Everlost, p.29
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       Everlost, p.29

         Part #1 of Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman
Page 29


  He looked around him. None of the kids who had been near him before were near him now—he was faced with an entire new set of neighbors. In fact everyone was chatting; those who remembered their names were introducing themselves. This was more life than any of these kids had shown for years. Even the screamer, who had pouted ever since Allie forbid him to scream, was happily talking away. Still, while the tangle brought some much needed variety to their dangling existence, it hadn’t freed anyone. Nick had to think—there had to be more he could do. And then, among all the chatty voices he heard one kid ask:

  “What time is it?”

  Through the interwoven ropes, he saw the kid in pajamas who everyone called Hammerhead. An idea came to him, and it amazed Nick that no one in the chiming chamber had thought of this before, being so deep and docile in their upside-down ruts. But then, Nick himself hadn’t really been thinking outside the box until today, had he? There “wasn’t much slack left in Nick’s rope, but he pulled his way through the clog of kids, and got them to shift positions, enabling him to inch forward until finally he was just a few feet away from Hammerhead, who smiled at him, showing his pointy teeth. “This is more fun than a feeding frenzy!”

  “Uh… right. Hey, how’d you like to help me out?”

  “Sure. What do you want me to do?” It took Hammerhead less than five minutes to gnaw through Nick’s rope.

  “There’s a problem in the chiming chamber,” a nervous crewman told the McGill.

  The McGill sat forward in his throne. “What kind of problem?”

  “Well… sir … they all seem to have gotten…tangled. ”

  “So untangle them. ”

  “Well…it’s not as easy as it sounds. ”

  Frustrated, the McGill came out on deck, and went over to the grate above the chiming chamber. He pulled it open, and looked down into the depths to see the situation for himself. His captives weren’t just tangled, they were talking.

  They sounded…happy. This was entirely unacceptable.

  “Do we have something vile to pour on them?”

  “I’ll go check,” said the crewman, and he ran off.

  The McGill looked down at the tangled mob of kids again. “They look very uncomfortable,” he said. Certainly they were talking now, but in time, they’d grow tired of this new situation, and realize how much more unpleasant this tangle was than simply hanging upside down.

  “Pour something on them, then let them be,” the McGill told the crewman when he returned. “They’ll be miserable again soon enough. ”

  As he walked off, for an instant the McGill thought he caught a whiff of chocolate somewhere on the open deck, but decided it must have just been his imagination.

  Chapter 22

  Member of the Cabinet Nick had made it out, but there was nowhere on the Sulphur Queen for him to go.

  Everywhere, at every staircase, every gangway, every hatchway was some Ugloid cleaning. True, the ship was full of dark corners in which to hide, but dark corners were useless to him, because he couldn’t douse his Afterlight glow. A corner was no longer dark once he was in it. He didn’t have a plan yet for getting off the ship, but maybe if he could find Allie they could work together.

  By now she must know the ship better than he did. The problem was, he had no idea where she was, and he wasn’t in any position to go traipsing around the ship looking for her. In the end, he retreated back into the bowels of the ship.

  Not the chiming chamber, but one of the treasure holds. It was the best place to hide, for no one dared to come down and disturb the McGill’s possessions. He would hide here until the night hours, when the crew was down below, engaged in games, or brawls, or whatever. Those were the hours when he could more easily sneak around the ship. Then he would search for Allie. But for now, he found himself a large oak cabinet. He slipped inside, pulled the doors tightly closed and waited.

  The dragon’s hoard in the central treasure hold was a treacherous mountain of mismatched booty. Allie, who had been here several times hunting for books worth reading and other things to pass the time, knew she had seen an old-fashioned typewriter, she just wasn’t sure ‘where. The stuff in the chamber was a mixture of pure junk and treasure. The McGill did not discriminate; if an object crossed over, and he could get his hot little hands on it, it came onboard, and got dumped here. Jewels sat side by side with empty beer bottles.

  The McGill was currently in his “war room,” planning a landing party to a Greensoul trap in Rockaway Point. As he was occupied, this gave Allie time to search. Climbing between the old filing cabinets and car tires, coat racks, and bed frames was no easy chore, and with no light but her own glow to guide her through the debris, it was rough going. She nearly got pinned beneath an airplane propeller, and flattened by an iron lung, but finally she found the typewriter beneath an old table. It was made of black dull metal. The keys were faded from many years of use before it had crossed over. A little emblem on its face said “Smith-Corona. ”

  Her grandmother had an old-fashioned typewriter like this one—she still used it.

  “Words aren’t words unless you pound them out,” she used to say. Allie found a slip of paper among the mess, and figured out how to load it into the machine.

