Everlost, p.19
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       Everlost, p.19

         Part #1 of Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman
 
Page 19

 

  Everyone looked down sadly, realized their shoes were sinking into the road, and began to shuffle around again.

  “Old news,” said Johnnie-O, clenching his fists, “but we don’t cross bridges no more. ”

  Allie swallowed everything she was about to say. She wondered if she, Nick, and Lief would have sunk through this bridge, if they hadn’t been wearing their road-shoes.

  “Maybe she is working for the Sky Witch,” said one of the little kids. “Maybe she wants us to sink. ”

  The others looked at her now with frightened eyes, but the look quickly mildewed into threatening.

  “Johnnie-O’s right,” Allie said, “we shouldn’t risk it. ”

  “We’ll take the tunnel,” Johnnie-O announced, and led the way.

  Flurries were falling by the time they reached the Lincoln Tunnel four hours later. Although there was a narrow service catwalk along the side, Johnnie-O led his crew right down the middle of the road, intentionally letting oncoming traffic barrel right through them.

  The Everlost version of macho, thought Allie. Although she would have much preferred the catwalk, she didn’t want to show any signs of weakness, so she walked side by side with Johnnie-O, ignoring the annoying sensation of through-traffic.

  By the time they reached the Manhattan side of the tunnel, the flurries had grown into a full-fledged snowstorm, the first of the winter. A violent wind tore at the coats of the living.

  Snow felt different than rain or sleet as it passed through Allie. It tickled.

  As for the wind, she felt it, and it was indeed cold. But like all other weather conditions, feeling it and being affected by it were two different things. The cold did not, could not, make her shiver. And yet as unpleasant as it seemed for the living people fighting the snowstorm, Allie wished she could be one of them.

  But Johnnie-O, like Mary, had no interest in the living. Allie wondered how long until she became like that.

  The going was slow, because it seemed every single city block had a Chinese restaurant, and Johnnie-O was making them cross the street, or turning down side streets again and again to avoid them.

  “This is ridiculous,” Allie said. “Chow mein does not carry the plague. ” The next time, she refused to cross the street, and walked right in front of Wan Foo’s Mandarin Emporium.

  “Wow, she’s brave,” said one of the little kids, and so Johnnie-O was forced to do the same, just to prove he was just as brave as Allie.

  When they finally reached the Haunter’s place, Allie could tell something was wrong. The steel door that had been so securely sealed now hung wide open and was slightly bent.

  Johnnie-O looked to Allie as if she could explain, but she only shrugged.

  Maybe, she thought, Nick and Lief fought their way out.

  Johnnie-O, for all his swagger and big-fisted boisterousness, wasn’t about to be the first one in, so Allie took the lead and cautiously stepped inside.

  The scene inside was not at all what Allie expected. There was no longer food hanging from the ceiling. Instead, half-gnawed carcasses of roast chickens and pieces of meat lay strewn about the floor.

  “My God,” said Allie.

  “You said it,” said Johnnie-O. “I haven’t seen so much food in fifty years!”

  Unable to control himself, he raced forward and the Altar Boys followed, grabbing the carcasses and meat off the floor and shoving them into their mouths. There was no need to fight because there was enough for everybody.

  “No!” yelled Allie. “The Haunter! He could be anywhere!”

  But they weren’t listening.

  Allie braced for the moment the Haunter’s hollow minions would descend on them, slapping them into barrels, but as she looked around she realized the barrels were all gone. All, that is, but one single barrel that sat in the center of the mess.

  Allie noticed shredded bits of black cloth mixed in among the scraps of food—and then something else caught her eye. It was a turkey— a big one—a twenty-five pounder, maybe. It was a bird the Haunter had probably ecto-ripped into Everlost right off someone’s Thanksgiving dinner table. One thing though…the turkey had a bite out of it. A huge jagged bite. It was as if a dinosaur had sunk its teeth into it and ripped it apart—you could still see the teeth marks.

  What, thought Allie, could leave an awful bite mark like that?

  Suddenly her attention was drawn to the single barrel in the center of the room.

  Someone was inside it, pounding and screaming. She couldn’t make out the words but she recognized the voice. Just hearing it chilled her far more than the blizzard ever could.

  “Johnnie-O! Over here!” she called.

  With a chicken in each of his fists and grease dripping down his chin, Johnnie-O looked a bit more comical and less menacing than usual. Reluctantly he handed his chickens to Heimlich with a look that said, You eat them, you ‘re dead.

  He came over to the barrel, and both he and Allie knelt down, putting their ears close to the wood.

  “Who’s out there?” the voice inside said. “Let me out, let me out and I shall give you whatever you want!”

  It was the Haunter.

  Johnnie-O looked to Allie for direction. She had, after all, led them to the biggest feast of their afterlives, so she was now held in some sort of reverence.

  “Let me out!”yelled the Haunter. “I demand you let me out!”

  Allie spoke loudly enough to be heard through the wood and brine. “What happened here? Who did this to you?”

  “Let me out!” screeched the Haunter. “Let me out and I shall rip food from the finest restaurants in the living world and lay it at your feet. ”

  But Allie ignored him. “Where are the other barrels?”

