- Cecilia Kennedy
The Honey Melt Baking Mix Chat Room
by: Cecilia Kennedy
The Honey Melt Baking Mix company makes lots of promises: easy, tasty cakes that pop out of the oven perfectly every time. Also, there’s an audio/visual chat room in case a customer’s Honey Melt dreams don’t exactly come true. In the chat room, expert bakers answer customers’ questions. I’ve signed on and make $12 an hour. In my application, I listed the grand prize I once won in a local baked goods contest. That was enough to make me an expert and get scheduled for ten-hour-a-week shifts for 30 weeks out of the year. It’s not that there isn’t much work to do. There are plenty of customers who need help with their baking mixes. It’s just that corporate has hired too many of us, and we’re all competing for the same very confused customers who can’t figure out how a cake mix works.
From my webcam, at my desk in the living room of my cramped apartment, I get to see customers’ gorgeous kitchens. Plenty of wealthy women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s are busy impressing their friends with semi-homemade cakes—if they can just get over the learning curve of where to find the measuring cups that the servants and assistants have squirreled away. When I get a customer, a loud, gong-like sound resonates through the speakers of my headphones, and an automated voice sternly shouts, “You have a new customer! You have a new customer!” I push the “Start Session” button, and the camera lights up. I’m recorded by corporate and scored on my performance—on how well and enthusiastically I help each customer. I don’t have to wait long today before the gong goes off—startling me out of my chair.
“Hi! My name’s Andie, and I’ll be your Honey Melt Baking Expert for today. What’s your name?”
“Yeah, umm, I heard you can make the vanilla cake batter pop with the addition of something called birthday-cake extract. It was featured on one of those celebrity baking shows. Do you think it would work?”
My smile is tight. I can feel the corners of my mouth ache. I will be marked down for not getting this woman’s name, and I’m also getting some feedback on my end, which is another point against me. Mentioning other products, other than Honey Melt is also a deduction of points, so I can’t tell her about the birthday-cake extract, which is fabulous—and available at hobby stores.
“Well, Honey Melt baking products are designed to be used any way you wish—and will come out perfectly any time. We do have our own line of extracts. . .”
“Is one of the them the birthday cake flavor?”
“The closest we have is Madagascar vanilla.”
When I begin to describe the depth of the vanilla flavor, which brings out the natural vanilla flavor of the batter, I admire this woman’s double oven in the background and think about what a waste it would be to make boxed cakes in such a set up. I’d make chiffon and angel and Bundt cakes. I’d turn them out two at a time, all day long—and as I stare at the pristine silver-washed oven door, I start to see a wispy, black haze that curls from the edges. My pulse quickens because I think that the black haze is smoke, pouring from the oven behind the woman. But then, the smoke gathers into a ball and pours itself into a shadowy, human form—with arms that stretch forward. Red, glowing eyes appear in the space where the head would be, and I see that this figure is cloaked—and reaching for this woman’s neck. She’s still talking about the cooking show and how she dreams of this birthday-cake extract—completely unaware of what I see.
“Get out! Get out of the kitchen!” I scream.
She turns around but sees nothing.
“What’s going on?” she asks.
The cloaked figure comes closer to the camera, pushing its pale, evil face against the lens, so that I can see clearly—so that I can see that it’s real—and then, it disappears.
“What’s going on?” the woman asks.
“I’m sorry. I thought I saw something. It was nothing.”
“Well, anyway, I don’t think I want vanilla extract. I already have that. So, yeah. I’ll just keep asking around. Thanks.”
The video call ends, I mark the session down, and I get ready for another call. In between calls, I have to take non-audio-visual online chats, but if I’m interrupted by a video call, I have to leave that customer.
“You have a new session” startles me from my chair, again. When I start the session, another woman is having a crisis with her Honey Melt Baking Mix. Her name is Barbara, and she thinks, for some reason, that she needs to follow both a cookbook recipe and the baking mix instructions at the same time—and she’s at her wit’s end.
“Okay, so I’m measuring out 3 cups of flour from the mix,” she says.
“Well, umm, the Honey Melt baking mix is a complete package of cake flour, leavening, and. . .”
“And then, I’m supposed to also add three eggs, but the box says one.”
“Right—there are already thickening agents in the mix—and when you add the oil . . .”
“No! The cake recipe says to use butter. I should add both?”
I try to stop her, but she won’t listen. She pulls out an industrial-sized shiny, retro foam green mixer—one that I’ve always wanted—and slops all of the ingredients inside.
