Everlost, p.23
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       Everlost, p.23

         Part #1 of Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman
Page 23


  Gripping on to the wheel Allie pulled to the right. Now she could not see where the McGill’s ship was, but she remembered the spot where it had been. The boat began a turn that took it off its well-run course.

  All at once it occurred to Allie, I am alive again! I am flesh, blood and bone.

  Is that what the kid had meant when he said there were other ways to be alive again? She knew she had discovered something major here, but she couldn’t deal with that right now.

  She held the new course for a full minute. By the time that minute had passed, the body she wore was shaking with the force of the man’s spirit trying to reclaim himself, and finally she let him, because she had done what she had set out to do.

  The moment she stepped out of his body, the man yelped, then quickly gained control of himself. He blotted his sweating forehead, and rather than letting the shock of what had happened fill him, he instead turned his attention to the wheel, quickly pulling it back on course toward Staten Island. She did, however, hear him praying beneath his breath, whispering a series of Hail Marys. She wanted to tell him that it was okay— that this was a one-shot deal that would never happen to him again, but with the McGill’s ship so close, she didn’t have time.

  Her change of course had brought them right into the path of the oncoming ghost ship. The bow of the McGill’s huge vessel rammed right into the ferry’s starboard side, but rather than slicing it in half, it simply passed through, as if the ferry wasn’t there. Around her the details of the ferry seemed to fade into nothing, as the Everlost reality of the ghost ship cancelled it out, plowing forward — and Allie remembered what Mary had said about how hard it was to see two things occupying the same space.

  The bow of the McGill’s ship hit her, catching her solidly, and she realized she could not pass through this steel! If she didn’t find something to hold on to, the McGill’s ship would push her out of the ferry, and right into the sea. She reached for anything that she could grab on to and finally the anchor hanging from a hole in the bow swept past. She grabbed it, held on to it, and was lifted out of the ferry’s airspace. In a moment the ferry was gone, chugging steadily toward Staten Island, and Allie was clinging for all she was worth to an anchor suspended above the churning water of New York bay. Silently thanking her parents for forcing her to stay in gymnastics for four years, she climbed the anchor chain, and deftly flipped onto the deck of the ghost ship.

  She surprised a team of unlikely pirates, who grabbed her the second she was on board. They were even more unpleasantly distorted than the Altar Boys. They practically carried her to the highest deck, where something slouched on a gaudy throne.

  The thing on the throne was far from human. Allie found it horrifying to look, yet harder to look away. It had sharp, three-fingered talons for hands, and skin as red as a lobster and pocked like the moon. Its mismatched eyes wandered of their own accord, and its nasty tuft of spidery hair looked like it might crawl off the creature’s head at any moment. This thing was beyond grotesque —so far beyond that Allie found her fear balanced by fascination. How could something so horrible exist?

  “What are you?” she said. She thought she said it to herself but realized she had spoken aloud.

  “I am the McGill,” it said. “Hear my name and tremble. ”

  And Allie laughed. She didn’t mean to, but that line was so goofy, she couldn’t help herself.

  The McGill frowned, or at least she thought it frowned. It waved a dirty claw, and all the assembled “pirates” scrambled away like rats, except for the small-headed one standing beside her.

  “I will make you suffer in ways you cannot imagine,” the McGill said, and although Allie believed it, she wasn’t going to let this beast see her fear the way she had let the Haunter see it. If there was one thing she had learned, it was that monsters only had the power that you gave them. But she also knew that monsters didn’t deal well with blatant disrespect. She had already disrespected the McGill once; she would probably not get away with it again.

  “I’ve heard that you are the greatest creature in all of Everlost. ” She nodded respectfully. “Now I see that it’s true. ”

  The McGill smiled, or at least Allie thought it smiled. It turned its dangling eye toward the misproportioned boy beside it. “What do you think, Pinhead, should I throw her overboard, or something worse?”

  “Worse,” answered Pinhead. Somehow Allie knew he’d say that.

  The McGill shifted in its throne, trying to make that unsightly body more comfortable, which seemed an impossibility. “But first I want to know how you snuck on board my ship. ”

  Allie grinned. “No one’s ever done that before, have they?”

  “Actually, no,” said Pinhead, and the McGill threw him a burning gaze before turning back to Allie.

  “How did you do it?” demanded the McGill.

  “I’ll tell you, but only if— “

  The McGill didn’t let her finish. It waved a clawed hand. “‘Only if’ nothing, I don’t make deals. Throw her overboard, I’ve lost interest in her. ”

  Pinhead moved to grab her, but she slipped out of his grasp.

  “No,” said Allie. “Wait—I’ll tell you how I got on your ship. ”

  Pinhead hesitated. She thought she might get what she wanted if she played this right, but realized that she could not play at all. The McGill did not play games, and truly intended to toss her over. The best she could do was to stall with hopes of finding some way to bargain for the lives of Nick and Lief…assuming they hadn’t already been hurled overboard themselves.

