Category Archives: Bakery

Finish The Story-After The Long, Hard Winter-Part Six

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Winter and spring landscape with blue sky.

Finish The Story

After The Long, Hard Winter

Part Six

This is a Finish The Story prompt from Teresa (aka, The Haunted Wordsmith). Teresa started the story. Then she passed it to Michael, who tagged Di, who tagged Fandango,
who walked it over to Iain, who graciously placed it in my hands.

So let’s start at the beginning (my entry follows):

Teresa wrote:

Winter had been hard. Harder than anyone in Goosedown had expected. It was six weeks into spring and Emily never felt better. She was finally able to get out into her garden. The spring flowers had fully said hello and color was everywhere, but the one thing she was most happy about was the Goosedown Spring Festival that was taking place today.

With one last check in the mirror, she adjusted her bright pink hat and set out for the park. While walking there she met up with …

Michael wrote:

Mary from the Dairy trudging along carrying two pails of fresh milk. The milk was for Miss Turnout’s café and scone emporium.

It was clear Mary was not happy, as everyone in Goosedown knew of the animosity between the two women. Mary had been in love with the handsome Sir Michael, and it was Miss Turnout who spread vile and vicious rumors about Mary such that Sir Michael turned his back on Mary and went off and married the less than gorgeous Phillipa the Needle maiden.

Mary had long held a grudge against Miss Turnout and every now and then she would clear her throat and deposit the said clearance into one of the buckets. Emily, being the sweet and innocent young lady she was and at that moment filled with the expectation of the coming spring, smiled serenely at Mary as she went by.

“There’d be nothing to smile about young Emily,” said the sour Mary as she passed and deposited another into the left bucket, “the rotten old cow destroyed my life, I’m gonna make her rue the day she spread rumors about me, no matter how true they might be. Sorry I should not have said that.”

Emily had no answer to Mary’s statement and was not a girl given easily to gossip so she …

Di wrote:

nodded and continued to smile sweetly as she watched Mary trudge away.

With every step, Mary moaned and bitched about Miss Turnout under her breath. Her deposits in the milk seemed to do little to improve her mood, and now she had a nagging toothache.

Maybe a filling had fallen out and was rattling around in the bottom of the bucket. Better still, maybe the old trout would swallow it and choke. That made her laugh, which in turn made her cough and there followed another satisfying splash in the bucket.

More bitching and moaning in rhythm to her footfalls, gradually fading into the distance and out of Emily’s earshot.

Emily was enjoying her walk to the park, taking in the riot of color on the way, the lovely sunshine, and the anticipation of the Spring Festival, especially as it meant passing through …

Fandango wrote:

62a502f2-092a-40e1-8ee2-011ed2b6a49a

… the field red with poppies. Every time Emily walked through the beautiful poppy field, she would feel a strange sense of euphoria. Everything she was feeling became more intense, the colors of spring brighter, and her mood even happier. She put Mary and her feud with Miss Turnout out of her mind and concentrated on what she would do when she got to the festival grounds.

But Emily was feeling herself growing very, very tired. She was struggling to keep walking through the lovely field of red flowers, which seemed to be glowing and vibrating. Suddenly Emily had to stop. She yawned, stretched out her arms, and slowly fell to her knees. “Why am I so tired?” she wondered. “I have to lie down,” she said aloud.

It was already dark when Emily finally woke up. Had she missed the Spring Festival that she was so looking forward to? She wondered what had happened to her. But then she saw …

Iain wrote:

…Mary standing over her. Her face a ghastly white colour. As Emily’s eyes focused she saw that the white was liquid, it was milk, dripping off Mary’s face, reflected in the pale moonlight. There was something else too. Not just white. There were streaks of red too. Red like the blood red of the poppies that surrounded them. Like a mask of Raspberry Ripple ice-cream. She was naked, the liquid mixture dripping down over her pale skin. She held the two metal buckets Emily had seen earlier in the day, but they were battered and bent and covered in smears of red.

‘Mary, are you okay? Is that blood?’

Mary sneered, ‘It is, Emily. Not mine though.’ Her voice was deranged, like a cackle. ‘Bit of a dramatic end to the Spring Festival. Miss Turnout accused me of selling her tainted produce. Said my milk was lumpy and had gone off. Said it had ruined her baking and left a horrible aftertaste. Well, I couldn’t stand for that.’

Emily drew back as the ghastly apparition gave a loud shriek. ‘What have you done, Mary?’

‘She had it coming, that harridan whore.’

‘Mary, you’re not yourself!’ exclaimed Emily.

‘On the contrary, precious innocent Emily, I’ve never been more myself!’

