Alchemy of Shadows: Another snippet

Really got nothing tonight so how about another snippet?


The easiest point to create a new identity for myself is as a college student.  It’s a new environment.  If I claim to be a student far from my home high school, there is little chance of meeting someone who would expect to know who I pretend to be.  And I look young enough that I can maintain the masquerade.

So many jobs one might pursue in the modern day require a college degree, or if not a degree then some form of professional certification.  I have found it much harder to fake a degree or certification that to simply go through the motions to obtain them.  While I do not need a job to survive, being independently wealthy draws attention, and questions about where I obtained that wealth.

The difficult portion is records from the claimed high school.  Still, one does not live as long as I have lived without learning a few tricks.  The same tricks allow me to put birth records into various municipal systems every few years against future need.  After all, even without the Shadows chasing me I can maintain an identity only so long before people question my continued youth.  And for every one of those identities, at the appropriate time, I have to take various college entrance exams.

I have taken so many college entrance exams that I can pick, within five points, what my final score will be.

Still, entering college takes time, time for paperwork, time for letters back and forth.  You cannot decide on Tuesday to start college and then start college on the following Monday.  No, you have to wait until a semester starts.

And while you’re waiting, you have to do something or people talk.

Tom Caldwell came up behind me and put he hand on my shoulder.

“That’s it, Adrian.  Go ahead and clock out after this customer.”

“Thanks, Tom,” I said.  I was going by the name of Adrian Jaeger.  I tended to favor German names, one of the few things I hold onto from my birth.  Perhaps that’s a weakness that the Shadows exploit to find me, but how much of a weakness can it be?  German is the most common ethnic heritage in the United States.  German names are common.

There were times when German names raised questions, but I don’t look like a certain generation’s so-called Aryan ideal.  My eyes are blue.  That’s about it.  At five three with dark brown hair I was nobody’s superman.

“Sure you won’t stay?  Give me another couple of months and you could be managing your own shop.”

I grinned. “You make it sound tempting but I’m looking forward to starting college.”

Tom laughed. “Fair enough.  Maybe I’ll see you again some time.”

I smiled back at Tom.  He was certainly an attractive man and had the situation been a little different might have been an interesting diversion.  While I preferred women, somewhere in the centuries I’d lived I’d lost most of my early taboos about sex…and gained a new one:  never get emotionally attached.  The price I paid for such attachments was just too high.

Tom was a good man, giving an eighteen year old orphan, on his own for the first time, a chance with a job over the summer.  He deserved better than a casual fling.

I did not think so.  The Indiana college I’d selected was a good five hundred miles away.  The fewer ties, the fewer connections, the better.

After clocking out and signing my last time card I took off my apron and dropped it into the laundry bin.  I waved to the dishwasher on my way out the back door.  The Green Monster, an old Cadillac Eldorado that someone had painted a bilious green.  I fired it up seeing the blue smoke pour from the exhaust in my rear view mirror.  At the shop an ongoing pool was when the Monster would finally die on me.

Half a dram of the proper elixir in every tank of gas ensured that it continued to run like new.  Another elixir maintained the smoke and a third gave the occasional rattle with no discernable mechanical cause. My elixirs generally do not work well on made things, doing their best on the living world, but for some reason they have always worked well on cars.  Perhaps because so many people think of their cars as alive, possessing personalities, that it has become a kind of truth.

A brief drive took me to my small apartment.  The few belongings that I had acquired since my last encounter with the Shadows fit into two large suitcases.  A third container held carefully padded glassware, burners, and other tools of my trade.

I did not like being out at night, too much chance of encountering Shadows, but I decided I would be safe enough on the road.  Car loaded, I hit Interstate Seventy headed east.

#

I pulled into the parking lot for the apartment complex near downtown Indianapolis about ten o’clock.  I removed a new flashlight from where I kept it tucked between the seat cushions–out of the way but still handy–and dropped it in my pocket.  Two magnesium flares followed.  I still did not know what had happened to my previous flashlight and so wanted another way of making a lot of light.

I had picked up the keys to the small student apartment the previous weekend, a studio that would have been luxurious in my youth but served for a struggling college student in the present.

I opened the trunk and removed the first of my two large suitcases.  I hauled the suitcase around to the front entrance to the apartment building and set it down so I could open the door.

The sound of music blared from inside, some current fashion involving dissonant chords and excessive volume.  Alcohol fumes wafted out the door to assault my nose.

The noise increased as I climbed the stairs, dragging the suitcase behind me.

As I reached the second floor, the door to the stairwell banged open and a young woman barged through it.  She wore shorts with big pockets on the thighs, a style called cargo shorts and a T-shirt tied under her breasts leaving her midsection bare.  Sneakers of a garish purple covered her feet.  No socks.  I could not see her face as her head was turned to look back through the doorway but her hair fell in thick brown waves to just below her shoulders.  Her right hand braced open the door while her left held a red plastic cup.

“Be right back, Vonnie,” She said.

“Whatevs,” someone in the hallway beyond the door, a woman by the sound of the voice, said.

The young woman stepped clear of the doorway, letting the door close behind her before turning round to face forward.  Only my own prompt step back prevented her from colliding with me.

