The Wonderful “What If?”

When I started writing fiction I found it so exciting to take a real situation and ask the question, “What if?” The fact that I could take something that really happened, change the sequence of events, sprinkle in a few new characters…and poof…it’s a new story.

Different, unique, totally fictitious. That was the premise behind the short story I’ll Keep You Safe. 

In 1996, Melvin and I spent two weeks in Alaska with a 36 ft. sailboat as our home. We loaded our provisions and water, then sailed the Kenai Peninsula for the experience of a lifetime. It was late-summer with barely two hours of  darkness that wasn’t really dark. We anchored in coves of crystal blue water, picked up floating glacier chunks to fill our freezer, and ate fresh-caught salmon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Especially memorable was the four hour crawl through dense fog using only our instruments and charts. No visibility, just the latitude and longitude, and confidence that we knew our jobs and trusted each other to reach through the mass of white dampness and into the bright blue sky on the other side.

Then came the stretch of bad weather that forced us to tuck into a lagoon at the end of Taroka Arm. Three days of rain and a radio that was out of range for Coast Guard transmissions. Nothing to do but sleep, read, and watch the wildlife, mainly the parade of black bears that made regular trips along the shoreline looking for berries and fish.

Our anchorage at Taroka Arm. The white spot in the water is our boat.

That black dot on the shoreline is one of the black bears that paraded past our boat every day.

When Melvin decided to go ashore and hike to the top to get a photo of our location I stayed behind. Yes, he encountered a bear. Yes, there was a confrontation. But all passed with only a mild measure of drama.

So, my writer’s mind kicked in and asked, “What if?” The result is the story below. It was published in the 2011 edition of the Scratch Anthology.

I’ll Keep You Safe

He starts to slip—ten feet, now another five. He thinks of Janie. She begged him not to make this hike. Sharp edges of rock rip through his jeans, into his knees. Gravel digs into his hands as his fingers grip for something solid. He’s lean and strong but still can’t get his footing—every surface crumbles beneath him. A torrent of rock cascades from above. It bounces off his body, but shatters his equilibrium. He falls sideways, tumbling, plummeting down the steep incline.

Janie scoots her seat cushion across the deck to avoid the sun’s shadow on her notebook. She’s done her quarter-hour check, and has spotted Kip’s red jacket moving up the cliff. The shiny splash of red nylon in the distance lets her relax and focus on her writing. Grabbing for the binoculars, she pans the terrain one more time. Yep, there’s my man. I’m back to work. Satisfied that Kip is safe, she turns her attention to an accurate description of their remote location, determined to capture every observation on paper.  Continue Reading