Today we're excited to chat with Carolyn Cohagan, author of Time Next.
Read on for more about Carolyn and her book, an excerpt, plus an giveaway!
Meet Carolyn Cohagan!
Carolyn Cohagan is an award-winning author, women's activist, and founder of Girls With Pens, a creative writing organization dedicated to fostering the individual voices and offbeat imaginations of girls ages 9-17. Her first novel, The Lost Children, became part of the Scholastic Book Club in 2011 and was nominated for a 2014 Massachusetts Children's Book Award. Time Zero, the first novel in her Time Zero YA trilogy, garnered numerous awards, including the 2016 International Book Award, and was voted "One of the Best Summer Books" by Seventeen Magazine in 2017.
Carolyn Cohagan also has an extensive theater background: she has performed stand-up and one-woman shows at festivals around the world from Adelaide to Edinburgh. After two decades of living in New York and Los Angeles, Carolyn returned to her hometown of Austin, TX, to found Girls With Pens. She holds a BA in Art History from Barnard and an MA in Writing from USC.
Meet Time Next!
In this sequel to the award-winning Time Zero, Mina's adventure continues. In book one, Mina and her friends narrowly escaped fundamentalist-ruled Manhattan. Now, they've been taken in by the Unbound, a modern community that wants to shelter and care for them. Mina, however, becomes increasingly nervous as she and her friends are forced apart, and she's asked to alter her clothing, behavior, and even her faith. As she struggles to hold on to her identity, she also grapples with her secrets, even as the Unbound endeavor to discover each and every one.
~ Excerpt ~
I’m not in the van for long. My eyes have barely adjusted to the dark when the doors are flung open and sunlight pours in, blinding me. A male voice says, “Let’s go.”
Several figures are backlit by the morning light, but I can’t make out faces.
“She isn’t moving,” a woman’s voice says.
“Maybe she doesn’t speak English,” says the man. I can understand him, but he’s speaking with the same odd accent as Beth, like he’s got a mouthful of honey. I suppose I should speak up, tell them I can understand, but I keep my mouth shut. I might learn more this way.
“Poor thing,” says the woman. “She’s probably frightened to death.”
“Or she’s waiting to kill us.”
“Luke! Bite your tongue.” The woman gets closer, sticking her head in the van. Her face is pudgy and pink, her hair cropped short and streaked two different shades of blond. “I’m Bithia, honey. Bithia Dixon. Now come on out. No one’s going to hurt you.”
She reaches a hand toward me, and I shrink into the corner of the van.
“Gilad!” she shrieks.
A large man appears beside her. His face is also pudgy, but pasty instead of pink, and his eyes have a startled look, like he’s just stepped on a nail. His large bald spot is shiny with sweat.
“You’d better go in and get her, hon,” Bithia says.
Gilad scowls. Lifting a chubby leg, he heaves his enormous frame into the back of the van. As he hoists himself up, the foot of his other leg catches on the edge of the platform, and he comes tumbling into the cargo hold face-first. Laughter comes from outside.
“Good heavens, Gilad! What are you doing in there?” Bithia says with irritation.
“Checking the floor for weapons,” Gilad says dryly, then slowly stands. He moves his knee around a few times, wincing. I could rush him, I think, try to knock him out of the van and onto the ground. But he’s awfully big. It would be like rushing the side of a house.
Gilad doesn’t move any closer to me. He puts his hands in front of him, moving them up and down as he talks. “Sweetheart, you need to come with me.”
Why am I his “sweetheart?” I try to pull back more, but I’m as far into my corner as I can get.
“We’re your friends.” His hands still bob up and down, like he’s trying to close a car trunk.
I shake my head. I may not know much about the Apostates, or Queens, or this strange man, but I do know he is not my friend.
He takes a few steps closer, approaching like I’m a tiger who will pounce at any moment, but he’s so large, I’m more like a kitten who can only attack his pant leg.
He smiles, and I’m frightened by his rows of huge white teeth. I’m still staring at them when he shoots out his hand and grabs my wrist. “Got her!”
Without a thought, I bite his hand as hard as I can. The metallic taste of blood fills my mouth.
“Goddammit!!” he cries, releasing me. I sink back into my corner.
“Gilad! Language!” Bithia leans into the van.
“She bit me!” he says, holding up his hand.
“She doesn’t know any better. Think what she’s had to endure. Poor lamb.”
“More like a wolf if you ask me,” Gilad mutters. He peers down at me. “Listen here, girlie––and I know you can understand me. They’re still speaking English over there, and we know it. You better come with me. Otherwise, I’m gonna get Jeremiah in here, and he’s got a big ol’ gun, and none of us wants to use force. So let’s just do this friendly-like, okay?”
Squinting out the van doors into the light, I can make out a figure holding what appears to be a very large weapon.
Maybe I’ll let Jeremiah join Gilad, and then I will bite Jeremiah, and then he’ll have to shoot me. The idea is almost . . . relaxing. I’m so tired. All I want is to go to sleep. I don’t want to talk to these people. I don’t want to be anywhere where Juda and Grace and Dekker and Rose are not.
“Where are my friends?” I hear myself blurt.
“See now? Was that so hard?” Gilad says. He turns to Bithia. “I told you she knew English!”
“So I owe you a donut,” she says. “Big deal.”
“Where are my friends?” I repeat, wildly impatient now that I’ve decided to speak.
“Why don’t you join me and we’ll find out?” Gilad offers me his hand.
His face is solemn and I trust him more without the smile. I don’t take his hand, but I stand and walk to the edge of the platform, shielding my eyes with my hand.
To my surprise, we’ve arrived at another neighborhood full of brightly painted houses. I’d expected a prison or even gallows, but I don’t find the picturesque neighborhood reassuring.
A small crowd of Apostates is gathered around the van––adults and children––watching expectantly. Everyone’s clothing is one solid color: green, blue, yellow, purple. Standing in front of the vibrant houses, they look like a wall of colored pencils.
Like a switch has been hit, they all smile at me, and I’m assaulted by more big white teeth like Gilad’s. A little girl waves but stops when I don’t wave back.
Bithia, who wears royal blue, says to them in a low voice, “Remember your training.” She smiles up at me. “Come on out, dear.”
