Ultra was in dire need of a tampon, the cramps a warning sign, a silent siren. Contracting and releasing with each breath. She longed to curl up in a dark room with an assortment of chocolates, watching a horror movie where blood only flowed when someone was stabbed.
Instead, she entered the Trader’s store.
Once it had been perfume bottles locked behind plexiglass, now it was everything, even the chocolate bars. Only accessible with the right key.
She strode down the aisle of prisoned products, towards the man in the back, Mr. Pin. He was lean, but no muscles laced his form, not even his arms from carrying stock. He had someone else do that. An outdated mustache hugged his lips, making up for the lack of hair on his balding scalp.
Ultra grip tightened around the box she carried, her knuckles turning as pale as her face felt. Nausea taunted her throat and anxiety formed in her chest.
Mr. Pin was a hunter waiting for his prey, ready to sink in his teeth. A TV was on behind the counter, broadcasting the local news. “A body had been found in the town square. Beaten and then placed in the mermaid fountain. With the blood coloring the water, the scene was gorier than any reported recently. Even the body found in the library, hit to death by women’s literature books.”
The entire town was losing it, panic spreading on the breeze like a plague.
Ultra took a deep breath.
“Morning,” she said. He didn’t seem to notice so she cleared her throat. “Morning.”
He glanced at her. “What do you want?”
“Tampons,” she said.
He tilted his head. “What was that?”
“Tampons,” she said through gritted teeth.
He smirked. “Fifty dollars.”
She gaped. “For a packet?”
He shook his head, holding up one finger.
Paying for sanitary products was already absurd, the tax made it worse, but paying fifty dollars for one tampon was an abomination.
“You can’t be serious,” she said, trying not to raise her voice. If she provoked him, he would push up the price.
He shrugged. “Guess you aren’t desperate then.”
He had no idea just how desperate she was. She had three sisters at home, and they were all in sync. If she was showing signs, they weren’t far behind.
His attention turned to the box in her embrace. “Unless you have something to trade?”
It all started a year ago after a women’s rights march ripped their traditional small town apart. The women wanted to work and thrive, not cook and clean. While most folks accepted the change to the town system, some loathed it. Mr. Pin was one of them. After his mother passed away a few months ago, he put up the plexiglass and decided he wanted his main customers to be men.
It worked for the most part. But now and again a woman needed something that the other convenience store in town didn’t have. She would swallow her pride and walk across the street to the Trader’s store, mentally preparing for an upsetting interaction. When he sold to women, he charged obscene prices. And when he traded, he wanted their most valuable items. He knew if they were desperate enough to come to his store, they would give him whatever he wanted.
Ultra knew this better than anyone. This man was the proud owner of half her college savings, an invaluable necklace heirloom, their microwave, her younger sister’s porcelain doll collection, and their goldfish.
Ultra placed the array of items onto the counter one by one. A red digital alarm clock, a jar of homemade raspberry jam, a glass-blown vase, a jewelry box with a twirling ballerina inside, and a signed baseball bat. It had to be valuable since she snatched it out of a glass case. Her father always said it would come in handy one day. She hoped it would be today and that she would get everything she needed for it.
Behind Mr. Pin, movement caught her eye. Her goldfish swam in its round bowl, oblivious to the drastic change in his outside surroundings. Miraculously he was still alive after a few weeks.
“Impressive,” Mr. Pin said, drawing her attention back to him. His face was blank. “What did you need again?”
“Three boxes of tampons, four slab chocolates, and painkillers.”
He laughed. “You on your period?”
She was about to be.
Her stomach cramped, as if summoned. She wanted to take the closest sharpest object and jam it into her stomach, letting her guts and blood spill out onto the floor. If not to make the pain stop, then at least for her to focus on something else. Distractions helped, but right now her only focus was the man in front of her.
“I have no use for the alarm clock or vase. I’ll take the rest. Then I’ll only charge you fifty dollars.”
