First Imp-ressions

Buffalo, New York, 1970

The little girl was eight years old and very cute, with long dark brown hair that had been tied back with ribbons. At that moment, she was wearing an expensive party dress that had a sash wrapped around the waist and tied into a large bow, which only added to her pretty image. But in spite of her fancy attire, the girl crept through the house with a plunger in her hand and a look of determination on her face.

When Randolph, the family dog stopped to scratch himself, the girl paused as well and grinned. In a careful move, she raised the plunger, pointing the cup section away from her and tried to hold the tool like the shotgun she envisioned it to be in her mind’s eyes.

“Candice,” a voice called out, making the girl jump. She turned and saw her brother Daniel, who was four years older than her and seemed to think that meant he was a lot better than her too. He was wearing a nice suit that matched her dress for fanciness, though he was also glaring at her with a disapproving look. “What are you doing?”

Candice brought a finger to her lips to shush him. “Shhhhh. Be vewwy vewwy quiet. I’m hunting wabbits…”

“You know you’re not supposed to be playing,” Daniel announced in his usual smug tone. “You’re going to get in trouble again…”

Just then, Randolph got up and hurried away, much to the annoyance of Candice who knew that she’d have to catch him all over again. However, before she could do that, her mother came into the room, wearing an expensive dress of her own, and looking not only quite beautiful in it…but even more disapproving than Daniel.

“Candice Christine Kade,” her mother exclaimed, using the dreaded full name to show how serious she was. “What in the world do you think you’re doing? You’re supposed to be getting ready for the party…”

“But it’s wabbit season,” Candice protested.

But instead of responding with the expected line of “Duck season,” her mother glared at her and demanded, “Where did you even get this filthy thing?” She snatched the plunger out of Candice’s hand and gave it a look of disgust before using her other hand to swat the little girl on the butt. “Now you have to go wash your hands and brush your hair again. You know we don’t have time for this…our guests are already starting to arrive…”

“But I was only playing,” the girl whined.

“You know better that that,” her mother snapped, making Candice deflate under her mother’s firm gaze. “These guests are important customers and contacts for our gallery, and we need to make a good impression, so you’d better behave.” She paused to stare at Candice for another moment before asking, “When our guests arrive, what are you going to do?”

“Be polite,” Candice muttered in resignation, knowing the answer since she’d heard it often enough. “And don’t do anything fun…”

“Smile and be polite,” her mother reminded her. “Be on your best behavior and don’t do anything to embarrass your father and I. Remember, you always have to try to make a good impression.”

Then as Candice’s mother began to drag her away to get washed up again, she noticed Daniel standing back, looking smug about the whole thing. Candice stuck her tongue out him, then reluctantly followed after her mother.

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Buffalo, New York, 1977

Candice hesitated in front of the phone for a moment before she reached out to spin the rotary dial. Then she saw her own hands and paused again, staring at her fingernails with a feeling of fear. Over the last week, her nails had all turned black, becoming thicker and sharper until they almost looked like claws. She winced at the sight, wondering what was wrong with her.

Candice was fourteen, and it had been three years since her mother had given her the talk about how her body would change as she became a woman, but her mother had never said anything about this happening. In fact, a lot of things were happening to her body, things that were wrong and unnatural. Things that scared and confused her.

After taking a deep breath, Candice dialed a number that she’d memorized long before. As soon as her best friend Susan picked up, Candice grinned and announced, “Hey, Suzie Q…”

“How many times have I told you not to call me that?” Susan answered from the other end with a giggle. “You know I never call you Candy…”

“True,” Candice agreed, feeling a little better from the sheer familiarity of the conversation. “But you actually like it when I call you Suzie…and you know I hate being called Candy…”

Of course, Candice wasn’t fond of her full name of Candice either, thinking that it made her sound pretentious or stuck up…like her brother Daniel. However, it was better than being called Candy, which made it sound like she was some kind of stripper or something.

“You weren’t at school again,” Susan said, sounding almost accusing. “Are you still sick?”

“Yeah,” Candice admitted with a wince.

“I can come over and visit,” Susan offered, sending a surge of panic through Candice.

“My parents aren’t letting me have any visitors,” Candice quickly told her. “The doctor says I might be contagious…”

They only talked for a couple minutes, and after hanging up, Candice started to cry. She wiped the tears from her eyes, wishing she could see her friends but knowing that she didn’t dare. Even Susan, who was her best friend, wouldn’t possibly understand what was happening to her. After all, Candice didn’t even understand it herself.

Candice looked over and accidentally caught sight of her reflection in the mirror that was hung near the phone, placed there by her mother so she could fix her makeup while having a conversation. However, Candice felt almost like the mirror was there for no other reason than to taunt her, to remind her that she was turning into a monster.

