Authors: K. E. Ganshert
By K.E. Ganshert
Tess Eckhart isn’t crazy. She’s not suffering from psychosis. She and Luka Williams are part of
. Before they can find out what that means, the man with all the answers turns up dead. The only thing he left behind? A few patient files that lead to the nation’s most lawless city.
With authorities chasing them, Luka and Tess escape into the very heart of peril and against all odds, find an underground community of people just like them. They aren’t gathered together for the sole purpose of survival, either. They have a plan and a purpose—to awaken as many people with
as possible. It’s dangerous and deadly work. Tess wants to help. Luka is desperate to keep her safe—a task that proves increasingly difficult as Tess’s gifting comes to light.
Is Tess Eckhart the One they’ve been waiting for? The One who can save them all?
Edited by: Lora Doncea
Cover Design by: Okay Creations
Interior Design and Formatting by: BBeBooks
Copyright © 2015 K.E. Ganshert
This novel is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to peoples either living or deceased is purely coincidental. Names, places, and characters are figments of the author’s imagination. The author holds all rights to this work. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author.
All right reserved.
For Melissa, my sister from another mister. There are no words adequate enough to express how grateful I am for your friendship.
Dead Man Hanging
arkness has never been a friendly thing. Not to me. But now, huddled behind a dumpster in the alleyway behind Dr. Roth’s apartment building, I burrow into its protective arms, pulling it around myself until I’m wrapped up as tightly as a swaddled infant.
Perhaps we should make a run for it. Sprint as far away from here as possible. But fear paralyzes me. I’m pretty sure it has the same effect on Luka, too, because we crouch there—me and him, this boy who has come to mean so much—holding our breath as if the police might hear the sound of breathing five stories up.
Raindrops begin falling from the sky—fat, cold globs of moisture that plop against the dumpster’s top and soak into the cotton of my sweatshirt. Luka wraps his arm around my hunched form and pulls me so closely to him I am unsure where he ends and I begin. It’s not enough. I want more. I want the things he makes me feel to carry me off into oblivion, some place where this reality we’re facing now no longer exists.
The clank of footsteps on the fire escape forces us to duck further back. A beam of light slices through the darkness, searching. My heart hammers against my chest. I’m sure Luka can hear it, maybe even feel it. They are looking for me, those people upstairs. They want to take me away and lock me up in Shady Wood with my grandmother, where I will never see my family or Luka again. I don’t breathe until the light finally goes away and the footsteps retreat.
The police are not coming down here, at least not right now. Dr. Roth is a smart guy. Surely he will find a way to throw them off our scent. Even so, we stay where we are, as still as statues, afraid to blink, afraid to think, until my legs cramp and the chill in the air turns my fingers numb. Northern California in January is not an ideal time for a night spent outdoors. For the first time since moving to Thornsdale in September, I find myself wishing for the balmy Florida heat I’d taken for granted back in Jude. But as cold as it might be out here, what other choice do we have?
We can’t go home. I’m sure mine is under surveillance and Luka’s isn’t safe. His father would hand me over the second we arrived. The two of us can’t be seen at all. I’m sure by now, my escape from the Edward Brooks Facility has been splashed on the news, along with my face. Nowhere is safe. Which means we will have to wait out the night behind this dumpster. Dr. Roth gave us specific directions to come back in the morning. He promised to explain everything.
The raindrops thin out into a misty drizzle. Luka loosens his grip around my waist and we stare at one another through the dark. He straightens his legs, as if his muscles are cramped too. I want to tell him to stop moving, but I’m doing the same thing.
“Are you okay?” he whispers so softly I have to strain to hear.
It’s a silly question. Of course I’m not. He knows it. I know it. Over the course of six days, my brother almost died, we broke into a high-security psyche ward and discovered rows upon rows of patients in medically-induced comas, my deranged grandmother said I was “the key”, I was dragged out of school against my will by government officials, locked up and drugged in the Edward Brooks Facility, then rescued by Luka Williams and my psychiatrist, who turns out, isn’t who he claimed to be. All I can manage is an almost-silent, “I can’t feel my fingers.”
Luka takes my hands between his own and rubs until they are slightly warmer than frozen.
“Do you think they’re still up there?” I whisper.
