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The Kill (Chapter 9)

As the coin clunked somewhere in the machine's innards, Jenny heard a faint buzzing, then a mechanical ticking. The glass brightened, and Jenny could see that two bare lightbulbs had gone on inside.

They illuminated a wizard, maybe two feet high and wearing a surprisingly mournful and pained expression. As Jenny watched, it began to move jerkily, like clockwork.

Its eyes opened and shut, and its eyebrows lifted and fell. .Its lower lip seemed to be jointed and moved below a surprisingly fine and lifelike beard, as if it were mumbling to itself. Its face was ruddy plastic, with carmine lips and deep shadows under the eyes. Jenny could see layers of caked-up paint on the cheeks.

Poor thing, she thought. Absurd as it was, she felt sorry for the mechanical figure. It showed much finer workmanship than the barn dancers, but it was undeniably in a state of disrepair. Its paintbrush eyelashes were matted, its black velveteen robe dusted with red lint.

A strange feeling was coming over Jenny. A squeezing in her chest. It was ridiculous to feel this way about an automaton. But it looked so pathetic-so trapped there in that box, in front of a stapled-on backdrop of shabby red velveteen… .

And something about the figure … something about its face …

The wizard held a chipped and peeling wand in one clenched fist. He raised the wand and struck it on the table in front of him-Jenny could see the indentation where he'd done it many times before.

His eyes opened and shut, rolled around, moving back and forth. They didn't look at the wand.

His lower lip moved, showing white painted teeth, but there was no sound. He seemed to be talking to himself.

Jenny was mesmerized by the wizard's jerky, almost violent movements-but she didn't know why, and she was getting more and more frightened. It's because he looks like one of those homeless guys at the shelter, she told herself. That's why he's familiar.

No. It was more than that. Something about the plastic face, a face frozen in an expression of ineffable sadness.

The glass eyes rolled, staring straight out at Jenny. Dark as marbles, strangely tired, strangely kind.

She knew.

She really did know then, but it was such an impossible, intolerable concept that she pushed it away. Slam-dunked it back into her subconscious. Too insane to even think about.

She heard a click at the bottom of the machine and saw that a card had appeared. She reached for it reflexively-then stopped for just an instant, again feeling as if her mind was shouting a warning.

Her fingers closed on the card. She turned it over and stared at the writing on the other side.

Then she felt herself begin to faint.

The cramped lines of type were faded but perfectly readable. Not a prediction or a personality chart.

The entire card was covered with two words typed over and over.

HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME …

The letters swam in front of Jenny's eyes, merging into a scintillating black-and-white pattern. She couldn't control her trembling or the shuddering in her stomach. She couldn't feel her legs. And she couldn't scream-even though there was a screaming inside her.

She felt the floor bang her palms and rump as her legs gave way.

"What happened? Did it do something to you?" The others were around her. Jenny could only look up at the glass, box, as her fingers tightened on it.

Those tired dark eyes, oh, yes, they were familiar. But they didn't belong with a shabby velveteen robe and a long angel-hair beard. They belonged with a slight, stooped body, a cardigan sweater, and thinning white hair. And a smell of peppermint, because that was what he always carried in his pockets.

"It's my grandfather," Jenny whispered. "Oh, Dee, it's my grandfather, it's my grandfather. …"

Dee cut a glance at the box. When she looked back at Jenny, her face was composed. "Okay, now, you take it easy. Lets get you some water here.."

"No!" Jenny screamed. She was completely out of control. She hit Dee, beating at her feebly with her fists. "Don't humor me'. It's my grandfather in there -they've done it to him. Oh, God!" Tears were flying as she whipped her head. "It's a joke, don't you see? He was a sorcerer-now he's a wizard. I thought he was dead-but this is so much worse-"

Dee simply grabbed the flailing hands so Jenny couldn't do any harm. Jenny could see Michael's brown eyes, and Audrey's chestnut-colored ones, looking over Dee's shoulder.

"It's true," she gasped, quieting. "Look at the card. He wants help. He wants out!"

Michael picked up the card silently, showed it to Dee and Audrey. They all looked at the box.

The wizard was still moving, staring straight ahead with his tragic expression, hitting the table with his wand. His hands were all in one piece, Jenny noticed with wild precision. She could see beads of paint in the slight grooves between the fingers.

She'd thought the Shadow Men would eat him. That was what the hungry eyes in the closet had wanted.

But whatever they'd done with his body, his soul was here.

