- Pages: 336 Pages
- Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
- Imprint: Razorbill
- ISBN: 9780593524602
An Excerpt From
The Memory Eater
“Just watching my footing, dear,” Josie says. Her little electric lantern swings in her hand. “After what happened to you, you can’t be too careful.”
I smile noncommittally. Whistler Beach is small, and my family has never exactly been low profile. But I try not to think of how horribly, publicly awful my February was.
“I don’t think we’ve seen you in a couple weeks now,” I finally say. “I hope that means things are good?”
“Would that it were so, dear,” she says. “The gallery’s been swamped; I couldn’t make the time. Jimmy kept asking me when I’d make an appointment next, poor man. He says I need to clear my head.”
“Mm‑hmm,” I say. If I were Josie’s husband, I’d be a little more worried that she was on her way to forgetting her own name next, but what do I know?
“Oh!” Josie’s gaze shifts next to me. “I didn’t know you’d still be supervising, Lena.”
“Harlow family rules, Josie.” Lena’s smile is brittle. “You know how it is.”
“Yes, but that’s if the family proves incapable, isn’t it?” Josie rests a hand on my shoulder. “Alana slipped and fell. It could have happened to any of us.”
Somehow Lena manages to pat at my arm without looking at me. “No matter how capable she is, she’s still recovering.”
“Josie,” I say. Somehow I don’t scream it. “We should probably get started.”
“Oh, of course! Ah, and before I forget.”
Josie hands over an envelope, thick with bills, along with a slip of folded notebook paper. “I hope this is going toward your college fund, Alana. Just because you have a business to run doesn’t mean neglecting your education, you know?”
I dodge that particular question with a smile and tuck the folded paper into my hoodie pocket. I won’t need what’s written there until after the session is finished. “Do you need me to walk you in?”
“Oh, that’s fine, dear.” Josie laughs and hikes up her khaki shorts. “I know the way.”
Josie switches on her little electric lantern and sloshes into the cave, her bright green Crocs a cheery beacon in the dark. I make my own way into the water, directly opposite the cave mouth. When Grandma was alive, I was more laid-back about this. I could stay on the shore and read a book during sessions. But now that it’s my responsibility alone, I prefer to watch.
The little lantern light bobbles to the dry patch of rock near the seal. There’s a beat. And finally, the slow uncurling of the boss’s voice. “Josie. I was starting to miss you.”
“It’s my busy season.” Josie laughs again. “I suppose you know how that gets too, don’t you?”
“I suppose I do,” the boss says. She likes the way Josie talks to her, like some slightly unorthodox hairdresser. “Why don’t you tell me where I’m going today?”
My fingers start to quiver where they’re resting against my thighs. I don’t have to watch every second. If anything goes wrong, the boss understands the consequences even better than I do.
But lately, this job feels like walking down the stairs in the dark of an unfamiliar home. Like I can’t gauge the width of the steps.
“June seventeenth,” Josie says. “Of this year.”
There’s a brief, pointed silence. “That would be two days ago.”
“Does it matter?” Josie’s good-natured voice sharpens to a bite. “It’s a meal either way.”
“Trust me, you won’t hear me complaining,” the boss says dryly. “But one of these days you should try . . . sitting with it. See where that gets you.”
The wind whistles against the mouth of the cave. The boss stirs, like she’s leaning in. “You know how this goes, Josie. When you close your eyes, you will no longer be here, in this cave. You’ll be standing on the Whistler Beach boardwalk, looking down the long line of shuttered stalls. It is night. It is quiet. And you are alone.”
She lets that sit, a moment. “The tide is coming in. You can hear waves lapping against the beams under your feet. Time your breaths with those waves, Josie. Can you hear them? Can you feel them against the wood?”
When Josie’s reply comes, her voice is calm again. “I can.”
“Good.” The boss’s voice goes gentle, gentle. A voice you would hear and immediately trust. “Look back to the stalls. Imagine that each one represents a day in your life. A memory in your mind. The stalls nearest to you are your earliest days. The very last one is this moment, right now. Let’s walk to June seventeenth of this year, Josie. Walk with me.”
Josie’s breath evens; her chin bobs down to her neck. She’s still awake, barely. But nothing can reach her now. Nothing except the sound of that voice.
I try not to move. I don’t know how easily the trance breaks, have never wanted to push it. I’ve never been where Josie is, after all: sitting in the pale circle of light, my mind laid bare and unprotected.
(And I never will. It’s yet another Harlow rule, one of the first. The boss’s services are not for us. And they never can be.)
“All right.” I still can’t quite see the boss. I just faintly see the dark of her outline expanding. “All right, Josie. That stall that represents June seventeenth of this year—picture it shrinking at your feet. Small enough to cup in your hands. Reach out and pick it up. Are you holding it?”
Josie hums. She’s beyond words now. After all these sessions, she goes deep fast.
“Good,” the boss says. “Hold it out to me.”
Josie shivers. Then slowly, she lifts both arms, palms up like an offering. Her hands are empty. Or they look empty, if you didn’t know better.
“You offer it to me freely?” The words are calm and even. But the boss pitches her voice up and out so that I can hear it clearly. It’s for my benefit, after all.
Josie hums, long and low.
Slowly, the light of Josie’s lantern shrinks around her. It flickers, hitching like breaths. Josie’s fingers curl in a little as her hands are swallowed into the dark. But the set of her shoulders is relaxed. Peaceful.
The click of the boss’s claws against the rock floor stops. And I hear the smallest sigh. I hear the hunger in it.
There is a creature hidden in the caves of Whistler Beach, held to the salt and sand by a spell and a deal struck on a stormy sea over two hundred years ago. She has no name that she’s given us. My great-grandfather called her “the boss.” Grandma always called her “our co‑worker.” But the people of Whistler Beach—and the clients who seek out our services—they have a different name for her.
The little lantern flickers out. And just as I have for more than half my life, I listen to the Memory Eater take her first meal of the day.