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.
The strangely beguiling women smiled their way into the apartment, neatly shutting the door behind them. Their movements were smooth, like smoke carried on a light breeze. I knew from their recent awkward visits that makeup was as foreign to these women as compassion and courtesy, but they looked different now, more exposed somehow. Their skin was sallow, and there was a feral quality in their eyes. They looked hungry.
“We want the cookbook,” the three said, nearly in unison.
The short one with the armpit shrubbery spewing from her tank top was a half second off in the verbal choreography. From her bobbled head to her scrappy hemp sandals, she donned duncery like a badge of honor. I suspected the half second delay might be her top speed.
The walking redwood who made the well-practiced duck under the door frame was twenty rings deep in the thighs with breasts like giant knots where termite-riddled limbs had been haphazardly severed. She was the trio’s muscle for certain, but it was the slender one that scared me the most.
Their leader was indeterminately old, wrinkles within wrinkles, bright white tufts of desiccated hair, and a bar-brawler’s grin. She could have been 60 or 600, I couldn’t tell, and she was edging me toward the kitchen.
I was defenseless, shielded only by Grandma’s ‘Hot Stuff!’ apron and a building aroma of body odor from my rigorous stint of baking failures. The talking corpse of a woman yanked dish towels from the lumpy mounds of ivory containers until the cookbook appeared like a child’s clumsy finale in a magic-kit living room performance. The culinary-obsessed coven seemed pleased with the findings, until I stuck my foot in my mouth.
“None of it works! Everything tastes awful, and Grandma’s blood canister is empty. The magic is gone, ladies.” I was equally aware that I sounded like an old blues singer, and that I had also signed my own death warrant.
“Then your blood will have to do,” said the lead ghoul. She didn’t snarl, but I assumed it was implied.
Before I could object, The Muscle had me pinned against the counter, and Skinny Witch was sliding a knife across my palm. I winced and squirmed to little avail as Muscle and Skinny squeezed me. Meanwhile, Shortstack seemed stuck in first gear. She had taken a bite of the Rainy Day Cookie, spat it on the ground, then tried a second nibble, somehow surprised it was as equally disgusting. Skinny slid the plate away from her dim companion, and let my hand bleed over top the wretched confections.
“I told you it doesn’t work!” I screamed the words, but my anticipation of the unfolding events was as heightened as the others. We watched the cookies, now coated in blood, for a spark or a fizz. Nothing happened. Then the sunlight through the window flickered and faded. All our heads turned to the skies behind the glass, Grandma’s crocheted window valance framing the dreary scenery.
A dark cloud had moved in, and my heart sank.
Did my blood hold the same magic as my Grandma’s? Did I activate the spell of the witchcraft cookies, summoning rain like a refill of bread at my local steakhouse? I felt the big one’s grip on me loosen, but I didn’t bother running. I wanted to know. The blood from my cut was slowing to an intermittent drip, but I squeezed my hand to a fist, freshening the wound. Where was the lightning? The thunder?
As a group we stepped closer to the window, shuffling our feet, holding each other as we stared at the black cloud, waiting for the first drop of rain to hit the window pane. Then the cloud moved on, dissipating into vapor trails, a forgotten idea of what the cloud could have been, what it could have meant for me.
“No rain,” said Skinny, a palpable look of disappointment and contempt directed my way.
“Told you,” I said weakly. “It’s just an overcast day is all.”
“It’s supposed to clear up by mid-afternoon though,” said Shortstack. She sustained her smile despite the collective glares. “That’s what Chip said on the news. Carl is out this week with the flu, but I think Chip is a capable meteorologist.” She absentmindedly reached for a bloodied cookie, and Skinny slapped the plate to the ground.
“We’re taking everything anyway. There’s magic in this old blood too.” Skinny stuck a bony thumb to her deflated chest. “We’ll figure out what you couldn’t.” She didn’t look me in the eye. I don’t think she believed her own words. Muscle tossed me a towel before gathering up the containers and the book.
“Wait!” They all turned my way. “You can have all that, but return Grandma’s regular cookbooks. They’re all I really wanted.” I wrapped my hand tight, staring into their weakened eyes. “Please?”
Skinny gave a nod, and the three women were gone. I cleaned up my wound, tidied the kitchen, packed the rest of Grandma’s things, and arranged a date for the movers. Resting outside the door were the cookbooks. Some of the pages were ruffled and torn, but all the recipes I knew from childhood were there. When I got home, Olivia was already in bed, but I wanted to try baking again, from the real cookbooks.
I paid the babysitter, changed into my sweats, and thumbed through the recipes to find an old favorite: ‘Peanut Butter Flyers.’ The edges were fanned out to look like wings, the kind of Grandma ‘magic’ I understood. All the ingredients were gathered from fridge and pantry, and I quietly pulled the cookie sheet from the cabinet. Moving my finger to step one, I passed over Grandma’s signature heart, and next to it: ‘3 drops, (optional).’
Something Grandma often said when teaching me to bake so long ago was that everything had to go in at the right time. “You can’t sprinkle yeast on baked bread and expect it to rise,” she said. A witch’s version of the same saying might be, “You can’t sprinkle blood over a baked cookie and expect it to rain.”
Curious, I peeled away the bandage from my hand, and measured three fresh drops of blood into the mix. Olivia woke from the delightful smell, rubbing her eyes to confirm it wasn’t just a delicious dream. I hesitated to let her try one, but it would have been cruel to deny a child fresh-baked cookies, especially Grandma’s. That would make me a witch, I thought, and smiled.
“To Grandma,” I said, Olivia and I raising our cookies to the heavens.
We took the first warm bites together.
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