Read an Excerpt
The Last Days of Salton Academy
By Jennifer Brozek
Ragnarok PublicationsCopyright © 2016 Jennifer Brozek
All rights reserved.
Jeff had no more doubts; someone was stealing food from the pantry. He ran over his checklist, his flashlight alternating between his mouth and his hand. Yesterday there had been fifteen cases of crackers. Today there was only fourteen. None of yesterday's meals had crackers in them. He would know. Ever since the Outbreak and the world had gone to hell, he had taken charge of the food supplies and taken on the role of cook.
He felt the tightness of fear in his chest, making it hard for him to breathe, making it feel like he was about to have an asthma attack. But he refused to let his mind go to that place again, to wonder what it had been like for her. No. No one would starve on his watch. Not now. Not ever again. He pushed the fear away with anger.
"'The Salton Academy prides itself on the well-rounded individual. Every student will know how to cook and clean as well as be educated to Salton's high standards.'" Jeff's voice rasped with sarcasm as he quoted from one of the school's many prep books. "Well, apparently, 'well-rounded' also means thievery."
As he added the case of missing crackers to his list of stolen food, Jeff decided it was time to talk to Principal Swenson about matters. At this rate the school would be out of food in the worst part of winter. There wouldn't be enough to feed the twenty-six people ensconced in the prep school turned safe haven in the apocalypse.
He closed the walk-in pantry door with a grimace. Why could no one ever look farther than next week? Didn't they understand the danger of tomorrow?
* * *
Shin Yoshida walked his normal patrol route since the Outbreak happened. First he walked the perimeter, peering through the lookout holes he had established in the academy's tall stone wall. He stopped and watched, looking for any sign of movement that might be trouble on its way. It was a lovely walk that ate away at the endless days and gave him something to do. He would still protect his charges. While on patrol he continued to wear his guard uniform. It was partly habit and partly functional. Though the primitive wash bucket cleaning in cold water was taking a toll on all of his clothing — uniforms included. Most of them sported carefully mended holes and repaired hems.
As Shin walked the perimeter closest to the campus proper, he looked inward and scanned the small academy, examining each building from the outside. Beyond the various garden sheds, there were seven main buildings. The four most important — the administration building, the Main Hall; the boys' dorm, Hadfield Hall; the girls' dorm, Bonny Hall; and the Commons — were set in a circle around the main quad. Set in the southwest of the campus, cattycorner between the Hadfield and Bonny Halls, was the non-denominational chapel. Privately, Shin believed the chapel was set there to remind the students that God was watching as they snuck into each others' rooms at night.
Set to the east, behind the Commons, was the Atherton Gymnasium for Excellence with its weight room, basketball court, and now defunct pool. It had been the highlight of entertainment during the quarter breaks. For three weeks at a time, four times a year, Shin had owned that building without fear of interrupting a student function. Set just south of the gym was the infirmary. Someone in their august wisdom had thought to put it next to the two places that caused the most injuries.
Once the perimeter patrol was done, each building would get its own patrol to make sure bored teenagers weren't destroying things for the hell of it. Shin varied the building order by whim. It kept the small set of students and faculty members on their collective toes. Secure though the Salton Academy was, no place in the world was 100% safe. Not since the Outbreak. This was his small way of reminding them of that.
Shin paused by the side of the Main Hall. He watched Professor Leeds exit the front door and head towards Bonny Hall. Shin did not like that man. Not at all. He glanced up at the third floor, seeking Sophia's room. He glimpsed movement but nothing more. Shin scowled and pondered the situation. He watched every single person on this campus. It was his job to protect them all. Even from themselves.
* * *
"Are you all right?"
Athena's question made his heart hurt as much as his body did. Forcing a smile, Evan nodded. "Yeah. Just tired. You know how it is."
She leaned back in his office chair. It wasn't standard issue for the Salton Academy but when your father ran the place you got special dispensation. In this case, Athena knew it was warranted. "Is it your medicine?"
Evan wouldn't look at her. He looked down at his hands, the fingers swelling with debilitating arthritis. He didn't like talking about his failings with his best friend and the one girl he could never have. "I'm getting by."
"How? It's been almost three months since ... you know."
He knew. "I've been taking a half-dose for a while now. To make it last longer."
She tilted her head. "Is that actually working?" She gave him a critical once over, really looking at him, his swelling hands, and the stiff way he held his body.
"Well enough. Methotrexate takes a long time to ramp up but once it's in your system it's there for a while. It's helped with ... everything." Evan continued look at his hands, the knuckles looking like they belonged in a man three times his age.
"You need to let your father know you're running out. It should be put on the list for the next supply run."
"It's a controlled substance. A medicine usually used for cancer patients. It's not like you can get it from the corner store these days. It always had to be ordered in advance."
