Everlost, p.17
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       Everlost, p.17

         Part #1 of Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman
 
Page 17

 

  “I’m truly sorry this happened,” Mary said. “I know what you must be going through right now. ”

  What made it worse was that Mary’s voice had genuine compassion in it. She honestly did care. Mary’s caring, however, came with too high a price.

  Allie swung her hand with all the strength she could muster, and slapped Mary across the face with such force that Mary stumbled backward. Vari caught her and in an instant a dozen other kids were all over Allie holding her back, pulling her down, tearing at her as if they could tear her apart.

  “Leave her alone!” yelled Mary, and almost instantly the kids let her go.

  “I wish you could feel pain,” Allie said. “I wish you could feel the sting of that slap. ”

  Then she turned, marched into an elevator, and took it down alone. She didn’t know where she was going, only that she had publicly renounced Mary Queen of Snots, and was not coming back.

  Mary stared at Allie’s elevator door long after it had closed. Allie may not have known it, but Mary had felt the sting of the slap. Not on her face, but in her soul, where it hurt all the more. Even so, Mary had done the right thing.

  She had turned the other cheek.

  “Go back to what you were doing,” Mary told all the kids around her.

  “Everything’s fine. ”

  The crowd began to split up, and soon it was only her and Vari on the desolate floor.

  “Why did you let her go?” Vari said. “She should be punished. ”

  “Being alone in the living world is punishment enough,” Mary said, and although Vari didn’t seem satisfied with her response, he would accept it. They all would. Mary wondered if Allie had any idea how hard it was to allow Nick and Lief to be sacrificed for the sake of the other children. But the Haunter had powers that Mary did not. Just as it was foolish for them to go there in the first place, it would be doubly foolish to attempt a rescue. Foolish, and pointless. And now Nick was gone. Before she could really get to know him he was gone, and there was nothing she could do about it. For a moment grief threatened to overwhelm her. A gasp of remorse escaped her throat, but she fought it down, just as she fought down her tears. For the sake of all her children.

  “You did the right thing,” Vari told her.

  She leaned over to kiss him on the head, but stopped, knelt down, and kissed him on the cheek instead. “Thank you, Vari. Thank you for being so loyal. ”

  Vari beamed.

  As Allies elevator went down, theirs went up. Mary’s grief was heavy, but she would find a way to get past it. The turmoil that Allie had brought them would soon be gone. Soon there would be happy children playing ball and jumping rope, which was as it should be, and as it would be day after day, forever and ever.

  In her book Everything Mary Says Is Wrong, Allie the Outcast writes: “There are mysteries in Everlost. Some of them are wonderful, and others are scary. They should all be explored, though — perhaps that’s why we’re here; to experience the good and the bad that Everlost has to offer. I really don’t know why we didn’t get where we were going, but I do know this much: being trapped doing the same thing over and over again for all time is no way to spend eternity—and anyone who tells you so is wrong. ”

  Chapter 12

  Learning to Surf The sense of isolation Allie felt after leaving Mary’s domain was as overwhelming and complete as if she had been sealed into a barrel herself. Being out in the living world left her infinitely lonely. Mary could act like the living world didn’t matter anymore, but for Allie it was an ever-present reminder that she could witness, but not participate, in life. For days she tried to work out a plan for rescuing her friends from the clutches of the Haunter, and as she schemed, she walked, because she had to. She was like a shark, always having to stay in motion—and although she had found many dead-spots in the city where she could rest, she never lingered long. Then one day, she had a moment of clarity, and she realized that she had been drawn into her own endless loop. She had been walking the exact same streets in the exact same pattern, and she had been doing it not for days, but for weeks. She had thought she was immune to getting trapped in a ghostly pattern, but she was wrong. The sense of helplessness of it—the sense of inevitability—almost made her spirit cave in, and give in to the pattern. She almost continued in her repetitive weave of the streets, because it was easier than fighting it. It had grown comfortable. Familiar. It was the thought of Lief and Nick, still trapped in those barrels, that broke her out of it, because if she stayed in this rut, she would never find a way to free them.

  The first step was the hardest. She turned left instead of right on Twenty-first Street, and an immediate sense of panic set in. She wanted to take back her step, and return to her old pattern — but she resisted, and took one more step, and another, and another. Soon the panic settled to mere terror, and the terror settled to normal fear. It only took one city block for her fear to fade into mild foreboding—the type of thing anyone felt when faced with the unknown.

  Careful not to begin retracing her steps again, she forced herself to go places she had avoided. New York was a crowded city, but there were areas that were less traveled. These were the places Allie had stuck to, for she couldn’t handle the crowds that would pass through her as if she wasn’t there.

  Now she forced herself to go to the crowded places. It was as she passed through midtown Manhattan during lunchtime that she discovered something Mary had probably never written about in her various volumes.

