Everlost, p.34
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       Everlost, p.34

         Part #1 of Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman
 
Page 34

 

  To those around him—to Nick, to Allie, to the crowd and the crew, the transformation was nothing short of miraculous. The McGill went from beast to boy in seconds. His head shrunk, and his spidery tuft of hair coiffed into a short, neat cut. His dangling eye drew back into his face, and his swollen one deflated. He sprouted five manicured fingers where once claws had been. Even the fetid rags that covered his body stitched themselves back into the memory of the clothes he wore in the photo, and when it was done, the McGill was nothing more than a clean-cut fourteen-year-old boy who could have been his mother’s pride and joy.

  Mikey touched his face, realizing what had happened and screamed. “You can’t do this to me! I am the McGill! You can’t do this!” But it had already been done.

  The monstrous image he had taken years to cultivate was gone, replaced by his own humanity. Mary closed her locket. Mission accomplished.

  Allie could only stare. This boy, this Mikey— could this be the same person who had captured and chimed a thousand kids? Allie had to remember that humanity had returned to his face, but it would take much more than a photograph to return it to his soul.

  While everyone else just gawked, it was the high-strung Boy Scout who saw this moment for what it was. This was the moment of their liberation. And the moment of their revenge.

  “Get him!” he screamed, and he raced forward. With his hands still tied behind his back, he hurled himself at Mikey McGill, knocking him to the ground. The others were quick to follow, and in a few seconds, a thousand kids were pushing forward. With their feet their only weapons, they began kicking him, and with so many of them, they could have kicked Mikey clear into the next world.

  “No!”yelled Mary, “Stop!” But mob mentality had taken over, and no one was listening to her. The crowd became louder, wilder, as if the spirit of the Twin Pier Marauders had filled them.

  In the middle of it all, Mikey suffered the stomping and kicking of this nightmare dance. It could not kill him. It could not even bruise him — but the pain of his absolute humiliation was far greater than any physical pain could have been.

  “Stop them!” he yelled to his crew, but he had no power over them now. Instead of obeying his orders, his entire crew deserted, running from the pier in a panic, escaping into Atlantic City just as the lone Marauder had. Mikey was now truly alone.

  Then someone began cutting the ropes that bound his captives’ hands, and they weren’t just kicking him anymore, they were swinging and pulling and trying their best to tear him apart.

  This was not what the fortune predicted. The fortune was wrong! How could the fortune be wrong? It was only now, whipped and beaten down by the fury of the Afterlights he had enslaved, that he came to see the truth. He was not the brave man the fortune spoke of. He was the cowardly soul.

  With what strength Mikey McGill had left in him, he fought through the angry mob, toward the far end of the pier—because jumping into the sea and sinking back to the center of the Earth would be a better fate than this.

  There were very few who did not participate in the punishment of Mikey McGill.

  Allie, Nick, and Lief did not. Neither did Mary, Vari, or even Pinhead, who was the only crewman with the courage to stay. They didn’t join the mob, but they didn’t stop it either. Mary did keep calling to the crowd, begging them to calm down and leave her brother be, but her voice was not even heard. In the end, she could only turn away.

  “He’s getting what he deserves,” said Nick.

  “But we should do something,” said Allie. “This is awful!”

  “No,” said Pinhead, sadly. “He came here to find his destiny, and he did. We have to let destiny take its course. ”

  They watched the mob push closer to the end of the pier with Mikey somewhere in the middle. and Allie found, like Mary, she couldn’t look. Instead she turned to Pinhead, who picked up the two fortunes Mikey had dropped.

  ” ‘Your victory waits at the piers of defeat. ’” he read. “You wrote this, didn’t you?”

  “Yes,” Allie admitted, “but that one about the thousand souls—that was real. ”

  “Not exactly,” said Pinhead. “You see, I found that old typewriter long before you did. ”

  Allie was both impressed and horrified. Pinhead shrugged. “I had to think of something to keep the McGill busy for the last twenty years. ”

  The mob was almost down to the far end of the pier now. Allie almost hoped that Mikey would find a way to escape back onto the Sulphur Queen, but that wouldn’t really be escape at all, because the mob would simply chime him, and spend the rest of time using him as an unbreakable piñata.

  Allie could do nothing to help Mikey McGill, and so rather than pondering his fate, she tried to fill her mind with the job that was now at hand. Her plan.

  Her goal. Allie knew what she had to do now, because she had imagined it and worked out every angle even before arriving in Atlantic City. Although Mikey McGill didn’t know it, by coming to Atlantic City, he was bringing her within sixty miles of home—the closest she’d been since arriving in Everlost.

  Allie had freed her friends, and now she was free from the McGill. All that remained was for her to complete her journey home.

  “Gotta go,” she said, catching the others by surprise. She quickly hugged Lief, and then Nick, thanking him for everything, and for being her accidental companion on the journey.

  “Allie, I —” but Allie put up her hand to shut him up. She despised long emotional good-byes, and refused to let this turn into one.

