Friday, October 7, 2016

"Unlocked" by Margo Kelly

by Margo Kelly

Unlocked by Margo Kelly is currently on tour with YA Bound Book Tours. The tour stops here today for an interview with the author, an excerpt, and a giveaway. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.

For another book by this author, please check out my blog post on Who R U Really?.

A provocative thriller involving hypnosis, mystery, love, and friendship!
Someone has been moving the stuffed pink elephant in Hannah's room. She thinks. And ants crawl over her hands, across the steering wheel, all the time. Don't they? They're what made her crash the car on the way home from the fair, and she wouldn't have freaked out, wouldn't have caused her friend's death, for no reason. But she doesn't know if a person is messing with her, if the paranormal is messing with her - or if she's just going psychotic like her dad before her.
When her friends bail, Hannah is left floundering. Not even her boyfriend Manny believes her, and new girl Chelsea is practically replacing her at school. Only artsy outsider and self-proclaimed occult expert, Plug, agrees to help Hannah find out the truth about hypnosis and demons, and even he can't help Hannah reclaim her mind from whatever's taking over. She'll have to do that herself if she wants to save her friends, her mom and herself.

August 23rd
Crimson lights flashed beneath the darkening Idaho sky, and swarms of people screamed as they plummeted on rollercoaster rails. My friends and I passed unshaven men who blew whistles and offered the world, if you'd only play their game--toss their rings, shoot their balls, throw their darts--for a small price, of course. The tempting aroma of fried foods made my empty stomach tighten. Funnel Cakes. Corndogs. Fried Twinkies.
"Hannah, there it is!" Lily motioned toward a massive white tent. A throng of people near the opening pointed and laughed at the show inside. Lily snatched my wrist and yanked me forward, but Manny tugged me back.
"Food first." He patted his stomach.
"No. Hypnotist first," Lily said. "He's the whole reason we came tonight." She pulled, and her tan shoulders hunched. But Manny held on, and together, the three of us blocked the crowd trying to move down the fairway. A tall blonde lady grunted and hedged around us. Then Lily's long-time love, Jordan, laughed at our spectacle, which was the last thing I wanted. I wrenched free from my friends and took a step away.
"Let's work this out," I said.
"Oh, Hannah…" Lily adjusted her golden tank top. "You're crazy if you think Manny and I will ever agree on anything."
"Then we'll flip a coin," I said.
Jordan plucked a quarter from his pocket. "Who wants to call it?"
Lily clapped. "Heads!"
Jordan tossed the quarter high into the evening sky. We craned our necks, and the evening breeze blew my hair across my face. I smoothed it back into place as the coin crested and began to fall. Jordan reached for it, but a burly man--too busy laughing to watch where he was walking--bumped into Jordan before he caught the coin.
"Dude! Watch out!" Manny yelled at the stranger. I wrapped my fingers around Manny's arm, and he relaxed. The offending guy held his hands up in apology and wandered away.
Manny raked his fingers through his thick chestnut hair. "Let's get the hypnotist over with so we can enjoy the rest of the night."
Lily beamed, and her hazel eyes sparkled. "We need to hurry and get our seats. The next show starts in ten minutes." She grabbed Jordan's hand, and they darted toward the white tent, but the crowd from the previous performance flooded out and blocked their path.
"Thanks," I said to Manny. "I just want everyone to get along and have fun tonight."
Manny laced his fingers through mine, and my heart fluttered. Would tonight be the night we finally kissed? We'd been friends for years, but we just officially started dating last week. He was the best thing in my life, and I wanted to be with him forever. He squeezed my hand, and we meandered over to the tent to wait with Jordan and Lily.
Jordan fiddled with the gold hoop dangling from Lily's ear, and she fussed over the spikes in his sun-bleached hair. They were the poster children for cute couples. Lily had even bought Jordan a plaid shirt with golden lines through it to coordinate with her tank top, and they both wore faded denim shorts and Converse sneakers.
The crowd of people cleared, and we ducked inside the mammoth structure. Spotlights illuminated the entire space and rock music blasted from corner speakers. Stands of bleachers spanned two thirds of the perimeter, and a stage filled the remainder. Men, like a colony of worker ants, moved around sweeping and rearranging chairs for the next show.
