Gingerly

Five years ago, before I left college, I got an acceptance email regarding a literary publication, From the Writers’ Kitchen. I had to give them additional details and never heard back if I had been published for sure. When I went to check a few months later, I could not find copies and it slipped my mind for a long time. Recently I contacted the university and they sent me a copy with my story.

 

 

Gingerly

 

Tom Fuller was lost in the woods. He had been hiking with his friends and decided to go on ahead. Tom thought through experience he would intuitively find his way back. But the woods had no path, and the autumn leaves had easily covered up his footprints as he went.

Tom travelled three of four miles, photographed some interesting birds and decided to call it a day. His friends would certainly envy the beautiful colors he captured without them. He laughed out loud at Buck, Phil and Jake. They would never discover anything being so slow.

He squinted and tried to decipher the dim surroundings. It was getting harder to see. Tom got out his cell phone. There were no bars left but it helped light his way.

For a half-hour Tom attempted retracing his steps, looking for some sign of his companions. He eventually became worried and blasted Pink Floyd through the tiny speakers hoping to catch the attention of anyone nearby. All he succeeded in doing was lowering precious battery life he had left. It was in the red as he finally turned it off.

Having stopped his walking for a moment, Tom realized the cold. He hadn’t noticed it so much while he was moving but wrapped his coat around himself tightly. Sitting under a tree, he then hoped to block the breeze.

Through worry and burgeoning hypothermia he managed sleep after a few short hours. The sunlight felt nice as dawn finally broke over the tree line. It was still bitterly cold but Tom felt warm enough to take off his coat. It did not last long. The temperature hit again as did the realization he was alone, with little hope of rescue.

He trudged along stoic and determined for circulation sake. Morning soon became afternoon and afternoon dusk once more. Tom felt as if he was going around in circles. The snow he tried to eat did little to fight his growing dehydration.

Tom lay down, splaying himself on a path of fallen, icy limbs. Time seemed to be going quicker than normal. He drifted on and off for several hours, not sure of day or night.

In what might have been 6 PM, Midnight or another dawn, the horizon looked remarkably purple. It seemed foreign from the browns, and whites he had grown accustomed to seeing.

Dots of pink and red followed.  Tom thought maybe he was seeing splotches like he did when he closed his eyes back home. But, they were too numerous and lively. Somehow, they blended, clashed like magic was at work. Tom considered he was growing delirious, perhaps close to death.

Seeing the colors becoming more solid, less shifting, Tom followed them, trying to remain rational. They weren’t flowers, or pollen, but they were leading him to something.

A path of reddish rocks started sparkling. They almost looked like candy but that couldn’t be. Candy would not be left out to attract flies and vermin. Rats, Tom noticed were nowhere to be seen…

Several houses eclipsed the path almost immediately. They were gingerbread and large enough for any person to walk into. Frosting decorated the outsides as did giant jellybeans. It was a village of sugary confection.

Stop signs were made of hardtack and roads of black licorice. A large clock tower was also gingerbread with frosting writing for the numbers.

Tom walked through this bizarre netherworld as candies stuck to his shoes. They made it hard to walk and he longed for human contact. Taking a turn off the road, Tom realized it must have been some sort of Hollywood production. Surely, an actress dressed as a witch would be sitting inside one of the houses, rehearsing lines.

His theory could not have been more wrong. As he pushed open the large piece of cookie used for a door, a gingerbread woman was inside. She screamed, as Tom apologized, amazed at how far makeup and costumes had come.

“Excuse me, do you have a warm cup of coffee?” Tom asked. It only furthered her excitation. She picked a large candy cane off the wall and threw it at him.

Tom ducked, his reflexes still quick, despite his long stay in the woods. Something about the place and the sugary air reinvigorated him. But he began to realize something was very wrong.

“I know this is a closed set, but please-“

He never finished the sentence. Another gingerbread person snuck up and hit Tom from behind with a large macadamia nut cookie.

 


 

A whole jury of gingerbread people ascended around him. They were decorated in black frosting, which must have been formal attire. Beige gumdrop buttons decorated the seams of their outfits.

Tom saw their attention focused on him. What were they waiting for, with their beady small eyes? He hadn’t done anything wrong that he could think of.

The judge entered. He, of all these people, would hear him out, thought Tom. He looked professional in his white frosting wig. The robe was dignified dark taffy.

“Outsider,” he began “you stand accused of attempted murder.”

“No!” Tom shouted.

“Our respected citizen, Lady 1 cup butter, softened 1 & 1/4 cups-“

“Who?” Tom asked.

“Outsider, if you must know, our names are the product of our ingredients. To continue, 1/4 cups brown sugar, packed, 3 eggs, 2 tsps ground cinnamon, etc. was accosted and threatened with use of a deadly hot beverage at approximately 8:15 this morning. These are the charges. Prosecution may now bring forth their first witness.”

“My first witness,” said a stately, thin cookie in a sleek candy-coat, “is the Lady ¼ cups brown sugar, eggs, ground cinnamon.”

“Please approach the bench,” said the judge as she walked up to take the oath with her hand on an old Betty Crocker book. She swore to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth before the heavenly Baker and was seated.

