Most People Think What Happened To Our Local Baker Is An Urban Legend, But I Know The Gruesome Truth


Read Part One Here.

July 14th, 1976 – Vietnamese Marble Mountain Black Tea

Tea with a very interesting legend. It’s said that a dragon laid an egg on Non Nuoc Beach, and after a thousand days and nights it hatched a beautiful woman. The shell, left in five pieces, became the five marble mountains.

Good for: Cases of import that are otherwise unmanageable.

WARNING: EXERCISE EXTREME CAUTION WITH THIS TEA. When brewed according to proper ritual, this tea is as dangerous to the conjurer as it is to the victim. Use ONLY when ABSOLUTELY necessary!!

My mother’s leather-bound tea journal has come in handy many times over the years, for though she had taught me from a young age the proper methods of brewing tea, there was still a lot I needed to learn by the time she passed. Now that she is gone, it is immensely helpful to have a little reference book of the rarer teas of her collection.

I scanned the page several times, wincing at the giant letters. EXERCISE EXTREME CAUTION, indeed. I wondered for a moment if my mother would be disappointed that I was using her tea for this, but then again, it was an emergency. When going head-to-head with a formidable opponent, one must use only the most appropriate weapons in one’s arsenal.

And this was mine. Vietnamese Marble Mountain Black Tea.

I caressed the wooden chest that she kept it in, fingering the heavy lock as I withdrew the key from around my neck. She kept all her rare tea in that chest, and it wasn’t until she passed that I was finally given ownership of it. This was the very first time, in fact, that I would be opening it myself.

This should have been a sacred moment, really. I should have been selecting a tea to help somebody – to cure someone of chronic pain, to make them forget a lost love, or perhaps to help them remember that love even more clearly. My feelings shouldn’t be tinged with anger and hate – I shouldn’t be opening this chest out of spite.

Then again, I was doing this for a cause. In the end, I was saving myself. And sometimes, you have to help yourself before you can help anyone else.

Obviously, I’m not the only one of my kind out there.

There are many beings that possess similar abilities. No, not all of them brew tea. Not all of them are women. Hell, not all of them are people. The world is a strange, mysterious place full of odd things.

And some odd things happen to be very territorial.

I became aware that someone had encroached on my territory almost immediately… probably because the attack was instantaneous.

One morning, I was brewing Black Dragon Pearls Black Tea. As I watched the little pearls unfold in the hot water, the leaves twisting and writhing in a dance commonly called the agony of the leaves, I began to notice an odd sheen to the water. I had barely a moment to register the anomaly when the leaves began to transform.

Into grasshoppers.

Grasshoppers. Disgusting, filthy, pathetic grasshoppers. I screamed as my hands began to tremble around my glass teapot. I itched to throw the glass across the room, but I knew it would shatter and the grasshoppers would be free… and once they were, they’d come for me. So, instead, I waited for several long minutes in agony as I watched them boil to death. Only when I was sure that they were all did, did I take the teapot to the trash bin outside and throw the whole mess away, slamming the lid in equal parts fear and anger.

If this seems odd, then allow me to elaborate – to my kind, grasshoppers are a curse. To you, they may seem harmless. But we know better. We know what hell they bring.

Someone had snuck into my teahouse and contaminated my sanctuary. This was not a prank or even a warning. It was more than a thread. It was a deadly attack, one heavy with intent. Somebody wanted me dead and gone.

And if I didn’t put a stop to it, I would be.

At least sniffing out my foe proved to be an easy feat. After all, even I had heard of the new bakery that had opened up down the street. Although it had only opened a few weeks prior, it had skyrocketed in popularity, and its customers claimed that its sweets and treats were unmatched within a thousand miles.

That’s how I knew I was dealing with a novice – they were utterly lacking in subtlety. Then again, it wouldn’t do to underestimate my enemy, as they would obviously be prepared for a counterattack if their initial attack failed. They would be waiting for my response.

So whatever course of action I chose would have to be very impressive.