With that, she ran off through the fields. Emily got to her feet as the other villagers from Goosedown appeared. Sir Michael led the way with a shotgun in hand. ‘Where did she go, Emily?’

Emily pointed to the path of crushed poppies left by the madwoman. The crowd charged after her. Emily decided to walk back to Goosedown, still puzzled that she had fallen asleep all day (had she been drugged?) and shaken by what she had seen.

When she got there, she found…

I continue:

Miss Turnout’s Emporium in ruins. The windows were shattered. Smoke was billowing out of the charred doorway and undulating out into the night skies. A crowd of people stood and stared. Crying sobs came from the grouping. Someone wailed.

Because of the bright light echoing off of the full moon, Emily saw something draped on the ground. There was a pool of liquid that glistened over the material, black in the moonlit night. Emily crept closer. Her mind was swirling with everything that she had encountered along the way. She was still a bit fuzzy, and confused, from her passing out in the field.

She took a tentative step towards the Emporium. Then another. Emily forced herself to continue forward, frightened by what she would find. Until a wet hand landed on her shoulder.

Emily screamed, turned, and saw the hand was Miss Turnout’s.

She dropped her hand instantly. “I’m sorry, love. Didn’t mean to scare the wits out of you.”

Emily took all of Miss Turnout in: her hair was wild and free of her usual cap; her festival clothing was in tatters; there were scrapes, bruises, and black drippings flowing from cuts on her face, arms, and hands.  Emily froze.

“You..you’re bleeding.” Emily removed her kerchief and started to dab at Miss Turnout’s face. There was a severe gash across her forehead and Emily tried to staunch the ichor from the wound with her headwrap.

“Thank you, love. Thank you.” Miss Turnout paused, staring beyond Emily, focussing on her shop, and the draped figure on the ground. She had to shake her head to take her out of her self-made trance. The shake turned into a full-bodied shiver and quake, her legs giving out as she dropped to the ground. Emily helped her to sit up once MIss Turnout demanded she did.

“It was Mary who did this. That crazy sow. She came in my Emporium, put down her damned buckets, and started yelling and coming at me. I had to defend myself. Chairs went flying, one going through the window, and she got as good as she gave. We both went flying into the display cases. I got my cuts and scrapes from that, as well as her bloody fingernails. Then, Philipa came in. Mary was a banshee, flailing around, attacking the two of us.

I’m not sure how the fire started- we were too close to the cooking kettle, I know that. And then Mary…


Okay. Now it’s my turn to tag someone, and the blogger I’ve picked is a wonderful weaver of words, Natale, over at The Midnight Ember.

Update: Unfortunately, Natalie is unable to accept this challenge at the present. Life happens. So…

Please welcome Holly and her blog A Fresh Perspective. She will take on the next section. Thank you, Holly.

Here are the rules:

  1. Copy the story as it appears when you receive it (and the rules please).
  2. Add to the story in whichever style and length you choose.
  3. Tag only 1 person to continue the story.
  4. Have fun!

 

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frosting harvesting

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bludberry-yogurt-cake

frosting harvesting

It was the last feather on the horse’s back. The final straw. The icing on the cake. The “One More Thing” that collapsed her, broke her heart, blew out her soul. The fact that everyone-everyone!-turned their back on her. Even Dale and the twins. Dismissing her and all she stood for.

Forever and a day, all due an unwatched process.

No matter what she was doing first aide on Adele while her twin, Gale, stood off to the side. No matter that Dale ignored the accident, turning around and going into the garage. No matter the blood that was slithering down their daughter’s face from the head gash from tumbling off of her bike, or, she suspected, from Gale pushing her off the bike. The blood blotted out Adele’s eyes, filled her mouth, ran onto her clothes.

No matter for any of it. She took her eyes off of her entry, and no one would forgive her this lapse. Burnt cake. Burnt frosting. The timing of the accident left no time for redos. She had no time to remake any of it. She was already late.

Then she was judged, and harshly. Her neighbors and friends, co-workers, friends, and finally family, judged her end result and issued it Insufficient. As they turned away from her, the Adjudicator yelled the word. Insufficient. Her entry.

Herself.

As was the law, she stood where she was. The late afternoon turned into night, and, finally, the dawn summoned the new day. She was free to leave, but to where? Without seeing it done, she knew Dale had burnt all of her things and changed the locks on all the doors. Her parents and sister as well. It was what was done. Any gift that she had made, kept by family and friends, would be heaped in a pile in the middle of town. By the end of this new day, it would all be broken to dust, the rest turned to ashes.

The walk out of town took her northeast. No town that surrounded her once home would take her in. The news spread too fast. She drank spring water, ate fruit, and raw fish when she could find it. She hid when wagons and solitary riders passed. Sleeping outdoors fitfully, whether it rained or grew cold. Nothing was safe. Not until the journey took her far away.

