Everlost, p.38
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       Everlost, p.38

         Part #1 of Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman
 
Page 38

 

  Allie smirked. “Is Mikey McGill even capable of good deeds?”

  Mikey frowned. “Okay, then. Sixty years of halfway-decent deeds. ”

  “Fair enough,” said Allie. She looked at the coin in her hand. It was lukewarm.

  She suspected if she held it long enough it would get her where she was going, but just because she was ready to go, it didn’t mean she had to just yet. It was a matter of choice.

  What was it her fortune had said? “Linger or light. The choice is yours. ”

  Allie chose to put the coin in her hip pocket for now. She always had been good at saving her money.

  Mikey held out his hand to her, ready to lift her up on the horse.

  “Home?” he asked.

  But suddenly it didn’t seem all that urgent. There were still plenty of unknowns to explore here in Everlost. She could squeeze a lot of them in between here and home. “There’s no hurry,” she told him, but Mikey wasn’t pleased.

  “Taking you home,” he said, “was going to be my first halfway-decent deed. ”

  “I’m sure you’ll find another one. ”

  Mikey sighed in frustration. “This is not going to be easy. I’m good at being bad, but I’m bad at being good. I don’t know the first thing about good deeds. ”

  “Well,” Allie said, with a grin, “I do know a twelve-step program. ” Then she grabbed Mikey’s hand, climbed on the horse with him, and they rode off together toward all things unknown.

  Nick had to win this race, even if the odds were against him, and so when the ghost train dropped him off at old Penn Station, he wasted no time. It was dusk now. The train had been fast, but an airship didn’t have to worry about tracks.

  His only hope was that Mary’s learning curve when it came to flying the thing had slowed her down. When she had first taken to the air, the airship was erratic, turning this way and that, unable to set a course. With any luck, she was still zigzagging across New Jersey, trying to get the hang of it.

  He ran at full speed from the station all the way down to the plaza at the base of the towers. The same kids were there playing kickball, jumping rope and playing tag.

  “Is Mary here?” he called out. He expected them to rush him and capture him.

  What was Mary’s version of chiming? Nick had a suspicion that he was about to find out.

  But they didn’t rush him. Instead, one of the kickball kids playing the outfield turned to him and said, “Meadow says she went away for a while, but shell be back real soon. ”

  Good, thought Nick, he had beaten her here—and now, when he looked west, he could see that he hadn’t beaten her by much. Between the buildings to the west, Nick could see the zeppelin in the sky across the Hudson River, still high, but dropping toward them. It couldn’t be any more than five miles away. Nick knew he didn’t have much time.

  “Go get Meadow,” he told the kickball kid. “Tell her to gather everyone at the fountain. ” Then the kickball kid ran off, confounding the daily pattern of his game.

  Nick went over to the fountain himself, and stood on its lip, calling out to all the kids in the plaza.

  “Everyone! Everyone listen to me! I have a message from Mary!”

  That got their attention. Jump ropes stopped spinning, balls stopped bouncing.

  Kids began to converge on the fountain.

  Nick looked to the west again: The airship was there, halfway across the river.

  It was still too high, but that didn’t matter—as soon as the kids saw it, the game would be over. He would lose their attention. He had to keep everyone focused on him.

  Meadow began to arrive with kids from the higher floors. “Mary wants me to tell you that you no longer have to fear the McGill. She’s cut him down to size! “

  A cheer from the kids.

  “And,” said Nick, “I have something very exciting to tell you!” Okay, thought Nick. Here it goes…. “How many of you threw your wishes into the fountain?”

  Every hand went up.

  “And how many of your wishes came true?”

  One by one the hands went down, until not a single one of them was left.

  “Well,” said Nick, “it’s time for all your wishes to come true. ” And with that he jumped into the fountain, reached into the water, and started pulling up coins. “C’mon,” he said. “Everyone gets their coin back!”

  At first they were reluctant… until the first girl came forward, all pigtails and big eyes. She stepped into the fountain, and Nick took a coin, pressing it into her palm. The entire crowd watched and saw with their own eyes what happened next.

  The girl got where she was going.

  There was a long moment of silence as it hit home for these kids exactly what this meant for each of them…and then they all began climbing into the fountain themselves, lining up, and accepting the coins from Nick. In less than a minute their excitement reached critical mass, all sense of order broke down, and it became a wild rush of kids leaping, splashing, grabbing coins and disappearing in rainbow sprays of light. Nick left the fountain, and stood back to watch.

  To the west, the zeppelin was growing larger as it neared, eclipsing the setting sun, but if the kids crowding the fountain noticed, they didn’t care. By the time Mary arrived, she would be too late; they’d be gone. Perhaps not every single one of them, but most of them. All the ones who were ready. As it should be.

