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This story has been marked for review for the following reason(s):

Needs cleaning up. Grammar and punctuation issues.



She got her pink EZ-up set up and piled the tables and materials in boxes under it on the asphalt of the closed street. It was 8:30 AM in the middle of July. The temperature was already 85 degrees on this California morning, but it felt like 100 on the unforgiving blacktop to Stephanie.

Unloaded, she pulled her blue PT Cruiser out of the event area and parked. The event director had already walked through and said cars had to be unloaded and out before 9. “Pushy, bitch,” thought Stephanie as she walked back to her booth to set up. She was already sweating and thinking she should have worn less makeup.

She threw up her tables, covered them with off white tablecloths, and began to set up her displays of bath bombs. They were color coordinated to the various scents which included lavender, ocean breeze, lilac, and 12 other scents. They were slightly smaller than a baseball and priced 1 for $4 or 6 for $20. Guaranteed to make your bathing experience phenomenal. Just add hot water and a glass of red wine.

Once the bath bombs were set, Stephanie began to set up her final and most important table. A blues band began a soundcheck in the gazebo behind her. The Gazebo was in the center of the grass in Library Park and a fenced area next to it housed the beer tasting and grilled cheese competition of this festival called Rhythm and Brews. Stephanie was pissed that the vendors had to bake on the street, while the beer pourers and cheese sandwich grillers got to chill on the grass in the shade. “Oh, well, “thought Stephanie, “at least there would be some good music.”

She laid out several different sized shell-shaped dishes, filled them alternately with black and white sand, and placed her silver charms on top of the sand. The charms were in the shape of different animals and mystical shapes. These were able to hold and display a pearl. It could then be attached to a necklace, bracelet, or you could buy 2 and get earrings.

This is where the excitement comes in for Stephanie’s booth. The pearls were not on display for the customer to pick. They were inside an oyster that Stephanie would shuck, and the color would be a complete surprise. Stephanie got her ladder and attached her sign to the front of her EZ-up that read, “Stephanie’s Open an Oyster,” in pink 12” letters. She was open for business, just minutes before 9.

Throughout the day, business was good but not amazing. Customers were walking the street full of vendors, but the larger crowd was at the beer and grilled cheese area that was in the shade on the grass. Who could blame them?

She had a little girl that screamed with excitement when her oyster revealed a bright blue pearl that had a strange metallic quality to it. She picked a mermaid charm, attached it to a necklace, and wore it right then and there. A very dour woman showed no emotion as a dark burgundy pearl was revealed. She picked a turtle charm and a bracelet. She asked for a bag as it was a gift. When Stephanie handed her the bag, the woman walked away without a word. Stephanie called, “Thank you,” after her, but the words fell on the black asphalt and sizzled like a broken promise. A group of women, all holding a plastic glass of wine (Stephanie wondered where the wine booth was) all bought an oyster with the same twisted teardrop-shaped charm. They all picked necklaces that they immediately wore. The group cheered each time an oyster was opened. People started to pay attention to Stephanie’s booth, wondering what was going on. It became clear that the oldest of the group was the mother of the other women, and they were trying to cheer her up after the recent passing of her husband, and their father. It went from a party-like atmosphere to a very emotional experience. When they were walking away, one of the daughters squeezed Stephanie’s hand and muttered, “Thanks,” as a tear appeared beneath her sunglasses. When the woman had walked away, Stephanie realized she had pressed an additional $20 bill into her hand.

Stephanie was just thinking to herself that the bath bombs were doing ok, but the oysters were on fire when a short woman limped into her booth. She had unruly 24” long dreadlocks and wore a black t-shirt that said, “CRUEL AND UNUSUAL,” in bold white letters. Beneath her tattered skirt, she wore a pair of LuLaRoe leggings that featured an insect pattern. The insect was unrecognizable but menacing. Her feet were covered by dirty-white tennis shoes. Her left foot was noticeably swollen.

“An oyster, “croaked the woman. Stephanie began to explain her pricing, but the women interrupted, “Yes, yes, an oyster.” Stephanie looked at her a moment and noticed that her right brown eye was slightly milky and aimed at the sky, while the other focused on her intently.

Stephanie selected an oyster, cut the plastic wrapping, and began to shuck it with her oyster knife. As the shell cracked, Stephanie noticed it suddenly felt a little cooler, and the relentless music had stopped. “They must have ended the set, or they’re switching bands,” thought Stephanie. The shell popped open revealing a gelatinous pile of meat that resembled chewed gum. At that point, Stephanie became aware of the fact the brilliant sunlight had diminished, as if a bank of clouds were amassing above her. The temperature dramatically dropped, and the sweat on Stephanie’s body got cold, causing her to shiver. She dug in the meat with the tip of her oyster knife and a pearl unlike any she had ever seen popped onto the dish filled with white sand.

The pearl was flat black with red veins that seemed to pulse with anger. Stephanie looked up at her customer that smiled serenely. Everything had become a void except for the woman standing before her. There was no sound, and Stephanie shivered again. It was freezing. “It’s all over, it’s the end,” croaked the woman, as even she began to disappear into the nothingness. Her dreads squirmed ominously in the growing shadow, and the strange insects on her leggings appeared to be eating human babies with sadistic joy. Stephanie felt faint in the increasing cold of the blackened environment. Her vision began to fail as she felt the wings panic flapping quickly in her chest. The woman raised her finger and spoke in a desolate voice that time forgot, “Shark.”

Stephanie was able to mumble, “Huh?” as a cosmic switch was flipped. The sun was beating down again, blues-rock was raging behind her (what happened to be the worst version of, “Sweet Child ‘O Mine,” that Stephanie had ever heard), and the noise of the surrounding mass of humanity returned. The woman said in a strangely smooth voice, “I’ll take the shark charm.”

Stephanie placed the pearl into the shark charm’s tooth-filled maw. She noticed that the woman wasn’t cross-eyed at all, both of her feet looked the same size, although the laces of her dirty tennis shoes were untied, and her dreadlocks weren’t moving. The insects were no longer devouring infants on her leggings, either. The insects were recognizable as comical praying mantises that were smiling and holding hands. Stephanie asked in a dazed voice, “Necklace, bracelet, or ear- “

“No, no, just the charm, “said the woman pleasantly.

Stephanie gave it to her, and the woman walked away. No limp anymore, but she did slightly trip on her laces. At the edge of the booth she turned back holding up the shark charm with the black pearl and the dark voice returned as she cackled, “Swallower of worlds,” then she broke into hysterical laughter. Her right eye had gone all crazy again. Her deconjugate gaze made Stephanie feel a wave of fear and the insane laughter made it even worse.

The woman moved on, but Stephanie was distracted by the insane laughter that still reached her ears as the dreadful woman increased the distance.

She was shocked out of her trance when she felt a tug on her hand. Stephanie looked down at a 7-year-old girl that was tugging her hand, “I want one,” exclaimed the little girl. Stephanie noticed the girl’s mother was right beside her looking at bath bombs.

She regained her composure, and said, “Sure,” smiling at the little girl. She let the little girl pick the oyster. The mother was drawn away from the bath bombs, and she and her daughter watched intently as Stephanie popped open the hatch of the oyster. The 3 were stunned into silence as they saw that the half shell was filled with blood. Floating on top was a human tooth that had a small black cavity, and the tip of a pinky finger. The nail was torn in half and still bleeding.

The little girl broke the silence with a piercing scream. Then the bath bombs began to explode.

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