Sep 18, 2021
6 mins read
My current novel, Beneath the Earth's Shadow, is still in the works. Here's a peek at when Alana and Zen meet, and their journey begins!
“What are we supposed to do now?”
I turn my head to the left, finding the source of the voice. A tall, sturdy man has his hands on his hips, staring down his nose a boy that looks about my age. The Gold Collar around his neck looks too tight, pinching at his skin while the red bulb keeps flashing. His nose wrinkles at the man, his probation officer/employer I assume, and his breathing is laboured.
The man in the hardhat shouts, “You’re useless to us now! What the hell are we going to do with a broken worker?”
Worker, I scoff. He’s a prisoner. I blink my eyes hard, reminding myself of what I just wrote down to remember. Redemption is possible.
“Put it down and get back to work!” another man yells. One of the men that was pointing at the building. I take a few steps forward, wondering what they could mean. Redemption is possible for both our species—they might not mean to kill him.
“Just hit it with something and say it was an accident,” the same man mutters. My eyes narrow on him and as if sensing my gaze the three turn around and pale when they see me.
“That’s illegal, you know,” I tell them. “Murder.”
The one that keeps talking, the pudgy one with suspenders and wing-tip shoes, hesitates before gaining his composure. “Go on now, young lady—this isn’t any place for kids. Not anymore.”
I scoff while another man hurriedly whispers into his ear. There’s a beat before he realizes who I am, or better yet, who my mother is. And while Mom is all for killing lizards, she isn’t going to do it without due process. My eyes shift towards the boy, only a few feet away and struggling to his feet. My eyebrows arch when I see his left hand…or the empty space where it used to be. A cloth that I’m sure was once white is wrapped around the stump of the boy’s wrist, dark red and still dripping. It’s not gushing, I realize, so it’s probably already started to heal.
“It’ll grow back,” I say.
“It’ll take weeks, maybe months to get him back to work.” It’s the man above the boy now that’s speaking. He, at least, looks somewhat ashamed of his actions and rubs at the back of his neck. His eyes never meet mine. “He’ll take up too much space, money, time, whatever.”
“Space, money, time…whatever,” I repeat. “You’re paid to put him to work here, and take care of him. If that’s too much for you, then I guess you won’t mind if I take him.”
Those words surprise everyone present, myself included. I grind my teeth, unsure of why I just decided to take on a prisoner. My eyes meet the boy in question, his pupils’ narrow slits and irises glowing in the midday sun. He’s standing now, maybe trying to show that he isn’t as weak as he looks when he straightens his back. I take a deep breath and go all in. “If you give him to me I won’t mention what you were trying to do.”
“A-All right.” Pudgy gives a nod and then waves at the boy. A coward quick to give in. “Get going.”
The boy watches me and takes slow steps. My skin is starting to crawl with so many eyes on me, not only from the human workers but also from all the prisoners above. I’ve never been more grateful for my sunglasses hiding my eyes. I move to the boy and grab his right elbow, pulling him along. He’s limping, too.
It’s hard to ignore the way he tries to pull away from me. It’s a weak attempt at resistance, as if staying with the men that were about to kill him is better than going with me. The devil you know, I suppose. But I’m strong enough to keep him moving, and once we’re around the corner he starts to go along with me. I slow my pace, already working out how I’m going to explain this to Mom when I get home. I wonder what she would have done, in my position, but I ignore the wiggling feeling in my gut and stop.
I look over my shoulder at him, really seeing his dark auburn hair that shines with streaks of copper, his face free of any scales. I look him up and down and notice some tan scales along the back of the hand that holds the bloodied cloth around his wrist, the way they seem to glimmer. He’s pale, for a lizard. Skinny, too. Despite that, he’s at least four inches taller than me while slouching, and considering my 5’9” frame, that’s saying something.
He isn’t trying to intimidate me with his height as other lizards have done, and instead averts his gaze. I finally release his elbow, running my hand over my mouth.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
A glance in my direction before his eyes fall to his feet. “Zen, ma’am.”
I frown. “Alana.”
His gaze lifts, though his head doesn’t move. I sigh. “Just call me Alana. Save that ma’am shit for someone who’s dumb enough to think you respect them.”
It’s quick, but the corner of his mouth quirks up. He nods at me, choosing silence over testing out my orders. The fact that it’s an order leaves a bitter taste on my tongue. I thrust my chin towards his hand. “How long ago was that?”
“Half an hour, ma’a…” His feet shuffle against the concrete. “Half an hour or so.”
I click my tongue and look towards the construction site. “All right, let’s go to a medic.”
Zen’s head whips up, eyes wide and pupils barely visible. “That isn’t necessary, I’ll be fine—it’ll grow back!”
“Yeah, well…” I don’t know how to finish that sentence. I’ve given orders to prisoners before, ones working at cafes and restaurants, but it was ingrained in me to add a “please” and “thank you” onto everything. Beaten in. Literally. I’ve never been able to break the habit, but maybe now I can give it a shot. “We’re going to a medic. Deal with it.”