Today is my stop on the blog tour for The River at Night by Erica Ferencik, and I get to share an extract with you all! First things first though, here’s the bookish info!
About the book:
‘A thought came to me that I couldn’t force away: What we are wearing is how we’ll be identified out in the wilderness.‘
Win Allen doesn’t want an adventure.
After a miserable divorce and the death of her beloved brother, she just wants to spend some time with her three best friends, far away from her soul-crushing job. But athletic, energetic Pia has other plans.
Plans for an adrenaline-raising, breath-taking, white-water rafting trip in the Maine wilderness. Five thousand square miles of remote countryside. Just mountains, rivers and fresh air.
No phone coverage. No people.
Click HERE to order your copy now!
Read on for an extract from The River at Night…
The smell of pancakes reached us at the banks of the river and seemed to pull us bodily back to the camp. I couldn’t remember ever being so hungry.
Rory was bent over the fire, which he’d somehow gotten started and roaring even though everything was wet. He had on a soft gray T-shirt that said U. OF ORONO —GO BLACK BEARS! in red letters and the same bright orange nylon shorts he’d worn the day before. Whistling to himself, he expertly flipped the cakes and stacked them on a beat-up metal pan that he’d balanced on a rock next to a squeeze bottle of maple syrup. Another pan, full of black coffee, steamed next to a container of dried milk. Pia stood a few yards away in a sun-dappled glade, brushing her hair with quick, sharp strokes.
“How’s it going?” Rory flashed us a smile as we filed into camp. “Anybody hungry?”
“I could use some coffee,” I said. “Breakfast smells great.”
He handed me a tin plate and gestured at the pile of cakes and coffee. “Dig in. We’ve got a long day ahead of us.”
Sandra hesitated, then took a plate and served herself. Rachel did the same in silence. Rory stood with his hands on his hips, watching us. “Everybody sleep okay?”
I looked up from my food to see if he was kidding or being sarcastic or just what was going on, and his face did hold a question, but it was something more along the lines of How about it, ladies, are we going to make a big deal of this thing, or are we going to let it drop?
“Fine,” I said, my mouth sticky with syrup. “I slept great. Like a rock.”
“Sandra, how about you?”
“Good.” She nodded to her food. “This is delicious. Thank you.”
Pia wordlessly served herself breakfast, then sat near the fire, away from all of us. The sun had begun to take on altitude and strength, even under our canopy of leaves, and I stood up to take off my fleece.
“Rachel?” he asked.
Rachel tested a few bites of the pancakes but set them aside. She sat on a rock and peeled an orange. “Can’t put my finger on why, but I didn’t sleep a wink.”
“Sorry to hear that,” Rory said. “But tonight’s gonna be a different story. The river will wear you out, and you’ll all sleep like babies.”
By eight or so we’d dragged our gear out of the tents and rolled up the sleeping bags and pads. Rory had gone down to the river to wash the dishes and pack those up too. We took down our tents, which were still wet and covered with leaves and pieces of bark, and rolled them as tightly as we could, sitting on them like luggage, per Rory’s instruction. Everything had to fit on the raft from now on, including us.
We all lifted the raft, which was so much heavier than I’d imagined, and carried it sideways, awkwardly, from the campsite through the woods to the river and the put-in place, an inlet even farther upriver than our little island, so by the time we got there we were all sweaty and fly-bitten and hot. Then of course we had to double back, collect all our gear, and lug it to the raft, with Rory making an extra trip for the food and the second tent, leaving us alone to not talk to each other, or to sit by the river with a paperback, or to do nothing but watch all that water rush by, our silence like a wall I couldn’t muster a strategy to burst through, dig under, or climb over.
Exchanging only the information necessary to get the job done, our faces drawn and solemn, we arranged our gear, separating out what needed to be stored in dry bags from what didn’t, and strapped everything down across the center beam of the raft. We wore our white-water rafting getup: wicking fabrics, water shoes, and life jackets. Sandra in her hot-pink top and black shorts, Rachel sporting a black tank and dark purple shorts, me in a yellow T and aqua hiking shorts, and Pia in a bright white T and red cutoffs—we were already starting to look out of place next to the muted palette all around us. Our helmets and paddles rested by our sides.
Rory spent an hour or so teaching us about the best way to throw a rescue rope and other safety techniques, about chicken lines and carabiners; we learned about eddies and the different kinds of water we were going to hit; how to read the water, our positions in the boat, and how to paddle. During the drills, Sandra, Rachel, and I sat in a semicircle on the ground while Pia stood away from us and closer to him, finding every opportunity to not look at us. I tried not to think about how much fun we weren’t having.
Shirtless, Rory climbed into the raft and demonstrated the best way to sit and hold our oars. He straddled the lip of the raft, its thick rubber barely denting at his weight, then leaned back with bent knees. We watched his perfect abdomen tense flat as a board.
“This is the lawn-chair position. Remember it, okay? If we bail in some big water, you want your feet up, toes up and together like this, and keep your arms high.” He demonstrated. “If you fall in, first of all, don’t panic. You’ll be okay. You all know how to swim. Flip onto your belly when you can, but don’t try to stand up until you’re in shallow water. Or still water. And the key thing,” he said to the four of us, looking at Pia for an extra couple of seconds, “is to listen to me. Not just some of the time, but all of the time. And do what I say. Got it?”
We all nodded like children.
“And to remember that we are a team. I can’t emphasize that enough.”
We stared at him as if to look at each other would break some sort of spell.
“Last thing. We steer into the rapids, not away from them, and that’s going to feel weird, but that’s how we get through them. Any questions?”
