Sunday, November 10, 2013

Chapter Nine: Moriko v. The Librarian

Principal Patterson did his best to be helpful. Moriko and her father, who ultimately made the call, were not without mercy. As monsters went, the breed of ghoul Patterson exemplified were not threatening to the living, and if they managed their addition/predeliction carefully (as Principal Patterson did) there would never be any need to murder a living person for the meat.

He made a strong case for being a productive member of society. He’d been convinced by his own research that eating human flesh would give him immortality or at least a long life. Along this path he’d acquired a taste for it. But he’d also finished his masters degree and moved up in the school administration. He was an asset, so he was spared.

In exchange for his life, he shared what he knew about the shadow side of  Wayne, New Jersey and its surrounding area. He didn’t know much. He’d chosen this place because it seemed to be so normal. This was where people came to escape from the horrors of the big cities, so even the shadow creatures tended to keep the peace. Most of them anyway. He mentioned drugs and organized crime, but those were affairs for the police, not for a Hunter of Shadows. Moriko felt sure he knew a bit more than he was telling about the town, but the library seemed like enough for now.

Principal Patterson also told them about the thing in the library. It had been there a few years. Years. It gave Moriko chills to think of it. Patterson hadn’t known how to get rid of it. He’d tried to talk to it one day during summer, when he’d been in the library alone. He said he tried to convince it no one would return. It had been very hungry, though, and tried to attack him. Since it was not the sort of creature that needed to actually leap at you to attack, he actually wasn’t sure if it hadn’t eaten something. Moriko said a word to her father in Japanese. It meant, Dream Spider.

They parted from Principal Patterson at the front of the school, as if it had been a perfectly normal tour for a new teacher and his new-student daughter. They even shook hands. Moriko hoped her smile had not been too threatening. It was important to make a good impression on a new principal.


* * *


Principal Patterson had also given her the pass codes for the school security system. This would be an important test of his trust to see if he’d provided the correct codes and not duds designed to get her incarcerated or worse. She’d come up to the school on foot, flitting from shadow to shadow the entire way. She knew her father would fret until she returned, but this part was her duty alone to do. There was a security guard on campus, but his rounds and timing were not tight. Moriko slipped in behind him and reached the door to the library just as he finished passing the building. She’d have an hour, maybe more to complete her task. 

Moriko waited a few more heartbeats and then climbed the outer wall of the library, up a drain pipe, like a monkey. She scampered lightly to the bay of windows she’d noticed near the library ceiling earlier. First she secured a line to an AC unit on the roof and to herself. Then, taking a tool from her belt, she jimmied a window open. She jumped in. The feeder on her belt playing out just fast enough to let her land on her feet after the seven meter drop. She had a minute left to get the security code or the motion sensors would trigger the silent alarm and call the police. In her mind, Moriko overlaid the dark landscape before her with her memory of the place from earlier in the day. Quickly and carefully she made her way back to the front door and the keypad on the wall just to the right. She entered the number and ended with the pound sign, as instructed.

The readout said “System Inactive.”  She nodded. Then the dream spider hissed behind her. 

At home with her father earlier, Moriko had gone over what was known about the dream spiders. They were not actually spiders, but arachnid-like beings from another dimension. Exceedingly rare, little was known about how they come to our universe, they are strictly a creature of shadow. Feeding on potential, dream spiders literally eat the hopes and aspirations of other beings. The library must have been a buffet during school, enough to make up for the lean summer months, but even then there would only be a few weeks where absolutely no one was around. How many bright futures had this one eaten in it’s years here? 

When it was dark and time to dress for the hunt, she’d also opened the Book of Steel flowers to see what wisdom it held. It was a notebook bound in leather and steel. Embossed on the front was a flower made of blades running red with blood. Hers was very old, dating back to the very first hunter of shadows. Moriko fished for the pages she sought, finally stopping at one mostly covered in ink. In the top corner, she could faintly make out a shape like the one she’d seen in the library today. In the bottom, in tiny characters, Moriko’s ancestor had written. “All hope is gone. I cannot defeat the creature. I see now. There is nothing.” Moriko’s dried her eyes and closed the book.

“I will avenge you, ancestor,” she prayed. But thus she’d been prepared. Though she would love to make the creature taste her blade, the fallen hunter’s warning might save Moriko from the same fate. 

When the creature hissed behind her, Moriko rolled away to he left. She came up kneeling at her bag. Reaching in she brought out a stick of incense and a lighter. It lit easily and Moriko could see the dozen shiny round eyes of the creature just across the pool of light from her. She reminded herself it could not hurt her physically at all. The hard part about this was keeping her mind to herself. If she’d been prey, the dream spider would have been more patient, waiting for dreams and hopeful energy to billow up into it’s web in the rafters and ductwork of the building. They’d be trapped there until the spider ate them, eliminating them entirely from the minds of their dreamers.

She began the chant in Japanese and rose to her feet. She walked to the door with the dream spider hissing in her face. She pressed on and it withdrew with jerky movements. From the door she turned right and began walking a perimeter of the building, keeping up her chant. The creature had seen her father and it used that against her. He appeared beside her, leaning in aggressively. “Moriko!” her phantom father yelled. “You are weak. You will never succeed at this. Your will is too weak.” Moriko had no trouble discerning this fake dad from her real one. The creature had not heard enough of her father’s speech to accurately mimic him, but the next line threw her off. “Your mind is always on boys, never on your work.”

He had said something like that once, when she’d first gone out with Alex, back in California. And that was all it took.

Moriko’s body kept walking slowly forward, incense in hand. Her lips and voice pronounced the words of the spell. But for a moment her mind was in a future where Alex, a burly boy with blonde hair and a shy smile, could be with Moriko. Where no one would want him for his visions and she was not bound by honor to hunt monsters. They would be together, maybe have a family. He was so nice. It was a vision that could never come to pass, she knew. At least she could dream that one last time.

The dream spider gobbled up Moriko’s hopes and retreated to the farthest corner of the stacks, satiated. As Moriko finished the ritual, finally focusing on the present and only vaguely aware that something had been taken from her, she saw a sphincter of shadow open up above her. The dream spider scrambled through in a flurry of motions, squeezing through before the opening closed and her ritual complete. It would keep the creature away for a few days at least. At least I’m good for something, Moriko thought.


She punched in the code to arm the library security system and dashed back to the line dangling from the open window. As she grabbed it, she triggered the remote on her belt and it reeled her up, even as she climbed. In a moment, everything was as it had been in the Matheson Senior High library.
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