Sibella Giorello ’85 is author of a mystery novel series featuring FBI Special Agent Raleigh Harmon, a forensic geologist with the FBI who just happens to be a Mount Holyoke College graduate. In her latest novel, The Mountains Bow Down, Raleigh encounters the toughest case of her life… We gratefully thank Sib’s publisher, Thomas Nelson Publishing,for letting us publish this excerpt.
With the trajectory of launched missiles, the mountains soared from the ocean. Smothered with evergreens, the steeps pointed to a sky so blue it whispered of eternity. Though it was June, snow on the granite ridges refused to melt despite almost twenty-four hours daily of sunlight. And where a liquid silver sea lapped the rocky shore, a bald eagle surveyed the cold water for fish.
First week of June: 5:00 am in Ketchikan, Alaska.
It felt like falling in love.
That was a feeling I should’ve been familiar with, being newly engaged. That delicious sense of wonder, the dizzying sensations that came with standing on the threshold of new life—all that should have reminded me of my fiancé.
Instead, I was thinking, Why doesn’t my heart flutter like this when I think of him?
Not the best thought for future marital happiness.
But it’s part of the reason I was taking this cruise to Alaska sans fiancé. Hoping to get some perspective. Hoping to remember why, six months ago, I agreed to marry my high school sweetheart, a really nice guy named DeMott Fielding.
Only I wasn’t gaining perspective on this ship. I was losing what remained of my mind.
We left the Seattle dock fifty-two-and-a-half hours ago— but who was counting?—and I was suddenly surrounded by two thousand strangers, each of whom lacked any normal sense of personal boundaries. These people were crowders. Constant talkers.
Swarmers and gatherers, they turned my dreams of solitude into a desperate need, like food or water. Among the passengers were my mother—never quite stable but not exactly getting sea legs—and my Aunt Charlotte, who genuinely believed rocks healed spiritual wounds, and my aunt’s friend Claire, a self-professed psychic known as “Claire the Clairvoyant.”
From day one, Claire made me want to jump ship, literally. But I was trying to be nice. Claire was my aunt’s closest friend, and my aunt had given us these cruise tickets. Free. A gift.
Gifts always come with obligations. Always.
But on this morning as we sailed into the town of Ketchikan, I stole an opportunity to escape. Standing on the top deck, I took a deep breath of the freshest air ever tasted and scanned the mountains beyond the bow. The cruise’s first port of call, Ketchikan was my first chance to get off the ship and I felt hope returning, sneaking back into my heart like a repentant runaway. My plans for today included a hike. Take in the view, collect some local rocks. Sit somewhere, alone.
It’s all going to work out, I told myself. The cruise, the engagement. Everything’s fine.
I lifted my hand to the sleepless sun and searched Deer Mountain. I was going to hike the trail that led to its summit, where a panoramic view displayed Tongass Narrows and these leviathan islands that broke through the Alaskan waters like pods of humpback whales. The town’s dock was within sight, and that surveying eagle had landed on the pier, awaiting our arrival.
But then I heard three long bellows, blasting from the ship’s stack.
Low and ominous, like warnings.
In the silence that followed, I held my breath and stared at the tiny houses snuggled against the mountainsides. Their windows glinted like burnished gold. When an amplified crackle shattered the still air, the eagle took flight.
A man’s voice blared across the water, bouncing back from the granite steeps.
Every echoing word confirmed my sense of doom.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain, Oliver Roberts. We have encountered a situation that necessitates our immediate return to sea.” He sounded British, his voice as clipped as a Bristol wind. “We will be sailing for an indefinite period of time—”