The Forbidden Game: The Kill (Page 12)

I'm the one all this is for,” Jenny said. “It's me you want to despair. So talk to me. Let's get personal.”

“No, let's get general,” Julian said. “Want to talk about life?”

There was a kind of soft triumph in his voice. A cat-pouncing-on-a-mouse tone. As if he knew he had her.

“Did you know,” he went on, “that in the Congo there's a kind of fly that lays its eggs in human flesh? They develop into little white worms that live inside you forever. Sometimes the worms surface and you can watch them crawling inside the skin of your arm. They say that when they crawl inside your eyeball it's quite painful.”

Jenny stood where she was, appalled.

“That's Nature for you,” Julian said and laughed. The laugh didn't sound quite sane.

Jennv got her voice back. “We're not worms.”

“No. Humans are a lot more inventive. Mustard gas, for instance. It touches you, your skin comes rolling off. Happened to thousands of soldiers in World War I. Some man invented that for the benefit of his brothers.”

Jenny wanted to look away from Julian, but she couldn't. The spotlights threw swaths of red and purple on his hair. His eyes were mirror-brilliant.

“It's the same all down through history. Two million years ago your hominid ancestors were eating each other. In thirteenth-century Peru they used to crack little boys' ribs wide open so the priests could take their hearts out still beating. These days it's drive-by shootings. People never change.”

Jenny could feel her breath catch. “Okay …”

The soft, insidious voice went on. “So Nature is cruel and ruthless.”

“Okay …”

“And life is fragile and bewildering. And death-death is inevitable and worse than anything you can imagine.”

From the boat Dee said defiantly, “Who cares?”

Julian spoke without turning toward Dee. “She cares,” he said. “Don't you, Jenny? You care if it's a cruel and pointless universe. You care if you're surrounded by evil.”

There was something almost mesmeric about his gaze now. His voice was reasonable, flowing. “So why not despair? There's nothing wrong with that. Things will be so much easier once you've given up. Why not just relax and give in… .”

He was coming toward her, and Jenny knew she couldn't resist. He was coming to put a warm palm on the back of her neck, maybe, or press her hand. And whatever he did, she wouldn't be able to resist, because at that moment his beauty was so unearthly it was frightening.

“I believe you!” she said, speaking before he got to her. He stopped, head tilted slightly, quizzically. Then suddenly she was speaking in a rush. “You wanted to prove how much evil there is-well, fine; I believe you. And I don't know all the answers. I don't even know the stupid questions. But not everything is evil, like you say. There are good people. Like Aba. Like my grandfather. He died to save me, and he's not the only person who's died for somebody else. I can't explain the evil that's out there, but that doesn't mean I ought to join it. It doesn't mean I should give in.”

The smiling victory had drained out of Julian's face, and something cold and ugly was rising in his eyes instead. But Jenny went on before he could speak, her words tumbling over one another. “You said I cared about whether it was a cruel and pointless universe, and I do. But you want to know something else I care about? I care about you, Julian.”

He was startled now. He looked as if he might almost take a step backward. Because Jenny was moving forward, deliberately, holding his eyes and speaking.

“You wanted to show me how it's all right to be evil, because everything else is that way. But I'm not having it. And you wanted to prove to me how bad you are, but I'm not buying that, either. I care about you, Julian. I-“

He disappeared just as she reached him.

The gold coin fell spinning to the ground.

Jenny picked it up a moment or so later, after standing quite still and watching it spin on its side for a while and finally land flat. Looking toward the boat, she saw that they were all looking at her: Dee, and Audrey, and Michael-and Summer, who was just poking her head out. Nobody seemed to know what to say.

It's not what you think, Jenny thought, but she didn't know how to explain it to them. She did care about Julian. She'd seen the moonbeam side of him, the vulnerable side that was so badly hurt it made him strike out. She even … loved Julian … in a way she was just discovering. But that didn't mean she didn't love Tom. Tom was a part of her life, a part of her. She could never betray him.

But putting all that in words was beyond her. They'd just have to think whatever they wanted.

“You know,” Michael said at last, running a hand through his rumpled dark hair, “I think we just won this Game.” He smiled, a weak and wry smile, but a real one nevertheless.

“And I think we should get out of here on foot,” Dee said. “My guess is this boat isn't moving.”

Nobody talked much as they sloshed through the tunnel. Dee went first, one hand on the dank wall to guide her. Jenny followed with Summer, and Audrey and Michael brought up the rear, holding hands. Jenny had the feeling that they were all sore from Julian's last and most terrible attack-but they were stronger for it, too. In the end it had pulled them together. Julian had revealed their secrets-and Jenny had never felt so close to her friends before.

