Welcome back to Full Moon First Drafts, in which I take a writing prompt and in two to three late night timed writing sessions, attempt to give it a horror/dark fantasy bent.
This evening’s prompt:
“Write a story about a very special cake.”
Fair warning, while I do find aspects of this story darkly humorous, it’s probably more of the former than the latter.
WELCOME HOME, HONEY
by Levi Lee
Shelly McNaughton slid the bottom blade of the scissors gingerly under the plastic band of the hospital bracelet and gave it a quick snip. It fell into the trash can below with hardly a sound, coming to rest on top of an empty box of store-bought Funfetti cake mix. With all the business of the day and the preparations for this evening she had honestly forgotten about the damn thing, but with the frequent hand washings preparing dinner it had become an annoyance, the water collecting under it and leaving a damp band of moisture around her wrist.
She walked back over to the stove, gave the pasta and the sauce a quick stir, tapping the wooden spoon on the lip of the saucepan so it didn’t drip all over the countertop as she set it down. John hated it when the countertop was a mess. John hated a great many things. She bent over, looking in the oven window to check on the cake. It was almost done. She, was almost done.
Looking at the egg timer and seeing she still had several minutes before she needed to start turning the heat down on the stove and take the cake out of the oven she walked out of the kitchen, through the living room and down the hall into the bathroom. She wanted to make sure she looked nice. As nice as possible at least. Looking into the mirror was still slightly startling, though she had gotten used to being taken aback by her own appearance over her five long years of marriage to John McNaughton. She was a beautiful woman, quite beautiful, and her parents had always said so growing up, though they’re supposed to. As she grew older, however, her friends had always begrudgingly said so as well. In High School, the other cheerleaders, mostly blonds, seemed especially jealous and slightly perplexed when John, then the captain of the football team, fell for her instead, a brunette with piercing green eyes.
Looking in the mirror, she smoothed the creases of her dress over her slim figure with her good arm, the one that wasn’t in a sling. The dress she chose for the evening had been particularly hard to get into without straining the fracture from the night previous. It followed closely the curves of her body, without being untastefully tight, and had a cut that was low…though not too low. John hated it when she showed too much skin, even if he was the only one she was going to be around. Balancing on the tightrope of modesty with John had always been a struggle, and despite her efforts, he usually found something to be angry about when he wanted to, when he had had too much to drink, which was most of the time. She pushed a few stray hairs out of her face, lightly probing her swollen right eye with furtive fingers. The ring around it was already starting to turn a deep purple, and she winced a little when she pressed too hard, the pain shooting up through her temples and coming to rest in a throbbing headache that had been pulsating all day.
She turned and walked back into the kitchen. John would be home soon, and she wanted to make sure that all was prepared. Things had to be perfect. This was her only opportunity.
The egg timer was about to sound when she reached the kitchen. She turned the dial the last few degrees home and the dinging sound it made resounded through the empty house. She turned the heat down on the pasta and the sauce, stirring each of them again in turn. She bent over, checked on the cake. Another minute or so and she could pull it out of the oven. It too had to be perfect. It, especially, had to be perfect. It was by far the most important part of the meal. She leaned against the counter, thinking. What was she going to do after tonight? Where would she go? She pushed the thoughts away. Not important. She had to get through tonight before any of that mattered. Everything had to go to plan, or she wouldn’t be going anywhere.
She looked over at the spice rack, left to her by her grandmother when she died just last week. Her eyes ran over the small bottles, each nestled in their wooden slots. Basil, Cumin, Cinnamon, Parsley, Bay Leaves, Poppy seeds, Paprika, Thyme…Elder Tenebrum seeds. She glanced back toward the oven. Time to get the cake.
She grabbed a pot holder and pulled the oven door open, gingerly she reached inside and grabbed the lip of the cake pan and brought it out. She sat the cake down on the counter, two hot pads underneath to keep the counter from getting scorched. Pulling a toothpick from a little box by the stove, she stuck it down into the center of the cake and after a moment pulled it out. It was done. Now she needed to give it a little time to cool before icing. By the time she got back from cutting the phone line it would probably be cool enough.
She had grabbed a sturdy pair of wire cutters from John’s toolbox last night after he had gone to sleep, stowing them in a drawer in the kitchen underneath spatulas, spoons, and ladles for safe keeping. Taking the wire cutters to the phone line she made surprisingly quick work of it. It was much simpler than she thought it would be.
She was right about the timing. The cake was cool enough to ice. It was funfetti cake. John loved it. It was his favorite. He was a child. An abusive, alcoholic child, but a child nonetheless. She spread the cream cheese icing on top of the cake with care. She made it even, smoothing out the swooping marks that the spatula made. She wanted it to be perfect. She wanted him to remember how much care she had taken, how immaculate the cake looked when he died.
