The Isle of the Lost (Page 12)

Carlos wouldn’t have chosen them as his friends—his mother chose them for him, just like she did everything else.

“They’re all we’ve got,” Cruella would say. “Even when we have nothing else, we’ll always have…”

“Friends?” Carlos had guessed.

“Friends?!” Cruella had laughed. “Who needs friends when you have minions to do your bidding!”

Cruella certainly ruled Jasper and Horace with an iron leash, but one could hardly say that Harry and Jace did Carlos’s bidding. They only seemed to hang around because their fathers made them, and only because they were all scared of Carlos’s mother.

Which was why he considered them only his second- and third-best friends. He didn’t have a first best friend, but he knew enough about the concept of friendship, even without having any proper ones of his own, to know that an actual best friend would have to be able to do something more than follow him around, tripping over his feet and repeating his not-worth-saying-the-first-time jokes.

All the same, it was good to have some help for the party, and it was Harry who nodded sadly at him now. “If Mal doesn’t like this party, we’re doomed.”

“Doomed,” echoed Jace.

Carlos surveyed the rest of the room. Every piece of broken-down old furniture was covered in a dusty white linen cloth. Every few feet of plaster wallboard was punctured by a crumbling hole that revealed the plywood and plaster underneath.

The overachiever in him bristled. He could do better than this! He had to. He rushed upstairs and dug out his mother’s antique brass candelabras and rigged them up around the room. With the lights off, the candles glimmered and flickered as if they were floating in midair.

Next, was the chandelier swing—a staple at any Isle party, or so he’d heard. He had Jace climb up a makeshift ladder and tie a rope swing to the light fixture. Harry jumped off from one of the sheet-covered couches to test it out, which caused a cloud of dust to settle over the whole room. Carlos approved—it kind of looked like a fresh snowfall had been sprinkled over the hall.

He picked up the rotary phone and called his cousin Diego De Vil, who was the lead singer in a local band called the Bad Apples.

“You guys want a gig tonight?”

“Do we ever! Heard Mal’s having a full-moon howler!”

The band arrived not too long after, setting up the drum set by the window and practicing their songs. Their music was loud and fast, and Diego, a tall, skinny guy who sported a black-and-white Mohawk, sang out of tune. It was marvelous. The perfect soundtrack for the evening.

Next up, Carlos dug out an old-fashioned instant Polaroid camera he’d found in the attic. He fashioned a private booth by removing the sheet from a couch and rigging it on a rod in a secluded corner. “Photo booth! You take their photo,” he said to Jace. “And you hand it to them,” he told Harry.

Carlos admired his handiwork. “Not too shabby,” he said. “Now we’re talking.”

“And it’s about to get a whole lot better,” said an unfamiliar voice.

Carlos turned to see Jay entering the room holding four huge grocery bags filled with all manner of party snacks: stinky cheese and withered grapes, deviled eggs (so appropriate) and wings (sinfully spicy), and more. Jay pulled a bottle of the island’s best spicy cider out of his jacket and dumped it into the cracked punch bowl on the coffee table.

“Wait! Stop! I don’t want things to get out of hand,” Carlos said, trying to grab the bottle and cap it. “How did you get your hands on all of that sugar!”

“Oh, but that’s where you’re wrong,” Jay said, grinning. “Better your party gets out of hand than Mal gets out of sorts.”

Jay sank to the couch, putting his combat boots up by the punch bowl. The minions shrugged, and Carlos sighed.

The guy had a point.

As the clock struck midnight, Mal’s guests began to arrive in force. There were no gourd-like carriages or rodent-like servants to be seen, not anywhere. Nothing had been transformed into anything, especially not what anyone would consider a cool ride.

There were only feet, in varying degrees of shoddy footwear. Perhaps because their feet were the largest, the Gastons arrived first, as usual. They never risked a late entrance, so as not to miss a buffet table full of food they might swallow whole before anyone else got a taste.

During the awkward silence that followed the Gastons head-butting their hellos and competitively slamming pitchers of smuggled root beer, a whole ship’s worth of Harriet Hook’s pirate crew came marauding through the door.

As Carlos stood against the faded wallpaper nursing his spicy punch, the Gastons and the pirate posse busied themselves with chasing the next group of guests through the house. This happened to be an entire cackling slew of evil step-granddaughters, festooned with raggedy ribbons and droopy curls, elbowing their way around the corners at top speed. “Don’t chase us!” they begged, just waiting to be chased. “You’re horrible!” they screamed, horribly. “Sto-o-o-o-o-o-p,” they said, refusing to stop.

Their cousin, Anthony Tremaine followed them into the room, rolling his eyes.

The band struck up a rollicking tune. Dark-haired Ginny Gothel arrived with a bushel of wormy apples, and a game of bob-for-the-wormiest-apple broke out in the tub. Everybody wanted a turn on the chandelier swing, and the rest of the guests were engaged in a serious dance-off over by the band. All in all, it was shaping up to be a wicked good time.

More than an hour after the party had officially started, there was a sharp knock on the door. It wasn’t clear what made this knock different from all the others, but different it was. Carlos leapt to his feet like a soldier suddenly called to attention. Jay stopped dancing with a posse of evil step-granddaughters. The Gastons looked up from the buffet table. Little Sammy Smee held an apple between his teeth questioningly.

Carlos steadied his nerves and opened the door. “Go away!” he yelled, using the island’s traditional greeting.

Mal stood in the doorway. Backlit by the dim hall light, in shiny purple leather from head to toe, she appeared to have not so much a halo as a shimmer, like the lead vocalist of a band during a particularly well-lit rock concert—the kind with smoke and neon and bits of sparkly nonsense in the air.

Carlos half-expected her to start belting a tune with the band. Perhaps he should have felt excited that such an infamous personality had decided to come to his party.

Er, her party.


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