The Driftless Unsolicited Novella Series • Release Date: December 17, 2019
Print ISBN: 978-1-948559-45-4 • Ebook ISBN: 978-1-948559-48-5
Brain Mill Press offers The Meadow in ebook and trade paperback editions. Ebook buyers receive access to MOBI (Kindle), EPUB, and PDF files, offered without DRM restrictions. Print book buyers receive a physical copy of the book and access to the ebook files in all formats.
In the year 2171, in the aftermath of a great war between the Kingdom of East and the Republic of West, a dark nuclear winter devastates the planet, blotting out the sun and stars. Ilana is a child scavenger in the war-torn East, struggling for survival. As she seeks revenge and salvation, her journey will lead her first to a place among rebel soldiers, where her loving bond with a fellow rebel hints at their shared destiny. Ilana’s dissatisfaction with the violence of the resistance ultimately leads to her defection and assimilation into the surveillance state of the West, and finally beyond the wall that encircles the world and into an ancient and forbidden borderland. There, she will face down spirits, monsters, and the truth about herself and her legacy to bring light back to her world.
Mihka Emani’s layered and visionary debut recalls the dystopian fantasy fiction of Sabaa Tahir and Sofia Samatar and considers how the alienation of emigration and war can be confronted with nonviolence, reconciliation, deep understanding, and self-acceptance. Readers searching for heroic characters with beautiful, singular, and speculative worldbuilding will be carried away by The Meadow and its epic journey into the very heart of peace and magic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mihka Emani is half African American and half Pakistani. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she received her B.A. in political science. The Meadow is her first book.
AN EXCERPT from The Meadow by Mihka Emani
Let the Sun rise.
Ilana lifted her eyes to the sky.
From the eleventh floor of the crumbling apartment complex, far above the fallen Sun Kingdom, she could almost touch the clouds. She sat cross-legged on the ledge, just below the serrated slice of concrete wall once carved away by drone strikes, now boarded up with scraps of wood and canvas tarp and rusted nails. Every morning before dawn, she lifted the tarp and looked out.
With cockroaches and colored plastic bags and corpses, the coagulation of collapsed sewage lines collected in cesspools. East’s walls were bullet-riddled and dust-caked, slick with the gossamer remains of their gardens. The sun-worshippers walked with bare feet on a clotted crust of cardamom shells and dragon fruit flesh, wading through thickening dreamscape.
Ilana drew her knees to her chest, waiting.
There. Just beyond the thinnest cirrus of cloud, there was a glimmer of an answer. Soft as embers beneath ashes, droplets of red-gold light pinpricked the horizon line. And then it faded. It always faded.
“Beautiful,” she breathed, testing the word on her lips.
Like the white-winged moth they’d seen last winter.
“Beautiful,” Amma had said, so softly it was barely spoken. “Ilana, look.”
Beautiful was a word from another world. Sometimes Amma would tell her stories of Before, when the fruit stalls and the flower stalls overflowed into the streets. Heavy with silk and crystals, the monarchy danced in grand ballrooms with beautiful dripping from their skin like clarified butter. Amma’s words floated through the dark like sailboats on a silver lake, leaving ripples of longing deep inside her. More than food or water, Ilana longed for Before—its fields brimming with sugarcane, sky brimming with Sun.
The Sun, which she had never seen.
She’d lived her entire life in this room, in darkness. Eight years, four walls, only the two of them.
Amma would leave for the factory each morning, returning with army-branded bags of rations and a smoky outside-smell on her skin. Sometimes sugar, folded into small paper parcels, or tomatoes, wrapped carefully in a swath of burlap cloth. And once, on her birthday, a mango. Soft and sweet and gold, spun with threads that got stuck between her teeth, juice dribbling down her chin.
Every few days she’d bring home a book, its yellowing pages frosted with dust. Ilana spent her days poring over printed ink-sketches of star-charts and photosynthetic flora and neofelis nebulosa, hovering on the edge of not-quite-understanding hardly anything, learning that the earth revolves around the Sun and the Sun is only one of four hundred billion in our galaxy alone. What would it be like, to live off the light? She imagined herself underwater, encrusted with chlorophyll. With gills and scales, breathing blue-green crystal.
But whenever Amma came home, Ilana would drop whatever book she was reading and run into her arms. She was swept onto her hip, with lips pressed firmly to her forehead. “What did you learn today?” Amma would murmur.
Some particles move so fast their position can never be pinpointed, but nothing is faster than light not even silence, and white light contains all colors, and white petals recede to indigo, and a mother doe washes her whitetail fawn after birth. In the infrared spectrum we are all glowing, and the honeybees are dying as the earth is warming, and moving clocks tick more slowly than unmoving clocks, and Flora and Fauna cannot exist without each other. Hummingbirds’ hearts beat 1,263 times each minute and the planets circle the Sun in ellipses and the panthera leo has nine lives.