  Typing, Allie discovered, was a lot like key-boarding, with none of the speed and five times the effort. She shuddered to think of people spending day after day plunging their fingers against the little circular keys, which sank down a whole inch before flinging up an iron arm to smack the ribbon and leave a single letter imprinted on the page. She was thankful she had only a short phrase to type, but even so, she made enough mistakes to slow her down. The little typing arms kept getting stuck together like too many people trying to fit through a door. It took her four attempts before she had typed her message perfectly, then she put the typewriter back where she found it, and went looking for scissors.

  In the end she had to settle for the tiny scissors on a Swiss Army knife she had found on the floor. When she was done, she slipped the little piece of paper into her pocket. She was about to put down the Swiss Army knife when she heard the voice behind her.

  “Admiring my treasure?”

  She spun so fast, the Swiss Army knife flew from her hand and embedded itself in the McGill’s dangling eye. He pulled it out and dropped it to the floor. The wound healed instantaneously, as did all wounds in Everlost.

  “Careful,” he said. “You’ll put out an eye with that thing. ”

  Allie gave him a weak little chuckle.

  “If you’re trying to steal something, I wouldn’t if I were you,” he said.

  “Anything you steal I will make you eat. It might not hurt but you’ll feel it sitting heavy in your stomach forever. ”

  “I’m not stealing,” Allie told him. “I’m just exploring. ”

  The McGill turned to look toward the door leading to the chiming chamber. “I’m surprised you’re not visiting your friends. ’ “I don’t need to visit them,” she said. “You’ll free them soon enough. ”

  “Are you so sure of that? How do you know I’ll keep my word?”

  “I don’t. But what choice do I have but to trust you?”

  The McGill pulled his lips back in a smile, and reached a hand toward her. She grimaced, not wanting to feel his dry bloated touch, but instead her cheek was met by something soft. She looked down to see that his right hand was no longer covered in peeling scales, but instead in soft, mink-like fur. The fingertips still had sharpened yellow nails, but the hand itself was soft.

  “As I said, I’ve been working on giving myself a soft touch. ”

  Allie still pulled away. “Don’t change yourself for me. ”

  “I’ll change myself anyway I like. ”

  “It’s still monstrous. ”

  “Good. That’s how I like it. ”

  The McGill looked around proudly at his treasure trove. “There are girls’ clothes in here. You could find something
nicer to wear. ”

  “I can’t take off what I’m wearing. It’s what I died in. ”

  “You can wear something over it. ”

  Then the McGill spotted a big oak cabinet. “I think there might be something in here,” and with both hands he grabbed the handles and pulled it open ·wide.

  Nick had heard the whole conversation between Allie and the McGill, and through it all he counted the seconds until the McGill would leave. When he heard the McGill mention the cabinet, his heart sank. It was just his luck wasn’t it? If the McGill opened the cabinet and saw him, he’d probably hurl the entire thing over the side with Nick still in it. Nick pulled his knees to his chest, tried desperately to hide behind a wedding dress that was hanging there, and closed his eyes.

  The cabinet creaked open, and Allie, who was standing a few feet back, saw Nick immediately. She gasped. She couldn’t help it. The McGill, however, standing right in front of the cabinet, had a view of the wedding dress, and not the boy behind it. The McGill turned to Allie, obviously thinking her gasp was about the gown.

  Allie forced her eyes away from Nick, so the McGill couldn’t follow her gaze.

  The tip of Nick’s shoe was sticking out from under the dress, so Allie approached it, and fluffed the petticoat out a bit, pretending to admire the lacy fabric. It hid the tip of the shoe from view. Thankfully the dress was thick enough to hide Nick’s glow, and the cabinet had a strong camphor stench of mothballs, which overpowered any hint of chocolate in the air.

  “I won’t be a monster’s bride,” Allie said, then she grabbed the doors of the cabinet and forced them closed, nearly catching the McGill’s hand in the process. The McGill glared at her. “Who said I’d ask you?” Then he stormed away.

  Allie waited until she was sure he was gone, then waited twice that long again before she returned to the cabinet and pulled it open.

  “What are you doing in here! Do you know how dangerous it is? If they find out you escaped—”

  “They won’t find out. There are hundreds of kids in there—it’s not like they count us all the time. ”

  “If you’re caught, you’re history. ”

  “So I won’t get caught. ”

  Allie looked around. “Did Lief come with you? Is he hiding somewhere else?”

  Nick shook his head. “He’s still in there with the others. ” Then he smiled.

  “It’s a mess in there, I got them all tangled up. ”

  “How is hiding in here any better than hanging in there?”

  “I’m not staying in this cabinet. As soon as I can, I’m getting off this ship, and I’m bringing back help. ”

  “And exactly how are you going to do that?”

  “That’s the part I haven’t figured out yet. ”

  “I’m the one with the plan,” said Allie. “Escaping now will just screw things up!”

  “We’ve been waiting on your ‘plan’ for weeks. ”

  Weeks, thought Allie. Has it been weeks? “The best plans take time,” she told him.

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