Some choices change everything. Scarlett chose to run. And the consequences will be deadly.
Stolen from her family as a young girl, Scarlett was lucky enough to eventually escape her captor. Now a teen, she's starting a summer job at an amusement park. There are cute boys, new friends, and the chance to finally have a normal life.
Her first day on the job, Scarlett is shocked to discover that a girl from the park has gone missing. Old memories come rushing back. And now as she meets her new coworkers, one of the girls seems strangely familiar. When Scarlett chose to run all those years ago, what did she set into motion? And when push comes to shove, how far will she go to uncover the truth . . . before it's too late?
A New York Public Library's Best 50 Books for Teens
"Panitch tells a harrowing story of captivity, survival, and the pursuit of hope. . . . A jaw-dropping final twist gives way to a surprising, satisfying conclusion to this tense, clever thriller." --Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"With flashbacks that slowly reveal the terrible secret of Scarlett's escape and Pixie's fate, this psychological thriller evokes well-paced fear." --Kirkus Reviews
"This layered, satisfying read brims with spine-tingling psychological suspense." --Booklist
"Don't start the last fifty pages without time to finish this absorbing thriller." --The Bulletin
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|Publisher:||Random House Children's Books|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||6 MB|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
In the first issue of the Skywoman comics, the good citizens of Silver City are in trouble. An eeeeevil villain has diverted the course of a fiery meteor and has, for no good reason, decided to plop it right on the city itself. Everybody’s weeping and tearing at their hair and pounding the ground with desperation, but there’s nothing they can do (like go to another city, apparently).
Until Skywoman shows up in a swirl of baby blue and gold. She swoops through the air and forces that meteor back on track. Then she decapitates the eeeeevil villain for good measure. Everybody cheers and kisses the ground they were just beating.
In the basement, every time I closed my eyes, that’s what I pictured: Skywoman, sailing down from the sky, smashing the bars of the basement’s window in one great sweep, and lifting me out by the nape of my neck, as if I were a kitten. She never came. Because she isn’t real.
The theme park bearing her image is, though.
I think it would embarrass her, honestly.
The employment office of Five Banners Adventure World, home of Skywoman and the League of the Righteous, is more trailer than office, plunked at the far side of the vast employee parking lot, where it creaks on its wheels every time a gust of wind blows through. I sit in one of the trailer’s tiny cubicles, my dignity cupped in my hands as I speak to one of the park’s assistant managers, who doesn’t look a second older than me.
“I just love working with people,” I lie as enthusiastically as I can manage. “Making people happy makes me happy. I love to problem-solve.” Did I hit all the buzzwords the job listing mentioned? “I don’t have any retail experience, but I’ve done some babysitting.” I thrust my hands out in front of me and unfurl my fingers, revealing my dignity, the gleaming and golden center of a flower.
The assistant manager, who wears a lime-green polo so bright it hurts my eyes and clashes with her blond hair, smiles. “You sound like you’ll be a great fit here, with your zeal for helping people,” she says. “Congratulations, Scarlett. You’ve got the job.”
“Yay,” I say.
“You look like a medium-size women’s shirt,” she says, apparently not much impressed with my display of zeal. That’s fine, because my zeal stems mostly from a desire to pay for my gas and car insurance. It’s not like I really use my car to go anywhere, but I need to have it, because as long as I have it, I can go somewhere if I want to. Without it, I’m trapped. “What size pants are you?”
I tell her, and she stands. “Great, I’ll be right back,” she says. I wave a silent goodbye to my dignity as she goes. Anyone who works at Five Banners Adventure World over the summer needs to be prepared to exchange her dignity for the allotted two lime-green polo shirts, two pairs of khaki pants, a brown belt, and a name tag that screams scarlett! in bubble letters. Bonus points for knowledge of Wonderman, Skywoman, and the gang, the group of superheroes around whom the park is based. I love comics, so I win all the bonus points.
It’s worth the temporary loss of dignity to be here, surrounded by Skywoman and Wonderman and their crew. I spent so many years imagining them that the thought of seeing them walking around every day, of talking to them--well, the people dressed up as them--is so exciting. What I really want is to be one of the girls who get to wear the Skywoman costume, but you’re required to put in a season of work at the park before you can transition to the Costumed Character Department. This is my one season. And then I’ll get to make kids’ days, smile wide and tell them that nothing will ever hurt them. That’s not true, of course, but it’s a good thing for someone to believe. At least for a little while.
