This post is in honor of the second release of my short romantic ghost story, BREATHLESS, which came out earlier this month. And yes, you read that title correctly. Christopher Pike saved me from drowning. I’m not sure if I would have died that day when I ran out of air during a scuba dive, but I suspect I there would have been medical-injury-related fallout. Probably in the form of major ear problems and a couple lungs full of water. It would not have been pretty.
I am not an avid scuba diver. I’ve been on two excursions for a total of four dives. Once in Florida in 2000 (I think) and THE DAY in 2013. If bets had been made on THE DAY, in light of my relative lack of experience, I’m thinking you would NOT have put your hard-earned money in the she’ll come out completely unscathed jar. But that’s what happened, and I owe it all to Christopher Pike.
Let me back up a little bit.
I was a huge reader of Pike’s work as a young adult. His, R.L. Stine’s, Lois Duncan’s, Richie Tankersley Cusick’s. Anything scary or thrilly that had romance in it. One of my favorites was Pike’s BURY ME DEEP. I must have read that book half a dozen times. In it, the main character goes to Hawaii with her friends, and they take a standard scuba course. The course that he wrote about was nearly identical to the one I would eventually take in 2000. Because I read the book so many times, and because (like a nerd) I totally memorized the entire class, when I did my first Padi course, I knew all the skills. The instructor was very impressed.
Now let’s fast-forward to 2013 THE DAY of my second dive. That scuba company did NOT go through the entire Padi course, but I still recalled all the skills. So, when I happened to take a nice old breath and there was nothing there—literally nothing, just resistance, like trying to shove a marble pillar with my lungs—I was pulled back into Christopher Pike’s world. The one where Mandy had a problem with her gear and stood up in the pool. Her dive master told her the very words that echoed in my brain when I was under all those feet of water with my last breath quickly dissolving into my blood and no more where that came from:
You need to handle emergencies in place, under the water. The solution can’t be to bolt to the surface. AND, most importantly, I recalled the words, You always have air.
Okay, that was a totally botched quote (my copy of the book is somewhere in my house, but the idea of trying to dig it out sounds as daunting as the idea of pushing a marble pillar with my lungs), but the gist is absolutely accurate. AND IT SAVED ME. Literally.
I recalled the book and knew I merely needed to find another diver, and luckily they were all around me. Just like Leah in BREATHLESS, I swam to my dive master who was about four kicks away, and showed him my gauge with the needle in the deep red. And just like in BREATHLESS, his response wasn’t to immediately hand me his spare regulator, he first took my face in his hands and peered into my eyes. At the time I was like, Uh, now’s about the time I could use a little spare O2, but later—once I actually had a chance to think about it (and let me tell you, when it hit me what happened, there was a whole lot of holy BLEEP! going on)—I realized, he did that to make sure I wasn’t panicking. To make sure when he handed me that savior of rubber and metal, that I wouldn’t screw the maneuver up and end up breathing in a mouthful of salt water.
And once he was satisfied, he passed me his spare, and all was well. I recalled how to purge my regulator. No problem. That’s just the push of a button. We surfaced, pausing to let our bodies adjust to the pressure change, and I climbed back onto the boat totally and completely fine.
When I think back to that day, fear isn’t the strongest of the two sense memories I have. The first is that feeling of something pushing back when I tried to take a breath. And the second was the way the dive master looked into my eyes. Never have I been more vulnerable, and never again will a stare feel that intense (at least I seriously and truly hope it won’t). The experience has haunted me ever since THE DAY.
What’s a writer to do?
Write a story about it, of course. And the concept for BREATHLESS was born.
So, I dedicated my recently-released, updated edition of BREATHLESS to two people: my incredible husband, Eric, and Christopher Pike, because without his book, that story, and all the ones I’ve written since, could very well have died along with me in the blue waters of the Caribbean.
Jessica Bayliss is an author of commercial fiction who loves nothing better than getting lost in a good story, whether in print or on film. When not busy with her latest fiction project, she can be found loving her friends and family—especially her husband, Eric—playing with one pesky Havanese, or trying to appease an ornery cockatiel, typically with a cup of coffee near at hand.