Anna Overby pushed open the back door and went up the three steps into the small kitchen of her Grandma Overby. “Morning!” she leaned over and kissed Obie, her pet name for her grandmother.
“Thank my God you are safe.” Obie said. “I worry when you drive a car.”
“I passed Drivers Ed’ and everything Obie. No crashes, no pedestrians dragged under the car, and no tickets.” Anna pumped her fist in the air.
“It’s only been a moon since your birthday. Be careful.” Obie put her hands on her face, “we are the only Overbys, You and I.” her mouth quivered.
This was Anna’s tenth year helping Obie bake the 16 fruitcakes Obie made each year. Anna had started when she was six, the same year her father never came home. She uncorked the brandy and handed it to Obie.
Obie grabbed the neck of the bottle, “Prost!” and downed a swallow. Her small stature drowning in the baker’s apron wrapped around her. Her white hair, worn long and tucked into the strings in the back of the apron shone in the light.
Anna did the same, wiped her lips with the back of her hand. “Prost! We begin,” saying the words before her Grandmother could.
Obie smiled, “You know the tradition well, child.”
Anna put on her apron and began measuring out flour, sugar and nutmeg. Anna mixed the ingredients in the huge stone bowl decorated with pipers and magical creatures, now almost faded away.
Her grandmother mixed eggs, sugar, and butter in another bowl. She added fruit soaked in the family distilled brandy. “Remember in spring, when we made this?” Obie asked, holding up the brandy to the light.
“Of course I do. We do it every year.”
“Remember the process. It will be important.”
“Obie,” Anna said, “Why are you being weird?” She rubbed her nose with the back of her floured hand.
“What do you know? Your dark hair, and those big hazel eyes make you pretty, but they don’t make you wise. Someday, you will be as smart as your Obie, but not today!”
Anna giggled, “Those stumpy legs don’t make you smart either. Or your dimples.”
Obie stood on the ever-present 4-legged stool and got down the bread pans. She turned on the gas oven. Anna listened for the Pouf that the old cast iron stove made; somehow she loved that sound, or maybe it reminded her of all the baked goods the oven produced since Anna could even remember. Obie laid out the pans in two rows ready to be filled. Anna wiped the inside of the bowl, bringing up a fat portion of batter on her finger. She put it in her mouth, the creaminess lighting a path of delight toward her brain.
She held the bowl while Obie spooned the thick batter into the pans. Anna counted each one, and she always wondered how the bowl never ran short, or ran over. The last pan filled precisely with only enough left in the bowl for Anna to clean with her fingers and stuff in her mouth. That was the hook that clinched this reunion when she was six years old.
“Obie, that’s 17.”
Obie said nothing. She pulled a green glass bottle from the cupboard that Anna had never seen before. The bottle was obviously hand-blown and contained a dark liquid. Obie uncorked it and smoke rolled out and danced across the floor. She poured a drop from the bottle into the 17th cake pan. She recorked the bottle and put it in the cupboard atop a matching saucer. “Remember this bottle Anna; it will be important to you after today.”
They put the 17 cake pans in the oven without another word. “Now we wait.” Obie said. She said that every year, and this was Anna’s favorite part of making the fruitcakes, when they sipped brandy and Anna pried for old stories from her Grandma. Obie had dragon stories, and birth stories and ghost stories that she spilled new each year while the cakes baked.
“Obie, are you getting senile? You made 17 cakes. You only have 16 customers. All of them very old, I might add. Besides you, they’re the oldest people I’ve ever seen.”
“That is because you see them before they indulge in the fruitcakes. Anna,” she took Anna’s hands and led her to the two stools that sat in the kitchen and they sat down.
“Anna. I have to tell you something. I have to explain who we are. Who the Overbys are.” She pulled out a letter from behind her apron. It was yellowed and fragile and rolled up, tied with a piece of string. She handed it to Anna, motioned her to read. “Your Father added the last paragraph.”
