An excerpt from Infernal, a horror novel about an adventurous group trying to escape a dangerous island.
She stood on that ledge and put the mouthpiece of her oxygen tank between her lips. She watched the opening at the top of her cage while Felix watched the shark. She held her camera close to her belly with both hands.
“Go,” he said, and she jumped.
The world went quiet. Not silent, but quiet. She sank down into the bottom of her cage and stayed there, turning on her camera and testing out the settings on the great open sea around her. When a shadow cut over her, she twisted up to film George from beneath as he circled the boat again. She stood, getting her bearings, and pushed the camera and her arms out the viewing hole to film the shark as he moved deeper, leaving the hunk of fish for a moment to circle her instead.
The cage shuddered, bobbed, and then started to move. Either Felix or Poppy were turning the crank to move her out from the boat. The chains rattled, making strange sounds in the water, the surface rippling around the top four edges. George seemed more interested when she moved, coming in closer, baring teeth for the camera and nudging the cage.
He swam between her and the boat and in the background of the shot she saw Felix drop down into the second cage. George whipped around to investigate and she filmed the massive fish closing in on Felix’s cage to take a closer look. The body of the shark blocked her view of the other cage completely and then, seemingly out of nowhere, a second shark burst up from the deep. Val knocked her shoulder against the bars but held fast to her camera. The second, larger shark shot straight up under George, caught his belly in her jaws and continued to thrust upward.
They breeched the surface together but with their combined weight, the flight was short-lived. They crashed back down and onto Felix’s cage. The whole back of the ship dipped down, pulled violently until either the cables or the rigging snapped. The sharks thrashed, stirring air into the water turned red with blood.
Val continued to hold the camera on reflex but stopped thinking about the shot. She stared over it in disbelief at the scene. The new shark, even larger than George, thrashed against the back of the boat atop the shark cage. She couldn’t see Felix through the writhing bodies of beasts and churning waters. Her heart sank low in her stomach when Felix’s cage dropped out from behind the fighting giants. She leaned hard into the front of her cage to see him slipping down into the dark, but the cage was empty. A sliver of relief washed over her, her body leaning forward into the bars and exhaling a gust of bubbles. Her gaze tore up to the fight again, suddenly horrified that he might be in those waters with the monster sharks.
Before she could worry about whether or not he had gotten out of the sea and into the boat, her own cage bobbed. Had the rigging really given way? Was her cage cut loose? It bobbed again, sinking lower, more than a meter from the surface now. Biting at her breather, she let go of the camera with one hand and pushed herself upward. Grabbing onto one edge of her cage and pulling, Val launched herself high enough to have her head break the surface. Water clung to her goggles and daylight gleamed, making her squint.
Felix stood on deck and even from this distance she could tell he was shouting, arms pulling with all his weight to try to turn the crank and drag her cage back in. It must have been stuck. They couldn’t reel her back to the boat. Lochner had left the wheelhouse, shouting something back to Felix and then pointing up at the rigging. Val looked up, squinting against the sun. The rigging had bent, half attached now where bolts ripped out and only struggling cables kept it together. Those cables were the ones still attached to her cage—dragging her in closer to the ship and closer to the sharks thrashing about the waters between.
Felix twisted to the side to look back at her. She was going to collide with the great whites. There was a chance she could survive just bunkered down in her vessel. There was a chance they would stop any second now and vanish into the deep. The water churned red, spraying into the air when a tail cut across the surface. There was also a chance they would push her cage down enough to snap those cables, or whatever fastened them to the ship, and she would have no choice but to swim up through that bloody water or sink to the bottom and eventually drown.
It seemed that the very moment she made her choice to abandon the cage, Felix climbed over the railing along the side of the ship and dove into the waters off the port. She pulled her legs up out of the cage and pushed off the metal railing. It was hard to swim away from the boat, away from safety rather than toward it, but she had to get distance from the struggle in the water. She sank down just enough to escape the splashing on the surface, breather exhaling bubbles and fins propelling her forward. She cut an arch in the blue, inelegant in the company of creatures made to swim.