In a hurry to get away from the screaming, I grab a hoodie, step into my flip-flops, and head out the door. The majority of my non-work wardrobe consists of short skirts and some manner of leg-covering from fishnets to yoga pants, plus either Doc Martens, combat boots, or flip-flops. At the moment, I lack the patience to change, so the world will have to suffer me in sweat pants.
Killing that perv years ago didn’t bother me. Maybe because I have no idea how I did it or even really if. I’d like to think I did it and he didn’t simply suffer a coincidental massive cranial aneurysm as soon as I wanted the piece of shit to die. Hey, it could happen. Dead people in fires don’t bother me at all, unless they’re kids… but thank whatever powers that be I haven’t had to witness that yet. Even lamb annoys me. Like, at least let the damn sheep grow up first before you kill it for food, right?
It has to be Mom’s doing. She’s so nurturing. If I got anything from her, it’s that need to protect the weak or innocent. Once you’re an adult, sorry pal, not my problem. I mean, as a professional firefighter, hauling citizens out of burning buildings is my problem. Irritating neighbors, not so much. I’d never yawn and leave some poor idiot to burn to death. More like if shit happened beyond my control, I wouldn’t like be a wreck over it.
I head out my door into a narrow hallway that smells like a mixture of spaghetti sauce and beer farts. Tracy screaming, Asshole screaming, and her daughter begging them both to stop are still noticeable, though not as overbearing. A particularly loud wail of ‘please don’t hit her’ from the kid gets me to clench my fists and stuff them in my sweatshirt pockets. Head down, I force myself to trudge to the stairs and jog the six flights to the ground floor.
Cold wind meets me outside, fluttering my hair to the side. It’s early March, and Old Man Winter hasn’t quite gotten around to screwing off for the year yet. Brr. Bare midriff and flip-flops aren’t made for this kind of weather. A couple of tenants from the next apartment tower hang around the front porch across the street. One of them’s got shorts on. Ugh, how can he stand that?
I get the usual ‘hey babys’ and whistles as I go by. Half of me wants to get pissed at them for the objectification, but the rest of me adores being thought of as pretty. Though, I doubt they mean it as a sincere compliment. They’d catcall just about anything with boobs. The indignant half pushes up to an indignant two-thirds, and I give them a sour look on my way by.
With nowhere specific in mind to go other than out of earshot of the war raging in apartment sixty-five, I wind up hiking all the way to the end of the block, crossing the narrow alley that cuts it in half. Yeah, apartment sixty-five is next to me. I’m in number sixty-six. On the sixth floor. I thought it was cool. Mom doesn’t like it though. She can be superstitious, especially about things like that. I never understood it really. Whenever someone goes off on the religion thing around me, I tend to roll my eyes and walk the other way. But hey, it makes Mom happy.
An overbearing glow from inside Kwan’s Market bathes the corner in near-daylight, almost painful to look at amid the sea of darkness in this part of town. Channeling my inner moth, I’m drawn to the light and decide to go inside.
The owner, a middle-aged guy, looks up from his Scry, an enchanted slab of glass most of us use to read novels, play little games, or talk to people far away. Mind you, some do go for the electronic versions. They are a quarter the price, but the batteries run out. A Scry needs a new power gem once every three years.
His green Philadelphia Eagles shirt looks like someone hit his condiment counter with a Mayhem Jinx when he’d been standing too close. He smiles at me, and I return it. Every time we make eye contact, I calm down a little. I don’t really know the guy too well, but I have a strong feeling he’s nice, honest, and wouldn’t hurt a fly.
I also think he’s worried about his elderly parents.
Oh, I’m pretty sure I can read minds, too. Or not so much read as understand who I’m looking at, like how I knew in an instant that the perv wanted to hurt me. In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t be so jealous of anyone with magical gifts. Sure, what I can do isn’t flashy―it’s not even visible―but it can come in damn handy. If our trailer hadn’t burned down, I would’ve made a hell of a detective. But, yeah… I don’t have a wonderful relationship with laws.
Spray painting penises all over the police chief’s car when I was fifteen kinda pissed him off. He remembered me two years ago and bitched when I got on the fire department. Tried to get me fired, but since I’d been a minor at the time, he had nothing solid. I guess ‘oh pay no attention, you know kids do stupid things’ only counts for boys.