“Can you stay with me while I bake this too?”
“I can’t stay with customers as they bake their cakes because there are other customers waiting—” and the minute I say that, I know I’m going to lose points. I’m not allowed to say what I can’t do. I have to tell customers what I can do. I should have told her that I can help her all the way up to placing the cake in the oven, and then, she can come back later to ask questions.
Again, she’s not listening. She over mixes the batter, stirring it into tough, stretchy strings—and out of the corner of my eye, I see a black, irregularly shaped spot in the kitchen, which slowly grows and spreads—and pours itself into a grotesque hooded shape, which creeps about the kitchen—opening cabinets to find one that’s empty. Pushing on the back wall of the cabinet, the shadow figure reveals a gaping void—a bleak, never-ending tunnel from which other figures, just like it, crawl out and roam about the kitchen. Barbara doesn’t notice. She’s got earbuds in her ears now, and she’s singing loudly while mixing the batter. The spoon will now barely budge. I’m shouting for her to get out of the kitchen, while the shadow figures multiply—each one pressing its hideous face into the camera. Long, slithering tongues lick the screen; worms poke their heads out between the rows of rotting teeth. I feel sick, so I double over, and end the session.
Splashing water on my face at the sink in the bathroom, I tell myself that what I’ve seen isn’t real. I tell myself that thoughts are just thoughts, and they can never be real. I have to tell myself these things so that I can keep my job—keep my head clear.
At the computer, I put on my headphones and start a new session. A woman named Maddie is trying to convert a Honey Melt chocolate brownie mix into a low-fat version.
“I’ve heard that you can use applesauce as a substitute for fat,” she says.
She has a large jar of applesauce on the counter—and she’s pouring at least half of it into the baking mix—before I can even tell her to stop.
“Three-quarters of a cup of fat-free vanilla yogurt would actually give the brownies the texture you’re looking for—without the fat.”
“Oops! Well, I’ll just go with the applesauce, since I’ve already started.”
She’s licking the lid of the applesauce jar and screwing it back onto the jar. I’m imagining how these brownies will come out of the oven: goopy, with scorched bits of caramelized applesauce stuck to the pan. She’ll probably throw the entire pan out instead of trying to clean it.
Maddie opens the refrigerator door to put the applesauce jar away, but then she changes her mind and opens the jar again. She decides she needs to add more to the batter.
“It just doesn’t look right,” she says. “Does this look right to you?”
She tilts the baking pan towards the screen—and from the right, I see the refrigerator door has opened up wider—on its own. I know what’s going to happen next, so I try to focus on Maddie’s brownie batter. I tell myself not to look at the refrigerator, but the more I tell myself these things—the more I want to look. The hood of a cloak comes into view, in the background—right behind Maddie. The rest of the space behind her fills in—like a glass being poured with inky black liquid—and I see the awful cloaked figure again—with the red glowing eyes. With my heart racing inside my chest, I end the session.
From the bedroom of my apartment, I hear the hum of the refrigerator. The hum, steady and constant, breaks into bursts of static. I know I must go to the kitchen, but I don’t want to. My whole body trembles, but I will myself to get up from my bed and face whatever I might find.
As soon as I round the corner, I see the first shadow, which gathers into the form of the dreaded cloaked figure I’ve come to expect. Something I hadn’t expected also appears: a vision of myself mixing up a cake batter, in the kitchen, and I’m watching this vision as if through a webcam—as if the sides of the room have just collapsed. The hooded figure is behind me, in the kitchen, whispering in my ear, as I mix the batter.
“Don’t do it!” I scream, but my voice is caught in my throat, and my words sound like inaudible moans. I see myself take the bleach and ammonia down from the cupboard and mix them in. In the kitchen, the hooded figure lifts the mixing bowl to my face. I inhale it and drink it down. And as I watch myself, I’m left with a stringent, sour taste that burns my throat—my own hands turn icy blue.
Cecilia Kennedy taught English and Spanish courses in Ohio for over 20 years. Currently, she lives in the Greater Seattle area with her family. Since 2017, she has been writing and publishing short stories (mostly in the horror genre) in literary journals, magazines, and anthologies online and in print. The Places We Haunt (Potter’s Grove Publishing) is her first short story collection, which was released June 30th, and she is the adult beverages columnist for The Daily Drunk. She also keeps a blog of her humorous attempts at cooking and home repairs: Fixin’ Leaks and Leeks: https://fixinleaksnleeksdiy.blog/