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The Kill (Chapter 11)

They were all four waiting for her when she got out.

Summer said, "Where've you been?"

Audrey said, "Did you-"

Jenny nodded over Summer's head. Audrey hiked up a copper eyebrow.

"Just a little unscheduled detour," Jenny murmured to Dee and Michael. She said to Summer, "I'm okay. Everything's okay."

Summer's M&M's were lying scattered on the ground. "I don't like people disappearing," she said.

"Aw, honey, it's gonna be all right," Michael said and patted her awkwardly. "We told her where we are and sort of basically what's going on," he said to Jenny.

Jenny's buoyancy at finding Summer was gone; the effervescence had fizzled out of her blood. Julian was going to do something nasty-but what could be worse than what he'd already done? Since she'd known Julian, he'd chased her with UFOs, dark

elves, and giant insects-not to mention a Shadow Wolf and Snake. He'd lurked in the shadows of her room and hissed terrifying messages at her in the dark. He'd caught her in a cave-in, left her alone to drown, and menaced her with a cyber-lion. He'd kidnapped her and hunted her throughout two worlds. What could he do to top all that?

"Where do we go next?" Audrey said.

They looked around. Nothing in the immediate vicinity was lit up. The park was completely dark and dead silent around them.

"Here, hold this," Dee said to Jenny.

Jenny took the flashlight and said, "Oh, be careful. " Dee was shinning up one of the old-fashioned green-painted lampposts.

"I can see the lighthouse on the island," she said at the top with one long leg hooked over the crosspiece which supported a lantern. "And there're a lot of trees everywhere… . The Ferris wheel looks cool, it's sort of rising out of them like a mountain rising out of clouds."

"Is it lit up?"

"The only thing that's lit is something toward the back-it's got a big waterwheel and some boats shaped like swans."

"The Tunnel of Love," Jenny said.

Dee came down and they started toward the Tunnel of Love, Jenny guiding them. It was another ride she'd loved as a kid-not because it had anything to do with love, but because it was dark, and cool, and she'd loved the swan boats. Now, the thought of going into that tunnel was-well, it was better not to think about it.

They were skirting the lake when they saw the shape among the trees.

"It's a critter!" Michael said. "Only a big one!"

The flashlight beams caught it briefly, even as it moved back into the trees. It was big, and Jenny had a glimpse of reddish skin like tanned leather.

"It's got a head, so it can't be P.C. or Slug," Audrey said.

"Who or who?" asked Summer.

"Never mind. We'd better just watch out for it," Jenny said, and they did, keeping their backs to the water and watching the trees.

I should have asked Julian about them, she thought. Aloud, she said, "What are they, d'you think? And how come they're running around loose?"

"Other people the Shadow Men have caught," said Dee.

"Pets," said Michael.

"Or maybe just part of the general ambiance," Audrey said grimly.

Whatever the thing had been, Jenny felt an instinctive horror and revulsion for it, just as she'd felt for the little gray one that had looked like a withered fetus.

Summer didn't join the conversation at all. She just hurried lightly along, one hand gripping Jenny's sleeve, staring at everything they passed. She was like a large blue butterfly skimming in their midst.

They were a motley group, Jenny thought-Summer in her springtime dress and Dee's camouflage jacket, Audrey with her arm tied up in a sling made of Michael's undershirt. Jenny herself carrying Dee's flashlight. Michael was carrying his own flashlight, while Dee carried Audrey's pick. The other weapons had all gotten lost along the way.

Jenny noticed that Dee kept her distance from Audrey.

Things still weren't right with Dee. She was too quiet, too un-exuberant. Sure they were in danger, but Dee loved danger, she got up and ate it for breakfast, breathed it, went looking for it whenever she could. Dee should be enjoying this.

Jenny edged closer and said softly, "You know, Audrey didn't mean anything by that-when she said not to put your hand in the M&M's machine."

Dee shrugged. "I know." She went on looking straight ahead.

"Really she didn't. She's just like my mom, sometimes she's got to say things for your own good."

"Sure. I know."

Jenny gave up.

They passed a food stand just before they got to the Tunnel of Love. Jenny had an urge to break in-even a cold hot dog would be good right now, even a bun-but she didn't say anything. They had two gold coins. They were so close. They couldn't stop for anything now.

Blue and red and purple lights shone on the waterwheel in front of the Tunnel of Love. There was a rustic old mill behind the waterwheel, and a sign on the tunnel. In the afternoon, in the real park, the sign had read: tunnel of love. Now it read: tunnel of love and d-.

The last word was obscured by clusters of ivy. "I can't read it," Jenny said.

"Death, probably. As in 'Love and death are the only two things that really matter.' N'est-ce pas?" Audrey said.

"Oh, spiffy," said Michael. Summer got a firmer grip on Jenny's sleeve.

