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In the City of Glaring Chocolates

Tara Campbell is a writer, teacher, Kimbilio Fellow, and fiction co-editor at Barrelhouse. She received her MFA from American University. Previous publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Master's Review, Wigleaf, Booth, Strange Horizons, CRAFT Literary, and Escape Pod/Artemis Rising. She's the author of a novel, TreeVolution, and four collections: Circe's Bicycle, Midnight at the Organporium, Political AF: A Rage Collection, and Cabinet of Wrath: A Doll Collection. Connect with her at www.taracampbell.com or on Twitter: @TaraCampbellCom.

Thank you so much for visiting our small town, and for choosing my shop. I am at your service. Over here you will find the creme-filled bonbons, over there the ones with nuts, and there the liqueurs. Everything is available in either milk or dark chocolate.
Indeed, that is the most popular question: why glaring? Why can't they simply look at you, or even more fundamentally, merely see? Well, if you were the one looking up at the world from your little paper doily, wouldn't you use any meager power you possessed to protect yourself?
Are you partial to citrus? This is a fresh batch of our orange peel and dark chocolate variety--isn't that a heavenly aroma?
Ah, well, it was a matter of instantaneous evolution, you see. Spontaneous adaptation. When Dr. Lavaillou began his experimentation, he was merely seeking to add another dimension to the gustatory experience. His dream: to create a truly interactive meal. He envisioned a banquet at which an amuse bouche would truly amuse, gamboling onto the guest's plate, followed by salads that would flutter from bunches in the center of the table, assembling themselves into bowls. His experimentation with soup was messy, to say the least, relying as heavily on chutes and gravity as his dancing salads relied on well-placed fans.
His work eventually lost all favor when he progressed to the entree. Wriggling noodles were bad enough, but no one could stomach a roast chicken parading about the table, peeling off strips of breast meat before dropping a wing here, a leg there, then dragging its carcass into a stock pot for consomme. It was too much. He was practically drummed out of town. His lab was locked up, then a mysterious fire destroyed his equipment and remaining records. Some say the fire was started by his own invention: a self-immolating creme brulee.
But miraculously, one scrap of paper survived: the set of instructions upon which this whole town rebuilt itself. Nestled in this secluded Swiss mountain valley, his grandchildren quietly refined his technique, combining it with our world-renowned chocolate, until voila! Paris has its eclair, Vienna its Sachertorte--our tiny burg has its Glaring Chocolates: the world-famous Anstarrbonbons.
Would you like a sample? Raspberry creme perhaps?
Oh, yes, back to your original question: why glaring, not merely looking or seeing? It's an existential question, really. If you knew you were created merely to be consumed, you probably wouldn't take very kindly to the organism that was so intent on snuffing out your life. You might even be angry that you were created with no means of defense--no limbs to fight or flee, no toxins to repel aggressors, not even the ability to elude predators via camouflage.
Sentient? That depends on how you define it. Plants and trees move, communicate, strategize, seek the advantage for their own kind relative to their environment, but would you describe them as sentient? Tadpoles develop legs to equip themselves for life on land, but would you say they did it on purpose? Such is the case with our Anstarrbonbons.
Are you sure you won't have a taste? Perhaps the sea salt and almond would be more to your liking?
While you consider it, please follow me toward the rear of the shop. Have a look here, please, through the glass into the kitchen: when our Anstarrbonbons first spring forth from the mold, their eyes are open and expressionless. See how they follow you, tracking, literally eye to eye, as though ready to bond, hatchlings to mother.
But now--there--you note the shift already, no? The brows that develop only to lower, the narrowing of the eyes, so slight, but enough to mark suspicion. They can read you, you see--and in this I include myself, because I am only human. They track our expressions, note our interest, and already this fresh new batch is aware that we find their kind delicious. It is not learned, as you see. There is no "mother chocolate" to teach them this defense. It is instinctual, an immediate wariness and perhaps, like an octopus shooting its ink, also a form of protection.
And over there is our finishing station, where each bonbon is lifted by hand onto a tray for the displays out front. We don't prepackage anything; we prefer to create each box according to our customers' exact wishes. Speaking of which, might I interest you in a selection to take with you? Perhaps you will open the box at home, gaze down at the chocolates, perhaps even pick one up, tracking the way it tracks you no matter where you hold it? Will you brace yourself and place one of them in your mouth, recoiling at its twitch on your tongue? Or will you give the box away as a gift to become an uneaten novelty gathering dust on a shelf, Anstarrbonbons glaring vigilantly into darkness?
Or will you, as have so many before, simply leave the Anstarrbonbons behind, staring through the glass of their display cases at the back of your head as you depart the shop forever? Indeed, this is why we had to begin charging admission to the shop, as distasteful as we find that practice to be. Most visitors never get farther than where you are now, staring at a tray of newborn chocolates, watching their gazes harden against you as they comprehend their lot, embittered (technically bittersweet) at the realization that they were created merely to be destroyed.
By now you've likely become philosophical, as we tend to do when we're planning to inflict damage, and you're probably wondering Aren't we all? Aren't we all born just to die, created merely to be destroyed? And you stand there, looking through a glass case into the dark, unblinking void of a doomed and glaring chocolate, wondering what it means that all you can think about is how delicious it would be to obliterate what stares back at you.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 14th, 2022
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