If Superstring theory is correct, does it mean, in one form or another, we are immortal?
Bill Richmond is an architect/planner, writer, golfer, fisherman, and artist (or at least he was one until he got his shaky hand). He has designed about 150 building projects, played golf for 65 years, fished for salmon in Alaska with his wonderful wife Jan on their honeymoon, and has written five novels (two of them with his friend Barbara Leedom) along with gobs of short stories and four years of monthly columns for the Cape Cod Times. His artwork consists of sketches, theater posters (Jan is an actor and has been in over 60 shows, movies, TV and radio ads), school posters and oil paintings. As his Familial Tremor has worsened and made it impossible for him to sketch, he has turned more and more to writing, thanks to his computer. He has been fortunate to find Barbara who is a terrific author and editor, and the Wednesday morning writers group, the members of which are great writers and wonderfully patient and supportive of beginners like himself.
You can read one of Bill's novels, The Tunnel of Love, on Kindle. It is for sale at Amazon.Kindle.com for $3.99. You can also sample Bill's work by downloading the file below. Or you can read an excerpt from his not yet published The Sam Waters Chronicles online in the text box below the download.
an excerpt from The Sam Waters Chronicles
I got up and took a shower, even though it was only 4 o’clock in the morning. I got dressed and went for a walk. There wasn’t far to go before I reached the outskirts of the village. A trail led down to the shore of Old John Lake, which was a mile wide and maybe ten miles long. The Philip Smith Mountains rose up from the north end of the lake and the Sheenjek River flowed from the south end down to the mighty Yukon River. I threw some pebbles into the lake and then sat on my haunches and enjoyed the darkness and the solitude. I felt at ease being alone in the vast stillness of Alaska; the thought of prospecting the Yukon occurred to me again. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time. A few hearty people lived by themselves hunting and fishing in the bush along the many tributaries of the Yukon. The stories of them were legend. One guy was supposed to have found a gold lode worth millions, but he left it because he didn’t want to be encumbered by having money.
I got up and walked back to the village after an hour or so. I had started to think of how nice it would be to get back to Anchorage and see Jan. The village was beginning to stir and I went and got some breakfast. After a second cup of coffee, I walked out to the airstrip. The plane’s windows were covered with dew, which happens sometimes in the early spring. I got out a squeegee and wiped off the water. Then I untied and inspected the plane. I figured that, with an early start, I’d be back in Anchorage for Jan’s afternoon break between lunch and dinner.
There was no one around when I fired up the two powerful Pratt & Whitney engines. I did my checks and taxied to the north end of the air strip. One last check and I gunned the engines and was in the air in no time. As I nosed her up, some of the water from her snout flew onto the windshield, so I turned on the wipers. In a couple of minutes the water stopped and I was able to look down and see the outflow of Old John Lake into the Sheenjek River. My course was to follow the river down to the Yukon, west along it to the pipeline and then south to Fairbanks. The overcast continued and had lowered somewhat, so I decided to fly under it at 2,000 feet until I got across the Yukon valley to Fairbanks. Then I’d have to go up through it to get over the mountains to Anchorage.
Old Fort Yukon stood near the confluence of the Sheenjek and Yukon Rivers and represented one of my waypoints. I turned to the west and flew up along the many channels of the Yukon, which was swollen from the spring thaw. In places the river was between two and three miles wide. Giant chunks of ice still clung in places to islands and the shoreline. Every brook and stream was pouring out the icy gray-green water that the Yukon is famous for.
I had left Fort Yukon behind fifty miles when I saw a small plume of smoke off to starboard. It is a given in Alaska that, if you see anything that potentially could mean trouble for someone, you try to help out. So I flew up the Yukon tributary until I came to the source of the smoke. There was a small cabin overlooking a pool in the river and it was fully consumed by fire. I dropped down to 500 feet and was able to see that there was a man lying on the ground. He made no indication of seeing me as I flew over, so I pulled up the nose of the Otter, circled and made a second pass even lower. The man didn’t move, so I decided I should radio Steven’s Village, which was another fifty miles up the Yukon.
When I nosed up, though, a turkey vulture flew into my starboard engine. Blood and feathers flew everywhere and the engine quit. The force of the port engine put the plane in a spin. I was so low that I had no time to react. I shut down the port engine. The little river rose up fast to meet me. I hauled back on the stick in an effort to get the nose up before I hit the icy water. The plane skipped upstream twice before the nose caught in the water and threw me into the instrument panel.
