For October and the haunted holiday it brings, I bring you my own original, creepy tales. Keep coming back for more frights all month long.
Grandma? A Witch?
She was an amazing baker, sure, but that wasn’t witchcraft. ‘Years of practice and a drop of love in every recipe,’ is what she always told me, but then again… what did I really know about witches?
Grandma’s outfits had grown more eccentric in recent years, matching the lax wardrobe of her neighbors and friends. A disregard for one’s appearance wasn’t a declaration of devilry so much as a freedom of lifestyle; After years of expectations for women’s maintenance of grace and allure, tossing the makeup and jewelry was a rite of passage into Grandma’s golden years. Plus, my thorough sorting of her closets didn’t reveal any two-high hatboxes containing black, pointy headpieces.
Grandma didn’t cackle. She didn’t eat children, or live in a candy house. Unless her Swiffer was imbued with evil, she didn’t fly around on cleaning tools. I watched the clever dry mop leaning in the corner of the kitchen, determining if its plastic handle and soft pads were just demonic tricks designed to give me a false sense of safety. Moderately certain the Swiffer held no ill-intent, I returned to the strange cookbook and ivory jars of foreign ingredients.
If she wasn’t a witch, then what was all this? Were these recipes confections of the underworld? Pies and pastries of pain? Was this Beelzebub’s Baking Tome? There were no pentagrams on the cover, no Latin incantations scrawled across the pages. What if all of it was a ruse? What if these were cleverly disguised procedures for the greatest baking experiments the world might never know? Hell, what if they were just delicious?
I looked over Grandma’s empty kitchen, knowing the next cookies out of the oven wouldn’t be hers. The next smells wafting through these apartment halls would be the awful odors of Grandma’s neighbors, not the sweet treats of a woman whose baking warmed your heart. Those women had taken every other cookbook I had hoped to save. If I wanted to bake with Grandma ever again, these recipes were my only chance. I didn’t know what baking from this book would do. I knew what curiosity did to cats after all, but I was no cat.
I slid over the box marked ‘kitchen,’ and dug out bowls and the mixer. Buried deep in the bottom was Grandma’s favorite apron. With clangs and rattles of the many utensils, I tugged the garment loose, and held it high. The apron was polka-dotted pink and white, stained with years of messes and hand wipes. Written across the breast, with flames along the letters’ edges, was ‘Hot Stuff!‘
I smiled, then slipped it on.
Flipping through the book, the layout was familiar enough: instructions on bottom, ingredients on top, each list ending with Grandma’s signature drawing of a heart. I wanted to start with something simple, something where baking skills needed were nil. My speed. Near the middle of the old cookbook, after ‘Sunshine Sherbet,’ was ‘Rainy Day Cookies.’ I could do cookies, but there were no eggs in the apartment. No butter. No flour. In the midst of filling my mental shopping cart, however, I realized none of those typically-necessary baking supplies were in the column of ingredients.
Everything I needed, no matter how disgusting or exotic, was there in the ivory containers. So I poured. I sifted. I mixed, blended, spooned, put it all in the oven, set the timer, and waited. I’d like to say the ‘cookies’ smelled enticing. They did not. I’d like to say they somehow tasted better than they smelled. I vomited. I tried a new batch, but got the same result. I tried a different recipe, and was astounded by the new levels I reached in culinary repugnance. Everything failed. I failed. Perhaps it was because I didn’t have Grandma’s years of practice. Perhaps the recipes just needed her drops of love.
At first I laughed. Then I looked at the book again. At the bottom of the ingredients were Grandma’s hearts. I had ignored them as a silly idiosyncrasy, a charming habit of expressing her love for baking, but each heart had an actual amount beside it: ‘1 drop,’ ‘3 drops,’ ‘1 tsp.’ I searched the containers, twisting them label-front, dreading with every turn and shuffle of what I would find in the corresponding jar, and then there it was.
Aside from the perfectly etched cartoon heart, the ivory receptacle was of similar size and shape as all the others. There was nothing remarkable except that it was the missing ingredient from every single recipe in Grandma’s hidden cookbook. I pulled it close, not allowing for hesitation. I had now cooked with every part of every animal one could conceive. Whatever nightmare was contained within this ‘heart’ canister could be no spookier, except it was empty.
The walls inside were stained with hues of red and purple, ribbons of the missing substance crusted and congealed throughout, the metallic smell of blood, unmistakable. I turned it over to be certain, but it was as dry as it appeared. Blood. Grandma’s blood? The blood of other helpless woodland fauna, or something else? Someone else? The questioned lingered in my mind when there was an aggressive knock at the door.
I threw a towel over the jars and book, and wiped my hands on Grandma’s ‘Hot Stuff!’ apron. Behind the door were three of the neighbors, the same women who had performed the ritual at my grandmother’s funeral, the same women who had swiped many of her belongings, like vultures stripping a carcass. They smiled, each one, filling the door frame like a blockade.
The one in the middle, jagged-toothed and an explosion of wispy hair, leaned in close and said, “You’ve been baking.”
To be continued…
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