Sunday, 23 November 2014

Book Blast & Giveaway : Spell for Sophia by Ariella Moon


Spell for Sophia

Sophia Perez-Hidalgo’s survival depends upon her mastering magic and the supernatural before her lawless parents and their vengeful boss catch up to her. How far must she flee to escape them forever? Sophia runs until she’s out of stolen money, then…Fate delivers her into the arms of Louisiana teen Shiloh Breaux Martine, and his grand-mère, a voodoo priestess living deep in the bayou.

Breaux knows Sophia is trouble — but he’ll travel through time, battle zombies, and risk his bright future to protect her. While Ainslie, best friend extraordinaire, will jeopardize her sanity to find and aid Sophia. When friendship, magic, and love are not enough, Sophia will have to save herself. But first, she must believe she’s worth saving.
Sometimes the worst scars are the ones you cannot see.

teen wytch saga new

The Teen Wytche Saga by Ariella Moon

Think magic will solve your problems?

Bring you love? Cure you? Protect you? Help you find someone who is lost?

Think again.

Magic tests friendships. It hisses, chirps, stinks up the room, backfires, and explodes. Magic forces you to make tough decisions. Shatter limitations. Discover your true self. When you use magic, expect results in the ultimate triple-un—unpredictable, uncontrollable, and so undeniable.

And you thought navigating high school was tough.

Watch for the upcoming blog tour hosted by I Am A Reader

Author Ariella Moon

Ariella Moon is the author of the Teen Wytche Saga, a sweet Young Adult paranormal series. Ariella writes about magic, friendship, high school, secrets, and love in Spell Check, Spell Struck, and Spell Fire from Astraea Press.

Ariella spent her childhood searching for a magical wardrobe that would transport her to Narnia. Extreme math anxiety, and taller students who mistook her for a leaning post, marred her youth. Despite these horrors, she graduated summa cum laude from the University of California at Davis. Ariella is a Reiki Master, author, and shaman. She lives a nearly normal life with her extraordinary daughter, two shamelessly spoiled dogs, and an enormous dragon.

Social Media Website Social Media Blog Social Media Facebook Social Media Goodreads

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Book Blast Giveaway

$50 Amazon Gift Card or Paypal Cash

Ends 12/23/14

Open only to those who can legally enter, receive and use an Gift Code or Paypal Cash. Winning Entry will be verified prior to prize being awarded. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 or older to enter or have your parent enter for you. The winner will be chosen by rafflecopter and announced here as well as emailed and will have 48 hours to respond or a new winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way associated with Facebook, Twitter, Rafflecopter or any other entity unless otherwise specified. The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning. Giveaway was organized by Kathy from I Am A Reader and sponsored by the author. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW.

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Thursday, 13 November 2014

M9B Friday Reveal: Chapter One of Fingers in the Mist by O’Dell Hutchison and Giveaway #M9BFridayReveals @Month9books

Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!
This week, we are revealing the first chapter for

Fingers in the Mist by O’Dell Hutchison

presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!
Fingers In The Mist
Sixteen-year-old Caitlyn Foster never believed in the legend of the Redeemers. That was before the trees started to whisper her name. Before a murder of crows attacked the town. Before she and her family came home to find a bloody handprint on their front door, marking one of them as a sacrifice. As Caitlyn’s friends are ripped from their homes, she knows it’s only a matter of time before the Redeemers come for her. Caitlyn has the power to stop the terror, but she’ll have to decide if she’s willing to sacrifice herself to save those she loves.
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Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: O’Dell Hutchison

