Friday, August 19, 2016

                     Submitted by Bentz Deyo
CHAPTER 1
So what are you gonna do to her?” the young man with the blue eyes asked, looking across the center console of the Range Rover into the black eyes of his brother.
“That’s exactly the point, Leam,” the black-eyed brother laughed, a shrill, almost mechanical laugh, unbecoming of a handsome seventeen year-old boy who had been sixteen last night. “I’m not sure what I’ll do to her. That’s the beauty of this whole thing. Once the ceremony is over, I’ll know what my new self will be capable of, and then I’ll just know what to do…like instinct.”
The silver SUV exited off the highway and cruised its way down the one lane Boulevard toward the plush suburbs of Harbing, New Jersey. The rain was lightening a bit, and a thick hazy mist seemed to be emitting from the wet leaves of the oaks that lined the street. The mist was so dense, the tree branches looked to be spewing clouds of smoke.
With his feet on the dash, Leam stared at his brother, studying his face. Zach had the look of someone who had been waiting for something for a very long time and could now see it coming to fruition, like children staring at presents under the tree on Christmas morning, waiting for permission to start opening.
“And Mother is sure that when it’s over,” the younger brother continued—younger by a year less one day, “I will go on to accomplish tremendous acts of Darkness. In her exact words, she said, ‘Zach, my child, you will have it all! You will be capable of the unspeakable. You will be more beautiful than you are now!’”
“Beautiful? Who’s she kidding, you’re disgusting.”
“Really?” Zach said, sliding a cell phone out of his pocket with surprising speed.
“Yeah, you’re a monster.”
“Care to see how many girls text me a day, begging for me to come over? And it’s not to study, Leam. They don’t text me to study.”
Leam shrugged, glancing over his shoulder. Muffled thumping sounded from the cargo area in the back.
“I’ll give you a couple of their numbers,” Zach went on. “Might do you some good to have a little fun instead of moping around all the time like some loser crybaby. You gotta snap out of this, Leam, I’m serious, you’ve been like a zombie for a year now. No one can stand to be around you for more than a second. And because you stink, too. Take a shower and cheer up.”
Leam peered out past the raindrops that were sliding down the windshield. His eyes adjusted focus, catching a distorted glimpse of himself reflecting off the glass. It was the same woeful face that always looked back at him, whether it be off a windowpane, his bathroom mirror, or the giant stainless steel refrigerator in the kitchen. The reflection he had grown to expect never smiled.
The Range Rover turned right onto Whitewax Way, its headlights illuminating only a few feet ahead, unable to penetrate the thick fog that had lowered over the town. Zach didn’t slow down, accustomed to the heavy fog at dusk near their home.
“But enough about you and your misery,” Zach said, with a handsome, toothy grin. “Tonight is all about me. I’ve waited forever for the 18th of July and now it’s here.”
“You’re under the assumption that the ceremony will be a success.” Leam looked down at his hands: identical, pure white, C-shaped markings on both, stretching from the inside tip of the index finger to the inside tip of the thumb. He looked over at his brother’s unblemished hands gripping the steering wheel. “Nothing that should or shouldn’t happen is ever a certainty.”
“I don’t really feel like figuring that out,” Zach said, “but this is definitely happening, whether I get the fat-ass who did yours or not. You’re just pissed that yours was a massive failure. Mine won’t be. And then…”
He stopped speaking. Zach seemed to be struggling to suppress his emotions, and sure enough, a second later, he burst out laughing, shrill and mechanical. “And then tonight I become an immortal!” Zach shouted. “I’ll finally be able to leave this nagging humanity behind me, ready to serve the Cause in any capacity.”
“Watch the road,” Leam said as the passenger-side tires scraped up against the curb. “Why do you get so excited? It’s weird.”
“God, you’re jealous of me.” Zach veered the SUV back onto the even pavement. “It’s so pathetic.”
“See, I think it’s pathetic that you think you’ll become immortal,” Leam scoffed. “You don’t have a clue, do you? Have you ever taken the time out of your stupid day to read any of the books in Father’s library, or do you spend all that time trying to keep your hair looking so luscious and chasing around slutty Unknowing girls? He’s got about twenty on delightenment alone up there—what it is and how to prepare and stuff. You ever taken the time to glance at any of them? Hmmm?”
“Read all the books you want.” Zach’s eyes were shiny with defiance. “Father’s always gonna like me more.”
“You won’t be immortal,” Leam said. “Gideon only delays your natural progression of aging. Just one of the many powers he has over you once you delighten. When you upset him, which you will, you age. You make a mistake—BOOM—he scorges you and you’re a year older. You have no idea what you’re in for because you haven’t even—”
“I DO KNOW!” The back of Zach’s neck was a bright shade of pink. “I know what’s in store for me and I know how it works! And it’s my turn now! Get that through your head. Tonight is my time! You had your chance last year. It’s over, Leam, for you it’s over, so come to grips with it, all right?”
“You think I care?” The Range Rover approached the end of Whitewax Way. “Do you think any of it matters to me?”
“I know it does,” Zach answered, pulling into the only driveway that branched off the cul-de-sac, the SUV coming to a stop in front of a black, wrought iron gate. The gate was laced with intricate, metal ivy leaves, and the posts on each side of the gate were capped with dull, slightly-rusted silver statues. On the left post, a crow perched, with a drooping flower hanging from its beak; on the right post stood what looked like a cloaked monk, hood lowered, eyes hidden.
Zach inhaled a large breath and blew toward the crow. A few seconds passed and the weathered crow started gleaming with such intensity that its now freshly-polished silver was almost white. The crow’s mouth opened and the flower fell from its beak. Its petals separated away from the stem and began to dance with the fog as if a swirly wind had arisen from the cobblestoned driveway. The bright petals made their way along the length of the gate, one of them brushing the cloaked monk, settling on its shoulder. The inanimate monk now sparked to life, also gleaming as brightly as the bird. The monk’s stubby hands pulled the hood away from its face, revealing red eyes, like lasers, and they penetrated through the windshield, scanning both faces.
