Home > Everlost (Skinjacker #1)

Everlost (Skinjacker #1)
Neal Shusterman

Chapter 1

On the Way to the Light… On a hairpin turn, above the dead forest, on no day in particular, a white Toyota crashed into a black Mercedes, for a moment blending into a blur of gray.

In the front passenger seat of the Toyota sat Alexandra, Allie to her friends.

She was arguing with her father about how loud the radio should be playing. She had just taken off her seat belt to adjust her blouse.

In the center backseat of the Mercedes, dressed for his cousin’s wedding, sat Nick, trying to eat a chocolate bar that had been sitting in his pocket for most of the day. His brother and sister, who sandwiched him on either side, kept intentionally jostling his elbows, which caused the molten chocolate to smear all over his face. As it was a car meant for four, and there were five passengers, there was no seat belt for Nick.

Also on the road was a small piece of sharp steel, dropped by a scrap metal truck that had been loaded to the brim. About a dozen cars had avoided it, but the Mercedes wasn’t so lucky. It ran over the metal, the front left tire blew, and Nick’s father lost control of the car.

As the Mercedes careened over the double yellow line, into oncoming traffic, both Allie and Nick looked up and saw the other’s car moving closer very quickly. Their lives didn’t quite flash before them; there was no time. It all happened so fast that neither of them thought or felt much of anything. The impact launched them forward, they both felt the punch of inflating air bags—but at such a high speed, and with no seat belts, the air bags did little to slow their momentum. They felt the windshields against their foreheads, then in an instant, they had each passed through.

The crash of splintering glass became the sound of a rushing wind, and the world went very dark.

Allie didn’t know what to make of all this quite yet. As the windshield fell behind her, she felt herself moving through a tunnel, picking up speed, accelerating as the wind grew stronger. There was a point of light at the end of the tunnel, getting larger and brighter as she got closer, and there came a feeling in her heart of calm amazement she could not describe.

But on the way to the light, she hit something that sent her flying off course.

She grabbed at it, it grunted, and for an instant she was aware that it was someone else she had bumped—someone about her size, and who smelled distinctly of chocolate.

Both Allie and Nick went spinning wildly, crashing out of the blacker-than-black walls of the tunnel, and as they flew off course, the light before them disappeared. They hit the ground hard, and the exhaustion of their flight overcame them.

Their sleep was dreamless, as it would be for a long, long time.

Chapter 2

Arrival in Everlost The boy had not been up to the road since forever. What was the point? The cars just came and went, came and went, never stopping, never even slowing. He didn’t care who passed by his forest on their way to other places. They didn’t care about him, so why should he?

When he heard the accident he was playing a favorite game; leaping from branch to branch, tree to tree as high from the ground as he could get. The sudden crunch of steel was so unexpected, it made him misjudge the next branch, and lose his grip. In an instant he was falling. He bounced off one limb, then another and then another, like a pinball hitting pegs. It didn’t hurt, all this banging and crashing. In fact he laughed, until he had passed through all the branches, and all that remained was a long drop to the ground.

He hit the earth hard—it was a fall that would have certainly ended his life, had circumstances been different, but instead the fall was nothing more than a quicker way to reach the forest floor.

He picked himself up and got his bearings, already hearing the echoes of commotion up on the road. Cars were screeching to a halt, people were yelling.

He hurried off in the direction of the sounds, climbing the steep granite slope that led up to the road. This wasn’t the first accident on this treacherous strip of highway; there were many—a few every year. Long ago a car had even left the road, flown like a bird, and landed smack on the forest floor. Nobody came with it, though. Oh, sure there had been people in the car when it had crashed, but they got where they were going even before the boy came to inspect the wreck.

This new wreck was bad. Very bad. Very messy. Ambulances. Fire trucks. Tow trucks. It was dark by the time all the trucks were gone. Soon there was nothing but broken glass and bits of metal where the accident had been. He frowned. The people got where they were going.

Resigned, and a little bit mad, the boy climbed back down to his forest.

Who cared anyway? So what if no one else came? This was his place. He would go back to his games, and he’d play them tomorrow and the next day and the next, until the road itself was gone.

It was as he reached the bottom of the cliff that he saw them: two kids who had been thrown from the crashing cars, over the edge of the cliff. Now they lay at the base of the cliff, in the dirt of the forest. At first he thought the ambulances might not have known they were here—but no; ambulances always know these things. As he got closer, he could see that neither their clothes, nor their faces bore any sign of the accident. No rips, no scratches. This was a very good sign! The two seemed to be about fourteen years old—a few years older than he was—and they lay a few feet apart from one another, both curled up like babies. One was a girl with pretty blond hair, the other a boy who kind of looked Chinese, except for his nose, and his light reddish-brown hair. Their chests rose and fell with a memory of breathing. The boy smiled as he watched them, and made his own chest rise and fall in the same way.

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