The cold, early morning fog shrouded the narrow alleyway lined with small shops. Rainfall during the night had left small puddles on the alley’s cobblestone street. Stooped over from a humped back, Mr. Chan walked with a cane tipped with a long metal point. He wore a black bowler hat and an oversized raincoat that accommodated his hump. The alley smelled of urine and was littered with garbage blown by the wind from overflowing dumpsters. Large gray rats climbed out of the sewer and scurried along the base of the walls and searched for food scraps caught between the cobblestones.
Mr. Chan stopped at the display window to his shop. He peered through the condensation on the inside of the glass at the arrangement of Halloween costume pieces and novelties: masks of Freddie Kreuger, Michael Myers, the clown face from “It,” along with plastic vampire teeth, Wolverine’s claws, rubber snakes, glassy eyeballs and shrunken heads. As he stood there a rat ran across the tips of his shoes. In an instant, Mr. Chan speared the rat in its back with the tip of his cane. He raised the bleeding rat and watched it squirm as it emitted a barrage of shrill squeaks.
“That’ll teach you,” he said to it, and then he bit its head off. He rolled the head around in his mouth for a moment and then spat it out. He pulled the rat’s body from the cane and tossed it in the middle of the alley. A half dozen other rats quickly converged on the carcass and devoured it.
Mr. Chan fumbled around in his coat pocket for his keys for a moment and then pulled out a key ring with two keys and a tiny brass devil’s horned head on it. He opened the door. The small bell above the door tinkled. The faint scent of sulfur wafted out. He stepped into the shop and flipped on the light switches by the door. Fluorescent lights hanging above the rows of shelves stacked with merchandise flickered and then came on. The air in the shop was balmy. He closed the door and hung his hat and coat on a coat rack by the door. He put his keys in his pants pocket, raised the shade on the door, and turned the sign on the door to the “open” side. He then crossed to the sales counter. For a moment he watched a centipede crawl across the counter and then he smashed it with his hand. He licked the dead insect from the palm of his hand, swirled it around in his mouth, and then spat it into a waste basket.
“Oh my, I almost forgot,” he said aloud.
He grabbed his cane, left the counter, and walked down the middle aisle. On one side of the aisle the shelves were lined with jars filled with venomous bugs, snakes or spiders floating in viscous fluids. On the other side the shelves contained old, mostly leather bound books, each with an embossed pentagram on their binding. A costume of a witches’ cape, hat and broom hung from a nail on the shelves with the books. He stepped out of the aisle into an open room in the back of the shop.
There was a sign on one wall that read, “Instruments of Torture.” Hanging from hooks on the walls were thumb screws, tongue tearers, breast rippers, eye gougers, bone vices, and a dozen other implements. In the middle of the room was a small guillotine.
An iron maiden stood in a corner, its hinged front open, revealing the spikes affixed to several places inside the iron cabinet. The space at the top of the cabinet was shaped like a human head.
At the side of the room was a metal door. He took out his keys and unlocked it. It opened automatically, as if pushed from the other side. A blast of hot, fetid air escaped through the open doorway. Mr. Chan turned on the light and walked in. It was a combination laboratory and kitchen. There were several cabinets, a metal dissection table along one wall, a large sink, stove, refrigerator, a walk-in freezer, and several small tables with various knives, scalpels, saws and forceps laid out on them. The shelves on one wall were cluttered with pots, stacked rolls of twine, clear rubber tubing and empty jars. An iron door that opened to an incinerator was on one wall.
The blades of a fan in the middle of the ceiling circulated the foul smelling air.
A naked young man tied in a chair in the middle of the room turned his empty eye sockets in Mr. Chan’s direction. The movement of his head made the jagged metal spikes of the ring fastened around the base of his neck puncture his skin, opening the thin scabs that had formed, renewing the flow of blood from the wounds. His teeth, tongue, nipples and genitals lay on a metal plate on a stand next to where he sat. His eyeballs floated in a jar of blood-tinged liquid. He opened his bloody mouth and emitted a guttural groan.
