Let me tell you a story.
You’ve heard of the Spinners, haven’t you? Of course you have. The women who prowl the streets of the city, who end the lives of men. They say they’re painted black and red, like the creatures they’re named for. They say they kill on a whim. They say they kill for a price.
They’re creatures for a night like this, dark and stormy.
I knew them before, when they were still just little girls – seven little girls in a run-down house on Potter’s Lane.
Let me tell you a story.
“Hey, kid. Hey.”
I pulled my ratty shawl tighter around my shoulders, but it didn’t do much to keep out the wind. I could feel the cold down to my very bones.
“Aren’t you cold, kid?”
Of course I was cold. What kind of an idiot question was that?
“Here, have a drink.” A small silver flask appeared in my field of vision. It was expensive; I knew wealth when I saw it. The hand clutching it, though, that wasn’t the hand of wealth. It was grubby, with jagged nails, and small.
I looked up.
She towered over me, even though her face looked young. She was six feet tall at least, and her arms stuck out from her sleeves, three inches too short and threadbare.
The girl shook the flask in her hand. “It’ll warm you up, kid.”
I frowned. The first thing I had learned, living on the street, was that no one was kind without some sort of ulterior motive. It had been a hard lesson, but I had survived it, barely. Now I was wary of everyone, even tall girls with bright eyes and mischievous smiles.
She frowned back. “Come on, don’t be stupid.”
“Urgk –” My reply, in a voice far too long unused, came out as a croak. I cleared my throat and tried again. “Go away. Leave me alone.”
The girl shrugged, and drank from the flask. It disappeared into a pocket in her dress. “Suit yourself.”
She slid down to sit next to me. “Oh!”
The brick wall behind us was warm, the kilns inside leaking heat. I was surprised, actually, that I hadn’t been rousted by someone bigger or meaner.
“It’s even warmer upstairs,” she said. She was blowing on her hands, her fingers red with white tips. I’d long ago stuck mine in my armpits. My toes were going numb, though – there was a hole in my shoes.
I glanced sideways at my unwelcome neighbor. Her boots were scuffed, but whole, and there were thick wool socks sticking out of the top.
“Come upstairs. Come on, you’ll freeze out here.”
I said nothing, just stared straight ahead. Eventually she went away. I shivered, and pulled my shawl tighter, but it didn’t help. I almost didn’t care. I was tired of living on the street, tired of creeping, mouse-like, around the edges of the city. I was tired of being alone.
The first flakes of the storm floated down, little butterfly kisses on my skin, in my hair, caught in my eyelashes. They melted too slowly.
I closed my eyes.