  “I took the Staten Island Ferry,” she said quickly, “and I slipped on board as it passed through your ship. ”

  Suddenly both of the McGill’s wandering eyes zeroed in on her. It gripped the edge of the throne with its claws and pushed itself up.

  “That ferry changed course,” the McGill said, “almost as if it was intentional.

  Did you do that?”

  Allie wondered which response would keep her from being thrown overboard, yes or no. In the end she realized her answer was really the best of both worlds. “Yes and no,” she said.

  The McGill took a step closer. “Explain. ”

  “I couldn’t make the ship turn myself, so I sort of leaped into the pilot’s body and took over for a few seconds. ”

  The McGill maintained its hideous stare in silence. “You expect me to believe this,” it finally said.

  “Believe what you want, but I’m telling you the truth. ”

  The creature eyed her for a few moments more. “So then, you’re telling me that you know how to usurp, possess, and control the living? You can actually skinjack?

  Allie didn’t like the sound of that. Is that what she had done? Had she possessed the pilot? Had she skinjacked him? It sounded so … criminal. “I prefer to think of it as ‘body-surfing. ’”

  The McGill laughed at that. “Body-surfing. Very good. ” It scratched thoughtfully for a moment at the stalk of its smaller, dangling eye. “What’s your name?”

  “Allie,” she answered. “Allie the Outcast. ”

  The McGill, not at all impressed by her title, dug a single claw into its oversized nose, pulling out a booger the size of a roach, and flicked it to the wall where it stuck. Allie grimaced.

  “Take her below,” The McGill told Pinhead.

  “Shall I chime her with the others?”

  “No,” the McGill said. “Put her in the guest quarters. ”

  Pinhead nodded obediently and took Allies arm with slightly more respect than he might have a moment ago. Allie, however, sensing her bargaining position had now changed, shrugged Pinhead off.

  “You took two of my friends from the Haunter. ”

  The McGill became very attentive. “Friends,” the monster said slowly.

  “Are they here?”

  “Maybe they are, and maybe they aren’t. For now you will go to your quarters.

  When I w
ant you, I’ll call for you. ”

  She sighed, knowing she couldn’t push it any further. “Thank you for being so … merciful,” Allie said. “But I would appreciate it if Pea-brain here would keep his hands off me. ”

  “That’s Pinhead,” corrected the boy. “Pea-brain works in the engine room. ”

  The McGill waved a hand in dismissal, Pinhead bowed to Allie in a mock gesture of courtesy, and she was led to the guest quarters with more dignity than any Afterlight had experienced on the Sulphur Queen since its crossing into Everlost.

  Once the girl was gone, the McGill lumbered back to his throne and sat down.

  From the little perch where the throne sat, he had a view of the ocean before him…They had crossed beneath the Verrazano Bridge, and the Sulphur Queen would soon be out in the Atlantic, on its endless journey up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

  The McGill rarely allowed himself flights of fancy—he kept his existence pessimistic, always expecting the negative, and reveling when the worst didn’t come to pass—but this girl had struck a chord in him.

  Skinjacking! This was a power more useful than any of the powers he already possessed. To be able to leap from one body to another at will; intruding into the living world, then finding new flesh to inhabit whenever it suited him — how-powerful that would make him! Could this girl teach him how to do that? If so, it would be worth putting all of his other plans on hold. Yes, this new associate offered some exciting possibilities.

  The closest Mary Hightower comes to mentioning the McGill is in her book Caution, This Means You! Between paragraphs on the dangers of gravitational vortexes and reality television, Mary writes, “If you find a dead-spot containing something of great value, like jewelry, food that has crossed over, or any other object that seems too good to be true, chances are that it is too good to be true. Stay away from these places, or you may find yourself in a very unpleasant circumstance. ” It is commonly believed that she is referring to the McGill’s Greensoul traps, which are rumored to be strategically placed up and down the East Coast. Of course, their existence has never been proven. … Everlost CHAPTER 17

  The Chiming Chamber Unlike Mary Hightower, the McGill did not write any books. The way he saw it, information was best hoarded, much like the objects in his treasure hold. The less information others knew, the more power he had over them. Still, the McGill secretly read every book that Mary Hightower had written. At first he found it all very amusing, because Mary’s information was wrong as often as it was right.

  The more he read, however, the more he realized that Mary was not getting her facts wrong at all. She was deliberately distorting what she knew when it suited her. In this way, she was very much like the McGill, holding all the best information in. The fact that Mary did not mention the McGill in any of her writings was a constant thorn in his side. He was a legend. He was, after all, the One True Monster of Everlost, and he deserved at the very least a chapter.

  Was that so much to ask? Someday, he would take on this Mary, defeat her, enslave her, and then force her to write an entire encyclopedia about him. But for now his interest was in a different girl.

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