Read Life Eternal Online

Authors: Yvonne Woon

Tags: #Fiction - Young Adult

Life Eternal (6 page)

BOOK: Life Eternal
3.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

“She’s fine, I think,” Eleanor said, though she sounded confused. “The same as always. Why?”

“I thought she was friends with Miss LaBarge.”

“Why would you think that?” Eleanor said. “She met her for the first time last year.”

“What?” I said, sitting upright. “But I went to Miss LaBarge’s cottage with my grandfather and found a photograph of her with your mom and mine when they were our age. It was framed in her bedroom. And I saw her at the funeral.”

Eleanor paused. “Are you sure it was my mom in the photo? Every time I mentioned Miss LaBarge at home, she always forgot her name or messed it up, calling her DuFarge or something. I’m certain she’d never met her before in her life.”

I frowned. “Well, I’m certain it was her in the photo. Unless your mom has a sister?”

“No. She’s an only child.”

I coiled the telephone cord around my finger, remembering the way Eleanor’s mom had looked sitting alone on the deck of the boat. Why would she have lied about knowing Miss LaBarge?

“Have you heard from Dante?” I asked, breaking the long pause.

“No.” She cleared her throat. “He hasn’t sent me anything since your birthday. I’m sorry.” I knew she meant it, but she sounded devoid of empathy.

I loosened my grip on the receiver. “At the funeral, Brett told me there was a rumor Dante was in Canada. Do you think it’s true?”

Eleanor didn’t respond for a long while. “I don’t know where he is,” she said stiffly. Her tone reminded me that she was Undead, and that funerals weren’t the best subject matter; nor was Brett, her ex-boyfriend.

I immediately regretted saying anything. “Eleanor, I’m sorry—”

“It’s fine,” she said quickly, as if she didn’t even want me to say what I was about to say. “The weird thing is that I don’t really care. I know I should, but I can’t feel anything. Not for Miss LaBarge’s death, or for my breakup with Brett. Nothing. It’s not right. I know it’s not right, but I can’t help it.”

“It’s not your fault,” I said softly.

“It’s not about fault anymore. It’s about dealing with it every day. Knowing that every day that passes, I’m a little less human.”

I pressed the receiver to my cheek, trying to find the words that would explain how badly I wanted to help her, how badly I wished I could be with her right now. But all I could come up with was, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she said, her voice cracking. “I shouldn’t have even brought it up. It’s just a passing thing, I bet.” But the words dissipated between us. “Tell me about you. I’m tired of me.”

So I told her about my dream, about the newspaper articles in Miss LaBarge’s cottage, the letter my mother had written to her, and how my grandfather thought Miss LaBarge and my parents had only been searching for the Undead when they were killed.

Eleanor paused. “Maybe he’s right. I mean, that’s what Monitors do, isn’t it? Search for the Undead and bury them?”

“I don’t think it’s that simple,” I said. “We don’t just bury the Undead immediately, right?”

“You tell me,” Eleanor said. “You’re the Monitor now, not me.”

“It’s not like that,” I said. “I’m the same; nothing has changed.”

“Then how come you’re at St. Clément and I’m at Gottfried?”

Shocked, I stared at the receiver. “Oh, I see. So it’s my fault that I’m here and you’re there? Do you actually think that I
want
to be here? That I
want
to learn how to bury people?” I was about to hang up the phone, when Eleanor cut in.

“Wait—Renée, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that. I know it’s not your fault. It just isn’t fair. I don’t belong here with everyone else. I’m not like them.”

“If it makes you feel any better, apparently all the other Monitors think I’m immortal,” I said, carrying the phone to the bed.

“They’ve been saying that here, too.” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “Have you told anyone else what really happened?”

I’d told Eleanor everything in a letter over the summer. She was the only one who knew that Dante and I had exchanged souls.

“No. I can’t. My grandfather suspects something, but he doesn’t actually know anything.”

“So, do you think immortality is really possible?”

“I don’t think so,” I said, staring at the beams lining the ceiling. “I mean, how could it be?”

Eleanor paused. “Yeah, you’re probably right. But, you know, the whole Undead thing—I always thought that was a myth until I came to Gottfried and it happened to me. So maybe there are other things out there that we don’t know about.”

I recognized something in Eleanor’s voice. It was the same kind of blind hope I had when I thought about Dante. Was Eleanor right? Could there be some other course for her future, and mine? “Maybe there are. Anything’s possible, right?”

