The old man shuffled down the street looking for someone, anyone who would help him retrieve what had been stolen from him. He didn’t care that it was Halloween, or that he’d left his apartment wearing only a dingy, white tank-top, faded brown cords and his slippers. All Wilford Bishop cared about was recovering… his treasure.
* * * *
The temperature had tumbled ten degrees since sundown and was headed for the upper twenties. Short puffs of breath could be seen as Wilford continued down Pace Street, visibly shivering, arms held closely to his body for warmth, but with a look of grim determination in his steel-gray eyes.
Soon, the sky darkened and the streetlamps began flickering to life. Patrick Adler and his fiancé, Marcy, were passing out candy and apples to the neighborhood children. However, the sight of a seventy-nine year old man in slippers was more shocking than any costume they’d seen that evening.
“Get a blanket!” shouted Patrick as he jumped up and went to help the old man. Clearly he was disoriented and needed to get back to wherever he’d wandered from.
“Hey there,” called Patrick as he rushed up and tried to steer Wilford towards his porch. “You look a little lost.”
“I’ve been robbed,” replied Wilford and refused to change course. Patrick was surprised at how forcefully the old man had fended off any attempts to turn him and looked for Marcy for assistance. She quickly burst out the front door, carrying a heavy wool blanket
“Who is he, what’s going on?” she asked.
“Haven’t gotten that far, but he won’t come inside.” Patrick carefully draped the blanket over the old man’s shoulders and was relieved to see it accepted with a quick nod and a grunt of “thanks.” A moment later, Wilford suddenly realized that someone was finally paying attention to him and he stopped dead in his tracks.
“I’ve been robbed,” he croaked out as forcefully as he could. “Someone’s stolen my treasure.” Then, more softly, he said, “Please, help me get it back.”
“We’ll help you, Mr.…?” questioned Patrick searching for an answer to the man’s identity.
“Bishop, Wilford Bishop.” The old man’s gaze never left the road before him. “He went down this street, I can feel it.”
“Why don’t we call the police?” suggested Marcy. She too wanted to get Wilford out of the chill night air and into their house.
“No! No police, I can find him, I can feel it.” Wilford pulled away from Patrick and resumed his trek down Pace street. The couple exchanged nervous glances, then Patrick said, “Get the car, I’ll stay with him.”
The moment Wilford saw the shiny SUV pull alongside, he wasted no time in crawling into the back seat. To Patrick and Marcy, it was one step closer to getting him home. To Wilford, it was a faster way to recover his treasure.
“Turn left up here,” urged Wilford. He waved a wrinkled hand at the upcoming intersection.
To his surprise, Marcy continued straight. The local police station was only three miles away and she was sure they could take care of this poor confused man better than she and Patrick could.
Wilford’s eyes grew wide at the deception and he swung his head around to keep sight of the turnoff. “No,” he moaned and pointed out the rear window, “that way.”
Patrick noticed how pale the old man had suddenly become. His breath started coming in short gasps and he had difficulty holding his head up. Wilford slouched forward and Patrick struggled to hold the old man up off of the floor. His skin felt cold and clammy, like something half-dead.
“Turn back,” cried Wilford. “Turn back or I’ll die!”
Several agonizing seconds passed as Marcy struggled with what to do. Clearly the old man believed that he would die if they didn’t return to the intersection and resume the pursuit of the thief. Another anguished cry was all it took; she whipped the SUV around the next corner and began backtracking.
Wildford’s cries of pain subsided. He straightened and brushed a wisp of gray hair out of his eyes. Patrick was relieved to see some of his color return and his breathing smoothed out. Within seconds, the old man’s eyes were scanning the streets and intersections for the thief and his treasure.
“Do you need a doctor Mr. Bishop?” asked Patrick timidly. The memory of how the old man had appeared just a few moments earlier still burned before his eyes.
Wilford jerked his head towards the younger man, clearly startled at the question. “What are you asking me that for? Keep your eyes out there!” Again the wrinkled hand pointed towards the upcoming intersection.
