Five years ago, I had a very peculiar friend. Her name was Romelia Watkins. We met through school, and as both of us were considered loners, we quickly became buddies, forming our own little clique, consisting of just us two.
I knew Romelia was a freak the moment I laid eyes on her. She stuck out like a sore thumb from anyone else in our school, from her vivid red hair down to the necklace of baby teeth she wore everyday. It came as no surprise to me that the ruffians of the school tormented her.
As we grew closer, she informed me that her family owned a small candy store that she worked in, and planned to take over when she left school. The name of this shop was "Sucré Sweet Shop". She told me "Sucré" was French for sugary.
It was a rather "hole-in-the-wall" little business, receiving only a few customers a day, sometimes a week. Sometimes she advertised the shop to our fellow students, though no one ever let her finish a sentence before they had started walking away. She never stayed discouraged for long, though.
As she brought me over one day after school, I learned the reason behind their lack of business activity the moment I walked through the door. The store was unclean. A thin layer of dust covered most of the untouched candy on the shelves, the floor was grimy, the striped wallpaper was peeling, and the ceiling was littered with stains of varying sizes and colors, the whole store had a musty stench. If anyone cared enough to call a health inspector, the place would undoubtedly be shut down. Not to mention, the candy was repulsive.
I was raised to be polite, so I did not mention how much I was disgusted by the homemade treats she handed me to sample. Everything she handed me had a slightly metallic taste to it, like polluted water, and there was something else there when she offered me the fudge, a taste I couldn't quite name. Nonetheless, disgusting.
I took note of the fact that there was no name-brand candy in the entire store. When questioned about it, Romelia merely shrugged.
"Everything here is homemade." She had said, a wide grin on her face.
Not soon enough, she had finished practically forcing me to sample her candies. Apparently, she felt it was necessary that I see her work uniform. I was left standing by the cash register as she hurried away, through a door in the back, the usual excited bounce in her step. When she returned five minutes later, I could not hide my obvious amusement at her costume.
"What are you wearing?! You look like a clown!"
"That's not very nice Bonnie! Of course I'm a clown, didn't you notice the theme of this place?" Romelia pouted, acting only momentarily offended by my reaction to her uniform.
I took a quick glance around. By "theme", she must have meant the red-and-white striped walls, though that was hardly circus exclusive. Though she certainly looked and acted as if she had come straight from a family of carnies.
She twirled around to show off the outfit, causing the bells hanging from her collar to jingle softly. The dress she wore reminded me of something a child from the 1940s would wear. The purple polka dots were obviously ironed on, and the seam of her right sleeve was coming apart. Along the front of her skirt was a spattering of dark stains in varying sizes. It was evident that the whole getup was sloppily thrown together, probably homemade.
Her hands were clad in simple black gloves, with white ruffles around the wrists. She had cut the gloves from the knuckle up, making them fingerless.
The space from knee-to-ankle that was not hidden by the ridiculous dress, was adorned by mismatched stockings, one leg polka-dot, the other striped. The last of her accessories were the filthy work boots she always wore, and the purple striped top-hat upon her head.
Unlike the rest of her garb, the makeup she wore was monochrome, consisting of only plain white covering her face, with black diamonds drawn over her eyes, and black lips.
"It's... certainly..." I had no words to describe the outfit that wouldn't offend her.
"Well, I'll have you know it's not my design. It was my Grandma's, then my mom's, and now it's mine." She said with pride.
"No, no, I like it. But if you wear that when we go get pizza, I'm pretending I don't know you." I teased, watching as she left once more to change.
Tuesday of that week, my whole perspective of Romelia changed.
She and I stood next to her locker, preparing to go home. Into my line of sight came the biggest bitch in the whole school, Jacqueline, and from the look on her face, I could tell there was hell to pay. I felt sorry for whichever poor sap would feel her wrath today.
I hadn't expected her to stop next to us. Romelia had no time to brace herself before Jacqueline shoved her against the locker with enough force that she banged her head, leaving an angry red mark. She looked just as shocked as I did, along with everyone around us. No one tried to help.
"So you're the one whose been spreading rumors about me, huh? Well you're gonna get it, skank!"