Three weeks ago, Candice had seen the first signs that her body was changing, though she hadn’t realized what was happening at the time. All she’d known was that her tailbone was extremely sore, making it almost painful to sit down, and two small bumps had also started to form on her forehead. Unfortunately, these oddities hadn’t gone away like Candice had hoped, but instead, they’d become much worse…and much more strange. The bumps on her forehead had become larger, sprouting into a pair of small horns while her tailbone had actually grown into a real tail. The tail was only about a foot long, but it…like her horns…was still growing.

Candice scratched at an itchy spot on her shoulder, knowing that things were only getting worse and worse. Not only did she have horns, a tail, and black fingernails, but now it looked like she was getting some kind of weird skin condition too. She shuddered at the tiny black scales that were starting to appear on her skin, hoping that they didn’t spread any more than that.

“I wish I could go out,” Candice said with a pout.

Ever since her changes had become noticeable, she’d been hiding in the house, not going out where anyone could see her. Her parents didn’t even like her standing too close to the windows, just in case one of the neighbors happened to be looking in that direction. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if Candice could at least go to the art gallery her parents owned, because she loved spending time there and just admiring all the beautiful paintings. That always made her feel calm and relaxed, which was exactly the thing she needed now. Unfortunately, being unable to leave the house also meant that she couldn’t go to the gallery either.

Since there was no chance of being allowed to leave the house, Candice went to find her sketch pad. She might not be able to look at art, other than what was hanging on the walls of the house, but she could certainly make her own. She’d been doing a lot of sketching over the past couple weeks, and though she’d always been good at it, she felt proud to note that she was getting even better.

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Buffalo, New York, 1977

Father Prescott was a slender man in his fifties, with a gentle smile and kind looking eyes. There was almost nothing intimidating about the priest, but Candice was afraid of him anyway. After all, she knew exactly what she now looked like. With the horns and tail that I’d grown over the last few weeks, not to mention the yellow eyes, and black scales, she looked like some kind of monster…some kind of devil. That was why her parents had called Father Prescott to perform an exorcism.

For almost an hour, Father Prescott had quoted the bible at Candice, saying some things in Latin that she couldn’t understand, and he’d even sprinkled holy water on her. At first, Candice had been completely terrified that the bible quotes and holy water would hurt her, but to her relief, they didn’t hurt at all. And to her further surprise, in spite of the fact that Father Prescott had been trying to chase the demon out of her, he’d actually been very gentle about it.

Now, Father Prescott was sitting in the living room with her mother and father while Candice hid in the next room, sneaking peeks through the doorway and trying to listen in. Her father had a glass of scotch in his hand, which he kept taking sips from as he talked to the priest. Both of her parents looked worried.

“So, the exorcism didn’t work,” her father announced in a grim tone.

“In spite of her appearance, your daughter isn’t actually possessed,” Father Prescott patiently assured the parents. “I’ve tested her thoroughly, and I can assure you that there isn’t anything supernatural about her condition. Her situation is not the result of either demonic or divine powers…at least not directly.”

“But look at her,” Candice’s mother insisted, gesturing in her direction and making her duck back even further so that they didn’t realize she was eavesdropping. “My little girl has turned into a monster…”

“I have looked at her,” Father Prescott reminded them. “Instead of being possessed as we first suspected, I believe that she’s actually what they call a mutant.”

“A mutant?” her mother gasped in horror.

Father Prescott merely nodded his head at that. “I’m afraid that her rather startling appearance is just an unfortunate coincidence…”

“I’m not possessed?” Candice whispered to herself. Though it was a relief to discover that she wasn’t actually possessed, she didn’t think that being a mutant was any better. Of course, she didn’t really know much about mutants, but she’d heard they were all scary.

“My daughter is a mutant,” Candice’s father said with the same tone of voice he might have used if he’d been stating she had cancer. He emptied the rest of has scotch in one drink, then muttered, “What will the neighbors think?”

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Buffalo, New York, 1977

Candice was curled in the fetal position on her bed, crying and whimpering in pain. Her bedroom door was closed but she could still hear her father on the other side of it as he talked to Dr. Rush, the surgeon he’d hired to ‘help’ her.

“I’m afraid there was a problem with the surgery,” Dr. Rush told her father.

“Obviously,” the father snapped. “She woke up screaming in the middle of it…”

“I gave her twice as much anesthetic as what I usually give a patient of her age,” Dr. Rush responded defensively. There was a long pause before he continued, “In spite of that, I was able to amputate the tail as planned, but the problem is that she’s healing far too quickly…”

Candice’s father sounded a little confused as he asked, “How is that a problem?”

Dr. Rush let out a loud sigh, loud enough for Candice to hear from her bed. “The amount of anesthesia I gave Candice should have left her unconscious for hours, but her body burned it all out of her system far more quickly than I ever imagined possible… And then, there’s the fact that she stopped bleeding mere seconds after I’d finished the amputation. From what I’ve been able to see, her tail is already in the process of growing back…”

“WHAT?” her father demanded.

