Jack walked through the supermarket with a vague notion of wanting to bake something, but unsure of what he would actually make. It had been a while since he’d baked something, and he wanted to fill his house with nice, warm smells. His job at the local pool had been particularly unpleasant that day; his turn arrived to clean the bathrooms, and the dim yellow lighting, the wet strips of toilet paper stuck to the floor, the intense humidity, and the reek of urine and chlorine made him feel as if he’d been in the toilets themselves rather than just the bathroom.
After he’d arrived home, Jack showered in scalding-hot water for twenty minutes, and he wanted to drive away all thoughts of the rank bathroom with something nice. Cooking always cheered him, and the joy of seeing somebody’s face light up as they ate his food always felt worthwhile. He needed that comfort more than usual after the nightmarish ordeal he’d gone through at work.
Eventually, Jack found himself at a shelf of cake mixes and got an idea. His sister had just finished middle school--why not make her something sweet to congratulate her? He knew she loved chocolate, so he studied the boxes, trying to decide which of the countless chocolate mixes would prove best. Eventually, despairing at the sheer number of options, he reached for a box of a store-brand mix, not noticing the wet floor sign, and slipped. He crashed into the shelf, and boxes of cake mix pelted him, scattering all over the floor of the aisle. As he straightened up, rubbing his shoulder and stinging from the collision, Jack spotted a red box of chocolate cake mix shoved far to the back of the shelf. He didn’t recognize the brand, but the logo read: “Devil’s Cake Mix: The Taste is Hellishly Good!”
The mix was the only one of its kind on the shelf, and displayed a cartoonish image of a Devil with a fiery trident and ram-horns, wearing an unusually devious, creepy expression for a typical consumer product. Finding the box funny, Jack picked it up, and checked if the sell-by date was safe. He decided to buy that one instead, despite the box’s dust and dents. If there only one remained, that mix had to be good, or at the very least, limited-edition. Something limited edition would feel more special than choosing a random box for his sister’s cake.
When he arrived home, Jack pulled his auburn hair back into a ponytail, tied on an apron, and began his work, not even stopping between the door and the kitchen, excited to start baking. There was one strange moment when it seemed as if the plastic bag of cake mix jumped out of the box at him, but he paid the occurrence no mind. Jack was clumsy by nature, and he dismissed the movement as his fumbling the box. He was just relieved he hadn’t spilled any of the mix, as he’d botched many otherwise-promising baking attempts by dropping or spilling things.
When Jack broke down the box, he noticed a particularly vehement message on the back, written in big silver letters: WARNING: DO NOT EAT RAW.
Jack assumed that the message’s boldness was to keep people from getting salmonella, since this recipe called for more eggs than most cakes. He forgot about the warning and went on with the cake, mixing and pouring and preheating the oven, and by the time the cake was cooking, Jack felt wiped out and a little hungry. He turned his focus to washing the innumerable dishes and mixing tools he’d dirtied in the process of making the cake batter.
Before he did anything else, though, Jack used a spatula to get the last bit of the batter out of the bowl, then licked the batter off. He always felt a little embarrassed when he ate batter or dough, like he was a small child, but the batter was good, and most people he knew did the same thing. It wasn’t as if he’d be using the utensil to stir anything else; there’d be no contamination of the batter.
When he was about to throw away the bag the mix had been in, Jack noticed a small bit of chocolate dust left in the bottom. Shrugging, he tipped the last bit into his mouth, and tossed the bag. After he’d cleaned up from the cake, he complied with earlier instructions from his mom, and prepared the steaks his family would have for dinner that night.
A little bit of blood stained his hands from the raw meat, and when he washed them off again, Jack wondered if his skin would dry out with all the washing he’d been doing. But afterwards, he realized that they were already completely dry, as if his hands had absorbed the water somehow. He ran his hand underneath the faucet again, and the second he withdrew his hand, it was dry-- steaming, in fact, though the water was freezing.
Confused, Jack tried to shake off his unease and took out his phone to pass the time as he waited for the cake to cook.
While he leaned against the kitchen counter, though, elbows propped against the cool grey marble, an odd whining sound filled Jack’s ears. He dragged a hand down his face, and tried to clear his head, yet even as he did so, he felt worse, not better. His body began to sweat, and goose pimples rose on his arms. Simultaneously, his stomach turned, threatening to eject its contents.
