It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Rumble in the Jungle (of Terror!) (Chapter 18)
Doug snaps his fingers under Gabe’s nose, frantically, like he’s losing his mind. “Gabe. Gabe. Gabe, Gabe, Gabe. Come here. Now, Gabe.”
“He’s here,” I say. “Doug, chill, he’s right here.”
“Okay, good. Tell me, um, what—uh, tell me everything you’ve ever read about Black Alice.”
Doug grabs Gabe’s shoulders and rough-handles him to his side. “Did you see that?” He extends a shaky hand back where we just were, above the timberline where the air was blissfully cooler and we had a clear eye line down to the ship sitting inexplicably in the middle of this Godforsaken island. Just before the sun went out, of course.
“Yeah,” Gabe says. “I saw it. The ship was down there.” Gabe mops sweat off his forehead and looks over his shoulder at me.
Doug grabs Gabe’s chin and swivels his face forward. “Not the ship. The ghosts.”
“You mean the ghost-people who looked like us,” Ted says, sounding a lot chiller than his brother. “I think we all saw that. Can we stop running backward and think a minute? One of you live-uns is gonna snap an ankle, or worse, a neck, if we keep on like this. Come to think of it, that might be what Beige Alice actually wants.”
“Shut up, Ted.” Doug is still angling us back—back and down into the jungle at break-neck speed, but he does spin us around so we’re at least moving forward instead of stumbling backward. Instead of screaming birds and monkeys, now the chirrups of crickets are so loud I can hardly hear my own buzzing thoughts, and owls hoot from low branches. Whoever heard of owls in the jungle?
“The ghosts are all here now, and they’re solid like you guys, but—but they look like us. They look like us,” Doug shouts. “And I need to know why. We all need to know why, or we’re never going to make it off this island alive.”
“Already dead.” Ted holds up a hand.
Doug lunges at him, fists raised, but Jacinta grabs his arm and holds him back.
“Can we not fight? Seriously.” I pluck at the neck of my sweater, because of course I’m in the sweater I died in, in a sweltering hot nightmare jungle. But I can’t take it off—I already tried.
Because I’m not really alive. Not yet. And it’s looking increasingly unlikely that I’m ever going to be alive ever again.
I swallow my despair and glower at Ted for antagonizing Doug at a time like this. He should know better.
A rush of moaning voices rattles the dark trees, and stalking out of them, like a zombie army, marches us. Me in my sweater and messy hair, slack-jawed and reaching. Doug looking pissed as hell. Jacinta clutching her handbag like a bazooka. Gabe and Ted emerge holding hands like the twins from The Shining, Ted-Two tossing his hacky sack up and down ominously like he’s Ponyboy and we’re lined up for a street rumble rather than lost and confused in a dark jungle. Behind them, infinite numbers of doppelgangers glimmer in the dark trees.
I swallow a scream because, seriously, I can’t be that girl. But my throat does make a strangled squeaky noise, and I leap at Ted and grab his arm at the same time Gabe leaps at me and grabs mine.
“Run,” Doug says.
This time, we don’t hesitate.
It’s a mad dash through the trees, and I assume the ghosts are following us. Can they run as fast as we can? We seemed to be able to get ahead of them the last time, but still—they found us. What a nightmare. Literally. And we have no idea what they want, or what they’ll do to us. I mean, Ted and I will probably be okay, but the others . . .
I shoot a look sideways at Doug and Jacinta as he helps her scramble over a slippery fallen log.
And I suppose I can’t ignore the fact that now that Ted and I have form again, we can probably be hurt, I guess. Ted does owe all those ghosts money.
I bark a laugh, slap a hand over my mouth.
What is happening? What does any of this mean?
We splash through a warm stream and a flock of ink-dark owls descend on us, beating their wings around our heads. I shriek and duck until they fly away, and when they do the only sound left is Ted laughing.
“What is funny?” Jacinta says, breathing hard.
“Absolutely nothing. Nothing about this is funny at all.”
