Jack skipped happily from the bus stop to his home. He was very happy; today at school, he’d won a prize for writing a story about a boy who defeated a very scary monster. It was Halloween, after all.
He jumped onto his lawn, grinning, running up the steps to share the exciting news with his parents.
A cold breeze caused his hand to stop on the doorknob. Jack turned around.
There, on the yard of the house that rested at the opposite side of the street, stood an old man. He was rather large, with bright white hair and a fluffy white beard. He wore a plaid shirt and fishing pants with big brown boots.
“Hello, kid!” the man hollered, waving from the yard.
Jack hesitated. His parents had always warned him not to talk to strangers. But the neighbors had just moved in, and the man seemed very friendly. So, Jack took his hand off the knob and used it to wave back instead.
“Hi!” he shouted, smiling at the man.
“Would you like to come over for a cup of tea?”
Again, the words gave Jack pause. He did like tea––as long as it had lots of milk and sugar. But his parents would certainly be angry if they found out he’d skipped his usual vegetable snack for sugary drinks.
“I also have some cake. Chocolate, if you like.”
Jack walked across the street without a backward glance. His parents would be furious. But when there was cake available, Jack simply couldn’t resist.
The man smiled at him as he stepped into the yard. The man placed his hands on his very large hips. “And what’s your name, my young sir?”
“I’m Jack. Who are you?”
“Oh, I have lots of names, but people around here call me Nicky. Come this way, Jack. I have some treats for you.”
Jack followed the man across the perfectly manicured lawn and up the porch steps, where lights warmly illuminated the beautiful roses planted all around the structure. The man opened the door and walked inside, with Jack following closely behind.
Immediately, Jack was hit with the most wonderful aromas. He could smell baking of all kinds of goods––wafts of chocolate and fruity scents and the most delicious smell of marzipan (he only knew that one because his mother adored the treat). He walked through the entry hall, gazing around him, staring in delight at the red and green walls, decorated with pictures of what he presumed were the man’s family. He could see the round, bearded face in every frame, along with what looked like a few different people––a pretty young woman with blue hair and a piercing through her eyebrow, a very short man with the widest smile he’d ever seen and the brightest patch of red hair atop his head, and another man who was tall and lanky––and who scowled in every picture.
Jack stared at the walls in wonder.
“Ah, my family! I’m sure they’re all around here somewhere…” the man glanced around the house, crossing his arms. “Hello? Anyone? Come meet my new friend, comrades!”
“Nicky, are you mad?”
Jack jumped at the sound of the woman’s voice. He looked up to see the woman from the picture frame standing on the top of the staircase. Except, now, she had bright pink hair down to her shoulders and a piercing through her nose.
“Why, there you are, my dear.”
“Don’t ‘dear’ me,” the woman snorted, trotting down the steps. Jack’s eyes widened at her shoes. They were massive black boots with very tall heels. “You brought a child here? You proper lunatic!”
“Hush, Farrah. Be nice,” Nicky scolded, wagging a finger at the woman. "He's here for some cake."
Jack stared with wide eyes at the both of them, suddenly feeling like he was in the middle of an argument.
“And what’s your name, then?” The woman––Farrah––snapped at Jack.
“M-m-my name? I-I-It’s Jack,” he stammered, taking a step backward.
Farrah’s hard eyes softened as she looked at the boy. She crossed her arms, frowning, before turning to Nicky. “What’s this about, Nicholas? You know we don't––don't share our family recipes.” She raised an eyebrow.
“You know I hate it when you call me that,” the man sighed. “And don’t worry, dear. I have my reasons.”
She stared at the man with narrowed eyes before her shoulders slumped in defeat. “Oh, alright. Come this way, Jack. I just made a chocolate cake. You’re welcome to have a slice.”
“And some tea,” Nicky added, face brightening. “Can’t forget about that, can we, boy?”
Jack followed Farrah nervously, unsure when she was bound to snap at him again. But she seemed in a decidedly better mood when she walked through the door to the kitchen. Jack gaped in awe as he stood in the doorway.
Baked goods lay upon every inch of countertop. He spotted all sorts of cookies; ginger snaps and chocolate chip and sugar cookies with every color of icing one could imagine. There were piles of brownies and homemade candy bars. Cakes of all shapes and sizes lined the walls, some with five tiers and some with one and some that even seemed to defy physics. To his surprise, despite all the treats around him and the hours upon hours of baking it must have taken to create such masterpieces, the kitchen was absolutely spotless.