The assistant manager bustles back in, her arms overflowing with tacky clothing. She dumps them in my arms and grabs a set of forms off the desk. “You just have to sign here,” she says, pointing out the signature lines with a pointy crimson nail. She flutters lashes coated so thickly with mascara I imagine it must be a struggle for her to open and close them, like lifting miniature weights with every blink. “To say you received each part of your uniform, that they’re all in good condition, et cetera, et cetera.”
I run my new shirts through my fingers. They stink of industrial detergent and the fabric is rough against my skin. My fingers tingle with the ghosts of old calluses. “There’s a stain up by the neck here,” I say, and Stepmother’s voice echoes in my skull, r’s rolling with her Eastern European accent. I was never able to pin down exactly what country she’d come from, just the general area. Not good enough, girl. Do you know what happens to girls who are not good enough? “And a thread’s ripped out here.”
The assistant manager snorts. “If that’s the worst you get, you’re lucky.” Her name tag screams monica! “My first year I got a pair of pants that were ripped right through the crotch. I had to sew them up myself, and my supervisor told me they looked unprofessional. My pay got docked for that.”
I check both my pairs of khakis for rips through the crotch. All the crotches are intact, thank goodness. Though if I have to sew them up myself, my sewing will be perfect. Perfect, neat, good little stitches. Maybe I can teach this Monica how to sew. She’ll marvel at my talents, ask me how I got so good.
I’ve been quiet for too long. I should probably express sympathy or something. That’s what a normal person would do. Like my sister. “That stinks.”
“It’s cool,” Monica says. “Everything else is great here, really. Job is great, people are great, lots of fun perks.” Her voice sounds rote, memorized. This is probably the speech she gives to all the new peons. “Do you have any questions? Orientation is next week.”
“I think I’m good,” I say, and I stand. “I just show up here for orientation?”
“Yeah. It’ll be in the arena, inside the park, but there’ll be signs pointing you there from here.” She hands me a stack of papers, glossy brochures and forms emblazoned with the dual insignias of Skywoman and Wonderman, who are positioned front and center on the top brochure. As they should be, of course. They’re the heads of the League of the Righteous, or LoR for short. They can save anyone. Or so I thought when I was little. Before I turned eight.
They couldn’t save little Scarlett. Or Pixie.
I shiver, a trail of cold water rushing over my spine.
To distract myself, I think hard about Skywoman’s first epic battle with her archenemy, the Blade. The Blade murdered Skywoman’s parents back when Skywoman was simply Augusta Leigh Sorensen, setting Augusta on her heroic path in the first place. Skywoman unleashed her lasso made of clouds, which swirled over her head under its own power.
Even after so many years, Pixie has a way of working herself into every facet of my life. She’s there when I eat breakfast, when I sit down to do my homework, when I feel the sun wash warm over my face. Always reminding me she’ll never get to do any of those things again.
I swallow hard and concentrate harder on the battle going on in my head. The Blade’s always-sinister yellow eyes, flashing like a cat’s. Her claws shearing through Skywoman’s lasso and then lunging at Skywoman’s throat.
“Are you okay?” Monica asks. She smiles sympathetically at me, as if she knows exactly what I’m going through. She doesn’t, of course, but I appreciate the effort, and so I try to smile back.
“Yeah, sorry. Just got dizzy when I stood up. Guess I should’ve eaten breakfast.”
“It’s the most important meal of the day!” Monica chirps. “You got everything?”
I pile my uniforms, my forms, my brochures, my everything, into a precarious leaning tower in my arms. “I think so,” I say. “Thanks. I guess I’ll see you next week?”
She goes to shake my hand but drops her arms and laughs when she registers my leaning tower. “No problem,” she says. “See you next week.”
My first job. I’ve chosen Five Banners, and Five Banners has chosen me back. This is the second choice I’ve ever made that has meant anything.
I dump my papers and uniforms in the passenger seat of my car. The air feels warm and humid, and it smells like wet leaves and pavement; it must have rained while I was inside filling out forms and working my way through my assorted interviewers. Roller-coaster loops stretch high up in the distance. The rain couldn’t have been that bad, because every so often the tracks loose a roar and a faint shriek that translates to a successful ride. If there had been thunder or lightning, all the coasters would have closed and all the people who wanted to ride the coasters would have gone to ride the massive line at Guest Relations instead, with its hills of yelling and loops of children’s tears and the splat at the end when the Guest Relations rep flatly denies your refund request.
