Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Paper Towns - Chapter 25

The clock was always punishing, but feeling like I was closer to unraveling the knots made time seem
to stop entirely on Tuesday. We’d all decided to go to the minimall right after school, and the waiting was
unbearable. When the bell finally rang for the end of English, I raced downstairs and was almost out the
door when I realized we couldn’t leave until Ben and Radar finished band practice. I sat down outside
the band room and took a personal pizza wrapped in napkins from my backpack, where I’d had it since
lunch. I was through the first quarter when Lacey Pemberton sat down next to me. I offered her a piece.
She declined.
We talked about Margo, of course. The hole we had in common. “What I need to figure out,” I said,
rubbing pizza grease onto my jeans, “is a place. But I don’t even know if I’m close with the pseudovisions.
Sometimes I think we’re just entirely off track.”
“Yeah, I don’t know. Honestly, everything else aside, I like finding stuff out about her. I mean, that I
didn’t know before. I had no idea who she really was. I honestly never thought of her as anything but my
crazy beautiful friend who does all the crazy beautiful things.”
“Right, but she didn’t come up with these things on the fly,” I said. “I mean, all of her adventures had
a certain . . . I don’t know.”
“Elegance,” Lacey said. “She is the only person I know who’s not, like, grown up who has total elegance.”
“So it’s hard to imagine her in some gross unlit dusty room.”
“Yeah,” I said. “With rats.”
Lacey pulled her knees to her chest and assumed the fetal position. “Ick. That’s so not Margo.”
Somehow Lacey got shotgun, although she was the shortest of us. Ben was driving. I sighed quite loudly
as Radar, seated next to me, pulled out his handheld and started working on Omnictionary.
“Just deleting vandalism on the Chuck Norris page,” he said. “For instance, while I do think Chuck
Norris specializes in the roundhouse kick, I don’t think it’s accurate to say, ‘Chuck Norris’s tears can cure
cancer, but unfortunately he has never cried.’ Anyway, vandalism-deletion only takes like four percent of
my brain.”
I understood Radar was trying to make me laugh, but I only wanted to talk about one thing. “I’m not
convinced she’s in a pseudovision. Maybe that’s not even what she meant by ‘paper towns,’ you know?
There are so many place hints, but nothing specific.”
Radar looked up for a second and then back down at the screen. “Personally, I think she’s far away,
doing some ridiculous roadside attraction tour that she wrongly thinks she left enough clues to explain.
So I think she’s currently in, like, Omaha, Nebraska, visiting the world’s largest ball of stamps, or in Minnesota
checking out the world’s largest ball of twine.”
With a glance into the rearview mirror, Ben said, “So you think that Margo is on a national tour in
search of various World’s Largest Balls?” Radar nodded.
“Well,” Ben went on, “someone should just tell her to come on home, because she can find the
world’s largest balls right here in Orlando, Florida. They’re located in a special display case known as
‘my scrotum.’”
Radar laughed, and Ben continued. “I mean, seriously. My balls are so big that when you order
french fries from McDonald’s, you can choose one of four sizes: small, medium, large, and my balls.”
Lacey cut her eyes at Ben and said, “Not. Appropriate.”
“Sorry,” Ben mumbled. “I think she’s in Orlando,” he said. “Watching us look. And watching her
parents not look.”
“I’m still for New York,” Lacey said.
“All still possible,” I said. A Margo for each of us—and each more mirror than window.
The minimall looked as it had a couple days before. Ben parked, and I took them through the push-open
door to the office. Once everyone was inside, I said softly, “Don’t turn on the flashlight yet. Give your
eyes a chance to adjust.” I felt fingernails dig at my forearm. I whispered, “It’s okay, Lace.”
“Whoops,” she said. “Wrong arm.” She’d been searching, I realized, for Ben.
Slowly, the room came into a hazy gray focus. I could see the desks lined up, still waiting for workers.
