Everlost, p.33
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       Everlost, p.33

         Part #1 of Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman
Page 33


  “Ignore it!” said the McGill. “It does what it does. Keep walking. ”

  Allie kept walking forward, but saw no one. The Marauders must have known they were there, but they were keeping quiet.

  “Hello!” she called out, but no one answered. “Anyone here?”

  Then to her right she heard the long slow creak of a rusty hinge. She turned to see the dark gaping entrance of some grand ballroom, but a sign taken from one of the steeplechase rides hung crookedly over the entrance. The sign read THE HELL HOLE. This, she realized, was the den of the Marauders. Out of the darkness stepped a boy, his face stretched into a pit bull snarl. He wore a black T-shirt that said “Megadeth,” and held a baseball bat with metal spikes sticking out all over it.

  “Get off my pier!” he growled.

  Then the McGill stepped forward. “I am the McGill and I am calling you out!” he turned and shouted to the entire pier. “Come out from hiding, you cowards! Come out and fight… or flee. ”

  Allie knew what would happen next. The kids who were hiding in the woodwork everywhere, dozens upon dozens of them, would come out. They had to have powers if they had defeated the McGill before—they’d have even more powers now. They would surround the McGill and his crew. The McGill wouldn’t stand a chance.

  But that’s not how it happened.

  The lone marauder with the pit bull snarl stood there posturing for a few more seconds. Then he dropped his spiked bat, turned tail, and ran like a frightened puppy as fast as his legs could carry him toward the shore, disappearing into Atlantic City. Fight or flee, the McGill had said. The boy had made his choice.

  The McGill began to laugh loudly for the whole pier to hear, but still no delinquents came from secret hiding places. “The Mighty Marauders! Hah!”

  The crew checked every inch of both piers, and even the barnacle encrusted pilings beneath. The dead piers were truly dead. The Marauders were gone, and Allie’s hope plunged with the same horrible heaviness of Shiloh, the diving horse.

  It is virtually impossible to read all of Mary Hightower’s books, because she has simply “written so many, and since they were all scribed by hand, copies are hard to come by the farther one gets from her publishing room. Neither the McGill nor Allie had read Mary’s book entitled Feral Children Past and Present.

  If they had, they would have come across this choice nugget in chapter three:

  “Well known for their savagery are the Twin Pier Marauders, who ruled Atlantic City for many years, until they vanished. Although reports are sketchy, more than one Finder has come to me with a story of how the Marauders were lured off their piers and into living world casinos by the seductive ca-ching of the slot machines. Once there, the Marauders were hypnotized by the spinning oranges, plums, and cherries, and sank into the quicksand carpet never to return—which proves beyond a doubt that gambling is very, very bad for you. ”

  Chapter 26

  Oh, the Humanity The McGill’s glorious moment had come, and he was ready for it. He had been preparing for this day for more than twenty years. With no one to challenge his dominion, he began to unload his cargo of Afterlights, and soon the pier had filled with all the kids the McGill had collected, blinking in the light of the hazy morning, with hands tied behind their backs. The fighting instinct had left so many of them, they simply waited for whatever doom the McGill had in store for them.

  The McGill took in the sight of his thousand souls, pleased with himself beyond measure, and, clutching his two most valuable fortunes in his hand, he readied himself to complete the bargain.

  He looked up into the gray fog shrouding the sky, and called out to the heavens for a sign of whoever it was that had set this bargain before him.

  “I’m here!” cried out the McGill, but the sky did not answer. He waved his fortunes in the air. “The life of one brave man is worth a thousand cowardly souls! I have the thousand souls—and I’ve brought them here, just as the fortunes instructed. ”

  No answer. Just hoofbeats, a whinny, and a splash. It was as if the pier itself was mocking him. He yelled even louder. “I’ve lived up to my end of the bargain—now return my life to me! Free me from Everlost, and give me back my life. ”

  The McGill waited. The crew waited, the thousand souls waited. Even the off-key calliope music from the Steeplechase Pier sounded muted and hushed by the gravity of the moment.

  And then another sound began to pierce through the music. It was a faint hum, like a distant chorus of moaning angels, growing louder and louder until it could be felt as much as heard.

  Then something materialized out of the fog. Something huge.

  “Oh my God!” said Allie. “What is that!”

  It was so massive, it didn’t just assault the eye, but the mind as well, until it blocked everything else out.

  “I’m here,” cried the McGill in absolute joy. “I’m heeeeeeeere!” And he spread his arms wide, opening his entire soul to receive his reward as it descended in glory from the heavens.

  Not everything that meets an untimely end crosses into Everlost. Like the atmospheric conditions that lead to a tornado, conditions must be right for crossing. The love of the living, and the occasional sunspot both play a part—but perhaps the most consistent factor is the persistence of memory. There are certain things and places that the living will never—can never forget. These are the things and. places that are destined to cross over.

  In Everlost, Pompeii is a pristine city, and the great library of Alexandria still houses the wisdom of the ancient world.

