Manny lives by the rules—the rules that have kept him moving, kept him alive, and have helped him survive being thrust into adulthood long before he was ready.
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Mark Oshiro’s Into the Light, a contemporary young adult novel out from Tor Teen on March 28, 2023.
Manny lives by the rules—the rules that have kept him moving, kept him alive, and have helped him survive being thrust into adulthood long before he was ready. It’s been a year since breaking the rules got him cast out of his family. But the existence of an unidentified body found in the hills of Idyllwild, California is drawing him back to his deepest trauma because he may know who it is.
Eli lives for the future—he’s put his entire faith into the teachings that raised him: family, duty, and love. After all, obedience leads to deliverance from a harsh world into an eternal paradise. But why doesn’t Eli remember his past? What if he can’t escape the doubt that eats away at his foundation of belief?
When you’re like me, you have to lie all the time.
The motel we’re at is one of those low, flat buildings. Looks like it was smashed down from the top. The grey paint is peeling in places. Room smells weird. It’s sad and old, like so many others I’ve scrounged up money for. They all blend together in my memories. But it’s a roof over my head that I don’t have to pay for, so I don’t mind. Most of it could be on fire, and all I would care about was whether I could take a shower or get a few minutes of sleep.
I can still hear the water running inside. Carlos has been in the bathroom for the last thirty minutes, and I know I’m running out of time. Don’t want that. Don’t want to make the Varelas even one minute late, because that’s when you start down the path to becoming a thorn in someone’s side. I’ve been with them for weeks. Longest I been with anyone since I left.
Was forced to leave.
Whatever. The end is still the same, so it doesn’t matter how I describe it.
It doesn’t matter. I know what happened, but a lie will always come out of my mouth. I think about what lies I’ll have to tell them today. They haven’t asked about the TV thing yet. They aren’t as nosy as the other people I’ve traveled with.
It’s weird. I’m not used to that.
The door to my left creaks open. A man with a long beard and a thick mustache pokes his head out. Hair on top of his head is bushy and curly, too, and he’s trying to dry it with a white motel towel.
“Manny, is he still in there?” Ricardo asks.
He curses in Spanish, then gestures to the filthy, empty swimming pool beyond the metal gate just ten feet from us. “Coulda filled that up with all the water he’s wasting.”
I shrug. “No big deal. I can be quick.”
Ricardo steps out of the room, and his button down shirt is still open, and the lapels spread like wings at his sides as he moves. His chest is bare and a little damp, and I avert my eyes quickly. Shouldn’t be thinking those things.
He pounds on the door. “Carlos!” he calls out. “Please hurry up! We have a long trip to make today, so we need to get going soon!”
The door swings inward, and Carlos scowls at his father first, then at me. He’s shorter than I am, his hair just as bushy and curly as his dad’s. Got the build of a running back. Wouldn’t be surprised if he’d played football before his parents pulled him out of school. He’s only got on a pair of boxer briefs, and bottom part of his stomach hangs over them. I guess he gets his size from his papá, too.
More thoughts I shouldn’t have pop into my head. I push them away, too.
“It’s not that big of a deal, Papá,” he says. “We’ll get there when we get there.”
Ricardo sighs. Shakes his head. “Never said it was a big deal.”
Another argument lingers there. It’s been happening a lot. Heard Ricardo tell his wife the other day that he suspects it’s because Carlos’s seventeenth birthday is looming. It’s making him “disagreeable.”
I start to back away. Don’t want to be a part of this. As soon as you you’re inserted into the affairs of others, you become a risk. Traveling with the Varela family has been less chaotic than what I’m used to, so I don’t want to lose this.
Even though I’ll eventually have to.
Carlos catches me, though, looks me up and down. Steps back, pulls the door open as wide as it goes.
“Shower’s all yours,” he says to me.
Ricardo sighs again. “I didn’t realize I had raised the world’s moodiest teenager.”
Carlos offers a sarcastic smile. “And I’ve still got another year to perfect it.”
This is my only opening. I duck inside past Carlos as the two keep bickering and picking at one another. I quickly nab the pouch of toiletries tucked into my duffel, as well as a change of shirt, socks, and underwear. The bag is fairly small, but it has to be. One of the many rules I have, the ones that keep me moving, that keep me alive.
Don’t own a lot. Keep it all organized. Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. A living situation can always go toxic or unwelcome faster than you think. Make the bag as inconspicuous as possible so it’s easier to tuck it out of sight. You want people to functionally forget you’re there. And if they forget you, you might get to stay with them longer.
But not that long. No one actually wants you around.
I shut the bathroom door quietly. Can still hear Carlos and Ricardo.
I don’t belong here.
It’s not a surprise thought. Or an unfamiliar thought. It’s the truth.
I don’t belong anywhere.
I’m a boat, adrift at sea. No oars. No engines. Just letting the waves and the current take me where it may. Right now, that place is… this. With the Varelas.
