Log In

Horror and Hubbub 2019: Hyperbole's entry

What Dolce had never told her was where his ingredients came from.

The harvest festival is coming up and there are hundreds of hungry mouths to feed, in a final celebration of fall before winter comes to wither and pluck the last straggling leaves from the trees. Madeleine finishes up her last few errands in town and wanders around her house for a bit, feeling adrift without anything to do. She fusses with the decorations strung outside her windows and under her eaves for a while, starts finally clearing out the pile of books stacked in the middle of her living room, brews a pot of coffee, goes back to clearing out her books, and finally gives in an hour later to her restless wandering urge and heads back out of her house.

It’s been a long, cold day and seeing the dried crisp leaves on the ground always puts her in the mood for a lovely warm funnel cake. Madeleine is making her way around her street corner when she smells the sweet haze around the bakery, sugary golden and warm on the cool autumn air. Madeleine licks her chops and thinks – to hell with it. She never works in the kitchen, but that poor owl cook is always the only one in the bakery this time of year. In the dim orange outline of the kitchen windows, she sees the baker Dolce moving about the kitchen, and thinks - spending a few hours cracking eggs and sifting flour in some friendly company isn’t a bad way to end the day.

This thought evaporates as soon as she pulls open the sliding doors and sees what lies beyond. “You’re kidding me,” Madeleine says, aghast. She didn’t expect – well, any of this, opening the heavy steel door to the kitchen and seeing the baskets of rotted meat and decaying vegetables and pale, shimmering insect wings spread all along the counters.

“What’s that?” Dolce says, peering around the corner and wiping flour off his feathers with a dishcloth. Madeleine flinches as a skull clatters off the counter and lands with a soft thump into one of the piles of dirt heaped on the kitchen tiles. “Oh bother,” he says, looking sadly at the skull in its heap of dirt. “I’ve already finished my batches of rock candy for today. Do you suppose it will keep until tomorrow?”

“Forget that,” Madeleine says. “Is that rotting meat? Are you cooking with rotting meat?” She’s still standing at the mouth of the kitchen, frozen with shock and disgust, but even from there she smells the incredible stench coming off the ingredients on the counters. Bile rises in her throat. It’s nothing like the few memories she has of entering the kitchen to the warm smell of pie in the oven and bread gently rising next to the windowsill. The smell of sour milk and forest decay and maggoty meat swims up her throat and her eyes and-

The next few moments are a blur of nausea, and when she comes back to herself she is sitting at a kitchen island with a flannel blanket over her shoulders clutching a cup of hot tea with Dolce flitting around her. “Oh dear,” he says, fussing with Madeleine’s blanket. “Are you alright? I hope you bundled up for the trip to town. You should have asked someone else to come with you, it’s far too easy to catch a chill this time of year. More tea?”

She blinks up at Dolce. “No, I’m alright.” The tea does little to settle her stomach, and she thinks she might retch again if she sees one of the bundles of rotting ingredients again, but when she looks up she sees that Dolce cleared space for her and moved the things on the kitchen island all to one side. She’s still hoping that all of it – the terrible rotting meats, the dirt and leaves spread over the kitchen’s normally-pristine floor – is some sort of sick, terrible prank, but she smells the warm scent of her favorite funnel cake baking in the oven behind her and there are no regular ingredients anywhere she sees.

“Are you really cooking with that stuff?” Madeleine asks. Dolce blinks down at her, uncomprehending. “It smells vile,” she adds, and glances at one of the bundles of rotting meat.

“Ah,” Dolce says, and he has the decency at least to look ashamed. “I can’t smell any of these ingredients. Beak, you see,” he says, and gestures vaguely with his wings to his feathery face. “I always let my aides help with the decorations instead of in the kitchen during the harvest festival for a reason. It’s never bothered me, but quite a few of them had had similar reactions.”

For years now Dolce has been the only one who makes the harvest festival treats, and now Madeleine finally knows why. The smell of the ingredients in the room is threatening to crawl up her throat again, but she’s a professional, damn it, and she’s smelled worse. Just… never in a kitchen. She manages a weak smile and says, “So. You’re baking with rotting meat and mouldy carrots. Anything you want to tell me before I call the health department down here?”

Dolce titters nervously. “No need, no need! I can explain!” Madeleine nods for him to continue, not trusting herself to speak. “It’s the season, you see,” he says. “I never understood it myself, but… something about the harvest festival sours the ingredients we find. That little fox at the cookery in town didn’t quite know what to do with this stuff at first, but he gave me recipes to try with the ingredients. I’m not sure why it works,” he says, and spreads his wings helplessly to gesture at the ovens where soft sprinkled cakes are rising. “But it does work. It’s worked for years.”

Madeleine thinks for a bit, hesitant. Thinks about the piles of rotten eggs on the kitchen tiles, the terrible mouldering vegetables, the skulls. She thinks about Dolce, who has been the baker in their little village for as long as anyone cares to remember, alone in the kitchen during the harvest festival with only the glow of the ovens for company, and makes her decision.


"I'm sorry," Madeleine says.

"You're not." Dolce glares at her.

"No," Madeleine says, and then grins and lunges, smearing flour all over Dolce’s feathers. "Woo—hooo-o," and Dolce swats her with a wooden spoon.

It’s been a long, cold day and seeing dried crisp leaves on the ground always puts Madeleine in the mood for lovely warm funnel cake. She stands shoulder to shoulder with Dolce, nose plug firmly in place, and for the first time in years, there are two silhouettes outlined in the orange glow of the kitchen windows during the harvest festival.