Time passed, and her clothing got ragged, as did she. Dead inside, she did not heed her weakening from lack of sleep, lack of adequate food, and the constant travel. She gave up. Falling to her knees, and then prone, her eyes closed with her wish for death.

She found out later that the family was traveling, having visited kin up north. The three girls needed to relieve themselves desperately. Their parents argued how close they were to home, how dark it was getting, how tired they all were. It was their younger brother that sealed the deal, his pants and shoes soaked, leaving him crying. The wagon stopped and the girls jumped out, heading to the tree line.

Waking in their house, snuggled beneath a heavy quilt, cleaned and changed into nightwear, she first thought that this was a hallucination. The oldest girl, Mara, cried out “She’s awake!” That sent all the children rushing to the bed she was lying in, followed by Roman and Anne, their parents. All was explained, even though all the questions of the children.

“You were almost dead,” Sarah piped up amidst the telling. The youngest girl, Tara, and their brother, Zara (shortened, she later found out, from Zacharia) just stood and stared at her.

She feigned not knowing her name at first, but the children persisted. She could not tell them that she was Insufficient. They would toss her out. It was lying, but she created a truncated version of that horrible branding.

“Eena. My name is Eena.”

Once Eena was strong enough, she repaid their generosity, at first helping in the cooking, finally taking it over when she proved how adept she was in the kitchen. Everyone enjoyed what she brought to their table, even the picky little ones. It took a short while before she baked again, but she had been healing inside bit by bit. The adults would know something was off if she continued to refuse to bake.

Her first try was met with a smattering of lips and peals of “more, more” from all the children. Their parents joined in that chorus on the third evening’s treat. They praised the frosting, the moistness of the cake. The cupcakes. The frosted tarts. Everything she brought to the table was met with praise and full mouths.

Word got around, and by the end of Eena’s first season in her new town, she had requests, then orders, from all the households. Others seemed to visit the town for errands that never happened, but resulted in their leaving with baked goods of all types.

Eena had been paying for all her baking needs by the end of her second month, with enough left to repay her family for all that she used.

The first season led to the next season, and by the time the third season rolled around, Eena had moved out and into town, opening up her own bakery and living in the back room. She experimented with icing and cake flavors, types of cookies and other baked goods. One and all, she frosted, iced, and created happy tummies.

A year turned to the next, finally admitting she needed help to produce all the orders. She took on Mara, being of age to apprentice, and the two of them baked and created and laughed throughout the day. By the time Mara was proficient she had met a love, that became her spouse.

Moving on left room for Sarah, then eventually Tara. Zara went by Zach now, and he helped with any hefty lifting or fixing when needed. Tara stayed on the longest, making new confections one after the other. Eena had expanded the space with Zach’s help, adding two more living spaces in the back: a bedroom for Tara and a visiting room for them all. The bakery doubled in size and in output.

Zach finally married but still found the time to help around the bakery. The girls came to help, usually two at a time, leaving their children with Grandma Anne and whichever’s sister’s turn it was to mind the little ones. Roman helped with what he could, playing with his grandkids until they tired him out.

Everyone had retreated for the day, and Eena was finishing up one last cake order. She was making an orange frosting, sugared and mixed with orange zest, when the door opened. She humphed a bit, more for herself not making sure the door was locked.

“I’m sold out of everything, and just about done for the…” She couldn’t continue. She dropped the bowel of frosting, the mixing spoon flying up and ladeling the sticky mess onto her face and shirt.

“Adele?”

The girl’s-young woman’s-eyes filled with tears. She nodded her head vigorously, her cheeks turning a burning red. Eena was coming around the counter just as Adele flung herself into an embrace that Eena had never experienced.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Adele repeated over and over.

“Shhh, shhh, you’re here now. That’s enough.”

They both cried, laughed, and tried to unstick themselves from the frosting that was hardening them together.

Eena wanted them to never again unstick from each other.

The Crumpet Slaughter Squad: Chapter One

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@Richard_Kadrey Prompt

Chapter One: Mrs. Teasdale’s Tea

Mrs. Teasdale had set her Afternoon Tea the way she always did: her favourite assortment of sandwiches (Coronation Chicken, Cucumber with butter, and Cheese and Pickle);  Crumpets, with butter and honey on the side; Chopped Date Scones with Strawberry Jam and Clotted Cream; and three tarts (Bakewell, Yorkshire Curd, and Egg Custard). As a final touch she placed a smattering of Fancies around the three plates. She snuck one and took a bite.She was in heaven. And she was expecting company.

