Black Forest

Jennifer Coffeen

Sharon was stirring kirsch brandy into her whipping cream when she first heard the hiss.

She paused, hand whisk in midair, listening hard. She could only spare a moment; if the icing sat too long it would spoil her stiff peaks. Black Forest was a temperamental cake, and Todd would certainly comment on runny cream. After a moment of silence she carried on with her whisking, scraping against the stainless steel bowl. 

The kitchen timer beeped, reminding her of the two 9 x 9 chocolate cakes in the oven. The whisk hit the white marble counter as she jerked around. Todd was very particular about dry edges and cracked tops. He’d slap it with ice cream if she didn’t get it right. Plunging her hand inside the oven mitt, Sharon found it sticky and wet.

“Ugh, what is it?” she said, her voice louder than normal in the empty house. She looked down at the counter, trying to discover the source of the stickiness, syrup or spilled egg? It reminded her of when she had scooped up a handful of slugs as a little girl. Screaming and squishing.

The cake. 

Sharon shuddered, tossing the oven mitt on the counter and grabbing a dish towel to pull out the pans. The fabric was too thin and she instantly felt a sharp sting on both hands. Slamming the pans down on the stovetop she edged a tiny piece off the top to taste. Dry, dense chocolate rolled around on her tongue.

“Too much baking powder,” Todd would say, smacking his lips. “Can barely get it down.”

It was fixable. She would dab it with cherry juice, nice and smooth along the top to moisten it. Move the cakes to a darker room, give them time to cool. 

Sharon was reaching for the cherries when she heard the hiss again. Sharp and wet, like a cracked steam pipe. Her hand jerked back at the force of it, small drips of red juice splattering across the counter.

A gas leak, she thought, maybe the furnace. Todd would be furious to find a repair truck in the driveway when he got home. She moved quickly, scooping up both cake pans and running down the hallway. Everything would be fine. She’d leave the cakes to cool in the basement, it was always icy cold down there. She could check the furnace, finish the frosting, moisten the cake with cherry juice, decorate, start dinner. Todd liked his steak medium rare. 

She was halfway down the basement steps when the smell hit her. Gagging, she stumbled back, balancing the hot cake pans in both hands. Putrid was the word that jumped to her mind, like rotting meat left out in the sun. She turned and ran up the stairs, down the hallway, back into the kitchen. Stepping through the doorway, she looked up and dropped both cakes on the floor. 

A giant tentacle was sticking out of the garbage disposal, stretched out hallway across the room and waving around. It was monstrous, as thick as a soup can, and swiveling until it was directly in front of her face. 

Sharon jumped back, skidding on the kitchen floor, the same stickiness she’d found under her oven mitt. Green ooze dripped from the skin as it reached closer, right up to her eye. A string of spaghetti dangled off the side. It suddenly opened, like an unclenching fist, revealing eight tiny tentacles surrounding a mouth full of sharp teeth. Sharon closed her eyes and waited. 

Jennifer Coffeen writes historical romance with The Wild Rose Press (Priceless Deception, A Deal with Lord Devlin), short stories and flash fiction. Her short story “Tooth” was nominated for a 2017 Pushcart Prize. She is the Events Director at StoryStudio Chicago, and co-host of the Creepy History podcast. Follow her @jencoffeen.