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The Forbidden Game book 2: The Chase (Chapter 13)

"Stupid old lady," Michael said as Dee pulled the Spider out of the carport. "She doesn't even use this space, but will she let anybody else park here? God forbid. Now we have to go all the way down to the garage-take a left up there and go around the trash cans."

"I didn't even know this place had a garage," Dee said.

"Dad and I never use it," Michael said as Dee pulled into a dark entrance and headed down a ramp. "The carports are a lot more convenient."

"Yeah, but right now it's probably a good idea to have Audrey's car down here. In fact, we might want to put all the cars here-if somebody notices them outside your apartment, it's a dead giveaway that we're all here. We should have thought of that before."

"I guess," Michael said without enthusiasm. "I dunno-when I was a kid I always hated this place. I had the idea there ought to be a dragon at the bottom of it."

Dee grinned. "It's just a garage, Mikey." But he was right, she thought. There was something unpleasant about the garage. It was dingy and badly lit, and she could see how a kid with an active imagination might think of dragons.

Don't be ridiculous, she told herself. It's broad daylight-but it wasn't. They had turned the corner to the lower level of the garage, and it was as dark as twilight down here with the flickering bluish fluorescents on the ceiling. A strange and unnatural twilight.

Even as she thought it, the lights around them flickered wildly and went out.

It was like being plunged into the tunnel on a roller coaster. Dee suddenly felt that everything was happening too fast-while at the same time it was all happening in slow motion, frame by frame.

Her eyes weren't dark-adapted yet-in that first instant she could see nothing. But she heard the growl from the back of the car clearly.

It was a thick, clotted, animal sound. A large sound-the timbre alone let you know that only something big could have produced it. So low and dragging that it sounded like a soundtrack in slow motion. It sounded like a hallucination.

"What-" Michael was tearing at his seat belt, turning to look. Dee saw the whites of his eyes. Then, as she twisted her head over her shoulder, she got a glimpse of what was in the back of the car.

Pale eyes and white teeth in gaping jaws. Dee's vision was adapting. She saw a hulking shape materializing in that incredibly small space-as if it were

coming through a door in the area between the cabin and the trunk. Coming and coming like a genie emerging from a bottle.

It isn't all the way out yet, Dee realized.

There was no time to think about anything. "Get out!" she shouted. Michael was frozen, clutching the seat and gasping. Dee reached across him, fingers clenching on the Spider's door handle. She flung the door open and shoved him, braking automatically at the same instant.

Michael went tumbling and thudding out. Dee felt a rush of air on her cheek-warm as the blast from under a microwave, and wet. A feral, musky odor made her nostrils flare.

The snarl was directly in her ear.

Move, girl!

She hit the accelerator. The snarl fell back, and she heard the scrabbling of claws just behind her. In one motion Dee opened her own door and vaulted out.

To-jin-ho was the art of falling on hard surfaces. Dee took this fall rolling and was on her feet in time to see the Spider cruise into the block wall of the garage.

Some distant part of her mind watched the impact with a sort of joyful awe. Now there was a crash, she thought, and flashed a barbaric smile at nothing.

Then she saw movement. Something was emerging from the Spider. She heard a rising snarl.

Dee spun on her heel and ran.

She could see the light of the stairwell in front of her. If she could make it there –

She felt her Nikes rebound from the concrete, felt her arms swinging, her lungs pumping. Her teeth drew back again in a grin. In that moment Dee

Eliade was filled with a joy in living so intense she felt she could fly.

"C'mon, you freakin' fleabag!" she shouted over her shoulder and heard herself laugh wildly. "Come and get me!"

She'd never fought a four-legged opponent before, but she was sure going to give it a try. She'd see how a wolf reacted to a roundhouse kick.

She reached the stairwell and spun, still laughing, The blood was singing in her veins, every breath she took was sweet. Her muscles were electric with vibrant energy. She felt balanced and dynamic and ready for anything.

Then she heard the creak of a door behind her-and an endless, savage hiss.

Michael was picking himself up as Jenny and Tom turned the corner, staring into the depths of the dim garage. He was clutching at one ankle.

"Dee-?" Jenny gasped. Echoes of a metallic crash were still reverberating in her mind.

Michael waved toward the back of the garage. Jenny saw it then-a large, dim shape against the wall. The Spider.

The lights flickered and went on, and she saw color.

The Spider's front end was crumpled. There was no sign of Dee.

"Come on!" Tom was already running toward the car. Then he looked left and shouted, "The stairway!"

