Authors: Frank L. Cole
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright Â© 2015 by Frank L. Cole
Cover art copyright Â© 2015 by Lisa Weber
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The Afterlife Academy / Frank L. Cole. â First edition.
Summary: A twelve-year-old boy and his Guardian Agent, sent from The Afterlife Academy on his first mission, must work together and save Earth from an eclectic horde of blundering enemies.
ISBN 978-0-385-74481-2 (hc) â ISBN 978-0-385-39147-4 (ebook) â ISBN 978-0-375-99186-8 (glb) [1. Future lifeâFiction. 2. DeadâFiction. 3. SchoolsâFiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.C673435Af 2015 [Fic]âdc23 2014028078
Cover design by Katrina Damkoehler
Random House Children's Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
FOR HEIDI, WHO LISTENS WHEN I READ AND STAYS AWAKE
alter Prairie was weeding his family's garden as punishment for punching the neighbor bully in the lip, when his world lit up with a bright white flash. It happened so suddenly, he barely had time to blink. He felt a warm breeze and heard the sound of soft music as his surroundings blurred, then disappeared.
When he opened his eyes, he looked down, expecting still to be holding the garden trowel. But it was gone. Then he noticed how pink and clean his skin looked. His nails glowed.
“What theâ” Walter yelped as he held his fingers close to his eyes, trying to focus. Someone was going to get slugged for painting his nails.
Walter glanced around and realized that he was in an office. It looked like a principal's office. What was he doing there?
Brightly lit hallways stretched endlessly from the room. He could see no less than a hundred closed doors along either side. Unless his school had recently gone through a remodel without him being aware of it, this wasn't the principal's office at Yorkshire Middle School. And what was with the strange harplike music playing in the background? Walter cocked his head to the side, listening to what sounded like the Tasty Nibs cat food commercial. He could almost see the weird disembodied cat head bouncing across the screen as he sang the jingle in his mind.
Tasty Nibs, Tasty Nibs. Keep your paws off, I got dibs. Mee-ow.
“Please state your name and age.” A voice snapped Walter out of his daze. A squirrelly-looking man with dark-rimmed glasses sat at a desk, where a tower of brown folders teetered almost to the ceiling.
Walter jiggled his pinky in his ear. “Huh?”
“Your name and age.” The man pulled a folder from the middle of the tower.
“Dude!” Flinching, Walter stuck out his hands to keep the folders from toppling. The tower swayed precariously from left to right, but no folders fell. Not even the ones from the tip-top. “My name's Walter,” he mumbled. “I'm twelve.”
The man snapped his fingers impatiently. “Your full name, Walter. Chop-chop. I need to make sure we have a match.”
“A match for what?” Walter asked. The man pressed the tips of his fingers together and flared his nostrils. “Okay, okay. I'm Walter Prairie. Who are you?”
am Alton Tremonton.” The man forced out the words without separating his teeth. “And you, Walter Prairie, areÂ dead.”
harlie Dewdle knelt on top of a massive dirt pile behind the condemned shopping mall on Victory Junction. He was a thin boy with pale, freckled skin and a shock of messy, bright redâalmost orangeâhair. Above him, wilted gray clouds gathered in the warm autumn sky. The weatherman had predicted rain yet again. It would be the third storm in six days. The quiet city of Gabbiter, Iowa, had never been so wet.
A bright green blip appeared on the screen of Charlie's electromagnetic field detector as he scanned the large hole he had just discovered. Charlie knew all about the ins and outs of EMF. He had read many books on the subject and had even taken an online class on how to use his detector to track ghosts.
Charlie pressed “record” on his video camera, which was positioned on a tripod near the hole, then stepped into view of the lens, still holding the EMF detector.
“At precisely”âhe checked his watchâ“four-thirty p.m., following a tip from a reliable source, I, Charlie Dewdle, discovered what appears to be the burial site of the notorious Friedman Salinger.”
There had been no reliable source, and Charlie didn't really believe the hole held the grave of Friedman Salinger, the long-dead Colton County strangler. But no one in the paranormally inclined world cared about empty, boring holes. His video needed a little drama before he submitted it to his favorite website. Besides, who knew?
Demolition on the shopping mall property had ceased two months earlier, when the mayor of Gabbiter had informed the public that part of the building was a historic landmark. It had been brought to the mayor's attention that the eastern wing, which once housed the movie theater, was older than the town itself.
“It is my civic duty to prevent the further demolition of such a cherished piece of history,” Mayor Tungsten had said in his television interview. “Who knows what sorts of memories will be found down there? Until we invest our energies in uncovering them, construction on the new water park will be postponed.”
Most of Charlie's classmates hated the mayor for making that announcement. The Typhoon Water Park was going to have seven epic water slides, a lazy river for rafting, and the second-largest wave pool in the central United States.
But Charlie hated swimming. He sunburned too easily and didn't enjoy the taste of chlorine. The water park could wait. Especially since historic stone structures were almost always hot spots for lingering ghosts and spirits.
“As you can see, the electromagnetic readings are off the charts,” Charlie said into the camera. Digging in his backpack, he pulled out his helmet flashlight and fastened it atop his messy red hair. “Time to see what ol' Salinger wanted to keep hidden from the world.”
Charlie lay on his stomach and directed the headlamp into the darkness. The hole sank at least six feet underground. Charlie's skin prickled. Something down that deep really could mean a burial plot.
Salinger's burial plot.
The light from his helmet glinted off the corner of something at the bottom, and he leaned forward for a better view.
“Ahoy!” Charlie hollered, then checked over his shoulder to make sure no one had heard. It was a book. It had a dark cover and metal cornerpieces.
Taking great care to keep from falling, Charlie descended into the hole and pulled the book from its resting place. It had to be at least a hundred years old. The cover was worn and cracked, the pages thick and waxy. Charlie narrowed his eyes as he carefully dusted the cover free of grime and attempted to read the title. But the words were in some foreign language.
Charlie noticed that the EMF detector was burping as several green circles appeared on the screen. He smacked the monitor with his hand. “Worthless piece ofâ” He froze midsentence and stared back at the book. Taking the EMF detector in his hand, he grazed it over the cover. The circles of green light grew brighter. He flipped the book over. The lights quivered, and the detector suddenly made an unusual
ping sound. Charlie grinned, but in his stomach he felt a tiny tingle of fear. He couldn't understand why, since finding something mysterious at the bottom of a hole should've filled him with joy.
Perhaps it was because Charlie was no longer alone.
At that very moment, three dark spirits from the Underworldâshades, as they preferred to be calledâwere gathering around him.