Excerpt from The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Lightkeepers

by Abby Geni

The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni X
The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2016, 340 pages

    Jan 2017, 340 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Megan Shaffer
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Print Excerpt

The Lightkeepers

I will never forget the first moments of my arrival. The Farallon Islands were not what I had been expecting. They were both smaller and stranger than I had pictured. A tiny, aquatic mountain range. It looked as though a single, powerful wave could wash the whole thing away. I stood on board the deck of the ferry. Waves smacked the hull while Captain Joe dropped anchor. The dizzy horizon danced as the boat swayed. I shaded my eyes with a hand, staring up at my new home.

Long ago, this place had been called the Islands of the Dead. Now I could see why. Southeast Farallon was less than one square mile across. The other islets were bare, bald, and broken. There were no sandy beaches. The shores were streaked with seaweed, the peaks fragmented and craggy. The islands were arranged by height, like wedding guests in a snapshot. There was a crudeness about their contours. God might have made the world, but he seemed to have deputized his underage stepson to fashion the Farallon Islands out of some lesser brand of clay.

At my side, Captain Joe was shouting into a walkie-talkie. A crackling voice responded. I had spent the past five hours on board the ferry. I was disoriented, in desperate need of a shower. The boat slid up one side of a wave and down the other. I squinted against the sunlight. We were moored alongside a sharp cliff. Rock against clouds. Something was descending over the edge.

It looked like a deflated birdcage. There was a heavy iron disc at the bottom. Ropes and netting swung against the sky. This, I knew, was the Billy Pugh. (The origin of the name is unknown. I asked and got no answer.) Captain Joe was giving instructions. Someone on the other end of the walkie-talkie replied, the voice garbled by static. The ocean was inky, capped with slimy bubbles.

I would be transported to shore by crane. There was no dock on the Farallon Islands. No marina. No semblance of normalcy. The ferry was twenty feet from the cliffs and could come no closer without being broken open on the reefs below the surface. The Billy Pugh landed on deck with a clatter. Without ceremony, Captain Joe guided me inside the network of ropes. He arranged my feet on the base: a metal circle, scratched and scarred. Above my head, the mesh was gathered and synched around a hook. Above that, a steel cable snaked upward. Somewhere at the top of the mechanism was a crane. A shadow against the clouds.

I turned to Captain Joe. "This is safe, isn't it?" "I'll send your luggage up after," he said. The ground lurched under me. I gasped, knotting my hands into the ropes. The Billy Pugh did not look secure enough to hold me. I was moving fast, rocketing upward. Ten feet. Fifteen feet. I could hear the whine of the steel cable. The disc shifted beneath my feet. I tried to keep my balance as the Billy Pugh swung like a pendulum. The ocean fell away, the ferry distorted, Captain Joe reduced to a foreshortened cartoon. I thought I saw a dorsal fin in the distance. I thought I saw three of them, moving in unison. I thought I would throw up.

There was a bang. The Billy Pugh had landed. I pushed my way through the gap in the ropes and collapsed onto the Farallon Islands. What followed was a blur. I lay on my back. Proud that I'd passed my first test. Waiting for the nausea to subside. The granite was cold on my skin, uneven beneath my spine. I could see the crane better now—a rusted spar that lunged over the water. The Billy Pugh was descending again. Someone close by must be operating the thing. I did not know who had transported me to the islands, who was on the other end of Captain Joe's walkie-talkie. There were six permanent residents here. Six biologists lived in isolation and wildness on the Islands of the Dead.

The crane's mechanism was perched on top of a nearby hill. Someone was inside, but from this distance I could not make out any distinguishing features. All I could see was a human silhouette. The winch rotated, the cable unspooling. The Billy Pugh dropped out of sight. I watched a seabird pass. I inhaled the odor of mildew and guano. The islands were pungent enough to singe my lungs.

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Excerpted from The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni. Copyright © 2016 by Abby Geni. Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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