Once I had the name of the new baker in town – Alessandra, if you’d like to know – I put my plan into action. It would have been better if I’d had the opportunity to investigate her a little more, find out more about her, but any such move on my part would have alerted her immediately to what I was doing. Better to go with the strongest attack available to me and wait for the results.

So, in the dark of the night, I chose a fate for both Alessandra and myself, and prayed to whatever could hear me that I would escape this ordeal alive.

I sat in the middle of the teahouse floor, surrounded by five empty teacups – pieces from the finest cast-iron set that I own.

It was dusk, the fading light indicative of my increase in power. Magic, it so happens, is always stronger in the dark, when it becomes possible to see reality without the handicap of vision.

First, I had washed the leaves in hot water, rinsing them thoroughly to remove any impurities. Then, I began the first steep. I let the tea steep for exactly three minutes and thirty-three seconds before dividing the water between the five teacups.

I repeated this process ten times, until I had eleven steeps and the cups were full to the brim, just shy of overflowing.

Now, one of the unique characteristics of this tea is that the tip of each leaf is gold in color. I selected five fresh leaves and placed them each in the five teacups, the golden tips pointed skywards.

And then, I waited.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long. A thick steam began to rise up from the cups, eventually clouding the room with fog, my skin burning from the heat. As the temperature continued to climb, I longed to run from my teahouse into the cool night air, into freedom, but I remained seated, waiting for an appearance.

After what felt like an eternity – but I knew to be only another three minutes and thirty-three seconds – the fog cleared. From out the shadows of my family’s teahouse stepped a woman.

To call her beautiful would be a pathetic error. She was the very definition of ethereality, her black hair flowing past her waist, the hue of her skin that of burnt chestnuts, the lilt of her eyes hypnotic. To look at her was to fall in love. She was reminiscent of a poem I’d once studied by a famed Chinese poet. In lauding the beauty of his own sister to the emperor, he wrote:

A rare beauty in the north,
One of a kind, she stands alone.
One look from her will fell a city,
A second look will leave the country in ruins.
It is better not to know if a city or country will fall,
But know that such a beauty is hard to find.

In that moment, I felt that she embodied the beauty of the poem. She was so perfect, she ensured destruction. I, myself, loved her desperately as soon as she stepped within the circle of the teacups and reached for me. If only I were to reach back and take her hand, I was sure she would bring me to pleasures that I’d never seen before.

Instead, I said, “I am your master, I am the conjurer.”

She nodded, her hair gleaming in the low candlelight as she said, “What is it you command?”

I crooked a smile and said, “Alessandra Winters.”

She smiled in return and I knew that she understood.

At that, I stood up, gazing at her from eye-level, wondering if I would be strong enough for what was to come. I could feel a hint of bitterness in my voice as I spoke, though I was desperate to conceal it.

“Perfect. Then, you will be my Xi Shi.”

The next morning, the woman departed, wearing a set of clothing that had once belonged to my older sister, before her death. Although she would not reveal her true name, she agreed to let me choose a name for her, at least for the duration of her time on Earth. I called her Annalise.

I watched her leave with an ache in my heart, knowing that she had captured my desire. It would be torture to watch her complete her mission – I only hoped that the end result would be worth it.

That day, she arrived at Alessandra’s bakery, and I once again steeped a cup of Marble Mountain. By inhaling its steam, I was able to see visions of Annalise’s progress. Even as it pained me to watch, I couldn’t bring myself to look away.

Alessandra was a beautiful woman, herself, with plump curves and honey-blonde hair. It was clear that she was taken by Annalise at first sight, just as I was. Like I said, it was impossible to look at Annalise and not love her.

Annalise made the barest hint of flirtation, and it was enough. Alessandra embraced her, and Annalise allowed herself to be taken to bed.

The week that followed was a nightmare.

