by Lisa Brideau (@LBrideau2)
Editor: r.r. campbell (@iamrrcampbell)
Adult Upmarket Fiction
Alone and anchored off a remote island in the Pacific Northwest, a woman makes a chilling discovery: she doesn’t know her name or recognize her own face. She has no past, no identity, and the note she finds on the sailboat implies the memory wipe was deliberate—ending with a warning to leave the past alone.
After claiming a name for herself, Ess sets a course to defy the note. Starting over is not an option. She’s determined to get back to the loved ones she assumes she was torn from.
In the city of Nanaimo, Ess meets Hito, a Harbour Authority Agent tasked with finding and detaining “amnesia refugees” – people appearing in port cities with unexplained amnesia and no ID. She knows befriending Hito is risky, but her crushing loneliness and his genuine kindness, along with her need to find a way to her past, prove to be overwhelming forces.
Using Hito’s information to pry into the refugee cases, she struggles to appear normal and keep her secret safe. When Hito’s suspicions are raised by inconsistent answers about her past, Ess turns to his sister, Yori. Busy partying and hiding from her many regrets, Yori is the first person Ess has met who is as broken as she is. With Yori’s help, Ess inches towards understanding both the comfort of friendship and how the memory alteration might be undone.
But on the eve of a last-chance meeting that will finally fling open the door to Ess's past, a deadly storm traps Yori, forcing Ess to choose between attending the rendezvous and saving her friend, between the life taken from her and the one she has the opportunity to make for herself.
ADRIFT is a 98,000-word upmarket adult fiction with suspense elements. It combines the exploration of memory and identity of ELIZABETH IS MISSING with the suspense of BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP.
I’m a sustainability policy nerd working on climate change mitigation and adaptation in Vancouver, BC. On the writing side, I’ve had the good fortune to attend two Arvon Foundation week-long writing workshops and the 2018 Surrey International Writers’ Conference. ADRIFT is my first novel.
First Five Pages
She read the note taped to the counter twice and still didn't understand.
You will be confused. I'm sorry.
Closing her eyes against the throbbing in her temple, she stumbled, slamming against the stove in the minuscule galley. Metal pots clanged together. She flinched. The rocking of the boat and the dizziness from her headache intertwined, both eager to push her to her knees.
She willed time to slow so she could sort out what was happening, but the waves lapping against the side of the boat continued in the same quick rhythm.
Leaning on the counter, she pried her eyes open and stared without recognition at the long fingers and neatly trimmed nails in front of her. The hands weren't hers, weren't familiar at all.
Everything was moving, shifting, swaying. Images and questions slipped through her, past her.
A flash of lying in an enclosed space, a shadow looming over her demanding a story from her childhood.
She felt sick, didn't know why. When she tried to recall the previous day, to remember what she'd done to cause this, instead her mind served an expanse of blankness where there should have been memories. The stabbing, unrelenting pain faded in importance as she groped for some recollection. Anything.
But it was all gone: how she'd come to be in the cabin of this little boat, who she was, her name.
She gripped the lip of the counter and held on to the edge designed to keep things from sliding off in turbulent waters, hoping it would hold her in place. Leaning over the note, she tried to focus on its tidy lines of cursive writing. Movement above the sink caught her eye. The paper forgotten, she looked up. Put a finger on the mirror then on her cheek to confirm what she was seeing.
A stranger's face.
She sank to her knees and vomited onto the floor, muscles convulsing long after her stomach surrendered their contents. Dragging the palm of a hand across her lips, she sat back from the small pool of bile, closed her eyes and focused on the rocking of the boat. That sensation was familiar. The rigging creaked outside. She knew that sound. She was on a sailboat. She knew boats. She knew the ocean. She knew.
That wisp of familiarity let her breathe, gave her courage to open her eyes. She extended the unfamiliar hands, inspecting them through squinted eyes. Turning them palm up, shaking, she saw hardened callouses, evidence of labour she couldn't remember.
Putting the hands—her hands—on the varnished floor, she steadied herself.
"Okay," she said. "Okay." She tightened her lips into a thin line, trapping the voice inside. The voice was wrong too. Everything was wrong.
As she waited for a plausible explanation for all this, one that would slow her thudding heart, she crouched on the floor and let time flow over her. A gull screamed outside, each cry a needle in her ears.
You tried to fight the good fight once and got yourself cornered. The words from the note echoed in her head, seemed to fill the cabin.
She traced fingers along the back of her neck. Working them through her hair, she inspected her scalp, hands trembling but methodical. No signs of injury or surgery. No reason for the intense throbbing behind her temples, for the blankness. Grinding her teeth, she found a scrap of determination, gripped the edge of the wooden counter and heaved herself up. A flame of pain flashed across her right shoulder.