Mr. Chan took a plastic apron from hook on the wall and put it on. “It’ll be over soon enough,” he said. He turned on a stove burner, and then got a large pot and filled it with water. He then placed the pot on the burner and turned up the flame. He turned from the stove and as he walked past the man, he ran his hand across the man’s light blonde hair. “You’re such a fine specimen of manhood, Ben Hawthorn.”
Ben spat out blood and coughed, causing the spikes to go further into his skin.
Mr. Chan opened a drawer in a cabinet and took out an electric knife. He plugged it into an outlet and turned it on. As he carried the whirring knife closer to Ben, the young man attempted to thrash about. A spike went into his jugular vein.
As blood spurted out, Mr. Chan said, “Now see what you’ve done.”
He put the vibrating blade against Ben’s neck, slowly cut off his head and carried it to the stove.
The water in the pot was boiling rapidly. Mr. Chan sat on a stool next to the stove with Ben’s head in his lap and turned it over several times before placing it face down. He took a scalpel from a tray sitting on the stove and cut open the back of the head. He then used the scalpel to carefully remove the intact skin from the skull so as to not damage the face, and then dropped the skin into the water. He put the skull in the sink and set the timer on the stove for thirty minutes.
“Okay, my lovely, you’re now on your way to immortality,” he said. He took off the bloodied apron and tossed it in the sink on top of the skull.
The bell in the shop tinkled.
“Why now?” Mr. Chan grumbled. He placed the man’s head on the sink drainboard, washed the blood from his hands, and went out into the shop. He closed and locked the door.
From the end of the middle aisle, he could see a little girl standing at the counter. She had a pony tail on each side of her head and was wearing bright red pants and a light blue sweatshirt with very small prints of butterflies on it. She was holding a red plastic change purse.”
“Hello,” she called out.
Mr. Chan started down the aisle. “I’m coming,” he replied.
As he walked down the aisle he wiped spots of blood from his shirt with his fingertips and then sucked it off of his fingers. By the time he reached the counter the girl had taken a bag of beads used for making voodoo necklaces from a display stand and spilled them on the floor.
“You shouldn’t be in here,” Mr. Chan said to her as he used his foot to push the beads out of the middle of the floor.
“I’d like a Halloween toy, like the kind you have in your window,” she said. “I have money.”
“This is not a toy store.” He went behind the counter, leaned across it and looked down at her.
“How old are you?” he asked.
“Does your mother let you run around this neighborhood by yourself?”
“She doesn’t know I left the house.”
She pointed at his humped back. “What happened to your back?”
“It’s a hump. I was born with it,” he said.
She pursed her lips and gazed at him thoughtfully. “It’s disgusting. Can’t they cut it off?”
She shook her change purse. Coins rattled around inside it. “What can I buy for eight dollars? It’s the money I have left from what Nana gave me for my birthday. I want something really scary.”
“This store is for grownups,” he said.
She stomped her foot. “But I want to buy something.”
He was about to tell her to leave the shop when she ran to a display rack at the beginning of aisle one. Crows with broken wings or broken necks in cellophane bags hung on the rack. She took a bag from the rack and examined it closely.
“Is this dead bird real?” she asked, nearly shouting.
Mr. Chan left the counter and walked to her as fast as he could, the tip of his cane loudly clicking on the floor. When he reached her he snatched the bag from her hands and put it back on the rack. “Yes it’s real, its been taxidermied, and its not for playing with.”
She peered down aisle one. Mounted on the wall were several large buzzards, the head of a wolf with its teeth bared, a small alligator with its mouth open, the head of a bear, and two black cats with the hair on their backs raised and their tails pointed straight up.
“Are those taxicabbed too?” she asked.
“Taxidermied,” he said “It means they’ve been stuffed. “Yes. I did them myself. It’s a hobby of mine.”
She poked at one of the bags on the rack with her finger. “I have a stuffed Teddy Bear.”
“It’s not the same thing,” he said. “You must go now. I have work to do.”
She tapped on his cane. “My Nana uses one of those so she can walk too. You look old, but my Nana has more wrinkles than you do.” She paused for a moment, studying his face. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“I’m Riley,” she said. She poked at one of the birds. “I wonder what it feels like to be stuffed?”
