The Thief – prologue

Jul

A cab horn blared close behind me as I splashed through a puddle onto the sidewalk. I glanced fearfully back at the vehicle through the drizzle, clutching my umbrella and my sack of Chinese food. The back wheel hit the puddle and a cascade of dirty water drenched my lower half. The cab zipped around the corner and was gone.

New York always knew how to make you feel loved.

I walked quickly up the sidewalk, feeling the runoff puddling in my boots, soaking through my socks. My dad would be furious if I wasn’t home on time with food. He had been working so many long nights at the university lately, I’d hadn’t even seen him in two days. He’d done this before, coming home on the late train after I’d gone to sleep, leaving again before I got up for school – but today was Sunday. He always came home on Sunday, no matter what. I didn’t want to disappoint him the one day I knew he’d be around.

Finally, a stroke of luck – someone had fixed the elevator, so I didn’t have to climb three flights of stairs. I checked my reflection in the mirrored interior when the doors shut. My dark hair, though straightened this morning, was curling over my collar from the damp. My skin, coffee with three creams, took on a sickly green tint in the weak florescent light flickering overhead. I looked overly thin, too, like I’d been stretched too tall. I’d grown half an inch over the summer, and I hoped I was finally done. I was nearing 16, and girls were supposed to stop growing by then. No matter how much I ate I never seemed to get curves.

I wondered, not for the first time, what my mother had looked like. My skin, at minimum, had to be hers – Dad was as pale as they came. I stared in the mirror at the round face, the large eyes, the smooth features, and saw almost nothing of my father. Maybe the height. Maybe the ears. It stood to reason that just about everything about me came from her, but I had no way of knowing. I had learned from a very early age to never mention her, not even in passing – it put my father into such a horrible mood. The sum total of my knowledge of her was that her name was Kyra, and she’d left us right after I was born.

I only knew her name because Dad talked to her sometimes, under his breath, when he was frustrated. He’d come home with stacks of research from the university – which were none of my business, he’d repeatedly told me – and sit in his room muttering to himself, and to her.

Readjusting my grip on the bag of food and my tightly-wrapped umbrella as the elevator opened, I stepped into the hall. I reached out to unlock our apartment, but the door just pushed right open. The squeak of the hinge was loud in the hall. I paused in confusion.

“Dad?”

Dad was a genius. He never forgot anything, not his keys, not the train schedule, not even the number of the Thai place that had been closed for years. He could recite entire paragraphs of books with perfect recall – and always seemed angry when I couldn’t. I wished I had his memory, but I just didn’t. Point being, there was no chance he would have forgotten to lock the door, much less leave it open.

Fear gripped me when I saw the state of the apartment. Everything was in utter disarray – bookshelves ransacked, cabinets hanging open, a chair overturned. “Dad!” I called, my voice pitching higher. I tossed the food onto the kitchen counter and hurried to his room, where I wasn’t supposed to go, but it was an even bigger wreck. His bedsheets hung haphazard from the mattress, as if someone had rifled through them. His closet was open, half his clothes missing. Though his room was always packed to the brim with books, they had always been fastidiously organized in neat stacks. Now the stacks had tumbled, their open pages flipping back and forth from the breeze coming from the open window. Outside, the rain fell steadily.

Hand trembling, I reached to pick up one of the books. It was open to a painted illustration of an old-fashioned hand mirror, edges wrought of silver vines.

Lightning flashed. I looked up at the window. I caught a pair of wide, yellow eyes staring back at me, and I screamed.

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