THE COLD INSIDE teaser chapter

Monday November 7, 1994

Nestled within a wooded campus located on the outskirts of Albany, New York was the Blessed Heart Academy. The Academy had begun its life almost a hundred and fifty years ago as a convent. In the nineteen-thirties it had evolved into a Catholic School and then it evolved again in the nineteen-sixties into a non-denominational Christian-leaning private school. The architecture of the institution reflected these changes. The chapel and the administration buildings were lofty, imposing and gothic. The wing that held the kindergarten through eighth grade students was a squat, brick edifice built in the early days of the second world war, the wing for the high school students was a sterile-looking complex of concrete and glass. All the buildings were connected by a series of marble walkways that had been added in the eighties.

Originally the teaching staff had been priests and nuns, but as time passed, they were replaced by a mostly secular personnel.

At eight o’clock, Blessed Heart’s fleet of tiny yellow buses began to arrive, leaving uniformed boys and girls from ages seven to nineteen to mill around the school’s main entrance. A pair of elderly nuns watched them from a window high up in the main building. A handful of aging nuns still lived there, their population dwindling by the year.

Most students didn’t linger in the chilly November morning, as soon as they were dropped off they made their way inside. Most went to their lockers; others went to their homerooms. In spite of the frosty morning the Magnificent Seven stayed outside until the five-minute warning bell had rung. It was safer that way.

“You missed a great D&D session man.”

Tristam shrugged, “It was my weekend to be with my Dad.”

“You chose your Dad over the final showdown with Ken-Zarr the Lich?” Gregory Fletcher shook his head with mock disbelief. He was thin and tall with sandy blonde hair, he was constantly fiddling with his glasses, adjusting and readjusting them. His friends called him Greg, the other kids called him Graveyard.

“I’m crazy that way.”

“Can I call you ugly instead?” Warren Talbot was about 80 pounds overweight and hung on to his grudges for dear life. “How about insipid? Moronic? A slack-jawed troglodyte?”

Tristam shook his head. “What did you eat a thesaurus for breakfast?”

Greg shook his head, “And so it begins…”

“Isn’t it a little early in the week for this?” Adelphos Chavez groaned. He was dusky-skinned and wiry. A dime-sized scar neatly bisected his left eyebrow. “Let’s just get back to the game, I want you to hear how I beat that Lich bastard down with his own staff.”

Greg smiled at the memory “Oh yeah that was cool. It was critical hit city, see he-”

Warren and Tristam however were just starting to pick up steam. Warren crossed his arms, “Look, just because your love life is on permanent hold.”

“Look who’s talking. You know it doesn’t count as your girlfriend if you have to inflate it with a bicycle pump.”

“I have a girlfriend you half-wit.”

Tristam snorted “Then why don’t you have any pictures to show us? You must know someone with a camera that has a wide angle lens.”

“Killed any small animals lately?”

“Eaten any large ones?”

“It is like they are in love.” Yusuf commented. With his similar skin tone and early beard he might have passed for Adelphos’ brother but his thick accent revealed his middle-eastern heritage. That was enough to make him an outcast at Blessed Heart, the recent Gulf War had only made things worse.

“Yeah right.” Adelphos laughed, “They should get a room. Consummate the relationship.”

“What is ‘consommé’?”

Greg let out a tiny scream, “Curse you for putting that image in my head! Curse you!”

Warren spoke through gritted teeth, “She’s real, she just lives in Utica.”

“Oh please.” Tristam laughed.

“So what we have here…” Drew Griffin said, “…is two of the least popular students in the school arguing about which one is the bigger loser.” Drew wore loose clothes and had frizzy blonde hair. A purple birthmark the size of a fist covered most of her right cheek. Most of the time she kept her head down and let her hair fall across her features.

“I’d have thought there would be a kind of camaraderie at the bottom of the barrel.” Rich Head sighed. Plain-looking and pale complexioned, of all the Magnificent Seven he might have eluded the derision of his peers if not for his unfortunate last name and his obsession with the works of Michael Moorcock.

Drew frowned “That only happens on TV. Welcome to Hell.”

“I think you are wrong.” Yusuf said, “I do not think that Hell would charge such high tuition costs.”

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