Can I get through the introduction to the story without a cooking simile? Let’s find out . . .
I began brainstorming my Hot Comforts story last December. I considered and decided against dozens of ideas until I saw a DVRed episode from Food Network Challenge on haunted gingerbread houses. The sight of all those gorgeous things awed me, and Cooking with Ergot began.
Since I was in the midst of the Greatest Revision Ever, I just wrote some notes on the idea and put it aside. Over the next few months, I’d pull out the notes occasionally and add to them. The plot slowly grew; a pinch of humor, a dash of characters, a villainous twist, and a charming familiar that made the crit group ask for seconds. Then I stirred and baked it at . . .
Okay, so I couldn’t get through the intro without a little food analogy ;)
Dominic Abernathy kept a light current of magic flowing out of him. It moved into the black bowl beside him and stirred the gingerbread batter, keeping the same gentle pressure that he was using on the Oreo cookies he crushed.The black bits spilled free, crumbling across a waiting plate. His haunted gingerbread house was going to have beautiful and tasty soil. With luck, his producer would find someone who could come in and destroy it.
The phone rang.
Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw his familiar twitch awake at the end of his oak table.
Dominic released the Oreos. Chunks clung to his fingers. “Can you get that, Blaise?”
“Sure.” Red-gold dust shimmered over a two-foot long stuffed tiger lounged beside the phone. As it passed, the tiger’s features became smoother. Alive.
By the third ring, Blaise’s once stitched paws stretched into pseudo fingers. He picked up the phone.
“Abernathy Manor,” Blaise said. His liquor smooth voice was soft and held a trace of an English accent, a result of the many Hammer Horror films Dominic had seen as a child and wanted to integrate into his familiar.
Blaise’s lips curved up. “Hello, Mercedes.”
“Has she found someone?” Dominic asked. The first man she’d found to play the gingerbread exorcist/witch hunter cancelled earlier that afternoon after he learned his appendix needed to come out. Dominic had sent him some gingerbread men spelled with healing magic, but he needed someone to come in and chase his make believe ghost go away.
“Dominic is fine,” Blaise said. He glanced at Dominic and twitched his tail, tapping the phone’s cradle. It was a quiet admonishment, reminding Dominic that etiquette had to be followed. “He’s crushing Oreo cookies for the house. How’re you doing?”
“Your youngest won a spelling bee? Brilliance runs in your family, I see.”
Dominic sighed. He’d wanted a proper familiar; he got a proper familiar.
He’d begun gathering the magic for Blaise when he was six. He’d loved the tales of ancient witches and their clever mystical companions.
It took him two years, and when he cast the spell, he concentrated on everything he thought a familiar should have. He wanted it to be as intelligent as Merlin. As courageous as the Scarlet Pimpernel. As cool sounding as Peter Cushing.
And he wanted it all in the form of his most cherished companion: his stuffed tiger.
Really. What did people expect? He was eight.
Thankfully, Dominic never regretted the decision. Blaise could brush off the façade of stuffing and fur, and he could turn around and fake being inanimate. Hunters looking for a black cat or a raven would be disappointed.
Hunters looking for a ghost in the gingerbread, though; now that was something entirely different.
Dominic released the Oreo chunks and sent a wisp of magic over his fingers.
The spell whispered over his skin, a light, cool sensation akin to his breath. Oreo bits fell away. A moment later, his hands were clean and, he suspected, smelling of chocolate.
Dominic glanced at the bowl he’d spelled to mix, made sure the wooden spoon was moving at a gentle beat, and then walked around the table.
He’d chosen this two bedroom, two bath cottage because of the kitchen; outside of his parent’s house, it was the only place he’d seen that had a large brick hearth. String a few ropes of garlic around the high, beam exposed ceiling, set candles into various nooks and crannies, put a cauldron in the hearth, and abracadabra. A witch lived there.
A witch and his very proper, very friendly, familiar.
“No, you should go on the trip,” Blaise said. “Both you and your sister rarely have time to get away and–Dominic is on his way. It was lovely talking to you.”
“Now that you’re done being charming, could I trouble you to make the buttercream frosting for the roof?” Dominic asked.
“I’m never done being charming.” Blaise offered him the phone and then scampered across the table, coming to sit beside a large bowl. “Would you like me to add a couple drops of black food coloring?”
“Yes. Thank you.” To the phone, Dominic said, “hello, Mercedes.”
His producer chuckled. “Someday, you have to introduce me to the man who plays Blaise.”
Someday, she would have to accept that the host of the Midnight Gourmet was the witch he professed to be, and that Blaise was in fact a stuffed tiger.
