Friday, September 11, 2009

The Second Shapeshifter

I like a good prank as well as the next person. And since I can shift skins, my pranks tend to be better than most. But it was only supposed to be a harmless prank. I didn’t know I was the one being tricked.

I should have been suspicious. After all, Ashley had been introduced to me by a mutual friend who’d told me, “She can do the same thing as you! Useful, in her line of work—she’s a con artist.” Ashley told me as much herself, when I finally met her, but it didn’t really bother me. She had a good sense of humor, and though we didn’t became close friends, we always had fun when we hung out.

It was my idea to take each other’s shapes, and Ashley enthusiastically agreed. “And then we have to do something totally outrageous as the other person, and then when people get upset, we can show that we were somewhere else!”

“Like what?”

“We can each decide what the other person does, in our shape. C’mon, Nick, it’ll be fun.”

“I didn’t say I don’t want to do it. I’m just thinking about what “Nick” should do.”

She laughed. “I’m sure you’ll come up with something good.”

We spent some time thinking about it. Finally, Ashley suggested, “We can go over to your girlfriend’s; me as you and you as someone else, and see how long until she realizes I’m not you.”

“That seems kind of unfair to Melissa.”

“C’mon, it’s a joke. It’s not like you won’t be there, and we don’t have to keep it up if it gets uncomfortable.”

I agreed, eventually, because I knew Melissa’s expression when she realized would be priceless. Ashley took my shape, and I took the shape of one of my friends, Jacob. Ashley knocked on the door.

Melissa opened it. Her gaze briefly swept over us before settling on me. “Hi, Nick. And, Nick’s friend who looks just like him.” Her face registered nothing. Ashley, however, was gaping. I am rarely shocked, so it was weird to see the expression on my face.

Melissa invited us in, and Ashley and I returned to our normal shapes. I introduced them, and explained what we’d been doing.

“Obviously,” said Melissa. “So what are you going to do as her?”

“The deal is that I get to chose,” said Ashley.

“So what should I do?”

She considered. “Get arrested. Go to the police station and confess to… murder.”

“Don’t you think that’s going a little too far?” Melissa asked.

I agreed. “How about I confess to something less serious? Theft, or I don’t know, something else.”

“C’mon, it’s not like we’re actually killing anyone! I’ll very clearly be somewhere else, somewhere with lots of people that will recognise me, and cameras, and everything.”

“But Ashley, it’s not when I’m confessing that you’d need an alibi; it’s when the murder actually takes place. And how would we know?”

“Oh.” She thought about it. “We’ll have to stage a murder!”

“Or, I could just do something besides confessing to a crime.”

“No; this’ll be so cool. You could pose as a body, and we could leave all kinds of fake fingerprints, and then you can go in as me and confess!”

“But that’ll waste so many police resources!” Melissa protested.

“Yeah. I can’t say I’ve never done anything like that before, but not without a good reason.”

“Oh, fine. We’ll wait until you have a good reason; then do it.”

I should have been suspicious about how insistent Ashley was, but I thought it was just her stubborn nature. So about two months later, when a girl asked me to help her escape her life, I called Ashley.

The girl’s name was Amy Dellon. She’d ran away from home twice, and had attempted suicide. A friend of mine who was her psychologist said that the problem wasn’t with Amy, it was with the situation that drove her to that point. He asked me to help her escape it. I do that kind of thing all the time.

So I took Amy Dellon’s form and played dead. I can’t take a form that’s not alive, or if I did I wouldn’t be able to shift back. But I can take a form that’s injured, and like Amy with slit wrists, and my psychologist friend called in some favors with a friend in the ME’s office. Amy was declared to have died by exanguination, apparently self-inflicted. Of course, at the time of her death, the real Amy was far away. And, as far as I knew, Ashley was at the mall, asking for help from salesclerks, displaying herself to security cameras, and paying for things with her credit card.

So the next day, I took her shape and went into the police station. “I killed someone,” I said, pretending to be distraught. “I can’t live with the guilt.” I said I’d killed Amy and made it look like a suicide.

I was arrested, of course. I could have gotten out of jail, but as I was being brought there something distracted the guards, so I took advantage of it. I took the shape of a guard, uniform as all, and was gone before they could even realize it.

Once I was home, I called Ashley. She didn’t answer.

The next day, an article in the newspaper told about the murder, confession, and escape. And one more thing. According to the article, Ashley Littlecomb had been arrested again later that day, at her home.

Okay, I thought, maybe she wanted that to happen; she can prove her innocence. But really, who would want to spend months in jail, waiting for a trial?

I went to visit her, in my own form. “Why are you doing this?” I asked.

“What do you mean? I didn’t do any of it! I never killed anyone, or confessed, or ran away! This is all some huge mistake.” There was a desperation to her voice that was not the mischievious Ashley I knew.

I left the prison and went to Ashley’s house. I took the form of a delivery person, and knocked on her door. She opened it.

I put my foot in the door, and shifted to my own shape. “What did you do?” I demanded.

She laughed. “I think you mean, what did you do, framing poor, innocent little Ashley for murder.” She shifted, into a form similar to the one I’d thought was her true form, but clearly not the same person. A relative, probably. “I’m Carliza.”

“So this whole thing was a trick, to get me to set her up?” I didn’t wait for Carliza’s response. “Why couldn’t you do it?”

“I needed to keep her from establishing an alibi. And she knows I can shapeshift, so if I hadn’t been with her, she would have known it was me.”

“What was the point? Why do you want her in prison?”

“She called the police on me. Just because I swindled one lousy millionaire out of his hard-stolen savings, my own sister tried to send me to prison. I’m just returning the favor.”

I’d expected it was something like that. I knew she wanted me to be angry at what she’d done, or at least how she’d used me, so I said politely, “Goodbye. Nice meeting you,” and left before she could respond.

I had to make up for my mistake, of course. I could go to the authorities and tell them what I’d done—if I wanted to be considered crazy or a criminal, or both. I could reveal that Amy wasn’t dead, either by bringing her back or by impersonating her—but the whole point had been for people to think she was dead, and I wasn’t going to call that off.

So I’d have to play Carliza’s own trick back on her.

I let Ashley out first—she shouldn’t be in prison, and her presence would make the rest of my job harder. Once the hue and cry had been raised, I took Carliza’s shape and went into the police station.

I made sure none of the officers involved in “Ashley’s” first arrest were present, then went up and said, “Excuse me, there’s been a mistake. My name’s Carliza Littlecomb; I killed Amy Dellon, and came in here and confessed, but I said I was my sister, and then I escaped.”

They arrested me. I stayed in jail for a few days, so they didn’t get too suspicious about how exactly I’d escaped. They didn’t catch Carliza, of course, but that wasn’t the point. She’s wanted by the police, which isn’t much of a problem for her, except she won’t be able to use her natural shape.

Not that I thought Carliza would leave Ashley alone. So I arranged for her to go stay with Amy. They were about the same age, and I thought they’d get along. I won’t say where—that’s the whole point of faking deaths and hiding people, after all—but they’re safe, and when I talked to them they seemed to be doing fine.

It’s not that I think Carliza will leave me alone, either. And sure, I could go into hiding easily, but I’m not. I have a few extra identities stashed away, of course—anybody who can shift shapes would—and I could always take one if I need to. But I can take care of myself.

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