Chapter One – MYLA – 14 Years Old

Mom steers our station wagon down another dirt road in Purgatory. As we bump along, I lean my forehead against the passenger-side window and soak in the view. Gray clouds dominate the sky. Yellowing fields of grass stretch out in every direction. A faded billboard reads: 

Up ahead…

Rides, games & a human-style midway

The Demon Woods and Secret Cemetery return

Don’t miss 18-GLF!

Every year, Purgatory holds seven big festivals, one for each deadly sin. February 14th—that would be today—kicks off the Celebration of Lust. At least, that was the fest’s name before the ghouls took over. Now, the event’s called 18-GLF, meaning the 18th Annual Ghoul Lust Festival. And it’s where I’m headed right now. 

Ghouls and lust… two words that should never be next to each other, let alone using up big chunks of my time. Needless to say, I’d rather be killing something. 

Mom sniffles. “I can’t believe you’re a freshman.”

Here it comes—another Myla Needs To Be More Social speech.

“High school,” adds Mom. “That’s a great time to make friends, you know.”

Called it. 

“Mom, you know I’m not social girl.”

Here’s what I mean. Purgatory is home to quasi demons, meaning we’re mostly human with a little demonic DNA. Every quasi has a tail as well as a power across the seven deadly sins. My tail’s a long black number covered in dragonscales. My deadly sins are wrath and lust, aka the best of the bunch. 

So far, so great.

But, Purgatory’s also the sorting place for souls into Heaven or Hell, either with trial by jury or trial by combat. When it’s the second option, I’m a warrior who fights evil souls in our Arena. You’d think that’d make me popular in high school. Wrong. Turns out, nobody likes how I can snap necks in three seconds or less. Go figure.

“How can you be so certain?” asks Mom. “High school is a great time to make new friends. Just think about all the nice kids you’ll meet tonight.” 

“Sure.” 

Mom shoots me a sideways glance. “Are you yes-ing me to death?”

“Only a lot.”

Mom chuckles. “Knew it.” She makes another turn. “We’re almost there.”

It’s a reflex to check my reflection in the cracked passenger-side mirror. I look a lot like my mother, what with my auburn hair, brown eyes and dragonscale tail. Both of us wear the standard ghoul-mandated uniform of gray sweats. Mom’s more curvy, but I think I’ll match her in that department one of these days. 

“Please don’t think I have anything against Cissy,” adds Mom. “That said, maybe you could make another friend, too. How about a wrath quasi?”

“It’s not that easy,” I explain. “Most wrath kids limit their rage to complaining about stuff. That’s not what I do.”

“But you will try to connect with them, won’t you?”

“Sure. I’ll try.” 

I’m just not yes-ing Mom to death here. In fact, I have a rule for public events: I take a single shot at socializing. If it doesn’t work—and by not working, I mean that I inspire terror instead of friendship—then, I’ve hit my quota for the day. 

We drive up to another open field that’s filled with tents, game booths, food trucks and a Ferris wheel. Everything’s surrounded by a very rusted chain link fence. A single turnstile and ticket booth mark the entrance. The plan is for me to meet Cissy inside the festival.

Mom parks right before the main entryway. She clears her throat. It’s my mother’s way of signaling that she’s about to say something very maternal and important. I slump on my seat. Here comes a When I Was Your Age speech. Those are worse than the ones about how I need to be more social.

“I know this is officially a ghoul festival.” Mom lifts one hand from the steering wheel to make air quotes as she says the words ghoul festival. “Still, I remember what it was like to be fourteen.”

Here we go.

Kids walk by Betsy, staring into the windows as they pass. I slump so low, my seatbelt presses against my chin. 

“You could be offered alcohol or something to smoke here.” Mom shoots me a sideways glance. “And what will you say if that happens?”

“Your scenario’s a little extreme. Nobody gets contraband.”

Which is not entirely true. Cissy’s Dad, Mister F, can get anything, easy peasy. He’s in the import-export business, which is a nice way of saying the black market.

“Humor me,” says Mom. “What would you say?”

“That I’m in training. I can’t do any of that stuff.”

“Good answer. You must stay healthy.”

“Agreed.” A happy memory appears. “Did I tell you about the demons I fought this afternoon?” I gesture across my gray sweatshirt. Splotches of green goop remain from the battle in question. “I took on a horde of millipedes. The green stuff is—”

“—I’d rather not discuss any of your death battles.” Mom leans across the car to pull up the little stick thingy that locks the door. The meaning is clear.

Time to leave.  

For a hot second, I consider telling Mom about the demon millipede horde anyway, but I dismiss the idea. My stories of the Arena turn Mom into a worry monster.

I grasp the door handle. “See you later.”

“Walker will get you at nine p-m.”

“You won’t drive me back?”

“No matter what trouble you get into—and I know you’ll find something—Walker can find you. Having him pick you up saves me a few gray hairs.”

Walker’s both a ghoul and my honorary older brother. Mom’s right that he can find me anywhere.

“Okay.” I lean over and kiss Mom’s cheek, because I really am a pain in the ass to raise. “Thanks.”

Mom  nods toward the door. “Have fun.” 

I step out of the car and head for the main entrance and my best friend. What would I do without Cissy? 

Not sure I ever want to find out. 

-end of sample-

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