Lily claimed a spot near the middle front of the bleachers, and I perched next to her. A shiver ran up my spine when the cold metal touched the backs of my thighs. I wedged my fingers beneath my legs, and my silver bracelets clanked against the steel.
"Why do you want to sit so close?" I raised my voice over the blaring song.
"To get picked for the show." Lily bugged out her eyes, as if it should've been obvious.
My throat tightened at the idea of making a fool of myself in front of everyone. I wished we could move further back, but all around us, the stands were filling fast.
Over the noise, a familiar hee-haw laugh split the arena: Chelsea. She and her date, Mark, bounded toward us, her long tan legs accentuated by her short shorts. Her single blonde braid swished back and forth as she moved. She was a starting center for volleyball and towered five inches over Mark who was a second-string tight end for the football team. He had to move twice as fast to keep up with her, but he had pursued her ever since she moved here last fall.
"You didn't save us seats?" Chelsea asked.
"It flooded with people too fast," Lily said. We hopped up and exchanged hugs with her.
Jordan stepped in front of Chelsea and fingered the collar of my white blouse. "You'd be hilarious hypnotized," he said.
"No, I wouldn't." I swatted his hand away and straightened my collar. "Besides, it's only entertainment. A gimmick."
"Jordan's right," Chelsea said. "You would be funny on stage, but you're way too uptight to be submissive to anyone." My jaw dropped, and Chelsea laughed.
"I'm not uptight," I said, but my words faded into the deafening music. I just never wanted to be disorderly like my dad. He embarrassed Mom so many times in public. She would flush beet red as she worked to quiet his outbursts. One evening back in New Jersey, when I was eleven, Dad refused to get into the car. Mom started the engine and threatened to leave him in that crowded mall parking lot. I loved him too much to abandon him there. I pleaded with him, and when I reached for his arm, he backhanded me. My head flung to the side, and the pain seared through my cheek. Less than twenty feet away, a trio of girls from the popular clique gawked at my family's debacle. Their ringleader cocked an eyebrow. Then the girls snickered and scurried away. I fought back my tears and turned toward Dad. I opened his door and waited--keeping my hands to myself. Several minutes passed before he relented and sank into the passenger seat. He never touched me again. He died three months later.
The music in the arena suddenly changed from blaring rock to a peppier pop song at half the volume.
Chelsea edged around me and took my seat. "Well if you're too chicken to be in the show, Lily and I can volunteer."
"Go ahead," I said.
"No!" Lily said. "She's just teasing."
Chelsea shrugged and surrendered my seat. "Fine, just make sure you entertain us." She grabbed Mark's hand, and they ran off to claim spots at the top of the bleachers.
"Don't let them badger you into doing it, if it's something you don't want to do," Manny said. His towering six foot frame shaded me from the arena's spotlights.
"Trust me," I said. "I'll choose for myself."
His brown eyes widened, and he caressed my cheek with his smooth fingertips.
"Oh gag." Jordan pretended to barf. "It's a good thing we haven't eaten yet; otherwise I'd be blowing chunks all over you two."
Manny whacked Jordan's chest.
"Dude!" Jordan lifted his hands.
"Stop." Lily pulled him toward her, and he sat to her right. I sat to her left, and when Manny took the spot next to me, he wrapped his arm around my waist.
He whispered in my ear, "You're amazing." His breath made my skin quiver.
A guy on the stage thumped the microphone.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the announcer said, and the song changed to an anthem of drums and guitars, building the excitement. "Tonight, I have the honor of introducing the mystical Master Gira." The guy swept his arm to the side of the stage, the drums beat at a maddening level, and the crowd applauded as a man stepped onto the stage. He wore powder blue sneakers, worn out jeans, and a white button up collared shirt beneath a black blazer. His face, too tan. His hair, too white. He clapped his huge hands together, and his bleached teeth glowed under the glare of the spotlights.
Lily whacked my knee. "Volunteer with me." She twisted several strands of her long brown locks around her finger. "Take a risk with me. Life is meant to be lived. Please?"
I glanced up at the stage and back at Lily. "I'll do it, but only because we're friends."
"Yes!" Lily threw her arms around my neck. "Best friends."
"Welcome to my Mystical Madness!" Master Gira swung the microphone stand out of his way and clutched the mike with his other hand. The crowd cheered.