"I didn't, I swear!" Romelia bawled. I knew she was telling the truth, even Romelia was smart enough to stay away from this girl. However, I wouldn't have put it past the snobs of our school to frame her as a sick joke.
By this point, tears were spilling down my best friend's face as Jacqueline slammed her against the lockers again and again. I would have intervened had this girl not been the Offensive Lineman on the boys football team. Everyone was afraid of her.
I grimaced as I heard another cry of pain, and I silently begged someone, anyone to make this stop! Romelia slid to the floor as she received a swift kick to the stomach. Though Jacqueline had definitely dished out enough pain for today, it seemed she still wasn't finished.
But the decision of when to stop, it seemed, was no longer in her hands.
I took a step back as a bloodcurdling scream pierced the air. For a moment I wasn't sure what had happened. All I knew was that Romelia was no longer cowering on the floor in pain, and the shriek had not come from the victim, but the bully.
It was over in seconds, with Jacqueline's unconscious body sprawled out in the middle of the hallway, a crimson puddle forming underneath her from the blood squirting out of the bite-shaped wound in her shoulder. Romelia stood above her, staring down at her with an expression of such hatred and loathing on her face, blood dripping down her chin onto her blouse.
It seemed like no one quite believed what they had seen, or perhaps not wanted to believe it. All at once, everyone seemed to realize the gravity of the situation, because a few girls began screaming, and the crowd scattered, a few student running towards the office.
Romelia turned to me, the only person still around.
She took her time picking up her books, which had been thrown aside in the fight(if you could call it a fight), and all I could do was stare in stunned silence.
Soon, I was left alone in the hallway, staring down at the slowly spreading puddle of blood. The entire situation horrified me to no ends, but only one thing truly disturbed me, something I'm sure no one else noticed.
Romelia wasn't even remotely disgusted by the chunk of flesh she'd ripped out with her bare teeth. In fact, she'd never even spat it out. She'd swallowed it whole.
Paramedics had arrived shortly after my disturbing revelations about my best friend. Jacqueline was all taken care of. Of course, her family had wanted to press charges.
Though Romelia had gotten away without being arrested(the attack was ruled as self-defense, there were many witnesses), she had been expelled from school. It didn't upset her. In fact, she told me how happy she was that she wouldn't have to deal with school, because now she would be able to work full days at the candy store. It seemed she felt no remorse for what she had done.
Eventually, I stopped bringing that day up in our conversations, because every time Jacqueline's name was even mentioned, Romelia would suddenly turn from a happy-go-lucky teenager, to a bitter, cruel, monster. She would talk about all the awful things she should have done, each thing worse than the last, and how she would gladly do it all over again.
Seeing her reaction, I didn't dare bring up that I had noticed her swallow Jacqueline's flesh, fearing that she may turn her anger on me. It felt absolutely wrong fearing my best friend, but she had changed forever. Or maybe just my perspective of her had changed. However, I didn't plan to stop being her friend. After all, she was only defending herself, right?
One early morning before I headed off to school, Romelia had stopped by my house to return a jacket I had left with her. From the kitchen, we could hear the television on our local News channel.
"Police in Columbus are continuing the search for a missing eight year old boy. Harvey Moreno was reported missing by his father early last Tuesday..." I listened closely to the News Reporter, wishing I hadn't. The News always depressed me.
"They won't find him."
I turned to face Romelia, surprised by her interjection.
"Why do you think that?" I asked.
"He's dead. They're always dead." She replied.
I shook my head at her in disbelief. "That's an awful thing to say."
"It's a shame he's gone." Romelia murmured, turning her face from me. "He was so sweet."
Though she had turned from me, I could hear the smile in her voice. Why would she be smiling?
"Did you know him?" I asked, curious.
She turned to face me again. I tried to make eye contact, but it made me so uncomfortable to feel her eyes boring into me.
"No." She didn't say anything else, her face deadpanned.
We both fell into an uncomfortable, awkward silence. At least, awkward for me. Romelia had always had a morbid sense of humor, bit this wasn't even remotely funny.
