I just found this, a short story I wrote for my Patreon, I think, and I decided I'd better put it up on my website because I think it's very funny.
This takes place six months after SHAMAN RISES, and contains some actual spoilers for the final book in the series, so tread lightly.
The recipe that Joanne struggles with is my own, and can be found over on mizkit.com.
DECEMBER 17, 2:32 P.M. (SIX MONTHS AFTER SHAMAN RISES)
I couldn't say what possessed me. I was not a domestic goddess. In fact, if there was a thing opposite to domestic goddesshood, I was probably that. Not like a domestic demon, that was more supernatural than I meant. More like domestic disaster. I could not, after all, manage to cook anything more difficult than a Pop-Tart or boxed macaroni and cheese. I had been known to successfully boil water and by extension, frozen vegetables, but I was generally not to be trusted with something as complicated as hard-boiling an egg.READ MORE
But it was the holidays and I was mostly unemployed, only working as a substitute at Chelsea's Garage when somebody called in sick. I was trying to get the finances lined up to open my own garage, but strangely enough, my garage wasn't high on any bank's list of things to do. They were too busy financing the rebuilding of all of downtown and a significant part of the greater Seattle area. Or the re-planning, really. It turned out that if you knock down a city they didn't just let folks march in and start building again without making a lot of quality of life decisions and having people submit architectural proposals and things like that. The one unequivocal bit of good news was the Viaduct was gone—with shockingly few casualties, for which there was a literal god to thank—and the city no longer had a reason to try working around it while they redeveloped.
Actually, the unequivocal piece of good news was that somebody had recovered the Pike Place Market sign, and that it stood on the edge of Puget Sound. The market was back, too: fishmongers in temporary stalls, pipe-blowing South American musicians keeping the Hamster Apocalypse at bay, artists selling paintings out of the backs of their cars until the market was rebuilt. The market represented the spirit of the city just then: Seattle was going to come out of being leveled just fine, thanks, and if it was a little more New-Agey and woo-woo than before, well, it still also had some of the biggest tech and retail companies in the world settled there, and business was going to by god go on as usual.
Unless you were a mechanic turned cop become shaman, at least, in which case your business as usual was healing and keeping an eye on the new god of the city, neither of which paid very well. Or at all. So I had gotten it into my head to make holiday gifts this year, and after rejecting homemade pot holders as being too 7-year-old and stained glass as being too likely to end in disaster, I found a YouTube video about how to make fudge and thought that sounded within my limited skill set.
In retrospect, I should have called actual-seven-year-old Ashley Hampton and had her come over and teach me how to make pot holders.
I got a vague sense of familiarity from the woman on the fudge-making video, like I'd seen her before but couldn't place where. She had brown hair, blue eyes, and a tendency to smile. I set her video on infinite loop and went about following the instructions, which involved melting chocolate in a double boiler.
I didn't have a double boiler. I didn't even know what one was. I looked it up, learned it was one pot inside another with water in the outer one, and dug through the kitchen cupboards.
I did have a double boiler. Or Morrison did, anyway, and since I'd been living with him since June, I concluded that meant I had one. I was very impressed with myself. I dumped two bags of semi-sweet chocolate chips into it, nabbed a few to snack on, and set them to melting.
Use a big pot, the woman said in the background. Morrison had pots of all different sizes. Some were big enough to bathe a baby in. That was, in my humble opinion, too big: I was supposed to pour fudge out of this thing eventually and I'd need three arms to pour and scrape all at once. I chose a more moderately sized one, but definitely the biggest of the not-baby-bath sized ones, and poked at its non-stick lining with satisfaction. That would make it easier to get the fudge out when it was done.
"Six cups of sugar, are you serious? That's a lot of sugar.” I looked at the back of the giant tub of marshmallow creme I also had on hand. It said five cups of sugar. I informed my smiley YouTube lady that five sounded better and measured that into the pot. "Twelve ounces of butter. Who measures butter by ounces? I have sticks of butter, lady, how many ounces are in a stick? Wait, wait, I bet there's a scale around here somewhere. Oh no wait, the box says it's a pound of butter so that's three sticks. Why can't you just say three sticks, lady? And a cup and a third of evaporated milk.” I punched holes in the milk can, measured it out, and peered inside the can. There was only like a fingertip's worth left, not enough for anybody to ever actually do anything with. I poured it into the pot, too, figuring it wouldn't hurt, then checked the chocolate chips.
