This is a rough draft. Feel free to critique and criticize, but keep in mind that I haven’t made any edits since I regurgitated this from my mind in one sitting.
I hope you enjoy it!
It was called The Dragon, and it took the Parksdale senior community by storm. Ramona Gavlick had worked in sales before, but this experience was a first.
At the precinct, they led her handcuffed down ultra-bright corridors to a room for questioning. She heard break room chatter through the walls. The sound of a Coke machine humming somewhere. The building reminded her of a nursing home-
-everything plastic and sterile and subdued. The comparison summoned a phantom smell of antiseptic and soiled bed sheets. She wanted to retch right there on the artificial fern outside the mens’ room.
They led her into a room with a table and asked her to sit.
“Can I get you anything?” asked the first officer, whose name patch read WILSON. He wore a close-clipped mustache and droopy eyes that found her tits every fourteen seconds.
“I’d love one of those smokes you got sticking out of your pocket,” she nodded at the second officer, who was already sitting, shuffling a stack of papers. He startled and glanced at his superior for permission. Wilson nodded.
The younger officer, kid by the name of Eric Leich, extended his pack of Marlboros toward her. Wilson closed the door. He laid a tape recorder on the table and recited the usual spiel; lying under oath is an act of perjury and did she understand her rights or have any questions?
Mona fixated on the small plastic cube that lay between them. The red button that was pushed down. “Shit, you guys still use those things?” she muttered, the cigarette bobbing between her lips. “Say, buddy, got a light?”
Leich fished his Zippo out.
“Thanks. No questions, chief. I’ll tell you whatever you wanta know, but Donny’s the one you should be after.”
“Yeah. Don Hagarty. He’s your guy. He’s the real peddler here, the Willy Wonka with his fucking dope factory. I’m just one of his goons.”
The officers exchanged a glance.
“I wouldn’t have sold it to them if I knew, okay?”
“Gavlick. And it’s Miz.”
“Miz Gavlick. Nobody is accusing you of wilfully poisoning an entire retirement community. You haven’t been charged. Not yet.”
“Donny’s the one who did this shit. Not me.”
“Could you go into the details of your initial employment with Don Hagarty?”
“I’d love to,” Mona blew out a jet of smoke. “Let me start from the beginning.”
I’ve been in Parksdale maybe six months. Seven tops. Lugged my stuff here from Palo Sedro after I lost my job- I worked at one of those pretentious mall boutiques where they can mark up a cotton tee shirt twenty bucks just by slapping an “organic” sticker on it. Like, what the hell does that even mean? It’s highway fucking robbery.
Anyway, I got laid off last year, and there was nothing keeping me in that shitty little town, so I put my finger on the map and found this Eden. Nothing too special, but hey, Parksdale has a great retirement scene. That’s a plus, right? If I spend forty more years in this dump, I’ll be set.
I found a job at a call center and an apartment on Craigslist. Signed up for night classes at the CCC and voila. New start. Everything was peachy for a few months and then I lost my job. Guess it was because I told my bitch sales manager to go fuck herself. The pay was a joke, anyway. I pretty much thought I was going to end up on the street at that point. I was already a month behind on my rent.
Then I met Donny.
It was at one of my night classes, if I remember right. Yeah. Intro to Culinary Arts. Always wanted to be a five-star chef like the ones you see on TV. You ever watch Chopped? I want to be the next Bobby Flay. Even bought a luxury knife set awhile back with some cash I hawked off a stole- old wedding ring.
Donny introduced himself to me the third week of class. We hit it off. He had this way of speaking that made everyone else shut up and listen. He just had this, like, presence, you know? When he talked to you, you felt like the goddamn pope was talking to you.
So I told Donny after I lost my job. How I was going to have to quit culinary school, and he got all quiet. Then he takes me aside after class and he gets all serious. Tells me he has a job proposition for me. Says I could make four grand a month in commission, maybe more.
That’s not the kind of cash you can sniff at, you know? But I was a little hesitant. It sounded sketchy. So I asked him if it was legal, and he gave me this disappointed look. Mona, do you really take me for the kind of guy who would try to get nice girl like you caught up in shady work? He made me feel like a real asshole. Stupid for even asking. Four grand seemed like an ambitious number, but like I said, Donny had a way with words. I told him I was in.
