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 Calm? just keep calm, and she won?t notice a thing? calm?

It was a mantra running through his mind as he tried to control his nerves. The hardest part was not looking like he was trying. He cast a quick glance without moving his head, straining his peripheral vision to catch her with the corner of his eye. If she caught him doing anything suspicious, looking at her at the wrong time, hanging back, she might start asking him questions.

Questions to which he had no good answers.

Her head was in near constant motion, looking left and right, watching the children as they filed past. Keeping a sharp eye on her charges, lest they get up to mischief. She didn?t approve of mischief, not one bit, and woe betide any who crossed her. He certainly didn?t mean to get caught out. He turned his body slightly, blocking her line of sight to his trembling fingers as he moved forward, maintaining his place at the end of the line.

He risked another glance in her direction, cursing inwardly as he realized he could see nothing of her eyes. Her back to the light gave her a better view of the children as they shuffled past, looking up at her frightening silhouette before returning their gaze to the ground, trying not to trip over stairs, loose sticks, or their own feet. Her tall, pointed hat had a wide brim that kept the light from her face, hiding her from his view. Even as she looked about, great head swinging around to watch the children as they moved out of the light into the darkness, her large misshapen nose and protruding cheekbones cast her eyes in shadow. Try as he might he couldn?t catch a hint of her eyes. She may have been looking straight at him and he?d never know.

It would be just like her, waiting for him to misstep so she could pounce. Determined not to give any excuse at all he shortened his steps, falling into the shuffling stride of the children before him. Slowly, pausing on each stair to make way for the descending boys and girls, he made his way closer to the great vessel on the platform above. The boy in front of him stepped aside and there was nothing between him and the huge bowl on its stand but the night air.

He stopped, standing alone at the top of the stair, filled with uncertainty. Was she watching? Had she turned to oversee the exiting line of adolescents, or was she simply staring up, observing him alone. Could he turn and steal one last look? Did he dare? He stood before the bowl, eyes open wide with indecision, watching his hands tremble as they hovered over the open container. The last of the children trickled back down the stairs toward her ? if he was going to do it, he had to do it now!

Trying not to show the motion in his shoulders he reached into the bag he held, releasing the hidden flap he normally held closed to reveal a second bag concealed within the first. Into this second, smaller bag his hand slithered, finding several small objects within. Operating entirely by feel, he took hold of as many of the things as he could with one hand. Paper crinkled as he drew forth his fist and he cringed at the thought the sound might carry to her sharp ears. He dropped his hidden cargo into the large bowl, breathing a sigh of relief and hearing nothing but silence from the foot of the stairs. He spun about to go down the stairs himself and join the others ? and almost ran into her as she loomed right behind him.

He gasped with shock at the sudden proximity of her hooked nose and warty skin. No hint of a smile graced her flat, slash of a mouth, and with the light behind him for a change he could finally see her clearly. Sunk deep into her head like wells of darkness her eyes glittered at him knowingly. The gasp caused him to choke, and he reeled backward, nearly toppling the vessel behind him before she caught him by the forearm in a grip of iron. Her lips barely moved as she spoke in a voice so muffled and garbled it sounded barely human.

?Bob??

Her free hand came up to grasp her own nose, and she pulled upward with a vicious yank? and her face peeled away like a mask.

Just like a mask.

?Bob? Are you alright? I don?t mean to be funny, but you look like you?ve seen a ghost!?

Her words, no longer muffled by the full-face mask she had been wearing, were clearly audible now.

?Yeah,? he said. ?I think so. You just startled me is all. I didn?t hear you coming??

She stared at him, but her eyes were filled with concern rather than suspicion.

?Alright,? she said finally. ?I just came up to ask you to get me something, okay??

?Sure.?

Jane Hennis from the Neighborhood Watch turned away from him, pulling her mask back into place as she hurried down the stairs to catch up with the costumed kids they were escorting from house to house. Bob reached into the bowl, choosing a Resse?s Peanut Butter Cup from among the Three Musketeer?s Bars he?d just scattered across the top of the pile. Jane could eat this one. It was safe. He?s leave his ?special? Three Musketeers for the next kids to come along.

He started down the stairs himself, lagging behind, trying to at least catch a glimpse of the next children to come along but no one was actually headed his way. He imagined a young boy visiting the bowl on the porch behind him, and what would happen if he was unlucky enough to choose a Musketeer bar. He pictured the bite, the shocked look; the screams and the blood.

Bob Gigston smiled.


 

 

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