Arthur J. Gonzalez
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Publisher: Fahrenheit Publishing
Date of Publication: Feb 20, 2013
Number of pages: 420 pages
Word Count: 87K
Seventeen-year-old Gavin Hillstone is resigned to being miserable for the rest of his life. Left alone in the world after his parents died in a fire when he was four, he was placed in foster care, which for him meant ending up in an abusive home with an alcoholic adoptive father. Gavin’s only escape is in taking and creating images. His camera is his refuge from the unending torture and isolation of daily life in his “family.” Until he learns by accident that he isn’t alone in the world after all. His father’s parents are still alive and living in Washington DC.
When he takes the plunge and travels 3,000 miles to find his grandparents, he learns that they—and he—are part of something much bigger, and more dangerous, than he could ever have imagined. Something that has always put his family at risk and that will now threaten his own life, while forever changing it. He learns that he is one of the last descendants of a small group of Photo Travelers—people who can travel through time and space through images.
But his initial excitement turns to fear, when he soon discovers that he and his grandparents are being pursued by the fierce remnants of a radical European Photo Traveler cult, the Peace Hunters. What Gavin has, they want! His adventure will take him to past eras, like The Great Depression and the Salem Witch Trials.
Gavin will have to discover who he really is and must make choices that spell the difference between life and death for himself, for the relatives he now knows and loves, and for the girl he will come to love. For Gavin, life will never be the same.
What do you do when a sudden gust of wind forces your boat totally off course and into the unknown? When from one moment to the next, the life that you thought you’d always be living morphs into one you’d never imagined?
Ever since I could remember, I believed there had to be something more to life than the one I’d been thrown into as a child. Even though I sometimes told myself I had to be crazy because just the idea seemed so hard to imagine—given how things had gone so far, anyway.
I would ask myself if it was wrong for me to feel this way. If I was being naïve to think there was something greater out there. Something that really belonged to me. But what do you if you feel an unknown force pulsating through your blood, constantly reminding you of it? Are you just supposed to ignore it?
I suppose that most of the time that’s what they teach us to do. You know, “Forget it. Take the easy way out.” Sure. Never the right one.
That’s what they kept telling me. “You’re kidding yourself if you think you can have a better life.¬ Learn to live with what you’ve got.” Things like that.
Maybe that’s why I started taking photos as soon as I got my hands on my first camera. It was a way I could distance myself from the life I was being forced to live. It let me create images of the world around me, finding life in the most ordinary moments…like when the sun makes a lonely tree sweat and it in turn gives water to a struggling, thirsty grasshopper below. Those things were real. Not the crappy life I’d always been trapped in.
And then, just a few weeks ago, my life took a turn for the unexpected. And now all I have to say to you is—believe in your gut instinct. Intuition is what kept me alive. It’s what made me believe. At the end of the day, it was all I really had that was mine. And you can find what’s really yours, too.
The walk home is brutal. I was hoping that the sun would have begun its descent by now, but it’s still as blazing hot as ever. I remember them saying on the news that this was going to be one of the hottest summers ever. Though I feel like they’ve been saying that for the past five years. Global warming or something.
I know that nothing good is going to be waiting for me when I get to the house. For sure, Mel’s already gotten back and is showing Jet what I did to the car and batting her lashes and blaming it all on me. Equipped with her fake tears, she’s probably made up a lie about how I “blew up” on her and refused to go back with her even though she “begged” me to get in. It wouldn’t be the first time her lies have gotten me into trouble. And no doubt he’s now in a violent rage and shouting about how I’m going to “get my ass kicked” and how “useless” I am.
I trudge along trying to prepare myself for the tempest that’s going to hit me when I finally get back. I don’t even need to close my eyes to envision the fury in his bloodshot eyes and smell his liquor breath and see his large, flaring nostrils.
If only Leyla were still alive. God, I miss her. Because of her, Jet actually used to be a decent father. He always had a short fuse, but he wasn’t the angry, pathetic drunk he turned into after she died and he got serious about drinking. Looking at him today, with his beer belly lapping over his belt and the patches of thinning hair on his scalp, I find it hard to remember that he actually used to be a handsome, well-groomed guy. And not a bad foster father, either. I remember him getting home early from the construction site with a smile and he’d sometimes even have a toy for me. Things really do change, I guess.
I was four when my real parents died in a house fire while I was at daycare. I ended up in foster care because I had no other relatives to claim me.
I’ve never quite known how Leyla and Jet took me on, but after a year of fostering they legally adopted me. And until I was about eight, I was a generally happy kid even though Mel and I never really got along. I think she always felt threatened by me, and my guess is that she was jealous because Leyla and Jet had brought this random kid into her home and she had to share their attention with me.
I guess it would’ve bothered me, too, if I’d been in her place. But it’s not like it was my fault. I wasn’t intentionally trying to steal them from her or something. I would never do that.
That day, Leyla took me and Mel to the convenience store two blocks from our place. I was whining nonstop because I wanted sour bear gummies, and I wasn’t going to let up until I had them. But while I was happily grabbing my bag of candy, two masked men with guns barged in and ordered the clerk to hand over all the cash in the register.
