Adele sat at the tiny kitchen table, jiggling her leg and glancing over and over at the clock on the wall. The bright colors in which the room was painted, bedecked with puppies, kittens, and smiley faces seemed to mock her anxiety. This room---this house---was designed to be a haven of excitement and stimulation for the small children who passed through its doors each day. But now, late in the afternoon, and with only adults present, it just seemed eerie, putting Adele even more on edge than she already would have been.
“You said she took them out for a walk?” Adele asked, trying to keep the edge out of her voice.
“Yes,” said Susie as she carefully transferred one cookie after another from a baking tray to a platter. “Netta did. Sometimes the spirit moves her.”
Adele shivered as she thought of Netta. The woman was unnaturally tall and pale as death. She’d never seen her wear any color other than black. It was as if she were channeling the severity and sternness of the nannies of old. All in all, she gave Adele the creeps.
“But she knew I’d be coming to pick Kailey up at 5PM,” Adele said.
“She did,’ Susie said. “Netta sometimes just loses track of time is all. She enjoys the children so very much.”
“Well, can you call her for me?”
“Mrs. Collins,” Susie said, “I assure you, I spoke with her just moments before you arrived, and even then she was on her way back.”
Adele sighed and sunk further into her chair. Nothing Susie was saying, or indeed could say, would calm her. She made up her mind then and there that she would find a new daycare center, even if she had to miss work for the cause. Hopefully, she could find one that didn’t fill her with dread.
“While you wait,” Susie said, “please try a cookie.”
“A cookie?” One look at the pile of misshapen lumps and Adele’s stomach rebelled. “No thank you.”
Susie’s smile dropped. “Oh please,” she said. “It’s a brand new recipe I’m trying out. There’s a secret ingredient.”
As unappetizing as the cookies looked, Adele suddenly remembered she’d skipped lunch for the sake of a business meeting. Maybe that’s why I’m so anxious, she thought. Low blood sugar will kill you.
“Well,” she said, “all right. If you insist.” She took the neatest-looking cookie from the top of the stack and had a bite.
An explosion of flavor alighted on her tongue. It was warm and sweet, but with a hint of spice. Perhaps it was because she was starving, but in that moment, Adele would have sworn it was the best cookie she’d ever tasted.
“These are marvelous!” she said.
“Thank you!” Susie bowed her head. “I tell you, it’s all about that secret ingredient.” She turned and began wiping the counter with a rag. “It’s a shame the children aren’t here to try them.”
Adele stopped chewing. The sweet taste in her mouth suddenly seemed sickly, nauseating.
“What did you say?”
“I was merely singing the praises of my new secret ingredient,” Susie said without turning around.
“After that,” Adele demanded. A chill ran up her spine. Beads of sweat broke out on her forehead.
Susie finally turned and met Adele with a smile. “The children. They’re not here.” She pause for a moment, her eyes scanning Adele. “Is something wrong?” she asked, sweetly.
Adele was miles away. A horror movie of terrifying proportions played itself out in her mind’s eye. Her precious Kailey and the other child, first at play and happy, then screaming and scrambling for their lives. How had Susie dispatched them all? A meat grinder? If she searched these cheery-colored cabinets and drawers, would she find bloodied instruments of torture and death tucked away?
She started up from her seat and lunged toward Susie. Susie’s eyes were wide with shock and she choked beneath Adele’s firm grasp. Adele body slammed her to the floor, then seized her throat once again. With every word she spoke she pounded Susie’s head into the cabinet door behind her.
“What did you do with my child?!”” Adele screamed.
“She’s… walking… with... Netta….” Susie’s words came out in strained gurgles. She flailed uselessly with her arms as Adele batted away every attempt the woman made to save herself.
“You’re lying, you evil bitch!” Adele tightened her grip on Susie’s neck. “What about your secret ingredient?! What is it?! Tell me!”
Susie choked and sputtered, but at least the truth came out. “...Cinnamon….”
Another chill overtook Adele. She dropped Susie against the cabinet. “What?”
The shocked voice came from behind. Adele turned to see Netta, tall and imposing, filling the kitchen doorway. Her eyes were wide with terror. Before her stood the three-child stroller with sounds of light fussing and infant babble floating from it.
“What on earth are you doing?” Netta demanded.
“Oh my God!” Adele scrambled to her feet, cold relief spilling down over her shoulders. “I am so sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I just… I was so worried.”
Adele hurried to the stroller. Netta flattened herself against the wall as the woman came nearer. When Adele peered inside she was overjoyed to the point of tears. There, in the middle compartment, was her precious Kailey. She scooped the tot up in one fluid motion and pressed the child close to her. “You’re all right, you’re all right,” Adele practically sang as she bounced the child up and down.
Her eyes landed on Susie who was using the counter and a kitchen chair as leverage on her climb back to her feet. “Susie,” Adele said, “I am so sorry. I was absolutely sick with worry, and when you mentioned…. Well, I guess I got carried away with myself.”
“Indeed,” Susie said breathlessly. She plunked herself into a chair and rubbed the front of her neck. “As if I’d waste your child on baked goods.”
Adele stopped bouncing. “I’m sorry?”
Susie smiled. “I’m not a fool. Your Kailey’s too good and plump. A porker like her deserves to be roasted.”
Another shiver seized Adele. A sudden thought occurred to her. Turning back to the stroller, she saw that only one more of its three compartments remained occupied. There had been two other children there when she’d dropped Kailey off that morning.
“What happened to the other little girl?” Adele asked, her limbs beginning to quake. She searched and searched for her name. “What was she called?”
“I already told you her name,” Susie snapped. “How could you forget such a stupid name as ‘Cinnamon?’”
Adele’s stomach dropped and Kailey began to wail. The room began to spin. It never even steadied when Adele felt Netta grip her neck firmly from behind.
Written by Jdeschene