Athena was quiet for a moment. "Still. It's about time we did a real pharmacy run. We're starting to get low on stuff."
Evan didn't answer that. The very idea of a supply run made his stomach hurt and his heart beat faster. The need to ask for a special request hurt even more.
* * *
Out of the window of her dorm room, Sophia saw Professor Leeds start to cross the quad from the main hall to the girls' dorm. Michael, he wanted her to call him when they were in private. She just couldn't do that. Ducking away from the window before he saw her Sophia thought about where she should hide today. She just didn't feel like being with him anymore. She hadn't figured out how to tell him and it was becoming a problem.
Sophia knew she would need to tell him and sooner rather than later. But, in the meantime, she would hide. It was easy enough to disappear in a building meant to house four hundred school girls and faculty. She would head up to her sanctuary in the attic. Work on making it even more secure in case of ... the worst. At this point, she wasn't sure what the 'worst' would be but when it hit she planned to have a secured shelter in place for her and her friends.
Michael looked up to Sophia's dorm room. She wasn't sitting in the window but that was all right. She was usually where he wanted her. Usually. Lately she'd been busy with projects for that Harridan, Hood, who managed the girl's dorm. But today he had an itch that really needed to be scratched. He was starting to get bored with the girl but lovely young ladies were in short supply these days.
He slipped inside Bonny Hall. The quiet of the dorm building made him feel more like a thief in the night rather than the man of authority he was. Michael smiled, feeling all the more wicked and randy. He took the stairs up to the third floor two at a time, suppressing his urge to whistle. Mrs. Kimberly Hood did not approve of such things as whistling.
Room 313. He knocked then tried the door when there was no answer. It was locked. He frowned. Anger rising at being immediately thwarted. He pulled his school key ring from a pocket and used the Bonny Hall master key he wasn't supposed to have to unlock and open Sophia's door.
As one of the upperclassmen, Sophia had her own room. Decorated in tasteful green tartan, the room was neat and clean. Even the bed was made. Only the bright pink metal water bottle on the desk told him that a teenager girl lived in the room. Michael scowled at the empty room. Then he noticed the condensation on the water bottle showing that it was half full. He walked over and picked it up, smearing the wetness that clung its metal sides. The fresh chill of the water surprised him. This had been refilled from the bottled well water kept in one of the cold basement rooms and not all that long ago. He gulped down the cold water, finished it, and slammed the metal container back to the desk.
Sophia had been here. Now she wasn't. Michael scowled more as he closed and locked Sophia's door. She must have seen him coming. As he stalked the hallways of Bonny Hall, looking for the girl, he contemplated what her absence meant.
* * *
"As you see, sir, with the missing food and my projected consumption rate of the food left in the Commons we won't have enough to last the winter." Jeff pointed at the handmade graph. "In fact, we'll run out in the worst part of winter. We've got to do another supply run now ... and put a lock on the pantry door."
Robert Swenson rubbed his face and looked at the earnest teenager. One of the youngest Eagle Scouts in the tri-cities area, Jeff was a miracle of preparation. Swenson simultaneously cursed and thanked Providence that the kid was one of the students had remained behind for the quarter break. He rarely saw the boy unless it was at meals or there was bad news.
"Any ideas on who is stealing the food?"
Jeff shook his head. "No. I'd have to start sleeping in there to know that. Or be in charge of all of the keys to the Commons."
Robert shook his head. Trusted or not, he couldn't allow a teenager to be the sole gatekeeper to the food. He looked at the list of stolen food again. Flats of canned goods and water. Cases of crackers, cereal, and cookies. All non-perishable food that could last a long time for one person. "I suppose you've got a list of what you believe we will need to survive the winter?"
"Yes, sir." Jeff couldn't keep the smile off his face. This was exactly what he wanted. The principal to depend on him. To see things his way. To understand the danger of an unplanned tomorrow. Jeff flipped the notebook page over and showed Robert the list. It included staples like rice, flour, and salt.
"No, sir. We've got that well pump in the Commons into the protect water table. It may have a mineral taste that we're not used to but it is safe and it's time we start using it. We have no idea when the running water will cease to run, or when it will become poisonous. One or both are likely and probably soon. I'll keep testing it but it's best to stick to the well for drinking water and the running water for everything else. Also, liquid is heavy. As it is, we're going to have to send four people on this run instead of three. The staples are needed. It's bland but it stretches a long way. And I can teach everyone how to cook bread over a fire. Fresh food will keep morale up. We can even make hard tack for the winter months. I know how."
The older man nodded. "All right. Set up a supply run draw." He sat back and looked at Jeff. He could tell the boy had more to say. "Anything else?"
"The dog —"
"No." Robert cut him off. "We've talked about this before. We're not going to do it again."
