Mr. Mackey gave the key a final twist in the lock. After a long day at work in the soda shop, he was ready to go home. He tucked the pint of ice cream he was carrying under his arm more securely. His wife had made her delicious home-baked apple pie and had asked for the extra creamy vanilla-bean-flavored ice cream for the crowning touch. Mr. Mackey was only too happy to oblige. His wife’s apple pie was one of his life’s greatest pleasures.
The night air stung his cheeks, but Mr. Mackey wrapped his scarf tight around his neck and started his trek home. Fall evenings had become chilly this month, but it was not yet cold enough for snow. Good thing too, with the storms around the area, Mr. Mackey thought. It would not be pleasant to have rain storms turn into blizzards. It would interfere with his walk home, and he enjoyed using the stroll to unwind after his workday.
As he made his way down the street, he noticed that the light on the corner was out, and that a figure waited under it. Strange, thought Mr. Mackey, no bus stops there. He made out someone tall, but not much else.
“Hello, Sir,” the figure said, as Mr. Mackey approached. It was a man who spoke, but he made no move to come into the lighter section of the street where Mr. Mackey could see him better.
“Good evening,” Mr. Mackey replied. “It’s gotten a bit chilly out, hasn’t it?” He squinted to see if he recognized the man, but the shadows hid him.
“It has,” the stranger agreed. “You all seem to be having an unusual fall out here.”
“I suspect it has to do with the storms in the area,” Mr. Mackey said. “I suppose you’ve heard of them?”
“Yes, they are quite the news nowadays, aren’t they? They don’t seem to be affecting this town, though.”
“I guess we’re having a bit of luck,” Mr. Mackey said. “I take it you’re not from around here, then?”
“No,” the stranger said, “I’m not. I found myself here by accident.”
“This town, it slides under the radar, don’t you think?” The stranger’s tone was conversational, but there was something else to it that made Mr. Mackey feel like the stranger was not really having a conversation at all.
“It’s almost too easy to miss,” the stranger continued. “It slips out from under you unless you really want to find it.”
“I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about,” Mr. Mackey said.
“No, I don’t believe you do.” The man took one step towards him. Mr. Mackey did not want to be impolite, but he instinctively took a step back.
“I’ve noticed that about the people who live here as well,” the stranger continued. “There’s something about you all that I, literally, cannot wrap my mind around. I should be able to read you, see everything about you, but,” the man made a motion with his hands as if he was grasping at empty air, “you all seem just beyond my grasp.”
A cold that was not a part of the fall air filled Mr. Mackey. He glanced around, but the street was empty. He had stayed at the soda shop later than usual, and everyone else had gone home.
“If you’ll excuse me, I should be getting home now.” Mr. Mackey backed away from the man.
“Have I made you uncomfortable?” the stranger asked. “I apologize. I just didn’t expect to encounter such a puzzle here.”
“What are you looking for?” Mr. Mackey asked.
The man paused. As the silence stretched, Mr. Mackey wondered if he should take the opportunity to hurry on home. But then a strange feeling stole into him. It was like fingers tickling along his skin, ruffling through his hair and burrowing into his head.
The ice cream he was holding dropped to the ground. He tried to move, but his limbs would not listen.
“You know,” the man said softly, “I am actually not too sure you can help me. I don’t think you know anything about what I am looking for. And yet there is something about you…it’s maddening!”
The man’s head moved then, as if he noticed something on Mr. Mackey. He took another step towards him, but not enough to pull him out of the shadows.
“Your scarf,” he mused. “There’s something about your scarf. Where did you get it?”
“One of our local stores.” If Mr. Mackey could have moved his limbs, they would have shaken from fright.
“Does everyone shop there?”
“Yes, pretty much.”
Again the man was silent.
“I’d like to leave, please,” Mr. Mackey pleaded.
“Who owns this store?” the man asked.
Mr. Mackey hesitated. What if this man tried to visit Janet Stone? He could not send him to her.
The man stepped closer. Mr. Mackey stood captive.
“No answer for me? What’s the name of the store?”
Mr. Mackey did not answer. Heaven help me, he thought.
The man sighed. “This makes it hard. It should have been easy to come in here and find out what I needed, but now I’m going to have to do some more work, and not all of it pleasant. Now,” the man said, his voice growing hard, “I’m going to give you a chance to tell me what I need to know, before I start moving on to other methods. From which store did you buy the scarf, and who is the owner?”
Mr. Mackey closed his eyes. His heart sank. He sent a silent apology to his wife for not making it home with her ice cream. His eyes opened in time to see a hand reach for his scarf. He heard a roaring snap, and a bright light blinded him. He opened his mouth to scream, but then the world went black.
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