  Nick looked up to the peaks of the Twin Towers, converging as they scraped the sky. He marveled at their majesty the way tourists had during the Towers’ twenty-nine years of life. It was a comfort to know that they would never be gone completely because they were here, a timeless part of Everlost. They were great monuments of memory, and although Mary had, for a time, turned them into her own personal orphanage, that was over now. They had a greater place in the scheme of things.

  By now more than half the children were gone, and the rest were well on the way.

  Meadow came up to Nick, and together they watched the joyful vanishings.

  “Mary’s going to have a fit when she sees this,” Meadow said. “It’ll totally trip her out. ” Then she smiled. “Good thing I won’t be here to see it. ”

  Then Meadow ran toward the fountain, jumped in, and a moment later she was gone.

  Nick pulled his own coin from his pocket — the one he had salvaged from the empty bucket. It was still cold as cold could be, but that was all right. He realized now that while his arrival had tied him to Allie, his departure was tied to Mary. As long as she was fighting to keep children here, he would be fighting to free them.

  He supposed that made them enemies. It almost made him laugh. How strange it was to be in love with your enemy.

  With the zeppelin coming in for a landing, and the last of the children vanishing from the fountain, Nick put his hands in his pockets and left, strolling leisurely uptown.

  Perhaps Mary was right about Everlost being an eternal world: a place where all things and places that have earned immortality remain forever in glory. If that were the case, then Everlost was like the grand museum of the universe, a heavenly and priceless gallery. As Mary once said, they were blessed to be able to see it—but a museum was to be visited, and appreciated, not to be lived in.

  That was Mary’s mistake. Afterlights were merely visitors passing through.

  Nick knew there were more lost souls in lost places to free. There were more fountains and more buckets of coins to be found—and although he didn’t know when he would ever get where he was going, he knew that when the time was right he would get there.

  In the meantime, he had work to do.

  EPILOGUE The Sky Witch The little girl sat knees to chest on the playground sand, not knowing what to do. The last she remembered, she was at the very tippy top of the jungle gym, above all the other kids. Then she had lost her balance, and fallen. For the strangest moment, she had found herself running down a tunnel toward a distant light … if only she
had listened to her mother, and tied her shoelaces, she might not have tripped over her own feet on the way.

  And now she was here, still in the park, sitting on a small patch of sand beneath the jungle gym. Her parents were gone, and she instinctively knew they weren’t coming back, but she didn’t know how she knew it. When she had fallen, the park had been full of children, and the day had been hot. Now it was empty and cold. Even the trees, which had been lush and green, were now yellowing and losing their leaves—and the worst thing about it was that she couldn’t move, because the rest of the playground had turned to quicksand.

  There was a sound far off in the sky, but getting closer: a mechanical groan that didn’t quite sound like a plane, or helicopter, and when she turned toward the sound, she saw something amazing. A big, silver…thing…came over the trees, and lowered into an empty soccer field. It was like a blimp she had seen hovering above baseball games, but much, much bigger. Still, she held her knees to her chest, excited, terrified as the giant blimp-thing dropped down, hovering just a few feet above the soccer field. Then some sort of hatch opened, a ramp came down, and a creature all slender and green came out.

  No, not a creature at all. This was an angel. An angel in a green dress. She was coming right toward the girl, and the closer she got, the more of the girl’s fear melted away.

  Finally the angel reached the playground, and looked at the girl through the wide cage-like bars of the jungle gym.

  “Don’t be afraid,” the angel said. “Everything’s going to be all right. I promise. ”

  The girl looked toward the blimp-thing, and the angel smiled. “Would you like a ride on my airship? “

  The girl nodded.

  Then the angel said, “It only costs a nickel. ”

  The girl looked down sadly. “I don’t have any money. ”

  But the angel only smiled. “I’ll bet you do. Why don’t you check. ”

  The little girl reached into her pockets, and to her surprise she found a nickel in there. Or at least she thought itwas a nickel —it was too worn to tell. She held it out to the green angel, but then hesitated. After all, this nickel was all that she had. Something told her she might not want to part with it so easily.

  The angel’s smile faded, but only slightly.

  “I’m sure you don’t want to stay here alone,” she said. “If you do, the Chocolate Ogre might find you. ”

  “The Chocolate Ogre?”

  “A monster,” said the angel. “He lures you with the smell of chocolate, and then he captures you, and sends you away. ”

  “Where?”

  The angel shook her head. “That’s the scary part. No one knows. ” For a moment the girl thought she saw a wave of sorrow wash across the angel’s face, but it passed. “Now, wouldn’t you rather come with me?”

  And so the girl gave her the coin, and the angel gently took her hand. “Now, let’s find out what you like to do, and let you do it!” The girl rose, and holding the angel’s hand, she walked right through the bars of the jungle gym like magic!

  “Welcome to Everlost,” the angel said as they crossed the field toward the silver blimp-thing. My name is Mary. ”

 
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