Hopping down out of the van, I see a few people step back, and one man pulls his daughter into a close embrace, as if I might breathe fire. I wish I could.
Bithia snaps her fingers twice at a blond girl my age, the only one in the crowd who looks bored. The girl steps toward Bithia holding up a shiny silver blanket that blinds me as it catches the sun.
Snatching it away from her, Bithia throws it around my shoulders. “There, there. You’re safe now.”
The blanket crinkles loudly and makes me feel uncomfortably hot. Is this part of my punishment for believing in the Prophet?
“Are you hungry?” Bithia asks.
Am I? I was starving when we emerged from the subway, but I don’t think I want to eat with these people. “Where are my friends?” I ask again.
Bithia smiles with closed lips, pity in her eyes. “They’re with other families, guests like you.”
This is how they treat guests? They assault, separate, and terrify them? “What kind of people are you?!” I ask, my fear turning to anger.
No one speaks. The little girl who waved stares at the ground.
“I demand to see my friends!” I say, frantically looking around, wondering where I can run. I throw off the silver blanket. “I DEMAND TO SEE THEM NOW!”
Jeremiah, the one with the big gun, approaches on my left.
I’m shrieking now. “YOU’RE HEATHENS! ALL OF YOU! YOU’RE EVIL, JUST LIKE MY MOTHER SAID!”
Out of the corner of my eye, I see Jeremiah raise his arm above me. The light catches a needle in his hand. I turn to flee.
And then there is darkness.
When I awake, I’m in a bed, a large fan spinning lazily above me. The room smells fresh, like a spring day. Every surface is covered in vases of flowers: roses, daisies, tulips, and others I’ve never seen before.
The quilt that covers me also has a flower pattern, as does a stuffed armchair in the corner. The crisp white walls look as if they were painted yesterday and the wood floors are light and creamy. Several large windows show treetops; I must be on the second floor.
All the floral patterns make me think of Sekena, my best friend, in her pajamas. I’m miserable with the knowledge that I won’t ever see her again. I would never have come here if I’d thought for a second that I would end up alone. I was only brave because of the others.
Trying to sit up, I realize I can barely move, because the sheets are tucked so tightly under the mattress. I wiggle my arms, trying to free myself.
Looking to my left, I’m startled to see Bithia sitting silently in a wooden chair near the door. She smiles without showing any teeth. “You’re awake!”
I glare at her, but her smile persists.
“Welcome to Kingsboro! I know you’re going to love it here.” Her voice has a practiced quality. “We celebrate freedom and encourage our boys and girls to be anything they want.” She wears a loose dress in the same royal blue as yesterday. “How did you sleep?”
I continue to give her the meanest look I can. A voice inside of me is telling me to stop, that I need to not antagonize these people, but I can’t help it. We went through so much to get here—this self-satisfied woman couldn’t possibly understand.
“You’ve been asleep for more than twelve hours. You must be famished!” she says.
I turn my head away.
“I’m sorry––Jeremiah is sorry––for what he did. But you were agitated, and he panicked. It wasn’t dangerous or anything. It was just a sedative. Heck, I take one myself to help me sleep at night.” She smiles that closed-lip smile. “You’ll feel a lot better after breakfast. Silas is making pancakes.”
I won’t look at her.
“How about a little juice?”
When I don’t answer, she says, “You’ve got to eat something. I just won’t forgive myself if you make yourself sick.”
The idea of taking anything this woman offers is what makes me sick.
“This is your room, dear. Isn’t it pretty? I cut the flowers fresh this morning.”
I don’t respond.
“Will you eat if we talk about your friends?”
I turn to face her again.
“That’s what I thought.” She scratches her hand. “I’m not supposed to say anything, but I get why you’re upset. So, um, I’ll tell you what I can.”
I hold my breath.
“They’re safe. No one’s hurting them. They’re in homes just like this being looked after by people just like us.” She grins as if she’s just delivered the best news I’ve ever heard.
“Will you take me to them?” I sit up as best I can.
“Uh, no. That’s not allowed yet.”
“Not allowed?” By whom?
She scratches her hand some more. “This is why I shouldn’t have said anything. You’ll understand everything soon. I promise, it’s wonderful. Really. I’m just not the best person to explain it.” She stands to leave. “So let’s get you that food.”
“Bithia?” I say.
“Yes?” she says, apparently surprised to hear me use her name.
“I won’t be eating until I see all of the people I arrived with.”
She sighs. “That’s a shame. Silas is famous for his pancakes.”
I cross my arms to let her know how serious I am, while inside I wonder how long I can hold out. I’m so hungry, I feel nauseated.
“You’re only hurting yourself,” she says. “It’s no skin off my teeth.” But I can tell she’s anxious. After a moment of silence, she adds, “I’ll tell the others what you’ve said. But I can tell you, it won’t go well. Ram doesn’t respond to blackmail.”
Is Ram her boss?
“In the meantime, there’s a bathroom here, if you need it.” She points to a door by the window.
I don’t want to comply with Bithia in any way, but I really need to go. I try to push back the heavy quilt. She comes over to help me, adding to my suspicion that the tightly fitted blanket was meant to hold me in place.
When I stand, I realize that I’m no longer in the Twitcher uniform that I arrived in. I’m wearing a long white nightgown, thin and sheer. “Who changed me?” I say, horrified.
“Me and my daughter, Tabby. Don’t worry. There weren’t any men around.”
“Who gave you the right?” I ask, feeling violated in a way I can’t express.
She seems taken aback. “Your clothes were disgusting, child. Ready to be burned, in my opinion. We were doing you a favor.”
“Don’t do me any more favors!” I say, walking into the bathroom and slamming the door.
I burst into tears as soon as I’m alone, but I cover my mouth, determined not to make a sound.
Who are these people? What do they want with me? When I remember Nana and her words––“thinking of you out there, free in the world, will keep me alive and smiling”––I can’t stop crying. I gave up so much to be here. I gave up Nana.
But she also said that whatever is here can’t be worse than what is there. Rayna said we had to leave because of the coming war between the Convenes and the Deservers. If she’s right, then I should be home helping my people—my family, Sekena, the Laurel Society—not wasting time with shady Apostates.
