The Harvest by
Competition: Flash Fiction Challenge 2013, 2nd Round
Genre: Horror Location: An
outdoor music concert Object: Animal crackers
Original Illustration by
rushed through Elsa’s eardrums and the loud pounding of her heart
drowned out the sounds of the dark forest. She couldn’t see
or hear anything.
She stopped and crouched between the giant gnarled roots of an
ancient tree, commanding her burning lungs to breathe silently
instead of gasping for air. Every muscle ached and her smashed
cheekbone throbbed, but Elsa smiled through the searing pain. Her
left hand curled protectively around the Cracker that she had taken
from the Baker. She had escaped.
Earlier that evening, the Baker and his merry band arrived in Elsa’s
small village without warning. The Bakers never give warning.
The village had been left in peace for a decade, so the smaller
children didn’t understand the truth about the Harvest. They skipped
to the square and sang along to the music, thinking a concert or
festival was about to start.
Within an hour, a rude stage was erected and festooned with colorful
lanterns. The monstrous cast iron oven required more work. It was as
large as a cottage, with a door that could accommodate a fully grown
man, and it took the visitors several hours to roll it to the
Elsa watched them from the perimeter. Across the square, the Baker
watched as well. He was tall and thin, with an unhealthy pallor. The
pale skin stretched down his face like moist raw dough hung upon a
wire frame. He looked exactly the same as he did ten years ago, when
her father was taken.
A hand grasped at her side, and she flinched. “Come play with us,
“Be quiet, Erik.” Elsa scolded her brother and checked her pocket
carefully. She had been planning her revenge for too long. She
couldn’t let anyone discover it early.
Her mother squeezed Elsa’s hand. “Let the children enjoy themselves.
They will never feel this free again.”
Elsa looked at Erik, his eyes wide and trusting, and forced herself
to smile. “Go play.” The smile stayed frozen on her face as she
watched him run away, fighting the urge to hold him so tightly that
they couldn’t take him away.
Up on the stage, surrounded by cheerful musicians and bright lights,
the Baker grinned down at the crowd of Animals, allowed to roam free
and fatten up for so many years. It was time for Harvest: the Eaters
were hungry for meat again.
He lifted a hand, and the music stopped. Most of the villagers were
already quietly watching the stage. The children returned to their
families, fidgeting a little.
The Baker stretched the pasty skin around his mouth into a grin and
lifted a bright red tin. “Animals! Come up if your Cracker is
Elsa felt a tug on her sleeve and looked down. “Do I have a
cracker?” Erik asked hopefully. She nodded, keeping her face blank.
“Everyone has a Cracker.”
Erik smiled and turned back to the stage.
“Pieter.” The Baker held up a Cracker that was so lifelike, it
seemed to breathe. There was no need for names, everyone could see
who it was, but the Bakers always took perverse pride in
Pieter walked up slowly as the musicians played a jaunty march. He
was a large man, skin tanned and toughened by decades of farming in
the sun. He climbed onstage and nodded stoically at his family.
A wave of heat swept over the crowd as Pieter opened the oven door,
walked in, and closed the door behind himself. The music stopped,
and everything was silent.
The Baker chose again.
“Jeannette.” All eyes turned to a young woman with curly red hair
who shook her head and backed away on unsteady legs. The music began
again. It was a waltz this time.
“Easy, girl,” the Baker said, watching her carefully. Suddenly, she
turned and ran toward the forest. He sighed. He hated when the
Animals got spooked.
Everyone had turned to watch Jeannette, but Elsa watched the stage.
The Baker shook his head and snapped one leg off the cookie in his
Halfway to the trees, Jeannette screamed and fell down. She
continued to crawl, dragging a trail of bloody flesh behind one hip,
where a leg used to be.
The Baker was annoyed. This Animal wasn’t learning its lesson. He
crushed an arm this time. As Jeannette’s screams filled the air, the
band played their waltz louder. She stopped moving after a few long
Elsa felt Erik’s hand, clutching her and trembling. Now he
“What a waste of perfectly good food,” the Baker said. He reached
into the tin again, and Elsa could feel him touch her. He had chosen
She eased Erik’s hand off hers, checked her pocket, and began
walking up. She had to be fast. She had prepared for years, and now
she only had one chance.
The Baker had not revealed the Cracker, but Elsa was quickly
approaching the stage. Confused, some musicians started playing a
lively polka, while others stayed silent.
The Baker looked pleased that this Animal was so well-behaved and
held her Cracker up high. Elsa smiled as she lunged at him, pulling
a short, sharpened stick out of her pocket and stabbing him in the
The Baker’s hands splayed open and dropped the Cracker. It hit the
ground. Elsa felt a hard hit against the side of her face and
staggered, tasting her own hot blood. Dizzy, she groped the floor
blindly and found the cookie. There was a small piece broken off one
cheek, but it was intact.
Clutching it carefully, Elsa ran for the forest as the Baker’s howls
of pain echoed in the village behind her.
As she hid beneath the tree, Elsa felt a giant shadow reach down
toward her, darker than the dark night. It lifted her up roughly,
and pieces of her body crumbled off drily like a cookie. She was an
Animal and meant to be eaten. There was no escape.