I like to write stories that tie in with the various holidays of the year–Christmas, Easter, and so on–if nothing else it’s a handy, free writing prompt. I haven’t written a Halloween story for quite some time, however, which seems a bit of an oversight for a horror writer. So, with barely a week to spare, I decided to try and write a story for Halloween 2022. Mr. Farroway’s Cakes, which you can read below, is the result. Enjoy!
(10 minute read)
On the morning after Halloween the sun shone bright and cold, the clouds had mostly cleared from a blue sky and crisp, fresh air filled the small village of West Buckingham. Despite the fine weather only one person walked through the village streets. He visited each house in turn, collecting what he had come for and then moving to the next address on his list. All the doors were open to him, and not a man, woman, nor child turned him away … because there was no one left alive in the village of West Buckingham.
Gilbert Farroway arrived at the door of Number 7 and paused just for the briefest of moments before entering. Ah yes, Number 7: Mrs Mathers—Sheila to her friends. She had invited him in for tea and he had been pleased to accept her offer, even though he never drank tea. Her house smelled of dead skin and aged leather, but she kept her kitchen pristine and therefore agreeable enough for sitting. Her husband remained distant in the corner, hidden in the depths of a high-backed armchair that may have been as old as he was. The corner of an unfolded newspaper poked out from across his lap and the TV before him was tuned to some inane sporting event. He was almost certainly asleep.
“I have a gift for you, Mrs. Mathers. It is something of a tradition among my people,” Gilbert explained, placing a small muslin-wrapped package on the table. “A soul cake.”
“Oh, I see. Very nice.”
“It is a token to remember those who have passed on. You see, All Hallow’s Eve shouldn’t only be an excuse for the young to beg for candy.” He leaned forward, twisting his mouth into a smile. Shelia smiled too, flattered by the gesture of attention. “Even those of us who dwell in our twilight years deserve a treat or two. Am I wrong, Mrs Mathers?”
“Oh, Sheila, please.”
“Sheila, as you wish. There is only one, ah … request associated with this gift. I must ask that you and your husband share this cake and you must eat it together, lest either of you be seen to disrespect the dead.”
“Oh, of course.” Sheila seemed mortified at the mere suggestion that she might be seen to disrespect the dead.
Gilbert sat back, the sudden flash of stone in his eyes melting once again. “I am sure you both have loved ones who have passed and whom you might wish to remember tonight. The dead rest well knowing that they are remembered but will rise up to remind you what they once were should they happen to feel forgotten.”
Sheila swirled her tea anxiously. “Well, no, we don’t want that, do we? I mean, well … it’s just that the thing is—“
Gilbert chuckled and nudged the cake another inch closer. “Oh, no need to worry, Sheila. This recipe is gluten-free. I bake them myself, you know.”
“Oh, well that’s—how did you…?”
But her guest was already rising to leave; there were other houses and families to visit before his day would be done. “Be sure and remember, Sheila, this cake is not made to be eaten alone.”
Sheila dropped an abashed grin as she glanced at her sleeping husband. “Oh, no chance of that: as if that one over there would let me eat a cake all to myself.”
“Ah, the doting husband,” Gilbert smiled. “Very good. And now I am sure you are busy, and I have intruded long enough, so I will take my leave. I shall drop by tomorrow, if that is acceptable, to collect my muslin and to find out how you enjoyed the cake. One should always seek customer satisfaction, wouldn’t you agree.”
“Why, yes, absolutely … and I look forward to seeing you again tomorrow.” Sheila, blushing inexplicably, escorted him to the door.
The kitchen was quiet now, a little over half a day later. The television had fallen silent. Cold morning light filtered through the yellowing net curtains over the sink. The buzz of household chores was absent. Both Sheila and her husband sat at the kitchen table; a coffee before him, a cup of tea before her, and the remaining half of the small cake between the two of them. Neither of them knew that Farroway was there. Their eyes hung dark and empty in their sockets, staring at nothing. Their skin had grown cold and grey. Neither Mrs Mathers nor her husband were fully alive anymore, nor were they quite dead.
Farroway leaned over the table to collect what the Mathers had left for him and scraped the remains of their cake into the worn leather doctor’s bag he carried. He sniffed, scenting and sorting as he gathered. The husband was withered and unnourished—a wasted existence—but he might do for some sport; a minor irony that Farroway appreciated. The woman, on the other hand, had a rich, succulent soul, one full of dreams, hopes and compassion—far more than he would have hoped for given her compliant nature. He clipped the leather bag shut with a satisfied nod.
