Author: Louise Cypress
Pub. Date: February 19, 2019
Publisher: Owl Hollow Press
Formats: Paperback, eBook
About the Book
Total Recall meets Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies.
Sleep for three months and make your problems go away.
Ellie Savage is used to promises. Her dermatologist dad and her psychiatrist mom run the Narcosis Clinic, a medical facility famous for ultimate makeovers, where disturbing issues are resolved while patients are beautified. Clients like pop star Dean Mathews are grateful to narcosis for healing their deepest wounds. Ellie is her parents’ most ardent supporter until her dreams become a nightmare. Ellie discovers that her true self has been shredded to bits by the scalpel and the only way for Ellie to remember is to forget everything she thinks she knows.
“The relationship between Cole and Ellie is absorbing (it’s indisputably a mutual affection) while the twins’ dynamic–they’re supportive but playfully combative–is likewise effective. The plot eventually spins into thriller territory but shrewdly incorporates themes of parenting and self-confidence. Cypress’ prose throughout is colorful: a crowd getting into ‘a ginormous frenzy’ and Ellie walking ‘in a fog of convoluted memories and migraine medicine.’ Well-defined characters in a zigzagging medical tale rife with surprises.” —Kirkus
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CHAPTER ONE: ELLIE
3:09 p.m. | JUNE 3RD
The little girl looked like someone had taken her to the butcher shop and ground her face into hamburger. One of her pigtails was crooked, making her scars appear even less symmetrical. She looked up at me from where she was coloring in a book on the coffee table. Her crayon broke.
“That’s quite a grip you’ve got there.” I crouched down and gazed into her dark brown eyes. “Could I color too?” She hesitated. “Please?”
When she pushed the box of crayons over, I gave her my electric smile.
“Ellie.” Mom’s voice had the professional tone she always used around prospective clients. “I’m so glad you’re volunteering in the clinic today because I’d like you to meet Katie.”
“Nice to meet you.” With a contented sigh, I plopped my butt on the floor right next to Katie, and the little girl giggled. I selected a brown crayon the same shade as her skin. “Maybe you could give me some pointers?” I inspected Katie’s depiction of a princess attacking a dragon. “You look like you know what you’re doing.”
Katie smiled at the compliment, but her parents didn’t notice. They both sat in wooden chairs in front of Mom and Dad’s double-wide desk on the other side of the room from where Katie and I colored. Katie’s father clutched a brochure with an iron grip. His wife stared at the wall of diplomas and medical degrees that dominated the room.
Mom smoothed her French twist. Her red hair was the same color as mine. “Ellie’s highly trained at counseling new patients and making them feel at home.”
“She’s the Narcosis Clinic’s version of a candy striper,” Dad added. “Aren’t you, sweetheart?”
“Yeah, except you never let me eat candy.” I pretended to scowl and leaned against Katie. “Does your dad let you eat sugar?” Katie froze at the contact. I rushed on. “My dad’s a dermatologist. That means a skin doctor. He thinks ice cream and candy are bad for my complexion.” I sat up straighter and did my best Dad impersonation. “‘Modern medical miracles are no substitute for proper nutrition.’”
My parents both chuckled, and then Katie’s parents laughed too—with the wheezing sound of people who had held their breath too long.
I chose a green crayon from the box. “You have no idea how many vegetables they make me eat.”
“I don’t have to eat vegetables,” Katie whispered. “I used to, before the raccoon, but now I can eat anything I want. Even ice cream for breakfast.”
The adults stopped laughing, eyes trained on Katie.
I turned my body to shield her from view. “Ice cream for breakfast sounds delicious.” I shaded in the tail of her dragon. “If you come here, you won’t need to worry about breakfast for three months.”
“That’s what they told me.” Katie set her crayon down, forehead furrowed. “But I still don’t understand.”
“Want me to show you?” I glanced up to Mom, seeking her approval.
“That would be excellent.” Mom leaned back in her chair. “Ellie can show Katie what a narcosis room looks like while we go over the paperwork.”
“Come on, Katie.” I held out my hand. “Let’s go.”
Katie’s tiny fingers sweated in my palm as I led her into the hall, through the locked doors, down the glass staircase, and into the heart of the public lobby. Since the Narcosis Clinic was only a few blocks from the Space Needle, we often got tourists who wandered over from the Seattle Center curious to take a peek at the medical facility famous for making dreams come true.
A seven-minute documentary played on repeat in the foyer. “Narcosis rooms have been around since the 1960s when Dr. William Sargant first used them in London to treat depressed housewives. Despite the dutiful attention of Nightingale nurses, Dr. Sargant’s early experiments in narcosis sometimes caused death and insanity. Thanks to the pioneering work of Doctors Belinda and Warren Savage, narcosis is now safe. If you struggle with any of a variety of health issues, the Narcosis Clinic can help. Patients wake up three months later thinner, happier, and with smoother skin. And they don’t remember a single painful surgery.” I’d heard the spiel so many times it was seared into my mind. “Sleep for three months and make your problems go away. At the Narcosis Clinic, dreams really do come true.”
“We don’t need to watch that,” I told Katie, hurrying her through the metal doors into the staged narcosis room that tourists viewed. “I’ve got something better to show you.” The scent of lavender greeted us, and light filtered in through clouded windows.
“It’s beautiful!” Katie skipped over to the brass bed piled high with silk cushions. When she turned to look at me, her maimed face gouged my heart. “Can I jump on the bed?”
“Of course you can; just let me move these sensors out of the way first.” I slid some tubing aside and made sure the machines housed in stainless steel boxes behind the bed were disconnected. It was real equipment even though it was just for show. “Go for it!”
