Many of us have experienced quirky day’s at work where everything just seems to go wrong. Yet, in David Massengill’s The Chocolate Shop a normal day at work becomes disturbingly tragic due to a disgruntled guest.
By: David Massengill
David Massengill’s short stories and works of flash fiction have appeared in Eclectica Magazine, Word Riot, 3 A.M. Magazine, Pulp Metal Magazine, Yellow Mama, Tainted Tea, and The New Flesh, among others. He has also written nonfiction for American Book Review and Seattle Weekly where he serves as Books Editor. Please visit his website at: www.davidmassengillfiction.com
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The Chocolate Shop
By: David Massengill
When Stacey saw the hag shuffling into Papa’s Chocolates, she decided she wasn’t going to offer a sample. As an employee of Papa’s, she was supposed to smile and say, “Start the new season with one of our new chocolates? I have a Hazelnut Chew for you.” Instead, she said, “Ma’am, if you’re not going to buy anything please leave.”
The hag narrowed her eyes and gave Stacey a defiant look. The heavyset woman wore a smock-like dress that was stone gray, just like her long, frizzy hair. Her lack of make-up exposed the hook-shaped lines under her eyes and her wrinkled flat lips. She had traces of a moustache, and her eyebrows resembled dead moss. She sneered when she said, “You should be giving me a chocolate, sweetie.”
The 19-year-old Stacey felt a pang of guilt as she stood behind the glass display case of candies. Yet, she refrained from reaching for a sample. She reminded herself that business wouldn’t improve until the local riff-raff stopped clogging the shop. She’d been working at Papa’s downtown Seattle store since the New Year, and during these past three months she’d wasted too much time giving free samples to derelicts that lounged about the cement park outside the store. Papa’s needed normal customers in order to stay open, and Stacey needed her job at Papa’s in order to save up for beauty school.
“What are you going to buy?” Stacey asked the hag in a skeptical voice. She crossed her arms over her pink uniform.
The hag glared at Stacey, and Stacey forced herself to stare back at that withered, sinister face.
The hag eventually shook her head and said, “If you don’t give sweetie then I will take.” She turned and started out of the shop.
Stacey’s voice cracked when she called, “And I’ll phone the police.”
Lenora—a middle-aged, stocky co-worker of Stacey’s—came out of the backroom carrying a new box of peanut brittle and said, “What’s the fuss about?”
“I’m ridding Papa’s of riff-raff,” Stacey said. She picked up a white cloth and wiped a smudge off the case. “The old loser’s gone.”
Lenora grinned and said, “Not only are you the youngest and cutest employee at Papa’s, but you’re also the fiercest. You’re doing the old man proud.” She nodded toward the wall with the large illustration of Papa Rich, the fellow who’d founded the company in 1955. In the Norman Rockwell-like drawing, the winking Papa resembled a worldly Santa Claus with a moustache instead of a beard.
Stacey jokingly fluttered her eyelids at Papa and patted her red, shoulder-length hair. She then came out from behind the counter to straighten stacks of Easter Assortment boxes.
“Your riff-raff left a little mess,” Lenora said.
Stacey turned to see her pointing at a half-eaten Hazelnut Chew on the counter.
“But I didn’t give her a sample,” Stacey said. She glanced out the window and saw that the hag had settled on a nearby bench. The old woman shot her a resentful look.
Stacey tried to convince herself that some other customer had placed the sample on the counter, but the hag had been the only one to come in that morning.
The shop door suddenly opened, drawing Stacey out of her confusion. An attractive blonde woman brought a young girl into the store.
“Welcome to Papa’s,” Stacey sang. “Start the new season with one of our new chocolates? Let me get a Hazelnut Chew for each of you.”
“I’m going to check on our supply of Chocolate Chicks in back,” Lenora whispered as Stacey came around the counter. Stacey had forgotten about the hag by the time she offered the woman and the girl their samples.
