It was a warm fall evening on October 30. Jessica was trying on her costume to see how she would look the next day at the Halloween party organized by her university student council. A gentle autumn breeze made its way through the half-open window. Jessica could feel the wind blow on her thigh as she put on her opaque red tights. Then she dropped the edge of her black dress, which stopped at her mid-thigh. She looked forward to doing her makeup and hair tomorrow to see the end result of her disguise; she would be the most beautiful vampire of the night. Finally, she decided to change into warmer clothes and go out for a walk to manage her excitement. As she left the building, she looked at the decorations of the fourplex in front of her. On the first floor, giant creepy dolls were lined up in the front of the building. Spider webs were climbing up the railing to the second unit, where you could come face to face with a giant skeleton that detected movement and let out a macabre scream each time. Then, on the third floor, the apartment’s front door was covered with fake blood, with a knife stuck in the door. On the top floor, there were no decorations – not even lights. The window was showing a pitch-black room. As she finished admiring the decorations, Jessica started walking towards the park where she usually went, a few minutes away from her home. The evening was so peaceful as if everyone was getting ready for tomorrow’s festivities. Only Jessica and her shadow could be seen strolling down the street – or almost.
She sat down on the wooden bench near the park entrance, where the lights hit the most. The shadow of her head was reflecting on the ground, between two shadows of light poles and dead tree leaves. She enjoyed the silence and closed her eyes to feel the wind breeze on her face. She kept thinking about tomorrow’s party, but she tried to contain her excitement. She remained in this position for several minutes until the sound of a branch cracking was heard near her. She quickly opened her eyes and briefly saw a shadow on the ground in front of her, between the shadow of her head and one of the light poles. She turned her head immediately. In front of her, she could only see the same darkness and silence she had encountered at the park entrance, but there was no sign of anyone. She tried to calm down by thinking that it was probably a squirrel passing by, as they often do. Anyhow, it was getting late, and she had to get back home. She took a last deep breath to feel the fresh air and left the park.
The next day, it was barely 6:00 p.m. when Jessica was dancing around in her apartment, getting ready for the night as she heard a knock on her door. Dressed in her black dress and red tights, her vampire makeup half done, she ran to open the door and came face to face with a middle-aged man with untidy hair. His hands were in front of him as he seemed to be holding a small object.
“G-g-g-good evening,” he stuttered.
“Good evening,” replied Jessica, “what can I do to help you?”
“I b-b-believe you dropped this on the street yesterday,” said the man, handing her a golden hairpin.
Jessica looked at the object, wondering if it belonged to her. She had no memory of such a hairpin, and even if it was hers, she found it curious that this man would take the trouble to come to her home to bring her such an insignificant object. Besides, how did he know where she lived and her apartment number?
“Thank you… and you are?”
“My name is Rob-b-bert. We’re neighbors; I live across the street.”
Jessica remembered the fourplex in front of her home and the decorations that all floors but the top one displayed.
“Oh right, nice to meet you, and thanks again for the pin,” she replied, pressed for time. “I have to leave you; I have a party tonight, and I’m not quite ready yet. Happy Halloween, by the way.”
“Yes, okay, sure… I’ll leave you to it, bye.”
Jessica locked her door and went back to finish preparing her look. The man left with his head down, deep in thought.
“It wasn’t enough, it wasn’t enough…” he thought.
The man pulled the hood of his coat over his head before walking out of the building so that only the tip of his nose and his lips were visible. He hurried his pace, then slowed down in the middle of the street, turning his gaze back to the window of Jessica’s apartment, then resumed his hurried pace to reach the sidewalk. He took the stairs leading to his home on the fourth and last floor of the building across the street. Arrived at his doorstep, he disappeared inside his residence after slamming the door behind him. A moment later, he could be found in the darkness, at the fourth-floor window. He was gazing towards the half-open curtains across the street through which he could subtly see the young woman adding a touch of scarlet red lipstick. He observed her looking at herself in the mirror, smiling, and then running her hand through her hair one last time before heading to her front door. As she left the building, she headed to the main avenue by walk. The man stood up from his chair and disappeared from the window.
Outside, dozens of children and adults were strolling the streets, enjoying the fresh air while doing the traditional trick-or-treating and participating in the festivities on the main avenue. Darkness had fallen, but the warmth of the sun was still present. Jessica watched the children playing together in the alley while she waited for her friend at their meeting point so they could leave together to the Halloween party. Then, suddenly, she felt a weakness in her legs, only seconds before collapsing on the sidewalk. Frightened people around the woman rushed to her aid while a man in a monster mask crouched down beside her and lifted her into his arms.
“It looks like fainting. I’m her neighb-b-bor; I’ll take her home,” said the masked man, trying to reassure the worried parents who returned to the festivities, leaving Jessica to be carried home by the masked man.
Arrived in front of the young woman’s home, the man searched for keys in her purse. As soon as he unlocked the door, he put back the keys in his right pocket, closed the door, and placed Jessica on the armchair near the window. The young woman, still immobile, looked at the scene with anguish in her eyes. She let out a little mumbled cry, not being able to control the muscles in her face.
“It doesn’t hurt, you see. It’s just a little shot to calm you down. You can remain conscious and relax at the same time,” said the man perfectly without the slightest stuttering, removing his mask and placing a half-full syringe on the small table near the entrance. He took care to remove Jessica’s shoes, leaving her barefoot, sitting in her armchair, motionless like a porcelain doll. He approached her from behind and placed her curly hair on her left shoulder, leaving the back of her neck exposed.
“You’re safe here,” he whispered to her as he picked up the syringe from the table.
Jessica could feel the tears welling up in her eyes and her heart fluttering as if it wanted to leave her chest. Then she felt it less and less. She didn’t feel like crying anymore either. Her empty eyes watched as the man walked to the exit and put his mask back on before opening the door. The man looked at her, dodging a smile under his mask, then left, locking the door with Jessica’s keys that he had kept with him. He walked towards his home at an average pace, then quickly climbed the stairs leading to his door. He went to his usual place at the window overlooking the street, still in total darkness. He remained standing, his gaze focused on the half-open curtains of Jessica’s apartment, through which he could contemplate the doll-like face profile of the woman remained inert against her will.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be back,” he whispered with a smile.
©2021 Teodora D.