The boy jacked a jaguar, slipping into its sleek body and sending its simple feline mind to sleep. He owned the beast now. Its flesh was his. Muscular magic in a compact four-legged frame, perfectly designed for running, stalking, and killing.
He had taken on the name “Jix”—one of the many Mayan words for “jaguar”—due to his inclination toward great cats, and he furjacked one every chance he got. He preferred wild jaguars, living in the jungles of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula—creatures that hadn’t lost their will to hunt.
Reconnaissance was Jix’s specialty: tracking and spying on Afterlights who His Excellency the King believed to be a threat. Afterlights such as the Eastern Witch—the one they called Mary Hightower.
His Excellency had created a barrier of wind upon the Mississippi River to keep her and other intruders out, but the Eastern Witch was shrewd and relentless. With the help of her own skinjackers, she had destroyed a living-world bridge, causing it to cross into Everlost. Then with a train full of followers and slaves, she rode a powerful locomotive across the river.
At least that was the story.
Others said that she never made the journey herself—that something strange and mysterious happened to her, but no one could agree as to what it was. She flew off into the sky. She melted. She turned to stone. She turned to flesh. Each rumor was more outlandish than the last, and no one knew for sure if any of them were true.
Jix was called in for closer surveillance. Discover their numbers, discover their intent, then report back to the king. If these trespassing Afterlights were truly a threat, they would be dealt with quickly, and would never see the light of day again. It all depended on Jix’s report.
“You should skinjack the pilot of a flying machine,” His Excellency had suggested to Jix, “for speed in this matter would greatly please us.”
Jix, however, had resisted. “But sir, my skill to stalk comes from the jaguar gods. If I make my journey impure, they will be angered, and take the skill away.”
His Excellency had then waved his hand dismissively. “Do as you will—as long as you bring us the results We require.” The king always said “us” and “we,” even when there was no one else but him in the room.
So, on a bright autumn day, Jix set out in the borrowed body of a jaguar, and within that speedy beast, he forged over mountains and rivers, resting when he had to, but never for long. When he came near human villages he heard many languages. Remnants of ancient tongues, Spanish, and finally English. Once he heard English, and saw signs written in that language, he knew he was getting close, yet never once was he spotted, for he had the best of both species now: the keen senses of the jaguar, and the full faculties of a human mind.
The ghost train had crossed the bridge in Memphis, so this was his destination. He was certain to pick up a scent of the supernatural there, and track them down. As he drew nearer, he could feel the thrill of the hunt filling him. The intruders wouldn’t stand a chance.
- Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers |
- 512 pages |
- ISBN 9781416990499 |
- May 2011 |
- Grades 7 and up |
- Lexile ® 910L
Read an Excerpt
Reading Group Guide
by Neal Shusterman
When teens Allie and Nick are killed in a car crash, it isn’t the end of their story, but the beginning: they wake up in Everlost, a world poised between life and death, superimposed on the living world and populated only by the souls of children. The bickering Allie and Nick, traveling with their new friend Lief, head toward their homes. Along the way they spend time with Mary Hightower, who has made it her mission to save and comfort all the lost children of this inter-world, whom she has named “Afterlights”. They also hear stories of a monster called the McGill, a fearsome creature searching for souls to devour. But as Nick falls in love with Mary, and Allie comes to know the McGill, they begin to wonder which one is the real monster.
Nick has made it his mission to help children escape from Everlost to the light at the end of the tunnel. But Mary Hightower finds purpose in gathering these Afterlights to her, and wants to control all of Everlost. Even though she still loves Nick, she sees his actions as the ultimate betrayal. Meanwhile, Allie heads for home with Mikey, the boy she loves—formerly the monstrous McGill, now returned to human form. Allie, who has learned to “skinjack” (possess and take over a living human body), meets a team of skinjackers led by the charming Milos. When Milos and his team go to work fo see more