I shake my head. Why am I torturing myself with these pointless thoughts? I can never go back. Damon and Mr. Asher are dead. Mr. Asher was working directly with Uncle Ruho. The Twitchers will never stop looking for me. Mrs. Asher will hunt me down until her dying day. The thought of her––her beautiful face and cruel smile––makes me cold with fear.
I stop sniveling. I’ve got to be realistic about my situation. I don’t like Bithia or Gilad or the strange way they’re treating me, but they haven’t put me in a cell, beaten me, or cut off my head. I should be grateful for that.
And I have nowhere else to go.
I have no intention of trusting them, but perhaps I should give them reasons to trust me. And then they will tell me about Juda and the others.
After I use the bathroom, I open the door and face Bithia with my head turned slightly down. I try not to grit my teeth as I say, “Can I please have some pancakes now, Mrs. Dixon?”
She walks over and takes my hands, which I find disconcerting. “Of course, dear. Of course. And just call me Bithia!”
I nod and force a smile.
“Tabby found some old clothes––I mean, old to her. They’re very nice––and everything’s in the closet over there.” She points to a door by the window. “Help yourself to whatever you want and then come downstairs. I’ll tell Silas to heat up the griddle!”
She saunters out the door.
That was it? All I needed to do was agree to eat, and she would leave me alone?
I explore the room. I’m able to open a window, but I’m too high to climb down or jump. A large lawn spills out beneath me and big colorful houses stand to the left and right.
All the drawers in the furniture are empty––I find nothing I could use as a weapon.
I go to the closet, having deciding to follow Bithia’s instructions for now. I discover a space as big as our kitchen at home. Stepping inside, I see more clothes hanging on the upper and lower racks than I’ve ever owned in my life. And everything––pants, skirts, blouses, T-shirts––is the same horrible shade of yellow-green. Does Tabby like to walk around looking like a giant asparagus?
In addition to the wretched color, many pairs of the shorts and skirts are cut above the knee. I can’t possibly wear them. The tops are mostly sleeveless and many of them look like the undershirts I wore when I was too young to wear a bra.
The closet has a strong, musky smell. Sniffing the sleeve of a blouse, I realize that it’s the clothes. The blouse smells slightly soapy, so I know it’s clean, but it also has a rich, brassy smell. Tabby must use a lot of perfume. I don’t like the idea of wearing her clothes or her scent.
Looking down at my gauzy nightgown, I know that I have no choice.
I finally choose a pair of green pants in a thick, heavy fabric and a top with long sleeves and a high neck. Surprisingly, all the clothes touching my skin, no matter their texture, are silky soft.
The top is tighter than I would like, and I’m relieved to find a loose sweater folded on a high shelf. The sweater is navy blue and reaches nearly to my knees, making me feel almost like I’m wearing my cloak, which makes me calmer.
My feet are too large for any of the closed-toe shoes, so I have to settle on a pair of sandals. They’re white with silver buckles, the same as the ones Beth wore—Beth, the young girl who turned us in so easily.
Remember not to trust anyone.
I don’t have a hair tie, so I use the mirror in the bathroom to finger comb my hair as best I can. I barely recognize myself. My eyes are lined with dark circles; my skin is so chalky it looks gray. Bithia said I was asleep for twelve hours, but I look like I haven’t slept in years. Perhaps food will help.
I say a silent prayer to the Prophet before I leave the room.
When I step out of the bedroom, a little boy stands in the hall gaping at me. He must be only four or five, and his hair is so blond it looks white. When I walk toward him, he makes a little squeaking noise and goes running down a flight of stairs to my right.
Bithia told me to come downstairs after I was dressed, so I follow the strange boy. The floors and walls are the same out here as they were in the bedroom: creamy wood and brilliant white, although I see a few tiny handprints along the stairwell. Light splashes over everything, and I look up to find a skylight over the stairs.
I’ve never been in such a large house; I’ve never really been in a house at all. The Dixons must be very wealthy. Why am I here? Is Mr. Dixon the leader of the Apostates? The thought makes me frightened. I certainly wouldn’t want to be a guest of Uncle Ruho’s for any reason.
The walls of the staircase are lined with family photos. I see Bithia, Gilad, the girl who held the silver blanket (Tabby, I assume), the white-haired boy, and an older, teenage boy I haven’t met yet. In one picture, they smile hugely, hands upon one anothers’ shoulders. Each child has Gilad’s dauntingly large, gleaming teeth.
My family doesn’t have any pictures like these. Not many people own cameras, and it’s considered prideful to display photographs of oneself in one’s home. Still, I wish I had a picture of me and Nana together.
“Mama says you should sit down at the table,” a voice says.
The white-haired boy stands at the base of the stairs. As soon as we make eye contact, he runs off again. Walking down from the landing, I discover a huge living room full of more furniture covered in flowered fabrics. An impressive dining room table stands solemnly in front of a vast picture window.
The scent of butter and something sweeter than bread makes me weak at the knees.
Sitting in one of the upholstered chairs at the enormous table, I look outside at Bithia’s vibrant green lawn. The flowers that line the edges are so perfect, I wonder if they’re plastic.
After a few minutes, Bithia appears. “Well, for goodness’ sakes. Honey, we’re all waiting for you in here!” She points behind her.
She isn’t angry exactly, but she sounds like someone who expects things to go according to plan.
I stand. “I’m sorry,” I say.
“Don’t apologize. You didn’t know,” she says, waving me toward her.
I pass through a door into a huge kitchen. Every countertop is covered in food. On my left sits Bithia’s entire family. They’re crowded around a circular table that’s much smaller than the one in the next room. Tabby and the little boy gape at me, while Gilad seems to stare right through me to the other side of the room. The teenage boy looks down at the table so that I can’t see his face.
As if sensing my confusion, Bithia says, “We only use the dining room table for special occasions.”
“Nice, Mom,” says Tabby. “Now she feels totally un-special.” Tabby has white-blond hair like her little brother. It’s short above her eyes, but long and straight on the sides. Light dances off of it like liquid, and I find it mesmerizing. Her eyes seem kind of small for her large mouth and teeth, but her nose is turned up and adorable. She wears a short-sleeved canary yellow blouse that compliments her long alabaster arms. Overall, I think she would fetch a very large bride price.
“Oh, dear. I’m sorry,” says Bithia. “Was that rude of me? We can go eat in the dining room if you’d prefer.”
I shake my head. There’s so much food on the table it would take twenty minutes to move it.