O’Dell Hutchison

Chapter One
Welcome to Highland Falls, Idaho, population: 353.
The sign taunts me, threatening me with its simple tagline: “Raising families in God's name since 1823.” I hate this place. I shouldn't be here. No sixteen-year-old should have to live in a town where the number of residents is less than the number of her Facebook friends.
The headlights of my father's Dodge sweep across the bridge as he navigates through the water flowing across the road. The rain falls in ferocious sheets, hammering the truck, filling the already too-full river with water it can't hold.
“We're almost home, Cait.” He reaches over and squeezes my shoulder. This is one of six sentences he's spoken since we left the bus station two hours ago. He still hasn't told me why he missed Mom's funeral.
I sigh in response. I want to beg him to turn around and take me back to the bus station. Visiting every summer was one thing, but I can never call this place home.
Thunder rolls and a bolt of lightning cuts across the sky like the flash of a camera. The trees light up, and in the distance I notice a muddy figure with dark hair standing at the side of the road. My heart stutters and my breath comes in shallow bursts. I'm seeing things. I squeeze my eyes shut, blotting out the image of my ex-boyfriend standing on the front porch, my mother's blood stuck to his hands like gloves. It's just my imagination. It's not Jonah.
When I open my eyes, the figure is still there. He steps onto the road, and I scream when I realize my father hasn't seen him. Dad slams on the brakes and the Dodge hydroplanes, fishtailing to a stop mere inches from the boy.
My father’s green eyes widen with recognition at the stumbling figure before him. “Oh my God. It's the Perkins boy.”
“Trevor?” My stomach drops. “What happened to him?”
“Trevor's fine. It's Mason. He's alive.” He opens the door and steps out into the rain before I can ask any more questions.
Why wouldn't Mason be alive? More important, why is he wandering around in a rainstorm five miles outside of town covered in mud?
Dad approaches Mason with an outstretched hand. I see his lips move, but can't hear what he says over the thrumming of the rain on the roof of the truck. Oblivious of my father's presence, Mason stumbles along the road, his gait slow and ragged. His jeans, caked in mud, hang loosely from his bony hips. He's barefoot and doesn't wear a shirt. Deep scratches cover his chest and arms. It looks like he just clawed his way out of the ground.
Mason paces in small circles, bloodied hands twitching at his sides. My father walks up behind him and places a hand on his shoulder. Mason turns on him, swinging his fists. One of them connects with my dad's face, and I gasp when I see all six-foot-two of him stumble. He slips and falls, disappearing beneath the hood of the truck.
I throw open my door and tumble into the cold October air, my boots slipping against the wet pavement. The rain immediately engulfs me. A gust of wind, thick with the scent of cedar and pine, picks up damp pieces of my dark hair, flinging them into my face like small tentacles.
“Are you okay?” I kneel in front of my dad as he runs a calloused hand over his jaw.
“I'm fine,” he says, struggling to his feet. “He just caught me off guard. I slipped.”
“No, no, no, no, no.” Mason slaps at his head like he's trying to knock something loose. Globs of mud fall to the ground. He throws his head back and screams in pain, tearing at his hair.
“What's wrong with him?” I take a step back, leaning against the front of the truck.
“I don't know. He went camping a week ago with some friends up near the falls. They woke up and Mason wasn't there. We thought he was dead.”
Before I can respond, a loud hacking comes from Mason. He drops to his knees, his hands pressed to his stomach. His entire body convulses. The sounds coming out of him are enough to make me want to hurl.
“We need to get him into town. We'll take him by Doc’s,” my dad says.
Mason wretches again, and this time a dark stream pours from his mouth. It looks like mud—like he's throwing up mud. I place a hand over my mouth and turn my back to him. That was seriously nasty.
“I need you to help me get him into the truck.”
I wave a hand in my father's direction, afraid to open my mouth to speak—afraid of what might come up.
“Cait! I need some help here.”
I turn to see Mason lying on the ground, his entire body wracked with convulsions. His back arches until the top of his head sits on the road. His hands hover above the ground, shaking as if he'd been electrocuted. All at once, his body goes flaccid, collapsing into silence. His blue eyes stare at the sky, unblinking against the huge drops of rain that spatter them. Black gunk seeps from the corner of his mouth and blood streams from his nose.
Dad stoops down and lays a hand on Mason's chest.