The door there was swinging shut. Jenny heard it clang, felt her chest heave as they ran. Tom reached it and seized the handle with both hands, wrenching at it.

The door swung open, slamming against the wall. A single fluorescent panel flickered high above in the stairwell, and Jenny could hear echoes of her own panting breath in the little room. But nothing moved except shadows.

Dee's paper doll was on the floor, in a lightly scorched circle on the concrete.

"He's going to get us all."

Jenny tightened the Ace bandage around Michael's ankle.

"If Dee couldn't get away from them, what kind of chance do we have?"

Jenny fixed the little metal clips in the bandage and sat back.

"The clues aren't fair," Michael said. He was still breathing hard, and his eyes were too wide, showing white around the dark irises. "You said you and Tom ran straight down there once you got this one-which means you didn't have time. He's not going to give any of us enough time. And we're never going to find the base."

Jenny closed the plastic first aid kit. The paper doll was lying on the coffee table beside it. On its back, which wasn't characteristic of Dee at all. The black crayon eyes stared up at the ceiling with a crafty look.

They had pushed Audrey's car to the very back of the garage, where they hoped no one would find it. Jenny supposed they were lucky no one had come to investigate the crash-but did it really matter anymore? Did anything really matter?

"Am I just talking to myself here? Isn't anybody going to say something?"

Jenny looked at Michael, then at Tom, who was pacing the hall, not looking at them. She turned back to Michael, and her eyes met his. Their gazes locked a moment, then he sank back on the couch, his anger fading.

"What is there to say?" Jenny said.

They spent the evening in silence; Tom pacing and Michael and Jenny sitting. Staring at a blank TV screen.

It was all going to come crashing down soon-their carefully built structure of deception. Jenny had called her aunt Lily to say that Zach was upset and was spending the night with Tom. She'd called Dee's mother and told her Dee was staying with her. Neither mother had been happy. It was only a matter of time before one of them called Tom's house or Jenny's house and everything came out.

And Michael was right. They weren't going to find the base-not on the information they had now. They needed more.

She was actually glad that night when Julian showed up in her dreams.

It had taken her a long time to get to sleep-she'd lain for hours staring at the empty couch where Dee should have been. The last clear thing she remembered was deciding she was never going to sleep at all that night-and then she must have shut her eyes. When she opened them, she knew she hadn't really opened them at all. She was dreaming again.

She was standing in a white room. Julian was standing in front of a table, with the oddest thing stretched out in front of him. It was a sort of model,

with houses and trees and roads and street lights. Like a railway model, only without the train, Jenny thought. But it was the most elaborate model she'd ever seen; the miniature trees and bushes were exquisitely made, and the little houses had various windows alight.

Not just a model, Jenny realized. It's Vista Grande -it's my neighborhood. There's my house.

Julian was holding a small figure of a wolf above one of the streets. He set it down carefully, looked up at Jenny, and smiled.

Jenny didn't smile back. Although she was dreaming, her head was clear-and she had a purpose in mind. She was going to get all the information she could from him.

"Is that how you tell them what to do? The wolf and the snake?"

"Possibly." He added, just as seriously as she had asked her question, "What's black inside, white outside, and hot?"

Jenny, mouth opened to speak again, shut it and gave him the kind of look Audrey frequently gave Michael. "What?" she said tightly.

"A wolf in sheep's clothing."

"Is that what you are?"

"Me? No, I'm a wolf in wolf's clothing." He looked up at her, and light flashed in his wild, exotic sapphire eyes.

I don't know how I ever mistook him for a human, Jenny thought. Julian was from an older and wilder race. One that had fascinated and terrified humans from the beginning.

I will not be distracted, she told herself. Not this time. I will remember what I want from him.

"What do you think of the new Game?"

"It isn't fair," Jenny said promptly. "Isn't sporting, " she added, remembering what Julian thought of the idea of fairness. "It's not a game at all if we don't have a chance to find your base."

"And you think you don't have a chance?"

"Not without some kind of information."

Julian threw back his head and laughed, his hair shining like white jade. "You want a hint?" He looked at her with those veiled, liquid-blue eyes.

"Yes," Jenny said flatly. "And you'd give it to me if you wanted it to be any kind of real contest. But you probably don't."

He clicked his tongue at her. "You really think I'm an ogre, don't you? But I'm not so bad. You know, if I wanted, I could manipulate the Game so I couldn't lose. For instance …" He lifted the wolf and held it judiciously over another street. Jenny recognized the pale gray wood-frame house and the tiny towheaded figure in front of it.

