Evelyn Summers is imprisoned for a crime that was wiped from her memory.
In order for Evelyn to be released, shealong with other “reformed” prisonersmust pass seven mental, physical, and virtual challenges known as the Freedom Trials. One mistake means execution and, with her history of being a snitch, her fellow inmates will do everything they can to get revenge.
When new prisoner Alex Martinez arrives, armed with secrets about Evelyn’s missing memories, she must make a choice. She can follow the rules to win and walk free, or covertly uncover details of the crime that sent her there. But competing in the trials and dredging up her erased past may cost Evelyn the one thing more valuable than freedom: her life.
|Publisher:||Page Street Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.40(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Meredith Tate grew up in Concord, New Hampshire, where she discovered Harry Potter and subsequently fell in love with the many worlds of science fiction and fantasy. Her first book, Missing Pieces, came out in 2015 from Omnific Publishing. Meredith and her husband spent three wonderful years in St. Louis, Missouri before moving to Zurich, Switzerland as expats. Meredith spends her days eating cheese and chocolate by the lake and writing stories about characters much braver than she is.
Read an Excerpt
Margot swiped my Tuesday jumpsuit again. She'll never admit it, but I know it was her. She smirks at me from across our block, perched at the end of her tightly made bed. Her grin widens as I tear through our cell.
I sigh. "Margot, have you seen my Tuesday peels?" She ignores me, running a finger along the edge of her shiny metal collar.
I rip off my night suit and throw on my white Wednesday clothes, kicking my navy blue nights to the side as the steel door clanks open. Margot and I snap to our feet.
"Morning inspection!" booms the stiff-legged guard, banging his AK-47 against the barred door.
Don't check the day label. Please don't check the day label.
Two nurses in seafoam scrubs and the armed jack bustle inside our cramped cell. The shorter nurse approaches me and shines a dome-like light into my pupils. She deposits a blue pill into one hand and shoves a paper cup of water into the other. I down it in one gulp and thrust out my tongue to show her my empty mouth. She holds up her silvery device and presses it to my neck above my collar; it pierces my skin with a sharp stab, drawing a few droplets of blood.
The jack narrows his eyes and steps toward me. I raise my right hand in a stiff salute. He scrunches a fistful of my uniform in his meaty hand and yanks out the label.
"Prisoner E.S.-124." His smooth, acidic voice sinks into my bones.
"Sir, yes, sir."
"These are your Wednesday clothes."
"Sir, yes, sir."
"And do you know what day it is?"
He flings his hand back and slaps me across the face. Tears prickle in my eyes, but I don't let myself wobble.
"Get going." He spits a wad of saliva at my feet. "State your manifesto."
Clenching my teeth, I watch the shiny silver button on his gray uniform. "I don't know what I have done; I just know that I am bad. I am here because I deserve to be here, and I am here because I must be fixed. I seek to reform under your guidance."
He moves down to Margot, who repeats the words. My cellmate and I stand two feet apart and salute as our guests proceed to the door. The two nurses chatter between themselves as the suffocating white hall light drowns the dimly lit cage that is our cell.
The guard pivots back around mid-step. "Prisoner E.S.-124?"
I startle. "Yes, sir?"
"Block Director Levine requires your presence in her office immediately. Make it quick. Then down to breakfast without delay."
He struts into the hall without another word, unclicking the dead bolt. I swallow.
Why does Director Levine want to see me?
Margot smirks and kicks a wad of white fabric out from under her bed — my now dust-covered, crinkled Tuesday jumpsuit. She slams her shoulder into mine as she brushes past me into the hall. I close my eyes.
Day 741 in this hellhole.
* * *
Director Levine's office reeks of egg salad and mildew, as if rotting garbage festers in the cement walls. I wrinkle my nose. Did something shrivel up and die in her drop ceiling?
She stretches out a hand with well-manicured fingernails, inviting me to plop down on a cold metal chair. I take a seat, hands jittering in my lap. An oscillating fan whirs softly on the block director's desk, creating a light breeze that frees a few dirty-blond hairs from my bun.