“Is he dead?” I place a hand over my mouth, fighting back the tears. He looks so peaceful. Just like my mother did. I'll never get that vision out of my head. Her still body lying in the foyer, eyes open, staring at the ceiling. Her dark hair floated on a crimson pool of blood, her full lips slightly parted as if she might speak at any moment and tell me everything would be okay. The bullet hole in her forehead told me otherwise.
“Help me load him into the truck,” Dad says, grabbing Mason under his shoulders. “Grab his legs.”
I do as I'm told, hoping Mason won’t come to and nail me in the face with one of his size twelves. I wince when I see the cuts covering his feet.
We struggle to get Mason into the back seat. Despite his thin frame, he's surprisingly heavy. Once he's inside, I remove my thick wool coat and place it over his shivering body. I close the door, careful not to smack his head.
Another bolt of lightning cuts across the sky. A flash of deep red from just inside the thick copse of cedar trees along the road catches my attention. Three more bolts of lightning hit in rapid succession, cracking across the mountaintop. They hit so close to us the ground shudders. I need to get back into the truck, but I can't move. I can't take my eyes off the person watching us.
My name, barely a whisper, hangs in the air, tossed around by the wind.
I take a step toward the figure in red. Rain falls in sheets around me, piercing my face like bullets. My hands are so cold and numb I can't feel my fingers. My pendant gives another shudder and I instinctively grab hold of it.
“It will keep you safe,” my mother told me the day she gave it to me. “Wear it always.”
“Cait, get in the truck.” My father's voice is barely audible over the thumping of thick raindrops. The only thing I'm fully aware of is the whisper of my name syncopated with the rhythm of the rain splashing around me. My entire body hums with energy. It's a familiar feeling—one that never ends in anything good.
Thunder roars overhead, and I jump when a thick hand comes down on my shoulder.
“What are you doing? We need to get Mason into town,” my dad says, his voice tinged with annoyance. “We can't stay out here with all this lightning. It's not safe.”
“There’s someone in the woods.” I turn and point in the direction of the figure, but they're gone.
He takes a step toward the trees, shielding his eyes from the rain with his hand. “There’s no one out there. Come on. We need to go.”
Once we’re inside, the cold settles in and my body begins to tremble. I reach over and crank up the heat. The warm air hits me in the face, painting goose bumps across my skin. Mason moans from the back as the truck bounces over uneven pavement. We reach the top of the last hill, and the small town of Highland Falls appears below us. The only indication that there's actually a town swaddled within the dark valley below are the tiny pinpricks of light dotting the landscape, laid out like rows of fireflies.
Dad navigates the Dodge down Main Street toward the town square and past the church before hanging a left in the direction of Doc Robertson's ranch. He's the closest thing to an actual doctor in this town. I never did understand how a veterinarian could also act as a people doctor, but no one around here seems to mind.
The headlights cut across the front of the old, white ranch house, announcing our arrival. Dad stops the truck inches from the porch and hops out without a word, leaving me alone with Mason. I turn to look at him over the back of the seat. He's so still. Too still. I reach out a hand and place it on top of my coat, sighing in relief when I feel his chest rise.
I run a hand over my tangled mess of hair, pulling away a few pine needles that had found refuge there. I could really use a brush right now. I pull down the visor and shriek when I look in the mirror. It’s not the reflection of the totally whacked out girl who startles me. Mason sits behind me, back rigid, eyes wide, staring directly at me.
“Hello, Caitlyn. So good to see you.” The pitch of the voice is definitely Mason’s, but it’s not the slow drawl I’m used to. The words are too clipped, too perfectly pronounced to actually belong to him. “I’m glad you made it.” A sick smile spreads across his face, and an electric pulse covers my skin. It’s not a friendly smile. It’s more like the type of grin the Big Bad Wolf offered Little Red Riding Hood before he tried to eat her.
My head jerks back and slams into the seat. The back of my head stings and I wince as he gives my hair another forceful tug.
“You can’t stop us.” His words are low and threatening, hot against my cheek. His rancid breath clings to the air, and I have to hold my breath to keep from vomiting.
“Mason, let go of my hair.” I try to mask the fear poking at the edge of my voice. This isn’t the Mason I’ve known the last eight years. That Mason was gentle and polite—a hulking boy with a quiet demeanor and a slight stutter.