  “They were taken. ”

  “By whom?” Allie demanded.

  “By the McGill. ”

  Johnnie-O gasped, and his mouth dropped open in astonishment. His cigarette would have fallen out if it could. “The McGill?!”

  “His ship’s in the bay, out past the Statue of Liberty,” the Haunter said. “Let me out and I will help you fight him. ”

  Allie considered it, but then she looked around. The strips of black cloth were squirming on the ground like snakes. Frantically they danced about, and Allie realized what the Haunter was doing. Even from within the barrel, the Haunter was trying to bring his air-warriors together to capture them. They tried to reassemble themselves, but it was useless. The McGill had shredded them far too well for even the Haunter to put them back together again.

  Allie looked at the barrel and tried to find some compassion for this creature inside, who had so mercilessly imprisoned her friends. In the end she found her compassion did not reach that far.

  “Leave him in there!” she said loudly enough for him to hear. “Let him stew in his own juices. ”

  “NO!” the Haunter screamed within the barrel, and around the room bones and bird carcasses began to fly like meteors, randomly tossed about by the Haunter’s rage.

  Allie didn’t care. She turned to Johnnie-O. “Can you and the Altar Boys come with me?” she said. “I won’t be able to fight the McGill alone. ”

  But Johnnie-O backed away. “We got what we cane for,” he said. “Ain’t nothing anyone can say, living, dead, or otherwise that would get me to fight the McGill. You’re on your own. ”

  And then, almost as an apology, he reached down and grabbed a leg from the turkey that had been bitten by the McGill. He ripped the leg free and held it out to her, almost like a peace offering.

  “Here, take it,” Johnme-O said. “You deserve to eat too. ”

  And so she did. She dug her teeth into the turkey and relished its flavor—the first flavor she had tasted in all her months here. It was like being in heaven.

  Yet as good as it was, it couldn’t outweigh the hell she knew she would soon have to face once she tracked down the McGill.

  She turned to leave, but befo
re she could, Johnnie-O called to her. “You never told us your name,” he said, then tilted his Marlboro up with a grin. “I gots to know it if we’re gonna tell stories about how you went off to fight the McGill and all. ”

  Allie found herself oddly flattered. Johnnie-O had decided she was worth being turned into a legend.

  “My name is…” and for a moment she couldn’t remember. But the moment passed.

  “Allie,” she said.

  Johnnie-O nodded. “Allie the Outcast,” he said. Allie had to admit she liked it.

  “That’s right. ”

  “Good luck,” Johnnie-O said…”Hope you don’t get eaten or anything. ”

  Allie left and headed toward Battery Park— the tip of Manhattan, where she was sure to see the McGill’s ship, if it was still there. She was terrified, and yet at the same time, she felt ennobled. Fighting to free her friends had felt like a desperate mission for a lone girl, but now she was Allie the Outcast, on her way to battle the McGill. Kids would tell her story, whatever that story might be. This was no longer just a mission; it was a quest. And she was ready.

  PART THREE The McGill Everlost CHAPTER 15

  The Brimstone Ship On February 7, 1963, a ship called the Marine Sulphur Queen left the world of the living. A few days after setting sail from Beaumont, Texas, the ship vanished off the coast of Florida without as much as a single radio message. All they found was an oil slick, a few life jackets, and the persistent smell of brimstone—the awful odor associated with rotten eggs, and, coincidentally, the smell also associated with hell.

  There was, of course, a perfectly logical and nondemonic explanation for the smell. The Sulphur Queen was an old World War II tanker that was now being used to transport liquid sulphur—also known as brimstone. However the eerie smell, combined with the fact that the ship mysteriously vanished in the Bermuda Triangle, naturally led people to consider a dark, supernatural end to the unlucky brimstone barge.

  In truth, the death of the Sulphur Queen was extremely bizarre, but not exactly supernatural. Stated simply, the Sulphur Queen was overcome by a very large ocean fart.

  On that fateful February day, a massive ball of natural gas, two hundred feet wide, burst up from beneath the ocean floor, and when the bubble surfaced, the entire ship dropped into it in less than a second. The bubble burst, water rushed in, covering the ship, and it was gone. The Sulphur Queen was very literally swallowed by the sea.

  There were the expected few moments of utter panic and mortal terror as the crew of the tragically submerged vessel made their final journey down that path of light, to wherever they were going. Then, less than a minute later, the ship itself got to where it was going—namely the bottom of the sea.

  But that wasn’t the end of it.

  Because what no one knew was that the old vessel was the last of its kind. It was the final ship built by a failing shipyard, which closed down the day the Sulphur Queen first launched out of dry dock. The workers, knowing an era was coming to an end, built the ship with as much care as a team of shipbuilders could muster. Their love of this ship was welded into every rivet. Such an ignoble death to this well-loved vessel could not be suffered lightly by the fabric of eternity. And so, when the waters surging about in the methane-heavy air finally settled, a ghost of the Queen remained, permanently afloat in the half-world of Everlost.

 
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