It was early, 6 am, the morning before Halloween. It was still dark, and storm clouds had gathered overhead. A soft, wet snow fell here and there. The first snow of the season.
Most of the houses lay in darkness, their occupants still asleep.
At this hour, there are only a few people up and moving on the streets; the early morning runners, those returning from a late night on the town, the night shift workers, and the guys who comb the curbs in search of useful refuse and bottles they can return for cash.
A shadow moved down Charles Street. No one noticed him, no one saw him.
He was faceless, nameless, nondescript. He carried a black umbrella to protect him from the snow, the prying eyes he was sure were there, and to hide him from those who might attack. He imagined them around every corner, waiting in the shadows for him. He could hear their voices.
But there was something he had to do before he gave in and went back to the little cot in the cold room. It was just a bit further now.
He couldn’t believe it when he had seen it the other day. At long last. He had searched and searched and then, there it was, waiting for him. It had spoken to him and told him so. He would finally reclaim it today – now.
Just another block to go. His left foot was dragging badly and he tried to lift it as he moved along, wanting to speed up but not wanting to make any noise in the quiet neighbourhood.
Surely they would be right there, the moment he grabbed it. The voices. He would have to run quickly then so that they wouldn’t get him, wouldn’t steal it back from him. He had already decided to duck down the little path between the houses and the trees. His escape route.
There it was!
“I’m coming to get you, Stan,” he mumbled under his breath as he arrived at the house. Holding his umbrella tighter and closer to his head, he bent down a bit and sloped over to the little garden on the far side of the driveway.
He paused for a moment to look at the broken headstone and the cobwebs, thinking how sad it was that it had fallen into such ruin. Shaking his head, he reached down and grabbed the skull. He looked both ways suspiciously and checked over his shoulder.
He allowed himself a second to stroke the cheek, muttering “Stan” several times to himself or, rather, to the skull, and thinking of happier times when his brother had been alive.
As the voices began to close in on him, he turned and with controlled and measured steps, made his way down the sidewalk to the path, as he had planned.
An hour later, a small boy came out his front door to catch the school bus. He stopped to look at his Halloween decorations and could not believe that the skull was missing. It was the best part of the spooky graveyard he and his mother had built in their garden. They had set it up to look like it went with the old, web-strewn headstone. But now it was gone!
His mother, when he told her about it, thought it had probably been stolen by some drunken college kids who thought it was a funny prank.
No one would have guessed that it was the quiet man with the limp who lived around the corner. Nor would they have imagined why he did it.
Finally, Stan’s ghost had gone quiet and had left him in peace.