Approaching the entrance to the grocery store, Sylus paused a moment.
Jeron tugged on his arm, “What’s up?”
Jeron leaned around the flower display to see a redhead girl sitting at a plastic table trying to sell scouting cookies.
“What about her?”
“She was here two years ago…”
“It’s a prime selling spot. I’m sure she nabs plenty of mothers with complaining children or drunks from the bowling alley.”
“No…” Sylus wandered away as if in a trance.
“Sy? What the hell?!”
“Ah you there! The fat man with the midlife crisis!” she waved a pen in his direction, “Buy three get one half off. Any combination.”
“Excuse me?” Sylus was caught off guard.
“Well, you’re what, in your mid-30s? Overweight? Some kind of weird purple hair dye and sclera contacts? I diagnose you with a midlife crisis. A common condition of middle-aged men these days.”
Sylus ran his fingers through his hair. “It’s purple?”
“More a dark violet,” Jeron chimed in, “Never noticed it until the sunlight hit.”
“You think I’m going through a midlife crisis?”
The girl shrugged, “Your an adult man dying his hair. I did you a favor rather than just calling you tacky. Now buy some cookies.”
“I don’t dye my hair…”
“Right because purple is a natural color. Okay, Mr. Special. I guess you’re the hero of whatever fantasy you’re living in.”
Sylus scoffed. He turned to Jeron for support, but the man was biting his lip choking back laughter.
“You’re no help!”
“So you gonna buy some cookies or not? You’re blocking other customers from getting to me.”
“This is a terrible sales tactic…” Sylus grumbled.
“And yet you’re still standing here…”
“You were here two years ago, weren’t you?”
She scoffed, “Every day of every year for who knows how long. Are you expecting me to remember seeing you before?”
“Well, I remember you.”
“Y-you do?” she recoiled a bit.
“Who could forget a ‘high-spirited’ cooky-selling ginger?”
She glared at him.
“Candace or something?”
“Cassidy. Cassidy Jones.”
“Right! Cassidy! I’m Sylus and this is Jeron.”
Her glare intensified. “Right…”
“I’d’ve thought you’d’ve moved on from the cookie-selling business by now.”
“Hey,” she shrugged at his remark, “It’s good money.”
“So it is,” Sylus laughed.
“Yeah well, I suppose I am memorable, but like… I mean a fat man with purple hair would be something interesting, but I gotta say I don’t even have the faintest hint of dejavu looking at you.”
“Sy?” Jeron took him by the arm, “We should get our shopping done.”
“Now you!” Cassidy pointed to Jeron, “I do kinda remember you. It was a long time ago. You were with someone else at the time. Didn’t work out?”
Jeron scowled at her. “First, my personal life is none of your business. Second, what about me is even remotely memorable? Third, no. I’m with the same person.”
Cassidy shrugged, “The mind can be weird about what it does and doesn’t want to remember, but if I’m being honest, I liked your hair.”
“Yeah…” she suddenly became aware of how bad it all sounded, “Sorry… I didn’t mean anything by it. I can’t control my hair at all and I just thought yours looked so put together.”
Jeron sighed, “Years of practice.”
“I could imagine.”
“So you’re telling me that this is the same person you were with all that time ago?”
“I-I mean… Hey, you’re right. It’s none of my business, but… Come on. You really expect me to believe that in two years someone could change that much?” she turned to Sylus, “No offense, but I know medicine’s come a long way, but…” she motioned to him, “You’re like a completely different person.”
“Not really. I just look different enough that the similarities are subtle,” Sylus grinned.
“Oh… I-I see… Well then,” she cleared her throat, “The miracles of modern medicine, am I right?” she laughed nervously.
“Don’t worry about it, kid,” Sylus kept smiling.
“Well,” Jeron stepped in again, “We should be on our way.” He smiled at Cassidy with a nod.
“Y-yeah…” she waved to them weakly.
With a smile and a nod of his own, Sylus turned to leave. As he made his way to the entrance of the store, Cassidy called out to him.
“Wait! Stop!” she came barreling around her table, “Stop!” she cried out in desperation.