Then Amma would set her down, set her to peeling garlic or kneading dough. Ilana’s mother would unwind her waist-length lilac braids, slip out of her overcoat and into a cotton shift. She had a white birthmark the size of a thumbprint on her lower back. She hummed softly to herself as she chopped onions or hung freshly washed sheets.
“Amma,” Ilana said. “Did you know that Neptune has forty-two years of summer and forty-two years of winter?”
“No, my love, I did not.”
At night, they’d sit cross-legged on the floor before bowls of spiced soup with potatoes or lentils, fluffy white rice, flatbread freshly baked on the tandoor.
“Amma. Tell me again about the Spirit of the Sun.”
“Please?” The sun-girl moved closer to her mother, her eyes round.
Amma folded her arms across her chest. “Did you finish your beans?”
“Yes.” Ilana made a face.
“Here,” Amma said, pushing her plate toward her daughter. “Have mine too. I’m not hungry.”
“But I don’t like beans.”
“No beans, no story.”
“Okay,” Ilana grumbled. She begrudgingly swallowed a mouthful of beans.
“As above, so below,” Amma said at last, eyes twinkling. All of Amma’s stories began like this. “Long ago, the Spirits of Light were in balance. Back then, the sun-worshippers and the star-gazers lived in peace, and moved freely between the Republic of West and the Kingdom of East. But the Spirit of the Stars watched the Sun from afar, growing restless. He envied her ability to create so easily. Because of her, the fields flowed with fruit and flowers. And the sky… Ilana, it was so blue. Day in and day out, the Spirit of the Sun dazzled the people of earth, sun-worshippers and star-gazers alike. And as they learned to replicate her light, his own light grew faint.
“The Spirit of the Stars was filled with spite. More than anything, he wanted to possess a light as bright as the Sun. One night,” she continued, her voice hushed, “he crept into the clouds and snatched the Sun out of the sky. He locked it in a crystal amulet and hung it around his neck.”
Ilana swallowed hard, the beans settling as a hard knot in her belly.
“The sky grew dark, the clouds swept in, and the balance was broken. In that moment, the Spirit of the Stars realized that he could not exist without the Sun. Now he wanders the earth like a ghost, always cloaked.” Amma gazed at Ilana, her almond-shaped eyes soft. “But someday, someone will steal the Spirit of the Sun back. Someone will break the glass, and all the light will come pouring out. And when the Sun rises, everything will be as it was.”
Now the sun-girl waited. All day, all night, she waited for Amma to come home.
After the factory closed down, there were no more fresh tomatoes or parcels of sugar. At first, Amma would go out all day searching for work, returning home with only the furrows in her brow cut deeper.
“It’s all right,” she’d say, taking her daughter’s hands in her own. “We’ll try again tomorrow.”
Thick soups turned to watery broth. Then came the morning when Ilana woke and there was only water, heated in the cast-iron pot with a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of dry milk. Ilana looked up at her mother, sunken cheeks and sunken eyes, wide.
She watched as Amma began to cry. She watched her mother bury her face in her hands, sobs wracking her entire body. “Amma?” Ilana whispered, her heart sinking like a stone.
And in that moment, the sun-girl watched as a wash of steely resolve slipped over her mother like armor. At the sound of her daughter’s voice, Amma grew very still.
She stood before her as a soldier assigned to the front line and resigned to her fate, standing with a gun strapped to her chest and a love letter in her pocket. Already a ghost, almost.
“You know, Ili,” Amma said softly, her voice wavering. “You are all I have. I live for you,” she said. “Only for you.”
That night, the sun-mother lined her eyes with kohl and ran the cracked tortoiseshell comb through her hair. With hands that shook, she dabbed three drops of jasmine oil at her throat and each of her wrists. She scooped Ilana into her arms and placed her gently on the bed, kissing the top of her head. “I’ll be back soon.”
“No,” Ilana blurted, eyes round in the dusk. “Don’t go.”
Amma stopped, pulling her daughter close to her chest. “I have to. For you, my love.”
As the door clicked shut, the sun-girl clamped her hands over her ears. Suddenly she could not bear the dark, the cold void beside her. A thousand thoughts rioted inside her, rising up to her throat, choked. Like swallowing stones one by one, trying to absorb a mountain. The true extent of her powerlessness cast its creeping shadow. For all she knew, she knew nothing at all. She did not know how to rewind time. She did not know how to take her Amma away from all this, to return her to her bedtime stories and murmured songs, where she belonged. She did not know how to turn back the silk-black reel, to bring back the dead. To walk with her through cotton fields, gold-leafed air. To give her wild roses, fresh cream, mint leaves crushed between fingers.
She was afraid. Too sad, too small, too afraid. Too afraid of the dark, too afraid of the void, too afraid of herself.
As she lay there holding her breath, the vast unknown and everything it contained—like a pooling indigo ink stain—grew ever more infinite.