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I assumed I was alone. Apparently, I was mistaken.

I was picking my way down the narrow alley, the most direct (if not cleanest, safest, or best lit) way home. Lost in thought, I jumped when I heard a slurred voice from what looked like a pile of smelly rags.

“Hey, baby. How ya doin’?” the rags asked.
“Not interested,” I replied without breaking stride.
“Awww, come on now, sweetheart,” the dark figure said, bracing himself against the

wall as he stood up from the pile of garbage. He staggered toward me, off kilter. “There’s no reason to be like that.”

I ignored him as I made my way down the alley, focusing on my destination rather than the smell coming off him in waves. After a few moments, the man stopped pursuing me and instead muttered disagreeably under his breath.

“Hey!” he shouted. “Come back! Think you’re too good for me, you stuck-up bitch?”

I had to stop. I had to. Before turning around, I took a deep breath. I knew I shouldn’t retaliate, but I was so tempted. And he was asking for it. Exhaling, I flicked through my mental rolodex, scanning for a suitably terrifying image. Pebbles skittered across the asphalt as he approached from behind, probably mistaking my anger for fear.

He was now close enough that I could smell the cheap alcohol and lack of personal hygiene. I could almost taste the rank musk in the back of my throat. But that was okay, because the closer he was to me, the stronger the effect would be.

I turned around. He smiled in a predatory fashion, like he’d managed to get the upper hand. Obviously, he wasn’t clear on the situation at hand. He opened his mouth, no doubt to say something even smarmier than before. He leaned forward . . . And that’s when it hit him.

A tall wraithlike figure materialized between us—or he thought one did, anyway. She wore nothing but a black, velvety shadow, a cutout of a cloudless, starless night. Bone-white hands crept out of long, writhing sleeves. And there was something deeply, unsettlingly wrong about her face.

Perhaps it was the fact that the skin was a little too smooth, too porcelain. Her unlined face suggested no expression had ever graced it, let alone a smile. Or maybe it was the three blood-red streaks glistening down her cheekbones and nose, or her eyes— miniature black holes which matched her dress, showing depth but no emotion. Not even a reflection of the full moon’s light.

The man I’d decided to call Hapless Asshole staggered backward. The wraith reached out a skeletal hand and cocked her head, opening her mouth as though to speak. But once it opened wide—in a semimechanical gesture, like she’d never used it before— spiders emerged instead of words.

Hundreds of tiny black spiders poured out of the opened portal, scuttling down the spirit’s alabaster face, disappearing into the eclipse of her pitch-black dress, and reappearing in stark contrast along her outstretched hands. They surged forward in a miniature tidal wave toward Hapless Asshole. She tilted her head farther as a slight rasp escaped her parted lips.

He stepped back so fast he fell, crashing loudly into a trashcan. His worn trousers included a new stain now, and a new smell to go with it. He opened and closed his mouth like a confused fish finding itself in water that didn’t quite provide enough oxygen. He completely lost it when the specter took a step toward him. Unleashing a guttural scream, he beat a final retreat. He ran toward the opposite end of the alley, toward people and bars and civilization (albeit the dregs of it).

I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot. I knew the risk of pulling such a prank, but it had just been too juicy to pass up. Plus, it’d be awhile before Hapless Asshole would even think about accosting a girl alone in an alley again.

My smile faded as I thought about the rest of the night and the long day ahead of me tomorrow. I sighed and turned back the way I was headed, toward home.

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