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A woman wearing a tinfoil mask held a sword that skewered five kids’ decapitated heads. “He got it right, Fourth Place.”
“Wrong song blong glong.” The man she addressed sat on the patio next door and petted the Pomeranian on his lap. It chewed on a rubber musical note, and its sweater had the same “P” logo as that on the man’s leather outback hat.
“Blong bong.” The woman banged the heads on a cymbal hanging beside a copper gutter.
“Princess Artsy. Maybe you’re the reason the blue jays don’t come anymore.” Fourth Place raised his voice. “Young man, I had to give you an F on that one…”
A boy in a black Chicago Breakers baseball uniform turned around.
“…but God’s with me.” Fourth Place held up a Troves chocolate bar. “So I’ll grant you another chance to earn this. It’s the best candy getting passed out today. Just make sure you change your costume. We’ll chalk it up to a minor loss. We’re northsiders here.”
The boy held a plastic jack-o-lantern and stood beneath a platform that displayed five child-sized headless mannequins. Beyond the boy, trick-or-treaters walked the cobblestone street.
The man flicked his chin strap. “This is a Pillars town, kiddo. Not a Breakers town.”
The boy looked up at the headless mannequins. Red blotches covered their Medieval royalty clothing. “I hope your dog feels better.”
Fourth Place tugged the rubber note and the dog held on.
Princess Artsy’s mask glimmered. “He’s such a kind man.” She pulled a Tellax candy from one of the mouths of the impaled heads, then tossed it to the boy.
“Mom. I can’t. I have a meeting tonight.” Princess Artsy talked on the phone and shook a Tellax before two trick-or-treaters. A small card was attached to the wrapper. “It’s just Tylenol, Mom. Take an aspirin instead. You’ll be fine.”
The kids stared at a pigtailed mannequin next to Princess Artsy. It held a jump rope and was posed mid-jump.
“Mom. I’ll get it tomorrow. I have to go now.” Princess Artsy hurled the candy toward the street. “Go fetch.” The kids ran after it.
Fourth Place covered his dog’s ears and yelled, “Say George, you serving Cahoots over there?”
Across the street, a man at a makeshift bar held up a beer bottle, then gave it to another man.
“Poor George porge borge. Unacceptable. Cahoots sponsors the Breakers. We’re northsiders over here.”
Boys dressed as a doctor and a football player approached Fourth Place. The woman with them wore a cheerleader’s costume. “What’s with her?” She flicked a pom-pom toward Princess Artsy, who flipped back her scabbard – it was empty – then removed the jump rope from the mannequin.
“Well Ann, that’s my lovely lovely neighbor Princess Artsy. Say, you seen any blue jays lately?”
“No. Boys. Stay away from that. Creepy.”
Fourth Place tugged the dog’s sweater. “I’d climb up there and knock that down. If my knees hadn’t gone kaput.”
The doctor and the football player backed away from the headless mannequins’ platform.
Ann checked her cell phone. Its case displayed a baby photo. “Last year, when I was pregnant with Carol Ann? Your neighbor here offered me a pack of cigarettes and one of those little bottles of booze. Okay … ruuude.”
“She creates these abominations she calls art.” Fourth Place made an “x” with his index fingers and raised his voice. “Really professional, Princess Artsy. F minus.”
Princess Artsy adjusted her aluminum foil mask, then picked up her sword and held it so the heads faced her. “Now kids, stay sharp. Fourth Place might give another kid the wrong information.”
“Unacceptable. It was right.” Fourth Place rubbed his dog’s chin while its paw rested on the music note. “Ann, what part of the body loses heat the fastest?”
“The head, right? Boys, get away from that.”
“Coh-rect. And Breakers Boy said it was ‘D, none of the above.’ That wasn’t even an option.”
“These two would get it right.” Ann arranged the doctor’s stethoscope while he petted the dog. “Don’t the Pillars have that Halloween game they play each year now? I thought you’d be in your garage with your crew.”
“This is Halloween. This is important. Right boys?” Fourth Place held up a Troves. “This is the best candy you’ll get today. A thousand times better than what that crazy lady’s got, but you gotta work for it.”
