Dread is when something menacing is creeping up on you, and you can’t shake it off. Panic may start to swirl in your gut, but you know you are helpless. Either sit and hope it passes over you, or freak out! Or maybe you can eat something comforting, like these cheesecake stuffed brownies. Recipe below the story. Enjoy!
(WARNING: This is a horror story and beta readers said it was horrifying. They recommended a warning, cuz horror isn’t for everyone. So here it is. You have been warned.)
A Well-Kept Woman
Every woman should be so lucky to have a home of her own, and lots of time to be in it.
She pressed the spatula over the sizzling strips of bacon. The pop of the fat made her flinch, but she stood strong, just in case he was watching. She heard the scrape of the chair, then felt him come up behind her. He planted a kiss on her tense cheek and laid a red rose next to her elbow.
Because he seemed to be in a cheery mood, she timidly asked, “What happened to that nice girl you were seeing? Was it Mae? You brought her over for dinner once, but I haven’t seen her since.”
“I know you want to marry me off, but why do I need to go anywhere when I have everything I need right here.” The last two words hung over her, as if they owned the place. She shook the pan hard, trying to clatter away the feel of them.
“Besides,” he continued, “Mae was a loose woman. A girl like that wouldn’t concern herself with making breakfast or babies. All she wants to do is gulp beer. What’s the fun in that?”
“Fun? Young people hanging out. That’s fun! You don’t have to drink with her. Just spend time together. Better than a Friday night at home with your mother.”
“Nah. I don’t waste my time with people who don’t share my values.” It didn’t seem fair, that her twenty-seven year old son could somehow cut his own mom down by taking a higher moral path. She felt ashamed for suggesting something so close to sin, but disappointed that her son wasn’t a bit more normal. He grabbed two rashers of crisp bacon. Hearing it crackle between his teeth made her turn away.
“They say pork is the closest thing to human flesh,” he said, then headed out to his truck, the back screen door slamming with a bang.
Him leaving meant she could finally exhale. He had opened store in town, Lewis’s Hardware, and spent his evenings in the old stables near the center of their property. The townsfolk loved his knowledge and trusted that he’d always find the right tools for their needs. His fascination with tools had been there from the start, and they had to hide the sledgehammer from him when he was six. He wouldn’t stop pounding on a rose bush in the garden. Kept saying it was bad because roses are red, and that bush had bloomed pink.
She didn’t know where he had adopted his rules: no drinking, no sex unless married, no caffeine, women work in the home, men work in the world. Some of it was admirable, but even for her, a strong Southern Baptist, it bordered on illogical. At first, she thought it was a teenage phase, a way for him to make an identity. Instead of growing out of it, he became fanatical. She worried that his obsession with good and bad had been augmented by his father’s death. Nico was thirteen when the accident happened. No one understood how her husband had gotten trapped under the plough. They were fourth generation farmers. This kind of thing was unheard of. Only Nico had been there to witness, but he was too shocked to explain the events coherently. She had told him repeatedly that he wasn’t at fault. He was not bad. His current version of “good” wasn’t exactly welcome though. She felt it to be unnatural, and wholly unsettling.
At the funeral, well-meaning adults had patted Nico on the head and said, You’re the man of the house now. She had been too sick with grief to attend to her young son at the time. She should have remarried. Not providing him with a strong male role model was her failing, but it was too late to undo any damage now. She could only hope that he’d go out into the world and leave her in peace. Unfortunately, Nico was a homesticker.
She turned up the radio a smidge louder than was called for on a Tuesday morning, and ate her breakfast to a pop music soundtrack. Again, she felt disgusted that her son was always beating her at whatever competition he had going in the race to be “good.” When he was home, there was only thick silence. He said it was the only way to hear the voice of God. The doorbell rang and she quickly snapped off the music and tossed her tea bag out. Nico left by the backdoor, but always returned to the front. He expected her to open the door for him. She threw a newspaper on top of the trash, just in case. No telling how he would react if he discovered caffeine in the kitchen.
At the door she saw a friendly looking man. Dressed in a snappy suit, he didn’t look like a local. His lack of Southern drawl confirmed it.
“Hello!” he called cheerily. “My name is Collin. I am a realtor and am scouting the area, wondering if you’re interested in selling your home.”
As soon as he said the words, she raised her hands up to the heavens to give thanks. This is how she would be delivered to a new life!
As she led Collin around, he commented on the furnishings, or rather, their lack of.
“Minimalism is very trendy now,” he said. “Although for a big farmhouse like this, you’d expect it to be full of antiques.”
She sighed. “The house was once full of treasures, but sadly they are gone now. Fortunately, the bones of the place are solid and timeless.”
She remembered the grand piano her husband had played. How they had all gathered around it to sing Christmas carols. There had been a huge dining table with matching China cabinet in the front parlor. Many warm meals had been shared there. The crystal, the silver, and the hundreds of delicate plates with the dainty flowers hand painted on them had been dispersed. She had had no say in the matter. Years ago, when the life insurance money had run out and Nico was graduating from high school, she had started to plan her own future by searching for employment. Nico was going to college and she was optimistic about a new chapter in her life. One day, after a successful interview, she came home to find strangers carting most of the home’s contents away. Entire moving vans were clearing her out. Don’t worry, Momma. I’m gonna take care of you, was how Nico explained it. He had advertised an estate sale and explained, we are plain people now. We don’t need these objects of extravagance.
Nico had used to money the open up his hardware store, and true to his word, he took over the bills and maintenance for the now empty house. He usurped the only family car, and drove in to town daily to work, leaving her stranded on her own estate. He didn’t want her working, because she had him. He’d bring back groceries and the occasional treat from town, and except for the holidays when they drove out to see relatives, she hadn’t left the house, or her son’s company, in years.