“W-what?” Sylus stopped in his tracks.
“Y-your shadow…” she pointed to the ground behind him.
Sylus craned his neck to look over his shoulder. Wisps of shade fluttered from his shadow. They writhed and flickered in and out of view.
“Ah shit,” he muttered.
“I thought you hid them?!” Jeron quietly hissed.
“What is that?” she stared at him while remaining under the shade of the strip mall overhang.
“Well, it’s um…” he forced a laugh, “Don’t worry about it.” he tried to enter the grocery store, but the girl grabbed the hem of his jacket.
“It’s not nothing. What is it?” she barked.
“I-I don’t…” Sylus stammered in search for a reasonable answer.
She looked around nervously. “I-I’m… Sorry…” she released him, “Sorry…” She quietly wandered back to her table.
“Is everything okay, Cassidy?” Sylus turned to her.
“I-I don’t…” she shook her head before turning to him again, “I’m fine.” She smiled.
“Oh…” Sylus replied slowly, “Okay, well… If y-you need anything…”
She shook her head rapidly.
With a sigh, Sylus finally made his way inside with Jeron.
Under the harsh light of the grocery store, Sylus tried to observe his shadow again. It was so faint in the light that he could barely see it at all much less the refractions of his tendrils.
“I hope that doesn’t become a problem at some point…”
Jeron laughed, “You know it will, but we’ll deal with it when the time comes.”
Jeron nodded as he retrieved a cart.
“Alright, we can’t get too much. Money’s pretty tight these days,” Jeron muttered as he made his way towards non-perishables. “Fruit, veg, anything in a can. Have to make it last.”
“Jeron?” Sylus tapped him on the shoulder, “Qaitax has an idea.”
“Oh he does, does he?”
Sylus nodded. “Our money’s all fake right? Like, there’s no real value backing what’s on your debit card besides the promise of the bank to let you have it back if you ever ask for it, right?”
“You mean like the fact that money only matters because we say it matters type thing?”
“Okay, I’m listening.”
“Qaitax is fairly certain he can manipulate records to make it look like you have more money than you do.”
Jeron snorted, “That’s illegal as fuck.”
Sylus looked around them at the crowds of people ambling down the aisles. “Only if we’re caught.”
Jeron glared at him. “How are sudden, random deposits not sketchy?”
“What if we only deposit what we need? Like near-exact amounts so it never looks too weird.”
“A bank would quickly notice a deposit that is immediately withdrawn…”
Sylus shook his head, “I never said we’d make a deposit. Just manipulate information.”
Jeron’s glare deepened, “I’m not a thief Sylus.”
“You’re not taking it from anyone, Jer! It doesn’t even exist in the first place so why worry? Besides, the only thing you’re stealing from is the bank and it’ll take them a long time to notice that a $20 purchase shouldn’t have been possible when they’re dealing with millions at a time.”
“But they will notice, won’t they?”
Sylus shrugged, “Maybe? Let’s say I insert like $100. You spend that immediately.”
“That’s $100 that I never invested in the bank. They’d see it as some kind of loss. I’d be flagged immediately…”
Sylus thought a moment, “Then I’ll do it to myself.”
“My money is all locked in the Riftworks. It was its own bank of sorts. Governments would give it a budget to spend on personnel and,” he sighed, “Henley would distribute it accordingly. No one is looking at the Riftworks accounting anymore.”
“Yeah, but they are watching for weird activity. At least,” Jeron took a deep breath, “They were two years ago… You don’t think manipulating it’s accounting would send up red flags?”
“And if it does, I’m not human so I’m not subject to your mortal laws,” he winked at Jeron. “I’ll go find an ATM.”
“Do you even have your debit card?”
Sylus pulled his wallet from his pocket. “Bedside table. Where I always kept it.”
Jeron shook his head, “Fine. Go rob the world’s economy so we can have a nice dinner.”
“Damn right,” Sylus kissed him on the forehead out of sheer instinct.
They both froze. Sylus was spiraling into a panic. The all-too-familiar sense of the world collapsing in on him flooded his senses. He’d been so sure this kind of thing was behind him, but alas, here he was feeling like everything was falling away.