Mr. Kwan buries his face in his Scry again. A glimmer of eldritch light dances around the edge of the device, tinting the whole area around him yellow. I wander the shelves, my hands still in my hoodie pockets. Having come here with nothing specific in mind, I scan for anything that catches my eye. Hopefully, by the time I’m head-bangingly bored with casing a convenience store at almost 10:30 p.m. under the oversaturated glare of three times the amount of life-sucking fluorescent lights a place this size needs, my neighbors will have yelled themselves quiet.
Hearing that kid next door plead has notched my mood up into a bad place. I have my darker moments, and I have daydreamed (probably too often) about doing cruel, unseemly things to random halfwits. It does scare me somewhat how close to ‘hey, I could do this,’ it feels sometimes. Like all that stands between me and sticking something long, narrow, and pointy into people like that judgy bitch from 52nd street is a shrug and a ‘meh, fuck it.’ Being called a hooker because my midriff is showing got under my skin.
So far, every time I’ve come close to doing something bad, I think of Mom and how disappointed she’d be in me. It’s worked so far. Maybe I’m a sociopath? Maybe I should be on meds? Nah. Socios have no emotion, and I get plenty pissed off―or like in the case of the kid next door―guilty. Tracy’s lying in a grave of her own digging, but her daughter doesn’t deserve it.
I swipe a canister of quick oatmeal off a shelf and get millimeters from hurling it across the room before I catch myself. Easy, Brooklyn. Easy. I let a lungful of air out my nostrils and set the almost-projectile down.
Doughnut. Yeah. That sounds good. I’ll nab a doughnut and coffee. I need to drink almost an entire pot to notice caffeine anyway, so one small cup to wash down an empty calorie bomb won’t keep me up too late. Not like I won’t be awake ‘til at least 1 a.m. anyway. Can’t help it. Being a night owl sucks when my shift starts at seven.
At the back end of the store, Kwan’s got a two-pot brewer right next to a case of doughnuts that have probably been sitting since earlier this morning, or at least this afternoon. I poke around until I locate a Boston cream that isn’t too stale. After dropping it in a little wax paper bag, I pour myself a coffee―black of course―and put a cap on it.
Chimes announce the door opening. Two guys stride in, heading over to the register. I can’t see much more than a wool hat and a black hood over the tops of the shelves from here. I collect my treat and coffee, and proceed to the register between an aisle packed with pet food on the left, and paper goods on the right. The end-caps have beef jerky, cat food, and snack cakes. Wow, organizational fail much?
Wool Hat guy moves to stand a bit to the right of the register and whips out a large silver handgun, before trying to pick Kwan’s nose with it. The other guy hovers near the case of lottery scratch-off cards on the left, holding an empty plastic bag, as if expecting Mr. Kwan to fill it.
Both guys look somewhere between eighteen and twenty, one white, with the gun, one Hispanic. I get a sense of fear from them, and the intention to steal. Oh, yay for psychic abilities.
The armed one wags the pistol at the shopkeeper, yelling, “Come on, man. Hurry the fuck up!”
I walk over to the register into the nice convenient open spot the thugs left between them. After setting my food on the counter, I hold my keyring out, dangling my AATM crystal on its little keychain holder. “Hey, Kwan. Just a donut and a small coffee.”
My indifferent smirk must have caught the guys off guard, as they stop being all fidgety, and stare at me. Mr. Kwan blinks, once, twice, his face almost as pale as mine. Aww. He’s worried about me. That’s so sweet.
“You got some balls, bitch,” says the white guy. When I don’t react, he swings around, putting the gun in my face. “I said, you got some balls, bitch.”
I glance out of the corner of my eye at the .45 barrel an inch or so away from my cheek. Oh, screw this guy. I’m already in a bad mood. My telekinesis wraps around his whole arm, and I make the weapon angle upward before forcing his elbow to bend back so the gun presses against his temple.
“Didn’t your parents teach you not to wave those things in a girl’s face?” I give him an exaggerated once-over. “My, that’s a rather big gun. Are you trying to make up for something else being small? No shame, man!”
He trembles from the strain of fighting me for control of his arm. Don’t bother, pal. I shoved a pickup truck out of a parking space once after the shithead cut Mom off. The man screams, his stare locked on his gun, but he can’t pull it away. Howling, he grabs his right wrist with his left and tugs; I smirk, and keep the pistol right where I put it.
Mr. Kwan goes weak in the knees. The poor guy looks ready to faint.
Pain stabs me in the back of the left shoulder. It hurts like a huge guy hauled off and punched me, but there’s blood on the front of my sleeve. I catch a glimpse of the Hispanic dick’s reflection in the lotto ticket case. A small black revolver in his hand wobbles like a Chihuahua on amphetamines, a wisp of smoke trailing up from the barrel.