"Cam!" She looked at Julian. "You wouldn't! You said-"

His long lashes drooped. "I said I'd keep this Game to the original players-and I will. I'm just telling you what I could do. So you see I'm not so bad after all."

"Gordie Wilson wasn't a player."

"He put his nose in where he wasn't wanted."

"And what about P.C. and Slug?"

Julian's smile was chilling. "Oh, they were players, all right. They played their own game-and they lost."

So now I know, Jenny thought. I suppose I'll have to tell Angela-if I live to do it.

She was staring down at the tiny towheaded figure of Cam when something else occurred to her. She looked up.

"Was it you who made those kids play lambs and monsters?" she asked. "All that violence-were you influencing them?"

"Me?" He gave his black velvet laugh again. "Oh, Jenny-they don't need me. Children are that way naturally. Children's games are that way. Haven't you noticed?"

Jenny had, but she said nothing. She turned away.

"War and hunting and chasing-that's all there is. That's life, Jenny-no one can escape it."

He was standing behind her now.

"And why should we? There's excitement in the chase, Jenny. It gets the blood going. It sends chills through the body…."

Jenny stepped away. Her blood was going. His voice, strange and haunting as the melody she'd heard on the hotel balcony at the prom, sent a shiver of awareness through her.

Cat-quiet, he followed her. I will not turn around, she thought. I will not.

"Love and death are everything, Jenny. Danger is the best part of the game. I thought you knew that."

Part of her did. The wild part that he had changed. The part of her, Jenny thought suddenly, that would always belong to him.

"And I thought you were going to give me a hint," she said.

"Of course, if you want-but nothing is free."

Jenny nodded without turning. She'd expected this. "Give the hint first," she said flatly.

"You can find your friends behind a door."

Jenny frowned. "What kind of a door? Have I seen it?"

"Yes."

"Have I been through it?"

"Yes-and no."

"What kind of an answer is that?" she said, angry enough to turn. She could face him when she was furious.

"It's as clear as black and white-if you know the right way to look at it. Now," he said, "the price." He stepped to her and bent his head.

It took all her self-control to remain rigid and unresponsive in his arms. At last she gasped and pulled away.

"Oh, Jenny. Let's stop playing-we don't need to play this Game anymore. You can have your friends back-you want Dee back, don't you?"

"I'll get her back," Jenny said shakily. She still felt tingles of electricity in every place Julian had touched her. "I'll get them all back-my way."

"As usual, I admire your confidence," he said. "But you can't win. Not against me, Jenny. I'm the master player."

"A door I've been through but haven't been through," she said. "A door that needs to be looked at in the right way."

He smiled. "A door in the shadows. But you won't find it until I take you through it."

We'll see, Jenny thought. Things were getting blurry around her-the shadows were growing. The dream fading.

"Here," Julian said. "To remember me by."

He put a silver rose in her hand.

Jenny recognized it. It was the rose he had given her in the Erlking's cavern, a shimmering half-open blossom, perfect down to the tiniest detail. The petals cool but soft in her palm.

There was something like a slip of white paper wrapped around the stem.

This time I'm going to wake up right away, she thought.

She did. The silver rose was lying on her pillow. She almost knocked it off, sitting up quickly to look at the bundles of blankets on the living room floor.

Tom and Michael were both there. Two dark heads on white pillows. Jenny leaned over and shook the nearest shoulder.

"Michael, Tom, wake up. I've got the next clue."

But when she unraveled the slip of paper from the stem, she wasn't sure.

"It's French," Michael said. "And none of us speaks French. It isn't fair."

"Life isn't fair," Jenny muttered, staring at the words on the paper in frustration. There were only six of them.

Pas de lieu Rhone que nous.

"If we only had Audrey," she said. "Nous means 'we,' I think-or is it 'you'?"

"Maybe Dad's got a French-English dictionary somewhere," Michael said.

Tom didn't even try to join in the conversation. He had looked at the silver rose, and then at Jenny, and then he had settled back. Now he was staring down at his own hands.

Jenny started to speak to him, then stopped. As she'd told Michael before, what was there to say?

The ring felt as cold as ice and as heavy as lead on her finger.

Michael found the French dictionary the next morning, but Jenny still couldn't make much sense of the clue. The words were French, but they didn't seem to make any sense when you put them together.

"It's about me, I know it is," Michael said. "Because it's French, and Audrey's connected with French, and I'm connected with Audrey. I'm next."