She set the table, placing each item on a hot pad, arranging everything in a semicircle, placing two candles in the middle of the table. The cake she left sitting on the counter. She would present it to him at the end of the meal. It was the coup de grace. She laid out the placemats for each of them, putting a shining white porcelain bowl on each, placing the silverware on either side, the fork on the left, the knives on the right. She filled each of the bowls with pasta and ladled a generous helping of sauce on the top, making sure that John’s portion of sauce had plenty of hamburger in it. He liked that. She had barely finished lighting the candles when she heard his key turn in the front door.
John McNaughton eased in the front door without even looking at his wife, who stood beaming in front of the kitchen table. He was a bedraggled looking man, with wispy black hair greasy from one too many showerless days sat like a mop atop his square shaped head. He had a firm, stocky build and in the past had struck a well-cut figure, but over the last several years the drinking had added a rather significant paunch to his waist band. Most days he carried a look of vague disgust about him no matter what was going on in his life or who he was talking to. He stripped his heavy work coat off one sleeve at a time, shook the dust out of it and hung it on the peg by the door. It was only then that he noticed his wife, and the spread that she had laid out for him.
“Huh.” He said, his lip curled up and his jaw slightly agape in a look of mild surprise.
“I made your favorites.” She said, following him over to the easy chair in the living room as he sat down. He tossed his cell phone down on the end table next to him. He stared over at the meal as she knelt down in front of him. With one hand she unlaced the first of his boots, and with the other she palmed his phone. She slid it down into the waistband of her apron.
“Listen. Shelly…” He started, turning back to her just as her hand came out from under the apron.
“I know sweetheart. It’s okay.” She interrupted him. She pulled one of the boots free, set it to the side, and started unlacing the second.
“You know I hate it when we fight like that.” He said. She nodded curtly, and pulled the second boot free, setting it next to the first.
“I know, John” She replied.
“No. Look at me.” He grabbed her chin between his thick thumb and index finger, pulling her gaze up to meet his. “I love you so much, Shelly. It’s just…” His voice took on a flushed, exasperated tone. “Why do you have to poke at me like you do?”
“I know, John. I’m so sorry.” She said, her eyes pleading with him.
“Is that?” He looked over at the table. She nodded, a smile spreading across her face.
“Your favorites. Spaghetti and meat sauce,with plenty of hamburger, and for dessert…”
“Funfetti cake.” He finished. He looked down at her smiling then. It was the smile of a man who knows he’s won. The smile of a man confident that he is in control. It was exactly the smile that Shelly was hoping for.
“Let’s just forget about the whole thing.” He said, still grinning like an idiot.
“Yes, let’s.” She said back, knowing that she could never forgive, knowing that she could never forget, and for certain knowing that what happened tonight would be burned into her memory for the rest of her life, and that was exactly what she wanted.
She stood, walking over to the table, pulling out his chair like a good little wife should. He strutted over, walking that self-assured walk of a man who doesn’t even know how much he’s over-extended himself, how much he’s underestimated this ‘little woman’ that he’s abused and taken for granted for so long. He was going to enjoy this meal. She would make sure of that, and she was going to enjoy what came after all the more. She pushed the chair in under him, started to go around to the other side of the table, and then stopped mid-stride.
“Oh goodness.” She said. “Almost forgot to run the garbage disposal. Wouldn’t want those egg shells sitting in there and smelling up the place.”
“Well make it quick, because I’m not waiting.” He said back.
“Oh go ahead, darling. You dig in. I’ll just be a moment.” She said as she made her way over to the sink. She turned the water on, pulled the phone from her waistband, shoved it down into the disposal, and flipped the switch.
* * * * *
He had eaten his last meal in the same way that he had lived his life, hastily, and with little regard of the mess he made for others to come and clean up behind him. All the while she let him talk, smiling that deferential smile as he made endless justifications for his deplorable behavior, both at home and at work. She did her best to make him feel comfortable.
“I gotta say, honey, I wasn’t expecting to come home to all of this. I really thought on my way back from work that we might have to have another talk, just to set the record straight.” He said, wiping the sides of his mouth with a crumpled and now well-used napkin.
“No dear. I know how much I’ve been frustrating you. That’s why I wanted to do something special.” She paused. “I wanted to do something for you that you would remember, so that you could look back and know that I understand precisely how I should have handled our relationship from the very start.” His face beamed at that, thinking that he finally, after all of these years, had her tied down for good. He thought he had her broken and bent. That’s precisely what she wanted him to think. It was time to bring out the cake.