2. They Look So Lifelike
Using his cane, Mr. Chan jabbed the leg of the man sprawled out on the cobblestones. The strong smell of alcohol wafted up from the man’s clothes
The man groaned slightly and swatted at the cane as if batting at a fly, but he kept his eyes closed. He was thin to the point of being emaciated. There was a slight yellow tint to his skin.
Mr. Chan clumsily stepped over the man, straightened his bowler hat, and went to the door of his shop. He glanced over at the display case and through the condensation on the window saw his new display. A new shrunken head and the life-like doll were excellent additions. The shop got very few random shoppers, but he was certain that the regular clientele would be impressed. He took his keys from his coat pocket and put the key in the door.
“Hey, buddy. Can you spare some change so I can get something to eat?”
Mr. Chan turned. The man had rolled onto his side and was staring at him drowsily. “No I don’t, but I may have a sandwich in my refrigerator that you can have.”
“I was hoping for something a bit more liquid,” the man said. He sat up and then he threw up on the cobblestones. He wiped puke from his chin with the back of his hand. “You have a restroom I can use?”
Mr. Chan opened the shop door. The bell tinkled. Hot air tinged with the scent of sulfur rushed out. “Yes, come in.” He left the door open and turned on the lights.
The man slowly stood, and on unsteady legs staggered to the door. He leaned against the door frame and peered in. “What kind of store is this?”
“I sell novelty items,” Mr. Chan said.
“Year-round. Halloween is actually my slowest time of year.”
The man scratched the stubble on his face. “It looks creepy.”
“Do you want to use the restroom or not?” Mr. Chan said. He took off his coat and hat and hung them on the coat rack.
The man entered the store. Mr. Chan closed the door, pulled up the shade, and turned the “open” sign. “The restroom is in the back,” Mr. Chan said, “just go down that aisle.” He pointed to the middle aisle.
As the man began down the aisle, Mr. Chan followed, steadying himself with his cane. The commotion of the coat rack falling over and scooting several feet across the floor made both men turn.
“You should nail that down,” the man said.
“It was nailed down,” Mr. Chan mumbled.
They continued down the aisle. The man stopped several times to look at the jars. “That’s a scorpion,” he said, tapping on the glass. “That’s a cobra,” he said at another jar. “They’re dead, right?”
“Yes, but they can be reanimated,” Mr. Chan said.
The man chuckled. “I don’t have much education but even I know you can’t do that with something that’s died.”
At the end of the aisle, the man stopped and stared at the guillotine. “That ever been used?” he asked.
“It’s very old,” Mr. Chan said, “so I’m sure it was used at one time.”
The man walked past the guillotine and went from one torture implement to the next, studying each one carefully. He stopped at the iron maiden. “Will getting in that kill ya?” he asked.
“Not immediately,” Mr. Chan said. “You should step in it and see how it feels.”
The man laughed nervously. “If I get in it, you’re not going to close it on me or anything like that, are you?”
“Of course not,”Mr. Chan said.
The man stepped into the iron maiden. He settled back, testing the feel of his head in the head space.
Mr. Chan quickly closed the door and turned the bolt, locking it. He could hardly hear the man’s screams.
The shop door bell tinkled at the same time as the blade of the guillotine suddenly dropped. A metallic sound reverberated in the back of the shop. Mr. Chan raised the blade and tied it in place, although he was certain he had secured it before this. When finished, he heard voices in the third aisle and walked over to it.
A middle-aged couple were both holding masks. She was petite with gray streaked black hair. He was on the verge of being obese, bald and with a large bright red handlebar mustache. Both were dressed in shorts and Hawaiian-style floral print tops, as if they has just stepped off of a cruise ship.
“Welcome to my shop,” Mr. Chan said from the end of the aisle.
The woman looked up and saw Mr. Chan’s shadowed figure and let out an involuntary gasp. She dropped a mask of Hannibal Lecter on the floor.
Mr. Chan took several steps forward. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he said.
The man picked up the mask and put it on a shelf. “We shouldn’t have just come barging in here,” he said. “But this sure is an interesting shop you have here.”
“I apologize,” the woman said. “When I first saw you . . .in the light . . . well. No offense but I thought you were Quasimodo, you know, from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. She placed her fingers on her lips where they fluttered, nervously.
