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.
“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.
“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.”
“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.
Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction
“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?”
“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 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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