I remember feeling a cold numbness rising up my legs. It woke me to find that the water was slowly rising in the cabin. I tried to extricate myself and found that my legs wouldn’t move and my right arm was pinned and apparently broken. I couldn’t get at my seat belt. I was in the middle of nowhere, pinned in my seat with the numbing cold water rising around me. Within a couple of minutes I had completely lost any feeling in my legs, and the water kept rising. I assessed my situation as best I could and found that it was hopeless. I was calm, waiting for death to come. It was just as the shaman had said it would be; I felt at ease with my own death, but I thought of Jan and how sorry I was that she would have to worry about me just to find that I had died.
The water was up to my neck and I closed my eyes. I was waiting for the cold to reach my heart when the door to the cabin jerked open and a big bowie knife sliced through the seat belt. Two big hands took me by the shoulders and pulled me up out of the seat. I was conscious of fresh air and then being thrown across someone’s shoulder as he waded through the shoulder-deep water to the shore. He laid me on a patch of moss and covered me with something. I began to shiver and my teeth rattled. The man left for a few minutes and then returned with blankets. When I heard him coming, I opened my eyes. He was a big man, well over six feet tall and dressed in heavy wool clothing. I could smell the wetness of the wool. His feet were bare.
“Kind of a rough landing, eh, flyboy?” he said.
My teeth were rattling so badly that I couldn’t speak. I nodded.
“You still have to go through shock. I think the best thing is to get you down to Whiskey Ed’s place. The fire will help keep you warm.” He picked me up in the middle, all rolled up in blankets, and, once again, threw me over his shoulder. As he did so, he put pressure on my broken arm. I guess I yelled.
“Broken arm, eh? Well, we’ll see to that later. Get you stable first. Get you through the shock.”
He carried me down to the burning house and laid me close to the figure I’d seen on the ground.
“Poor Ed. I figured this’d happen someday. He just drank too much. Now just lie still. I’ll turn you over and cook the other side in a few minutes.”
He turned and picked up Whiskey Ed’s body, walked over to the burning cabin and threw the body on the fire. “Don’t want him picked apart by buzzards and coyotes,” he said. “Sorry about the smell.”
I was beginning to come around a little bit. I couldn’t remember what had happened or how come I was lying next to a burning building. The next time my rescuer came around, I opened my eyes and tried to speak.
“M..M..I..I’m S..Sam Waters,” I said. “Th..Thank you.”
I began shaking all over. It was so bad that I wanted to get up and run away, but I still couldn’t feel my legs. I passed out again.
When I awoke, the cabin had collapsed on itself and Whiskey Ed’s body had been consumed. My rescuer was sitting at my feet. He had uncovered my legs and was massaging them. I couldn’t feel what he was doing. I felt more lucid. I tried speaking again. “Thank you for saving me,” I said. “Who are you?” To my relief, I didn’t start shaking again.
“Yukon Valley Mike. You made it through the shock. That’s good. When you passed out the last time, I thought you had passed on for good. Can you feel that?”
“Just barely,” I said.
“Your legs aren’t in good shape. Will they come looking for you?”
“Yes, but, unless they see the smoke, they’ll never see where I went down.”
“Too overcast to see the smoke. I think we’d better make for Steven’s Village. They can pick you up there and get you to a hospital.”
“I can’t walk, Mike. I can hardly feel my legs.”
“I’ll make up a drag and pull you. Maybe you’ll feel better as we go and can do a little walking. Let’s tend to that broken arm. It’s a good thing we’ve had this fire for the last two days to keep thawing you out.”
“I was out for two days?”
“Yup. Like I said, I thought you was a goner like Ed. Now, if you’re okay with it, I think we should get you out of those clothes. You’ve soiled them up bad. You’re a little smaller than Ed was, but his stuff oughtta fit you close enough.”
Mike cut away my clothes as I lay there and carefully replaced everything with clothes from the dead man. Then he got a stout tree branch and carved it into a splint, set my arm and made up a sling from some of the bed sheets lying around.
“Can you eat?” Mike asked.
“I’d sure try.”
“I pulled what I could out of the cabin. There’s some bread and peanut butter.”
“Sounds like filet mignon to me.”
Mike laughed. “You must be feeling better.”
“I’m alive, thanks to you.”
“You’d have done the same for me; in fact, that’s why your Otter went down. You were trying to help old Ed. Least I could do was to pull you out. Then I just took care of old Ed as he’d have wanted, got what I could from the cabin and let you lay there. You did the rest yourself.”
“I was sure I was going to die in the plane.”
“I guess your time wasn’t up yet.”
“How come you were here in the first place?” I asked.
