Everlost, p.22
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       Everlost, p.22

         Part #1 of Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman
Page 22


  As she tried to right herself, her body kept falling, and she dropped right through a row of benches on the lower deck, not as much as ruffling the pages of a man’s newspaper as she fell through him. She didn’t stop there. The force of her fall left her embedded in the floor of that deck. Frantically she tried to pull herself up, but again, only succeeded in sinking farther.

  She fell through the lower passenger deck, right into the auto deck, where cars sat, their engines off as they crossed the bay. Even the steel of cars didn’t stop her, and now she began to panic.

  “Help!” she screamed, “Somebody help me!”

  But of course there was no one to hear her cries, and she cursed herself for not thinking to make herself a pair of road-shoes before attempting this crossing.

  She fell through the floor of the auto deck into the engine room. Gears grinded, pistons pounded, echoing all around her, and as she tried to stand up, her feet passed through the hull of the boat.

  She could feel the icy bay water around her ankles, and then her shins, and she knew that if she didn’t think of something fast, she would sink straight through the bottom of this boat and, as Mary wrote, “that would be that. ”

  “Help me!” she screamed again, if not to anyone in the living world, then to some force in the heavens as invisible to her as she was invisible to the living.

  There was a man in the engine room with her. Unkempt gray hair, two-day beard stubble; his blue uniform told her he was part of the ferry crew—one of the ferry’s pilots on break. He quietly sipped coffee, raising and lowering his eyebrows as if in some silent conversation with himself.

  Allie was up to her waist now, her legs dangling through the bottom of the boat, into the water. That’s when something occurred to her.

  The preppie girl at the pizza place!

  When Allie had “surfed” that girl, she had felt like a kite lifted off the ground by the girl’s thoughts. What if Allie could do that again—this time with the old man?

  It was a long shot, but she had to try. Slogging her way through the steel of the ship’s hull took everything she was worth. The hull was thick enough to slow her descent, but also so thick that pulling herself through it took a huge effort of will. In the end, she had to resort to kicking; her feet in the water below and moving her hands through the air, as if she were swimming. She was down to her belly button by the time she got near the man, who sat in his chair, oblivious to her. She could feel the cold water of the bay passing through her middle, filling the spot where her stomach had once been.

  Just a few more moments and I’ll be gone, she thought.

  And so with a last bit of strength she leaned forward, toward the man in the chair, and touched him. She felt a rush of blood, the pumping of a heart, and she became a kite lifted into the air. Allie could no longer feel the cold of the water, and — —i’ll never win i have to win i have no chance i have every chance numbers numbers which numbers lucky numbers four twenty-five birthday seven twelve fourteen ages of the grandkids thirty-nine years we’ve been married eighteen million and if i win that lottery i’ll never go to staten island again — Allie couldn’t feel her feet, she couldn’t feel her hands, she couldn’t feel anything, and all she could hear were his thoughts. It was as if her body had suddenly ceased to exist and she was just pure spirit, cocooned within another person’s being. She opened her eyes, not realizing she had even closed them, and now what she saw seemed very different from what she’d seen before. There had been a green coffee mug on the table, but now looking at it, she couldn’t tell whether it was green or red. Her eyes jerked toward a red light above the engine involuntarily, only the light wasn’t red anymore, just pale white. Now she finally realized what was going on.

  I am seeing through his eyes, and he’s color-blind.

  She watched the coffee cup come up to her lips and then back down again. She could almost taste the coffee.

  — win gotta win numbers all in the numbers — His lottery thoughts assaulted her mind and he didn’t even know she was there.

  The next time he brought the coffee cup to his lips she could swear she actually tasted the brew, and then in a few more moments she began to feel something spectacular: she felt hot. Hot from the coffee, hot from the heat of the engine.

  She could feel fingertips touching the handle of the mug, the pressure against skin, the tag of the shirt at the back of the neck. There was a numbness about it, true — as if her entire body had been shot with novocaine —but there was no doubting that she was feeling with the nerves of living flesh once again. Itwas all so startling, she forgot for a moment why she was there.

  —numbers numbers lucky numbers, the man’s thoughts droned on, i have as good a chance as any ten times the chance if I buy ten tickets — And then it hit her that she had spent at least a minute here, while the ferry was still moving. She may have already missed her chance to intercept the McGill’s ship! She could leap out of him now, but the fear of sinking through the bottom of the hull was so great in her that she didn’t dare. If only the pilot would go to the upper decks instead of just sitting here, he would carry her with him.

  —numbers, lucky numbers what if I add them all together and divide by 7?— Her frustration kept on building. “Stop thinking about the stupid lottery and get up!”

  And suddenly the man put down his coffee cup and stood.

  Was it coincidence? Allie didn’t know for sure.