Shivering, Jack pulled out his phone to see if there had been any recalls for Devil’s Cake Mix. The box had warned not to eat the mix raw, but Jack had never known any sort of raw batter to have this effect on somebody, especially not so quickly. Online reviewers overwhelmingly proclaimed that the Devil’s cake mix to be the most delicious cake that they’d ever tried, despite being from a box, and not a single person rated the cake fewer than five stars.
For the next hour, Jack sat on the floor, miserable, his head spinning, and trying desperately to keep his nausea down. Sometime during the hour, his head went numb, and it felt as if a veil dropped between him and reality.
Closer to the truth was that Jack’s brain had begun to overheat.
When the time came to remove the cake from the oven, Jack dragged himself up, limbs feeling leaden, mind feeling fuzzy, and grabbed the cake pan straight from the oven. He didn’t register the pain as the 400-degree-pan scalded his skin, filling the air with the stench of burning flesh. The most notice he took was a brief consideration that it smelled like cooking steak.
Even with his blistered, red hands, Jack frosted the cake, then put it in the fridge.
The sweat covering Jack’s body evaporated faster than he sweated it out. When he stuck his head under the sink faucet-- and, when that didn’t work, in the dog’s water bowl-- to cool himself, the water simply evaporated, fizzling off his skin like a hot frying pan. Surfaces he touched began to crack with heat, or melt. His brain turned sluggish, as if filled with sand. Forget not thinking straight-- he barely thought at all.
Jack searched for something to drink. Anything. If it was liquid, he was willing to give it a try. His insides were boiling, and he felt as if he’d somehow gone from the mild climate of an air-conditioned kitchen to that of an active volcano. He ripped open a cabinet, looking for liquid, his hot hands leaving marks on the wood. He snatched up the first bottle he saw, not noticing that the bottle was his dad’s vodka, and almost fifty percent alcohol by volume.
He ripped off the lid, and chugged the vodka as if he was a fraternity initiate being hazed in by some cruel senior.
Almost instantly, Jack realized his mistake-- no, not simply realized, he felt the mistake, felt it in the very core of his body, in his heart, and in his bones. He dropped the bottle, and the clear glass shattered into a thousand shards on the floor. His skin spurted blood as he collapsed onto the knife-like shards, arms and legs sliced by the wicked points. He gasped for air and his stomach roiled, the nausea and burning inside him reaching a crescendo, as if hell itself had moved into his gut.
Seconds later, the vodka caught fire, and a stream of flames burst from Jack's mouth, like some horrid dragon, and his whole body ignited, burning from the inside out, flames hotter than the Earth’s core consuming him until nothing remained of him but ashes. Not even his bones stayed intact.
Later, when his family arrived home, they wondered where Jack had run off to. Perhaps to a friend’s? As for the ashes on the floor, his parents assumed they were the product of some accident while cooking, and irritably swept them up, texting Jack that, next time you make a mess, clean it up.
They were more concerned when their text didn’t send, the phone automatically replying with a message that Jack’s phone was not in service-- that it had been broken, or destroyed.
As they waited for him, Jack’s family found the cake sitting chilled in the fridge. His parents and sister each cut themselves a slice, commenting on how thoughtful it was that he’d made the cake, and hoping that he got home soon, so he could share it with them. While they ate, the worries of all three eased, and then disappeared. The cake tasted fantastic and was perfectly moist, practically the food of the gods. Their heads went fuzzy, and filled with reassuring thoughts. Jack was alright. He’d be home soon enough.
As the night grew older, they convinced themselves that Jack was staying at a friend’s house, and each cut themselves another slice.
When Jack failed to turn up the next day, and the day after that, and the day after, his family still didn’t worry for their missing loved one, and cut themselves another slice. Only when one piece remained, three days later, and they were all debating as to who should get the slice, did his family truly realize that Jack was missing, and that something must have happened to him.
His mother called the police, in hysterics, begging for them to help her find Jack. He’d been gone for several days, why had she not called before? She didn’t know. Never in a million years would she have connected the cake with the whole family’s complacency.
But after she hung up, and after she stopped sobbing, she ate that last piece of cake. As she ate, her hysteria, her desperate fear for her son, faded. The police were searching for Jack. Everything was okay now. She could relax. He was as good as found.
So she fired up her computer, and searched to see if she could find another box of that cake mix Jack had used.
After all, the whole family agreed that the cake had been the best they’d ever tasted.