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Halloween Men Excerpt:
Two Halloween Men paused in front of our shop. Crouched in the dark window display, I froze, hoping they wouldn't notice me among
the merchandise. My navy blue merchant's robe blended in with the black velvet mannequin heads, my simple mask was unremarkable
in the midst of the elegant and colorful masks on display.
Despite the Closed sign hanging on the door, the Halloween man on the left twisted the knob. My heart crawled up my throat as metal
rattled. I'd just locked it. His partner held a box in his gloved hands. They both wore wide-brimmed leather hats to keep the rain off their
full-face Bauta masks. Drops of water beaded on their black robes, resembling little globs of molten glass as they reflected the weak
yellow light from the street lanterns.
Go away. Please go away.
But he knocked. Each bang of his fist sent a spike of fear right through my chest.
I squeezed my eyes shut as I huddled in my dark corner. Go away. Please go away. But the knocking turned into a pounding that
reverberated throughout the building.
They'll break the door down. Memories from childhood flashed—being jerked from a sound sleep by boots hammering up our staircase,
voices shouting, my mother screaming as she disappeared in a sea of black hats.
Opening my eyes, I banished the nightmarish images. Only two stood outside. How bad could it be?
"Antonella, answer the door," my father roared from the back room unaware of the importance of our visitors. "Tell them to return
tomorrow during business hours."
My body refused to obey even though the half-face, Columbina mask I wore met all the legal requirements.
My father shouted again as the thumping continued. The curtains parted and he stomped into the showroom, drew in a deep breath—
to unleash a tirade on either the offending customer or me—and threw open the door.
The tirade failed to erupt. Not even my father would dare speak harshly to the Halloween Men.
"Master Salvatori, may we have a moment of your time?" the Halloween Man holding the box asked.
My father stepped back, allowing the men inside the showroom. Masks for every occasion hung from the walls and were stacked on
the shelves. A few of the more expensive ones graced smooth-headed velvet mannequin heads to best display them. Beads and sequins
sparkled even in the dim light.
The men dripped on the floor, making a puddle while Father lit a couple more lanterns on the counter. Trapped and uncertain, I
remained in my crouched position.
The Halloween Man placed the box on the counter and opened it. He removed a bright glittering heart-shaped Columbina party mask
cut from leather and decorated with red feathers. "Do you recognize this?"
Daggers of fear pumped through my body.
From HALLOWEEN: MAGIC, MYSTERY AND THE MACABRE,
EDITED BY: PAULA GURAN, PRIME BOOKS, OCTOBER 1, 2013
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