Everlost, p.28
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       Everlost, p.28

         Part #1 of Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman
Page 28


  “I’m surprised he told you something like that. ”

  “He didn’t,” Pinhead said. “I was the one who set him free. ” Then Pinhead looked at her, studying her face. “I’ve answered your questions,” Pinhead said. “Now I have a question for you. I want to know if you really are teaching the McGill to skinjack. ”

  Allie carefully sidestepped the question. “Well, it’s what he wants. ”

  “The McGill shouldn’t always get what he wants. ”

  She wasn’t expecting that response from Pinhead. “But…don’t you want your master to have that skill?”

  “He’s my captain, not my master,” Pinhead said, some indignance in his voice. He thought for a moment, looking down, then returned his gaze to Allie. It was now a powerful gaze, full of urgency, and maybe a little accusation. “I don’t remember a lot from my living days, but I do remember that my father—or was it my mother— worked in a madhouse. ”

  “A mental institution,” Allie corrected.

  “When I was alive, they didn’t have such nice words for them. Sometimes, I would get to go in. The people there were very sick—but some were more than sick. Some were possessed. ”

  “Things have changed,” Allie pointed out. “They don’t think that kind of thing anymore. ”

  “It doesn’t matter what they think; I know what I know. ”

  Pinhead’s thoughts drifted away for a moment. Allie couldn’t imagine what it would be like to walk through an old-world asylum. She didn’t want to know.

  “Even when I was alive, I knew the difference between the sick ones and the possessed ones. You can see it in their eyes. My mother—or was it my father — said there was no such thing as possession, but you know it happens, because you’ve done it yourself. ”

  “I didn’t drive anyone crazy. ”

  “Well,” said Pinhead, “all I know is that if I were a living, breathing person, I wouldn’t want something like the McGill living inside of me. ”

  “Why should you care? If he skinjacks someone and leaves Everlost, you get to be captain. ”

  “I’m not the captain type,” he said, and he offered her a slanted mudslide of a grin. “Don’t have the head for it. ”

  Allie went back to her cabin and lay down, running what Pinhead had said about the Steel and Steeplechase Piers over and over again in her mind, until an idea came to her: a way to defeat the McGill, or at least a way to distract him enough for her and her friends to escape. The plan was simple, and it was dangerous, but it was the best hope she had.

  All she needed was a small slip of paper…and a typewriter.

  Although the McGill liked no one, he was beginning to suspect that if he ever did like someone, it might be Allie. This troubled him, because he knew she would abandon him and escape with her friends if she could. The McGill, however, believed in the power of blackmail. As long as he had her friends dangling like carrots before her, she would do what he wanted. He knew he would never trust her, because, for the McGill, trust had been left behind with the human condition. The McGill trusted no one but himself, and even then, he was often suspicious of his own motives. He wondered, for instance, if he believed Allie’s twelve-steps-to-possession only because he wanted it so badly. Or worse, did he believe her only because he had begun to like her?

  Since he couldn’t trust himself, he decided he needed verification of Allie s honesty, and so, once Allie was below deck, he called up an oversize kid known as Piledriver. Piledriver’s claim to fame was that he had died in a living-room wrestling mishap, while costumed as his favorite professional wrestler. The McGill often brought him along on shore raids to inspire fear in Greensouls who had not yet realized that pain and joint dislocation were no longer an issue.

  Today, however, the McGill had a different mission for Piledriver.

  “Take two crewmen and a lifeboat,” the McGill told him, after he explained the nature of the mission. “Leave in the middle of the night, when the rest of the crew is below. Don’t tell anyone, and once you find what you’re looking for, meet us at Rockaway Point. I’ll hold the Sulphur Queen there until you return. ”

  Piledriver dutifully left, pleased to be given such an important task.

  The McGill reclined in his throne, picking at the jewels on the armrests. If Piledriver did the job right, they would soon know if Allie was telling the truth.

  In her book Everything Mary Says Is Wrong, Volume 2, Allie the Outcast has this to say about the nature of eternity: “Mary may have invented the term ‘Afterlights,’ but that doesn’t mean she really understands what it means to be one. Maybe there’s a reason why we’re here, and maybe there’s not. Maybe it’s an accident, and maybe it’s part of some big-ass plan that we’re too dumb to figure out. All I know is that our light doesn’t fade. That’s got to mean something.

  Finding answers to questions like that is what we ought to be doing, instead of getting lost in endless ruts. ”

  Chapter 21

  Web of the Psychotic Spider Down in the chiming chamber, Nick had grown more and more determined to throw off his shackles. So much of his life had been a game of follow the leader.

  During his living days he had followed friends and trends, never sticking his neck out to do anything on his own. Then, when he first arrived in Everlost, he had followed Allie, because she was the one with momentum. She had always been the one with a goal, and a plan to reach it, however misguided it might be. His time in a pickle barrel had certainly changed his perspective on things. During all that time, he could do nothing but wait for rescue to come from the outside.