That’s when I first heard about The Dragon. Donny said it was a refined substance made from poppy seeds and a few secret ingredients. Yeah, it sounds shady, but we weren’t selling this stuff on its own, or anything.
We were selling candy bars. Dragon Dream Bars. “So good, you’ll think you’re in a fairy tale!” Pretty corny shit if you ask me, but I wasn’t in his demographic. Donny was targeting a very specific market- the Parksdale seniors community.
“So you weren’t selling a pure substance?”
Mona laughed. “You’d think I was, the way they gobbled that shit down. But no. The Dragon was an additive inside his product. A product inside a product. Don said it triggered a dopamine rush faster and more powerful than any other candy bar. That’s why it was so addictive.”
“You ever try one of these Dragon Dream Bars?”
“Nuh-uh. I’m allergic to nuts. I’d swell up like a beach ball.”
“Didn’t it seem- I don’t know, unethical- to sell something like that to elderly people?”
Ramona uncrossed her legs and sat up, leaning forward onto the desk. “Chief, have you been to a retirement home lately? Those fuckers will try to get high off of whatever they can get their hands on. I mean, you can’t exactly smuggle crystal meth past the receptionist, but candy bars? Donny had it figured out.”
“What about these ‘secret ingredients’ Don Hagarty told you about. Did you ever ask about them?”
She mulled this over. “I did. A couple of times, actually.” Her face darkened. “Don would get real mad though. Accuse me of trying to steal his recipe and go on my own. He was a weird guy. Guarded. Didn’t like me pitching to anyone that wasn’t on his radar.He called himself the candy man. Made himself out like some kind of religious figure.”
Both officers scribbled illegible notes as she spoke.
“Alright, Gavlick. Tell us what happened after you started working for Donny.”
I was pretty nervous about my first pitch. I’ve been in sales, but never with old folk. I remember looking at all the sad gray fucks in their wheelchairs. Watching them move chess pieces with their shaky, arthritis-fingers. Old people give me the creeps, you know?
The first name on my list was Rosy Parker. She was laying in her cot watching The Price is Right when I came in. Stared right through me until the commercial break. Then she scowled.
“What do you want?” That’s what this hag says to me. I gave her my best imitation of an angelic smile and started reading off of my script.
“Hi Rosy! My name is Ramona. I’m just here today to see if you’d like to try a special new brand of-“
“I just wanted to stop in and see if you’d like to try our new brand of candy bars.”
“YES.” I shouted. Held the thing out for her to see. It has a bright yellow wrapper with a big purple dragon on it.
She grabs the thing out of my hand. “Just gimme the damn thing.” It took her a whole minute to get the wrapper open. I offered to help at least three times, but she ignored me, the bitch. Then she took a giant bite, working the caramel and peanut and chocolate nougat with her flabby maw.
And then the weirdest thing happened. Her eyes popped open like she’d done a line of cocaine. She wolfed the rest of it down in three seconds flat. Then she screamed “GLADYSS! GLADYYYYYSS!”
A shaky voice from the next room over screamed back. “WHAT.”
“GLADYSS, YOU’VE GOT TO COME TRY THIS NEW CANNNDY.”
Gladyss did come try. Curious neighbors flooded in from across the hall. In five minutes, the room was packed with these old farts demolishing my stash of samples. One bite and it was like a microscopic atom bomb exploded in their senile brains. I had to snatch the bag away before they could move in for seconds.
“I’d love to be your provider,” I recited. “Would you be interested in subscribing to our Flamin Hot Dragon Deal? Only twenty dollars per package, and I’ll deliver 12 candy bars to your room every week.”
That was the first and last pitch I ever made. All I had to do was show up at the nursing home every week, and there were lines. We had four hundred subscriptions in a month. In another month, we had a thousand.
Donny kept telling us not to count our chickens yet. In retrospect I should have been suspicious, but I was too high on success. I mean, I don’t know if I should say this to a couple of cops, but I’ve done plenty of drugs, and nothing comes close to the kind of high you get from cashing a six-thousand dollar check. We were just starting out. I had visions reaching the top for first time in my life.
Then Donny disappeared.