Rachel eyed a bracelet Rory wore: braided strands of dull black hair strung with a few bright beads. “What’s that on your wrist? Is that your girlfriend’s hair or something?”
He looked hard at her, turning it a few times with his other hand. “It’s from my sheepdog, Lally. She died last year in a car accident.”
Pia made an “Oh” sound and took a step toward him as if to look at the bracelet, but he ignored her. “Anything else, about the trip?” Visibly hurt, she shrank back.
“I was wondering,” Sandra said, strapping on her helmet. She already looked younger than any of us, but with her face framed by headgear she could almost pass as a teenager. “You talked about ‘big water’ earlier. What would you call this water, then?”
He looked across the vast, humming river and laughed. “A bathtub! This is called riffle, if you need to call it something. It’s just fast, shallow water.”
Rachel picked up her oar, hefted it. “What about all this rain we’ve been having?”
“It’ll affect things, definitely. We’ll have to keep our heads up.”
She shaded her eyes with her hands as she looked at him. Stray coils of hair popped loose from her short ponytail, framing her face. “How many times did you say you’ve been down this river?”
“This’ll be my fifth run. I know it inside out.” He took a swig of Gatorade. “Anybody besides me know CPR, have first-aid experience?”
“I’m an ER RN,” Rachel said, fastening an elastic strap over the temples of her glasses. “Remember?”
“Right. Good to know.”
The sun beat down on us. My life jacket felt heavy and hot, and I started to get a little queasy. I could taste the processed pancake flavor in my mouth.
Rory dug around in one of the dry bags, pulled out a map, and laid it on the ground. We all gathered and knelt by it, studying it. It looked homemade, just a legal-size piece of paper, something printed off Google Maps and laminated. The river burst out of the top right corner, a fat blue line that narrowed as it turned and twisted diagonally across the paper, widening just before it continued off the page and forever, as far as I could tell. Squiggly green lines marked off elevations surrounding the river. No towns were marked.
Places along the river had been inked in with a steady hand. The Tooth marked a point where the river narrowed the first time; a few turns later a red X indicated The Hungry Mother (someone had crossed out the word fucker after Mother), followed by The Royal Flush, Satan’s Staircase, and—where the river grew wide— The Willows.
Rory snapped his head back and grinned, a signature cocky move that was beginning to wear on me. “Came up with those names myself. What do you ladies think?”
Pia laughed. “They’re awesome,” she said, her shoulder now grazing his. Perhaps he only moved in an effort to keep the map flattened on the ground, but he pulled away from her and dropped his finger on the top right corner of it, where the river was the fattest.
“We’re here. Today we travel . . .” His finger traced the blue line around the first narrowing, the Tooth; the second, the Hungry Mother; and third and twistiest of all, the Royal Flush. “Fifteen miles altogether. The Tooth and the Mother will be tricky but okay. I’m not sure about the Flush. We’ll scout it first, then we’ll either run it or portage. We take out around here tonight.” He jabbed at a place a third of the way across the map. “We set up there, camp. In the morning it starts out easy. There’s a long, calm five or six miles. It’ll feel like the Mississippi, but then it’ll narrow and get fast again around here.” He pointed at Satan’s Staircase.
“I don’t like the sound of that,” Sandra said.
“It’s a series of drops. Not bad. You guys’ll be old pros by then. In fact the extra water might help us in this case. Smooth it out.”
Personally, I was having trouble with the Hungry Motherfucker and the Tooth, but I kept my mouth shut.
“After the Staircase, there’s a lot of smaller rapids I didn’t bother to name, three, four miles. Some shallows, some swamp, some rime, like where we are now. We take out and camp at this place I call the Willows because there’s this grove of them. Really beautiful. On Monday we glide on down to our takeout, a mile or so, which is here.” He pointed toward the bottom left corner where a smiley face was drawn in. “My dad’ll be waiting for us with plenty of cold beers and tons of food.”
“I have one more question,” Rachel said as she got to her feet and brushed the dirt off her clothes. “Why are you hiding your gun from us?”
“Rachel, he’s not—” Sandra started.
Rachel held out her hand for silence. “Let him talk.”
Rory’s puppyish mood vanished. He ripped at the Velcro on one of the corner pockets of the dry box, pulled out a hard leather case, and opened it up. A pistol was strapped to one side while rows of handgun magazines filled the other.
Rachel frowned. “Still doesn’t seem necessary—”
He shut the case, slipped it back into the dry box. “It would be pretty fucking stupid to be out in these woods without a weapon.”
“All we’ve seen are raccoons and chipmunks.”
He snapped his life jacket closed, tugged hard on the straps to adjust it. “Just because you can’t see animals doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, watching. Smelling you. Moose? Bear? Wolves? They know we’re here. They’re watching us now.”
I felt my breakfast ripple up my throat. I barely made it up the bank and into the woods before it all came out of me, the bits of orange, blobs of pancake, all awash in syrupy-coffee bile. It was pure terror, I knew it. The sun baked the back of my neck as I heaved again, till nothing was left.
I felt a soft hand on my back.
“Are you okay?” Sandra handed me her water bottle. I took a swig, swirled out my disgusting mouth; spat.
I stared into the wall of trees, at the hidden creatures watching us. “I can’t do this. We’re not even talking to each other. It’s not safe.”
“We’ll be fine. We have to get Rachel to chill out. I’ll get her alone at lunch or—”
“She okay?” came a voice a few yards away. Rachel appeared, knee-deep in ferns, her serious, fine-boned face framed by cleaving shadow.
“I’m fine,” I said, my voice thin and weak.
“Then we’d better get going. Those guys are already in the raft.”
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You can also catch my review by clicking the link below!