“I’m hungry now!” says the white-haired boy.
“Cornelius, mind your manners.” Bithia gives him a threatening look.
“Yeah, Corny, shut your trap,” says Tabby.
“Don’t call me Corny!” he screeches. “Mom!”
“Not today, Tabitha, please!” Bithia says.
Gilad doesn’t seem to hear the shrieking. He stares silently into the kitchen with a contented smile on his face, and I wonder if maybe there’s something wrong with him.
“What is she wearing?” says Tabby, suppressing a laugh. “She’s dressed like it’s the middle of winter.”
She and her brothers look me up and down, taking in the pants and huge sweater. These are Tabby’s clothes, so why is she ridiculing me?
“That’s Dad’s sweater,” Cornelius adds disapprovingly.
The teenage boy says nothing, studying me closely as he bites his nails. He has the same light hair as Tabby and Cornelius, but not quite as white. His eyes are hazel, and his lashes are so long and thick that, for a moment, I’m struck by the thought that he’s prettier than his sister. His T-shirt is the same awful green as my pants.
“The important thing is that the clothes are clean,” says Bithia. “Now, say ‘Good morning’ to . . .” She turns to me, frowning. “Honey, we don’t even know your name. Do you have a name?”
“Of course she has a name, Mom. She’s not a stray dog,” Tabby says.
I’m shocked at the tone Tabby uses with her family. At home, her sarcasm would get me a smack.
“Mom, can we get a dog?” says Cornelius.
“No,” says Bithia. She guides me into the chair next to Tabby. “Sit here, dear.”
Tabby rolls her eyes. I’m wondering if the teenage boy is as irritated by my presence as Tabby appears to be, when he leans over and whispers, “I’m Silas.”
Silas? The one who made the pancakes? When I try to imagine Dekker cooking, all I can picture is a pan on fire and Dekker with no eyebrows.
Silas’ voice is serene among the chaos of the others.
“I’m Mina,” I say.
“That’s a lovely name!” says Bithia. “Isn’t that a nice name?” she asks no one in particular.
Bithia takes her seat and grabs the hands of Silas and Cornelius, who sit on either side of her. She looks at Gilad, who continues to stare off into space. Bithia clears her throat, but Gilad doesn’t move. “Gilad!” she cries, and he jumps.
“Turn that thing off!” Bithia says. “We have company for goodness’ sakes.”
Gilad blinks slowly twice then turns to face his family. “Good morning.”
They all repeat, “Good morning.”
He looks me up and down, frowning. “Are you better now?”
I’m about to tell him that nothing was ever wrong with me, when Bithia says, “She’s fine, aren’t you dear?”
“I’m . . . uh . . . hungry, I guess,” I say.
“You talk funny!” Cornelius announces from across the table.
“The feeling is mutual,” I say.
He’s confused but turns out his bottom lip as my meaning sinks in.
Gilad reaches for Tabby’s and Cornelius’ hands. I understand that we are forming a circle, like when we pray at home.
When we are linked, Gilad begins: “May the Unbound flourish and may we serve the Lord as well as he serves us. So be it.”
The family repeats, “So be it,” and then we let go of one anothers’ hands.
I thought the Apostates didn’t believe in God or the Prophet. It’s strange to hear them praying, when I grew up believing they would spit on the Book. But what if they’re praying to Satan or some other horrible demon? Shivers run up my spine.
“Pass the syrup, please!” says Cornelius.
“You don’t even have pancakes yet,” Bithia says, laughing. She hands him a small pitcher of amber liquid, while passing Gilad a stack of golden pancakes.
“I’m getting ready,” says Cornelius, dipping his finger into the pitcher and then licking off the sticky substance.
“Gross!” says Tabby, filling her plate with food.
“Children,” says Gilad. “Let’s please show our guest we know how to be civilized.”
“Why? She’s the savage one,” says Cornelius.
“Cornelius!” Bithia and Gilad both shout. Turning pink, Bithia adds, “Nina, we apologize. Corny is only four, and he has no idea what he’s saying half the time.”
“Don’t call me Corny!” the boy wails.
“I’m going to send you upstairs in about two seconds,” Gilad tells him, voice severe.
Corny becomes still, and an awkward silence falls over the table.
“What’s this mood about today, Gilad?” asks Bithia, passing a tray of bacon. “You’ve had a lemon-face all morning.”
“The Elder meeting this afternoon. We were supposed to be discussing the treaty and now . . .” He glances at me. “We’ll be discussing something else.”
Bithia indicates me in a much less subtle way and then gives her husband a look of sympathy. “Surely today’s business is more important.”
Gilad tenses. “Nothing is more important than this treaty and supporting Ram’s efforts. Too many people would be happy to see it fail.”
“Why, Dad?” says Corny.
“We’ll talk about it later, kiddo.” Gilad winks at him.
I concentrate on my food, which I confess is delicious. The pancakes melt in my mouth. There’s also crispy bacon, potatoes, sausage, and fresh orange juice. Bithia offers me seconds and thirds, and everyone keeps eating until no one seems to have the energy to lift a fork. The Apostates don’t seem to be experiencing any kind of food shortage.
“Tabby, after breakfast,” Bithia says, “I want you to take Nina to the Leisure Center.”
“But I’m meeting Phoebe and Deborah!” Tabby says.
“She should be socializing. Take her with you.”
Tabby looks at her father for help, but he says, “Do as your mother says.”
Tabby stands abruptly, sending her chair clanging backward. “Fine.” She marches out of the kitchen.
“Good luck,” whispers Silas, laughing to himself.
“What about my friends?” I ask Bithia.
Bithia looks at Gilad, a frustrated look in her eyes. If she thought a hot meal would distract me, she was wrong.
Gilad turns to me. “We have a certain way of doing things in Kingsboro, Nina.”
“Mina,” says Silas.
“And we’ve been doing things this way for a long, long time and it works for us. We like it. And we think, eventually, you’ll like it. So you’re just going to have to trust us that our way is the best way.”
I have no idea what he’s just said. It was a lot of words, but they had no real meaning. “When will I see my friends?” I ask.
Bithia sighs as if the whole breakfast has been a disaster. Standing, she begins to gather the dirty dishes from the table and put them into a wonderful machine I later learn is called a dishwasher.