Rather than reach for the treats, the woman said, “My daughter just entered her teens, and I’m trying to emphasize the importance of watching her figure. Do you have anything sugar-free?”
“Of course,” Stacey said. She fetched two orange bon-bons for the mother and daughter and said, “These are Papa’s Guiltless Goodies.” She watched the girl bite into the sample and added, “I’m no stranger to aesthetics. I’m planning on going to beauty school. I’m thinking about specializing in-”
“Hair?” the girl said with a scowl.
“Actually, make-up,” Stacey said.
“No,” the girl shrieked, “there’s hair in my candy!” She held up the bon-bon, and Stacey could see wiry gray strands protruding from its center.
“In mine, too,” the woman said. She spit into her palm and snatched her daughter’s sample. She deposited a glob of orange on the counter. “What kind of establishment is this?” she asked.
Stacey was too stunned to formulate a good answer. Her Papa’s Guide to Conversing with Customers didn’t include what to say about hairy chocolates.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “This is so bizarre.”
“It’s much worse than that,” the woman said, grabbing her daughter’s hand and leading her toward the door. Before leaving, the woman eyed Stacey’s nametag and said, “I’m going to call the corporate office, Stacey, and I’m going to tell them what you tried to feed us.”
Stacey watched the pair retreat across the park. They passed the bench where the hag had been, and she sat there still. She was eyeing Stacey, and she was snickering. She was also twirling her hair around two fingers.
Stacey’s eyes widened as she looked from the hag’s gray locks to the mess on the counter. “Impossible,” she whispered. Yet, it was true: The hair in the chocolate could have come straight from that hag’s scalp.
“Are you butting heads with riff-raff again?” Lenora said, emerging from the backroom. “I heard raised voices.”
“Hair,” Stacey said. She indicated the counter. “There was hair in the Guiltless Goodies.”
Lenora lifted the spectacles that hung around her neck and inspected the glob. “It looks gross,” she said, “but I don’t see a single hair.”
Stacey made the same observation. “I saw it before,” she said, her bewilderment becoming anxiety.
“You need a smoke break?” Lenora asked. “I know it’s early, but I can handle the counter while you’re out.”
Stacey glanced outside. She was relieved to see that the hag had left her roost. “Thanks for covering for me,” she said. “I’ll clean up the mess before I go.”
While standing in front of Papa’s, Stacey found that the combination of cool spring air and cigarette smoke cleared her brain. She was calculating the number of paychecks before she could start beauty school when she heard a voice from behind her.
“Did you forget about me, sweetie?”
Stacey reeled around to see the hag leaning against the storefront next to Papa’s. The space had once housed a cosmetics shop. Now it was dark inside and had a jagged crack spanning the length of its dirtied window.
The hag held out a withered, yellowish hand and moved her fingers in a “gimme, gimme” motion. “The chocolate,” she said.
Stacey’s nerves caused her to drop her cigarette, which rolled in the hag’s direction. She mustered enough courage to say, “Please leave or I will get security.”
The hag stepped toward her and crouched to pick up the smoke. She stuck it between her lips and inhaled, all the time staring at Stacey. “Sweetie,” she said, “there is no security.”
Disturbed, Stacey hurried back into Papa’s. She heard the door open behind her, causing her to cry out.
“I’m sorry,” said a young man in a light-blue suit. His handsome combination of parted golden hair and bright green eyes somewhat calmed Stacey. She composed her thoughts enough to ask, “Can I get you a sample? You can choose which kind.”
“None for me,” the man said. “I’m here to buy a one-pound box for someone. Would you mind making up an assortment?”
Stacey almost felt like her usual self when she stepped around the counter. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and smiled widely at the man. “What kind of chocolates does your lady friend like more—dark or milk?”
“These are actually for my mom,” the man said. “She’s an old lady. She eats anything sweet.”