“At the rate she’s healing,” Dr. Rush explained apologetically, “I expect her tail will be fully regrown by this time tomorrow. I’m afraid that removing her horns would be pointless, as would the other reconstructive surgeries we’d discussed…”

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Buffalo, New York, 1977

“Bored bored bored,” Candice announced to the world, even though no one was in the room with her in order to hear.

Candice was sitting on a chair with her hands planted firmly beneath her as she played a game of solitaire. In order to make the game a little more interesting, she wasn’t even using her hands to play. Instead, she reached out with her tail, placing the flat blade at the end of it against a card and then concentrating. The card stuck to her tail, just as if her tail was covered with glue. Seconds later, Candice placed the card into the right stack and let it go.

“Yay me,” she said without much enthusiasm, though she was at least a little pleased by the fact that she was finally learning how to use her tail for something other than just getting it caught in doors. Candice winced as she thought about how much that hurt.

It had been over two months since Candice had been allowed to leave the house and she becoming increasingly frustrated with her isolation. Between her frustration and boredom, she was climbing the walls, looking for something to do. Of course, she liked drawing and painting, but she’d already spent half the morning doing that.

Just then, someone demanded, “What are you doing?”

Candice looked up and saw that her brother Daniel had come into the room and was glaring at her with his usual look of stern disapproval. “Danny Boy,” she exclaimed with a grin, knowing just how much he hated that nickname. “I was just practicing with my new super powers… See…” She spread her arm out over the playing cards, then lifted her arm up and showed that all the cards were sticking to her arm.

Daniel didn’t bother protesting the nickname this time, much to Candice’s disappointment. Instead, he sneered, “You shouldn’t do that freaky stuff…”

“This isn’t freaky stuff,” Candice protested defensively. Then she proudly stated, “It’s my super power…”

Sure, being able to stick to things wasn’t a very impressive power, and it wasn’t anything like what her favorite superhero could do, but at least she had a power. Daniel didn’t have any power at all, so Candice suspected he was just jealous of her.

“Someday I’m gonna be a famous superhero,” Candice excitedly announced, jumping up and trying out her best heroic pose. “I’m gonna be Sticky Girl… Or maybe Glue Girl…”

But instead of looking impressed like Candice had hoped, Daniel just sneered and pointed out, “Monsters can’t be superheroes…”

Candice winced at her older brother’s words, but before she could respond, she heard their mother from the next room, loudly exclaiming, “How in the world did hand prints get all over the ceiling?”

“It wasn’t me,” Candice immediately said, though the burst of giggles that followed announced otherwise.

Candice was already rushing out of the room through the other door when she heard her mother calling out, “Candice Christine Kade…!”

As soon as Candice reached the relative safety of her bedroom, she closed the door behind her and hoped that her mother would get distracted and forget about the whole hand print thing. There was actually a decent chance of that happening since her mother was always getting phone calls relating to the gallery business. When a full minute passed without her mother pounding on the door, Candice finally let out a sigh of relief and relaxed.

A moment later, Candice looked over her bedroom, which was perfectly clean and organized, looking more like a guest bedroom than one she lived in. In fact, most of the time she barely even felt like it was her room, just a place where she was allowed to sleep. Her parents insisted that it be kept in this condition and wouldn’t even let her put posters on the wall since they weren’t ‘real’ artwork. However, in spite of that, Candice did have several posters which she kept hidden beneath her bed.

Candice got on her knees and carefully pulled out the three posters that her parents didn’t even know she had. The first was a poster of David Cassidy, who she thought was really cute. The second poster was of Led Zepplin…her favorite music group. Her parents disapproved of that kind of music, which only made it all the more appealing to Candice. And then there was the last poster, the one of Candice’s favorite superhero…Ms. Might.

“Danny Boy is a jerk,” Candice stated defiantly as she thought about her brother’s earlier words. She stared at the picture of Ms. Might and promised, “Someday, I’m gonna be a superhero…just like you.”

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Buffalo, New York, 1977

Candice felt guilty as she crouched down, listening in as her parents argued in the next room. It wasn’t the eavesdropping that made her feel guilty but the fact that she was responsible for the argument.

It had been almost six months since Candice had changed, and she’d been hiding inside her house ever since, not able to talk to anyone except her parents and Mrs. Harris, the grumpy old woman her father had hired to act as a tutor. And unfortunately, Mrs. Harris had no sense of humor and had made it perfectly clear that she disapproved of Candice and her appearance.

All of the frustration and boredom had gotten to be too much, so two months earlier, Candice had begun sneaking out of the house a couple nights a week. She didn’t do anything except walk around the neighborhood, stretching her legs and getting some fresh air, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that one of the neighbors had seen her the other night, now everyone in the neighborhood was gossiping about whether Mrs. Grayson was losing her mind or if she’d actually seen a demon.