He grabs my face with a large, bony hand and my skin immediately begins to hum. “We know what you did, Cait. We know what you are.”
I grab his wrist, and the moment I do, he screams in pain, flailing against the seat. I fumble with the door, and tumble out of the truck into the soft, mushy earth. The screen door slams, and my father rushes down the steps in my direction. I struggle to stand, slipping in the mud, certain that at any moment Mason will leap from the truck and try to kill me.
“What happened?” My dad grabs me under my arms to steady me, helping me stand.
I pull away from him and stumble up the porch steps, grasping the railing until I’m under the awning, out of the rain. “Mason attacked me.”
The screen door slams against the side of the house, revealing Doc Robertson. He’s dressed in a white T-shirt pulled tight over a protruding gut and a pair of plaid, flannel pajama bottoms tucked into the top of his old cowboy boots. He throws on a bright yellow rain slicker as he clomps past me toward the truck. A light shuffling comes from behind me, and I instinctively recoil when a small hand touches my shoulder.
“Caitlyn, honey, you must be freezing.” Mrs. Robertson wears an old floral bathrobe, her gray hair in curlers. Everything about her says “cliché farm wife.”
“Come inside where it’s warm.” She places a comforting arm around my shoulders and turns me toward the front door.
“I’m covered in mud. I don’t want to mess up your house.”
“Have you seen who I live with? This is nothing compared to what he drags in most days.” She guides me inside the house, the screen door slamming behind us. “Take off your boots and I’ll go get some towels. Wait here.”
I pull off my boots, curling my nose in disgust when my hand sinks into the mud caking them. A deep gash runs along one of the toes, cutting into the soft brown leather. Five hundred bucks down the drain. Could things possibly get any worse?
The screen door swings open. I step out of the way as Dad and Doc Robertson stumble through the door, Mason’s limp body propped up between them. I can’t help noticing the deep red mark on Mason’s wrist where I grabbed him. It looks like he stuck his hand into a pot of boiling water. I’ve hurt people before, but not like this—not with my touch.
“Here you go, honey,” Mrs. Robertson says as she hands me a couple towels. “Wipe that mud off with these. The bathroom is down there if you want to clean up.” She points down the hall toward the living room. Doc calls for her and she goes to him, leaving me to clean myself up.
I’m surprised to find that most of the mud is on my hands and knees. I bundle up the muddy towel and use the clean one to soak up some of the water from my hair as I walk down the hall, searching for the restroom.
“Call his mama and tell her we found him,” Doc says to Mrs. Robertson. “I’m going to go grab some bandages and other supplies from the clinic out back.”
Doc walks to the back of the house, followed by my father, leaving me alone with Mason. His pale skin practically glows against the bright floral pattern of the sofa they placed him on. Now that there’s light, I can see his wounds more clearly. A deep gash runs across his forehead and two more cuts make an “X” on his chest. I tiptoe past the sofa, afraid he may wake up and attack me again.
“Trevor? Hi, it’s Thelma Robertson. How are you, dear?”
I freeze when I hear her say Trevor’s name. Shit. Please don’t let him get here before we leave. I can’t see him now. I need a couple of days.
“I think you should get your mother and come down to our place. We found your brother. Mason’s alive.”
“Help. H-help u-us. You have t-to h-help us.” Mason’s voice is barely a whisper. He stares at me, eyes wide with fear, a hand outstretched in my direction. “Th-th-they’re c-c-oming.”
When I look at him, I see the old Mason, the gentle boy who used to take me horseback riding and hunting for frogs when I was younger.
“Help! Help me!” His screams are loud and desperate. I want to help him, but I don’t know what he needs. He writhes in pain, his hands clamped to his head. He sits up too quickly, tumbling off the sofa and into the coffee table, knocking a small glass figurine to the ground.
Mrs. Robertson rushes in and crouches next to him, her small frame no match for his flailing arms. “Cait, can you help me?”
I move toward her, afraid to touch him, afraid I may hurt him again. The back door opens and Doc and my father rush into the room. They wrestle with Mason, my dad holding him while Doc sticks a needle into his arm. In a matter of seconds, Mason grows still, his cries for help trailing off into silence.
I back toward the bathroom, my breath coming in short gasps. I don’t realize how bad I’m shaking until I fumble with the lock on the bathroom door. What is going on here? What happened to him? I close my eyes, willing my pulse to slow. I could really use a Klonopin right now. I haven’t felt the need this bad since they threw me in rehab.
