UnSouled by Neal Shusterman

Book: UnSouled by Neal Shusterman Read Free Book Online
Authors: Neal Shusterman
office, on sudden impulse he punches the display case and the glass shatters. Then he stands there feeling stupid for what he’s done. The medallion lies amid the shards, knocked off its base. He rescues it, shoving it into his jacket pocket.
    •   •   •
    As he pulls up his driveway, he sees that the pickup is gone. Sonia is at it again. Garage sales and flea markets, which means it must be Saturday. Janson has lost track of the days. Sonia drowns her disillusionment by hunting for knickknacks and old furniture that they don’t need. She hasn’t been to her own research offices for weeks. It’s as if she’s given up on medical science completely and has retired at forty-one.
    The front door is unlocked—careless of her to leave it that way. But a moment later, as he crosses from the foyer into the living room, he learns in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t her doing. He’s hit in the head with one of his wife’s heavier knickknacks and falls to the ground. Dazed, but still conscious, he looks up to see the face of his attacker.
    It’s just a kid of maybe sixteen. One of the “ferals” the news and neighbors keep complaining about. The lawless, vicious by-product of modern civilization. He’s gangly and malnourished, with an anger in his eyes that was only partially relieved by smashing a stranger in the head.
    “Where’s the money?” he demands. “Where’s the safe?”
    Even in pain, Janson can almost laugh. “There is no safe.”
    “Don’t lie to me! A house like this always has a safe!”
    He marvels at how the boy can be so dangerous and so naive at once. But then again, ignorance and blind cruelty have been known to go hand in hand. On a dark whim, Rheinschild reaches into his coat pocket and tosses the kid his medal.
    “Take it. It’s gold,” he says. “I have no use for it anymore.”
    The kid catches the medal in a hand that’s missing two fingers. “You’re lying. This ain’t gold.”
    “Fine,” says Rheinschild. “So kill me.”
    The kid turns the medallion over in his hands a few times. “The Nobel Prize? I don’t think so. It’s fake.”
    “Fine,” says Rheinschild again. “So kill me.”
    “Shut up! I didn’t say anything about killing you, did I?” The teen hefts it, feeling its weight. Rheinschild pulls himself up to a sitting position, still feeling his head spin from the blow. He may have a concussion. He doesn’t care.
    The kid then looks around the living room, which is filled with awards and citations that Janson and Sonia received for their groundbreaking work. “If this is real, whad’ya win it for?”
    “We invented unwinding,” Rheinschild says. “Although we didn’t know it at the time.”
    The kid lets loose a bitter, disbelieving guffaw. “Yeah, right.”
    The young burglar could leave with his prize, but he doesn’t. Instead he lingers. So Rheinschild asks, “What happened to your fingers?”
    The kid’s distrustful gaze notches toward anger again. “Why is that your business?”
    “Was it frostbite?”
    His attacker is taken aback, surprised by Rheinschild’s guess. “Yeah, it was. Most people think it was fireworks or something stupid like that. But it was frostbite last winter.”
    Rheinschild pulls himself up into a chair.
    “Who said you could move?” But they both know the kid’s posturing is now all for show.
    Rheinschild takes a good look at him. It appears he hasn’t been introduced to a shower in this lifetime. Rheinschild can’t even tell the color of his hair. “What is it that you need?” Rheinschild asks him.
    “Your money,” he says, looking down his nose at him.
    “I didn’t ask you what you want. I asked you what you need.”
    “Your money!” he says again, a little more forcefully. Then he adds a bit more gently: “And food. And clothes. And a job.”
    “What if I gave you one of the three?”
    “What if I bashed your head in a little deeper than I already did?”
    Rheinschild reaches into his

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