The latest Al’s Book Club pick is “Dark Life” by Kat Falls. Ty has spent his whole life living deep undersea, helping his family farm the ocean floor. But when outlaws attack his homestead, Ty finds himself in a fight to save the only home he has ever known. An excerpt.
I peered into the deep-sea canyon, hoping to spot a toppled skyscraper. Maybe even the Statue of Liberty. But there was no sign of the old East Coast, just a sheer drop into darkness. A ball of light shot past me — a vampire squid, trailing neon blue. The glowing cloud swirled around my helmet. Careful not to break it up, I drifted onto my knees, mesmerized. But my trance was cut short by a series of green sparks bursting out of the gorge. I fell back, every muscle in my body tense. Only one fish glittered like an emerald and traveled in a pack: the green lantern shark. Twelve inches long and deadly as piranhas, they could rip apart something twenty times their size. Forget what they could do to a human.
I should have seen them coming, even this deep. I should have known the squid had squirted its radiant goo to divert a predator. And now my helmet’s crown lights served as an even brighter beacon. With a jab to my wrist screen, I snapped them off, but it was too late — I couldn’t unring that dinner bell.
I pried a flare gun from my belt and fired into the midst of the electric green frenzy. Two heartbeats later, light exploded over the canyon, shocking the sharks into stillness, eyes and teeth glittering. Quickly, I scooped the anchor of my mantaboard out of the muck and hauled myself onto it. Lying on my stomach with my legs dangling, I twisted the handgrips and took off, making serious wake. If my lungs hadn’t been filled with Liquigen, I would’ve whooped aloud.
Not that I was in the clear. As soon as the flare died, the sharks would be on me like suckerfish on a whale. I thought about burying myself in the thick ooze of the seafloor. Bedding down with the boulder-sized clams had worked before. I chanced a look over my shoulder. Sure enough, the darkness twinkled with stars — vicious little stars, shooting my way.
Tilting the manta into a nosedive, I flicked on the head beams, only to have the light reflect off metal. A sub! I crashed into it and toppled, boots over helmet. The manta’s handgrips tore from my fingers as I slammed onto my back. Sliding down the sloped hull, I grappled for a hold without luck until my feet hit the bumper and I stopped short. My guts took longer to settle.
Without a rider, the manta would shut off automatically; I’d have to find it later. Right now, I needed to take cover. But why was this little rig sitting on the seafloor without a light on to announce its presence? Was it a wreck? If so, it hadn’t sunk that long ago. The polished metal hull was barnacle free.
I scuttled along the bumper until I found the circular door to the air lock. The panel cover dangled from one hinge with pry marks scoring its edge. I hesitated, wondering about those marks, when suddenly the hull gleamed with emerald light. I slammed the entry button. Like a dilating eye, the hatch opened and seawater filled the small chamber. Plunging into the air lock, I whirled to see sharks streaking toward me from all sides. I hit the interior button whole-handed. As the hatch clinched shut, the sharks plowed into it like mini torpedoes. From inside, they sounded like Death pounding at the door. I slumped against the chamber wall and grinned. Nothing put a buzz in my blood like escaping predators.
How many rules had I just broken? Visiting Coldsleep Canyon alone: forbidden. On nothing but a mantaboard: absolutely forbidden. Exploring a derelict sub: off the sonar screen. But now I had to take cover until the sharks left. It was the smart thing to do. The safe thing. Not that my parents would ever hear about the sub or the sharks. With a gang of outlaws roaming the territory, they had enough to worry about.Story: Want to be an Al’s Book Club guest critic?
When the last drop of seawater disappeared through the grated floor, I tipped back my helmet and inhaled. The air was rank but did its job: The oxygen-infused liquid in my lungs evaporated. Switching on my flashlight, I opened the next hatch and stepped right into someone else’s nightmare.
Blood dripped from every surface in the gear room — walls, benches, lockers .... Wet and glistening, it puddled around the prospecting tools that littered the floor. I slowed my breath as if that would lessen the metallic tang that now filled my nose — a stink that conjured up the blood-slicked deck of a whaling ship. Some fisherman butchered something big in here, that’s all, I told myself.
A sunfish or a marlin. Nothing to panic about. Except ... I edged farther into the room. No matter how hard it thrashed, a dying fish couldn’t have emptied the weapons rack, let alone ripped it off the wall.
Circling the overturned rack, I panned my light across the open lockers — all ransacked — and tugged at my suit’s neck ring. Usually my helmet didn’t bother me when it hung off the back of my diveskin, but now its weight choked me. The sharks outside weren’t doing my nerves any favors, either, knocking along the sub’s hull, looking for a way in.
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As soon as the sharks stopped tapping, I’d head up to the sunlight zone and hunt for dinner like I should have been doing all along. But the tapping didn’t stop. If anything, it grew louder. Worse, I realized it wasn’t the sharks tapping at all, but ...
I snapped off my flashlight and let the darkness envelop me. The sub might be eerie and blood splattered, but that was no ghost tromping down the hall. Silently, I peeled off my gloves and drew my speargun from the holster on my back.
Ghosts weren’t real. But outlaws were.
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For months, the Seablite Gang had terrorized the settlement, robbing every supply ship that floated our way. I had often wondered what would happen if I came across them.
Now it looked like I was getting my chance.
I hoisted the speargun over my shoulder, only to have the cold metal slip through my fingers. Grabbing at air, I snagged the strap just before the gun clattered to the floor. In the corridor, the footsteps broke into a trot.
Excerpted from "Dark Life" by Kat Falls. Copyright (c) 2010, reprinted with permission from Scholastic Press.
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