Sylo, p.1D. J. MacHale
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Copyright © 2013 D.J. MacHale
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Published simultaneously in Canada
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of
the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For all the wonderful teachers, administrators,
and staff at Grand View Elementary School
in Manhattan Beach, California.
I love to travel.
Besides getting a break from the regular old routine, traveling is like going to school. In a good way, I mean. In school you are constantly exposed to new information, shown different ways of thinking, and introduced to people and places that you wouldn’t ordinarily come across. I would love to go back to school for a while. Seriously. As long I could skip the tests and sleep late. But since that isn’t likely, I’ll stick to traveling.
Like most writers I enjoy exploring unique places and talking with people who have lives that are totally different than mine. You never know what you might discover. I was once in Venice, Italy, where I met a guy who said, “If you come across small alleyways that look dark and forbidding…walk in. That’s where you’ll find the hidden treasures.” I thought that was great advice. (At least in Venice. I’m not so sure it’s wise to go down small, dark alleys just anywhere.) His point was that it’s important to be open to new experiences and to always look beyond the superficial. That’s where the adventure lies.
As a writer it’s critical to explore those dark alleys, and the sunny streets, and everywhere else in between.
Young (and not so young) writers often ask me for writing advice. My number one suggestion for them is to write about things that they know. When you write about the people and places and emotions and conflicts you’re familiar with, you will be writing with authority and readers will respond. The bottom line is that the more you know, the more you’ll have at your disposal to write about. That’s one of the reasons I love to travel. I am intrigued and inspired by the places I’ve been to. Inevitably, they end up playing a role in my books.
It was while sitting on a remote beach in Hawaii shooting my TV show Flight 29 Down that I came up with the idea for the tropical island of Ibara in The Pilgrims of Rayne. A trip to Rome sparked the idea that brought Marsh and Cooper to the Coliseum in the Morpheus Road trilogy. The climax of The Black took place in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal…a place I have been through thousands of times. The abandoned subway station where Bobby Pendragon first entered the flume in The Merchant of Death was inspired by an empty subway station that I passed through on the train every day on my way to college classes. I can still remember straining to catch fleeting glimpses of the dark, forgotten platform and imagining what real-life stories might have unfolded there.
Images like those are constantly being gathered up and stored in the hard drive of my memory, waiting patiently for me to come calling in search of ideas.
When I was in college my friends and I would take road trips from our hometown in Connecticut to an island off the coast of Massachusetts called Martha’s Vineyard. I’m sure many of you have been there. Those who haven’t might know it because it was where the movie Jaws was filmed. “The Vineyard” (as they call it) is a timeless throwback to a simpler time. I hadn’t been there since 1985 and it’s not an exaggeration to say than when I visited last year I found that it hadn’t changed a bit. I half expected to find the can of Coke I’d left on a fence near the beach in Menemsha twenty-five years earlier.
Okay, maybe that’s a little bit of an exaggeration but there was something comforting about visiting a place that has held true to its time-honored traditions in spite of the chaotic changes that have swirled around it. It was like a secluded oasis, stuck in time.
It was perfect…
…and the perfect setting for a story about ordinary people fighting for their lives while friends are dropping dead all around them on an isolated island that is suddenly invaded by a mysterious, deadly force.
Hey, what did you expect? You didn’t think I was going to write a story about some old farts rocking on a porch by the seashore sipping tea, did you? Give me a break.
A new adventure is about to begin and I’m thrilled that you’ll be joining me. Before heading for the island, I’d like to acknowledge some of the people who have helped bring this book to you.
This is the first book I’m publishing with Razorbill, and I couldn’t be happier about it. The team there has been wonderful from the get-go. Especially my editor, Laura Arnold. Laura embraced the SYLO story as if it were her own and has been its constant champion. She put an incredible effort into wringing the best out of every last word…and out of me. Her insight and talent show on every page AND…she did it all while pregnant, no less. Amazing. I’ve told her how much I appreciate her work a million times so this isn’t news to her, but it’s always nice for readers to know who deserves a boatload of credit. Thanks to her and to everyone at Razorbill.
Big thanks go to my personal team of Richard Curtis, Peter Nelson, and Mark Wetzstein. They have been with me through good times and not-so-good-times. I’m very fortunate to have those guys helping me steer the ship. Or the dingy. Or whatever it is we’ve got. Thanks.