What the fuck is wrong with you…
A smile slowly made its way across Jeron’s face.
“Go rob the rich, you goon.”
With a grin of his own, Sylus made his way back outside.
Outside, he looked to his right hoping to find an ATM there, but of course there wasn’t. To the left, past Cassidy who’d returned to hawking her wares, was the machine he was looking for. He took a deep breath before walking out to the road so he could pass her on the far side of the pylons that held up the overhang. But it was no use. She saw him.
“Sylus?” she called out to him.
He stopped in his tracks, cringing.
“You don’t have to avoid me, you know. It’s okay. I’m just…” she sighed, “Weird.”
He made his way back under the overhang.
“So am I,” he chuckled.
“I do remember you, you know… At least now I do.”
“Oh? And what was so memorable about me?” he laughed.
“I think it was your smile. And the fact that you offered me a ride home and it didn’t feel creepy.”
Sylus chuckled again.
Cassidy sat on her chair looking like she had something she wanted to say. She kept biting her lip and wringing her hands together.
“Say what you want, kid.”
She looked up at him. “C-can you drive me home tonight?”
Sylus looked around nervously, “I mean, you barely know me…”
“I know…” she sighed, “But… I…” she bit her lip again. “N-nevermind… Sorry.” She turned away from him.
Sylus sighed heavily as he resumed his trek to the ATM. Before he did anything strange, he checked his account. He recoiled at his account balances. Someone had kept paying him every week for the two years he was gone.
“Goddammit, Henley…” he hissed.
He withdrew a $20 and left the rest as it was. He had more than enough for a long time.
You truly believe Haurex continued financial compensation during your absence?
Sylus nodded, “I do. I don’t know why, but I do.”
“Yeah…” Sylus pocketed his wallet.
Sylus tried to pass Cassidy without any further interactions. A curt nod and that would be it.
“Do you have tentacles?”
He stopped dead in his tracks. It was midday. People were milling about everywhere. And there was this girl asking him if he had tentacles. He slowly turned his head to her.
“Your shadow looks like mine…” she forced a laugh, “Which is why I stay in the shadows…”
He turned to face her fully.
“Th-that’s weird right?” she forced another half-hearted laugh. She studied his bewildered features carefully before walking back her statement. “I’m just kidding haha. Yeah. Just kidding. Sorry.” She looked down at her hands, still wringing them nervously on her tabletop. “Just imagination or whatever. Things are weird these days with the Rift and stuff. No one likes to talk about it but its there and creepy things come out of it. I’m just being a silly kid,” she was rambling to cover her tracks, “Whimsy or whatever.”
Sylus couldn’t help but stare at her. He slowly made his way to her table. He stood there, directly in front of her. She refused to look up because she was afraid of what she would find.
“I do.” He spoke quietly and with little thought. “I have tentacles. Yes.”
Cassidy’s eyes nearly bulged from their sockets. Slowly, she looked up to him.
“I’m a voidspawn,” he added almost ominously, “I became one to become this. That was the price of my… change…”
The girl stared at him, wide-eyed with curiosity.
“For real? Or are you just doing that condescending adult thing where you play along with my child-like foolishness?”
She glared at him before settling for a resigned sigh.
Sylus’ phone buzzed in his pocket.
“Hey, got a message from Aria. She’s ready to be picked up. I’m checking out. Aisle… 4.”
“Alright, I’ll be right there.”
They hung up.
“Y-you have somewhere to be?” Cassidy nervously cleared her throat.
“Yeah,” Sylus groaned a bit, “Got an appointment with my doctor. Had a bit of an incident bout a month ago. Doing fine, but still gotta see the doc now and again.”
Cassidy nodded slowly.
“You still want a ride home?”
She turned to him. “M-maybe next time.”
“Next time it is, then,” he smiled to her before trying to head inside.
“Wait!” she called after him.
“Here.” She handed him a box of cinnamon-flavored cookies. “I-if you’re anything like me, you can’t stand sugar. These don’t have much sugar.”
“L-like you?” Sylus slowly took the box.
Cassidy sighed deeply, “Next time.” She smiled.
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