The small round table was covered with her finest linen, topped off with her mother’s lace tablecloth. Mrs. Teasdale set out her favorite China and crystal glassware in their traditional placement. The salad plate, centered and surrounded by the linen napkin and fork to the left, the spreader and spoon to the right. Slightly above the spoon stood the water glass, while opposite it, on the same level, was her finest teacup. The small bowel was just off the napkin and fork, alone but never forgotten. The creamer, sugar bowl, serving dish, tea strainer, and at the last minute, the teapot, found their spots in the midpoint between the two settings.

All that was left was to write Ms. Letts name on the place card and set it in the middle of the salad plate, which she did. Now, she was waiting for 4:00 pm, the arrival time for Ms. Letts and the making of the tea. The fresh water was in the tea kettle, waiting to be brought to boiling to make a delightful pot of Earl Grey, as requested by Ms. Letts. Mrs. Teasdale preferred Broken Orange Pekoe but, sadly, that was not the tea she would be seeping today.

The harsh taps of the Wellington door knocker alerted Mrs. Teasdale that her guest had arrived. She scuffled to the front door, patting down her Peach dress, making sure that the white collar laid flat. Yes, all was in place.

Opening the door, Mrs. Teasdale took in Ms. Letts attire. She instantly approved of her understated black dress, draping her figure, the hem falling just below her knees. She noticed the black hosiery, patterned exquisitely. The shiny black pumps helped to make her legs taut and outstanding.

Realizing she was being rude, she lifted her eyes. Mrs. Teasdale took in the Babington shoulder bag, a stylish choice. Her eye-line lifted further, causing a sharp intake of breath. It rested in her throat as she focused on Ms. Letts face.  Shoulder length black hair framed her exquisite porcelain skin. The face, oval-shaped, seemed sculpted. Beautiful brown eyes, arched eyebrows, smooth jawline, and a slim nose, left Mrs. Teasdale almost speechless. Her vanity flared fiercely but she caught herself in time before it showed. At least, she hoped so.

“Smile, you silly git,” she thought as she welcomed Ms. Letts into her abode. They exchanged pleasant greetings. Giving the grand tour of the first floor, they exchanged in small talk, accompanied by smiles both broad and slight. Mrs. Teasdale guided her guest to the sitting room where they would have their afternoon tea. Ms. Letts reached up to the Babington, placing it on the floor by the table. Mrs. Teasdale noticed, for the first time, that Ms. Letts wore dark kid gloves.

Slightly puzzled, as it was a fairly warm day, she bade Ms. Letts to relax while she prepared the tea. “Earl Grey, just as you requested. The shopkeeper assured me that the tea leaves were fresh, delivered just the other day.”

“Oh, Mrs. Teasdale: I almost forgot. Reaching into her large bag she brought out a pastry box that, when opened, sent shivers of joy running through Mrs. Teasdale.

Opening the lid, she exclaimed: “Ms. Letts. This is a stunning Battenberg cake.” She leaned in a little too close, getting a whispered “Tsk” out of Ms. Letts. “It smells heavenly. I will put this in the fridge while I light the oven and bring the water to boil. Please have a seat. It won’t be long.” She left Ms. Letts in the sitting room, entering the adjacent kitchen by its swinging door.

Instead of sitting, Ms. Letts took a stroll around the sitting room. The shelves that held the knick-knacks were well dusted. The Grandfather Clock: spotless. The area rug was wearing in the spots Mrs. Teasdale trod on her path through the room. She admitted it was still pretty, though. Parting the dusty curtains, Ms. Letts looked out the window that faced the park across the road. She noticed the bottom two rows of glass where expertly clear; the top row panes, not so much. She turned her attention and took her seat. Picking up the place card, she let out a slight laugh and put it back in its place.

Mrs. Teasdale lit up the burner full blast. A proper tea is made only with boiling water, her late mother told her time and again. Even after her passing, Mrs. Teasdale followed that rule every time she assembled her afternoon tea.

She turned to the counter on the opposite side of the oven. On the shelf rested the Triple- Tier plate rack, already full of the assortment of sweets. She quickly went to the fridge and brought out the Battenberg, slicing it gently, then placing it artistically around all three of the levels. She finished just as the tea kettle began its screaming.

Mrs. Teasdale moved back towards the kettle and teapot. She did not hear the kitchen door swing open.

Ascertaining that the water was at a perfect boil, Mrs. Teasdale poured some of the hot water into the China teapot. She put down the kettle over the flame and swirled the water around, heating the insides just so. This water was expelled into the adjoining sink.

The tea kettle quickly found its steam, the screeching whistle alerting her it was time. She filled the teapot with the boiled water, quickly adding three hefty teaspoons of the Earl Grey tea leaves. The smell of the tea was intoxicating. She slightly resisted putting the knob on the teapot, but trapping the heat was essential.