I strip out of my clothes, fold them neatly, and place them on the back of the toilet. Turn on the water. Wait for it to get hot.
Is today the day I leave? Or do I have more time with these people?
Four weeks. It’s been four weeks since they met me outside of Fresno and asked me to join them on their journey. Monica and Ricardo have reassured me that I can travel with them in their ridiculous van as long as I need to, but I’m still awaiting the moment it all falls apart, just like it has so many times before.
The water runs over me. I scrub quickly, intensely. This might be my last shower for a while. Can’t ever presume to know what my future holds. A year ago, I was with my sister. A year ago, they cast me out, and I been on the road since them. Drifting. Found weird jobs, hitchhiked a lot. Made some money down in Santa Barbara for a while working for a guy named Hernando who ran a landscaping business. Job gave me mean calluses. I can feel them now as I rinse away the soap, as I run my fingers over my face.
I lasted two weeks. Ten days of paid work straight, but that ended when he couldn’t pay me at the end of a shift. Asked if he could pay another way. Pulled down his pants and started rubbing himself.
I couldn’t help shirking away. Or laughing. And I ran when he picked up a shovel, his face red with fury, and swung it at me.
My own cheeks burn as I wrench the water off. Because if he hadn’t gotten mad at me, I probably would have said yes.
I don’t know what that makes me.
I dry quickly using the last clean towel, then rub lotion over my skin, moisturize my face. Another rule: Never use a shared bathroom longer than necessary. I’ve got the whole routine down to under ten minutes, because most people won’t notice an occupied bathroom in that amount of time. Thankfully, we’re checking out today, so I don’t have to clean up the water or any errant body hairs. That’s part of the routine, too. Don’t leave anything behind. No proof that you exist.
It’s easier that way.
I dress, then head out into the room to pack up. Carlos is dressed now, and he’s laying down on his stomach, the TV remote in his hand, some reality TV show blaring loudly. I ignore him as I roll up my sleeping bag, then stuff it in my duffel with the dirty clothes and my toiletries.
“You know you’re allowed to sleep in beds, right?” he says. “You don’t always have to be on the floor.”
“It’s fine,” I say, zipping up my bag. “I’m used to it.”
He changes the channel. “You’re weird.”
Can’t argue with that. I’m reminded of it regularly, and in that moment, I try to remember the last time I slept in a bed.
Damn. Long time. Nine months? Maybe?
Don’t wanna think back too far. There’s a big hole there. Black and terrible and painful. It’s like they cut a part of myself from my body. Can’t spend too much time dwelling on it.
So I don’t.
I sit at the foot of Carlos’s bed as he flips from one channel to the next, so fast that I’m not sure how he catches anything. How does he know what all these shows are?
Right. He probably grew up with this.
Elena and I hopped from foster home to foster home. Meant I never really grew up watching TV.
Guess I didn’t grow up with much of anything.
So I sit there in my unfamiliarity, and I wrestle with the question I always keep in my mind.
Is it time to go?
Haven’t decided yet.
They’re nice people. Carlos doesn’t really like me, though. He doesn’t hate me, but he’s certainly not my biggest fan. I think he sees me as competition or something when it comes to his parents. Don’t know. Don’t really have proof. Just instinct at this point, a feeling based on experience. Kids don’t want to have to compete for attention from their own parents.
So I sink into my own hollow reality. The images flash on the TV: a family touring a home. A couple getting married. A car commercial. A superhero movie.
All a fantasy to me.
Another cartoon. A judge in a courtroom yelling. A basketball team on the court. A news broadcast. A dog running on a—
“Go back,” I say.
Hair raises on the back of my neck.
I saw his face.
“Go back?” Carlos keeps barreling through channels. “Why?”
“Just do it!” I say.
My tone is sharp, forceful. I feel Carlos shift on the bed. He goes back. Back past the comedy set, past the dog on the beach, and then:
It’s a shot of a forest. Yellow tape strung between trees. People standing around, one hunched down, staring at something. There’s a banner along the bottom of the screen.
BODY FOUND OUTSIDE RELIGIOUS CAMP
A newscaster with a deep, clear voice speaks over the next image:
It’s a still from one of his YouTube videos. One of the ones I’ve seen a million times because… because she is in it.
I watch. I listen.
“Local authorities have not confirmed any details aside from reiterating that the body was found outside property lines.”
Heart is racing. There’s bile in my throat.
The broadcast cuts to an officer. Crop-cut hair, baby face with reddened blotches on pale skin, beige uniform.
“We’re a little shaken up,” he says, frowning. “We’re just a little mountain town. Idyllwild doesn’t really get stuff like this.”
The news anchors are saying something about the successful Christmas toy drive that Deacon organized last year, and I don’t care. Doesn’t matter. Can’t really hear any of it anymore.
There’s a body in Idyllwild.
Is it her?
Is it her?
Excerpted from Into the Light, copyright © 2022 by Mark Oshiro.