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Authors: Margaret Peterson Haddix

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Among the Imposters

BOOK: Among the Imposters
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Among The Impostors

02 The Shadow Children Series

Margaret Peterson Haddix




Sometimes he whispered his real name in the dark, in the middle of the night.


“Luke. My name is Luke.”

He was sure no one could hear. His roommates were all asleep, and even if they weren’t, there was no way the sound of his name could travel even the short distance to the bed above or beside him. He was fairly certain there were no bugs on him or in his room. He’d looked. But even if he’d missed seeing a microphone hidden in a mattress button or carved into the headboard, how could a microphone pick up a whisper he could barely hear himself?

He was safe now. Lying in bed, wide awake while everyone else slept, he reassured himself of that fact constantly. But his heart pounded and his face went clammy with fear every time he rounded his lips for that “u” sound—instead of the fake smile of the double ~ in Lee, the name he had to force himself to answer to now.

It was better to forget, to never speak his real name again.

But he’d lost everything else. Even just mouthing his


name was a comfort. It seemed like his only link now to his past, to his parents, his brothers.


To Jen.



By day, he kept his mouth shut.

He couldn’t help it.

That first day, walking up the stairs of the Hendricks School for Boys with Jen’s father, Luke had felt his jaw clench tighter and tighter the closer he got to the front door.

“Oh, don’t look like that,” Mr. Talbot had said, pretending to be jolly. “It’s not reform school or anything.”

The word stuck in Luke’s brain. Reform. Re-form. Yes, they were going to re-form him. They were going to take a Luke and make him a Lee.

It was safe to be Lee. It wasn’t safe to be Luke.

Jen’s father stood with his hand on the ornate doorknob, waiting for a reply. But Luke couldn’t have said a word if his life depended on it.

Jen’s father hesitated, then pulled on the heavy door. They walked down a long hallway. The ceiling was so far away, Luke thought he could have stood his entire family on his shoulders—one on top of the other, Dad and Mother and Matthew and Mark—and the highest one still would barely touch. The walls were lined, floor to ceiling, with old paintings of people in costumes Luke had never seen outside of books.

Of course, there was very little he’d ever seen outside of books.

He tried not to stare, because if he really were Lee, surely everything would look familiar and ordinary. But that was hard to remember. They passed a classroom where dozens of boys sat in orderly rows, everyone facing away from the door. Luke gawked for so long that he practically began walking backwards. He’d known there were a lot of people in the world, but he’d never been able to imagine so many all in one place at the same time. Were any of them shadow children with fake identities, like Luke?

Jen’s father clapped a hand on his shoulder, turning him around.

“Ah, here’s the headmaster’s office,” Mr. Talbot said heartily. “Just what we were looking for.”

Luke nodded, still mute, and followed him through a tall doorway.

A woman sitting behind a mammoth wood desk turned their way She took one look at Luke and asked, “New boy?”

“Lee Grant,” Jen’s father said. “I spoke with the master about him last night.”

“It’s the middle of the semester, you know,” she said warningly. “Unless he’s very well prepared, he shan’t catch up, and might have to repeat

“That won’t be a problem,” Mr. Talbot assured her. Luke was glad he didn’t have to speak for himself. He knew he wasn’t well prepared. He wasn’t prepared for anything.

The woman was already reaching for files and papers.

“His parents faxed in his medical information and his


insurance standing and his academic records last night,” she said. “But someone needs to sign these—”


Jen’s father took the stack of papers as if he autographed other people’s documents all the time.

Probably he did.

Luke watched Mr. Talbot flip through the papers, scrawling his name here, crossing out a word or a phrase or a whole paragraph there. Luke was sure Jen’s father was going too fast to actually read any of it.

And that was when the homesickness hit Luke for the first time. He could just picture his own father peering cautiously at important papers, reading them over and over before he even picked up a pen. Luke could see his father’s rheumy eyes squinted in concentration, his brow furrowed with anxiety.

He was always so afraid of being tricked.

Maybe Jen’s father didn’t care.

Luke had to swallow hard then. He made a gulping noise, and the woman looked at him. Luke couldn’t read her expression. Curiosity? Contempt? Indifference?

He didn’t think it was sympathy.

Jen’s father finished then, handing the papers back to the woman with a flourish.

