Friday, October 24, 2014

The Gingerbread House Poltergeist, Part Two

by Maddie Briggs, pursuer of killers… and poltergeists.
From THE COOKIE CUTTER SHOP MYSTERIES, by Virginia Lowell.
Visit Livie and me in Cookies and Scream, our latest sleuthing adventure
Read Part One

I think most folks who know me would agree that I—Maddie Briggs, Pursuer of Criminals and Baker Extraordinaire—am not easily spooked. I am normally at my baking best in the middle of the night, yet for the past month I’ve grown increasingly nervous. I jump at the whirring sound my stand mixer makes when I turn it on.

It’s two a.m., and it’s just you and me in the Gingerbread House kitchen. So let me say this right up front. I am practically positive we have a poltergeist hanging out here. Okay, not actually in the kitchen, but there’s definitely something going on in the wall. Just noises so far… no bags of flour flying through the air. I haven’t seen the stand mixer levitate, although I don’t know what happens when I’m not here.

Let me give you some background. One month ago today, five cookie cutters disappeared from our extraordinarily fabulous gingerbread house display. The shapes were: cat, eight-petal flower, skull, pumpkin, and haunted house.

The next day, the missing cookie cutters reappeared among the tombstones behind the gingerbread house. The cutters looked pristine. We put them back where they belonged. They haven’t moved since, although someone bought the cat-shaped cutter.

Three customers were in the store when the cutters disappeared and again when they reappeared. I can’t think of a good reason for any one of them to play such a trick on us, and I am a champion imaginer!

•    Binnie Sloan, editor of the local newspaper, who might play a trick on us out of spite, but nothing so subtle and inexplicable.
•    Lenora Dove habitually steals food off plates that don’t belong to her, but cookie cutters aren’t actually edible.
•    Heather Irwin, our local librarian, once returned a dime to us because she said we had undercharged her. Besides, she is too shy and sensitive to play a trick on us.

So I’ve been reading a book from the library about poltergeists, and I’m convinced we’ve got one. You know, a ghost that likes to play tricks. Livie would roll her eyes if I told her, so I haven’t. I did report the bumping sounds to Lucas, my otherwise adoring and worshipful husband, but now he’s worried about my sanity. So I didn’t mention the crying and screeching.

There, did you hear that? It was sort of a moan, like a tortured soul lamenting the evil it perpetrated in life. Okay, that’s it. I’m getting to the bottom of this. I’ve already checked every inch of the storage room, which is on the other side of the wall. I don’t care if it is two a.m., I’m going out to the alley to look for clues like… I don’t know, ectoplasm?

I’m armed with a flashlight plus a brand new confectioner’s knife hidden under my jacket. You never know when I might need to cut through some really thick crust.

Geez, it’s getting cold out here.

Uh oh. I’m not alone.

“Maddie? Is that you? You scared me. It’s me… Heather. I’m just… um.” She was holding a board.

“Heather, why on earth are you slinking around the alley holding that board? Is that a nail sticking out of one end? Should I be terrified?”

Heather giggled, presumably a hopeful sign. “I can explain,” she said. “Honestly, I’m not breaking in or anything. This board came loose. I was just putting it back, so the cold air stays outside where it belongs.”

I heard a screeching sound, followed by a… meow? “Was that a cat?” Then I noticed a small container behind Heather, close to the wall. I lowered my knife. “Please tell me there isn’t a colony of feral cats inside that wall.”

“Well, technically, not entirely feral. The mom was once a pet, I think. I’m sorry, Maddie, I should have told you. I found the mom and her newborn kittens in the bushes, and it was getting cold, so I sort of loosened this board to let them find shelter. And they aren’t really in the wall. They’re, um, in your cellar, at the foot of some earthen steps. I’m guessing there used to be a cellar door here. I knew Livie never went down there, so I didn’t think it would matter. Pretty soon I can take the kitties to Chatterley Paws, so they can be adopted. I’ve been slipping food inside. See?”

I peeked through a small opening and saw a black and white mom with three kittens. My heart went all gooey. “I promised Aunt Sadie a kitten when she moves to our mother-in-law addition,” I said. “So dibs on the little tortie.”

Heather grinned. “Done.” She pointed toward the mother cat. “I’ve been bringing them food, so the mom wouldn’t need to go out hunting.”

I saw a very familiar shape near the mom. “Heather, is that food in the shape of a cat? Is that why you bought the cookie cutter?”

“Yes! I had so much fun shaping the food. I promise to clean up all the half eaten ones as soon as the kitties are gone.”

I aimed my flashlight at some half-eaten, dried-up chunks of cat food. “That looks like the top of a skull. And over there… that’s part of an eight-petal flower. Those are two shapes that disappeared from our gingerbread house display. They reappeared the next morning. Heather, did you…?” I let the question hang.

Heather grimaced. “I’m really sorry, Maddie. I never do things like that, but I didn’t have any cutters, and I so wanted the kitties to feel pampered, and… I felt so guilty. I cleaned and returned the cutters right away. I bought the cat shape because I really liked it. I’ll call the sheriff and turn myself in, I promise, just as soon as the kittens are safely at the shelter.”

“Totally unnecessary,” I said. “You’ve resolved a mystery and cured my poltergeist paranoia. Put that board back in place and come inside. I feel like celebrating with warm cider and Halloween cookies.”

SUBMITTED BY VIRGINIA LOWELL

Virginia Lowell is the author of COOKIE DOUGH OR DIE, A COOKIE BEFORE DYING, WHEN THE COOKIE CRUMBLES, ONE DEAD COOKIE, and COOKIES AND SCREAM.
Visit Virginia at: www.virginialowell.com

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