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Authors: Katherine Marsh

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The Twilight Prisoner

BOOK: The Twilight Prisoner
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If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped” book.

Copyright © 2009 by Katherine Marsh

All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book
Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any
form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without
written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion,
114 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10011-5690.

First Hyperion paperback edition, 2010
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
J689-1817-1-10015
Printed in the United States of America
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data on file.
ISBN 978-1-4231-0694-4

Visit
www.hyperionbooksforchildren.com

To my beloved son
Aleksandr Edmund Barnes
I | The Uninvited Guest

It was just before dusk in Central Park, and Jack Perdu knew he needed to make his move. Cora Flores, a fellow sophomore and Latin scholar at the George C. Chapman High School, sat propped against a tree trunk, blowing bubbles with her gum, and filling in the
New York Times
crossword puzzle.

Jack sat across from Cora, his skinny frame hunched over a copy of the Metamorphoses, his favorite book of ancient Greek myths. But the shrieks of children on the swing sets distracted him from his translation, and every few minutes, he stole glimpses at Cora. Even though she always complained about being fat, Jack thought she was perfect, without the bony elbows and pinched look that so many Chapman girls had, and with a wide, open face that made him feel at ease. He could tell when she was concentrating because she would forget to pop the bubble she just blew, letting it perch on her lips. It was a habit that got her into trouble during tests at school, where chewing gum was strictly prohibited.

With a loud pop, she burst a bubble and looked up. “Romantic poet who urned—spelled u-r-n-e-d—fame. Five letters.”

It had been Cora's idea for the Latin Club to meet at the Arthur Ross Pinetum on this airless, Indian summer day. Ellen Davis, Cora's best friend, sat next to her on the grass, and at a picnic table nearby, two of the boys in their class, Gene Chen and Misha Zolotov, compared Latin translations. Above them, towering pines cast shadows over the swing sets and tables and the little dirt cul de sac called Contemplation Circle.

“Byron?” Ellen offered.

“No,” said Jack, eagerly straightening up. “Keats. John Keats. He wrote ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn.'”

Cora scribbled down the word “Keats” and smiled. “That's it! Thanks, Jack.”

“No problem,” he said. But he was secretly pleased that he could help her. Cora loved solving all sorts of puzzles—she was not only the best Latin student in the school but a natural at math and science, too.

“Hey, Ellen,” said Misha, looking back over his shoulder. “We need your help with this translation.”

Ellen closed her book and yawned. “Why don't you ask Cora or Jack?”

Gene flashed a shy grin. “Because we don't want the answer yet.”

“Okay. Another lousy Latin scholar coming your way,” Ellen said as she joined the boys at their table.

For a moment, Jack and Cora were alone. As he watched her absently tuck a lock of long, brown hair behind her ear, he tried out a sentence in his head:
So, want to get something to eat after we're done?
He felt his face turn red and looked over at the Great Lawn, the open green expanse just visible through the trees.

“I think you've got a sunburn, Jack,” said Cora, pointing to his face.

“A sunburn?” he said, stupidly.

“Yeah, your cheeks are all red.”

Now
, he told himself.
Ask her now
. But instead he said, “It's warm out here.”

“It's hot!” Cora replied, fanning her face with the crossword puzzle. “I can't believe it's October.”

The words were simple:
What are you doing after this? Want to get something to eat?
He opened his mouth, trying to formulate the questions.

“That was a funny postcard you sent me this summer,” he said instead. Over the summer, while he had been in Italy with his father on an archaeological dig, Cora had sent him postcards and letters, mostly about how bored she was in New York.

“Which one?”

“The one asking me if I had seen any sporting events at the Colosseum in Rome. You predicted that the lions would beat the Christians
clepsydra addita ad spatium mortis subitae
.”

Cora chuckled. “Yeah, in sudden-death overtime. Pretty good, right?”

Jack nodded. He looked over at Ellen, who was thankfully still arguing with Gene and Misha over their translation.

“Your letters were fun, too,” Cora continued. “I liked the one about how . . .”

But Jack only half-listened. Instead he thought about the one letter he had written Cora but failed to send. It revealed his greatest secret—how last year he had been hit by a car and had started seeing ghosts. He had explained to her how one of them, a girl named Euri, had led him into the underworld beneath New York and helped him find his mother, who had died when he was six. The letter was the most honest he had ever written—except for one thing. He hadn't told her that he still saw ghosts. Every once in a while, always after sunset, he'd notice something strange—an old man reading the newspaper while floating six inches above a park bench, or a child chasing a firefly outside of his tenth-story bedroom window.

