Updated: Oct 1, 2020
Who doesn't love ice cream?
“This has been the hike from hell,” Jake commented, stopping to catch his breath and take another gulp of their dwindling water.
Celeste didn’t vocalize her agreement, appreciating the moment to rest her aching leg muscles. The sun hung blisteringly high in the sky without a cloud in sight, pulling the temperature up to an arid 85 degrees, perhaps the worst conditions to hike in. Sweat wasn’t just dripping down her back, it poured, both of their tanks and shorts soaked. If she had the energy to chastise Jake for getting them lost in some endless Ohio cornfield, she would have, but for now she was reserving her energy. He was the one who insisted they leave their phones behind and find their path “the old-fashioned way”, he was the one who chose the trail, the one who convinced her to take one “slight deviation” from the main path to avoid the mud since he was “really good at finding his way.”
“Maybe we should just turn around and follow the path back,” she suggested after taking a sip of the bottle he’d tossed in her direction.
“Turn back and walk for another four hours? I don’t think so. We don’t have enough water to make it. There’s got to be something up ahead past the cornfield.”
Celeste sighed. “Yeah, a church filled with children who want to sacrifice us to their corn gods.”
Jake put his hands on his hips. “This is a National Park Trail, they will have places to rest. Quit being dramatic, I’m hot too. Let’s just go a bit further.”
Celeste groaned, pushing her tired body forward despite its aching protestations. After some time, shadows began to move across the unrelenting sun and she looked up in the hopes that she would see some white, puffy clouds crossing overhead. She realized it was actually a pair of vultures, patiently soaring in zigzags as they walked. “Jake, we’re going to die and get eaten by buzzards.”
“Look up ahead,” he ignored her.
“It’s probably a mirage like on the Looney Tunes. Remember that show? The buzzards circling overhead and the pretend oasis in the desert?”
“It’s a damn ice cream shop,” Jake realized, elation in his voice. “I told you there would be a pit stop. We can ask them for directions.”
“Oh thank God,” Celeste sighed as they suddenly found a burst of energy that pushed them on. The paint on the old white barn was peeling, but the windows looked new enough, the sign posted in the front of the building that boasted “Country Trail Ice Cream Shoppe” had another one posted below it that said, “Open.” There were a few picnic tables situated on the side, one with a folded umbrella. From all appearances, it looked like a typical old-fashioned ice cream shop.
Jake pulled the door open to release a blast of orgasmically cold air on their faces, and Celeste didn’t even have time to worry how crazy they must look to shop owners before she closed her eyes and moaned with happiness. Jake gave her a nudge. She opened them to see a young waif of a teenager with sprinkles of acne and thin, oily blonde hair gathered behind her neck.
“Sorry, we were lost in this awful heat,” Celeste told her with a smile. “Can we please have a few cups of water?”
The teenage girl suddenly looked nervous. “We only have well water here, ma’am. I wouldn’t suggest drinking it.”
“Well, we’re going to have to chance it. We need water.”
“Let me go get my manager,” she said meekly, disappearing behind the wall.
Jake and Celeste shared a look. “I think I’ll jump over the counter and strangle her if they don’t give us some damn water,” he told her. His face had taken on the shade of a tomato, the lips he licked with his dry tongue equally dry and cracked. Celeste looked around them, appreciative at least to be in the air conditioning. The counter displayed various flavors of ice cream in vats, a couple small tables next to the window holding silver napkin holders. Her eyes focused on a small fly that buzzed around them, landing on the metal scoop that had been left in the vat of creamy pink. She suddenly could taste the strawberries, her mouth beginning to salivate.
“Hey there, folks, sorry for the misunderstanding,” a booming voice filled the parlor. Celeste looked up to see a man in his late forties with a wispy crop of black hair and an even blacker mustache, wearing a cherry stained apron. He looked abnormally tall next to the teenage girl who had summoned him, who shyly averted her eyes as he spoke. His large swell of stomach bounced as he talked. “We get our water from the well, but a few days ago, one of our cows found its way in there and drowned. It’s an open well, you see, but usually the cows don’t make it that far. Anyways, the old girl tripped and fell, and no one was the wiser until a few days later when there was a funny taste in the water. We fished her corpse out, but I don’t think you’ll be wanting to drink any of that for awhile.”
