A familiar odour disturbs my peace, awakening my spirit. It floats by, ethereal and evasive; the offensive smell of burnt caramel. My raddled nose seeks it a moment before my bones recoil. This fragrance is not designed to be a comforting reminder of mother, as she stirred creamy desserts, measuring vanilla to drip into the mix, grating nutmeg for my delight. Such fripperies ceased long before my fall. I recognise the intent; this cheeky warning of coming chill is repeated annually
The witching hour is nigh. As Big Ben chimes, the wind attacks, insinuating between gaps in my rotting coffin, blowing away the clods of clay that weigh me down, evicting the insects that dig in vain for vanished flesh, lifting grey threads – the only remaining shreds of my skirt – its cold fingers creeping like a pervert seeking entry.
Neighbouring ghosts begin to whisper. Innocent ghouls float free, while convicts clank their chains. Witches intone spells. Captured frogs screech. I hear the eerie breath of demons as they tread between the shifting graves, mocking my predicament.
The wind builds a bony fist which grabs my feet, dragging me, forcing me back into grim history, back to the workhouse kitchen, where ragged shifts and worn clogs torn from the poor lie defeated beside a giant vat of syrup. Once again I see the faces of the helpless, eyes terrified, lips distorted by agonised screams as their naked skin sizzles. The screams quickly die, leaving only the bubbling stink of boiling flesh, combined with burnt sugar. Once again, I feel my bile rise. I see the ruined remains of women and children floating in darkening liquid as blackened flakes rise from the bottom of the pot, and I weep for the loss, the waste, inconsolable as if I had never before been witness to the scene.
My sweets were famous, eagerly devoured in the best houses in Christendom. I used the finest chocolate, the rarest spices, the freshest fruits. Lords and Ladies sought my carefully boiled and moulded treats, willing to pay any price for the rich flavour and texture that only I could create. Jealous competitors constantly spied on me; some hoping to steal my secret, others planning to contaminate the mix, thereby ruining my reputation. Perhaps I was too sure of myself, but my pride turned to shame the one time I erred. I left the kitchen only briefly, to oversee the storing of a consignment of walnuts, delivered to the back door. Since there were thieves and desperados all around me, I trusted nobody. All of my ingredients had to be instantly locked away, and the key secreted on my person. When I returned from my task it was too late. I confess, the blame was mine alone.
Time has consumed two centuries. Have I not suffered enough for my mistake?
It seems I must spend eternity atoning for the simple error of burning one batch.
Written for Word of the Day Challenge: Atone
With added inspiration from Waltbox:
©Jane Paterson Basil