It sat among the ravaged dishes clustered atop her dinner table—pumpkin, like the one she had in the oven. Excess heat had fissured its filling and charred the crests of graham cracker crust. While overcooked, a piquant but sweet aroma wafted from its weepy surface. Had it been there all evening?
“That smells incredible,” said Wilbur, shoveling a second helping of mashed potatoes onto his plate. A wisp plummeted to the tablecloth from the serving spoon, sloshing grit onto the orange aspen embroidery.
She pounded into the open-plan kitchen and cracked the oven door before flinging it shut again a moment later. The pie inside was almost scentless in comparison. From the living room, her guests’ reflections moved against the glass.
“No one even mentioned dessert,” she said, standing. Each guest had been allotted a side dish weeks before Thanksgiving.
“Jannie, did you say something?” chortled Shayla from the sofa.
“No, Shayla, I didn’t.” Shayla. The tray of from-frozen mac and cheese—homemade, she claimed—had been her sole contribution. In fact, each guest had arrived with exactly one dish, except for Wilbur. She spun to face the group. “Wilbur, you didn’t bring anything tonight?” Mouth full, he raised his pointer finger to indicate he needed a moment to finish chewing. “Today,” she snapped.
He swallowed. “Sorry, Jannie. I was planning to bring some veggies, but I left them at home by mistake. I told you earlier.”
She watched Whitney leverage herself off the couch and waddle into the kitchen. “Do you need some help? You seem stressed.”
“I’m fine. It’s just bothering me.”
Whitney ushered her past the table—past it—and into the sitting area. “I’m sure it’ll taste great. Come sit down and relax.”
She could hear a muffled marimba ringtone coming from the locked lower cabinet of the bookcase. Someone had surrendered a cell without shutting it off first, undermining her party’s no-phone rule.
“There she is,” said Shayla, swirling her wine glass. Maybe she’d smuggled it into the apartment inside her Michael Kors bag.
A sudden crash of shattering glass stalled the thought. Her gaze whipped to the opposite end of the room.
“Shit,” yelped Martin. On the floor beneath him, beer was fizzing around broken bottle fragments and seeping into the threads of her hand-sewn, Amish rug. He slipped the novel he’d dislodged from her alphabetized bookshelf into an arbitrary spot. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.”
“Let me get the cleaner,” said Jannie. Jaw clenched, she returned to the kitchen and retrieved the rag and dwindling Clorox bottle from below the sink.
“Sorry about this,” said Martin, appearing at her side. “Do you have a dustpan?”
“It’s in the closet next to the cabinet.” She waited for him to leave the kitchen with the supplies before crouching like a sumo wrestler in front of the oven to watch her guests in the panel. While he buffed the rug with stain remover, the others cleared the crash site, sweeping shards and swabbing the hardwood.
One of them had brought a pie to upstage hers. It would succeed, no doubt; she could smell its powerful scent from the kitchen. She pulled the oven door open. No cracks, but destined to be outshined by the one on the table.
Martin plopped the equipment on the counter next to her. “We’re gonna’ go for a cigarette. Any interest in coming outside with us? You don’t have to smoke.”
“I’m okay,” said Jannie, closing the hatch. She rose and sidestepped over to the sink. “I should start on these dishes.”
“Alright, we’ll be back soon.”
Maybe Martin had stashed it underneath the tinfoil that had encased his string bean casserole. Once she heard the door close, she swooped back to the dining area.
The ingredients had spiced the air pungent. As she inhaled, a tangy note jostled her sinuses. Citrus. It had been added to enhance the sweetness. Orange. Lime? Hers hadn’t been that experimental; when matched against the aromatic other, it would taste bland.
Her night—her Thanksgiving—had been sabotaged, and someone was responsible.
“Motivations, let’s see—motivations,” she said to herself, peeling paper plates from the stack.
Martin might have brought it in an attempt to peacock; Whitney’s motivations would have been purely passive-aggressive; Wilbur—maybe he was pranking her; Shayla? Shayla was just a bitch.
“Ungrateful,” said Jannie. All of them. She took the carving knife from the table.
Four servings of pumpkin pie were set on top of the coffee table when they returned.
“Finally,” Wilbur chided, grabbing a plate. The rest followed his lead.
“This looks amazing, Jannie,” said Whitney, shifting her fat thighs onto the couch. “Aren’t you gonna’ have some?”
“I had a slice of the other pie.”
“There’s more than one?” asked Martin. “Was that why you kept going to the kitchen?”
“My one is the only one,” she said, reminding herself. The oven was off, as it had been all evening. The bones of its last output were still on the dinner table.
“Did you add liquor to this?” Shayla asked, flickering her tongue.
“I wanted to make sure you couldn’t taste it with the other ingredients. You guys like it, right?” Ingredients, after all, meant more than appearances.
“Absolutely,” said Whitney, wincing. “You can really taste the cinnamon.”
She watched her guests finish the fluffy, autumn paste.
The cocktail of cleaning supplies hit their stomachs within the hour. One by one, they fell to the floor, gasping and slobbering. The last to collapse, Martin had spent his final moments trying to pry open the bookcase’s bottom cabinet. Jannie rolled his body aside, unlocked the door, and gathered the phones from the lower shelf.
She pitched them into the trash bag with the turkey carcass before circling back to the sitting area to admire her work. Staring at her fallen friends, Jannie reflected on what she was most thankful for.
This year: the potent combination of nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon.
Although originally from Boca Raton, Florida, Scotty Sarafian grew up in Dublin, Ireland and Wilmington, Delaware. He draws inspiration from the atmosphere, culture, and legends of each of his three hometowns. His interests in supernatural horror, Gothic fiction, and vampire lore can also be found sneaking their way into his writing. Scotty graduated from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL with a bachelor’s in English and a minor study in creative writing. During his time at Rollins, he served as one of the student writers for the annual “Winter with the Writers” literary festival. He is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin’s M. Phil program in popular literature. He currently resides in Dublin, Ireland.