Published by Owl Hollow Press
IMANI UNRAVELED Blog Tour
About The Book
Title: IMANI UNRAVELED (Daughter 4254, Book 2)
Author: Leigh Statham
Pub. Date: February 5, 2019
Publisher: Owl Hollow Press
Formats: Paperback, eBook
When her head is artificially filled with more information than she knows what to do with, Daughter4254 finds she can’t trust her own thoughts, much less the words of anyone else.
Rumors come creeping in the night, and she finds herself faced with a choice she thought she’d left far behind when she’d walked out the doors of the compound.
The wind scratches my cheeks with icy fingers. I round the corner of the building and look up, checking the rooftop for an autoeye. It still feels strange to be in a place where I’m not watched every second of every day. I keep thinking there has to be a guard somewhere or that a random person passing a window might notice me wandering alone in the side yard and call for an investigation. I don’t think I’ll ever lose those habits of apprehension from my life before prison and Secondary School.
I turn away from the quiet building and search the tree line ahead of me. Did I really see Thomas? I take a few more steps and stop at the dead, gray fruit tree outside my bedroom window. The glass is slightly mirrored, but not enough that I can’t see inside. If he was here, he saw me.
I peer again across the clearing to the trees and rocks ahead. Where did he go?
My first instinct is to run, hoping to be faster than anyone who might be watching, but my failed history of running away keeps my steps slow and regular. Besides, the blanket of snow on the ground, untouched by anything larger than a rodent or bird, makes my footprints stand out like a big red arrow.
My head thumps with sudden pain as an image of a huge red arrow fills my vision, overtaking my tracks in the snow. Neon is the word my mind supplies. Before I can shake my head to clear it, the sign disappears and the pain eases off as well.
I take a deep breath. Hamen, who still feels like Professor789 to me, did a great job messing with my head. This is the third time since awaking in the Institute that I’ve had a strange flash of a memory that isn’t mine. Each is accompanied by a word unfamiliar to me: arpeggio and sunflower and now neon.
Snow shifts on a nearby tree branch and cascades with soft plops onto the ground below. I tell myself to keep up the lie I started with the main door attendant.
I need some fresh air. I’m going for a walk to clear my head.
I felt certain they wouldn’t let me just walk out of the Institute, but they did. The woman had been friendly and all smiles—another thing I wasn’t used to. She gave me a thermal parka and some boots and warned me not to go too far from the Institute, that there were sometimes beasts lurking in the trees. A pang of guilt tugged at my gut as I thanked her.
I was not simply going for a walk. I was running for my life, and possibly for Thomas’s life. For our life together.
I wrap my arms around myself in the puffy coat and rub my shoulders while I walk slowly across the clearing. My bare hands soon grow too cold for that, and I stuff them deep in the parka’s pockets. The trees stand tall and brown against the white snow like an overgrown fence or a row of frozen soldiers. As I draw close to their rough brown bark and suck in the cold, clean air, I search for any sign of Thomas. Still nothing. I scan the ground at the edge of the trees where I thought I saw him from my room. Nothing, not even a footprint. My heart sinks.
If Thomas is dead, do I have any reason not to take Hamen’s offer to stay and help him fight the Leaders subversively? At least I could help other people like me who are stuck in the system. But I still don’t trust Hamen. He slipped too easily between the Leaders and the resistance and has lied to me about almost everything.
I take a few more steps into the dark shadows of the forest. The sunlight lingers behind me in the clearing. It is now or never. Walk forward or turn back. Run or stay.
I shove my hands into my pockets and step deeper into the woods, my feet scarring the fresh snow. I need to keep looking for something better than what I am leaving behind.
My first steps are slow. There is no sign that I’m being watched from the forest or the bright white building behind me. I make a silent promise to myself as my eyes well up with tears.
I will not cry. I will not panic. I will walk away, go into the woods, disappear. There are people in the mountains, and I will find them. I will make a life for myself. I will do this, or I will die trying.
I quicken my pace. My throat tightens further. Breathing through these thoughts and emotions is hard, and the crisp winter air makes it painful. My heart pounds twice as fast as my feet crunching through the snow. The trees fall in behind me, blocking the building from sight. Hope dangles on the edge of my thoughts, close to falling into a chasm of cynicism. There may not be any sign of Thomas, I may be lost to delusions, but I am walking. Choosing my own path and my own future, even for a moment.
Then I see it. Next to a large rock in the center of a beam of light cutting through the shadows of the forest—a fresh footprint.
