This is a short story coming in the collection for the holidays. I seldom post stories here; they belong on John Maberry’s Writing. I’m making an exception this time. All the writers out there will understand. Plus it’s a break from politics–hurray!
Carson sipped Irish coffee, bundled against the chill wind of a late October day on the Outer Banks. He sat on the third floor deck for its view beyond the barrier dune, rising 15 feet above the sand. The swimmers and sunbathers had gone. Only the beachcombers and solitude seekers remained this late in the season. He was among the latter. With the kids away at college and Sharon at her sister’s to “think about us,” he couldn’t face the empty house in Alexandria. Reading the backlog of beach books almost kept thoughts of Sharon’s surprise announcement away. He had just put down a thriller when he looked out to see a fiery column rising above the waves. It must have been a mile or two offshore. Only the bright yellow plume could be seen, even with the high-powered binoculars. No ship. No people. Nothing. What the hell is that? There’s no gas line out there. The sight had him baffled.
He called the Coast Guard at Hatteras Inlet. “Coast Guard, Petty Officer Harris speaking. Is this a boating emergency call?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’m looking offshore from Buxton, seeing a bright flame coming up from the water.”
“How far out is it? Have you seen any ships in the area?”
“A mile and a half, maybe more. Hard to tell from the shore with no landmarks to go by. No ships out there or anything else that I can see. The plume looks about the size of a power pole from here and goes up fifty or sixty feet from the surface.”
“Ok, we’ll send a boat to check it out. Thank you for letting us know. Please give us a call if anything changes.”
“Sure. Oh, and I didn’t hear any explosions or anything. One more thing—the flame isn’t bending much in the wind; looks like it’s under pressure. It’s yellow, by the way.”
Carson figured at least 45 minutes, more like an hour before they showed up. They’d have to come around the inlet to the oceanside and through Diamond Shoals, also known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic for all the ships that sank there over the centuries.
While waiting for the Coast Guard, Carson refreshed his Irish coffee. Barely three PM and he was on his third drink. The caffeine kept him up enough and the whiskey dulled the pain. The pain of not selling a book in ten years. Sharon’s billable hours at the DC law firm kept them financially flush. She’d made partner just after his last book sold. No coincidence his writing suffered after that. It took a toll on the marriage.
“So you think the booze will help the stories along, Carson?” That’s what she said, more than once, when she found him staring at a blank monitor slurping a drink.
“Hey, it worked for some of the greats,” he’d laugh before slamming down the glass. “I don’t know what will help. I’m trying; the ideas aren’t there—the words won’t appear without them.” That’s when the blowups came. Hurricane force words flying between them, loud as a storm screaming through the room. She once was his muse. No more.