November 23rd, 1997
It all started that fall, as her mother left her upon the steps of the Lost Souls orphanage, her tiny hand holding onto a small luggage case that was only half full. Her words still rung in her ears.
“Don’t let them get to you, dear. Wear a mask always, Veronica.”
And for the first few weeks of living with other unfortunate children Veronica did just that. She traveled the halls like a ghost, watching leaves that were as orange as the setting sun slowly drift to the ground, spending nights with her nose between the pages of a dog-eared, dusty book. She was a lonely ten year old.
One day, as she sat on the steps watching the cars race by, a golden haired boy approached her, the corners of his lips raised into a lazy smile.
“Hi. I’m Axel. Wanna play?”
She watched him for a couple seconds. The boy was clearly younger by a few years, but something in his smile disarmed her.
“Sure. That’d be nice!”
The two of them sat in the attic, an old projector behind them displaying a black and white film about a man’s rise in the criminal underworld. They sat close together, a bowl of popcorn between them, nothing but the sounds of the film filling in the silence.
“Wouldn’t it be the best ta’ be a gangster?” He chimed in as the credits started to roll. “Ya’ do what ya’ want, ya’ don’t take nothin’ from nobody. Somebody gives ya’ trouble – bang! Ya’ perforate ’em!”
“It would be!” She nodded with an excited grin. Far as anyone in the orphanage knew, Veronica never smiled. “I would wear the nicest dresses, with the shiniest jewelry…”
“We’d be a good team, I think. Like, um, those guys from that movie, The Public Enemy.”
“We could be like Bonnie and Clyde!”
“Who are those?”
“They were a couple in the 1930s… be right back.” Veronica got up from the floor and ran down the stairs. After a few minutes, she returned with a book in her arms, opening it as she laid back down. “Here! I went down to the library yesterday.”
“Nerd.” Axel leaned in to get a closer look of the pages. In black and white they showed a couple, standing together before a car. “Huh. What about ’em?”
“They’re like, the most famous criminal duo ever! They outsmarted everyone and made a bunch of money, traveling all over the country and robbing banks…”
“I like his suit.” With one finger he poked the page, tapping the photograph of the late Clyde Barrow. “He has a nice hat, too.”
“She’s pretty.” She nodded, glancing towards him. “It’d be nice, don’t you think? Living on the road, doing what you want to do? No one to answer to…”
“We’d be free!” Smiling softly, he grabbed the corner of the page and flipped it. “Hey, here’s someone else. John Dillinger…”
“He was a bank robber that ran with his own gang. Remember that movie we watched, ‘High Sierra’? It’s based on his life.”
“Really?” Undeniable wonderment in his voice, almost absorbing every detail on the page. “…Axel Dillinger. How do ya’ think that sounds?”
A soft, sweet smile. “I think it sounds lovely.”
A few months later, Axel ran up to her with an excited look in his face.
“Look!” He said, showing her a thin brush that was in his hand.
An eyebrow poised above her eye as she examined the painting utensil. “It’s a brush. What’s so exciting about it?”
“Well, ya’ know how the grown-ups said I should start drawin’, see if that calmed me down or somethin’?”
“Yeah, I remember. Did it work?”
“I decided it ta’ give it a try, be a good sport n’ all. I was drawin’ a dog, cuz dogs are cool, and all of a sudden, the thing comes ta’ life!”
She scrunched up her face in confusion, eyebrows meeting together as she tilted her head. “Are you feeling okay, Axel?”
“I ain’t going nuts – look, I’ll show ya’.” He gripped the brush with two fingers, sketching in the air. Before their very eyes a brick materalized, falling to the ground. Veronica blinked, eyes widening in response.
“That’s… that’s amazing! Axel, you’re like… a magician, or something.”
“Ye’! Um…” He cleared his throat, rubbing the back of his head as a tint of red graced his cheeks. “I want ta’ draw ya’ something. Just a minute.” Axel drew a circle in the air, twelve little spikes protuding from it. A golden bracelet encrusted with twelve small diamonds appeared.
He caught it before it could fall to the ground, extending it towards the girl. “Um. Ya’ know how ya’ said ya’ wanted ta’ wear jewelry like the women in the movies? I hope ya’ like it.”
The gold was fake and the diamonds imitations, but in her eyes the bracelet could have adorned the wrist of a queen. She took it from his hand, slipping it onto her waist. “Axel, it’s… it’s beautiful. Thank you.”
“Oh, it’s really nothing… wait, what the hell’s happenin’ ta’ it?”
The moment she had put it on, the once-white diamonds slowly filled with a black substance. Axel took a step back as tendrils of a midnight liquid protuded from the diamonds, moving back and forth like twigs in the wind.
“Hey… I can control it… it’s ink…” There was no fear in her face as the tendrils coiled around her arm.
“Woah… hey, are ya’ a magician too, Veronica?”
“I think so! Now we can be magicians together!”
He nodded. “Ya’ gotta give it a name. I named mine Killing in the Name.”
“Really? I think I’ll name mine… 「Ｓｎａｋｅｃｈａｒｍｅｒ」…”