Duncan and I were down on the far east side of the property, a shady, sloped place we haven't visited much in the three years we've lived here.
It's a mostly quiet spot, protected from the noise of the traffic by an iron fence and a brick wall, a tall tree at its entrance that turns the color of fresh honey in October and not far past that a bent pine that arches over the path like a gate. I have dubbed it The Wrangle because when the grass is tall and wet walking through it can be like work, slipping and skidding down the hillside to the low shrubs that grow along the lower edge. The far end opens up on a small enclosed park where dogs can run and play and leave their markings on the Cottonwood and Linden trees which have grown up along the fence dividing our apartment complex from the golf course. Duncan loves it because there are more rabbits there than we can count. I love it because despite the concentration it takes to remain standing, especially in winter, it is blessedly free of dog poop. It is not a treacherous place but it is not easy to maneuver either.
Near the bottom, where the slope begins to level off and it's easier to walk, the path bends quite close to the apartments and quite often we can see into people's living rooms and bedrooms. In the evenings the smell of chicken and burgers grilling on the patios is carried on the breeze and sometimes the soft sound of music or TVs drift out the windows. The blinds are typically pulled shut during the day and we rarely see anyone.
This morning we worked our way down The Wrangle, Duncan pulling on his leash and sniffing out the bunnies. He pulled left, toward the apartments where he likes to stick his head under the shrubs into the darkness where the bunnies retreat when they spot him coming. It can take a long time to reach the park because the bunnies move through a bed of crisp, dried leaves, and their stirrings keep Dunc's attention firmly fixed on the shrubs rather than the park where he can play. So I tugged on his leash and coaxed him along with treats, keeping my eyes down low and away from windows in order to avoid violating the privacy of the tenants who reside mere feet away.
While standing and waiting for Roo, a movement from the corner of my eye caught my attention. When I looked up I found myself looking directly into the face of a small boy standing on the other side of a window pane not four feet from me. His skin was oddly pale, almost blue, and there was not a hair on his head. He wore a t-shirt and a blue hoodie zipped halfway up, his arms hanging limp at his sides. His eyes were dark with heavy circles under them but they did not move, remaining, instead, fixed on me. I smiled and pulled on Duncan's leash. When I looked back up half a second later the boy was gone. And even more strange was the fact that the apartment in which he'd been standing was completely empty, recently remodeled with the paint tape still fixed to the place where the walls and ceiling met. I blinked a couple of times and watched for signs of the child but saw no one. Goosebumps rose on my arms as I pulled Dunc away from the shrubs. The patio door blinds were open and even there I did not see the boy. He was gone, as though he'd never been there. Duncan looked inside, growled once as I pulled him away and turned back toward the park.
A half hour later we stopped by the leasing office where I talked with one of the women who works there.
"So... I think I saw something this morning in one of the apartments," I told her.
"In building number two?" she asked. When I nodded she smiled. "Yeah, we've heard that before. We've even called security because we heard there was a boy walking around in the apartment but there's no one there." My mind raced. I'd seen him, very clearly, as solid as Duncan who'd been at my feet. The woman went on. "We've heard it for a couple of years now and it's always the same little boy, bald and sickly. Is that what you saw?"
She smiled again, her eyes wide. "Happy Halloween is all I can say."