There had never been a worse time to sneeze.
Unfortunately, there were many ways in which he was too much like his father.
The day had started out normal enough: breakfast in the dark, rushing Naeli off to primary school before she was even awake enough to protest, two cups of coffee, avoiding being hit by any careless drivers, and walking onto the job site moments before his boss could reasonably call him late.
“Isaiah,” he grunted angrily as Isaiah threw a helmet on his head. “You’re late.”
“Not quite,” Isaiah replied.
The man laughed, slapping Isaiah across the back. “You’re a hard one to scare.”
Isaiah shrugged. “I guess so.” He thought it was a weird thing to say; he’d been scared plenty in his life, but his boss was one of the least intimidating people he’d ever encountered. Then again, he seemed to be the only one who felt that way.
“I’m going to need you down in the basement today,” said the boss. “Bunch of incompetent assholes can’t tell which way’s up down there. I need you to make sure they can put a wall in straight.”
“And don’t let them waste another brick. Not a single one. We’re on the tightest budget of our lives for the rest of this project. Do you hear me?”
“I hear you,” Isaiah replied.
The boss smiled and leaned back, his giant hands on his sides. He was a large man, almost as wide as he was tall. His tool belt sagged around the front, which gave him a hap-hazard look which Isaiah had always assumed was intentional. He was stronger than most of the men who worked under him, if not all. Isaiah didn’t count himself in that generalization; it wouldn’t have been fair to anyone.
When he reached the basement, which was shaded only by the building’s frame at that point, he wasn’t surprised to find the three guys who should have been laying the bricks for the walls standing around and laughing at nothing. At his approach, they stopped awkwardly and looked around at the piles of brick they had yet to touch.
“Work starts now,” Isaiah said, leaning forward on the table that was in the middle of the ceiling-less basement, the plans for the lower portions of the building scattered over it.
The others shuffled toward the piles of brick and began solemnly doing their job. Isaiah thought of the time that Ellena told him that when people stop talking and look awkward and distracted when you come into the room, it meant they had been talking about you, probably saying things you didn’t want to hear. She said it always happened to her when she was younger, said it had always hurt her feelings, especially when her family did it. Isaiah thought back to her story, remembered how sad she’d sounded, and found it curious how unaffected he was. What did he care if his subordinates were saying bad things about him? They still had to do their job, and he still had to do his. Maybe it wasn’t that much the same.
“Isaiah,” came his boss’s voice from above.
He turned and looked up, squinting toward the sky. He could see the silhouette of his boss standing over the pit that would eventually be a basement.
“Bring me the blueprints once you’ve got the layout for the wall all set.”
“Right, boss,” Isaiah called back up.
The floor plan was simple, and since the area was already precisely dug, the blueprints did Isaiah and his team very little good. He called the three workers over and went through their plan one more time. They had just set down their tools and gathered around their table to listen to him.
And then, he sneezed.
It was the kind of sneeze you don’t see coming, the one you can’t prepare for, the kind that overtakes your body for a split second and leaves you as surprised as anyone. Isaiah loathed those kind of sneezes.
Flames poured into the air around him, swallowing the table and all its contents. Over the roar of the fire, Isaiah heard all the mean shout as they jumped away, all narrowly avoiding being scorched.
The flames didn’t last, dying out almost instantly. But the blueprints before them were gone. The table was blackened. And every set of eyes in the room was wide in shock.
“Oh, Ramei,” Isaiah muttered.
“What in the bloody tides…?”
“The prints!” one of the men exclaimed. “They’re gone!”
Thanks, Dad, Isaiah through, clinching his teeth as he looked over the charred remains of prints. Why couldn’t have just inherited your eyes, or something normal?
“Done with those blueprints yet?” the boss’s voice came from above them.
“I’m afraid not,” Isaiah replied. “Looks like we’re just winging it today.”
There was a pause. “What?”
None of the others spoke. Maybe I can convince them they hallucinated. He discarded the idea immediately.
Before Isaiah could come up with a plan, he heard the boss’s feet on the stairs. The nearer they grew, the slower they became.
“What happened here?” he asked.
The other men stood around like dead trees, their mouths kind of hanging open and their eyes blank with shock.
“I’m sorry,” Isaiah blurted.
“What in the name of Ramei would possess you to set fire to the prints?” the boss demanded.
Isaiah tried not to stammer. “I—just—lost my mind for a second. I don’t know what came over me.”
“You’re one of them Blaze characters, aren’t you?”
“Um…a what?” Could he feign ignorance? And in all fairness, he wasn’t a Blaze.
“You know, one of them fancy people that squirts fire from their mouths.”
“That certainly sounds weird,” said Isaiah.
“Are you lying to me?”
“I haven’t even made a statement, so no.”
“Don’t be a smart ass, Isaiah!”
The other men were practically huddled behind the pile of bricks at this point. Was this the kind of behavior people found scary in the boss? He wasn’t sure. Maybe it was the sudden rush of fire that had scared them.
“Do you think this is funny?”
Slightly confused by the question, Isaiah replied, “Have I said something to indicate that I was amused?”
The boss reared back, his fist clinched tight, and swung hard at Isaiah’s face. He stepped aside, and the large man tumbled sideways as his center of gravity flew forward with his horribly constructed punch. But the action was enough to irk Isaiah and he crossed his arms, watching his boss try to regain his balance.
“My four-year-old daughter has better form than you. Sir.”
He heard the other workers gasp and cough a few laughs.
“What did you say?” the boss growled.
“I don’t speak to insult you, so much as to inform you that if you have no training in martial arts, you should avoid getting into fights with those who do.”
“You think you’re a tough guy, do ya?”
“Yes I do. In fact, I am completely certain of the fact. However, I don’t feel the need to prove it to you now, for there is a lot of work to do on this building if we are to meet the deadline without going over budget.”
The boss straighten up and relaxed his arms to his sides. Realization washed over his face and he rolled his shoulders in an attempt to calm himself down. “Right. That’s—a good point.”
“Yes, it is.”
The boss nodded, his brow knitted.
“So you’ll be on your way? The appliances for the kitchen should be arriving this morning, and they’ll need your approval to receive the order. You should attend to that as soon as possible.”
“We’ll get back to work here,” Isaiah said. “I’m sorry for interrupting your busy morning.”
“It’s…okay,” the boss replied, looking more confused than ever. He turned and walked back up the stairs without saying anything else. Isaiah was only half sure the man would remember which way the kitchen was.
“Back to work,” Isaiah said, exhaling heavily.
“What just happened there?” one of the guys asked.
Isaiah looked innocently around at the half-started walls. “Happened where?”
The workers exchanged confused glances and then returned to their work without thinking to ask any more questions.