Loopholes, Chapter 26

(Start here.) (Or just go backwards.)

We headed to where Adam was pointing, and there it was, only two blocks down, pulled over at a fire hydrant. A Federal Express truck. The guy was in it, sitting in the driver’s seat, an old lady with red hair and a terrible expression stood on the sidewalk, no one else was around.

“Do you have ID?” Emily said.

We stopped while I rummaged through the Phoebe backpack until I found my library card. “This will work,” I said.

“It has your name at least,” Emily said doubtfully. “Do you have the delivery slip?”

I held it up. We headed toward the truck. We passed the red-haired old lady, who was bent over and walking fast, and then we got to the truck. The guy looked up.

“Hi, I think you have an envelope for me?” I said, waving my slip. “I was just, um, busy, so I didn’t hear you.” He didn’t look convinced.

Emily jabbed me with her elbow.

“In the shower,” I said. “And so I didn’t hear you when you rang the bell? I’m Alyssa Cohen, at 211 Orange Street?” I held up the slip again, like it would be really helpful.

“Well sure,” the guy said. “I was just there.” And he smiled, like that was great.

“Well ok, but I kind of need my letter?”

“Right,” the guy said. “That’s what your grandmother said. I just gave it to her.”

“My grandmother?” I said weakly.

“Yellow dress, red hair?” he said. “You just walked by her. She said you needed the letter.”

We ran.

We tore after her, whoever she was. “Hey, wait!” I cried out after her. “Grandma!” She looked over her shoulder “Grandma, wait up!”

The lady’s face had an awful expression, and when she saw us it got worse. She turned a corner and we ran after her. Except that when we got there, she was gone.

We looked up and down the street, and Adam went halfway down, looking up and down the houses, but nothing.

“What just happened?” Emily cried.

“Someone stole my letter,” I said. “That’s what happened.”

“Wait!” Adam called. He was bent over on the sidewalk, and picked something up. “Come here,” he called. “You have to see this.”

He was holding a torn envelope, my name and address on it, in Phoebe’s handwriting. It was covered with stars and hearts and skulls (that’s Phoebe), and she’d written a note to me that went all around the edge of the envelope. It went: “Alyssa! I don’t even know if this will be helpful, or if it’s even what you need, because I don’t think it makes sense, but I am coming there! This is too crazy. I will take a bus and come to your grandmother’s house or something. Everything will be all righ—.” The rest was torn off.

“But where’s the letter?” Emily said. “We needed the goddamned letter.”

“She’s coming,” I said shakily. “It’s OK, because she’s coming.”

“It’s not OK,” Emily said.

“Look on the back,” Adam said. He reached across me and carefully turned it over.

In faint pencil it said:

I am the one who can be in the sunlight. We are looking for the same thing. Perhaps we can help one another. Meet us in the tunnels.

“What are we supposed to do with this?” I spat out. “What’s going on?!”

“It was a shadow.” The lizard’s voice was so quiet and whispery it sounded like wind. I felt cold then, and scared, and like I had never ever wanted to go home as much as I did right then.

I bent down so I could her its faint voice, and Adam and Emily did too, leaning over it on the hot sidewalk. But it talked only to me. “Alyssa, they are using bodies. We are losing what abilities we have. You were supposed to contact your mother.”

“I tried!

“You were supposed to get what she has for you, to discover how the shadows are working, understand why we appear as lizards—these were your tasks, and you have accomplished none of them.” It was speaking quickly, like it was running out of air.

“I—.” I tried.

“She’s trying, OK?” Emily said.

“That is something,” the lizard said. “That you are trying, that you are together—now, that is all we have.” It took two steps forward on the hot sunny sidewalk, then paused, its sides vibrating. “This is the last time I can appear before you.”

“Is it safe to meet them in the tunnels?” I asked.

“No,” the lizard said.

We looked at each other. “But is there anything else we can do?” Adam said.

“Help us,” the lizard said, and then it scurried into the grass.

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