Princess Artsy draped the jump rope over her shoulder and addressed the football player. “Where’s your black paint? You should have black paint underneath your eyes. That’s what Jim Laudan wears. And he’s the champion.”
Ann zipped open a hip pack. “Why say it so silly?”
“Most valuable player.”
“I don’t have my…” Ann threw down her pom-poms. She removed a lipstick tube from the pack.
Fourth Place tossed up a Troves, then caught it. “Okay kiddos, Benjamin Franklin said, ‘Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and…’ What? A, strong. B, wise. C, successful.”
“D, boring.” Princess Artsy blew on a red splotch that she’d painted on the jump roping mannequin’s stomach.
Ann used the lipstick to draw lines beneath the football player’s eyes. He tried to pull away. “Mom. It’s supposed to be black.”
“Come on boys. You know this. Healthy, wealthy, and…”
The doctor looked at the mannequins and drew on his clipboard. “Who’s Benjamin Frankton?”
Fourth Place chuckled and the Pomeranian sniffed the Troves, then nudged its toy. “Come on boys. Basic U.S. history here.”
Ann picked up her pom-poms, then held them over her face and leaned down to the boys. They yelled, “Wise.”
Fourth Place tapped his chin strap. “Coh-rect. And someone who’s wise – they’ve done scientific research on this – knows the head loses heat the fastest. We’ll chalk that one up to an error on Breakers Boy and Princess Artsy’s part.”
The doctor continued his drawing. “I got a C on my science test.”
“He’s not challenged by the material.” Ann examined the clipboard. “Hey, this is beautiful, honey. It’s some robots, right?”
“It’s them.” The doctor pointed at the headless mannequins. “And here’s Al. I drew you, Al.” The doctor cradled the dog’s face.
Fourth Place gave each boy a Troves. “That’s … well…”
Ann took a picture of the drawing. “Those are silly. To me it’s robots, robots and Al. And I’m going to share this.”
“Someday, you boys can marry a timid beautiful woman.” Princess Artsy attached a grayish-purple strand to the red splotch on the mannequin’s stomach. “She’ll make your babies and you’ll be her hero and you can even have other girlfriends. Have a Tellax?”
Ann pulled the boys away from Princess Artsy. “Uh-uh. Okay, rude.”
“She’ll be your cheerleader.”
“Boys … we stay away from people like this.”
“I went to art school.” Princess Artsy scraped her scabbard against the bricks that bordered the stone sidewalk. “My team mascot was the Drug Addict.”
Ann guided the boys toward the street.
Fourth Place traced the “P” on Al’s sweater. “Well Al pal snail bail. I think we’re the last sane ones left.”
Princess Artsy attached the strand’s other end to the mannequin’s hand. “You should’ve given that kid the candy.”
“Did you hear what I asked him? I asked him what part of the body loses heat the fastest. It was a multiple choice and he said none of them.”
“He got it right.”
“Unacceptable. He got it wrong.” Fourth Place clasped his chin strap. “I should get one of those blue jay feeders. It’s got this shape like a…” He formed a circle with his hands.
Fourth Place pointed the note end of Al’s chew toy toward a field. The setting sun cast an orange glow on the trees beyond it. “Look at that. I like that. I think Al likes that. You like that boy? The way the light hits the trees there?”
“Limning. It’s called limning.” Princess Artsy answered her phone. “Mom.” She sighed and her tinfoil mask crinkled.
Fourth Place, looking at the trees, lifted Al and whispered to him.
“I told you Mom. Why don’t you ask your neighbor? Well you’ll have to wait till tomorrow.”
The pigtailed mannequin appeared to be jumping rope with its own intestines.
A tuba played inside Princess Artsy’s condo.
“Daddy that’s from The Sparkly Kingdom.” Outside, a girl with a tiara twirled a sequined dress. “It’s Foldena’s song, but it sounds weird.”
A man thumbed his phone. “Sounds terrible.”
“Look at that, Al. God’s with us today.” Fourth Place scratched Al’s head while the dog gnawed on its chew toy. “Say, you see the light hitting the trees out there, Ted?”
Ted glanced. “Cool.”