As she was doing so,  her lower back, on the right side, was in agony, the pain blazing, causing her to shudder. She shrieked as another stinging, shooting pain tore through her, just under the left shoulder blade. Her legs began wobbling, sinking to her knees as she took two more short sharp shocks. Now unconscious,  Mrs. Teasdale’s upper body smashed into the oven door which hit her face an awful blow.

A violent spasm, from another two blows, sent her to meet the splattered tile floor, face down. She died before she hit. Another set of death jabs created a pattern in Mrs. Teasdale’s back that wouldn’t be noticed while she was covered in her own blood. One more plunge entered at the base of her skull, severing the spinal cord.

While she acknowledged this was overkill, Ms. Letts was compulsive in these matters. Flipping the body onto its back, she cleaned the gore of her Jagdkommondo Tri-Dagger on the Peach obscenity of a dress. She placed it on the counter behind her.

Self-cleansing was next. Standing at the kitchen sink, she mixed the hot and cold waters to give her the warm setting she needed. She quickly found the dish soap, dabbing it lightly on her gloves. Under the running water, she massaged all surfaces of the gloves until the last of Mrs. Teasdale’s blood swirled away.

Patting the kid leather to a damp state with a kitchen towel was followed by scrubbing the sink with the same towel. Once she was satisfied, she poured a liter of bleach down the drain, finding it in a cubby under the sink with other cleaning sprays and material.

When she first entered the kitchen she brought, from her purse, two seal-able plastic bags. Taking one from the food counter, the kitchen towel was shoved inside. Taking another cloth, she took off and wiped down her pumps top and bottom. She had stood to the side when the first stab dug in but the spray was stronger than she anticipated.

Next into the bag went her hose, ruined to hell with the viscous that spurted. She cleaned her legs off with the towel and hand soap and put her heels back on. Giving herself a last once-over, she decided to reclean her shoes. The top was as clean as it would be, for now. With one last kitchen towel and soap, Ms. Letts scrubbed down the outsole, shank, heel, and heel tip. The linen joined the others in the plastic bag. It would find its way into her shoulder purse, joined by its unused mate, when she vacated the kitchen.

Picking up her dagger, and then her skirt, she sheathed her weapon of choice. It attached to her outer thigh, comfortable and hidden. Ms. Letts let her dress fall, making sure that there was no outward sign of the death she always carried.

The bakery box she had brought in was off to the side of the counter. She looked over the sweets laid out but didn’t take any. “Willpower. Must not.” Repeating her mantra a few times, Ms. Letts picked up the empty bakery box, disposal bags, and then the teapot. Stepping over the drying blood, she went into the sitting room.

Sitting at her assigned seat, she picked up the strainer, laying it on top of the teacup.  Lifting the teapot and tilting it, the tea flowed, the strainer capturing the leaves of Earl Grey. The smell was enticing, and her first sip was bliss. It was strong, hot, and delicious as it was. No need for sugar nor cream. When the last drop in the china cup was exhausted,  into the bag it went, along with the place card. She laughed again, this time a little bit shriller. The false name was delicately inscribed.

One last look around the sad, little room and she was up. Stowing the plastic bag into her Babington, Ms. Letts placed it on her shoulder after fastening the clasp. Picking up the empty bakery box, she headed to the front door, carefully retracing the worn pathway that Mrs. Teasdale had set. She stopped just before grasping the doorknob and sighed.

Turning, she hurried back to the kitchen and swung the door open. Mad for crumpets, like the others in their club, she took the four on the tiered display and placed them in the bakery box, closing the lid.

Once done, she focused on Mrs. Teasdale one last time. The pool of blood that spread under the body was starting to congeal. It had spread to an almost perfect circle, the exsanguinated reposed figure cutting the ratio into fragments.

Finally, she turned her attention to the flaccid face. The facial muscles were giving up the ghost sure but steady. Mrs. Teasdale’s weak chin and pouting lips were folding into the double jowls of her neck. Her broad nose was wider, the damage caused by her face slamming into the oven door. Her jumpy brown eyes were open, staring at nothing. “I thought so,” she muttered, noticing the hairpiece Mrs. Teasdale wore was in disarray, showing off the thinned out scalp that glittered from the overhead lights.

“Thank you for inviting me to tea. It was lovely.”

The lump of dead flesh didn’t answer back.

Ms. Letts left the house after she made sure no one was out for a walk. Unlocking her car with a “Beep!” she quickly entered it, locking the doors and starting up the engine. Pushing the button under the console, the back and side windows tinted a shade darker. Placing her shoulder bag in the passenger seat, she removed the empty plastic bag. She backed up, turned left once on the road, and headed to the secluded spot that framed the park.

