The Last Echo Page 1

Chapter 1

VIOLET STRAINED, SEARCHING FOR THE SENSATION through the suffocating blackness. It wasn’t the kind of thing she could see or hear, making it all the more difficult to pinpoint. She didn’t know how exactly to describe what was leading her—pulling her. But it was definitely an echo. That much she knew for certain.

Her fingertips tingled, her toes too. And even though it wasn’t painful, or even uncomfortable, it was still . . . odd. Like the prickling sensation of sitting on your foot for too long.

She followed it by its intensity. If she turned one way, the sensation weakened. The other, it grew stronger.

It was almost completely black in this part of the abandoned warehouse. Her feet crunched over broken glass, the sound slicing its way through the calm that had settled over her, blanketing her fears and dulling the rhythm of her heart. She paused, her stomach tightening as her eyes searched the shadows, trying to discern one shape from another, trying to convince herself that she was all alone in here.

“I’m okay,” she whispered into the emptiness around her, telling herself she should stop. That she’d already gone too far. But after a moment, when the need to follow the echo became too strong, she started moving again, her feet shuffling over the concrete and kicking debris out of her path. The last thing she wanted to do was to trip and fall on the glass-littered floor.

She reached a doorway and the prickling shot through her arms and legs, surprising her and making her gasp. She gripped the exposed wood of the doorjamb to steady herself. “What the hell . . .” She wheezed as she reached up to knead the puckered flesh of her arm so hard she worried it might bruise.

She shook her head, ignoring both the sting and the concerns that refused to be silent now.

Moving more slowly, but still cautious of her surroundings, Violet continued toward the echo. It hadn’t always been like this; she hadn’t always been so careful. But she was learning . . . trying to think past the overpowering need to find the dead and be aware for her own safety.

But it wasn’t easy. Especially now, when the echo was so strong, and she was so close. When a body was calling to her . . . begging to be found.

Ahead of her, she could see something in the darkness. Something solid and out of place in a building that had been stripped all the way down to its studs.

Violet’s heart raced and her entire body itched as if she were being gouged by a million tiny thorns. She wasn’t sure what to do now: Her training told her to walk away, call for help, and bring them back here. But her instincts demanded something different.

She took a single step closer. She had to be sure. Her skin was pierced and stabbed, although whether those sensations came from inside of her or outside, she was no longer certain. She took another step forward, wincing from the discomfort as she rubbed her arms and gritted her teeth.

When she was within reach, she held out her hand and ran it along the surface of what looked to be a box. But her fingertips stilled when she felt how smooth it was—how firm, how solid. She’d been right when she’d suspected it was out of place here. It hadn’t been there for long, she could tell just by feeling it. It was clean; there was no dirt corroding it, no layers of dust and grime coating its glossed surface. Her hand moved down, finding the latch.

Even without opening the top of the freezer her fingers brushed across, Violet knew it was her: the girl they’d been searching for. She was in there.

“I found her.” Violet spoke quietly, reaching up with one hand to brush her hair away from her face, her fingertips settling over the earpiece still firmly embedded in her ear. The gesture was unnecessary; she knew they were listening. “I’m in the old Pacific Storage building.”

She took an uncertain step back and waited, ignoring that part of her that wanted to peek inside—to see the girl, to confirm that her intuition wasn’t mistaken. Instead, Violet decided to give her a few more moments of peace, to let the girl lay silently, peacefully, in the darkness . . . before the others came and disentombed her. Before they prodded and poked and probed.

Before she became evidence.

Violet heard their shouts, and their boots grinding over the glass. For a moment, she thought about not answering them, about just remaining quiet and waiting. She knew eventually they would find her there, in the gloom of the huge warehouse, even if she didn’t respond. But they didn’t have an echo to follow, and it could take them considerably longer than it had taken Violet to find the body.

“Dude, even I can hear them now.” Krystal’s voice practically shattered Violet’s eardrum. She’d nearly forgotten her earpiece was still in place. “If you don’t answer, they’re going to pull their weapons and start blasting down the walls.”

Violet smirked, not answering Krystal, but getting the point of the warning. “I’m over here!” she finally called out, although not quite loud enough. And then, knowing that she had to, she called again, louder: “Back here!”

She saw the beams of their flashlights bobbing through a doorway on the other side of the warehouse and their footsteps grew closer, more disorganized, chaotic.

“Are you safe?” It was Sara this time, although not through her earpiece. Her voice came from the frenzy the police officers brought with them.

“I’m fine,” Violet answered, biting her lip and wishing she’d taken those extra few minutes. “She’s in here. I’m sure it’s her.”

A shaft of light reached her face, blinding Violet, and she turned away, shielding her eyes with her arm. The beam dropped to the ground—no apologies—as another fell on the freezer behind her.