It had just been painted. A delicate cream on the outside, and the only plastered wall, at the back, was dark red. It reminded Anna of red velvet cupcakes.
The other walls were red brick, the floor made of dark hardwood. A large painting hung from one of the brick walls, overlooking the shop floor, that you couldn’t quite see from the street through the wide glass windows. Anna thought it was grotesque. A leering butcher was peeling meat from a large skinned carcass that hung from a hook in the ceiling of a bare, white room.
Although his hands were on the breast of the beast, fingers sunk into its flesh, the man’s eyes gazed out of the frame. It was one of those trick angles where he seemed to be looking at you wherever you stood.
The agent had insisted on her viewing it during the day, when the shop was lit by bright squares of sunlight that crept slowly from the back of the shop to the front. But the painting was in the darkest corner.
“The floor has just been replaced, and the oven is new too, a commercial convection Samsung, shall I show you?” The agent asked eagerly. “You’re a baker, right?”
“Yes.” Anna hated small talk. “I make cakes for weddings and birthdays and stuff.”
The agent smiled with his teeth. “Are you new to the area?”
“Well, you really couldn’t do better than this location, with this many renovations, on this high street. You’ve got that gym next door, then there are two bridal shops just down there- it’s such a perfect town for weddings, all the hotels are fully booked in summer and you can’t hear anything but wedding bells,” he flourished his hands in the air, where they stopped and went limp. She was meant to laugh. She huffed at him, and he relaxed gratefully. Then he told her the price.
“What? How much?”
He told her again.
“Seriously? What’s the catch?”
He looked upwards, towards the darkest corner of the shop.
“No catch, just a lucky find!” He said gaily, flailing his hands again. “So, you’re interested?”
“Well, yeah,” said Anna, giving him her first real smile.
“Perfect! You’ll be a much better fit for this cute little street than the last owner.”
“What was it before?” She asked, but the agent didn’t seem to hear her.
Anna wanted to line one wall with mirrors to make the shop seem much larger, like a ballet studio, and line them with a glass counter that would continue across the windows.
But first, she had to get rid of that awful painting. It was just wider than her arm span, and a bit too high for her to lift. She didn’t fancy that horrible man’s face leaning into hers, or the gleaming painted carcass touching her skin if she tried to move it alone.
She had an idea. She had been testing her new oven on a batch of cupcakes this morning. She put three she had already iced onto a cream-coloured plate and walked out of the shop.
Her heels clicked on the gym’s linoleum floor. Several men looked up, and their gazes lingered. She smiled at the closest, a large, dark-skinned man whose chest was heaving over his thick weightlifting belt.
“Excuse me, I own the shop next door. Would you possibly be able to help me move something?”
He smiled shyly, and his personal trainer grinned.
They both came, with a bit more swagger than Anna thought necessary. When the weightlifter failed to shift the painting, the trainer laughed heartily.
“Move aside,” he said, and as his hands gripped the painting, he winked at Anna.
But it didn’t move. The first took off his belt, stretched, and tried again. Both men tried together. Nothing.
“What even is that?” Asked the trainer, pointing at the carcass.
“A deer,” Anna shrugged, exasperated.
“No, it’s not,” he said. “I used to help my dad skin game- it’s legs are pointing the wrong way. And it’s body is a weird shape.”
Anna wasn’t interested. She just didn’t want her customersto have to see the stump where its head had been, or the fingers clawing its flesh.
She had a bride and maid-of-honour coming by later to try the different cupcake flavours. “Can you guys at least help me cover it up?”
Her phone flashed. It was past midnight, and she had an email saying the bride had ordered a hundred cupcakes- one for each guest. It would be much easier to do with her new oven, Anna thought, caressing its silver panel.
She frowned. There was an odd noise coming from inside, where she was baking five tiers for an online order she had to deliver this weekend.
She opened the door, and the acrid stench of burnt flesh filled her nostrils. Horrified, she pulled out the trays. The sponges- plain old Victorias- hadn’t risen yet but the batter had turned from light, fluffy cream to viscous, lumpy red. They had bubbled over and the oozing substance was now pouring onto the floor. It spattered her heels.
She cursed, and ran through to the shop to find her mop. Something tugged at her as she grabbed for a tissue to wipe her shoes, and the bedsheet covering the painting fell to the floor.
At first she didn’t notice. She grabbed the mop, and dragged the bucket towards the kitchen. Then something caught her eye, and she stopped.
She looked down.
The mop had two shadows. One from the bare lightbulb hanging above. One from the fluorescent light emanating from the painting.
She looked up.
The floor beneath the carcass was filled with blood. Like a pool, it covered the butcher’s shoes. Had she not noticed before?
She forced her eyes away, telling herself to get a grip, and her heel slipped on the wet hardwood floor.
Red Velvet is a piece of flash fiction written for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2019, with the writing prompts: Horror / A cake shop / A weight lifting belt.