“I was so mortified,” Candice heard her mother exclaim from the next room. “When Ellen told me that Mary claimed to have seen a demon…”

Candice cringed as she listened to her mother complain about how embarrassing it would be if the neighbors found out she was a mutant. She’d already known that her parents were embarrassed by her…that they were so ashamed of her being a mutant that they’d told everyone she’d gotten sick and had been sent away. And admittedly, she’d been ashamed too…enough so that she’d let all her friends believe that as well.

Ever since Candice had changed, she’d seen the change in how her family treated her. Her parents had always been strict and a bit distant, but they’d become a lot more so…barely talking or interacting with her unless they had do. Sometimes, days would go by without her parents saying so much as a word to her, and Daniel wasn’t any better. In fact, when he’d moved out of the house three months earlier, he’d made it perfectly clear that she was the reason he was leaving. He hadn’t wanted to live in a house with a freak like her.

“We haven’t been able to invite anyone over for six months,” Candice heard her mother say. “We haven’t been able to have any parties for our clients… I can’t live this way…”

“I know it isn’t easy,” her father responded sympathetically. “I don’t like it either, but we can’t just throw the girl out. Candice is our responsibility. We have an obligation to take care of her…”

Candice wiped away the tears that were flowing down her cheeks, but it did little good as more continued to come. Ever since her body had changed, so had the relationship she’d once had with her parents. She’d gone from being their daughter to being an embarrassment and an obligation. She’d become an unwanted houseguest in her own home.

Without saying a word, Candice wiped the tears from her eyes again and started for her bedroom. Five minutes later, Candice had packed as much as she could into a backpack, then she took one more look around her bedroom, saying a silent goodbye before she slipped out the window and left for good.

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Brooklyn, New York, 1977

Candice felt extremely nervous as she walked down the street in the middle of the day, having learned the hard way that this could be very dangerous for her. When most people saw her, they tended to either scream and run away, or even worse, tried to hurt her. She’d only been living on the streets for three weeks, but she’d already been forced to run away from other people more than a dozen times, often escaping only because she could climb up the side of a building to get away. Because of this, she couldn’t really panhandle for change the way she’d seen other people do, and going to the soup kitchen had been a disaster.

Fortunately, Candice had figured out how to avoid attention, at least as much as she could. She had her tail stuffed down the leg of her pants, which was extremely uncomfortable, but at least it kept people from seeing the extra appendage. Candice was also wearing a large coat with the hood up so that it helped to hide her unusual features. As long as she kept her head down and didn’t get close to people, they didn’t really get a good look at her face and had no idea just how unusual she really was.

“I can do this,” Candice nervously told herself, knowing that she didn’t want to keep living like this.

She’d made several attempts to find a job, though the results had been less than successful. During her last attempt a couple days earlier, someone had laughed in her face, right before chasing her away with a kitchen knife. So far, that was about how all of her attempts had gone.

Taking a deep breath, she insisted, “This time will be different. I’m smart…and clever…and totally groovy. They’ll have to give me a job.” However, she failed to truly convince herself.

Candice stepped into the small diner and went to the counter. Her eyes went to the sign on the wall which announced that they were looking for a dish washer, and she smiled hopefully. She pointed to the sign and announced, “Hi, I’m here about the job… If you need a dish washer…I can start right away…”

The man behind the counter looked up with a bored expression, but when his eyes settled on Candice’s face, his eyes suddenly went wide and he demanded, “What the Hell are you?”

“I’m just looking for a job,” Candice pleaded, hurt and disappointed at the man’s reaction since she’d hoped that this time would be different.

Even as Candice started to back up, the man reached back behind the counter and pulled out a revolver. Without warning, he shot twice at Candice, missing with the first one though the second shot hit her in the side. She screamed at the burning pain and fell back to the ground, causing the hood on her coat to fall back in the process and revealing the horns on her forehead and her undisguised face.

“She’s a demon,” one woman in the diner called out in horror.

“She’s just a kid,” a man exclaimed at the same time.

Candice was on the floor, holding her injured side and feeling warm sticky blood coating her fingers and leaking everywhere. She howled at the pain, barely aware of the fact that the people in the diner were almost all backing away from her, as if they were afraid of her rather than of the man with the gun. However, she was definitely aware of the man with the gun as she was terrified he was going to shoot her again.

Seconds later, two cops burst into the diner, with one exclaiming, “We heard gunshots…” They both froze and stared at Candice for a moment with their mouths open in shock, then they began to demand explanations. Candice was in too much pain to focus on what they were saying, but she was vaguely aware of the words ‘demon, robbery, and self-defense’ being said. Then one of the cops roughly grabbed at her, holding up his handcuffs and announcing, “You’re under arrest…”

“But I didn’t do anything,” Candice pleaded tearfully, trying to hold her injury with one hand though the cops grabbed her other arm and yanked her up off the floor, not seeming to care if she was hurt. “He shot me…”

“Maybe next time you’ll think twice before trying to rob someone,” the cop announced, glaring at Candice with a look that revealed no doubt in his mind that she was guilty.

