The Dunkin’ Donuts off of Interstate 93 is easy to miss. Millions of drivers do it every day despite the comfortable white, pink, and pale orange logo emblazoned on the road sign right before the exit. The lonesomeness of this Dunkin’ Donuts is such that the franchise owner, Ed Palfrey, got by with a ghost staff operating on a shoestring budget. Ed appreciated this because he had aspirations of becoming either the sheriff or undersheriff of Belknap County. His lack of police experience never seemed to bother him.

The whole situation did bother one person: Steven DuBois. Steven hated everything about Dunkin’ Donuts: the nowhere town it was located in, Ed Palfrey and his dumb delusions, and Horace, the cook who couldn’t speak English even though he had moved to New England from Guatemala sometime in the 1990’s. Steven’s anger came organically, for he worked every single day at that pathetic Dunkin’ Donuts. He, a college graduate, should never have even sent in an application to such a terrible gig, but Steven had done so out of pure desperation.

It had all started with an ex-girlfriend. A lot of falls from grace start out that way. But, unlike a lot of other men, Steven had run afoul of a girl with borderline personality disorder.

Allie was all right for six months. She had been sweet and demure, if only a little too neat for Steven’s taste. For those six wonderful months, the pair’s only argument had been over a harmless joke Steven had uttered about Allie being “truly anal.” She had not taken that too well, but a few apologies, kisses, and make-up sex made it all better.

The bad things came in the seventh month. This is when the demon inside of Allie (Allie’s behavior was so bad that Steven could only think of it in supernatural terms) came into the world, horns first. She accused Steven of cheating on her because she had found several female phone numbers in his cell. Steven felt guilty explaining those away, even though he had never cheated.

Next, Allie had refused to speak to Steven for days after she found the dreaded “c-word” in Steven’s diary. The fact that this epithet was used to describe one of Allie’s friends made it worse.

In month eight, Allie hit Steven for the first time. It came after Steven grabbed a knife out of Allie’s hand during an emotional meltdown on her part. The cause of this meltdown was unknown, but it saw Allie mention suicide. Steven interfered and held onto the apartment’s largest kitchen knife until Allie calmed down. Allie kicked, slapped, and spit at him. He refused to let go. The whole ordeal lasted a full afternoon. Allie did apologize, but it lacked sincerity. Steven knew then that it was time to get out of the relationship.

Allie could sense that Steven wanted out, so she had struck first. After accusing him of a litany of unfounded crimes, she broke up with him. Steven celebrated the development, but his cheers were short-lived. For another three months, Allie continued to pester him. She called him around the clock in order to berate him. She would randomly show up at his apartment in order to cry in front him. She even faked a pregnancy in order to watch Steven sweat with ice cold panic. It only ended when Steven broke down and filed a restraining order. After that, Allie went as quiet as the grave.

The night he got the restraining order, Steven prayed to God for the first time in a long time. He asked for God to kill Allie.

Allie’s silence did not comfort Steven. She still knew where he lived, after all. So, in an effort to put more distance between himself and his unstable ex, Steven took a job at the nearest Dunkin’ Donuts.

The money sucked, of course, but Steven liked being out of his apartment at night. The monotony of the job appealed to him until it didn’t. On that Sunday night in May, Steven seriously contemplated quitting, changing his name, and moving to Montana.

Horace had a different view of life. He was happy just to have a steady job that did not require much. Plus, unlike Steven, who had grown up comfortable thanks to two working parents, Horace knew what it felt like to work long hours that bled into each other.

After coming to America, Horace worked off the books at several Mexican restaurants in Boston. The money was good enough that Horace could send a little back home every week and still have enough for a handful of groceries. Things changed when Horace ran into a manager who saw his illegal workers as slaves. The guy, who was himself originally from Guyana, forced Horace and others to wash and wax his car, clean his house, and, on one occasion, beat up his daughter’s boyfriend. The manager held the threat of deportation over his workers’ heads like the Sword of Damocles, and that is why nobody said a word, even when the manager molested one of the girls after filling her up with liquor.

Horace left after a year. He took a Megabus to Manchester, New Hampshire. After a brief summer spent selling heroin and fentanyl to pale fat women and their skinny black and white boyfriends, Horace found legitimate work at Ed Palfrey’s Dunkin’ Donuts. He liked the job.