“You made all of this?” Jack asked in wonder, staring around him.
“Of course, I did. Some would say I have a bit of a…sweet tooth.” Jack didn’t notice when she winked at Nicky.
“It smells so good!”
“Wait until you take a bite,” she said jubilantly. “Come. Sit here.”
Jack scooted onto a bar stool and waited politely as Farrah rummaged around the kitchen. Nicky came to sit beside him. Jack’s mouth watered as he watched her cut a thick slice from a large chocolate cake resting near the stovetop. It was smothered with chocolate icing. She plucked a fork from a drawer and set the plate in front of him.
“Here. I’ll get the tea. Dig in.”
Jack sighed in content as he prepared to take his first bite. As soon as he brought the fork to his mouth, he jumped, the fork clambering against the plate as he dropped it. For a very squat man had just walked in through the door.
“I’m a wee bit ravenous, Farrah. Mind cuttin’ me a slice? Or two? And can ye’ toss me that plate o’ cookies?”
“Bossy as usual, Pat. You prick.”
“Aye! Watch yer mouth; there’s a chillun here.” He gestured with his head to Jack, seeming to not be at all surprised at the strange young boy sitting in the kitchen.
Farrah scowled. “Grab the food yourself.”
“Nicky,” the man said, nodding warmly to the older man.
“Patrick,” Nicky returned, smiling at the short man. “Was wondering where you were.”
“At the bank. Gotta go back, ye’ know. Just stopped by for a bit o’ sugar.”
Patrick nodded to Jack quickly before stealing a plate of cookies and a tray of four large cake slices stacked on top of one another, and then slid out of the kitchen without another word, chewing on a candy bar as he left.
Jack closed his mouth with a snap. He hadn’t realized it had been open in surprise. He turned back to his cake, finally ready to take a bite.
Until another man walked through the door. The tall, lanky one from the pictures. And, just like on the walls, he was scowling, his bushy eyebrows furrowed in annoyance.
“Hey, Bo,” Farrah said, lifting her eyes from preparing the tea to give the man a brief nod.
He only scowled.
“Bo, why don’t you say hello to my new friend here?” Nicky said politely, smiling.
The tall man––Bo––glared at Jack with distaste, suddenly stopping, his nose wrinkled. He turned back to Nicky.
"You brought someone here? A child? To our home? What gives you the right––"
"Hush, Bo. The man's got a purpose," Farrah said, shrugging.
The man, Bo, glared at Jack, who felt suddenly very small. Bo turned to yank one chocolate chip cookie off a cooling rack before stomping back out of the kitchen.
“Who was that?” Jack burst, staring with wide eyes at the door––and wondering who else might wander in.
“Oh, that was just the Boogeym––”
“That was Bo,” Nicky said hastily, shooting Farrah a glance. “He’s not a very…energetic fellow, I suppose.”
Jack finally turned back to his plate and grabbed his fork quickly, shoving a bite of chocolate cake in his mouth before he could be interrupted again.
He sighed in content. It was heaven––full of rich chocolate and a fluffy, buttery texture. He devoured the cake in less than a minute.
“Something tells me you liked that. Here––wash it down with some tea, yeah?” Farrah placed a mug of tea in front of him.
Jack took a sip carefully, unsure if it was boiling hot. To his surprise, it was the perfect temperature. And it was delightful––he could taste an array of fruity flavors, complete with a touch of honey. The liquid was silky and smooth as it ran pleasantly down his throat. Immediately, he felt warm and cozy, as if sitting by a fire.
“Woah,” he murmured, staring at the tea.
“Good, huh?” Nicky said, winking.
Jack looked up, smiling. He felt very content.
“Jack, I wanted to ask you something,” Nicky said gently, clasping his hands in front of him and resting them on the countertop.
“I wanted to ask if you wanted to be…my apprentice. I’m getting rather old, you see.”
“What’s that?” Jack asked curiously, cocking his head to the side. “What’s an––an apprentice?”
“Oh, it’s like a student of sorts. I would be your teacher.”
“A student of what?”
Nicky smiled, the corners of his eyes creasing. “Let’s call it the gift-giving business. Come on; follow me. I have lots to show you.”
*Note: Do not attempt at home. In other words, please do not go home with adult strangers. Probably won’t end well.