Everlost, p.25
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       Everlost, p.25

         Part #1 of Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman
 
Page 25

 

  camouflaged nets tied to Everlost trees. A Greensoul would see a candy bar, or a bucket of popcorn, or whatever else the McGill was able to use as bait, but the second the kid grabbed it, the trap sprung, and there the kid was caught until the McGill’s crew came to cut him down. Easy as catching a rabbit.

  The McGill was pleased with the current state of his world. Things were coming together nicely. He had to believe that finding this girl Allie was no coincidence. Forces in the universe were conspiring in his favor. Whether they were forces of light or forces of darkness…well, that was yet to be determined.

  The morning after Allie’s unexpected arrival, the McGill went down to her quarters, and found her there, reading one of those blasted books by Mary Queen of Snots.

  When he entered, Allie casually glanced at him from her bed, then returned her attention to the book. “Mary’s books are sooo annoying,” she told the McGill.

  “You can’t tell the truth from the lies. Someday I’ll set her straight. ”

  It was hard for him not to smile. She disliked Mary, just as he did. This was a good sign.

  The McGill tossed his head in a calculated gesture of disdain. His greasy hair whipped around, and flung some slime against the wall. “You will teach me how to skinjack now. ”

  She turned a page in her book, ignoring him. “I don’t follow orders. ”

  The McGill paused, not sure whether to spit worms at her, or treat her with uncharacteristic patience. He chose patience. “You will teach me how to skinjack now…please. ”

  Allie put down the book and sat up. “Well, as long as you used the magic word, sure, why not. ”

  She did not appear disgusted in the least when she looked at him. This was troublesome. Everybody, even his own crew, found him utterly repulsive. His power to repel was a matter of pride. He made a mental note that he would have to come up with new and inventive ways to disgust her.

  What the McGill didn’t realize was that Allie was disgusted, but she was extremely good at keeping her emotions to herself when she wanted to.

  Allie had decided that the McGill already had enough power over her; she wasn’t willing to give him the satisfaction of nausea.

  “The art of skinjacking,” Allie began; “lesson number one. ”

  “I’m listening. ”

  Allie hesitated. She had truly painted herself into a corner here, because if there was ever a spirit that should not know how to skinjack, it was the McGill.

  She barely knew how to do it herself, having only tried it once with the ferry pilot—but the McGill didn’t know that. As far as he knew, she ‘was an expert. As long as she acted like an expert, she could get away with just about anything.

  “Possessing the living is a very complicated thing,” she said with authority.

  “First we must find…uh … a Vortex of Spirit. ”

  “A Vortex of Spirit,” repeated the McGill. “I don’t know what that is. ”

  Neither did Allie, but that really didn’t matter.

  “Do you mean a place that’s already haunted?” the McGill asked.

  “Yes, that’s it. ”

  “A place that’s haunted without explanation?”

  “Exactly!”

  The McGill stroked his swollen chin as he thought. “I know a place like that. A house in Long Island. We went there in search of Afterlights to capture. We didn’t find a single one, but the walls of the house kept telling us to get out. ”

  “Okay,” said Allie. “Then that’s where our lessons will begin. ”

  The McGill nodded. “I will call for you when we arrive. ”

  Once he was gone, Allie let her revulsion out, shivering and squirming, and then she returned to her bed, disgusting herself further with Mary Hightower’s volume of misinformation. She hoped that couched between Mary’s useless tips there might be a clue to defeating the McGill—the trick was finding it.

  The McGill, being an arrogant creature, believed he could see through anyone who was lying. It was that arrogance that kept him from seeing how completely Allie was tricking him. He strolled along the deck, pleased with this new wrinkle in his existence. Around him, his crew did their busywork on deck. There was little point to all the cleaning, the swabbing, and the polishing the crew did. What was rusty now would always be rusty. What was covered in sulphur dust would stay that way, no matter how much the crew tried to wipe it away. The best they could do was to clear away the cookie crumbs the McGill often left behind. Still, the McGill insisted that his ship be like a real ship. his crew like a real crew, and cleaning is what crews did. It was always the same crew members cleaning the same things, and at the same time of day. Routine. It’s what made a ghost ship a ghost ship. Allie, however, was a break from the routine.

  He proudly strolled past his crewmen, flicking little black bugs at them, or spitting on their shoes—just to remind them who was boss. Then he returned to the bridge and ordered the ship turned around, heading back toward Long Island and the haunted house he had told Allie about. Then he sat in his throne, reaching toward a tarnished brass spittoon that sat next to it. The bowl was originally used for spitting tobacco, phlegm, and other vile things, but it served a different function here. The McGill dug his claw in, and pulled out a fortune cookie—one of many that filled the copper pot.

  Mary Hightower was not a fan of fortune cookies, and told her readers so. Just thinking about it made the McGill laugh. What Mary didn’t tell her readers is that fortune cookies were plentiful in Everlost—not quite as plentiful as those faceless coins, but far more useful. For once, Mary had done him a service. If others stayed away from the cookies, it meant there were more for him!

