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The Kill (Chapter 2)

Why hadn't she thought of this? Her grandfather had probably always had that alarm system-but it wasn't the kind of thing a kid would notice.

But I'm not a kid anymore. I should have thought now.

"There's got to be a way to get in," Dee was saying.

"Why?" Audrey's voice was snappish-because she felt bad, Jenny knew. Because she was scared.

"There doesn't always have to be a way just because you want one, Dee."

Think, Jenny. Think, think, think. You forgot the alarmis there anything else you've forgotten?

"If we're going to get philosophical-" Michael began.

"Mrs. Durash," said Jenny.

They all looked at her.

"She was my grandfather's housekeeper. Maybe she still takes care of the place. Maybe she has a key."

"Brilliant!" Dee said and finally removed the crowbar.

"We've got to find her telephone number-oh, God, if she still even lives here. There should be a phone at-at-oh, I guess the dairy bar. It's that way, I think. It's a long walk."

Michael looked cagey. "I'll stay here and guard the bags."

"You'll come with us, and like it," Audrey said. "We can hide the bags in the bushes."

"Yes, dear," Michael muttered. "Yes, dear, yes, dear…"

Petro's Dairy Bar, like everything they had passed on the way, had an air of gently going to seed. Jenny stepped into the blue-and-white metal booth outside and was relieved to find a phone book dangling from a chain. She balanced it on her knee and thumbed pages.

"Yes! B. Durash-there can't be another Durash in Monessen. It's got to be her."

She stuck in a quarter and dialed before she realized she hadn't planned out what to say.

"Hello." The voice on the other end made the word sound almost like yellow. There was a faint accent, earthy, not as slow as a drawl.

"Hi. Hi. Uh, this is Jenny Thornton and-" Debate team, Jenny thought. Vacation, hometown, late spring break-parents. Where are my parents supposed to be?

"Is this Mrs. Durash?" she blurted.

There was a pause that seemed very long. Then: "Mrs. Durash isn't here right now. This is her daughter-in-law."

"Oh … but she does live there? Mrs. Durash? And-look, okay, do you happen to know if she's the same Mrs. Durash that worked for Mr. Eric Evenson?" I am making a total fool of myself, Jenny realized, staring at the graffiti on the glass door.

Another pause. "Ye-e-es, she's the caretaker for the Evenson house."

Wonderful! Caretakers had to have keys. Jenny was so buoyed up that she forgot about making a fool of herself.

"Thank you-that's great. I mean-it'll be really great to talk to her. Do you know when she'll be back?"

"She always goes over to her son's in Charleroi on Saturday. She'll be back around seven. Call then."

"Seven p.m.?" Michael said bitterly when Jenny repeated the conversation. He flopped onto the splintered green bench against the dairy bar wall. "And we have to wait outside until then. I'm not walking back until I get some ice cream."

"Money," Audrey said with a toss of her copper head.

A bus roared up to the corner. Jenny stared at it absently as she thought. Nine hours to kill. They'd be conspicuous in this little town. They'd have to hide in her grandfather's backyard or-Something on the side of the bus came into focus.

JOYLAND PARK, ROLLER COASTER CAPITAL OF THE world. The poster was illustrated with roller coasters and merry-go-rounds.

The wooden bench seemed to drop away beneath Jenny.

When she could breathe again, the bus was revving its engine to drive away. Jenny made her decision in an instant.

"Let's go!"

Dee bounded up, ready at once. Michael leaned his head against the wall and shut his eyes. Audrey said, "Where?"

"On that bus. Come on, quick!" Jenny ran up and grabbed the dusty glass door before it could straighten shut. "Do you go to Joyland Park?" she shouted.

"Clairton, Duquesne, West Mifflin-West Mifflin's Joyland," he said laconically.

"Right. Four, please."

The others straggled up the steps. The bus was almost empty and smelled like old tires. They sat on the torn leather seats in the very back, and Audrey looked at Jenny.

"Now will you please explain where we're going?"