Once settled she opened the bag. She stripped off her gloves and tossed them in. The wig was next, setting her long red hair free. This was followed by the contacts, the brown irises replaced with her natural green. Kicking off her heels, she replaced them with the Constellation trainers that were in her Babington. The difference in comfort was astounding.

Digging deep into her shoulder bag she located her burner cell phone and turned it on. While it was warming up and finding satellite coverage, Wendy aka Ms. Letts, opened her bag for one more item: the package of moist towelettes. She wiped her face and neck, the ivory makeup a bit stubborn but the towelettes worked. Taking another one, she gave her legs another go. It was a good thing as there was a light shade of blood that transferred off her skin and onto the towelette.

By the time she added the used wipes to the disposable bag, the burner had cycled through all of its gymnastics. She placed a call. It went straight to the club’s voice mail.

“Ladies, Wen here. My afternoon tea was perfect. I hope all of yours were just as splendid. I’m looking forward to tonight’s round of sharing. Ta for now.”

She turned the phone off, took out the battery, and tossed it into the disposal bag, sealing it tight.

Starting the car and revving it a few times, Wendy laughed as she put it in gear and hit the road home.

As she sped along, she opened up the bakery box that she had placed on the passenger seat. Reaching in, she took out a crumpet. No jam. No clotted cream. Just a bite and she was in heaven.

It had been a splendid tea.

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Author’s Note:

I get a kick out of prompts. Right now, creatively, I need these jumping off points. That’s what you’re seeing here on Tale Spinning. I have a few projects of my own I’m procrastinating with that I hope I’ll finish and try to do something with them. We’ll see.

The above pic is one of them, created by Author Richard Kadrey. He has been posting, on Twitter, reworked/photo-shopped covers of old pulp(ish) novels, changing them to show off his brand of humor. I just thought it’d be fun to write a few things from Mr. Kadrey’s posting: so, yes, this is my writing, not Mr. Kadrey’s.

Richard Kadrey is a writer, photographer, comic book writer, and an all-around interesting guy. His fiction straddles the Urban Fantasy, Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Cyberpunk worlds, and he’s pretty darn good with it all. I fell in love with his writing starting with his first Sandman Slim novels. Gritty, sometimes violent, often full of whimsy, worth reading. He’s not just another pretty face.

You can check out more fun covers by following him on Twitter @Richard_Kadrey.

To get into his body of work, visit him at his website: Richard Kadrey

The Candy Striper: The Abysmal Dollhouse (#AtoZ Blog Challenge)

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** New Readers to this challenge: This is a serialized, continuous work. Please start with the first piece, Abysmally Yours. The AtoZ Blog Challenge began April 1st; ends April 30th. Thank you.

The Candy Striper

The Abysmal Dollhouse

The old man took his time entering the store. Stooped over his cane, his face drawn and blotchy. His cap was low on his head; it was easy to tell that the only hair on his head came from his ears.  His glasses were thick, even with the progress in the eyeglass industry. The Shopkeeper took this all in, waiting for him to cross over into the shoppe. The door chime tinkled a little longer than usual.

She smiled at him. “May I offer you any assistance?”

“If it’s OK with you, I’ll just look around. Yes?” he asked. She nodded. “Good. Thank you. This is a very…interesting shop you have.”

“Thank you. Please let me know if you need any information…or help,” she offered one more time, and one more time he refused.

The Shopkeeper went to stand behind the main glass-encased counter. She had to shush a few of the Dollhouse’s pleas of “Mine, mine, mine,” excusing their desperate cries as just noise from outside when she noticed the man’s raised eyebrows.  He turned to look out the window; what he could see was the same empty street he had been ambling along. He smiled, shrugged, and began to look around.

The Shopkeeper studied him. He was gaunt, with sunken eyes, hollow cheeks. She noticed that every few steps a grimace would mar his face. He was short of breath, and occasionally he wheezed.

He examined many of the Dollhouses, reading the legends neatly handwritten on their display placards. He made a few small grunts if he bent over too far on some, a harsh rasp escaping his lips.  The Shopkeeper noticed a sharp, horrid look on his face as he stood in front of the Conservatoire d’épouvante Maison De Poupée. She hurried over to his side, grabbing her broom along the way.

The Unfolding Doll was approaching him from behind, out of the corner shadow, knife in hand. The Shopkeeper spoke a few warding words under her breath, placed her hands in a pattern on the broom handle, and brought the broom down, separating the space between the doll and the old man.  The Unfolding Doll stopped in its tracks. It canted its head to the right, button eyes focused on the Shopkeeper.  It brought the knife up to waist level, but let it drop. Gliding backward, The Unfolding Doll oragamied itself into the shadow in the corner. All this happened in the few seconds it took for the man to get his composure back.