I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and see that I look about as bad as the battered boy in the living room. Mascara rings my eyes, making me look like a green-eyed raccoon. My dark hair, so perfectly done earlier this morning, hangs in thick clumps plastered to my face.
I run my fingers through my hair, doing my best to make it look at least halfway presentable. I wipe the smeared makeup from my eyes and dig all the mud and gunk from beneath my fingernails. This is about as good as it’s going to get for now. I open the door, and step into the hallway.
“Now? It’s too soon. It’s not time.” Mrs. Robertson stops speaking when I walk into the room, a look of worry and confusion on her face. My father and Doc turn and stare in my direction. A look passes between them. Why do I feel as though I’ve interrupted something?
“You ready to go?” my father asks.
I nod, looking over at Mason. A bandage covers the gash on his forehead. Most of the mud has been washed off, and a crocheted blanket covers him. He looks so peaceful. The same as he did before he tried to rip my hair out of my head.
“Thank you for the towels, Mrs. Robertson,” I say, remembering my manners, “and for the use of your restroom.”
I follow my father, stopping to put on my boots, when footsteps come at us from the other side of the door. Mrs. Perkins flies into the house, a mess of disheveled hair and dark-ringed eyes.
“Where is he? Is he alive? Where did you find him?” she asks, her eyes darting about the room.
“He’s asleep.” Dad walks with her into the living room, recounting how we found Mason wandering along the road in the mountains outside town.
I pull on my last boot, suddenly aware of a presence behind me. I know who it is before I turn around. My body begins to shake and my stomach burns. I can’t do this now. I busy myself with my boot, rubbing a thumb over the scratched leather to avoid looking at him.
“Cait?” The sound of his voice sends a jolt through me. I slowly stand and turn to face him, a strained smile pulling at my lips. As soon as I see him, my heart aches and two years of deep regret wash over me. He looks damn good in his boots and worn Wranglers—the standard gear for every man in Highland Falls. His wet, black T-shirt clings to him. I can’t help but smile when I notice he wears the Boise State cap I sent him for his birthday three years ago. It’s ragged and dirty, just like his memories of me.
“Hey, Trevor.” So casual. Too casual? “How are you?”
He removes his cap and nods, but doesn’t speak. His worried eyes meet mine for a moment before focusing on the floor. “Where did you find him?”
I lean against the doorjamb, my arms crossed over my chest. “He was wandering along the road just past the bridge.”
“Is he … ?” He chokes back the rest of the sentence, glancing at me again, but refusing to meet my eyes.
“I think he’s going to be okay. He’s in the living room.” I want to reach out to him. Hug him. Wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him on the cheek. Something.
He pushes a strand of shaggy dark hair out of his gorgeous blue eyes, then busies himself with his cap. He looks so good, even better than he did two years ago when hurricane Caitlyn paid a visit. The summer I caused a rift between two of my best friends. The summer Trevor offered me his heart and I tossed it at his feet. How could I have been so stupid?
He takes a hesitant step in the direction of his mother’s soft sobs coming from the living room, stopping when my father steps in front of him.
“Thank you, Mr. Foster,” Trevor says, shaking Dad’s hand. “Thanks for bringing him home.”
“We were just in the right place at the right time. You call me if you or your mama need anything, okay?”
Trevor nods and smiles. I’ve missed that smile. He puts his hands back in his pockets and walks into the living room without so much as a glance in my direction. My heart drops a little. I didn’t exactly expect a joyous reunion filled with balloons and kisses. In fact, I was ready for him to rip me a new one. I would have much preferred that to his cold indifference.
I step outside to wait on the porch. The rain still comes in heavy sheets, and lightning flashes in rapid succession, illuminating the mountains that surround us. If this keeps up, the entire town will be under water before the night is through.
My name swoops through the air in an ominous whisper, and my skin begins to tingle again. An intense pain fills my head and my vision blurs. I drop to my knees and my father’s hands catch me under my armpits before I hit the ground. Just as quickly as it hit, the pain is gone.
“Are you all right?” Dad places a steadying arm around my shoulder.
“Just a little dizzy. I haven’t eaten today.” It’s a lie, but he seems to buy it.
“Let’s get you home.”
I follow him to the truck, my eyes searching the property for the mysterious whisperer, but all I see is rain and darkness.