  In Everlost the Challenger is still on a Florida launchpad, forever hopeful of a successful blastoff, and the Columbia is on the end of the runway, basking in the moment of a perfect landing.

  The same is true of the world’s largest airship.

  Zeppelin LZ-129, better known as the Hindenburg, crossed into Everlost in May of 1937 in a fiery hydrogen blaze that sent thirty-five passengers where they were going, and brought one German boy with it, crossing him into Everlost. Thus, the great airship was reborn, flight ready, filled with a memory of hydrogen gas, and freed from the swastikas on its tail fins, which were denied admittance into Everlost when the rest of the ship crossed.

  As for the boy, he eventually took on the name Zepp, and had the distinction of being Everlost’s first airship pilot. His plan was to offer rides to any Afterlights he happened to come across, in exchange for whatever they could give him. However, like so many in Everlost, he fell victim to his own rut, and for reasons no one has ever been able to explain, he did nothing for sixty years but fly the thing back and forth between Lakehurst, New Jersey, and Roswell, New Mexico.

  It caused quite a stir when sunspot activity briefly made it visible, but that’s another story.

  Eventually Zepp traded the Hindenburg to the Finder known as Speedo for a few cases of bratwurst, and Speedo became the proud owner of the largest airborne vessel ever constructed by man. A sweet ride, if ever there was one.

  The nose of the great gray zeppelin seemed to materialize out of the fog as if arriving from another dimension.

  “I’m here!” cried the McGill in absolute joy. “I’m heeeeeeeeere!”

  Most of the airship’s eight-hundred feet were shrouded in fog as it settled down gently on the Steel Pier, right in front of the McGill. It used its own tiny piloting gondola, which hung beneath, as a makeshift landing gear.

  A gangway opened in the airship’s superstructure in front of the pilot’s gondola, revealing that the great gray balloon was not a balloon at all, for it was filled with structure. It was all silver flesh stretched over a steel skeleton, and massive lungs holding their hydrogen breath, giving more than a hundred tons of lift against gravity. It was a marvel of engineering, but the McGill did not see a zeppelin at all. He saw a chariot of the gods.

  “I’m here!” said the McGill again, but such was his awe that this time it came out as barely a whisper.

  The lowering
gangway touched the deck of the pier, and the McGill waited to get a glimpse of the being with magic enough to give him back his life. It didn’t matter that the living world had moved on without him, or that anyone he knew would be long dead—he barely remembered any of them anyway. Once his spirit was housed in a living body again, he would adapt to this twenty-first century, reclaiming the right to grow, and grow old—a right that death had denied him.

  Three figures descended the gangway, but it was the first who seized the McGill’s attention. A girl in a green velvet dress. As she stepped onto the pier, and strode toward him, the McGill’s crooked jaw went slack, his arms went limp, and the two tiny fortunes he clutched in his claw fell to the ground. This could not be. It simply could not be!


  The girl smiled at the sound of the name. “Megan,” she repeated. “Now I remember. That was my name. ” She stood there ten feet away from the McGill, and as she looked at him the smile faded from her face, but not entirely. Only now did he notice the other two who had come out with her. A small boy with curly blond hair, and another boy with a face smudged brown. Hadn’t the McGill chimed that boy?

  “Megan,” she said again, clearly enjoying the memory of the name. “But that was a long time ago. Now my name is Mary Hightower. ”

  The veins in the McGill’s mismatched eyeballs began pulsing. “You’re Mary Hightower? No! That’s not possible!”

  “I knew you’d be surprised. But I’ve always known who you were, Mikey. How could I help but know?”

  Through the crew, and even among the captive kids, a whisper rolled like an ocean wave… . Mikey Mikey she called him Mikey… “Don’t call me that!” yelled the McGill. “That’s not my name! I am the McGill:

  the One True Monster of Everlost!”

  “You,” said his older sister, “are Michael Edward McGill. And you’re no monster.

  You’re my little brother. ”

  A second wave rolled through all those gathered, this time a bit louder…Brother brother he’s Mary’s brother… The McGill was filled with so many conflicting emotions, he felt he would blow into a thousand pieces, and didn’t doubt that such a thing was possible for an Afterlight who was tormented enough. He was filled both with joy at seeing his sister again, and the fury that this was not the deliverance he had waited for.

  He was filled with humiliation at having been exposed for who he truly was, and the dread of being forced to face it.

  “I have a gift for you, Mikey,” she said. “It’s a gift I should have given you a long time ago. ” She reached up and opened the silver locket she wore around her neck, then held it out toward him the way a priest might hold a cross up to a vampire — and although the McGill tried to look away, the gaze of his eyes, both the large and the small, was transfixed by what he saw.

  In one half of the locket was an old-fashioned tin picture of his sister, looking exactly as she looked now. And in the other half was a picture of the boy named Michael Edward McGill.

  “No!!!” screamed the McGill, but it was too late; he had seen the picture, and knew it for what it was—he knew it right down to the core of his being. “Nooooo …” he cried, but the slithery slipperiness of his voice had already begun to change, because Mikey McGill suddenly remembered what he looked like.

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