December 14, 2020

Angel Cake, Or The Deadly Hellacious Bake-Off, By Alicia Hilton



Editor’s note: What a fun story! Alicia Hilton has flipped the script on the angels theme, and she’s made it both terrifying and funny. I don’t want to tell you anymore, might spoil it. You’ll enjoy this.

Demons judged the Hellacious Bake-Off, so the rules were subject to capricious interpretation and corporal punishment was routine. The contest always ended with at least one death.


​Most contestants sought the honor of being awarded second place and relished the opportunity for a brief respite from the dank catacombs where they toiled. You had to be barking mad or totally desperate to covet the winner’s prize, an opportunity to be executed and reincarnated, but Phixa understood that if she won she’d likely be transformed into a dung beetle. At least she would be freed from her misery. A mortal existence as a humble insect, scurrying through dust and eating manure, couldn’t be worse than eternal imprisonment in Hell and suffering from unrequited love.


​Entering the Underworld’s most perilous contest was the only way Phixa could prove that she had repented and was no longer a monster. She’d bartered all of her Earthly and Underworldly possessions, even the sarcophagus that had contained her corpse, in exchange for one lottery ticket—the chance she would receive the “special” ingredient that would make her confection the most delectable of all Hell Cakes.


Phixa stared at the other contestants.


​Contestant #3, the basilisk, hissed and opened its jaws, displaying jagged teeth.


​Phixa pressed her paws together, trying to contain her nervous energy.


​Torches cast eerie shadows across the subterranean amphitheater. Judges lurked in the sidelines, ready to pounce if rules were violated.


​Saloon-style doors at the mouth of the cave swung open. Judge #327, the Minotaur Ambassador, was wearing a butcher’s smock that was splattered with fluorescent green fluid. He snorted smoke from his nostrils and said, “We got ourselves a screamer.”


​The basilisk’s forked tongue darted out and stroked the left side of her scaly face, lapping mucus from her glowing amber eye. “Marvelous,” she said.


​Contestant #1, sitting on the podium closest to the sulfurous stream because he was the Second Place Winner of the 78th Hellacious Bake-Off, clapped his tentacles together. He said, “Refused to repent? Silly fool, resistance is futile.”


​The Minotaur Ambassador said, “Stress gives the meat extra bite and flavor.”


​Phixa stared at her lottery ticket. Phalanges. How could she create a phenomenal cake with such a piss-poor “special” ingredient?


​She glanced at the workstation on her left. Of course there were the regulation sacks of flour, sugar, stick of vanilla bean, stick of butter, quart of milk, six eggs, measuring cups, cake pans, bowl and whisk that were supplied to all contestants, but the ghoul who was Contestant #8 also had his own chef’s knives. He must’ve been a very successful grave robber because the German knife set was bloody expensive.


​Phixa said, “What did you get?”


​The ghoul said, “Show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.” He leered, displaying a mouthful of rotten teeth.


​She bared her own fangs and snarled.


​The ghoul lunged at Phixa, but the iron chain that tethered his ankle to the stone floor clanked, holding him in place.


​The Leviathan Ambassador slithered towards Phixa. “Contestant #9, where is your lottery card?”


​She lifted up a sheet of animal skin parchment and showed it to the serpent.


​The Leviathan said, “Phalanges, how unfortunate.”


​The ghoul cackled, “Bummer, whatcha gonna do with the toe bones?”


​Phixa flapped her wings and glared at the ghoul.


​The ghoul held up his own card and said, “Liver.”


​“Nice,” the Leviathan Ambassador said. “Good luck.”


​“I won’t need luck. I’m an artist.” The ghoul picked up one of his fancy knives and hurled it at Contestant #1.


​“Watch out!” Phixa shouted a warning.


​When the tentacle creature saw the knife zooming towards his face, he dropped his bag of flour and shrieked. He lurched to the left, narrowly avoiding being stabbed.


​Twang. The knife imbedded in the wall.


​“Snitch,” the ghoul said.


​Phixa snarled. She extended her claws and raked the air by the ghoul’s face. “Next time I’ll draw blood,” she said.


​As the judges prepared to start the competition, Phixa thought about all she’d endured since she was doomed.


***


​Phixa latched her lips around the thorn and plucked it from her paw. Fluid seeped from the wound, but it was barely a scratch compared to the deep gouge on her back. Like other new arrivals in Hell, she’d been beaten and starved, to break down her defenses.


​Through an archway cut in the cavern wall, Phixa could hear demons gnashing on bones, their throats guzzling tankards of mulled wine. The smell of roasted flesh and spices made her mouth water.


​From the opposite end of the cave, Phixa heard footsteps approaching. She lifted up her paws to protect her face from the inevitable attack. The chains that tethered her to the wall clanked.


​As the figure that held the torch got closer, Phixa breathed a sigh of relief. It was a human woman, not one of the demons that had beaten her.


