, at the exposed skin of the Clatsops.

The boy’s father grabbed at one of the boughs, caught it, and screamed for help. The grandfather, realizing his son’s intent, seized another limb. The canoe jerked to a stop. The men struggled to wrestle the canoe into a position of relative stability as the ocean continued to rush fiercely around them. The boy ventured a peek over the edge of the canoe and tried to guess how far they were above what used to be the ground. He thought six or seven grown men might have to stand on one another’s shoulders to reach them. His heart beat so rapidly he feared it would leap from his chest.

After what seemed like forever, but wasn’t—the position of the crescent moon had barely shifted—the water began to recede, draining rapidly back toward the sea. The boy relaxed. "It’s leaving us,” he said, a note of hope tinting his words.

His grandfather shook his head. No. "It will return. Once, twice, maybe three times before the sun rises. We must remain here. It will be safe.”

So they sat the night in the sheltering upper boughs of a Sitka spruce, in a dugout canoe, as the great flood attacked twice more, backing off only after whatever evil spirit had loosed the destruction seemed satisfied. For warmth, they huddled together in the small boat, but still shivered uncontrollably as chill of the winter night deepened.

Sunrise came dull and muted, the land along the river virtually denuded of life. No animals moved, no bushes swayed in the wind, no grass sprouted from the banks of the stream. All vestiges of anything living had been swept away. Nothing but a debris-littered landscape met the eye: flattened trees, shattered timber, the bloated carcasses of deer and elk, squirrels and raccoons, lynx and bear, and the remains of at least one human. A heavy frost tinged the nightmarish scene in a ghostly whiteness.

Only the small stand of spruce where the men had found shelter remained. With most of the lower limbs of the tree that had offered them safety still intact, they scrambled down from the canoe and reached the ground, now nothing but mushy, salt-encrusted layers of mud and sand topped with a thin layer of ice.

On foot, they trekked toward the village, a laborious journey over frosty, boggy ground that sucked relentlessly at their feet. They encountered rock slides, washouts, and, where the ground had mysteriously sunk into the maws of the earth, gaping depressions filled with downed trees. It seemed as if the land itself had tried to devour whatever had stood upon it.

They moved through a morning mist in strange silence. Their exhalations, thin streaks of vapor, trailed behind them in white gossamer threads. Not even the cries of seabirds, normally abundant, pierced the morning stillness. No sounds of human presence, other than theirs, cut through the brooding hush. No voices of hunters. No thud of elk-antler wedges splitting wood. No laughter of young children.

Nearing exhaustion, they reached the site of the village, or at least where the village had stood. Nothing remained save sand, driftwood, and seaweed, and the limp, lifeless bodies of the crushed and drowned. The boy counted at least twenty corpses, mainly of the elderly and children, littering the beach and river banks. Among the human remains, seagulls pecked dutifully at the carcasses of dogs. The stomach-churning stench of death pervaded everything.

The boy turned from the scene, fearing he would be sick. He didn’t wish to display weakness in front of his father. His chest heaved as he fought back waves of gut-wrenching sobs.

A hand came to rest on his shoulder. He looked up into the face of his grandfather whose reddened eyes appeared clouded and misty.

The boy choked back a final incipient sob. "What happened here, Chope? Why did the great water and land turn against us?”

The grandfather steered the boy to a barnacled stump that had washed ashore in the immense flood, and they sat. The boy looked once more at the carnage that confronted him. His father walked among the bodies, examining each with the care of a kindred spirit. He flailed his arms and shooed away an inquisitive eagle. He stooped beside each of the dead, laid a hand on them, and appeared to utter a blessing.

Suddenly, the earth vibrated and the boy leapt from the stump, prepared to flee for his life once again. The shaking ceased. His grandfather remained seated. "Don’t be afraid,” he said. "It’s just the final echo of a great battle.”

"What battle?” Still harboring trepidation, the young Indian again sat beside his grandfather.

"When I was a boy,” the old man said, "there was a tale passed down from generations gone by, over seasons too numerous to number. It was a story that no one I knew had been witness to. Nor had my grandfather’s grandfather, or even the generations before them. But it was an account we knew to be true. It has now happened again. I will tell you why. But you must listen closely, so you can tell the story to your offspring.”


"In the darkness, the mighty Thunderbird, the most powerful of all spirits, whose eyes shoot lightning and whose wings unleash thunder, snatched Whale from its home in the great water and bore it inland, soaring toward the lofty mountains where Thunderbird’s nest awaited. Whale, you see, would provide a fine and long-lasting feast.”

The boy nodded.

