Everlost, p.30
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       Everlost, p.30

         Part #1 of Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman
Page 30


  Nick took a moment to look her over, then said, “I think you like it with the McGill. You’ve got some kind of power over him, don’t you? I don’t know what it is, but you do, and you like it. ”

  Allie wanted to just grab him and shake him. It was an insulting suggestion. It was preposterous. It was true.

  “I have a scheme to get us all out of here, if you just wait. ”

  “I’m not waiting anymore. And anyway, two schemes are better than one. ”

  Allie clenched her fists and growled, sounding more like the McGill than she cared to admit. “Even if you get off the ship, who do you think is going to help you?”

  “Mary,” Nick said.

  Allie laughed at that, and realized how loud her voice had gotten. She looked around to make sure they were still alone, then brought her voice down to an intense whisper. “She didn’t help us before, and she won’t help us now. ”

  “I can convince her to. I know I can. ”

  “You ‘re an idiot!”

  “We’ll see who’s the idiot!”

  As frustrating as this was, Allie did not want to stand around and argue. Every moment they spoke was another moment they were in danger of being caught.

  “I can steal a lifeboat,” Nick said.

  “Once they realize it’s gone, it won’t take long to figure out who took it. The McGill will punish Lief, and probably me, too. ”

  “We can cut Lief down—all three of us can go!”

  Allie thought about it, but shook her head. “The McGill thinks I’m teaching him how to possess people. The second he realizes I’m gone, he’ll come after me. ”

  No, thought Allie. The best way to get Nick off the ship would be to do it secretly, and in such a way that there were no telltale signs that he had gone.

  “How about this?” Allie said. “Tomorrow morning the McGill is sending out a landing party to check one of his Greensoul traps. If you can somehow get aboard that boat when it heads for shore …”

  “Okay. That might work. ”

  “I’ll stay on deck, and try to keep anyone there distracted. But it’s up to you to find a way to hide on that boat. ” Allie thought about it. “I’ll put some blankets in the boat—maybe you can hide beneath them. ” Allie looked around again, and leaned closer to Nick. “If you get through to Mary, tell her that iF she wants to face the McGill, then she has to go to Atlantic City. There’s a gang there that can help her fight the McGill, if she can convince them to join forces. ” Allie shut the doors to the cabinet, closing Nick in once more.

  “Remember— tomorrow at dawn. ”

  “How will I know when it’s dawn?” said Nick from inside. She left Nick to work that one out for himself. She climbed up to the quarterdecks, then out into the open air. It was twilight, and the McGill was at the bow, watching the sun set over the land. He did this each day. The McGill was such an odd beast; reveling in his own putrescence, and yet taking joy from the beauty of a world he was no longer a part of.

  Nick said they had been there for weeks, and Allie couldn’t deny it. For the life of her she had no feel for the time that had passed. Well, she had stalled long enough. Nick was right; it was time for action.

  She quietly went to the McGill’s throne, dipped her hand into the spittoon and pulled out a fortune cookie. Gently she found a corner of the paper inside, and carefully pulled it out, crumbled it, and inserted the fake fortune that she had typed. Then she dropped the cookie back in the container, where it sat like a little time bomb, waiting for the McGill’s grubby, greedy claw.

  At dawn the following day, the McGill and a crew of five left the Sulphur Queen on a lifeboat for a brief trip to Rockaway Point. Someone had left several blankets in the corner of the boat, and the McGill removed them, ordering they be thrown into the hold with the rest of his belongings. There was no need of them here. The boat was lowered to the water, the McGill ordered the motor started, and they were off.

  No one paid much attention to the mooring rope tied to the lifeboat’s bow, which dragged in the water. Had they pulled that rope in, they would have found Nick, submerged beneath the waves, holding on with the rope wrapped around his arm twice as the boat powered its way to shore.

  Chapter 23

  Outrageous Fortune There was one flaw in Allie’s plan. She had no idea when the McGill would get to the particular fortune cookie she had planted. She thought she would have to add a few more to the mix to better her odds, but before she could, her whole situation changed.

  Just before she planned to leave for the treasure hold to write more fortunes, Pinhead and four Ugloids broke into her room without knocking.

  “He wants you on deck,” Pinhead said. “He wants you on deck now. ”

  This wasn’t unusual. The McGill called for people on a whim, as if all the clocks in Everlost were set by his personal schedule. This was the first time, however, that Pinhead had barged in without as much as knocking.

  “What does he want?”

  “You,” was all Pinhead said, and although he had been helpful to her in the past, he offered no hint of an explanation, not a wink, not a grin. “You’d better not keep him waiting. ”

  When Allie came to the throne deck, the McGill sat there, his claws clenched together, the look in his terrible eyes more terrible than usual. Next to the McGill stood a large Afterlight Allie hadn’t seen for a while. The one dressed in that ridiculous wrestler’s outfit.

