Adam couldn’t see the person properly because he, or it might have been a she, was enveloped in a long, flowing garment, like a cloak with a hood. The person must have been sweating under the thick fabric in such warm weather. Then he heard Humphrey’s voice.
“What kind of document are you looking for?”
Humphrey sounded abrupt, even rude, which was odd because Humphrey seemed like the kind of person who would gladly help anyone interested in an old book or manuscript.
“Where did you say you were from?” Humphrey asked suspiciously.
Then the person spoke. It was the most spine-chilling, frightening sound, conjuring up memories of nightmares and horrifying sensations of terror and dread.
“I am a member of the Ancient Association of Antiquarian Book Collectors,” the voice hissed.
The words seemed to slither out of the person’s mouth. Adam’s skin crawled, as if he had touched something disgusting.
“Never heard of it.” Humphrey’s voice was gruff. “And you’re looking for ancient Egyptian texts?”
“Or mediaeval manuscripts specifically discussing ancient Egyptian texts,” the voice whispered, each syllable singing in hideous sibilance.
“Nothing,” Humphrey snapped. “I’ve had nothing like that for a long time and I’m not expecting anything similar in the near future.”
“Such a pity,” the voice oozed. “But if you do receive any such material, will you keep it aside for me? I will return soon.”
“I can’t promise.” Humphrey’s reply was cautious, as if he were afraid of something.
Then came a laugh; a low, hollow sound, like the faint clang of a church bell. Adam peered around the doorjamb a few inches more, just in time to glimpse a pallid face so skeletally thin that it seemed fleshless, like skin stretched over bare bone. It was a man. He didn’t seem human; he seemed more like a creature from some frightening old fairytale. A lean white hand saluted Humphrey, showing long bony fingers with blackened nails. Under the shadow of the hood, a pair of dark eyes flamed briefly with a demonic light. Then the heavy eyelids closed for a few seconds. When they opened again, the man glanced in Adam’s direction. Adam ducked behind the doorjamb, feeling strangely breathless, as if that fleeting look had sucked the air from his lungs.
The shop bell tinkled as the cloaked man swished out into the street. Adam ran to the shop’s front door with Kim and Justin. Ink and Amelia followed close behind. They looked outside. There was no cloaked man in sight. Just a few casually dressed tourists strolling along and chatting to one another.
“Where’d he go?” Justin asked. The man seemed to have disappeared into thin air.
“Dad!” Fright tinged Ink’s voice. He caught Humphrey just before the old man toppled over, and then lowered him into a chair. “What happened? Are you all right?”
Humphrey waved a feeble hand. “Feeling a bit dizzy, that’s all. Don’t make a fuss.” His face was pale, with beads of sweat pearling on his forehead.
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