Be off with you, and don’t come home without the flowers.
Samuil Marshak. “The Month-Brothers.” Trans. Thomas P. Whitney.
prologue — I am not a criminal
Something strange—golden, round, and shimmering—glittered in the darkness.
In a tiny, cramped room deep inside a large mansion, enshrouded by loneliness so acute that it could slice open your cheeks, Cordelia looked down upon an unfamiliar object: golden, round, and shimmering…..
What is it?
Curls as soft as cotton candy hung against Cordelia’s cheeks. She was a petite and dainty maid. The heavy iron candlestick she grasped was quite unsuited to her hands, which were small and chubby like a child’s.
The candle’s faltering orange flame brightened the floor of the dark room ever so faintly.
The strange object was lying on the floor.
Cordelia reached out and hesitantly lifted it up.
It was smooth, and when she held it up to her face to take a close look, she saw that it was round and flat, and that someone’s profile was engraved onto it. There were numbers written on it, too. What could it be?
The candlelight quivered, stirred by Cordelia’s stifled breaths. The strange thing gleamed in time with the flickering flame.
Why, I’ve never seen something so pretty in my life!
Cordelia’s eyes sparkled as she stroked the strange thing with her fingertips over and over again. The strange thing gleamed even more, as if feeling happy to be caressed. While she was staring at it, enraptured, something else caught her eye, and she lifted the candlestick up over the floor.
To her right and to her left—
In front of her and behind her—
She lit up the floor that lay submerged in the shadows.
One, two, three.
Cordelia’s expression turned awestruck.
There are so many of these weird things! All over the floor!
Cordelia carefully knelt down and warily stretched out her hand. The strange things were littered all over the floor. The round, golden objects quietly reflected the flame of the candle, dying Cordelia’s small, lovely face in gold.
It’s treasure! So much treasure! And it’s so pretty!
Cordelia began to happily scoop up the strange things, but there were too many of them for her to carry. Unease gradually spread through her tiny face. Her hands went limp, and the strange things spilled through her fingers and onto the floor with a tinkling sound.
What are they? Why are they on the ground? And there should be someone here…. Where did that person go?
She slowly looked around herself.
Darkness had swallowed up the room, as if someone had stained it in black ink.
In a trembling voice, Cordelia called out that person’s name, but there was no answer. The pitch blackness consumed the girl’s tiny voice. Her red lips grew taut.
The flame of the candle hissed and swayed.