Parker didn’t quite make it to the door before it wheezed open. He sighed as he got a closer look at the green, pointed chin of the rubbery mask. The kids had been coming in all day with masks, heavy make-up, and outrageous costumes, despite the sign on the door that warned against this in black and orange letters. Celebrated pagan holiday or not, walking into a convenience store in a mask – at night – was a bad idea. He’d have to tell this manly witch, or Green Lantern, whichever, to nix the mask. “Sorry, sir …”
“Shut up,” the man said, advancing and poking him in his scrawny chest with an absurdly huge army surplus survival dagger. “You!” The man pointed with it, his voice muffled under the Green Hag mask. Mr. Davis clutched the deposit bag to his ample breasts as he headed for the back. Parker slouched off behind the counter.
“Bring that bag back here!” He directed his next words toward Parker, who was busily scrambling for safety. “Keep your face and hands where I can see them!”
Parker obediently backed his rear behind the counter but kept his face poked out, trembling hands laced over his head.
Davis had stopped and was looking at the Green Hag, then back toward the rear exit, toward his office. His office with a lock on the door.
“Don’t try it, fatty. You bolt, I’ll run you down, and I’ll gut you and this kid for makin’ me chase ya.”
Parker shuddered and fished an inhaler out of his apron pocket.
Then Mr. Sanborn ambled up with his basket. Great, thought Parker. The old man, me, and Mr. See-food diet. The Green Hag could tear us apart without the knife.
“Hey! Get over here, old man.” The Hag brandished his knife.
Sanborn remained unflappable as ever in his tweed jacket with leather elbows. A pumpkin button wearing a witch hat flashed orange light over his lapel. His frown curled the folds of his wrinkled face and made his bushy white eyebrows bristle beneath the brim of an English driving cap. Sometimes Davis believed the old man was daft.
Sanborn sighed. “That’s not very polite, you know.”
The guy laughed. Or sneezed. It was hard to tell under the rubbery Hag mask. “Polite?! I’ll carve you a new grin, geezer.” He yelled back at Davis. “Bring me that bag!”
Parker wondered if workman’s comp covered the breakdown he was sure to have. The write-up would be fun. “I was terrorized by the Green Hag on Halloween. He had a dagger instead of a broom, and…”
“Yes, polite,” Sanborn insisted, setting his basket on register three. He leaned to see Parker, slowly hyperventilating in his hidey-hole. “You all right, Tom?”
“Alright, pops, I said…” The Hag took two menacing steps and reached, but Sanborn snatched something from his basket. As he pointed it the man ducked away, but it was only a can of compressed air. He pretended to shoot with it. “Pow,” he whispered and smirked, then tore off the tab over the trigger.
The Green Hag sneeze-chuckled. “You think that’s funny?” The mask’s chin wiggled back and forth. Grinding his teeth?
“Listen, son,” Sanborn continued. “Put that knife down and walk out. No one needs to get hurt.”
The man sputtered. “Mother-“
“Ah, ah! None of that language,” Sanborn interrupted. “You’re straining my patience, lad.” He waved the can vaguely. “Just drop the weapon and go, alright?”
“I ain’t leavin’ without that bag!”
The old man put the straw in the can and pointed it at him, almost menacingly. It’s almost like he wants this goon to hurt him, Parker thought. He thrust away the vision of that pumpkin button flashing through a haze of spattered red.
“I’ll give you one last chance, young man.”
“You’re giving me a last chance,” the Green Hag said. His stance was now almost casual.
Sanborn nodded. “Take it. Lay down the knife. Just walk away and leave these people be.”
“Or what? You’ll dust me? It’s a can of air, you idiot!” He stepped closer. “Screw you!”
Sanborn sighed and closed his old, wrinkled eyelids. He set the can down on the counter and leaned on it, a weary gesture. “Are you sure, son?”
The man laughed. “Did you think you were gonna bluff me with a can of air? You think I’m stupid?” He ran his thumb along the edge of the blade, opened his arms and leaned in.
“If you think I’m gonna fold that easy, you can go ahead and blow me.” He sneeze-chuckled at his own joke.
Sanborn stiffened. “Must you be so rude?”
The Hag laughed again, and leaned farther over as he lifted the mask for the first time. Parker peeped at a face as hard and craggy as the mask was soft and saggy.
Sanborn nodded. So be it, he seemed to say, as he held the can of air out in no great hurry, and up-ended it before pulling the trigger. The man wasn’t afraid of a little air, or of more of this old man’s theatrics. He arched his eyebrows as he looked Sanborn in the eye and didn’t flinch. The liquid in the can fell to the upended top and rushed down the tube to spray Crag Face right in the eyes.
Crag Face screamed, shattered by the pain of his corneas icing before his eyelids could close. The can frosted as its temperature dropped. No can of mace or pepper spray could have been as effective. Crag Face’s hands flew to his face, the blade spinning away as he staggered back choking, and fell over a display of bat and black cat topped pens and armbands full of green chemical light.
Parker saw the tables turn and his own indignity flared like a backdraft. The clerk jerked to his feet and after two long strides started kicking Crag Face as hard as he could manage, spouting a stream of obscenities.
“Oh!” Parker stopped and flushed, embarrassed. “Sorry, Mr. Sanborn.” Crag Face continued to wail, sliding across the floor on his back until he collided with the glass front of the store, weeping and shuddering in agony. He couldn’t close his eyes; the lids were frozen to the corneas, excruciatingly open and blind. The Green Hag persona snagged on the bottom edge of a shelf and slipped the rest of the way off, leaving Crag Face alone.
Davis dashed for the back to hide in his office. “Hit the alarm, Parker!”
“And call 911,” Mr. Sanborn added, looking sadly at Crag Face clawing at his frozen eyes. “He’s going to need help, soonest. I’d hate for my craggy old face to be the last thing he ever sees.”