Chapter 4

MARCH 26, 2015
VIRGINIA HIGH SCHOOL
3:20 PM

Isaac is heading for the bus stop when he senses the other boy at his back. Even several yards away, he can feel the kid’s consciousness intruding on his own, a dour, murky abyss that makes his teeth ache. He remembers his conversation with Mulder.

Just walk away.

If only it were so simple. He walks faster, resisting the urge to look over his shoulder.

“Hey, freak.”

Ignore him. Just keep walking.

“Talkin’ to you, freak.”

A finger jabs into his back, and he’s spun roughly around. Buddy Miller closes in, hulking shoulders and bulky arms blocking his way. He looms over Isaac with a familiar predatory scowl that turns the dial on Isaac’s pulse.

Shit.

“Didn’t know they let you out of Special Ed without a chaperone, Buddy.”

The retort comes easily, a low blow, but a momentary cloud of confusion passes across the boy’s face. Isaac would almost feel sorry for him, except the kid hasn’t left him alone since…

…since you started hanging out with Alice, he thinks, swallowing hard.

“How ’bout I fuck up your face, asshole,” Buddy growls, moving up to the smaller boy until they’re standing inches apart. Isaac ducks left, intending to run, but Buddy surprises him, grabbing him by the collar, yanking him forward until Isaac can smell the kid’s sour breath.

“Not so smart now, are ya?”

“Rocks are smarter than you,” Isaac fires back, too filled with rage to regret his foolish tongue. He screws his eyes shut, preparing to take a blow.

Wouldn’t be the first.

“Hey! Hey there!”

A familiar voice calls out, stalling Buddy’s punch in mid-air. Mr. Carr, the chemistry teacher, is crossing the parking lot.

“Gonna kill you for this,” Buddy hisses, releasing his grip on Isaac’s collar with a final shove.

Not if I kill you first, Isaac thinks, a dangerous shiver of energy running through him.

“Everything alright here, boys?”

At first, he thinks Buddy will turn on the man—Mr. Carr is thin and wiry, save for a middle-age paunch, and his hair sticks out in unruly tufts from the sides of his balding head.

Buddy could snap him in two.

A similar thought crosses the other boy’s mind and Isaac picks up on it, like a radio catching a murderous signal. Buddy’s fists clench and unclench at his side, but he lowers his eyes, mumbling, “S’nothin’.”

Mr. Carr looks to Isaac. “That true?”

He sneaks a glance at Buddy, then backs away another step. “Yeah. We’re fine.”

Mr. Carr isn’t buying it, but Isaac can hear the man’s thoughts.

Gotta get home if I’m gonna make the game…not a fucking babysitter…nothing to stop them from tearing each other apart off school grounds…Christ, these kids…

“Well…you kids go home, then. Stay out of trouble,” he grumbles, turning his back.

The man hasn’t walked ten feet before Buddy wheels on him, but this time Isaac is ready. His voice is low and calm when he speaks, but his eyes glisten with controlled rancor.

“If you touch me again, you’ll regret it.”

The larger boy sneers, but his thoughts are uncertain, and Isaac breathes an inner sigh of relief.

Safe for now.

“Whatever, freak,” Buddy spits, backing away.

Isaac stands, rooted in place, breathing hard, cresting the adrenaline rush as he watches the boy lumber out of sight. The rage that follows is so intense, he doesn’t think he can contain it. He bites the inside of his cheek hard, and channels his energy into a run, sliding around the corner just in time to see his bus pull away.

Damnit!

He glances over his shoulder, toward the school. He could call Mulder to pick him up, but the last thing he wants is another awkward conversation.

I had the guys look up some info…

Besides, he has things to think about.

He shoulders his backpack and walks.

#

Isaac used to think his powers were controlled by his emotions, but he’s come to fear it’s the other way around; that if it weren’t for his power’s influence, he wouldn’t feel anything at all.

His face is hot, still burning from his encounter with the bully. Buddy is little more than a nuisance, an easy target, but Isaac feels like a human grenade with a faulty pin. One wrong move…

He kicks at a stone and sends it skittering across the pavement, a frown creasing his brow.

