We posted an excerpt from this book earlier, but that was pre-edit and we now have a cover, so I wanted to give another sneak peek. Enjoy!
TWO – Days 1-2
Conceal and Protect.
Those words, always capitalized in my mind, were drilled into my head from toddlerhood—so much so that I, as Tony and Bonnie Brand’s son, grew up thinking of it as our family motto. Back when I was in fourth grade, I learned about familial coats of arms. Afterward, totally jazzed, I drew one for my family. It depicted a fire-breathing dragon shooting flames out over a charred and blackened field. I even wrote the words “Conceal and Protect,” very carefully, above it in big block letters.
Eight-years-old and largely friendless, I showed this “masterwork” to my mom, who immediately paled.
“It’s beautiful, sweetheart.” My father was at work, and we were alone in the house. Even so, I remember the way my mother looked furtively around as if worried that someone might see. “You’ll be a great artist someday if that’s what you want. But… this isn’t something that you can ever show to anybody.”
I was crest-fallen, pun intended. “But… I thought we could put it above the fireplace!”
Without warning, Mom pulled me into a desperate hug. “I wish we could, Andy. Your father and I would be so proud to have it there. But it’s too dangerous. We’ve talked about this.”
I squirmed and pulled away. “Dad says we shouldn’t be ashamed of what we are.”
“And he’s right,” Mom replied tearfully. “But we’re not the only ones in danger.”
“Why do we have to hide? If we’re not supposed to be ashamed, then why are we always hiding? I’m so sick of hiding!”
She looked at me, stricken, and suddenly my newly found, pre-pre-adolescent fury vanished like smoke.
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
“No, I’m sorry,” she said. “I know you want to be like the other children. But you’re not. Our family is Kind, and we need to remember how few we are and how many they are. Andy, human beings scare so easily, and they always strike out at what scares them. This means that to live among them, we have to try to appear human… even though we never will be. But it’s not about shame. It’s never about shame.”
Now, alone in this strange cell, my mother’s words echo. That day’s conversation was a pivotal one, grimly transformative, and I never forgot a word of it.
We have to try to appear human… even though we never will be.
This, of course, is how my captors must see me.
When I wake up after being “vectored,” whatever that means, I’m stretched out on the tile floor where I fell. The room is unchanged. I have no idea how long I’ve been asleep. Hours, certainly. Maybe longer. Without a clock or window, time’s a bit of a mystery.
What isn’t a mystery is how hungry I am.
The Voice—yeah, I’m capitalizing it now—makes me jump a little. I try to hide the reaction and don’t reply.
“You must be hungry.”
This time, not replying’s harder. My stomach growls.
“No? Well, let’s skip breakfast then.”
“Wait!” I call, jumping to my feet. “Yes, I’m hungry.”
I immediately hear a scraping sound, and another wad of paper lands on the floor in front of me.
“Breakfast is waiting. All we ask in return is a little cooperation.”
My stomach growls louder. “What do you want me to do?”
“You know the answer to that question.”
“So… what? You’re not going to feed me unless I obey?”
“Cooperate,” the Voice corrects patiently.
I glare down at the new wad of paper. Then I kick it into the corner with the first one.
“No hurry, Andy. When you’re hungry enough, just say so. I’ll keep your food warm.”
The Voice goes silent.
I wait, but it doesn’t return.
Time passes furking slowly. The growling in my stomach deepens. I struggle to ignore it. Drinking water helps. Every so often, I go to the sink and fill my belly from its tap. But the feeling doesn’t last and, before long, I have to pee like a racehorse. After a while, I get into a torturous rhythm. I wait until my stomach’s too empty to bear, and then I drink myself full and, later, pee myself silly.
Rinse and repeat.
It makes for a brutal day. I keep expecting the Voice to return, maybe to tempt me, first with lunch, then dinner. But it doesn’t. They’re letting me, as my mother sometimes likes to say when I’m being a snot, “stew in my own juices.”
It frankly sucks.
But they want me to break Conceal and Protect.
And. That. I. Will. Not. Do.
Eventually, and without warning, the lights dim. They don’t go out completely. If they did, I’d be in pitch darkness in this windowless room. But they drop low enough that I sense this is supposed to be “nighttime,” that I made it through a full day without eating. I wish I could call it a win, but every second of the ordeal feels like a minute and each minute like an hour. And I have no reason to think the night’s going to be any easier.
I do my best to sleep. Cramps twist my guts, forcing me to lay curled up in a tight ball.
I’ll never know how, but eventually, sleep finds me.
In the “morning,” after a fitful night of pain and terrible dreams that left me sobbing in the dark, I awake to find a big bowl of oatmeal waiting for me.
I run to it and eat greedily, shoveling the food into my mouth with the included spoon.
As I do, the Voice says, “You’re a stubborn young man.”
I don’t reply as I lick the bowl clean. I half-expect to vomit, but I don’t. The stuff tasted like paste, thick and sticky but easily digestible. Maybe they don’t want me puking either.
Nice of them.
“This would all go so much easier if you’d just cooperate.”
“How?” I ask.
“You know how.”
“What I know is that you want me to somehow start a fire without a match. If you’re expecting me to use my heat vision, then I suggest you try a big guy in a cape and with a red “S” on his chest.”
The Voice says nothing more.
Sometime later and without ceremony, my lunch arrives.
Ty Drago is a full-time writer and the author of eight published novels, including his five-book Undertakers series, the first of which has been optioned for a feature film. Torq, a dystopian YA superhero adventure, was released by Swallow’s End Publishing in 2018. Add to these one novelette, myriad short stories and articles, and appearances in two anthologies. He’s also the founder, publisher, and managing editor of ALLEGORY (www.allegoryezine.com), a highly successful online magazine that, for more than twenty years, has features speculative fiction by new and established authors worldwide.
Ty’s currently just completed The New Americans, a work of historical fiction and a collaborative effort with his father, who passed away in 1992. If that last sentence leaves you with questions, check out his podcast, “Legacy: The Novel Writing Experience,” to get the whole story.
He lives in New Jersey with his wife Helene, plus one cat and one dog.