“You will see your friends,” Gilad says, “when we say it is time to see your friends.”
My body stiffens. Who are these people to say what I can or cannot do? I don’t see any guns or weapons in this house. I could just run. I just have to reach the front door before anyone else . . .
Silas, on my left, murmurs, “It’s not worth it. The sirens will sound, and you won’t make it past the lawn.”
I look at him, disconcerted. “How did you––?”
“You’re tense as a violin string,” he whispers. “And if I were you, I’d be thinking the same thing.”
“Go to the Leisure Center,” Gilad says, in a reasonable voice. “Make Bithia happy. It’s the quickest way to see your friends. Really.” He smiles, his eyes disappearing into his thick cheeks. “This is going to be a glorious day, Nina. Today is the day that you get to meet Ram.”
Bithia mentioned Ram. “Who is he?”
“He’s no one. And everyone. He’s the leader of our people, the Unbound. And he’s going to explain it all to you, and you won’t feel as confused as you do right now. Ram is the one who will show you the truth.”
So Gilad is not in charge. He still hasn’t told me why I’m staying in his home.
Gilad clenches his hands together under his chin and gives me a pitying look. “Nina, I’m sorry to tell you this, but your entire life until this day has been a lie.”
Back in the bedroom, Tabby waits on the bed, towel in hand. “You should shower,” she says.
I’m mortified. We spent a long time in the water in the tunnel, and it didn’t smell very good. I’m sure I’m disgusting.
“You’re probably used to only bathing once a week, right?”
“Come and find me when you’re done,” she says, shoving the towel in my hand. She walks out before I can say anything else.
The shower is an intimidating contraption that has doors that slide open like an elevator’s. With its slick white walls, it looks more like something that a Twitcher would use as a charging station than it does something for washing. I’m excited, though, because I assume that, like the Ashers, the Dixons will have instant hot water.
Once I’m inside, the doors shut swiftly. I’m baffled to find buttons instead of handles. They’re numbered 1, 2, and 3.
Having no better ideas, I press 1.
Hot water comes shooting at me from every direction. I hop in alarm, as the spurting drops hit me like pebbles. Water permeating my nose and eyes, I reach out and hold down the number 2 button.
Immediately, the water changes from scalding to freezing. I cry out and try to step out of the shooting stream, but there seems to be no place to hide within the box. Once again, my nose fills with water and begins to burn. I choke.
Images of Damon flash through my mind: He’s trying to swim, he can’t breathe, he sinks, lifeless.
Desperate, I try to pull the doors open, but they won’t budge. I don’t see an exit button. Goose pimples covering every inch of my pale skin, I hit the only button left: 3.
A creamy yellow substance replaces the cold water. It coats my skin like goat’s milk on a raw chicken leg. I’m frightened by what the liquid could be but relieved that it’s at least warmer than the water. I shut my eyes and mouth as the sprayers reach my head. The sharp smell of something chemical lingers as the machine stops.
As the goopy mess swirls down the drain, the doors of the shower open. I dart out while I can, grabbing my towel. I wipe as much of the yellow stuff off as possible and then stand wrapped in the fluffy towel, teeth chattering. That was the worst shower ever. Not only did I feel pummeled, I never even had the chance to use soap!
I must have used it incorrectly. I want to ask Tabby about it, but I dread the look of disdain she’ll give me.
When she returns, I’m dressed in the same outfit as this morning. She shakes her head, dragging me to the closet.
We have a difficult time finding an outfit that pleases us both. She wants me to wear shorts or a skirt, but I refuse to show so much skin. I want to keep on the large sweater, but Tabby insists that it’s meant for a man and will make me––and by association her––look stupid.
“You can keep on the turtleneck if you want, but you’re going to die of heatstroke,” she says.
She’s talking about my top with the tall neck, I guess. It fits tightly across my chest and I can’t possibly leave the house wearing nothing over it. “Do you have another long sleeve top that might be looser?”
She chews her lip, sorting through the clothes one more time. She holds up a silky blouse. “How about this?”
It’s loose but has no sleeves. I shake my head and she sighs.
“This one?” She holds up a shirt that looks exactly like the last one.
“I’d like to uh, cover my arms, please.”
“Oh. Is that like, a Prophet thing?” she asks, now a little more interested.
“I would just feel more comfortable . . .”
“Whatever,” she says, losing interest again. She grabs a long-sleeved shirt with a V-neck and hands it to me. “This should be fine.” She walks out of the closet, so I guess we’re finished.
I change into the shirt, which is the softest thing I’ve ever touched, and leave on the yellow-green “jeans,” as Tabby calls them. She gives me a once-over. “We have to do something about your hair.”
I touch my wet head self-consciously.
“For now, let’s just put it back. Come here.” She directs me to sit on the floor in front of the bed. Sitting right behind me, she proceeds to braid my hair.
As she pulls and tugs each strand, I feel her working out her frustration through her fingers. I wish I had the nerve to ask why she dislikes me so much. Is it me or all people from Manhattan? “All done!” she says, standing and heading for the door. “Let’s get this over with.”
When Tabby opens the front door, it isn’t locked, and when we step outside the house, I see no guards. I had expected, at the very least, to see Jeremiah looming on the edge of the lawn with his enormous gun.
But there is no one but me, Tabby, and the birds in the trees. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised after what happened with Beth. It took seconds for her to sound the alarm that brought people running from every direction. Why shouldn’t Tabby have the same power?
She walks several steps in front of me, shoulders back and head held high, her yellow blouse and skirt glowing in the morning sun. She’s annoyed to be taking me wherever it is that we’re going, but I wonder if she’s normally a happy person. It’s hard to imagine anything in this beautiful place that could make her unhappy.
We walk past house after house that looks just like Gilad and Bithia’s. Even the flowerbeds out front look exactly the same in size and color. Everyone here must be rich; I’ve never known anyone with a lawn. The streets and sidewalks seem brand new, without any cracks or potholes.
The sky seems immense—a never ending expanse of electric blue. How could it be bigger when I’ve only crossed a river?
The skyscrapers. They aren’t here to block the view. Turning all the way around, I’m startled to see Manhattan in the distance.