​Persephone set her torch on a wall bracket and bent over Phixa. She said, “Let me help.” She tore a strip of fabric from the bottom of her skirt. “I’m going to examine your paw.”


​The wounded flesh was sensitive. Phixa winced.


​“Did I hurt you?”


​Phixa shook her head. She said, “Why aren’t you afraid of me?”


​“You’re not like the others.” Persephone probed the cut, wiping away dirt.


​“Could you check my back?” Phixa said. She rotated her shoulders, but couldn’t move very far since she was chained to the wall.


​Persephone gasped when she saw the deep laceration. Gently, she tended to the wound.

​Phixa’s eyes filled with tears. She’d never felt so vulnerable.


​Sometimes an act of kindness leads to great misery. As Phixa watched Hades’ bride run into the shadowed corridor, the Sphinx realized that she had fallen in love.


***


​Phixa grabbed her sack of flour and pressed it between her paws. Her heart beat faster, thrumming with passion for Persephone.


​Hades deserved to be eviscerated for keeping such a wonderful woman prisoner.


​Becoming more enraged, Phixa kneaded the bag of flour so hard that it burst, spilling all over her counter.


​She flapped her wings, fanning the wheat dust onto the stone floor. At least more than half the bag was left.


​The ghoul had really hit the jackpot. Liver, even the word practically melted in her mouth. Depending on how it was prepared, the fatty organ could be light and fluffy like mousse or dense like a truffle, the essence of succulent, meaty, lusciousness. Creating a tart with a juicy pâté center was the obvious choice, but liver was so versatile, it could even be diced and fried to create a delectable, crunchy topping.


​A door in the side of the cavern opened. The Incubus Ambassador entered the competition amphitheater and shouted, “Late arrival. Contestant #10.” The demon yanked on a chain that was wrapped around a little girl’s neck.


​Phixa felt a twinge of pity. The child’s throat was rubbed raw from the metal links. She looked like a schoolgirl, dressed in a white blouse, plaid skirt, and scuffed sneakers.


​The Incubus clipped the leash to the unoccupied workstation across from Phixa and the ghoul. The girl wasn’t tall enough to reach the counter.


​Phixa said, “Would you like a step stool? That’s not against the rules.”


​The girl snapped her fingers, and instantly levitated above her workstation. “Would you like a step stool?” she said in a sing-song voice.


​Phixa said, “Sorry, I was trying to be helpful.”


​As the young witch floated in a circle above her workstation, the chain thunked against the counter. The sorceress sneered. “Balderdash, you were psyching me out. I’m not a bloody simpleton. Spout any more patronizing twaddle, and I’ll have you disqualified for violating Rule Number 4—No intimidation.” The sorceress rolled her eyes until only the white portion of the eyeballs showed. She said, “Don’t try your riddles on me.”


​Phixa turned away. There was no use arguing or coveting other contestants’ ingredients. ​She took a deep breath. She needed to focus. Winning the contest was the only way to escape the infernal cavern of fire and brimstone. Hades was too clever to fall for riddles or tricks.


​A gong sounded, announcing that the contest was about to commence.


​Phixa raised her paw. “Could I have a mortar and pestle?”


​Judge #49, the Cerberus Ambassador, swiveled his heads. The head on the left opened its canine jaws and said, “Rule Number 23– All tools must be approved.” The head on the right said, “Mortal and pestle are not knives, whisks, or spoons.” The middle head said, “What’s a mortar and pestle?”


​Phixa snarled in frustration. She said, “What about a rock? Can I use a rock?” She pointed at one of the boulders strewn along the cavern floor.


​The basilisk said, “Harvesting unapproved flesh violates Rule Number 1—Do not cannibalize other contestants.”


​The ghoul chuckled. “Oooooh, I’m scared. Sphinx is a bloodthirsty wench.”


​Phixa felt a sudden onset of nausea. She said, “I’m not going to kill anyone! Can I use a rock as a tool?”


​The Incubus Ambassador pulled a branding iron out of the fire pit.


​The gong sounded again. A huge clock hanging on the wall near the sulfurous stream started to tick, counting down the minutes until the contest would be over.


​Slots in the cavern ceiling opened above each workstation. A metal tube protruded from the hole above Phixa’s head. She grabbed the bowl off the counter, and held it below the tube.


​Tiny toe bones plonked into the metal bowl. Each of the phalanges had been stripped of flesh. They glowed so brightly, the bones appeared to have been bleached and polished.


​She lifted one of the phalanges out of the bowl. It was as hard as a piece of gravel and as cold as an ice cube. Perhaps if she warmed the bone it would be more pliable?


​She pressed the foot pedal underneath her workstation, pumping vigorously until water trickled out of the faucet. Giddy with relief, she stuck the bone under the feeble stream, but the water was cool, not hot.


​Next, she tried to mash bones by pummeling them with a metal measuring cup. Sweat beaded on her forehead and trickled down her face, making it harder to see.


She kept wailing on the bones until the bottom of the cup was dented and her muscles ached, but not even a single phalange got chipped.