  The man remained standing for a moment, then slowly settled back down in his chair, slightly bewildered.

  If her thoughts had made him get up, maybe she could do it again. Allie filled herself with the same frustration and determination. “Stand up!” she insisted.

  Again the man stood.

  —numbers lottery numbers why did i just stand up?— Okay, thought Allie. This was something new. It was clear that the man still had no idea she was there, and he couldn’t tell the difference between her thoughts and his own, Allie tried to take advantage of that.

  “Go to the upper deck,” Allie said. “You always take your break down below, and you never enjoy the view. ”

  —it’s too hot down here anyway, i should go on deck—the man thought.

  Allie felt the strange, numb sensation of fabric against skin as he rose and climbed the stairs. The cold of the auto level hit Allie suddenly. She couldn’t actually feel the chill, but she could feel him feeling cold, and she realized she had pushed him up here with such a strength of will, he had forgotten to take his coat.

  “Next deck,” Allie whispered. He obeyed.

  The first passenger deck was warm, although not as warm as the engine room. He continued climbing up to the top level, which was open to the snowy day. Now, through this man, Allie could lean against the railing without falling through it.

  But when Allie scanned the waters she was shocked to see the McGill’s ship was no longer there! She could see nothing but the shore of Staten Island in the distance. She panicked for a moment, until understanding set in.

  I’m seeing through his eyes, she reminded herself, and he can’t see the ghost ship.

  She stepped out of him. It was easy, like slipping out of an overcoat, and the second she did, the nature of the world changed again. The McGill’s ship reappeared now that she was viewing the world through her own ghostly eyes. The McGill’s ship was off to the right, but the ferry was moving too fast. At this rate the ferry would pass in front of it, not coming any closer than a hundred yards!

  Filled with a sense of fury and despair, she turned to the old ferry pilot, but he was no longer there. She found him heading toward the ferry’s bridge. She hurried after him, and stepped right back into the old man, stealthily.

  Immediately the world she saw became his color-blind living world, as he opened the door to the bridge, and went in.

  The ferry’s bridge was small and smelled of old varnish. Another, younger pilot was at the controls.

“Winds are killer today,” said the younger ferryman. “They oughta make these things more aerodynamic. ”

  “Yah,” said the old man, absently.

  The younger man glanced over at him for a second. “Something wrong? “

  “Nah, nah,” he said, “it’s just…nothing, I don’t know. Something weird. ”

  Allie knew he was sensing her. Even though she was hiding beneath the threshold of his understanding, he was feeling the hint of her presence. A plan was forming in her mind, but if he was becoming aware of her, she would have to make her move quickly, or it would be too late.

  “Tell him to take his break early,” Allie demanded. “Take over the controls. ”

  Suddenly Allie felt the body of the old man turn, looking around as if searching for someone behind him. “What the-?”

  “Something bite yah?” asked the younger pilot. “I’ll tell yah, the bugs here don’t know it’s winter. They breed down in the engine room, and crawl up here between the bulkheads. ”

  “Do it!” Allie insisted. “Take control of the ferry now!”

  But the old man said — —no!— There was a panic in his thoughts and Allie knew she had been exposed.

  — who are you? what do you want?— In her panic, she considered leaping out of him, and right into the other pilot—but she had never done a person-to-person leap before. No, it was best to stay where she was and work with the old man. She calmed herself down, and spoke to him through her thoughts.

  “That doesn’t matter,” she told him, “all that matters is that you take the wheel and change course. ”

  “No!” He said it aloud, this time.

  The other man looked at him. “No, what?”

  “No … uh … it wasn’t a bug,” he said. “At least not the kind you’re talking about. ”

  The other guy didn’t know what to make of it, so he just turned his attention forward.

  “Never mind who I am,” Allie thought. “You have to take the wheel! You have to change course!”

  But he wouldn’t. That’s when Allie made a calculated move. This was a battle of wills, and although she was a stranger in his skin, her sense of touch didn’t seem as numb as it had before. Maybe…just maybe… Allie thrust a hand forward and found that the hand moved. It wasn’t her hand but the old pilots. His fingers quivered as two spirits struggled to control it, but in the end Allie won. She wasn’t just mind-surfing now, she was body-surfing, and could use this man’s body as if it were her own. She grasped the shoulder of the younger pilot and spoke, but when her voice came out it was the dry, raspy voice of a man who had smoked two packs of cigarettes a day his whole life.

  “You can go below,” Allie heard herself say in the old man’s voice. “I’ll finish off this run. ” The younger ferryman offered no argument. He nodded and left, happy for some break time.

  Inside her thoughts, the old pilot clawed for control of his limbs again.

  “Patience!” Allie told him. “Patience, it will be over soon. ”

  But that only made him more terrified.

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