"Ohhh…" moaned Felicity as she opened the door to the woodland cottage and stepped in. "I’ve waited all year to smell your pies granny," she exclaimed with a wide smile. "This is what a holiday smells like!"
"Well thank you child," replied the wrinkled, white-haired woman standing in the kitchen. She deftly laid a crisp, linen napkin over a cooling pie and went to greet the child.
As she was embracing the young girl, her parents entered amid a flurry of hello’s and happy harvest! Both carried contributions to the feast and made a beeline for the dining table to unload their victuals.
"I don’t know how you do it Amelia," remarked the tall, well-dressed man as he set jars of pickled vegetables on the table. "…but every time I come here, this place looks better and better. Why, it’s so toasty warm too!"
"It is warm Granny, said her daughter Megan as she glanced around the room. "What happened to that antique of a furnace of yours? Did you get it worked on?"
"You know Bill always took care of those things," she replied. A hint of sadness filled her gaze as she remembered her husband of over forty years. "I was surprised it lasted as long as it did, but I finally gave in and had it replaced, along with my old oven as well."
"How could you afford to fix both at once," asked Megan. She knew of her mother’s financial situation and was truly surprised.
"Now, now," said Amelia. "Now’s not the time to talk about my old furnace, but to tell me about what you’ve all been doing lately."
As if on cue, the front door opened and Megan’s eldest daughter Patricia came in leading a scruffy, long-haired boy with dark, piercing eyes. A feeling of uneasiness came over Amelia as she looked at the boy. It was a feeling she was familiar with and Amelia tried not to let it show to her family.
"I brought a friend with me granny," said Patricia with a smile. I hope that’s ok?" Before Amelia could respond, Patricia added: "His name is Seth Kriker. We’ve been friends awhile and I told him he could come to our Harvest meal."
"Well, we’re all here," said Amelia somewhat half-heartedly. "…and there’s always room for one more at my table. Take off your coats and sit down while I finish preparing dinner."
Gradually the mood lifted and soon everyone was gathered around the dining table. Talk of work, school and various activities began bouncing across the table giving the illusion of normalcy to the afternoon, but Amelia couldn’t shake the cold feeling of dread that had arrived with the Kriker boy. She knew the family and that knowledge only added to her fears.
"Granny," chimed Patricia. "I’ve been telling Seth about your wonderful golden pies and how you make one for granddad every year. The other day I got to wondering about granddad. Whatever happened to him? I don’t even remember a funeral."
Megan and her husband stiffened at the remark. Amelia’s head lowered and she closed her eyes as if remembering. William McCandles had mysteriously disappeared ten years earlier amid rumors and hushed voices.
"Patricia!" snapped Megan with a cool glare. "That’s not a subject for the dinner table or one to be discussed in front of guests! Suffice to say that Grandpa Bill passed away suddenly and granny only wanted a small service.
"I apologize for upsetting your family gathering," said Seth in a soft voice. If it would help, I’ll leave and let your family finish the meal alone." His unexpected remark made Amelia feel uncertain and slightly embarrassed. Perhaps she’d misread the situation and now needed to make amends.
"No, child," she replied. "Bills passing was sudden and I do bake him a special pie as a remembrance. There’s no need for you to leave, but if you’ll all excuse me, I think I’ll take my walk a little early this year." With that, Amelia rose and went into the kitchen. A murmur of soft voices could be heard in the next room and Amelia hoped that no one would try to prevent her from stepping out. It wasn’t the way she’d planned her exit, she’d wanted to express her deep love for her family and to try and explain a bit about Williams mysterious disappearance, but her stomach was in a tight knot and she needed the fresh air and distraction of the walk to the cemetery to clear her mind of the raw emotions she’d been feeling. Perhaps she’d leave a letter for them to find once there.
The cool afternoon air was a welcome relief. Amelia gingerly carried the still-warm pie in her hands as she trod the overgrown path to the old, secluded cemetery. It had taken a special grant to have William’s headstone placed there, considering there had been no body to bury.
