The Mill by Jess D. Harpley
Welcome to Saturday Shorts where we feature short stories and novellas. It takes a dystopian parallel world and a crazy science experiment to make a suicidal girl take back her life in Jess D. Harpley’s The Mill.
Publisher’s Description: Set in an alternate universe, the protagonist, a self deprecating college student named Jen, is forced into a world where nighttime curfews are cruel, and monsters are real. Plagued with mental illness from birth, her twin brother was the only one who ever understood her. Since his engagement to a vain, dimwitted valley girl, he’s been paying Jen less and less of the attention she desperately craves.
Her journey begins when she attempts to take her own life on New Year’s Eve after a final spat with her brother, landing her on a deserted highway just outside of hell instead of falling to her death. With the ghostly image of her empty apartment building fading into the night, she know’s that the only way is forward.
She’s immediately greeted by a quirky engineer named Hopper, who is quick to gloss over the importance of getting out of sight; so quick it leaves Jen in another terrible spot. Separated from Hopper and captured by Collectors, she wakes in a nightmare to which there seems to be no escape, The Mill. Hunted by unnatural creatures in this dank underground, she begins to discover the importance of life, and the err of her mistake.
Possible spoilers beyond this point.
Jen starts off as a pretty pitiful character; I wasn’t sure whether to feel sorry for her or kick her in the backside in hopes of jumpstarting her sense of self-worth. I had no qualms, however, about kicking her twin brother in the backside. What a mega-jerk. I think Jen’s parents need a kick in the backside, too.
So when Jen falls into an alternate universe upon attempting to kill herself, there is an expectation that she’ll have the chance to “find herself.” And she does. But first she throws herself in front of a couple asshat rapists because she thinks her purpose in this unknown universe is to save Hopper, a gal she just met. While somewhat noble, this is utterly stupid and she regrets the idea immediately.
Eventually, Jen gets thrown into “The Mill,” which appears to be some sort of science experiment gone wrong, and has to figure out who is friend and who is foe, and get herself out alive. While Jen is getting out, Hopper is trying to get in to save Jen. By doing so, she gets caught up in the experiment herself and gets physically altered, having limbs replaced by multi-functioning mechanical parts. It’s a bit suspicious how well she takes this alteration, though. One has to wonder about her sanity after such a traumatic experience.
The Mill begs for a follow-up novel or two. I want to know about the parallel universe that puts Chicago in Indiana, about the world Jen is dumped into, and what the heck the Mill is, how it got started, and how it deteriorated into what it is now. I also want to know what happens to Hopper now that she’s a walking toolbox. She seems to be going a bit batty at the end of the novella.
If you like this book…
I can’t say I’ve read anything quite like The Mill, but you might try Ciel Halligan series by Linda Grimes or the Oldest City Vampire series by Nancy Haddock to read about other women taking control of their life.