"Joyland Park," Jenny said a little breathlessly.

"Why?"

" 'Cause they've got corn dogs," Michael said, very quietly.

Jenny looked Audrey straight in the eye. "Did you see that poster on the side of the bus? It was in my dream. I had a dream on the plane, while Michael was dreaming about Summer, and that poster was in it."

Audrey considered, teeth set in her cherry-glossed lower lip. "It might be perfectly natural. You might have had the park on your mind, since you were coming back here and all."

"Or it might be something else," Jenny said. "Like -I don't know, some kind of a message." She shifted. "Look, do any of you ever wonder if-well, if Summer is really dead?"

Audrey looked shocked. Dee said dryly, "We've been telling the police so for a month."

But Michael, eyes round and thoroughly awake now, said, "She was alive in my dream. She talked just like her."

Jenny felt uneasy. "What did she say?"

"She was mad at us for leaving her. She was scared."

Jenny felt even more uneasy. Audrey said, "So you think maybe both dreams were connected or something? And that it was some kind of a message?"

"I don't know. It's so complicated. And I don't even know why anyone could possibly want to send us to an amusement park… ." She could feel herself deflating.

"Never mind." Dee grinned wickedly and thumped her on the back. "You went with your instinct; that can't be wrong. And even if it wasn't a message-so what? It's an amusement park. Good, clean fun. Right, guys?"

"I'd rather go shopping," Audrey said. "But it's a way to kill the time."

Michael slumped and jammed his knees against the battered metal seat in front of him. "And kill our money. Did I ever tell you about this amusement park nightmare I had when I was a kid-?"

"Shut up, Michael," three female voices chorused, and he shut up.

It was a long, rather lonely drive to West Mifflin. Joyland Park seemed to be one of the few places still in business in a rundown and isolated area. It was almost a surprise to find it out here, in the middle of nowhere.

Michael made an inarticulate noise of awe as they filed off the bus. "Good grief," he said mildly. "It's Noah's Ark."

"That's the fun house," Jenny said. "You go in the whale by the side there."

Even in the bright sunshine she felt strange as they walked through the gates. Maybe because it's changed, she told herself. This place really had changed. The fun house was the same, but a lot of other things were different.

The old train ride roller coaster was gone, and there was a mine ride called the Pit in its place. There was a new metal coaster called the Steel Demon and a new water ride-the kind where you slosh around in giant inner tubes.

The biggest shock was the new arcade. It was full of shining video games, holograms, virtual reality. Jenny missed the old penny arcade, which had been dark and somewhat spooky, filled with machines from the turn of the century. Ancient, beautifully carved wood and genuine brass-not this steel and neon stuff.

But as time passed, she felt less anxious. She couldn't help it-the park was irresistible. She breathed in the smell of popcorn and ride-grease- and something else, something that was like a smell, but wasn't. A cotton-candy feeling of excitement.

"I don't see why Summer would want us to come here," Audrey said when they stopped to buy corn dogs.

"No. I don't think it was a message after all." Jenny was glad to say it. Whatever horrible things they might have to face that night, they could enjoy themselves now.

Michael's blissful corn-dog smile broke up for a moment. "Maybe it's better that way," he said indistinctly. "I'd rather be dead than be what Summer was in that dream."

They went on the roller coasters, screaming, Jenny's loose hair blowing like a banner. The Steel Demon was good, but everyone agreed they liked the creaking, clattering old wooden coasters best. "Scarier," Dee said with relish. "Could break any minute -it feels like "

The mine ride was supposed to be scary. "This is a gold mine?" Audrey asked skeptically while lights strobed wildly to simulate dynamite exploding.

"Use your imagination," Michael said, slipping an arm around her.

Jenny looked away. It made her so homesick for Tom that she had to hold her eyes wide open and blinking, willing the tears back where they belonged.

The fun house really was scary. A barrel-shaped brick "wall" revolved around them until nobody but Dee could walk straight. The floor shifted and swayed until Michael threatened to sue-or throw up.