“I live about ten miles north of here. I smelled smoke so I came over. I heard your plane go overhead and then the engines cut out and I knew there were no landing places around here, so I picked up the pace a bit and got here in time to pull you out. You’re lucky you didn’t land in deeper water.”
“I seem to remember you had bare feet.”
“Couldn’t go into that water with leather boots. They’d freeze to my feet. I had to take them off. The feet got a little cold but I got back on shore before there was any damage done.”
“And you’re wearing wool.”
“Water repellant. Got it all from L.L. Bean. Good stuff.”
“I thought all you mountain men wore skins and never went into town.”
“Myth. I go into Steven’s Village two or three times a year. Gotta get supplies; can’t eat bear meat all the time, it’s too tough anyway.”
He held out a piece of bread spread thick with peanut butter. I instinctively reached for it with my right hand but was restrained by a seering pain that went up to my shoulder and reminded me that the arm was broken. I winced and took the food with my left hand.
“This is Whiskey Ed’s canteen. I washed it out and filled it with good old cold Alaska snowmelt water for you. Ed would have given it to you for the journey, anyway. I’ll miss him. He was a good guy.”
I ate the bread slowly and took sips of water. As good as it tasted, I stopped after having eaten about half. Everything seemed to be working okay, but I was afraid to test my stomach too much.
“That was great,” I said. Then I had a terrible thought. “What if I have to go to the bathroom?”
Mike laughed. “I guess I’ll have to help. Not my favorite job, but you’re in no shape to wipe your own bottom. We should be in Stevens Village in three or four days. Maybe you can hold it?”
“If I don’t eat much, maybe I can.”
Mike got busy making a drag from branches and skins from Ed’s cabin. While he was at work, I dragged myself to the nearest small tree and tried to get to my feet. The first two times I fell back, but then I put my legs on either side of the tree, bent my knees with my good arm and slowly pulled myself up with my left hand. I couldn’t walk, but I was standing; I felt a great wave of pride and accomplishment. I leaned over on my right shoulder. The pain wasn’t too bad. I peed all over Ed’s leather moccasins. It felt wonderful. I grabbed the tree with my left arm and slowly lowered myself to the ground, and dragged and pushed myself back to where my blankets were.
“Well done, Mr. Waters. Well done. You’re a spunky one, aren’t you?” Mike had watched the whole thing. “I think we’ll get along just fine. How’d those legs feel?”
“Not bad. They don’t want to move yet, but they supported my weight.”
“Excellent. I think we’re ready to load you onto the drag and be on our way to the bright lights of town.”
Mike gathered the food that he had saved from Ed’s cabin and put it in a hole he had dug to the permafrost and covered it with caribou moss. He wrapped the other stuff in a blanket, which he hung from a tree. Then he picked me up and put me onto what looked like a stretcher with a harness at one end. He wrapped me in blankets, strapped me in, stepped into the harness and lifted the front end of the drag so that the harness fit around his shoulders.
“All set?” he called over his shoulder.
“All set,” I said.
Mike walked as if he were carrying no weight at all. He went downstream to the edge of the Yukon and then along the gravel edge of the river. When we came to a feeder stream, I’d carry his shoes and he’d carry me on one shoulder and the drag in the other hand. Then he’d wipe off his feet, put on his fur-lined boots, truss me up and we’d be off again. Mike moved relentlessly forward, never stopping to rest or eat until the sun set. I figured we must have traveled ten miles by then.
At one point we heard a plane overhead, but couldn’t see it because of the overcast. It was a single engine plane and I bet it was Jamie looking for me as I had looked for Ian, and he was being stymied by the cloud cover as I had been. I knew how Jamie felt and how the others would feel when he radioed back that he couldn’t make radio contact with me and couldn’t see anything.
“How long to Stevens Village?” I asked Mike that evening.
“At the rate we’re going it’ll be a good three days. If you’re worried about your friends, don’t think about them. There’s nothing you can do but get to town in whatever time that takes. Then they’ll be glad to see you. Think about that nice juicy steak and a cold beer. That’s what you’ve got to do.”
“I wouldn’t care, but there’s this woman I met recently. I used to have a girlfriend and I wouldn’t marry her because I thought that something like this would happen eventually and I didn’t want her to be a widow. But she was shot and killed in a barroom brawl. I swore I’d never have anything to do with another woman, but this one came along by chance. Jan, that’s her name, was a short order cook in Valdez. I went there to fly photographers out to the oil spill. That’s where I met her.”
“What oil spill?” Mike said.
