School of Deaths
Thrust into a world of men, can a timid girl find bravery as the first female Death?
Thirteen-year-old Suzie Sarnio always believed the Grim Reaper was a fairy tale image of a skeleton with a scythe. Now, forced to enter the College of Deaths, she finds herself training to bring souls from the Living World to the Hereafter. The task is demanding enough, but as the only female in the all-male College, she quickly becomes a target. Attacked by both classmates and strangers, Suzie is alone in a world where even her teachers want her to fail.
Scythes hungry for souls, Deaths who subjugate a race of mysterious magicians, and echoes of an ancient war with Dragons.
As her year progresses, Suzie suspects her presence isn't an accident. She uncovers a plot to overthrow the World of Deaths. Now she must also discover the reason she's been brought there: the first female Death in a million years.
Christopher Mannino’s life is best described as an unending creative outlet. He teaches high school theatre in Greenbelt, Maryland. In addition to his daily drama classes, he runs several after-school performance and production drama groups. He spends his summers writing and singing. Mannino holds a Master of Arts in Theatre Education from Catholic University, and has studied mythology and literature both in America and at Oxford University. His work with young people helped inspire him to write young adult fantasy, although it was his love of reading that truly brought his writing to life.
Reds, yellows, hots, colds. Sensations blended and faded. Suzie’s head spun in a whirlwind of sensation. Two suns appeared for an instant, and she watched the building where she’d signed the contract. Athanasius, the first ’Mental she’d met, seemed to smile at her, and then was gone.
Stars burned her.
Oceans drowned her.
Clouds suffocated her.
Noise deafened her.
The tether slackened. She opened her eyes.
Billy still held the scythe; the blade dripped with tiny beads of white light.
“You okay?” asked Frank, turning.
“Yeah,” she said. “Are we there?”
“Yes,” said Frank. “We’re in the Mortal World. The scythe will never bring you anywhere near anyone you ever met here. That’s one of the rules, but we’re here. This is the closest to home most of us will ever get.” His voice trailed off, and he looked away. Suzie patted his shoulder. She could imagine his pain.
“We’re not here to talk,” said Billy. “The target will be here in a minute.”
“The scythe tells you the target as you cross the portal,” explained Frank.
“They explained in Theory class,” she said. “But it’s still weird to be here.”
She looked around. They stood in an alley, with gleams of starlight visible above them. Flies buzzed over a trash can, overflowing with pizza boxes. A cool breeze blew candy wrappers across the pavement, to graffiti-covered walls. Behind her, a cement building rose, with barred windows. In front of them, a larger street met the alley, with part of a neon sign glowing around the corner. It smelled like urine.
She heard shouts in Spanish from a dilapidated cement building with iron bars. More shouts and someone pleading. Then a gunshot and the shouts moved away from them.
A young girl staggered into the alley. Suzie was about to speak, but Frank shook his head.
The girl fell onto her face, a pool of blood leaking out from under her. In the distance, Suzie heard another gunshot.
“We have to help her,” said Suzie.
“It’s too late,” said Frank.
The girl lay motionless. Time seemed to stop. Suzie had never witnessed someone’s death. Who was this girl? Who had shot her?
Even as the questions started to form in her mind, the girl sat up and stared at them. Suzie started to move, but Frank grabbed her arm, holding her.
“Where am I?” said the girl.
She was sitting up, but she was also laying face first on the ground. The sitting girl looked at Billy with terrified eyes and struggled to her feet. Suzie realized they were each wearing black robes; even with their training badges, they must look frightening. Billy still held the scythe.
“Is this a joke?” said the girl. “I’m not dead—”
“You are,” said Billy.
The standing girl had no gunshot wound in her chest. Her dress seemed to shine as she moved a step away. She never looked down at her own body, or the blood continuing to run.
“Who are you three?” asked the girl.
“We’re in training,” said Billy. Suzie admired how calm his voice was. He was cool and collected, while she wanted to yell.
The girl took another step back and tripped on something. She tried to get up again but Billy held up a hand.
“Please,” he said. “Allow me.”
He raised the scythe and let it fall. The girl screamed, and Suzie screamed as well.
CHARACTER INTERVIEWAn interview between author Christopher Mannino (CM) and Billy Black.
CM: Billy, I understand you're entering your second year as a Death. What is it like Reaping souls for a living?
BILLY: Honestly, it's just a job. We're in transportation, but the cargo happens to be souls. On a day to day basis, I don't think about death too often. Especially since this is only my second year. I went on three Reapings so far, and only held the scythe myself in one of them. Most of my time's spent at school studying.
CM: What do you think of your new housemate, Susan?
BILLY: I'm really conflicted. There's never been a girl here. A lot of the other Deaths, particularly the older ones, are complaining, saying she'll mess everything up. If she hadn't been housed with Jason and me, I'm not sure how her arrival would affect me, but living with her, even though it's only been a couple weeks so far, I think she's pretty nice. I was kind of annoyed at first, particularly since they had to choose my house to stick a girl in, but it's not that bad. She's a kid, just like all of us.
CM: Speaking of kids, how did you become a Death?
BILLY: Back in the Mortal World I started losing a lot of weight. Suddenly a Death showed up, swung his scythe, and offered me a contract. Live as a Death for a year, and then take a test. If I failed the test, I'd be a Death forever. If I didn't sign the contract, I'd die. Wasn't much of a choice. All Deaths are living kids, snatched in a similar manner. At first, you're really resentful, but once you get used to the World of Deaths, you find it's not so bad.
CM: So you failed your test, and were forced to remain a Death?
BILLY: Not exactly. In the end, I decided I liked being a Death. After Dad left us, life was... rough for my mother and me, to say the least. At the College of Deaths, I made friends. I'm on a boskery team, I do well in classes, and I even work a part-time job for money. I didn't feel compelled to go back.
CM: What's the one thing you miss most about the Mortal World?
BILLY: TV and computers. There are times when life feels a little slower in the World of Deaths On the other hand, that's not always a bad thing.
CM: So what do you do for fun?
BILLY: As I mentioned, I play boskery. I was one of only a few kids my age to make a team. It's meant as a way to see how well we use scythes. Deaths are monitored, and their positions in the Senior College are determined by skill with the blade, since scythe skills allow you to Reap more souls in a shorter time. But it feels more like a game, with four teams competing at once. We use double-blade scythes, which paralyze you if you get nicked. It's a really tough sport. When I'm not playing, I like to read, hang out with friends, or even head up to Mors, which is a city nearby. They have some rides there, like an amusement park.
CM: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us?
BILLY: I think everyone should give Susan a chance. She seems nice to me. I know the last time there was a female Death, she was a witch who betrayed the Deaths to Dragons, but Susan's different. Don't judge her before you get to know her.
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