The pain worked its way into her core. “I thought we’re trading?”
Mr. Pin opened the jam and stuck a finger in. “Yes, but then you added more items to your list.” He licked the raspberry from his finger and closed the lid. “Not bad.”
Nausea crawled up her throat, and her body warmed. She was a bomb ready to explode at any second.
“Listen, I have three sisters at home. We’re all in sync and it’s about to be a horrid couple of days. Can you please just trade with me? I don’t have any money.”
“Well, you have three sisters, maybe if they all worked, you could afford what you need,” he said with a sly smile. “Not that I think chocolate is a necessity.”
Chocolate was the last line of defense before she lost her mind. A sweet focus. She suppressed a sigh, realizing too late she should have added bananas to the list to help with the cramps. “Please,” she said, her final plea before…before what? Not like she could call the authorities or make him see reason.
“Take the offer or get out!” Mr. Pin shouted, his voice rattling the plexiglass.
Yet again, she would have to take matters into her own hands.
No obstacle separated him from her, except for a counter she could easily manage. He had everything in his store under protection, except himself.
She imagined claws ripping from her fingers, fangs breaking through her gums, horns protruding from her scalp.
A wicked grin spread over her face. She dropped the box and it landed with a thud.
Mr. Pin’s swiveled up, his wide eyes meeting hers. She grabbed the bat, gripped it firmly, and swung. The vase shattered into pieces. She swung again, the bat colliding with his head, and sending him stumbling off his chair.
Being on her period had its perks. All the anger and anxiety buildup could fracture at any moment, and hers just did. Sometimes her period was a curse, but other times it gave a divine power she only needed to unleash.
Ultra placed the bat on the counter, then pressed onto the surface to hoist herself up and over. She took the bat and positioned it for another swing. Mr. Pin blinked up at her in confusion.
A thin strip of blood ran down his forehead, along his eyes and nose, dripping over his cracked lips. He tasted his blood, recognition glinting in his eyes. His nostrils flared as he glared at her.
She smiled. “Chocolates are always a necessity.”
Lifting her arms, she swung again, blood splattering everywhere as the bat collided with his head. Then again, his skull cracked. And again. She screamed, letting out the last of her frustration. Satisfaction burned through her arms, her body, and her mind. The familiarity of the bloody mess sent a surge of satisfaction through her. He’d just gotten his first period.
Ultra grabbed the keys and headed to the plexiglass holding the tampons hostage. She unlocked it, swinging open the glass. She would come back for them, but first, she needed chocolate. She opened the case holding all the chocolate captive, freeing them was almost better than taking care of Mr. Pin.
She hoped his ghost still lingered so that he would see her taking what she wanted.
The shop door burst open and a woman rushed in. She froze, her frantic eyes finding Ultra.
“Are you okay?” she said between breaths. “I heard the screams and thought…” Ultra smiled. “Don’t worry. It was a war cry.”
The woman’s eyes drifted behind Ultra, no doubt taking in the splatters of blood, realizing what lay behind the counter.
The woman held her hand to her chest with relief, and then a small smirk formed on her lips. “He made me trade my engagement ring for baby formula.”
Ultra twirled the keys around her finger. “Do you still need baby formula?”
A full smile broke over the woman’s face. “Indeed, I do.”
She walked over and took the key from Ultra, a mutual understanding passed between them as their eyes met. She gave a quick nod and made her way to the next aisle.
Ultra grabbed a chocolate bar. Knowing that now she could take an entire basket home along with enough sanitary products to last a few months.
She headed behind the counter, unwrapping the chocolate slowly. This corpse was even more mangled than her first. Or second.
“So long Mr. Pinata, I would say it was nice knowing you,” she bit into the chocolate bar, savoring the sweetness with a suppressed moan. “But it wasn’t.”
She stepped around him and lifted the fishbowl. “And I’m taking Pad.”