Chloe saw the old mall from the highway and couldn’t believe it was open, but maybe it could only be called barely open, because inside the only store she found was The Skullkeeper’s All-Skulls Skullporium.
It took up half the mall.
In that store, she found skulls on black t-shirts and skull silver jewelry, skull home décor, car accessories, tattoo flash. She found crystal skull candle holders and tiny glass skull charms, black long sleeve t-shirts with screen printed skulls, embroidered skulls, tye-dyed skulls. Skull glassware and silverware, little skeletons dancing on resin skulls, skulls playing in the eyes of skulls, skull welcome mats, skull loafers. She wandered through, gawking at the glittering skulls, the satin skulls, the skulls in iron and stainless steel and marble. In the back, there were various kinds of skulls, cat skulls and bird skulls, pig skulls, alien skulls, fairy skulls. She wandered for what seemed like forever, picking through the racks of skull skulptures and skull wine holders, skull key chains, skull mandolins, skull chaise lounges, skull guillotines, skull pendulums, skull jack-in-the-boxes.
It took her nearly an hour to reach the end of the store, and there a bleached-white man sat, lurking over a book of skull drawings.
He chuckled, sinisterly. “I’ve been expecting you, Chloe.” He rose slowly, exposing his skull-lined cloak and skirt made of skulls. “There is no escape now, for you have come to us, and forever you shall be made a feature of—”
“That sounds great,” Chloe said.
The man blinked, looked at her sidelong. “Er, I was about to say you’ll be made a feature of the emporium. As soon as the crows clean the flesh from your bones and the beetles and worms make a diet of your entrails, you shall be interred—”
“Yes, 100%. Where do I sign up?” She grinned. “Can I be woven into a skull chaise lounge, because those are beautiful.”
“Um,” the skullkeeper said, “Are you sure? You’re not even going to complain a bit?”
“Ohmigod, no.” She leaned on the counter, “I’m not sure how long it’s been since you were out in the real world, but it’s gotten super awful. It’s a really bad time to be an adult. Not to mention, I love the aesthetic here—all humbling momemto mori sort of thing going on—but I’m always too embarrassed to show it because skull art’s been co-opted by self-destructive toxic masculinity. I mean, I’m really impressed not one of your skulls is covered in flames.”
“Fire would be redundant,” The skullkeeper said.
“I know, right?” she cheered. “So, when do we get on with the flaying?”
“Hmmm,” and the skullkeeper flipped through the book, “I’m sorry, but it says here I’m only allowed to flay those who object to such tortures with screaming, mortal terror.”
“Aw, come on. Really?”
“Sadly, yes.” But then the skullkeeper ducked beneath the counter, “But, you’re still trapped here forever, it seems. I do have a few part-time, independent contractor positions open should you be interested in applying.” He pulled out an application.
Scowling, Chloe glanced at the document. “Is it flaying work?”
“No, just retail and sales.”
And Chloe’s face contorted up into a mask of mortal terror, and she screamed a piteous wail, her voice rising up to the faceless heavens in anguish.
“There we go,” the skullkeeper grinned.