  Nothing was worse than that limp, lonely feeling that he had no power over his own fate — and yet here he was again, strung up like a side of beef, just waiting for someone else to help him.

  So many of the kids chimed beside him had grown to accept this. Lief, with his weird post-traumatic bliss, was a constant reminder to Nick that he, too, might someday just leave his will behind, and grow as passive as a plant, waiting for time to do whatever time does to Afterlights. The thought frightened him—it made him anxious, and that anxiety spurred him on to action.

  “I’m finding a way out of here,” he announced to any of the other chimed kids who cared to listen.

  “Ah, shut up,” said the high-strung kid. “Nobody wants to hear it. ”

  A few others echoed their halfhearted agreement.

  “You new chimers just complain, complain, complain,” said some kid from deep in the middle of the chiming chamber—perhaps a kid who had been there for many years, and had lost anything resembling hope.

  “I’m not complaining,” Nick announced, and he realized that, for once, he wasn’t. “I’m doing something about it. ” Then he began to bend at the waist and swing his arms, making himself move like a pendulum.

  Lief smiled at him. “Looks like fun,” he said, and he joined Nick, until they were both swinging together, bounding off of all the other kids around them—kids who were not at all pleased to be jostled out of their semi-vegetative state.

  Grumbles of “Stop it!” and “Leave us alone,” began to echo around the chamber, but Nick would not be deterred.

  He couldn’t quite swing to the door, and even if he could, it was locked from the outside, so that was out of the question, and there were so many kids, he couldn’t build up the momentum to swing free, like a true pendulum. In the end, he wound up accidentally locking elbows with Lief as he swung past him, and they spun around each other, like an upside-down square dance. Their ropes tangled, and they ended up pressed to one another like dance partners.

  The high-strung kid laughed. “Serves you right!” he said. “Now you’ll be stuck like that!”

  Their ropes were hopelessly tangled, and now they were even farther from the ground than when they started.

  Farther from the ground… A stray thought sparked through Nick’s mind so sharply and suddenly, it burst out of his chocolate-covered mouth before he
understood what he meant.

  “Macramé,” he said.

  “Huh?” said Lief.

  One day long ago, when Nick was home from school, too sick to do much of anything else, his grandmother gave him some twine, and showed him how to weave it together into fancy patterns. It was called macramé. He had made a hanging-plant holder that was probably still holding a big old spider plant in his living room.

  “Lief! ” he said. “Twist around me some more. ” And without waiting for Lief to respond, Nick grabbed him and made Lief twist around him again and again until the torque of their tangled ropes made them spin backward, like a rubber band that was wound too tight. But before they could spin too far, Nick said, “Just follow me—do what I do. ”

  Nick reached out and grabbed another kid.

  “Hey!” complained the kid.

  Nick ignored him and twisted the kid’s position so that high above their upside-down feet, their ropes tangled. Lief did the same to a kid next to him.

  By now there were mumbles of kids around them taking notice. This wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill swinging—this had purpose and design. This was something new.

  “What are you doing down there?” demanded the high-strung kid.

  “Everybody!” Nick shouted. “Grab the people around you and start crossing your ropes. Get as tangled as you can!”

  “Why?” the high-strung kid said.

  Nick tried to think of something the high-strung kid would understand. As he was wearing a Boy Scout uniform, Nick figured he knew just the thing. “Ever make a lanyard at Boy Scout camp?” Nick asked. “You know—those plastic strings you weave together to make whistle chains, and stuff?

  “Yeah …”

  “You start with tons and tons of string, right? But when it’s done it’s really short, once all the strings are woven together. ”

  “Yeah …” said the kid, beginning to get it.

  “And if we keep tangling and tying up our ropes like a lanyard, we’ll get higher and higher off the ground—and maybe if we’re high enough, we could reach that grate up there and—”

  “—get out!” said the kid, finishing Nick’s thought.

  “I don’t wanna get tangled,” whined some kid far off.

  “Shut up!” said the high-strung Boy Scout. “I think it might work. Everybody do what he says. Start tangling yourselves!”

  All it took was an order from their leader for every single kid to start tangling. It was a strange dance of kids weaving in and out of one another, grabbing hands, pulling, swinging, stitching their ropes together, and with each stitch made, the collection of hanging kids rose farther off the ground.

  It took more than an hour, and when it was done, and there was not an inch of give left in their ropes, they had risen at least twenty feet. The result was hardly a lanyard, or even a macramé plant holder. Their ropes were a tangled mess, and the kids themselves were all tied up inside it like flies caught in the web of a large, psychotic spider. From where Nick hung, he could see the opening above them, so much closer now, only about ten feet away. If he were free from that blasted rope, he could climb up the tangle, and get out. If only there were rats to chew through these ropes.

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