Levine shifts in her chair and it squeaks. "E.S.-124. Evelyn Summers." She sucks the butt of a pen. "How long have you been with us?"
"Seven-hundred-forty-one days, ma'am. A little over two years."
Her lavender-walled office mocks me; they probably painted it to signify a step above the gray concrete rooms of the lowly inmates of Block Four.
"You've done remarkably well with your rehabilitation, Evelyn."
"Thank you, ma'am."
"You've been a Level Three for what, nine months now?"
"And don't think I've forgotten your record-breaking seventy-four days in Level One when you arrived. Shortest I've ever seen someone wear Level-One orange." She winks. "You've progressed quickly through your reformation."
My lip twitches. "Thank you, ma'am."
"You have not come to me once asking to have your collar loosened."
"I have pain because I deserve it, ma'am."
"Indeed." A half smile spreads across her face, so gaunt it could belong to a corpse. "I think you're ready to begin your Freedom Trials."
My heart jolts.
I force the balloon of joy inside me to deflate, for fear of bursting and exploding forbidden happiness all over the room.
"Thank you, ma'am."
Director Levine brushes a strand of copper hair behind her ear and slumps back in her chair. It's the most laid-back I've ever seen her. I tighten my spine and keep my eyes straight ahead, fighting back the giddy somersaults in my stomach.
"And you know what it means," she says, "if you complete your trials?"
"It means ... I'll be free."
Home. I can go home. I can see my mom. See my friends. Finish school.
"Indeed." She grins, folding her fingers beneath her bony chin. "Collar off, back out in the world. But you'll need to prove to everyone — to me, to the other directors, and to yourself — how bad you want your freedom."
"Personally, I believe you're ready," she continues. "But before you officially qualify to begin your trials, you'll be given one prerequisite task volunteering with the lower levels. To ensure that you are, in fact, ready to proceed and fight for your freedom. That you truly reject the reprehensible nature of the crime you committed. Can I count on you to do that, Evelyn?"
The smile bursts across my face before I can stop it. "You can, ma'am."
"Good. So tell me." She clasps her hands over the desk. "What was your life like before you came to us?"
I'm taken aback. "What information would you like to know, ma'am?"
"I would like to know about the Evelyn before rehabilitation. What brought you to us."
It's an odd request. She could easily look this up in my file. I stroke my slick white collar with my forefinger, pressing it farther into my neck.
"I lived with my mother, ma'am. I was a student — an honor student. I played JV basketball, the only freshman on the team. I was finishing ninth grade when ... the crime happened."
Whatever it was.
"When the crime happened?" She raises her brows in an unspoken challenge.
Shit. "I mean, when I committed the crime," I correct, my face heating. Taking responsibility for one's actions is the first lesson they drill into our heads. If I can't do that, they'll never approve me for the trials.
But Director Levine doesn't comment on my mistake. She purses her lips in a display of fake sympathy. "Can you see yourself returning to that old life, Evelyn?" "Yes, ma'am." My hands fidget in my lap.
"And can you see yourself committing another crime?"
"Because I have reformed, ma'am."
"Good. That's all." She pulls herself up with a curt nod. "Report to the cafeteria for breakfast. You'll receive further instructions shortly."
I scratch my plastic fork across the Styrofoam tray, creating indented crop circles around my breakfast. A prong from the utensil snaps off and flies across the table. I guess in prison, flimsy forks are better than metal ones — or as the jacks say, potential weapons. The over-dulled blade of my plastic knife barely makes a mark when I scrape it around the edge of the cardboard masquerading as toast on my tray. A nearby jack glares daggers at me with each scritch scritch.
What tasks do they want me to do with the lower levels? So close. I'm so close.
Margot and another Level Three sneer as they pass my empty table, crowding into a full one several places away. A few girls at their table whip their heads around and catch my eye, then whisper feverishly to one another and burst into giggles. I slink lower in my seat.