O’Dell Hutchison
O’Dell was born in a small rural town in Idaho. There were no Redeemers living there (that he knows of). After attending college in the Pacific Northwest, he found his way to the Houston area. By day, he is a Business Systems Analyst and at night you can either find him sitting at home, dreaming of random super powers he wishes he had, or directing plays and musicals at various theaters around Houston.
Connect with the Author: Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads
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Thursday, 6 November 2014

M9B Friday Reveal: Chapter One of Life AD 2: M.I.A.: Missing in Atman by Michelle E. Reed and Giveaway #M9BFridayReveals @month9books

Welcome to this week’s M9B Friday Reveal!
This week, we are revealing the first chapter for

Life AD 2: M.I.A.: Missing in Atman by Michelle E. Reed

presented by Month9Books!
Be sure to enter the giveaway found at the end of the post!
Dez is finally hitting her afterlife stride. She hasn’t missed a meeting or session in forty-two days, and she’s put the adventures and danger of her first days at Atman behind her. Life after death is becoming tolerable, yet nothing is quite what she’d hoped. Confusion over her feelings for Charlie, residual resentment over losing Hannah, and a continuous stream of unwanted assignments leave Dez restless and argumentative.
In a missed encounter with Crosby, her prying gaze lands upon a single entry in the datebook on his unoccupied desk. These few, hastily scribbled words reveal an enormous secret he’s keeping from her. Possessed by a painful sense of betrayal, she once again sneaks off to Atman City, determined to find answers to an unresolved piece of her life.
It begins as all their adventures do, but as light falls into darkness, a stop in an unfamiliar neighborhood sets forth a chaotic series of events. Dez will have to fight for her very existence, and will face painful, irreparable loss in an afterlife teeming with demons wielding ancient powers.
In M.I.A.: Missing in Atman, the second book in the Atman City series, Michelle E. Reed continues the story of Dez Donnelly, pushing her to her limits and surprising readers at every twist and turn of the vast world that is Atman.
Death was only the beginning.
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Title: Life AD 2: M.I.A.: Missing in Atman
Publication date: December 16, 2014
Publisher: Month9Books, LLC.
Author: Michelle E. Reed

