Chuck Wendig: Open For Business

The Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge for this week is entitled Inspired By InspiroBot!  We were challenged to go to InspiroBot, which is a website that generates random inspirational images.  Once we got one we liked, take it and use it as inspiration for 1,000 words or less.  Mine came in at 963 words.  My InspiroBot image is below.  Please to enjoy my story.



Joanie’s was a small bakery in a suburban strip mall.  There was a pizza joint on one side and a dance studio on the other.  They did a pretty good business.  Lots of birthday parties for the dancers and cupcakes for the elementary school up the road.

Joanie was in the back, tending the ovens.  The shop would be opening soon, and he was creating the day’s wares.  They offered cakes and cupcakes in several different flavors: chocolate, vanilla, orange, lemon, carrot, and red velvet being the most popular, with icing in a variety of different colors and decoration options of all sorts.

There were two ovens in the back, both stainless steel with three racks and glass-faced doors.  One was filled with sheets of vanilla cupcakes, the other with cakes.  There were two each of vanilla, carrot, and lemon cakes finishing up.

As he waited for the timers to chime, Joanie stepped out the back door into the alleyway behind the shopping center, propping the door open behind him.  The alley was open, looking out onto a grassy sward that stretched to some woods about 500 feet away.  He’d never been into those woods, but he always meant to go explore them one day.

Joanie looked up and breathed deeply.  It was a beautiful morning.  Clear, crisp, cool.  A perfect September day.  The leaves were just beginning to turn in the woods that he could see, and he could smell autumn in the air, even with the Dumpster sitting wide open down at the end of the alley.

He heard a faint ding from inside.  The cupcakes would be done.  He hurried back inside and checked.  Sure enough, they were ready.  He opened the oven door and took them out, six great sheets of vanilla cupcakes, glowing golden and beautiful under the fluorescent kitchen lights.  He slid them into the cooling racks on the underside of the oven and loaded the oven back up, this time with red velvet.  He checked the timer on the cake oven—10 more minutes—then went up front.

He hadn’t turned the lights on, but the morning sunlight slanting in through the great plate-glass display windows was more than enough to illuminate the store.  He could see the painted letters on the door, JOANIE’S BAKERY in gilt script casting pale yellow shadows on the front of the counter.

He pulled a rag and some polish out from underneath the counter and began to wipe down the countertop.  As he polished and buffed the surface, he noticed a piece of paper wedged into the front door.  It was fluttering in the breeze; the motion is what caught his eye.  He laid down his rag, walked over to the door and unlocked it.  He opened it just a bit, and the paper blew inside.  He closed the door again and relocked it.

There were a couple of customers outside, waiting for the bakery to open.  It still amazed him that people would line up to buy his cakes but there they were.  They had looked up when the door opened.  He saw them look up and shook his head.  He pointed at his watch and held up both hands, spread open wide.  Ten more minutes!  They nodded and went back to their conversation.

He picked up the piece of paper that had been in the door and opened it up.  It was a printout of a picture, a shadow of a person standing in front of some stars.  In big white letters it said, CAKES ARE GOING TO UNLEASH DARKNESS.  He shook his head.  Crazy talk.  Must have been left by one of those religious nuts who came by from time to time.  They were always trying to save him from something.  He laughed and stuffed the paper in the front pocket of his apron.

Another chime came from the back—the cakes were ready!  He hurried back.  He would lay them out to cool, then frost the vanilla cupcakes and take them up front, then it would be time to open.  He usually brought the cakes up front and decorated them behind the counter so the customers could watch.  It was fun, and the kids loved to watch.  Sometimes there were ladies as well.  He was too old for most of them, true, but he still liked it when they came in and always gave them his best smile.

He opened the oven and took out the first cake.  He frowned.  He thought this one was a vanilla cake, but it looked like dark chocolate.  In fact, it was so dark it almost looked burned.  He held it up to his nose and smelled.  He touched the top.  It wasn’t burned.  It didn’t smell like anything, actually.  Still frowning, he set it on the counter and went back for the second one.

The second one was supposed to be lemon, but it was black as well, as were all the cakes that were in the oven.  By the time he had them all out on the counter, he noticed a black stain spreading out from underneath the first one, turning the counter as black as the cake itself was.

Confused and a little spooked, Joanie got out one of his cutting knives and started cutting a slice out of the first cake, hoping to find out what was wrong with it.  When he made the first cut, though, a wave of blackness gushed out of the cake and began to permeate the air.  When it touched Joanie’s body, it blurred, and then absorbed him.  It was over too quickly for him to scream.

Outside, neither of the waiting customers noticed.  They were looking up into the sky, trying to figure out why the sun was going out.

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