The rain had been threatening to turn to snow most of the afternoon. It fell upon the unwary without mercy, but like most bullies it hadn’t the courage to do more than inconvenience everyone.
Occasionally a thicker splat of almost slush promised a turning point, but by now nobody was holding their breath. The splashes in puddles did little more than catch the hunter’s eye.
He paused under the overhanging concrete shelter outside the row of shops, and cursed the sudden trickle of ice water that had sneaked under his clothing from his hat. He’d been sure he’d found it this time.
His prey was elusive. He could respect that without lessening his focus on the goal. It takes time to run down any target worthy of the name. This one had led him a merry chase this afternoon.
From long experience, the hunter knew he needed a distraction. If that wasn’t available, he’d need some kind of cover. The prey knew it was being tracked. A library was nearby, so he went in and pretended to browse the shelves for a while.
He wandered the shelves that bent and twisted like the folds of a brain. He turned down offers of help from staff, and was careful to mingle with the other customers. He hoped it would be enough to hide his scent.
He feigned a casual glance through the front windows, and saw a flicker of motion. That was it, now was not the time to be hasty.
He slung his bag over one shoulder in a show of affected nonchalance. He didn’t really feel it, but it would have to do. The doors of the library whined open automatically as he approached.
He ended up leaving close behind a young mother and child, their books in the bottom of the lightly-framed pushchair. If his plan worked, he’d be mistaken for just another library user, maybe even as part of this family.
If books and stories were the lifeblood and memories of a library, he may be assumed to be sated by his searches in the stacks.
He shifted his bag again, as if heavily laden, and aimed his footsteps towards the nearby coffee shop. The young family also seemed bound for it, and so his cover was safe. The sounds of their splashing feet and the hiss of the pushchair’s tyres were comfortingly mundane.
His pace never deviated from it’s steady rate. He’d walked thirty three steps before his prey appeared. The bookshop wavered into view, relaxing it’s guard as he began his step past the doorway.
That was it; the mistake the hunter had been waiting for. He pivoted on his heels and swung his leading leg round into the entrance.
The bookshop, born of stories and belief, hope and mystery, shuddered and tried to fight back. It was too late. The hunter of books had found his true prey. Stories he could take home forever for his shelves back home. The bookshop began to mourn the pages that would soon be leaving.