20 Sep The Cookie Jar
“The Cookie Jar”Written by Themascura Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 7 minutes
I recently inherited my grandmother’s house, or, technically speaking, my father did. He signed it over to me without much of a fuss. I guessed he’d never really been interested in the farm, but recently he’s started telling me about things that happened when he lived there, and I’m beginning to understand why he didn’t want to go back.
“The Cookie Jar” was the first story he told me. The first of the things that happened in this town.
To him, anyway.
He was fifteen when he discovered it.
His dad had been missing for a little over a year, and Grandma had decided, in her usual, no-nonsense way, that it was time to sell the shop. It wasn’t doing them any good staying locked up like it was, and she didn’t have the time or energy to waste running it herself. She was too busy with her life’s work: the house and the small farm.
Grandma gave dad the news over breakfast that morning, while the rain drummed on the tin awning over the porch and tapped patiently at the kitchen windows, framed by their pretty gingham curtains. As usual, Grandma didn’t mince any words. She gave it to him straight, no frills.
“There’s a buyer coming to look at the shop today,” she told him as he cut into his pancakes.
Dad started to protest, but bit his tongue – he knew there was no point. Once Grandma decided something her mind was made up. Nothing he said or did would sway her. And anyway, they could use the money. The farm drank it like a thirsty sponge and he was old enough to know that the college he hoped to attend wouldn’t be free. Money had to come from somewhere.
And no one figured Grandpa was coming back.
People in town talked. They always did. Everyone had a theory: That Grandpa had gotten sick of the strange house and its weird farm and run off. That he’d fallen in love with a mysterious stranger passing through town and took off with her. That Grandma had secretly murdered him and buried him behind the farm. Or that she’d sacrificed him in some kind of occult ritual.
Dad had heard them all. Secretly he figured the first was the most likely. Grandpa had been a quiet, soft spoken kind of man, ill-suited to farm life. He was bookish, as they still called it back then. Kind of a nerd.
He’d never really been interested in the farm. Mostly left it to Grandma. His passion was history – which was why he ran an antique shop.
This was the early eighties, when there was some money to be made from antiques, but most folks didn’t understand the value of them quite yet. Grandpa didn’t make much off the store. Most people in town weren’t interested in old things. They were happy enough to sell ‘em, though.
Which was why Grandpa’s store was packed to the gills with stuff.
Dad finished his breakfast in silence, washed his plate and then headed outside to the porch. He hopped on his bike and pedaled into town. It meant skipping school, but no one was likely to ask any questions. They’d figure it had something to do with the farm. Little things were always coming up when you lived on one.
The key was inside the old shed behind the shop, where Grandpa kept the tools he used to keep the shop in working shape. Dad left his bike leaning up against the wall and grabbed the key out of the workbench, ferrying it over to the back door like a coin for the River Styx.
He had to put his shoulder to the door and lift it. It stuck. It always stuck. Grandpa had said a hundred times that he meant to sand the frame down a little – one of many chores that had gone undone, and now would never be. It came open with a shucking sound. The same as a joint popping, but in slow motion.
It swung open to the eclectic jumble of shapes he remembered. Sunlight gilded the spiderwebs, hanging golden between the old grandfather clock and the wind-up clown bank. Dust enveloped him, so thick that for a moment he was nearly blinded. When it cleared, it left behind a curtain of antique shop scents. Leather and old book bindings, brass and hardwood.
Grandpa’s office was in the back. Dad knew the way; he’d come by here every day after school for years. It was strange being there without Grandpa’s warm, quiet presence filling up the shop, though. Everything felt still and quiet without him tinkering somewhere in the background.
As he slipped past the carnival rows of treasure it occurred to him that he didn’t really know why he’d come. To say goodbye – but to whom? What? The shop, or the ghost of his father, who might not even be dead? The remnants of the life he’d left behind?
Before he could get too deep into his thoughts he was distracted by the jar.
It was just… so out of place. It didn’t belong there – on Grandpa’s desk of all places. In an antique shop! It was so plain. Just a modern looking Cookie Jar. Blue Glazed. Ordinary. A little big, but not remarkably so. It looked nothing like the cornucopia of artifacts in the shop, or anything else in the rustic, cluttered office. And it wasn’t like Grandpa to keep food in the shop. He usually forgot to eat, but when he did it was with his family. At home. On the farm.
But when dad wandered over to investigate, he found that was indeed full of cookies. He pulled one out and was shocked to find that it was still soft and fresh-smelling, despite how long it must have been there.
Could someone have brought it over recently? But why? And who? Grandma hadn’t mentioned bringing anyone over to look at the shop yet, and she would have mentioned it first. And if someone had come without her permission, why would they have left a jar of cookies?