“I don’t know.”
A shudder takes hold of my body and convulses through my limbs. Even in the thick of night, I can see the concern pooling in his green eyes. “I have so many questions.”
“Me too,” he says.
“What do you think he meant about there being ‘more of us’?”
“I’m more concerned about the part where we’re all in danger.”
A shudder ripples through my arms.
Luka sits against the brick wall of the apartment building. He pulls me beside him and wraps his arms around me. “Is this all right?”
I nod against his chest, too frightened and cold to be self-conscious.
“It’s going to be okay, Tess.” My body rises and falls with his breath. “We’ll get answers from Dr. Roth tomorrow. You can go to sleep. I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Despite the chilly nighttime air outside and the cold fear inside, something about his nearness warms me. I am not alone. Luka is here—brave, handsome, confident Luka. I can almost believe it’s true—that he has the power to keep me safe. That I might really be able to go to sleep.
I curl up against him and wrestle my fear into submission. I don’t let myself think about my family or how much I miss my mom. I don’t let myself think about what my life will be now. I take deep, even breaths. I borrow Luka’s warmth. And I force all my attention onto one thing.
I’m not suffering from psychosis. Neither is Luka.
Dr. Roth gave us a name. We are The Gifting.
Movement awakens me. It’s a twitch at first. Then something bigger, like a jolt. My eyelids flutter open. I am wrapped up with Luka, tangled into a knot on the hard cement. We are face to face, our bodies pressed together. Only his eyes are closed. His face twitches. Then his eyes fly open. Before he can make a sound, I cup my hand over his mouth, trapping the noise inside.
His nostrils flare.
“Shhh, Luka. You were having a nightmare.” Something I know all too well. My nightmares are what put us in this position. He stares down at me with pupils so large, his irises are nothing but the thinnest ring of green. Slowly, his breathing regulates. His pupils shrink.
I remove my hand.
And without the slightest warning, his fingers twine into my hair, he pulls my face close, and his lips crush mine. A quick burst of intense passion before he pulls away and hugs me to his chest, where his heart crashes against my ear. The whole thing happened so fast, I barely had time to register it, let alone kiss him back. Three times now he has kissed me and three times now, they have come as complete surprises. He springs them on me when I least suspect, like in a crowded locker bay at school or on the dirty ground behind a dumpster. Perhaps this is a good thing. His method leaves no time for agonizing over how awful I must be at it.
He untangles himself from my arms and sits up, propping his elbows on his knees, digging his fingers into his hair, staring at some arbitrary spot on the ground. A white-throated sparrow lands on one of the fire escapes and lets out a wavering whistle.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
He avoids eye contact.
I should probably push him, but honestly? I’m afraid of his answer. Luka has had dreams about me long before we first met in September. In every one, I’m in danger. In one of his dreams, I actually died. I’d rather not know if it happened again. I sit up beside him. The faint glow of early morning filters into the alleyway, softening everything around us—the dumpster, the trash cans, the brick walls. The night has given way to dusk. And I am desperate for answers. “Do you think it’s safe to go up now?”
“He said the morning. He never said how early.” Luka stands and pulls me up with him.
His grip tightens around my hand as we tiptoe toward the fire escape and climb the metal stairs on silent feet.
We stop before landing on the fifth. Luka holds up his finger, his meaning clear. I am to wait here while he pokes his head inside the open window. We have a wordless argument with hand gestures. I don’t want to stand by while he puts himself in jeopardy, not when I’ve already put him in enough. But he refuses to let me go first. So Luka wins and I wait. When the coast is clear, he waves me over. He climbs through the window first, then helps me inside Dr. Roth’s apartment.
It’s too quiet. Too still.
Goose bumps march up my arms. My palms turn cold and clammy. What if this is a trap? What if Dr. Roth was arrested and the minute we open our mouths, the police will descend and the two burly men who dragged me out of Thornsdale High School will drag me away again. Only this time Dr. Roth and Luka won’t be around to break me out.
Luka pulls me forward, toward the bedrooms. I want to dig my heels into the carpet. Fear claws about inside my chest, scrapping and scratching for an exit. I have no idea why I don’t want to see whatever it is we are about to see. Until we round the corner and find him—the man with all the answers.