Sunday, September 18, 2016

Cake by Genevieve Shapiro

Doug's obsession for sweet treats may have gone too far... by Genevieve Shapiro.

Doug added a king-size bag of assorted gumdrops to his shopping cart and clicked on "fun size" in the left navigation column. Twenty pages. Too much. He filtered the results by clicking on "chocolate." Five pages of mini candy bars.

"Okay, now we're talking," he murmured, and began flicking through the options. Babe Ruth for sure. They'd been his favorite since he spent his first allowance. He added a 11.5-oz bag of those. He was an old-fashioned dude when it came to candy. Mounds were his other favorite, and he got a five-pack of their snack-size bars. He was going to keep looking but a reminder popped up on his screen:

"Time to go home."

No snoozing on this task. He clicked "dismiss" and went to the checkout to pay for his goodies. Within four minutes he'd completed his purchase, saved the report which had been open in the background for the last half hour, logged off his computer, changed his shoes, and left the office. What should he get for dinner?

Soup maybe. There was pretty good soup at the corner shop near his apartment. And he could pick up a Kinder Egg for dessert. He adored prizes in food, and since Crackerjack started putting QR codes instead of toys into their boxes he was boycotting them. No Prize, No Buys. Kinder Eggs had great prizes. He especially loved the tiny snap-together cars and planes with removable pea-sized wheels. The chocolate wasn't bad either, although he sometimes liked to doll it up with whipped cream. So, yeah, soup sounded like the best option for dinner.

The sun had disappeared behind the downtown skyline, and the sky was a dusky blue. He was still ten blocks from home when he saw the barricade. The sidewalk and half the street were blocked off by sawhorses with plastic tape running between them. Doug stopped walking and frowned. That hadn't been here this morning. There had been no signs warning of upcoming work. He scanned the street on the far side of the barricades. A ten-foot wide trench had been dug straight across the street, from the front door of an apartment building to a yarn shop on the other side. Wooden planks led to the doors of those two buildings, but all other traffic was directed to take a detour. Cars were stopping and doing a three-point turn to take a side street. Doug was the only pedestrian in sight.

He turned left and followed the cars into the side street. He'd never taken this route, since it had no shops on it. "Chelsea Lane" read the green sign attached to the brick wall of the building on the corner. It looked like it was apartments all the way over to the next big avenue. Oh well, another three blocks wouldn't hurt. He was working up an appetite, and thought he'd better get more than just soup. Maybe some pound cake. Lemon drizzle, perhaps?

He'd gone only a little way along Chelsea when he came to an alley leading off to his right. It was narrow and poorly maintained, with garbage cans lining the fences and walls between garage doors. In the distance he saw streetlights from the lane parallel to Chelsea, about ten or fifteen houses along. The alley was gloomy, and the only light came from a large window partway down on the left side. Doug decided to take the shortcut partly to save time but mostly because he was curious about the window, which appeared to be a shop front. As he got closer he saw that it was in fact a shop, with warm lights glowing inside, and hand-painted letters on the glass in gothic script: "Drake's Cakes."

Oh my.

He could already see that the window housed a fabulous display of cakes, and as he got closer his mouth watered. The window was a glass closet with five columns of transparent shelves. In each clear cubbyhole was a cake. Automatically he counted them. Twenty-four cakes. Eight sheet cakes, and the rest were layer cakes of various heights. The first two columns of shelves held fun themed cakes with wild colors and marzipan figures. Tiny bears climbed up the steps of a dark-green cake. Another was shaped like three suitcases stacked up, with edible travel tags and stickers. The next looked like a castle with tiny sugar ivy climbing the ramparts. The right column of shelves housed tastefully color-coordinated cakes with messages on them in contrasting icing. "Happy Birthday." "Bon Voyage." "Goodbye." The middle column of shelves held all white cakes. Wedding or christening cakes, hard to tell. They all had piped white icing lace and sprays of tiny white sugar flowers on smooth white royal icing. Ruffles of tulle framed the base of each cake and crystals of sugar caught in the netting glittered in opalescent colors.

Doug realised he was leaning his forehead against the window. He stood up, blinking, and then noticed movement inside. A man in a white cap and apron moved behind a counter at the back of the room. It was fate! He'd been going to get a cake anyway, and this little place probably didn't get much traffic. He'd do them a favor and buy a cake. He went to the door and pushed. It didn't open. Then he noticed the sign hanging by fishing line from a suction cup hook on the glass plate of the door. "So Sorry, We Are Closed," it read in the same gothic script. Doug peered through the door and saw the man still there, sweeping the floor, his back to the door.

Doug knocked. The man stopped sweeping. Stopped moving altogether.

"Hello!" shouted Doug. "Hey!" He knocked again on the door and shook the handle. The door rattled. The man began to turn around slowly, so slowly that Doug could have walked away before he was seen. But Doug didn't walk away.

The man had turned around fully now. Not tall, he had dark brown eyes and a narrow pointed nose with a bump on the bridge. His lips were red, and his top front teeth jutted out slightly, at an angle to each other. His skin was a pale tan, and brown sideburns showed where his cap ended. He was wearing a white t-shirt, and as he walked around the counter Doug saw he had on white pants and white rubber shoes, too. The man rested his broom against the counter, walked around the work island in the middle of the room, and came to the door.

He smiled. His teeth were all white, and all slightly crooked. Why was Doug thinking so much about his teeth? "Open up," he said loudly. The man shook his head and pointed to the "closed" sign. He was still smiling, and he didn't blink.

Doug pulled out his wallet and waved it. "I want to buy a cake!" he said, and heard his voice echoing off the alley's walls. A breeze stirred and the smell of garbage nearly put him off his mission. He thumped his wallet on the glass.