The son of a bitch shot me.
Oh, now I’m pissed.
“You’re about to have a bad day,” I snarl in Spanish.
A tiny tweak of telekinesis nudges the trigger on the .45, and Moron One’s brains leap over the ceiling, floor, and a shelf of toilet paper. His buddy shrieks in terror and tries to shoot me again, but his bullet goes high, shattering glass somewhere behind me. In an instant of total rage, I grab him bodily with my telekinesis and pour all my fury into away.
The man sails out the door, spinning head over sneakers. Unfortunately, he doesn’t make it to the other side of the street due to an unexpected meeting with a passing PEPTA bus. The whump of him getting intimate with the windshield makes me feign a cringe.
I look at Mr. Kwan and again hold out my AATM crystal. “Sorry about that.”
Numb, he stands there, staring at me.
“Okay then.” I lean over the counter and ring myself up while the shopkeeper continues doing a perfect impression of a statue. “I walked a whole block for this coffee and doughnut; I’d rather not leave empty-handed.”
Once the AATM reader gem glows purple, I hold my crystal in the cloud of shimmering blue light it projects upward. The magic confirms my aura, the computer chirps, and my bank account gets lighter by $4.38.
“Thanks, Mr. Kwan. You might want to call the police.” I wave at him, smile, and walk out. “Guy must’ve been on e-meth to shoot himself in the head like that.”
I kinda feel sorry for him. Death freaks most people out.
Maybe it should freak me out too. Is it bad that it doesn’t?
How warped is it that I’m ready to twist someone’s head off because the asshole next door made that kid cry, but watching Moron One’s head pop like a ketchup packet under a car tire is borderline funny? Okay, it wasn’t so much the explosion of goop, but the look on the guy’s face.
Yeah, I guess I am a little messed up in the whole empathy department.
Even in this part of Philadelphia, a gunshot will trigger Transpresence calls to the police. And I’d rather avoid the hassle―especially with a bullet in my arm. Well, a bullet hole. I’m pretty sure it came out and kept going into the wall. Speaking of which, I need to get home and clean that out. Maybe I ought to dig my DNA out of the wall, but that slug could be anywhere. By the time I found it, the cops would be everywhere. Besides, I’m sure Kwan has cameras, plus he’s seen me. Not to mention, as far as anyone knows, one guy offed himself and the other guy… well, that’s a bit harder to explain, but he did shoot me first. Self-defense, right? Maybe it would wind up working out for me if they did dig that slug out of the wall with my blood on it. If anyone comes trying to bust my ass, I’ll be like ‘no, I’m the victim.’
Speaking of. I’ve never been shot before, and it surprises me how little it hurts. Nothing like the sheer agony they show in the movies.
I hurry down the block, managing to evade the notice of the small crowd that’s formed around the PEPTA bus. The Philadelphia Enchanted Public Transportation Authority’s safety stats for the year are going to take a hit. Oops. Suppose I’m doing okay. It’s been thirteen years since I’d killed anyone. On the upside, I didn’t really miss it, and I didn’t get any sort of thrill out of it this time. In fact, dragging my trash out to the curb gives me a stronger feeling of having accomplished something. And I hadn’t intended on Moron Two finding a bus. I guess that’s karma in action.
Yeah, okay, they were human beings too, and they might still have parents, friends, or relatives who care about them, but they should’ve thought of that before they shot me. I have a mother and one friend who care about me too. So, poo. And hey, maybe the guy lived. The bus wasn’t going that fast.
I give nothing in particular a raspberry as I scurry across the alley. Damn. I really hope the neighbors have settled down. If not, I will need to rely on the calming powers of sugar and coffee. A short woman with dark brown skin and a frizzy explosion of hair coming the other way gives my bleeding arm a long stare, but doesn’t risk saying anything. I guess I finally look adult enough. Then again, they did that experiment three blocks away from here a few months ago where they set a little girl loose dressed up like a lost child and filmed people’s reactions. Everyone ignored her, even when she tried approaching strangers to ask for help.
What the hell is wrong with this city?
I’ve got myself fuming again by the time I reach my building, but six flights of stairs saps my anger back to mere annoyance. I boot the door at the top, and it swings out of my way with its usual squeak. The stairs connect to the middle of a corridor around a corner from mine. I head to the right and round a ninety-degree left.