Candice gasped in shock and confusion, which was followed moments later by a crushing sense of betrayal. In spite of her pain, Candice pulled away from the cop, pulling her arm out of his firm grasp with a surprising ease. Then she turned and ran for the door, desperate to escape, though the cops ran after her.

“I didn’t do anything,” Candice pleaded again, though she already knew the cops weren’t going to listen to her. No one ever did. They took one look at her and assumed she was some kind of evil monster. Tears of pain and frustration poured down her cheeks as she ran for the nearest alley, hoping she’d be able to escape. However, seconds later, she saw that there was a dead end and she was hurting far too much to climb the wall. “No…”

Not knowing what else to do, Candice crouched down in the corner, trying to make herself as small as possible and desperately praying that the cops didn’t see her. She felt a tingling from her power, similar to when she was sticking to things and climbing walls, but that didn’t make any sense to her since she wasn’t actually doing anything like that. However, a moment later, that was forgotten about at the cops rushed into the alley. The both paused and looked around, their eyes sweeping right past her location, though they acted as though they hadn’t seen her at all.

“Damn,” one of the cops exclaimed. “We lost it.”

“I just hope she doesn’t attack anyone else,” the other cop said with a shake of his head. “If she does, I’ll never forgive myself for letting her get away…”

Once the cops were gone, Candice slowly got back to her feet, feeling relieved but confused by her escape. She didn’t know why the cops hadn’t seen her, but she was hurting too much to really question her good luck. All she knew was that she’d have to find somewhere safe to hide while she healed up.

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Brooklyn, New York, 1977

Candice stood flat against the wall, being careful not to move, even when some woman walked past and nearly bumped into her. Recently, Candice had learned that if she stood perfectly still, she could use her powers to make it so that other people didn’t see her. Being able to make herself invisible was an even better power than climbing walls, especially when there were people who wanted to hurt her.

A pair of cops walked past and Candice froze, holding her breath in fear. One of the things that Candice had learned in the six weeks she’d been living on the streets was that the police weren’t her friends. While growing up, her parents had always told her that the police were the good guys…that they protected good people and only went after the bad ones. Unfortunately, nearly every cop she’d seen since her change had just assumed she was bad, and just a week before, one of them had shot at her for no reason. Candice hated being shot because it really REALLY hurt.

Once the police were gone, Candice let out a sigh of relief and turned her full attention back to the bakery that was just a few doors down. The owner was standing in front of his shop, having a friendly conversation with some customers and he was even giving their little boy a free donut. Candice nearly drooled at the sight of the donut, then reminded herself that she’d be able to eat one in just a little bit.

Every night, the owner threw a bunch of stale bread and donuts into the dumpster behind his shop, then he always dumped a bunch of really nasty stuff on top, just so that homeless people wouldn’t get it. Candice knew that she wouldn’t feel the least bit guilty for stealing food that was just going to get thrown out anyway.

Of course, food wasn’t the only thing that Candice had stolen recently. Two days after Candice had been shot in the diner, she’d broken in at night and stole everything from their cash register, thinking that they deserved it after what they’d done to her. There hadn’t actually been a lot of money there, and she couldn’t just walk into a store to spend it anyway. However, it hadn’t taken her long to discover that there were homeless people who cared more about her money than her looks, and they were happy to go buy things for her…as long as she paid them to do so.

Candice took a deep breath, then came out of hiding as she hurried towards the bakery. Her plan was to just rush in, grab what bread and donuts she could in her hands, and then run away as fast as possible. However, she hadn’t even made it halfway to the front door when someone yelled, “Stop right there, villain.”

“Villain?” Candice gasped as she nervously paused to look around for any supervillains that might be nearby.

Then Candice saw the person who’d spoken, a large and muscular man who was wearing a blue and white costume and a gray metal helmet, which had a pair of large curving ram horns coming from it. Candice immediately recognized the Ram, a local superhero who was often seen in the area. However, what she didn’t understand was why he was running straight towards her. Then it suddenly dawned on her. He thought that SHE was a supervillain.

Candice had already learned her lesson about how useless it was to protest her innocence to the police, so she let out a shriek of fear, then turned and ran. The hero ran after her, repeating his demand that she stop, which only made Candice more desperate to get away. She didn’t know what the Ram would do if he caught her, and she didn’t want to find out.

Her first thought was to just climb a nearby wall and escape as she’d done on other occasions, but Candice had heard that the Ram could jump really high so she doubted that would do much good. Turning invisible wouldn’t do any good either, not as long as the Ram or anyone else saw where she’d vanished from.

Just as Candice turned around a corner, a man stepped out of a doorway and ordered, “In here kid…” He caught her by surprise as he grabbed her by the arm and pulled her through, closing the door behind them right before the Ram turned the corner. “You’re safe now.”