She was relieved to see Dee's form silhouetted against lighter blackness and to feel fresh air on her face. They had found the end of the tunnel. Now she could see the loading dock.

“Will you look at this!” Michael exclaimed when they reached it and climbed up. “Will you just look, please?”

The park was awake.

All the lights that had been off were on, and all the rides were going. Fairy lights twinkled and glimmered in the trees, white lights played on a fountain below them. To the left, the Turnpike was illuminated, with lines of sports cars standing ready to race. Straight ahead, the rocket ride was already in motion, red-lit rockets up and whizzing. The structure of the March Hare roller coaster was picked out in flashing neon, and Jenny could hear the clatter of a car on the wooden tracks.

Everything was going, all at once. It looked exactly like a normal amusement park at night-except that it was still deserted. The rides were operating by themselves.

Beautiful, Jenny thought, but scary. As if the whole park was inhabited by ghosts. The merry-go-round music was distant but eerily distinct, and she could hear the Noah's Ark foghorn in the pauses.

On the central island of the lake, the lighthouse rose white and slender and silent.

“Now we find the bridge, I suppose,” Audrey said quietly from behind Jenny.

Jenny unbuttoned her shirt pocket, reached in. She looked at the three doubloons on her palm, felt their satisfying weight. Then she closed her hand and heard them clink softly.

“There's something we have to do first,” she said. “Follow me.”

The arcade was only a short distance away. Its sign was lighted, too, but the inside was dim and quiet. Jenny went straight to the cabinet with the mechanical wizard.

She tried not to look at the black cabinet that stood opposite, but she got a glimpse of the heads anyway. They were as blue and ghastly as ever, their eyes still shut. Jenny turned her back on them firmly and faced the wizard.

He was moving just the tiniest bit. As if some battery were running down. His hand lifted the wand and dropped it slightly, lifted and dropped, a sad repetitive motion. His head bobbed just as slightly, the dark marble eyes staring out into nothingness. Every so often his lower lip moved.

“Grandfather,” Jenny said.

It was a formal moment, and Grandpa didn't seem quite right. He was Grandfather, like all the Grandfathers in fairy tales, a mystical, archetypical figure. Someone who belonged in a story.

Dee had said there was nothing Jenny could do for him, and it was true. She'd accepted it before, really, and she was even more certain now. There was no wav to put his soul back into his body-if he even had a body anymore, which Jenny doubted. No way to fix him or undo what the Shadow Men had done.

But there was one thing she might be able to do. It had come to her while she was talking to Julian, surging up in the back of her mind when she had said that her grandfather had died for her. He hadn't-exactly-but he'd meant to. And she was sure he'd rather be dead than be like this.

The only question was whether her idea would work.

“Grandfather, I thought of something, something from your journal. A way to help you. But I need to know if it will work-and if it's what you want.”

The matted-paintbrush eyelashes seemed to droop, then lift. The glass eyes didn't look at her, and the ruddy plastic face couldn't change expression. But she had the feeling he was listening.

“I saw the runes in your journal, and I know that runes can do things here, they can change reality. They can make things happen. And the rune I'm thinking of is Gebo, Grandfather, do you understand? Gebo.”

“What's she talking about?” Summer whispered, from several steps away, where the others waited.

“I don't know. Gebo-which was that?” Dee said, and Michael said, “Shush, okay?”

Jenny stood watching the mechanical figure in the black velveteen robe, and waiting.

Suddenly the glass eyes rolled. The whole figure moved jerkily, banging the wand up and down. The carmine lips opened and shut, and the head bobbed.

It was a perfect frenzy of motion, like a mute person in a straitjacket trying desperately to convey agreement. At least, that was what Jenny hoped it was. If she was wrong, it was going to be a terrible mistake.

“All right,” she whispered. “I love you, Grandpa.” She could feel tears starting in her eyes, but she wasn't going to cry, she wasn't. She wasn't really sad. She was happy and a little scared. Beyond all hope, she'd gotten to see her grandfather again. It had helped her remember him, how kind he'd been to her, how much he'd loved her-whatever his other faults. She'd gotten the chance to say she was sorry, and now she had the chance to say goodbye. It was more than a lot of people got, more than Jenny could ever have expected.

She reached into her back pocket for the Swiss Army knife.

It had been there all along, almost forgotten since she'd tucked it away in the mine ride. It had survived the cave-in and the flood and everything else. She was glad, because it was Tom's, and now because it was very useful.

