Everlost, p.37
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       Everlost, p.37

         Part #1 of Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman
Page 37


  “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?” Mary knew she was screaming, but she didn’t care. How dare he! How dare he do this to her!

  “I know exactly what I’ve done,” said Nick with all the calm in his voice that Mary had lost. “I let them go to where they should have gone in the first place. ”

  “How dare you presume to know where they should have gone. They were here, which means this is where they were meant to be!”

  “I don’t believe that!”

  “Who cares what you believe!” It was as if she was looking at a different boy.

  She had taken him into her confidence—she had trusted him. They were going to be a team, benevolently leading the Afterlights of Everlost forever and ever. This wasn’t supposed to happen!

  Then Nick’s expression changed, and for the first time his calm took a turn toward anger, and accusation.

  “How long have you known?” Nick demanded.

  Mary refused to answer him.

  “Did you know about the coins from the beginning? How long have you been robbing them from the children who come to you for help?”

  She found she couldn’t face the accusation, and couldn’t meet his eye. “Not from the beginning,” she grumbled. “And I’m not a thief—they throw their coins into the fountain by choice. They can take them out any time they want—but no one does—and do you know why? Because they don’t want to. ”

  “No! They don’t take back their coins because it’s your fountain, and they wouldn’t dream of going against Miss Mary. But if they knew the truth about what those coins did—what they were really for— they’d take them in a second!”

  “My children are happy!” insisted Mary.

  “They’re lost! And you’re no better than your brother!”

  Before Mary even knew what she was doing, she brought back her hand and slapped him across the face with the full force of her fury. For a moment she wanted to take it back, and tell him that she was sorry, but then she realized she wasn’t sorry at all. She wanted to slap him again and again and again until she slapped some sense into him. What had she done to deserve this treachery? She had cared about him—more than that, she had loved him. She loved him still, and now she hated the fact that she loved him.

  Nick recovered from the slap, then picked up the bucket and tilted it toward her. “Strange,” he said, “but there were exactly enough coins in there for every Afterlight. ”

  “So what!” said Mary. “A thousand Afterlights, a thousand coins. Nothing strange about that. ”

  “Look again. ”

  Mary looked into the bucket to see that it wasn’t entirely empty. Two coins remained.

  “Two coins,” said Nick. “Two of us. ”

  “Coincidence!” insisted Mary. She would not be swayed by it. This was not the universe trying to tell her something. This was not the hand of God reaching out to them. Mary didn’t need a bucket to tell her what God’s purpose for her was.

  She reached in, picked up a coin and prepared to throw it as far from her sight as possible…But then Nick said — ” — Is it warm or is it cold?”

  Mary felt the coin in her hand. “It’s cold,” she told him. “Cold as death. ”

  Nick sighed. “Mine’s cold, too. So I guess neither of us are going anywhere for a while. And then he added, “All these years here, and you’re still not ready. ”

  “I’ll never be ready!” said Mary. “I’ll never leave Everlost, because this world is the eternal one, and it’s my job to find lost souls to fill it. It’s my job to find them and take care of them. Why can’t you understand that?”

  “I do understand it,” Nick said. “And maybe you’re right—maybe that is your job…But now I think I have a job, too. And my job is to help those same lost souls get where they’re going. ”

  Mary looked at the ugly coin in her hand. What was so wonderful about the end of the tunnel? How did anyone know if that bright light was a light of love, or of flames?

  If there was one thing Mary knew it was the simple rule that every mother tells her child: If you’re lost, stay put. Don’t walk away, don’t wander off, don’t talk to strangers, and just because you see a light, it doesn’t give you permission to cross the street. Lost children stay put! How could Nick not see the sense in that?

  At the sound of a car engine, Mary looked up to see Speedo drive up in the Jaguar she had given him. At least he was smart enough not to hurl himself down a dark tunnel.

  “The train’s waiting,” Speedo said.

  Nick turned to Mary. “I’m going back to the Twin Towers,” he said. “And I’m going to tell all those kids what I know. ”

  “They won’t listen to you!” Mary told him.

  “I think they will. ”

  There was certainty in Nick’s voice, and Mary knew why. It was because he was right, and they both knew it. As much as Mary wanted to believe otherwise, she knew her children would take their coins back. They would not be able to resist the temptation. That’s why the temptation had to be taken away.

  “Why don’t you come with me,” Nick said. “We can do it together. ”

  But Mary already knew what she had to do. Remove the temptation. And so without even dignifying Nick with a response, she turned and ran back toward the giant zeppelin alone.

  “Mary! Wait!”

  She didn’t want to hear anything he had to say. She climbed into the piloting gondola of the airship. If Speedo could pilot this thing, then so could she—and she would get back to her children before Nick did. He would never get the chance to poison their minds, because she would get there first, and save them all.