The Wall doesn’t seem so high from here—buildings jut out from it in a jagged pattern, and I’m struck by how black and gray the city looks, like a burnt-out stove left on the street to rot. In comparison, the town I’m standing in feels like one of Dekker’s coloring books.
A loud banging comes from the next street, and I whirl around to see a garbage truck. It’s a much newer and cleaner version of the ones we have at home. Both the garbagemen are actually garbagewomen, with short-cropped hair and blue jumpsuits. I’ve never seen a woman collect trash in my life.
Perhaps there are many job opportunities here for women. I allow myself a tiny drop of hope, like a dab of forbidden perfume.
As we walk out of range of the loud truck, I notice a low buzz, almost like the sound of the Ashers’ air conditioner.
I stop walking. I look at the nearest house, wondering if it’s coming from within.
“What’s wrong?” says Tabby.
“What’s that noise?”
“What noise?” she says, losing patience.
“It’s like humming,” I say. “It’s sort of like . . .” And then, remembering Beth and the machine with the peach, I look up.
Hovering about five feet over my head is the biggest bug I’ve ever seen. I instinctively jump toward Tabby. The bug jumps with me, staying high above.
“What is that?” I ask, frightened.
Tabby takes a bored step away from me. “Did you think they’d just let you walk out the door? I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere without a Bee until I was sixteen! And you’re a woolie!”
“I’m a what?”
“I mean a refugee. Whatever.”
Looking more closely, I see now that the insect-like object is a microscopic version of the flying contraption that we saw land yesterday. “What’s it doing?” I ask.
“Don’t freak out. It just keeps track of where you are, and you know, what you’re doing. But it can’t make a decision or anything. AI is against the law.”
There are too many new words coming at me at once. What is AI? And who does this thing give its information to? “I’m feeling really uncomfortable right now,” I say.
Sighing deeply (which she seems to do a lot), Tabby puts her hand on her hip. “I don’t exactly love being your babysitter, but Mom said I had to take you to the Leisure Center, so that’s what I’m doing. Can we please make it quick?”
I look up at the “Bee.” Are people watching us right now, seeing me refuse to walk any farther with Tabby?
“What is the Leisure Center?” I ask, picturing something like a bathhouse.
“It’s kind of benny, I guess. It’s where everyone hangs most of the time. You can eat or shop or commune.”
I’m not sure what “benny” is, but by her tone, I’m guessing it means “good,” or “fine.”
She brushes her bangs out of her eyes. “I think Mom wants you to, you know, socialize, or whatever.”
On the one hand, I have no desire to be around a bunch of Apostates. So far, their behavior has been extremely unpredictable, making me feel guarded and unsafe. But on the other hand, Bithia said that Grace and the others were staying with different families. So maybe someone will take one of them to the Leisure Center, too.
“Okay,” I say. “We can go.”
“Gee, thanks,” Tabby says, turning to walk again.
I follow, the hum of the Bee setting my teeth on edge.
“You’d better get your act together,” Tabby says. “Or you’re never going to get out of those horrible green clothes.”
I have no idea what she means, but I’m too overwhelmed to ask.
I’ve never seen anything like the Leisure Center. It’s as big as Lincoln Center and the entire thing seems to be built of glass. The building is several stories tall, but all I can concentrate on is the atrium, which could hold twenty buses.
Seeing hundreds of people milling around inside, I’m tempted to turn and run; but reminding myself that Juda could be inside, I walk through the enormous glass door with Tabby.
I’m sorry to see that my Bee has swept in right behind me. Looking up, I see a stunning crisscross of metal beams, but the whole space is open to the sky. Trees and greenery line the edges of the room, and roses climb up the walls. How are they growing roses on glass?
My Bee has ample room to hover above my head. I notice a handful of other Bees suspended in the air over the crowd, and my breath catches. Maybe they’re monitoring the others.
“Let’s head to the food hall,” Tabby says.
She plows straight into the throng of people. While making sure not to lose her, I scan the faces around me, desperate to see Grace, Juda, or Rose. At this point, I’d even be happy to see Dekker.
I quickly realize that while I’m trying to be subtle about looking at people, everyone is gaping at me. Conversations near me all seem to cease, and I see a woman point at me, whispering to the man next to her.
“Why is everyone staring at me?” I ask Tabby, wondering if I should’ve taken more of her advice on what to wear.
She looks around, then keeps walking. “You're one of the Manhattan Five,” she says.
"You can't pop out of a subway tunnel, say you're a Propheteer, and not expect to get famous."
I don’t like the way people are looking at me. Some of them have pity on their faces; others look angry; and others look like they’re studying an exotic food they’ve never tasted before. Worst of all––none of them seem to realize that I can see them studying me.
Tabby slows down and walks taller under the scrutiny of the crowd, and I could swear she sticks her breasts out a little. "Let's get compressions,” she says as we reach the end of the room.
I deflate with disappointment. Every other Bee I saw in the atrium was monitoring children or frail-looking old people. My friends are nowhere in sight.
Tabby takes me down a tunnel with a set of moving stairs, just like the ones in our prayer center, except these still move! I get a little nervous stepping on and can see that Tabby wants to laugh at me. My Bee stays behind in the atrium.
Tabby notices me watching it. “They aren’t allowed indoors,” she says. “They tried it for a while and people hated it. Can you imagine it, like, hovering there while you tried to sleep? How feeble.”
When we reach the bottom, I exit the stairs ungracefully. Hundreds of people sit at tables, eating, talking, and laughing. The noise is overpowering.
A blast of cold air jolts me like ice cubes going down the back of my shirt. This giant space has air-conditioning. I wish I had my cloak.
Past the tables are different food stalls. It looks like the Union Square market, but if the stalls were all made of glass and the pavement were shiny marble. Once again, men, women, and children stop talking to stare at me. I stare back, hoping they’ll realize how disrespectful they’re being.
Tabby smiles and in a sweet voice says, “I think a compression would be perfect, Mina. It's scrunched up fruit and pure vitamin infusions and should make you feel much better!”
I never said I felt bad. “I’m not hungry.” How could anyone eat a thing after the breakfast we just had?
She glides across the room, flipping her hair. She may not like me, but she’s decided she likes the attention I'm bringing her.
She stops at a stall that looks like an enormous glass strawberry. Behind the counter, a skinny boy with pimply skin and upswept hair gapes at me, then at Tabby.
