The Winds of Change
She sighed as she evaluated the numbers in her ledger. It was getting difficult to keep this little book shop afloat. In the age of online readers, customers would rather donate or sell their hard copies than buy them new.
She couldn’t fault them. She herself had an overflowing library of electronic books that she may never read, and it was an incredibly convenient device. Electronic readers made it easy to accumulate literature of all sorts. But nothing would replace the way a book feels in the hand, the way her store smells of old ink and paper. Reading from a screen could never imitate the magic of flipping a page to slowly reveal the treasure within.
But she needed to adapt. It seemed that bringing in new material to supplement her stock of used books was paying off. It had been a bit of an investment to buy the books, but by offering some popular best sellers, along with a few choice specials, business began to pick up.
While that was all well and good, she would need to brainstorm some more events to attract new customers. The attached coffee shop did much to keep her small business out of the red, but she needed to start turning more profits if she wanted to address any of the repairs siting on her to-do list.
She jotted down a reminder to discuss the seasonal menu with her café manager on a sticky note. Winter was moving in; she could feel its approach in the crisp chill of the evening air. She wanted some flashy beverage ideas, something beyond the usual peppermint mocha.
She stuck the note into her planner and checked the schedule for the next day. Luckily, she wasn’t needed to open the store in the morning. She stood up, stretching happily. She could get a couple hours to sleep in and wake up slowly. She looked forward to a well-deserved relaxing morning after staying so late to go over her accounts.
She gathered her belongings, clicking off the lamp on her desk and made her way out the front of the store.
Her pace slowed as she walked past the aisles of bookshelves. The store was blanketed in long shadows, the only light coming from the streetlamps outside. Unease crept slowly from the base of her spine. Something was… off.
She shook off the feeling, knowing she was being ridiculous. Everything was exactly as it had been when she locked up hours ago. The dim quiet was eerie, and her choice in media lately was allowing her mind to run wild with fantastic ideas.
She carried on, letting herself out the front and locking the door behind. She paused once more, looking up and down the empty street, devoid of any life; only a fine mist was creeping in. The unease settling deeper.
It’s just the quiet. That’s all. It’s too calm and it’s making me paranoid.
At least she lived above her store. The stairs up to her apartment were attached to the side of the building, she just had to make it around the corner then she would practically be inside! She hurried now, needing to be where she felt the safest. But she only made it a short distance into the alley before stopping abruptly. There was a dark figure huddled near the base of her staircase. It was hard to distinguish any features, but it might have been a dog. Though, it was a bit misshapen to be a dog. Maybe more like a racoon… yeah… an incredibly giant racoon…
She turned around, intending to call the non-emergency line from inside her store, but pulled up short once more. There was another figure blocking her was out of the alley. This one was definitely human in shape, but any features were hidden by the shadows cast from the lamp light behind them. But though her eyes wanted her to believe the figure in front of her now was human, an overwhelming sense of wrongness washed over her; a feeling that triggered an instinctual panic. She understood in a flash that she was being hunted.
But she would get no further.
There was a sharp pain at the back of her neck and before she could fully flinch, her muscles seized, and she began to fall forward. She was unable to move her arms to break her fall, and as she landed the air was forced from her lungs. She lay there on the cold ground, muscles locked in place, struggling to draw in a breath through her nose that smashed forcibly into the ground. Footsteps strolled closer as her vision faded to black.
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You jolted awake, sucking in a violent breath of air. Your heartbeat was heavy in your chest, moving blood forcibly through your veins as your body pulsed from the rush of adrenaline. Your skin was clammy and sweat had begun to pool between your back and bed. You kicked your covers off, feeling suddenly trapped, and welcomed the cool air that washed over your body. You rubbed at your tired eyes as you worked to steady your breathing.
You felt your bed shift as Mayoke hopped up, sensing the turmoil of your emotions, and settled his large frame against you. You rolled to face him and buried your face into his silky fur. He let out a long sigh as you idly ran your hands through his coat. He was very much the companion of your soul, and his presence helped to calm your nerves. But as you began to settle, you realized that you would not be falling back asleep any time soon. Sitting up, you clicked on the lamp on your bedside table and retrieved your journal from its drawer.
Ever since you were young, you had been in the habit of recording your dreams. Most of them were the unintelligible nonsense of your subconscious, but there were plenty of wild ones that served as creative fodder. And then there were your ‘real dreams’. They weren’t exactly lucid; you were always just along for the ride. But they had a more realistic clarity. They didn’t just morph rapidly through your usual brain gibberish but followed real people through real scenarios. Well, ‘people’ might not be the most accurate term. Having a bit of spiritual awareness allowed you to see for more then just the humans, like with these shadow demons. But your ‘real dreams’ were the ones that usually came true.