Across the cafeteria, two bulky jacks lead a string of cuffed, orange-clad slug boys to their tables. They shuffle through the room like a herd of sheep, eyes on the ground. Two Level Three guy hacks in white peels jump to their feet, hollering something like "fresh meat," to a slew of jeers from their comrades. A jack roughly grabs one of the taunters by his shoulders and forces him back into his seat. They make sure the guys stay on the other side at all times. Genders aren't supposed to mix in the Center, but some people still find ways.
The dining hall has the same charm of my old high school cafeteria, aside from all the guards. And the guns. Okay, maybe they're not that similar. But if I close my eyes, I can almost pretend I'm back home, eating lunch with my friends after geometry. That day, a month before the end of freshman year, I almost had the guts to ask Matt Houston to grab coffee after class. He was a senior, but we'd become friends over the year and awkwardly hooked up on New Year's Eve. Maybe he would have become my boyfriend. If I hadn't gotten shipped here.
I wonder what happened to him.
Ronnie slams her breakfast tray down beside me, and I snap out of my daydream.
"I swear to God, if Chloe leaves her shit on the floor for one more inspection, I'm gonna strangle that bitch."
I raise my brows. "Cellmate problems?"
"You have no idea."
"Sorry!" The word comes out higher and happier than planned. I morph my toothy grin into my best empathetic pout.
She scoffs, sliding into her seat. "The happy fairy crap in your OJ this morning?" "Ronnie." I force myself not to blurt out the words bubbling up inside me. "Guess what Director Levine told me."
"You're not going to beli —"
"Just tell me."
I lower my voice to a whisper. "I'm going to start my trials."
She doesn't look surprised at the news. "What, you're gonna leave me here by myself?"
"Sorry." I bite my lip. "You'll get there too. Soon, I bet."
"Yeah, three years later, I've heard that before." Ronnie rolls her eyes. "I'm never getting out of here." She tugs at the neck of her gray peels, a constant reminder that she still hasn't progressed past Level Two.
"You haven't gotten busted for making your bed sloppily in a while, right? That's a start."
"Shut the pity party, Evelyn. Go on, start your trials. See if I give a —"
The five-minute-warning bell cuts her off. We nibble our toast in silence, and the cardboardy chunks wedge themselves in my throat like sandpaper.
"Amber got the four-piece suit yesterday," Ronnie says, mouth bulging with scrambled eggs.
I shake my head. "What'd she do now?"
"Tried to clock a jack."
"I dunno." She shrugs. "Bet he deserved it."
"Is Amber okay?"
"Yeah. They hopped her up on bug juice, though; she's sedated and looks like a vegetable. Least that means she'll shut her yap tonight and not talk to me in the bathroom when I'm trying to take a dump." She snorts. "It's kinda funny, actually. Amber's usually such a perfect little prude. I'd thought she was, like, a Center spy or something. A plant."
"Wow, paranoid much?"
"Not paranoid, just vigilant." She gulps down her orange juice. "But they wouldn't have made one of their own take the bug juice. You ever get your hands on that stuff? Knocks you on your ass."
"Nope. Jacks never had to sedate me."
"Well, let's hope they never do. Happened to me twice. You can't feel your own legs."
Sometimes I picture Ronnie as a wise old lady from folktales. Some sort of curmudgeonly mentor warning me of all the stuff she's done that I probably shouldn't do: screwing around till they drug you and cuff both your arms and legs at once in the four-piece suit is one of those things.
"So, when do you start the trials?"
"They didn't tell you?"
"This girl Abby on my floor went to the trials last month. Real badass kid she was. She didn't pass."
My breakfast settles in my stomach like a brick. "Can you, like, not go there right now? Jeez."
"Please." Ronnie swats it off like it's nothing. "Don't even worry. You'll pass. I know it. And then I'll be stuck here all alone."
"You'll still have Chloe."
She shoots me a deadpan. "Thank you for that. Well, I'll see you on the outside, kiddo, I guess." Ronnie raises her empty juice glass to me. "Cheers."
EVELYN SUMMERS: PRISONER E.S.-124 REHABILITATION DIARY DAY 1
I don't know what I'm supposed to do with this journal. They told me to write in it: my feelings and what's happening. It's the only thing I'm allowed to keep private now that I'm a criminal.