Horace and Steven were the only men in the store on that Sunday night in May. Horace sat smoking on an upturned milk crate near the back door. Steven was glued to his cell phone’s screen out front behind the counter. Two minutes before 11, something unusual happened: a customer walked in.

Neither Steven nor Horace knew it, but the customer’s name was Jason Wesley. In the grand scheme of things, Jason Wesley was a nobody. He had a bland haircut, sensible clothes, and an unfulfilling office job. Jason’s education had been public all the way through: a public kindergarten, public middle school, public high school, and a state-funded university. He was neither dumb nor intelligent. He was, at best, functional.

Jason had pulled into the empty Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot because he was in danger of falling asleep. He had been driving for hours. He had left the boring conference in Newport, Rhode Island later than he had wanted, and he still had several minutes to go before he could fall asleep in his bed in Gilmanton. Jason knew that having caffeine so late at night was the opposite of healthy, but he was worried about falling asleep behind the wheel and dying in a fiery crash. That’s why he ordered a medium iced coffee with just cream from Steven.

Jason and Steven did not exchange pleasantries. Jason gave the order, Steven took his money and made the drink. Horace stayed smoking outside. A scene like this could happen anywhere at any time. Nobody would ever consider it anything other than banal, except for what happened at 11 o’clock.

Jason was halfway out the door and halfway through his first big sip of the cold coffee when the man entered. He was dressed in soft black clothes; black sweatpants, a black hoodie with a zipper, and a black knit cap that covered his ears. The only color was his mud brown shoes and his mask. The mask had once been pure white and featureless, but the man had decorated it with bizarre geometric shapes, most of which were either green, red, or yellow. In most scenarios, the mask would be laughable. But since the masked man pointed a shotgun at Jason’s large gut, nobody found the mask funny.

“Shit, man. Okay. I can open the register. No problem. There’s not much at all, but you can have it,” Steven said in a panic.

“We won’t say anything,” Jason added. Steven wanted to kill the other man for saying something so stupid to the gunman.

The masked man remained silent. He used the shotgun to motion Jason closer to the counter, which meant that both Steven and Jason were within killing range.

Steven began dumping the register’s money on the counter. His shaking hands caused the money to fall from the counter to the sticky floor. Steve’s lips pursed to say “Sorry,” but they contracted back into a frown because the gunman smacked Jason in the temple with the butt of the shotgun. The large man dropped to the floor with a hard thud.

The masked man leveled the gun back towards Steven. The business end was parallel with Steven’s nose. This caused Steven to keep his eyes on the gun and the gunman. He saw the masked man’s eyes dart back towards the kitchen. This was followed by a few sharp head tilts that indicated a question. Steven knew the answer.

“Horace! I need some help out here,” Steven cried out with a noticeable warble in his voice.

Horace took his sweet time in finishing his cigarette. He let his last drag hang loose on his lips, then slowly breathed out a cloud of smoke. He let a big sigh pass through his lungs and into the night air, then crushed the cigarette underneath his dirty sneaker. As he walked out to the front, Horace kept his eyes on the floor. It was those fluorescent lights; they hurt his eyes and felt like tiny glass needles stabbing his retinas.

“Yes?” Horace asked in a soft voice.

The masked man swiveled the shotgun’s barrel between Steven and Horace. With his free hand, he motioned for them to sit down in one of the store’s chairs. Steven and Horace complied. In seconds, both were bound to the chairs with rope and duct tape. The gunman had bound them so tight that Steven and Horace both began to lose feeling in their arms.

The last time the gunman addressed both men, he told them to keep quiet by putting his finger to the mask’s lips and emitting a thin whistle. It wasn’t quite the same as the universal “sssssh” noise. Rather, it sounded like a rattlesnake’s warning.

The gunman dragged Jason Wesley’s unconscious body to the middle of the floor. He removed a large hunting knife from the space between his sweatpants and underwear. With the knife, he cut open Jason’s T-shirt. He also used the knife’s blade to unzip Jason’s pants. Seeing Jason’s exposed privates forced Steven to wince and move uncomfortably in his chair.

