Once Upon a Pastry by Ashley Uzzell by Ashley Uzzell - Read Online

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Once Upon a Pastry - Ashley Uzzell

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To K. L. Cottrell, an amazing author and supportive friend.

Chapter One

Once upon a time, in a faraway land...

It was a simple request . Gertrude had worried and fretted and fretted and worried the entire way over, but once the words were out of her mouth, she did not feel better as she had imagined she would. Fingering her earlobe, Gertrude was a bundle of nerves as the witch stared at her. It didn’t help that the strange mix of smells in the room, some flowery, some mildewy, were almost overwhelming.

The woman just stood behind the counter of her shop, staring as if Gertrude had said something offensive about her mother.

After a few uncomfortable minutes ticked by, as told by the dusty grandfather clock sitting near the front door of the shop, the witch waved a palm in front of her face and her glamour fell away. Nearly gasping aloud, Gertrude threw a hand to her mouth to keep from saying anything.

Where before there had been a wide nose, there was now a slender one that curved slightly at the tip. Brown eyes melted into startling green ones, like bright emeralds peering out of the witch’s face. Warts and wrinkles disappeared. Her shoulders, which had appeared hunched, were straight and thrown back in perfect posture.

The difference was startling. The dark-skinned witch was pretty. More than pretty. She was one of the most gorgeous women Gertrude had ever seen. But why would she hide it in her own shop?

She continued to stare at Gertrude sternly. You know how deals with witches work, right, sugar tits?

Uh, y-yes. You pay in gold up front or you barter.

Gertrude hated how weak she sounded. She hated that she had grown desperate enough to ask a witch for help. She hated that the witch had the nerve to call her ‘sugar tits.’ And she definitely hated the slow smile creeping across the woman’s face.

Yanking the shawl from her head and neck, the witch leaned on her elbows over the counter. Let’s talk about payment, then.

Once the faded, puke-pink shawl was gone, the witch’s hair spilled out in lovely, dark ringlets. They were so bouncy that Gertrude immediately wanted to touch them. She opened her mouth to tell the strange woman how beautiful her shiny locks were before snapping it shut again. That was a bad idea. The witch wasn’t exactly friendly and she might think it was an attempt at buttering her up. It might piss her off and Gertrude didn’t dare say anything that had even the slightest possibility of botching this deal.

The witch must have noticed her hesitation. Well? Have you changed your mind?

Gertrude was quick to shake her blonde head. No, no! I haven’t. I want to be the best baker and pastry chef in Linford City.

That’s all?

Yes. Please.

Alright, then. It will cost you... The witch drew out the words, pausing to draw figure eights on the counter with her fingertip; by all appearances trying to decide. But Gertrude knew she had already decided. She could see it in the tiny smirk in the corner of the witch’s mouth. The sight sent a shiver of dread through her.

I don’t have much of anything. No gold. Just the bakery my grandmother left me, Gertrude said quickly.

"Oh, I won’t be collecting now." The witch began pacing behind the counter, letting her fingers trail over boxes and dusty shelves behind her. Her eyes lingered on every surface she touched, a knowing smirk adorning her lips. Gertrude was forced to stand there, consciously trying not to tug on her ear, as her ominous words sunk in. Just when Gertrude wanted to bolt from the shop, or scream at the woman, or both, the witch spoke.

I want your first-born child.

Now it was Gertrude’s turn to stare. What? Are you serious?

I don’t joke about payments, sugar tits.

But, what would you do with it?

What does it matter to you? You’ll have what you want. The witch’s face showed the first hint of impatience as her brow furrowed. Gertrude didn’t care.

Well, because! I’m not going to let something horrible happen to my own flesh and blood! You aren’t going to make a stew of it, or something, are you?

The witch looked utterly appalled, slapping both her palms down on the counter between them. Of course not! I’m a witch, not a cannibal! What the hell?

Her passion startled Gertrude and she took a step back. W-well, you never know these days. I wouldn’t want it sold into slavery or something.

The witch calmed down and raised a hand. Okay, I get ya. How about this? I give you your dream and you give me your baby after it is born. I swear nothing horrible will happen to it under my care.

Gertrude raised an eyebrow.