It’s not a fair fight.

His mind drifts to yesterday’s conversation, Mulder’s offer of information, the possibility of retribution. His anger resurfaces for the names without faces, the invisible threat. The need is exciting and sickening all at once, a twisted pit of conflict that makes his stomach ache. He wants the faceless men to pay, wants them to feel what it’s like to be as broken as him.

If I found them, I would…I would…

What would you do, Isaac?

The question is sobering, and he kicks at the stone again, this time sending it flying in a wide arc toward the middle of the deserted, unpainted road. He stops in place, staring at the rock until it begins to shiver, then move. It scratches the tar, zigging and zagging wildly, careening in circles until it finally comes to rest at his feet. A faint smile plays on his lips, then disappears as quickly as it came.

You need to control it, or it will control you.

He tips his face to the sky, memories flashing before his eyes. He shudders, shoulders hunched against some invisible force as a cloud passes over the sun.

Not a cloud…a great gray expanse…

An empty stretch of silent highway. A skyline lit by fire. A deep, aching sadness, the sense that the world has gone gray. An abandoned corridor of green.

Sickness. Death.

In the last few weeks the dream has become stronger, more ominous, but it’s always the same…

Isaac shakes his head and walks faster, tearing his gaze from the heavens and bringing it back to Earth.

Clouds…they’re just clouds.

Do you really believe that, Isaac?

He doesn’t. He doesn’t, because they’re waiting for something. The shadows have them; the forces they encountered in the Idaho wilderness never truly took their leave. It’s the reason they all have nightmares, but Isaac’s are eternal, part of his very DNA.

He hasn’t told Mulder or the doc. His biological parents spend enough time worrying about him as it is. He knows because he peeks, despite their rules. He can’t help it.

He has rules of his own.

Don’t get close. Don’t let them see you. They all disappear eventually.

As much as they love him, they’re afraid of him, too. Afraid of what he can do, and what he knows. Mulder is better at hiding it, but Scully’s heart is permanently tattooed on her sleeve, her emotions hidden in plain sight beneath a composed exterior.

It’s not just you they’re afraid of, Isaac.

He gives the rock a final kick and it disappears into the brush alongside the road. He clenches his hands into fists until his close-cropped nails dig red half-moons into his palms, waiting for the next surge to pass.

Don’t become the monster you were born to be.

What he can’t tell them, and what he fears most of all, is that his ability is connected to the hatred that’s taken root inside him. That as it grows, so do his powers, and someday neither will be contained.

#

Rather than go home, Isaac takes a detour, veering off the road and over a well-traveled path through the field that abuts Scully’s property. One of the few advantages to living in the middle of nowhere is the open space; the vast expanses of land with no one to see for miles, no one else’s thoughts vying for his attention.

He’s headed toward a section of the woods with which he’s grown familiar. The property is said to be abandoned, a dumping ground for junked cars and detritus, but Isaac feels at peace amongst the graveyard of unwanted things.

He takes a seat on a large rock, their usual meeting spot, tossing his pack off to the side, stopping to pull a book from within. The wind ruffles his hair as one page turns into two, turns into twenty, and soon the light is long and golden across the trees.

There’s a rustling in the brush behind him, and his head snaps up, instantly alert. Panic scratches at the back of his throat, and he swallows it down. He can’t erase the invisible marks left on him after those few days where every movement was a threat, and this is his unwanted gift; to be left waiting in fear.

But the anxiety is temporary. He senses her before he sees her, the slight girl with the short-cropped black hair and deep brown eyes. Her name is Alice.

“Hey, Isaac!” she calls out, smiling in that way she does, her grin half-cocked, bangs falling over her eyes; she absently brushes them away, only to have them settle back across her brow a moment later. She moves with the grace of a young woman, though she’s only fifteen, older than Isaac by six months.

At first he’d found her unnerving, the way she’d approached him and walked through his invisible walls as though she was made of something ethereal, not flesh and blood. She talked as if they were already friends, as if he weren’t a freak, a self-made outcast. For all his attempts to distance himself, at some point over the course of the last six months, he’s come to look forward to her company.

