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Authors: Neal Shusterman

Challenger Deep

BOOK: Challenger Deep
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For Dr. Robert Woods


  1. Dedication
  2. Acknowledgments
  3. 1. Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum
  4. 2. Forever Down There
  5. 3. Better for This
  6. 4. How They Get You
  7. 5. I Am the Compass
  8. 6. So Disruptive
  9. 7. Charitable Abyss
  10. 8. Reality Check
  11. 9. You Are Not the First and You Will Not Be the Last
  12. 10. In the Fright Kitchen
  13. 11. Nothing Awful Is without Its Beautiful Side
  14. 12. Spree
  15. 13. No Such Thing as Down
  16. 14. Can’t Get There from Here
  17. 15. No Passage of Space
  18. 16. Swabby
  19. 17. I’d Pay to See That
  20. 18. Mystery Ashtray
  21. 19. Deconstructing Xargon
  22. 20. Parrots Always Smile
  23. 21. Crew Member Questionnaire
  24. 22. The Mattress Didn’t Save Him
  25. 23. Eight-Point-Five Seconds
  26. 24. Don’t Think You Own It
  27. 25. You Were Not Given Permission
  28. 26. All Things Not Nice
  29. 27. Hand-Sanitized Masses
  30. 28. Skippy Rainbow
  31. 29. Some of My Best Friends Are Cirque-ish
  32. 30. The Movements of Flies
  33. 31. Is That All They’re Worth?
  34. 32. Less Than Nothing
  35. 33. Weakness Leaving the Body
  36. 34. Behind Her Back
  37. 35. The Unusual Suspects
  38. 36. Without Her We’re Lost
  39. 37. Third Eye Blind
  40. 38. Ah, Here’s the Proboscis
  41. 39. Stars on My Scantron
  42. 40. Hell Asail
  43. 41. Nothing of Interest
  44. 42. Spirit of Battle
  45. 43. It’s All Kabuki
  46. 44. Boss Key
  47. 45. Ten Graves Deep
  48. 46. Food Fight
  49. 47. We Even Have a Diving Bell
  50. 48. Really That Lonely
  51. 49. Don’t You Want a Whopper?
  52. 50. Garage Widows
  53. 51. Not Entirely Me
  54. 52. Evidence of the Truth
  55. 53. Hindsight at My Feet
  56. 54. Due Diligence
  57. 55. A Regular Infestation
  58. 56. The Stars Are Right
  59. 57. The Chemicals between Us
  60. 58. Head-banger
  61. 59. Man on Fire
  62. 60. The Things They Say
  63. 61. Check Brain
  64. 62. More Alive Than You Think
  65. 63. People I Don’t Know in Places I Can’t See
  66. 64. If Snails Could Talk
  67. 65. The Darkness Beyond
  68. 66. Your Terrifying Awesomeness
  69. 67. The Flesh Between
  70. 68. Worm Inside
  71. 69. Your Meaning Is Irrelevant
  72. 70. Silver Shark
  73. 71. A Worse Enemy
  74. 72. Our Only Hope
  75. 73. The Honors
  76. 74. In God We Trust
  77. 75. Safety Locks
  78. 76. No Way to Stop It
  79. 77. Oil Slick
  80. 78. Realm of the Forgiving Sun
  81. 79. Submitted for Your Approval
  82. 80. Salted Slug
  83. 81. War of the Nemesi
  84. 82. Deep in the Throat of Doom
  85. 83. Clockwork Robots
  86. 84. Lost Landscape
  87. 85. All Meat Must Be Tenderized
  88. 86. Therapy Rodeo
  89. 87. All That We’ve Worked For
  90. 88. Toxic Tide
  91. 89. Streets Green with Blood
  92. 90. Atlas Drugged
  93. 91. Not in the Olympics at All
  94. 92. The Greater Unknown
  95. 93. No Other Way
  96. 94. Critical Mass
  97. 95. Windmills of My Mind
  98. 96. Divine Dealer
  99. 97. Can I Trust You?
  100. 98. Decomposed Potential
  101. 99. Running on Saturn’s Rings
  102. 100. Her Embedded Extremities
  103. 101. A Piece of Skye
  104. 102. Severe Nails
  105. 103. Magic Mantras and Latex Poodles
  106. 104. Mutinous Mutton
  107. 105. Out of Alignment
  108. 106. The Skin of Who We Were
  109. 107. The Fo’c’sle Key
  110. 108. Up or Drown?
  111. 109. When Ink Acts Up
  112. 110. Garden of Unearthly Delights
  113. 111. Hot for You
  114. 112. Abstract Angular Angst
  115. 113. Who They Were
  116. 114. Happy Paper Cup
  117. 115. Double, Double, Toil and Trouble, Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble
  118. 116. Dirty Martini
  119. 117. While You Were Out
  120. 118. Zimple Physics
  121. 119. Little Chatterbox
  122. 120. The Maps Say Otherwise
  123. 121. Mentally We Roll Along
  124. 122. Historically Freaking
  125. 123. Bard and Dog
  126. 124. Hating the Messenger
  127. 125. Promenade
  128. 126. A Fine Kind of Pain
  129. 127. Have You Considered That Maybe It Was Intentional?
  130. 128. Intestinal Time-share
  131. 129. Against Us
  132. 130. Stay Broken
  133. 131. Cardboard Forts
  134. 132. Without Whispering
  135. 133. Crestmare Alley
  136. 134. On the Other Side of the Glass
  137. 135. Which Is More Horrifying?
  138. 136. Becoming a Constellation
  139. 137. Lost Horizon
  140. 138. Marksman on the Fields of Color
  141. 139. The Rest Is Silence
  142. 140. The Time of Words Is Over
  143. 141. Like He Never Existed
  144. 142. Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been?
  145. 143. Fail
  146. 144. Other Places
  147. 145. Soul of Our Mission
  148. 146. Psychonoxious
  149. 147. Genetic Life-form and Disk Operating System
  150. 148. Squirrelly
  151. 149. Half-life
  152. 150. Last Man Standing
  153. 151. King of All Destinies
  154. 152. Scarecrow
  155. 153. The Overwhelming Never
  156. 154. Challenger Deep
  157. 155. Vestibule
  158. 156. No Miracles Here
  159. 157. Kind of Like Religion
  160. 158. Morons in High Places
  161. 159. 10:03.
  162. 160. The Way It Works
  163. 161. Points Exotic
  164. Author’s Note
  165. Resources
  166. About the Author and Artist
  167. Books by Neal Shusterman
  168. Credits
  169. Back Ads
  170. Copyright
  171. About the Publisher