He spread his arms wide and asked, "Who's been hypnotized before?" Half the crowd thrust their hands into the air. They clearly thought this was no big deal. Maybe I was too uptight.
"Who thinks it's all a giant hoax?" he asked. Lily clutched my wrist and raised it high. I yanked it back down, but the master mystic had already locked eyes with me. He raised his bushy white eyebrows and strutted to the left side of the stage.
"Who's afraid of appearing foolish tonight?" A majority lifted their hands. "I'll tell you what--" He pointed, and the music in the background softened. "--everyone shake your hands high in the air." Everyone did, including me. "Shake them faster. Higher. Lower. In front of your face. Turn to your neighbor. Who seems foolish now?" The volume of the music increased, and everyone burst into raucous laughter. "And we haven't even started the show, yet!" Master Gira shouted into the microphone.
He moved back to center stage, directly in front of me, but he looked beyond me-higher up into the stands.
"Grab the hand of your neighbor and extend your arms out straight." Both Manny and Lily linked fingers with me. The animated hypnotist lifted his arms up and down, and everyone in the crowd followed without hesitation. We all looked ridiculous, but the merriment was contagious.
"Who's ready to have the most amazing time of their life?" The crowd shouted their approval. "Well the best seats in the house are right up here." He pointed toward the row of chairs on the stage. "If you want to let go of your fears and feel more relaxed than you ever have, join the show tonight. I have fifteen chairs, and I need them filled boy, girl, boy, girl. Who wants to help?"
Lily tugged me to my feet, and with her other hand, she reached for Jordan. I reminded myself that I was doing this for her. I was nothing like my dad. I could have fun and keep my composure.
Manny hopped up with us. "I'll go, too. When it's over we can do whatever you want."
"Eat funnel cakes," I said.
"Funnel cakes it is."
I gave a quick nod, and all four of us ran up on stage with eleven other suckers. Several stage assistants showed us which seats to take. Manny and I sat next to each other, but they positioned Lily and Jordan at the other end of the row. She gave me an enthusiastic thumbs-up, and he winked at me.
Gira explained to the audience that they needed to be very quiet while he hypnotized us. "Not everyone can be hypnotized," he said. "If I or my assistants see someone is not fully under, we will excuse them from the show to return to the bleachers. And likewise, if a member of the audience falls under, we may bring him or her to join us up here."
The lights over the bleachers dimmed, and the spotlights aimed at the stage brightened. I squinted at the harsh beams. The hypnotist stepped in front of the row of chairs and touched each person on the shoulder. His jeans brushed my bare knees, and he paused in front of me with his index finger on my shoulder. I focused on the blacks of his pupils, and goose bumps popped out on my arms. My instincts told me to get off the stage. But the show had already begun. Lily would kill me if I left now. I could just pretend to be hypnotized.
Master Gira shifted his hand in front of me and offered it to shake. He didn't do that with anyone else, and so I hesitated at first, but then I relented and extended my own hand. Without warning, he clutched my wrist and jerked it upward, nearly lifting me out of my chair. He held my palm so close to his face, his breath warmed my skin. He lowered his voice and spoke in a rapid monotone.
"From the tips of your fingers relax your muscles." He released my wrist and touched my fingertips. Then he trailed his hand down toward my elbow. I was uncertain how to react. "Feel an overwhelming sense of peace. Let go of your worries. When I count to three you will slip into a deep resting place of serenity and comfort. One. Two. Three. Sleep!"
He snapped, and my chin fell to my chest.
But I wasn't asleep.
I wasn't snoring. I wasn't dreaming. My eyes were open, and I was aware of everything around me, but my head felt heavy. I played along, and even with my chin down, I saw the hypnotist step to the person next to me. On my other side, Manny tugged at the hem of his tan shorts and bounced his knee. He leaned forward and whispered, "Are you okay?"
"Yes," I whispered without moving a muscle.
A stage assistant said to Manny, "Please return to the audience."
I needed him to stay.
Manny's hand tightened into a fist on his thigh. "I want to continue," he said.
"No." The stage assistant nudged his arm.