"You're ridiculous," Jenny said. "We don't know which of us it is-but if we all stay together-"

"Staying together didn't do Michael and Dee much good," Tom said from what had become his habitual position, pacing the hallway.

"He's going to get us all. One by one," Michael said softly. "And I'm next."

Jenny stared down at the dictionary and rubbed her eyes.

It was dark and stuffy in the apartment. Outside the sky was cloudy, gray as concrete. Jenny felt like a rat in a trap.

She tried thinking about the base instead of the French clue. She'd told Michael and Tom what Julian had said about the door, but none of them could make anything of it. Now Tom was pacing endlessly, and Michael was staring at nothing, and Jenny was very tired.

Her head felt stuffy and her eyes hurt. She'd had almost no sleep last night. Maybe if she shut her eyes she could think better. If she shut them just for a few minutes…

The crash woke her up with a jerk.

"Sorry," Michael whispered guiltily, picking up a TV tray. He looked even more nervous than usual-almost wild. His hair was sticking up all over his head, and his eyes reminded Jenny of a hamster she'd once had-a frantic hamster that had always tried to run away from her.

"What time is it?" Jenny whispered back, trying to clear her head. It was almost as dark as night.

"About four. You slept for a while."

Jenny wondered vaguely why they were whispering, then saw the bundle of blankets on the floor in Tom's place. He was wrapped like a mummy, even Ms head covered.

Good-he needs rest, too, Jenny thought, shifting. The slip of paper rustled on her lap. Jenny's blurred eyes focused on the writing on it, her foggy brain seeing the words not as words but merely as letters-sounds. Pas de lieu …

She straightened suddenly, her breath hissing. Michael nearly jumped out of his skin.

"What is it?" He limped hastily over to her. "What-did you figure it out? Is it me?"

"Yes-oh, we've been so stupid, Michael. We didn't need the dictionary. It's not French at all."

"Even I can recognize that much French."

Jenny clutched at his arm. "The words are French, but it isn't a French sentence. I figured that out with the dictionary-the words don't make any sense when you put them together. It only makes sense in English."

"What are you talking about, English?" Michael forgot to whisper.

"Just say the words to yourself, Michael. Pronounce them the French way, but kind of run them together."

"Pas… de… lieu … Rhone… que… nous-it doesn't say anything!"

"Yes, it does. It says 'Paddle your own canoe.'"

Michael's lips formed the words silently as he stared at the paper, then he hit himself in the forehead. "Oh, my God. You're right. But, Jenny"- he dropped his hand and looked at her-"what does it mean?"

"I don't know." Jenny glanced out the window, where large drops were hanging from the eaves of the walkway and small drops pattered on the concrete. "But it's got something to do with water, I bet-so none of us can go outside. But don't you realize, Michael"-she turned to him excitedly-"we've done it! We've finally done it! We have a clue, and we have all of us here and safe. We can win this one!"

Something about Michael's expression made her heart jolt.

And then she realized-she and Michael hadn't been whispering for some time. They'd almost been shouting-but Tom's blankets hadn't stirred.

"Michael-" He was staring at her in terror. The hamster look again. In a single motion Jenny darted to seize Tom's blankets, to yank them away.

She just stared at the bunched-up pillows underneath. She could feel herself folding inside. Collapsing.

"Michael." She spoke without moving, still holding the blankets. Then she lifted her head and looked at him. He flinched and raised a hand defensively.

"Where is he, Michael?"-deceptively softly.

"He made me, Jenny-I told him not to, but he wouldn't listen-"

"Michael, where is he?" Somehow Jenny had gotten two fistfuls of Michael's gray sweatshirt, and she was shaking him. "Where did he go?"

Speechlessly Michael looked toward the gray and dripping window. There were tears in his dark spaniel eyes.

"He went to the mountains," he gasped after a moment. "You know the place he told us about-where they found Gordie Wilson. He thought he could find the base there-or maybe just kill the wolf or the snake. He said that killing them might help you and me, even if he-" He stopped and began again. "I told him not to, Jenny-I told him not to go-"

Jenny heard her own voice, sounding strangely quiet and detached. Almost musical. "To the mountains. Where they found Gordie Wilson-in a creek bed. Isn't that right, Michael?"

Michael blinked at the lines of slanting gray outside. "In a creek …" he whispered.

Then they just looked at each other.

"Come on," Jenny said at last. "We've got to find him."

"He told me to keep you here-"

"Nothing will keep me here. I'm going, Michael. The only question is whether you're going with me."

Michael gulped, then said, "I'm going."

"Then let's get out of here. We may already be too late."

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