Jake shared Celeste’s look of disgust, but he tried to maintain his typical pleasant demeanor. “Do you have anything at all to drink? We got lost hiking and the wife and I are exhausted.”
The man suddenly locked in on Celeste with dark eyes. “Are you having a baby?”
Celeste blinked, surprised. “How did you know? I’m not even showing yet.”
The man gave her an abnormally sized grin. “I have a way with these things,” he boasted. “All we have here is ice cream, but since you’re having a little one and ya’ll got yourself lost in the field, I’ll give you a scoop on the house.”
Celeste sighed with relief. “Oh, thank you,” she said, hurrying up to the counter. “I’ll take the strawberry.”
“I’ll try the pistachio,” Jake said from behind her.
The man began to hum as he retrieved their cones from the back Celeste noticed the girl from earlier had disappeared. “You’re both in for a real treat,” the man told them as he scooped up the pale green concoction for Jake. “This here is the best ice cream around town, made from the finest cows. We use all local, organic ingredients.”
Celeste nodded absently, consumed with how wonderful the cool creaminess was going to taste on her tongue, fantasizing about the assault of sugar on her taste buds.
The man handed Jake his cone over the counter, and he took a huge bite off the top. “This is amazing,” he groaned. “How do you make it taste so good?”
“Pistachio is my favorite one to make,” the man said, placing a strawberry scoop on Celeste’s cone with care. “You just grind up the pistachios with a bit of bone meal, then add the sugar and the snake eggs, and of course the whipping cream and breast milk. You put it all in the grinder, add just a drop of green food coloring, and mix with some ice. Comes out perfect every time.”
Jake stopped licking his half-finished cone to stare at him. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
Celeste was barely paying attention, lost in the delectable layered flavors of berries, but the look on her husband’s face caused her to snap back to attention.
“Oh, don’t tell me you’re grossed out by my special ingredients,” the man laughed. “Come on now, who doesn’t love ice cream? I’m surprised though, I thought for sure you’d taste the bitter almond on your first lick. I’m a better mixer than I thought.”
Celeste suddenly felt light-headed, frozen with shock as Jake dropped his ice cream, the pastel mush hitting the ground with a thud. He grabbed her arm, wrenching her from the parlor and back out the door into the blazing sun. She tried to keep from vomiting as he broke into a sprint, yanking her along. They didn’t get very far before he collapsed, foaming at the mouth as he gasped for air.
She fell to her knees, shaking him. “What is happening?” she shrieked to no one but the circling buzzards. Then she realized with a horrific jolt that to some, cyanide tastes and smells like bitter almond.
Jake began to convulse, his eyes bulging out of his now purple face, but she could hear the sound of a man approaching, upsetting the long waves of grass in the field as he lumbered towards her. Sobbing, she kissed Jake on his forehead as he died and began to run, punching back the random corn stalks that branched in her way.
“Aw, come on, now, ma’am, you shouldn’t be running in this heat with a baby in there!” the ice cream man called.
She was normally quite physically fit, but the hike had drained her, and although she could hear him getting closer, she found she was unable to keep going, her legs starting to buckle beneath her while her head spun. Finally, she collapsed, the giant shadow of the man looming over her. “Please,” she croaked, helplessly.
“I’m really sorry, ma’am, but I’ve been needing another cow to milk for the ice cream,” he told her as he took a minute to catch his breath. “Don’t worry about the baby. I do sell the boys up the street to Grayer’s for veal, but I put the girls to work in the parlor until they are ready to make milk. I can tell you’ve got a little girl in that stomach of yours. Don’t worry, I take real good care of my cows - plenty of time for leisure and a fenced in yard that you can play in. Plus all the ice cream you can eat!”
Celeste found she could not respond, her vision blurred as he crouched down to pick her up, his breath stinking of raw meat. As he hoisted her over her shoulders, she caught sight of the vultures above her, still circling, and she thought wistfully as her vision faded to black, “I should have just let the buzzards have me.”