They weren't exactly melting over the boiling water in the double boiler. They were more like clumping together horribly. Well, it was early days yet. I had lots left to do before I got to the chocolate. I turned the heat on under the big pot and turned around to watch the lady on the video for a minute. She'd said something about stirring until my arm fell off and I wanted to know where that part came in.
Her kitchen looked very organized compared to mine. She had a couple of big glass pans smeared with butter, the lid off her marshmallow creme, and vanilla already in a teaspoon. I didn't even know if we had a big glass pan. Probably. Morrison had the most thoroughly stocked kitchen I'd ever met. My favorite bit was the juicer, which made horrible noises but presented me with fresh orange juice every morning. It was great. It was also easy enough for me to use without destroying the kitchen, which made me an extra-big fan.
In fact, I thought I'd seen a glass pan behind it. I squatted and rooted through the juicer cupboard until I emerged, triumphant, to the smell of scorching sugar. The video, on loop, reminded me that I needed to start stirring as soon as the heat went on and never stop again. I stood up hastily, slung the glass pan aside, grabbed a spoon and started stirring. Evaporated milk sank to the bottom of the pot and hissed reproachfully at me as the butter started melting into golden pools. The sugar appeared to only be smelly, not actually burnt, and I shot a proud smile toward my friend on the video. She stirred her melting mix with the serenity of one whose stirring process was being fast-forwarded, although I supposed she had to do it in real time when she was making the video, anyway.
A little too late it struck me that I needed to butter the pan and stir, which required more hands than I had available to me. Shamanic healing powers, while terrific, were not necessarily as helpful as telekinesis would be. I gave the melting sugar mix a few really good hard stirs, like that would prevent anything from going wrong while I buttered the pan, and whipped around to grab butter for that purpose.
Mid-whip I hit the pan and sent it flying across the kitchen. It went in slow motion, each glittering twist and turn painfully visible as I flung myself after it, a primal "Nooooo!" ripping from my throat.
I hit the floor just before it did, my fingertips extended.
It smashed down so close to my fingers I felt it, and shattered into one hundred thousand jillion pieces.
"Whatever you do,” my instructor said cheerfully, "don't stop stirring! You're committed now!”
I lay there on my belly, winded, staring at shards of heat-proofed glass all over the kitchen floor.
The scent of burning sugar started to rise again.
As quickly as I could do so carefully I knelt and eyed the floor behind me. The glass had all shattered in the other direction. I could return to my stirring. I just had to find another pan to pour the fudge into. I got up, grabbed the handle of my big spoon, and shrieked as the metal handle conducted near-boiling sugar heat into my hand. Hot sugar splattered as I yanked my hand and the spoon away and threw the latter in the sink. Grimly, with an aching hand, I selected another spoon, this one with a metal bowl and a heat-resistant handle, and stirred the goddamn sugar mix. Gunmetal blue magic washed down my arm, soothing the burn, but my lower lip remained protruded in a sulk. I still had to find another stupid pan to put the fudge in and if I stopped stirring I didn't know what would happen. I needed to be in two places at once.
Being in two places at once was—technically—within my skill set. I'd given it a pass in the active talents department because time travel is not all it's cracked up to be, but I could still depart my fleshy form in order to to send my astral self to have a look around the kitchen. And I could keep stirring while I did it, too. I nipped free of my body, and—
—and actually, just spent a minute hanging around above my own head, checking things out. I looked at the world with the Sight regularly, but I hardly ever left my body, and then usually only in emergencies. It was kind of cool, looking down at the top of my own head, watching the muscles in my arm play as I stirred the sugar. Everything had a glimmer to it, not like using the Sight, but not quite like ordinary vision, either. My physical self shimmered a little, and was a bit red around the edges, like I wasn't having a lot of fun.
As if I needed the Sight to tell me that. I'd had a lot of bad ideas over the past couple years, but this one—
—okay, this one didn't even count, on the scale of bad ideas I'd had recently, but there was no reason I had to judge everything against accidentally woke up a sleeping god or drove my classic Mustang off a mountainside.
I brightened. Those had both actually turned out okay. Maybe the fudge would too. I stopped watching myself, astrally, and poked back into the cupboard behind the juicer. There was another pan back there, a little smaller than the first one, but it would probably do. I snapped back into my body, made a quick dash for the pan, and got back to stirring before the butter had hardly started browning at all.