“What were you doing at 8:15 this morning?” The prosecutor began.

“I was praying for the health of our good King.”

“Ladies and gentlecookies of the jury, you see before us a Baker fearing woman, who only wants the best for her own welfare. Now, tell me, what this monster seated here before us, attempted to do?”

“My memory is a bit fuzzy but I’m sure I remember exactly what happened. Like you said, I was praising our King, when BAM the door gets kicked open. In comes the Outsider, with a pot of coffee in his hand. He threatens to pour it all over my body, reducing me to mush, unless I perform the most unspeakable deeds.”

“And for the sake of putting this scumbag Outsider away, what were these most unspeakable deeds?”

“I can’t even begin to say.”

“Can’t… even… begin…. to say,” repeated the prosecutor slowly, with a thin gingerbread leg set atop a step. “The prosecution rests.”

“Defense,” said the Judge, “your witness.”

Tom waited for a lawyer to approach and help his case. It became readily apparent after ten minutes or so that no one was going to do so. Tom, having realized he was going to defend himself, brushed the sugar dust off his sport coat and approached the Lady on the bench.

“Now, you say I threatened you, but I was merely a visitor looking for some help, that happened to take the form of a hot drink. I, unlike you, am unhurt by such things and even find them rather pleasant.”

The jury gasped. It seemed the wrong thing to say as whispers broke out. Tom continued, however, attempting in vain to find common ground.

“I mean, whatever it is that keeps you nourished, imagine if you went without it-“

He wasn’t reaching any of them. It seemed they ate and drank nothing.

“Just please understand that I come from a different land and forgive me for scaring your upstanding citizen. I never intended her any harm, nor did I force her to perform any unspeakable deeds. Thank you and may your Baker save the king!”

“Excuse me,” a young gingerbread girl from the jury in pastry curls asked, “are you suggesting our King will need saved from you?”

“No, of course not, it’s just an expression-“

“I have heard enough,” the judge said. “I find this Outsider guilty as charged.”

Tom continued to scream as he was grabbed by two burly bailiffs and thrown into the center of the floor. He knew his punishment was coming and he greatly feared he would not survive. Tom closed his eyes and gritted his teeth.

No axe was swung, or bullets fired. Tom peeked out an eye to see three gingerbread people blindfolded before him.

“Your sentence,” stated the judge, reading from a large dough scroll, “is to eat them all.”

“You can’t be serious,” said Tom.

“I am. You will eat them all or you will be baked alive.”

Tom looked in horror at what he was charged to do. He got to his feet and walked over to them. They were shaking. Crumbs broke off with every shiver.

Should he eat them slowly if at all? The idea tormented him.

Holding his breath, Tom took off a small piece and put it in his mouth. It tasted wonderful and that made it all the worse. He took off another, then another. The cookie screamed. It was blood curdling but Tom knew he couldn’t quit.

The arms were soon gone. The legs followed. A head and torso then looked up at him in horror. And, still worse, if it be could any more so, something was familiar. The voice, the eyes reminded him of someone. Who could it be, Tom thought while he tore wolf-like into the chest of a condemned gingerbread man?

As Tom swallowed the last eye, an identity became apparent. It was Buck and the other two were Phil and Jake….

Everything became a haze of guilt, confusion and despair. Tom approached Phil and heard him pleading behind a blindfold. He reached out his hand to tear a piece off of his shoulder but couldn’t do it.

“I won’t do it,” Tom said, backing away.

“Very well,” replied the judge. “Bailiffs, prepare the ovens! This Outsider will be baked until he chars.”

The crowd cheered as a large furnace was ignited outside the courtroom. A gurney was rolled over to where Tom had to be restrained. The bailiffs strapped him to its surface with ropes of licorice. It was too tight to break out of. If only Tom could reach to chew…

The whole way to the fire Tom twisted and squirmed, moving his mouth closer to the licorice but never reaching it. The crowd loved his misery and laughed as he pleaded then resigned to prayer.

As fire licked his shoes and melted them, Tom considered his entire life. He hadn’t been raised to turn out the way he did. His parents were nice, considerate people, always willing to help friends. They never bragged or sought to outdo others, as Tom did. Something was just always different about him.

Flames seared through his pants, burning his legs. For some reason it reminded Tom of his first love. He felt her back on top of him.  They swayed to the beat of the car stereo and it was almost magical enough to overcome the pain he felt… Tom began thinking the day she left, and how she said he’d never open up to her. He was too immature to be committed; too self-centered, egotistical…

The last memories swirled in a vortex, indecipherable. Flames soon burned away his old existence. As a cookie in a chef hat pulled out him out of the fire, Tom was changed and charred as the judge had promised him. Tom had become what looked like dough with no discernable features to speak of.

The chef got out a large cutter and shaped him back to form. He sliced away the excess and found frosting for his clothes. Some gumdrops and a smile later Tom was up again. He couldn’t quite remember who or what he was and that seemed fine.

“The judge will see you now,” a bailiff said, guiding him back into the courtroom.

“That sounds wonderful,” Tom replied, “but what’s a judge?”

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