“That was two weeks before the first incident, correct?” Leich consulted his case file.
“Correct.” Mona sank into her chair. Her Marlboro was gone- a stubbed-out carcass in the ashtray. She didn’t look at the officers.
“Did you attempt to contact Mr. Hagarty in the two-week interval before the incident?”
“Sure. Dozens of times. His phone went straight to voicemail, like he’d thrown it into a lake somewhere- which, for all I know, he did. That’s what I would have done in his position.”
“Do you want to tell us what happened that day?”
Fucking hell, that’s what happened. I showed up with three trucks of candy orders following me into the Parksdale Senior Center and I knew right away. Something was off. Something real bad.
There were all these old people lurching around. I didn’t think anything of it at first. They’re always doing that, you know? But then one of them recognized who I was. Started running at me. She had this white nightgown on that flapped around her and she ran straight into my car without stopping. It made a loud KA-THUNK sound, and then she fell to the ground, writhing.
I freaked out. Cranked my window down to see if she was alright. This woman was making these awful gurgling noises and she had white foam bubbling up through her lips. Fucking disgusting. I figured she was sick or something so I found the nearest parking spot, signalled the trucks to pull around to the front and then I ran like hell for the front desk.
There was a note stuck to the glass doors when I ran up, heaving for breath.
DUE TO A SEVERE OUTBREAK OF ILLNESS, THERE ARE NO VISITORS ALLOWED TODAY.
It was dated from two days before. The note was dangling from a broken door pane. I saw blood on the jagged contours of glass. The doors were unlocked. My heart started pounding. I don’t know why, but I went inside.
The place was wrecked. Lights flickered. Reception was deserted. It was a little too Walking Dead for me; I started to turn around. Then I heard noises- snarling, animal noises. Feet crunching on glass. There were more like that woman, and they were coming. For me.
I started running down one of the hallways, crying, breathing too fast. None of it seemed real, but wasn’t I there? Wasn’t I hearing the tinny echo of my footsteps in the hallway? Wasn’t I smelling blood?
Why was I smelling blood? And chocolate. There was a pungent, almost rancid smell of chocolate, growing more intense the farther I plunged into the building, like the rank bowels of a monster. I reached a dead end- a set of double doors closed and chained shut. Primitive growls from close behind it. I saw a feeble hand drag down the pane, leaving a long brown skidmark. An eyeball appeared behind the window.
And then all hell broke loose.
I guess they recognized me. They knew what I symbolized. The dragon bars. They were liked crazed animals after fresh meat. The double doors slammed against the chain that bound them. Limbs squeezed through the crack between the doors- grayish limbs, loose flesh hanging off the arms. I filled with an intense, throbbing horror, wound up to scream at the top of my lungs. But I couldn’t tear my eyes away. I couldn’t move.
When the wood start to splinter, I remembered my feet. I ran faster than I can remember ever having run before. Ran straight into one of the zombies.
For a brief moment, I stared eye-to-eye with Rosy Parker again. She clutched my face so hard that her nails drew blood. I winced.
She whispered: “Candy.”
They echoed her. “Candy.”
I smashed Rosy’s face into the ground with the palm of my hand. Rolled off her, jumped to my feet and bolted. There were waves of them breaking through the useless doors now. I sprinted so hard that I tasted blood in my mouth. I thought my heart would explode behind my ribcage. The truck drivers spotted me from the doorway, stopped cold with their dollies piled high with boxes.
“Jesus Christ! The fuck is going on in here?” One of them screamed at me.
I screamed back, “Drop the chocolate and fucking run, you idiot!”
And we did.
“I heard about the lethal chocolate bars on the news a few days later,” Mona said, her story coming to a finish. She was choked and husky. Officer Wilson ran to the break room and returned with a wad of paper towels, which she used to dab at her face.
“I never heard from Donny again, or any of the other guys. But it’s safe to say that they tried to get as far away from the situation as possible.”
“Jesus.” Leich breathed. His notes had petered off into a meaningless scrawl as she ended her testimony. The officers sat in stunned silence.
The tape recorder made the only sound in the room, a slight whir, a reminder that it was still listening. Wilson finally picked it up and squeezed the STOP button.
The recorder gave a click and fell silent.