(2 of 2. Originally posted on October 28, 2022 for the prompt “Monster Mash.”)
SPOILERS FOR PART 1. IF YOU HAVE NOT YET READ ‘THEME PARK’, READ IT FIRST, HERE
The man wore a thrift store cowboy costume, complete with plastic hat, faux leather boots that wouldn’t survive the night, and the eyes of a predator. He slunk along the edges of the red LED lighting beside the children’s area of Halloween Town theme park. His eyes scanned the costumed crowds, never still.
To the casual observer, he might have been just another bored father looking for his family, but Emily recognized the darkness. So, she tested him. She sauntered past, working her tight leather pants to full advantage. His eyes touched her and bounced away so fast she almost didn’t see it. But the feel of it lingered, like greasy sheets in a one-star hotel. She pulled a radio off her belt. “Potential toxins near Zone 3, I need a cleanup crew right away.”
Thirty seconds later, a petite glittery woman in a pixie outfit walked beside her. Emily spoke to the pixie woman without taking her eyes off the cowboy. “Send Wolf to wait outside the main gate. Tell him to watch for a cowboy who smells like plastic and cheap body spray, but not to engage unless I say so. Tell Kevin and Jay to meet me at the side gate. I suspect that’s where he’ll head if there’s trouble.”
Pixie woman stepped into a shadow and vanished in a puff of sparkles.
Emily continued to trail the cowboy, humming along to the song that played over the loudspeakers – the 1962 Monster Mash.
The man’s energy shifted almost imperceptibly. He didn’t alter his pace, or turn his head, but his eyes locked onto a single point. A young woman dressed in the frazzled costume of a toddler mom at the end of a long day. A small girl walked beside and slightly behind her, one hand gripping the woman’s purse, head turned with longing back toward the cotton candy machine they just passed.
The greasy cowboy picked up his pace for the first time. He stepped up to the cotton candy stand with money already in hand, slapped it down, and walked away without his change. He held eye contact with the girl as he closed the distance between them, presenting his sugary prize like a man on a first date with a bouquet of roses. Eyes on the child, he pulled loose a clump of fluffy temptation and held it out as an offering.
Grubby little fingers slipped off the purse. Wide blue eyes, hypnotized by soft pink sweetness, didn’t see the crowd swallow her heedless guardian. Sugar-fueled madness pulled her like a riptide from the shore, drawing her into deeper shadows among the weeds behind the tents. She shrank back, anxious eyes searching for her protector, but too late. Cotton candy dropped into the dirt, forgotten, as the cowboy clamped a hand around her wrist like a manacle, his other hand covering her mouth.
A cloaked figure glided out of the shadows behind the cowboy. A flash of fangs. The man grunted and slapped at the side of his neck. A moment later he collapsed in a crumpled heap.
“Hush, you’re safe now!” Emily rushed to the child. The girl let out a squeak of fright at first, but soon relaxed into Emily’s motherly embrace.
A pale, thin man with dirt-crusted clothes approached the collapsed creep and poked him with a shovel. “I have an open spot exactly his size. Leave him to me, I’ll clean up this mess.”
Emily put an arm around the child’s shoulders and guided her back toward the lights. “Come on, let’s go find your mom.”