A swan boat was waiting at the loading dock, its white wings arched gracefully by its sides, its neck a supple curve. Beads of water glistened on the plastic. Jenny didn't want to get into it.

If that head turns around –

But they didn't have any choice. This was obviously the right place, awake and waiting for them. If Jenny wanted the third gold coin, she had to get on the ride.

"Come on, people," she said.

The boat tilted as they got in-Jenny and Dee on the front seat with Summer between them, Audrey and Michael in the back. They sat on wooden boards. As soon as they were all in, the swan began to move.

"Did you notice that cave looking like a face this afternoon?" Michael said as they approached the tunnel.

Jenny hadn't. The fiberglass rock did look like a face now, with crags and shadows forming the eyes and nose. The gaping mouth was the tunnel itself.

Inside, it was dank and dark, with a musty smell. And quiet. That afternoon there had been the sounds of people talking, the occasional echoing laugh. Now all Jenny could hear was the quiet lapping of water around the boat.

She was still holding the flashlight Dee had given her. and she trained it on the water, the walls, the

swan's head. All unexciting. The water was dark green and murky, the walls were damp and trickly, the swan's head was staying put.

"Where's the stuff-the scenes and everything?" Michael whispered. It was a whispering kind of place.

"I don't know," Jenny said, just as softly. That afternoon there had been illuminated dioramas-silly things like Stone Age people playing cards and painting dinosaurs on the cave walls. Now there was nothing. The swan boat went on gliding smoothly into darkness.

That was when Jenny noticed something wrong with the flashlight. The light was getting dimmer.

"Hey," she said and turned it toward her. Orange. The white beam was receding into a sullen orange glow.

She banged it on the swan's neck and immediately wished she hadn't. It made a startlingly loud sound, and the light got even dimmer.

"Oh, criminy-mine, too," Michael said. She could hear the jingle of metal as he shook it.

"We should have kept just one on, to save the batteries," Dee muttered. "I thought of that before, and then I forgot. I'm stupid."

Even in the midst of her worry Jenny was shocked at this. Dee didn't talk that way. "Look, Dee, if anybody should have thought of it-"

"There it goes," Michael said. There was now complete darkness from the backseat. Jenny had been thumbing the switch of her flashlight and screwing and unscrewing the top. but it didn't make any difference. She could barely see the dim orange bulb. When she shook it, it went out altogether.

"Spiffy, spiffy, spiffy," Michael said.

Audrey said sharply, "Does anybody feel like we're slowing down?"

It was hard to tell in the dark. Jenny was thoroughly sick of darkness-it seemed as if she'd spent all night blind, wondering what might be coming at her from which direction.

But she thought Audrey could be right. The lapping water was quieter. The only motion she could feel was the gentle swaying of the boat from side to side.

There was a quiet splash. "We're not moving," Dee said.

"Dee, get your hand out of the water!"

Dee muttered something inaudible, but Jenny heard the drip as she took her hand out.

"I don't like this," Summer said.

Jenny didn't, either-and she especially didn't like the thought of getting out of the boat and sloshing around trying to find their way.

"So we're stranded," she murmured. Everyone else was very still and tense.

Wondering what's coming at us, and from which direction… .

She could think of lots of things, all of them nasty. And she had time to think, because for a long while they just sat there, the swan boat rocking gently in the darkness.

"Just don't imagine anything," Audrey said through her teeth from the backseat.

"I'm trying not to," Michael answered defensively.

But of course it was impossible, like trying not to think of a pink elephant. The harder Jenny tried not to imagine what Julian might do to them, the quicker the images crowded into her mind. Every nightmare she'd ever had was suddenly clamoring for her attention.

"I can't take this anymore," Summer breathed.

Dee exhaled sharply. "No. Look, I'm gonna-"

Light.

It started as a fuzzy blue patch in Jenny's peripheral vision, and brightened when she turned to look at it. Like a spotlight in some overly dramatic stage show. Two other spotlights went on, one red, one purple. The colors of the floodlights outside-and the colors of the stained-glass lamps in the More Games shop, Jenny thought. The place where she'd first seen Julian.

"It all comes down to this, doesn't it?" Julian's voice said.

He moved out of the darkness, into the circle where the spotlights mingled. He was wearing a T-shirt with rolled-up sleeves, a black vest, and neat black boots. There was some kind of bangle around his upper arm. He looked urban and barbaric, like somebody you might find wandering the bad parts of town at night. Some street kid with no place to go and too much knowledge behind his blue eyes.

Summer took one look at him and crouched behind Dee.

Jenny felt at a disadvantage. Julian was in the place where the diorama should be-but she felt as if the five of them in the flimsy plastic boat were the

show. Julian was in a perfect position to watch whatever happened to them-and they couldn't even stand without risking an upset.