The masked man’s first move caused both Steven and Horace to close their eyes. They could not stomach watching as Jason’s throat was slowly split in two. Their eyes were closed for a long time. When the masked man finally noticed, he forced their eyes open by placing pieces of tape adorned with small needles underneath Steven and Horace’s eyes. Neither the native New Englander nor the Guatemalan immigrant could know at that exact moment that the killer had learned this trick from a 1980s horror film.

The pair of pried-open eyes saw a mass of red where once had been the unfortunate Jason Wesley. The masked man had not only slit his throat, but had also opened his stomach and pulled out some of his lower intestines. A thick, syrupy sound accompanied the killer’s removal of all of the intestines. The killer then used the entrails to form a makeshift noose around the dead man.

The final desecration saw the gunman castrate Jason and stuff his genitals into his limp mouth. The masked man used Jason’s blood to write an Arabic phrase on one of the tables. The words were meaningless to Horace, but Steven recognized them from news reports and online forum discussions about terror attacks in Europe and the United States. Even without seeing his face, Steven knew that the man with the gun was telling a black-hearted joke.

For a few seconds, the killer just stared at the two bound and vulnerable workers. His head tilted like a dog’s as he looked Horace and Steven up and down. This froze Steven’s blood, but what really sent him into hyperventilation was what the masked man did next. With his right index finger, the gunman pointed at Steven, then Horace. He repeated this motion as a pantomime of a well-known children’s game. The only missing piece was the familiar refrain of “eenie, meenie, miney, Mo.” The finger stopped on Steven, who tensed his muscles. When death did not come instantly, Steven relaxed for a millisecond. At that point, the gunman pulled the trigger.

Horace’s blood and brain matter danced all over Steven’s face. A single shotgun blast had decapitated the quiet, but hardworking cook. Steven began hopping up and down in his chair through sheer fear. He even wet himself, but would not notice this for a few more hours.

The masked man picked up Steven’s chair with ease and forced him to look directly at Horace’s corpse. Steven’s terror was so great that he failed to notice that the masked man was removing the duct tape and rope. Steven did not notice his relative freedom until the gunman removed the tape and the needles from his face.

The masked man pulled Steven up and pointed the shotgun barrel at his back. A quick shove forward pointed Steven in the direction of the store’s front door. The gunman wanted him outside. Steven complied.

With the killer and his gun in toe, Steven walked for maybe a half mile. The first few steps were on the gravel of the parking lot. The next were on the smooth tarmac of the country road that connected the highway and the store. The very last steps were on the uneven ground of the woods, with its tree roots, rocks, and grass. The masked man kept prodding Steven to tell him to go deeper into the woods. Steven complied.

It all stopped when the gunman’s large, gloved hand rested on one of Steven’s shoulders. It held Steven in place. The message was obvious: stay here a while. Steven complied.

The silence gave Steven a chance to take stock of his situation. It was a clear and warm night. The woods looked like every other piece of semi-wild land in New Hampshire. Steven tried to find a distinctive landmark, but failed. He instead focused on the weird night smells around him. Besides the usual perfume of oak, wet grass, and mud, Steven caught a faint whiff of fire and smoke. It was not strong enough to be the actual smell of a roaring bonfire (which would have caused Steven’s eyes to water). It was instead thin and residual. The killer, Steven recognized, was the source of this smell. When it faded, Steven knew that the masked man had left him alone.

Primitive instincts sent Steven racing back to the lights of the Dunkin’ Donuts. He ran through the grass, the tarmac, and the gravel. He ran through the blood and gristle of the linoleum floor, and he only stopped running when he found his cell phone on the counter. He called 9-1-1 and told the dispatcher the whole story without pausing to take a breath. The female dispatcher said in a flat, monotone voice that the police were on their way.

In the minutes between the call’s end and the arrival of two sheriff’s deputies, Steven thought about the killer. What was his motive? Why did he kill the customer and Horace and not him? Who was the masked man? Was it even a man? Steven came to the unsatisfactory conclusion that it was all so damn strange.

The night’s last strange act came courtesy of Steven himself. For no reason at all, when the sound of the police sirens began approaching the store, Steven started mimicking them at the top of his lungs.