"I gotta head home." She finally said, leaving me with a small wave. I was ashamed to say I was glad to see her go. In the back of my mind, I was unnerved having her in my home, but I ignored those those thoughts, dismissed them as being paranoid about the whole Jacqueline situation. Maybe I shouldn't have dismissed them so quickly.
After that day, things weren't quite the same in the following weeks. Some days it seemed like she would go out of her way to avoid me, ignoring me when I called her cell phone. Then some days, everything would be back to normal. One weekend, we had gone out to see Kung Fu Panda(we had rather childish interests for a couple of high schoolers). The movie was pretty comical, but not that funny.
However, Romelia seemed to think so. She would suddenly burst into loud fits of uncontrollable laughter at parts of the movie that weren't even funny. Eventually, a couple other people seeing the movie complained. An employee calmly asked us to leave, at which I was disappointed, because we hadn't even finished the movie.
As we stood in the parking lot, waiting for her mother to come pick us up, I asked her about it, a little angered. I had expected her to laugh it off and say she was just trying to mess with the other people seeing the movie(sometimes she could be a real jerk when playing pranks).
What I didn't expect was for her to turn to me, a very serious expression on her face, and say "Bonnie, I really don't know. It just exploded outta me, I couldn't help it." I stared at her, a bit startled. There was something off about her voice. It was subtle, but it was there. Was she slurring? It was as if she was drunk. There was something else in her voice, fear maybe? I had never seen her afraid of anything. Worry gnawed at my insides, fearing that my best friend was going truly insane. I dropped the subject immediately.
For an entire week, she ignored my calls, texts, and any other attempts at communicating with her. Then one day, she invited me back to the Shop to celebrate her finally getting her driver's license. It was then that I realized not only her mental state seemed to be deteriorating.
As we sat listening to her favorite song, "Sugar Sugar", I noticed she wasn't singing, or even nodding her head along, like usual. However I did notice the vacant expression on her face, and the way her arm twitched and jerked constantly. She looked ten pounds lighter than she did a week ago.
"Romelia, are you alright?"
She turned to face me, a tired expression on her face. It almost frightened me how depressed she looked. I had never seen such an intense sadness in someone's eyes.
Her mouth opened, and she made a strange noise. I would have laughed if she didn't look like she was trying so hard to make that noise. At last, it occurred to me that she was stuttering uncontrollably.
She finally forced out an answer, turning away from me again, a humiliated look on her face.
I continued to question her, eventually suggesting she see a doctor. At that, she turned to face me again, with effort. She was leaning heavily on the counter, as if it were the only thing holding her up.
Though it took a moment, she eventually formed an almost coherent sentence, asking me to leave it alone, her voice slurring to the point that she sounded as if she had been chugging Tequila.
After a while longer of sitting with her, none of us speaking, I'd had enough of the uncomfortable silence. I said goodbye, to which I received no response, and I went home.
That was the last time I saw Romelia alive. It was obvious something was wrong when her mother called me three weeks later, asking me if I knew where her daughter was, the panic in her voice prominent. When I told her I hadn't seen Romelia since she got her license, she made a rather distressed noise. I was beginning to worry, wondering what was going on. Had she been kidnapped? Murdered? Romelia's mother informed me that she had been missing for a week, and she assumed she had run away again, and was maybe staying with me.
The moment she hung up, I grabbed my jacket and headed out the door. The sun was already setting, the moon was already visible in the sky. I hated being out at night, but I had to check. If she hadn't been home, and she wasn't with me, then she must surely be at the candy shop. Where else could she be? I was her only friend. I wracked my brain for possible reasons for Romelia's disappearance, though it offered no comfort. I had a horrible feeling in my gut.
When I arrived, the doors were locked. I silently thanked the heavens that Romelia had shown me where the spare key was kept. I paused before I stuck the key in the lock. From within the store, there was a noise. I couldn't distinguish it, but it sounded like music. Very familiar music. The lock clicked as I turned the key, and I gently pushed open the old door. It still squeaked rather loudly, no matter how smoothly I attempted to open it.
It was all dark in the Shop, the only light coming from the moon outside. Now, I could decipher the quiet music playing somewhere to my far left.