Jeff stood, taking his papers back. "It's a danger, sir."
"No. It's not. And we're not having this conversation again. Dismissed." Robert picked up the nearest folder and opened it. He looked down, not seeing the useless forms within as he waited for Jeff to leave.
"We will have to do something about it." Jeff's voice was soft as he walked to the principal's door. "Soon."
Once Jeff was gone, Robert sighed and muttered, "But not today." He knew Jeff was right about Evan's dog but he wasn't willing to do anything about it just yet. He had enough problems with his son. Killing the kid's dog wasn't going to be one of them.
* * *
Evan looked at the small round pills with despair and counted them again. Thirty. Just three doses. He counted out ten of the tiny two milligram pills, cupped them in his hand, and then dry swallowed the lot of them, relishing the bitter taste as the small pills stuck in his throat for a moment. That bitter taste meant a relief to the joint pain and swelling that came with his disease for the next week. At this point, the pills were boosting the medicine already in his system.
Twenty tiny pills.
He marked off the day on the calendar with a slash then gave it the small hash mark to remind him that he had taken one of his doses. With one week blending into another it was easy to forget whether or not he had taken a dose the week before or not. The rest of the pills he put back into the pill container he always kept on him and stuffed it in his pocket.
He sat there and thought about the pills in his pocket. He could cut them in half, taking half a dose weekly instead of all ten pills every other week. Evan wasn't sure which was more effective. Now that he told Athena about his need Nurse Krenshaw would know. He might as well talk to her to see what she thought.
It was nothing more than pure, dumb luck that he had received his medicine renewal in the mail the day before the Outbreak and everything went to hell. As soon as the Outbreak hit the news his father had locked down the Academy campus. No one in. No one out.
That didn't stop them from trying ... and dying.
Now, he was dying by inches. He knew it. His father knew it. That's why, even though they both lived in Hadfield Hall, he hadn't seen is father for more than a week. Not even at meals in the Commons. His father had taken to eating meals in his office.
The rage and fear suddenly overwhelmed him once more and he swept everything on his desk onto the floor with a crash and clatter that no one would respond to. They never did. He looked at the mess for a moment, swiping at his tears with angry swollen fists that left red marks on his cheeks.
This wasn't living. This was barely surviving.
Then his Salton Academy training took over again. There were weekly room inspections for the freshmen, bi-monthly inspections for the sophomores, and then random monthly inspections for the upperclassmen. Demerits sucked and equated to lower classmen chores. Evan hunkered down over the mess of papers, books, pens, pencils, and other detritus from his desk. He picked up his Salton Academy mug. It was chipped. Good. Fuck this damn school.
His urge to throw the mug melted away as Joe, one of his few friends, appeared in his doorway. The two upperclassmen looked at each other but didn't say anything. Joe gave Evan an understanding nod then hunkered down next to his friend to help him pick up the mess. Evan nodded back with grateful half-smile.
* * *
Michael paced all four floors of Bonny Hall. No one. Where the hell was that girl? Or any of the girls for that matter? At this point, Michael wanted to take his frustration out on anyone he could find. His mind roamed from Sophia to the other girls he knew about. Melissa? No ... besotted with Lee. Rose? A possibility but she seemed to be spending a lot of time with Shane. Toni? He smiled at the thought of his hands tangled in her dark hair. But no, he had seen Aaron and her making eyes at each other.
Seemed like the apocalypse, and the idea of a limited number of partners made the kids couple up faster than the idea of going to the Winter Formal alone. Michael frowned at that idea. Hell, the Harridan was looking good these days.
Then he remembered the water bottle in Sophia's room and the chill of the water. The basement. They had to be there. At least one of them. Kimberly had taken to giving the girls fortifying tasks to keep morale up. Michael picked up his pace and hoped that Sophia was in the basement. It was one place he hadn't had her yet. Too cold. But, the way he was feeling, a quickie would do.
Whistling as he came down the steps Michael wanted to make sure he was heard. If Sophia was down here, it would heighten her anticipation. If it was another girl, well, it wouldn't do to frighten her into thinking he wasn't human. These days, you couldn't be too sure.
"Hello?" Michael kept his voice light and listened.
"Hello. I'm in the root cellar."
The voice belonged to Rose. Michael nodded to himself. She was pretty enough. A bit on the wild side outside of the Academy with dyed red hair and a tongue piercing. Perhaps it was time to feel her out. See if she'd be interested in a man instead of the boy she'd been hanging out with. He grinned at the idea of the tongue piercing and wondered what else she had pierced.
Excerpted from The Last Days of Salton Academy by Jennifer Brozek. Copyright © 2016 Jennifer Brozek. Excerpted by permission of Ragnarok Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.