"But because of the size of Whale, Thunderbird tired and descended to earth several times to rest its wings. Each time it did, a fearful struggle ensued, Whale fighting for its life, Thunderbird battling to subdue it. A final skirmish, violent and prolonged, occurred near Thunderbird’s home. The earth shook and deformed, forests sank, masses of rocks tumbled from the mountains. The great water retreated but returned with fearful speed and fury, rising higher than ever before, washing away villages and turning rivers to salt. All this we have witnessed.”

The boy nodded again.

The grandfather shifted his position on the stump, blew into his hands to warm them, then continued his story. "The shaking we felt moments ago was Whale in its death throes. Thunderbird, as always, was the victor. Now the earth and great water will let us live in peace for many generations.”

"But not forever?”

"The spirit of Thunderbird controls our destinies. In times of tranquility, it is easy to forget that we live on a battleground; that we are at the mercy of earth that trembles and waters that inundate.” The elder paused and surveyed the devastation surrounding them.

After a long while, he said, "No, the peacefulness will not endure. That is why you must repeat this tale to those who will follow you, for it is the unseen generations that will grow complacent, thinking all is well, that Thunderbird is sated and delivers only harmless thunder and lightning. But he will grow hungry again, a battle will ensue, and the land will convulse and flood once more. Villages will disappear and people will die.”

The boy stared out at the water. "It was so beautiful here, Chope,” he said softly.

"Yes. Long after we no longer walk this land, people will think that. But they, like so many of us, will not be aware of the danger that lurks. You must warn them with your story. It is yours to hand down now.”

The boy stood, wrapping his arms around him for warmth, and turned toward the mountains. He wondered how many generations would pass before Thunderbird took flight once more in search of Whale.



Chapter One

The Ghost Forest

The Copalis River

90 Miles west of Seattle

Monday, March 23 (Present Day)

ROB ELWOOD NOSED the canoe into a muddy bank bordering a tidewater marsh. He turned to his son Timothy seated in the rear of the canoe. "Hand me the shovel.”

While Timothy steadied the canoe, Rob chopped away at the bank of the marsh with the shovel. Overhead, seagulls orbited beneath a low-hanging gray overcast. Behind the marsh, bundles of mist, like flannel cotton candy, clung to the tops of a dense stand of Douglas fir and Sitka spruce. A chilly breeze snaked up the narrow, languid river, a reminder that spring had yet to arrive on the Washington coast. The fetor of mud and marine life, both living and dead, permeated the dull morning.

Rob worked at a steady pace, hacking out a vertical cut that exposed layers of silt, mud, and peaty soil. He glanced back at his son. Tim, wool stocking cap pulled low over his brow, kept his paddle jammed into the mucky bottom of the river, stabilizing the small boat. His sullen facial expression conveyed his mood.

"Hey,” Rob said, "it was your idea to see what your old man does when he goes to work. You were the guy who wanted to find out what a geologist does in the field.”

"Yeah, well I guess I had kind of a different vision.”

Rob stopped digging and placed the shovel in the bottom of the boat. "Like what?”

"It’s spring break, Dad. I thought we might go somewhere warm, like Hawaii, to study volcanoes. Or Southern Cal. You know, the San Andreas Fault. The Big One. Something like that. Exciting. Not digging in a frigging mud flat.”

"It’s a tidal marsh.” Rob pulled his lightweight anorak tight around his neck, adjusted his wire-rim spectacles, and blew into his hands to keep them warm. "You think I wasn’t sixteen once, son?”

Tim squinted at him. "What’s that supposed to mean?”

"It means I haven’t always been Doctor Elwood. It means I know about babes in bikinis on warm beaches during spring vacation. Believe it or not, I’ve been through the horny-adolescent-male stage.”

"Daaad.” Tim’s cheeks turned the shade of a hearty Merlot. Using his free hand, he yanked his iPhone from his parka and punched at the virtual keyboard with his thumbs. "Hey, guess what? The Trail Blazers won last night.” He held up the phone so his dad could view the score.

Rob sighed. "Let’s talk about another mystery then. Swing the canoe around so you can see what I’ve excavated.”

Tim pocketed his phone, then pivoted the craft and brought it abeam of the tiny cliff his father had cut into the bank.

"What do you see?” Rob asked.

"Mud. Crap.”

"You’re going to have to do better than that if you want to be a scientist.”

Tim shrugged. "Maybe I’ll be a writer.”

"Maybe you should think about being something you can actually make a living at.”

"Yeah, well...”

"Come on, son. Look at the mud. Try to think analytically about what you see.”

A ripple of water thunked against the canoe. The boat bobbed up and down.

"Tide’s turning,” Rob said, "and we’ve still got stuff to look at on the marsh. So let’s step it up. Try doing a little detective work, okay?”

