Okay, that was creepy.

I went to Staples to grab some ink, and they had to go into the back to get it. So I was standing around the front counter, with the cashier, who was a very small, bird-boned girl in probably her late teens, although when you have that kind of build, you can be nearly thirty and still look twelve, so take my guess with a grain of salt.

This guy comes in. He resembles a balding Santa Claus, dressed in a black cordouroy jacket covered in…stuff. A magpie nest worth of charms and oddities were pinned to this jacket.

For whatever reason, this guy registered with me as soon as he came in the door–my brain was aware the guy was there, in the way that most people don’t. It wasn’t the clothes, per se–I’ve seen much weirder. I’ve worn much weirder. I think our brains register when someone is a little…off…on a largely subconscious level, though, and somewhere in my hindbrain somebody sat up and said “Yeah…let’s make sure we know where this guy is at all times, shall we?”

A few minutes later, he came up to the checkout. Since I was waiting on my ink, I stepped aside so the cashier could help him instead, and loitered at the end of the counter.

“So…” he said, leaning forward, “do you girls have your Halloween costumes ready?”

I made a non-commital noise. The cashier said “No, I’ll just do something at the last minute.”

“Do you go trick-or-treating?”

My creep-o-meter’s needle had been twitching, and now started cruising upward.

“Errr…not really…” she said.

“These days I mostly just stay home and hand out candy,” I said.

He dismissed me as of little interest and turned back to the cashier. “Do you have any…stuffed animals?”

The creep-o-meter needle shot upwards, and I say this as a woman with what is probably the largest private collection of stuffed wombats in North America.

“Sure,” she said, in a tone indicating she was not very sure at all.

“What you do,” he said, starting to get more animated, “you get a pillowcase, right, and then you cut holes for the feet and then you tied the stuffed animals around your waist–all the dragons and dinosaurs and puppies and kitties–and you pull the pillowcase up like a basket, and you go as the pick of the litter!”

She laughed the polite laugh of customer service. He looked at me. I said “Err. Heh.”

“Do you have a boyfriend?” he asked her. The needle skittered towards the red.

Lie, I willed her silently, lie.

“No,” she said. I sighed internally.

“Girlfriend?” he asked, excited. We were definitely in the red, and picking up speed.

“I have friends, yes,” she said stiffly.

“Invite them over!” he said. “We start at six pm, and it’s lights out at eight!” The needle was past the red and into the little stripy section that says “Security Breach! ABORT!”

“Err,” she said, throwing me a silent look of “Oh, god, help,” to which I could only do that slight lift of the eyelids that hopefully expresses Yes, this is just as fucked up as you think it is.

And then:
“At my house, the parade starts at 7 pm!”

The creep-o-meter needle, had it been anything but metaphorical, would have exploded off the dial at that point and buried itself in the wall. I could almost hear the ping of overheated metal.

(When relating this story to James, he said “What kind of parade!?” I protested that I hadn’t been about to ask, and he threw his hands in the air. “But I want to know!”)

“Now, you have my address in that computer, right?” he said, waving his credit card. “You just come on over!” He glanced at me, visibly thought it over, decided I was not of interest, and exited the store.

We both exhaled. More or less simultaneously, we uttered some variant of “Oh my god, that was REALLY creepy.”

It was almost certainly just a guy with poor social skills who really liked Halloween, but good lord…that was disturbing.

Although now, like James, I’m sort of wondering about the parade and you don’t want to know the kinds of things I’m thinking. Hell, *I* don’t want to know the kinds of things I’m thinking…

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