Wilford’s attention to the passing houses and scenery grew more intent as they turned down the street he’d pointed to earlier. There were many more trick-or-treaters here and Marcy slowed the SUV as a precaution. Surprisingly, Wilford didn’t complain. He leaned closer towards the window glass and keenly looked over each passerby.
“Did the thief wear a costume?”
“No,” answered Wilford curtly. His features wrinkled sourly at the question, then he said, “…but he’s close, I can feel it!”
Block after block the trio slowly cruised down the street. After a few minutes, the children thinned out and the houses began to look shabbier, more run-down.
“I don’t think we want to go any further,” said Marcy. She feared the sight of a shiny new SUV in this neighborhood might attract the wrong kind of attention. She slowed the car and began looking for a place to turn around.
“Keep going!” shouted Wilford shrilly. “We’re close… I can FEEL it!” He began rubbing his chest as if it were itching or tingling; “Just a little further.”
Marcy’s fears grew as she saw a small yellow sign with bold black letters. “DEAD END.” A sickening knot of fear began to tighten in her stomach. “I can’t go any further,” she said in a nervous whisper. The SUV came to a stop; Patrick and Marcy both turned and looked to the old man for their next move.
Wilford was ghostly pale, his eyes were clenched tight and his mouth gaped open as if he were experiencing pure horror.
“He’s …opened it! He’s opened my treasure!”
A high-pitch scream ripped through the cool night air. A teen-aged boy in ripped jeans and a faded orange sweatshirt suddenly exploded from a nearby alley and raced past the SUV. Patrick couldn’t see much in the pale yellow glow from the streetlamps, but boy’s expression was near hysterics. In a matter of seconds he was out of sight.
“I can… feel it…,” moaned Wilford as he clutched at his chest and fell forward. Patrick slid across the seat and lifted the old man back into the seat. The wane light played across his features and revealed a corpse. A thin trickle of blood snaked down his cheek.
Marcy took one look and began sobbing uncontrollably. Her nerves were at the breaking point and she could bear no more.
Patrick gently lifted the blanket and covered the old man’s face. His problems were over, but the mystery remained. He saw the alley where the teen had emerged and knew he had to find Wilford’s treasure. There would be no peace in his mind till he knew.
He slipped out of the SUV and scrambled towards the alleyway. There were few lights on in any of the houses and he doubted the residents would care anyway – especially after the horrible screams the teen had made with no response. He picked his way closer, then paused as he heard a strange sound coming from the alley. It sounded slightly familiar. As he rounded the corner, several furry creatures fled into the shadows. One larger animal remained. It was busily working with whatever it had on the ground before it. Patrick inched his way closer and noticed a small metal case – bent and dented – lying open near the animal. Clearly, the teen had forced it open and had gone screaming into the night at the sight of its contents.
The long-tailed animal finally sensed Patrick’s approach. It raised its blood-smeared head, hissed evilly – revealing curved yellow teeth – then followed its brethren into the darkness. Patrick forced himself closer and bent over to see what lay on the ground near the case. A sickening odor of something rotten filled the air. As he bent closer still, he thought he saw something move.
A second blood-curdling scream filled the night as Patrick discovered the old man’s treasure. There, in the dim half-light of the alley, lay the remains of Wilford Bishop’s heart. Almost unrecognizable, it pulsed weakly, then quivered and finally lay still.
He staggered out of the alley, mind reeling at the impossibility of what he’d seen. Marcy, her head now resting against the steering wheel, was still sobbing as Patrick slid in to the back seat. The blanket had slipped off of the old man. As Patrick reached up to replace it, he saw something strange near the collar of the old man’s tank top. With trembling fingers he pulled open the shirt and revealed a long, half-healed, surgical scar. He replaced the blanket with a flip of his hand and fell back against the seat. Through closed eyes he remembered the blood-smeared rats, the ravaged heart and Wilford Bishop clenching at his chest and swearing he could… feel it!