Anna pulled on the string and it seemed satin and smooth to her touch but appeared as cotton string. She read:
A long time ago in a land far far away there lived a dark wizard who could turn lead to gold and grow dragons from an ancient magic bargained for, and some say cheated, from Merlin the elder. But no power is ceaseless and without end. Over a thousand days the dark wizard battled the house of Mobberley and the clan of Overby. At the dusk of day the dark wizard fell to the sword of Mitock wielded by Mobberley Mobberley the twice.
And the power of the dark wizard became that of Mobberley Mobberley the twice. However, being a mortal, he became not a wizard of magic, but a Warlock, and his power was everlasting until he got an impossible mother-in-law who brewed the cake of elixir and she was of the clan of Overby, known as the dragon lady, and not because she had one.
As time and generations passed, the warlocks of Mobberley and the bakers of Overby lost each other to the fields of time. And it is said that the warlocks possessed their dark magic only when they indulged in the cake of elixir. And only the clan of Overby held the recipe to the cake of elixir.
Just yesterday the son of the clan of Overby fell in love with A German princess from the family of Heinrich.
The son of the clan of Overby held the secret and the world safe. But passion loosened his tongue and here before you is the Cake of Elixir.
Do what you will.
Anna looked up from the paper, questions in her eyes. Grandma Overby looked through moist pupils. “The son of the clan of Overby was your father Anna.”
“And Heinrich that was Mama’s maiden name,” Anna said.
Obie nodded. “A long time ago the Overby’s broke away from the Mobberly clan. They are indeed warlocks and over the ages, they became filled with darkness that the curse of unbridled power always brings. The world suffered. To safeguard the world the Overbys flew to the ends of the earth, hiding away from the Mobberly family, and only one Overby kept the recipe to reduce the risk. And that is what kept the world safe. Without the cakes of elixir, the Moberly’s have no powers.”
“You mean the fruitcakes?” Anna asked trying to decide if this was just a ghost story. “This is so cool Obie.” Anna said smiling.
“Wait for the whole tale Anna. Your father tried to impress your mother, but a princess is hard to impress. He tried, and he gave her you, but that was never enough. He used the letter,” Obie pointed to the parchment that Anna still held. “He added the last paragraph; then showed it to your Mother, explaining why she, a princess had been betrothed to him. Your Mother,” Obie spit on the floor, “sought out the Mobberlys for their power and since then, we Overbys have made 16 cakes of elixir for the 16 warlocks of Mobberly.”
Anna began to wonder if this was not a ghost story. She thought about the missing pieces of her family, her missing father, her crazed mother. “What happed to my…” her voice snuffed out, “Dad.”
Obie blinked, pulled her mouth tight. “Once your mother betrayed us, the Mobberlys tried to take the recipe from us. But old magic has protected us, Anna. Only an Overby can birth the cake of elixir. And there must always be an Overby! Because a dead person gives away the recipe willingly and freely, breaking the old magic. If we handed over the recipe freely, if they had the recipe, again the world would not be safe from the Warlocks of Mobberly.
Anna looked puzzled, still struggling with the fiction or the truth.
“Soon The Mobberlys came to me and gave me a choice.”
“A choice? What kind of choice?”
“The worst kind of choice. I had to bake the cakes, and deliver them to the warlocks when they darkened my door each year. I did this. And the world has bled its blood. For this, your father was spared.”
Anna opened her mouth.
“No! don’t say anything.” Obie said, “I have to finish before I cannot. They waited. Until I had shared the recipe with your father. Ten years ago, in the sixth year of the cakes, they gave me the bottle,” she pointed at the cupboard where the strange bottle sat on its saucer.
“And again I was given the choice. I could give the recipe to the Mobberlys willingly and freely. Or, I could choose one Overby. Only one. Save the world or save…one of us. That year I made 17 cakes.
Anna’s head whirled. You…your…
“The world awaits, Anna. This time an Overby will flee to the corners of the earth and hide.” Obie held up her finger, “One Overby.”