There was something odd with the gingerbread men as Sophie took the tray out of the oven. Frowning, she tried to figure out the problem, but all the little golden-brown men seemed normal. The extreme heat from the tray began seeping through the mitts, so she slid it onto the work bench. Turning back, she pulled out the next tray underneath and gasped. Instead of chocolate chip cookies was a blacked mess. Her nose crinkled at the burning smell and she hurried the cremation into the waste bin.
She then checked the oven, but all the settings were right. She peered inside, avoiding the rolling heat wave, but saw nothing amiss. Offering up a quick pray that they didn’t get an influxes of cookie orders that morning, she left all the newly baked biscuits and cakes to cool as she went to decorate the first batches of sweet goods.
The shop bell rang and she heard her best friend, Cindy, greeting someone then reminding them the meaning of a ‘closed’ sign. Laughed followed and Sophie just had to peer around the kitchen door. Cindy’s boyfriend, Aaron the technology geek from the shop next door, was leaning on the glass counter top whilst Cindy re-wiping the hot food display.
On spotting, Sophie, Aaron held his hands guiltily up, said goodbye and left the bakery quickly. Cindy turned tutting, but before she could say anything Sophie went back into the kitchen. It wasn’t that she had anything against the guy, she just didn’t like him hanging around all the time.
Going passed the gingerbread men, she paused and studied them again. The hairs on the back of her neck twitched. Rubbing them down, she grabbed a pair of safety gloves and gently shook the tray. Nothing happened, though she did notice that one man was slightly bigger than the others.
Blaming her sleepless night, Sophie went back to decorating cupcakes. The radio was playing classic music in the background and she let her thoughts drifted as she piped the icing. One day, she wouldn’t have to get up at four on a Saturday morning to start baking. There’d be someone else- another poor student graduate-to do that.
‘Do you want me to put the savouries in?’ Cindy asked from the door.
‘Sure,’ Sophie replied, ‘just watch the bottom of the last oven. It fried the cookies.’
‘Oh dear, were they very burnt?’
‘Yeah, so much they didn’t even resemble cookies. Does something look funny with those gingerbread men to you?’
Cindy glanced at the tray and shook her head.
‘It’s just me then,’ Sophie muttered.
She turned to finish off the cupcakes and Cindy put the trays of savoury pastry wrapped snacks into the ovens. Then Cindy started on making sandwiches and Sophie left to put the cakes in the window display. They had been working together long enough to run the shop like clockwork. As Sophie finished, she glanced up and watched the sun rising above the shop roofs opposite. The thin yellow light lit up the autumn swept street and chased away the lingering night’s chill.
Going back into the kitchen with a tried sigh, Sophie sorted out the rest of the food stock, leaving the gingerbread men till last. As Cindy went to officially open the shop and let the other two women in, Sophie turned to the cooling biscuits. Sliding them off the tray and on to the decorating station, she noticed that one gingerbread man was missing a leg. Pulling him out, she put him to the side. Selecting another, she iced a face on and placed three chocolate buttons down his body.
‘Are the gingers ready yet?’ Cindy giggled.
‘Just coming,’ Sophie replied, grabbing a second man.
The bell ring and they both heard the new girl- Hatty and her grandmother-Barbara- bide good morning to their first customer. Seconds later the till dinged and the bell rung once more. Cindy crossed her arms in the door frame and watched Sophie begin icing the third gingerbread man.
‘Did they get burnt too?’
‘No. It’s nothing,’ Sophia answered, ‘I’ll bring them out. Get Hatty to re-stock the drinks’ fridge.’
Cindy nodded and walked away as Sophia paused and looked at the gingerbreads once more. The slightly bigger one was lying on top of the others. She picked him up and gave him eye dots and a smiling mouth. Popping the chocolate buttons on, she noticed that the icing had run a little. The eyes were now too large and the mouth curved up too much. Forgetting to put the last button on, she shoved him aside and selected another. Only it had an arm missing.
Puzzled, she put it to the side with the other rejected men and shuffled through the others. Two more were damaged- a head and another leg. A third was scorched on the back and two more had large cracks across their bodies. The others seemed okay though, but now Sophia was convinced that something was going on. Putting all the rejects into the staff biscuit tin, she hurriedly, decorated the others and placed them on a tray.
Bring them out, she placed them onto the glass shelf and double checked the now filled sweets section. Everything was correct and the shop looked good. Dropping her shoulders, she rubbed her aching neck, upon which she felt eyes. Glancing over her shoulder, she thought she saw a flicker of movement. Stepping into the kitchen, she looked around, but there was nothing expected the normal cooking mess.
‘What’s up?’ Hatty called over.
‘Nothing…I…Cindy, will you come and help me finish the pasties, please?’
‘Sure,’ Cindy answered.
Turning away, Sophia gave a last glance at the gingerbread men and hoped the day went quickly. However, her hope wasn’t answered and highly unusually for a Saturday, the day passed slowly. To make matters worse, she constantly felt like someone was watching her and things in the kitchen seemed to get moved around. Twice, she found a small knife on top of the staff biscuit tin and there seemed to be crumbs everywhere.
After lunch, Sophia came into the kitchen and found the lid off the tin and a broken gingerbread man beside it. Picking him up, she went to put him back in and the knife was laying there. Swearing under her breath, she snatched the knife up and dropped the ginger back in. She put the knife into her apron and stormed into the shop.
Cindy was leaning across the counter talking with Aaron. Behind them two customers were milling about the sandwiches. She shot Aaron a look and once again he left quickly. Taking, Cindy aside, Sophie hissed a low voice, ‘Did you put a knife in the biscuit tin?’
‘No. What are you talking about? Are you feeling okay?’ Cindy whispered back.
Sophie shut her eyes and took a deep breath. Opening them, she saw a flash of gold from the kitchen. Whipping over and almost tripping, the breath caught in her throat as she saw the larger gingerbread man fall onto the counter. Grabbing the counter, she crept closer and saw that the man had landed face down and beside him was a spatula.
Someone’s just playing a joke or else you are going insane, Sophia thought.
Picking up the ginger man slowly, she noticed that the face looked wicked and he only had one chocolate button. Repeating that it had been a trick, she put him in the tin again and went back into the shop. It was empty, but for the staff and all three women were staring at her worriedly. Sophie blushed and wondered how to explain this voiding using the words evil, gingerbread man, madness, knife and paranoid.
‘I’m fine,’ she blurted out and stepped back into the kitchen.
She spent the rest of the afternoon in there, her eyes flicking to the biscuit tin constantly.
When closing time came, Sophie told the others she’d stay behind. They eyed her suspiciously, but left quietly. She locked the door and then finished putting away things they could sell tomorrow. Then, clutching the knife which was still in her apron pocket, she went to the biscuit tin. Opening it, she saw that the large gingerbread man was lying face down surrounded by the broken reminds of the others.
As she pulled him out, she felt a twitching in her fingers. Dropping him up right, she stared into his glaring eyes and twisted mouth. She brought the knife up and placed the tip over the gingerbread man’s head.
‘I know what you are and this ends now!’ she screamed as she plunged the knife down.