Manny flexed his fingers and plucked at his blue polo shirt. The assistant led him away, and another assistant guided someone else to Manny's chair. The stranger's chin sank to his chest. My eyes throbbed from straining, but before I closed them to rest, a shadow crept across the stage floor. I took a deep breath and listened to the hypnotist tell more people to sleep. Were they all faking like I was?
"Open your minds," Master Gira said with a cadence. "Open your minds and listen to my voice. I'm going to count and when I reach ten, you will be in a deep restful sleep, but you will still hear my voice and respond to my directions. As I count, visualize yourself moving down a plush staircase. Each step down brings you closer to true relaxation. Each step doubles your sense of peace. One, you're on the first step moving down."
I'm doing this for Lily.
"Two. Three."
I hope Manny is okay.
"Four. Five."
I am not like my dad. I can stay in control.
"Six. Seven."
I wish I could see Lily and Jordan.
"Eight. Nine."
An ant crawled across the stage. It was out of my reach; otherwise, I would have squished it under my flip-flop. I hated those pests.
"I only want you to experience an overwhelming sense of serenity and comfort. Relax. …Ten. Accept the feeling of immense satisfaction. Gradually lift your heads and open your eyes."
I lifted my chin, thrilled my neck didn't ache from being in the same position for so long. I stretched from side to side and scanned the audience for Manny, but the bright spotlights kept me from making out the faces. They seemed like distant ghosts instead of living people. I glanced down to the end of the row, expecting to see Lily and Jordan, but they were gone.
"Slowly inhale, expand your diaphragm, and hold it." I followed Master Gira's instructions, but I faced straight ahead and avoided eye contact with him as he paced the stage. I wanted him to assume I was under his spell. "Gently release the breath out through your mouth."
The music changed again. A familiar tune, but a few seconds passed before I recognized the anthem of La Bamba.
"We're listening to one of your favorite songs," Gira said. "You love it so much; you want to be a part of it, right?"
Not really, but I was willing to join in for the show.
"Imagine your favorite musical instrument: drums, trumpet, guitar, anything that makes you happy. On the count of three pick up your favorite instrument from your lap and play along with the music. The more you participate, the more relaxed you'll feel."
I could do that. One. Two. Three. Trumpet up. Lips puckered. Fingers moving. We played our instruments for a few seconds. Then Master Gira quickly said, "One. Two. Three. Sleep." My body drooped, and my chin sank to my chest. I relaxed.
The hypnotist called on other participants to do random silly things on the stage: pretend to be a duck, pretend to juggle fire sticks, pretend to be naked. Then he had a group of five lying center stage sun bathing. He told them the temperature dropped below freezing. While they reacted and the audience laughed, the hypnotist stood in front of me. He gave more monotonous instructions to the group of sunbathers, told them to cuddle together. The crowd clapped and whistled.
Master Gira swung the microphone behind his back, leaned in close to me, and whispered, "Open your mind and allow your subconscious to hear me. I want only goodness for you. Open your mind and let my voice in. Experience this peace."
His breath, moist against my ear, smelled of cigarettes. Part of me worried about his intentions, but a larger part of me sensed an overwhelming degree of comfort. I took a deep breath and released the remaining tension from my muscles.
Gira moved back to center stage and suggested to the group that the temperature had become warm again. He counted to three, and an Irish dance song replaced the previous melody.
The hypnotist spoke rapidly with the cadence of the Celtic music and told us how much we wanted to move to it. I had been sitting a long time. I was ready to stand up and stretch. He counted to three, and everyone on stage popped out of their chairs at the same time, including me, glad to do it. We stepped around a bit, and as he suggested, we kept our arms glued to our sides and moved our feet to the music like Irish dancers. It felt energizing to prance around. I grinned and sent a mental message to Lily: This one's for you, sister. I tapped my feet to the rhythm.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
"Unlocked is a suspenseful thriller all the way to the very climatic ending! This good vs. evil story had me guessing the ending until the final pages. Kelly is very descriptive in her writing and details that I felt I was there right along with the main characters. Think that carnival side shows are harmless? Think again!" ~ Julie Hatcher, librarian
"An engaging mystery with hints of supernatural and romance." ~ Kirkus Reviews