Candice backed away from the man who’d rescued her from the Ram and gave him a suspicious look. He looked like he was in his late thirties, dressed fairly well and obviously not one of the homeless people or gang members who were usually the only ones to show her any sympathy. And instead of acting afraid of her or hostile, he was smiling as though amused.

“Why did you bring her in here, Frank?” someone else demanded, making Candice realize that they weren’t alone. Three other men were in the room, sitting around a table with a bunch of maps and papers spread out in front of them. “She’ll lead the cops right to us…”

“I’ve seen the kid around lately,” the man…Frank said with a chuckle. “And I can assure you, she ain’t no friend of the cops.”

“They don’t like me much,” Candice admitted cautiously, surprised and relieved that none of these men looked like they wanted to hurt her.

“They don’t like us much either,” a black man with a big afro added as he flashed a broad grin.

“You look hungry, kid,” Frank stated as he gave Candice a gentle smile. “You want something to eat? We’ve got some sandwiches in the cooler…”

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Brooklyn, New York, 1977

Candice’s tail casually swished back and forth as she leaned forward, her attention focused on the eight padlocks that were spread out on the table in front of her. On the other side of the table sat ‘Fingers’ Washington, the easy-going black man who proudly bragged of being the best safe cracker on the East Coast. For the previous two hours, he’d been teaching Candice how to pick locks and now he waited patiently as she demonstrated what she’d learned.

As soon as Candice opened the last lock, she jumped up from her chair and excitedly exclaimed, “I did it…”

“Good job, kid,” Fingers told her with a grin.

From the other side of the room, Jimmy ‘the Stick’ Stickney, a self-proclaimed ‘second story man,’ chuckled. “I was starting to think you didn’t know how to smile.”

Candice froze, suddenly feeling self-conscious, but after a moment, she stuck her tongue out at Jimmy, who only laughed harder. Even ‘Scarface’ Calahan, the third man in the room, smiled faintly. Candice had never heard Scarface talk, though she wasn’t sure if it was because he couldn’t talk or just wouldn’t.

It had been a week since Candice had met this gang of jewel thieves, and though they didn’t tell her much about the heist they were planning, they did let her hang around. All of them, even the scary looking Scarface had been really nice to her, nicer than anyone had been since before she’d changed. Because of this, Candice was happier than she’d been in a long time.

“Now that you’ve got these locks,” Fingers told Candice with a grin. “Let’s have you try a few doors…”

Jimmy gave them an amused look and said, “I suppose that before long, you’ll be teaching her how to pop a safe.”

“Why not?” Fingers responded, giving Candice a wink. “The kid is a natural…” Candice just grinned proudly at that.

Just then, the door started to open as Frank ‘Mad Cow’ Cowan, the leader of the group, returned from running some errands. Candice snickered as an idea came to her, and while remaining in the chair, she turned herself invisible.

As soon as Frank had the door closed behind him, he looked around and asked, “So, where’s the kid?”

“She’s around, somewhere,” Fingers told him with a faint smirk.

Frank nodded at that and then went to the coffee machine in the corner and poured himself a cup of coffee. After taking a drink, Frank started for the table, saying, “I talked to our inside man, and it looks like we’re gonna be good to go…”

Frank was just about to take a seat when Candice suddenly appeared in the chair, jumping up and going, “Boo!” The professional criminal let out a yelp of surprise and jumped back, dropping his coffee mug which shattered on the floor.

“Gotcha,” Candice exclaimed before she burst into giggles.

“That she did,” Jimmy agreed.

“Well, ain’t you a little imp,” Frank commented wryly, giving Candice a flat look for a moment before he started to chuckle. “Well, I’m glad you had fun, Imp…because you get to clean this up…”

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Brooklyn, New York, 1977

Candice had never really liked her name, and now it only reminded her of her old life which she’d left behind, making her like it even less. However, she loved the new name that Frank had recently given her. Candice…Imp now had a cool nickname, just like all her friends, so she really felt like she was part of the group.

“Imp,” Frank said, getting her attention. “You remember what you’ve gotta do?”

“Yes sir,” Imp responded, flashing him a salute and an eager grin.

“Smartass,” Frank said with a chuckle. He pointed up to the side of a building and reminded her just in case, “Remember, fourth story window, turn off the alarm box inside, then come on out and get to safety.”

Originally, Jimmy been the one tasked with disabling the building alarms, but he’d accidentally broken his leg the day before and could no longer make the climb. Reluctantly, Frank had asked Imp to do the job instead, since he’d seen how well she could climb. Imp had immediately agreed, eager to do something to help out her friends, and as soon as Frank gave the word, she scrambled up the wall.

While Imp was climbing, she heard Fingers telling Frank, “I feel bad about bringing the kid in on this.”