"C'mere," Dee said gleefully, beckoning Jenny closer. Behind a glass wall a red figure was vaguely visible. As Jenny stepped up to look, the scene went dark. She leaned forward, her nose almost against the glass-and with a terrible yelling sound the figure swooped straight toward her. It rode down a wire, actually striking the glass. Jenny leaped back with a shriek.

"Good, clean fun," Dee said, chuckling as Jenny leaned against a wall weakly.

Jenny made a fist, but just then something about the red figure caught her eye.

It was a red devil, with horns and split hooves and a tail. But its eyes-its eyes were blue. A blue that shone eerily under the black lights. And just before it was drawn back up the wire-it winked at her.

Jenny's little fingers started to tingle.

After that, things in the park seemed wrong. The barker for the ringtoss game seemed to have an odd gleam in his eye. Even Leo the Paper-Eating Lion seemed vaguely sinister.

"What in the name of God is it?" Michael asked as he sat down heavily on a bench. He was staring at what looked like a car from a circus train, with a red roof and silver bars. Thrust between the bars was a lion's head, muzzle gaping open in a big friendly smile.

"I'm Leo the Paper-Eating Lion!" The voice was bright and peppy and it came from the muzzle. The timing bothered Jenny; she felt something like the quick cold touch of an ice cube at her neck.

"I eat all kinds of paper," the voice continued joyfully. "I eat cardboard, too. Old gum wrappers, orange peel, popcorn containers. So feed me."

"It's a trash can," Dee explained, squatting to look up the lion's muzzle. "It sucks stuff up like a vacuum cleaner."

A mother wheeled a double stroller up to the car. Both kids stared at the lion with hard expressions.

"Want to feed him?" the mom said.

The kid in front nodded, still unsmiling. She wadded up a paper napkin and threw it at the lion's mouth.

"No, you have to give it to him. Here." The mom retrieved the napkin for the kid. The kid, still unsmiling, leaned forward, hand outstretched.

"I bet I'll have a tummyache tomorrow!" Leo caroled.

Forward, forward-the little hand reaching-

"Leo's always hungry… ."

Jenny jumped up and clapped her hand over the hole in the lion's muzzle just before the kid's fingers got there.

The kid stared at her, never changing expression. The mom squeaked.

"Sorry," Jenny said. Everyone was staring at her, even Dee and Audrey and Michael. She didn't move her hand. The kid sat back. The mother, after a flummoxed moment, turned the stroller sharply and wheeled it away.

The back of Jenny's neck was still prickling as she slowly withdrew her hand. She'd been afraid that-what?

"All right," she said defiantly to the others. "So it was a stupid thing to do. So sue me."

"We're all kind of jumpy-" Michael began soothingly, and then proved it, by ducking as two small figures charged him with a blood-freezing battle yell.

Jenny crouched defensively by the lion before she realized that the two figures were children.

They dived under the wrought-iron bench and came up screaming triumph. "We got it! We got another one!"

"Got what?" Dee said, blocking them with her hightop.

"A doubloon, dummy," the boy said in friendly tones, holding up something round and shining between dirty-nailed fingers. To Jenny, it looked like one of those chocolate candies covered with cheap gold foil. Then he pointed. "Cancha read?"

Jenny twisted her neck. There was a large billboard behind them. Swashbuckling crimson letters announced:

ALL-NEW ATTRACTION! COLLECT THREE GOLD DOUBLOONS AND BE THE FIRST TO SET FOOT ON … TREASURE ISLAND.

"You get three tokens and they letcha in free the day it opens. You get to go over the bridge first. They've got 'em hidden all over the park."

Spotting something else interesting, the kids ran away. On the billboard a pirate's treasure chest slowly opened and shut, like a clam's shell. Behind it Jenny could see the central island of Joyland Park, a manmade island in an artificial lagoon. The last time

Jenny had been here, it had been a sort of stage, with acrobatic shows and bands. Now it was clearly under construction, with a tall lighthouse in the middle. She couldn't see any bridge to it.