My wife Eve and daughter Keaton are the best support group anyone could ask for. Eve is still my first and best critic, while Keaton is now weighing in with her own opinions about my stories. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but it’s inevitable…and I couldn’t be prouder.
Of course a lion’s share of thanks must go to you, oh holder-of-this-book. Whether you’ve been with me since Bobby Pendragon first jumped into the flume or the only reason you picked this up was because you wanted to know what the heck “SYLO” means, I am sincerely grateful that you will be reading my story. I hope you like it.
I’ve made countless friends because of my books. I love answering your letters and corresponding online. Whenever I receive a note that begins, “You must
Okay, housekeeping done. Time to kick this off.
It’s an exciting moment when you begin to read a new series. You haven’t met any of the characters yet. You don’t know what they look like or if you’re going to like them or hate them or root for them or hope they die an excruciatingly painful death. Right now you have no idea what kind of challenges they’re going to face. Who will rise to the occasion? Who will crash and burn? Who knows the truth? Who has secrets?
Who will survive?
It’s the same deal when you start to write a story. In the beginning you have no idea of what’s going to happen. You just have to hold on and learn as you go. It’s kind of like taking a trip…and I love to travel.
I hope you do too because we’re about to begin another wild ride.
Table of Contents
It was the perfect night for a football game.
And for death.
Not that the two have anything in common. When you hear the term “sudden death,” you normally don’t expect there to be an actual loss of life, sudden or otherwise, but there was nothing normal about that night.
It was the night it began. The night of the death.
The first death.
I was sitting on the end of the team bench, more interested in the cheerleaders than the game. To be honest, I didn’t have much business being on the team. There weren’t many freshmen on the Arbortown High varsity, but with a student population that barely squeaked past two hundred, if you had two legs and didn’t mind being brutally punished by guys who were older, bigger, and faster than you, you were in. I’m not exactly sure why I accepted the role of living tackling dummy, but I liked football and figured that in a few years I’d be the one running over hapless freshmen. So I guess I was paying my dues.
My main duty during a game was to be the sprinter on the kickoff team. That meant I had to run directly for the guy who fielded the kick…which made me the first to get taken out by the wall of blockers who were intent on stopping that very thing. It was an ugly job but at least it meant I’d come out of a game with a little dirt on my uniform.
My other duty was to be the backup for our senior tailback, Marty Wiggins. That’s why I spent most of my time on the bench watching the cheerleaders. Marty was a legend. He’d had big-time colleges sniffing around him since he was a sophomore. He was that good.
But on that night, he was just sick.
The stands were packed. For Arbortown High that meant maybe five hundred people. It wasn’t exactly the Rose Bowl but you wouldn’t know that from the excitement Marty was generating. The place went nuts every time he got his hands on the ball because he was running over guys and knocking them aside like bowling pins. When he was tackled, which wasn’t often, it took three players to drag him down. It was like watching a pro beating up on Pop Warner boys. He was in for most every play of the game until, with only a few minutes left, he dropped down next to me on the bench to take a rare breather.
He sat there gulping air, staring back at the field.
I figured his night was over so I held up my fist for a knuckle-bump and said, “Dude. Awesome.”
Marty looked at me…and I froze.
He had a fiery, wild look in his eyes that made me think for one terrifying moment that he was going to hit me. The guy was totally charged up with…what? Excitement? Anger? Insanity? He didn’t bump knuckles. Just as well, he might have broken my hand. I sat there like a fool with my fist hovering, un-bumped. I didn’t want to say anything else for fear he’d drive his helmet through my face. Instead, he grabbed my forearm in a grip that was so fierce I had black-and-blue marks the next day.
“What’s happening?” he whispered through gasping breaths.
He said it with a disturbing mix of fear and confusion that made me believe he truly didn’t understand what was going on around him. Or with him.
“Uh…what do you mean?” I asked tentatively.
“Wiggins!” barked Coach.
Marty jumped to his feet and sprinted back into the game as if he had been launched from a catapult.
I was left on the bench, not knowing what had just happened.
The play was called and the team went to the line. Marty was pitched the ball and he rumbled around left end for another fifteen yards. All was well. Marty was fine. I chalked up his odd behavior to adrenaline and the excitement of the game and went back to my all-important cheerleader review.