“Yeah, this ain’t the kind of life for a kid,” Frank agreed with a nod. He took a drag on his cigarette and added, “But she’s a lot better off with us watching her back and teaching her the ropes. How long do you think she’d last on her own? I mean, you’ve seen how the fuzz were gunning for her.”

Imp quickly reached the fourth story window, then used a hammer and towel to break open the glass enough so she could unlock the window. All the windows and doors from the third floor and lower were hooked up to an alarm system, and it was her job to turn the alarms off so her friends could get inside the building. After climbing in through the window, it only took Imp a minute to find the alarm box on the wall and to turn it off. By the time she exited the window and started back down, the others had already gone inside.

Imp had nearly reached the ground again when she saw the costumed man with the horned helmet coming towards them. She let out a gulp of fear at the sight of the Ram, remembering the way he’d chased her before. At the time, she hadn’t known if he’d been planning on beating her up, killing her, or turning her over to the police who would have done those things to her. In fact, she still didn’t know what he’d do to her, only that it wouldn’t be good.

For a brief moment, Imp thought about just running away before the Ram saw her, but then, she remembered her friends. Frank had helped her escape the Ram before, so she couldn’t just abandon him and the others to the Ram now. Of course, Imp knew that she couldn’t fight the Ram, but maybe she could distract him.

“Hey, Hornhead,” Imp called out to get the Ram’s attention, though she immediately realized that she probably shouldn’t use that particular taunt. After all, she had real horns and his only seemed to be part of his helmet. “Hey Butthead…”

The Ram looked up at her, and since his helmet didn’t cover the lower half of his face, she could see him grinning faintly at the sight of her. “The devil girl…”

“I’m Imp,” she exclaimed proudly, mostly to hide her fear. “Not Devil Girl.”

“Either way, villain,” the Ram exclaimed, making a show of cracking his knuckles, “You’re coming with me…”

The Ram jumped at Imp, who just let go of the wall and dropped, right before the Ram punched the side of the building where she had been clinging to it. She hit the ground and started to run. When she looked back, she saw the Ram was starting to come after her again.

“You know what they say about a man with big horns,” she called back, trying to distract herself just as much as she was him. The Ram started to puff up a bit and smirk at that, but then she added, “The bigger they are, the more he’s compensating for. And wow, with the size of those horns, you must be compensating a LOT.”

That seemed to make the Ram angry and he charged at Imp, who let out a shriek and ran to the next building where she immediately began to scramble up the wall. But in spite of the fact that she was running away from the Ram, she no longer felt quite as afraid. Taunting the hero and being able to make him angry gave Imp an odd sense of power, as if she was really the one in control of the fight. She also felt a strange sense of freedom in being able to say anything she wanted to, without having to worry about being impolite or making a bad impression. Without even realizing it, the Imp began to grin.

Pausing partway up the wall, Imp looked back down at the Ram and blew him a raspberry before calling out, “Neener neener neener, the Ram has a little wiener…”

“Come on down here, you little brat,” the Ram exclaimed, looking as though he was about to jump at her again.

Suddenly, there was a loud explosion behind the Ram, knocking the hero down. When Imp looked, she saw Scarface throwing a second grenade at the hero. This didn’t seem to hurt the Ram, merely knock him over and keep him distracted. Then Scarface gave Imp a thumbs-up before he threw a canister, which erupted into a thick stream of smoke that covered the area, preventing Imp from seeing Scarface, the hero, or anything else below her. She immediately realized that this was the point of the smoke bomb, so took advantage of that in order to escape.

--------------------

Brooklyn, New York, 1977

Imp sat cross-legged on the chair, her tail sticking out from the opening in the back and swaying back and forth while she focused intently on her sketch pad. She’d spent more than half an hour working on that drawing, and she was quite pleased with the results. It looked just like Scarface, and she’d even put a lot of effort into getting the ragged scar across his face just right. Once she finished putting the final touches onto the picture, she set it onto the table in front of her, next to the pictures she’d drawn of the other guys.

“Pretty good,” Jimmy said, looking over the drawing, then smirking at Scarface and adding, “You really caught his ugly mug…” Scarface responded by flipping Jimmy off, then by giving Imp a thumbs-up and a nod of approval.

Frank reached out and tousled her hair, announcing, “I never would have guessed our little Imp was such a talented artist.”

Imp just grinned proudly at the compliment and said, “I used to practice all the time…” Then she cut off, deflating a little as she remembered that the reason she’d practiced so much was that she’d been locked up inside her house with nothing else to do. Of course, she liked drawing, but even that got boring after awhile.

Just then, there was a loud knocking from the door. Imp jumped at that while Frank and Scarface both reached for their guns. However, a moment later, a voice called out, “Coconut,” from the other side of the door.

“Bongos,” Frank called back before explaining to Imp, “It’s just our contact. I’ve been waiting for him.”