"I just can't believe the loveliness of lovin' you"
Of course, I should have expected it was that song. But why was it playing? Romelia would never just leave the radio on. A knot formed in my stomach as I glanced around.
I was almost too frightened to continue. I had never been there at night, and for that, I was glad. With no lights on, it looked like a scene in a horror movie, right before someone jumps out from the shadows to murder the main character.
"I just cant believe the wonder of this feeling too"
Knowing it would be easier to progress with the lights on, I made my way towards the only checkout station, which was also where the radio sat. Behind it, there was a light switch. No matter how quiet I tried to be, the weak floorboards creaked and groaned as I put my weight on them, which only added to the creepy atmosphere.
It seemed like forever before I finally reached the counter. The entire left side of the store was cloaked in shadow, so I had to follow the music. I noticed the closer I got to the music, the more my senses were overwhelmed with a disgusting smell. The store always smelled gross, but this was extreme.
When I finally made my way around the desk, I almost tripped over something. I wasn't sure what exactly it was, a boot, maybe? I felt around the wall for the switch, eager to get out of the pitch blackness that surrounded me. When I found the lightswitch, I didn't hesitate in flipping it on. Light flooded the store, and I felt relieved to be able to see again.
My relief was short lived.
As I glanced down to see the object that almost tripped me, I was unable to stifle the horrified scream that I gave as I saw what lay before me.
Romelia's body was lying there, in full Work Uniform, sprawled out flat against the grimy floor of the store she had loved so much, her dead eyes staring at nothing.
"Aw, Sugar Sugar"
Her skin was colorless, almost as white as the face paint she wore, her mouth hanging slightly open.
"You are my Candy Girl!"
There was no question that she was dead.
"And you got me wantin' you..."
I ran screaming from the Shop, leaving everything I had seen behind. I didn't even go back for my bike. After running for almost fifteen minutes to get home, I stopped on my front porch, and pulled out my phone, dialing 911. I could barely form coherent sentences with the way I was panting and heaving from the run, but eventually I told the police what I had seen, who I had seen, and where I had seen it.
Without saying a word to anyone, I went to bed. I hoped, prayed that it was a nightmare. It wasn't.
A week or so later, the cause of death had officially been determined.
Romelia Watkins had died of a disease known as Kuru. That was all that had been said, with no further explanation. Few cared to inquire more about what this meant, but I had to know what had killed my best friend. As I searched the internet for further information about Kuru, I nearly vomited as I found my answer.
Kuru is an incurable degenerative neurological disorder. It is also known as the laughing sickness. The disease is formed when a human being consumes a corpse infected with Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, similar to the Mad Cow disease, but in humans. The main cause is consumption of infected human brain tissue. There is no known cure.
I didn't tell anyone what I found. I didn't have to. Within months, an investigation had been done on the background of Romelia's family. There were no past records of violations of the law, yet still, they were gone. Most likely fleeing the country, as people assumed, after what was discovered. They were never captured, and to this day, are thought to be still on the loose.
The Shop itself had also been thoroughly inspected. The findings of the investigation shocked the community.
First of all, the reason why the candy was so awful had been realized, as well as the reason why everything was homemade.
For years, the Watkins had been abducting children and teenagers, locking them in the basement of the Shop. Typically, the abducted victims were tortured or starved. To prevent them from calling out for help, the teeth and tongues were removed. The necklace of baby teeth Romelia had worn was merely a trophy of the countless children she had taken part in murdering.
The corpses they did not eat, they put into their candy. Over 25 human carcasses had been found in the cellar of the Shop, the flesh picked from their bones. The remaining skeletons had been found placed in comical positions, some adorning amusing hats or clothes.
Investigators determined that none of them had been over the age of seventeen when they were murdered. One of the identified bodies was Harvey Moreno.
The Shop was closed and boarded up, everything removed from it. It remains empty to this day, and no one tries to break in, they're too afraid of what they might find. Rumors have evolved around the Shop, causing teenagers keep away, and parents don't bring their children into the area anymore. It's understandable with the fact that the Shop used to be owned by a family of cannibals known for preying on minors. I wish I could honestly say their fears were unfounded. But they aren't. I would know.