"You were wrong about the sign on this ride," Julian said casually. He stood easily, seeming to enjoy their reactions as they stared at him. "It's not the Tunnel of Love and Death. It's the Tunnel of Love-and Despair."

The five in the boat just looked at him. Finally Dee said, "So what?"

"Just thought you'd like to know." He flipped something in the air, caught it. Jenny couldn't tell what color the thing was because of the lights, but it gleamed.

"What, this? Oh, yes, it's a doubloon," Julian said, looking into his palm as if only just then noticing it.

Everyone in the boat exchanged glances. The boat rocked gently.

"Don't you want to know what you have to do to get it?"

Jenny didn't, but she felt sure he was going to tell them anyway.

"You just have to listen, that's all. We'll have a little conversation. A chat."

It was up to Jenny to answer, and she knew it. "About what?" she said tensely, leaning back to look at him around Dee.

"This and that. The weather. Nuclear disarmament. You."

"Us?" Michael squeaked, startled into speech.

"Sure. Look at you-all of you. What a pathetic bunch. And you're trying to storm the Shadow World?"

"Right," Dee muttered and started to get up.

"You never learn, do you?" Julian said and took a step toward her.

That was all he did, but Dee sat down, only partly because Jenny had grabbed her arm and pulled her back. Julian was scaring Jenny right now-not with any overt display of power, but just with himself. What he was. Julian picked up moods and put them on like clothes, and right now the brightness in his eyes, the quick rise of his breathing, the way his lips were slightly skinned back from his teeth-they all scared Jenny. He was in the mood to destroy things, to bring down some ultimate disaster, she thought. Not just to hunt, but to kill.

"Please, let's all just be calm," she said.

Julian was still looking at Dee, with bright sickness shining in his eyes. "Maybe you're just too stupid to learn," he said. "That's the real reason you don't want to go to college, isn't it? You know you'll never be as smart as your mother."

"Don't rise to him," Jenny said. "Dee, turn around-just don't listen."

Dee didn't turn. Jenny could only see her silhouette, and the blue light glistening on the velvet nubs of hair on her head, but she could feel the stress in Dee's body.

"All this athletic stuff is just a front because you know you've disappointed her," Julian said. "You're inferior where it counts most."

"Dee, you know that's not true… ."

"She knows she doesn't know anything. She's been wrong about so many things recently-like about Audrey and the lion. Like about Audrey's mother.

Imagine Mrs. Myers having done something Dee always meant to do."

"You leave her alone!" Jenny said.

"And she's nothing without her confidence. Haven't you noticed?"

"Shut up!" Dee shouted. It was a bad place for shouting, there were distant echoes. What frightened Jenny was the note of desperation in Dee's voice. Dee never cried, but just now Dee's voice sounded on the verge of tears.

"Despair," Jenny whispered suddenly. She reached around Dee to grip her arm. "Don't you see what he's trying to do? The Tunnel of Love and Despair-and he wants you to despair. To give up, to stop fighting."

"She should give up," Julian agreed. He was breathless now, the queer wild look in his eyes brighter than ever. "She's all talk. Hot air. Strutting around, building her muscles, saying 'Everybody look at me.' But there's nothing underneath."

Jenny thought of something. She leaned in toward Dee, her fingers biting into Dee's arm, and said, "I am my only master."

Dee's head turned slightly, like a startled bird.

"I am my only master," Jenny whispered urgently, prompting her. "Go on, Dee. You said it, and it's true. He can't do anything to you. He doesn't count. You are your only master."

She felt Dee's breath go out.

"Gets her philosophy from kung fu movies," Julian said. "Thinks fortune cookies are great literature."

"I am my only master!" Dee said.

"That's right." Jenny's throat hurt. She kept holding on to Dee's arm. Dee's neck twisted like a black swan's, to look at Jenny just for a moment. Jenny got a glimpse of tear tracks on the dark skin, shining blue and purple in the light, then Dee turned back.

"I am my only master," she said clearly, to Julian.

There was a stirring in the backseat. "She's smart, too," Audrey said, astonishing Jenny. "And brave. She's done all sorts of brave things since I got hurt. She didn't mean to hurt me, and I never thought she did."

Dee turned and gave Audrey one sloe-eyed look of gratitude, and her shoulders straightened. She sat as proud and tall as Nefertiti.

"Besides, college and books aren't everything," Michael said, amazing Jenny further.

"I thought they were-to you," Julian said. He was looking at Michael now, and his voice was beautiful, like ebony and silver.

Michael seemed to get smaller.

"You're the one who reads about things because you're afraid to actually do them. You talk about your books-or make jokes. The class clown. But people are laughing at you, not with you, you know."

