Everlost, page 21part #1 of Skinjacker Series
Nick didn’t like the sound of that. “So…we’re slaves?”
“Associates,” said the boy with the unusually small head.
The McGill ordered their pockets checked for anything of value, and when nothing was found, the McGill raised his claw, and pointed to the hatch. “Take them below!” he said to a group of associates. “Find out what they can do, and make them do it. ”
The McGill watched them go with one eye, and kept the other eye trained on Pinhead. Once the two new kids were gone, the McGill waved a clawed hand. “Open the next one. ”
Pinhead did as he was told. The next barrel, however, was empty, as was the next, and the next. Just brine with no one inside.
“I can’t understand it,” Pinhead said. “The Haunter said there was someone in each barrel. ”
“He lied,” the McGill grunted, and retired to the captain’s quarters, which were just behind his great open-air throne.
Fourteen barrels, and only three occupants. It did not sit well with the McGill.
This wasn’t the first time such a thing had happened. If he had a nickel for every time he expected to find an Afterlight and didn’t, he’d be a rich monster.
It was the thought of nickels that made the McGill turn to his safe. It was a bulky iron thing built right into the wall. Only the McGill knew the combination. It had taken him more than a year of trying until he found the right one, and now the safe was his prize possession. He turned the wheel, feeling the familiar rattle of the tumblers, then he closed his claw around the lever, and pulled it open.
Inside was a bucket filled with coins so worn it was impossible to tell their denominations, or what country they had come from. The coins had been taken from enemies or associates—and anyone who was not an associate was an enemy. It was common knowledge that money in Everlost was of no real use, but the McGill kept the coins, all the same.
“If they’re so worthless, why do you keep them in your safe?” Pinhead had once asked.
The McGill had chosen not to answer him, and Pinhead was wise enough not to ask again. The easy answer was that the McGill kept everything…but the real answer was that the coins were the most plentiful objects in Everlost, and as such were of special interest to him.
The only other item he kept in the safe was hidden beneath the bucket of coins.
It was a small slip of paper half an inch wide, and two inches long. On the tiny paper were printed the following words:
A brave man’s life is worth a thousand cowardly souls.
He would read and reread that slip of paper to remind him why he patrolled the shores and went on raids of Everlost encampments. Then he would return it to its hiding place beneath the bucket of coins. Although few knew it, there was more to the McGill than mindless looting and pillaging. That little slip of paper was a constant reminder to him that he had a larger goal.
Nick, still disoriented from his rebirth into the world of the almost-living, stumbled from the light of the deck into the dim, narrow corridors of the ship.
The McGill’s “associates” prodded him and Lief forward, while around them the rest of the McGill’s crew jeered at them as they passed. Lief waved and smiled like some returning hero, and it just made Nick mad.
“Will you stop that?” Nick demanded. “What are you so happy about?”
The jeering kids, Nick noticed, all had crooked teeth and mismatched features;
ears slightly off, noses twisted, tweaked, or flattened, like their faces were putty that the McGill had played with. Some were girls, some were boys, but in truth, it was impossible to tell the difference anymore. Nick dubbed them “Ugloids,” and wondered if they were as ugly inside as out. They all seemed somewhat dimwitted—perhaps service to the McGill had made them that way—and since none of them seemed too highly motivated, Nick took a calculated risk. He pulled out of the grip of the two Ugloids holding him, grabbed Lief’s hand, and began to run. As he suspected, the Ugloids were slow on the uptake, and by the time they took to chasing them, Nick and Lief had a nice lead down the hall.
“Where are we going?” asked Lief.
“We’ll know when we get there. ” The truth was, Nick had no idea. Courage and spontaneity were new to him. It hadn’t occurred to him until after he had run from the Ugloids that perhaps he had confused courage with stupidity. He should have had a plan for escape—after all this was a ship, and there were a limited number of places they could go. But now he was committed, so he kept on running, turning down corridors and climbing through hatches hoping he wouldn’t take a wrong turn, which, of course, he eventually did.
With the Ugloids gaining on them, Nick pushed open a hatch, and found that it opened onto one of the ship’s holds—a cavernous space thirty-feet deep, forty-feet long, and smelling horribly of rotten eggs. There was a steep iron stairway winding down into it, but he had come through the hatch with such speed that he and Lief missed the stairway completely, flipped over the railing and dropped into the depths of the hold.
The fall would have killed them, had they been alive, but things being what they were, it was merely a nuisance. They crashed loudly into furniture and picture frames and statues, and when they managed to get their bearings, they found themselves in the middle of the McGill’s grand treasure trove. It looked more like a dragon’s hoard than anything else. Shiny things like chandeliers, thrown together with chests of drawers, and automobile axles — like several moving trucks had just dumped the contents of a city-wide garage sale here, and left.
Mary would know what to do with all of that, Nick thought. She would organize it, distribute it, put it to good use. Clearly the McGill had no purpose beyond hoarding it—as evidenced by the fact that everything was painted with the words PROPERTY OF THE MCGILL. His purpose was greed, nothing more. Nick could imagine the McGill capturing Finders and taking everything they had. Maybe he even forced the Finders to work for him, collecting items that had crossed over, just so the McGill could store them here.
By the time Nick and Lief had made their way through the treasure trove to the nearest hatch, Pinhead was there, with plenty of associates to back him up.
“Hi,” said Lief, all sunshine and joy, “did you miss us?”
Pinhead took Lief’s weirdness as sarcasm, and tossed Lief aside. Then he grabbed Nick and pushed him against the wall. “The McGill wants to know how you can be useful to him. ”
“We’re nobody’s slaves,” Nick said.
Pinhead nodded. “I knew you’d be too defiant to be of any use. ”
“Does that mean I can go back into my barrel now?” asked Lief. Pinhead ignored him.
“Chime them!” Pinhead ordered. “Chime them along with all the other useless ones. ” Then the crew came forward, grabbing them, forcing them through the hatch and down a narrow dim hallway toward another hatch labeled CHIMING CHAMBUR with sloppy childlike paint strokes. Nick struggled against them, but it was no use — and although his first instinct was to try to talk his way out of this, he wasn’t going to give Pinhead the satisfaction of seeing him plead.
Pinhead pulled open the hatch. “Have fun,” Pinhead said with a nasty snicker.
Nick suspected there was no fun to be had at all.
“There is only one rule for swimming in Everlost,” writes Mary Hightower.
“Don’t. Large bodies of water are very dangerous for us Afterlights — for if the land is like quicksand, then water is like air. If you happen to fall into a lake, river, or ocean, you’ll find the water about as buoyant as clouds to someone falling through the sky. You’ll hit the bottom with such speed, you’ll find yourself embedded twenty feet into the sea floor before slowing down to regular sinking velocity, and that will be that.
“Ghost ships are the only exception to this rule. Like the Everlost buildings that remain on land long after leaving the ‘living world,’ ghost ships still do what theywere built to do; that is, float— and nothing, not tidal wave, nor hurr
Chapter 16 A Dangerous Crossing Allie knew the risks of traveling on water before she climbed aboard the Staten Island Ferry, but seeing the McGill’s ghost ship right there in the bay made her realize she had to take a chance. If she didn’t, there was no telling where that ship would go next, and no telling if she’d ever find it again.
She had raced from the old pickle factory to Battery Park, and from there she could see, just as the Haunter had said, the McGill’s ship. She knew it was a ghost ship because it left no wake behind it as it powered forward. She knew it was the McGill’s, because painted in sloppy black letters beneath the words “Sulphur Queen,” were the words PROPERTY OF THE MCGILL. The only way to reach it, though, was on another vessel. The Staten Island Ferry seemed the best candidate for the job.
Allie made her way to the ferry landing, and pushed through the bustle of people piling on and off the boat, ignoring the thoughts that shot like bullets through her mind each time someone passed through her. All their thoughts were about the wind and the snow, which made no difference to her. She didn’t let herself slow down, because she could already tell the ferry deck was as treacherous for her as the surface of a bridge. It was like walking on tissue paper; every footfall left her ankle-deep in the floor, and she had to step quickly to keep from sinking too far into the deck.
The toot of a horn, and the ferry pulled away from the dock, bound for Staten Island. The way Allie figured it, the bay was large, but not all that large.
Living-world boats would often have to adjust their courses to avoid collision.
Right now, the McGill’s ship was in between them and Staten Island, invisible to the ferry’s pilot. With any luck, the ferry would pass right though it, delivering Allie to her destination.
All around her, living folk spoke of meals and sales, inconsiderate husbands and unsatisfied wives. Small talk now seemed so small from her perspective, she wondered how people could engage in it altogether. Such pettiness filled the lives of the living. She could begin to see why Mary would have nothing to do with it.
Mary. Almost reflexively, she turned to look back at the city. Through the falling snow, the buildings of the city were just a faded shadow, but the Twin Towers of Mary’s domain were bright and bold, as if painted on the skyline, standing in proud defiance of everything Allie once thought she knew about the nature of the world. Someday, thought Allie, I will write a book too. It wouldn’t be a book of rules and etiquette, but one of experience, because each day in Everlost brought a fresh experience. How Mary could think she knew so much, without ever leaving the comfort of her tower, was one of the greatest mysteries of Everlost.
But now there were other things to deal with, like the ghost ship looming closer before her. In her excitement Allie tried to lean against the ferry’s rail, only to lean right through it. She spun her arms, trying to catch her balance, and nearly fell off the ferry into the bay. She saved herself by letting her knees buckle, and falling backward, but that didn’t turn out to be a good thing either. Her rear hit the deck, and passed through it. She reached out her hands, but they went straight through the wood and the steel beneath that. She could feel the warmer air of the lower deck on her fingertips and felt herself sinking even farther.
NEAL SHUSTERMAN SERIES:
Other author's books:
- UnwindScytheEverlostUnWhollyUnSouledThe Eyes of Kid MidasScorpion Shards
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