Part 2 penned by Justine Manzano
It was her last day at the coffee shop, and Natalya would be glad when she got to leave, once and for all, her debt paid. She adjusted the black witch hat she’d propped atop her head catching her reflection in the metal-edged display case.
The constant workload was draining her, and it showed. The skin under her eyes were bruised crescents, her skin sallow, lips turned down in a perpetual scowl. Her short dark hair hung limply at her chin. She fiddled with the ear loop on her cute jack o' lantern face mask, ready to throw it back on as soon as she heard the door opening.
Chin up, Natalya. It’s just a few more hours.
A few more hours of rude customers, trekking in one by one, pulled by the siren song of the coffee shop.
She tried for a winsome smile, but failed. It just looked fake. On the plus side, nobody would be able to see her smile behind the mask. Yet another reason to wear one.
Someone was coming. She didn’t need the sound of the door opening to tell her. She felt a tug at her side, and knew it was time for the mask.
Brittany. An ephemeral whisper in her mind.
It wasn’t exactly unique. But then, neither was Brittany. She marched into the store, dismissive and rude, and she didn’t even want to wear a mask. Probably didn’t want to mess up her perfect makeup. Not old enough to be a typical “Karen,” but she definitely took on the role.
It wasn’t just that. There was a low-level buzz coming from her, the kind that told Natalya the person before her was capable of something ugly. Something wrong.
Brittany wasn’t the first one to come into the shop that week with a buzz of ill will emanating from her. At this point, there had been many. Some with more than a buzz. Some with a loud drone.
There wasn’t any point of contemplating what Brittany had done to deserve her fate. The Manager had explained this part in depth. That buzz she felt, tingling along her hip, where the tattoo was still etched into her skin--soon--was what drew them there.
It meant if they entered the coffee shop, they deserved what they got.
She drew a matching symbol on the cup.
She made the order Brittany requested without another doubt. She had a debt to repay. One she’d committed herself to with good reason. She’d hex all the damn coffees The Manager wanted to get there.
When she was done, she leaned back to admire her work. She was getting better at this by the day. It really was her best cup of Perfectly Pumpkin--
“GOD, any minute now…”
Yeah. Natalya definitely didn’t feel bad about this one.
She schooled her expression and turned to present the Pumpkin Spice Coffee to her next victim. “That will be two fifty please, would you like to pay with cash or car--”
“Cash is fine.” She shoved two wrinkled bills across the table and snatched her cup.
Brittany was halfway out the door before Natalya even realized. “Wait you’re short fifty cents!”
The door slammed closed behind Brittany and Natalya allowed the easy smirk she’d been holding down to sneak across her lips.
“It’s not like she’d have seen you smile.” The Manager stepped out from the back room. “You’ve got the mask and all that.”
She turned to face him. To the outside observer, he was almost handsome. Mid-twenties, black wavy hair, deep blue eyes, flawless skin, a dazzling smile. And the blood-red horns growing from the top of his head were easily explained away with the Halloween theme at the shop right now.
But to someone like her? Someone with Hex Magic in her veins. Danger poured from him in waves.
“You alright, Nattie?” He asked, hoisting himself up onto the counter. “It’s not good to bottle up your emotions. Not healthy for you, or so I hear…”
“I’m fine,” she said, but her side itched, and she pulled her pants away from her skin, peering at the tattoo. Another line had faded from the intricate symbol. Only a little while longer…
“Nice work with that one.” The Manager motioned after Brittany, as though she was still just out the door. “You killed two birds with that stone.” He thought about it for a moment. “Literally.” He nodded, the kind of nod of someone who told a bad joke, thought it over, then confirmed to themselves it was, in fact, funny.
Natalya nearly rolled her eyes. But one didn’t roll their eyes at The Manager.
“So who have you made me into?” she asked instead, since he’d asked her for her feelings. “I’m not Death.”
Another devious smile. “You are today.”
He leapt off the counter and walked toward the back room. Natalya checked her tattoo again. Just a few more hours.
“Yes,” The Manager said behind her, nearly scaring her right out of her skin. “The tattoo is almost gone. But even when the chains are broken, will you ever really be free?”
He disappeared into the back room just in time for the tattoo to buzz once again. Someone was there.