  The streets were crowded. More than just crowded, they were packed. The midtown towers flushed out thousands of people during the lunch-hour rush, and of course, they all barreled through Allie as if she wasn’t even there. It was terribly unpleasant to feel them pass through her — much worse than when something inanimate, like a car or a bus passed through, because a living person had a strange organic commotion about it. The instant a person passed through her she could feel the rush of blood, the beating of a heart, the rumble of intestines still digesting whatever they had eaten for breakfast. It was, to say the least, profoundly icky.

  Much stranger, though, was the sudden disorientation that fell over her when a tightly packed gaggle of businessmen crashed through her. Her thoughts became strange and random—the way thoughts become just before sleep sets in.

  —stock about to split/need that raise/no one suspects/ah, yes, Hawaii— And when the businessmen had passed, all that remained were the high-decibel sounds of the city. She assumed she was just hearing little bits of their conversations, and left it at that. Then it happened again when a crowd of tourists tromped through her, on their way to the theater district.

  —too expensive/aching feet/what is that smell/pickpockets — This time she knew she wasn’t hearing their conversations, because most of them were silent, and the ones who were talking were speaking French. Now she understood exactly what was going on. It was like channel surfing—but she was channel surfing people’s minds.

  She flashed to that moment mired in the street outside of the Haunters warehouse. A truck had passed through her—or at least its tires had. She had been angry—furious—and in that instant the tire blew out, as if her anger had caused it to burst. What was it the Haunter had said?

  …You have to discover what other skills you have—because where there is one skill, there are more….

  Could this all be part of some innate talent in haunting? Was she special in this ability to intrude into the real world, rupturing a tire, and reading the minds of the living for brief moments?

  And then she thought—could those moments be made to last… The next time she mind-surfed, she did it intentionally, with hopes of catching the wave.

  Allie found a girl who seemed to be about her age. She was a society-type girl, wearing a uniform from some ritzy prep school. Allie followed behind her for a few blocks, matching her pace. Then Allie took a sudden leap forward, and stepped right inside of her skin.

  —I c
ould but if i do it might not work and they might not like me but then they might and if i don’t they certainty won’t even notice me and this skirt is definitely too tight am i gaining weight oh there’s that pizza place no i’m bursting out of this stupid ugly skirt but it smells so good— Whoa! The girl made a sharp turn right, and went into the pizza place, leaving Allie there on the street reeling from the experience. She had surfed the girl’s mind for ten seconds at least. By the time Allie recovered, she was knee-deep in the street, and had to pull herself out.

  I shouldn’t have done that, Allie told herself, but even so, she wanted to do it again. That scared her, and so she left Sixth Avenue, ducking down a smaller side street, making sure she had absolutely no contact with another living person for the rest of the day. I’ll have to tell Nick and Lief about this, she thought, and that reminded her that unless she rescued them, she would never get to tell them anything. They would spend the rest of their unnatural lives pickling.

  The only way to rescue them was to find others who could help her, and she had to do it before a new routine set in. Mary and her little club were of no use, so Allie would have to gather her own allies. The question was, where would she find them?

  She began looking for “ghosts” of buildings that had crossed over when they were demolished. Only a few buildings did. Maybe one out of every thousand that met the wrecking ball was deemed worthy by God, or the universe, or whatever, to cross into Everlost.

  The old Waldorf-Astoria hotel was the most promising—after all, it was a hotel, so what better place for dead/not-dead kids to stay?

  She pushed through the revolving door to reveal a lobby done up in plush art-deco splendor. Some singer, long dead, crooned through a big old-fashioned radio, singing “Embraceable You. ” There was a huge bar just off the lobby, but no bottles graced its cherrywood shelves. Instead a big sign read BAR PERMANENTLY CLOSED DUE TO PROHIBITION.

  “Hello? Is anybody here?”

  She called twice, and rang the bell at the reception desk. Nothing. The combination of 1920s music and the absolute emptiness of the place gave her the horror-movie creeps. The hotel wasn’t merely deserted, it was soulless, like the Haunter’s hollow soldiers. She left as quickly as she could.

  She had to face the fact that most every Afterlight in the city ended up moving in with Mary. Safety in numbers. Mary’s little kingdom was simply the place to be in this part of the world. But then, thought Allie, Everlost did have other territories. … Everlost CHAPTER 13

  Time in a Bottle Lief was accustomed to being alone, but there was quite a difference between being alone in a lush green forest, and being jammed into a pickle barrel.

  At first he felt sure Allie would rescue him right away. When it didn’t happen in the first few minutes, or the next, or the next, he began to get scared. Then the fear turned to anger, and then the anger itself pickled into resignation. He could hear very little in the brine, and could feel even less.

  Then, as the days went by, his mind began to play the most amazing trick on him.

  He was able to forget where he was. The darkness became a starless infinity that stretched into empty space. His spirit filled the emptiness from one end of infinity to the other. This, he knew, is what God must have felt like before creation. A single spirit in a formless liquid eternity. It was a feeling of such power, time itself seemed to stop in its tracks. Lief felt as if he was the entire universe, and nothing, at the same time. So glorious was this sensation of timelessness, that he was able to lock himself inside of it just as tightly as he was locked in the barrel.

 
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