They were coming for her.
“Now Deborah, it’s a party for you. We want to celebrate your big milestone,” the pest droned on without mercy behind her shoulder.
What milestone? Deborah mused internally, That she had arthritis and was gradually devolving into a decrepit pile of hateful flesh?
“I don’t want a party, Becky, it’s just another day,” Deborah replied, her nose crinkled as if she had just smelled a skunk who'd rolled in a dirty diaper.
“Nonsense.” Becky prattled on, “You are an important part of our community and deserve to be celebrated.”
Deborah grunted in response as she tossed the pizza dough she had finished proofing onto the flour-coated stainless steel counter in front of her.
Becky ran her hand through her short-cropped blonde hair as she turned to leave and continued, “Just show up tonight at the big park please.”
Deborah made a pained noise in reply to Becky's retreating form and began punching the dough like she was fighting a mixed martial arts match rather than kneading that day’s future pizza. Her restaurant, the Dough Abode, was an institution in Two Duck Lake. She had been crafting and kneading pies for her hometown’s citizens for over twenty years.
“Fifty.” She spat as she punched the defenseless dough, “Bah.”
If only she hadn’t done it, then she would just be a normal business owner.
“How are ya now, Debbie Dirtpile, you big ol' stack of pancakes!” a gravelly voice shouted through the restaurant.
“I don’t have time, Terry!” she bellowed as she tossed a bit of dough into the air.
“It’s your big birthday Darlin, you should be celebrating, not pizza making!” replied the day’s second intruder.
Terry Buchanan was the town mouth. Well, that wasn’t accurate, Two Duck Lake had multiple know-it-all orators of the gossip spreading, self-importance pontificating kind. What made Terry unique was his logger chic outfit that he always donned. His cutoff riggin pants combined with his colorful rainbow suspenders made him stick out. That and a mustache that was probably robbed from Hercule Poirot’s corpse.
“Terry, the lunch rush is coming up, I gotta prep,” Deborah said through clenched teeth.
“What you gotta do is get yourself down to the park at six tonight, Debbie, or else we’ll all come and drag you down there.”
Deborah blew a bit of her black hair out of her eyes, “That a threat. Terry?”
Terry took a stumbling step back, “No, no, no my lady, no one would ever threaten Two Duck’s finest citizen.”
“Get out,” Deborah growled.
She followed the suspender-clad intruder out to the front door and locked it after he walked through. Before returning to her dough, Deborah stopped in the bathroom, washed her flour-coated hands, and splashed cold water onto her face. A slightly wizened with age visage stared back at her. Her black hair wasn’t even her own anymore, she had been dyeing away the grey for years, and the toll of restaurant ownership showed in the crinkles that adorned her eyes and the edges of her mouth.
“I should have just left him there.” She spoke to the reflection.
The visage’s green flecked amber eyes hardened at her statement and replied through painfully stretched lips, “But you didn’t, did you.”
Sighing, Deborah stalked out of the bathroom, so great was her discomfort that she didn’t pause as she usually did to bask in the cozy space that was her restaurant and home. As she strode towards the swinging doors into her workspace, the warm reclaimed fir beams didn’t catch her agitated glance as they normally did.
A man was sitting in her kitchen.
“Who the ten bucks in the back of the truck are you!” she erupted.
The insolent creature who deigned to sit in her chair had the bearing of a human who likes to twist their earlobe because they knew it would annoy you. He was entirely too well-groomed to be a dweller of Two Duck Lake, she noticed as he uncrossed a leg that was clad in tailored grey trousers.
“This is a nice little place you got here Ms. Micklehausen. Do you do a pie with arugula and prosciutto?”
Deborah’s hand slid to the Sig Sauer P365 that she kept in a holster on her right hip, “Nope, but I am thinking of offering one with the long pig in it.” She replied as she slid the 9mm out of its resting place.
Amusement flickered through the man’s limp salmon skin colored eyes, “Why Ms. Micklehausen, you are a delight.”
A well-manicured hand reached down and swept a bit of flour off of the pristinely pressed trousers, “You knew full well that your actions ten years ago would have consequences. You put yourself in debt, I’m the Collector.”
Deborah’s insides deflated like a walnut crushed in a pair of vise-grip pliers. She knew when she intervened that a reckoning would come, much of the hidden white hair that adorned her head served as a reminder of her ever-enduring anxiety.
She sighed and re-holstered her pistol, “I’m ready to pay the debt owed.” She told the collector as she straightened her spine for the inevitable.
The man in her wrought iron kitchen chair started chuckling, “Oh Ms. Micklehausen, your sense of humor is delightful,” he replied as he stood up. Deborah thought she felt the temperature of her kitchen fall twenty degrees.
“Did you really think it would be that simple?” he said in a tone that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand straight up, his unearthly pale grey eyes boring into hers with cold glee.
“Deborah, I’m here!” a voice that was all syrup and no fluff came floating through the swinging doors.
Deborah swung around, her heart smashing against her ribcage, “Sarah, wait a second!” she blurted a moment before her young protégé burst through the doors.
“What’s wrong?” Sarah’s warm brown eyes were full of confusion as her houndstooth bellbottom and purple paisley shirt clad form skidded to a stop.
Deborah whirled around, the chair was empty and the Collector was nowhere in sight.
“Uh, I just wanted to show you the new dinnerware that I was thinking about ordering before you came all the way in here,” Deborah said as she pasted what she hoped was a convincing smile onto her face.
Sarah’s voluminous brown eyebrows rose, “Okay, let’s have a look.” She twirled her gloriously ample frame completely around with all the grace of a Julliard dance student and glided out into the dining room.
Hours later, after the lunch rush was over and her evening crew had arrived, Deborah found herself staring at the haunted visage in the mirror once more. She had made a choice years ago, a choice at the time she thought was worth it. It was an instinctual reaction really, she mused to herself as she wound her long black hair into a chignon and pinned it low against her neck. The creature in the mirror stared back at her, pale pink lips pressed together loathing the moment that was upon it. Deborah took in the image peering back at her, a middle-aged woman at the peak of her productive timeline, clad in a lavender sundress, and cloaked in long-borne anxiety. She was ready for the debt to be collected.
A knock shattered the moment of resolve. It was Sarah, she had arrived to take her to the party looking resplendent in a vintage turquoise swing dress that was adorned with perfectly symmetrical red cherries. Her young friend’s hair was wound into two fabulous victory rolls. Deborah smiled as her eyes left the haunted creature in the mirror and settled onto her beaming young friend’s face.
“It’s time,” she said.