It was the end of the week and Mr. Jacobs was closing up shop. He’d tallied the cash and locked it in the small safe upstairs, dusted, swept, closed all the blinds, and several other tasks he liked to get out of the way before his day off. Just as he was turning the key in the lock he heard a noise, not from the dim street behind him, but from inside the shop. He froze with is hand on the key and listened. There it was again! It sounded as if someone was inside the shop. Or maybe it was some mouse or other rodent scurrying around. He turned the key the other direction and very slowly opened the door, so as not to ring the bell that announced customers entering the shop. He considered using the small flashlight on his key-chain to illuminate the now dim shop, but didn’t want to spook whatever had made the noise. Instead he crept stealthily towards the back of the shop, past shelves, tables, counter tops full of antiques, knick-knacks and curios, listening at every step for another sound. Then it came third time. The source seemed to be upstairs, where he did bookkeeping as well as kept extra inventory and the safe. This was a problem, because the staircase creaked ungodly loud. During business hours he even delayed going upstairs sometimes because the noise, he felt sure, might disturb a customer.
He stood at the base of the stairs, listening and thinking. If it was an animal, he would scare it off and it could crawl and vanish into whatever hole it had snuck in through. But if it was a person he had better catch them at whatever they were doing before they got into his files or filled their pockets with any of the more expensive items he had laying about up there. Resolved that it was thus best to continue, creaky stairs or no, he put his foot on the first stair and began to climb. Sure enough, about half way up the staircase the stair beneath his foot creaked loudly. Hearing a gasp, then what sounded like a muted curse, he bounded up the last few steps and into the loft. As soon as his head cleared the level of the floor and he saw the man in a plain grey suite, he knew he had made a mistake. He forced an expression of fury onto his face and accosted the unremarkably dressed stranger.
"What are you doing up here? How did you get up here?" He shouted at the man. But he knew the answers to both these questions. The stranger could tell that he knew as well. The stranger began to speak, and his smooth, cold, confident tone assured Mr. Jacobs of this as much as the words he said.
"Oh, Mister, shall I call you, Jacobs? I’m afraid it’s no use your playing coy with me. Pull your hand out of that pocket at once, before you do something we’ll both regret. There, that’s better."
They had found him out. Had found him and tricked him, and he had played right into their hands. But he refused to give up. He stammered, trying to speak, but the stranger continued to talk confidently over him.
"I’m honestly curious. Did you really think we wouldn’t find you? I can never fathom it; why do they always think that?"
At this, Mr. Jacobs snarled, something cold and animal revealing itself from beneath his usual kindly old demeanor.
"I will get away from you, you filth. One day I’ll be free of you. Eventually it won’t be worth your while to keep tracking me down."
"Free of us? Not like this you won’t." and the stranger gestured expansively towards the whole of the shop.
"You’ll see. I swear it to you. I’ll get away again. And then just when I’ve been gone so long you’ve all forgotten me, written me off, I’ll return. And that’s when it will be me, tracking each of you down."
The stranger seemed amused; there was no fear in his eyes or in his voice as he replied. But perhaps there should have been.
"All that’s as it may. If anyone could pull it off, it would probably be you. In fact, I wish you luck, friend." Mr. Jacobs snarled again. "In the meantime I’m afraid you’ll need to come with me."
Mr. Jacobs’ eyes darted about the room and his mind raced. He wanted to attack the man. He wanted to flee down the stairs, out of the shop that had been his life for two decades now. But he knew it was useless. So he turned and walked with the man. They vanished, suddenly, into a twisting of light that expanded, enveloping them in an instant, and then collapsing into a pinprick that itself vanished with a loud pop. Several of the curios stacked about the upper floor of the store rocked and rattled. The windows shook. And then all was still.