I turned on my flashlight, and then everyone else turned theirs on as well. Ben and Lacey stayed
together, walking toward the Troll Hole to explore the other rooms. Radar walked with me to Margo’s
desk. He knelt down to look closely at the paper calendar frozen on June.
I was leaning in next to him when I heard fast footsteps coming toward us.
“People,” Ben whispered urgently. He ducked down behind Margo’s desk, pulling Lacey with him.
“What? Where?”
“Next room!” he said. “Wearing masks. Official-looking. Gotta go.”
Radar shone his flashlight in the direction of the Troll Hole but Ben knocked it down forcefully.
“We. Have. To. Get. Out. Of. Here.” Lacey was looking up at me, big-eyed and probably a little bit
pissed off that I’d falsely promised her safety.
“Okay,” I whispered. “Okay, everybody out, through the door. Very cool, very quick.” I had just
started to walk when I heard a booming voice shout, “WHO GOES THERE!”
Shit. “Um,” I said, “we’re just visiting.” What an outlandishly lame thing to say. Through the Troll
Hole, a white light blinded me. It might have been God Himself.
“What are your intentions?” The voice had a slight faked Britishness to it.
I watched Ben stand up next to me. It felt good not to be alone. “We’re here investigating a disappearance,”
he said with great confidence. “We weren’t going to break anything.” The light snapped off,
and I blinked away the blindness until I saw three figures, each wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and a mask
with two circular filters. One of them pulled the mask up to his forehead and looked at us. I recognized
the goatee and flat, wide mouth.
“Gus?” asked Lacey. She stood up. The SunTrust security guard.
“Lacey Pemberton. Jesus. What are you doing here? With no mask? This place has a ton of asbestos.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Exploring,” he said. Somehow Ben was emboldened with enough confidence to walk up to the other
guys and offer handshakes. They introduced themselves as Ace and the Carpenter. I would venture to
guess that these were pseudonyms.
We pulled around some rolling desk chairs and sat in an approximate circle. “Did you guys break the
particleboard?” Gus asked.
“Well, I did,” Ben explained.
“We taped that up because we didn’t want anyone else in. If people can see a way in from the road,
you get a lot of people coming in who don’t know shit about exploring. Bums and crack addicts and
I stepped forward toward them and said, “So, you, uh, knew that Margo came here?”
Before Gus answered, Ace spoke through the mask. His voice was slightly modulated but easy to
understand. “Man, Margo was here all the damned time. We only come here a few times a year; it’s got
asbestos, and anyway, it’s not even that good. But we probably saw her, like, what, like more than half
the time we came here in the last couple years. She was hot, huh?”
“Was?” asked Lacey pointedly.
“She ran away, right?”
“What do you know about that?” Lacey asked.
“Nothing, Jesus. I saw Margo with him,” Gus said, nodding toward me, “a couple weeks ago. And
then I heard that she ran away. It occurred to me a few days later she might be here, so we visited.”
“I never got why she liked this place so much. There’s not much here,” said the Carpenter. “It’s not
great exploring.”
“What do you mean exploring?” Lacey asked Gus.
“Urban exploring. We enter abandoned buildings, explore them, photograph them. We take nothing;
we leave nothing. We’re just observers.”
“It’s a hobby,” said Ace. “Gus used to let Margo tag along on exploring trips when we were still in
“She had a great eye, even though she was only, like, thirteen,” Gus said. “She could figure a way
into anywhere. It was just occasional back then, but now we go out like three times a week. There’s
places all over. There’s an abandoned mental hospital over in Clearwater. It’s amazing. You can see
where they strapped down the crazies and gave them electroshock. And there’s an old jail out west of
here. But she wasn’t really into it. She liked to break into the places, but then she just wanted to stay.”
“Yeah, God that was annoying,” added Ace.
