For all you readers out there, a small excerpt from my novel.
The shop was dark when she arrived. Standing on the corner across the street, Jane stopped to take in the morning. All was peaceful, a strange calm resting on the square. The shop sat on the corner opposite where she stood and all the surrounding buildings were dusted in white. She blew steam into the cold morning air, giggling like a child pleased with her new trick. Something about winter made her feel smaller, younger. Perhaps there would always be a child deep inside her, inside everyone she thought, that year after year was simply buried deeper beneath the weight of responsibility and “adulthood”, long forgotten by some, and clung too tightly to by others who’d rather escape to a time where they weren’t counted on by others, when life was far less complicated and the hardest decisions to make were which flavor of ice cream to get, or with which toy to play.
Jane abruptly abandoned her thoughts, realizing she’d been standing there for some time now. The cold seeped into her shoes and she was suddenly aware of the loss of feeling in her toes. She hurried over to the shop and let herself in.
Locking the door behind her, she slipped out of her coat and unwound the scarf from her neck, hanging them on the rack along the wall; then headed to the back to start prepping everything for opening. She pulled her apron over her head and was just tying it around her waist when she heard the bell above the door jingle.
“That must be Abner,” she thought.
Abner was a small man. At twenty three, he stood at five foot ten inches and, Jane guessed, weighed about one hundred twenty pounds. He was painfully skinny and frail, his features protruding from his pinched face. He was head-to-toe covered in freckles and had dark, shaggy hair that went unkempt most days; unless of course he was expecting a visit from his family, in which case he would arrive freshly bathed, hair brushed and parted on the side like a small school boy.
He was named for his grandfather, a tall, broad man, yet couldn’t be more unlike his name-sake if he tried. Abner’s grandfather was a stern man, who worked hard every day of his life. He was a soldier in his younger days and had a fighting spirit – strong and courageous, not afraid to get his hands dirty or rise to a challenge. Abner was small and spindly, afraid of everything, and content to spend his days within the comfort of his room reading books or drawing pictures. He was really quite a talented artist. Most days he came to work with paint or graphite under his nails and on his clothes. Occasionally he’d have some paint in his hair that he’d missed because it wasn’t visible in the mirror…when he bothered to look in one.
Jane peeked out the window in the door, expecting to see him just locking it behind himself. The door was closed and the lights were still off, which was strange. Abner didn’t care much for the dark and the lights were the first thing he reached for each morning. Though the sky was a pale blue by this time, he found the shop eerie none-the-less, and would insist on turning the lights on before they opened. She grabbed a few things to bring to the front, curious why the lights weren’t on and wondering where he had gone to.
“Abner? Can you help me with these cartons of milk?” she called out from the back. She was fumbling with them in her arms, realizing a little too late that she’d grabbed more than she could manage.
“Hey! Abner,” she called louder, “I need help bringing these cartons to the front.” There was still no reply. “Where is that boy?” she said to herself as she struggled to put some down without dropping them. She managed to successfully place some securely on the counter, and walked out with what she could manage herself. Jane pushed through the door, almost losing one of the cartons in the process, swaying to rebalance the load, barely making it to the front counter where she unloaded her cargo. Wiping the hair out of her face, she realized she was alone in the shop. Abner was nowhere to be seen.
“Abner?” she said softly. “I know I heard that bell jingle.” She was confident she had. After all, it was so loud there was no way she could have mistaken hearing it. She detested the thing. By the end of her shift she had a headache from the constant ringing. Why on earth they needed so many bells on the door she could never figure out. She looked around at the tables, the bar along the window, down the hall leading to the restrooms, around the corner to where the drive thru register was, and found no one.
“Perhaps I heard nothing after all,” she said aloud, and turned to gather the remaining cartons. As she did, a reflection in the window caught her attention and she froze, paralyzed. At first she thought she was merely seeing things, but time proved the reality of its presence. She was not alone after-all. The reflection was blurred and unfocused, yet she could clearly make-out the distinct figure of a man. It couldn’t be Abner; the stature was far too large. Her eyes darted around; desperately searching for anything she could grab to defend herself. An umbrella was propped in the corner just to her right by the order pick-up counter. “That will do,” she said aloud and without out a moment’s hesitation, swept it up and whirled about to confront her intruder.
Arms raised and poised to strike, she lunged forward blurting her most intimidating battle cry. Just as she had turned, the figure rushed forward. It moved so quickly Jane wasn’t sure she’d seen it move; one moment across the room, the next inches from her face. She froze with her arms still in the air, umbrella raised like she was wielding a sword as she gazed into the face of…well, she wasn’t sure what exactly. She thought the window had distorted the reflection, but looking at it now it was in fact just as unclear and hazy as in the window. The shape was as of a man, though lacking real substance, not as a ghost would, for there was nothing translucent about it. Where ever it stood the surroundings behind it were entirely hidden from view, just as a normal body would appear, and being so close to her face, she even felt warmth upon her skin. No, this was no ghost. Looking at it more closely, she thought it appeared very much as if she had poor vision, as if she’d forgotten to put her glasses on, though she had perfect vision, and knew what stood before her was very real. There were no eyes, as a man would have, but a slight discoloration where one would expect the eyes to be. It had no distinct features as a man. It’s body did not take up space or maintain definite volume or form like a human’s would, for when it turned slightly, it’s shape seemed the same from whatever angle you saw it – as if you were always seeing the front of it.
Slowly it reached up its hands to grab her arms, still poised in defense. She had a slight moment of panic before realizing it was making no move to harm her. Rather, it seemed to be acting in a way a person would with a wild animal – no sudden movements, every action slow and steady, as if it were trying to disarm her. Staring into its face she felt a strange comfort, no fear or panic, but warmth and peace, and all her defenses seemed to dissolve. She couldn’t explain it. This was nothing like she’d ever seen before and logically her feelings of peace did not align whatsoever with reason. She should be afraid, right? Any normal human being would have fought or fled, yet there seemed to be some power outside her that stayed her hand and assured her that everything was alright. She was safe with this…thing.
It gently pulled her arms back down to her sides, releasing the umbrella from her grip, and Jane stared curiously into its face, never losing its gaze. Something about this strange being felt familiar to her. It smelled sweet, though not any smell she could identify; so faint she wasn’t even sure it came from this being, yet she was sure it couldn’t be from anything else because she’d never smelled anything like it before. It’s fragrance was immensely pleasing; it was not overpowering, like someone wearing too much cologne in which case there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, regardless how good a cologne it may be, but instead she found herself wishing she could step closer, really breathe it in – as if no matter how deep a breath she took she was unable to get enough, unable to fully appreciate it. They stood for what seemed like ages in silence, just staring at each other, studying one another.
She lifted her hand to touch it, leaning in closer when there was a sound of keys fumbling in the lock of the front door. Jane jumped back startled by the sound and looked over to find Abner waving through the window, his wide, crooked smile plastered across his face as he struggled with the lock. She looked back to the place where the creature stood and it was gone. Jane looked around frantically to find where it had run to, but it was nowhere to be found. Just as suddenly as it had come, it was gone.