She stayed in the shadows, avoiding the pools of ghostly light cast on the sidewalk by the street lamps. She sent out a silent prayer of thanks, grateful that there was no traffic on the normally busy avenue.
Easily mistaken for a child, she was thin and small. Her coat, something she picked up at the Waterfront Mission was several sizes too big, but she liked that. A wide-brimmed hat pushed low over her eyes, and loose brown pants helped her blend into the night. The only thing out-of-place were her white running shoes. She knew she could disappear into any crowd.
Later, when asked, witnesses wouldn’t agree on a description. If they could have seen beneath her disguise, they would have marveled at her pale porcelain skin, eyes so blue they were almost white, and long straight hair a shade of red that was only seen on ripe strawberries. Her slight frame belied her surprising strength. All angles and sharp points, her whole body was a weapon.
Making her way in fits and starts down the street, her breath was loud in her ears, all else a dull buzz. Clutching the brown paper package, she cast wary glances over her shoulder searching for anyone following her.
Her arms ached from carrying the package for so long. That sort of ache where she knew her joints would protest once she could relinquish the parcel. It was no bigger than a loaf of bread, but the longer she held it, the heavier it seemed. She would be relieved to pass it on to the next courier.
There is was, the green door she was told to find. The fading paint was still the color of a dark forest, standing out against the peeling and grey whitewashed bricks. Massive iron hinges bolted the door to the heavy wood frame, a black ring hung to one side instead of a latch. There was no number above the door, or stenciled on the curb, to identify the address. Huddling under the tattered awning, willing herself to be as small as possible, she tapped out the intricate pattern she memorized.
It started to rain.
After what seemed like an eternity, leaving her exposed and vulnerable, she heard scratching coming from behind the door. All she could imagine was a horde of rats and instinctively took a step back.
The sound of a key turning in the lock, the screech of tired metal, and the door began to slowly open. She hugged her package tighter, turning slightly in anticipation of the need to run.
Before her stood the oldest person she had ever seen. So old, it was difficult to tell whether she faced a man or woman. A tangled mass of hair, yellowed like burnt parchment, framed a smaller web of wrinkled skin. Unfocused, rheumy eyes, black as beetles, seemed to be searching for something over her left shoulder.
One gnarled hand rested on the door frame, the other, trembling with palsy reached out toward her. The sentinel’s voice, like nails on a chalkboard, gave no further clues to who, or what, she was meeting.
“I am called Noor, and you must be Lillian. We have been expecting you.”
Reluctantly she gripped the offered hand, surprised by its warmth and strength. Casting one last look behind her, she stepped through the doorway.
“What are you still doing up?” Mom’s shrill voice broke through the fantasy.
“I’m studying for a final tomorrow, Ma!” The eye-roll Lillian punctuated her sentence with was virtually audible.
Lillian pressed the esc key, closing her video game, then picked up her biology textbook just in case her mother came upstairs to check on her.
The knob on her door began to turn slowly.
“Ma, I’m studying!” She yelled.
The person who looked into her bedroom, wasn’t her mother.
“Lillian, we’re waiting,” Noor said. “There is much work to do.”