Inspector Iris Cooper and young officer David Martínez took in the house before them. All the legends, myths, warnings, and mythos surrounding this place threatened to interfere with their experience and good judgement. From the icing on the roof to the gumdrop trim and doorknobs, Iris’ mind went back to childhood, to all the dreams of sugar her mother wouldn’t let her have, and jealousy of her schoolmates with more permissive parents. She inhaled the deep scents of cinnamon and cocoa, pulling on a pair of blue gloves, and reaching for the doorknob.
Inside, the officer with her was green, but not without skills, and he set to work collecting evidence while Iris inspected the house, looking for its famous occupant. They were responding to reports of screaming, and a frantic 911 call that ended with screeching and a loud gurgle, then nothing. But as she looked for the body, she found plenty of evidence of violence, but no sign of the crone. She reached the kitchen and eyed angry red splashes on the wall, and a river of red down the middle of the room. David caught up with Iris and stopped in the doorway, then turned his head and gagged, leaning over and dry-heaving.
Iris sighed. She turned and patted David’s back. He continued to retch. “You’re in the wrong line of work honey,” she said and walked in, crouching over the carnage. “No body.”
“Nobody?” David’s voice echoed as he came to and walked across gingerbread floors to the kitchen.
“No. Body.” Iris looked up at David and then to the trail of red leading from her feet to the oven. Her eyes narrowed and she walked to the oven, grabbing the handle and yanking it open, expecting to find the old witch inside. Nothing. “Bring in the blood kit and get to work,” she ordered. She was feeling kind of sick herself, the overarching sugary smells, the cloying scent of caramel, the warnings she’d grown up with from her parents, and all the stories children told to one another when their parents weren’t listening. It all filled her head and she didn’t want to stay here any longer than she had to. She examined the stains and followed the trail up the oven door and down again, to a huge pot on the floor, overturned. More blood. Buckets of it.
Iris took a small sample on a corner of a piece of bindle paper and brought it up closer, peering at it over her glasses. She sniffed it, then brought it to her tongue and tasted it. David recoiled, grabbing his belly again. Once more, Iris tasted the sample and looked up as if trying to discern what she was tasting. She gagged. It tasted like strawberry jam. And something foul she could not put her finger on. One more taste. And Vicks Vap-O-Rub.
Twenty minutes previously
The old hag leaned over her pot of jam and stirred like she had done countless times, opening the flue above the oven. In the pot, the jam made its usual noises, with its glub glub and splattering over the walls like a Sicilian over a red gravy pot. It splattered over her hand and burned her but she just wiped it off on her apron. She was accustomed to it.
She turned the fire down as the bubbles started to get larger and more insistent. The jam threatened to boil over, and it did not slow its ascent to the top of the huge pot, glubglubglubbing in huge bubbles that became waves, starting to splash her dress and her face, agitating her until she turned the fire off fully. But it persisted, a loud noise like rushing wind and a laugh that sounded strangely familiar, the way her sister would laugh when she got the better of her in that very mean way. They were so competitive back then, she thought, backing away but the jam rose from the pot as a single being and hovered over her head with a loud whoosh and that same laugh she had heard every night in her dreams since her sister had been gone.
“It was an accident Ragingarde, let it go!” she yelled and covered her head with her arms in defense as the red mass came down upon her, but it was no good. It enclosed her body and pulled her to the floor, dissolving and devouring her until it settled down with a final belchy glub and all was still.