“I would like to show you a special Dollhouse. I think this is one that would be of interest to you,” she offered to the man. This time, he allowed her help.  He followed her to the opposite wall, nearer to the front windows. She stopped him in front of a double-floored straight line designed dollhouse.  The man stared, took a step back like he wanted to retreat out the door, but The Shopkeeper went over and opened the front of the Orange County Hospice.

He stared; just…stood there and stared. The beds lined the long ward, separated with colored drapery.  Some of the beds were occupied, chairs as well. At the end was a large picture window, sectioned off by a frosted glass wall. It was exactly like the one he had just left, unsettling him so that escaping from there seemed preferable.  His aimless walking led him here.  It was sterile clean, bright and open. He hadn’t been ready-not yet-to surrender when he had left the hospice with such heaviness. This…this was different.

He noticed a young girl walking towards him, a closed book in her hands.

“May I sit with you, Charles?” she asked. “I looked for you at your bed, but John in the next bed told me you were out here in the sunroom.” She looked out the window as she sat. “Such a beautiful day, isn’t it?”

Charles nodded at the Candy Striper. She was wearing her candy cane red and white striped pinafore, a natural smile on her face that continued into her eyes. He looked at the book she was holding.

Her smile broadened. “Yes, I have your favorite. I borrowed it from my brother. “She began to read; Charles found himself relaxing and settled back into the chair.

They traveled together over the clouds, hand in hand, flying with Michael, John, Peter, and Wendy…Wendy Lady. The adventure took him to Never Never Land, fighting pirates, living in a hollow tree, saving Tinkerbell’s life. He relished the reading, the escape into a world he loved, and in this… he forgot how much pain he had been in before.

Charles had nodded off at some point. A deep snore woke him up. The candy striper was still there, but the book was closed, bookmarked for a future read. Her smile was addictive, a similar one he felt beginning on his face. On the small glass-topped table in front of him was a tray of delight: baked goods, and all ones that Charles loved.  Chocolate Eclairs, Napoleons,  and a large mound of chocolate covered Rainbow Cookies that he and his father had loved. “Take what you’d like, Charles,” she said. He sampled and ate, and was more than sated. It had been a long time.

When he patted his stomach and sat back in the chair, Anne, the Candy Striper, tilted her head back to the ward. “Mr. Roman says he could beat you in a wheelchair race. Are you up for the challenge?” she asked, the excitement in her voice was evident.

“You bet. I am ready for any challenge!” he exclaimed. Anne helped Charles to his wheelchair, Mr. Roman already waiting.  They nodded at each other, wrapped their hands around the tops of the wheels.

“Ready! Set!…” called Anne.

The Shopkeeper approached the dollhouse and closed the front. She smiled as she heard laughter and friendly shouting noises from within. “Good,” she said out loud, moving back to her counter and picking up her duster. She was speaking to the shadowed far corner. “Good. This one will never be yours.”

The Unfolding Doll was surrounded by shadow. The knife in its hand glinted of its own accord. It could wait, as its wielder could wait as well. Both thirsted for the Shopkeeper but knew this was not the day. The Unfolding Doll crept from the far shadow into The Serpent House, the dollhouse closest to its corner, to play.

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The AtoZ Blog Challenge

During the month of April 2018, the challenge requires that we write 26 posts, starting with the letter A on April 1st (yes, it’s not an April Fool’s Day joke) and ending with Z on Monday, April 30th. A week or so later, there will be a reflection post that will wrap up this experience, for me as well as my readers.

*I’ve decided to reblog past Abysmal Dollhouse stories on Sundays since we’re not required to write those days. The reblog will not correspond to any specific letter. Just thought you might enjoy some of the previous entries that I’m fond of.

This story is an edited version of one that appeared here on October 22, 2011. If you want to read & compare the two, click on this link: Candy Stripe Ward: A Tale of the Abysmal Dollhouse. 

I rewrote this more to fit my current voice with The Abysmal Dollhouse. Not a major reworking, but one I am happier with. Hope you like it.

Gluten for Punishment: The Abysmal Dollhouse (AtoZ Blog Challenge)

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** New Readers to this challenge: This is a serialized, continuous work. Please start with the first piece, Abysmally Yours. The AtoZ Blog Challenge began April 1st; ends April 30th. Thank you.

(CR) Barbara Heimoff Lardizabal

Gluten for Punishment

The Abysmal Dollhouse

Nothing looked familiar, but that seemed to be the way things went nowadays. Arthur felt he was in the right place, was sure of it, but then, again, in the next moment, he was just confused. Arthur paused before the facade of a place with no sign, old but not decrepit, a large window display whose interior was obscured by the glare of the sunlit reflecting off of it. He wasn’t sure anymore of what he was hoping to find. “No way to know if I just stand here,” he thought.

