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Julie Dron

Grandma's Baking

Arlene didn't like that old woman Grandma. When Grandma looked at her, she felt those glinty, sapphire stone eyes staring right into her head, rooting around in her thoughts, uninvited. She wasn't even a real Grandma, had no kids she heard, but everyone called her Grandma 'cause they didn't know her real name. Grandma lived in an old trailer that sagged on one side, out in the woods, alone, surrounded by trees that waved and whistled and rustled. There were four other trailers nearby, vacant, the community long gone, rusty and musty like a deserted scrapyard. 

Arlene dawdled on her way to Grandma's, kicking stones along the path, rattling Ma's money in her pockets. Earlier, she had sat on the wooden steps outside her house, crossing her skinny legs, the walls shaking and quaking with her parents' angry yelling.

“Don't send Arlene up to that Grandma's trailer alone,” Pa had bellowed.

“She's fourteen, she can look after herself now. Anyways,” Ma continued, “I need Grandma's gingerbread for the ladies' lunch tomorrow.” Ma always had the final word, and that was that.

One thing about Grandma, she made the meanest gingerbread. If it wasn't for the gingerbread she would have been chased out of the woods and far out of town a long time ago.

“That girl Polly, vanished, after she goes into them woods.” Arlene overheard the gossip bubbling through town. The Sheriff had been suspicious, but found nothing untoward in the spooky trailer park. Polly had been a good friend, once sharing a cigarette with Arlene that she had pilfered from her brother's pocket; they had puffed and coughed and laughed, at the back of her parents' old shack.

Then, one day, in fifth grade, Polly didn't arrive at school, and was never seen again.

The rumors raced through Arlene's head as she approached the clearing in the woods, the pungent odor of nutmeg, spicy and sickly sucked up through her nostrils. A spiral of smoke curled into the sky outside Grandma's trailer, a small camp fire, that crackled and spat. Old Grandma stood still, small and boney, white hair short and sparse, a large black coat with collar pulled up high, from a distance looking like a large black crow was swallowing the little woman, bones and all. Anxiety began to tickle under Arlene's skin, but she stared at Grandma with the brazenness of a teenager. 

“Come to pick up ma's gingerbread,” her voice was as sullen as her face as she dug into her deep pockets, pulling out the notes and coins.

“My, you sure is skinny!” Grandma cackled, her voice like shot gun pellets, “You need fattening up! Aw, sit down a minute by the fire.”

Arlene crouched down onto a low stool, exhaustion seeping through her body, her legs bendy beneath her.

“Here, try this, while its warm.” Grandma's hand was cold against Arlene's skin, as she pressed the gingerbread into Arlene's hand. 

The sun dipped suddenly behind a distant mountain, a twilight gloom falling across the trailers. Time stood still and silent as Arlene looked at the gingerbread, heavy and sticky in her palm, while Grandma stood nearby, watching in the emptiness of the trailer park. 

“I gets lonely up here, likes to have people around, maybe you'll stay awhile, keep an old woman company.” 

Arlene's didn't want to stay with old Grandma, but she swayed, drowsily, her bowels starting to quiver like jelly, as faint lights began to appear inside the empty trailers that wobbled noisily, creaking and cranking, as if people were moving around inside. She was transfixed, turned to stone, under grandma's gorgon gaze, wanting to flee but unable to move. The rickety trailer doors began to swing open, bodies emerging, spilling out, glancing around as if bewildered, awoken by the creeping darkness. They lumbered towards the camp fire, not looking directly at Arlene, but sniffing the air, noses held high, bumping clumsily into each other.

 

Grandma's prickly eyes stared into Arlene's mind.

You can stay here, no more school, parents telling you what to do. No more running your ma's errands or workin' on your daddy's farm.  Just eat that gingerbread, then you'll be free!”

Arlene tried to resist, but was overwhelmed with the smokey fogginess that smelt of baking and woody twigs; it would be so easy to close her eyes, sleep, drift away. With a shock that dragged her out of the sleepy haze, she recognized a face in the crowd; Mr Cavanagh, the general store owner who went missing last year while out fishing in the fast flowing river. Her ma said he was a 'dozy old bat' who had probably fallen in.  And there was Mrs Beiderbeck, the Pastor's wife. Arlene's aunts had laughed raucously, convinced Mrs Beiderbeck had run off with a lover, bored with her stuffy do-good Pastor husband. Arlene remained transfixed, terror gripping her whole being, as her eyes were drawn to the trailer furthest away. A curly-haired girl, her hands pressed desperate against the window, banging, silent behind the glass. With a horror that wrapped around her neck, squeezing, tighter, until she couldn't breathe, Arlene recognized her old friend Polly. Fear spurred Arlene into action, tossing Grandma's nasty gingerbread into the flames, leaping up, sprinting, back through the dark woods, falling and tumbling, scraping her skin on the sharp stones, but not looking back.

The sheriff listened, and at first light gathered his men together, to drive up the winding track to search the rusty trailers but they found only stale smells and discarded junk. That evening, Pastor Beiderbeck led a crowd of vigilantes into the woods, waving bibles and flaming torches, and whether purposely or accidentally, the small trailer park caught fire and burnt to the ground. The bodies of the missing townsfolk were found later, burnt to a cinder, a mystery to all. The body of old glinty-eyed Grandma was never found; some claim they saw a large crow rising, angry and flapping, from the smoke and flames, and disappearing into the night. The townsfolk breathed easy, but Arlene would often wake in the night, a whispering breeze on her face and the sound of beating wings above.



 

Julie Dron is from Liverpool, U.K. and currently lives in Taiwan. Published in a variety of online magazines and anthologies including: Syncopation Literary Journal, Wordrunner eChapbook, Blink-Ink, The Wild Word, Crowvus, Flash Fiction Magazine, Amaranth,  Synkroniciti and Scottish Arts Trust 'Beached'. Bienvenue à la Danse, Julie.

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