“Proceed,” the monk whispered, then pulled his hood back over his eyes. In the blink of an eye, the two gateposts were again muted, rusty and still.
“Say what you want, Leam, but we all know it crushed you,” Zach said, as the gate creaked open. “Regardless, Mother believes you’ll never delighten, if you even get another chance. She said the cursed spark inside you will never fully extinguish.”
“I don’t take stock in anything your mother says.”
“She’s your mother, too.”
“Not by blood,” Leam said.
“Oh, that’s right, your mother’s dead,” Zach sneered, his foot back on the gas.
Leam said nothing as the Range Rover crept up the cobbled driveway that snaked its way toward Whitewax Manor. Protected by tall stone walls that surrounded the estate, the Manor resembled something that might be described as half country club half medieval castle. But from this distance the fog was masking most of the vast structure—only the very tip of the tallest chimney was cleanly visible.
Zach cut the engine, a wild expression on his face. He ran his fingers through brown hair that fell almost to his shoulders. “You want to bring the Unknowing through the back for me? I need to shower and prepare.”
“She was your idea. Do it yourself.”
“Just do it, I’ll owe you one.”
Zach flashed Leam his striking grin, hopped out of the car with a casual ease, and walked toward the front door passed the plush trees and tall statues that lined the Manor’s approach. Reaching the threshold, he pressed the palm of his hand against the center of the huge, iron door, which creaked open upon contact.
Squinting through the fog, Leam watched Zach disappear as the door closed behind him. It was a big night for his brother. Life changing. Leam thought back to the night of his own seventeenth birthday, the night he had failed his delightenment. Something his father had said to the fat man who’d overseen the ceremony had stuck in Leam’s mind.
“Are you not aware of what he qualifies to be? That he has the potential to become…”
And that was all Leam had heard. He thought about that snippet of conversation often, though, and had spent countless hours in the second-floor library searching for anything his father could have been alluding to. For months, he immersed himself in every pertinent volume, but found only one reference—one person of Darkness—that could be as important as the tone his father’s voice had suggested. Leam dismissed it, though; there was no way he could be the one mentioned in that book. Not a chance. He was too ordinary. Plus, he was a failure. He couldn’t even delighten.
It nagged him, though, what his father had said to the fat man, and a couple of months later he asked his dad about it. The reply was gruff, and upsetting.
“Only the questions of the delightened get answered. Out of the thousands of Dark families around the world, the Holts have remained one of the most distinguished and honorable. We have had, and will continue to have, a strong influence over the war against the Light. We live to serve Gideon, and do anything he asks of us, play any role he chooses for us, so that we may carry out his orders to aid in the fulfillment of the Cause.
“But you, Leam, you aren’t one of us anymore. You will not be taught our secrets. You will never be welcomed into Darkness Headquarters. As of now, you are not meant to know our ways. You may never know. But do know this, Leam. You have stained our honor.”
That was the last thing the man had said to him, ten months ago, and it was this conversation that shoved Leam into the deep hole of depression he had been trapped in since that day; and to make things worse, he had no friends who could lower a rope and try to pull him out. At school, every so often, some of the normal, non-magical kids would invite him to join their lunch table or to go get stoned behind the janitor’s van, but Leam always declined. If any of them were to find out about him and his family, it meant their death. He had been taught at a young age that regular humans were dirty and weak, and—like the caged mice in old man Scotterson’s AP Biology class—they deserved no respite from the experimentation that Darkness administered on them in its quest to rid them of the Light’s protection. Put simply, Unknowings couldn’t know. It had always been that way. But the Unks at school, to Leam, didn’t really seem too terrible.
Another thump, accompanied this time by frightened whimpering, pulled Leam’s thoughts away from his sad, sorry little life. He got out and walked to the back of the Range Rover. With a heavy sigh he opened the hatch, and a stench of sweat and urine wafted out at him.
The unlucky woman Zach had grabbed behind a supermarket was still tied up, but had somehow bitten through the strip of duct tape covering her mouth. She looked almost comical with two giant, silver lips. Her eyes were watering and bleary.
“Please!” the woman pleaded. “Please let me go! I have children, two children! My twin boys! Please!”
“It’s not about that.” Leam noticed his tone was eerily flat.
“Please let me go, please, I beg you! I didn’t hear anything, I don’t know anything! Digeon or whoever…delightenment…I didn’t hear it. I won’t say a word, I promise, you can just let me go!”
Leam stared at the pitiful woman. A lump rose in his throat that he had difficulty swallowing back down. He closed his eyes, opened them, and then struck the woman’s head with the heel of his right hand, knocking her out cold. He hoisted her onto his upper back and started walking through the fog toward the back of the estate.
“It’s best this way,” he said to the unconscious woman draped over his shoulder.
Other than his words, the only sound was the crunching of wet gravel beneath his sneakers.

“You don’t want to be conscious any longer than you have to be. Not for what’s in store for you tonight.”

Bentz has been working on this YA fantasy series for a few years. The first book, The Undelightened was self-published and book two, The Unleashed will be due out this winter.

You can find The Undelightened on:

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