on April 20, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Paranormal, Romance, Young Adult
Is this Hell or is this High School?
Walker Callaghan doesn’t know what happened to her. One minute she was living her teenage life in suburban Chicago…and the next minute, she was in a strange place and in a brand new school with absolutely no homework, no rules, and no consequences.
Walker Callaghan, 16, is dead.
She doesn’t go to Heaven or Hell. She lands at The Academy, a middle realm where teenagers have one thing in common: They were that morning announcement at their high schools because they died young.
These high school kids are now caught in a strange “in-between” zone where life hasn’t changed very much. In fact, this special teen limbo looks a lot like life in a quaint Michigan town complete with jocks, popular girls and cliques. “There are even cheerleaders in death,” Walker observes. It’s not a coincidence that the music teacher is a guy named Kurt who “used to have this band.” The drama teacher, Heath, is crush worthy because back in his life, he starred in some superhero movie as the Joker.
Principal King explains the rules — there are none. Why? You can’t die twice.
There is no homework.
You’re just there to learn because the human brain isn’t fully formed until you’re 24.
By the way, you can’t get hurt physically, so race your Harley off that hillside. But falling in love is the most dangerous thing you can do …because no one knows how long you’ll stay in this realm or what’s next. Walker falls hard for tat-covered, bad boy Daniel Reid who is about to break the only sacred rule of this place. He’s looking for a portal to return back to the living realm.
Ascenders….An epic adventure of an after-life time.
In what seemed like an instant, my back foot caught on a large fallen tree branch and I fell forward with all my body weight. Crashing hard onto my hands and knees, I cried out, but I wasn’t in any real pain. Before I could stand up, I slipped again until my stomach slammed against the surface of the thickly iced-over pond. The cracking sound was like thunder. Then, in what felt like a sickening surge of broken glass and rushing water, the ground suddenly ceased to exist. I didn’t have time to scream as I dropped into the dark, lifeless, icy chill of wintery water.
I braced for the first slap of bitter freeze, instantly calling up some stupid fact from science class at Kennedy High where we learned that Titanic survivors described hitting the freezing ocean water as thousands of tiny knives stabbing every inch of their bodies.
I expected excruciating pain, but there was none. There was just numbness as I entered the earliest stages of being converted to ice.
Resistance was only natural and I fought hard as my hands flailed through the water trying to keep my head above the murky freeze, but it was pointless. The water was hungry that night and my thrashing almost made a game out of its impending conquest. It only took a second or two of my desperate survival dance for the lake to swallow me whole.
Daniel must have heard the crack and he stopped in place. Slowly, he turned around as I struggled to pop up again, but by putting up a fight I only succeeded in making it worse. As my body was being carried under the heavy sheet of ice in an involuntary dance, I could see Daniel above, the soles of his black boots carefully following my route as he calmly watched me drown.
In a way, it was fascinating to watch him ever so gradually shuffle along as my hands desperately reached from under my new icy roof for the bottom of his boots. The only thing that separated us was about five solid inches of deadly winter soup.
By the time he found me in an even darker spot where the lake mingled with several dead, embalmed trees, all he could see from under the thick coating was my face looking up at him, frozen in horror. He saw my pouty mouth almost kissing the ice and frantically trying to say one word to him.
“Help!” I mouthed.
I gulped down murky green water, ingesting long tentacles of lifeless leaves and thick clumps of sludge-dirt, and it all slid easily into my lungs while he just stood there. He. Stood. There.
Frantically, I maneuvered away from the spot by the trees, which made it worse because now I was pinned under even thicker ice, my milky-white face pressed up against eight to ten inches of immovable crystals.
Casually, Daniel walked to where I was wildly waving my arms underneath the water. When I looked up now, he was a hazy dark blur that made me suddenly dizzy. That’s when I shut my eyes to wait for the inevitable.
But I didn’t black out.
Long minutes passed, my eyes sprung open, and I continued to push upward again as the water became midnight black. For some reason I was still alive, but I still couldn’t free myself from this wintry prison.
My mind raced. How much time had passed? How much time could pass before I would be brain-dead? How much time before I died?
Daniel still stood above the ground and calmly watched me struggle. “To hell with this,” he finally said, loud enough for me to hear him under the ice. Was he telling me to stop struggling and just accept that I lost?
After another endless minute passed, he shook his head and, though apparently talking to himself, said even louder, “Okay, enough . . . but you need to know.”
Kicking through a thinner spot of ice, he made a small hole and then pummeled it into a bigger passage with those clomping boots. Reaching down into the crack, he offered me a strong hand and a tat-covered, muscular arm. Somehow through the dark water, I saw human fingers moving and grabbed them like they were my only lifelines, which is exactly what they were to me.
All it took was one big hoist and I was in his arms, pressed body-to-body up against him, soaking wet, freezing cold, and mad as hell.
With my right hand, that had absolutely no feeling in it, I slapped him squarely across the jaw as hard as possible. When he didn’t budge much, I slapped him again, which made my hand tired, but it didn’t hurt. When I attempted to punch his face, he grabbed my hand in a firm way that signaled we weren’t going another nine rounds.
“Easy there, tiger,” he said with a smirk that made those soft eyes twinkle. “I guess you’re a fan of the Rocky movies.”
“Why . . . you bastard. . . why . . . you didn’t even try to save me,” I sputtered, but I wasn’t really coughing and certainly my brain was perfectly fine. For a split second, I counted to five backward. Again, it was amazing that my mind was still functioning. Maybe the water was cold enough to save me. Is that how it worked?
“I saw you. You were just standing there! Watching! Watching me die!” I screamed, shoving him again.
This time, I took him by surprise and he landed butt-first in a pile of snow.
Calmly, he stood up, lurched forward, and grabbed both of my arms, holding me against his rock-hard chest until I stopped struggling and gave up the idea of trying to knock his block off. He held me tightly like he was protecting me from some danger worse than what just happened. Tears formed in my eyes and I began to touch my arms and then tested my breathing, which was perfectly normal. He still refused to let go. Big white puffs of my breath filled the dark sky and I watched them evaporate slowly like little clouds. Then I looked up.
“Why aren’t I dead?” I said in an anguished voice.
Daniel took a deep breath, carefully released me, and then answered slowly.
“Because, baby, you can’t die twice,” he said.