“Have you found someone to play the exorcist/witch hunter?” Dominic asked.
Dominic smiled. Blessed be. He was beginning to worry he’d have to ask his older brother to come in and help. Justin could act, but the man burned Macaroni and Cheese.
“Carter Brooks will be coming in to play our witch hating exorcist,” Mercedes said.
Dominic’s smile died. “Carter Brooks?”
Blaise paused in the middle of stirring. His tail twitched, sending bits of gingerbread cast offs darting to the floor.
“He’s seen a few of the episodes,” Mercedes said. “We think that, with your divergent styles, you two will really play off one another.”
Dominic frowned. On one hand, she was right. Brooks’ last release, Cooking with ergot: the Salem witch trials cook book, was brilliant. The combination cook book, history was interesting, filled with mock recipes sure to start up a witch hunt. Him being a guest on a show about a food witch would be ironic.
The problem was, when Brooks was in any town promoting his books, witches disappeared.
“Can we get someone else?” Dominic asked.
“Can we get someone else? I could talk to my brother.”
“Justin is nice but he burned my hot dog at that barbeque last month. Besides, Carter’s already agreed.”
Dominic frowned. He wanted to snap or grumble, but he knew a tirade would just make him look insane.
He scowled at the phone’s cradle, the table, the stirring spoon, and finally a small metal grater and a block of milk chocolate.
Oh shit. He would need that soon.
Dominic cast a light thread of magic out, enchanting the grater and chocolate. They rose, circled one another in a slow dance, and then the shredder leaned close and began attacking the chocolate.
“We can begin filming his scenes on Monday,” Mercedes said.
Two days to live. Great.
Dominic couldn’t imagine how much filming they’d be doing, though, with Brooks trying to set him on fire or drown him or do any of the other methods he’d recommended in Cooking with ergot.
“The man’s a witch hunter.”
“He’s no more a hunter than you are a witch.”
The spells connected to him followed. The wooden spoon stood over the batter. The grater hovered over the chocolate, catching the afternoon light and glinting silver.
“Now I’m worried about you,” Mercedes said.
“Don’t be.” Dominic lowered his hand. The spoon and grater followed his movement, lying down on a folded napkin beside their bowls. “I’ve never hurt anyone.”
“Neither has he.”
“People tend to disappear when Brooks comes to town.”
“Dominic. People disappear period. They get fed up with their lives and want to start over. Or they’re hiding from an abusive lover. Or, yes, someone kidnapped or killed them. It happens in places Carter’s been and it happens in places he’s no where near.”
“In his last book, he offered ergot recipes so other hunters can make them, so if they’re caught killing people, they have a ready excuse for their madness.”
When Dominic had first read those words, he’d been stunned. It was a joke. It had to be. Even Montgomery, his former mentor, agreed. The book was humor at its blackest. It described the burning times as the process people went through when they were first learning how to cook. Brooks made light of unpleasant things but he meant no ill.
Two years before, Montgomery had been so certain of that. So certain. He’d taken a couple copies or Cooking with ergot to a signing to get Carter’s autograph.
He hadn’t been seen since.
“What if I could get someone else to take his role?” Dominic asked.
“Not Justin.” Maybe his cousin. He couldn’t cook either but–
“One,” Mercedes said, “I worked really hard to get him.”
Not as hard as Dominic was working to get rid of him.
“Two, I don’t think you could get someone who’s written a book on such short notice.”
Dominic frowned. Even with witchcraft, he’d probably need a couple days to do that.
“Three, he’s already in town promoting his latest book, Spice Wars.”
“He’s here?” Dominic hurried over to the window.
The window revealed ten feet of side yard and then dropped into a small creek. Late afternoon sunlight bled through the canopies of several oaks, a couple pines, and crawling ivy. Someone could hide out there. If they weren’t afraid of spiders, mosquitoes, or the occasional skunk.
Dominic frowned. Located twenty minutes from San Jose, Los Gatos was a great mix of small town solitude and big city life. At this moment, the privacy seemed double edged. The police would respond to calls quickly. Considering how wonderfully the road twisted on its way to his driveway, they might also get lost.
A warm weight leapt onto his right shoulder, and then Blaise leaned forward, studying the outside.
“Dominic, I promise, you’re going to love him,” Mercedes said.
“And if I don’t?”
Mercedes released a long breath. “Then if you don’t, just follow the script and pretend he’s trying to kill you.”
Dominic didn’t think he’d have to act that hard.
Written by Luisa Prieto
Dark fantasy writer by day, dark fantasy writer by night. I'm charmingly dull that way ;)
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