But since last spring, when he had glimpsed her in Central Park, Jack had never again spotted the one ghost he really wanted to see. He longed to find Euri and to tell her about all the ways his life had changed—he could talk to his father now and had a few friends—but, more importantly, about all the fears and doubts that remained the same. A few times, he had visited Grand Central Terminal and tried to find his way back into the underworld, but the secret staircase that had led him into it had vanished. He sometimes worried that Euri had moved on to Elysium, the place of everlasting peace, where his mother had gone. But he consoled himself that she would have had to resolve all the problems from her life in order to do that, and it didn't seem likely that could have happened yet.

In Italy, as he sifted through shards and bones, he had finally come to terms with the fact that he might never see Euri or visit the underworld again. It was time for him to put away that chapter of his life and to try to be the ordinary kid he had imagined he would be at Chapman, with close
living
friends and maybe even a girlfriend. It was then that he realized there was only one girl he could imagine himself going out with. And if she read a letter like this—about a trip to the underworld and seeing ghosts—she would think he had lost his mind. He tore up the letter and threw it away.

As Cora chatted about his other letters, Jack felt relieved that he had kept these secrets to himself. But even if she didn't think he was crazy, it was still hard to ask her out. What if she didn't really like him?What if she said no?

Jack opened his mouth, but it was too late. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ellen hurrying toward them. “Hey,” she said to Cora, squinting through her glasses and gesturing across the Pinetum. “Isn't that Austin?”

Jack stared with annoyance at the tall, spiky-haired figure walking toward them. Even though he was a junior, Austin Chapman, the great-grandson of the school's founder, was also in Jack's Latin class. Whenever Jack saw him, he seemed to have his arms around the skinny, blond girls who took French and never spoke to Jack.

“Yeah,” said Cora in an unsurprised voice.

Ellen turned to her. “What's he doing here?”

“I invited him,” said Cora, with a mischievous grin. “He wanted to come.”

“To hang out with
us
?” Ellen asked.

Cora shrugged. “Why not?”

Jack felt his stomach tighten. It was clear why Austin was coming to hang out with them. Jack wasn't the only one who had noticed Cora and how she somehow seemed more alive than the rest of the girls at Chapman. He dug his fingers into the grass, wishing he had asked Cora out when he had had the opportunity. Gene and Misha wandered over, exchanging puzzled looks. By the time Austin reached them, everyone had grown quiet.

“Hi,” Austin said. He smiled at Cora and gave little half-waves to everyone else.

“You want to sit?” Cora asked.

Austin shrugged. “Sure.”

As Austin sat down next to Cora, Jack could see Ellen mouth to Gene,
What is he doing here?

“So this is Latin Club,” Austin remarked, in a tonethat implied he was already bored.

“Oh, comeon,” said Cora with a laugh. “It's fun.”

They all stared silently at Austin. Jack knew they didn't seem the least bit fun.

“We're working on next week's translation,” said Gene, finally. Everyone else looked at him, surprised that someone new had spoken. “It's the Proserpina myth.”

“I haven't even finished this week's,” said Austin.

“But you already know the story, right?” Gene asked.

“It's about not eating in the underworld or something like that.”

“Exactly,” said Cora. “Pluto kidnaps Proserpina and takes her to his kingdom in the underworld. Her mother, the goddess of the harvest, wants her back. Jupiter agrees, but before Pluto can release her she eats six pomegranate seeds.”

“Seven, in Ovid,” said Jack before he could stop himself.

“Well, most of the time it's six,” said Cora. “Anyway, so for half the year she has to stay in the underworld. And that's when it becomes winter, because her mother mourns.”

Austin smiled at her. Jack dug his fingers deeper into the grass. He couldn't believe Austin was just going to show up one day—the
very
day he had chosen to ask Cora out—and steal her away. He had to do something to stop him. He turned to Gene. “Hey, what lines were you guys having trouble with?”

“Tartara quid cessant? Cur non matrisque tuumque imperium profers?”
said Gene.

