The “Closed” sign gleamed red as she slid her key into the lock. The kitchen was old, only being lit by a few skylight windows and IKEA lanterns Dita herself had installed. Donny and Cara, the owners, were too old and stubborn to replace the lights, claiming that the cafe doesn’t need to be lit after sundown. So with the soft ambient lighting, Dita did her best to hide her tracks. Using a separate blender, she dumped the mason jar’s rank contents inside with an unholy amount of maple syrup, cinnamon, cocoa powder, chocolate syrup, peanut butter, and of course, almond syrup. Anything and everything to hide the mud. Worms swished through the syrup and maggots bounced around the mud, desperate for escape.
She triple checked that the cap was sealed before blending it all together, watching the green murk mix with the rest of the concoction. In truth, it looked pretty good, and it smelled even better, like a Halloween candle. As she poured it into a sneezy bottle and labeled it “Anything But The Kitchen Sink” in a messy script she knew customers would die for, she patted herself on the back, cleaned any mess she made, and headed home.
Mayor Calhoun was her 7th customer of the day. And what did he order? A double shot iced latte with two pumps of “Anything But The Kitchen Sink” syrup. She was vibrating with excitement as the mud coffee brewed over the ice. Her hands shook as she pumped three heaping servings of her syrup into his cup. She couldn’t hide her smile as she slid it over the marble into his hand. He tipped a quarter, swirling the syrup into the coffee with his straw, then took a nice, long, thoughtful sip. His eyes found hers for a second too long, and his blank face wiped her smile right off.
“Is this a seasonal syrup?” He asked.
“Um, yes,” she quivered.
“Make it a year long thing and I’ll be a regular customer,” he bellowed, banging his fist against the counter as if he abolished child hunger.
She exhaled deeply and waved him off with a smile, and as the day came to an end, her syrup had two pumps left.
“Cara! Donny! I’m clocking out!” She called, waiting for an answer but getting none. She tossed her bag back onto the counter and headed to the kitchen, the lights dim enough for her to trip over something heavy. She sat up, rubbing where her cheek met the concrete, and kicked what she thought was a coffee bag to the side. But it wasn’t a coffee bag.
It was a leg.
“Cara!” She shrieked, crawling over to her to check her pulse, but before she could find it she saw Donny, laying by the open refrigerator door, coffee grounds and maggots all over the floor.
“The coffee,” Donny wheezed, his large fist clutching his chest. “Someone did something to the coffee!”
“How much did you have?” she whispered, guilt sweating from her pores, her stomach doing cartwheels.
Dita froze in fear, her prank had gone too far. And her favorite people had paid the price. She looked for the door, thinking she could run for it, but she couldn’t leave them to die. If she called the police, and Dita was the only person unaffected, she would be convicted of murder. The thoughts chased each other in a twister of both guilt and self-preservation. But then her eyes found the last two pumps of “Anything But The Kitchen Sink” syrup. She dialed 911, ignoring the operator as she grabbed the squeezy bottle, and took two shots of the deathly sweet syrup. She wanted to gag, but she needed it in her system. The syrup burned her chest, her stomach began to gurgle.
Dita took her own sweet medicine and waited for the sirens. She only hoped that it affected the others as badly as it was affecting her. She hoped Mayor Calhoun, and every leeching tourist he brought over to Somerton Outpost, was laying on the floor clutching their chests just as Donny was. And as the sirens painted the interior of the cafe with red and blue hues, Dita, too, felt the pain in her heart, imagining the worms sliding in and out of her ventricles, beetles beneath her skin. If only they knew that it was their sweet coffee that brought this onto them.
Maybe, just maybe, they’ll switch to unsweetened dark roast.