Fourth Place formed an “x.” “Ted red smed fed. Now I thought you were a Pillars fan.”
“You know it.” Ted knuckled the logo on his visor. “Hey did you see that Bridgers game last night?”
“Did you know that Patrems has ads with that Breakers lunatic Brong?”
Ted looked at his shoes, shrugged, and then returned to his phone. “The Bridgers? That shootout? Phenomenal.”
Fourth Place held his hands over Al’s ears. “We’re northsiders. We’re a baseball town, Ted. Not a hockey town. And you’re supporting the Breakers with those shoes.”
“You know I’m Pillars all the way. They’re playing now. The Halloween Classic. Why aren’t you in your garage?”
“I know what it’s called Ted. I told the guys to stay home. This is important. We’ll chalk those shoes up to an error on your part.”
A smaller girl wearing red lace gloves danced around the mannequin that had the intestinal jump rope. She sang with the tuba. “It’s me world, see what you can see./ It’s me world, all that I can be.”
Fourth Place hoisted a Troves. “Okay kiddos. This here is the best treat you’ll get all day.”
Ted pointed at Princess Artsy’s bay window. “So you live next to the neighborhood armpit?”
“Each of them costs two bucks.”
“Talk about a lunatic. You see her Christmas tree last year?”
“You girls just have to answer one question.” The tuba music grew louder and the girls danced. Fourth Place picked out one of the few Troves with a black wrapper. “That music’s gonna scare away all the blue jays.”
“Hear me out,” said Ted. “That tree was on its side.”
“I saw it.”
“With intestines wrapped around it instead of that garland? A brain or some organ on top?”
Fourth Place added the candy bar to a pile of them beneath his chair. They all had black wrappers. “When I was younger, I’d drive my running route and hide sandwiches at different places.”
“Yeah? I mean, I seen her sculpture. That one with two women sawin’ in half … you know … a man’s thing.”
“Then I’d run all day – this is before my knees went kaput – and stop and get the sandwiches.” Fourth Place tapped Al’s note on his knee. “Of course I wore Winrights.”
Ted looked at his phone. “You see that kid earlier? Kid had a Breakers uniform. God that’s awful.”
“Breakers Boy failed my quiz. Now it’s time for you girls. I’m sure you’ll do great. You’re northsiders. Even if your dad supports the Breakers.”
“Look.” Ted tapped his visor. “Come on.”
The tuba wailed.
Fourth Place pointed at the bar across the street. “Ted red head med fed. I’ll bet you got a Cahoots over there.” Fourth Place flicked his chin strap. “Okay, kiddos. Which shoes did Runners’ Range magazine name the top shoe for trail running? A, Vypops. B, Patrems. That’s what your dad’s wearing. Or C, Winrights. I worked for Winright for many years.”
The girls looked at each other, then the princess jumped. “Daddy’s shoes.”
Fourth Place made an “x.” “Not even in the top five.”
Princess Artsy, still wearing the foil mask, came out playing her tuba. Plastic embryos lined its bell. She pointed at Fourth Place and played two notes that suggested a wrong answer.
The girl ran her red gloves over skin-tight red pants. “I’m Felinzee.”
Princess Artsy adjusted her scabbard. “Fascinating. Fascinating.”
Ted kicked one foot against the other. “That tuba’s really obnoxious.”
Princess Artsy spoke into her mouthpiece and the tuba’s bell projected her voice. “Everyone, Fourth Place here gave a kid the wrong answer.”
People in the street turned toward them.
Fourth Place pulled his chinstrap against his neck and wobbled the chew toy. “Say Ted, can you tell my lovely neighbor here what part of the body loses heat the fastest?”
“I’m thinking head.”
Princess Artsy answered her phone, then turned away.
“Coh-rect. I got a store manager, his wife’s a biology teacher. She can substantiate it.” Fourth Place shook a Troves with a blue wrapper. “God’s with me today. Now I’ll give you girls another chance.”
The princess pointed at the headless mannequins. “Hey, where are their heads?”
“They’re hiding their heads, honey.” Ted checked his phone. “Yes. Alby Long just homered. Yes.”