Challenger Deep
has been a labor of love, the creation of which spanned many years. First and foremost, I’d like to thank my son Brendan for his contributions; my son Jarrod for his amazing book trailers; and my daughters, Joelle and Erin, for their many insights and for being the wonderful human beings they are. My deepest gratitude to my editor, Rosemary Brosnan; associate editor, Jessica MacLeish; and everyone at HarperCollins for the amazing amount of support they have given this book. Thanks also to my assistants Barb Sobel and Jessica Widmer for keeping my life and speaking schedule on track. I’d like to thank to the Orange County Fictionaires for their support and critiques through the years; NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, for being such a great resource; and finally my friends for always being there through the best and worst of times.

Thank you all! My love for you is bottomless.

1. Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum

There are two things you know. One: You were there. Two: You couldn’t have been there.

Holding these two incompatible truths together takes skill at juggling. Of course juggling requires a third ball to keep the rhythm smooth. That third ball is time—which bounces much more wildly than any of us would like to believe.

The time is 5 a.m. You know this, because there’s a battery-powered clock on your bedroom wall that ticks so loudly you sometimes have to smother it with a pillow. And yet, while it’s five in the morning here, it’s also five in the evening somewhere in China—proving that incompatible truths make perfect sense when seen with global perspective. You’ve learned, however, that sending your thoughts to China is not always a good thing.