Having taken what he needed, Farroway left the Mathers as they were and moved on. He crossed the empty street and passed by the Grocery Store—it would not be opening that day, nor for many more days to come—and came to Number 10.
The air smelled different inside, the scent growing stronger as Farroway climbed the steps that led to their small apartment above the Grocery Store. Once inside he found Mr and Mrs Brent sitting apart—she in front of the television, he at a diminutive desk crammed into a corner of the tiny room. Near both were plates that had carried their slices of Mr. Farroway’s cake. They each lolled back in their separate chairs, staring vacantly into the empty space hanging above them. The smell lingered in the same room, but Farroway continued into the hallway first: it was, after all, important to be thorough. He found the elder son in one of the bedrooms, sitting at his desk with his computer screen beaming meaningless light across his dying eyes. Before him, also, was a plate.
Farroway tipped the elder son’s plate into his bag, collecting the precious crumbs, and returned to the sitting room. He paused in the doorway to sniff the air again and this time followed the scent to a bookcase, by the side of which, hunched next to a wooden crate filled with toys, was a small boy no more than four years of age.
“Why, hello there.” Gilbert said, leaning down. “You must be Benjamin, am I right?”
The boy said nothing. He watched Gilbert, entranced by the older man’s eyes.
“Very good, yes. Now tell me, Benjamin, did your mother and father take you trick or treating last night?”
The boy shook his head.
“Asleep, were you?”
The boy nodded.
“Yes, sleep; when the soul travels far and wide. But what a shame, Benjamin, what a shame you didn’t get to enjoy the cake I made for you and your parents yesterday. Not to worry, no one misses out: I have a treat for you too.” Gilbert reached into his bag and pulled out a chocolate lollipop on a stick, wrapped in wax paper. He held it out.
The boy’s eyes locked on the sweet, but his hands remained clasped around his knees.
“There is no need for hesitation, Benjamin. On All Hallow’s Eve we always take candy from strangers and so you may take this without getting yourself into trouble. You see all good things come to those who wait.”
Gilbert pulled the treat away a little and was pleased to see the boy twitch reflexively in case he needed to grab it after all. “But you must be sure and finish it before you mother and father wake up. Can you do that?”
Benjamin nodded and finally reached out to take the lollipop, pulling the wax paper off with his other hand and sticking the gift in his mouth. Gilbert tousled the boy’s hair regretfully. Such a waste but it never did to leave loose ends.
He left the boy with his lollipop and continued his business, collecting the remains of the cake from the mother and father. As always, he judged and labelled as he went. The mother: thin from stress and overwork, but the father: still fat with ambition and unearned potential.
He turned to leave, checking on the boy before he left: the child’s eyes remained open, but his head now lolled against the side of the wooden chest, the hand holding the lollipop fallen to the floor. Satisfied that his business with the Brents was now concluded, Farroway moved on.
The next few houses brought no surprises and Farroway’s bag continued to fill up. In time he had visited every house in the village as well as the vicarage and all that remained was the old farmhouse. He crossed the green, taking his time and savouring the tranquillity of the now silent village. It truly was a delightfully crisp and cool morning, the sun bright in the sky but free of warmth. From somewhere far away came the fluttering and tweeting of birds, most sensing the ill fortune on the air and deciding that that West Buckingham was best avoided today.
Leaving the green behind, Farroway crossed to the lane that would lead him up to the farmhouse. The complaints of hungry animals heralded his arrival but elsewhere there was silence and the tell-tale tang of iron drifting in the air. A low snarl escaped Farroway’s lips: it would seem that farmer Murphy had not followed the instructions he had been given. A gleaming four-wheel drive vehicle sat alongside the driveway, cruelly showing up the worn Jeep that was parked there. Murphy had had family staying yesterday. Farroway wondered if they had enjoyed their visit. He pushed open the door to the rough-hewn house and went inside.
It was dark, the thick walls seemingly absorbing all outside light before it could reach the windows. Farroway made his way down the hallway. A limp arm trailed out of a room to his left, its dead hand lying on the threshold of the hall. A thin line of blood darkened the wooden floor nearby. He ignored it and continued into the kitchen.
