The halls were a cacophony of pandemonium as students walked in packs from one end of the school to the other. Whitney and I did our best to stay out of the way of the seniors as we made our way to the English hall.
We’d been thrilled to find out we were in the same homeroom on the first day of school. It was nice to have a friendly face.
Rumors floated around us.
“I heard there was a big fight behind the school.”
“No way, I was just back there and there was nothing going on.”
“I saw the police outside earlier.”
“You’re making that up.”
I made sure Echo was between myself and the wall as we walked. He’d been stepped on a few times, and he didn’t like it very much. So far, no growling.
“Did that guy just say they found a body in the locker room?” Whitney asked.
I shook my head. I had totally missed that conversation. Whatever had happened it had to be serious, because during our orientation the principal had told us there would only ever be an emergency call to the homeroom if there was a serious emergency at the school. Or in the world outside.
The conversation Wyatt and I had had in the diner on Saturday came back to me. I felt like it had happened weeks before. Since I’d been so worried about losing Echo I hadn’t thought much about the apocalypse.
What if something had happened in the outside world? What if right now there was a plague? What if all the kids who had the stomach flu were getting sick because there was a super virus?
By the time Whitney and I got to our homeroom Mr. Smith was sitting behind his desk reading his computer screen and frowning. The feeling of excitement coupled with an undertone of fear permeated the space. Whitney and I slipped into our desks and I glanced around. Half of the students had just come from lunch and were still eating. Echo paid them no mind has a curled up on the floor at my feet.
Whitney, who sat behind me, leaned forward and whispered in my ear. “What if they really did find a dead body?”
“Don’t worry,” I hissed, “you won’t have to look at it. There’s no way they would let us see it if that was the case.”
A few moments later Mr. Smith clicked his tongue a few times and stood. The serious look on his face made me uneasy.
He walked to the front of the room and stood with his feet apart as if braced for impact.
“Students we have an announcement to make.” He drew his phone from his pocket and swiped it to life. “The health department has issued a recall on a large batch of soda pop. “ Mr. Smith looked up at us. “The batch numbers will be available to you and your parents via the local news later this afternoon.” He returned his attention to his phone.
“The contaminant in these batches of soda pop has been causing digestion issues that for most people resemble extreme hunger. Others may experience nausea.”
I heard Whitney shift behind me. I looked down at Echo who had raised his head. Contaminated soda pop? Could that be what was causing the problem? We only had diet in our house for my mom.
Mr. Smith continued. “If anyone is experiencing these systems we ask that you stay at home until they pass. The problems aren’t contagious, but if it does cause extreme agitation and discomfort.” Mr. Smith looked up at us again. “There’s a number to call for anyone who’s been experiencing these problems.”
He put his phone away. It wasn’t often that an entire room of high school students kept their attention riveted on the teacher. At least not unless it was science class and something was on fire. At this point I could’ve heard the fabled pin drop. A desk squeaked behind me. Mr. Smith cleared his throat.
“I’m sure you have a lot of questions, but that’s all I know right now. In ten minutes, after an announcement from the office, you will be dismissed for the day. Anyone who cannot go home will report to the gym. The rest of you please leave campus as soon as possible.”
Right then the most ironic thing that could’ve happened happened. A snap and to hiss sounded as someone opened a soda bottle.
Echo got to his feet and stared hard in the direction of the sound. It must’ve been the guy next to Whitney, because I smelled the sweet syrup and cherry flavoring a moment later.
Echoes fur proofed up and let out a silent hiss. He’d hissed at the homeless man.
Had I been right? Did all this come from some new or stray ingredient that had accidentally gotten into the soda? Did homeless people even drink soda pop?
I tugged Echo’s leash gently telling him to calm down. He sat but didn’t take his eyes off of the boy.
Up at the front of the room Mr. Smith sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Did you not just hear what I said?”
At the same moment Whitney shrieked, “What are you doing?” Her piercing cry even made Echo shrink back.
I turned around and saw Cedrik with the bottle of cherry soda pressed to his lips. Everyone in class was looking at him. His eyes went wide and he slowly lowered the bottle.
That same eerie silence hung in the air as he screwed the cap back on. He looked at Mr. Smith and said, “Where do I get that list of bad batches again?”
Everyone laughed. His words broke the tension, and even Mr. Smith chuckled.
“The batch numbers will be available on the web within the hour.” He looked around the room “I suggest you refrain from drinking any soda pop between now and then. I certainly hope you all have that much self-control.”
That got another laugh.
Echo continued to look at Cedrik, but he didn’t growl or hiss again. I turned until my back was to Cedrik and waved Whitney closer.
“What is it?” she asked.
“When Cedrik opened his soda Echo kind of freaked out.”
Whitney’s eyes got wide. “Do you think that’s what’s been bothering him?”
“I hope so. If I can prove it to the guys coming to my house tomorrow they couldn’t take him from me.”
Whitney nodded enthusiastically.
My eyes shifted to Cedrick and then to the bottle of soda on his desk. The one that could hold Echo’s fate inside. I leaned closer to Whitney.” We’re going to dig that soda bottle out of the garbage after he throws it away.”
“You’re serious.” Whitney knew better than to make that a question.
The ten minute wait felt like forever. Mr. Smith answered a few questions, but it seemed he really didn’t know any more than he had told us. A few people got onto their phones and started looking up information. Before long the room was abuzz with fantastical stories about what had happened at the soda plant.
One website speculated that a rat had fallen into a vat. Another claimed poison was involved. Yet another cried government conspiracy. Mr. Smith rolled his eyes at that one. The principal finally announced that the busses would be at the school in twenty minutes. Everyone else who could needed to leave as soon as possible. When the bell rang everyone jumped up and started for the door.
I followed Whitney who stayed on Cedrik’s heels. I expected him to throw the soda in the garbage can at the back of the room, but he didn’t.
My fingers curled into fists and I whispered to Whitney. “We need to get that bottle.”
Whitney looked over her shoulder and gave me a wink. “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.”
Echo and I hugged the wall while Whitney took off after Cedrik. I couldn’t hear their conversation. But from what I could see Whitney used her smile, she batted her eyelashes, she leaned in toward the guy, and after a few seconds of confused expressions on his part he shrugged and handed her the soda.
When she turned back to me she held it up in triumph. She fought against the tide of bodies and got back to me. “I told him we’d throw it away for him.”
“How nice if us,” I said.
“Right?” She handed me the bottle. “I say we grab a few more on our way out.”
I grinned. “Good idea.”
I glanced down at Echo and found him looking up at me with a question in his eyes. I gave him a smile. “Don’t worry buddy we’ll clear your name.”
Check out Chapter 9 HERE!
If you missed the beginning of the story, click HERE to go to Chapter 1