“You have to forgive Wanda,” the man said. “She’s the timid type.”
“It’s just that we never do anything like this,” Wanda said. “We saw your sign out on the street and just had to see what kind of shop it was so that we could tell the folks back home about it. Those heads and that doll in your display window, well, they look so lifelike.”
“There she goes,” the man said, “just jabbering on.” He put the mask he was holding in his hand to his face. It was Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask from “Friday the 13th.
“You look horrifying, Frank,” Wanda said.
Frank lowered the mask and looked at Mr. Chan. “Did you know your coat rack is laying on the floor?”
“Yes, it fell over and I haven’t had time to pick it up,” Mr. Chan said. “Was there anything in particular you were looking for?”
Frank put his mouth close to Mr. Chan’s ear and whispered, “Do you have any kind of sex potions? It’s for the little missus. She’s lost interest and we’re in town for a few days to celebrate our twenty-third anniversary. You know what I’m gettin’ at?”
Mr. Chan glanced at Wanda who was looking at a female vampire mask.
“I think I have exactly what you need,” Mr. Chan whispered back to him.
The couple left the shop with a bag that held two masks and a bottle of Mr. Chan’s potion.
He righted the coat rack and brushed off his hat and coat and hung them on it. He went behind the counter and took out a small cardboard box from a lower shelf. He placed it on the counter and sorted through the items inside it: watches, wallets, earrings, rings, a mailman’s name tag, a change purse. Just as he found a man’s ring with 666 engraved on the inside, the door to the shop blew open.
Startled, Mr. Chan dropped the ring. It rolled under the counter.
3. The Devil is in the Details
Mr. Chan stared into the shop display window. The six shrunken heads that had been hanging in the display were gone. The rest of the items were untouched.
The marble eyes of the doll with the pony tails sticking out of both sides of its head stared at him with icy penetration.
Mr. Chan took the keys from his coat pocket and unlocked the shop door. The bell above the door tinkled. The smell of rancid meat was exhaled from within, like the last expelled breath of a dying man. He closed the door and hung his coat and hat on the coat rack and turned the “open” sign on the door. He then heard the sound of scraping on the floor coming from the middle aisle. Using his cane, he quickly went to the aisle.
The man he had put in the iron maiden was on his stomach, crawling on the tiles. His fingernails were gone and his hands were bloody. His shirt and pants were torn and there were gaping wounds in his side, shoulder and legs from where the spikes had gone through his body. There was a trail of blood and feces that followed him. His face was white as chalk and there was the look of madness in his eyes. “Why?” he groaned with every breath.
“How did you get out?” Mr. Chan exclaimed.
Avoiding the grasp of the man’s ravaged hands, Mr. Chan stepped around him. He grabbed the man’s foot, and using all of his strength, dragged the man to the laboratory door. Before opening the door he looked at the iron cabinet where the man had been for three days. A pool of the man’s blood was at the bottom and streaks of blood were on the inside of the front door where the man had tried to claw his way out.
Mr. Chan opened the door and dragged the man into the laboratory and turned on the lights. He rolled him onto his back and gazed at his head. “Even shrunken, it wouldn’t bring me much,” he said.
The man moaned, painfully.
Mr. Chan poked him with his cane. “Shut up, you. I don’t know who let you out but you’ve caused me all sorts of unexpected trouble this morning.” He put on a plastic apron and a pair of rubber gloves. “Heaven knows what diseases you’re carrying,” he said, glancing at the man’s deathly, yellowish pallor. He got a pair of regular scissors, a hacksaw, forceps, and a scalpel from a table top. He knelt on the floor, removed the man’s shoes and socks and cut the man’s clothes away. He tossed the scissors aside and sat at the man’s feet. “I’ll put what parts of you I can use later in the freezer, but some parts of you will have to immediately be incinerated, beginning with your stinky feet.”
He put the hacksaw to the man’s right ankle and began to saw.
With what little strength the man had left, he tried to escape Mr. Chan’s grasp. As the saw tore into his skin and then bone, the man let out hoarse shrieking until he passed out.
When done, Mr. Chan put the man’s heart, lungs, eyes, genitals, nipples and teeth in the freezer. The rest of the man’s body he tossed in the incinerator.