“I’ll call a boy to show you your room,” the woman said to Luke.

Luke nodded. The woman leaned over a box on her desk and said, “Mr. Dirk, could you send Rolly Sturgeon to the office?”

Luke heard a roar along with the man’s reply, “Yes, Ms. Hawkins,” as if all the boys in the school were laughing and cheering and hissing at once. Luke felt his legs go weak with fear. When this Rolly Sturgeon showed up, Luke wasn’t sure he’d be able to walk.

“Well, I’ll be off,” Jen’s father said. “Duty calls.”

He stuck out his hand and after a moment Luke realized he was supposed to shake it. But he’d never shaken hands with anyone before, so he put out the wrong hand first Jen’s father frowned, moving his head violently side to side, and glaring pointedly at the woman behind the desk. Fortunately, she wasn’t watching. Luke recovered. He clumsily touched his hand to Jen’s father’s.

“Good luck,” Jen’s father said, bringing his other hand up to Luke’s, too.

Only when Mr. Talbot had pulled both hands away did Luke realize he’d placed a tiny scrap of paper between Luke’s fingers. Luke held it there until the woman turned her back Then he slid it into his pocket.

Jen’s father smiled.

“Keep those grades up,” he said. ‘And no running away this time, you hear?”

Luke gulped again, and nodded. And then Jen’s father left without a backward glance.




Luke wanted to read the note from Mr. Talbot right away. He was sure it would tell him everything— everything he needed to know to survive Hendricks School for Boys. No—to survive anything that might come his way in this new life, outside hiding.


It was just one thin scrap of paper. Now that it was in his pocket, Luke couldn’t even feel it there. But he had faith. Jen’s father had hidden Luke from the Population Police, double-crossing his own employer. He’d gotten Luke his fake I.D., so he could move about as freely as anyone else, anyone who wasn’t an illegal third child. Jen’s father had risked his career helping Luke. No, it was more than that—he’d risked his life. Surely Mr. Talbot would have written something incredibly wise.


Luke slid his hand into his pocket, his fingertips touching the top of the note. Ms. Hawkins was looking away. Maybe— The door opened behind Luke. Luke jerked his hand out


of his pocket.


“Scared you, didn’t I?” a boy jeered. “Made you jump.”

Luke was used to being teased. He had older brothers,


after all. But Matthew and Mark’s teasing never sounded quite so mean. Still, Luke knew he had to answer.


“Sure. I’m jumpy like a cat,” Luke started to say. It was an expression of his mother’s. Being cat-jumpy was good. Like being quick on his feet.

Just in time, Luke remembered he couldn’t mention cats. Cats were illegal, too, outlawed because they might take food that was supposed to go to starving humans. Back home, Luke had seen wild cats a few times, stalking the countryside. Dad had liked having them around because they ate rats and mice that might eat his grain. But if Luke were really Lee Grant, filthy-rich city boy, he wouldn’t know a thing about cats, jumpy or otherwise.

He clamped his mouth shut, closing off his ‘Sure— in a wimpy hiss. He kept his head down, too scared to look the other boy right in the eye.

The boy laughed, cruelly. He looked past Luke, to Ms. Hawkins.

‘What’s wrong with him?” the boy asked, as if Luke weren’t even there. “Can’t talk or something?”

Luke wanted Ms. Hawkins to stick up for him, to say, ‘He’s just new. Don’t you remember what that’s like?” But she wasn’t even paying attention. She frowned at the boy.

“Rolly, take him to room one fifty-six. There’s an empty bed in there. Just put his suitcase down. Don’t waste time unpacking. Then take him back to Mr. Dirk’s history class with you. He’s already behind. Lord knows what his parents were thinking.”


Rolly shrugged and turned around.

“I did not dismiss you!” Ms. Hawkins shrieked.

“May I be dismissed?” Rolly asked mockingly.


“That’s better,” Ms. Hawkins said. “Now, get. Go on with you.

Luke picked up his suitcase and followed, hoping Rolly’s request for dismissal would work for both of them. Either it did, or Ms. Hawkins didn’t care.

In the hallway, Rolly took big steps. He was a good head taller than Luke, and had longer legs. It was all Luke could do to keep up, what with the suitcase banging against his ankles.

Rolly looked back over his shoulder, and started walking faster. He raced up a long stairway By the time Luke reached the top, Rolly was nowhere in sight.


