The Unmistakable Odor

"Do you believe in magic?" The man leaned in toward me solicitously, all yellow-toothed smile and liver-spotted scalp. His coat was threadbare and discolored with unpleasant stains. I leaned back instinctively and pulled away Marie's stroller, where Marie sat bundled against the fall chill. He leaned in closer. Through the autumn scent of damp soil and change, I smelled the unmistakable odor of rot. "Do you believe in magic, in a young girl's heart?" he said. I'd been enjoying the faint crispness to the air, but now I shivered.

"Excuse us," I said. I pushed Marie around him.

He turned to watch us and reached into his coat. My adrenaline spiked, and hardly slowed when he pulled out a pennywhistle. "How the music can free her, whenever it starts?" A jogger passed between us, and irritation creased his face then vanished. Whistle to his lips, he played a tune that maundered through the whistle's range.

Blinking, I saw Marie standing between us, looking up at him. I hadn't known she could unbuckle herself. He knelt before her and looked up at me. "I need strong magic. How much for her heart?"

I pulled Marie back into the stroller and ran.