Princess Artsy threw down a Tellax, then stomped on it. “Mom, it’s Tylen… fine. Fine. I’ll drop it off later.”
Ted slapped Fourth Place’s shoulder. “Is your neighbor upset with Mommy?”
Princess Artsy crashed the tuba against the cymbal hanging from her house. “Maybe you girls can grow up to be trophy wives.”
“Now hear me out…”
“You just have to marry someone rich and stay beautiful and keep asking for things. Things will bring you happiness.” Princess Artsy gave each girl a Tellax.
Felinzee adjusted her lace gloves, then pinched the tag connected to her Tellax. “Hey, what’s this for?”
“That tells you how good those are. It says that one Tellax package has over three hundred calories, eighteen grams of fat, and thirty grams of sugar.”
“Girls, you want these.” Fourth Place shook a Troves. “Not those. Those are cheap. These are a hundred times better.”
Ted looked at a Tellax tag. “What are you supposed to be anyway?”
“Sparkly.” Princess Artsy played the tuba. “Angela Sergeon.”
“Who’s she? Some tuba player?”
Princess Artsy pointed at the mannequins. “No no. Angela Sergeon dressed her kiddies as princes and princesses. She put on a foil mask, then chopped off their little heads hee hee hee.” Princess Artsy removed from her scabbard a dental floss sword, then thrust it upward. “Yeee!”
Ted waved his visor toward the street. The boy in the Breakers uniform had reappeared. “Here. See this, boy? This is a Pillars town.”
“Coh-rect.” Fourth Place handed each girl a Trove, then pressed Al’s sweater. “Winrights, not Patrems blems smens dems.”
Breakers Boy, still wearing his Breakers uniform, drank soda by the outdoor bar. He held a paper bag and watched Fourth Place and Princess Artsy.
Al urinated in the vegetation beside a fountain.
Princess Artsy – she now wore a Breakers T-shirt – stood on the platform with the five headless mannequins. She scratched her foil mask, then pointed at the black-wrapped Troves beneath Fourth Place. “Does each of those represent something you got wrong?”
“Black’s the color of the Breakers.” Fourth Place wiggled the rubber note by his feet. “Bunch of … I know what you’re doing with that T-shirt.”
Al, wheezing and whining, stumbled back to Fourth Place, then grasped the note.
Princess Artsy pointed at her shirt. “First place.” Then she pointed at Fourth Place. “Fourth Place.”
“They’re in a completely different league.” Fourth Place, his face red, picked up Al, then yelled across the street. “Say George, what’s with supporting the Breakers? You serve Cahoots. You give that kid a drink. Maybe you should have on a Breakers uniform too.”
Breakers Boy leaned against the bar and looked in his paper bag.
Princess Artsy slapped a pillow.
“George porge norge gorge I thought he supported the Pillars.” Fourth Place dialed his phone and brushed his palm over Al’s sweater. “Okay Al, we’re going to settle this debate for our lovely neighbor here.”
Princess Artsy rested a plastic sword on the tallest female mannequin’s outstretched hand.
“Say Fred, I have a lovely neighbor here who’s refuting a scientific fact. I thought you might ask your brilliant science teacher wife what part of the body loses heat the fastest.”
Princess Artsy lifted the mannequin’s tunic.
Breakers Boy closed his paper bag, then started toward the street.
Fourth Place ground his heel into the pile of Troves with black wrappers. “…she’s going to have to bring herself up to speed. What grade level is she teaching?”
Princess Artsy stuffed the pillow beneath the tunic. The mannequin looked pregnant.
Breakers Boy crossed the street, then headed toward them.
“An elementary school teacher? Fred med smed dead. Maybe I should have sought out a teacher with higher credentials.” Fourth Place ended the call.
“Looks like I’m…” Princess Artsy thrust up the plastic sword. “…coh-rect.”
“Unacceptable. They’ve done research.”
“Eeee.” Princess Artsy crouched before the swollen stomach.
Al squirmed atop his rubber note.
“You start doin’ this stuff with these crazy sculptures, and the blue jays don’t come.” Fourth Place looked toward the distant trees. “What I need is one of those circle feeders. Not this crazy stuff.”