I had no idea what was happening, but I was so scared that I started crying. One of the guys pointed his gun at me and shouted, “Shut up, kid!” That made me cry even louder and harder.
“I said shut up!” he repeated, and took a step toward me.
“Leave him alone!” Leyla shouted. She grabbed me and put me behind her, shielding me with her body. Mel was crouched in a corner near the Slurpee cooler with tears running down her cheeks.
“Hey!” the guy said. “Whaddya got in that purse?” He made a grab for it. She backed away from him, but he grabbed her and threw her to the filthy, sawdust-covered floor. His buddy ran over, held her down, grabbed her purse, and tore it open.
“You can’t take our money!” I yelled. I ran over and kicked him in the shin to try to get him away from her. He swung the gun around at me and Leyla sprang up from the floor and lunged in front of me as the gun went off.
It hit her in the neck, and seconds later she was gone.
Before I could even process what had happened, the gunmen ran out of the store. I’ll never forget leaning over Leyla’s body and staring at the pool of blood spreading over the floor. Her jungle-green eyes—Mel’s exact eye color—were wide open, but I somehow knew that she couldn’t see me even though her tears never seemed to stop.
“MOM!” I screamed. “Mom! Mom! Mom, I’m sorry!”
I kept calling her name over and over and over even though I knew she would never answer me again. Finally I knelt down in all the blood and laid my head on her stomach until Mariela, the Mexican clerk who’d been working at the store ever since I could remember, hurried over and peeled me away from Leyla’s body.
“Dios Mio! Mijito!” she sobbed, “Ven conmigo.” And as I started to hear the police sirens in the distance but getting louder every second, she led me into the stockroom so I wouldn’t see any more. Then she went back out to Mel, who was still huddled on the floor rocking back and forth in shock. She didn’t talk for almost a month. I’ve never eaten sour bears again.
Even worse, the next day Jet told us that Leyla was pregnant and that they’d been planning to surprise us with the news that night at dinner. So I’d been the cause of two deaths. A double loss. Go me.
Jet never stopped holding it against me. And Mel’s jealousy turned into outright hatred.
I’m not sure either of them hated me more than I hated myself.
Jet turned to alcohol. He spent his days binge-drinking on the couch that he and Leyla had chosen together. He stopped taking construction jobs and finally took a temporary leave of absence that somehow turned into a permanent one. Two years later he married Dina, who not only puts up with his brutal attacks and constant verbal assaults, but for some unknown reason actually defends him.
She’s as pathetic as he is, and that bothers me because she’s actually a sweet woman. It’s like she’s under some kind of spell. What kind of woman puts up with a man who bruises her constantly and hurls hateful remarks? Last night he called her a “filthy pig”. And he’s always calling her a “fat ass”, which I don’t understand because she’s not even pudgy in the least! And trust me—I know chunky. I was a size Hefty for most of my childhood.
In all honesty, I think she feels she has no choice. She doesn’t have enough education to get a good-paying job, so Jet supports her—although I’ve always wondered how, since he hasn’t really worked for years now. I figure that Leyla had some sort of insurance policy.
On top of everything else, Dina was Leyla’s best friend. Maybe she feels guilty about marrying Leyla’s husband and inheriting her family. I don’t know. From my understanding, Jet and Dina became each other’s “support” after Leyla died, and eventually the feelings “just happened”.
I call BS on the whole thing. I think they just found it convenient and used all the other stuff as excuses.
In any case, all three of them hold me accountable. It’s been almost ten years and they’re still holding it against me. They never let it rest. Not a week goes by that Jet doesn’t snarl at me. Usually while he’s beating me. “Adopting you was my biggest mistake! If it wasn’t for you, she’d still be alive!” The hate in his words when he says it…I know he means it every time.
The worst part is, I accept everything he says because I’m still pretty much blaming myself too. I know that if they hadn’t taken me in, Leyla probably would still be alive. And so would their second kid, the little brother or sister who never got a chance to be born.
That hurts to think about, because Leyla was a great mom. If more people had a mom like her, there’d probably be less crazies in the world. She read to me every morning. Sang to me every night. I can still hear her humming lullabies to me whenever I had nightmares about the fire. I remember drifting off to sleep with my fingers wrapped around a strand of her curly blonde hair. I loved her curls.
“Mom, they’re just like Slinkies!” I used to tell her. I would tug at them to straighten them out and then let them go to spring back into curls. Slinkies were my favorite childhood toy. Now I can’t stand the sight of them. Especially the neon-green ones, because they remind me of the one she brought me one day as a joke.
At night when I have trouble sleeping I can still hear her sweet voice reaching out to me and crooning, “Let the night take all your fear… Let my voice be all you hear…”
THE PHOTO TRAVELER is young adult author Arthur J. Gonzalez’s first novel. Arthur was born and raised in Miami surrounded by his loud Cuban family. He graduated from the University of Florida, where he acquired his coffee obsession and his chocolate hoarding antics. He’s the proud father of one baby girl, Sookie–his miniature schnoodle dog. Arthur is a self-professed goofball who spends 98% of his life laughing. He’s now working on his second novel.