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Three more days passed, just as aimlessly. Lincoln
began to wonder if he d failed some test, or if there d
been a miscalculation leading to a glut of zombies.
Early in the morning of their fth day in Atlanta, as
Lincoln splashed water on his face in the bathroom,
he felt the change. Shards of his recurrent dream
glistened potently in the back of his mind, while a
set of directions through the motel complex gelled
in the foreground. He was being summoned. It was
all he could do to bang on his grandmother s door
and shout out a garbled explanation before he set o
down the corridor.
She caught up with him. "Are you sleepwalking?
"I m still here, but they re taking me soon."
She looked frightened. He grasped her hand and
squeezed it. "Don t worry," he said. He d always imag-
ined that when the time came he d be the one who
was afraid, drawing his courage from her.
He tur ned a corner and saw the corridor leading
into a large space that might once have been a room
for conferences or weddings. Half a dozen people
were standing around; Lincoln could tell that the
three teenagers were fellow zombies, while the adults
were just there to look out for them. The room had
no furniture but contained an odd collection of items,
including four ladders and four bicycles. There was
cladding on the walls, soundproofing, as if the whole
building weren t quiet enough already.
Out of the corner of his eye, Lincoln saw a dark
mass of quivering fur: a swarm of rats, huddled against
the wall. For a moment his skin crawled, but then a
heady sense of exhilaration swept his revulsion away.
His own body held only the tiniest fragment of the
Steveware; at last he could confront the thing itself.
He turned toward the rats and spread his ar ms.
"You called, and I came r unning. So what is it you
want?" Disquietingly, memories of the Pied Piper
story drifted into his head. Ir resistible music lured
the rats away. Then it lured away the children.
The rats gave no answer, but the room vanished.
Ty hit a patch of dust on the edge of the road, and
it rose up around him. He whooped with joy and
pedaled twice as hard, streaking ahead to leave
his friends immersed in the cloud.
Errol caught up with him and reached across to
punch him on the arm, as if he d raised the dust on
purpose. It was a light blow, not enough to be worth
retribution; Ty just grinned at him.
It was a school day, but they d all sneaked o
together before lessons began. They couldn t do any-
thing in town---there were too many people who d
know them---but then Dan had suggested heading for
the water tower. His father had some spray paint in
the shed. They d climb the tower and tag it.
There was a barbed-wire fence around the base
of the tower, but Dan had already been out here on
the weekend and started a tunnel, which didn t take
them long to complete. When they were through, Ty
looked up and felt his head swimming. Carlos said,
"We should have brought a rope."
"We ll be okay."
Chris said, "I ll go rst."
"Why?" Dan demanded.
Chris took his fancy new phone from his pocket
and waved it at them. "Best camera angle. I don t
want to be looking up your ass."
Carlos said, "Just promise you won t put it on the
Web. If my parents see this, I m screwed."
Chris laughed. "Mine, too. I m not that stupid."
"Yeah, well, you won t be on camera if you re hold-
ing the thing."
Chris started up the ladder. Dan went next, with
one paint can in the back pocket of his jeans. Ty fol-
lowed, then Errol and Carlos.
The air had been still down on the ground, but as
they went higher a breeze came out of nowhere, cool-
ing the sweat on Ty s back. The ladder started shud-
dering; he could see where it was bolted securely to
the concrete of the tower, but in between it could still
ex alarmingly. He d treat it like a fairground ride, he
decided: a little scary, but probably safe.
When Chris reached the top, Dan let go of the lad-
der with one hand, took the paint can, and reached
out sideways into the expanse of white concrete. He
quickly shaped a blue background, a distorted dia-
mond, and then called down to Errol, who was carry-
ing the red.
When Ty had passed the can up, he looked away,
out across the expanse of brown dust. He could see
the town in the distance. He glanced up and saw
Chris leaning for ward, gripping the ladder with one
hand behind his back while he aimed the phone down
Ty shouted up at him, "Hey, Scorsese! Make me
Dan spent ve minutes adding nicky details in
silver. Ty didn t mind; it was good just being here. He
didn t need to mark the tower himself; whenever he
saw Dan s tag, he d remember this feeling.
They clambered down, then sat at the base of the
tower and passed the phone around, checking out
Chris s movie.
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