"Fuck!" She hugged the arm against her torso. Ribbons of pain reached down to her hands and made her vision fade at the edges. Tears formed but she wiped them away, clenched her jaw and stood straight. She fought off the darkness, tore the note off the counter and read it again and again and again.
You will be confused. I'm sorry. There are pills in the drawer to help with the headaches. They should stop in a few days.
You want answers, but this has been done to keep you from them. You have the documents and resources to start over. Do that instead.
Don't look back.
You tried to fight the good fight once and got yourself cornered. This was the only escape. They think you're dead and they'll make it true if they need to.
Have a happy, quiet life. Don't make yourself known.
I promise you're not leaving behind anything that you care about.
She perched on the bow of the sailboat. Her bare feet stuck to the fibreglass hull, keeping her from sliding into the ocean and sinking to the bottom. The headache continued to pulse, enveloping her in a bubble of pain before subsiding and letting her experience the world. In and out, like a tide reaching for the shore.
She'd been sitting for an hour, watching this place, trying to get a sense of it, trying to figure out if it meant something to her, trying to avoid thinking about the note.
The boat was anchored next to a cluster of islands that shot out of the ocean with a sense of urgency. Sitka trees towered at the edge of low cliffs, like they might teeter over into the ocean in a strong wind. Thick forests covered everything. It was beautiful and unknown and empty. The extent of her solitude settled over her like a wet wool blanket. She wrapped her arms around her legs, put her aching head on her knees and pretended she was a barnacle on the hull. Wind whistled through the rigging, the anchor chain clinked as the boat swung around—none of this was scary. Should it be scary?
A delicate web of light pulsed behind her eyelids and the stabbing in her temple vanished. She held her breath, braced for the pain to return, but it didn't. A sound halfway between a laugh and a cry escaped her. A nearby cormorant squawked in reply and took off, his inky wings beating against the air.
The closest island was now enveloped in mist and the rest of the shoreline was disappearing, fading back to the pages of the storybook to which it belonged. She closed her eyes and called up an image of it in her memory. Testing. Opening her eyes, she watched the scene disappear bit by bit, erased by the fog. She wondered if her memory loss had been like that or if it had all gone at once. Had she felt the emptiness expand like an ink stain on paper?
It was time to look for answers.
Walking along the edge of the boat, her legs accommodated the gentle rocking with unsettling ease. In the cabin she downed a glass of water, the tang of plastic and chlorine replacing the stale taste of vomit. She read the note again, hoping to understand now that her head was clear. Her memory was gone and the note implied this was deliberate. Impossible—unless that was just another thing she'd forgotten. She put the note on the counter where she'd found it and turned her back on it.
It only took half an hour to empty every drawer, cubby, and compartment on the boat. Anything that wasn't clothing or boating gear she stacked on the table as she found it. She didn't look at it, didn't read anything until she was done searching.
Once done, she folded herself onto the bench seat and faced the meager pile of books and papers. This would tell her what was going on. Something here had to.
A library of sailing and navigation books. Five hundred dollars in twenties, Canadian. A bottle of white pills, unlabelled. A sheet of paper with bank account details and a bank card—Bank of Valletta, Malta. A driver's license—British Columbia—issued two months ago. The photo showed a woman with a square face, sharp nose, straight black hair. Name: Sarah Jane Song. It rang no bells, didn't feel right. She wanted to throw her into the ocean, wanted no part of Sarah Song. Her gaze focused on the birthdate: January 20, 2003. Leaning over to the instrument panel, she looked at the date: June 4, 2037. Thirty-four. Thirty-four years old, another detail she should know but didn't.
The plastic identification card dug into her palm as she gripped it. She squeezed harder, wondered which would yield first, this identity or her skin, then she put it on the table and forced herself to move on.
The last envelope contained a stack of documents for the boat, Sea Dragon. An operator's license, ownership papers, radio operator license—all in the name of Sarah Song.
She was not Sarah Song. The stack of documents saying she was Sarah could reach the moon and she still wouldn't believe it. If they thought she would just adopt this carefully crafted identity, they were wrong. She'd walk through the world nameless before she'd be Sarah.
Shoving the documents in a drawer, she packed away Sarah Song for the moment. Her attention turned to the navigation charts. They were new, still keen to fold shut according to their original shape. A shard of jealousy jabbed her, that the maps had more memory than she did. According to the map, she was in the Pacific Northwest, tucked into the archipelago of Haida Gwaii, south of Alaska. Someone had helpfully circled her anchor spot. How kind.
Her gaze slid over the rest of the map, reading place names, waiting for something to pop as familiar. Tanu, Windy Bay, Gwaii Haanas, Hecate Strait. Nothing. Looking out the porthole at the wild, forested island nearby, she wondered who had done this and why they had chosen this spot. She wanted it to mean something, to be a clue, but if it was, she couldn't see it. She saw only a nightmare.