Lexi dropped Sarah off at her apartment before heading to work at the restaurant. Once inside her apartment, Sarah dropped the tube and her handbag onto the sofa and grinned wide. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and dialed her grandmother’s number.
“Hello?” the old lady answered, sounding distracted.
“Hi, Nana, it’s me.”
“How did it go?”
“Really well. Mr. Takamori accepted my plans and he wants a contract sent to him. I got it, Nana.”
Sarah heard the emotion in her grandmother’s voice, “Oh, Sarah, honey, that is amazing. I am so proud of you, honey.”
“Thanks, Nana. Looks like work will begin in about a week or so, so I will be swamped for the next few months, but it will be worth it.”
“You deserve it, Sarah. You worked so hard on this project. All those late nights and endless hours on the internet and in the library learning about the Japanese culture has paid off.”
“It sure has. How are you feeling?”
A long sigh came over the line. “Oh, you know. Getting old is no picnic, dear. The doctor said that the medication should be helping with the pain, but it’s not really doing much when it rains.”
Sarah sat down beside her handbag, the joy and excitement replaced with worry. “Do you need me to come over?”
“Oh, no, honey. I’m fine. I have David from next door to help me if I need anything. I just move slower than usual, nothing to worry about.”
“I do worry, Nana. You’re all I have left.”
A long silence filled the line. Mentioning that to her grandmother always stirred unpleasant feelings in both of them, but Sarah had been thinking about it all day.
“Do you think mom and dad would be proud of me? Of what I decided to do with my life?”
Again, the emotion in her grandmother’s voice brought tears to Sarah’s eyes. “Sarah, I think they would be over the moon for you. They loved you more than anything else, and they would be… they are the proudest parents in the whole world. They only ever wanted the best for you. And to know that you are doing what you love would have made them very happy.”
A tear rolled down Sarah’s cheek, the pain of their loss still fresh in her mind from her dreams. She couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting answers. As though she was about to learn the truth. Do I want to know the truth? What is there to know? They are dead, nothing more to it.
“Sarah?” Nana Marge’s voice broke her thoughts.
“Are you alright, honey?”
Margret Weller was the only person that knew about the smoke that followed Sarah. The only one that Sarah ever told, even if her grandmother didn’t believe her, she never made her feel crazy.
“No. I’ve been thinking about mom and dad a lot lately. I feel like there is something I am supposed to know about them, you know. Like something missing from the story. It’s hard to explain really.”
“Whatever it is, I’m sure you will learn about it when the time is right. All I know is that they loved you. Always remember that.”
“Thanks, Nana. I will talk to you soon.”
“I love you, pumpkin. Be safe.”
The call disconnected and Sarah sighed, leaning back against the sofa. Her thoughts flashed with the years Sarah spent living with her grandmother. A middle-class home in the suburbs of New York. Her grandmother tried to give Sarah the best life she could, despite her mourning the loss of her only son. They had their struggles, but as Sarah thought back, all she could remember is feeling loved, safe, and happy.
With a melancholy smile, Sarah stood from the sofa and made her way to her design desk standing by the large window looking at the street.
As the hours ticked past, Sarah’s mind lost in planning and getting everything ready for Mr. Takamori’s build, the light in her apartment dimmed with the evening creeping in.
She finally broke away from her desk, when she could no longer see the pencil mark on the page and stretched her aching body.
Hunger made itself known in the form a loud rumble in her stomach, and she strode into the kitchen. With one look in her fridge, Sarah decided that breakfast will be easier in the morning. A long, exhausted yawn tore from her lips, and she shut the fridge, heading for her bedroom.
Her usual routine of checking the windows and doors forgotten, she lay on the bed on her front, her legs hanging off the side, and closed her eyes.
Just a quick nap, that’s all I need. Just half an hour, then I need to get back to work.
Several hours after Sarah fell asleep, she woke with a shiver. Her heart raced as she turned onto her back, scanning the dark space. Sure enough, in the corner of the space, a dark cloud hung, with two red dots looking at her.
Fear always came with seeing the eyes, but this time, it didn’t paralyze her. She sat up, swallowing to clear her throat, and asked, “Why do you keep showing up like this?”
No answer came. The smoke seemed to hang peacefully in the space between her bed and window. Not the storm-tossed ocean it usually was.
“Talk to me. I know you can. Tell me what you are. Why you keep showing up at night like this?”
The eyes narrowed at her, but still only silence.
Anger began to take over the fear as Sarah stared at the eyes.