Now the cricket chirrups sound like laughter, too. The crickets are mocking us. Or Black Alice is, more likely. “Beige Alice,” I say, putting as much spite as I can into my tone. She wants us to fear her. Maybe that’s what this is all about. But any way we look at it—
“Doug,” Ted says, panting. “As much as it’s actually kind of rad to be able to feel out of breath for the first time in thirty years, we can’t run all night.”
“ ‘Night.’ ” I make air-quotes and glare at the sky.
“Right, well. What’s our plan here? Make a stand or what?”
Doug puts his hands on his hips, heaving. “We still don’t have any idea what we’re dealing with.”
“Well we’re not getting any closer to understanding it by running around like crazy people in the jungle,” I say.
“Gabe, do you know anything at all?” Doug says, desperation tingeing his voice.
“I don’t know why those ghosts suddenly look like us! I don’t know anything about this island—why would you think I would know?” Gabe says.
“Because you’re the boy who knows everything!”
“You told me you knew all this shit—all about Theseus and the centaur and the curse! You’ve read it all.”
“Okay. Okay, listen.” Gabe waves his arms like he’s about to conduct an orchestra. “All I know about this is that Theseus wrote that Black Alice had a favorite island. Like, a cache island. She said this was her retirement plan, right? But that’s it. Like all pirates, she didn’t trust anyone with her secrets. There were no maps to this place, and nobody knew what wealth she had amassed here, or how many people she killed to keep it secret. That’s it. That’s all I know.”
Ted tilts his head. “So that tells us absolutely nothing. Seriously, dude, why even waste breath on that?”
Gabe hangs his head.
“Should we try to talk to them?” Jacinta asks weakly. “Maybe they don’t want to hurt us.”
“Diplomacy,” I say. “Oka—”
Tree limbs snap and break behind us. “Kiiiillll theeeemm! Fiiiiinnnd theeeemm!” The voices of the ghosts—our voices in eerie chorus—come to us out of the dark. “Fooorr Aaaallliiiccceee!”
We leap forward like a fire is on our heels. “I don’t think diplomacy is on the table,” Ted says, running at my elbow.
“What do we do? What do we do? What do we do?” Jacinta seems to be caught in a loop.
Doug stumbles over a rock and falls to his knees.
“Come on, big bro, up you get.” Ted hauls him to his feet.
We run until the jungle falls silent behind us again, and only the crickets and owls sound their disapproval of our presence. If I wasn’t already dead, I would be dying of the heat alone. If someone had told me I would be running through a tropical jungle in my afterlife, I definitely would have taken care to die in something other than a thick sweater.
Beside me, Gabe is muttering and muttering, and he finally breaks out into speech. “The centaur’s curse was methodical, uh ordered—when Theseus had it. And, well, he never really controlled it, did he?” He ducks under a tall branch and swings around a tree trunk. He stops to catch his breath, and we all gather around him. “Every seven years someone died and their soul got trapped—like clockwork. But here, this . . . This is chaos. Alice seems to be able to wield it like a magic wand or something. She’s manipulating everything that happens on this island, right?”
“Really? A magic wand?” Ted shoots him a disgruntled look.
“It’s not a dumb idea,” I say.
“It’s not smart,” he mutters.
I dig my heel into Ted’s booted toe and try to follow Gabe’s train of thought. “Do you think it’s because her soul is in the centaur? Theseus was cursed but Alice is the curse?” I look between them. “Does that make any sense at all?” I know I’m reaching, but seriously. We’re stuck on a cursed island, somewhere between life and death—between waking and sleeping. All theories are on the table at this point.
A rustle moves through the trees around us and we all jump and huddle together, poised to run again. But then a familiar voice says, “Hola.” And Manny steps out of the darkest shadows, hands in pockets, expression supremely unconcerned.
“Manny,” Ted and I shout together.
“But you’re . . . you.” Doug rubs his eyes like he can’t believe it.
“Sí.” He shrugs. “I didn’t feel like looking like anyone else. Alice can go and shove it.”
Jacinta gasps a sob and dashes forward. She throws her arms around Manny’s neck and hangs on, crying and speaking rapidly in Spanish.
Manny smiles and pats her on the back. “Oh, and I was supposed to find you. Theseus wants to talk.” His smile widens. “You’ve really made a mess of things, but maybe he can help.”
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