Arbortown is a pretty small place, so going to a high school football game was the best thing to do on Friday nights in the fall. Okay, the only thing to do. As I scanned the crowd, I saw many people I knew, including my mother and father. Dad gave me a big smile and a thumbs-up. Mom wasn’t as enthusiastic. She hated that I played football. Her deep frown meant she was expecting me to get injured just by sitting on the bench.
I gave them a small wave, then looked away…to notice a strange face in the crowd. It belonged to a man with longish blond hair wearing a hoodie. He looked like a surfer dude, complete with beard stubble and a single earring. He stood out amid the sea of fans because he was the only one not cheering. Instead, he wrote furiously in a small notebook. I figured he might have been a college scout. It would explain why Marty was playing like he was possessed. This could be a scholarship showcase for him.
“Button up!” Coach ordered as he strode past. “We’re going to score again.”
That meant all the wretched scrubs, like me, had to be ready for another kickoff. We were on the ten yard line and about to go in. There were only a few seconds left in the game and I was surprised that, seeing it was a blowout, Coach hadn’t pulled Marty. Maybe he knew there was a scout in the crowd taking notes. Or maybe he didn’t trust Marty’s backup—me.
I stood up with the rest of the team and cheered for the offense. It felt cheesy to be screaming for another score since the game had been over since halftime, but what can you do? It’s football.
The team came up to the line, the QB called signals, and the ball was snapped. Marty took the handoff—no big surprise—and blasted into the line off right tackle. The defense had had enough. They didn’t want any part of him. There were a few halfhearted arm tackles that didn’t even slow him down as he burst into the end zone.
The crowd exploded once again, cheering ecstatically while the band kicked in with our fight song, “Jericho.” The cheerleaders jumped around and hugged each other like we’d just won a championship when all we’d done was add pad to an already lopsided score.
Marty sprinted to the back of the end zone, turned to the stands, threw his arms up in triumph…
…and dropped dead.
Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. All I saw was Marty fall over and land on his back. At first I thought it was some new kind of celebration dance, like spiking himself instead of the ball. Our players were jumping on each other, chest-bumping and high-fiving. When they finally got around to focusing on the guy who was the cause of the celebration, they pulled on his arms to help him up…but Marty didn’t respond.
In seconds the emotion of the moment flipped from elation to concern.
The crowd noise died instantly. It was a rude jolt to experience the sudden and dramatic change from joyous cheers and music to absolute silence.
Coach sprinted onto the field, waving at the other players to back away. He was quickly joined by a paramedic. With the rest of our offense huddled nearby, watching expectantly, the paramedic knelt down to examine Marty.
There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that something serious had happened to our superstar. As he lay still on the grass, two more paramedics ran onto the field with a fracture board.
I turned around to look at my parents. Dad’s expression now matched Mom’s. They knew something horrible had happened. Everyone knew. A few seconds later we heard the urgent scream of a far-off siren.
I didn’t look back to the field right away because I was mesmerized by the communal look of anxiety and horror on the faces of each and every person in the stands. All eyes were on the end zone and the guy who lay on his back, not moving.
People cleared a path for Marty’s dad, who pushed his way through to get to the field. The poor guy was about to find out that his son had just gone from playing the game of his life to taking the final breath of his life.
Every last person feared that they were witnessing something horrific. Something they would never forget. Nobody moved as they waited for the news they knew wouldn’t be good.
Almost nobody, that is. As I stared at the stands, I noticed that one person had already left. He hadn’t even stuck around long enough for the ambulance to arrive.
The surfer dude with the notebook was gone.
It was the night of the death.
The first death.
And it was only the beginning.
I needed a midnight ride.
Gotta get out.
I sent the text to my best friend, Quinn Carr. He would know what it meant. It was a custom that Quinn and I had started shortly after we first met in middle school. Whenever one of us couldn’t sleep, we’d sneak out of our houses and meet up with our bikes near the town pier at the end of Main Street. From there we’d saddle up, turn on our headlights, and race each other along the frontage road that circled Pemberwick Island, our home. We usually went after midnight, which meant there was little or no traffic to deal with, especially since we always took a remote route that traveled along the beach and away from civilization. It was ten miles of frantic insanity since most of the time it was too dark to see beyond the throw of our headlights and neither of us would bow to safety and slow down. A major crash might change that thinking, but neither of us had ever been thrown. So far.
Sylo by D. J. MacHale / Young Adult / Science Fiction / Mystery & Detective / Actions & Adventure have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes