The Forbidden Game: The Kill Chapter 10
I here was a clatter above Jenny-the sound of a chain racketing along wood. She reacted instinctively, before rational thought could interfere. She seized the body in the china blue dress and pulled it off the table.
Not fast enough. The huge disk came straight down-and then veered sideways, knocked out of line by something that leaped up by Jenny like black lightning.
Dee hit the disk with both heels, one after the other, so fast that the blows looked simultaneous. The disk swerved, crashing down beside the table. Then the table crashed into Dee, who’d just regained her feet. Dee sprawled on the floor beside Jenny.
The bundle in Jenny’s arms stirred.
Shock had wiped all the dreadful thoughts out of her mind, all the pictures of decomposing faces that might have looked up at her from under Summer’s fluff of curls.
So it seemed quite natural to see Summer’s own small face looking up, with cheeks like rain-washed roses and blinking, sleep-encrusted blue eyes.
Summer yawned and rubbed at her lashes.
“I’m so tired-what was the crash?”
Dee had picked herself up and was approaching gingerly. So were Audrey and Michael.
“Is it dead?” Michael said huskily.
Jenny knew what he meant. Just because Summer could talk, that didn’t mean she wasn’t dead-not here in the Shadow World.
But Summer’s weight was warm in Jenny’s arms, and Summer’s flesh looked like real flesh, not like plastic or that hideous goo that Slug’s body had been wearing. Summer looked-alive. Summer looked-all right.
Jenny felt very dizzy.
She couldn’t say anything. None of them could. They all just stared at Summer.
Summer’s eyes grew large and timid.
“What’s wrong?” she said faintly. “What’s… how long was I asleep?”
Audrey leaned over slowly.
“Summer … ?” she whispered, as if she found the word more foreign than any in all the languages she knew.
“What’s wrong?” Summer wailed.
“How long do you think you were asleep?” Michael croaked. “What’s the last thing you remember?”
“Well, I was in that hallway … and then you found me … and then we went into my bedroom. Only it wasn’t my bedroom. And then …”
She stopped, her mouth open like a baby bird’s.
“Kiddo,” Dee said and waved a hand helplessly.
“Something bad happened.”
“Yeah, but you don’t have to think about it.”
“I don’t remember it. Just that it was bad. Did I get hurt? Did I faint?”
Dee looked at Jenny. Jenny looked at Audrey and Michael.
“I think it’s really her,” Michael said.
“It’s her,” Dee said. She reached for Summer briskly-almost feverishly, examining Summer’s arms and legs. “Are you okay? Really okay? Does everything work?”
“Summer,” Jenny said abruptly, with a hysterical laugh. She put two fingers to her lips and began crying just as hysterically.
It was catching. Audrey began laughing and crying at the same time. Michael sniffled.
Jenny didn’t know what was happening to her. Her heart was skipping-but then it had been skipping all night. She felt dizzy-but she’d been feeling dizzy on and off ever since she’d stepped into the Shadow World.
This was different. It was like pain, but it wasn’t pain. It coursed through her, flooding up from her toes in an irresistible skyward rush. She actually felt lighter, as if she were lifting toward the ceiling.
All she could think was oh, thank you.
Her mind still couldn’t get around the concepnt that Summer was here, in her own body, talking and moving and apparently well and strong. Not even bruised.
Oh, thank you, thank you.
She had an urge to bundle Summer up and hustle her away somewhere, pack her in tissue paper, keep her safe. Get her to sanctuary before anything else could happen to her.
But there wasn’t any sanctuary, not here. Summer was alive, but still in danger. She’d have to take her chances like the rest of them.
And anything might happen before they got home.
This thought actually helped Jenny, stopped the giddiness and the trembling inside her. She’d been trying to picture Summer’s little brother Cam, with his tough face and his wistful blue eyes, and what he’d look like when he saw his sister again. The picture wouldn’t come; it was too good, scary good. But now that she realized it might very well never happen, she felt calmer. It seemed more possible now that it was only a possibility.
“I’ll try to get you out, though,” she said, and only realized she’d said it aloud when Summer looked up at her.
“I know you will,” Summer said, like a trusting child. “I hate this paper house. Do we look for Zach now? Isn’t he next?”
Jenny felt another jolt of improbability as she realized how much they needed to explain to Summer. Wherever Summer had been since they’d last seen her, she obviously didn’t remember anything about it.
Michael said, shooting a pointed glance at Jenny. “This place gives me the creeps.”
Yes. They had to get out of this chamber of horrors before any other logs fell on them. The shift to ordinary concerns stopped the last of the trembling inside Jenny. It wasn’t that she was less happy-she was more happy, now that she was getting over her disbelief. The first joy had been painful, but now a great quietness came over her. Whatever else happened, she could get Summer out of the fun house, to a place where they could rest and talk.
As she stood, helping Dee help Summer up, she saw eyes in the shadows.
Eyes like the ones she’d seen in the mine shaft. They burned with a pale fire. They were watching from the corridor behind Jenny, and they were full of malice.
Jenny slung an arm around Summer’s shoulders, turning Summer so she wouldn’t see them. “This way.”
They won’t touch you. I promise. I won’t let them.
She meant it. Her happiness wrapped her in a cloak of protection. The Shadow Men could stare all they wanted, but they wouldn’t get near Summer.
To her relief, the torture chamber part of the fun house ended with Summer’s scene. The narrow corridor wound back and forth a few turns and then opened into a small room with a revolving door and a neon sign that read: exit.
“Made it,” Dee breathed. Jenny wondered if she had seen the eyes, too.
Summer wriggled out from under Jenny’s arm.
“Wait, look at this.” Her voice was just as it had always been, light and childish, eager. Jenny could hardly believe she was hearing it again.
Summer was standing in front of a candy machine like the ones Jenny had seen in the arcade. She thrust her small fingers into the one pocket of her shirtdress. “Do any of you guys have a quarter? I’m dying for some chocolate.”
“Uh.” Michael looked at Jenny. “I don’t know if we better…”
“We should get out of here,” Dee said positively.
“But I’m starving. And it’ll only take one second-“
Michael looked at Jenny again, and Jenny said, “Oh, give it to her so we can get out,” and looked back into the black corridor for the eyes. The candy peanuts had been okay; she supposed this would be. She could hear the sound of Summer putting the quarter in and turning the handle, and then the patter of falling M&M’s.
“I hope I didn’t get a lot of green ones,” Summer said.
Dee said, “I’ll open it. Never mind why, Summer.”
“Just don’t put your hand in,” Audrey said, and Jenny turned around in time to see the look Dee gave Audrey.
Then the candies were spilling into Dee’s hand-and Dee gave a kind of yelp that made Jenny forget everything and run to her.
Her mind had plenty of time to instantaneously flash over all the horrible things that might have come out of that machine. Dead buss, red-hot pennies, blobs of acid. Why hadn’t she thought-? But she was still a step away when she saw the answer gleaming in the pile of candy on Dee’s palm.
“Five brown ones, four yellows, two greens, one red, and a gold coin,” Michael said coolly, assessing the pile. “Not bad.”
Jenny just beat Dee gently on the back.
“Put it somewhere safe,” Dee said, and Jenny plucked it from the mound and held it tightly, feeling its coolness before it warmed in her hand. She rubbed her thumb against the engraving. When she opened her hand again, the coin was as rich and shiny as molten gold straight from the forge.
Then she put it in her shirt pocket and buttoned the flap. “Come on, let’s go. We did it, we did everything we could here. Summer and a coin.” She smiled at Summer, who was looking utterly mystified. “We’ll explain outside.”
Summer accepted the pile of M’s from Dee and looked somewhat comforted. They all began to go through the revolving door.
It would only take one at a time, and Jenny pushed Summer in front of her. Then she stepped into the next segment of the iron cage and pushed briskly on the thick metal arms, to get out of the fun house as soon as possible. Between the moving arms she could see only darkness-it was pitch black outside, and she couldn’t even glimpse Summer’s hair….
She knew something was wrong even before she stepped out.
This wasn’t the outside. It was a room. And the others weren’t with her, because she couldn’t see any flashlights.
God, where am I now?
She reached behind her and wasn’t at all surprised not to find the iron arms of the revolving door. She was somewhere with no light and no exit.
And now I suppose I see the eyes.
Instead, a small shimmering light went on, and she saw a boy in a black duster jacket.
“Julian?” He looked so different. “Julian!”
Jenny ran toward him, joining him in the shadows. He didn’t move an inch to come toward her.
It was the first time she’d ever been glad to see him. But she was glad: happiness was blossoming like a flower inside her, petals opening frantically. She stopped in front of him, breathless and triumphant.
“It was you, wasn’t it? You gave us Summer back.”
“I gave you Summer back.” His voice was subdued, moody. He was more modestly dressed than Jenny had ever seen him. The black duster jacket wrapped him in shadows.
“Thank you. You don’t know-” She paused. Julian probably did know. He’d watched Jenny for years; he knew what Summer meant to her. He probably even knew she’d always felt that Summer’s death was her fault.
“Is she-okay? Like, really, underneath?” Jenny asked, afraid to say the words, afraid of the answer.
“She’s okay. She’s been asleep. Just like the princess who pricked her finger on a spindle. Good as new, now.” But Julian spoke flatly and he still looked moody. Almost-distrustful.
Jenny ignored it and met the shadowed blue gaze directly.
“Thank you,” she said again, very quietly and looking at him so that he could see everything she was feeling.
Julian’s heavy lashes drooped, as if he couldn’t hold her eyes.
“Julian.” Jenny touched both arms of the duster jacket, just below the shoulders. “You did a good thing. You shouldn’t act as if you were ashamed.”
“I did it for my own reasons.” He glanced at her, one quick flash of blue fire, then looked away again.
“Why are you trying to ruin it? You did it, that’s what matters.” Why couldn’t he ever stay the same person twice running? Jenny was thinking. The last time she’d seen Julian he had been subdued and sad-vulnerable. She’d almost felt sorry for him. Now he was cold and sullen-resentful. She wanted to shake him.
But she was too scared. You didn’t do that to Julian.
“You know,” she said, moving in even closer, knowing she was taking a risk, “there was a time when I thought you were completely evil. Completely. But now I don’t believe that. I don’t think you’re as bad as you say you are.”
He looked up then, and the blue fire burned steadily. “That’s where you’re wrong. Don’t count on it, Jenny. Don’t count on it.”
Threads of fear went through her at his voice. It was as musical and cold as she’d ever heard it. The pitiless music of a clear mountain stream that could suddenly rise in a flood and kill everyone in its path.
“I still don’t believe it,” Jenny breathed. She wouldn’t look away from him and she was very close.
“I told you, you’re wrong. I am what I am, and nothing can change it.” He simply stood there, immovable as rock, which wasn’t like Julian at all.
Jenny’s fingers clenched on the sleeves of his jacket. “You didn’t kill Summer before, in the paper house. You saved her.” She rapped out the words as if she were angry.
“Yes.” He spoke just as coldly.
“And you could have killed her, the rules said you could.”
“What about Slug and P.C.?”
He just looked at her.
“Don’t play stupid, Julian!” She could have shaken him now, she was angry enough, but instead she stood as rigid and unmoving as he was, their faces inches apart. “Did you kill Slug and P.C.? Make them into what they are now?”
He stared at her a moment, blue eyes unfathomable. Then he said, “Yes.”
“You’re a damn liar!”
He just looked back at her. His eyes were absolutely bottomless, glacier pools that went down and down forever. Jenny wouldn’t look away. She could feel warmth in her own eyes, tears of anger that wouldn’t spill.
“Did you do it to Slug and P.C.?” she said, like a TV lawyer prepared to repeat a question endlessly.
Head slightly tilted back, he returned her gaze. Then, face still cold, eyes like blue ice, he said, “No.”
His voice was hard and dangerous. Jenny heard her own voice, relentless and just as hard.
“What happened to them?”
“They opened the door to the closet and let me out. But when I came out”-a slight and very unsettling smile touched Julian’s lips-“they ran. They ran out of the paper house and right into the arms of the other Shadow Men.”
Jenny could feel something in her relax slightly, a mystery solved. She wasn’t even sure why she’d thought Julian hadn’t killed P.C. and Slug. He’d always said he had-there was no reason not to believe him. He was a Shadow Man.
“And they did that?” she asked.
“It was their right. Nobody comes here uninvited.”
“And my grandfather. They did that, too.” It wasn’t a question.
“A long time ago. I didn’t pay much attention; I wasn’t interested in him. They would never let me touch him. I could keep Summer alive because she was mine, my prey that I’d caught myself. And I kept her for a reason, Jenny. To use her against you.” His voice was harder than ever, his face like an ice carving.
“But you didn’t,” Jenny said.
“No. But don’t let yourself think that means anything. Next time I will.”
“I don’t believe you, Julian.”
“Then you’re making a bad mistake.”
There was still no kindness in the midnight blue eyes, nothing to encourage Jenny. Some part of her had the sense to be frightened, but recklessness was flowing through her blood.
There were two sides to Julian, she thought, and she remembered a line from something she’d read-Emily Bronte, maybe. Different as a moonbeam and lightning.
She wanted to reach the moonbeam part, but she didn’t know how.
Very softly she said again, “I don’t believe you. You’re not like the other Shadow Men. You could change-if you wanted to.”
“No,” he said bleakly,
“Julian…” It was the bleakness that got her. She could see herself reflected in his eyes.
Without thinking, she moved even closer. And closer. Her upper lip touched his lower lip.
“You can change,” she whispered.
The kiss began before she knew it. Everything was very sweet. Warmth flowed between the two of them.
Then Julian pulled back. A lock of hair had fallen into his eyes, white as the dogwood blossoms Jenny had seen by the highway. The mask of icy control was broken, but there was something frightening in its place. A kind of shattering.
Like what Jenny had felt herself the last time they kissed, in the cavern with the fire.
She was too excited to dwell on it. She wasn’t thinking anymore, only feeling-and she felt hot and victorious. The conqueror. “You’re not evil. You can change, you can be whatever you want-“
Something ugly sparked in Julian’s eyes, the danger and wildness flaming up to overwhelm the shattered light.
“I am what I want to be,” he said. “You forgot that-and that was your mistake.”
He was flushed, overwrought, his eyes blazing. “You want to see what I really am? I’ll show you, Jenny. I’ll prove it to you. I’ll enjoy that.”
He spun her around roughly. The revolving door had reappeared, and the neon Exit sign was over it.
“Julian, listen to me-“
From behind, he pushed her toward the door. “Go on, try a little more of the park. See what I’ve got waiting. Then we can talk.”
“Julian-” She was frightened, but she turned around as soon as he let go of her.
And of course he wasn’t there.
The room was empty. Jenny stood a moment, perfectly still, breathing hard.
He was-he was the most impossible-the most infuriating –
She had never met anyone as-as –
And he scared her. She didn’t want to try to imagine what he might do next.
Something to prove he was evil, anyway. Something she wouldn’t enjoy.
Gradually Jenny’s breathing slowed. Summer, she thought. What’s important is that I find Summer and get her out of here. No matter what happens, no matter what, I have to get Summer out.
Forget about Julian. There’s nothing you can do for him. Concentrate on playing his Game and getting out.
Think about Tom.
She quashed the guilt that tried to well up then. She was thinking about Tom; she wasn’t neglecting him. He was in her thoughts all the time, running like an undercurrent beneath whatever else was
happening. He was the reason she was still on her feet, still fighting.
She wasn’t going to stop until he was safe. Which meant she’d better get moving again right now.
She straightened her shirt, smoothed her hair. Then she stepped into the revolving door’s embrace.