It was 4:40 am, not exactly the witching hour, although it was Halloween. Angie Donaldson was on her way to work. In the grey gloom of morning light, supplemented by her outside lamp, she locked her apartment door with her usual care. She turned away with a sigh. She didn’t want to go to work this morning. It promised to be a very long day.
The apartment complex was quiet as she shuffled out onto the street. The bus stop was five blocks away. Angie plodded down D Street to the end of the block and turned onto 13th. Hunched into her hooded jacket, she didn’t look where she was going. She didn’t have to. Tonight, these streets would have small groups of trick or treaters. Childish voices would carry in the wind. Porches and windows would be lit up. Now, everything was dark and quiet.
At the corner she froze. A sound stopped her. Not just any sound. The sound was of a dog growling. Angie felt her heart in her throat, pounding furiously. She was afraid of dogs. Not terrified. When one approached her during the day, on a leash, with an owner attached she could handle that. If it appeared warranted she could even pat that leashed dog on the head. But a low growling sound, in the early morning hours, with no human voices reprimanding the animal was a cause for terror. She stood stock still for a moment, for two moments.
There were no repetitions of the growl. With a deep breath Angie turned around. She saw nothing. Her shoulders drooped in relief. She hadn’t realized how tense she’d been. She panted as she looked around the street corner and thought that she must have been hearing things.
“It must be Halloween. All the decorations are out and I was just mindlessly walking along.” She thought to herself. There were a lot of decorations out. There were quite a few families in the neighborhood and so all the holidays were displayed around here. Angie didn’t approve of Halloween. For children’s sakes she would reluctantly pass out candy when they came to her door. She couldn’t bear to dampen their excitement or dim the delight in their eyes. But there were no Halloween decorations on her door and she served her candy from a plain glass bowl. Angie never asked what characters the children were portraying. She wouldn’t have recognized them anyway.
The wind was picking up in this coldest part of the day. Angie shivered and hoped it wouldn’t start raining before she made it to the bus. She had to hurry now, thanks to her scare. She almost ran. A few lights were on in the houses along the way but the streets stayed empty. She walked down the center of the street for safety. That didn’t help when she heard footsteps behind her. They were not exactly following her. The sounds were random. But when she turned to see who was behind her there was no one.
“Maybe I need to get my hearing checked. I’m turning 40 next year. Maybe I’m starting to lose it.” Angie said aloud as she looked around. There really was no one there. The wind was blowing steady now. Red and yellow and brown leaves were falling all around like large colored snowflakes. One of them landed on her jacket, startling her because she only saw it out of the corner of her eye. She realized that they were making the sounds she’d heard as they fell in clumps to the street. It was getting colder, if that was possible. Angie could smell rain mixed in the air. She checked her watch under a street light. “Drat it all!” She swore as she pulled her head down and started rushing down the street. She had four minutes to get down two blocks and across a parking lot. Mr. Roberts had been driving the number 180 for three years now. He’d never been late.
The houses on the last two blocks were more rundown than the ones on the first part of her walk. Weeds sprung up in a couple of the yards as though they were vacant or at least unloved. No lights were on in the homes here, either and the street lamps were spaced further apart. There was a faint odor of alcohol in some spots along the sidewalk. Angie had become immune to these odors after years of this commute. This morning she wasonly worried whether she would make it to the warm, safe bus where she could fall asleep until time to get off. But she was not disturbed until she made it to the weedy parking lot. At the corner of 13th and H streets she had one minute to spare. She just had to cross this lot and step onto the warm, safe bus. She could see the bus coming around the corner.This was the first stop of the morning and Mr. Roberts always popped into the convenience store on the corner for his coffee. She jumped as a cat screeched behind her and glass shattered. She turned around, surprised.
At four fifty six the number 180 pulled out from its’ first stop with three passengers. Two were regular customers, a man and a woman. The third was a drunk who’d stumbled on at the last moment. Mr. Roberts peered across the empty parking lot, one last time, as he shut the door and pulled out. He usually had three regulars. Two of them carpooled to the parking lot but Angie always walked. There was no woman rushing for the bus. “Huh!” He said. It wasodd. Then his thoughts turned to Halloween as he drove away from the dark, silent curb.