  “Good evening,” the McGill said.

  “You wanted to see me?” said Allie.

  “Yes. I would like to know steps eight through twelve. ”

  “Finish step seven,” Allie said, “and then I’ll let you know step eight. ” Allie had really come up with a good one for step seven. As the McGill was so fond of bullying people around, Allie decided that the seventh step would be a seventy-two-hour vow of silence. So far the McGill couldn’t even make twenty-four. “You just spoke,” she said. “I guess you’ll have to start all over again. ”

  The McGill motioned to the wrestler kid. “Piledriver, you can bring it out now. ”

  Piledriver dutifully went into a side room, and came back rolling a barrel that he set in the center of the room.

  “Are you putting me in there?” Allie asked. “Is that it? If you do you’ll never know the last four steps. ”

  The McGill nodded to Piledriver again, and he pried open the barrel. It was full of liquid—but there was also something else in the barrel — something that glowed—and once the lid was off, it rose out, dripping in slimy pickle juice.

  The moment Allie saw who it was, she knew she was in serious, serious trouble.

  It was the Haunter.

  “You!” said the Haunter, the moment he saw Allie.

  The McGill stood up. “I am the one who brought you here,” the McGill told the Haunter. “You will answer my questions. ”

  “And if I don’t want to?”

  “Then I’ll seal you back in that barrel. ”

  The Haunter held up his hand, and various loose objects began to fly around the room, striking the McGill.

  “Stop that, or your next stop is the center of the Earth!” the McGill roared.

  “Your skill at moving objects does not impress me, nor does it bother me. I bested you before, and if you fight me, I’ll do it again —and this time I’ll show no mercy. ” Slowly the flying objects fell to the ground. “Good. Now you will answer my questions. ”

  The Haunter looked at him with hatred so strong it could have warped time. “What do you want to know?”

  “Don’t believe a word he says!” Allie blurted out.

  The McGill ignored her. “Tell me about this girl and her friends. Tell me what she knows. ”

  The Haunter laughed. “Her? She knows nothing! I offered to teach her, but she refused. ”

  “I didn’t need him!” Allie countered. “I was taught by someone else. ”

  “There is no one else who teaches
the things I teach,” the Haunter said, arrogantly. “You knew nothing when you came to me, you know nothing now. ”

  “I know how to get inside people!” Allie told him. “I know how to skinjack. ” She tried to sound strong and sure of herself, but her voice came out crackly and weak.

  “It’s true,” said the McGill. “I saw her do it. ”

  The Haunter climbed out of the barrel and approached her, leaving a trail of salty brine where his moccasins fell. “It’s possible,” he said. “She does have an undeveloped skill to move objects, so it’s possible that she may also have the skill to skinjack. ”

  The McGill came closer to the two of them. “What I want to know is this: Can the skill be taught? Can she teach it to me?”

  The Haunter didn’t bat an eye. “No, she cannot. ”

  The McGill pointed a crooked, sharp-nailed, furry finger at the Haunter. “Then you teach me how to skinjack. ”

  The Haunter shook his head. “It can’t be taught. Either you have the skill, or you don’t. You’ve been in Everlost long enough to know what your skills are. If you have not possessed the living by now, then you never will. ”

  Allie could feel the McGill’s anger like the heat of a furnace. “I see. ” Like the heat at the center of the Earth.

  “He’s lying!” Allie shouted. “He just wants to win you over, and get you to trust him, so he can betray you the moment you’re not looking! I’m the one who’s been helping you all this time. Who are you going to believe, him or me?”

  The McGill looked at both of them, the Haunter on his left, Allie on his right.

  “Who are you going to believe?” Allie asked again.

  The McGill regarded Allie for a moment more, then turned to Piledriver, and the other crewmen present. “Seal him back in the barrel, then throw him overboard. ”

  “What?” the Haunter shouted.

  “There is only room for ONE monster in Everlost,” the McGill growled.

  The Haunter raised his hands, and objects began to fly once more—but although he had powerful magic, he was small and outnumbered. No shower of objects could save him from being shoved back in the barrel. “You will suffer,” the Haunter shouted. “I will find a way to make you suffer!” But soon all that came out were angry gurgles from within the barrel. Piledriver put the lid back on and hammered the nails back into place. Then he and Pinhead grabbed the barrel, and heaved it over the side. It disappeared beneath the waves without as much as a splash, sinking to the sea floor, and beyond. Thus, the Haunter met his destiny.

  Once he was gone, Allie felt relief wash through her like a cleansing rain.

  “There,” she said. “Now that that’s over with, you need to get on with step seven. No—don’t speak. You can start now. Seventy-two hours. I know you can do it. ”

  And the McGill didn’t speak. Instead he reached out and a crewman handed the McGill a paintbrush dripping with black paint.

  “What are you doing?” Allie asked.

  “What I should have done the moment you came on board. ”

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