She stood from the table, pushing her chair out with her legs and dotting the sides of her mouth daintily with a napkin still perfectly folded. She smoothed the creases of her dress down and turned, walking over to the counter and the cake. It was a bit of a struggle getting hold of the thing with both hands, and an ache sprung up somewhere underneath the sling. She let out a small wince. John didn’t try to get up, didn’t even seem to notice, which was no surprise really. She wanted to feel the pain. She embraced it, wanting to experience it. It would be the last pain she would feel because of this man.
She walked over and set the cake on the corner of the table, he eyed it hungrily.
“Funfetti.” He said.
“Like I said, John.” She smiled again. “All your favorites.” After a moment she added, “I did put in a little something extra this time. I hope you like it. There were some wonderful things in the old family spice rack I got when my grandmother passed last week.” She walked over and slid the large carving knife out of the block.
“You added something?” He asked, his eyebrow raised slightly. She chided herself inside as she moved back to the table. She shouldn’t have mentioned anything.
“Oh, just a little something.” She backtracked, making smooth cuts into a corner of the cake, the steel blade sliding easily through the icing and forming a small-sized corner piece. “Some Elder Tenebrum. You’ll probably hardly even notice it.” She said, though she knew just the opposite to be true.
“Hmmm.” He said, considering it. He puckered his lips, slightly irritated. She wondered if things would go south earlier than expected. The knife was in her hand, though that wouldn’t be nearly as gratifying. Nowhere near the satisfaction she would have when they came clawing their way out from the inside. No. She wanted that. After all these years she needed that. He needed to be punished. He had to eat the cake. She’d force it down his gullet if she had to.
“Well…you couldn’t have screwed it up that bad.” He caved, his words dripping with condescension. “It’s store bought cake mix for Christ’s sake.”
“I’m sorry, honey.” She said, and slid the small baked square gently onto a small white plate. “Really, you won’t notice a thing.”
He studied the slice on his plate for a minute, bending at the waist and looking at every side, inspecting it as if he might find something amiss in the white fluffy cake spattered with bits of color. She stood watching him, her hands crossed tepidly in front of her, one hand still clutching the knife, it’s blade now half covered in icing. He looked up at her, finally taking hold of his fork.
“You gonna’ stand there and watch me?” He asked.
“I just want to make sure you like it.” She replied.
He slid his fork down into the cake, brought it up to his mouth, and then chewed thoughtfully. His face softened, and he made short work of the rest.
“Very good, dear.” She said. “Very good.” She started clearing plates from the table and taking them over to the sink.
* * * * *
John McNaughton retired from dinner to his usual place, the easy chair in the living room directly across from the television, a beer on the table next to him. On a normal night he would spend the evening building up a small collection of dead soldiers on the end table, and eventually fall asleep in his chair. Tonight though, he didn’t even get through the first bottle before he whined in pain, clutching at his stomach.
“Something didn’t sit right with that meal, Shelly.” He groaned. “What kinda’ backwoods Appalachian redneck spices you put in that cake anyway?”
“Nothing ever agrees with you, John McNaughton.” Shelly replied from the sink, still scrubbing away at the night’s dishes. He shot her a glare.
“What’d you just say to me?” He snapped. Shelly grabbed the carving knife from the sink and slid it into the back of her waistband as she turned, keeping it as best she could from John’s view. The Elder Tenebrum would finish him off, no question of that, but she still wasn’t going to take any chances.
“You know exactly what I said, John.” She said back, wiping her hands off on her apron.
He stood from his chair, letting out a sharp breath as he did so, his right hand massaging his stomach. Half bent over now, he raised his voice.
“I thought we were clear on this, Shelly.” He yelled. “I thought we already had this fucking conversation!”
“No, John.” She spoke in a cool, even tone, pulling all her reserve together to keep her voice from trembling. She took a few steps toward him. “This is the fucking conversation I should have had with you a long time ago.”
He lurched forward now, his free hand swiping out at the air toward her face, but the pain was too intense and he listed to the side, taking the hand from his stomach to steady himself on the end table. It fumbled as it came down seeking purchase and knocked the half full beer bottle to the floor. It landed with a clatter and the suds flowed out, pooling around his feet, soaking into his yellowing socks.
“You did something to me, bitch!” He was shouting now, the pain in his stomach bending him over. “What was in that food you fucking whore?!”
“You never did like my family, John.” She said back, seeming to ignore his question entirely. “Always ready with a back-handed remark when it came to my Mother and Father. And when it came to Grandma, well, there were endless ways you came up with to denigrate her, weren’t there? Do you hate all women, John. Or just the ones in my family?”