A shotgun, long since cooled, lay on the table. Near it sat Murphy, the current owner of the farm. His eyes wore the same glassy blankness that most of his neighbours now shared. Before him was a plate with the few remaining crumbs of Mr. Farroway’s cake scattered across it. On the floor beside him lay the body of another man, shot in the face. Further away, on the opposite side of the kitchen, was a woman’s body, her flesh sodden and raw.
Gilbert stared down at the body, shaking his head. “Oh dear, Mr Murphy. I did warn you not to eat your cake alone, did I not? I did insist that you be sure you to share it with your family, did I not? And then you go and ignore me and look at what you’ve done.”
He glanced at the bodies, shaking his head. Such a waste. So unnecessary. Most people lacked the will to ignore the very simple instructions he left with them concerning his cakes, but there would be one every now and again who did not listen, who did not believe that the same rules should apply to them.
“Your family might have joined you, Mr Murphy. You could be with them right at this moment,” Gilbert explained as he pulled the empty plate towards him and tidied the crumbs away into his bag. “I suppose it is my fault, an error of judgement. And too bad for them that I wasn’t clear enough in my warnings. A soul is a considerable thing to lose, you see; with it goes all judgement, all conscience. The mere scent of another soul can drive the empty vessel into a jealous frenzy. I should have been clearer in explaining the risks to you, should I not?”
Gilbert chuckled, looking directly into Murphy’s dead eyes. “Oh, me? No, you have no need to worry about me. I traded mine away long ago.”
He stood up and left the house without another word, leaving the kitchen as it was and the body in the hallway where it lay. As he walked out into the open air and closed the gate behind him he was surprised to hear the sound of a bicycle bell trilling down the road. He turned and saw a middle-aged man that he didn’t recognise gliding to a stop before him.
“Hullo there,” the man said. “Good morning. Am I too late?”
Gilbert broke the warmest smile he could manage across his face, hiding his genuine discomfort at the possibility of having missed someone in the village. “And good morning to you, sir. A fine morning to be out in the world, is it not?”
The man nodded, catching his breath. “So, am I too late?” he asked again.
“I fear … you have me at a loss,” Gilbert replied.
“For eggs?” The man waved vaguely behind him. “I ride down from Ranford once a week especially for eggs. You can’t beat fresh farm eggs.”
“Oh, Ranford. I see. This would explain why our paths haven’t crossed before.”
The man held out his hand. “Ah, in that case, I’m Wetherford. Bob Wetherford. Pleased to meet you.”
Gilbert shook the hand genially, expecting that Bob wouldn’t have too long left to trouble himself with the coldness of his skin he had just touched, or the lingering firmness of the grip that would leave his hand numb for the next few minutes. Bob withdrew his hand in silence, hiding a slight frown; the first crack in his irritatingly ebullient mood.
“I can assure you that you have arrived in good time, Bob Wetherford. The door is open, and you will find what you need inside.” Gilbert smiled.
Bob nodded, saying nothing.
“I bid you good day, sir, and good fortune.” Gilbert tipped his imaginary hat in Bob’s direction and walked away, smiling into the morning breeze. Behind him Bob shook his head, clearing his suddenly muddied thoughts, then rested his bicycle against the hedgerow and made his way into the farmhouse.
Farroway listened as he walked. There was little need to hurry: Bob Wetherford would not be leaving the farmhouse again. Sure enough, a scream broke the morning air a few moments later, followed by the distant cacophony of falling furniture. A final scream and, finally, a gunshot returned silence to the day.
Farroway smiled with satisfaction. There would be other visitors to the village: the passing curious, the worried relatives, and then the more official enquirers. A similar fate would befall many of them until the village became nothing more than a troubling curio and the weight of trying to explain its passing caused most to prefer to forget it even existed in the first place.
Except for him, of course. He would never forget it and all it had given him. He continued walking until he had left West Buckingham far behind, his harvest complete. It was a small one, but sufficient. It would do. Now his path would lead him to the next harvest. Towards another community. Perhaps a village. Perhaps a housing estate. Maybe even a rest home. Once he arrived, he would settle quietly, ingratiate himself to his various neighbours over the coming months and then, when the next harvest loomed, he would invite them each to try one of his cakes.
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