I'm scared. I don't know how else to say it. They said some people wet the bed on the first night, but I didn't. Reaction to the memory wipe or something. I woke up dressed in orange on a bed in this cement room, a hulking woman with a gun hovering over me. I screamed bloody murder. I thought I was in some weird dream.
The first thing I noticed was that I couldn't breathe right. I grabbed at my neck, and my fingers caught this metal collar I can't take off.
They're calling me a criminal. I don't know what I did. I don't remember committing any crime. The woman said they erased my memory of the crime, so I remember everything else in my life EXCEPT this one little hour, two days ago. I don't know what the hell happened. I'm straining to think, THINK. But nothing comes. I guess they did a good job erasing it.
I asked the ponytail woman if my mom knew where I was, and she said she did, but I can't talk to her until I leave. I asked how long I have to stay here, and she said until I reform. What the hell does that even mean?
This morning they made me take this little blue pill called Memoria. They say it keeps the bad memories erased; otherwise, they come back. I had to show them my mouth after I swallowed it. So embarrassing.
I have a roommate, or I guess I should say a cellmate. Sharing a cell with me is this girl Ronnie Hartman. She freaked out on me this morning for screaming in my sleep and has ignored me ever since. She mentioned something to some other girl about "peels." I think "peels" are our prison uniforms. But she called me a "slug" and told me to go F myself when I asked her. Real charmer. I shouldn't be here. It's a mistake. It has to be. I'm an honor student. I'm not a criminal.
I want to go home.CHAPTER 2
A mustached jack with steel-toed boots leads me and the other Level Three girl hacks to morning chores. We clink down the gray cement corridor single file, linked together by heavy ankle chains that dig into my skin. The girl behind me kicks my heel, and I trip into the next hack.
"Slinger," she whispers snidely as I collect myself.
I'm almost out of here. Just gotta do my trials ... whenever that will be.
We reach a line of armed jacks at the end of the hall. One of them unlocks our ankle cuffs, and I stretch my legs.
"Prisoners K.S.-498 and N.P.-192, you're on dusting duty. I want these ledges spotless," he says with a grunt. "Prisoner E.S.-124, you're on —"
"Ahem." A blond-haired jack with a mean glint in his eyes steps forward. "I'm looking for Level Three E.S.-124 too."
I raise a shaky hand.
"Come with me," he grumbles.
The other hacks don't hide their scoffs and eye rolls as I allow the jack to cuff my wrists. There's always a nasty little spark of jealousy when someone gets promoted a level or sent to the trials, but it must piss them off extra that it's me.
My breath quickens. The burly jack and I traipse in silence down the corridor, him a half step behind. With each turn, he roughly shoves my shoulder in the direction he wants me to walk, as if I'm a dog and his arm is the leash. My white Level Three sneakers skate along the tiles, probably freshly waxed by a Level One. We turn a corner into a dimly lit stairwell.
"Three floors up. Let's go." He pokes me in the back with his rifle.
This is it. Whatever's waiting at the top is my first step to freedom.
I clomp up three flights, calves burning by the time I reach the landing. A green metal door swings open, revealing whitewashed walls and a hallway of closed doors. A red- haired twenty something woman peers around the door.
"E.S.-124?" she says.
The guard shoves me toward the woman as if disposing some vile piece of garbage. I can almost hear his unspoken words as he stomps back downstairs: "She's your problem now."
I stare straight ahead to greet the woman.
She unlocks my cuffs. "State your name."
"My name is Evelyn Summers — Level Three, E.S.-124. I don't know what I have done, I just know that I am bad. I am here because I deserve to be here, and I am here because I must be fixed. I seek to reform under your guidance." The robotic words fly out of my mouth without thought. I snap my hand up in salute.
"Very good." A smug smile blooms across the woman's mousy face. "Come with me."
My chest tightens. I follow her into a smaller room, where Director Levine sits at a beat-up wooden desk surrounded by filing cabinets.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Freedom trials"
Copyright © 2018 Meredith Tate.
Excerpted by permission of Page Street Publishing Co..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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