Jophi walked up to the store’s window. On display with the rocking horse and blocks were also dolls, toy trains, and marbles. She pulled the marble pouch from her pocket and ran her thumb across the embroidered letters that spelled out the store’s name. The Curio Box. Kende’s hat had also been stitched with the same name. This had to be the store their father used to work at.
She put the marbles back in her pocket. “I’d almost forgotten about my dream.”
Ven peered into the window. “Your dream?”
“After my father died I had a dream. First I saw him, then I saw the front of a toy store. I couldn’t see the name of the store, but I saw this rocking horse and the blocks, as well as a shadowy figure standing inside. It was so vivid, but with everything going on I guess I forgot. Until now.”
“I don’t see anyone inside,” Ven said. “Maybe they’re in the back. And look.” He pointed to the bottom of the window. A small black sign with red lettering read “Help Wanted: Apply Within. “This is the first place we’ve come across that is advertising employment.”
Jophi nodded. “Let’s head in. What have I got to lose?”
Vaern pushed past her. “Vaern go first. Make sure safe.”
Jophi opened the door, chuckling. “It’s just a toy store, Vaern. I’m sure it’s fine.” She let Vaern go in before her, his ears alert. He looked around, sniffing, his body stiff. She walked in behind him. The back of her neck tingled and she rubbed her arms. Why was it so cold in here?
“Can I help you folks?”
Jophi turned towards the voice. An elderly man stood before her, his hair white and his body hunched over with age. He darted his gaze around the room, then settled again on Jophi.
“I hope you can help.” Jophi reached out to shake his hand. “I’m looking for work and I saw your sig–”
The man clamped his hand over her mouth. “Shh! It’ll hear you!”
She pulled his hand away. “What will?”
He leaned in close, his eyes wide. “The demon!”
She watched Vaern as he paced up and down the rows of empty shelves at the front of the store, his hackles raised. Where were all the toys? Was he going out of business? If so, why did he have a help wanted sign on display?
“Demon?” Jophi asked. She knew demons were real, but she never imagined that she’d ever cross paths with one. Is this why she had been led here?
Vaern circled back to them. “Vaern smell demon. Demon be close.”
The old man pressed his hand against her back, pushing her towards the door. “Demon, yes. And he’s close, so you must leave now.”
Jophi stepped outside, followed by Ven and Vaern. The door slammed behind them and the lock clicked. She frowned. Everything thus far had led her to this store. But why? To find a job, or to help the owner with his demon problem. Hadn’t she helped enough people?
She sighed as the street grew dark. “It’s late.” She scratched the top of Vaern’s head and he wagged his tail. “I really don’t want to sleep outside again. I’m going to head back to my apartment. Both of you are welcome to join me.”
Ven gave her a sly grin as they started walking. “Inviting me home, huh? I’m assuming you trust me, then?”
She laughed. “That’s still open for debate, but I guess I’m not as suspicious of you as I was before.”
“Works for me,” he said. “Let’s get going.”
About an hour later, they climbed the narrow staircase leading to Jophi’s apartment. Her muscles ached as Jophi approached her door where a piece of white paper with printing on it was attached.
“Dear Tennant,” she read. “Another party is interested in renting your apartment, and they are able to pay immediately. I will grant you two more days to pay me for your current and overdue rent payments. After that I will be forced to give the unit over to someone else. My sincerest apologies.”
To be continued…