Recipe for a Curse - Lissa Kasey

Chapter 1

With the excitement of the holidays over, the cold settling in on a planned month of quiet seemed to deepen the usual January chill. My grocery lists were much shorter, meal planning only taking a few hours a day, and prep was fast and easy. The manor was on winter break, as my boss Zach Frank, called it. No classes, no guests, just a few weeks of quiet after the stress of the holidays.

I had to admit that a break was nice. The handful of small holiday parties and last minute craft classes that turned into a gift exchange, had been sort of crazy. My days had become endless, dawn to dusk, cooking, planning, and even serving when the parties got too busy. The one thing I still took time for each week was taking food to the local food bank.

Once a week, the two local groceries closest to the house loaded up my little Matrix and sent me to the food bank. It was always canned goods and processed foods, but necessary. Often, I brought bread baskets of freshly made loaves, and these past few weeks, a mix of cookies and pies. The handful of families needing the food often waited for me on Wednesdays to get first dibs. A few of the other volunteers drove stuff out to those without transportation and the elderly who didn’t drive. People didn’t like to think their quiet towns or pockets of wealth housed those with food insecurity, but I’d found that it was a reality everywhere. Even in upstate New York, buried in a small tourist area with large plots of land. I always made sure there was enough for everyone. Those with nothing, and those with only a little.

Today one face had been absent. In fact, I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks. Rio wasn’t always at the food bank. I knew he lived in a trailer on a tiny piece of land that didn’t even have a road leading to it. He had a car, but it didn’t always work. In the nicer months he’d hike down and catch a ride. But with the heavy snow, and brutal wave of cold that had dropped over the weekend, maybe he hadn’t been able to come down. That worried me.

“Has anyone seen Rio?” I asked Diana as she helped unload the last of the boxes of canned goods from my car. The small crowd had already chosen their pies and cookies from my stash.

“Hey, Montana,” Jim called as he reached for the stack Diana brought to him. “Everyone has been gushing about how amazing your pies were for the holidays. How grateful they were to have them.”

I felt heat rise into my face. The compliments shouldn’t have embarrassed me. I was a trained chef. Pastries were a hobby to my cooking passion, and the holidays gave me opportunities to share my skills. The manor had even been open to the locals for a holiday dinner I’d prepared. That way everyone had a chance to have turkey, ham, and all the trimmings. We had to schedule times so we hadn’t been overcrowded, but the day had gone smoothly and the joy filled faces had made my holiday.

Sean, Zach’s fiancé, had helped create small gift baskets for everyone local filled with baked goods, small crafts like handkerchiefs, safety masks designed to be almost medical grade while still fun and cute, and wooden puzzle toys. I’d never met anyone more skilled at making things than Sean. He’d even helped me perfect a few recipes of some Chinese pastries and steamed buns that had become a favorite at the manor. I’d brought a couple dozen to the food bank this week and had been hoping to push a dozen or so off on Rio so I knew he was eating more than beans and ramen.

“Thank you,” I told Jim. “Have you seen Rio?”

“Not since Christmas at the manor,” Jim said.

Diana shook her head. “He hasn’t been in at all. I’ve been a bit worried. After we had that big drop in temperature, and he’s out so far… I know his car hasn’t been working for a while.”

I gnawed at my lip a bit in worry as I helped them stock the shelves. “I could drive up; it’s not that far past the manor, right?” I tried to recall the gravel trail that veered into the woods, but I had only ever driven past it. Would it be lost in the snow? He was only