As the cemetery gradually came into view, Amelia took a deep breath and approached William’s headstone. It was a simple marker in dire need of weeding. Amelia knelt, set the pie to her right and began pulling fistfuls of dry, withered weeds.
A soft, rustling sound jerked Amelia back to the present. She abruptly turned, though she knew who she’d find. Her gaze met the same dark eyes that had filled her with dread just hours before. Seth stared back, but his expression was that of cool, calculated evil. "They all think I stepped out for a smoke…so gullible," he said with a smirk. Suddenly, he rushed forward, shoved Amelia roughly to the ground and snatched up the pie. Before Amelia could utter a word, he began clawing at it, flinging away gobs of golden filling in an effort to locate something hidden inside. After several long seconds, he growled: "It’s not here! Patricia told me you put a gold coin in these pies, now where is it?" As he looked down at Amelia, he absently licked his fingers and immediately began spitting and gagging.
"It’s vile," he coughed. "No one could eat this mess!" He flung the pie tin away with a clang and stood ominously over the old woman.
"Amelia felt a soft rumbling beneath her and looked over at the remains of the pie. Her expression shifted from fear into a crooked grin. "You’re so right young man," she said coolly. "No mere mortal could eat that pie."
The rumbling grew louder, the ground began to buckle and heave knocking Seth to his knees. The rumbling grew to a deafening roar and the ground ripped apart into a jagged gash. Foul gasses erupted and above it all echoed a wicked laughter!
A death grey form shot from the open ground and flew high into the sky. Amelia knew what to expect and looked upon it with a sense of recognition, but Seth beheld a more sinister sight. It was lizard-like, but with great leathery wings that flapped with a heavy whooshing sound. It sported twin curved horns atop its head and had a sharply curved beak. Angry eyes burned at Seth and as it spied the remains of the offering, the golden pie that reeked of nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger; it shrieked a primal scream and lunged towards the boy.
Amelia drew herself close to the headstone, not certain if she’d be spared the demon’s wrath. The yearly offering had always contained one golden coin – payment for another year’s life. This was the deal her late husband had struck with the demon that had possessed him and ultimately swept him to its subterranean lair. Amelia was given a small pouch containing twelve golden coins assuring her of twelve more years till she would be called below, but the new furnace and oven took her two remaining coins and she knew her time was now up.
The struggle was intense, but brief. Seth flailed and clawed the ground in vain. Wherever the demon touched him withered and turned black. He suddenly found himself being dragged over the jagged rim. The sound that came from his mouth was so anguished, so full of horror and fear that Amelia covered her ears and pushed herself tighter to the stone. Then utter silence returned to the cemetery.
Amelia slowly unclenched her hands and rose to a kneeling position. She awaited the rumbling to return and the demon – her beloved William - to come for her and seal the bargain. It took a few moments, but the rumbling did return, seemingly directly beneath her. Amelia’s breath began to come in ragged pants. The ground became warm and the rumbling increased, then a small mound of earth began to rise before her. Again the foul stink of rotten eggs and brimstone began to gag her, but instead of a demon, a withered, black hand emerged from the mound.
In its grasp was a scroll of parchment paper. Amelia timidly reached for the scroll and tugged it out of the hands clutch. As she unrolled it, she recognized Williams’s handwriting. It told of Lucifer’s great pleasure at receiving such a black-hearted soul as Seth Kriker and how he’d gladly extend Amelia’s contract if she could procure another kindred soul each year.
Amelia slowly realized that it was Seth’s hand that was before her and that a possible reprieve was near. Her mind reeled at the thought, she couldn’t count on Patricia bringing another lowlife around and she had no gold coins to live on…
Suddenly, the ground began to rumble again. The black hand descended and something soft and beige emerged to replace it. It was a pouch filled with shiny, golden coins – twice as many as before. She could watch Patricia and Felicity grow into young women and even get married.
Amelia dropped her head as she wrestled with her conscience. Then, she slowly rose up as if she’d made a decision and with a softly wicked expression… reached for the pouch.