Gone – Chapter Ten

18,330 / 50,000 words. 37% done!


Elizabeth had propped Julie up in a chair at a research table in front of a window in the empty library. Occasionally Julie twitched and groaned, and Elizabeth made a mental note to look up the effect of multiple shocks on a prepubescent girl. It appeared that Julie was not dealing well with touching the barrier so often.

There was a sudden shriek of electronic feedback and Elizabeth instinctively turned in that direction. Through the window she could see the mall lit up by flashing white lights for a few seconds. Then the noise stopped and the lights went back to normal.

After a second or two, there was a second noise, a kind of howl, following the same notes as the first shriek. Elizabeth felt a shudder go down her spine then shook it off. Of course a bunch of kids were having problems working the PA system of the mall. They weren’t mature like her.

Elizabeth shook her head. “I guess Jessica is starting her silly party,” she commented to Julie’s twitching body. “What good will that do?”

She turned her attention back to the books in front of her. The second floor of the library inexplicably held city records, and Elizabeth had gathered up all the files relating to Valley Heights. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was looking for, but she knew she would know it when she saw it.

But until she did, her plan was just to read each name and make notes of anything interesting she found about them. So far all she had discovered was that Jay Anson of 112 Valley Heights Row was descended from one of the founding families of Sweet Valley and Marge Thompson of 1428 had won prizes for her pure breed Chihuahuas. Everything else had been boringly ordinary.

Elizabeth glanced out of the window again. It was staring to get dark, and now the glass roof of the mall was lit up in cycling color patterns. For a very brief moment, she wished she was there, dancing and talking to friends, but she forced herself to focus.

She was doing important work.

Jessica was having a terrific time. The baseline of Johnny Buck’s latest song (“For Buck’s Sake”) was thrumming and Jessica knew she looked amazing in her gorgeous dress and a new pair of (lower and more comfortable) heels. She was dancing on a second floor walkway with Aaron, but she could see that Bruce Patman, Rick Hunter and a bunch of other seventh and eighth grade boys were eyeing her approvingly.

The mall was lit up beautifully once she had conveyed her vision to Randy. The colored lights cycled in time to the beat (well, mostly), and the main lights had been turned down to give a party atmosphere.

On the ground floor below her, a lot of people were congregated around Valley Burgers, where Lois and Caroline were providing food. Since it was such a nice warm evening, they had opened the exterior glass doors at the edge of the food court.

Around her, the Unicorns seemed to be having a good time, except for Janet, who was copiously absent. She assumed she was sulking somewhere, upset that yet again Jessica had upstaged her.

Lila was dancing with Jake, Mary and Mandy were with the Peters—Jessica still couldn’t remember which was which, there were far too many Peters at Sweet Valley Middle School—and, irritatingly, Amy and Ellen were sat on a bench sharing a milkshake from Valley Burgers. Ellen seemed to have had some kind of effect on Amy, as she was wearing a dress. Unfortunately, Ellen was probably the least stylish Unicorn, and Amy had wound up wearing a similar 50s style dress to Ellen’s own. They both looked stupid.

Still, if that friendship started up again, it would at least mean that Amy wouldn’t be at Jessica’s own house, making cow eyes of adoration at her sister. That relationship had always bothered her. It was nearly as creepy as Steven’s obsession with her.

“This sure is an amazing party, Jessica,” Aaron said.

“On what planet?”

Jessica stopped dancing and turned to find the source of the new voice. It was Charlie Cashman and his friend, Jerry McAllister. They had spoken loud enough to get the attention of the boys that Jessica had been eyeing over Aaron’s shoulder.

“On any planet!” Jessica snapped. “We’re in a mall unsupervised, and we can have anything we want. People will be talking about this party for centuries. Decades even!”

“This…” Charlie gestured around him. “Is lame. We don’t have any adults around and this is what you come up with?”

On the one hand, Jessica didn’t feel she had to defend herself to the likes of Charlie and Jerry, who had never once been cooingly discussed at a Unicorn meeting; on the other, she didn’t want anyone to say a bad word about her party. She cast about for something to say. What did boys like? “We’ve also got video games!” she said in a rush. “I bet Randy and Lloyd could rig it so we don’t need quarters to use the arcade.”

“Um, Randy’s running the music, and nobody’s seen Lloyd all day,” Aaron put in quietly.

Jessica ignored him. “So there’s plenty of fun things to do. It’s not my fault you’re so pathetic you don’t know how to have fun!”

“I know how to have fun,” Jerry said. He glanced around, making sure he had the attention of Bruce Patman. “Believe me, I know how to have fun.”

“And how would you make this more fun?” Jessica asked.

“Easily. There’s a Porsche showroom across the road. And we’re all in the market for a new car,” Charlie said. “Anyone who’s man enough to join us and do something a bit more grownup than dancing to Johnny Buck is welcome to join us.”

This got everyone’s attention. Every boy in earshot immediately felt the sharp shock as their masculinity was impugned. Every boy that had been happily dancing or talking with a girl stopped what they were doing immediately. There was a lot of chest puffing and loud voices in response.

“You can’t drive!” Jessica said in exasperation. “You’ll get in a wreck.” The minute the words were across her lips, she knew she’d said the wrong thing. Chests puffed even bigger, nipples touched ceilings, and voices got even louder as the boys listed their very manly attributes.

“That’s what you think,” Charlie said.

“Because you’re a girl,” Jim Sturbridge added. “Boys—men—are naturally better at mechanical things, and we’ll all be naturals at driving. Don’t judge us by your low stupid standards.”

Jessica wondered if now was a time to do what the magazines said and pretend to be impressed by how manly and clever the boys were. It felt like one of those moments, but dangit, they were ruining her party. Even Aaron had moved closer to Jerry and was loudly talking about his latest basketball win.

She tugged at Aaron’s sleeve. “Why don’t you guys wait until tomorrow morning. I’ll bet even the best drivers find it easier to learn when it’s light out.”

Aaron looked as if he was considering her suggestion, but then Jerry opened his mouth again. “Yes, Aaron. Maybe you’d better wait until daylight so you’re not frightened by the scary monsters in the dark.”

Aaron’s eyes darkened in anger and she shook off Jessica’s hand. “Come on! Let’s go buy a car!”

And with that, Jessica watched in despair as most of the boys in Sweet Valley Middle School headed down the escalators and out of the doors.

“Nicely handled,” a voice commented and an arm draped over her shoulder.

She turned to see Janet, who had apparently changed out of her gorgeous sequined dress into jeans and a tank top.

Jessica shook her arm off irritably.

“That did not reflect well on the Unicorns,” Janet said, though this time the voice came from the left. Jessica glanced to her right and saw Janet was still standing close to her. She glanced to the left to see who had spoken, and saw another Janet. She blinked. Even though she knew that there was more than one Janet, seeing them in the mirror and seeing them in real life was very different.

Then she noticed a whole fleet of Janets was crossing the walkway to her side. Some were watching the boys leave, some were glaring at her, some were just talking amongst themselves.

Jessica realized that if Janet had come to peaceful terms with her many selves, then Jessica was in big trouble for trying to take control of the Unicorns.

“By the way,” Janet in a tank top threw her arm over Jessica’s shoulder once more. “We’re taking back the Unicorns.”

Before Jessica could formulate an answer, there was a gigantic thud from above that rocked the entire building. Everyone staggered. Jessica and the two Janets beside her fell to their knees, while others sagged against the railings of the walkway.

Jessica heard screams and shouts. She saw several people falling down the stairs and escalators. The impact had shaken free the glass elevator that linked the three floors of the mall—thankfully nobody was in it, but it had toppled free of its runners, and was hanging by a single metal cable.

Beneath the elevator, there were kids covered in shattered glass, screaming and crying. Some of the decorative planters had shaken free and fallen below. From the shattered shards of glass and plant pot and spots of blood, not to mention the screaming, Jessica could only assume some people had not been lucky.

There was another, slightly smaller, thud from above, and Jessica—against her better judgment—looked up. She saw an enormous dark shape move across the glass roof, while the support beams groaned under the weight of the… monster?

The beast let out a terrifying howl, and everyone clapped their hands to their ears—it sounded just like the feedback howl Jessica had accidentally created earlier when she had dropped the tapes on the control panel.

She saw a giant… paw? Something with large leathery pads interspersed with matted fur on the glass panel above her. Something large and sharp—a claw—tapped the glass, and Jessica watched in horror as a spiderweb of cracks ran through the panel.

There was a cracking noise from above, and Jessica felt a powerful jolt of fear run through her and flood her with adrenaline. She didn’t need to see any more. It was time to move.

She scrambled to her feet and started running for the nearest store, pausing only to call over her shoulder to the many Janets, “No problem, I’m happy to let you lead!”