I have lived in the country a good part of my life. I learned at an early age that a lot of the noises I heard outside my window at night were not caused by raccoons or bears sifting through the garbage cans; sometimes there were more sinister creatures at hand.
When I moved to the city I learned very quickly that sometimes there is more danger there than in the country. When I walk down some city streets the store fronts and alleyways seem to mask danger lurking just feet away. Who knows who or what is hiding behind those walls. Is evil nearby?
But the city never ceases to amaze me. For example, I always enjoy walking down a certain alley between two imposing sandstone buildings. They are beautiful structures, and I am always in awe whenever I pass between them. Just recently I was walking between the buildings when I noticed a dove flying down the alley which almost brushed my right shoulder as it went by. I thought it odd that a bird would come that close to me. When the dove hit the corner it seemingly put the brakes on and made a right hand turn and flew down the street. It looked like something out of a cartoon. The cause behind the dove’s erratic behavior became clear in a second. There was a large hawk chasing it, but when the hawk hit the corner he had to fly straight. He was too big to make that hairpin turn. The dove survived for another day. Like I said, the city can be an awe inspiring place and also a dangerous place. You always have to have your senses on full alert.
That particular day when I watched that play between hawk and dove I was on my way to my sister’s bookstore. Now, my sister is much older than I am, and while we grew up in the same house she was always a mystery to me. She loved to read, but she spent a lot of time away from the family. She married young, and was widowed shortly after. Her young man was a soldier, and he died in some senseless war overseas. It made sense that one day she would open a bookstore.
The area where my sister runs her business sits right in the middle of a neutral zone between two large urban universities. Her street is lined with the usual pizza and coffee shops which can be found near every university, but there are also a smattering of bookstores and art galleries. My sister’s store specializes in old and rare books. She has a steady stream of faithful clients from the universities, and she has a very extensive network of what she calls her scroungers. These are the people who actually go out and and try and find the books that she wants. My sister is not very mobile after being involved in a traffic accident. From time to time I assist her in her business endeavors. Tonight I was on my way to meet one of her special clients for the very first time.
My sister not only deals with professors and graduate students, she also deals with shapeshifters. I had found this out just recently. She only deals with these creatures in the comfort of her shop and only after hours. This was their idea. My sister would have prefered to deal with these people in the light of day and in a more public area, but the money is good so she does what they want. When I first heard about shapeshifters from her I of course thought she had lost her mind. But like I said, I was from the country where weirdness sometimes takes over. Before this particular meeting she had me read some of the books that she had locked in her safe at the shop. I learned quite a bit about these creatures.
She had been preparing me for days on how to deal with them. She stressed over and over again that secrecy was their greatest asset. If they thought that some human or another shapeshifter was about to expose their secret, that person would just disappear. “Treat them like you would a mob boss, and whatever you do don’t let them catch you staring at them,” she told me.
There is one thing about shapeshifters that constantly nags at them, namely they want to know where they come from. What causes them to change into some animal or why they have a craving for blood is their eternal question. My sister tries to help them by selling them information found in old books or an old painting depicting some arcane ritual. She is well compensated.
I arrived at the shop at the appointed hour. It was late fall, and while the streets were filled with students and other shoppers, I was nervous. But I was also a little excited. The shop was officially closed, but she let me in after one knock.
“Are you ready for this,” she asked. I replied that I was.
There was a knock at the door barely a minute later. My sister motioned for me to open it, which I did. I held the door for a middle aged man dressed in a three piece suit. He was tall and thin with jet black hair brushed straight back. Every hair on his head was in place. He looked at me but said nothing. My sister greeted him and introduced me. He nodded. They went about their business. I had a chance to study this man a little better despite what my sister told me. His face was very narrow with a long straight nose. But it was his eyes that caught my attention. They were a blazing green, and they flicked back and forth taking everything in. He had a bird like quality about him. He reminded me of that hawk chasing after the dove. I wondered if that was him flying down the alleyway just a short time ago.
Then It dawned on me. My sister and I were like that dove racing to get away. I could sense the power flowing from this shapeshifter. He could kill us in a split second if he so desired. Then the transaction was done, and the man left the store. My sister and I both sighed with relief. Just those few moments that evening changed me forever. This little dove is going to be more aware of his surroundings from now on.
©2012 Henry Peter Gribbin