She depended on Nico for every need and hated that she was powerless. During holidays, family and friends commented on how good of a son she had. How fortunate she was that her son took care of her. They always remarked with approval on how responsible he was. They especially seemed in awe that Nico had been so self-sacrificing to stay at home with his poor widowed mother and not allow her to work. She would nod to these praises, all the while thinking of her gloomy life. How stuck she was. How her existence had been reduced to the words Please and Thank You. Her son stuck too close by her. Complaining about that made other mothers tsk and sigh. If only their kids could be so dutiful. If only they would come home and spend time with them.
Collin was completely taken with the house. He didn’t see rooms that were cages. He saw them as expansive spaces with potential.
“It’s amazingly well-kept!” He swooned. “You are on ninety-six acres you say? Not a neighbor in sight! Guys in the city will snap this up before you can blink.”
“I want to sell as soon as possible,” she replied. The thought of having the funds to start her own life, away from her son, made her dizzy with anticipation.
“Don’t worry Ms. Lewis. You’re sitting on a goldmine.” Collin extended his hand, slipping his business card into her palm. “I’ll mail you the contract tomorrow.”
She stared at Collin’s card until it was burned into her memory, then chucked it into the bin, under the newspaper to join the tea bag.
Later that evening she was happily preparing dinner: steak (bloody the way Nico liked it.) Her son rang the front bell. She let him in, as usual, and resumed her station behind the stove. The sounds of his evening routine drifted to her. The clomp of his heavy boots. The swish of water as he washed his hands. There was nothing amiss until the sizzle of meat was suddenly too loud. It was like the air was trying to hold its own breath. She turned and gasped, startled to see Nico just inches behind her.
“Dear, how do you like your steak?”
“Don’t ask questions you know the answers to,” he said calmly. “What is this?” He held up Collin’s tea-stained business card.
Believing the truth would set them free, she answered in a clearer voice than she thought possible. “I’m selling the house so we can each get separate smaller places of our own. As you said. Plain people like us don’t need all this extravagant space.”
For a moment, he didn’t move, and she half suspected that he agreed with her. Then his face split with a sly smile.
“I don’t think you know what this property is really worth,” he said, then grabbed her arm and dragged her outside to his truck. “It’s time to give you a tour.”
He drove towards the rear field then stopped at the stables. She hadn’t been back there since the accident. The door had a shiny lock on it, incongruent to the old weathered boards it was nestled in. Behind that, he opened another door, which looked like the opening to a bank vault. It sealed shut behind them, sucking out the sounds of the night with it. Once inside, a smell stung her nostrils. Something ripe, like fermented fruit and sickness. They were standing in what appeared to be an apartment. Simple, but dirty. On the table she noticed one of the painted China plates, and it warmed her heart to know a trinket had survived from her past. Then, in the far corner she saw a shivering bundle of hair and vomit.
Nico pointed. “Remember Mae? Mae says it’s nice to see you again.” He kicked a bottle out of their path. “I’m sorry it’s such a mess in here. You see, Mae never learned how to keep a home as well as you, Momma. It’s a little embarrassing.”
She started to tremble as the situation settled on her.
“Nico,” she whispered. “This is wrong!”
“NO!” He shouted. “What you’re doing is wrong. I’M THE MAN OF THE HOUSE, and that means I make the decisions.”
He shoved her in the opposite corner from Mae. She noticed that he was taller than her husband had been, and much stronger. A metal cuff slammed over her wrist and she screamed in panic.
“Shhhhh….Momma. I’m giving you ladies what you want. See, Mae liked beer so much that beer is all she’s gonna get.”
He brushed a strand of hair from her eyes and looked almost gentle.
“And you, Momma. You want a home of your own. I’m gonna give you this one. I hope you show me some appreciation.”
The sound of his belt buckle hitting the floor was the last thing she heard before blacking out.
Eat Your Emotions: Dread - Olive Oil BrowniesPrint This
- 100g (3/4 cup) all purpose flour
- 134g (1 cup) cocoa powder
- 6g (1tsp) salt
- 3 eggs
- 300g (1.5 cups) sugar
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- 245g (1 cup) olive oil
- 170g (1/2 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips
- OPTIONAL CREAM CHEESE SWIRL:
- 115g (4 oz) cream cheese
- 115g (1/2 cup) sour cream
- 25g (2 Tbsp) sugar
- 8g (1 Tbsp) all purpose flour
tips for success:
- bring all ingredients to room temperature
- for square brownies, butter and line a square cake pan with parchment paper
- for individual brownies, you can butter generously a cupcake pan
- recipe is delicious with nothing added but
- add nuts, or the optional cream cheese swirl to your liking
- Preheat Oven to 350 F
- If you are making the cream cheese version, blend all of your room temperature ingredients together until smooth and homogeneous. Set aside. Now to the chocolaty part:
- Sift together: flour, cocoa powder, salt
- Whisk vigorously together: sugar, eggs, vanilla. It should look pale in color, thick and even with no visible sugar granules.
- Alternate adding wet and dry ingredients. whisk in 1/2 the dry ingredients, then half the oil. Half the dry, half the oil.
- Mix in chocolate chips (and nuts, if using them) last.
- If you are making the cream cheese version, pour a little more than half of the batter into the bottom of your pan. Spread evenly. Next, pour the cream cheese mixture over and spread into an even layer. Dollop the remaining brownie batter over the top of the pan, then swirl with the tip of a knife.
- Bake at 350 F for 20 – 30 minutes, depending on what sort of pan you are using. Test with a toothpick. They are done when the toothpick comes out with just a few crumbs sticking to it.
- Cool in the pan.