The world crumbled away as I followed it. Nightfall coated everything like dust. It was the only thing I could see in the darkness, but only by the light of its footsteps. Only once did it turn its massive head to lay its diamond eyes on me.
Somewhere in the corner of my vision, I thought I saw myself. I looked about 10 years old, standing at a glass counter, clutching the hand of a man. Vukašin, I think, Kristijan’s father.
My father used to joke that it didn’t matter how scary the gangster looked, as long as I held his hand, the jewelers smiled at him approvingly. They never questioned how I knew which items were the most precious. They’d come to work the next day to find everything of value was gone with no idea who took it. If we were in someplace that would be harder to break into later, like Mikimoto or Graff, their smiles would suddenly vanish as Vukašin pulled out the vintage .38 caliber Smith & Wesson engraved with tiny scrolls and demanded all their gems.
When we got loose gems, Vukašin liked to use them as eyes for the little forest creatures he’d carve for Kristijan and me to play with. We had the perfect childhood, but when Vukašin saw a grainy image of himself on the news, he went to Dunya and purchased a plain H&K semiautomatic. The Smith & Wesson was too beautiful for his purposes; he couldn’t ruin such a lovely thing for Kristijan. He took the H&K out into the garden a splattered the shed with bright red anemones. “Such a shame,” my father said, but Kristijan got the pretty Smith & Wesson and I cleaned up the mess.
The memory dissipated like cream poured into tea as it called to me to keep up, it’s golden antlers catching in a new light. The sky around us filled with stars so low they looked like streetlamps. I plucked one and tasted it, sweet nectar staining my dress in shimmers. It told me take more, as many as I could carry. “Why?” I asked it. Shadow, shadow. Change your skin and awake. It swished its long tail as it too began to fade.
I shut my eyes tight and peeled the skin off my face. When I opened them again, I was on the ground in the middle of the woods. Spiders still clung to the bouquet of chrysanthemums as Oleander gently tugged at my hair. I don’t know how he got out of his travel cage or where the cage is for that matter. My shoes were also missing and my feet looked horribly shredded from the trek, but they were clean. My skin gained a curious gossamer glimmer.
Suddenly ravenous, I scooped Oleander up and walked to that little diner beside Dreamwood and sat at the counter. The girl working there gave me an odd look as I walked in. Her nametag read “Lucia.”She looked about as old as me. “I have just changed my skin and would like a slice of blueberry pie and a coffee,” I told her. The other patrons were still groggily eating breakfast, but Lucia didn’t appear to be judging me for starting the day with dessert. “Do you know anything about the local black market?” I asked. The Syndicate may be dead, but that doesn’t mean I can’t start my own. First I must familiarize myself with the seedy underbelly.
“Uh… if you’re looking for, like, a fake ID...” Lucia said.
“Have you ever considered starting an underground crime organization?” I cut her off. Fake documentation is child’s play. The pie is wonderful, but the coffee is nothing like the thick Turkish kindI wanted.
“I guess ‘underground’ is sort of implied with ‘crime organization.’ That was silly of me. It would be wise to start small, wouldn’t it? But what is small? Is that, like, robbing a bank?”
Lucia seemed to be mulling something over. “I suppose that would help me come up with the up-front fee to help out that Nigerian Prince, but that is the wrong way to go about it… unethical or something.”
I laughed. “I have no respect for that kind of scam. There’s no thrill. Thanks for the pie,” I reached into my pocket for my wallet, but found it to be completely full of diamonds. I don’t remember putting those in there. I placed one on the counter, picked Oleander up again and left.