Where he is quiet and invisible, she is talkative and vivacious. Where he is reserved, she is outgoing. His perfect opposite; as much as her presence unnerves him, he’s drawn to her like a moth to a flame.

“Hey,” he says, hoping she doesn’t notice how his voice cracks. “What’s up?”

“Nothin’,” she chirps amiably. “My brother’s being a douchebag again. I heard you got in a fight—man, Isaac, you’ve gotta stay away from him. He’s such a dick.” She frowns sympathetically, poking at something on the surface of the rock. She’s been on the wrong side of Buddy’s ire many times, but not the way Isaac has.

“Yeah,” he agrees, wondering how much to reveal. “I can’t seem to get out of his way.”

“Well…he’s an ass. Don’t listen to him,” she says, abandoning her work on the rock and reaching for a stone, tossing it into the stream where it lands with a delightful ker-plop. He smiles and does the same. She’s sitting next to him now, so close he can smell her shampoo, a combination of vanilla and strawberries. The proximity makes him light-headed.

“Did you get your English lit test back yet? I failed that so hard.”

“Oh?” He tries to keep his tone light, but his heart races. She’s so close.

“Yeah. Mrs. Dunn is going to let me retake it next week, I did so bad. But I still don’t get it. Ugh, I hate it,” she sniffs, wrinkling her nose. “I’d rather dissect another frog than a book any day.”

Isaac’s stomach flutters uncomfortably, and he swallows fear of a different sort. “I, uhh…I did OK,” he says, being modest. “I could…you know…help you sometime. If you wanted,” he finishes, cursing the warmth that creeps across his face.

“You would? Wow, yeah. I’d love that,” she beams at him, and for a moment he feels lighter than air.

“Cool,” he shrugs, but his cheeks give him away, flushed with pink.

They talk about nothing and everything, voices weaving in and out in the warm, fragrant air. She talks about her parents, who are never home, leaving Alice and Buddy to their own devices. Isaac sympathizes, a rare moment of connection. “Yeah, the doc isn’t home much, either.”

Alice sniffs. “It’s funny that you call her ‘doc.’ My mom would have a shit-fit if I called her ‘the accountant’ or whatever.”

He swallows, mouth suddenly dry, aware he’s fumbled. Mulder and Scully are supposed to be his parents; with Alice, he’s too comfortable, it’s too easy to forget the act.

He frowns. “Yeah, well…I guess we’re just weird.”

She shifts away from him, thoughtful, and he realizes he’s been defensive. He tries again, softening. “I mean…she doesn’t mind.” He smiles cautiously, and she returns his grin, a furrow smoothed over. Today he’s feeling brave. “Wanna know something else weird? They call each other by their last names.”

She wrinkles her nose. “Really? Why?”

“They used to work for the FBI or something.”

He tacks on the “or something” to make it sound more like a story than the truth. He has her full attention.

“Like, with guns and everything?”

He nods, smug and full of secrets. Her eyes are wide, beautiful orbs, reflecting the light of the water, and he would say anything to see that look on her face again.

“That’s so cool,” she breathes. “Did your mom ever kill anyone?”

This he doesn’t know, but he can guess. “Yeah, I think so. Mul—I mean, my dad, too.”

“Whoa.”

He tosses another stone into the water, and it slips beneath the silver surface with little more than a ripple. She’s eyeing him with wonder, an uncovered mystery.

“Hey, I have an idea.”

He slips from the rock, grabbing a stone from the water’s edge, sending it skimming across the surface of the stream. “Bet you can’t skip more than ten.”

“You’re on.”

They spend the next few minutes gathering stones, watching them bounce along the water as though made of foam and not earth. She wins.

They part company when the sun is kissing the horizon, the last of the daylight dying on the ground. His footsteps are overloud in the growing dark, and he picks up his pace as giddy elation gives way to unease.

You’ve been careless. She’s too close, Isaac.

He pushes the thought aside, recalling that moment when her face was alight with his secrets.

Rules, after all, are made to be broken.

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