SOUL EATER: Chapter 1
Soul Eater (Kat Dubois Chronicles, #4)
Release Date: 9/14/2017
I stand in a locker-lined hallway, teenagers streaming past me on both sides. Shoe soles squeak on the polished floor. Someone slams a locker shut off to my left.
“Go long!” a guy shouts from farther up the hall just moments before he chucks a football over the heads of the students.
I stumble to the side as another guy bulldozes through the crowd, pushing kids out of the way in an attempt to chase down the ball.
In a wave, students duck. Girls squeal and giggle. Boys shout.
“Blake!” a woman says, voice raised but not yelling. Teacher voice, all the way. “My room. Now.”
I can just see the woman between the breaks in the crowd. She’s young for a teacher, maybe in her mid- to late-twenties, and pretty, in a wholesome, all-American way. She’s standing in the mouth of an off-shooting hallway, fists on her hips and expression stern. In her boots, jeans, and oversized sweater, I can almost mistake her for a student, but her confident, self-assurance gives her age away. She’s comfortable with herself in a way that no high school kid ever is.
The boy who threw the ball flashes the teacher a cheeky grin. He’s big for a high school kid—broad-shouldered and tall. I figure him for a senior, or at least an upperclassman. “Did you see that dime, Ms. C.?”
The teacher narrows her eyes. “Oh, I saw it, Blake.” She turns to the side and points down that other hallway. “Now, get your butt into my classroom. You can eat your lunch in there today.”
Blake’s shoulders slump. “But Ms. C. . . . I’m supposed to meet the guys at—” Blake proves that he’s smarter than he looks and stops talking when the teacher—Ms. C.—cocks her head to the side, eyebrows raised.
“Maybe you should’ve thought of the consequences before pulling that stunt,” she says.
“This is so unfair,” the boy grumbles. He weaves around the other students, feet dragging as he makes his way toward Ms. C.
“You know we’re trying to keep things calmer around here,” she says to him as he approaches. The two fall into step beside one another, walking away down the other hallway and moving out of sight. “The other students look up to you,” I hear her say. “At least try to set a good example.”
“Yeah . . . OK.”
They’re both quiet for a moment, and I wonder if they’ve moved behind a closed door and out of range of even my sensitive hearing. But finally, Blake speaks, his voice barely above a whisper. “Do you think it’s really ghosts?”
“I don’t know,” the teacher says. “I never really considered myself a believer—of anything—but who knows. If Nejerets—immortals—are real, who’s to say ghosts aren’t, too?”
“Everyone’s scared,” Blake says.
“I know.” Ms. C. is quiet for a moment, then asks, “Are you?” For long seconds, neither of them speaks. The boy must’ve nodded, because the teacher eventually says, “Me too.”
“What are you doing?” a girl asks. She’s standing directly in front of me, which makes me think she must be talking to me. There’s something familiar about her, but I can’t quite place her. “We’re going to be tardy,” she says, linking her arm with mine. “Come on.” She pulls me into motion, dragging me to class.
A bell rings over the loudspeakers.
I woke with a groan and rolled onto my back. The gazillion-thread-count sheets, damp with sweat caused by the nightmarish dream, were tangled around my legs. High school. Ugh.
I brushed back the strands of hair stuck to my face, then let my hand flop down onto the pillow and stared up at the ceiling. This was the fourth night in a row that I’d dreamt of walking those locker-lined halls. The dream was never the same, but the school itself was.
Strangely, I wasn’t even dreaming of my old high school in Seattle, but that fact hadn’t stopped my mind from recreating this dream school over and over again. I’d only ever had one recurring dream before: of the day my mom was murdered. So why was I having one now, and why the hell was it centered around some random, made-up high school?
I’d left high school behind two decades ago, and I hadn’t exactly had a wonderful time there. The only kids I’d really fit in with were the outcasts—the freaks and geeks. That was the price of having a mom who owned a magic shop. Apparently, according to my subconscious, I had some unresolved issues revolving around adolescence and my incomplete high school career. Me—unresolved issues. Shocker, I know.
With another groan, I sat up, arching my neck from side to side. The base of my skull ached with the promise of yet another headache. That would make three days straight, and this one threatened to be the worst yet. I glanced to the left, finding the bottle of whiskey sitting beside my sword, Mercy, atop the dresser, and wondered if the booze was to blame. The bottle was at least three quarters full. I’d cracked it open the previous night, but I’d been nursing it for hours—hardly enough of that friendly poison to leave a Nejeret with anything close to a hangover.
I rubbed my eyes. Maybe it was the dream. High school had been stressful enough when I was a kid; it seemed unbelievably unfair that it was now giving me headaches as an adult.
Or, maybe it had nothing to do with that. Maybe the headache was a residual aftereffect from dying. I’d been trying really hard not to think about the fifteen minutes I’d spent as a corpse. Or about the conversation I’d had with Isfet, the imprisoned consciousness of the universe, in Duat during that time. And I’d definitely been avoiding thinking about the promise I’d made her—mainly because thinking about devising a way to break her out of Aaru was about as useful as banging my head against a wall. Actually, banging my head against a wall would actually accomplish something—a nice, solid dent in the drywall—which was more than I could say about any attempts I’d made at planning Isfet’s prison break.
Yeah, I had a feeling that particular conundrum was directly responsible for the headache. How could it not be?
Rubbing the back of my neck in an attempt to ease the tension tightening those muscles, I arched my back, then scooted to the edge of the bed. I opened my mouth, popping my jaw, but the ache in the base of my skull persisted, spreading higher to throb behind my eyeballs.
I sighed heavily and stood, dragging my feet to the bathroom. A long, hot shower—that should do the trick. Besides, it wasn’t like I had anything better to do, not when setting foot outside of the Heru compound was likely to result in me getting mobbed by human admirers. Or assassinated by anti-Nejeret fanatics. Or abducted by the Senate.
So, basically, I was stuck here. Just me, my headache, my memories of the hereafter, and my longing for the life of inconsequence I’d left behind. Swell.