by Stephen Baily

Some acquaintances of mine under the impression I needed to get out more pestered me into accompanying them to a Halloween party. It was up four flights of stairs in a dank building off Riverside Drive, and I was on the point of suffocating in the crush when I collided with a raven-haired girl. The silver buckle on her black pointed hat matched the silver pentacles on her black crepe-paper cloak. She was also carrying a broom, if you haven’t already guessed that.

“How is it you’re not?”

The sort of music inescapable on such occasions was up so loud I had to ask her to repeat the question.

“I said this is supposed to be a costume party,” she shouted, “so why aren’t you wearing one?”

“I am.”

After subjecting me to a closer inspection, she was sufficiently amused to accept my offer to top off her paper cup. I must have made the refill too strong, though, because, before I knew it, she was out on the sidewalk throwing up, and I was taking her home to West Fourteenth Street, in a cab I had to ask her to pay for.

“Oh, isn’t it just like my luck to end up with a deadbeat.”

All the same, she didn’t object when I insisted on seeing her safely up to her apartment.

The high rise we entered owed its soullessness to the exclusion from its design of all considerations but functionality. A uniformed guard presided over its cavernous lobby, and he immediately moved to bar my progress.

“It’s all right, Nick.”

“You’re sure, miss?” He was a big guy about sixty who seemed to take a paternal interest in her. “He looks to me like he’s been sleeping in doorways.”

“It’s a costume.”

To let me know he wasn’t persuaded my rags were an act, he jabbed me hard in the shoulder as he stood aside to let me pass.

“You watch yourself, pal.”

Her studio on the eighteenth floor contained little in the way of furniture and no rugs or pictures. Either she’d just moved in or she wasn’t planning to stay long. It was a mild moonlit night and, while I made for the only thing to sit on, she opened the doors to the balcony to admit some air.

“So what do you do, Lorna?”

Without removing her hat or cloak, she joined me on the futon. The broom was still in her grasp, and she propped it between her knees.

“Isn’t it obvious?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t think that came with a retirement plan.”

Her gaze darkened. “You’re not taking me seriously.”

“On the contrary.”

I reached for her thigh, but she slapped my hand away and, to the accompaniment of a muttered incantation, draped herself over the broomstick.

All at once, she was floating above me, just below the ceiling.

That I remained unfazed baffled her till I peeled off my mask and sent her swooping like a bat through the open doors. From the balcony, I watched her silhouette transit the moon and disappear. Then I went back down to the lobby to say good night to Nick.

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Stephen Baily

Stephen Baily has published short fiction in numerous journals. His novel “Markus Klyner, MD, FBI” is available as a Kindle e-book.

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