Imp nodded at that and began to get up saying, “I’ll get out of sight.” Before she’d run away, her parents had always made it very clear that whenever anyone else came to the house, she was to stay out of sight unless they told her otherwise.

Frank put a gentle hand on her shoulder and said, “You’re fine where you are, kid.” He gave her a nod and then went to open the door.

A stocky middle-aged man stepped into the room with a large briefcase in his hand, shook hands with Frank, then looked around the rest of the room. As soon as he saw Imp, his eyes went wide and he blurted out, “What the hell is that?”

“She’s the Imp,” Frank responded, giving the man a flat look, almost as though daring him to have a problem with that. “She’s part of my crew now.”

Fingers put a protective arm around Imp’s shoulders and proudly announced, “Imp is our new mascot.” Jimmy and Scarface both nodded agreement.

The newcomer gave Frank a wary look, then glanced at the other men, but carefully avoided looking at Imp. Without a word, he set his briefcase on the table and opened it, revealing that it was full of cash. Frank quickly counted the money, then gave the man the bag full of jewels that they’d acquired in the heist. Neither of them said anything more until their exchange was completed, then they shook hands and said a quick goodbye as the man left.

Imp just remained sitting where she was for the entire exchange, watching with teary eyes. For most of Imp’s life, she was used to people telling her that she was an embarrassment, first because she was more interested in having fun than in making a good impression on people, and then later because of her appearance. But Frank wasn’t embarrassed by her. None of her new friends were. They were all so accepting of her…happy to just let her be herself.

Frank had saved her from the Ram, and then he’d given her a new name…one that she’d embraced completely. As a group, they’d taken her in and were far nicer and more accepting than her own family had ever been. And now, instead of hiding her away like some shameful secret, they’d proudly introduced her as one of them. Out of everything they’d done for her, that meant the most. With that, Imp wiped the tears from her eyes and grinned. For the first time in her life, she truly felt like she belonged.

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Manhattan, New York, May 30th, 2007

It was late in the evening and the Imp sat in her recliner, a glass of scotch in one hand and a newspaper clipping in her other. She took a sip of the scotch and mused that considering the occasion, some cheap rotgut whisky might be more appropriate. After all, that was HE used to drink. And with that, she looked at the clipping…an obituary for Thomas Washington. Fingers.

Imp set both the scotch and obituary down on the table beside her, then opened a wooden box which contained some of her most prized possessions. First, she pulled out four sheets of paper, sketches that she’d drawn thirty years earlier. She paused to look at the one she’d made of Fingers, and then she took out an old photo. This was the only photo she had of her old crew, and it had all four of the guys in it, with her standing in front while sticking her tongue out at the camera.

It had been thirty years since the Imp had met this crew of jewel thieves, each one a hardened criminal. But in spite of being on the wrong side of the law, they’d taken her in, gave her a home, and taught her everything they knew about the business. They had also been her family, far more than any of her blood relatives had ever been, and the time she’d spent with the crew was among the best of her life. However, as with all good things, that came to an end.

When the Imp was nineteen, Frank had arranged for her to apprentice under Darren Atwood, a college arts professor who had a small gambling problem, and who ran a side business as an art forger in order to pay his debts. She’d been an eager student and Professor Atwood had been pleased to teach someone who loved art as much as he did, even someone who looked like her.

Professor Atwood hadn’t just taught her art and forgery, he’d also helped her get a real college education. She’d spent countless hours working on correspondence courses, or sitting in the back of classrooms while wrapped in bandages and pretending to be a burn victim. In the end, she’d not only finished her apprenticeship as a skilled forger, but with a college degree as well.

But unfortunately, while she’d been busy with her education, her old crew had fallen apart and ended up going their separate ways. Afterwards, their luck seemed to have run out. Scarface tried his hand at ‘henchman’ work, but was killed on the job by his own employer. Jimmy and Fingers both got nabbed and sent to prison within six months of each other, and Jimmy had died inside, only two years into his sentence. After Fingers had served a ten year sentence, he’d gone straight, got married, and worked as a locksmith until he came down with alzheimer’s.

Imp stared at the photo for several minutes before gently setting it aside and taking another drink of scotch. She wiped the tears from her eyes and smiled faintly as she remembered Fingers, the man who’d taught her to how to pick locks and crack safes. He’d always been quick with a grin or an off color joke, and to the young Imp, he’d been like a favorite uncle. Even though she hadn’t seen Fingers in years, she was going to miss him.

It suddenly struck the Imp as a strange coincidence that the man who taught her how to pick locks would pass away just days after she’d begun to teach that skill to another girl. In a way, Fingers’ death was a reminder of her own mortality and that everyone had to go eventually. Maybe it was time for her to pass on her own skills…more than just lock picking.

With that, Imp picked up her phone and dialed a long memorized number. When the other end picked up, she said, “Hey Frank, it’s me… Have you heard about Fingers?”

The End



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