Princess Artsy high-fived the pregnant headless mannequin. The sword pierced its abdomen.
Breakers Boy, clutching his paper bag, stood among them.
Princess Artsy’s mother once packed a rotten bologna sandwich in her lunch bag.
“You got that question wrong, kiddo, but Al and me here? We said we’d give you another chance. If you changed.”
The boy wedged his glove between his arm and his side, then reached into the bag.
Though Princess Artsy felt ill when she got home from school, her mother forced her to put on a sequined dress to greet her father.
Fourth Place hoisted a Troves. “Young man, you’re looking at the highest quality candy you could get today.”
“Don’t need it.” The boy pulled a dog treat from the bag. He gave it to Al, then rubbed the creature’s head. “Good boy.”
Fourth Place took off his Pillars hat. He stared inside it. “We’re northsiders…” He put the hat over his face and, squeezing the rubber note, slowly raised then lowered his shoulders.
Before her father got home, Princess Artsy vomited all over her shiny dress. Her mother yelled at her.
Princess Artsy jumped from the platform, then landed in the grass.
Fourth Place, red-eyed, brought down the hat and extended his candy bowl toward the boy. “Don’t you want one of these?”
“No thanks.” Breakers Boy slapped his glove and walked away.
The sun flashed on Princess Artsy’s mask.
Fourth Place put on his hat. He pulled the chin strap so that it disappeared in his neck flesh. “Breakers got that lunatic Brong. Hopped up on steroids.”
Princess Artsy pulled off the jump roping mannequin’s leg, then pointed it at a young man with a pizza. “Hey, nice costume.”
“Not a costume.”
A minute later, the pizza box sat beside Fourth Place. “I’ll bet you can’t even … what’s the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution?”
Princess Artsy, using the leg as a prop, got into a batting stance. “I founded the Society for the Development of the Asexual Female Supervillain. We get together and discuss the role of females in movies and fiction.”
Fourth Place shifted Al, then reached down and opened the box. “Who was the United States’ smartest president?”
“Like either a woman getting saved…”
“…bet you don’t even know what year World War II started.”
“…or a woman acting like a man.”
Fourth Place slammed shut the box. “What’s wrong with you lady?”
“Abortion ball.” Princess Artsy swung the leg, then pretended to watch a ball.
“You show up in my garage, when I have all my friends over and we just watched the Pillars get eliminated from the playoffs? And you ask for a cup of sugar?”
“I was baking a celebration cake.”
“Unacceptable.” Fourth Place fed Al a slice of pizza.
“Such a healthy way to feed your dog.”
“I’ve had to do this five times.” He tapped one index finger against the other. “Tonight it’ll be six.” A line of cheese hung from Al’s mouth.
“Six what? Six times you gave a trick-or-treater the wrong information today?”
“No. No. It’s never…” Fourth Place bent the rubber note. “And now I have to do it. Tonight. Six thirty. With this guy, he’s sick. This is it.” He looked at his shoes and for a minute, both he and Princess Artsy were silent. “You believe that guy? Wearing Patrems? I know I could outrun that guy. Before my knees went kaput.”
Princess Artsy touched her foil mask and watched Breakers Boy retreat.
Fourth Place, his hair mussed, sat on a bed and talked on the phone. “The winter hat. The Chicago Pillars. I want it shipped to me.”
Wall-to-wall shelves displayed running shoes. The shoes were evenly spaced, and unused. From the edge of one shelf hung Al’s sweater with the “P” stitched into it.
Fourth Place ran his thumb over the note-shaped dog toy. “Coh-rect. We’re northsiders over here. It gets cold.”
Beneath the shelves sat a crumpled dog bed, its edges frayed and faded.
Fourth Place grunted, pulled himself off the bed, and then, with one corner of his mouth flecked with saliva, he limped toward silk drapes. He bent the rubber toy. “You know, the head loses heat faster than any other body part. They’ve done research on that.”
He ended the call, opened the drapes, and then looked outside.
Fourth Place bit the rubber note’s stem.
The morning sun shone on Princess Artsy’s decapitated mannequins, and from the extended hand of the female with the sword projecting from her swollen abdomen hung a circular bird feeder.