They'd put it in this-thing. Stuck it in a plastic body so that he could stand forever moving like clockwork when the machine was activated, endlessly banging his wand.

Julian had said the Shadow Park had been created ten years ago, and for a special reason. It was ten years ago that her grandfather had disappeared.

"They did it to punish him," she whispered. "They put him here so he could never die-they trapped him the way he trapped them in the closet… ." Her voice was rising.

Michael swallowed, looking sick. Dee's nostrils flared.

There was a click and another card appeared in the slot.

Dee reached for it, letting go of Jenny's hands. Jenny scrambled to her knees to see it over Dee's arm.

LOOK IN THE BLACK CABINET.

"There," Michael said. Jenny twisted. Behind her was a shiny black machine with a wide, darkened oval window. It looked relatively new, and a plaque read: speak to the spirits, ask any yes or no question.

Jenny knew the type of game. The window lit up and a skull nodded or shook its head to answer you.

A wave of icy cold swept over her, as cold as the water in the mine ride.

"Do it, Michael," she whispered and held her breath.

Michael wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He glanced uncertainly at Jenny, then put a coin in.

The glass brightened. There wasn't a skull inside

illuminated from below with a ghastly blue light which clearly showed .there was nothing below either neck. At the sight of them, Audrey screamed thinly and Michael retched. Dee grabbed hold of Jenny hard enough to hurt.

"Now do you believe me?" Jenny said, her voice rising again. "They're here, they're all here!"

Michael was pressing his hand to his mouth. Dee was holding on to Jenny. Audrey was still making a thin wheezing noise.

Nobody answered Jenny, but in the cabinet the heads of Slug and P.C. bobbed.

The blue light shone on their chapped, loose-hanging lips. They looked unconscious-as if unseen hands were wagging them by the hair, making them nod.

You guys were so tough, Jenny thought, unable to look away from the cadaverous faces. Such bad boys. Breaking into my house, stealing the Game. Barging into the Shadow World uninvited. Now you're both here and you don't look so tough. And-

"Summer," Jenny whimpered. "If Summer-if Summer-"

"Jenny-"

"If we find Summer like that- "

There was a click. Dee snatched the card before Jenny could get to it. She read it, holding Jenny away.

"What does it say?"

Slowly Dee turned the card.

LOOK IN THE FUN HOUSE.

"At least it's not another cabinet," Dee said. Michael said, "You mean, you think it's about

"I-maybe. Or"-Dee's face relaxed-"it could be a clue for a doubloon."

Audrey shielded her eyes. "I can't stand those things-make them stop," she said in a ragged voice.

The heads were bobbing slowly up and down, nodding again.

"I think that's our answer," Michael said.

"Yeah, but which is it-Summer or a doubloon?"

"I don't care, I just want to get out of here," Audrey said.

"We can't go," Jenny said to Dee. "We can't leave him, we can't go anywhere." She pulled herself up using the wizard's cabinet as a support, and leaned a hand on it, looking into the glass. "I have to help him."

"Jenny." Dee touched her elbow gently. "There's nothing you can do for him." Then, as Jenny held on to the glass: "All right, what are you going to do for him?"

Jenny didn't know. Stay here with him-if she could keep from screaming. Break the cabinet to pieces.

But then what? Could she stand to hold the thing that was in there, cuddle it like a stiff, oversize doll? If she broke the doll, would it kill her grandfather? Or would he still be alive inside his pieces?

He'd rather be dead than be like this, she knew. But how did you kill something that wasn't alive, only trapped?

"Oh, I'm so sorry," she whispered, pressing her hand to the glass. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry…."

It was her fault-he'd gone in her place. Given

But Dee was right. Jenny couldn't do anything for him now.

Her hands trailed down the glass. "We'll go to the fun house."

On their way out she turned back to face the wizard's cabinet, looked into the dark, staring eyes. "I'm coming back," she said. "And when I do, I'll help you."

The heads were bobbing in their case as she left.

Out into the night again. Jenny wished she had a map. Her memory for some parts of the park was sketchy.

"The fun house is up near the very front," she said, "so it's got to be somewhere that way." She pointed the way they'd come.

"Yeah, but more to the left. We can cut across there." Dee was more talkative than she had been since Audrey's accident, but her voice was still not quite itself.

They passed rest rooms, trees, a large refreshment stand. The Tilt-a-Whirl was dark; so was the Enterprise. And so, as they approached it, was the fun house.

