I’m not one to sit idle. When I was querying, I needed a way to occupy my mind so I wouldn’t obsess over the whole query process. As usual, I started something new. It’s a shelf novel for now, something I tinker with every now and again, but it’s still fun to play with. Finding Isaak’s voice was a huge divergence from the types of characters I usually write. But then, I always love a challenge.
Rain touched Isaak’s face, carrying the same bitter sting as on the other side. He’d expected differences here, and he found them: the garish neon signs even a cloudless night could not diminish, the roar of distant machinery echoing in the alley where he stood, the acrid scent of city life that burned in his nostrils.
But rain was familiar, and familiarity was welcome now.
His fingers clutched the folded paper in his hand, holding the parchment close to his thigh, not wanting to lose one precious word to the dampness in the air. He knew his destination, but he clung to the darkness, keeping his breathing shallow, escaping notice from the people who passed on the main road.
Because hiding was familiar, too.
Isaak pushed wet hair back from his face and chastised himself. He didn’t have to hide here. Wasn’t this why he came? To earn his freedom and find a place for himself?
The mouth of the alley was an ocean of sound. Music poured through the open windows and doorways of what appeared to be an eating establishment, interrupted by raucous laughter from the patrons.
He paused to listen to the bawdy words, the easy banter, and changed his judgment to a drinking establishment. Half a smile touched his lips. Maybe this side was not so different after all. He considered stepping through the doorway, approaching the barkeep. Acting as though he belonged here.
He wondered how it would feel to walk among men and not feel the weight of arrogant scorn. To look at a woman and not hear disdainful laughter. To spend a few hours in the company of others without being struck.
Without needing to strike back.
A break in the music allowed him to catch the sound of fractured breathing in the alley, and Isaak hesitated, his eyes seeking the source.
There, among the machines lining the edge of the tavern. A young man crouched on the damp pavement, shadows tracing his eyes, his hands full of wires and … and something else. Isaak couldn’t tell.
He moved closer, being stealthy out of habit. The man was actually a boy, barely old enough for definition to find his features. His hair was long and unkempt, longer than Isaak’s, and some dark color that shined under the streetlamp. His breathing was rapid, and he kept muttering under his breath, throwing quick glances at the open windows.
The wires he held seemed to be attached to one of the machines. Isaak didn’t know the word for the large metal apparatus, but it had to be for transportation, with a wheel at the front and the back like that. Steel gleamed in the darkness, catching the light like the edge of a blade.
Isaak stepped forward and rested a hand against the sleek metal, unable to help himself.
Foreign words slid into his mind, as clearly as reading them from a paper.
Isaak gasped and jerked his hand back.
The boy stifled a cry and swung around, sitting down hard on the pavement. He stared up at Isaak with eyes wide with panic. “I’m not—I just—”
“You are crossing the wrong wires,” said Isaak, his voice rough. The words felt foreign in his mouth, but he knew they were accurate, the way he knew air needed to fill his lungs or water had to slake his thirst.
He reached out and took the cords the boy had dropped. The instant they were in his fingers, he felt the power behind them, the way they wanted to make a connection. How could the boy not feel this? How could he not know which wire desired the touch of another?
The boy was staring at him, but now his expression had morphed into a kind of startled disbelief. “I—I was?”
Isaak nodded, unable to tear his eyes from the machinery before him. “Do you not feel the—”
“What the fuck.” The new voice was loud, carrying over the music from the bar. A hint of a slur flavored the words.
Isaak jerked his head up. A large man was on the sidewalk, a bottle in his hand. Sweat glinted on his forehead and the corded muscle of his arms.
A woman stood next to him, wearing too little clothing against the chill in the air. Her voice was almost a shriek. “They’re stealing your bike, Mick! They’re stealing your—”
“I know what they’re doing, goddamn it.” The man smashed his bottle against brick wall of the bar and started forward. “Go tell Andy there are two bodies in the alley.”
Isaak recoiled, seeing the light of promised violence in Mick’s eyes. Then he thought of the boy. “Please. Do not hurt the child—”
But the kid gave the motorcycle a fierce shove, sending it crashing into the bike beside it. Metal ground against steel in a horrific sound as the boy bolted into the darkness.
A thief. Isaak sighed. He’d been helping a thief.
The man drew close, and Isaak’s instinct to fight was almost undeniable. But he swallowed his fear and his fury and held up his hands. He would not waste this opportunity. Here, he could fit in. Here, he could find equals.
“Forgive me,” he said. “My intent was not—”
A fist cracked into his jaw.
Ah, yes, thought Isaak.
This, too, was familiar.