Nightmares plagued me for several months afterwards. I tried to imagine that my best friend had been completely insane, bonkers, a madwoman. It would have been less horrible than the truth. I almost couldn't handle the fact that throughout all of it, the murders, the cannibalism, she was completely sane. She knew exactly what she was doing, and she enjoyed every second of it.
A year ago, I went back to the Shop. It was a horrible idea, and I knew it would only stir up bad memories. But for whatever reason, as I drove by the boarded up, graffiti-covered building, I felt compelled to park my car across the street, get out, and peek through the boards.
I couldn't see anything, it was pitch black inside, save for a single stream of light peeking through a hole in the ceiling. It was obvious that there was no way in besides tearing the boards off the windows and breaking through the glass. And still, I felt so compelled to go inside, that instead of doing the sensible thing and going home, I retrieved a small hammer from my trunk, and began prying away at the boards.
It took about half an hour of tedious work and many splinters for me to finally break off the boards on one window. With a sigh, I stepped back trying to determine the most discreet way to break the glass. The last thing I needed was to be arrested for tresspassing.
It seemed I had two choices, I could spend another half-hour trying to break the glass carefully up close, or I could pick up the discarded boards from the window, and smash the window and be done in seconds. The first didn't work because I was too afraid I'd slip up on chipping away the glass and be sliced to ribbons, and the second didn't work because I didn't want to attract the attention of everyone in the immediate area.
In the end, I became frustrated enough that I simply hurled the hammer through the window, shattering it. In hindsight, that was a horrible idea, because it was pretty loud, and, to my dismay, it didn't break away all the glass, so I was forced to go as slow as possible as I climbed through in order to avoid being torn to shreds by the jagged pieces of glass sticking out all around me.
Once I was through, I sucked in a deep breath as I looked around, willing my eyes to adjust to the dark. They never did, everything remained at the same pitch blackness. The thick dust in the air was enough to make me start coughing and sneezing, however I tried to ignore it. I walked up and down the isles, running my hands along the now empty shelves. The "candy" that had once been there had long since been discarded, or perhaps used as evidence in identifying the remains of the victims.
A feeling of nostalgia washed over me as vivid memories played in my head. Good ones, like the times I actually had fun here with Romelia, and bad ones, like the night I discovered Romelia's lifeless, rotting body behind the checkout station. I shuddered at the memory. With a quick glance back to where the window was, I estimated I was probably near the back corner by now. It was a pretty tiny store.
Sure enough, I soon came to a dead end where the back and side wall met. I took a moment, taking a seat there in the corner, staring at nothing. Strangely, I felt myself drifting off. With the combination of complete darkness and lack of sound, the atmosphere proved very easy to doze off in. Just on the edge of sleep, I decided a small nap couldn't hurt. However, before I could go under, I immediately perked up at the first sound I'd heard since entering the unnaturally silent building. A small crackling noise, like static.
I shrunk back, pulling my knees to my chest. The noise came again, this time louder. My eyes darted from place to place, but nothing was visible in the shadows, other than the light coming from the window all the way across the room. Everything went silent again for a few minutes, and I began to think maybe I was imagining it.
I was proved wrong as the static and crackling sounds appeared again, now louder than ever. This time, though, the sounds faded into a song. A very familiar song.
I was suddenly engulfed in panic, every nerve in my body screaming at me to run for the hills. This couldn't be a simple coincidence. Of course, it had to be /this song/, of course it did.
"Aw, Honey Honey"
There was a scraping noise coming from the isle on the other side of the floor. I wanted so badly to run as fast and far from this place as I could, but I couldn't force myself to move in fear that whatever was over there would notice me.
"You are my Candy Girl!"
Two hands appeared at the end of that isle. The hands were adorned in black, fingerless gloves, with white, dirty ruffles around the wrists. Into view came the top of a hat, a purple striped hat. I let out a quiet sob, tears pouring down my face as I became overwhelmed with dread.
"And you got me wantin' you..."
The last thing to come into view was her face, almost exactly the same as I had last seen it, though the vivid red hair that had once framed her face was now faded, straggly and tangled. The beautiful green eyes that I had once envied were now red and violet, looking very much like targets from the way they were striped.