The doorbell tinkled as he entered, and again when he closed the door. Looking around, his shoulders slumped and he let out a soft sigh. Arthur took in his surroundings, finally turning to the woman who was watching him, waiting. No one else was in view, even though he thought he heard some muffled words in the distance. She looked the part of a store employee: fastidious white shirt, black skirt, and a gray apron. Prim, came to his mind.

“Do you work here?”

The Shopkeeper smiled and nodded. “Can I be of any assistance?”

Arthur, eyes wandering, let his feet follow. Dollhouses. Row upon row of dollhouses, all different styles, all, he noticed immediately, with such details.

“Um, yes. Yes. I was looking for a place that I could have sworn was in this location. Could have sworn. But,” his eyes raised to meet hers, “nothing seems to be where it should be, anymore.” He paused, looking at the walls and displays around the shoppe. “No, nothing is the same.”

The Shopkeeper joined him by his side. “Tell me about what you are searching for. Maybe I can be of help.”

“Um, well, yes, maybe.” They continued walking, stopping, he contemplating the dollhouse in front of him, she contemplating him. “Maybe.”

Replicas of houses began to have mixed in other structures: theaters and museums; hospitals and castles; motels and stores; places of pleasure, of memories, and some…some that just did not feel right to Arthur. Those, he passed by quickly.

He thought he heard brushes of conversation, laughter, animal barks, crying, screams, but looking around, no one else was there with them. “It is all right, Arthur. Everything is all right.”

Standing up straight, Arthur faced the woman. He did not remember telling her his name and was about to say so. But, something startled him, to her right and just over in the next aisle. He left her side, walking to what caught his eye. Joints cracking as he bent to look, Arther’s face became radiant. The Shopkeeper smiled and returned to her counter.

The bakery. His memories swirled of all the tastes of the freshly baked goodness. The smell gladly assaulting his nostrils, breathing in the aroma, closing his eyes to add to his sense of smell, taste.

The service counter was just as he remembered it. Cookies of all types, pastries, cakes, pies. Special delights, like his favorite, a Charlotte Russe, paper sleeved cake filled to the brim with fresh made whipped cream and topped with a Maraschino cherry, with the stem.His dad’s favorite Rum Balls. His mom’s favorite anything sweet. Danish and crumb cakes, strudels, Strawberry Short Cake, and Black & White Cookies.

Arthur was drooling.

“Hello, Arthur,” Mrs. Glibert called to him, behind her place at the counter. “Rye bread is fresh, as your mother likes it. Here.” She handed him a slice of the loaf. The texture was perfect, soft and flavorful, with the crust having that golden baked perfected crunch.

“But, but, um, it’s gluten. I break out in a rash. My stomach tumbles. My…”

“Hush, here. Try it,” she insisted gently.

Arther tentatively took a bite. It was heaven in his mouth. Then another-to hell with getting sick from this. He finished the slice, licking his lips, searching for any stray crumbs. He wanted more.

Mrs. Gilbert handed over a large Black & White; the cake-like cookie still warm and soft, the chocolate and vanilla icing gooey. Arther took it over to one of the small tables with their wire-backed chairs and set about to polish off this treat that he hadn’t had in way too long.

The door opened. “Hey Artie,” the guys called to him as they came in. Ricky, Eugene, and Steve ran to the counter, errand running for their moms but also looking for their favorites.

“Boys, boys, one at a time,” Mrs. Gilbert smiled as she fussed over them.

They brought more of the smell of the bakery swirling around them as they joined Arther at the table. He was almost finished with his B&W and thinking about another. Neighborhood kids in a neighborhood place that had the feel of home. Arther was happy to be here.

The Shopkeeper looked around her empty shoppe,  taking in the memory of freshly baked goodies. She walked to the shoppe door, locked it, turned the sign to read “Closed for Lunch,” and went to her back room for a chocolate chip scone and tea.

*****************************

The AtoZ Blog Challenge

During the month of April, 2018, the challenge requires that we write 26 posts, starting with the letter A on April 1st (yes, it’s not an April Fool’s Day joke) and ending with Z on Monday, April 30th. A week or so later, there will be a reflection post that will wrap up this experience, for me as well as my readers.

*I’ve decided to reblog past Abysmal Dollhouse stories on Sundays, since we’re not required to write those days. The reblog will not correspond to any specific letter. Just thought you might enjoy some of the previous entries that I’m fond of.

The G & R Bakery in the photo above once existed in the Bronx, NY. The photo was taken by Barbara Heimoff Lardizabal; you can find more of her work at Bronx Pictures 92.

Now I want a real Black & White!