Feather From A Stranger

Four years after losing her new husband in a plane crash in South America, Mara Edwards sets sail for a new life in Alaska. Aboard a northbound ferry, a peculiar run-in with an old man signals that her troubles are not yet over when he hands her a feather and utters these prophetic words: Your present is the future of your past. You will need this to protect your future from your past. All who come here seek the future of their past. As her life becomes unexpectedly entwined with the members of a loving family, a loyal stranger and a wolf-dog named Thor, the new beginning Mara seeks unfolds with all the intensity that crime, passion, loyalty, friendship, love, betrayal, and adventure can provide. In the beauty of pristine Alaska, after four long years of grieving, she learns if she can ever truly be released from her past.

 

Chapter One

Leaving Bellingham

 

Mara stared at the feather that had a red dot painted about a third of the way down on one side. She rolled it slowly between her thumb and forefinger, thinking about the stranger who had given it to her two days after she had boarded the Alaska State ferry in search of a new life. The old man’s cryptic message had become almost as frequent a visitor into her thoughts, as the memory of the event that had changed her life forever.

~~~

Standing on the deck of the ship bound for Alaska, she braced herself against the pitching motion of the sea, her departure city of Bellingham, Washington, long ago a shrinking dot on the distant shore. Just as she had for the past four years, she struggled with a burden too heavy for a woman of thirty-three to have to bear, as the memory of that day replayed once more in her mind. Nothing she had done so far had been able to stop its habitual emergence into her consciousness.

Veiled by the thick fog that enveloped everything for miles, she sat against the wall on one of the benches beneath the orange lifeboats suspended above. Here, in the foggy stillness of this far away place, she remembered—as if she had ever forgotten—that day.

“Policia Federal,” a uniformed official had said when she opened the front door of her home in Rio Branco, Brazil one Sunday afternoon late in May.

The memory of the day, of the moment, of the way the sun sat high in the sky, and of the coldness that rushed up her spine in spite of the blazing one hundred degree heat, came rushing back with an intensity that had so far not dimmed with time. Had it already been four years?

She shuddered, remembering as if it were yesterday, the instant when her life began to pass in moments rather than in days. Even now, she could relive the phone call from her husband that still ran chills up her spine.

“Mara,” Brad, his voice, raspy with whispered urgency, had spoken over the phone.

“Brad, what’s wrong?” had come her tenuous reply.

When it seemed he would never answer, nearly drowning in the noise of the plane’s engine, Brad had spoken again.

“Mara…”

The noise! The deafening noise! She remembered nearly crushing the phone as she strained to hear him.

“I… love… you…”

Even now she could feel that endlessness pause as she waited, and how her lips had silently mouthed his name until finally he spoke again.

“Mara, can you hear me? I…lo…”.

Hellish abruptness followed by hollow silence had finished the call.

Then nothing but her screams; screams that had brought neighbors running, screams that stole her voice for days, screams that she didn’t remember until they started regularly appearing in her consciousness without warning.

The officials told her there had been a distress call and then, silence. They had found the wreckage of Brad’s research plane strewn down the side of a steep mountain peak on the Brazil-Peru border, but there had been no sign of the man she had married only six months earlier. Numerous investigative reports followed a countless number of searches, each ending with the same chilling phrase,

 “Missing and presumed dead.”

Mara pulled her fleece jacket tightly to her as she recalled the ceaseless waiting. At first distraught, and then confused, she had refused to accept the news of her husband’s death, pressing officials for a new inquiry each time the preceding one produced the same unacceptable answer.

The finality of receiving the certificate that declared Brad legally dead, along with the settlement of his affairs last month, had removed the last hope she held of anyone finding him alive. Resigning herself to her loss and unwilling to live in the hollowness of their once full life, she had decided to move to Alaska. There, in the place that she and Brad often dreamed of visiting, she planned to pursue work in her field of biology and begin a new life, alone.

With the torrent of memories threatening her resolve, she got up and strolled along the outer deck of the ferry, trying not to think anymore. She walked the entire mid deck and then climbed a stairwell to the next level, walking the perimeter of that one as well. Moving briskly, she fought to quell her racing mind. Blocked by the wheelhouse from walking fully around, she ducked through the heated outdoor camping area to get to the other side of the ferry.

The seclusion provided by the open decks and the neatly tucked benches they housed felt calming. She stopped and pulled the tattered picture of Brad from her purse just as she had done countless times a day for the past four years. Gazing into the blue eyes of his likeness on the crumpled paper, she stroked the image with one finger.

“How could there be a more beautiful place than this?” she said, willing the piece of paper to hear her words.

She looked out at the rugged coastline and drew the clean Alaskan air deep into her lungs, forcing her thoughts to return to the present. The onset of darkness, along with the chilly night wind, sent her back to the comfort of her room. At the table in front of the weathered window before which countless others had undoubtedly sat, she put the picture of her husband away and twisted her wedding ring around on her finger. Slowly, she removed it and felt the beginning of the closure that had eluded her for so long. She placed the wide gold band on the table next to the book she then picked up to read. Unable to concentrate, she snapped the book shut and with two giant steps, climbed up the wooden ladder into her bunk. There she lay awake thinking of Brad. Sometime, in the wee hours of the night, she fell asleep.

She awoke feeling surprisingly refreshed. Sleep on the gently rocking seas had provided the best night’s rest she could remember.

Instead of going to the dining room for breakfast, she took her treasured brass cappuccino maker out of her backpack, stuffed a towel under the door to muffle the sound, and proceeded to make a Kona espresso just as she had done every day for the last four years of her life.

Something about continuing this well-worn ritual brought a normalcy even now. Tearing open a small packet of raw sugar, she sprinkled it on top of the foamy brew in her white china cup and let her thoughts drift back to yesterday.