“We'll have two mango ruby vitamin-D magnesium compressions, please,” says Tabby.
“Uh, okay,” the boy says.
“Isn’t it great how actual people wait on you here?” Tabby says, watching the boy move around his stall. “Out west, some computer would just spit your food out at you. It isn’t natural.”
A family of six stops eating so they can ogle me.
“It's really rude how everyone keeps staring at you,” Tabby says. She leans her elbows on the counter, giving everyone in the room a nice view of her bottom.
At home, her behavior would get her several lashings, if not a few days in the Tunnel, but no one seems appalled by her. The men aren't experiencing uncontrollable lust, the women aren't shaking their heads in judgment, and no Matrons are coming over to shock her with a silver tube. In fact, everyone is ignoring her to keep staring at me.
Besides the fact that they are gaping at me, something about the Apostates has been bothering me, and I’ve finally realized what it is: Everyone is white. All the faces looking at me essentially look the same: pale with light eyes. Is all of Kingsboro like this?
The people of Manhattan are indescribably diverse, with every kind of eye, ear, nose, neck, body, skin tone, and voice you can imagine. With discomfort, I realize that with my blonde hair, I look pretty similar to the Apostates.
Two girls approach us. They wear bright yellow clothing, just like Tabby. One girl has green eyes and wavy black hair and the other has a long face and short brown hair cut like a boy’s. They’re both white, like everyone else.
“Tabby, no way. Got your nod!” says one.
“Is this her?” says the other.
Tabby looks at the girl with black hair like she's a moron. “What do you think, Deborah?”
“Right?” says Tabby.
Do they think I can’t hear them?
“Mom said I had to bring her with,” says Tabby, rolling her eyes.
“I think it's benny,” says the brown-haired girl. “Everyone's talking about it.”
“Really?” Tabby says, as if she’s not interested. “Cute top, Phoebe.”
Phoebe’s face lights up. “Thanks, Tabs!”
To me, Phoebe’s blouse looks identical to Tabby’s, but I guess I’m missing something. I don’t why anyone would want to wear such little clothing when it’s so cold inside.
Phoebe and Deborah slowly look me up and down, and I feel as scrutinized as if they had Senscans.
I wish I had the nerve to ask if they knew where my friends were, but I can only imagine this would lead to more contempt from Tabby.
The boy behind the counter announces, “Your compressions are ready.” He shyly hands us metal cups that look a foot tall. Mine is so cold I can barely hold it in my hands.
After a few greedy sucks on her straw, Tabby says, “What’s wrong? Aren’t you gonna try it?”
I take a sip, and although it is fruity and sweet, I don’t want it. I’m still full from breakfast, and the drink makes me shiver. I don’t want to be rude, and I don’t want to be wasteful, so I slurp down more, trying to smile.
I keep drinking until I feel a bit sick. Then I remember Mrs. Asher and how I drank her champagne because I was afraid of being rude. I can’t believe I just did it again. I stop drinking. Tabby’s attention is no longer on me anyway.
The boy tells Tabby a price and she waves her hand over the counter. After the enormous glass strawberry flickers with a pink light, the boy says, “Thank you.”
She runs her fingers through her bangs, giving him a big smile. When she’s not frowning, she’s really pretty.
The boy blushes, reminding me of how nervous I get around Juda. He must like Tabby a lot.
Turning away from him, she tells her friends, “Let’s find a table.” She grabs a napkin and another straw. They begin to meander through the crowd looking for a place to sit. Assuming I have little choice, I follow them. They find an abandoned table at the edge of the crowd. I’m happy to put down the cold compression.
Deborah and Phoebe soon notice everyone gawking at me.
“Whoa, this is intense,” says Deborah.
“Yeah,” says Phoebe. “It’s like how everyone stares at you at Promise Prom.”
“How would you know?” says Tabby.
“I mean, like, how it must be,” says Phoebe, looking away.
Smirking at Phoebe, Deborah turns to me and asks in an accusing tone, “Why are you wearing green?”
“I don’t . . . Tabby loaned her clothes to me,” I say.
She looks at Tabby like she’s done something wrong. Tabby shrugs. “Mom said it was fine until she meets Ram.”
“It seems weird, since she hasn’t earned it, you know?” says Deborah.
“Yeah, but would you want to be her age wearing white? How embarrassing,” says Phoebe.
After making a face suggesting the thought is nauseating, Deborah asks me, “How do you like Tabby’s old clothes?”
Still overwhelmed by the reek of Tabby’s perfume, I try to think of something nice to say. “They’re very soft.”
Phoebe’s eyes get wide. “Holy moly. I bet the Propheteers don’t even have spider silk yet!”
I sit back in my chair, touching my shirt. “Spiders made this?” I shudder, thinking of a factory full of thousands and thousands of spiders.
The three girls smile. Tabby says, “Yeps. It takes them years to make one piece of clothing.”
“Th-that’s amazing,” I say, still horrified. “Please don’t ever take me to wherever they do that.”
They all giggle. “Don’t worry,” Tabby says. “We won’t.”
Deborah turns to Tabby, excited. “What are you wearing to Promise Prom, Tabs?”
Tabby runs her fingers through her hair. “I haven’t decided yet.”
Phoebe and Deborah are scandalized.
“It’s less than a WEEK away,” says Phoebe.
“Gee, thanks for the calendar update,” says Tabby.
“You, have, like, a few things to choose from, right?” asks Deborah gravely, as if Tabby needs to choose between medications to save her life.
Tabby raises an eyebrow, saying nothing.
“Of course she does!” says Phoebe, relieved.
Deborah grins hugely. “My dress is fuchsia, and it’s major razzmatazz.”
I have a headache, and I don’t know if it’s from the frozen drink or the fluctuating conversation. It’s like listening to squirrels discuss nut recipes. I tune out the girls and take in the room.
Lots of teenagers wear the bright yellow of the girls next to me. Some wear crimson. The adults seem to be wearing darker colors: blues, purples, and grays. What does it all mean?
I lock eyes with a man who’s glaring at me with disapproval. Many people are inspecting me, but he’s scowling as if he’s spotted a destructive new weed in his garden. Unlike all the Apostates I’ve seen so far, this man is very disheveled: His hair is white and uncombed; he hasn’t shaved in several days; and his skin is awful—ruddy and pitted. Is he ill? Should he be here?