The man paused, and then unlocked the door. "We're closed," he said, in a gentle voice.

"I just want a cake!" said Doug. "Don't you want to make a few extra bucks before you go home?

"I am home." the man said.

"Ok whatever. But how about it? Can I buy one of those cakes?" Doug pointed at the window. "That small one with the yellow and gold icing. How much is it?"

"It's not for sale," said the man. "All the cakes in that window are commissions."

"Well, then, make me a cake!" said Doug. "I used to work in a bakery, and I know you have all the ingredients ready to go. Just take a cake from the freezer, put some frosting on it, and boom! You made a sale!" He stepped into the shop, pushing past the man.

The inside of the shop was warm, and smelled sweetly caramelised. The floors were made of burnished old wood, which gleamed like dark honey. The walls were painted a fir green, and held racks of baking supplies. Number-shaped candles, tubes of colored icing, cooling racks, oven mitts, silicone spatulas. The huge work island in the middle had a white marble top with grey veins, and it shone under the old-fashioned chandelier which hung from a high white ceiling. At the back of the room the sales counter was made of wood and pressed tin, and an elegant old-fashioned brass-and-wood cash register perched at the end, complete with a shiny brass crank on the side and tiny round number keys. Doug loved old-timey stuff, and he loved Drake's Cakes; he would be spending a lot of time here in the future. It was his new home away from home!

He turned and saw the man still standing at the door. "Well? Can you do lemon? I like lemon drizzle on pound cake. You got any pound cake?"

"We're closed. There's no one here but me, and I'm leaving soon." The man held the door open still and gestured out at the alley, which was now dark except for the buttery glow cast from the window display. "You should leave."

Doug frowned. "I'm not leaving until you make me a cake. My money isn't good enough for you?"

The man sighed. "It's good enough, but I don't think you would like the price."

Doug laughed shortly. "That's no problem. I have plenty of cash. Come on, what do you say? Make me a cake." He felt heat rising up his neck, his forehead flushing. He felt like he'd lose face if he gave up now.

The man let the door swing shut and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Look, you really should leave."

"No. I'm staying right here for as long as it takes."

"It takes longer than you think," said the man, who seemed to be relenting.

"I don't care! Make me a cake. MAKE ME A LEMON CAKE!" Doug shouted.

"Ok," said the man, and locked the door.

11 comments:

  1. Bizarre and intriguing. The tensions and self-delusions of addictive behaviour are well wrought in this story. Did I get it right that Doug's locked inside the shop as the baker leaves? I'd like to know more,
    many thanks,
    Ceinwen

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  2. i think this is very good, initially i thought we would follow a predictable tale of greed and obesity and then it became dark with a growing undertone. Like Ceinwen I would like to know more about Doug´s fate.
    Mike McC

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  3. Okay, i'm longing to see where this ends. Great description of what one does for one's favourites. I think the man relented and finally baked him a cake; if i'm correct then this is also a good tale of persistence. He displayed as much courage and persistence as his love for cakes. Really good one.

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  4. Nostalgia time - this Doug would get a quarter (25 cents on the other side of the Atlantic) and walked a few blocks to a run down store (long since deactivated) for a bag full of candy. I was never locked in.

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  5. The end left unsaid, but surely a dire consequence after the focus on the baker's teeth. Well done! Thank you.

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  6. ha! That's funny. the rest of the story was actually cut off. i wonder if that was the editor's preference? Here's my ending. hope you like it, and thanks for the comments!


    Post-Herald News
    May 23, 2016
    Bizarre Slaying in Abandoned Bakery
    Lee Degre
    A partially decomposed body that was found Wednesday in an abandoned bakery has been identified as Doug Hold, a sales manager who went missing a month ago. Police say it was a homicide, but declined to provide details. Interviews with witnesses have provided more information, but the story only becomes stranger.

    The site used to be a pastry shop called “Drake’s Cakes.” Neighbors say it was closed in 1977 after the owner murdered eight customers over the course of a year. He killed himself before the trial, and as he had no next of kin, the city confiscated the business. Nothing happened to the site and it eventually decayed into what you see today: broken, boarded windows, and inside, a floor that’s more holes than wood. Dust and cobwebs are the only decorations you can get there now. So what was Doug Hold doing inside?

    The dogwalker who found the body says it was laid out on an old worktable at the center of the room. She saw a set of footsteps leading from the door to the table, but otherwise the dust was undisturbed. Police have not announced the cause of death yet, but the witness says Mr. Hold was lying on a large tray. “At first I thought it was a satanic cult murder, or something, because of the candle they put on his forehead,” she said. “But that didn’t explain why he was covered in lemon frosting. He looked like….like a big cake.”

    END

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  7. Got it! The icing on the cake - a very satisfactory conclusion ..
    Ceinwen

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  8. thanks, Ceinwen! funny comment. :)
    Thanks Nancy, Doug,Mike, Kneeyi - best thing about nostalgic candy is it doesn't rot your teeth like real candy....

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  9. Thanks Genevieve for the ending - actually I agree with the ed. The story is ten times more powerful without the explanation. I love multiple possibilities and ambiguous endings.
    Mouthwatering descriptions. It's really got me thinking - there's Monk Bar Chocolates in the town where I live...and Imaginative Icing...and...
    A great and gratifyingly mysterious read!
    B r o o k e

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  10. Great fun! Love the colours and descriptions. I like it with or without the added ending (if you see what I mean). You are what you eat!

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  11. The closure of your ending is nice, but I think it's creepier and stays with you more as it was posted on the site. Nice job!

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