“Whoa!” Some brown liquid sloshed out of her cup.  “Oops.  My bad.”

The waves of dark hair framed her olive-brown face.  Her eyes were the color of dark chocolate.  A subtle use of gloss darkened and added shine to her lips.  I saw no other makeup.  Her T-shirt was blazoned with the logo of some overly loud band barely discernible above the knot.  Like most people, she was taller than me, but only by a few inches.

“It’s okay,” I said.

“You here for the party?” She frowned. “No.  Wait.  Just moving in?”

“Yes, I…”

“That’s an awfully big load.  Hang on.”

She opened the door a crack and stuck her head through. “Hey, Jeff.  Fresh meat.  Could use some help with his luggage.”

She pulled back and another head appeared in the doorway, several inches higher than hers.  The man had likewise had olive brown skin, his a shade darker than the young woman, his eyes a shade lighter.  He wore his hair cropped short.  The resemblance of his features to hers spoke of close family ties.

“Come on, Becki, they’re just about to start…”

“Don’t care.  Guy needs a hand.  Look at him.  That suitcase is almost as big as he is.”

She looked at me and an expression of chagrin crossed her face. “Oh, I’m sorry.  No offense.”

I forced a lopsided smile. “None taken.”

“So come on, Jeff.  Help the guy out.”

“Becki, I…”

She grinned. “I’ll owe you a solid.”

Jeff’s eyebrows raised. “You’ll owe me?  What about him?”

“I’m asking.  He’s being entirely too shy to ask.”

She was wrong.  I am not shy.  I simply choose to keep a distance between myself and people so very much younger than I am.  Saves trouble in the long run.

Jeff pushed the door the rest of the way open and stepped through. “Fine.”

Jeff stood a bit over six feet.  I could not guess his weight with the baggy sweatshirt and jeans he was wearing–dressing for comfort rather than appearance.–but he was big  Despite the differences in their sizes, there seemed to be a certain similarity in their faces.  The shape of the nose, the curve of the lower lip, they shared that.

“So,” Jeff said, nodding at my suitcase. “Need help with that?”

“No,” I said, my voice soft, “I’m fine.”

Jeff grinned. “I insist.  Becki will beat me with a stick if I don’t.”

Becki punched Jeff in the arm.

I found myself returning his grin. “Wouldn’t want that.  So, please.”

I dragged the suitcase up the last step and set it on the landing.

Jeff reached out a huge hand.  I let go of the handle.  Jeff picked up the suitcase as though it were empty. “Which room?”

“Three Oh Eight,” I said.

Becki punched Jeff in the arm again.

“Where are your manners?  Introduce yourself.” She turned to me. “I’m Rebecca Pierce, Becki to my friends.  This is my brother Jeff, dumbass to people who know him.” She grinned.

“I’m Adrian Jaeger,” I said. “Ms. Pierce.  Mr. Pierce.”

“Ooo, all formal,” Becki grinned. “Don’t be silly.  Ms. Pierce is my mother.  Becki.”

“I dunno,” Jeff said. “I kind of like ‘Mr. Pierce.’”

“Be nice, Jeff,” Becki said. “Or I’ll tell Mom about Candy.”

I watched the byplay with amusement.  I’d seen so many dysfunctional families over the years, so many youngsters steeped in selfishness, that it was refreshing to see a brother and sister that not only openly cared for each other but were kind and helpful to a complete stranger.

Jeff put his foot on the first step of the stairs up. “Three Oh Eight is up here.”

I nodded and gestured for him to lead the way.

#

Three Oh Eight was a small one bedroom apartment. More than I needed, really but neither of the studios in this property were available.  And I needed an upper floor to safely vent fumes.

The window looked out over the parking lot and to the twin building across the lot.  Not the most charming of views.

“Well,” Becki said. “This place is…empty.”

Jeff set my suitcase down. “This it?”

“Got another suitcase down in the car,” I said. “And a couple of boxes but…”

“Nonsense,” Becki said. “Jeff will be happy to…”

Jeff growled.

“Really,” I said. “I can get it.”

Jeff waved a hand.  “Don’t mind us.  Becki is always volunteering me for stuff.”

“And you always do it too for your little sister.” Becki clutched her hands together in front of her throat, tilted her head to the side, and batted her eyes. “Please?”

I covered up laughter with forced coughing.

“You might want to get that checked out,” Jeff said but I could see the way he pressed his lips together to suppress his own grin. “Let’s go get your stuff.”

A few minutes later the last of my modest luggage sat in the middle of the small living room of the apartment.

“So that’s it,” Becki said.

“So can we get back to the party?” Jeff asked.

“Fine.  Fine.” Becki said.  She turned toward the door then paused.  She looked back. “Why don’t you come with us?”

I smiled. “Thanks, but I don’t think so.  I’ve got to get settled in here.”

“Where you gonna sleep?” Becki spread her arms and waved them from side to side. “Unless you’ve got a bed tucked into one of those suitcases.”

I shrugged. “I’ve slept in worse.  Really, I’ll be fine.  Probably pick up a mattress at a thrift store or something tomorrow.”

I ushered Becki and Jeff out then turned and sagged back against the door.

Somehow, without meaning to, it would seem that I had made some friends.

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