The evening is unseasonably cool, and the woman huddles closer to her husband as they step out of the theater. They share a kiss before she looks back and extends her hand. “Come on, kiddo,” she says to a boy of ten trailing behind. He rushes up to grab it.
“Neighborhood’s pretty dead,” the man says. “Maybe we can find a cab down this way.” He puts his arm around her shoulders, she around his, and they head down the deserted street with the child in tow.
The streetlamps down this way are all either the sputtering orange of near-death or burnt out completely. The full moon bathes everything in a green-white pallor, casting inky shadows along the road. The boy can sense that his parents are nervous, but he says nothing. Block after city block passes by with no one else in sight.
A bearded man in a long coat and ragged cap steps out of an alleyway. He’s holding a gun.
“Wallet.” he says. “Purse. Jewelry.” He turns the gun toward the woman.
“Get away from her!” the husband shouts, grabbing for the gun. There is a scream, then a shot.
Time has stopped. The two men are frozen in a deadly embrace, a puff of exploding gas blooming from the end of the gun, and a bullet hovers in midair a hairsbreadth from the woman’s face. The city has fallen as silent and motionless as a photograph.
A figure steps out of the shadows, wrapped in a fuliginous cloak and hood. He strides over to the assailant and takes the gun from his hand. He steps behind the gunman and strikes him sharply on the back of the head with the butt of the pistol, then grasps him firmly by both shoulders and tilts him down to the ground. He rolls the man onto his stomach and binds his hands and feet behind him using sturdy, police-issue zip ties. With this finished, the hooded stranger steps back over to the couple, still frozen in terror, and pinches the bullet suspended in mid-air. He slides it to the left, so it’s positioned an inch in front of the husband’s face. The stranger takes a step back, crosses his arms and cocks his head slightly to the right, pondering. After a few seconds, he chuckles roughly and plucks the bullet out of the air and slips both bullet and gun into a pocket.
The hood is pulled back to reveal a handsome face deeply lined by the encroachment of middle age. The stranger looks upon the wife, her face a mask of terror, with a wistful half-smile. He reaches out and brushes a strand of hair away from her forehead. Nothing else stirs. A minute passes before he crouches down to look at the young boy. While his father wears an expression of desperate rage and his mother one of unmitigated terror, the boy appears more curious than anything. He’ll be a strong one, thinks the stranger as he gives his blond hair a tousle and stands back up. With a sigh, he turns away and walks back into the shadows of the alleyway. As the darkness envelops him, he mutters “Time in.”
In an instant, everything snaps back into motion. The thunder of a gunshot echoes through the streets, but no gun can be seen. The man stumbles forward, nearly tripping over the unconscious mugger lying in the street before him. The woman, who’d instinctively moved to shield her son from harm, now checks him to make sure he is uninjured. The man walks back to them and asks “Is everyone ok?”
There is no answer. His wife is stroking her son’s hair, weeping silently. The man crouches down beside them and says, “Kelly, are you alright?” She finally looks up at him and says, “Yes, I’m okay. Zachary and I are both okay.”
The man runs a trembling hand through his hair and says, “What the hell happened?” The woman says nothing, but looks around the empty street. Gazing up, she sees a cloaked figure standing on the roof of an abandoned building, looking down upon them. A cloud passes in front of the moon, throwing the rooftop into shadow. When the moonlight returns, the figure is gone.
The man puts a hand on her shoulder and says, “Kelly? What is it?” She turns and gives him a tired smile and says, “Nothing. Just get us home, A.C.”
As they’re walking, the man asks his wife what she saw back there. “A ghost,” she says. “Just a ghost.”