Hayden felt off kilter all morning, and he couldn't quite figure out what was throwing him off. Maybe it was the dream, but whatever it was, three cups of coffee hadn't been able to fix it. Nor had taking a good long sniff of the bourbon he still couldn't make himself get rid of.
Maybe it was the weather. By noon, it was almost eighty degrees. That might not have seemed so unusual except for the fact that it was October 31st. The meteorologists on the television liked to call it an Indian summer, but Hayden had seen plenty of those. This was something else.
Having nothing better to do, Hayden decided to take a walk. Everywhere he looked, he saw signs of Halloween. Black cats with their backs arched impossibly high; witches with warty green noses; pumpkins with all kinds of faces carved into their hollowed out orange heads. Store windows and houses were decorated with skeletons, bats, spiders and ghosts. Bags of candy sold like milk, bread and bottled water during a bad storm. Children and adults raced around in silly and scary costumes, and there were posters everywhere announcing parties of every sort in every imaginable venue. But it all felt wrong.
Hayden stopped by the coffee shop again. The manager was standing outside, desperately trying to light a cigarette with shaking hands. She looked far too pale to have just experienced some harmless Halloween trick. Hayden lit the cigarette for her. "Are you okay, Jennifer?" he asked.
Jennifer somehow managed to get the cigarette to her mouth and take a drag, but she still shook like it was ten degrees below zero. "Thanks for the light," she said. "No, I'm not okay."
"Yeah, the ... we had ... okay, you'll think I'm smoking something other than tobacco."
"Acid isn't smoked."
"All right, smart ass." She grinned, and some of the color came back to her face. She took a deep breath. "We had spider decorations in the window. The ones you saw this morning?"
"Yeah. They were pretty creepy. Did they turn into real spiders or something?"
"Um ..." But somehow, Hayden wasn't surprised. His stomach started to twist itself into several hard knots.
"I'm serious! We had to beat them to death with brooms. I already don't like spiders. Now I fucking hate them. The corpses are still on the floor if you wanna take a look at the murder scene."
"I think I will."
"So you believe me?"
"I've known you for a while now, Jen. You wouldn't make that kind of shit up. And I've lived in this city long enough, too."
"So, what, you think San Desperado's a hell mouth or something?"
He knew that was supposed to be a reference to something hip, but he didn't quite get it. "Or something," he said. He went inside.
Chad had jumped up on the bar and was clutching the spray nozzle from the sink like a gun. "Get the fuck away from me, you fucking cat!" he screeched. He squeezed the trigger. A cat yowled then ran for the back door, pausing briefly to look over its shoulder at Hayden. A knot in the pit of Hayden's stomach wrenched a little tighter. The cat winked at him and was gone.
"You can get down now, Chad," Hayden said.
Instead, Chad turned around, his reflexes still taut with fear, and he squeezed the trigger of the spray nozzle. Hayden was out of range and only got a light mist from the spray. "Oh shit," Chad said. He looked as if he wanted to let go of the nozzle, but he didn't move.
Hayden stepped around the puddle on the floor and gently pulled the nozzle from Chad's hands. "The cat's gone. You can get down," he said.
Shaking, Chad accepted Hayden's help and climbed down off the bar. He sat on a stool, slumped forward like he wanted to cry. He looked up at Hayden. "What the fuck is going on?" he asked.
"I'm not sure yet," Hayden said. He was sure that something was going on and that it wasn't good. He knew that if he took the time to ask the right questions in the right places, there would be more incidents of Halloween decorations coming to life. He worried about what would happen once it got dark.
Jennifer came back inside. Her face had gone pale again. "Okay, that's it. I'm closing this place, and I'm going the fuck home. I'm locking all the doors and windows, and I am not coming out until Saturday morning," she said.
"What happened?" Hayden asked.
"That gadget place across the street ... they put little rubber bats in their window display. The bats just turned real. I swear to God, they did."
Hayden glanced over her shoulder at the gadget shop. It was quiet, but he saw a black cat scoot out the front door. He couldn't be sure it was the same cat that had been inside the coffee shop, but the twisting knots in his stomach told him it was.
"Where are the spiders?" he asked.
Jennifer pointed to a corner. She sat down on the stool next to Chad and lit a cigarette.
"Gimme one of those," Chad said.
"You don't smoke," she said.
"I do now."
Hayden walked over to the corner Jennifer had pointed to. He expected to see greenish yellow spider guts and deflated black bodies. Instead, he saw bits of black plastic, orange and black felt and the wires that had been the legs of the fake spiders. He poked the debris with his toe. It shifted, but there was nothing sticky or visceral about the parts he was looking at. He bent down and picked up a busted torso. Nothing but plastic and cloth. He looked at the broom that had been used to smash the spiders. There were bits and pieces of the plastic and the cloth among the straws of the broom but no evidence that the broom had been used to kill a living thing. He stood up and went back to the bar. Chad and Jennifer both looked at him, pleading with him to tell them something that made sense.
"Go home," Hayden said. "Stay inside. If you've got any kind of Halloween decorations up, take them down and throw them out."
"Even my pumpkin?" Chad asked.
"What the fuck is going on?" Jennifer asked. "Are people gonna start turning into their costumes?"
That was another reference that was too hip for Hayden to get, but it didn't seem like too far-fetched an idea. God, I hope not, he thought. "I don't know," he said. "But this is gonna get worse before it gets better. It's not even dark yet."
"I don't think I wanna be in my apartment alone," Chad said.
Hayden wandered around the city after that, looking for more incidents of decorations coming alive. At the library, a cardboard witch taped to a window had peeled herself down and zoomed though the library on her broom, cackling and turning books into frogs. Pumpkins had spontaneously exploded or laughed and floated away. But it wasn't everywhere. It seemed to be spreading out slowly from the center of town, but Hayden found nothing there.
His cell phone rang as he was heading back to his office. He only stared at it for a second, trying to remember how to answer the damn thing. He recognized the number on the caller i.d. display as Conrad Satan's cell phone. He hit a button that he hoped was the right one. "Hey," he said.
"Hey. Are you having as much fun as I am?" Conrad asked.
"That depends on your definition of fun, and I'm not so sure we define fun the same way."
"It's the night of the living decorations."
"Something just isn't right about this."
"No. It's just random strangeness right now. Every newspaper and TV reporter in the city is trying to figure this shit out, and there's just nothing."
"Is this happening anywhere else?"
"Just here. I've got some other ... sources I wanna check with."
"You mean psychics."
"It's worth a shot. Nothing else is working."
"What do we know about Halloween?"
"It's a good old fashioned pagan holiday that the Church couldn't get rid of."
"That's not helpful."
"Sorry. That's not my area. But I'll look into it."
"Don't go to the library."
"Okay." Conrad paused, and when Hayden didn't explain, he said, "Why not?"
"All the books were turned into frogs."
Conrad said nothing.
"Are you at home or at your office?" Hayden asked.
"I'm at my office, amazingly enough. I'm not sure I'll be able to leave my office."
"There was a skeleton taped to my door."
"Just be careful. I don't know if these things are hurting people or not."
"I don't think they are, but I sure as hell don't like the way that thing is staring at me."
"Call me back when you get something."
Hayden pressed a button, again hoping it was the right one. He still wasn't quite used to the phone, despite the hour Julian had spent trying to teach him how to use it. He shoved it into his pocket and walked quickly back to his office.