Treats

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THOUGH THE ringing of the doorbell continued to echo through the house, Percy sat alone in the dark, his arms folded across his chest, and refused to answer the door.

"You're not getting any treats from me," he mumbled, shifting to get more comfortable in the overstuffed chair. When the ringing ceased he heard some grumbles from outside, then the sounds of the kids clambering down the porch steps on their way to beg at other houses for candy and goodies. As they walked away from the house he could see their dark silhouettes moving along the walkway.

Last year, he'd yelled out: "Bugger off!" But that only alerted them to the fact that he was home, and they pelted his windows with eggs and tomatoes.

But not this year - this year he decided to sit in the dark, wait them out and watch. No treats. No tricks.

Why should he give those snot-nosed little brats any treats? What did they ever do for him besides trample his petunias or put the occasional baseball through one of his windows? And if that weren't enough, they were spreading rumours about crazy old Percy who lived alone in that huge house, giving it to the corpse of his dead wife every night.

At that thought, Percy decided it might be a good idea to go check in on Bertha. He got up from the armchair and moved through the dark out of the study and into the hall. The stairs creaked beneath his feet as he climbed, mocking the unheard creaking of his very bones as he moved.

The smell hit him most powerfully, as it always did, at the top of the stairs. Sure, it reached into every corner of his home, permeated every molecule of the air inside his house, but it always seemed worse at the very top of the stairs.

He was already so used to the putrid, rotting odour that it no longer nauseated him - in fact, it had been at least a month now since he'd vomited upon reaching the top of the steps - but his nose still wrinkled and his lips pressed together tightly in an attempt to filter out as much of the stench as possible.

He slowly opened the spare bedroom door, and, even though he knew the smell had to be worse at this point, it never bothered him so much as it did at the top of the stairway. He liked to think it had something to do with leaving the bedroom window open and laying out dozens of containers of potpourri and boxes of baking soda in the room.

The "death" room was lit only by the light which filtered in through the unblinded window. Percy was thankful he couldn't see his poor wife's decomposing body, but the dark brought with it chilled memories of what she looked like. Laying still and quiet in the bed, her thin flesh had seemingly melted itself over the sides of her skull and sunk into her eye sockets, transparent in some spots, like mozzarella cheese heated over a bagel.

Time had not made his task any easier for him. In fact, it had been months since he'd been able to get close enough to kiss her gently on the forehead like he had always done when she was sleeping; and for that he was ashamed. What kind of sorry man couldn't even honour his wife with a gentle show of affection?

All of this, after all, was for her. He'd never gone back on a promise to his wife during their 34 year marriage and he wasn't about to break this one, his last promise to her, no matter how hard it became.

It had been the night before she died when Percy stood watching Bertha toss and turn in her sleep, unsure of whether or not the nightmare she was having could possibly be worse than the reality of the inoperable brain tumour that sat, like a time bomb, in her head. At that moment, Percy could conjure up no worse image than being without his wife, his lover, his best friend, so he decided to let her have her nightmare. It was almost as if the false terror she was experiencing in her dreams was a treat that she was allowed to indulge in. A treat, perhaps, because it was not real, after all, and would be over the moment she woke.

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