He cleaned the laboratory, the iron maiden, and mopped the middle aisle floor. He locked the laboratory door just as the shop bell tinkled.
“I’ll be right with you,” he yelled.
When he arrived at the front of the shop, there was no one there. The shrunken heads that had been in the display window were lined up on the counter. “Who’s doing these things?” he said aloud.
He scooped up the heads and carried them to aisle one and set them on a shelf next to a taxidermied squirrel shot through with an arrow and a raccoon with a knife in its skull. He returned to the counter just as the mailman came through the door carrying a box.
“How are you?” Mr. Chan asked him.
He set the box on the counter. “I’m fine.” He looked around the shop. “This is an interesting place. “You’re kind of hidden away back here. Do you get much business?”
“When getting customers, the devil is in the details. A shop like mine would never be permitted on a main street.” Mr. Chan looked at the shipping label on the box. It was from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “You’re a new mail carrier,” Mr. Chan said to him.
“The last mailman who had this route disappeared recently.”
The mailman took from a small box next to the cash register a small plastic bag. He held it up to his eyes and stared closely at the set of teeth inside the bag. “These look incredibly real, down to the cavities,” he said.
“I buy and make only the finest in novelties,” Mr. Chan said. “Making them look authentic takes painstaking skill.”
The mailman put the bag back in the box. “I’m throwing a Halloween party. Do you know a caterer who makes food that looks gruesome but is edible and tastes good?”
Mr. Chan drummed the top of the box with his fingers. “I’m not a caterer but I just happen to be expecting a delivery of items that could make some finger foods that would be a hit at a Halloween party.”
“Just as long as they’re not real fingers,” the mailman said with a chuckle.
“Now that would be a Halloween treat, wouldn’t it?”
“As you know, Halloween is on Saturday,” the mailman said. “I’ll make your shop my last stop of the day and pick up the food then, okay?”
“Sure,” Mr. Chan said.
The mailman left the shop.
Mr. Chan opened the box from the Congo. Inside were six jars of fingers packed like sardines.
4. Too Much Of Anything Will Kill You
Thick fog filled the alleyway. Mr. Chan swung his cane at the rats that scurried across the cobblestones. As he passed a dumpster he heard growling. He turned his head and saw Wanda squatting against a wall. She was wearing a bra and panties that were stained with blood and nylons that were dirty and shredded. Her hair was matted and bits of trash was entangled in it. She was grasping her husband’s mustache and upper lip in her left hand. Her face was covered in dried blood. Drool ran down her chin. Her eyes were glazed over.
“Wanda, where’s Frank?” Mr. Chan asked, keeping his distance.
She snapped her teeth and growled.
He went to his shop door, took out his keys, and opened it. The bell didn’t tinkle. He looked up and saw that it was gone. He turned on the lights and quickly took off his coat and hat and hung them on the coat rack. He hurried to aisle two and grabbed a crossbow and arrow from a shelf of assorted weapons. When he returned to the counter, Wanda was standing in the doorway. Pee was running down her leg. Her laughter sounded like that of a hyena.
Mr. Chan loaded the arrow onto the crossbow, aimed it at Wanda, and shot the arrow into the middle of her forehead.
She stood absolutely still for a moment and then fell forward onto the shop floor.
He went to her and knelt down by her head. The strong scent of the potion he had sold the couple rose from her open mouth.
“Too much of anything will kill you,” he said. He yanked the arrow out of her head.
He closed the door and dragged her to the laboratory. Just as he laid her on the laboratory floor, the bell tinkled, but the sound came from much closer. He threw his plastic apron over her and went out and closed the door behind him. The bell tinkled again. He looked over and saw it hanging on the iron maiden. He took it down and held it in the palm of his hand and stared it.
“I wonder if you could help me?”
Surprised, Mr. Chan whirled about. Standing at the end of the middle aisle was a very pretty young woman with long blonde hair.
He gained his composure. “Certainly, what can I do for you?”
“I was looking for a book on how to conduct a séance,” she said, smiling.
“Have you ever done that before?” he asked.
“No, we’re doing it as a party game for Halloween.”