Interview With the Author
Margo Kelly, author of Unlocked, stops by today for a short interview.
As a public speaker, you’re already something of a professional communicator, but there is a difference between the spoken word and the written one. Was the transition from orator to author a challenging one for you?
In some ways, yes, because much of my public speaking has been on non-fiction topics such as business, sales, and recruiting. Now I’m writing fiction for the young adult audience. These are two completely separate worlds. However, any great public speaker includes stories, personal details, and a bit of hyperbole to keep the interest of the listeners. The art of engaging the audience has definitely helped me translate stories to paper.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
The greatest thing I learned at school was to think for myself. Just because someone says something doesn’t make it true. Researching and challenging the statements of others became an essential skill.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a writer ... or ruler of the universe ... they’re pretty much the same thing.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to make quilts, go camping, garden, and read.
What’s on your nightstand?
Dust. Because I’d rather read than clean house. In addition to the dust, I have a stack of over twenty books and my Kindle (with countless additional books waiting to be read).
Who are some of your favorite authors?
If you could choose only one, who would be your favorite author?
Dean Koontz, for his page-turning thrillers. My desire is to write fast-paced thrillers for the young adult audience.
Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
I love to read, and I have a lot of favorites, but if I have to pick just one, I suppose I’d choose Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. It not only kept me turning pages, but it also caught me by surprise in the end. Any plotline that is unpredictable impresses me, but I especially enjoyed Odd Thomas because he’s such a lovable character. Koontz writes great thrillers. Outside of my genre – I’d have to say I love the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich. Every single book in the series has made me laugh out loud at some point. I love fast paced, plot driven books.
What was your favorite book as a child/teen?
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell.
Thanks for stopping by today, Margo. Enjoy the rest of your tour!

About the Author
Margo Kelly is a native of the Northwest and currently resides in Idaho. A veteran public speaker, Margo is now actively pursuing her love of writing. Her critically acclaimed debut, Who R U Really?, was published by Merit Press (an imprint of F+W Media) in 2014. Her second novel, Unlocked, was published by Merit Press in October 2016. Margo welcomes opportunities to speak to youth groups, library groups, and book clubs.
Margo Kelly loves to be scared ... when she’s reading a good book, watching a good movie, or suffering from the hiccups. She loves writing thrillers for young adults and hopes her stories give you the goose bumps or the itchies or the desire to rethink everyday things. Margo is represented by the not-so-scary, but totally awesome, Brianne Johnson of Writers House.

Enter the tour-wide giveaway for a chance to win one of two signed hardcover copies of Unlocked by Margo Kelly (US only).