For this post, I thought I’d take a break from our regular writing topics to introduce you to one of my stories. (For those of you aren’t writers, WIP means “Work In Progress.”) Flashback is an Inspirational Romantic Suspense of about 60,000 words and my first completed novel. I wrote the first draft several years ago, let it sit for a long time, and then finally revised it last year when I had acquired better storytelling and writing skills.
I’m going to share an excerpt with you, but first, who better to tell you about the story than my main character, Ashley Thompson? She has graciously agreed to a short interview, and promised not to give away any spoilers.
Me: Ashley, please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Ashley: Hello, everyone. I’m an FBI agent, twenty-seven years old, and single.
Me: I guess working for the FBI doesn’t leave a lot of time for romance?
Ashley: (laughs) No, it doesn’t, and I’ve worked really hard to get here. My dad wasn’t exactly thrilled about my career choice, so it’s important to me to prove I can do it.
Me: Tell us about where your story takes place, and what you’re trying to accomplish.
Ashley: The story takes place in Big Bend National Park, which is really an amazing place. If you’re ever in west Texas, you have to get down there.
Me: It’s mostly desert, isn’t it?
Ashley: Much of it is desert, but there are also the Chisos Moutains and the Rio Grande River. It’s pretty much breathtaking.
Me: And why are you, as an FBI agent, there?
Ashley: I’m sent to go undercover as one of the park rangers, in order to catch the leader of a Mexican drug cartel who’s been illegally operating in the park.
Me: Sounds dangerous.
Ashley: Yes, especially because there is more to the case than I understand at first. When the story opens, I’ve just been through a traumatic incident leaving me with temporary memory loss.
Me: But you’re not alone, right? You get some help?
Ashley: (blushes) Yes, one of the rangers, Logan Everett, ends up helping out a little.
(Man’s voice yelling from background, “A little??”)
Me: (clears throat) I’m guessing there’s more to the story?
Ashley: No spoilers, remember?
Me: Of course. Thank you for being here, Ashley, and best of luck to you.
And now, without further ado, here is the beginning of Ashley’s story. If you enjoy it, feel free to check out my Pinterest storyboard and plot summary here.
There was only blackness, followed by the sudden impact of Ashley Thompson’s body into the water. It came swirling, roaring, in through her clothes and over her head, instantly dragging her back into consciousness. Instinctively she struggled for the surface, and as soon as her head cleared the water she coughed violently and gasped in a few precious breaths, looking frantically around her.
In the fading daylight she could see the banks on both sides of the narrow river. Impossibly high to her right, but leveling out on the left.
But getting out of the river wasn’t the problem. The real issue was that Ashley had no idea where she was, or how she had gotten there. Her breathing started to come in shallow, panicky gasps.
A sharp something—a log, maybe—submerged below the surface jammed into her ribs. She cried out in pain but was rewarded with a mouthful of dark river water. Coughing it out, she turned her body against the current and kicked hard for the bank.
It wasn’t far, and soon she was crawling out on her hands and knees onto the bank. She pushed her way through the reeds growing at the water’s edge until she found a clear patch of sand. Ashley collapsed onto it, closing her eyes and breathing hard, struggling to fight away the blackness threatening to reclaim her.
After several minutes the blackness began to recede, and Ashley became conscious enough to wonder vaguely why her head felt like it had been on the receiving end of a blunt object. Her other senses clicked slowly into place—the feel of the damp, scratchy ground beneath her, the breeze blowing over her exposed skin, the way her fingers wiggled in the soft sand. And running water—the river.
Finally her eyelids complied, opening to the last, fading rays of light at sunset. She was lying with one cheek down on the sand, and although she had to blink a few times to clear the blurriness from her vision, she could see the tall reeds and between them, the flat, glossy stretch of dark river water.
Her clothes were still soaked, and although she could tell the day had been brutally hot, the temperature had started to drop with the sun.
She sat up slowly, pressing one hand to the throbbing place on the back of her head. When she pulled her hand away, she stared at the red sticky film on her fingers.
Her heart jumped in her chest. Ashley looked around, wishing the horrible groggy feeling would go away so she could figure out what had happened. Where she was.
Some distance to her right, the river disappeared into a deep canyon with jagged cliff walls rising up on both sides. From the way the current appeared to run, she must’ve fallen in back there, before the cliff walls became impassably steep.
It was the west—the sun was just visible dipping down behind the rim of the canyon, sending streaks of pink and orange through the distant clouds.
In the other direction, to the east, the landscape flattened out, and groves of cottonwood trees were visible along the riverbank. There was no sign of another person in either direction for as far as she could see.
“I’m Ashley Thompson,” she said softly, more to reassure herself than anything else. “I’m twenty-seven. I live in Washington, D.C.”
No, wait. She used to live in D.C. Somewhere through the haze in her brain she remembered that something terrible had happened—something that had brought her here, wherever here was. But she couldn’t remember for the life of her what it was—only that it hurt, so badly her stomach clenched into a tight, aching knot.
Ashley pressed her hands to her temples, her forehead, her eyes, trying to calm herself down. Panicking wouldn’t solve anything, or help her remember.
Something hard was digging into her hip as she sat with her legs to one side. Ashley fumbled for it, but jerked her hand back sharply when her fingers touched smooth, cold metal.
She slid backwards away from it, staring at the dark object lying there on the sand, like a rattlesnake ready to bite her.
Law enforcement. That had to be it. She stared down at her clothing, as if her soggy black pants and white blouse could explain everything to her. At least there was an empty holster. The gun had to be hers. Legally, she hoped.
And the clothes seemed familiar enough. At least they fit. She struggled to remember anything—her last meal, or her last ride in a car, or her last day at work—but there was nothing. Just a vast, blank space in her mind.
Her head hurt, as did her side where she had struck the log. The panic inside her chest began to expand. How was it possible that she had no idea where she was, or how she had gotten here?
And what on earth was she supposed to do now?
Her lips started to utter a prayer, but she checked herself almost instantly, because along with that certainty about her name, and the aching pain of her past, came the knowledge that she wasn’t on speaking terms with God right now.
Ashley shivered. Night was coming, and she had no idea where to go. Somehow the idea of wandering around, looking for help in the dark, was horribly unappealing.
Instead she crawled back towards the gun, picking it up tentatively at first, as if it might really bite her, but as her hand closed around it she felt a familiar sense of security. She clung onto that tiny bit of comfort, and clasped her knees to her chest, staring out across the desert in front of her and wishing for a miracle.