Photo by Taylor Grote on Unsplash
The dough was spongy beneath her fingers, just the right side of tacky and so she threw it down onto the flour-dusted counter and began to knead. Yet with every punch and twist and roll, her anxiety grew. Would this suffice? What if they didn’t like it? The first time she had displeased them, they gave – what did they call it? – dispensation, the word hissed out like the very taste of it on the tongue was unpalatable in the extreme. This time she was sure there would be no mercy.
An hour later, hovering by the oven door, peering in whilst her heart hammered in her chest and she whispered the silent prayer of bakers everywhere, willing the muffins to rise, puffy and glorious and light beyond imagining, the alarm went off. It was time. They were good. Not perfect, but good: fluffy and golden and studded with jewels of fruit which glistened, promising succulent sweetness within. Hands trembling, she placed them on the requisite tray, passed them to the silent and inscrutable servants and the waiting began.
She gasped awake and shook her head to rid herself of the needle-sharp gaze of those button black bitter blank eyes. All pupil-wide and vacuous yet swirling with malice, they seemed to curl into a grin every time she faced them. Why had she taken this job? It’s not like she was desperate. Plenty of places needed a baker – everyone hates the early start.
She’d been seduced by the gothic flying buttresses, the sweeping hallways and oak-panelled walls. The place spoke to her of the books she had read as a girl and the thought that she could live here – enter this hallowed world of privilege and history and step into the picture-book beauty. She was sold on sight. But now…now she had peeled back the exterior and felt the burning furnace within, crackling with spite and cackling with delight at the dark magic of its heart, she was ready to go.
They had it sewn up though, of course. That’s the thing about gothic mansions, they’re bloody hard to escape from: grounds that stretch forever and a day; iron gates which tower into the very heavens above; giant keys clanking on the hip of a sullen and mean-spirited housekeeper. And all of that was without even considering the dogs. She’d wondered about them on day one, but allowed herself to be swept away by her romantic foolishness. No chance of getting past them, even with fully functioning limbs.
Two hours later, aproned and ready in the kitchen, she glanced down at the pastry and swore. Not only was it harder to roll with fingers missing, but the wounds kept splitting open and now she had to start from scratch. Again.
The heat was getting to her. The air hung thick and heavy, cut only by the blast of scalding heat which belched its way into the kitchen when she opened the oven doors. She was used to the hands by now, deft almost, but the missing toes on her right foot were agony. Blistered and swollen, they forced her to drag her foot behind her, choking back her sobs of desperation as she tried to work out what it was they wanted, what would finally sate their tastebuds and leave her whole, or as whole as she could be now after they’d begun the game of hacking her apart, piece by bloody piece. This was Masterchef one-o-one alright.
Had she not turned at that moment to check the time, and bent to tighten the bandage on her bleeding feet, she might have noticed the scrap of bloodied skin as it fell into the mixture. She might have seen it combined with the other ingredients as the machine continued to beat its rhythm in a perfect figure of eight. Had she seen this, she would have gone to bed less bemused, less shocked by the rapture with which they greeted the delicate biscuits after licking their fingers and hoovering crumbs from the plate before them. As it was, she allowed herself only a moment of thanks for her remaining extremities, and sank into a dreamless sleep.
A sorry sight stands before us in the kitchen, staring listlessly out at the sculptured gardens as she stirs the stew with bruised stumps, and grimaces her lipless smile as she remembers the life before. She’s not to know, poor girl, that this day marks the end of her probation. This is the day that marks the culmination of the tasting menu, and the girls, onyx eyes glittering with excitement are already gathering in the hall, the best silver set out to mark the occasion. Does she wonder perhaps, when she sees a young lady, blonde-haired and wide-eyed, being escorted around the gardens, shielding her eyes as she looks up at the turrets and towers which stand proud against the blue, blue sky? It’s a beautiful day for a celebration.
When they came for her, she pleaded for what she could. Not the eyes, she begged. Not the heart. They shook their heads, sullen and stern, for that’s not what the girls desire. Her head, especially, would stay intact, as a glorious addition to the outer walls. One of her wishes would come true after all- she could drink in the beauty of her surroundings forever and ever and ever. They would take what they needed from her, slicing from the sternum downwards and retrieving the prize within. After all, the way to the girls’ heart is always through the stomach.
© Abi Hennig 2019
Written in response to a prompt from Creative Writing Ink: https://creativewritingink.co.uk/writing-prompts/