Splintered Page 64

Jeb bends his thighs like he’s doing squats. He’s getting ready to jump on. “At the count of three,” he says. He levers his board several inches above the clams and props his left foot atop it while balancing his right on solid ground.

“One . . .” His voice spurs me into action. I hold my slab of wood aloft in one hand and mimic his stance, balanced on one foot and ready to drop my board when he does. “Two . . .” My free hand curls around the chain hanging from Jeb’s belt loop. “Three!”

Simultaneously, as if we’ve practiced the move a hundred times before, we slap our boards onto the advancing shells with our one foot already in place and shove off with the other to blend into the flow. This ride isn’t nearly as smooth as the sand surfing. My board bumps from one clam to another, hurdling over a card guard here and there. Each impact jiggles the chain and juggles my bones. My skeleton will be as cragged as the landscape before long.

Our speed picks up as the chasm draws nearer. My heartbeat is in my throat, drumming against my larynx.

“Grab the board, and don’t look down!” Jeb yells over his shoulder.

I grip the wood with my free hand and draw up my knees as we launch. I’m holding so tightly to the chain links that my fingers feel like they’re made of metal, too.

Eyes closed, I gulp the fishy air surrounding us, trying to ease my fear.

“Wooooo-hoooo!” Jeb’s cheer forces my eyes open.

For one instant, I believe in the impossible. We’re soaring— crouched on our boards—just a few feet away from the valley’s edge, and it looks like we’re going to clear. I’m not even using any magic. It must have something to do with the curve of the shells and the curve on our boards, because the same bizarre gravitational lapse that’s allowing the clams to soar is working in our favor, too. The wood is actually floating on its own. Wind rushes through me and I lift my chin to the sky, drifting into the blueness that surrounds us. I’m buoyant, and it’s amazing.

“Woo-hoo!” I mimic Jeb’s triumphant cry. He casts a glance over his shoulder, grinning.

I smile back, no longer scared, until Jeb breaks our gaze to look ahead and my attention drops down.

The chasm isn’t endless. That would be so much better than seeing the corpses below us. We’re about twenty stories up, a front-row seat to the gore and carnage. The remnants of our pursuers hang in bits and pieces along the spikes of rock that jut out where the sides of the canyon narrow toward the bottom.

Wooziness bleeds into my periphery. My balance careens out of control and I topple off my levitating board.

I inhale a soundless scream. Jeb hasn’t noticed yet. A whimper lodges in my throat as I fumble to unhook him from my belt, determined not to kill us both. The chain’s latch won’t budge, and he’s jerked down. He passes me with a shout.

I attempt to yell back, but my lungs suck all the sound inside me. Jeb’s weight tugs at my waist, and the sides of the canyon pass in a rush of jagged stone. He drops the backpack to try to delay our descent.

It feels like we’re falling in slow motion. I see our deaths in excruciating detail. Jeb will be the first to hit, his limbs and torso ripped apart as he bounces from one craggy outcropping to another. Then my head will hit a stone and burst like an overripe melon.

Outrage and regret almost incapacitate me, until something clicks inside . . . an indescribable knowing.

I. Can. Fly.

The memory of my grandmother Alicia’s leap through a hospital window blinks on in my mind. Maybe she didn’t jump from high enough. Her wings didn’t have time to burst through her skin.

As if triggered by the thought, there’s an itch at my shoulder blades. Then a sensation like razors slicing my skin. The screams earlier clogged in my throat break loose as something erupts from behind each shoulder, like umbrellas popping open.

Jeb tugs on the chain and shouts, “Al! You’ve got wings! Use them!”

I recall Morpheus’s words from the feast. “Stop thinking with your head, Alyssa.”

So instead, I think with my gut. By clenching my shoulders and arching my spine, I control the thrust of my new appendages. Two seconds before Jeb reaches the first jutting rock that would’ve torn him to shreds, we stall in midair.


Jeb whoops his gratitude from below. “You’re beautiful, baby!” He’s so relieved, he laughs. I do, too, until I start to lose altitude. I hold the chain with both hands and flap harder to counteract Jeb’s drag. My waist feels like it might break in half.

“Lower me.” His voice sobers and carries on the wind. “I’m too heavy for you.” Dust coats his pants and the cross on his thigh has lost enough jewels that it looks more like an inverted L. The fabric of his shirt gapes at his elbows, where there are bloody cuts and welts from pushing himself off the canyon’s walls to miss jutting rocks.

The chasm narrows, and it’s obvious my wings won’t fit. We’d have to separate before his feet even touch bottom. It’s no higher a drop than from the trees we used to climb as kids, but I can’t leave him. I won’t.

“I can fly us up,” I stall, trying to envision that the chains are alive . . . that they wind around him and lift him on their own. Either I’m too nervous for the magic to work or he’s too heavy, because I can’t make headway.

“Uh-uh,” Jeb says. He sways to the left and props his feet on a boulder to help support his weight. “I dropped the backpack and the money. We have to get it. My girlfriend’s not spending summer break in juvie.”

His girlfriend. Just hearing that makes me push harder. I try to grasp the boards floating above with my mind. If I could snag one, I could guide it down for Jeb to use as a ride back up.

They drift across to the valley, as if purposely ignoring me. My new wings strain with the effort to catch them, and my spine tilts and stretches. I yelp.

“Stop hurting yourself!” Jeb loses his balance and swings below me, side to side, like a pendulum. “Either you lower me, or I take off this chain and free fall. Your choice.” His fingers hover at his waist.

“But I can’t come with you!”

“So you’re going to drop me here, and then find something. Rope, vines . . . an extension for the chain that can pull me out. Okay?”

“All right,” I say, wishing it really was all right.

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