Then an uncanny sound began. Two slow, rising notes, repeated over and over. Jenny recognized it.

"The foghorn on the ark."

Lights were going on in the large boat, first outlining the roof, then illuminating the windows of the house on deck. Jenny could see animals in the windows: an elephant, an ostrich, a hippopotamus, and at the very top Father Noah, with an expression more like a leer than a grin.

The ark began to rock visibly.

"Looks like they've got the welcome mat out," Michael said.

They entered through the whale's mouth, walking on the spongy pink tongue. Inside, the doors were slanted, exacerbating the rocking feeling. Jenny began to feel giddy immediately.

She couldn't see much inside. Black lights made Audrey's white nylon jacket glow and Dee's eyes flash. We should have looked for controls, Jenny thought. There must be some way to turn on the lights in these places.

But when she looked back, the door she'd just come through was gone. Instead, there was a glass booth, with a human figure silhouetted inside.

Summer! Jenny's heart gave a terrible jolt. She took a step toward the booth, then stopped. She couldn't tell anything about the figure. She took another step, one hand out toward the glass. Oh, God, I don't want to see this… . A light in the booth went on. Wild laughter assaulted Jenny's ears. It was the sound of somebody going insane, and at first it frightened her so much that she couldn't take in what she was seeing.

Then she focused on the figure. It was a hugely fat woman, bucktoothed, with freckles like birthmarks and scraggly hair. Her hands waved in front of her as she cackled and guffawed.

I remember that! Laughing-oh, what was her name? Laughing Lizzie. She used to be in the arcade, and she always scared me.

Jenny scanned the florid face, looking for something familiar in the emptv eves.

Could Summer-be in there?

Summer had been tiny, dimpled, with thistledown blond hair and dark blue eyes. She'd been as light as a flower petal stirred by the wind. Could they have destroyed her body and put her in this bloated plastic thing?

Or maybe she was like P.C. and Slug. Maybe there was a table somewhere in here with a piece of Summer's old body on it.

But Jenny couldn't see anything she recognized in the fat woman's eyes. Nothing to make her want to look any closer, especially since the demented laughter was going on and on.

She glanced at the others. "Let's keep moving."

They stumbled through twisted corridors and across shifting floors. A blue Day-Glo hippo gaped at Jenny, a snake dropped from the ceiling in front of her. From all around came panting, growling, weird music-a cacophony of strange sounds. It made it hard for Jenny to hear even Dee and the others right next to her.

And it was hard to examine the exhibits. Chain-link fencing was strung in front of many of them and had to be pulled away. Every figure that looked even vaguely human had to be studied, and anything that looked like gold had to be scrutinized.

"Everything in here looks suspicious," Michael said as they stared at a laughing man with three faces that rotated slowly on his neck.

Jenny was most disconcerted by the mirrors. On the floor they mimicked endless drops, reflecting lights down into infinity. On the walls they confused her, duplicating her own wide green eyes, Audrey's

copper hair, Michael's pale, set face. It reflected Dee's supple movements, making it seem as if there were dozens of camouflage jackets all going in different directions.

Zach always hated these mirrors, too, Jenny remembered, turning a sharp zigzag corner. Enough that Julian put them in the paper house as part of his nightmare. She suddenly realized that she hadn't thought about her cousin in quite a while. She'd been too busy worrying over Tom-and over how to survive.

But she did miss Zach. She missed his winter-gray eyes, and his sharp-featured face, and his dry intelligence. Even if Tom had been safe, she would have come to the Shadow World questing for Zach. "Ugh," Dee said. "What's this?" They had come out of the mirror maze and were now in dark, windy corridors with very unsteady floorboards. There were displays every few feet-much like museum displays, except that Jenny had never seen this kind of thing in any museum.

"Disgusting," Michael said under his breath. "Replogle, disgusting …" Replogle was really the name of a map company, but Michael thought it made a much better adjective.

He was trying to cheer himself up. Because, Jenny thought, the displays really were gruesome. They were torture scenes.

Wax figures were set up as victims and torturers. Some of the equipment Jenny recognized. The rack. The Iron Maiden. The stocks.

And some of it was dreadfully and harrowingly unfamiliar. Boots with handles like the vise Tom's

father had in his garage workshop. To break bones, Jenny supposed. Grotesque metal helmets with iron tongues that gagged the victim. Cages too small to stand or lie down in. Every kind of device to burn, or cut, or maim.