His hostile inspection makes me squirm. “Who is that?” I ask, interrupting the girls.
They turn to look.
“Who?” asks Phoebe.
The one who appears to want to stone me for being alive? “The one with the red skin,” I say.
Phoebe goes quiet as Tabby tries not to laugh.
“That’s my dad,” says Deborah, voice going icy. “He wouldn’t let me come here alone.”
That’s her father? He looks like a homeless man.
“Why not?” Tabby asks her, giggling. “We’re surrounded by, like, hundreds of people.”
“Yeah, but,” Deborah says, giving me the side eye. “No one knows what she’s capable of.”
I almost laugh out loud. Should I bare my teeth at her?
In a voice barely above a whisper, Phoebe says, “Ram says helping our neighbors is one of our greatest callings.”
Deborah leans forward, pointing at Phoebe and Tabby. “You’re my neighbor, and you’re my neighbor.” She jabs a thumb in my direction. “This woolie is not my neighbor.”
“Deb, just be benny,” Tabby says, her voice clear and forceful. “Don’t make a scene or everyone will think we’re completely feeble.”
Deborah sits back with an eye roll, admonished.
“Phoebe, what color do you think looks best on me?” Tabby says, changing the subject. Phoebe enthusiastically launches into an answer.
Resolved to ignore Deborah’s father, I look around at the other tables, wondering if there are other parents worried about their children’s safety. What do they think I might do? Put a curse on them? Convert them?
I’m wondering how much longer we have to stay here when my breath catches. On the far side of the room, I see the curly mop of hair that is unmistakably Grace’s.
Her back is turned, but in addition to the hair, I recognize the stooped, self-conscious way of sitting that she has. She’s seated with parents that look a lot like Tabby’s: plump and pink with gleaming white smiles.
I stand, saying a small prayer to the Prophet: Make Grace turn around. Please let her see me. Please!
“Hey, what’s she doing?” says Deborah.
“Do you need something?” asks Tabby.
I’m wondering what kind of scene I’ll make, if everyone in the food hall will panic if I run across the room. Deborah might slam me to the ground.
“Is there a problem?” Tabby says, agitated.
“No . . . . I . . . .” I don’t know what to say, but I’m not going to sit back down. Turn around, Grace!
“The little girl’s room is over there,” says Phoebe, pointing toward the metal stairs.
Little girl’s room? Is that a special room where young girls gather?
Seeing my confusion, Tabby says, “She’s talking about the bathroom. Jeez.”
“Oh,” I say. “Thank you.” Phoebe giggles.
I walk toward the stairs, which will take me right by Grace’s table.
I have to pass by Deborah’s dad. He keeps his eyes glued to mine, and when I walk by, he mutters something that I can’t understand. By the tone, I understand that it wasn’t nice.
I try not to stare directly at Grace, but I can’t help it. What will I say? Peace? Nice to see you? Will the people at her table try to keep us from speaking? My heart pummels my chest like it’s trying to break free.
I remember the question I’ve been dying to ask her: How is your Nancy Drew book? Did it get ruined in the subway tunnel?
I’m about ten feet away from her table, when Grace suddenly looks over her shoulder and locks eyes with me.
I feel faint. Tears come to my eyes, as I realize it isn’t her. It’s not Grace. This girl is much older and is looking at me with alarm.
I pass her table and keep walking.
Inside the bathroom, the sound of chatter and laughter from the hall penetrates the door. My tiny moment of hope has caused a new despair. Loneliness and dread envelope me.
Where are my friends? Remembering the look of abhorrence on Deborah’s father’s face, I have to wonder, are they even alive?
~ Interview ~
YABC: What gave you the inspiration to write this book?
This book is the sequel to my dystopian YA novel, “Time Zero,” which examines how extremist religions are particularly harmful to girls. “Time Zero” presents a fictional religion (made up of real-world rules) that most readers will think of as coming from outside of the US. This new book examines extremism within the US. I was always interested in examining America’s hypocrisy when it comes to fundamentalism.
YABC: Who is your favorite character in the book?
Hmm. Hard question! I would probably say Mary, who is new. She is smart and sardonic, hard on the outside but tender on the inside. I have another new character, Tabby, who is a serious mean-girl, and I confess that she was really fun to write.
YABC: Which came first, the title or the novel?
The novel for sure.
YABC: What scene in the book are you most proud of, and why?
The ending. Things really ramp up in the story and the end scene is something I don’t think any reader will see coming. It makes me excited to write book three.
YABC: Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you've learned as a writer from then to now?
Get your butt in the seat! There’s no substitution for sitting down and writing. No amount of books on craft, seminars, or lectures is going to help you if you don’t write, write, write. The good news is you’re going to get better!
YABC: What do you like most about the cover of the book?
I love that it echoes the first book’s cover without being exactly the same. The leaf is an important symbol in the story, and on the new cover we see the leaf has entered a new season, a new phase, just like the protagonist Mina. I also love that the artist mimics the shapes of the skyline from the first cover with a picket fence on the second.
YABC: What was your favorite book in 2017?
Fiction: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. It’s inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and tells the story of a 16-year-old girl who witnesses the murder of a close friend.
Non-Fiction: Hunger by Roxanne Gay. A memoir about self-image, violence, and society’s views toward the female body.
YABC: What’s up next for you?
Book three! I’ll be doing a book tour for Time Next and then I’ll be diving into the final chapter of the trilogy.
YABC: Which part of the writing process do you enjoy more: Drafting or Revising?
I used to enjoy drafting more—leaping into the great unknown and seeing where the story took me. But the more experience I gain, the more I enjoy revising—having the skeleton of a story and being able to sit back and ask “Who is this character? What motivates him or her? What does this setting sound like and smell like? What’s going on with my hero’s inner journey?”
YABC: Is there an organization or cause that is close to your heart?
I’m a big supporter of Annie’s List, which recruits, trains, supports and elects progressive women dedicated to advancing the health, safety and financial security of Texas women and their families. Women will only gain equality when we have equal representation in government!
Author: Carolyn Cohagan
Publishing Date: March 15th, 2018
Publisher: Girls With Pens
Three winners will each receive a special bookmark and a signed copy of Time Next (Carolyn Cohagan) ~ (US Only)
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