“Wax Smile” by Catherine Bloom (WriteHive 2020 Horror Contest)

The following is a short horror story by Catherine Bloom for the WriteHive Horror Contest.

My new coworker, Rob, smiled too much. It was the sort of expression I pasted over my own tired face to show my boss that yes, I was happy here and yes, I could stay late and turn in my report that night. It was a smile that stretched his waxy skin tight but somehow avoided his eyes.

“Good morning,” he said to me every morning, his dark eyes not quite focusing on mine.

Another thing that was strange about him: he was the only one besides me who used the coffee machine. It was doubly odd because, after every shift, he dumped his mug in the sink, cold coffee untouched.
“He shouldn’t be doing that,” Marge said, frowning, from her cubicle next to mine.

“Doing what?” I asked.

“He shouldn’t be doing it,” said Susanne from two cubicles over.

I settled down at my desk and took a sip of scalding coffee. The computer buzzed almost imperceptibly.

“Good morning,” Rob said again the next day, smiling. He was staring at a spot a little past my left ear. His newly poured coffee sat steaming on the counter.

“Uh. Morning.”

Marge appeared in her regular, brisk fashion though now she sported an uncharacteristic scowl. “Can I have a word?” She didn’t wait for a response, striding for the unused office past the coffee bar.

Rob’s expression didn’t waver as he followed.

I returned to my cubicle. My computer screen greeted me with harsh light and a hundred new emails. I opened the first one.

I glanced at the door to the unused office. When nothing exciting happened, I returned to the email.

Close up, the white of the screen was a mesh of blue and violet dots that forced my eyes to unfocus, splashing their colors across my retinas, even when I blinked and rubbed my eyes.

They were in that office an awfully long time.

Spinning around in my chair, I got up and went to the coffee bar where Rob had left his drink, now cold. I dumped it in the sink, poured a fresh cup, and headed over to the office. Giving him the coffee was a lousy excuse for snooping but it was all I could come up with.

The door burst open. It caught my elbow, sending the cup flipping out of my hand. Coffee spilled in an arc through the air and splattered all over Marge’s hand and sleeve.

She simply stared at me, frowning, as steam rose from her hand. A red blotch spread out across the skin which sizzled and popped, digging tiny craters along the contours of her wrist. One finger, coffee eating through the knuckle, began to curl inward.

“Ouch,” Marge said.

Heat washed over me as if I’d been the casualty of the coffee and not Marge. My feet were bolted to the floor. “I…” was the only sound I could scrape from my dry throat.

There was no blood. Her skin dripped to the tiled floor and it smelled horribly like burnt plastic.

“Good morning,” Rob said from beyond Marge’s shoulder. One side of his mouth held a grin while the other had been molded into a grimace, his mouth dimpled with the imprints of fingers. 
“She’s trying to fix it. Are you more at ease now?”

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