Ruth was baking a Wicked Cake for the first time in ages. This morning, she saw a woman at the grocery store who looked just like her mother, and without a second thought she turned her cart abruptly down the baking aisle and picked up the requisite ingredients. Ruth rarely baked Wicked Cakes anymore because the risk was just too high. When she got home, she put a record on in the living room and sang along while she worked. Her mother had taught her how to make these cakes when she was just a little girl. She couldn’t help back then, just observe. It was too dangerous for a child.
Like most good cakes, a Wicked Cake was heavy on the butter and sugar. Ruth mixed the ingredients with a grin on her face, gleeful at finally allowing herself to bake a Wicked Cake again. The last time she’d baked one, she’d made an error. She invited two friends over to eat it with her. That night had not ended well. She took a break from Wicked Cakes after that.
Whenever someone convinced her to disclose her secret ingredient, they assumed she was making it up. She had no reason to lie. It was simple: a wicked thought. Ruth stared hard at her cake batter, trying to select the perfect wicked thought from the many swirling in her brain.
“My mother is a total bitch, and I’ll never forgive her for what she did to my brother.”
That should do nicely. The wisp of the thought, a smoky tendril of purple, slipped into the cake batter. She whisked it all together once more, poured it into the pan, and popped the cake into the oven.
There was something about the process of baking a Wicked Cake that felt like release. There was the excitement for getting to eat something delicious, the soothing nature of the familiar motions, and the stress of picking just the right thought to give the cake its unusual flavor.
She waited at the kitchen table, idly flipping through a magazine and petting her tiny cat, Eduardo. She’d had him since he was a baby, but he never grew any larger than a guinea pig.
It seemed like an eternity, but finally the oven dinged. After sliding a toothpick into her beautiful cake, a deep dark mauve in color, she pulled it from the oven and left it to cool. Ruth washed up the dirty dishes and started whipping up a batch of frosting. She always loved lemon frosting on her Wicked Cakes.
On days when she made Wicked Cakes, she never wanted dinner. She hungered only for the sweet-savory, light, airy cake she’d labored over. Since she made them so rarely, she usually permitted this indulgence.
Ruth cut herself a slice, scraping the fork across the plate methodically as she devoured every crumb. With a satisfied smile, she reached down to pet Eduardo and they both purred.
It’s best to get a Wicked Cake out of the house if possible. Ruth divided it up, leaving a healthy portion for herself and plating up half for her next door neighbor.
She skulked over to the fence, where she saw her neighbor clinking ice cubes in a glass and staring up at the dusky sky.
“Hey!” she called. “I brought you something!”
He ambled over to the fence.
“I baked you a Wicked Cake,” she said breathlessly.
“What’s so wicked about it?” her neighbor asked. His face crinkled, a mixture of joy and confusion.
“Oh, nothing really,” she replied sweetly, passing the plate over to him. “It’s just a name.” She sauntered back to her house, gave her neighbor a wave, and closed the door behind her.
Later that night, her neighbor ceased his stargazing and headed inside with his plate full of cake. He cut himself a large slice, figured why not? It was Sunday evening and he might as well start the week on a positive note. He wandered over to his ancient recliner, kicked his legs up, and dug in.
The Wicked Cake was unlike anything he’d ever tasted. It had this odd savory flavor to it, the sweetness of a normal cake was there, but he couldn’t put his finger on what made it taste like this--almost meaty. And with a lemon frosting? What was going on? He didn’t hate it. He ate every bite, debated getting seconds, and licked up the frosting from the plate.
When he’d scraped up the last crumb, a voice rang through his head: “My mother is a total bitch and I’ll never forgive her for what she did to my brother.”
“The FUCK?!” he exclaimed, springing out of his recliner, plate tumbling to the floor, thudding onto the faded carpet. He paced, trying to determine where the voice came from. Nothing unusual in his living room. The TV was off, so was the radio. His dog thumped his tail at him.
“That’s the last time I accept baked goods from that nut job,” he said to himself as he dropped the plate and fork in the sink with a crash.
The next morning, Ruth’s neighbor awoke under his well-worn sheets, sweaty and cranky. He sat bolt upright in bed, wondering why he felt so many wicked thoughts swirling in his head. “I wish my boss would get hit by a car,” he blurted, before he was aware of having the thought, let alone saying it out loud.
Next door, Ruth heard the thought as if he whispered it right in her ear, and she smiled so hard it hurt.
Emily Hessney Lynch is a social media strategist and writer of short stories. Her work has been published in McSweeney’s, Sad Girls Club Literary, Five Minute Lit, Spine Magazine, and is forthcoming in Spellbinder Magazine. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @EHL_writes.