The Carpenter said, “She wouldn’t even, like, take pictures. Or run around and find stuff. She just
wanted to go inside and, like, sit. Remember, she had that black notebook? And she would just sit in the
corner and write, like she was in her house, doing homework or something.”
“Honestly,” Gus said, “she never really got what it’s all about. The adventure. She seemed pretty
depressed, actually.”
I wanted to let them keep talking, because I figured everything they said would help me imagine
Margo. But all of a sudden, Lacey stood up and kicked her chair behind her. “And you never thought to
ask her about how she was pretty depressed actually? Or why she hung out in these sketch-ass places?
That never bothered you?” She was standing above him now, shouting, and he stood up, too, half a foot
taller than her, and then the Carpenter said, “Jesus, somebody calm that bitch down.”
“Oh no you didn’t!” Ben yelled, and before I even knew what was going on, Ben tackled the Carpenter,
who fell awkwardly out of his chair onto his shoulder. Ben straddled the guy and started pounding
on him, furiously and awkwardly smacking and punching his mask, shouting, “SHE’S NOT THE
BITCH, YOU ARE!” I scrambled up and grabbed one of Ben’s arms as Radar grabbed the other. We
pulled him away, but he was still shouting, “I have a lot of anger right now! I was enjoying punching
the guy! I want to go back to punching him!”
“Ben,” I said, trying to sound calm, trying to sound like my mom. “Ben, it’s okay. You made your
Gus and Ace picked up the Carpenter, and Gus said, “Jesus Christ, we’re getting out of here, okay?
It’s all yours.”
Ace picked up their camera equipment, and they hustled out the back door. Lacey started to explain
to me how she knew him, saying, “He was a senior when we were fr—.” But I waved it off. None of it
mattered anyway.
Radar knew what mattered. He returned immediately to the calendar, his eyes an inch away from the
paper. “I don’t think anything was written on the May page,” he says. “The paper is pretty thin and I
can’t see any marks. But it’s impossible to say for sure.” He went off to search for more clues, and I
saw Lacey’s and Ben’s flashlights dipping as they went through a Troll Hole, but I just stood there in
the office, imagining her. I thought of her following these guys, four years older than her, into abandoned
buildings. That was Margo as I’d seen her. But then, inside the buildings, she is not the Margo
I’d always imagined. While everyone else walks off to explore and take pictures and bounce around the
walls, Margo sits on the floor, writing something.
From next door, Ben shouted, “Q! We got something!”
I wiped sweat from my face with both sleeves and used Margo’s desk to pull myself up. I walked
across the room, ducked through the Troll Hole, and headed toward the three flashlights scanning the
wall above the rolled-up carpet.
“Look,” Ben said, using the beam to draw a square on the wall. “You know those little holes you
“They had to have been mementos tacked up there. Postcards or pictures, we think, from the spacing
of the holes. Which maybe she took with her,” Ben said.
“Yeah, maybe,” I said. “I wish we could find that notebook Gus was talking about.”
“Yeah, when he said that, I remembered that notebook,” Lacey said, the beam of my flashlight lighting
up only her legs. “She had one with her all the time. I never saw her write in it, but I just figured it
was like a day planner or whatever. God, I never asked about it. I get pissed at Gus, who wasn’t even
her friend. But what did I ever ask her?”
“She wouldn’t have answered anyway,” I said. It was dishonest to act like Margo hadn’t participated
in her own obfuscation.
We walked around for another hour, and just when I felt sure the trip had been a waste, my flashlight
happened over the subdivision brochures that had been built into a house of cards when we first came
here. One of the brochures was for Grovepoint Acres. My breath caught as I spread out the other brochures.
I jogged to my backpack by the door and came back with a pen and a notebook and wrote down
the names of all the advertised subdivisions. I recognized one immediately: Collier Farms—one of the
two pseudovisions on my list I hadn’t yet visited. I finished copying the subdivision names and returned
my notebook to my backpack. Call me selfish, but if I found her, I wanted it to be alone.


Post a Comment