Rally leaped out from behind the newel post. Luke jumped so high, he lost his balance and teetered on the edge of the stairs. Rally reached out, and Luke thought,
See, he’s not so bad. He’s going to catch me.
But Rally pushed instead. Luke fell backwards. He might have :umbled down all the stairs, except that Rally’s push was crooked, and Luke landed on the railing. Pain shot hrough his back.

Rally laughed.

“Got you good, didn’t I?” he said.


Then, strangely, he grabbed Luke’s bag and took off own the hall.


Luke was afraid he was stealing it. He galloped after Rally.

Rolly screamed with laughter, maniacally.

This was not what Luke had expected.

Rally dodged around a corner and Luke followed him. Rolly discovered a secret about Luke’s bag that Luke had missed—it was on wheels. So Rally could run at full-speed with the bag rolling behind him. He careened this way and that, the bag zigzagging from side to side. Luke got close enough to tackle it if he wanted, but he hesitated. If the bag had been full of his own clothes, all the hand-me-down jeans and flannel shirts he’d gotten after Matthew and Mark outgrew them, he would have leaped. But the bag held Baron clothes, stiff shirts and shiny pants that were supposed to make him look like Lee Grant, instead of Luke Garner. He couldn’t risk ruining them. He focused on Rally instead. Instinctively, Luke dove over the bag to catch Rally’s legs. It was like playing football. Rally fell to the ground with a crash.

“Just what is the meaning of this?” a man~s voice boomed above them.

Rally was instantly on his feet.

“He attacked me, sir,” Rally said. “I was showing the new boy his room and he attacked me.”

Luke opened his mouth to protest, but nothing came out He’d learned that from Matthew and Marlc Don’t tattle.

The man looked dismissively from Rally to Luke.

“What is your name, young man?”

Luke froze. He had to stop himself from saying his real name automatically. Then he had a split second of fearing he wouldn’t be able to remember the name he was supposed to use. Was he taking too long? The man’s glare intensified.

Lee Grant,” Luke finally stammered.

“Well, Mr. Grant,” the man snapped. “This is a fine way to begin your academic career at Hendricks. You and Mr. Sturgeon each have two demerits for this disgraceful display. You may report to my room after the final bell to do your time.”

“But, sir, I told you,” Rally protested. “He attacked me.”

“Very well, Mr. Sturgeon. Make that three demerits for each of you.”

“But—” Rally was undeterred.


Rolly was going to complain again. Luke could tell by the way he was standing. But the man turned away and began walking down the hall, as if Rally and Luke were both too unimportant to bother with, and he’d wasted enough time already.

Luke’s head swam with questions. What were demerits? When was final bell? Where was this man’s room? Who was he, anyway? Luke tried to muster up the nerve to call after the man—or to ask Rally, which seemed even more dangerous. But then he was blindsided with a shove that sent him crashing into the wall.

“Fonrol!” Rolly exploded.

Luke slumped against the wall. Hi~ shoulder throbbed. Why did Rolly seem to hate him so much?

“Well, come on, you little exnay,” Rally taunted. “Want to get demerits from Mr. Dirk, too?”

He stepped backwards, tugging on Luke’s suitcase. Then he shoved it through a nearby doorway. Luke looked up and saw 156 etched on a copper plaque on the door. Relief overwhelmed him. Finally something made sense. This was his room. The rest of the day would be horrible—he’d already resigned himself to that. But eventually it would be night, and he’d be sent to bed, and he could come to this room and shut the door. And then he could read the note from Jen’s dad, if he didn’t get a chance to read it before bedtime. Come nightfall, he’d know everything and be safe, alone in his own room.

Imagining the haven that awaited him in only a matter of hours, he got brave enough to peek around the corner.

The room held eight beds.

Seven of them were made up, with rich blue spreads stretched tautly from top to bottom. Only one, a lower bunk, was covered just by sheets.

Luke felt as desolate as that bed looked. He knew it was his. And he knew he wouldn’t get to be alone in this room.

He probably wouldn’t be safe, either, not if any of his seven roommates were anything like Rally

He edged his hand into his pocket, his fingers brushing the note from Jen’s dad. What if he just pulled it out and read it now, right in front of Rally?

BOOK: Among the Imposters
12.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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