Publication date: July 26th 2013
Genre: NA time travel dystopian novel
They took everything: her family, her home, her childhood.
By the age of nineteen, Raven has spent most of her life in the sprawling slums of America, fighting as a rebel against the dictatorship. When the rebellion steals an experimental time-travel device, she travels back five decades to the year 2013. Her plan: assassinate the future dictator when he is still young and vulnerable, long before he comes to power. She must move fast to reshape history, because agents from her own time are on her trail, ready to execute her on sight.
She became aware of pain throughout her body. Freezing water and tiny hailstones lashed her face as she stumbled through a storm. Dying thunder echoed in her ears, and crackles of lightning faded in the night around her.
A pair of lights rushed toward her through the darkness, but her brain couldn’t interpret what her eyes saw. A long screech ripped through her ears, followed by shrill bleats.
Car horns, she realized as the lights loomed closer. Through her thick, fuzzy brain, it dawned on her that she was staggering along a multi-lane road, seconds away from getting splattered across the oncoming grill of an eighteen-wheeled truck.
She discerned a dark space off to her left and moved into it, stepping from hard pavement into squishy wet earth. The truck that had nearly killed her squealed past as the driver braked, dousing her with a wave of cold mud. Horns blew at the stopped truck blocking up the left lane.
She rubbed her eyes and tried to grasp her surroundings—a grass median dividing an interstate highway, up to her ankles in frigid mud.
She couldn’t remember where she was, or how she’d come to be there. After a moment’s reflection, she realized she wasn’t entirely sure who she was, either.
Raven, she remembered. She clung to that word like a lifeline. My name is Raven. It is now, anyway. She’d once had a different name, but that original, scribbled-on-the-birth-certificate name no longer mattered.
She wore black boots and a long black jacket. A backpack weighed down her shoulders, but she didn’t know what it contained. She trudged on weak, trembling legs toward an overpass bridge ahead. Once she was out of the downpour, she could gather her brains and figure things out. She didn’t seem to be bleeding, so the blood on her hands must not have been her own.
“Hey! Hey there, girl! You all right?” shouted the truck driver who had almost flattened her. More cars honked and swerved to avoid crashing into the back of his trailer, which was decorated with puffy pink sheep.
Raven squinted up at him. The man was in his forties, severely overweight, with a handlebar mustache and scratchy, graying beard stubble. His blue and white cap read: MoonPie: The Original Marshmallow Sandwich!
“I’m fine!” she shouted through the downpour. “Keep going!”
“You got a car?” he asked.
“No,” she told him. “I don’t think so.”
“Where you headed?”
“I don’t know.”
“The troopers gonna lock you up if they see you! You drunk or what?”
“I don’t think so.” She raised a hand to her mouth to check her breath. Not drunk.
The trucker eyed her up and down, a soaking wet girl stumbling along the interstate alone at night, and then he swung open the passenger door.
“Best climb on up in here with me,” he said. “Gonna freeze your pants off out there.”
Raven looked at the gruff, obese man and the warm, sheltered transport he was offering, and then at the overpass bridge in the distance. Her legs were rubbery. She might not make it to the overpass before she collapsed.
“Lady, I got to get moving,” he said. “You want a ride to the exit or what?”
“Yeah,” Raven said. She had no reason to trust him, but he seemed soft-bodied and slow. If he tried to get rough, she would break his wrists. Even in her current state, she knew she could take him if he pushed her to it.
Raven stumbled around to the passenger side and struggled to climb with her weakened limbs until he took her arms and pulled her up.
“Thanks,” she whispered, still shivering. She was almost too weak to pull the door closed.
“Just glad you ain’t tore in half.” He settled back into the driver’s seat, and it groaned under his weight. “You musta been one, two, three, four inches from me. Or less.
Just popped up outta nowhere when that lightning hit.” He drove cautiously through the storm. “Didn’t seem like no normal lightning, you ask me. What was you doing out there? That big flash hit the road, then you come stumbling out….Did the lightning get you?”
“I don’t know,” she said. The interior of the cab smelled like cigarette smoke and old hamburgers. A collage of small objects was glued to the dashboard—action figures, an old watch face, postcards, salt and pepper shakers. Hail clattered on the cab’s roof.
“You don’t know?” he asked.
“Sorry.” Raven shrugged off her backpack and set it on the floor between her wet boots. She wanted to see what was inside it, but not while he was watching.
“It’s Jebbie, by the way.” He offered his calloused hand, and she hesitated a moment before taking it. “Jebbie Walters. From Yazoo City, Mississippi. You got a name, darling?”
“Angela. That’s my name,” Raven said. She knew not to trust a stranger with data about herself. He might be the enemy, and she felt informants and spies were everywhere, looking to report those who resisted.
“Huh. Where you from, Angela?”
She tried to remember, but finally shrugged.
“You ain’t gotta tell me,” he said. “You going north? Cause that’s where I’m going, way up north of here. You might want to hop out quick if that ain’t your plan.”
“I’m not sure.”
“You ain’t sure about much of nothing, are you?”
“Not right now,” Raven said.
“I guess I ought to drop you up at the exit.”
“You can.” Raven shrugged. “I think I’m lost.”
He looked her over again. “Tell you what. About three, four, five miles from here’s a good spot, the Big Porcupine Travel Plaza. Got showers, motel rooms, an all-night-you-can-eat place. We could stop there, get you a place to sleep. Maybe in the morning you’ll start to remembering things. I figure you just need to sleep it off.
“Maybe,” Raven said.
He laughed. “It’s okay by me. I don’t do drugs, myself. Just pills and booze. Well, you think about what you want to do.”
He turned up the radio, where a woman sang a slow, gentle song that Raven gradually recognized. Someone—her mother?—had once played it on the piano. It was an old song called “The Rose.”
“Uh, sorry.” Jebbie blushed pink and spun the radio knob. “I, uh, usually find a good honky-tonk or country gold station. Don’t know how my radio ended up on that soft-rock junk, or whatever that was. Yeah, here we go.” He found a song with a steel guitar and a man singing about his wife leaving him for his boss.
Raven looked at herself in the rain-streaked side mirror. She was about twenty years old, maybe nineteen. That felt right. Her black hair was pulled into a short ponytail with a rubber band. She wore all black: boots, fatigues, blouse, backpack, jacket.
She tried to reach back in time with her mind. She’d been stumbling along the highway. The moment before that: what? It was a solid blank slate, as though a giant magnet had wiped her brain clean. Perhaps the trucker was right, and she’d been struck by lightning.
Raven, she reminded herself. I know my name.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
J.L. Bryan studied English literature at the University of Georgia and at Oxford, with a focus on English Renaissance and Romantic literature. He also studied screenwriting at UCLA. He lives in the metro Atlanta sprawl with his wife Christina, where he spends most of his day servings the toddler and animal community inside his house. He is the author of the Paranormals series and the Songs of Magic series.