Tim leaned closer to the excavation, making a show of examining it. "Sure,” he said, sounding less than enthusiastic. "There’re layers of mud, like different colors, different textures. Silt maybe.” He squinted. "And it looks like there’re little bits of plants and grass stuck in the mud.” Indifference etched on his face, he turned toward his father. "What a thrill.”

Rob didn’t respond immediately. Partially out of frustration, partially in an attempt to come up with a way to engage his son, he paused. After a minute or so, he spoke. "Look again near the bottom of what I hacked out. There’s something different, something besides just typical salt-marsh deposits.”

Tim moved his gaze back to the excavation. "Oh, yeah. Looks like there’re twigs and chunks of bark and stuff in the mud.”

"Right. Those are the remains of a spruce forest, a forest that grows only on dry land. But it’s not dry here, is it? Kinda weird, huh? But there’s something else, too.” He extended his right arm, and with his index finger traced over a thin, grainy deposit layered on top of the mud harboring the spruce bits.

Tim sighed, reached out, and took a pinch of the deposit between his thumb and forefinger. "Sand.” He looked at his father.

In his son’s eyes, Rob detected a nascent question. "Good. So let’s think about this. Mud, mud, mud, then suddenly a layer of sand. Where’d that come from?”

Tim shrugged.

"Come on. Pretend you’re on CSI. Give it a shot. There’s a mystery here.”

"The sand came in on a high tide.”

"Only once? And another thing, we’re probably three miles upstream from the mouth of the river. That would suggest something a hell of a lot bigger than a high tide carried this sand inland.”

"A storm. A big storm.”

"Good. That’s a possibility. Let’s pull the canoe up onto the grass and take a look around.”

They maneuvered the craft onto the slightly raised hummock of the marsh. They secured the boat and clambered out into a field of soggy, tan grass. Beneath the ankle-high growth, thick mud, almost quicksand-like in its consistency, sucked at their boots.

Several meandering tidal streams snaked through the marsh. A great blue heron stalked along the edge of one of the creeks, searching for breakfast. It paused to inspect Rob and Tim. Apparently deciding the slow-moving figures offered no threat, the bird continued its hunt.

Rob watched as Tim surveyed the grassy slough. "Something seem a bit out of place here?” he asked.

"Yeah, kinda. Those things.” Tim pointed at the scattered silvery stumps and spires of dead trees. The snags gave the marsh the appearance of a giant pin cushion.

"Good catch, kid. What stood here a long time ago looked just like the thick forest behind it. Spruce, fir, cedar. Now all that remains are grass, some huckleberry bushes, and these dead trees from another age. We call it ‘The Ghost Forest.’”

"Ghost Forest?” Tim’s voice betrayed a spark of interest.

"These old stumps and trunks are Western red cedar—strong, rot resistant, insect resistant. They remained here long after the rest of the forest died and decayed. Remember the spruce bits in the mud?”

Tim nodded.

"So here’s the crux of the puzzle. What killed the trees?”

Tim’s face brightened. Engagement. A mystery to be solved. "I like my big storm theory. A saltwater flood from the sea.”

"Except seawater would have drained back out to the ocean. The trees would have survived. Try again.”

A bald eagle soared above the marsh, working its wings like trim tabs, probably running an armed reconnaissance in search of a mouse or vole.

Tim furrowed his brow, staring at the Ghost Forest. "Hey, I know,” he said. "Fire, a forest fire.”

Rob motioned him forward, toward the naked snags. They squished across the marsh, in spots brushing through the leathery, serrated leaves of salal bushes. They reached a place where several of the bone-colored spires stood in close proximity to one another.

"See any evidence of fire? Blackened wood? Burn marks?”

Tim walked around the trees. Squish, squish, squish. "Not really,” he said finally, sounding a bit dejected.


Tim closed his eyes and tilted his head toward the slate-colored cloud deck. He remained in the reflective pose for a moment, then opened his eyes and pivoted toward his dad. "Sink hole,” he said decidedly. "A big sink hole formed and allowed salt water to rush in.”

"Well, that’s not totally correct, but you’re close. Good thinking. Here’s the deal. Remember the layer of sand covering the mud that contained the spruce forest debris?”

Tim nodded.

"The same thing from about the same time—we know that because of radiocarbon dating—has been discovered all along the coasts of Washington and Oregon. That means something catastrophic happened in the Pacific Northwest a little over three hundred years ago. Something that caused certain areas to subside, or sink, thus allowing tidal marshes to become blanketed in sand.”

"Somethingcatastrophic?” Tim eyes widened. "What?”

"A massive earthquake, what’s known as a megaquake. It caused some spots to suddenly sink, like where we’re standing, and unleashed a huge tsunami that swept beach sand inland and permanently flooded those places that had, so to speak, caved in.”


Rob could see he had Tim’s interest now. "Trouble is, we’re not talking something of just historical significance. It’s an event, a disaster, that’s going to happen again.”