"No, they're not," Michael said, which was another surprise for Jenny. She wouldn't have thought Michael would speak up for himself.

"You're a nothing. Just a funny little fat boy that people laugh at. You're a joke."

"No, I'm not," Michael said doggedly. Jenny felt a surge of admiration. Michael was holding out-maybe because he'd gotten teased and stomped on at school. He'd heard it all before.

But Julian's face was more confident than ever-and more cruel. He flashed a smile that sent chills up Jenny's arms.

"We won't talk about the little rituals you had when you were a kid," he told Michael. "Like how you had to tear the toilet paper up into tiny pieces, exactly even. Or if you saw the word death, you had to count to eighteen. To chai-'life' in Hebrew."

Michael's chest was heaving. Jenny opened her mouth, outraged, but Julian went urbanely on.

"We'll just cut to the chase. Ask your girlfriend if she's ever called you 'Tubby' behind your back."

Michael turned on Audrey. Jenny could see that his defenses had torn; his face had that rumpled, not-ready-for-company look that meant he was about to cry. "Did you say that?"

Audrey looked pale in the blue and purple lights, her lipstick garish. She seemed ready to cry, too.

"Did you say that?"

"Of course she did," Julian said. "She said lots of other things, too. About how her dream boy was six feet tall and blond and a surfer. About how she only took up with you to fill in the time until she found someone better."

Michael was looking at Audrey. "Did you say that?" he repeated, his voice an anguished plea.

Jenny willed Audrey to say no. Audrey looked back at Michael for a long, horrible moment, then said, "Yes."

Michael turned away.

"Because you were good for a laugh," Julian put in helpfully. "Don't you want to laugh now?"

"Shut up, you bastard!" Jenny shouted furiously.

She was sick with her own impotence-she'd helped Dee, but there was nothing she could do to help Michael. Not with this.

"I told you in the very beginning about the Game," Julian said. "Desires unveiled. Secrets revealed. Don't you remember?"

Audrey wasn't listening, she was looking only at Michael, her whole being focused on him. "I did say that," she said fiercely. "A long time ago. I didn't even really mean it then, I was just showing off."

"You still said it," Michael said dully, not turning.

"I said it before, Michael. Before you showed me that what people look like isn't important. Before I found out I loved you." She dissolved in sobs.

Michael turned halfway. His dark eyes were wide open.

"Oh-look," he said. "Don't. It's okay."

"It's not okay," Audrey stormed. "Michael Allen Cohen-you're an idiot!"

"That's what he said-" Michael muttered. Audrey shook him, turning him the rest of the way around.

"I love you," she said. "You made me fall in love with you. I don't care how tall you are or what color your hair is-I care about you. You make me laugh. You're smart. You're gentle. And you're real, you're a real person, not some jock with a facade that's going to fall apart when I get to know him. I know you already, and I love you, you idiot. I don't care what you do with toilet paper."

"When I was seven," Michael said. Audrey was still crying, and he reached out a stubby thumb to wipe the tears off her cheeks.

"You're a good kisser, too," Audrey said, sniffling. She put her arms around him and laid her head on his shoulder.

"Hey, I'm a great kisser," Michael whispered. "As I will demonstrate when we get out of this freakin' freak show." He cradled her protectively.

Jenny felt a flush of pride and joy-in their strength, in the tenderness in Michael's face and the way Audrey clung to him.

She looked at Julian defiantly.

Julian wasn't happy. He obviously didn't like the way things were going. Then he smiled, sharp as a sword.

"That's right, cry, you whining baby," he said, his eyes fixed on Audrey's auburn head. "But make sure you don't smear your mascara. You're nothing but a painted mannequin." His voice was venomous.

"We're not listening!" Michael said. He began talking to Audrey, softly and rapidly, right in her ear.

"You're going to turn out like your mother, you know-a shrill and contentious bitch. Your father's words, I believe. You're afraid that you're not capable of having real feelings like other people."

Audrey didn't even lift her head. Michael went on talking to her.

"I'd say she's doing a pretty good imitation of having feelings," Dee said dryly. "Why don't you just back off, creep?"

Instead, Julian whirled on her-no, not on her. He was looking behind her, at Summer. "And as for the brainless bit of fluff in front-"

Summer collapsed onto the floor of the boat. "I know I'm stUDid." she whisnereri

Jenny's fury lifted her to her feet, making the swan boat rock.

"Oh, no, you don't," she said. "If you have something to say, say it to me."

And then she was doing what she'd least wanted to do all this time. She was getting out of the boat, splashing down into the water.

It was cool, but it only came up to her knees. She splashed through it without letting herself think what might be swimming in it. Waves churned up, wetting her thighs.

She reached the diorama in a few steps and scrambled up on it. Then she was facing Julian.

"Say it to me," she said. "If you have the guts."

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