She held it in her hand a moment, then thumbed open the large blade. She set the blade against the old-fashioned wooden cabinet, just above the glass, and, bearing down hard, carved a diagonal stroke. Then she made another that crossed the first in the middle, forming an X. Making Gebo, the rune of sacrifice. It was funny, how she'd had a premonition about that when they were carving it on the door. She'd felt that it had been important somehow-but she'd never imagined this.

She stepped back.

Pinching her left index finger between middle finger and thumb, she watched the end go purple with blood. Then, without hesitation, she jabbed once with the knife.

She didn't really know whether she needed blood for this. Isa, the ice rune she'd used to stop the flooding waterfall, had worked without it. But she wanted to do this just right, and make absolutely sure.

Squeezing the finger, she painted the X with blood. Then she stepped back again.

The mechanical figure was perfectly still, as if waiting. Everything seemed to be waiting, the universe holding its breath around Jenny. For a moment she was afraid she couldn't speak, but the dark eyes were at last looking straight at her. There was a silent encouragement in them, almost a plea. And a gentle trust.

The third step is to say the name of the rune out loud.

Jenny took a deep breath and clearly and quietly said, “Gebo.”

Rune of sacrifice, of death. Of yielding up the spirit.

It happened immediately, startling her. The figure in the cabinet, the mechanical thing dressed in black velveteen and gold sequins, spasmed as if a jolt of electricity had gone through it. Both arms jerked up, the head rolled wildly. Cracks ran along the caked paint on its face, flaking off in pieces. Every part of the figure that could move thrashed frantically.

And then the clenched fist with the wand fell. The entire figure sagged, its head falling back. It was as if some mainspring had been sprung, or the wires to a marionette cut. The carmine lips were slightly open.

Jenny, scarcely breathing, stared at the face.

It-had changed. It was still plastic-cracked and peeling plastic. It was clearly a broken doll.

But-the pain was gone. The look that had wrenched Jenny's heart in the beginning, the look of ineffable sadness, wasn't there anymore. The carmine lips seemed to be smiling slightly, and the glass eyes, though open, seemed at peace.

There was an odd dignity that went with the peace. The face was patient and almost noble, for all that it was a doll's face. Whatever her grandfather had done, whatever secrets he'd meddled in, he'd paid the price-and this doll seemed to know it. Its expression was that of somebody who'd waited a long time to get to the end of a journey, and was home at last.

“You can rest now,” Jenny said, and then she had to wipe her eyes on her denim sleeve.

A click made her look down. A fortune-telling card was in the slot.

Jenny took it, turned it over. There were only two words in the middle.

THANK YOU.

Then she really did cry, looking around as if her grandfather's soul might be floating somewhere in the room where she could see it. Wherever it had eone. it was free.

“What about them?” Dee said. Jenny looked at the others and saw that they were sniffling, too-and Dee was looking at the black cabinet.

Jenny wiped her eyes again, and her nose, and then she made herself look. Slug and P.C. were more hideous than ever because they were awake.

Their eyes followed her with the desperate longing of dogs that wanted to go out on a walk. Neither of them had been particularly handsome when they were alive, and in death they were grotesque. Jenny swallowed.

“Can you hear me?”

The two grisly objects bobbed.

“Did you see what I did?”

Bob. Bob.

“Do you-do you want me to do it for you?”

Bob, bob, bob, bob, bob, bob, bob …

Jenny burst into tears and went on crying as she lifted the knife. She needed to cry. She had never liked either of these guys; they'd stalked her on an empty street, they'd meant to do her harm, they'd broken into her house and stolen from her. And now they looked like those little dogs with nodding heads that people put in the back of their cars, and Jenny was going to kill them.

She went on sobbing as she carved the two Xs, one over each head, and stabbed her middle finger. She was still crying as she began to stain the first X red.

So she didn't notice the attack until Dee started shouting.

Jenny looked up and froze. It was another body like the one that had grabbed Dee at the Fish Pond, and it had the same ghastly emptiness above its shoulders. The only difference was that it wasn't white and bloated, and it was wearing a black T-shirt and leather vest. It was P.C.

In the cabinet the head with the black bandanna was shaking violently-as if to disassociate itself with the lumbering body that Dee was fighting. Its eyes were terrified, straining sideways to try and watch.

“I think the Shadow Men must control the bodies!” Michael shouted, pulling Summer out of the way. Audrey had stumbled back, too, and Dee was fighting the thing alone, swinging Audrey's pick. Cabinets on both sides were smashing.

Jenny, caught completely unprepared, was still frozen.