“I’m not scared of you, you know. I just want to know what it is about me that you find so fascinating? Why you always show up at night, when I’m getting into bed. Are you some kind of perve, hoping to get a sneak peek?”
Still, no answer came from the smoke, but Sarah could swear she saw the eyes soften, as though whatever it was, was smiling.
“Are you going to hurt me? I know you haven’t yet, but there must be a reason why you keep coming back. Why you find me, no matter where I go.”
She waited, hoping that it would say something. Anything that might explain what and why this thick cloud of almost black smoke has been a part of her life for so long.
When no answer came, she sighed, shook her head, and rolled to get off the bed. Once on her feet, she crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at the eyes on the other side of the bed. “Fine. If you don’t want to talk to me, then don’t. Just leave me alone. I have enough shit to deal with in my life already. I have real nightmares that haunt me every night, I don’t need you making it worse. Either tell me who or what you are, and what you want from me or leave me alone!”
As her words left her lips, the smoke began to turn and boil again. Growing thicker and darker in the room until it blocked out the street lights coming in from the window. It expanded, moving along the walls like liquid, getting closer and closer to her.
“Sarah, trust me.” The disembodied voice whispered in the room, sending a chill over her skin. She stepped back, watching as the eyes seemed to be trying to push through the smoke.
“Trust you with what?” She whispered, looking around at her once white walls, now a color so dark, it looked deeper than black.
“Trust me. I will show you.”
Show me what? What the hell am I doing?
Despite her racing thoughts, Sarah stood still, watching the darkness surround her. Chills ran over her body, a trembling beginning but not from the cold.
Once the smoke surrounded her completely, the red eyes only inches away from hers, she nodded, praying that this was not going to be her final moments alive.
The smoke closed in on her, going into her nose, her mouth, and stinging her eyes. She shut them, not wanting to see her life end, and clenched her fists at her sides.
A moment passed before the cold, damp feeling on her skin changed to warmth. A bright glare came through her closed lids, and she could smell the outside. Clean fresh air, like being in the woods.
“Sarah?” a deep male voice said, and she opened her eyes to find she stood in the middle of a sprawling field, with soft green grass under her feet and not a building in sight.
“Where am I? Who are you?”
The man smiled, making his already handsome face light up, “You are in my world now. This is what we call the veil. You wanted the truth and this is the only way I know how to tell you.”
She met his eyes, taking a step back at the red glow she recognized. “Who are you?”
The man lifted his hands at his sides in a calming gesture, “Easy, Sarah, you're safe here. My name is Axin. I’m the one who has watched over you all these years.”
“Watched over me? You are the smoke?”
Axin placed his hands into the pockets of his jeans with a nod, “I am. Well, I’m not made of smoke, but I am the reason why you’ve seen it.”
Sarah took a step back, not sure what the hell was going on, “I don’t understand. How?”
Axin took a small step closer to her, his bare feet getting lost in the thick grass. “It’s hard to explain. But it’s time you knew the truth.”
She didn’t say anything, not sure how to feel about being alone with a stranger in a place she didn’t know or remember getting to.
“I asked you to trust me, Sarah. Please do. I would never hurt you.”
“Where am I?”
He let out a sigh. “If I tell you, you will think I’m crazy.”
“You’re made of smoke, how much crazier can it get?” she snapped.
Axin chuckled. “We will have plenty of time to talk, now that you have seen me. You trusted me, and it made the transition much easier for you. We can’t stay here for long, not until you have had time to process all of this, but just know that I am no threat to you. I never have been.”
“What are you?”
The question hung in the air. Sarah wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer.
“I’m a shadow warrior.”
She frowned. “What is that?”
Axin spun to look behind him, then met her eyes again. “I need to go, Sarah. I have work to do. Will you allow me to speak with you again. There is so much I want to tell you. A truth you have wanted to know for so long.”
Axin spun to look behind him again. “No time,” he whispered, turning to look at her. He marched over to her and Sarah took a step back. It didn’t help. His long strides caught up to her with ease, and when he was within a foot of her, the smoke surrounded them, causing her skin to shiver.
She met his deep red eyes. “What are you doing?”
He gave her a small smile. “Trust me. I am taking you home. We will speak again soon.”
With that, the smoke blinded her again and a moment later, she opened her eyes to find herself standing in her bedroom, alone.
“What the fuck was that?” she asked the empty space, spinning around to look at every corner of the room. She was alone, confused, but intrigued.
Axin, the handsome man, despite his red eyes, told her that he had answers for her. Answers she has wanted for a long time. What did he mean by that? And what the hell is a shadow warrior?