“A batty old superstitious witch with a mouth that her husband ‘ought to have closed ages ago? Yeah, I hate her! I can’t stand a’ one of ’em! Buncha’ hillbillies and inbreds from some nowhere town that no one even fucking remembers!” He was reeling now, barely even standing up. She moved up on him, bending down to look him in the face.
“It’s called Norwich. But you never did give much thought to all the stories that came out of Norwich, did you, John?” She spat her words at him now. “The families that come from there are old, John, very old. My family is very old. We come from the sea, John. A deep and endlessly dark place out of which crawl the strangest things. Things older than the stones of the old north wall. Things that not even the people of Norwich can explain. They respect them though, John. They respect those things, and they honor them. With word, with reverence, and with sacrifice…they honor them. And tonight I’m going to honor them too. With you John. I’m going to honor them with you.”
“What the fuck are you talking about, you crazy bitch?!” He screamed at her. “Did you fucking poison me?”
“Poison?” She laughed. “Oh no, John. Not poison. I put their seeds in the cake, John. I put them in the cake and they’re going to crawl out of you. They’re going to claw their way out of you, inch by bloody inch, and then they’re going to slither back out into the sea, dragging the tiny bits of your rotting carcass with them.”
“Argghhh!” He cried, tears pouring out of the sides of his eyes. “What the fuck did you do to me?!” He reached for his cell phone on the end table and not finding it there let out a moan of despair and frustration.
“Looking for your phone, darling?” She cocked her head to the side and smiled, wryly. “It’s in the garbage disposal. I can get it for you but I don’t think it’ll be of much use to you anymore.”
“You bitch! You fucking bitch!” He cried. He stumbled on trembling legs across the room to the old touch tone on the wall. His hands shaking wildly now, he snatched at it with palsied fingers and put it to his ear. He heard nothing. He spun back around to face her. One of her hands was behind her back, the other held his pair of wire cutters. She looked proud of herself. She was proud of herself.
“Snip snip!” She chirped. In a rage, he tore the phone from the wall and threw it at her. She side-stepped it easily. He staggered back toward her.
“I’m gonna’ kill you, bitch.” He said, his voice trembling with pain, but determined.
“Can you feel them, John?” She asked quietly. “Can you feel the black things in your guts pulling and tearing at your insides, clawing and gnawing their way through you. They’re going to rip you apart from the inside. Do you believe me now, John? Do you?!”
“What’d you put in my funfetti?!” He moaned, his breaths growing short and strained. “You bitch! You know how much I love funfetti!” He swung wildly at her, but she was prepared, and swooping the knife round brought it home in the palm of his hand. It slid through with a squelch, stopping at the handle.
“AAAaaaaahhhhh!!” He screamed and stumbled backward, falling onto the large throw rug they’d bought at the local flea market. He laid there on his back, clutching his wrist with his good hand as blood spurted out onto the floor. His knees drew up close to his body.
“How’s that for poking at you, John?!” She said, stooping over him as he writhed on the rug.
His face flushed a bright red, his veins straining out in his neck. His arms splayed out to the sides. His fingers curled up into his palms. It looked as if every muscle in his body had been pulled taut, ratcheted up to the highest tension. He howled with pain.
“For God’s sake somebody fucking help me!” He pleaded to the empty room.
“No one’s coming, John.” She said, her voice like ice. “How many countless nights have I cowered in this same room screaming to the top of my lungs for help? How many of our neighbors have even as much as knocked on the door on one of those nights? No one is coming to help you, John. They’ll all just turn their TV’s up, put their earplugs in, go to sleep and then wake up for work in the morning. They’ll probably even wave hello to me as I pick up the morning paper. No one will say a word, too concerned it will cut into their comfortable little lives. Everyone dies alone, John. Why should it be any different for you?”
His face twisted into a terrified grimace as a circle of deep red started to soak through his dingy white shirt. His screams filled every corner of the house, and she let them envelop her like a warm blanket in winter. The circle grew by inches, larger and larger until the slithering black mass of horror came tearing through the fabric. She watched as the aggregate mass of slimy black horror crept over him. His face went ghostly white and his screams faded into a pitiful moan as the black things from the stygian darkness skittered up and over his mouth and face, tearing off bits of flesh as they went.
She turned and walked over to the closet by the door. She opened it and removed a small suitcase. She shut the closet door and took one last look at her husband. There was nothing left there that characterized the man, just a pulsating, quivering mass of lacerating blackness, tiny tentacles of it reaching out and pulling every bit of him apart to feed their awful and unseen mouths. This was what he deserved. Everything had been perfect.
She swung the front door wide and strode through. She stopped on the front porch, and turning to look over her shoulder she called to the dead man.
“Hope you enjoyed your cake, dear.”
She walked off into the night, leaving the front door open, and the dark and slithering abomination followed after.