I can’t help myself—I sprint forward. I don’t dare call out his name. It could be a trail from a guard or a Leader or forestry worker. Still, I look desperately from tree to tree and back to the trail of footsteps in front of me.
The steps come from deep in the woods and double back on themselves. I push through naked bushes and crisp evergreens dusted white with snow. My thick coat catches on the branches, making synthetic scratching sounds that set my nerves even more on edge. I want to take it off but my freezing face tells me that wouldn’t be wise. The temperature is well below freezing.
The tracks keep going and I keep following while unwanted thoughts dance through my mind. What if I saw someone but only thought it was Thomas? What if I didn’t see anything, and these footprints are an illusion and I’m going mad? After Hamen described the procedure I underwent to store centuries’ worth of data in my mind, I have no doubt that I could be delusional now, the part of brain that knows reality from daydreams permanently damaged.
An index of mental illnesses flash before my eyes, like the pages of a text book flipping in front of me while I read at top speed.
Bipolar II disorder
Body dysmorphic disorder
Borderline intellectual functioning
Borderline personality disorder
Brief psychotic disorder
I groan and shake my head, closing my eyes against a headache that pierces where the previous pain hit with the image of the red neon arrow. The pain dissipates again, as quickly as before, and I stand straight, not remembering hunching over. I must think about Thomas.
I take a step forward and a heavy weight hits my shoulders and back with such force I fall forward, hands only coming up in time to prevent my face from taking the brunt of the fall. I try to scream, but my face is shoved into the snow. The cold burns my cheeks as my nose is bent and scraped against a rock. Movement on my back precedes snarling hot breath in my ear.
I’m crushed deeper into the snow by the weight of a clawing mass. A flash of gratitude for the thick parka fills me as I hear it rip in several places, synthetic skin saving my own. I flail and fight to get out from under whatever has me pinned, but it’s so heavy, I’m losing the battle. Finally, I swing back hard with an elbow and make my first solid contact. Whatever it is wobbles, off balance. I grab the chance to flip onto my back and start punching.
What I thought was a forest creature is a person, a man. But something is wrong with his eyes. They’re too dark, too intense. Even in the dim forest light I can tell they are more animal than human. I shove and kick as hard as I can, trying to get him off of me. He slaps my cheek and pulls my hair. I punch and kick, screaming for help. The man grabs both of my arms, forcing them against the ground above my head, and shoves his face next to mine. I push my jaw against his, screaming in his ear, trying to keep his mouth away from my neck.
He snarls and roots at my shoulder. His breath is foul, like rotten flesh and sour milk. My arms are wedged up against his shoulders leaving only my head to defend myself from his mouth. I shove the top of my head against his cheek, trying to force it away. It is no use. Disgusting grunts and pants leave moist vapor on my skin until he rears back and crashes his forehead into mine. The blow knocks me senseless but in that same moment his weight is knocked off me.
When the stars and black dots leave my vision, I can see my attacker on the ground. Another man has him in a choke hold from behind, squeezing the air out of him until, all too quickly, he falls limp. I scoot backward until I bump against a large rock, then struggle to get to my feet so I can run, but I’m too slow.
The second man drops the first man and is on top of me, his hand over my mouth. My eyes sting with tears and I can’t breathe from the shock. His face, covered in a mask like the one my father wore to work in the forest on the coldest winter days, hovers near mine as he secures me with strong arms, wedging me in a sitting position against the boulder and the snowy ground. Then one knee is on my legs while he straightens up to peer back down the trail over the rock that conceals us. His thick green coat is the confirmation I need to know he isn’t a guard from Hamen’s. They would be wearing a white coat like me. I don’t know whether to be relieved or terrified.
Adrenaline still pumping through me, I strain to free my arms. It isn’t too late to run. I can survive and find the mountain people.
But instead of attacking, he bends down and looks into my eyes before letting his hand slip off my mouth and his grip on my shoulder loosens.
Soft hazel eyes meet my panicked gaze, and I freeze. Even with the rest of his face covered, I know those eyes.
“Thomas!” The name comes out in a burst of white fog from my mouth.
He eases off of me and I pull up his mask to reveal his scruffy face, the same one I saw watching me through bars all those days and nights in prison. I want to hold him close like my mother used to hold me—he’s so close anyway. But I hesitate. Thomas isn’t like my mother. What would it feel like to hold him? It feels strange to consider it.
