Half blinded by the storm, she stumbled into the open area between two buildings. Hoping to hide from whomever was hunting for her as well as get some relief from the snow and wind, she followed an angled wall and ducked around the corner. Her socks and sneakers were soaked, and her feet were so cold she couldn’t feel them. She knew that wasn’t good, wasn’t safe, but she had taken the clothing available just as she had taken the opportunity to run.
No sound of footsteps that would confirm she was being followed, but that didn’t mean anything. Blocked by the wall, even the sounds of the slow-moving traffic were muted.
She had to find shelter. It was too cold to be out here tonight. As part of her training, she’d been shown pictures of people who had frozen to death, so she knew she couldn’t stay out here much longer. But the city shelters that provided a place for the homeless would be the first places the hunters would look for her.
Was she going to die tonight? Was this the storm that was the beginning of the end? No. She wouldn’t consider that possibility. She hadn’t done this much and come this far for it all to end before she had a chance to begin. Besides, she hadn’t seen other parts of the prophecy yet. She hadn’t seen the dark-haired man wearing a green pullover sweater. She didn’t have to worry about dying until she saw him.
That didn’t mean she could afford to be stupid.
The building at the back of the open area drew her attention, mostly because it provided the only light. Peeking around the corner to reassure herself that she was still alone, she hurried toward it. Maybe she could figure out an excuse to stay inside for a few minutes—just long enough for her feet to thaw.
But the light, which had seemed so bright and hopeful a moment before, was merely the overnight lighting. The place was closed. Still, there was enough light for her to see the sign above the glass door—a sign that would have chilled her more than the snow and wind if she hadn’t felt so desperate.
Human Law Does Not Apply. She was standing on land that belonged to the Others. She might be momentarily safe from human predators, but if she was caught here, she was at the mercy of beings that only looked human, and even someone who had lived a confined life knew what happened to humans who were imprudent in their encounters with the terra indigene.
A second sign was taped to the inside of the door. She stared at it for a long time, despite her numb feet and the freezing temperature.
APPLY AT HOWLING GOOD READS
(AROUND THE CORNER)
A job. A way to earn money for food and lodging. A place where she could hide for a while. A place where, even if she was found, the hunters couldn’t take her back because human law did not apply.
Howling Good Reads. It sounded like a name for an Others store.
She could die here. Most people who tangled with the Others died, one way or another. But based on what she had seen in the prophecy, she was going to die anyway, so for once in her life, what happened to her would be on her terms.
That much decided, she tromped back to the sidewalk and hurried to the corner. When she turned right on Crowfield Avenue, she saw two people walk out of a store. Lights and life. She headed toward both.
* * *
Taking his place behind the checkout counter, Simon Wolfgard glanced at the clock on the wall, then said, <Now.>
The howl from the back of the bookstore produced the expected female squeals and more manly grunts of surprise.
Raising his voice to be heard by the humans within sight, he said, “Ten minutes to closing.”
Not that they didn’t know that. The howl was the ten-minute warning—just as the Wolf who took up a position at the door was the bookstore’s own brand of security. A would-be shoplifter having his hand bitten off instilled a strong sense of honesty in the rest of the humans who came to Howling Good Reads. Having to walk over the blood—and walk past the Wolf who was still crunching on a couple of fingers—left a lasting impression, not to mention a few nightmares.
Didn’t stop the monkeys from coming back the next day to stare at the bloodstains and whisper to one another as they browsed the contents of the store. The thrill of rounding a shelving unit and coming face-to-face with one of the Others in its animal form—and the more chilling thrill of sometimes seeing swift and terrible violence—tended to increase the sale of horror and thriller novels and helped the bookstore maintain an acceptable profit.
Not that any store in the Courtyard needed a profit to stay in business. The stores were run for the convenience of the terra indigene who lived in the Courtyard and provided a way for the rest of the Others to receive the human-made goods they wanted. It was more his own desire to understand the way businesses were run—and test the honesty of the human companies he dealt with—that gave Simon the push to keep his store in the black every month.
But Howling Good Reads didn’t follow human retail practices when it came to hours of operation. HGR closed promptly at nine p.m. on the evenings it was open to humans, and some of the staff didn’t hesitate to shift shapes and nip lingering customers who thought the store’s listed closing was a suggestion rather than a firm time.
He rang up a few sales, more than he’d expected on a night when the sensible would have been tucked in at home to avoid subzero wind chills and wind-whipped snow that had as much bite as any Wolf. Of course, some of the monkeys lived nearby and used the bookstore and adjoining coffee shop, A Little Bite, as their social gathering places when they didn’t want to spend an evening drinking at the taverns on Main Street.
Humans, Simon reminded himself. He adjusted the wire-rimmed glasses that he didn’t need for vision but thought made him look a little gawky and more approachable. Call them humans when you’re in the store. That way you’re less likely to use the slur when talking to an employee. It’s hard enough to find help we can tolerate. No sense driving away the ones we have by insulting them.