  Then she turned to Mary. In spite of everything that had gone on between them, she gave Mary a respectful nod, and glanced at the Hindenburg. “You win the award for Best Grand Entrance. ”

  “We’ve got a lot to do here,” Mary told her. “Why don’t you stay and help us?”

  “I would, but I’ve got other plans. ”

  Mary accepted it without asking what those plans were. Allie figured she knew.

  “We could have been friends,” said Mary, with some regret.

  “I don’t think so,” Allie said, as politely as she could, “but I’m glad we’re not enemies. ”

  Then Allie turned, and, forcing herself not to look back, she strode past the giant airship, and left the pier.

  The mob levied its fury on Mikey McGill as he fought his way toward the end of the pier to escape. He was fully prepared to take the plunge once more.

  Fate, however, had other plans for him.

  As he neared the end of the pier a sound came to his ears, faint behind the raging mob, but he heard it all the same. Hoof beats. A whinny. A splash. He turned to see, through the flailing arms and legs of the mob, Shiloh, the Famous Diving Horse, climbing out of his “water tank, onto the ramp that would take him up to the high dive again.

  Out of the water will come your salvation.

  Mikey McGill made a sharp turn, pushing his way through the angry mob, and toward the horse.

  Allie once more had to get used to the soft, sucking nature of living ground.

  The Atlantic City boardwalk kept drawing her feet into it, and she had to stay on the move to keep from sinking. She could walk the sixty miles home. She could even make a fresh pair of road-shoes to make the journey easier, but she didn’t even know which roads to take.

  “Excuse me,” she said to a passing couple, “could you please tell me how to — “

  But the couple walked by as if they didn’t see her.

  Well duh, of course they didn’t see her. Had she forgotten the simple fact that she was a ghost? Yes. She could admit it now. “Afterlight,” and all the other nice words for it, didn’t change the fact. She was dead. She was a ghost. But she was also a ghost with powers… As she considered her options, she heard a sound that made her look back toward the two dead piers. It was the sound of hoofbeats on wood. She waited for the telltale splash of the diving horse, but this time there was none. Instead she saw the horse—now with a rid
er—race out from behind the giant zeppelin.

  Following the horse was a mob of kids in pursuit, but the horse was too fast.

  The moment the horse hit the living-world boardwalk, the sound of its hoofbeats stopped, but its momentum barely slowed. It turned toward her, surging forward—and in a moment it was close enough for her to see the rider. Mikey McGill. He saw her at the same moment she saw him, and she could see the anger in his eyes.

  Allie was terrified. To her, the eyes of this angry boy were even more frightening than the eyes of the monster.

  She tried to run, but it was useless, the horse was too fast. Mikey was bearing down on her, and there was nothing she could do. He would trample her, he would capture her. He would punish her for betraying him. She looked back again; his eyes were still on her. Those eyes said, “You will suffer for what you did to me. ” Those eyes said, “You can’t hide from me!”

  And then Allie realized that maybe she could.

  In front of her was a girl in sweats, jogging down the boardwalk. She was nineteen or so, her hair pulled back in a ponytail.

  Allie turned to look behind her once more. Mikey McGill was only a few yards away. The horse was in a full gallop, and he was already leaning to the side, reaching for her. With no time to lose, Allie leaped into the girl, catching the wave of her body, and surfing it for all she was worth.

  In the hiccup of an instant, Mikey McGill and his horse vanished. The piers and the Hindenburg vanished. All she could see was the misty morning of the living world through this living girl’s eyes. Allie felt the full chill of the day and goose bumps on her skin. She felt the pounding of a heart. She felt the exhaustion of a body that had jogged up and down the boardwalk for at least an hour.

  Mikey McGill and the mob of kids that chased him were still there, but they were invisible, and she was untouchable. Nothing and no one in Everlost could get to her now, for she had hitched herself a ride into the living world.

  What’s going on? said the confused soul who owned the body Allie had skinjacked.

  Why can’t I move my arms and legs? What’s wrong with me?

  “Shhhh …” Allie told her. “It’s going to be all right. ” Then Allie turned and jogged away.

  Chapter 27

  All Souls Day Mikey had gotten away, and although Mary accepted that the monster known as the McGill deserved the mob’s wrath, she was secretly relieved that her brother was not sent back to the center of the Earth. Whatever had happened to make him such a monster, she would never know. But now the monster was gone—at least on the outside. What Mikey made of himself now would be entirely up to him.

  The crowd had returned from their fruitless chase of her brother, and now looked to her for guidance.

  Beside her, Nick surveyed the sheer mass of the crowd. “There didn’t seem to be this many when we were hanging upside down. ”

  Mary looked at the airship. It was only designed to carry about a hundred passengers. It would be crowded but it could be done. The passenger compartment was only a small portion of the ship. Most of it was catwalks and girders, holding the massive hydrogen bladders that gave the airship lift. There was room up inside for a thousand Afterlights, and Speedo assured her that weight wouldn’t be a problem since, technically, Afterlights had no actual weight, only the memory of it—memory enough to sink the unwary to the center of the Earth, but not enough to ground an airship determined to fly.

 
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