He sniffed one, then nibbled on it experimentally. It was sweet. A little buttery. The chocolate mildly bitter.
It tasted like a cookie. Just a regular ol’ chocolate chip cookie. So he finished it.
That was his first mistake. Only, he didn’t realize it at the time. He gave up trying to figure it out and decided to take the jar home to ask Grandma about. It wasn’t until he was halfway home that he understood that would mean fessing up to skipping school. Thankfully for him, Grandma was out when he got back, so he carried the jar back to his bedroom and hid it under the bed.
Grandma didn’t make it home until almost sundown. She came home livid. At first Dad thought she’d found him out anyway, but then she started talking about how they’d have to sell the shop now. How else would they afford a new truck? Dad listened with half an ear, torn between relief and… well, more relief. Not only had he not been found out, but it turned out someone had stolen the beaten old Chevy they’d had since Grandpa had been a teenager himself.
It was a terrible way to feel, but he’d always hated that old Chevy. The barely there upholstery felt like sitting on a bunch of exposed springs on a good day, and heating or A/C were mere fantasies when it had been built. It didn’t even have a working radio! He biked to school most days anyway, so as selfish as it was he didn’t miss it much. He went to bed kind of glad, forgetting all about the strange cookie jar.
Until a week later.
Grandma had really laid into him that day. He’d been sent to bed without supper, which was really the least of his concerns at the time. He’d gotten into it with some of the boys at school over Grandpa going missing. They’d said some really horrible things, and he’d responded with his fists. He wasn’t suspended or anything. These were the days before that, back when fighting was just considered a thing ‘boys did’ sometimes. One of those boys had been the deacon’s son, however, and when word had gotten back to Grandma she’d been furious.
Dad was lying in bed, looking at the blue checkered wallpaper and dreaming of moving some place far away. Far, far away. Someplace without stupid Tommy Carter or any of those stupid, snobby kids at school. He turned over on his bed. Harder than was necessary, honestly, because the bed bounced and he heard the clatter of the pot, and that was when he remembered.
It was fine. He dragged it out from under the bed and found that it had just fallen over. Hadn’t broken. Hadn’t even chipped!
And it was just in time, honestly, because he was starving. He was a little surprised that the cookies were still fresh, but he figured by now it probably had something to do with the jar. Maybe with the way it sealed or something. He wasn’t asking questions. The first cookie hadn’t killed him after all, so this time he helped himself to five and went to bed with a full stomach.
And woke up to a tragedy.
Five of the local boys had gone missing. Police were everywhere. They’d come in from two towns over to help look for the kids, one of whom had been the son of the deacon. By noon reporters were arriving. Everyone had questions, but no one had answers. It seemed as if the boys had gone to bed just like every other night – and then just vanished. No signs of a struggle. All their things were still there. Even their shoes were where they’d left them.
It was horrific. Really, truly terrible. People were terrified, and they had every right to be! No one knew what had happened to those boys, or where they’d gone, or what had happened to them. They’d just up and disappeared just like that. As if someone had snapped their fingers and wished them out of existence.
Honestly, I don’t blame dad for not putting two and two together at the time. What kid would have? Even a teenager! He didn’t understand, really understand until he ate the last cookie.
The fervor from the missing boys hadn’t died down yet. Everyone was up in arms. Everyone keeping a closer eye on everyone. Mothers and Fathers especially. That was probably why Grandma noticed Dad’s fever. He hadn’t been feeling well that whole day. His stomach hurt, and he hadn’t had much of an appetite at dinner. He went to bed early, which was what really worried her. He was sixteen and usually ate like a horse, and never wanted to go to bed ‘on time’, much less early.
But to bed he went.
And ate another cookie. To quiet his belly, he hoped. He just wanted the pain in his stomach to go away and thought that maybe the cookie, being small and sweet, would help settle it. He was desperate at that point.
This time he woke up in the hospital.
Apparently he’d blacked out after eating the cookie. Grandma had heard him hit the floor. She rushed him to the hospital, of course. Thankfully their new truck was faster than the old one by a mile. Once there, the doctors diagnosed dad with the strangest case of appendicitis they’d ever seen.
Strange, because it was gone. Just gone.
The nearest the doctors could figure, dad had some kind of terrible infection that had eaten the whole thing up. Somehow without killing him. They found the evidence of it in the mostly-healed place it had been. He was lucky to have survived, they all said. It was a miracle, they said.
And then they sent him home. A few days later, on a strong course of antibiotics. He went home with Grandma and found the cookie jar exactly where he’d left it. Sitting half under the bed, still full of cookies, and understood.
He buried it in the garden the next night. As soon as he was physically capable of holding a shovel.
As far as he knows it’s still out there. Still full of cookies that never go stale.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A