The shop was cool and quiet, but for the tinkling of windchimes that hung beside the blue-tinted windows. The woman paused at the door, glancing around and breathing in the heavy smell of citrus lingering in the air; the small shop seemed deserted, and she was uncertain as to whether or not to continue on.
Finally, she moved forward and called out into the shop, “Hello?”
There was an immediate shuffling noise, and then a door she hadn’t noticed behind the stacks of books slid open and a man stepped out. She took an involuntary step back; the man, though extremely slender, seemed impossibly tall. He had a cruel look about his eyes — no, not cruel, she corrected herself, but calculating. He had the look of a bird about him; a cold, cunning animal.
She shivered, and he smiled. It wasn’t a reassuring smile, but rather a baring of teeth. He clicked his teeth together twice–snap-snap–then turned away and shut the door. She started, and looked again at him. He wasn’t quite as tall as she’d thought; he was barely above average height. He turned back to face her and she started again.
“Who?” he asked coolly, “are you?”
She sniffed, then shrugged her bag from her shoulder and held it securely in her arms. “A customer,” she shot back, just as icily – but she couldn’t hide the tremor in her voice, and the way her eyes skirted away from meeting his. She finally managed to hold his gaze for a split second, and realised that the skin around his eyes was marked–tattooed–with strange dark marks.
“What?” She stepped back.
He gestured at his face–at his eyes–and then smiled again. It was more human this time, and the goosebumps that had been creeping along her arms faded almost as swiftly as they had arrived. She didn’t answer, and he turned away once more. His hair was perfectly straight and so dark it seemed to be beyond black — a colour that was completely its own.
“What do you want?”
“I don’t – I just wanted to look.” Her tone was defensive, now; she scowled and tucked her chin against her chest, as if to shield herself from him, though his back was still to her.
“You came for this.” He turned back, giving his predatory smile once more: she flinched and then looked at his dark, almost feminine hands. There was a sleek book in his hands with a pale grey cover and a title obscured by his thumb. He stepped forward and held the book out until she accepted it. A gleam of silver at his throat caught her attention; he was wearing a strange cross with a loop in place of the upright point that seemed almost familiar, as if she’d seen it before – or instinctively knew it.
She looked down at the book. The title was unfamiliar, but it felt right in her hands. This, she realised, was exactly what she had come for.
“How much is it?” She turned it over in her hands; there was no sticker on it denoting a price, though, as she’d thought there would be.
She blinked. “I’m sorry? A pen?”
He smiled sharply. “Yes. I like pens.” He held her gaze for as long as she dared to look; and when she glanced away, a flush creeping into her cheeks, he spoke again. “If you have a pen, you may have the book.”
She slowly pushed a hand into her bag and, after a moment, drew out a pen. She held it out, smiling uncertainly, and he took it.
“Goodbye,” he said abruptly, turning away. She followed his example, and paused only at the shop door. Beyond the door, shadows had begun to settle on the streets – it looked to be about five, six o’clock, and yet she’d set off for the shop at midday. She glanced back over her shoulder and saw the man at the door, his arms folded and his strange cross glittering at his throat.
“My name is Djehuti.” He smiled, and then the door opened behind him and he stepped back through it. It closed behind him, and she remained at the shop door for a moment, gazing in the direction he’d gone. The door, barely visible behind the books, had a strange, long-beaked bird painted on it, with more strange writing–hieroglyphs–beneath it.
“Djehuti,” she mumbled to herself, passing her free hand over her hair. She turned, shaking her head, and quickly hurried out of the shop. The darkness had truly begun to set in, now: although she’d looked out of the window only moments before, she’d have guessed that it was now perhaps ten o’clock. She looked down at the book as she walked in the direction of the bus stop, squeezing it as she walked.
Within moments she was on the bus, the book in her hand and an odd smile on her lips. If asked, she would not have known where the book came from — she would have thought she’d always had it.