Why should that make her feel uneasy?

"Just pop those discards in my mouth! Leo's waiting…"

"Let's go," Jenny said. Her stomach was churning and she felt she had to distract herself. "Let's do something stupid-something kiddie. Let's go fishing."

Dark water swirled around and around a channel at the Fish Pond booth. "Like a sushi bar," Michael said, watching the water come in one side and go out the other. "You know, those kinds where the plates float around."

For a quarter you could dip a line into the water. A claw at the end picked up a number and you got a prize.

"When I was a kid all these prizes seemed like treasure," Jenny said. She lowered the claw into the opaque swirl.

"A bite," Dee said. She raised her rod. At the end, dripping, was a wooden bar with a number on it. The attendant glanced at it, then tossed it back into the water. He handed Dee a plastic change purse. Pink.

"Just what I always wanted."

Jenny felt a pull on her line, a sharp tug, almost as if it were a live fish on the hook. She lifted it–and gasped.

Oh, God! Oh, God…

Beside her, Michael's breath hissed in. He was staring, his chocolate-colored eyes wide and frightened.

There was no wooden bar on the end of Jenny's line. Instead, hanging neatly over one claw of the hook, was a slender, dripping circlet of gold. Jenny didn't need to look at it twice.

It was the ring.

The ring Julian had given her. The one with seven words inscribed on the inside of the band, where they would rest against her skin and bind her with their magical power.

All I refuse & thee I chuse. Meaning that Jenny refused all the world and chose-him. A promise that Julian had tried to hold her to. She was free of it, now-but the reminder was chilling.

She'd been wrong about them being able to enjoy themselves until tonight. Julian was watching her this minute, the way he'd watched her for years. There was no getting away from him, not here, not anywhere.

Nothing to do except go and face him.

"Let's go home," Jenny said, surprised at the steadiness of her own voice. She took the ring off the claw and dropped it into the dark, swirling water.

You-uns want the key?"

"Well, my parents do. They were kind of jet-lagged so they stayed back at the hotel, you know. They just thought they'd look the place over, you know. Gosh, Mrs. Durash, do you remember that old washing machine that belonged to my great-grandma? And the wringer? That was hysterical, huh, a wringer." I'm being winsome, Jenny realized with a jolt. I'm a con artist.

A smile softened Mrs. Durash's thin features. She was a small woman, slight, wearing what Jenny always remembered her wearing: a print dress and a sweater. "I used to use that washing machine," she said warningly. She pronounced it warshing machine.

"I know. That's what's so hysterical!" If I get any cuter, I'm going to throw up, Jenny thought. Oh, Lord-I think I just wrinkled my nose.

But it worked. Mrs. Durash was rummaging in a shiny black purse. "Let me tell you how to turn off the alarm system."

Jenny let out a silent breath of thanksgiving, and listened as intently as she had to the opening instructions of the PSAT. She went down the porch stairs muttering, "Three-six-five-five on the pad, then press Enter, Off, Enter. Three-six-five-five, then Enter …"

"We've got a time limit," she added to the others who were waiting around the corner. "The last thing she said was to have my parents call her tomorrow, because she didn't even know we were visiting. When they don't call, she's going to know something's wrong."

"But we didn't get any sleep," Michael pointed out. "And it's a mile back to your grandfather's house. At least."

"Let's take a taxi, then," Audrey said impatiently.

"We can't." Dee jingled the fanny pack which contained their pooled funds. "We paid thirteen ninety-five apiece to get into that park, not to mention all the corn dogs Michael ate. We've spent all the money that was supposed to last us for days. We're broke, princess."

"It's my fault," Jenny said after the first horrible moment. "I should have thought. We'll just have to try to get everything done tonight-once we go, we won't need to worry about money. Some of us can sleep while the others look through my grandfather's things-we'll take turns, okay? And we can eat some of the Power Bars from the camping stuff we brought."

"But if we don't find it tonight-?"

"We have to," Jenny said. "We'll do it because we have to, Michael."

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