“What,” I asked, “Why do people think I’m dead?”
Outside a rumbling sound cut into my shock, and Lucas scrambled to stand up. “Come on, quickly.” He crutched toward the hallway, back where I’d bathed at the end of the night. I bounded up after him.
“Where are we going? Who is that?”
“Jacqueline,” said Lucas, turning around to face me. The engines at the front of the house cut out; we heard car doors clanging shut. “I’ll tell you later.”
Loud knocking on the front door of the farm house made the windows on either side of rattle in their frames. Lucas opened up a door to the basement and pointed. “Hurry!”
I pounded down the stairs as Lucas shut the door. Picking up his braces he slid down the railings and landed on me, and we crumpled to the floor. I stifled a laugh for a moment, and then couldn’t hold back any longer. He giggled back at me, but in snap, as the yelling started upstairs, lost his grin. In that blink of time I’d felt an electric pulse under my skin, and I was glad I wouldn’t have time to wonder what it meant right now. I pulled him to his feet as I stood up and he waved me over to a coal pile in the corner of the basement. His fingers ran along the mortar line of heavy, large, soot-stained bricks, and I gasped as they slid into the wall. A quiet click, and a section of the wall pulled out toward us. We slipped inside and Lucas pulled a handle to shut the door.
“There’s a lantern by your feet,” he said. I fumbled in the dark and felt around until I hit on what seemed like lacy metal. A brief flash of light as Lucas struck a match on the wall, and then lit the wick. The dank hallway stretched out ahead of us, sloping downward and curling around until I couldn’t see any further. He handed the light to me and I gripped it, leading us into the retreating darkness.
“So, can we talk now,” I asked, knowing I sounded frantic. Behind me, Lucas kept up a quick pace.
“Yes, this clearly is an appropriate time for a conversation,” he said. We’d arrived at the bend in the tunnel, and I could see that it had started to climb upward again toward the surface. “I’ll fill you in soon. But we need to meet up first with someone.”
“Your mother,” he said.
I was less certain that all of this was taking place in my imagination or some deep recess of my mind. If I’d somehow literally jumped into another person, if all of this was real, then I needed to learn quickly what this whole world was about. And I had to deal with the possibility that people and things here could hurt or even kill me. I quit rushing up the slope and put my free hand against the wall to steady myself. Lucas stopped short behind me, not expecting my sudden deceleration.
“What is it, Jacqueline?”
I had started crying.
Lucas’ arms were around me, squeezing me in a way that felt at once comforting and a little strained, as if my burst of emotion had frightened him. In return, I put my arms around his, clinging onto both of us at once.
“Now now, Jacqui, this too shall pass.” He reached up and smoothed my hair, and I nuzzled into the crook of his neck, which smelled of lye soap and coffee. And then I pulled back, hard, remembering that none of this was right. The sensations of warmth and fear in my body ceased and I was left realizing I was really a man myself, attracted to girls my age. I wasn’t this figment of a person. I pushed at him and dropped the lantern, spilling the oil out on the dirt floor and extinguishing the light. We stood in darkness, neither of us able to see anything.
“You continue to confound me,” he said, and I heard him digging in his pocket for another match.
“If that is so, then please, for the love of God and this green earth, just walk with me so we can get somewhere safe. People are waiting for us.”
I frowned into the pop of light and tried to flatten my expression before he caught me. He looked at me like I were a stubborn girl. I supposed I’d been acting like one.
“What ‘people’ are these?”
“The people who are trying to get rid of Dr. Traver and his band of thugs,” said Lucas, handing me the lantern. “Try to keep a grip on it this time.”
“Try to stop getting into my pants,” I said.
“Feel free to dress in skirts.” I glared at him but he didn’t notice this in the dim light.
We carried on, and turned again. We’d come upon a locked door. This time Lucas came up with a small key and unlocked a large shackle.
“Were those Dr. Traver’s men at the farm house?”
“I presume so, yes.” The key struggled with the tumblers inside the lock. He grunted as he wiggled it and turned the key at the same time, and then the lock sprang open. “Okay.”
I reached out and touched his muscular upper arm. “Lucas, I don’t want to get you in any trouble.”
He smiled a little and wiped his black bangs out of his eyes. “We are well past that point, Jacqui, but don’t fret. None of this is your fault.”
At least there’s that, I thought.
We were through the door next and Lucas closed it firmly; I could see from this side that it didn’t look like a door at all but rather part of a rough-hewn wall. We stood at the top bar of a T intersection, water running through the lowest point of the tunnels. Lucas blew out the light because there were electric lights running the length of the corridors.
“We’re in the sewer,” I asked, having no idea where to go next.
“We are indeed,” he said, and one brace slipped on a damp stone. “I hate it in here.”
“It smells terrible,” I said. “Why does the tunnel under the farm house lead to the sewers?”
“Well, it was part of the Underground Railroad, and years later, when the township acquired a plumbing system, they built the storm drain here. Mr. Rushman saw to it that he was on the city council so he could help plan the sewer and leave the secret tunnel undiscovered.”
“He was a clever man,” I said.
“He certainly was. Now then, we go this way. We need to be quiet now because our voices will travel in here up to the street.”
I nodded and followed him, pretending not to see the rats whether they were alive or skeletal. They seemed to have no problem eating their fallen comrades. We hurried along until Lucas came to another part of the wall that I now could tell was another hidden door. Again there was a soft click, but this time the slab only moved a little.
“Give me a hand,” said Lucas. I braced against the door and grimaced because I didn’t have the same strength in this body as in my real one. I walked back a few paces and then ran into the wall, expecting to throw my shoulder out of joint. Instead it flew away from me, and we were in another corridor, light beaming down to us from the street above.
Lucas closed the wall behind us that had sprung free of whatever had been impeding it. “Well, you’re as tough as I remembered.”
“Don’t you forget it,” I said.