Stacey nodded and started pulling open drawers to construct the box. As she deposited treats like Caramel Dreams, White Chocolate Sprinkles, and Truffle Delight inside the box, she considered how a boyfriend could maybe make her feel more secure around all these derelicts. A boyfriend could wait for her outside Papa’s until after work and escort her home. Stacey looked up at the man, and saw that he was mirroring her interest with a flirtatious grin. Immediately blushing, she looked down at the box.
And it was then that she saw the broken chocolate, and the red substance oozing out of its side. But she hadn’t put any Cherry Surprises in the assortment, and besides, Cherry Surprises didn’t have that much liquid in them.
Stacey watched the substance pool at the bottom of the box, and just as she guessed what it was the man said, “That looks like blood.”
He frowned at her and stepped away from the counter. “I’ll just go pick out a box from one of the shelves,” he said in a nervous voice.
Stacey picked up the repulsive box and threw it in the trash. She was about to tie the plastic lining to hide the red splatter when she thought of the hag. She looked out the window and saw that the old woman had returned to the bench. She’d rolled up one sleeve of her gray dress, and she was peeling a bloody scab on her fleshy forearm.
“She’s a witch,” Stacey muttered to herself, “and she’s been causing all of this.” Her heart was pounding. The weird realization sent her thoughts scrambling for some solution. She snatched a Hazelnut Chew and headed out of the store. She almost collided with the man in the suit, who held up the box he’d chosen to purchase.
“I can’t help you,” she said. “I’ve got to take care of myself.”
Outside, the soothing spring breeze had become a gnawing winter wind. Stacey was nervous about what would occur when she neared the hag, yet she was more fearful of the next grotesquerie the hag would perpetrate if they continued fighting.
Stacey held out the sample and said, “I’ve brought this for you. It’s what you wanted.”
The hag slowly smiled at Stacey, revealing a row of brownish, sharp-looking teeth. She opened a claw-like hand and said, “Why thank you, sweetie.”
Stacey dropped the chocolate in her scaly palm. She was careful not to touch the skin. “I hope you’re happy now,” she said, trying to sound authentic. She hid her disdain by faking a smile in return.
The hag pressed the chocolate against her fuzzy upper lip, smelling it. She eyed Stacey as she stuck out a bumpy tongue and placed the sweet on its moist surface.
Stacey was relieved to watch the chocolate disappear and the hag chew with determination. She had started toward Papa’s when she heard the old woman speak.
“No,” the hag said.
Stacey glanced back and saw the hag spit the glistening, partially chewed chocolate on the cement.
“No,” the hag repeated in a commanding voice. “That’s not what I wanted at all.”
Stacey felt her face go red with rage. How dare such a pathetic crone harass her like this, jeopardizing not only her job at Papa’s but also her ambition of attending beauty school? Stacey had been Papa’s Girl of the Month twice during the last three months, and what had this parasite accomplished in her life?
Stacey clenched her fists as she hollered, “I don’t care what you want, you disgusting old wench!”
She had almost reached Papa’s when she heard the hag laughing. It was a deep, vengeful laugh that seemed to fill the entire park and shake the leaves of its few potted trees.
“Nasty reptile,” Stacey grumbled as she reached for the door to the chocolate shop. She noticed something strange about her hand. It was dry, and wrinkled, and riddled with liver spots.
“This is one of the hag’s tricks,” she told herself. But when she saw her reflection in the glass of the door terror replaced her denial. She viewed how she might look like if she were 89 rather than 19. Her red hair had become as white and thin as cotton. Slash-like lines ran across her forehead and divided her cheeks from her mouth. Her eyes appeared as if they’d sunken into her skull, and they gave a dim look of defeat.
Stacey tried again to blame the change on illusion. She pulled on the door of Papa’s—which now seemed so heavy—and looked for Lenora. Lenora could assure her that nothing had changed, that she was still the youngest and cutest employee at Papa’s.
Instead, Lenora stood stiffly behind the counter and looked at Stacey with eyes showing no recognition. She gave an automatic grin and held up a sample. Her words struck Stacey with the force of a slap.
“Welcome to Papa’s,” she said. “Start the new season with one of our new chocolates?”