Things are starting to come together for Lucas. Vanessa’s back, which is an interesting twist. If you missed the last chapter, you can find it on the House of Lies page.
Chapter 16—Zombie Girl
Lucas dropped his hand from Max’s chest and the smaller boy slipped past him and through the doorway to the foyer.
He had been about to ask a question, something important, when voices from the entry to Mendacium floated into the kitchen and interrupted his discussion with Max. He peered over Max’s blond head at Carl’s broad shoulders in his black suit and Vanessa’s slim frame wearing the same gray pantsuit as she had yesterday when she dropped Lucas off.
Behind Vanessa stood a slender girl in green skinny jeans, her blond hair clinging to her head in the wisps of a pixie cut, clutching a small overnight suitcase in front of her with both hands. The shadow at her feet sparkled strangely as it absorbed the dusting of light from the crystal chandelier. It walked in step next to the girl’s right leg, ragged arms hanging limply at its sides. It looked a little like the half-souls, but smaller, part of its skin missing and exposing grisly muscle, tendon, and bone underneath.
Zombie Girl. Lucas swallowed. He had the answer to more than just his experiment. He knew who the girl in Brandon’s sketch was.
She was another liar. And Brandon knew she was coming before she arrived.
Weirder and weirder.
Lucas suddenly felt weak. He looked down at his shadow satyr, who still whistled and even did a little jig. He was noticeably more solid looking. Raising an arm, lightly so he wouldn’t catch anyone’s attention, Lucas saw that he was as gray as Max.
Mona came in, followed by two half-souls. Lucas dropped his arm and put his hand in his pocket, fingering the tiger’s eye. Flipping his head back to throw his bangs out of his eyes, he hit his head on the casing of the doorway and flinched.
Ow! He bit down on his lip to keep from yelling out loud.
“Sandra, this is Mona,” Vanessa stepped aside, “She’ll get you settled in a room for the night.”
The girl held out a hand for a shake. Mona wiped her hands on her apron and slowly, her arm shaking, took Sandra’s hand and shook it once.
“Follow me,” she turned for the rec room, her ancient steps silent on the marble floor.
The girl kept up with baby steps, her half-laced canvas shoes squeaking a little. Max slipped by Carl like a ghost, the hulking man not even blinking as the boy fell in line behind the new girl.
“Is Zagan in his office?” Vanessa asked Carl.
His dark eyes glared at her. “Does he know you’re coming?”
Serious déjà vu. Lucas smoothed his bangs back out of his eyes with his hand, careful not to hit his head on the doorframe again.
Vanessa flashed her cell phone and headed up the stairs. Lucas watched as Carl headed for the rec room, watching the freakishly large man hover over Mona, Sandra, and Max as they filed through the doorway. Sliding out of the kitchen, Lucas tiptoed to the bottom of the stairs. He kept his hand on the banister and watched the rec room door as he put his foot on the first step.
He caught a blur of colorful stripes and bright orange as something came down the stairs and knocked him onto the marble floor.
“Sorry, man,” Brandon hitched up his skinny jeans with one hand and then reached out to help Lucas. He had his sketchpad under his other arm, his pencil behind his ear. “I was coming to show you what I drew of Ami and Tate. They turned out awesome.” Brandon held his fingers up at his forehead like he was pulling out his thoughts. “I thought about them, then I started to see these cool things, and then—“ He paused, listening to the voices coming out of the rec room. “Who’s here? I passed Vanessa on the stairs…” His eyes got big, “Did she bring a new kid? Oh, man, I gotta see.”
Lucas watched Brandon and the sketches bounce through the same doorway that had swallowed the others just a moment before.
He wanted to see those sketches, but what he wanted more was to see what he could learn from Vanessa and Zagan. He took the stairs two at a time to the second floor.
He checked left and then right, like he did to cross the street, but now he was checking for gray-skinned half-souls and twisted, fanged shadow creatures instead of city traffic. The right had two half-souls standing with rags in their hands and the left had about five of the human shells, upright but limp and still.
That’s odd. Since Lucas had first seen them, really seen them after Dee became one of them, they had constantly cleaned. He hadn’t seen one stand still, but he didn’t have time at the moment to check into it. He had to get out of Mendacium before he turned into one of them.
No humans, and no shadow creatures, either, except Phil, who had stopped whistling and just looked bored.