Your sister sleeps in the next room, and in the room beyond that, your parents. Your dad is snoring. Soon your mom will nudge him enough to make him roll over and the snoring will cease, maybe until dawn. All of this is normal, and there’s great comfort in that.

Across the street a neighbor’s sprinklers come on, hissing loud enough to drown out the ticking of the clock. You can smell the sprinkler mist through the open window—mildly chlorinated, heavily fluoridated. Isn’t it nice to know that the neighborhood
lawns will have healthy teeth?

The hiss of the sprinklers is not the sound of snakes.

And the painted dolphins on your sister’s wall cannot plot deadly schemes.

And a scarecrow’s eyes do not see.

Even so, there are nights where you can’t sleep, because these things you juggle take all of your concentration. You fear that one ball might drop, and then what? You don’t dare imagine beyond that moment. Because waiting in that moment is the Captain. He’s patient. And he waits. Always.

Even before there was a ship, there was the Captain.

This journey began with him, you suspect it will end with him, and everything between is the powdery meal of windmills that might be giants grinding bones to make their bread.

Tread lightly, or you’ll wake them.

2. Forever Down There

“There’s no telling how far down it goes,” the captain says, the left side of his mustache twitching like the tail of a rat. “Fall into that unknowable abyss, and you’ll be counting the days before you reach bottom.”

“But the trench has been measured,” I dare to point out. “People have been down there before. I happen to know that it’s 6.8 miles deep.”

“Know?” he mocks. “How can a shivering, malnourished pup such as you know anything beyond the wetness of his own nose?” Then he laughs at his own assessment of me. The captain is full of weatherworn wrinkles from a lifetime at sea—although his dark, tangled beard hides many of them. When he laughs, the wrinkles stretch tight, and you can see the muscles and sinews of his neck. “Aye, it be true that those who have ventured the waters of the trench speak of having seen the bottom, but they lie. They lie like a rug, and get beat twice as often—but just so it scares the dust out of ’em.”

I’ve stopped trying to decipher the things the captain says, but they still weigh on me. As if maybe I’m missing something. Something important and deceptively obvious that I’ll only understand when it’s too late to matter.

“It’s forever down there,” the captain says. “Let no one tell you any different.”

3. Better for This

I have this dream. I am lying on a table in an overlit kitchen where all the appliances are sparkling white. Not so much new as pretending to be new. Plastic with chrome accents, but mostly plastic.

I cannot move. Or I don’t want to move. Or I’m afraid to move. Each time I have the dream, it’s a little bit different. There are people around me, only they aren’t people, they’re monsters in
disguise. They have gone into my mind and have ripped images from it, turning the images into masks that look like people I love—but I know it’s just a lie.

They laugh and speak of things that mean nothing to me, and I am frozen there among all the false faces, at the very center of attention. They admire me, but only in the way you admire something you know will soon be gone.

“I think you took it out too soon,” says a monster wearing my mother’s face. “It hasn’t been in long enough.”

“Only one way to find out,” says the monster disguised as my father. I sense laughter all around—not from their mouths, because the mouths of their masks don’t move. The laughter is in their thoughts, which they project at me like poison-tipped darts shot from their cutout eyes.

“You’ll be better for this,” says one of the other monsters. Then their stomachs rumble as loud as a crumbling mountain as they reach toward me and tear their main course to bits with their claws.

4. How They Get You

I can’t remember when this journey began. It’s like I’ve always been here, except that I couldn’t have been, because there was a before, just last week or last month or last year. I’m pretty certain that I’m still fifteen, though. Even if I’ve been on board this wooden relic of a ship for years, I’m still fifteen. Time is different here. It doesn’t
move forward; it sort of moves sideways, like a crab.

BOOK: Challenger Deep
3.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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