“The Exxon Valdez dumped around eleven million gallons of oil into Prince Edward Sound. You hadn’t heard?”
“No, that’s exactly why I live alone out here. Big corporations are going to ruin the world.”
“You seem to have some well considered opinions of the outside world. What’s your background?” I said.
“I played defensive tackle on the football team for two years at Dartmouth, but I found I loved the outdoors more. I left after my third year and came here. This is my twenty-second year in the bush. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”
“You must have some fascinating stories.”
“Maybe. Right now it’s time for me to sleep.”
Mike laid down on the caribou moss and was asleep within a minute. I lay awake, looking up at the stars. ‘Stars!’ I thought. ‘The clouds are clearing away.’ And, with that, I went to sleep.
Halfway through the night, Mike shook my good shoulder.
“Wake up,” Mike said softly. “Don’t move.”
“Huh? What?” I whispered.
“There’s something down our trail. It’s either a bear or a wolf. It, or they, is following our scent. I think we need to start a fire. I’ve got some sticks to get started, but it’ll need tending while I go get some good timber. Are you up for that?”
“Of course. I can crawl; I’m not totally helpless.”
“Good man. I’d hate to go through all this to end up as a bear’s dinner.”
We made a little clearing in the moss, arranged the sticks and dry grass. Mike pulled out a Swiss Army knife and a flint, scraped away with one particular blade, and soon sparks ignited the tips of the grass. I didn’t think anybody really did that, but there he was. Soon the twigs and branches began to spark and crackle.
“Take this just in case,” he said and handed me a Buck knife. “There, that’ll start burning all right. I’ll be back with some heavier timber.” He disappeared into the pre-dawn darkness.
I pulled myself over to the edge of the fire. When it was going pretty well, I started adding moss, which hissed because of its dampness but burned well and brightly. I waited for Mike to return. I heard a low, guttural noise from back along our trail. Whatever was out there was getting closer, and I had the feeling that it wasn’t coming along to join us for morning coffee. I piled more moss on the fire and tried to keep a low profile. I heard something off to my right. I clutched the Buck knife. Then there was a howl and a grunt. I pulled myself to a sitting position in preparation for defending myself when Mike emerged from the darkness. He was dragging something.
“Old wolf. Loner. They get kicked out of the pack when they get too old. He was trying to track us by himself. Must have been starving, poor bastard.” He dropped the carcass on the ground. “No good meat on him, he’s so thin. I could use a good hat, though, so, if you don’t mind, I’ll skin him and then throw the carcass on the fire.”
“Mike, if you hadn’t noticed, I’m at your mercy. Anything you want to do is fine by me, but aren’t wolves endangered?”
“Maybe, but this one isn’t anymore. I won’t take the skin to town then. I’ll leave it here and get it on the way back. Don’t want to get us both thrown in jail for killing something that was trying to kill us. He might’ve gotten to you with your legs, who knows?”
“I think I can save you some time and effort, Mike. Last night I looked up and saw the stars. That means the weather is clearing. There’ll be a plane flying up the river looking for me today. If we can make ourselves conspicuous enough, they’ll send a chopper to pick us up.”
“There’s a gravel backwash just up river that isn’t underwater yet. We could set up there, make a fire from old driftwood and sit until they come for you. It’d be a lot easier than dragging you along to town, that’s for sure.” Mike laughed.
By the time the wolf was skinned, the sky was brightening, so we decided to get going. I crawled into the drag, strapped myself in and Mike stepped into the harness for the last time. We went down along the small stream where we’d been staying and out onto the treeless flats that flanked the Yukon. After about a mile, we came to a large semi-circular space about a hundred yards in diameter. Mike collected old dry driftwood and we started a new fire. It was burning well by the time the sun broke out above the trees. It was a bright, clear day. Mike wandered off and returned with an armful of weeds.
“If you hear anything, throw these on the fire and it’ll make a lot of smoke,” he said. “I’ll go scout around and get some more wood.”
I first heard the plane sometime in mid-morning. I threw the weeds on the fire, but it was too late. The smoke started rising into the sky just as a silver single engine plane with two-tone green stripes passed overhead. I knew it would be back in about a half hour, so I kept feeding the fire with weeds and made a big column of smoke. The time passed slowly, waiting for the plane to return, but I finally heard it coming back up river. This time it dropped down to around five hundred feet, circled the fire and dipped its wing twice. I waved back and then watched it disappear toward Stevens Village. Within an hour I heard the beating of the helicopter.
“They’re coming,” I called to Mike. There was no answer. Mike had gone home.