You flipped to the last entry and began recording the latest experience, working to drag the fading images from the depths of your mind. You wrote as many details as you could; the time that had been on her phone, the date in her planner, the name of the store that had been on the front window the slight fog of the evening, her name from the email pulled up on her laptop.
You leaned back into your pillow with a sigh, your gut churning in trepidation. Mayoke shifted his head to rest in your lap and you reached out to stroke at his floppy ear, pulling gently at the velvety appendage.
There was nothing you could have done for this lady. The date you saw indicated the kidnapping happened a last week. But affirming that knowledge did nothing to ease your mind. Miyuki wasn’t the first person you had seen taken by these shadows. Within the last month you had been having more frequent dreams of others being taken by these same creatures.
So far, they had been the only consistent detail. There was always the two, one human in shape, and one looking like a misshapen beast. They only struck at night, or at times when the shadows were heavy, and you couldn’t make out any defining features. There was always a sudden strike, sudden paralysis, and then unconsciousness.
But you could feel them. And you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were demons.
Once you had jotted down as many details as could be remembered, you pulled yourself from the comforts of your bed ad dressed for a cool morning jog. If you were dreaming of demons, then now more then ever you needed to maintain your usual training regimen. Physical stamina was critical to fighting with spirit energy and cardio was a great way to build it.
At least, that was the reasoning you used to motivate yourself since jogging was the sport of sadists.
Picking up your sneakers, you moved as quietly as possible through your apartment. You paused at the closed door of your father’s room, listening for any signs of movement. You figured he wouldn’t be up and about for a few more hours but decided to leave a note just in case he woke before you returned.
Pulling on your shoes and grabbing a leash, you slipped out into the dark morning with Mayoke moving silently by your side.
Perhaps it wasn’t the wisest decision to wander the quiet, early morning hours. Not when demons were prowling about and snatching humans from the streets. But you were feeling too restless; you usually were after your precognitive dreams. It was frustrating to catch a glimpse of the future without any clues of how they would come about. You rarely had any indication of when they would happen, and while most of your dreams were tame and typical of daily life, these kidnappings were a sudden and malevolent shift.
You hadn’t experienced dreams of such tragedy before and the inability to help or prevent them from happening chafed at your nerves.
You and Mayoke made your way to the park closest to your apartment. Luckily it was a sizable one with plenty of winding paths through thickets of woods and around bodies of water. By the time you reached the entrance the sky was just beginning to show the first light of morning. You picked up your pace into a steady jog and Mayoke matched your speed with an easy lope. You had his leash wrapped around your arm, not bothering to clip it to his collar. It was there more for the comfort of others rather than a need to control him. After all, Mayoke wasn’t actually a dog.
He was more like a familiar or a spirit guide. You had sent out the summons and he answered the call. He was a partner, matched and bonded to your spirit. And while he could utilize multiple shapes, his most common form was of a large canine. He stood on long legs, almost to your hip and his build was lean with muscle. His coat was shaggy and dark in coloring; all in all, he was an imposing figure and deterred many who would approach you.
But he was far more valuable in his ability to protect from the non-humans. While you had your own spirit awareness and a few tricks up your sleeve, his senses were much sharper and his offense more powerful. The two of you together could handle most of the supernatural that still tried to bother with you.
As you settled into the rhythmic beating of your footsteps and trance of breathing, you let your mind slip once more to the dreams you had been having. There had to be another connection beyond the shadow figures. This latest dream was the first to show a specific date, maybe you could build a timeline. The victims varied too much to find a pattern among them, but you might be able to piece together something about their locations or the time of season they were taken.
You were certain there was a reason for these dreams. You knew you had to at least try to piece this puzzle together. But you needed so much more detail. You knew very little of these victims and even less of the demons taking them. It would be beyond stupid to try and chase them down while you knew nothing of their intentions or capabilities. And you also couldn’t shake the feeling that these dreams were a warning, that you were also on some list.
Your pace quickened. You stretched your stride wider, moved your legs faster. The cool morning air burned into your lungs and your muscles strained to carry you faster, further. You pushed harder beyond your boundaries, running as if to escape a fate you had yet to comprehend.
Slowly, you eased your pace back to a walk as your chest heaved for oxygen and your legs trembled from exertion. Your breath was beginning to even as you approached one of the larger bodies of water within the park. You paused to take in the sunrise beginning to paint the horizon beyond the pond. A soft breeze rustled through the tree-line and rippled across the water towards you.
You listed closely to the whispers it carried. While there were no words to comprehend, the sentiment was still clear.
A few stray leaves swirled about your feet. There was change approaching, an upset to your usual routine. And you couldn’t help but feel it wouldn’t be for the better.