Alessandra and Annalise spent all their time together – my visions told me that much. They lazed around in bed, laughing and sharing intimate glances. They derived countless hours of pleasure from each other’s bodies, chasing the ends of bliss with pure sensuality. Annalise was exactly how I knew she’d be – sweet and attentive and caring. She showered Alessandra with love, and Alessandra fell helpless victim to her wiles.

It was a special kind of torment, watching the love of my life seduce another woman. But I was at least satisfied with the immediate results.

Alessandra let her bakery go to waste – she didn’t even bother to take the sweets out of the window, letting them grow moldy for everyone to see. She lost more and more of her will to exist as an independent entity – she was powerless to deny her attraction to Annalise.

By the end of the week, she was exactly as vulnerable as I needed her to be. She was ready for the grand finale that I had planned, the goal of the entire endeavor. As Alessandra slept for a few short hours after their lovemaking, I called Annalise to reappear before me, and instructed her to end it.

The sweetness in her smile was a poison I’d happily drink.

And so I sat with my cup of tea, my skin seared red from the steam, waiting and watching for the results of Annalise’s attentions.

The only thing more endearing than Annalise herself was watching her work.

I watched, spellbound, as she crawled into her lover’s bed, shaking Alessandra from her slumber. My enemy smiled drowsily as Annalise drew her hand back.

She plunged it hard into Alessandra’s rib cage, the forbidding strength of her fingernails scraping at her internal organs.

Alessandra’s eyes went wide as she screamed, and Annalise took that as an opportunity to snap forward and bite at her left eyeball, snagging a chunk of it and drawing it into her mouth. I watched the pus paint her lips and a shudder of pleasure rippled through my body.

Alessandra continued to scream as Annalise’s left hand joined her right, ripping into the baker’s torso and shredding her organs to ribbons. The blood coated Annalise’s arms, a stark contrast to her tan skin. She was beautiful naked, but she was magnificent bathed in gore. As she continued to tear apart Alessandra’s body, I found myself wishing to see her so clothed for the rest of my life.

After a great length of time, the screaming stopped. Alessandra lay in pieces on the bed, one of her arms torn from its socket and hanging loosely by its shredded muscles; the flesh on her face clawed away; her torso flayed open and internally rearranged.

She was a masterpiece, one that I had helped create.

I sat with my tea for a long time, staring at the scene in my mind’s eye, until I was pulled from my thoughts by a sudden awareness that Annalise was standing in front of me.

She and I stared at each other for an endless moment, each assessing the other. The look in her eyes was triumphant, exultant… but not satiated.

She licked her lips, and then she asked, “Do you want me?”

Yes, my mind screamed in a frenzy, God, yes, more than anything.

Instead, I answered, “No,” even as I felt my soul burning from such a despicable lie.

She smiled at me one last time – a conspiratorial smile – before vanishing like the impossibility that she was.

And I was left alone to my thoughts.

At the end of the day, I suppose I got exactly what I wanted.

Alessandra’s body was found only a few days later, and her story became the stuff of urban legends – particularly as her killer was never found. Annalise, for all intents and purposes, never existed – no DNA, no fingerprints, nothing. As for me? Well, there was nothing connecting me to Alessandra in the first place.

Not only was she dead, but I had also succeeded in sending a strong message to future competition – this is my territory, this is my home. Those who intrude upon it shall suffer.

My teahouse is doing better than ever, particularly as I’ve started serving some sweets and delicacies from other cultures that are traditionally eaten with tea. People seem all-too-happy to continue their patronage of my little shop. Business is blossoming, and I know I should be pleased. Sometimes, I am.

But there are some nights when I’m alone in my quiet little townhouse that memories of Annalise flash before my eyes like snapshots of perfection, calling out to me, beckoning me. If ever I have come close to understanding love, surely it was then, looking at her halo of gore, worshipping the savage light in her eyes. There are some nights I wonder if it was really worth it, sending her to the enemy and depriving myself of the only love that would ever matter, even knowing that it would end in wretched death.

Some nights, I even think of conjuring her again, and giving myself over to that suicidal temptation.

Dangerous tea, indeed.