"Bring the sugar mix to a rolling boil,” the woman said on infinite repeat. "That means you can't stir it out. Then boil it for five full minutes. I usually add about twenty seconds on to the end just to be sure I got it to a full rolling boil before I started counting, but don't go much beyond that or your fudge will turn out hard and crumbly. And don't boil it for less than that, or your fudge won't set up. Okay, this is what a full rolling boil looks like.”
I looked at her video. A full rolling boil looked like a seething mass of hot danger, complete with the occasional burst of hot sugar popping free. I wished I had a longer spoon.
About forty seconds later, when my own fudge was at a rolling boil, I wished I had a bigger pot. Another minute in and I was dancing away from the stove, stirring at arm's length as the sugar boiled dangerously near the edge and spat napalm-like sugar bombs at me, and whispering, "Shit!” at great length and variety of intensities. No wonder she was using a pot roughly the size of Manhattan. There was no chance I was getting through this without it boiling ov—
It boiled over. Everywhere. All over. Sizzling stinking sugar on the burner, on the sides of the pot, coating my spoon. I yowled and stirred even more frantically, trying to knock the mess back down, and it mostly worked. Flecks of brown started rising in the golden mixture. Brown was bad. I didn't want brown. Brown meant it was burning and if there was something worse than this experience it would be coming out of it with nothing but burnt chocolate. I stirred and stirred and decided five minutes had passed. It had to have been five minutes. I was not going to survive if I had much more of this to go. I took the sugar mix off the heat and reached for my double boiler of melted chocolate chips.
Except the chocolate chips had not melted. They looked like the Creature from the Brown Lagoon. Actually, they looked like something I didn't want to think about them looking like. I muttered, "Gross,” at the YouTube lady, who looped around again to repeat the bit about the chocolate.
"If you're not in the States or maybe Canada, you want to find plain or semi-sweet chocolate with between 60 and 70% chocolate solids,” she said. "Not less than 60%, because otherwise you end up with milk chocolate fudge, and there's not much point to making milk chocolate fudge. Break the chocolate into pieces and melt it in a double boiler, because that makes for exceedingly smooth fudge. If you're in America you might as well use semi-sweet chocolate chips, which are the default on the recipe, because they really do make excellent fudge. Don't bother trying to melt them, though, because they get clumpy and awful and besides, they're small enough to melt into the hot sugar mixture quickly anyway.”
I stared at her with the fiery hated of a thousand suns. "Why didn't you say that in the first place?”
She could not possibly have sparkled an, "I did!” look at me, but it sure felt like she did. I curled my lip at her in as threatening a manner as I knew how. She failed to look threatened. "Now,” she said, "pour your chocolate, either the unmelted chips or the melted chocolate, straight into the hot sugar mixture and stir as if your life depended on it.”
I did this, or at least I dumped a huge mass of stuck-together chocolate chips into the sugar, and then I stabbed it with the spoon until it broke up enough to start melting. I had the horrible idea that it was going to lose heat too fast to properly melt it, and nervously put the whole mess back onto the hot burner and stirred as if my life depended on it. Slowly it started mixing, and I shot a hopeful look at the video.
My chocolate and sugar mix did not look like hers, in the pot. Hers looked shiny and slick. Mine looked rough and dry. I stared at mine unhappily, then looked back and forth at the video a few times, wondering what I'd done wrong. Nothing I could tell. Her pot—okay, her pot was a lot bigger than mine and now I appreciated why, even if it was going to take three hands to pour it into the pan, except my pot was non-stick, so it should be easy, whereas hers was stainless steel.
Use a stainless steel pot, her voice came back to me from somewhere near the beginning of her video. Stainless steel always works. Non-stick works some of the time, but more often it makes the heat move through the fudge a little strangely and you often end up with rough dry candy.
I said, "Shit,” out loud, and looked for the vanilla that she put in next.
I did not have the vanilla to hand. I was beginning to suspect the woman on the video had suggested getting everything organized before turning the heat on under the sugar mix. She obviously hadn't said it loudly or often enough. This was her fault. I found the vanilla and splashed a generous amount in, then stirred again. My arm was starting to hurt.
"If you think your arm is starting to hurt now,” the woman said cheerfully, "just wait until you get the marshmallow creme in. That's the last bit, and you have to stir it until the whole thing is perfectly smooth with no streaks.” She demonstrated, laughing as she grunted and stirred and swore a bit at the amalgamating fudge.