The line went quiet.

“Are you still there?”

“Yeah…sort of.”

“Are you okay?”

Her voice cracked. “I don’t know.”

“I don’t know if I am, either.”

“Can we not hang up yet?” she whispered. “It gets so lonely here at night.”

“Here too,” I said, and, pulling the blanket up, I talked to her under the sheets, listening to the sound of her breathing on the other end of the line until I fell asleep.

 

The gymnasium was dingy and old, the floors a faded orange. I was wearing my dress-code clothes—black stockings, a pleated skirt, and a pressed oxford shirt—for the first time since Gottfried. Two boys ahead of me held the door as I entered, my shoes squeaking against the rubber floor. Sitting on two folding chairs in the middle of the gym were a man and a woman, both in suits. They directed us to the locker rooms to wait.

The long wooden benches of the locker room were already crowded with girls when I walked in. Some were chatting, others checking their hair in mirrors above the line of sinks off to the right. In the corner were a group of girls I recognized from Gottfried. I pushed through the crowd toward them, but when they saw me coming, they dispersed, avoiding my eyes. I froze, realizing they had been talking about me. Finally, Greta, an athletic girl who had lived on my floor last year, gave me a halfhearted wave. Turning away from them, I clutched my things to my chest, and was about to go to the toilets, when above the din I heard someone say, “I’m sorry, Clementine.”

I turned around, curious to see who lived in the room across from mine.

Clementine LaGuerre was petite, with dark brown skin so smooth it looked buttery. Her short hair was oiled and elegantly parted on one side like a flapper’s. A group of girls surrounded her as she pinned it in place with a single barrette. She met my gaze in the mirror, her eyes a startling green.

“Who are you?” she said, speaking to my reflection. Her voice was soft and lyrical, a mix between a French and Caribbean accent. The girls beside her stopped talking and stared at me.

“Renée.”

“Renée
Winters
?”

I nodded, surprised she knew my name.

“So you’re the one who can cheat death,” she said quietly, her face impossible to read.

“And you’re Clementine. You live across the hall from me.”

“I know where I live,” she said, her voice calm but firm. Behind her, two girls in matching cardigans laughed. “So did you or did you not survive the kiss of the Undead?”

Somewhere in the room a locker door clanged shut. The girls scrutinized me, waiting for me to answer. But I was sick of being stared at by strangers, of being asked the same question over and over again. They hadn’t been there that night; they didn’t know what had happened. What gave them the right to pry into the most private moments of my past? By their looks I could tell that it didn’t matter what I said; they already believed I was immortal. So why not let them?

Clementine put a hand on her hip. “Well, is it true or is it not?”

I shrugged, trying to look nonchalant. “I’m alive, aren’t I?”

The room erupted in whispers, but Clementine said nothing, her eyes glued to my reflection.

“Prove it.”

I hesitated, my face in the mirror staring back at me, bewildered. Was she serious?

Clementine crossed her arms. “Go on.”

At the back of the room was a stairway with a sign that said it led to the swimming pool. I walked toward it. The Undead couldn’t go underground—it would put them to rest, like a burial.

I paused dramatically at the top step, and felt everyone hold their breath as I descended.

Behind me, the girls murmured, “But how? What happened?” Until they were interrupted by the locker room door swinging open.

A graceful woman entered, her cheeks hollowed out with age, her neck thin and curved like a swan’s. She was wearing a wool skirt suit, her hair coiled into a bun.

“Girls?” she said with a thick French accent. “It is time.”

We filed out into the gymnasium, where she handed us each a pencil and a map of the school grounds. The boys were nowhere to be seen, and I assumed they were to perform the test separately.


Bonjour,
” the woman said, flexing her neck as she spoke. Standing beside her was a childlike man with a pudgy face that seemed to engulf his eyes. “I am Madame Goût, and this is Monsieur Pollet,” she continued, pronouncing the name
Po-lay.

“Poll
et,
” the man corrected, accentuating the
t.
He sounded American.

She ignored him. “We will serve as your placement exam proctors. This exam will determine your class rank by testing your talent, speed, and strategy.”

She turned to Mr. Pollet, who continued. “We have hidden nine dead animals around the St. Clément campus. Your task is to mark the exact location of each animal on the map we have provided for you. We expect the list to be numbered in order, and we will collect it at the end of the exam.”

“What kind of order?” a freckled girl asked.

The woman frowned. “Why, any order you wish.”