The kid from next door is out in the hall. She’s wearing a cartoon-print oversized t-shirt for a nightgown, and sitting on the floor with her back against the wall opposite her apartment, swishing her bare feet side to side. Straight brown hair covers the characters on her chest, almost reaching the floor. She swivels her head toward me and looks up, staring.
I can tell she’s frightened. The intention wafting off her is to not get hurt. She’s out here because she feels safer, less afraid of some random stranger walking by than being in her own home.
A scowl forms on my face as I trudge over.
The closer I get, the more the girl’s fear shifts origin: me. Another feeling rises in her head. She wants help.
This is so not my problem. I just killed two men, well, definitely one. Maybe two. My night doesn’t need to get any more complicated. After giving the girl a pleasant ‘hello’ smile, I sidle up to my door and try to hold the donut bag and coffee in my left while shaking my keyring around one-handed with my right.
“You’re scary, but not bad scary,” says a small voice right behind me.
I almost drop my honestly-gotten loot. Wow, it still feels weird to actually pay for things. It’s amazing how easy it is to get away with shoplifting as a telekinetic. Collecting myself, I spin on the little kid who’d snuck up on me. “What?”
She fidgets at her t-shirt, pulling it tight around her legs, letting go, doing it again. “You’re kinda… you know, scary, but I’m not as scared of you as I’m scared of Frank.”
That must be Asshole. “Why are you out here in the hallway? It’s almost eleven. You should be in bed.”
“Frank’s gonna hurt me,” says the child to her feet. “He always looks at me bad. You’re scary but nice.” She peers up at me with a cowed posture, as if she expects me to take a swing at her. “I’m Ashley.”
I sigh, and squat down to eye level. Maybe that’ll make her less frightened of me. “Hi Ashley. I’m Brooklyn. If that man is hurting you, you should Teep the Police.”
“I’ll get in trouble. I’m not allowed to use the Transpresence machine.” Ashley bites her lip and stares once more at the rug. “He hasn’t like hurt me yet, but I hate the way he looks at me.” She shivers.
We stand in silence for a few seconds. The guy probably resents having a kid around when he’s trying to get Tracy naked.
The child lifts her gaze to me again, a nervous smile on her face. “You wouldn’t be scared of Frank.”
“No, probably not.”
She stares at me with an odd intensity, almost awe. “What will you―?”
“Ash?” The kid’s bottle-blonde mama sticks her head out the door of apartment sixty-five. At least she’s managed to avoid a facial bruise this time, though she didn’t quite get all the dried blood out of her nostril. “What are you doing out there? You scared me to death! Come on, get in here.”
“Bye,” whispers Ashley, waving to me.
“Sorry about that. I hope she wasn’t bothering you,” says Tracy.
“No. She wasn’t. What’s bothering me is how in need of a decent meal she looks.” I stand from my squat and fix my dear neighbor with a stare. Her thoughts swim with worry and shame. The look on my face must be hot enough to melt steel, because she ducks out of sight as soon as she tugs Ashley inside.
Why was that kid staring at me like that? Oh, probably mystified by the bullet wound in my arm. And dammit. My coffee’s getting tepid. I duck inside my unit, lock the door, and kick my flops into the corner. After padding into the kitchen, I enjoy my self-treat while there’s still some heat left in the brew. Screw it. This apartment came with a rune oven. A minute on purple, and the java will be steaming again.
I stick the coffee in the little oven above my stove and tap the violet crystal on the console before hurrying to the bathroom. They say the kind of magic those things throw off will cause phosphorescent skin mold if you stand too close to them, but I don’t believe the conspiracy nuts.
In the bathroom, I fish a box of adhesive bandages and some alcohol out of the medicine cabinet. How much can it hurt to clean out a bullet wound? Oh, drat. The stick-on bandages are probably not going to be enough for this. Sigh. I’m going to be pissed if I need to go to the hospital. They get so invasive about gunshot wounds. After removing my sweatshirt and dropping it on the floor, I lean my arm up to the mirror… and blink.
Blood smears in trails down to my wrist, but I can’t find a hole. A twist gives me a look at my tricep, where the shot hit me, but there’s no wound there either, merely more smeared blood.
Whoa. This is too tweaked.
Oooh, wait. I bet, Mr. Kwan’s a Lifemage, and what I assumed to be stunned staring had been meditation. Yeah. That has to be it. I protected him so he healed me. Great. What the heck is a Lifemage doing managing a convenience store? Well. Enough with that.
I have a date with a doughnut.