(Missing in Atman)
Michelle E. Reed
Chapter One
“Thinking about her again?”
The grass prickles me through my thin cotton shirt as I roll onto my back and take in the sky’s churning array of blues peeking through the treetops. My thoughts drift back over a span of months, coming to rest on a farewell still tugging at my heart.
“Of course I am.”
“What do you suppose she’s doing right now?” Charlie asks. His fingers trace a meandering trail up and down my arm.
“I have no idea, but whatever it is, it’s probably amazing.”
Three months. That’s how long Hannah has been missing from my life.
Well, my afterlife.
She was my first friend, and my first goodbye. Our worlds intersected for just a week, but that’s all it takes. Bonds form fast and strong here, and when you’re stranded in limbo, never quite sure who will be the next to leave, you have a steady reminder that the end of life does not mean the end of loss.
My bracelet taunts me, an unwanted reminder of exactly how long I’ve been here and how far I am from leaving. LEVEL 02-068-098.
I scroll through the menu to the time and groan. “I have to go.”
“Want me to walk you to Admin?” Charlie sits up, chivalry at the ready.
“You’d better try and find Pip before work.” I point to the bag of grapes sitting next to him. “He’s going to want those.”
“He’s just a bird, Dez.”
“But he’s Hannah’s bird. And we promised to take care of him.”
“That was before I knew how high maintenance he is.” He holds up his hand for inspection. “My finger still hurts.”
“You’re the one who was teasing him with that banana. Besides, if you can jump out a ninety-five story window without a scratch, I don’t think a toucan is going to hurt you.”
The day I met Charlie, he set our relationship in motion by plummeting from a library window in an ill-conceived attempt at humor. It was then I learned of his early, dark days at Atman when he tried in every conceivable way to kill himself, from hanging to stepping in front of high-speed trains. Through this terrible process, he learned the physical pain we feel and injuries we sustain in this transitional existence are all in our heads. Charlie is the only underage soul I know of who is immune to pain.
“Still, his beak is really sharp,” he says.
“Poor baby.” I kiss his fingertip. “Well, I’ve got to hurry up and get to my meeting before work. I’m running late as it is.”
“At least you get a short work day.”
“I’d rather scrub dishes than deal with Kay.” I stand. “See you at open rec?”
“Count on it.”
A receptionist sits at a small desk before the only other door in the room where I sit, impatient. Drab, run-of-the-mill décor adorns the walls, which are painted in a revolting shade of dull. As I survey the clean lines of the minimalist furniture, I can't help but wonder how gigantic the afterlife’s IKEA must be.
I chuckle, just loud enough to attract the attention of the new receptionist.
She’s a plump woman with graying hair and a shockingly pink pantsuit. She looks up from a small stack of paperwork to give me a polite smile.
“Don’t worry, Desiree, she’ll be with you shortly.”
“Dez. No one calls me Desiree,” I say for what seems like the millionth time. My mood is in rapid decline. This looming therapy session allows no happiness to overlap from my picnic lunch with Charlie.
“What’s that, dear?”
I hate pink.
She returns her attention to the stack of paper on her desk. Her smile becomes a small but noticeable frown. My attention turns to the task of identifying the familiar melody piped in from a speaker overhead.
What’s the point in not letting me remember? It’s a love-hate relationship I have with this existence. Mostly hate. My fingernails tick tick tick against the slim metal arms of my chair.
Pink Pantsuit looks up again from her collating. “Can I help you with something?”
“Depends. Can you get me on the next train out of here?” I plaster an angelic smile and hopeful look on my face.
She scowls and returns her attention to her paperwork.
“That’s what I thought.”
The door behind Pink Pantsuit opens, and Kay Robinson’s tall, lithe frame breezes into the waiting area.
“Hi, Dez. Come on back.” Her voice is warm and soothing.
A feeling of serenity washes over me, and I don’t bother fighting it. Her greetings always have this effect on me. It’s what follows that sends my mood plummeting.
She leads me down a narrow corridor to her cramped office, where I plunk down in my usual spot, facing her desk.
“You know, Dez, you’re actually one of the lucky ones.”
My reply comes out as a single, disgusted snort. I grab a stress ball from her desk and toss it in the air. It sails up, arcing slightly, and lands back in my hand.
The corners of Kay’s mouth curl up just a bit, and she does a poor job hiding the amusement dancing in her eyes. This is how our relationship goes. Mutually aloof, but secretly friendly. I can’t say I really get her, but I guess that’s not the point. She’s my Station Guidance and Assistance rep, so she’s here for me.
“Lucky? Yeah, sure. Lucky me,” I say.
“Grumpy again?”
“Is that the clinical term? And what do you mean, ‘again?’”
“I’ll take that as a yes. You’re going to love what’s on the agenda for today.”
“We’ll start with something easy. Tell me about adoption.”
“I thought I was here for your ‘guidance and assistance,’ Kay.”
“Yes, that’s exactly why you’re here. You know that. Now, if you don’t mind, allow me to guide and assist you.”
I shrug. “Adoption in general, foster adoption, multi-racial adoption, or my multi-racial adoption? There are lots of choices.”
“Whatever you feel like. Just go for it.”
“Fine. You’re getting my sophomore year Honors English informative speech.”
“You remember a speech from a class you took two years before you died? You’re good.”
“You want to hear this or not?”
Kay raises her hands in surrender.
“I’ll just nutshell it for you.” I clear my throat and begin reciting. “My mom was always certain it was fate that brought us together as a family. The infertility treatments, miscarriages, tests, and endless months spent as a human pincushion were all for a reason. Adoption wasn’t a distant second choice—that’s just how things shake out. You decide you want a baby, and you try to have one the way most people do. When it doesn’t work out, you find yourself consulting specialists, going to appointment after appointment, trying all sorts of crazy medical procedures in order to—”