He passed the bell from one hand, and then back again. “Summoning the dead should never be taken lightly,” he said.
“Do you believe it can actually be done?”
“Some of my customers do.” He gazed at her face. “You look familiar. Have you been in this shop before?”
“No, I was told about it by a friend. He said you had the best Halloween novelties and occult supplies in the city.”
Mr. Chan transferred the bell again. “Is your friend into the occult?”
“He was,” she said. “He disappeared over a week ago. He’s a witch.”
“Would I have known him?” he asked.
“Perhaps. He was very familiar with this shop. His name is Ben Hawthorn.”
Looking down the middle aisle, Mr. Chan saw the door to the shop open. A policeman walked in.
“Excuse me for a moment,” Mr. Chan said to the woman. He walked past her and down the aisle. Just before he greeted the cop, he looked down the middle aisle. The young woman was gone.
“Can I help you, officer?” Mr. Chan said to the policeman.
The cop held up a poster with a picture on it of the little girl with pony tails. “This little girl has been missing for nearly a week. Do you mind if I put this poster up by the door so your customers can see it? Her parents are inconsolable.”
“That’s understandable,” Mr. Chan said. “Of course you can put it up.”
The policeman taped the poster to a wall and left the shop.
Mr. Chan placed the bell on the counter. He ripped the poster down, wadded it up and threw it in the waste basket. He then locked the door, turned the sign on the door to “closed” and pulled down the shade. He went to the laboratory and took the apron off of Wanda’s body and put it on. He then removed what she was wearing and threw her undergarments and nylons into the incinerator. He then filled a bucket with soapy water and shaved and washed her body.
He took the hand-crank meat grinder from a cabinet and clamped it on the dissection table. Using a butcher knife and bone saw he carefully dissected Wanda’s body. He fed her skin, fat, muscle and internal organs through the grinder. He put some of the ground meat in the freezer and some in the refrigerator. Except for the skull, he threw her bones into the incinerator.
At the sink he scraped off the tissue that remained on the skull and then scrubbed it clean. With Wanda’s skull in his hands he left the laboratory.
In the middle of the floor just outside the laboratory was the ring with 666 engraved on it. He picked it up and put it in his pocket.
He put Wanda’s skull in the display window, and re-positioned Ben’s skull so that it stared upward. He went to the front of the shop and put the bell back above the door and then put on his coat and hat. He then shut off the lights and left the shop.
5. Dead Things Don’t Stay Dead
Halloween morning Mr. Chan stood at his shop door holding a bag of parsley and admired how the ring looked on his finger, although it was a bit loose. He opened the door and was met with an exhalation of heat and the scent of sulfur. As he went in the bell tinkled. He removed his coat and hat and hung them on the coat rack. He pulled up the shade and turned the “open” sign. A sudden noise made his turn around.
The shrunken heads were lined up, upright, on the counter. Their leathery, withered faces and stitched eyes were facing him. The twine he had used to sew their mouths shut had broken on all of them.
“You took my life,” one of them said.
Another one said, “May you rot in hell for what you’ve done to me.”
Ben Hawthorn said, “My murder will be avenged.”
Mr. Chan grabbed the waste basket and threw the heads into it. He rushed to the back, opened the laboratory door, ran in and pitched the heads into the incinerator. He turned on the flames, shut the door, and stood back and listened to the shrieks that came from within the incinerator.
He then put on his plastic apron and took a tray of Wanda’s ground flesh from the refrigerator and set it on the stove. He turned on a burner and put oil in a pan and placed the pan on the burner. When the oil started to sizzle he scooped flesh into the pan, added salt, pepper and curry and fried it. He then opened one of the jars of fingers, with their fingernails extracted, and poured them onto the table. The liquid they had been kept fresh in smelled like brine, with an additional ingredient he couldn’t identify. He carefully pulled out the bones and cartilage, replacing them with spoonfuls of Wanda’s fried flesh. After placing the fingers neatly on a metal tray, he salted and peppered them and added sprigs of parsley.
He left the laboratory, closing the door behind him, and carried the tray of fingers to the front of the shop and placed it on the counter.