Jack translated the lines in his head effortlessly. Venus, the goddess of love, says them to her son, Cupid, to encourage him to shoot an arrow of love at Pluto:
Why is the land of the dead exempt? Why not extend our empire into their realm?
Jack found it interesting that, although there were many versions of the Proserpina myth, only Ovid's blames Venus for Proserpina's abduction. But instead of discussing this with Cora, he pretended to look perplexed. “I haven't gotten that far. Maybe Austin can help?”

Ellen gave him a funny look.

“Or I can,” said Cora.

“I can do it,” said Austin. “Where's your book?”

“On the table,” said Gene.

As Jack watched Austin follow Gene back over to the picnic table, he fought a smile. His plan had worked out perfectly. Austin was one of the worst Latin students in their class. It would take him a while to figure out the line. Ellen and Misha trailed after Austin, and Cora got up to join them.

“Wait,” said Jack, lightly touching her arm. “Do you want to hang out tomorrow night?”

Jack could hear his heartbeat whooshing in his ears. He was certain his face was red again.

“Sure,” said Cora.

Jack realized that he must have looked surprised, because she gave him a reassuring smile. “Yeah, thatwould be fun.”

Jack tried to act like her answer wasn't a big deal. “Want to meet at Seventy-ninth and Broadway at six?”

As soon as he said it, Jack wondered if he should have offered to pick her up. But he'd never been to Cora's apartment, and she had never invited him over. The Latin Club had never met there, either.

“Sounds like a plan,” said Cora.

To Jack's relief, before he needed to say anything else, Cora's cell phone rang.

“Hola, Mama,”
she said. Jack could hear a voice rising and falling on the other end. “I know it's getting dark. I know. Okay. I'm heading home,” she continued in a disappointed voice. “See you soon.”

Shutting off her phone, she stood up. “My mom,” she said, apologetically. “I have to go.”

As the lights began to switch on in the park, Jack watched Cora say good-bye to Austin. He couldn't hear exactly what they said but, in the middle of it, Austin nodded at him. Jack realized he'd been staring and, after a nod in Austin's direction, he turned away. Even though Cora had agreed to go out with him, Jack felt unsettled. Perhaps it was just the early autumn darkness, so incongruous on such a warm day.


Vale
, Jack!” said Cora as she hurried out of the park with Ellen.

“Vale!”
he replied.

“Hang out? That's some invitation.”

An unfamiliar voice startled Jack. He turned to see a small, stout African American woman in a gray flannel dress floating beside him in the blue evening light. She had translucent brown eyes, shiny, dark skin, and was wearing a white bonnet over her graying hair. Remembering what Euri had told him, about how most ghosts would be rattled by someone living noticing them, Jack quickly looked away.

The ghost laughed softly to herself. “That child probably didn't even know she was being courted.”

Jack jumped to his feet. “I've got to go, too,” he called out to the others. “See you guys later.”

“I'll walk out with you,” Austin said, getting up from the table.

“I'm late,” Jack said lamely. He took off as fast as he could across West Drive, past Spector Playground, and back toward Mariner's Gate. But the ghost floated effortlessly alongside him and, when Jack stopped at Central Park West to wait for the light, the ghost flew around him so she could peer directly into his face. “What an odd-looking child,” she commented.

Jack glared straight at her. “Would you shut up?” he shouted.

He regretted the words the moment they had escaped him. The ghost's eyes widened, and with a shriek, she shot up into the darkening sky.

“Sorry,” Jack muttered under his breath. But the ghost, by then, was too far away to hear him. He watched her silhouette zoom back into the park, too frightened to even look back.

Jack tried to laugh the encounter off—there had been something funny about the ghost's shocked expression when she realized that Jack could hear her—but it put him in a bad mood. He realized that the ghost was right— he had sounded pathetic. Cora probably hadn't realized he was asking her out on a date. He would have to explain to her tomorrow how he felt. Or at least come off as more exciting than Austin.

As he walked past the Museum of Natural History and the Rose Center Planetarium, another thought occurred to him. The sun set early now, around six thirty, and most of his date would take place after it. That meant that another ghost could easily decide to join along and become a confidence-crushing third wheel. He imagined sitting at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, trying to put one arm around Cora as a ghost guffawed at his attempts. If he were lucky, his paranormal abilities wouldn't work so well, and he wouldn't see ghosts tomorrow night. But there was no waytobesure.

BOOK: The Twilight Prisoner
5.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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