Dreg City Series, Book 1

Kelly Meding

For Tim—living proof that people can and do change


Part of me wants to take a page from actress Kim Basinger and thank everyone I’ve ever met in my entire life. However, too many people had active and important roles in getting this book into your hands, so I’ll thank them the old-fashioned way.

Major kudos to my awesome agent, Jonathan Lyons, for having faith in a new author and your passion for this book; it has made all the difference. Mega thanks to super-editor Anne Groell, for your wisdom and support. And a round of applause for Pam Feinstein, copy editor extraordinaire.

To my crit readers, Sarah and Nancy—you ladies are the best. Thanks to Stacey G. for your awesome website design and for being an all-around good egg. A special shout-out to the folks at the AW Watercooler for being an incomparable source of information, resources, and support (especially Peter and the other peeps on the SF/F board). A hug to Kris Young, the first pro to tell me I could do this. You made a believer out of me.

Thank you to my best friend Melissa, the only person in the world who’s read all of my fiction (and somehow maintains the impression that I’m a sane person). Mel, you always had faith in me, even when I didn’t. For my sister, Dawn—you are one of the strongest people I know. As children we shared a love of reading and, as an adult, I am so proud to contribute to that literary landscape we adored so much.

And most of all, thank you to my parents. You never once told me to be an “Insert Financially Sound Career Choice Here,” and you always supported my dreams. You let me be me, and I could not have asked for more.

Chapter 1


I don’t recall the first time I died, but I do remember the second time I was born. Vividly. Waking up on a cold morgue table surrounded by surgical instruments and autopsy paraphernalia, to the tune of the medical examiner’s high-pitched shrieks of fright, is an unforgettable experience.

I vaulted off the table, my mind prepared to execute a move that my chilled body hadn’t quite caught up to, and promptly lost my balance. My knees didn’t bend; my ankles stayed stiff. I landed on my bare hip, earning another shock of cold and something quite new: pain. Sharp and biting, it lanced up my hip and down my thigh, orienting me to two facts: I was on the floor and I was completely naked.

Something metal clanged to the floor, rubber squeaked on faded tile, and the screams receded. Far away, a door slammed. The soft hum of machinery mingled with the hiss of my ragged breathing. Fluorescent light glared down from gray overhead fixtures. I smelled something sharp, bitter, and completely foreign.

My bruised hip protested as I sat up. The room tilted. A sheet dangled from the edge of the table I’d fallen from. I wrapped the thin, papery material around my shoulders. It did little to cut the chill.

Coroner’s table. Naked. Scalpel on the floor. What the holy friggin’ hell?

I searched my addled memory, hoping for an explanation as to why I was bare-ass naked on a morgue floor.

Nothing. Zilch. Awareness wrapped in cotton batting. No cinematic instant recall for me.

My chest seized and I began to cough—a wet rasp from deep inside my lungs. I spat out a wad of phlegm and continued coughing until I thought my chest would turn inside out. When the spasms ceased, I grabbed the side of the table and pulled. My feet responded. Knees bent. I managed to stand up, using the surgical table as a crutch, and found myself staring down at its shiny surface.

And a stranger’s face.

A curtain of long, wavy brown hair framed a curved chin and high cheekbones. Not mine. A smattering of freckles dotted the bridge of her nose. Definitely not mine. I touched my cheek, and the stranger touched hers. All wrong. I was pale, with blond hair, blue eyes, and no freckles. And younger. The dark-haired woman with track marks inside her left elbow and an open, but healing, gash down the inside of her forearm was not Evangeline Stone. She was someone else.

Another sharp tremor raced down my spine, creating gooseflesh across my back and shoulders. Wyatt. I was on my way to see Wyatt Truman. We’d agreed to meet at our usual spot by the train yards. I arrived. Waited. And then what?

Something bad, apparently.

I gazed around the small autopsy room with its plain gray walls and yellow tiled floors. Two identical beds lay on either side of a floor drain. An instrument tray lay upended on the floor. A wall of doors, roughly three-foot-by- four each, had to be where they kept the bodies. How long had I been in there?

Why had I been in there?

Wyatt would know. He had to know. He knew everything. He was my Handler; that was his job.

Did he know where I was? Or who I was, for that matter?

Opposite the refrigeration unit was a desk and beyond that a door marked PRIVATE. I stumbled toward it, clutching the sheet around my shoulders, still having some trouble with my extremities.

I limped into a small bathroom containing a sink, two stalls, and a bank of four gray lockers. I tried each one. The last opened with a sharp squeal, and the eye-watering stink of old tennis shoes wafted out. My stomach churned. Inside I found a pair of navy sweatpants in XXL and an oversized white T-shirt. Nothing else useful.

I dropped the sheet and tugged the shirt on, not surprised that it swam all over my thin frame. I was a few inches taller than I’d been. Bigger breasts, rounder hips—less the blond waif, and more the curvy woman. Definitely an upgrade. I rolled up the extra material and knotted it around my torso. The sweatpants went on next, and even with a drawstring, they were ridiculously huge.

It didn’t matter. The clothes just needed to get me out of there. I blotted my hair in the sheet, removing some of the excess moisture now that it was starting to thaw. The pants slipped, and I hiked them back up. A red hole peeked through the top of my belly button, hinting at a vanished piercing.

Voices bounced through the other room. I tiptoed to the door and pulled it open just far enough to peek outside. The technician was back, waving her hands wildly. Short, red hair bobbed around her shoulders each time she turned her head. Her companion was an older man, white-haired and wrinkled, dressed in surgical scrubs. He picked up the chart hanging from the end of the bed I’d previously occupied and skimmed the contents.

“Dead bodies don’t just come back to life, Pat,” the man said.

“I know that, Dr. Thomas, but she was dead. I was here when she was brought in early this morning. I pulled out the drawer when her roommate came to identify her.”

Roommate? My roommates were gone. I didn’t even have a couch to crash on anymore, now that the Owlkins were dead and their apartment building razed.

“She was still dead when Joe put her on the table for me,” Pat continued, “but then I got a phone call. When I got back and pulled the sheet, she was pinking up. I swear, I thought I was seeing things, but then she sat up.”

“I see,” Dr. Thomas said, in a tone that clearly indicated he didn’t believe her. “The physical examination showed that she died of acute blood loss. How do you think a dead body without blood sat up and walked out of the room?”

Pat gaped at him, her mouth opening and closing, but producing no response.

“The last thing we need,” Dr. Thomas said, “is a lawsuit from that girl’s family, because we misplaced the

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