Someone recently asked me what the most gripping scene was in my book; to tell the truth there are several. But…. this one stands out as the most suspenseful and memorable for me as the writer. I’ll set it up for you.
Jessica, the main character, decides to take a walk with her dog to find a hidden cave that appears to have gold artifacts, and could be the motive for the murder of Rachel – a murder she suspects her new husband committed. Determined to solve the mystery, she continues to search for the cave. But so is someone else!
“They arrived at the small cave entrance and the dog became over excited about exploring. Jessica calmed her down, and then pulled out her flashlight so they could both see well in the gloom. The cave was shallow, as she remembered it, and after some scrambling and with the use of the light, she found a cubby hole to one side that she’d missed the first time.
It was about four feet deep and low enough that she had to crawl on all fours to enter. Inside she felt to find a clean metal trunk hidden under a heavy canvas tarp, and a sturdy looking lock protecting the contents. Carefully searching the area, she found a hidden key and was able to unlock the trunk.
Inside the trunk Jessica found an expensive collection of rock climbing gear. The equipment looked like the same kind Alex used to climb, and it was in good condition. She carefully closed the trunk, snapping the lock closed and re-draped the canvas tarp. Carefully returning the key to its hiding place, she decided it probably belonged to a Navajo who liked to climb as recreation here on the reservation, and left it here for convenience.
Jessica slipped on her rain jacket against the light rain that had started outside and then securely wrapped Chili’s leash around her wrist. Discouraged that her investigation had been fruitless, they began the walk back up the trail. Once again a trickle of sand and small pebbles showered down on them, and this time she had a strange feeling that someone was above them. Both she and Chili stood perfectly still, listening for any other sounds, but soon moved on after hearing only the wind and a hawk far down the canyon.
Just before they reached the top of the trail, Jessica heard the angry buzz of a bee off to her right. She made a rapid swat at it and then tried to pick up their pace, wanting to reach the rim before it began to rain in earnest. Chili stopped on the trail, however, and lifted her head, her ears perked and listening. Jessica gave her leash a tug, and another buzz went by her ear, but this time closer, with a strange crack immediately after it.
Just as she realized it was a rifle shot, Chili let out a loud screaming yelp. Jessica whipped around in time to see the dog catapult into the air, jerking at the end of the leash hard enough to tumble over the edge of the cliff!
Jessica hit the ground to duck away from any more bullets and then looked around her. She could see no one above them. Chili was now hanging suspended over the canyon with nothing but Jessica’s strangle hold on the leash standing between her and a plunge to death. She crawled over to the edge while trying to keep the leash secure. Poor Chili was crying horribly, and twisting in the air, her harness firm and strong. Jessica was relieved to see that the dog was suspended above a small ledge right below them.
“Hold on girl,” she said trying to reassure the struggling dog. She began an earnest prayer quietly under her breath, tears of compassion spontaneously welling up in her eyes.
The leash painfully cut into her wrist as she tried to lower Chili onto the ledge. Lying on her stomach, she extended her arm as far as possible and still came up short, dust and dirt invading her eyes and mouth. Her arm was beginning to give out from holding all the weight of the wildly squirming dog, but she knew Chili might be hurt worse if she let go. Even if she landed safely, there was no guarantee the wounded dog wouldn’t run off the edge of the canyon in confusion without Jessica there to stop her.
The shooter forgotten as she edged further over the lip of the canyon, sweat popped out on her forehead and she extended the reach of the leash now growing slippery with perspiration. The sound of the dog in pain was almost too much for Jessica as she strained to stretch over the rim further wanting Chili’s landing to be soft. She suddenly felt herself start to slide headfirst into the canyon, tears blurring her sight.
Right before she went over the lip of the ledge, she tried to grab at a small tree that had rooted next to her, wanting to save the dog a hard landing at any cost. The tree couldn’t hold her weight and she went over sideways, landing hard right next to Chili, her legs dangling over the edge. Her shoulder took all the impact and the pain was so intense she almost blacked out.
Lying for a several seconds, stunned, Chili’s pitiful whine made its way into the fog of her own pain. She looked over and grabbed the collar to prevent the wounded dog from moving, the ledge only about four feet wide, about 12 feet below the rim with very little room to maneuver. The vast space of the canyon was simply an inch away and it gave her intense vertigo. She immediately sat up and pulled herself away from the edge as much as possible. Leaning her back against the canyon wall while still holding Chili’s collar, she closed her eyes, continually repeating the auspicious prayer, her perfect faith rooted in the ancient practice. A miracle was needed.
Once she gained a little space in her mind, she was able to give Chili a closer look and saw that the dog was lying on her side, her breathing rapid and shallow. Inspecting Chili’s wound, she was rewarded with a piercing yowl as the dog tried to jerk away. The bullet had gone through the fleshy part of the neck and out the chest. She soothed the dog into laying still, her compassion for her pet enormous, and she was calm with the conviction that it would not end here. She just wouldn’t let it.
“Shhh. It’s OK Chili. Don’t worry,” she said, petting her ears back, planting a kiss on her forehead, her own tears mingling with dust and blood. She suddenly grew still wondering who had shot them, and would they shoot again.”
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