A Properly Spiced Gingerbread
By David Hankins
Run, run, as fast as you can. You can’t escape the Gingerbread Man. Granny had warned that magic could kill, but Lucy hadn’t expected to die at the hands of a cookie.
Her foot-tall Gingerbread Man leapt from the oven, knocked Lucy to the tile, and wrapped warm hands around her throat. Black licorice eyes sparkled with malevolence as winter howled outside her apartment window. She clawed at the strong, cakey grip, and the Gingerbread Man grinned.
Gregor, her black tomcat, rose from behind the coffee pot, yellow eyes questioning. Darkness beckoned and Lucy slapped a quick three-count on the cold tile, Gregor’s trained signal.
Ten pounds of furry rage crashed into the Gingerbread Man, driving him from Lucy’s chest. She gasped for air and scrambled back. Fur and crumbs flew as cat and cookie slammed into worn cabinets, fighting for dominance. Nothing in Granny’s recipe book had prepared Lucy for this.
The Gingerbread Man roared and flung Gregor into the living room. The cat yowled, landed, and charged. His prey jumped aside impossibly fast, catching Gregor by his scruff and back. The cookie twirled the struggling cat like a baton, opened his mouth impossibly wide, and Gregor disappeared down a gingerbread gullet.
Silence fell as Lucy gaped at drifting tufts of hair, the only evidence of Gregor’s passing. The cookie patted his flat belly and burped.
“You ate my cat!” Lucy bridled, anger sliding over her fear.
“I get hungry after a summons,” he rumbled, sizing her up like a second course. Fear resumed its dominance in her chest. Granny’s recipes definitely didn’t cover demons.
“I wasn’t summoning,” Lucy said. “I was baking a familiar.” The words sounded hollow in her ears.
He sprang onto the flour-coated counter and sneered. “Why would you want one of those? Disgusting things, familiars. So... subservient.” Lucy backed away.
“It’s an entry requirement for Saint Julia’s, Chicago’s premier academy of arcane cuisine.”
He eyed her. “You’re not a very good witch, are you?”
Lucy flinched to hear the same derisive words she’d gotten from the admissions board. She fired back, finger pointed at his white frosting nose. “I was good enough to summon you, Ginger! Obey me, demon!”
Ginger grinned darkly. “You haven’t the power to command me.” Cakey hands grabbed Lucy’s wrist and yanked her down, slamming her elbow into the laminate countertop. Her knees buckled into the cabinets. Ginger’s strength and speed were surprising and unnatural.
Molasses breath fell moist upon her face, comforting scents at odds with his threatening tone. “Bake another gingerbread, witch. Summon my wife, and I’ll let you live.”
Gingerbread Men are terrible liars.
Lucy baked as the cakey beast lounged on her couch, cackling at some grisly TV horror. Heat from her ancient oven battled winter’s chill, a familiar warmth on her final night.
She punched the dough, reading Granny’s scratched recipe notes for the hundredth time. How to fix this?
Her mind whirled with the details of culinary magic. A touch of cardamom, two dashes of cloves, chant the proper incantation with a pinch of salt. Sugar for kindness, blood for summons, cinnamon for—
Lucy’s hands froze inside the dough, then resumed with furious vigor as she read that again. She had summoned the demon. She’d nicked a finger while coring an apple for lunch. A drop of blood must have fallen in the bowl.
The bowl jumped under her rough ministrations and Lucy slowed, breathing in the warm comfort of raw gingerbread. The answer had to be in the recipe book.
She flipped through Granny’s tattered legacy to the book’s final pages, sticky fingers adding to generations of stains. Lucy scanned arcane baking advice as she resumed kneading. A half-erased note caught her attention. She leaned in, cinnamon-dusted nose almost brushing the cookbook.
Red Chilies for Dragons.
Lucy’s heart leapt. That was it.
She eyed the couch. That fool cookie ignored her, thinking her cowed. Licorice eyes remained glued to the screen as scenes of blood and horror bathed him in flickering light. She freed her fingers from the dough and eased the fridge open.
Ghost peppers sat in the back, a prank from a friend. Perfect.
Lucy returned to the counter, drawing her knife with that satisfying shing of quality steel. She glanced at Ginger, contemplating violence.
No, he was too keen, too fast, too cruel.
Minced peppers made her nose twitch, her chopping masked by televised murder. Strong spice mingled oddly with warm cinnamon and rich molasses, conjuring images of fire and brimstone. This had to work.
Rolling pin and frosting created a beautifully ferocious dragon on an oversized baking sheet. Minced ghost pepper shone through like red scales. Granny would have approved.
The Gingerbread Dragon went in and Lucy cranked her egg timer. Ten minutes to decide her fate.
What if she’d just made another monster?
Lucy panicked, reached in and burned her fingers on the rack before stopping herself. She closed the oven and drew a deep breath.
Trust the recipe, trust the magic. Granny had never failed Lucy in life, no reason her recipes would now. Lucy ached for Granny’s comforting presence, her surety.
“Is she ready yet?” The beast wanted his wife.
Lucy checked, hopeful, fearful. “One minute.”
The little monster killed the TV and jumped up, cruel licorice eyes dancing with ideas born of cinema’s dark side. He sauntered into the kitchen.
The timer rang and Ginger grinned in anticipation. This was it. Lucy had never opened an oven with such trepidation. 
Chili-red eyes greeted her as spiced molasses and hope wafted into the kitchen. Her Gingerbread Dragon rose, beautiful and terrible. Flames escaped frosting lips as a crumbly, growly voice filled Lucy’s mind.
Lucy smiled, thanking Granny. “Run, run, as fast as you can. I need you to eat a Gingerbread Man.”
DreamForge Anvil © 2022 DreamForge Press
A Properly Spiced Gingerbread © 2022 David Hankins