's 2015 Horror Write-off:

" Doughboy "

Submitted by Irene Vallone

There used to be a pizza restaurant called Doughboy’s, just a block or two down from where I lived in college.  They sold the best pizza I’ve ever had, and it was cheap, too.  I was a broke college student who loved pizza, so I went there all the time —so often, in fact, that I became fairly good friends with the owner, a guy named Enrico Mangioni, exactly the kind of big burly Italian guy you might expect.  I’d come in and order, and while he started making it, we’d talk about all sorts of things—how I was doing in school, what my parents did.  The usual.

One day, I was sitting in one of the window seats at Doughboy’s, eating my slice— of pepperoni, green peppers, and onions.  That was my old standby.  I almost miss it.  Anyway, it was so good, I just had to ask Mr. Mangioni for his secret.  I called into the back, “Hey, Mr. Mangioni, how do you manage to make pizza this good?”

He emerged from the kitchen, brushing flour off his hands and onto his apron, and laughed.  “Oh, April.  Thank you, but anyone could learn to make pizza like I do.”

“No, seriously.  I mean, the crust itself is amazing!  It’s like the perfect midpoint of crunchy and fluffy.  How do you manage to get it like that?”

His smile faded for a moment, as though I had caught him off-guard, but he quickly regained composure.

“My secret ingredient,” he said.  “Gives it that extra little spark!”

I tried to get a more specific answer out of him, but he didn’t seem to want to give up his secrets, so I let it go.  As I paid him for my slice and left, I caught a glimpse into the kitchen through the open doorway.  A big mound of pizza dough - crust in the making – was sitting on the counter, covered in unincorporated flour.

The next day, Doughboy’s was closed.  The door was locked, and the restaurant was pitch-black inside.  The day after, it was closed as well.  All through the week, Doughboy’s was closed up.  I started to get a little worried, —and not just because I had to start eating cafeteria food.  I wondered if Mr. Mangioni had gotten sick, or the place had gone out of business.

As far as I noticed, there was no activity in the place for a week.  I didn’t notice anything unusual until I was walking past that Saturday, on my way home from a party late at night.  It was one of those nights when everything is quiet, where the streetlights cast oasis pools of light in the blackness.  I was startled out of the nighttime silence by the ringing of a little bell.  Up ahead, the door to Doughboy’s was opening.  Somebody who looked, in the darkness and distance, like Mr. Mangioni, walked out.

“Hey!” I shouted.  “Mr. Mangioni!  Are you okay?”

He glanced in my direction, then ducked back into the restaurant.  I tried to follow him, but the door had locked behind him.  I couldn’t see anything inside the restaurant; it was all too dark.

Over the next few days, my mind kept coming back to that moment.  Was Mr. Mangioni avoiding me, I wondered?  Maybe it’s a little weird that I was so worried, but I thought I was pretty good friends with the guy, even though I was a college student and he was a fifty-year-old pizza chef.  I liked him, and something weird was going on with him.  I was determined to find out what it was.

I went back to Doughboy’s the next night, around the same time I had seen Mr. Mangioni come out of the place.  It was late November, and it was beginning to get wintry-cold outside.  The night wind whipped through my light jacket and crumbly leaves swirled through the air around me as I headed for the restaurant.

When I turned the corner towards the restaurant, I saw a car parked in front of the building, backed up to the curb, its trunk popped open.  Somebody—Mr. Mangioni?—was walking back and forth from Doughboy’s to the car, loading pizza boxes into the trunk.

“Hey, Mr. Mangioni!” I called down the street.  “When did you start delivering?”

He looked in my direction, and for a second, I was worried that he might flee.  But then he started making his way towards me, pizza box in hands.

At first, I was happy to see him, but gradually I realized that something weird was going on.  While whatever was approaching me certainly looked like Mr. Mangioni— - tall, burly, round bald head - —it didn’t walk like him.  It moved in a way I can only call “galumphing”, like a person with no skeleton, in danger of slumping to the ground with every step.

The thing came into the light of the streetlamp.  I looked up at its smooth, featureless head as it gently handed the pizza box to me.

“On the house,” it mumbled.

I took the box from it.  What could I do?

The dough-creature, apparently satisfied, walked away, shut the trunk of its car, and climbed into the driver’s seat.  The car started up and the dough-thing drove away.  The car’s taillights grew smaller until the car turned a corner and vanished into the night.

I stood there for a long time, looking at the spot where it had disappeared, before I finally opened the pizza box.  I took a single look at what was inside, dropped it on the ground, and screamed.  When the box hit the ground, out spilled Mr. Mangioni’s face, the peeled-off skin stretched into a twelve-inch circle and laid over top a layer of ground meat, hollow face frozen in a look of pain and surprise, a single piece of pepperoni placed gently over each eye.