“Is this dough ready?” asked a mousy albeit flamboyant girl who was probably closer to middle age than childhood. She really had no business being so thin in this occupation. Her small waist certainly kept her young – that and the big silly bow in her vibrant red hair. In reality, anyone younger than Eglantine by ten years was considered a girl in her head. She was careful to be patient with herself when she had these ageist thoughts. She hated growing old, but it did make each season dearer. She had always loved autumn. Now she wondered how many more there would be.
It was early morning, about an hour before sunrise (or late at night, depending on which circadian rhythm you were dancing to). The first chill of the season could be felt outside, but they were warm and snug in the little shop.
“It needs to be kneaded” replied Eglantine to her assistant baker.
“I need you” whispered Dulcinea setting her head at level with the bread dough.
Eglantine wondered if the girl were simple, trying to be funny, or gifted. It was a thought she often had in the many years she had known her. Not for the last time, she was sure.
They both set about adjusting the shop getting ready for customers. They flipped the sign open, turned on the customer music (for some reason they preferred to work in silence) and sat down to one of the small bistro tables. Eglantine with her croissant. The croissant being the shops signature bake. On the inside was all the chewy doughiness of an American croissant. On the outside was a crisp explosive French inspired shell guaranteed to blast crumbs all down your front. And, Dulcinea with her paper and black coffee. Coffee was their other signature. It was roasted especially for them by a roaster in the mountains hundreds of miles away. It had a unique and delicious flavor. People drove almost as far to buy it from them. Together they waited for customers.
“The serial killer has struck again”, stated Dulcinea absently as she continued to read and sip her black potion.
Eglantine wasn’t exactly sure there was a serial killer in the area – even with all the mysterious deaths. However, she did know there was a demon in the city. There had been for 20 years.
Eglantine was a witch. She knew these kinds of things. Her gift had always been identifying the supernatural. Just as Dulcinea always seemed to know the difference between truth and lies and could guess the truth when she heard a lie. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you looked at the situation, neither of them knew (if there even was one) who the serial killer was. Funny, she thought to herself, she was always one-hundred percent sure of her own gifts and only fifty percent positive of anyone else’s. Eglantine, Dulcinea, and Tabitha; Dulcinea’ s daughter, made up their little coven – the maiden, the mother and the crone. Tabitha was not yet even five. It was hard to know what her gifts would be.
Dulcinea was the daughter she never had. She had come pregnant and desperate to the little shop some years ago looking for work. The shop had crackled with magic as she walked through her door alerting Eglantine to the presence of power. She had thought she was barren, yet she knew this was her daughter the moment she walked in to her life.
A few years later when relationships had been established and Eglantine had shared her first impression of Dulcinea with her, Dulcinea had asked, “does that mean Tabitha is your granddaughter?”
“Good heavens no,” stated Eglantine emphatically. “I will never be anyone’s grandmother! I will be her fairy godmother.”
Tabitha had started preschool this year. Eglantine looked wistfully to the corner of the shop where her playpen used to live.
The bell over the door rang announcing a customer. It was Gwydion their demon, and first customer always. She greeted him warmly and without pretense. Yes, Gwydion was always their first customer, followed by the truck drivers, then you had your business owners, followed by laborers and professionals, and finally ending with students and those in service.
It had scared her when Gwydion had first walked into her shop. She had been terrified. Even more so when she learned he had purchased the local hot springs and was to stay. She had never thought of her town as the type to attract a demon. But, apparently there had been just enough indifference in the community for him to settle.
A young man had been murdered 21 years ago. He had been pushed by a pack of boys off a bridge. One of the boys who had pushed him had been the chief of polices son. The only eye witness had been a homeless person that soon after disappeared. The young man that had been murdered had an effeminate way about him that made a lot of people uncomfortable. It had been ruled a suicide. There had been no outrage from the town. No uncomfortable questions were asked of the police, just silence came from the community. It was enough. It was enough for a demon to slip in.
She was the third generation to own her family’s business, but she had seriously considered selling and moving. She knew what the blight of a demon looked like.
But, Gwydion (it seemed) would not fulfill her expectations. Mysteriously he seemed to be hell bent on doing good. His business attracted an upscale clientele and like many shops in the town, her little business thrived. She often made deliveries to the resort. She was amused by his use of old magic to organize the hot springs. Old magic, gray magic, magic that had not been designed for the service of good or evil. It was the same magic given to the earth to spin and the sun to burn.
Gwydion had arrived looking well worn for a man in his twenties and now looked well preserved for a man in his forties. When the time came, he could probably pull off claiming fifties. But, unless there were amazing breakthroughs in plastic surgery, sixty he would have a hard time claiming to be. She wondered if his time here was coming to an end. An immortal could only pretend at mortality for so long. Just as the serial killer could only pretend at being God before mortality caught up to him. She was old and knew the strength of youth did not last forever.
While his evil nature and demon spirit had not attracted the crime one expects to follow his goblin footsteps, perhaps it had attracted a serial killer. It was a serial killer that made accidents happen to homeless and vulnerable people insisted Dulcinea. A body found floating in a canal, someone hit by a train, a person slipping and cracking their head while walking in a ravine – these scenarios hadn’t happened just once. They happened over and over again.
Evil always makes way for evil. Even she had fallen to the snares of his charm. Here she was every morning genuinely welcoming him to her shop – breaking bread with the devil. Yet the world was complex. She trusted in the fact that her vision was limited. Maybe the larger picture was a combination of prettier colors she did not have the view to see.