"This was not here this afternoon," Audrey said.

"It's my fault, I guess," Dee said after a moment. "I went up to San Francisco once with my mom, and there was a place at Fisherman's Wharf-like a chamber of horrors, you know? It gave me nightmares for years."

Abruptly she turned away from the nearest scene and leaned against the wall, head down. She was breathing hard.

Jenny peered through the darkness. "Dee?"

"Yeah. Just give me a minute."

"What are you mumbling?"

"It's-it's, uh, this thing for when you get upset. I got it out of-" She paused. "Ancient Chinese manuscripts."

"In what dialect?" Audrey demanded. "Mandarin? Cantonese?"

"All right, it was from a kung fu movie. But it works. It's pretty long, but the end goes 'I am as strong as I need to be. I am my only master.'"

"I am my only master," Jenny repeated. She liked that. Julian and his people might be the masters of this world, but not of her. No one was her master if she wouldn't let them be. "Is it helping?" she asked Dee.

"Enough. I don't think I'm going to faint or puke right this moment."

Shock tingled in Jenny's palms. The very idea of Dee fainting was so outrageous-so frightening-she couldn't cope with it. Dee was never that scared.

Only maybe she was, especially when confronted with things that physical courage couldn't do anything about. The stuff around them here was history -and who could change that?

"I'm gonna join Amnesty International if I ever get out of here," Dee muttered. "I swear, I swear."

"Mother and I already belong," Audrey said.

Mrs. Myers? thought Jenny, and Dee said, "Your mom?" Audrey's mother was a society matron, good at making finger sandwiches and arranging charity fashion shows. She and Dee didn't get along.

"Maybe all that organization is good for something after all," Dee murmured.

Jenny still had a very bad feeling about the place. She wanted to hurry through it, to not see as much as possible.

And they couldn't. They had to check every figure, staring into faces the color of peach crayons, with teeth that were a little too shiny in the spotlights. The skin of the wax figures had an unreal inner glow, as if the outer layers were translucent and the color buried somewhere inside.

But none of the glassy eyes looked like Summer's. And nothing moved, although Jenny was in constant dread that an eyelid would flicker or a chest would rise.

If they start coming to life, I'll go crazy, she thought almost with detachment. Just screaming, staring crazy. It would be a relief to go crazy at this point.

"Jenny-" Michael's voice was choked.

Jenny turned.

"Blue," Michael said, and Jenny saw what he meant.

It was on a table. Above it, suspended by a rusty chain, was a huge wooden disk with bloody iron spikes. It was a little pool of china blue precisely the color of Summer's shirtdress.

Something was inside the dress.

Funny that Jenny could remember that outfit so exactly. Summer had appeared on the doorstep wearing it the night of Tom's birthday party, looking fresh, sweet, and completely inappropriate, since it was freezing outside.

Now it was lying on a table, encasing a body. Although the figure's face was turned away from Jenny, she could glimpse sandaled feet curled up at one end and soft light curls at the other.

Jenny stood frozen.

It had happened too suddenly; she wasn't prepared. She'd seen that dying in the Shadow World didn't mean you got buried and disappeared. She'd known they were looking for Summer, however transformed, however defiled Summer might be.

Ever since Michael's dream she'd allowed herself thoughts that Summer might not be lost completely.

But now that she was face to face with the possibility, she couldn't cope with it. She didn't want to go and look, didn't want to know. She glanced at the others, saw them standing paralyzed, too.

You have to look. You can take it. It's probably just a normal wax figure with nobody inside. And that's not blood on those spikes, it's red paint.

She knew this was comnletelv irrational. She knew

very well that it probably wasn't just a normal wax figure, and that there was no reason for the blood on the spikes to be anything but blood. After everything she'd seen in the Shadow World, after what had happened to Slug and P.C. and her grandfather, she knew that.

But her mind needed to say something to get her legs going. To keep away the pictures of Summer's head falling off when Jenny took her by the shoulder, or of some Rosemary's Baby-type monster looking Up with crafty, glee-filled eyes.

The huge log disk swung on its chain above the table.

I can take it. I can take it. I'm strong enough.

Jenny inched closer. She could see the spun-sugar curls, just the color of Summer's hair, and the little hands lying folded like rose petals. She couldn't see the face.

The log swung, creaking.

With sudden inspiration Jenny thought, am my only master.p>

She reached for the figure's shoulder.

"Look out!" Dee shouted.

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