The black cloaked figure stood in front of the Friends Cafe, right in front of the pile of cornstalks and pumpkins they put up every year as "Halloween decorations." My first thought was that they'd added an element to their traditional display.
I had to laugh at the "corny" specter, although half the citizens of this town would be arguing about whether the addition was appropriate before sundown.
Ina looked at me like I was crazy (which she knows I am) and I pointed to the black cloaked figure. It was hard to tell if it was supposed to be a black headless giraffe or the specter of death. But it seemed to move, the cloak turning in the nonexistent wind.
A sparrow landed on the figure's shoulder and it didn't move. I relaxed. They'd just added a manikin to their display.
The cowl turned toward us. The sparrow flew away.
Ina's response surprised me. In spite of her reputation as an airhead she's usually pretty articulate--I could swear she's memorized the dictionary--but she clutched at my arm and squeaked, backing away.
My throat closed up, maybe in panic. There was no hint of a face inside that cowl, but I felt like I'd been pinned to a specimen board. Hm. Specimen number 85389741, human female, expired of natural causes. Shock, maybe.
I've never been superstitious--a lot of superstitions, like "don't walk under a ladder" or "don't swing an ax" are disguised common sense. So at this point I could pretty much limit the thing to either a practical joke (probably aimed at Ina, everyone knows how gullible she is) or someone dressing up for Halloween early.
I dragged Ina across the street, keeping a wary eye on anything that might hide the practical jokers who were likely to come bursting out at us. The boardwalk (built specifically for the tourists) wouldn't hide them from anyone crossing the street. The big cracker-barrels with their fall flowers were pushed right up against the wall.
Still I approached warily, pretending that I had no intention of even looking at the thing.
The material was odd, more like a cloak of shadow than fabric. The head kept pace with us, turning as we approached.
We passed right by it, but no one jumped out.
We stepped through the door with double sighs of relief. When I looked over at the big window the figure was gone. The autumn display looked just as it always had, with the exception of a few pumpkins that had probably been smashed by teenagers.
It had never occurred to me that death might hang around after his work was done. After that tourist died in the cafe last year it was closed for a few days. The locals still go there, although their prices are terrible.
Their spinach sandwiches are to die for.