by R. S. Pyne

“Death by chocolate,” she said, cutting him another generous slice. He could not help himself, cable tied to a chair with a skewer driven through each thigh. The long spikes had missed anything vital, the femoral artery intact but still a lot of blood. It dripped into a basin, drop by precious drop.

“Blood is the special ingredient in my mirror glaze,” she said, in case he wanted to know, “and in the ganache.” She smiled. Ice blue eyes regarded him without pity, hovering just this side of insanity. “It has to be human – has to be fresh.”

He could see his face reflected in the perfectly tempered icing, knew he had to pick up the fork otherwise she would cut something off again, something he would miss.  Bloody stumps leaked – three fingers severed with a cleaver as punishment for his bad language. He did not have to force himself to swallow. It tasted so good; its chocolate decadence balanced by a salty, metallic flavor from the blood.

“It is my version of Sanguinaccio Dolce – sweet blood pudding. I had it in Italy and adapted the recipe. Out there they use pig’s blood, but I find people improves the flavor.”

She smiled again, slipping back to her old lady alter-ego. Sharing cooking tips with a main ingredient seemed to bring pleasure.

“Ground almonds, flour and baking powder makes it more like a gateau, but the basic mixture is the same. Blood, dark chocolate, sugar, pine nuts, raisins, and milk, mix more blood into the ganache.”

He asked her to let him go, trying one last time and the harmless old lady mask slipped. Her hand moved to rest on the meat skewer embedded in his right thigh, long pianist’s fingers curled around the handle and pushed it deeper into his flesh. Bone grated against metal as she twisted. He screamed and passed out, unconscious before his head hit the plate with its smeared chocolate residue.

The woman cut another piece and watched him, remembering.

“I will forgive your appalling table manners, under the circumstances.”  She took a bite and savored the taste – a cake with body in it in a literal sense of the word. 

She had always been had a healthy appetite for those things in life that gave pleasure – the trinity being cake, red wine, and no-strings sex. The man would never be her type even at twenty years younger, one out of three better than nothing. She took another bite, waiting for him to revive. Her gaze moved to the picture on the mantlepiece: a woman in her twenties with hope in her eyes. Soon, darling; she smiled at the familiar voice in her head and turned back to her guest.

There had been a time, she thought she might be losing her mind – the time After when nobody bothered to help. New realization crystallized her resolve to do what must be done. Slowly, she slapped him across the face – hard. His eyes snapped open like a child waking from a nightmare only to find a worse reality waiting for him.

“Your second slice had just a pinch of powdered Vine of the Soul,” she said. “One of my favorite nephews is a field anthropologist in South America. He brought back a sample.” She whistled a rising three note that died away to silence; patches of dark shadow detached and flowed together. “Shamans use it to journey to the spirit world or summon spirits back into this plane of existence.”

The shadows whirled around the chair. One of them covered his face with insubstantial hands – a childish game of peekaboo. She gently brushed one of the questing tendrils away, her eyes bright with crystalline tears. “This is a new sub-species of Soul Vine – one that allows spirits to return if they have unfinished business. There are things in the dark – things that have waited a long time to make you pay.”

“What have I ever done to you?” He sobbed, still not seeing the similarity between the woman in the photograph and the older one sat next to him calmly eating cake.

“Not to me,” she said, shaking her head when he begged for mercy when he did not even know why, who she spoke for to give a voice to the voiceless. The strongest shadow took on the form it had worn in life. Shadows did not forgive, all the old grief returning.

An icy heaviness tainted the air that had not been there before as spirits crowded around the chair. They did not forget or forgive, his guilty conscience giving them all names.

She looked at the dark form that had been her only daughter and saw it smile, cold as moonlight and pitiless as a winter wind over an unmarked grave – no evidence he had anything to do with her disappearance. A fabricated alibi and an accomplice happy to play along. The police tried their best and then moved it to their cold case files. He changed his name and found a new love interest – another cold case file left to gather dust when it happened again.

“You said you loved her. She loved you but all you ever gave her was an ending.” She looked down to check the basin. Enough for another sweet blood cake for the church picnic, the ladies fighting amongst themselves to be the first to scrape the plate clean. They would never know the secret ingredient. Their consciences were unblemished by hidden sin – no spirits waited to claim the congregation of Sacred Heart Ad Vincula unless Reverend Allen was a good liar.

“Let me give you one.”

He screamed as vengeful spirits wrapped insubstantial arms around his neck. One poured into his mouth, filling him with deathly dark oblivion.

Revenge was a dish best served cold … or with a rich chocolate frosting.