Katie leaped into the center of the pillow-top mattress and vaulted herself like it was a trampoline. Squealing, she bounced up and down until the comforter tangled and all of the pillows fell onto the floor. When she finally collapsed in a heap of exhaustion, I pulled over one steel container with a small monitor sticking out the top.
“See this computer?” I flicked a switch on the side of the box and the monitor turned white. “It monitors patients while they sleep.” I pointed to a smaller box next to it that had headphones attached. “And that’s the computer for psychic-driving.”
Katie sat back up so she could see. “Like driving a car?”
“More like driving a brain. If a person comes in here feeling sad, my mom plays a psychic-driving tape that says, ‘I love my life. I am happy all the time.’ Or something like that. Then, when the patient wakes up, she’s all better.”
Katie wrinkled her scarred forehead. “What will the tape say for me?”
“I don’t know. What do you think it will say?”
Katie looked down at her hands. I hadn’t noticed before, but a chunk of flesh was missing from her left elbow. Mom could heal that too. In addition to being a psychiatrist, she was a plastic surgeon.
“Maybe the tapes would say something about the raccoon,” Katie whispered. “About how not all of them are bad and I don’t need to be afraid all the time.”
I swallowed hard. “Hold on a sec. Your pigtails are crooked.” I reached over and adjusted the offending hairdo. If only everything were so easy to fix. “Much better.” Katie’s smile made me glow inside. “Do you have nightmares?”
Katie nodded. “It’s hard to sleep. The other doctors said the only thing they could give me was medicine.”
“Well, those doctors don’t know everything. My parents are brilliant.”
“Really?” Katie looked up at me under a fringe of long eyelashes.
“I promise you and your beautiful eyes that you’ve come to the right place.”
Another smile burst across Katie’s face even as her brown eyes welled with tears. “Nobody says that word about me anymore.”
My eyes became wet too, especially after I kissed Katie on her hamburger cheek. “Don’t worry, Princess Katie. Three months from now, everyone will say that you’re beautiful.”
A couple of hours later, my parents and I were upstairs in our residence making an early dinner. “You’re remarkable,” Mom said to me as she stood at the kitchen counter grating carrots for a salad. She’d traded her heels for slippers and wore an apron that said “Surgeons know how to slice.” “You’re so poised and helpful. Every day you make your father and me proud.”
I flushed at the praise and took down some plates so that I could set the table.
“No, really.” Mom dumped the veggies into a bowl. “The way you handled that patient today was exceptional. By the time you brought Katie back into the room, she was begging her parents to sign the papers.”
“I can’t believe they were nervous in the first place.” Dad adjusted the burner, where he pan-fried salmon. “If Katie were my daughter, there’d be no way I’d let her live like that. Ninety days of treatment will fix everything.”
“Now, Warren, let’s not judge.” Mom rinsed lettuce over the sink. “Subjecting your child to elective surgery is scary.”
I shook out the placemats. “I don’t think reconstructing Katie’s face counts as elective.”
Dad nodded in agreement.
“And I hope they killed that raccoon.”
“Ellie!” Mom chided me.
“You can’t honestly hope the raccoon is still alive?” I set three plates on the kitchen table then sat in my usual chair.
“The only thing we can control is what happens inside the clinic.”
“Always the objective scientist.” Dad kissed Mom on the top of her head on his way to bringing the salmon to the table.
“I can’t help what I can’t help.” Mom took off her apron and hung it on her chair before sitting down. “So I don’t bother worrying about what’s beyond my control.” She picked up her napkin and placed it on her lap. “Speaking of which…”
I stared at my empty plate. “I’m not sure what I want to do.”
“We could still send you to camp this summer like you told your friends you’d be doing.” Dad broke off a piece of fillet and slid it on my dish before serving Mom and himself.
“Archery and canoeing sound like a blast,” I said sarcastically.
Dad shrugged. “Starting another round of narcosis is entirely your decision.”
“I’d psychic-drive all the AP prep directly into your head,” Mom said with a tempting tone. “Wouldn’t that make senior year easy? But there’s nothing wrong with studying the old-fashioned way too. We could send you to camp with flashcards instead.”
“The school bit would be a nice bonus, but that’s not the reason I would do narcosis.”
Dad set down his wine glass. “Your nightmares might go away with time.”
“I’ll find you a new therapist,” Mom offered, “to help you with your phobia.”
“But what about my lost memories?” I accidentally dropped my fork, and it clattered to the table. “How would I get those back?”
“Even with narcosis, there’s no guarantee,” said Mom. “Retrograde amnesia is hard to cure.”
“But you said if my brain can rest and feel safe for three months, there’s a good chance my memories will come back on their own.”
“Maybe.” Dad twisted his napkin. “We never should have sent you to boarding school. I wish I knew what happened that is making your brain forget.”
“At least I came back speaking French.”
“Not worth it.” Mom’s voice shook. “I’ll never forgive myself.
“Me either,” said Dad.
I hated when they beat themselves up like that. “Guys, it wasn’t your fault. Dad didn’t go wacko when he went to Remington Prep.”
“Don’t say that!” Mom slapped the table. “Not only is it politically incorrect, you’re doing great now. When your brain is ready to remember, it will. Another summer of narcosis might help you remember faster, but I can’t make any promises. That’s why this is your decision.” Mom took my hand in hers.
“Thanks, Mom.” I squeezed her hand. “I think I want to go for it, but I’ll let you know in the morning for sure.” I looked at Dad. “Okay?”
He reached for my other hand. “Absolutely.”
Chapter originally posted on Owl Hollow Press’s Website
About the Author
Jennifer Bardsley writes the parenting column “I Brake for Moms” for The Everett Daily Herald. You can find Jennifer on her website: http://JenniferBardsley.net or on her Facebook page: The YA Gal. An alumna of Stanford University, Jennifer lives in Edmonds, WA with her husband and two children.
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