The front door of the shop burst open and then slammed shut. The bell fell from the door. The coat rack teetered on its wooden legs for a moment, and then tumbled over. His hat rolled across the floor.
“Who’s there?” Mr. Chan called out as he whirled about. From all directions there was the sound of steady breathing. The air was filled with the smells of ozone and ash. “Show yourself,” he demanded.
The young, blonde woman from the day before appeared on the other side of the counter. She picked up a finger and bit into it. “Very tasty,” she said. “Anyone we know?”
Mr. Chan took several steps back. He held his cane out like a lance, as if to protect himself. “Who are you?”
She took another bite of the finger. “I told a little white lie yesterday. It wasn’t a friend who disappeared. It was my brother. He and I belong to the same coven. That’s his ring you’re wearing.”
“He didn’t tell me he was a . . .” Mr. Chan stammered, unable to finish.
“A witch,” she said. “Did you give him a chance to tell you what he was before you rendered him unconscious somehow and then ripped out his tongue?” She bit into the finger. “That is what you do first when you’re going to shrink someone’s head, isn’t it? You remove their tongue while they’re still alive.”
“He came in looking for a Halloween costume. How was I supposed to know?”
“We’ve all turned a blind eye to what you do here because we knew it would only be a matter of time before you had to pay the price for what you do,” she said. “Dead things don’t stay dead. When they come back there’s usually hell to pay. But in this case it was my brother and a fellow witch you turned into a novelty, and for that there is no waiting until he returns.”
She tossed aside the remainder of the finger and raised her hands.
“Please, wait,” Mr. Chan cried out.
The next moment he found himself tied to the chair in his laboratory. The woman was standing by the dissection table. A small mound of Wanda’s cooked flesh remained in the pan. She poked at it with her finger. “Too bad we don’t have time to exchange recipes.”
A pair of tongue tearers rose from one of the tables, flew across the room, and landed in her open hand. She turned it over in her hands, examining it. “I’ve seen these before, but never used them. I want to do this right.”
“Please, don’t,” Mr. Chan begged.
She stood in front of him and pushed his head back with one hand. With the other hand, she forced his clenched mouth open with the pliers-like tongue tearers and grasped his tongue with them. As he screamed, she ripped his tongue out.
“Well, that was easier than I thought it would be,” she said. “But I’m certain my brother didn’t enjoy it any more than you did.”
Mr. Chan spat out blood. Tears rolled down his cheeks.
“I won’t bother with removing your teeth,” she said. “That’s optional. But getting rid of your eyes is a must.”
Mr. Chan frantically shook his head.
“My brother had such pretty eyes,” she said as she looked into Mr. Chan’s.
She set aside the tongue tearers and summoned a spoon with a jagged edge from a table. She caught it in front of his face. She gripped his hair with one hand and with the other hand dug out the right eye, and then the left eye.
Blood poured from Mr. Chan’s mouth and from his empty eye sockets.
“I’m going to forgo the hard labor,” she said. She flicked her wrist and a pot of boiling water appeared on the stove above a large flame.
The bell above the shop door tinkled.
“Oh damn,” she muttered. She left the laboratory and walked to the front counter. The mailman was standing there looking at the fingers.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
“Mr. Chan was going to make me some finger foods,” he said. “These must be them.”
“Yes, they are,” she said. “They’re very good. Go ahead and take them.”
He picked up one of the fingers and bit into it. “Mmm, it must be filled with sausage.”
“Something like that.”
“How much do I owe him?”
“He told me to give them to you as a way of saying thanks for delivering the mail,” she said. “He’s permanently closing the shop.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, but it’s really nice of him to give me these for free,” the mailman said. “Tell him I said thanks.” He picked up the tray and left the shop.
She turned the sign on the door to “closed,” pulled down the shade, and then returned to the laboratory.
Mr. Chan was spitting out blood.
“Now just a few things left to do,” she said.
She took the hacksaw and put it to his neck.
Steve Carr, from Richmond, Virginia, has had over 630 short stories – new and reprints –published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals, reviews and anthologies since June, 2016. He has had seven collections of his short stories published. A Map of Humanity, his eighth collection, published by Hear Our Voice LLC Publishers came out in January, 2022. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice.