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Everwild (Skinjacker #2)
Neal Shusterman

Chapter 1 Fresh Havoc

There were rumors.

Of terrible things, of wonderful things, of events too immense to keep to oneself, and so they were quietly shared from soul to soul, one Afterlight to another, until every Afterlight in Everlost had heard them.

There was the rumor of a beautiful sky witch, who soared across the heavens in a great silver balloon. And there were whispers of a terrible ogre made entirely of chocolate, who lured unsuspecting souls with that rich promising smell, only to cast them down a bottomless pit from which there was no return.

In a world where memories bleach clean from the fabric of time, rumors become more important than that which is actually known. They are the life's blood of the bloodless world that lies between life and death.

On a day much like any other in Everlost, one boy was about to find out if those rumors were true.

His name is unimportant--so unimportant that he himself had forgotten it--and less important still, because in a brief time he will be gone forever. He had died about two years earlier, and, having lost his way to the light, he slept for nine months, then had woken up in Everlost. The boy was a wanderer, solitary and silent, hiding from others who crossed his path, for fear of what they might do to him. Without camaraderie and friendship to remind him who he was, he forgot his identity more quickly than most.

On the occasions that he did come across packs of other Afterlight kids, he would listen to them from his hiding spot as they shared with each other the rumors of monsters, so he knew as well as any other Afterlight what lay in store for the unwary.

When the boy had first crossed into Everlost, his wanderings had a purpose. He had begun in search of answers, but now he had even forgotten the questions. All that remained was an urge to keep moving, resting only when he came across a deadspot--a solid, bright patch of earth that had, like him, crossed into Everlost. He had learned very quickly that deadspots were unlike the faded, unfocused world of the living, where every footfall pulled you ankle-deep, and threatened to take you all the way down to the center of the earth if you stood still for too long.

On this day, his wanderings had brought him to a field full of deadspots--he had never seen so many in one place ... but what really caught his attention was the bucket of popcorn. It just sat there on a deadspot, beside a huge Everlost tree, like it had no better place to be.

Somehow, the popcorn had crossed over!

The dead boy had not had the luxury of food since arriving in Everlost--and just because he didn't need to eat anymore, it didn't mean the cravings ended--so how could he resist that popcorn? It was the largest size, too--the kind you order with big eyes in the movie theater, but can never finish. Even now the corn inside glistened with butter. It seemed too good to be true!

Turns out, it was.

As he stepped onto the deadspot and reached for the tub, he felt a trip wire against his ankle, and in an instant a net pulled up around him, lifting him off the ground. Only after he was fully snared within the net did he realize his mistake.

He had heard of the monster that called itself the McGill, and his soul traps--but he had also heard that the McGill had traveled far away, and was now wreaking fresh havoc across the Atlantic Ocean. So then, who had set this trap? And why?

He struggled to free himself, but it was no use--his only consolation was that the bucket of popcorn was trapped in the net with him, and although half of its contents had spilled onto the ground, half still remained. He savored every single kernel, and when he was done, he waited, and he waited. Day became night, became day over and over, until he lost track of time, and he began to fear that his eternity would be spent strung up in this net... . Until he finally heard a faint droning sound--some sort of engine approaching from the north. The sound was echoed from the south--but then, as both sounds grew louder, he realized it wasn't an echo at all. The sounds were different. He was being approached on two sides. Were these other Afterlights coming for him, or were they monsters? Would he be freed, or would he become the victim of fresh havoc himself? The faint memory of a heart pounded in his ghostly chest, and as the whine of engines grew louder, he waited to see who would reach him first.

Chapter 2 The View on High

Miss Mary, one of our lookouts spotted a trap that's sprung."

"Excellent news! Tell Speedo to bring us down close, but not too close--we don't want to frighten our new friend."

Mary Hightower was in her element this far from the ground. Not so high as the living flew, where even the clouds were so far below, they seemed painted on the earth, but here, in that gap between earth and the heavens, is where she felt at home. She was queen of the Hindenburg, and she liked that just fine. The massive silver airship--the largest zeppelin ever built--had gone up in a ball of flames way back in 1937, leaving the living world and crossing into Everlost. Mary, who believed all things happened for a reason, knew why it had exploded: It had crossed into Everlost for her.

The Starboard Promenade, which ran the full length of the passenger compartment, was her plush personal retreat, and her center of operations. Its downward-slanted windows gave her a dramatic view of the ground below: the washed-out hues of the living world, speckled with features both man-made and natural that stood out more boldly than the rest. Those were the places that had crossed into Everlost. Trees and fields, buildings and roads. While Afterlights could still see the living world, it was blurred and faded. Only things and places that had crossed into Everlost appeared bright and in sharp focus. Mary estimated that one in a hundred things that died or were destroyed crossed into Everlost. The universe was very selective in what it chose to keep.

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