At dawn I pull the last batch of donuts from their bath in the deep fryer, and rack them to cool. My shop, Tasty Donut, opens its doors in thirty minutes and I’m lagging behind. Three straight days running on no sleep will have that effect. Surprised I’ve been full steam ahead as long as I have.
I carry the finished trays out front, slide them into the display cases, then flip the switches to get the coffee pots gurgling. The radio warbles to life without my say-so, tuned to the butt-rock station–permanently set to the damn butt-rock station. And for the third morning in a row, I begin my day with the aggressive crunch of down-tuned guitars and whiny rap-singing. I can feel the muscles in my neck clench up taut as telephone pole guide wires. Just need some fresh air, a slug of coffee, a sugar-laced blood stream, and I’ll be okay, for awhile.
The front door jingles when I step outside, and I bend down to retrieve a stack of the local newspaper. On the eastern side of town, where my house is, where my family is hopefully still sleeping, unharried by the creature who’s taken up residence with us, the sun’s rays dig furrows in the horizon.
“I do hope you’ve prepared something special for him today, Summers” a voice which can only belong to Mr. Skygge says. “Something inspired.“
Those guide wires in my neck tighten, and a dull ache in my forehead’s center joins in. I turn back to the front of Tasty Donut, and watch as a shadow peels away from the wall. It steps into the white light spilling through the store front’s window. Mr. Skygge. The man–at least I think he’s human–stands a head taller than me, and he’s dressed in his signature threadbare greys and blacks. He doffs his porkpie hat, and offers a rictus.
“I’ve made him hundreds of donuts over the last few days,” I say. “How much longer’s this going to last?”
Mr. Skygge pulls spent cigarette butt from behind his ear, and resurrects it with a thumbnail match strike.
“Until you physically can’t make any more, in which case he then eats you and your family, or you somehow manage to convince the competition to take back his curse.”
Mr. Skygge points his cigarette down the street, and the glow from the cherry seems to illuminate a path toward Donut Worry, Be Happy the next block down.
“Marty won’t step foot on this side of the street, much less my shop.”
Mr. Skygge shrugs. “I suppose you better hope you can stay awake then.” He checks a cracked Casio watch. “Are they ready?”
I don’t bother to hold the door when I head back inside. I drop the papers in their spot and walk to the kitchen, where I find the last batch cool enough for the glaze.
In the hierarchy of what I care about in my life, donuts fall second only to my family. It sounds hackneyed as hell to say, but I do try to pour as much of myself as I can into the crafting of each batch. When someone bites into one my donuts, I want them to be experiencing the best donut they’ve ever eaten. If it tastes like a batch isn’t going to get this kind of work done, I won’t put it out.
The donuts riding on the conveyor belt through curtains of glaze represent my most ambitious recipe. They’re a cake donut made of lavender, honey, and black pepper, with blueberry glaze. As they reach the end of their journey, I place them in a large brown pastry box featuring the Tasty Donut name.
Back out front, Mr. Skygge leans against the counter, sipping coffee he’d helped himself to, and nodding his head along to the radio.
“It’s a good song,” he says.
“It’s shit,” I say sliding the box across the counter.
He gives me another yellow-tooth wolf grin, and points at the carton.
“These smell incredible, Summers. I know he won’t let me sample one, but I might have to ask anyway.”
“Fourteen bucks for the donuts and coffee.”
He nods and fishes a wallet from his coat’s inner pocket, pulls out a twenty.
“I’ll get your change,” I say reaching into the till for the cursed Abe Lincoln that’s been sitting in there for the last three days.
Mr. Skygge wags his head side to side, and clicks his tongue.
“No change necessary. You better hold on to that five. That’s for you.”
He picks up the donuts and knocks over his coffee in the process.
“Could he at least let my family, just so I can see that they’re okay.”
Mr. Skygge doesn’t bother turning around. “I’ll ask, but that might only anger him. It’s best that you stay here and your family stays there. He’ll want another dozen for tomorrow.”
The door jingles and Mr. Skygge’s gone.
I check the clock. Five minutes until I have to open. Five minutes I can try and get some sleep, and maybe hold on for one more day.
Enveloped in the scent of lavender and the music of anger, I lay my head down on the counter and close my eyes.