Kay holds up a traffic cop hand. “I was hoping you’d share your feelings on adoption.”
“You said, ‘whatever you feel like.’” I toss the stress ball to her.
“Speaking of a deeply personal matter in a detached, sterile way does neither of us any good.” She tosses the ball back to me. “You tend to de-personalize the deeply personal, Miss Donnelly.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? And what’s this ‘Miss Donnelly’ crap?”
“You balk at sharing feelings and experiences in a personal way. You detach in what I believe is an attempt to avoid the risk of being exposed to painful emotions.”
I glance around her small office. “You’d think that for an eternity, they could spring for better digs.”
“You’re also a master of deflection.”
“So are you,” I retort. “You called me lucky.” I throw the stress ball at her, a little harder than necessary. She catches it with ease, her coordination matching her graceful, willowy frame. “Last I checked, I’ve been attacked by a madwoman, stalked and assaulted by a murderer, had some mystery staff member linked to my brain without my consent, and had my roommate unceremoniously snatched from this limbo-verse a week after I got here. How, exactly, am I lucky?”
“Because you’re not as complicated as you think you are.”
“Gee, thanks.”
“What I mean is you’re not going to be at Atman so terribly long. Moving on is really up to you, and you have an uncanny ability to make things far more difficult than they need be.” She raises her eyebrows, daring me to challenge her.
“That’s comforting. Glad to know it’s my fault I’m stuck here, because, you know, it’s not bad enough just being stuck here. It’s not enough to die at seventeen and never really get a chance to live. I need guilt, too.”
“You’ve found yourself a great support system. In your short time with us, you have developed strong bonds with several floormates and a particular member of our staff.”
“Fine, you’ve got me. I’m lucky. Charlie’s awesome. Bobby’s a genius. Crosby’s the best mother hen a girl could ask for. Hannah, however, is gone, and thanks so much for that. Can we move on, please?”
“What has you in such a mood today, Dez?”
“Do I have to have a reason? Isn’t being dead enough?”
Kay lets me sit in silence and stew in my anger. I focus on a granite plaque on her desk. Each time I’ve been here, it has displayed a different quote.
“That’s helpful, as usual. Last time it was some Confucius crap.”
“It was good advice. ‘It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.’ Haven’t you found that to be true since you’ve gotten here? Be honest.” She narrows her gaze and leans forward in her chair. It squeaks, marking another entry in the long, long list of things here that make no sense.
A chair in need of a blast of WD-40 in the afterlife?
“You remind me of my mom,” I blurt out.
Kay waits a moment before responding. “You’re changing the subject again, but let’s go with it. I think this could be important.” She tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and leans forward to rest her elbows on her desk.
It’s not just those left behind who grieve; the dead feel the agony of loss as well. We worry about the living and how they’re coping, how they’re getting along without us. We feel the sharp, raw pain. The same suffocating fear crushes us. Those we leave behind suffer a single loss, but the dead? We lose everything and everyone who ever mattered to us.
“Do we really have to get into this right now? I think I need to go partake of some chaotic action.”
“I think you’ve had your fill.” She glances out her small window toward the skyline of Atman City. “Enough to last quite some time, even in the span of eternity.”
An immediate longing pulls at me as I take in the off-limits city I’d snuck into three times during my first week here. The final visit nearly cost me my freedom in a dangerous confrontation with a lunatic. Despite the pointed lesson, I know I’d go back in a second if I could get away with it.
“Never going to let that go, huh?” I ask, drawn from my daydream of adventures never to be.
“Let’s not get off track.” She clicks the top of her pen. “Have you seen your mom in DSR lately?”
In the days following my funeral, my mom’s sorrow and pain left her contemplating suicide, a scene played out for me in Dream-State Reflection. Fearing the worst, I made that fateful third trip to Atman City, hoping to use the communication pods at Nero’s Tavern to contact her.
“It seems like she’s doing a bit better, from what little they show me. She’s been working on her garden. I think it’s therapeutic.”
Kay nods as she takes notes. “Returning to activities she enjoys is a good sign, and I’m glad to hear she’s progressing through her grief.” She looks up from my file. “I want to get back to what you said, though—that I remind you of her. Can you tell me what it is about me that lends itself to that comparison?”
“I … maybe nothing. Maybe I’m just grasping.” I pick at my fingernails and focus on my cuticles to avoid her gaze. “Is it ever going to stop hurting so much?”
“Think of how far you’ve already come, and you’ll find your answer.”
My hands drop into my lap. “Talk about clinical.”
“You’re in a much better place than you were upon arrival, are you not?”
“I suppose.”
“Of course you are. Don’t be afraid of progress, Dez, and don’t be afraid to feel. Own the pain. Allow yourself to experience the loss you’ve suffered. It is the only way to move forward.”
“Could you be more vague?”
Kay smiles. “Well, now you’ve stepped in it. You want specifics? I have a perfect assignment for you.”

Michelle E. Reed
Michelle was born in a small Midwestern town, to which she has returned to raise her own family. Her imagination and love of literature were fueled by a childhood of late nights, hidden under the covers and reading by flashlight. She is a passionate adoption advocate who lives in Wisconsin with her husband, son, and their yellow lab, Sully.
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