September 28, 2015:
This month the country paused to remember the fourteenth anniversary of 9/11. I’d like to share a short story that kept the tragic event in perspective for me. After all, the seeds of strife yield flowers of determination and hope for the future. While the disaster challenged our view of the world, it also highlighted the good in people, brought strangers together from other cultures, and reminded us that freedom closes the distance between continents. My husband and I took a trip overseas in the midst of the chaos. To overcome our fear, we refused to change our plans. As Jodie Foster insisted in the movie Contact, we were “Okay to go.”
ISLE OF SKYE
The bridge from Inverness ushered us to the Isle of Skye. Scotland is a magical place. My husband Wayne and I took this trip in the fall of 2001, with the debris of the Twin Towers still smoking in New York. We welcomed a two-week break from the ugly realities of modern life: no television, no newspapers, e-mail, cell phones, or the relentless attempts of the media to fuel our sense of terror. Thank God we couldn’t get a signal.
Few places on earth existed where nothing had changed for a thousand years, and this island off the Scottish coast was one of them. Ancient wars and bloody battles had scarred the land, remnant mounds of which could still be seen, but those old wounds continued to strengthen the resolve of its people to be better, live better, and open their arms to strangers. A violent history had created a uniquely peaceful culture.
Every turn of the road offered an inspiring view of jagged emerald hills surrounded by white-capped water, the color of indigo ink. Our heads swiveled beyond what our jet-lagged neck muscles allowed.
Excited to experience the solitude up close, we pulled the rental car to a vista point. Ancient stones harvested from history lined the curved edge, making it a perfect spot to take in the landscape. On a jetty over the water, we gazed at Eilean Donan Castle, a 13th century gem weathered by Celtic wars too numerous to count. Hollywood had romanticized the site, including in one film with Sean Connery. The original castle had been built by Alexander II as a defense against the Vikings. So another story goes, the owner was chief of the Matheson clan and had acquired his wealth and fame from his ability to communicate with birds. A living, breathing fairy tale. An earthy aroma of peat moss filled the air.
“Can’t you imagine Maid Marian waving to Robin from up there?” I said to Wayne, and pointed to the tower dotted with small slits, only wide enough to shoot an arrow.
“Like a storybook with a whole new meaning,” he said, "especially now."
We went quiet. Our voices sounded sacrilegious in such a reverent place. Sheep grazed on the rocky hills across the water, tended by a man with a walking stick and a bell. The delicate jingle skipped over the ripples of waves through sun-laced mist. We absorbed the history and breathed.
A curious vibration rumbled in my core. I grasped Wayne’s hand. He sensed it too; he tightened his fingers around mine. The air squeezed with an unexplained tension. I turned, wide-eyed, toward a steady roll of thunder that gained volume by the second. My heart knocked against my ribs. Something was happening.
Out of nowhere, three F-15 fighter jets shot in front of us in close formation, not more than thirty feet above the water. The planes soared straight up through the mist and disappeared. A deafening roar chased their trajectory and dissipated into the clouds. I didn’t even have time to cover my ears before the world went silent again.
“NATO jets,” Wayne said.
My eardrums tingled with a steady hum. “Has war been declared while we’ve been standing here?”
Wayne pulled me to the car. “Let’s go into town and find out what’s going on.”
I slammed the door as Wayne revved the engine. Unable to eke out a word between us, we hugged the curves of the road toward the harbor. We skidded to a stop on the gravel in front of an inlet of bobbing fishing boats and a quaint waterfront restaurant. The hand-painted sign said, McCray’s. We’d get our news the old-fashioned way: words from the sea delivered to the mouth.
As the only customers, we fidgeted and took in the no-frills decor of the restaurant. A stocky, ruddy-faced woman of about fifty emerged from the kitchen and approached the table. Her cheeks were riddled with spidery veins from years of battering, frigid wind. I wanted her on my side if we were going to war. Behind her, two fishermen in yellow rubber boots clomped through the front door, each holding a plastic bin of flapping tails. Neither appeared worried about anything but fish.
“Be a jiff,” the server said, offering us no menus. “Dinner’s a-comin’ in.”
I cleared my throat and tried to act nonchalant, but my knees still knocked. “I have to ask. What were those jets we saw fifteen minutes ago over the loch? Has something happened?”
“Aye. Maneuvers, dear. The world, such as it ’tis.”
“We were terrified.”
“Och . . . No more than a motorized shield and sword.” She winked and headed back to the kitchen.
Courtney Pierce is a fiction writer living in Oregon with her husband of thirty-six years and bossy cat. She writes for baby boomers. Her novels are filled with heart, humor, and mystery. Courtney has studied craft and storytelling at the Attic Institute and has completed the Hawthorne Fellows Program for writing and publishing. She is also a board member of the Northwest Independent Writers Association and is active with Willamette Writers, Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and Sisters in Crime.
Colorful characters come alive in The Executrix, Courtney's first installment of the hilarious Dushane Sisters Trilogy. When three middle-age sisters find a manuscript for a murder mystery in their mother's safe, sibling blood will need to be thicker than baggage to find out if the story is fiction.
Visit Courtney's website at www.courtney-pierce.com. Her books can be purchased at Windtree Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo Books, and at several independent bookstores in the Portland area.