“Come on, hurry!” Michael shouted. He grabbed the knife from her hand and stabbed his own finger. The next thing she knew he was staining the other rune, making sharp, slashing motions on the cabinet.

“Come on, Jenny!”

Trancelike, Jenny raised her finger, smearing pale red across the second stroke of the X. The headless body had gotten hold of Dee's pick and was jerking it away from her, pulling her within range.

Jenny whirled back to the cabinet, energized. The blue-lit heads gazed at her, looking imploring and stupid and more pathetic than anything she'd ever seen.

“Gebo!” she shouted.

Michael shouted it, too, maybe because his blood was in the runes. Then several things happened in quick succession.

Both the heads in the box jerked. Their jaws fell open, impossibly far open, revealing blue-stained teeth. Their eyes rolled up. And there was a noise-an inhuman howling that seemed to come from all around Jenny rather than from the open jaws. Down the corridor there was a terrible crashing.

P.C.'s body was flailing with the pick, breaking glass and splintering wood. As Jenny watched he flailed more and more jerkily, then stopped. His body flopped backward, collapsing like a pricked balloon.

Meanwhile, from every side, there was clicking and whirring and plinking music. The entire arcade had come to life at once. The foot vitalizer was vibrating. In a shattered cabinet a mechanical ballerina was twirling. The figures in the Ole Barn Dance were clacking their wooden jaws.

“Let's get the hell out of here!” Dee shouted over the music of a nickelodeon.

Jenny cast one last glance at the black cabinet. The heads were still now, and she supposed their blank and empty expressions were peaceful. Certainly nobody was in there anymore.

Then she was moving, stepping over glass shards and P.C.'s motionless body, while the arcade gibbered and screeched around her. A minute later she was in the open air.

It was an unspeakable relief to get away from the

noise. The outside seemed clean somehow, even if it was in the Shadow World.

She looked at Dee. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” Dee was gripping her thigh with both hands, pulling bits of glass out of her jeans. “I got some shrapnel here, but I'm all right.”

Jenny looked at Summer, who was huddling and hugging her own elbows. “Are you all right?”

Summer managed an extremely watery smile.

“I got splinters,” Michael offered, holding up his finger.

“That was brave of you,” Jenny said. She was remembering the way he'd looked in her grandfather's house when she had first explained that they needed to stain the runes with blood.

Michael just looked at her. “Huh?”

“Never mind. Summer, give Dee back her jacket. Audrey, are you okay to walk? Because I have the feeling we'd better keep moving. I think they're mad.”

She squeezed her shirt pocket and felt the reassuring heaviness there. She felt the need to hurry, as if a storm were gathering behind her. The Shadow Men weren't happy with what she'd done to their prisoners.

“Wait, but how do we find the bridge?” Michael said.

“We'll just walk around the lake until we see it.”

They saw it as soon as they cleared the trees by the Penny Arcade. It started somewhere in between the March Hare roller coaster and the Log Ride, rising in a beautiful arch like a rainbow that ended on the island.

“I don't think that was there before,” Audrey said.

“Maybe it just wasn't lit,” Dee said.

Michael said, “It's going to be like climbing the St. Louis Arch.”

Everybody looked at Jenny.

“We'll do it,” she said stoutly. “We have to. We have to get to Tom and Zach-and quick, because they may try to stop us or something. We've got to actually get to them to win the Game.”

“I don't see how the coins fit in,” Dee muttered.

But when they reached the nearer base of the arch, Jenny saw. There was a neat little tollbooth in front of it, and a fence with barbed wire that kept you from climbing up the sides. After the first ten feet it was so high in the air that you couldn't have reached the side if you had wanted to.

“What holds it up?” Summer whispered, and Jenny said, “Don't ask.”

Attached to the white tollbooth was a coin receiver with a flat tray-like the kind you see in airports for getting luggage carts. Instead of four spaces for quarters there were three spaces for irregularly shaped coins in the tray. With a little twisting and exchanging, Jenny got all three gold pieces to fit neatly. They lay there and gleamed at her.

She looked at the others.

It was a momentous moment, a serious, profound moment. They'd finished the treasure hunt and they were about to go collect the prize. She felt as if somebody ought to make a significant gesture.

“Dee? You want to push it? Or Audrey?”

“You earned it, Sunshine. Go on and make it happen,” Dee said.

Jenny was happy.

She pushed the tray in and felt it lock in place. The white-and-yellow striped turnstile lifted.

“After you,” she said and gestured the others through.

    

Use the arrow keys or the WASD keys to navigate to previous chap/next chap.