The Barrier: Preview

Riley waved off what she hoped would be the last customers of the day with a smile. It was only slightly forced, but she did her best not to let that show. It wasn’t that she minded helping people; she didn’t most of the time, she was just a little crunched for time on finishing her book. When the bell rang to signal that they were gone, Riley let the smile drop, and her body followed suit into the chair behind her. She quickly grabbed the book and dove back in. She could feel the last bit of sun on her back reflecting on her dark hair and warming her a bit. Most of the west and east-facing walls in the shop were comprised of windows. Her boss and guardian, Jack Simmons, was a fan of the beautiful sunrises and sunsets the mountains provided. Normally Riley would share his enthusiasm, but today she was focused.

The shop was a quaint little place in a quaint little town. They didn’t have a proper sales desk and instead just a standard desk with a rather old cash register on it. Everything about the look of Midnight Reflections screamed “small-town bookshop” and fit perfectly into the town’s aesthetic. But much like the town itself, this was not a normal bookshop. No, Midnight Reflections specialized in books on the occult, ancient history, the paranormal, and anything related to or even adjacent with the study of the supernatural. It wasn’t somewhere you came for the latest romance or mystery or a book for help if you were struggling with those bulbs in your backyard.

Often people passing through the town would be surprised to find such a specialized bookshop in such a place. But their town was rather superstitious and odd. While most of the world had only recently started to acknowledge the existence of spirits, helped along by The Event, most of the people in this town had always been full of believers. People that believed to their very core. One could not be a skeptic and fit in. Beyond that, the town boasted its own hauntings. No, Midnight Reflections was perfectly at home in this town, despite what outsiders might think.

It also didn’t hurt that Jack and his protege were excellent at tracking down books for those interested in the subject or those that worked in related fields. If you hunted spirits, odds are at some point you had used Jack’s online services to find a book. Riley was not nearly as proficient as Jack, nor did she have the contacts, but she was turning into quite the expert herself. Jack, on the other hand, almost seemed otherworldly with his talent. More than once, Riley had witnessed him unwrapping a book that he tracked down that until she laid her own eyes on it, she had doubted existed.

She was convinced that some people asked him for books just to see if he could rise to the challenge. A few times, she even found people online speculating, in a teasing manner, if Jack was a time traveler. Perhaps he wrote the books himself, traveled in time to ensure they were hidden somewhere that only he’d know how to find them when the time was right. But, as much as these speculations were said in a teasing tone, there was a small part of most people that believed there might be an explanation like that when it came to Jack Simmons.

One such joker was supposed to be stopping by the store later today. He always ordered the best books, and Riley was quickly trying to make it through the last one she had before she would have to surrender them to their rightful owner. She would love to get a peek at the man’s library.

“You are going to miss a lovely sunset,” Jack said, joining Riley in the front part of the store. He spent most of his days in the back working on paperwork and tracking down books these days. He was an older gentleman with long gray hair that he normally kept braided. He wore a decent amount of jewelry for an older man, usually with a southwestern flair and casual dress. His appearance and demeanor had earned him the loving nickname of Hippie around town and among friends. However, many people knew that despite his kindness being genuine, Jack Simmons was not fully immune to the darkness that seemed to surround those with a fascination with the supernatural.

“I have seen many and will see many more. However, I only have a few more hours with Mr. Hill’s books,” Riley replied, not taking her eyes off the page.

Jack looked at the stack of books on the desk that his friend was meant to pick up that evening. “How many of them have you read?”

“Last one,” Riley said, lifting it ever so slightly.

“We’ve only had them a week!” Jack replied though he wasn’t truly surprised.

“I know it’s a shame. I won’t even get to do a second more careful read-through on them,” Riley said with a sad sigh.

“Not what I meant,” Jack replied with a chuckle.

Riley finally looked up and flushed a little. “I just knew I needed to read them quickly.”

“Only teasing, dear,” he assured. “Now, how are you feeling today?”

Riley paused at the question and thought. “I think I am okay. I haven’t been touched at all, to be certain, though.”

“Good,” Jack said, and before Riley had time to process, he had grabbed her arm and pulled her into his side.

Riley tensed for a moment, feeling a quick spark run through her, but then it passed, and she was able to relax. The two of them leaned on the desk and into each other while watching as the sunset truly began. Jack was not wrong to be so in love with the view. The vibrant pinks and oranges flashing against the blues and the greens of the mountains were always breathtaking, no matter how many times Riley might say she had seen them before.

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