From the sunlight streaming into the hallway, Lucas could see that Zagan’s office door was open. He watched the half-souls for a moment to see if they would suddenly point at him, or walk into Zagan’s office to warn the headmaster that a kid was coming down the hallway to eavesdrop, but they didn’t move.
I’ve only been here a day. Maybe they have an automatic setting and turn off at five.
He hugged the wall and headed down the hall. After a moment, he realized his hands were greasy from the polish the half-souls had been rubbing on the wood all day. He looked down. His pants and shirt had some of the oil on them, too, and he could smell citrus through the more familiar scent of formaldehyde.
As he crept up to the doorway to Zagan’s office, he heard them talking. It wasn’t an argument, exactly, but it sounded like Zagan was unhappy about something.
“Two souls in two days. They’re becoming easier to find, and easier to take. I could have a record week.” Vanessa sounded like she was bargaining.
“I don’t need you to find lies and shadows. They will come to me naturally because this is where they belong. I need you to find the Truth.” Zagan emphasized the final word, as if it were capitalized.
“I’m looking, every day, everywhere I can.” An edge of panic crept in to Vanessa’s voice.
At Mendacium, Lucas, we look for Truth, Zagan had said to him earlier that morning when he was ‘lost,’ then Max had explained how every kid at the place was a liar.
Except Ami and Tate. Max had pointedly avoided saying anything about them, really, even when Lucas asked. Lucas had thought that Max might not know much, but now Lucas figured Max knew far more than he had said.
“Until you find him, I can’t release my army.”
Silence. Lucas didn’t even hear any fidgeting. So Truth is a him? He slowly pushed his head around the frame of the doorway, trying to catch a glimpse of the scene inside the room. He saw the edge of the library shelves and the thick carpet, but his neck wouldn’t stretch enough to see the chairs or the desk. His bangs slid in front of his eyes. As he swept his head down to shake his black hair over, he stopped.
Phil stood beside his leg, petting a dog. The thing shook its tail, but it wasn’t a normal dog’s tail, it was the tail of a snake. In fact, the only part of the creature that was a dog was the head. It wagged excitedly, and its forked tongue flicked out and gave Phil a lick. Phil giggled and scratched the dogsnakething behind the ears.
“I will find him,” Vanessa finally answered. “I’m close, I can feel it.”
Lucas flipped his bangs out of his eyes and shifted his shoulders closer to the doorway so that he could stretch his neck around and see farther into the room. Vanessa stood between the chairs, her hands on the hips of her gray pantsuit. She seemed to be glaring at Zagan, who must’ve been standing behind his desk, just out of Lucas’s view. The strange beasts blocked out most of the final rays of sun that shone in through a corner of the wall of glass, casting a gray tone over everything in the room.
“You’ve had that feeling for months and I still don’t have the Truth. I’m losing patience.”
Vanessa’s head fell and she poked the toe of her boot into the carpet, pressing a dimple into the soft surface. Lucas leaned over a little more, trying to catch a glimpse of Zagan. Something bumped against his shins and his knees buckled, sending him to the floor. He grunted and caught himself on his hands, kneeling on all fours right in Zagan’s office doorway. The thing that had knocked him over squirmed to get out from under his legs and flipped Lucas onto his side.
Looking up, Lucas was glad his bangs were in his eyes to ease the I’m-gonna-kill-you glare from Vanessa. Zagan didn’t look mad as much as amused, a half-smile tugging at his mouth.
“Hello, Lucas. It seems like you were just here. Lost again?”
“More like snooping.” Vanessa folded her arms and smirked, her black eyes shiny.
The dogsnakething, finally out from under Lucas’s legs, slithered next to him and flicked its tongue at Lucas’s face. The forked tongue was cold and slimy and gave Lucas chills that kind of tickled. Lucas pushed the creature away before he started to giggle like Phil and stood up.
He opened his mouth to say something, then shut it.
I can’t lie or I might forget again.
“You need to turn him before he becomes too much trouble.” Vanessa spoke to Zagan but kept her eyes on Lucas.
The shadow creatures behind the headmaster grew animated at the idea. Lucas caught whispers from the shadows, Turn him.
“He’ll turn, and quickly, too. He’s more than halfway there, and his lies are…special. Right, Lucas?” Zagan’s blue eyes looked at him, unblinking. “But that’s not why you’re here, is it? You’re here because you want something.”
Pa. Lucas swallowed, “I want to make a deal.”