Feeling as though I had already reached the end of my limits, I scraped the marshmallow creme out of its jar—which required another spoon, because the one I had didn't fit through the top of the jar, which meant the creme didn't just fall off the hot spoon the way it did for the cruel, awful, nasty, heartless woman on the video, which meant that by the time I was done there was marshmallow creme up to my elbows and splattered across the melted sugar now frozen to the stove top—and then I began to stir.
I stirred until my arm hurt and there were still white streaks in the fudge. I stirred until my arm burned and there were still white streaks in the fudge. I scraped and twisted and stirred until I finally remembered I was a shaman and could heal the raging ache in my arm, and even so I was still sweating like a horse when I finally got the creme stirred in at what I felt was as smooth and pretty as the dreadful video woman's. Hardly able to move my arms, I heaved the pot up and began to pour my fudge out of the too-small pot into the glass pan.
Halfway through pouring it in I realized I'd forgotten to butter the pan. Well, there was a lot of butter in the fudge. The pan couldn't possibly need it too. I poured and poured and poured and the pan got fuller and fuller and fuller and somewhere in the back of my mind it slowly dawned on me that the hateful fudge-making lady, who now seemed the architect of my worst nightmares, had had two pans prepared to pour fudge into. I poured and scraped and watched as the fudge slowly crept up to the edges of the pan, and then equally slowly, began to seep over them.
I could have stopped. I recognized that stopping would have been the sensible thing to do. But by that time I felt as though I was committed: everything that could go wrong, had gone wrong. I eyed the horrible woman in the video with the sudden suspicion that her surname was Murphy. She had done this to me. It was all her fault.
But I was not going to let her conquer me, dammit. If I was going to screw this up, I was going to go all the way. I kept scraping fudge out until it blopped and sank and dribbled over the sides of the pan, and in due time slid down to adhere the pan to the counter with an unbreakable chocolate seal.
Perversely triumphant, I stood back to let it cool.
Watching fudge cool was ever so slightly more exciting than watching paint dry. The awful video lady's fudge lost some of its sheen as it cooled. Mine didn't. It remained shiny. Really shiny. My fudge-making nemesis advised cutting the fudge while it was still slightly warm, after about half an hour or forty-five minutes. After forty-five minutes I put knife to chocolate, just as a test, and withdrew it again.
The fudge seeped back together, leaving an unmarked surface. I glared at it and waited another forty-five minutes. After her own time-elapsed 45 minutes, the woman on the video took a piece of perfect fudge out of the pan, held it up for the camera, then took a happy bite.
I tried cutting mine again. It seeped back together again, even though it was unquestionably room temperature by then. I tilted the pan and the fudge flowed, everywhere except from the actual sides of the pan, to which it stuck with great determination. I stabbed it repeatedly, watching it meld back together, and felt a great well of despair rise up in me.
Morrison came home to find me sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, surrounded by glass pan detritus and eating vanilla ice cream out of a gallon carton by way of dipping every bite into the giant pan of liquid fudge sitting in front of me. He stood in the kitchen door a moment, looking down at me. I looked back up at him miserably, not even knowing where to start with what had gone wrong. I'd wrecked our kitchen. I'd destroyed at least one pan. I'd made the worst fudge in the history of the universe.
Morrison took the mess, and my expression, in, then went into the hall to rummage in the closet. He came back with a broom, with which he swept a path from the door to me, with a brief pause at the silverware drawer. Then, still in his office suit, he sat down on the floor across from me, took the ice cream, got himself a big spoonful, and swept it dramatically through the fudge before stuffing the whole dripping chocolaty mess into his mouth. I sat there, sniffling and trying not to cry as I watched him work his way through and licked the last couple dribbles of fudge off the spoon's neck.
"That's the best damn hot fudge I've ever had. We should jar some up and give it to people as holiday gifts.”
A silly warm glow started to defuse my sniffles. "We can't. It's got melted ice cream all over it.”
"Then you'll have to make some more. I'll help with the jarring.”
"Of course you will. Because of course you know how to do that.” I sniffled again and gave the pan a poke. "You really think it's good?”
"It's amazing. The Holliday kids are going to just eat it straight with a spoon.”
I smiled a little and waved my own spoon guiltily. Morrison waved his back at me and my smile got a little bigger. "Okay. But what're we going to do with the six pounds here?”
Straight-laced Captain Michael Morrison of the Seattle Police Department leaned forward, kissed me, and said against my mouth, "I'm sure we can think of something….”COLLAPSE