“How’s business treating you, Mabel?” asked Gilbert Huncke. The retired 65-year-old publisher of Bucky’s Folly Review eased himself gingerly onto a stool behind the counter. The proprietress of Mabel’s Pies slapped down a place setting in front of him and poured him a cup of coffee. “Oh, so-so,” she said. He could hear the fatigue in her voice.
“Sure would be nice to have a slice of your rhubarb,” said Huncke, tossing two sugar packets into the coffee and stirring.
“Sure would be nice if you weren’t such a jackass,” said Mabel.
Huncke started. Mabel was famous for her attitude, but it was mostly an act she put on for her long-time patrons. Now, she sounded genuinely mad.
She stabbed at the slate board hanging over the counter with her index finger.
“See what it says?”
Huncke didn’t have to read the menu. The yellow chalk letters hadn’t changed for at least three years: “Meat Only. No Substitutes.”
“Oh hell, Mabel, I was just jokin’ around. Gimme one of those pork pies.”
Mabel sighed and swabbed the sweat from her forehead with a napkin. “I’m sorry, Gil. Didn’t mean to snap at you. Guess it’s just the strain. Things haven’t been the same since…” Her voice trailed off.
“Know exactly what you mean,” said Huncke. As if on cue, a teenage girl ran screaming through the front door, followed swiftly by an ax-wielding man with long, ratty hair. The man raised the ax over his head and sank it into the girl’s skull. She slumped to the scuffed linoleum floor. He stood over and struck at her again and again until she was little more than hair, bones, and shredded clumps of organ meat.
Mabel nodded at the morbid mess. “Well, looks like I’ve got some mopping up to do.”
Huncke stood up. “Here’s a buck and change for the coffee,” he said. “I seem to have lost my appetite for pie.”
“Never you mind,” said Mabel. “You know where to find it. Take care now.” She sat on her haunches and began to wearily drop the larger chunks of girl into a plastic bucket. “Why can’t they just do their business outside?” she grumbled to herself. “Well, no use complaining about spilled innards, I guess.”
From the next town over, Shelby Sugar had seen Bucky’s Folly gradually deteriorate. The candy scientist watched helplessly as middle-American mores washed away in a tide of cannibalism, serial killing, and purely random slaughter. Whether it was something in the water, the inevitable sequel to generations of inbreeding, the pernicious influence of popular culture with its internets and wi-fis and iPod Nanos, or liberal whackos with their mistaken belief in tolerance and inclusivity, Bucky’s Folly no longer stood as a bastion of family values.
The new name, Splatterville, said it all. As long as chainsaws buzzed human limbs and pierced arteries spewed blood like high-pressure hoses, simple decency dropped her head for shame. Not only that, Sugar was a keen aficionado of Mabel’s Pies from back in the day when wedges of lemon meringue, cherry, apple, and pecan were served with a smile and a bit of sass. He would give anything for just one more piece of apple pie fresh from Mabel’s oven, covered with a generous serving of vanilla ice cream. Sugar knew he had to take action, not only for the principle of the thing but to keep the carnage from spreading any further.
As the scion of a dynasty devoted to confections, Mr. Sugar’s knowledge base was limited. But he did understand the chemistry of candy and pastries, from bonbons and licorice whips to jelly rolls, eclairs, and donuts; in the realm of sweets, his mastery was unrivaled. Moreover, gene-hacking was second nature to him, a talent passed down from his paternal grandfather. So, with a little reflection, he put two and two together and finally resolved a plan.
The citizens of Splatterville reacted at first with skepticism to Sugar’s ideas. “It’s against nature,” said Jack Grungewort, the octogenarian sheriff and postmaster of Splatterville. Although Grungewort decried the plague of mayhem that had brought the town to its knees, Sugar’s concepts seemed highly unorthodox to him, if not completely insane. Eventually, however, he yielded. He was sick of the whine of drills and the ooze of brain matter from freshly-bored heads, nostalgic for petty theft and disputes over lawn maintenance. “Go on,” he told Sugar at last. “I suppose you couldn’t make it any worse.”
Starting his experiments on cadavers and proceeding to live subjects, Sugar began to infuse Splattervillians with new blood. Change came slowly, but as his methods became more sophisticated, Sugar succeeded in transforming the townsfolk into candy—licorice buttons for eyes, cherry-flavored gelatin for hearts, peppermint sticks for bones. In three months, the old spirit had returned to the community; Splatterville was a happy place once more.
Not that the violence ceased in any substantial way, but it was fun now. Taffy guts were stretched from marshmallow stomachs with the victim’s full consent and even participation. All the kids came running at the rumor of a slashing in progress. They eagerly swallowed fountains of red-dyed corn syrup and devoured the chocolate fundament of the hanged. Murder was now a taste everyone could share.
“My work here is done,” said Mr. Sugar to Mabel, gratefully sinking his fork into a slice of her famous apple pie. “I’m going home.”
Mabel’s nougat features were tinged with a hint of cinnamon blush. “You dear man,” she said, patting his hand. “Just don’t forget about us, okay? And if you ever feel the craving, Mabel’s is only a hop and a skip.”
Alex S. Johnson is a college English professor, journalist, and author of such works as The Death Jazz, Doctor Flesh, and Black Tongues of the Illuminati. His articles and stories have appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer and Bloodsongs magazine. His latest book is Wicked Candy, a collection of satirical horror stories and absurdist pieces from Morbidbooks.