Everlost, p.10
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       Everlost, p.10

         Part #1 of Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman
Page 10


  “You know,” she told him, gently touching the chocolate on the side of his lip, “some people are able to change the way they appear. If you don’t like the chocolate on your face, you can work on getting rid of it. ”

  “I’d like that,” he said.

  Mary could sense that he was having another physiological reaction to her touching his face, so she took her hand back. She might have blushed herself, if she was still capable of it. “Of course, that sort of thing takes a long time.

  Like a Zen master learning to walk on hot coals, or levitate. It takes years of meditation and concentration. ”

  “Or I can just forget,” offered Nick. “You said in Tips for Taps that people sometimes forget how they look, and their faces change. So maybe I can forget the chocolate on purpose. ”

  “A good idea,” she answered. “But we can’t choose what we forget. The more we try to forget something, the more we end up remembering it. Careful, or your whole face will get covered in chocolate. ”

  Nick chuckled nervously, as if she were kidding, and he stopped when he realized she wasn’t.

  “Don’t worry,” she told him. “As long as you’re with us, you’re among friends, and we will always remind you who you were when you arrived. ”

  In the corner, Lief grunted in frustration. “My fingers don’t work fast enough to play this. ” He banged his Game Boy against the wall in anger, but didn’t stop playing.

  “Mary…can I ask you a question?” Nick said.

  Mary sat with him on the sofa. “Of course. ”

  “So…what happens now?”

  Mary waited for more, but there was no more. “I’m sorry … I’m not sure I understand the question. ”

  “We’re dead, right. ”

  “Well, yes, technically. ”

  “And like your book says, we’re stuck in this Everlost place, right?”

  “Forever and always. ”

  “So…what do we do now?”

  Mary stood up, not at all comfortable with the question. “Well, what do you like to do? Whatever you like to do, that’s what you get to do. ”

  “And when I get tired of it?”

  “I’m sure you’ll find something to keep you content. ”

  “I’m not too good at contentment,” he said. “Maybe you can help me. ”

  She turned to Nick, and found herself locked in his gaze. This time he wasn’t blushing. “I’d really like it if you could. ”

  Mary held eye contact with Nick much longer than she expected to. She began to feel flustered, and she never felt flustered. Flustered was not in Mary Hightower’s emotional dictionary.

  “This game’s stupid,” said Lief. “Who the heck is Zelda, anyway?”

  Mary tore herself away from Nick’s gaze, angry at herself for allowing a slip of her emotions. She was a mentor. She was a guardian. She needed to keep an emotional distance from the kids under her wing. She could care about them — but only the way a mother loves her children. As long as she remembered that, things would be fine.

  “I have an idea for you, Nick. ” Mary went to a dresser, and opened the top drawer, getting her errant feelings under control. She pulled out paper and a pen. Mary made sure all arriving Greensouls always had paper and pens. Crayons for the younger ones. “Why don’t you make a list of all the things you ever wanted to do, and then we can talk about it. ”

  Mary left quickly, with a bit less grace than when she arrived.

  Allie found the paper and pens long before Mary showed up in her “apartment,” or “hotel room,” or “cell. ” She wasn’t quite sure what to call it yet. By the time Mary arrived, Allie had filled three pages with questions.

  When Mary came, she stood at the threshold until Allie invited her in. Like a vampire, Allie thought. Vampires can’t come in unless invited. “You’ve been busy,” Mary said when she saw how much Allie had written.

  “I’ve been reading your books,” Allie said. “Not just the one you gave us, but other ones I found lying around. ”

  “Good—they will be very helpful for you. ”

  “—and I have some questions. Like, in one book, you say haunting is forbidden, but then somewhere else you say that we’re free spirits, and can do anything we want. ”

  “Well, we can,” said Mary, “but we really shouldn’t. ”


  “It’s complicated. ”

  “And anyway—you say that we can have no effect on the living world—they can’t see us, they can’t hear us … so if that’s true, how could we ‘haunt,’ even if we wanted to?”

  Mary’s smile spoke of infinite patience among imbeciles. It made Allie furious, and so she returned the same “you’re-an-idiot-and-I’m-oh-so-smart” smile right back at her.

  “As I said, it’s complicated, and it’s nothing you need to worry about on your first day here. ”

  “Right,” said Allie. “So I haven’t read all the books yet, I mean you’ve written so many of them—but I haven’t been able to find anything about going home. ”

  Allie could see Mary bristle. Allie imagined if she had been a porcupine all her quills would be standing on end.

  “You can’t go home,” Mary said. “We’ve already discussed that. ”

  “Sure I can,” Allie said. “I can walk up to my house, walk in my front door.

  Well, okay, I mean walk through my front door, but either way, I’ll be home. Why don’t any of your books talk about that?”

  “You don’t want to do that,” Mary said, her voice quiet, almost threatening.

  “But I do. ”

  “No you don’t. ” Mary walked to the window, and looked out over the city. Allie had chosen a view uptown: the Empire State Building, Central Park, and beyond.

  “The world of the living doesn’t look the way you remembered, does it. It looks washed out. Less vibrant than it should. ”

  What Mary said was true. The living world had a fundamentally faded look about it. Even Freedom Tower, rising just beside their towers, seemed like they were seeing it through fog. It was so clearly a part of a different world. A world where time moves forward, instead of just standing still, keeping everything the way it is. Or, more accurately, the way it once was.

  “Look out over the city,” Mary said. “Do some buildings look more…real…to you?”

  Now that Mary had mentioned it, there were buildings that stood out in clearer focus. Brighter. Allie didn’t need to be told that these were buildings that had crossed into Everlost when they were torn down.

  “Sometimes they build living-world things in places where Everlost buildings stand,” Mary said. “Do you know what happens when you step into those places?”

  Allie shook her head.

  “You don’t see the living world. You see Everlost. It takes a great effort to see both places at the same time. I call it ‘dominant reality. ’”

  “Why don’t you write a book about it,” snapped Allie.

  “Actually, I have,” said Mary with a big old smirk that made it clear Mary’s was the dominant reality around here.

  “So the living world isn’t that clear to us anymore. That doesn’t mean anything. ”

  “It means that Everlost is the more important of the two worlds. ”

  “That’s one opinion. ”

  She thought that Mary might lose her cool, and they’d get into a nice fight about it, but Mary’s patience was as eternal as Everlost itself. Keeping her tone gentle and kindly as it always was, Mary gestured at the city beyond the window, and said “You see all of this? A hundred years from now, all those people will be gone, and many of the buildings torn down to make room for something else — but we will still be here. This place will still be here. ” She turned to Allie. “Only the things and places that are worthy of eternity cross into Everlost. We’re blessed to be here—don’t taint it by thoughts of going home. This will be your home far longer than the so-called ‘living world. ’”
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  Allie looked to the furniture around the room. “Exactly what makes this folding table ‘worthy of eternity’? “

  “It must have been special to someone. ”

  “Or,” said Allie, “it just fell through a random vortex. ” She held up one of Mary’s books. “You said that happens yourself. ”

  Mary sighed. “So I did. ”

  “Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t you just contradict yourself? “

  Still, Mary lost none of her poise. In fact, she rose to the challenge better than Allie expected.

  “I see you’re smart enough to know there are no simple answers,” Mary said.

  “It’s true that things sometimes do cross over by accident. ”

  “Right! And it’s not a blessing that we’re here, it’s an accident. ”

  “Even accidents have a divine purpose. ”

  “Then they wouldn’t be accidents, would they?”

  “Believe what you want,” said Mary. “Eternity is what it is —you can’t change it. You’re here, and so you must make the best of it. I’d like to help you, if you’ll let me. ”

  “All right—but just answer me one question. Is there a way out of Everlost? “

  Mary didn’t answer right away. For a moment Allie thought she might tell her something she had never written in any of her books. But instead, all she said was, “No. And in time you’ll know the truth of it for yourself. ”

  In just a few days, Allie, Nick, and Lief came to know all there was to know about life in Mary’s world. The daily routine was simple. The little kids played ball, tag, and jumped rope all day long in the plaza, and when it got dark, everyone gathered on the seventy-eighth floor to listen to stories the older kids told, or to play video games, or to watch the single TV that Mary had acquired. According to Meadow, there were kids out there who traveled the world searching for items that had crossed over, and they would trade them to Mary.

  These kids were called “Finders. ” One Finder had brought a TV, but it only played TV shows that had aired on the day it crossed over. The same ancient episodes of The Love Boat and Happy Days played every single day during prime time, and presumably would continue to play until the end of time. Strangely, there were some kids who watched it. Every day. Like clockwork.

  Nick watched the TV for a few days, amazed at the old commercials and the news more than anything. Watching it was like stepping into a time machine, but even time travel gets dull when you’re constantly traveling to April 8, 1978.

  Allie chose not to watch the TV She was already sensing something profoundly wrong with Mary’s little Queendom, although she couldn’t put her finger on it yet. It had to do with the way the little girls jumped rope, and the way the same kids would watch that awful TV every single day.

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