Art by Twitter: @tarokunnnn and @_tamomoko
It was a cold autumn evening.
Everytime someone would enter the shop with the wind chime making sure the entire boutique knew someone came in, a stark gust of blistering cold wind would fair through the well-lit store.
I shivered involuntarily every time someone opened the door, yet I did not mind the fresh gust of atmosphere and greeted every customer with a smile.
“Ah, welcome to our boutique ‘L’Asil’, how may I be of service to you?”
A hooded figure came into the store, presumably a man by the figure I could make out, broad shoulder framing underneath the dark cloak he was wearing.
I tried not to assume anything, but I caught my breath as I rang the bell on the counter behind me, indicating for another crew member to arrive shortly.
“Uhm, Sir? Can I help you?”
As I addressed him, his demeanor changed from fear-invoking to confused and ashamed as he let his head hang low before approaching me very slowly while still keeping a distance.
“Sir?”, I asked again, taking a step towards him as I tried to show that my fear started to dissipate.
“Uhm”, his voice was a deep rumble, clearing my assumptions and making me listen intently to his hushed words, “I- uhm I have an appointment?”
Curiosity took hold of me as I tried to peer into the hooded and covered face just so I could catch a glimpse of this man, but before I could examine anything else my coworker emerged from behind the storefront and addressed me.
“You rang the bell is ev-”, she looked at me but then found the cloaked man in front of me as something like recognition flickered over her gaze and she quickly ushered the man to come closer.
I turned and gave her a knowing look, “he has an appointment, can you take him to the back?”
She inhaled quickly and deeply as she straightened her posture and fiddled with her thumbs before opening a curtain behind her and placing it over a golden hook to make a previously unknown way to disappear discreetly. With slight fear she looked around as the hooded man kind of staggered towards her, her hand still holding out to show the way into the back of the store.
Before he vanished with my coworker, he turned around quickly and made something like a bow, and I might have heard the faintest ‘thank you’ as he looked at me with eyes that kept shifting from olive-green to a deep burgundy.
I nodded back and ushered my friend to take care of it as she disappeared behind him and closed the curtain.
With a thrumming heart I turned around as the door chimed again and gave the young lady, who obviously looked like the target audience of our design boutique, a warming smile.
“Ah, welcome to our boutique ‘L’asil’, how may I be of service to you?”
As the last counter was wiped down, the clothes had been folded and the lights were only left on the back of the hall and in the windows, I finally dusted off my apron and took it off to place it away.
I could hear Alma rummaging in the back of the store, probably taking care of the last shipments and orders that had to get out. And while that was just as important as closing down the shop, we had both forgotten something.
“Alma!”, I yelled only to hear a loud “HUH” from the back.
“We forgot groceries!”
I bit down a laugh at her distraught reply and looked at my beret and coat hanging near my apron on the other side of the store.
“You know what? I’m going to the bakery close by to at least get some bread! Maybe I’ll find a merchant open to get the bare minimum!”
I already placed the burgundy cape around my shoulders as its warmth would shield me from the weather and took the beret into my hands as I heard Alma’s heels step on the carpeted flooring.
“I’m coming with you”, she replied with her eyes glued to the darkness seeping in from the outside and the faint rain patter against the window.
“No you’re not!”I looked at her hair now disheveled from wearing it in a braid all day and noticed a speck of blood on her hand, “You have to clean up and close the store! Go upstairs and wash up so we can eat when I come back”.
I knew that with the flurry of tasks I had just given her she wouldn’t fuss too much, and as I expected her head disappeared from the hallway and she came back with an umbrella and a basket.
“Be careful out there, it’s dark and a young lady like you shouldn’t stay too long unchaperoned”, she whispered and I rolled my eyes.
“Right, right like something would happen”, I grasped the basket and the umbrella and poked her with the metal end of it until she ran away from me and upstairs into our shared apartment.
“I’m making fresh coffee!”
“Okay, thank you! I’ll be back soon!”, I yelled and opened the glass door in front of me to say hello to this cold night.
Opening my umbrella and hearing the pitter patter of the rain on the cobblestone street, I adjusted my beret and started to walk towards the next bakery.
Alma was right, it was dark and almost no one was outside except for some lonely carriages rolling past me and maybe one or the other person closing the door as the streetlights only illuminated part of the way.
I jumped over a pile of wood on the floor and skipped away as I could see the bakery in the farther distance.
My smile widened as I hoped to find some fresh brioche or maybe even something close to a cinnamon bun for our belated meal, as I slowed my steps when I felt a cold shudder.
Ooh, it really is cold.
I held my coat closer to myself with my arm as the umbrella I was holding took away the view of the sky.
Another shiver suddenly and more strongly overcame my body and I felt the need to take down my umbrella as the rain seeped into my clothes slowly but surely.
A hiss was to be heard, and I shot my head towards the sound in a dark alleyway, as my heels grazing the floor was the loudest noise.
What was that?
“Hello?”I asked into nothingness as I heard another hiss followed by a dry cough.
That’s definitely a person.
And they might need help!
With steadier steps I walked into the alley, and the streetlights could no longer illuminate my way. My heart rate accelerated as I found a hunched figure writhing and shivering in the cold.
Fear bled through my limbs as something pulled me closer, but my curiosity was taking the upper hand.
I rubbed the rain out of my eyes and tried to adjust my glasses to the fog of uncertainty in front of me, as the figure twitched again and I realized it was a man.
A young one to be exact, similar to the one I saw earlier in the boutique but much taller and with lighter hair that was drenched in rain and glued to his forehead. If I looked more closely I could have maybe seen more of his face, but the only thing I could actually perceive fully was pushing my pulse into overdrive.
Piercing red eyes looked directly back at me, blinking and then fixing me as the man shook even more strongly now, almost growling in what I would assume could only be pain.
Multiple switches worked in my head, as one realization hit another for me to form my next actions.
Obviously thirsty to a point of pain.
And lastly, the most important one:
I could help.
Moving towards him, I gripped my arm and freed it of the clammy fabric clinging to it as I dangled my limb closer to the quivering man.
Now that I was so close that I could see his blue suit and very pristine clothing, I felt the urge to go even closer.
“Hey”, I slowly trailed against the rain.
The growling turned into low rumbling, and when I looked again I saw his eyes lidded, not fully opened as if in some sort of trance.
“Do- do you want to drink? Are you thirsty?”
Something moved, it looked like more of the movement of an animal that felt on instinct and I crouched down to make it easier for the shivering man.
The rest happened very quickly, I wasn’t even aware of a burning sting until I blinked again two sharp fangs burrowed in my arm as I gasped out loud at the pain.
The young man was desperately gulping with a strength that pulled me even closer to him, falling down and almost knocking my head into the wall as blood dripped quickly down my arm and was licked up immediately with greedy gulps.
After what felt like an eternity, my heart beating feverishly as my head started to feel all fuzzy and a dizziness enveloping me, the man let go of my arm and I stumbled away from him as he fell back to the wall he was leaning on before and looked like fe feel asleep with a satisfied sigh.
Before he fully closed his eyes he took a few deep breaths, red streaks forming under his mouth as his dark red eyes flickered back to a beautiful chocolate colour.
As I looked at him and then at my arm, blood still pouring, I cursed as I darted out of the alley and sprinted back to the apartment.
I kept looking at the blood leaking quicker and quicker out of my veins as I noticed something odd about my wrist.
It was empty.
Where is my bracelet?!