​The ghoul snickered, laughing at her plight.


​Enraged, Phixa shoved the smallest bone into her mouth and chomped on it. Crack! Had she broken one of her teeth or the bone? She poked her tongue into the space and felt a sharp shard.


​The basilisk hissed, “She’s cheating!”


​Judge #2, the Centaur Ambassador, roared and pawed his hooves against the stone floor, raising a cloud of dust.


​Phixa grabbed the rest of the bones and shoved them in her mouth. The hard lumps were bitter, but as she ground them to pulp between her molars, the taste became sweeter, almost like molasses.


​The Centaur Ambassador galloped across the cavern. When he’d reached the little witch’s workstation, he leapt over the counter. His rear hooves struck her bag of sugar, spewing crystals all over the floor.


​The witch said, “My cake is ruined!” She snapped her fingers. A spark shot from her index finger and set the Centaur Ambassador’s tail on fire.


​Trailing a wake of flame, the beast with a man’s face and torso and the body of a horse skidded to a stop beside Phixa. He bared his teeth and shouted, “Spit it out!”


​On the other side of her workstation, the Incubus Ambassador waved the branding iron.


​When the hot poker was about to fry her forehead,


Phixa complied. She spat the bony pulp into her bowl.


​The gooey mixture glistened and had an opalescent violet tinge.


​The Centaur said, “What in tarnation?”


​“Phalanges,” Phixa said. She handed the Centaur her lottery ticket. “I didn’t break any rules.”


“Why’re they purple?” the Incubus said.


​The little witch rolled her eyes. “Simple chemistry. Sphinx spittle reacts with calcium.”


​The Minotaur Ambassador grunted and peered at Phixa’s mouth. “Teeth are calcium, why aren’t your teeth purple?”


​Phixa yawned, displaying her molars. The back teeth were indeed violet. “Satisfied?” she said. “Can I make my cake?”


***


​The ghoul hadn’t lied when he called himself an artist. Phixa had never seen a more splendid dessert—a three-tiered buttercream cake topped with a liver flan. The caramelized crust glistened like crystal.


​Phixa’s heart pounded as she waited for the judges’ final verdict. She pressed her wings against her sides to stop them from trembling.


​The Minotaur Ambassador forked a gooey dollop of her sweet monstrosity into his mouth. “Nice vanilla finish. Very fluffy. What do you call it?”


​“Angelic meringue,” Phixa said.


​He set down his fork, and pointed his horns at the sacrificial altar. “What is your final wish, Sphinx?”


​Phixa gasped. “I won?”


​A tear trickled down her cheek. She said, “Let Persephone take my place.”


​The Minotaur said, “Lop off the pretty wench’s head?”


​Phixa trembled. “No. I’ll suffer the axe, but let Persephone go free.”


​Of course, there was a brief squabble because all of the demons wanted the honor of being the executioner.


Fur flew, hooves kicked, lightning cracked, and the Minotaur wrestled the axe from the Incubus.


​With a mighty swing and a roar, the Minotaur severed Phixa’s head with one swift stroke.


​Hades never learned the truth about how the wily Sphinx sacrificed her corporeal form to free Persephone. Demons were remarkably good at keeping secrets.


***

​Persephone patted Phixa’s head and said, “Good kitty. Thank you for chasing the icky spider.”


​Phixa purred and curled up by Persephone’s feet. Of course, Hades’ runaway bride assumed that she was an ordinary cat that had appeared on the doorstep. In her reincarnated form, Phixa was no longer a Sphinx, the fearsome mythical creature who had the head of a human woman, giant eagle’s wings, and the body of a lion.


​Persephone and Phixa shared a small cottage in a suburb of Lausanne, Switzerland. The accommodation was modest, but Persephone let her sleep on the bed instead of the floor, and the wood stove kept them warm on winter nights.


​It would be harder for Phixa to vanquish evil without wings, and losing the power to speak was also a handicap, but she was determined to guard Persephone. After all, fairy godmothers came in all shapes and sizes, and villains in the living world were less formidable than demons. Pouncing on the occasional spider was a hell of a lot less dangerous than being chased by Cerberus.


***

Bio: Alicia Hilton is an author, law professor, arbitrator, actor, and former FBI Special Agent. She believes in angels and demons, magic and monsters. Alicia’s recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Akashic Books, Best Indie Speculative Fiction Volume 3, Daily Science Fiction, Demain Publishing UK, DreamForge, Vastarien, Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volumes 4 & 5, and elsewhere. Her website is https://www.aliciahilton.com. Follow her on Twitter @aliciahilton01.


***

Image from Pixabay.


4 comments:

Victoria Dixon said...

Lots of fun, as promised. :D

Ellie A said...

What a wonderful drawing of concepts, there is so much in this story that it is a modern treasure.

Gene Simonin said...

The most interesting cook-off I've seen!

Anonymous said...

A story that should be read more than once. "Angel Cake" has many layers.

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