And I won’t sell it off or anything, the witch tacked on.

Gertrude’s eyes fell to the knobby countertop. Could she trust this witch? She felt like she could, despite the woman’s crass words and standoffish attitude. It didn’t matter. She knew that at this point, she really had no other choice.

At Gertrude’s resigned nod, the witch stuck out her hand. We have to shake on it. Makes it legal and binding.

Um, okay. Her pale hand tentatively slipping into the witch’s rough one, Gertrude felt a shock as the magic of the contract zapped through her body. She could even feel it in her toes and, weirdly enough, the ends of her hair. The sensation was strange, but warm and not altogether unwelcome.

Okay then! The witch smiled widely, the most cheerful Gertrude had seen her yet. Let me gather up the ingredients for your spell of success. It’s actually a potion; pretty bitter, but I’m sure you can handle it, sugar tits. Winking at her, the witch bustled about the room, stacking this and that in her arms as she went.

All the while, Gertrude was left wondering if she had made the biggest mistake of her life.

Chapter Two

She breathed a sigh of relief as the sun finally slipped below the horizon. Flipping the sign on the door to CLOSED, Mona locked up and sauntered behind the filthy curtain that separated her business from her living quarters.

With a single word and a snap of her fingers, candles flamed to life all around her, illuminating the one tiny room she called home. Besides being cramped, the room had paint peeling from the, once-white-now-grayish, walls. Shoddy roof work left a leak in one corner of the ceiling when it rained, a fact Mona was so used to it honestly didn’t bother her anymore. She dumped the bucket of water out of habit now. The aroma of dozens of herbs and flowers filled the small space. The witch mixed her potions in the shop but this was where she prepared her ingredients.

Her home might be a dump, but that didn’t bother her. As long as she had a roof over her head and some decent clothes, she didn’t really care. A sweep of her hand removed the glamour from her face once more and she tossed her shawl on the back of an old wooden chair. Tying her hair back with a simple pink ribbon, Mona located the wooden doll laid carefully on the bed.

The toy was about six inches tall, its modest dress and black hair painted on. Despite its shiny paint and movable arms, dolls such as these were considered out of style now. Children had moved on to newer, more beautiful playthings to amuse themselves with.

Mona lifted the doll with care, placing it in a sitting position on her nightstand. The sun has set. Time to wake up, Aunt Rhiann.

At her words, the doll began to move. It raised its arms above its body, leaning back slightly as if stretching. A voice issued from the wooden head.

So, how was your day? Any new clients? Sell any junk to an innocent fool? The tone of the doll’s female voice didn’t match the youthful, smiling face it came from. It was older and sarcastic.

Nah, business was slow today. I did have one interesting development.


Yeah, a young wench came in needing a potion. We struck a good bargain.

The doll was silent for a moment as Mona settled herself down on the bed. The wooden frame gave a high-pitched squeak as her weight dropped on it. When the doll spoke again, its voice was lower. Don’t beat around the bush with me, girl. I can tell you’re excited. These eyes might be fake but I can still see right through you.

Mona sighed and rolled her own eyes, scooching around on the bed so her face was level with the doll’s. I struck one of the old bargains. A spell for a child.

You didn’t!


And she agreed?

She didn’t seem too happy about it at first. She needed some assurances, but the deal was struck.

You little devil!

Mona grinned. I put a whole heap of magic in the handshake, too. The child should be born with at least some traces of magical abilities. It may even become a full blown witch or wizard! The witch’s eyes danced with excitement, but as she studied the doll, her joy dimmed. I know I should have asked for gold, but...

No! You did right. You did exactly right. You can’t spend the rest of your days dedicated to me. You have to find your own happiness.

That hardly seems fair to you.

Tiny hands rested on Mona’s cheeks, the smooth wood containing a warmth no doll should possess. Honey child, I love you like my own daughter. And that’s saying something, seeing as how you are such a pain in the rear. That had Mona smirking. I want what’s best for you. So you can stand to be a little selfish sometimes. You need it, and I don’t mind it at all.

Mona kissed the doll on the head, her expression soft. Fond memories swirled through her head and she vowed that no matter what Rhiann might say, she was going to make