I glanced around at the other girls, relieved to discover that I wasn’t the only one confused by these instructions.

Mr. Pollet continued. “You may find and identify the animals by any means necessary. There are only three rules. One, you must return in exactly one hour. Two, you may not touch, move, or relocate the animals. And three, you must work alone.”

Madame Goût took over. “Are there any questions before we begin?”

I felt myself starting to panic. I had too many questions. One hour? To find nine dead animals hidden around campus, while every other girl was doing the same thing? It seemed impossible.

“No?” she asked, flexing the tendons in her neck as she peered around the crowd to make sure she wasn’t missing anyone. “Okay. Ready yourselves,” she said, watching the clock on the wall. When the hands hit nine o’clock, she said, “Begin!”

Everyone dispersed. Some of the girls meandered around, unsure of what to do. Others set off in one direction with determination, and the rest followed the decisive-looking ones. Clementine glanced at me, and with a smile, slipped out the door and into the daylight.

I was the only person who didn’t move. I didn’t do anything until everyone had emptied out of the gymnasium. “The clock is ticking, mademoiselle,” Madame Goût warned.

Now that there was silence, I could think. I walked to the center of the gymnasium, where there was a circle painted on the floor. Not completely sure what I was doing, I stood in the middle of it and closed my eyes.

Taking small steps, I turned around in the circle until I felt the air shift, as if it were moving out of my way. The tiny path that it left was cool and seemingly devoid of anything. I imagined myself walking down it, marking the number paces on my map. Twelve paces straight, four paces to the left, up ten stairs. Eleven paces to the right. Down three stairs. Two paces to the left. There, I drew an
X
. And without realizing what I was writing, I scrawled the word cat in big wobbly letters.

Puzzled, I stared at it. I had no idea how I knew it was a cat, but now that I saw the word on the page, I was certain that was it. Next to it I wrote #1.

I repeated the process. This time when the air shifted, the path seemed a little narrower. I followed it, counting the paces. Marking it with an
X
, I wrote
SHEEP
, #2. I continued on, the empty paths in the air growing thinner and thinner.
CROW
, #3.
BOAR
, #4.
SQUIRREL
, #5.
POSSUM
, #6.
RAT
, #7.

When I got to the last two I wavered. Their paths were so narrow that they barely seemed to exist. fish, I wrote, feeling a little unsure of myself, and then crossed it out and replaced it with
CARP
, #8. Glancing at the clock, I realized I only had five minutes left until the exam was up. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t identify the last animal. As the second hand made its final rotation, Clementine burst through the doors in her white tennis shoes, and handed in her list. How could she have finished? Giving up, I drew a simple
X
where the last animal rested, and labeled it #9.

 

After a series of written tests on Monitoring history, we finally finished the exam. I spent the rest of the day in my room, listening to the girls in the hall laughing and talking about their summers. Part of me wanted to go talk to them, but what would I say if they asked me about my summer? That I’d spent it indoors, seeing doctors and therapists? That I’d spent my nights pacing by the window, wondering when I would hear from my Undead boyfriend?

Suddenly the bathroom door burst open, and a plump girl with rosy cheeks fell into my room. “Oh, sorry. Wrong door,” she said, staring at me. “Hey, are you that girl who can’t die?”

Sitting up, I glared at her.

“Sorry,” she said, rolling her eyes, and popped back into Clementine’s room, where faintly I heard her talking, probably about me.

I didn’t venture out until dinner. The dining hall had the feel of a medieval kitchen, with long wooden tables and three cooks standing behind a counter, flipping meat in skillets. The whole room was crowded and steamy. Even though there were plenty of empty seats, it still felt like there wasn’t one for me. Clementine and a group of her friends whispered as I passed them. Over the noise of clattering plates, I could hear Brett laughing as he joined a group of boys by the wall. Finally I spotted the girls from my horticulture class sharing a table with a few people I recognized from my floor. I made my way toward them.

BOOK: Life Eternal
3.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Eternal Enemies: Poems by Adam Zagajewski
Old Dog, New Tricks by Hailey Edwards
Zero Sight by B. Justin Shier
Any Minute Now by Eric Van Lustbader
The Chateau d'Argol by Julien Gracq
The Willow Tree: A Novel by Hubert Selby
Seducing Jane Porter by Dominique Adair
The Empire of Gut and Bone by M. T. Anderson
Lost & Found by Kelly Jamieson