Tim stared at his father.

"Remember that movie The Impossible that came out a few years ago, the one about the big tsunami in Sumatra?”

"Yeah. That was pretty scary.”

"Here,” Rob said, his voice dropping to a hoarse whisper, "it’ll happen here. In the Northwest. Just like Sumatra. And I don’t mean just here,” he stamped his foot on the soft earth, "I mean everywhere from Vancouver Island to northern California.”

Tim smiled. "Come on, Dad, you’re yanking my chain.”

"Wrong. It’s easy to pass off what once happened here as ‘ancient’ geologic history, something that happened many years before white men reached the western edge of the continent. But it’s not. The Earth is restless and sometimes violent.

"Mount St. Helens, for instance. The restlessness didn’t cease just because we settled the region and built freeways and skyscrapers and dams. The threat of violent upheavals persists. Just ask the people of Sumatra or Japan. Or if you could, even the Indians who used to live along coasts here.”

Tim kept his gaze fixed on his father.

Rob went on. "Earlier you mentioned The Big One on the San Andreas fault. Forget it.” He shook his head in slow motion denial.

Tim narrowed his eyes. Skepticism.

"Oh, L. A. will still get a Big One,” Rob said, "but—and this is something we didn’t realize even thirty years ago—it’s really Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland that are Ground Zero for The Big One, the eight-hundred-pound-gorilla quake.”

Tim stood silent for a few moments, perhaps trying to come to grips with the consequences of what his father had just told him. The wind picked up, sighing through the crown of the living evergreens and rattling through the dry bones of the Ghost Forest. Overhead, a squadron of gulls, calling to one another in piercing cries, rode the freshly invigorated wind.

Tim broke out of his reverie. "Hey, there’s another canoe.” He pointed at the river.

Rob turned. A canoe with single paddler pushed upstream, riding the incoming tide. Not a fisherman. Someone fishing would use a drift boat or cast a line from the shore. A recreational paddler? Maybe, but the boat appeared to be making directly for the marsh.

Rob continued watching. The canoe eased into the bank and stopped. Its single occupant exited, secured the craft, and glided toward Rob and Tim. Glidedseemed the correct word. The new arrival, decked out in a University of Washington ball cap, Pendleton jacket, and L. L. Bean footwear, moved effortlessly over the boggy land in long, smooth strides and, in a matter of seconds, stood in front of Rob and Tim.

"Hi,” she said, and extended her hand. "I’m Cassie.

"Hello,” Rob said, shaking hands with her. "I’m Robert Elwood, Rob. And this is my son, Timothy.” He nodded at Tim.

"I hope you don’t mind me intruding,” she said. "But I’ve read so much about the Ghost Forest I decided I wanted to come see it for myself.”

Rob took stock of Cassie. Her slight build seemed the reason she’d been able to move over the marsh with such ease. Beyond that, in a word, she appeared entrancing. Not necessarily beautiful, but beguiling. A ponytail the shade of sugar maple leaves in a New England autumn spilled out from beneath the back of her cap. If eyes, as is often said, are the windows to one’s soul, then Cassie’s virescent irises suggested something timeless and wise resided deep within her.

To complement that implication, she appeared, well, ageless. Rob had no clue whether she might be in her early thirties or late sixties. Perhaps it depended on how the light hit her, at least what little of it managed to squeeze through the leaden overcast.

"What’s your interest in the Ghost Forest?” Rob asked.

"I’ve been doing research on Native American legends along the north Pacific Coast. Most recently with the Makah and Huu-ay-aht people.” She gestured northward. "Before that, with the Snoqualmie, Quileutes, and Duwamish. Within each tribe, oral histories of a ‘great shaking of the earth’ and a ‘massive flood from the ocean’ have been handed down over many generations.”

"So I’ve heard,” Rob said.

"Originally, researchers categorized the tales as folklore and mythical sagas. For one thing, the timeframes of the stories were impossible to pin down. There were a lot of vague references like ‘shortly before the white man’s time’ or ‘four generations before my grandfather’s time.’ That left a lot of room for interpretation. Maybe the 1700s, maybe the 1600s, if at all. Then, with the discovery of the Ghost Forest, we—”

"And a lot of other research discoveries, too,” Rob interjected.

"I’m sure,” she said, "but the Ghost Forest was the most high-profile. Anyhow, it was an important part of the evidence that there had indeed once been a ‘great shaking of the earth’ and ‘massive flood’ along the coast.”

She paused, seeming to allow her thoughts to drift into the past, or maybe the future, then continued. "So, the Native American tales it turns out aren’t mythology, they’re history.”

A gust of wind riffled the dark waters of the Copalis.

"More than that,” Rob said. "They’re a warning.”


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