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Huston, We Have a Problem

 

 

He moved up the sunlit walkway and mounted the stairs hesitantly, as if inside he quailed at the thought of ringing the bell. The top step gave way, the front-edge board half-flipping over in place. His ankle twisting painfully he stumbled onto the porch with a cry, avoiding a fall only by coming up hard against the wall by the door.

Inside a dog began to bark, loud and aggressive. It sounded to him like the kind of dog that should be put away before answering the door, or at the very least put on a leash. Gritting his teeth as he considered the odds, he pushed the button beneath the small name-plate: Huston.

At the sound of the doorbell the barking grew, if anything, more aggressive. A deep voice, nearly as angry-sounding as that of the dog, shouted “Will you shut that damn mutt up!?” and somewhere inside a door slammed. Footsteps approached; a heavy heel-first tread. The barking grew closer as well, though there was no more shouting about taking care of it.

Terrific.

The door swung open fast and hard, taking him by surprise, and all he saw were teeth. Large, white teeth, snapping savagely around a torrent of barks and snarls. He stumbled back, his newly-turned ankle giving out on him, sending him tumbling to the porch. His hands flew up before his face, arms crossed protectively in front of him. A strange little mewling sound, high and terrified, undercut the roaring of the huge Rottweiler as it flew through the air toward him, and he realized he was screaming.

A hand, thick-fingered and powerful, flashed out behind the dog’s huge, brown -black head. Teeth snapped shut six inches from his nose, hot slaver falling onto one of his forearms. The sharp clack cut through his scream and sent him scooting away on his backside, splinters finding flesh even through his slacks. He scrabbling a foot or two backward before noticing he was not followed. The Rottweiler, he now saw, danced on its hind feet, front paws dangling in the air as the man filling the doorway gripped its collar to stop its forward motion. The thick arm gave the animal one powerful shake as the air filled with the word “Shadap!” The dog fell nearly silent, teeth bared in a low, sustained growl as its master glared down with bloodshot eyes.

“Yeah?”

The same deep angry voice, this time directed at him.

“Uh … hi,” he said from his seat on the weathered planking. “… I’m, uh… I’m…”

“I know who you are,” the huge man interrupted, lip curling. “What the hell do you want?”

“Well, uh,” he tried to gather his wits as, one eye on the dog, he slowly his feet. “Next week is Halloween, and the Neighborhood Watch has asked me to—”

“The ‘Neighborhood Watch’—” the deep voice filled those two words with massive amounts of scorn. “— can kiss my ass! They’re always coming around here bitchin’ about Harris.” He gave the Rottweiler another shake. “Always complaining that he’s too noisy, too dangerous, that he needs to be tied up.”

The arm and hand gripping the collar relaxed slightly and the dog’s front paws sank to the ground once more. Immediately, Harris began to pull against his master’s fingers, the low rumble becoming a full-on growl as he tried to get at the wide-eyed man on his porch.

“I ask you, he look dangerous to you?”

Sidestepping the question as well as taking a small step back, he said “Well, the Watch is worried about the kids. Trick-or-treating, I mean. We were wondering if you could—”

“I can’t do nothing. I’m not even gonna be here — I have a life! My kid’s going out to trick-or-treat or whatever and we’re going to a party. I’m not gonna be here to do whatever it is the Watch wants, and I wouldn’t even if I was. They’re a big pain in the ass is what they are!”

“So, you won’t be giving out candy this year anyway, then?”

Mr. Huston was already dragging Harris back through the door, obviously considering the interview over.

“Bowl on the porch and the honor system. I hear any kid takes more than his share, they get a visit from Harris. We’ll see how ‘dangerous’ he is then!”

The door slammed, leaving him alone on the porch. He turned toward the street, a slight smile playing about the corners of his mouth. Avoiding the loose top step he made his way back to the sidewalk and strolled, whistling, hands in pockets, the few blocks to his own house. The small bungalow was set back from the street by a small, neat yard. He passed Halloween decorations without seeing them, lost in thought as he climbed to his own porch and unlocked the door. He paused just inside to deposit his keys in the bowl on the sideboard, there for just that purpose. He thought about the dog, the man, and the conversation. He whispered to the empty hallway, barely aware he was speaking aloud at all.

“Thank you for your help, Mr. Huston. You may not know it, but you’re going to be very helpful indeed…”

He peeked into his pantry, where the bags of doctored candy waited.

I can put needles into as many candy bars as I like, but if one of them gets traced back to my door, I’m screwed. But an unguarded bowl can receive as well as give out. And a bowl belonging to an asshole with an attitude? Mr. Huston, you’re just what the doctor ordered…

Standing before the pantry doorway, Bill Gigston pictured children with pierced cheeks, cut lips and bleeding tongues.

And he smiled.

 

 

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