  The McGill crushed the fortune cookie in his fingers, hurling the crumbs out on the deck for his crew to fight over like seagulls, then he settled into his throne and read the small slip of paper that had been hidden in the cookie.

  Out of the water will come your salvation.

  Allie had come to him out of the water, hadn’t she? He leaned back, well satisfied with himself.

  The house on Long Island did, indeed, tell them to get out.

  It told them loudly, it told them often. It was an annoying house. It was, however, all bark and no bite. There was a young couple living in the house — and although it yelled at them, too, they apparently could not hear it as they were both deaf. Since the house had no appendages by which to communicate in American sign language, it was profoundly frustrated. It must have been very satisfying for the house to finally have spirits within its walls who could hear it—even if they weren’t inclined to listen. Regardless, Allie had to admit it was the perfect location for her first bogus lesson in skinjacking.

  “Okay,” Allie told the McGill, “first find a dead-spot in the room,” which was not very difficult since the whole house was spotted with them like Swiss cheese. Apparently many people had died here. Allie didn’t want to think about it.

  The McGill took a spot near a window facing the sea. “Now what?”

  “Close your eyes. ”

  “My eyes don’t close,” the McGill reminded her.

  “Right. Okay then, keep your eyes open. Face the ocean…and wait for the sun to rise. ”

  “It’s noon,” the McGill pointed out.

  “Yes, I know. You have to stand here, and wait until tomorrow when the sun rises, then stare into the rising sun. ”

  “Get…Owwwwwwwwt,” said the house.

  “If we have to be here at dawn, why didn’t you tell me that before we came?”

  “You know what your problem is?” Allie said. “You have no patience. You’re immortal, it’s not like you’re going anywhere. Skinjacking takes patience. Stand here, and wait until dawn. ”

  The McGill gave her an evil eye, spat out a wad of something brown on her shoe, and said, “Fine. But you wait with me. If I have to listen to this stupid house, then so do you. ”

  So they waited, ignoring the pointles
s activities of the people who lived there, and turning a deaf ear to the house.

  The next morning however was overcast, and instead of a rising sun, the horizon was filled with a ribbon of gray.

  “You’ll have to wait until tomorrow,” Allie told the McGill.

  “Why? What does this have to do with possessing the living?”

  Allie rolled her eyes as if the answer was obvious. “Staring at the sun at dawn gives you soul-sight. Not every living person can be possessed. Soul-sight allows you to see which ones you’ll be able to skinjack, and which ones you won’t. ”

  The McGill looked at her doubtfully. “And this is how you learned?”

  “Well,” said Allie, “it’s the first step. ”

  “How many steps are there?”

  “Twelve. ”

  The McGill regarded her with his wandering, mismatched eyes, then asked, “Is anyone in this house possessible?”

  Allie thought back to when she caught glimpses of the occupants speaking to one another by means of complex hand gestures. In truth, anyone was possessible, but she wouldn’t let the McGill know that. The whole point of this was to make sure she didn’t teach the McGill anything at all. The whole point was to stall long enough to learn the McGill’s weaknesses. If she could drag him through twelve ridiculous steps, convincing him that at the end he’d learn how to skinjack, she might find the key to defeating him—or at least, a way to free her friends.

  Either way, she knew she’d have to make a quick escape when it was all over, because when the McGill finally figured out that he was being duped, his fury would reverberate through all of Everlost.

  “The woman is possessible,” Allie told the McGill.

  “Show me,” the creature said. “Skinjack her now. ”

  Allie clenched her teeth. Her experience taking control of the ferry pilot had been exciting, but frightening. It had been an intense experience, but ~ also fundamentally gross—like wearing someone else’s sweaty clothes. Still, if she were going to keep stringing the McGill along, she would have to deliver.

  “Okay, I’ll do it. But only if you tell me why you’ve got all those kids strung up in your ship. And why you put numbers on them. ”

  He considered the question, then said, “I’ll tell you AFTER you skinjack the woman. ”

  “Fine. ” Allie rolled her shoulders like a runner getting ready for a race, then approached the woman in the kitchen. Stepping in was easier this time than it had been with the ferry pilot, perhaps because she was a woman, or perhaps because practice made perfect. The woman never quite knewwhat hit her. What struck Allie first was the absolute silence. She almost panicked, thinking something was wrong, until she remembered the woman was deaf. The world around Allie now was brighter—the way it appeared to the living—and she could feel the seductive density of flesh. She flexed her fingers, and found that it had only taken a few moments to push the woman’s consciousness down, and take control.

  Allie looked around. Through the woman’s eyes she could no longer see the McGill, but she knew he was there. If he wanted proof that she could possess people, he would have proof. She rummaged around in the kitchen drawers until she found a permanent marker, then went to the wall and wrote in big block letters:

 
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