“Hush, lassie,” he says. “They’re bound to be right behind us.”
At the sound of his voice, I can’t hold back anymore. I throw my arms around him. All the moments of being without him and wishing I’d jumped with him melt between us as he returns my embrace and his breath warms my neck.
“What are you doing here?” I check my voice and whisper, “How did you find me? How are you alive? I can’t…” I’m not sure what else to say, where to start.
“I’m a tough nut, you know?” He smiles and rubs my raw cheek with his wool glove. Mixed with my tears, the sweet gesture stings my skin, but I don’t care.
“I can’t believe you’re alive.” I pull him to me again and bury my face in his shoulder, my head pounding from the fight with the wild man.
His strong arms wrap around me, and I hear his voice echo in his chest. “Honestly, sweets, I can’t believe you’re not a walking veggie head. I want to hear all about your adventures as soon as we’re out of these bloody woods. Come on.”
Feeling his legs shift, I sit back and he helps me to my feet while scanning the trail behind us again.
“We’re leaving a proper mess for them to follow so we’ve got to scurry.” He takes my hand and starts back over his footprints leading farther into the woods. “How did you get out here, anyway? I didn’t expect you to waltz into my arms like a cranking birthday gift.”
“I told them I was going for a walk. I know the leader—he was trying to recruit me. He said I could do whatever I wanted, but I overheard him saying that if I didn’t comply they’d roast me. Complete Mind Wipe.” I am rambling now. Must focus. “How did you find me? And who was that man? What was wrong with him?”
As if on cue, there’s motion behind us. Down the trail, the beast man moans and sits up. Thomas pushes me behind him, ready to knock the man out again if he approaches, but a twang cuts through the air, and the man falls back to the snow, convulsing. Shock rifle fire.
“Come on, no time to chatter.” Thomas pulls my arm, and we run through the brush and trees, ignoring the footprints Thomas made on his way to get me.
I can’t help looking back. One man in a white suit is kneeling to examine my attacker. Two others have spotted us and are charging forward, long black shock rifles wagging back and forth in front of their chests.
I know what those guns feel like. I know what happens when they catch you. Shudders trip down my spine and I push myself to keep up with Thomas, determined not to lose him this time as we slalom tree trunks and trip through the snow.
Another twang rings through the air, and a branch a few feet to my left shatters.
“They are catching up,” I say between breaths, feeling fear rise in my throat.
“No matter, we’re here.” He looks back at me and slows slightly. “You gonna trust me this time?”
We emerge from the trees, and Thomas catches my arm so I don’t fall down a steep, snowy embankment to a river two hundred yards below. The drop isn’t as far as at the prison, but the water below is agitated and swift, frothing and white. I can see where Thomas has carefully picked his way up the hill farther upstream where large rocks jut out of the snowy hillside. Directly before us lies a slippery, snow-covered slide of unknown hazards. Behind, the soldiers’ shouts sound on the other side of the tree line.
I look at Thomas and without hesitation, I jump.
Title: DAUGHTER 4254 (Daughter 4254, Book 1)
Author: Leigh Statham
Pub. Date: December 5, 2017
Publisher: Owl Hollow Press
Formats: Paperback, eBook
Find it: Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, iBooks, TBD
Daughter4254 used to think life in a community where art, music and names are outlawed would suffocate her creative spirit. Now that she’s rotting in a prison cell, she’s not sure her dying mother made the right choice when she entrusted her with the secrets of rebellion. Prison has given her plenty of time to relive every mistake and lose all hope.
Then she meets Thomas, a fellow inmate, who tells her stories of the mythical mountain colonies where people have names and the arts thrive. Together they plot an escape, knowing if they fail, they will die. Or worse, their consciousness will be taken by the MindWipe, leaving their bodies free for the government to use. When nothing goes as planned, Daughter4254 must choose between using her mother’s secret to better the world she hates, or following Thomas to the quiet life of freedom she has always craved.
Leigh Statham was raised in the wilds of rural Idaho but found her heart in New York City. She worked at many interesting jobs before settling in as a mother and writer.
She now resides in North Carolina with her husband, four children, eight chickens, a fluffy dog, and two suspected serial killer cats.
Leigh is currently working on an MFA, has written countless short stories, and is the author of lots of mediocre poetry. She is also the winner of the 2016 Southeast Review Narrative Nonfiction Prize for her short story “The Ditch Bank and the Fenceline.”
2 winners will receive a finished copy of IMANI UNRAVELED, US only.
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