Margaret Patterson grabs scissors when a visitor approaches her garage. Marival Quesada edges from behind her front door and a barking Doberman. Some people in Providence Lakes won't even answer when a stranger knocks.
Spooked, they are, in this neighborhood of pastel homes and welcome mats. Spooked by something unseen and malevolent.
"How can somebody come into your space, your environment," asked Patterson, a retired teacher from the Bronx, "and do something so bad?"
Three weeks ago, in the darkness between a Monday night and a Tuesday morning, someone broke into Tom Breitsprecher's homemade pen and stomped the life out of 10 fuzzy ducklings he ordered from Iowa and planned to turn loose on the lake behind his house.
Then that someone disappeared back into the neighborhood.
No one heard a peep until Breitsprecher went outside Tuesday morning and found them. Some of the ducklings, the ones with broken wings and legs, were still making noise.
Investigators don't have much to go on - no fingerprints or surveillance tapes or boot tracks.
"I'm kind of stuck at this point," said Cpl. Kenneth Vetzel with Hillsborough County Animal Control. He's done some reconnaissance around the lake, but he senses that some are holding their secrets close. "A lot of people are really closed-lipped about it," he said. "I have my suspicions."
Maj. Jerry York of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said the department has stepped up neighborhood patrols. "Logic would tell you it's someone who lives right there," he said.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals posted a $1,000 reward, as did the MJ Morning Show. Neighbors chipped in to bring the reward to $3,000.
Vetzel posted fliers around the neighborhood.
Neighbors, meanwhile, are developing theories.
"Everybody has somebody they think did it," Patterson said.
John Wendel said his wife and grandkids were in the jacuzzi out back two years ago when a man sped off Providence Run and creamed three ducks who lived on the lake.
"Bert, Ernie and something else," he said. "On purpose."
The grandkids buried the ducks and planted little wooden crosses in the yard. Wendel called the Sheriff's Office, and deputies arrested the man responsible. Last Wendel heard, the man was sentenced to probation and relocated from Providence Lakes to Mango.
Could the two incidents be connected?
Victor Bevolla, who lives on Lions Club Drive, said that a few years ago, there was a white goose, aggressive and territorial, living at the pond.
"One day," he said, "they found him dead."
His theory: fishermen from outside the community. "They don't like the ducks in the water, disturbing their fishing," Bevolla said. "It's sad," he said. "Kids love them, and we take our kids there to see nature and animals. It's sad some people will be so self-minded as to kill them for the sole purpose of fishing."
Marival Quesada had a different theory.
"A sociopath," she said.
When she heard about the ducklings, she started to cry. She lives right across the street from where it happened.
"Anyone who would do that to a defenseless animal is definitely a danger," she said, standing outside her front door, barefoot, cradling her 2-month-old, Gianni.
"If they'd do that to little baby ducks," Quesada said, "they'd do that to your dog, or your kid. Or you."
She moved here from Ohio, looking for a peaceful home. She and her husband had been planning to move back, to be closer to family, but now she can't wait to leave.
"It's beyond creepy," she said. "Every time I walk to the lake, I look around and ask, 'Who's the freaking aberration of nature that did this?' "
Ben Montgomery can be reached at email@example.com or 813-661-2443.