  Chapter 30

  Leaving Everlost Although Allie had no way of knowing it while she was encased in the jogger girl’s body, Mikey McGill had never let her out of his sight. After what she had done to him, he wasn’t letting her go, and even though she was hiding inside a living girl, eventually she would have to come out, and he’d have her! Vengeance drove him at first, but after a few hours, the feeling began to fade. The truth was, he admired Allie. She had been a worthy opponent. She had successfully outsmarted him, playing him for a fool—and he was a fool, wasn’t he? How could he despise her for being more clever than him?

  Although Mikey had no skill at skinjacking, he did have another useful skill. He could rise from the depths. It was a skill he had never seen in anyone else. He only hoped it was powerful enough to do the job this time.

  Shiloh the Famous Diving Horse had no problem leaping into the bay and following Allie as she fell—after all, diving from a frighteningly high place was exactly what it was trained to do. Like Allie, the horse and its rider passed through the air, through the water, and found themselves plunging through the darkness of the Earth. The horse, not expecting this, began a panicked gallop through the stone. Locking his legs around the horse, Mikey spread his arms out wide, fishing with his fingertips for a sign of Allie, until he finally found her, grabbed her, and pulled her onto the horse with him. Then he dug his heels in, and the horse worked harder against the stone. Mikey tried to imagine them all filled with hydrogen, like the airship. Lighter than air, and most definitely lighter than stone. His powerful will battled the will of gravity, and soon they stopped sinking and began to rise.

  The forward momentum of the ghost horse trying to gallop through stone was greater than their upward momentum, but that was fine. Even if they were only moving up inch by inch, they’d get to the surface eventually.

  At last they surfaced in a New Jersey wood. It was dusk now, and they were a few miles inland from where they had begun.

  The second they were on the surface, Allie leaped off the horse, fully prepared to run if she had to. As far as she was concerned, Mikey McGill was not to be trusted—even if he did just rescue her.

  “I should have let you sink,” Mikey said.

  “Why didn’t you?”

  Mikey didn’t answer. Instead he said, “Where were
you trying to go? Maybe I can help you get there. ”

  She hesitated, expecting to see some sort of deceit in him, but found none. “If you must know, I’m going home. ”

  Mikey nodded. “And then?”

  Allie opened her mouth to answer, and found that nothing came out. Allie was a goal-oriented girl. The problem was she rarely thought beyond the goal.

  What was her plan, really? She would get home, but then what? She would see if her father survived the car accident. She would spend a little time watching her family’s comings and goings. She would try to communicate with them—maybe she would even find a neighbor willing to be skinjacked, and then talk to her family, convincing them it was her by telling them things that only she could know. Allie would tell them she was all right, not to worry and not to mourn.

  But then what?

  It was now that Allie figured out something she should have figured out a long time ago: Home was no longer home. She had denied it, refused to think about it, pretended it didn’t matter, but she couldn’t pretend anymore. If her great victory was going home, then her victory was an empty one.

  “I asked you a question,” said Mikey. “What will you do after you go home?”

  Since Allie had no answer, she threw it back in his face. “That’s my business,”

  she said. “What about you? Are you going to make yourself into the One True Monster of Everlost again?”

  Mikey gently kicked his heels into Shiloh’s side to remind the horse to keep pulling his hooves out of the ground, so they didn’t sink again. “I’m done with being a monster,” he said. Then he reached into his pocket and threw something to Allie, and she caught it. It was a coin.

  “What’s this for?”

  “You can use it to get you where you’re going. ”

  Allie looked at the coin, so similar to the one she had tossed into Mary’s fountain. Did he mean what she thought he meant? To get where she was going—it was terrifying yet enticing. Electrifying. She stared at the coin, then looked back up at Mikey. “Is that what you’re doing, then? ‘Getting where you’re going’?”

  Allie thought she read some fear in his face at the suggestion. “No,” he said.

  “I don’t think I’m going anywhere good. I’m in no hurry to get there. ”

  “Well,” said Allie, “you can probably change where you’re going, don’t you think?”

  Mikey didn’t seem too convinced. “I was a pretty nasty monster,” he said.

  “Were,” reminded Allie. “That was then, this is now. ”

  Mikey seemed to appreciate her practical, logical view of things. “So then, how long do you think it would take to make up for being a monster?”

  Allie thought about the question. “I have no idea. But some people believe that all it takes is a sincere decision to change, and you’re saved. ”

  “Maybe,” said Mikey. “But I’d rather play it safe. I was a monster for thirty years, so I’d say I need thirty years of good deeds to wipe the slate clean. ”

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