Our eyes met, and I was suddenly unable to move. I couldn't even breathe, I was so intensely terrified.
Her black lips pulled back into a grin, revealing rotting, blackened teeth. As she did so, dust seemed to expel from her mouth. Suddenly, she was all I could see. Any shred of light that had previously been visible in my peripheral vision was now blacked out. I could not look away as began dragging herself towards me, her grin never faltering.
She did not stop until our faces were inches apart. The monster before me let out a long, shuddering breath, at which I could not stop myself from gagging. A few bugs crawled out of her open mouth, mostly maggots.
The next sound she made resembled something like a laugh. If a mummy laughed, that is. It was then that she finally spoke, her voice so distorted and rough, it was only just recognizable as Romelia Watkins'.
"Hello, best friend..."
I wept in fear, squeezing my eyes shut and praying to every God or Goddess I'd ever heard of for this to all be a horrible nightmare. My sobs grew louder as I felt a cold, dead hand touch my cheek. A million things ran through my head. The things I'd never do, the people I'd never meet, everyone I would never even be able to say goodbye to...
No, it couldn't happen this way, I thought. I couldn't die at the hands of my deceased best friend's ghost, zombie, whatever the hell this was.
"No! No! Stop!" I began shouting, struggling, trying to push her away. She was not fragile and weak as she appeared. As I attempted to shove her away, I suddenly felt a very firm grasp on my wrist. Shortly after, I screamed in agony as I felt her teeth pierce my flesh, ripping a chunk of my flesh out as she did so. My own blood spurted out from the wound, coating my face in it.
Immediately, every ounce of my strength went into escaping my impending death. The monster at my side came at me again, her teeth gnashing and grinding as she hungered for another taste of my flesh. I threw myself to the side, climbing to my feet, and running in whatever direction I was facing. My vision was still completely blacked out, causing me to run into any and everything in my path.
The only thing that fueled me to keep going was my fear. The scuttle of hands and feet on the creaking boards behind me was far too close for comfort. I screamed nonstop, praying someone would come to my rescue.
No one came to rescue me. As I felt a cold hand wrap around my ankle, sending me face first onto the ground. I cried out in pain again as shards of glass embedded themselves into my face and hands. Just as I had begun to accept death, the realization struck me. If there was broken glass, then I must be near the window.
I looked up, finding that my vision had returned, though it was blurry. With every last ounce of my strength, I kicked the shell of my best friend away, and threw myself through the window. The shards of glass I left unbroken had scraped my flesh, tearing my clothes, spilling my blood on the pavement.
Thankfully, she did not follow me as I ran to my car, got in, and hit the gas. I tried to head home, but I was quickly losing consciousness due to blood loss. Painfully aware of this fact, I stopped right in the middle of the road, shortly before blacking out.
I woke up a day or so later in the hospital. I was informed that a man found my car parked in the middle of the road, and he called the police when he noticed my unconscious body slumped against the steering wheel.
That was the last I ever saw of the Shop, or of Romelia. I moved far out of state a few months later, and I told myself it was all some kind of extreme hallucination from being back in the Shop. And for a while, I started to actually believe it. My life was slowly reverting back to normal. I had a great boyfriend, a new apartment. I'd even gotten a new puppy. Sadly, the puppy ran away a few days after we adopted her.
At least, that's what we thought. Just under a month ago, I was heading out for my daily trip to the gym, when my foot connected with a small plastic box in front of my apartment door. As the box flattened beneath my foot, there was a sickening squishing sound, along with a crunch from within, and it began to leak red liquid. I gagged at the smell alone. Very cautiously, I kneeled down next to the box, gingerly pulling the lid off of it. I retched at what I saw within it.
In the box was a small dog skull(now crushed) with the flesh peeled from it, leaving the eyes and teeth. Upon the dog's skull was the cute little pink collar I had bought for my puppy. Stuffed into the dog's mouth was a little slip of paper. With shaking hands, I pulled out the note. It read:
"Courtesy of Sucré Sweet Shop"
I immediately picked up the box, and carried it to the dumpster outside my building, and threw it away, along with the note. I never have, and never will mention any of this to anyone ever again, in the hope that I can finally move on from all of this, for good.