Because no refunds. No refunds ever. On anything. That’s Five Banners’ corporate policy.
By the time I get home, my forms have scattered all over the floor and my uniforms are in a crumpled heap in the passenger-side well. I blame the town’s traffic lights, which have yellow lights about as long as an eyeblink to try to milk money from all the Adventure World–going tourists. I don’t mind so much, though. It’s kind of like a game, making sure I stop in time. A good way to distract myself from the fact that I’m steering thousands of pounds of sharp metal and flammable liquid with the touch of my hand.
After pulling into the driveway, I reach down to collect my belongings, groaning just for the sake of groaning, and jump when something thumps on my window. I look up to see my little brother’s face smushed against the glass, his nostrils open wide and his breath clouding the rest of him in fog.
A smile breaks across my face, and I lean over to click the lock open. Matthew scrambles in and immediately starts cleaning up my stuff, beaming the way only a seven-year-old can. If I believed in God, I’d thank him (or her) every day for creating baby brothers.
I take the pile of uniforms and forms from his lap. He grins up at me, exposing a space where one of his front teeth should be.
“Thanks, dude,” I say. “Did you just lose that today?”
He kicks his feet. I’d frown very strongly at anyone else who smeared footprints on my dashboard. Matthew can kick all he wants. “Yeah,” he says. “Did you get the job?”
“I did get the job.” I raise my eyebrows. “And guess what that means?”
He punches the air. “Free tickets!”
“All the free tickets you can eat,” I promise.
He scrunches his nose. “I don’t want to eat them.”
“Oh, really?” I pretend to consider. “What in the world would you do with them, then?”
“You’re being silly,” he says. A lock of brown hair flops over his eye, and his lips purse like he’s still not sure whether to believe me.
“I am,” I say. His face splits into a wide smile. “Now help me carry this stuff inside and we’ll have a snack.” Food is the way into Matthew’s heart. Food is also the way into my heart. It’s how you can tell we’re related.
Though we’ve lived here in Jefferson for four years now--the majority of Matthew’s life and almost all the time since I called my parents from the police station, my teeth chattering so hard they thought it was static--I still think of this house as “the new house.”
It’s objectively nicer than our old house in Illinois; our New Jersey house is a neat two-story with cherry-red shutters and bright white siding my dad pummels with the pressure washer the first Sunday of every month, and a lawn so even and green that, in combination with the red shutters and red door, it makes for a festive, Christmasy mood all year round. It’s objectively friendlier than our old house too, which was located at the end of a very long driveway at the end of a very long street, where neighbors were few and far between. Our New Jersey house is smack in the middle of a cul-de-sac, crammed side by side with houses that are crammed side by side with more houses, so close that neighbors can shout from window to window if they need to borrow a cup of sugar or need someone to pop over and watch the kids.
Still, it’s firmly part of the After, and anything in the After is new. Even Matthew, though I can’t imagine my life without him.
Matthew precedes me into the house, doing a weird sort of dubstep move that works only when you’re seven years old and delighted. Sometimes I wish I were seven years old again. And that I’d never turn eight, because eight was when the man grabbed me off the sidewalk.
“I want cookies for a snack,” he says.
I dump my pile of stuff onto the hall table. “How about celery with peanut butter?”
“Okay, but how about cookies?”
“Okay, but how about celery with peanut butter and raisins?”
“Okay, but how about celery with peanut butter and chocolate chips?”
“That just sounds gross.” I wrinkle my nose. “Celery with peanut butter and raisins. Final offer.”
He pouts and runs ahead of me. “Fine.”
The new Jefferson kitchen is blinding in its whiteness and shininess and sunniness; every time I walk in, I have to blink and tell myself that no, Scarlett, you haven’t just stepped through a portal to the future. As my vision clears, I notice my sister at the table, her hands cloaked in oven mitts, sliding the last cookie off a baking sheet and placing it onto a piled-high plate. Wisps of dark hair stick to her forehead, forming crazy curlicues in the sweat.
“Hello, Scarlett,” she says, her voice cold and distant. You’d think the sugar would sweeten her tone even a little bit, except she probably hasn’t tasted her product. If I’d made those cookies, I’d have eaten all the dough, and it would have been worth it, even after Melody told me how much I’d regret it next time I stepped on the scale. “I told Matthew he could have a cookie earlier. I had to make some for the bake sale tomorrow.”