The smell of pastries filled the kitchen and slowly drifted out the window – opened just a crack so as to let in the late Autumn breeze. Cinnamon rolls today – he had once expressed his love for them over breakfast and now his grandmother, Anette, made them for him weekly. He hadn’t the heart to tell her that he was now foundered on them, full of a lifetime’s worth of cinnamon, dough, and icing made with so much sugar that he was sure the fluids inside him had all turned to a sickeningly sweet syrup long ago. Still, the intention behind the cinnamon rolls made him force a smile and enthusiasm when she placed them – hot and ready – on a plate before him. Today they would be a welcome treat, given that the breeze was just on the sharper side of cold and he could feel the cold slowly starting to seep into him. Mr. Henrickson, the old man across the street, waved pleasantly to him as he walked over. “Hello Todd- how’s the weather treatin’ ya?” Todd smiled pleasantly and shrugged. Mr. Henrickson nodded in appreciation, “Mmm, m’old bones can’t hardly take too much of this sorta weather anymore. Y’think you might be able to rake the leaves for me once you get done with your grandma’s yard?” Todd nodded slowly, he didn’t mind terribly helping out Mr. Henrickson as he was always more than willing to help out when Todd needed an extra pair of hands (and sometimes when he didn’t) getting the yard-work or other chores done. In the time he had been living on the street with his grandmother Todd had noticed that Mr. Henrickson’s spirit, not unlike Anette’s, had slowly been fading. Indeed, Todd already knew that both of them were meant for a short time left on Earth, and the knowing made him feel heavier. Mr. Henrickson watched Todd’s face, perhaps the old man could see something in Todd’s gaze that let him know what the sprier creature was thinking, but he didn’t hazard a word about it. Instead he nodded, twitching his mustache for emphasis, “Thanks so much, Todd. Y’know we were all getting quite worried for dear Mrs. Martin before you came to visit. You’ve really, erm, given a character to the place that it seemed to be missing.” Todd snorted, closest thing to a compliment he was likely to get and he had come to appreciate the way the people on Mrs. Henrickson’s lane showed their appreciation. After all, the circumstances had been a bit difficult for all of them to understand, and he honestly had been impressed with how quickly they had all accepted their new realities.
Todd had just finished packing the last of Mr. Henrickson’s leaves into a giant orange trash bag – one of the ones made up to look like a Jack O’Lantern, as horrible and degrading as that was – when Anette opened the screen door that led out from the kitchen cellar; the door making a screeching sound fit to wake the dead, “Todd, dear, do come in! I can feel the cold seeping into my old bones already. Surely you’ve had enough for today.” Todd nodded humbly and carefully walked across the road, and stepped nimbly over what was left of the vegetable garden. He would need to help Anette finish bringing in what was left of those veggies soon, and grease the hinges on the screen door, too. “I made your favorite treat!” She grinned, her gummy smile that always warmed him to his core, “I’ll let you sneak one before we have dinner proper, then you can go wash up while I set the table.” She winked at him, indeed they were truly co-conspirators on this one, and led him into the kitchen where she set a plate before him covered in a mound of icing, under which Todd presumed there was a piping hot cinnamon roll. He gestured his appreciation and set to work eating the warm treat, letting the goo of the icing drip from the fork she’d set next to the plate. He whistled softly, hoping Anette wouldn’t notice as Honey came lumbering in, slick, oily slobber falling from his jowls. Todd held a small morsel of cinnamon roll down to the hound who happily lapped it from his fingers. Anette, never one to miss a beat, wagged a wooden spoon above the pot where she was mixing some delicious smelling concoction, “Don’t spoil Honey’s dinner, Todd! You know how too much sugar gives him a belly ache. Why, the last time you snuck that poor hound too much sugar I thought for sure his howls were going to call up the Devil himself!” Todd bristled at Anette’s euphemism, but settled back into his chair quickly as she continued to stir the pot on the stove. Having finished his pre-dinner, Todd stood up from the kitchen table – stooping slightly so as to not scratch the ceiling with his horns – and shambled into the washroom where Anette had already set out towels for him to use to clean up.
Once the bath had come to a good rolling boil, steam filling every crevice of the washroom, Todd slipped lazily into the bath. Indeed, it had been a long day and was sure to be an even longer night. His current work orders would be tough to fill given the limited amount of time he had left to make his monthly quota. He’d need to work double-time. Sighing he sank deeper into the tub and focused on loosening the tight feeling in his aching limbs, careful not to scratch the acrylic siding. Todd had started to doze off slightly when Honey came lumbering through the door frame, having nosed the door open (an annoying trick Anette had taught him). Honey plopped a small bowl into Todd’s outstretched claws and then turned tail and ran, knowing that whatever news Todd was about to receive it would likely be unwise to stay in the room. Todd turned the mouth of the bowl toward his face and gazed deep into the dark goop that lined it, “Yes, what is it?” He growled lowly, hoping that Anette wouldn’t hear the strange tongue with which he spoke. “You’re behind on sales for this month, Butterball.” Todd rolled his eyes, this nickname never failed to insult him deeply, yet the undertones of jealousy in how all the other demons said it made him smile a little in satisfaction, “I know what my numbers are.” He was all too aware. He had precious little time left to make the most of his month. “You don’t want to be demoted to cross-roads, do ya? Better start planting some seeds of bad ideas in some heads!” Todd resisted the urge to roll his eyes, “I’m on it.” He hissed, waving his hand over the bowl and erasing the image of the demon staring back at him. His long night had just gotten longer.
Having finished helping Anette clean up after dinner, Todd walked with her into the sitting room. She would likely crochet for another hour or so before retiring for the evening. He placed a note in her lap, “Have to go to work. Be back by tomorrow for dinner.” Her face crumpled a little when she read “tomorrow,” but Anette wasn’t one to complain or ask too many questions. She just nodded and patted his face, “You be a good boy, Todd. Keep the boss happy. I’ll make you something special for dinner when you return.” Todd nodded, fighting back the urge to just plop down on her sitting room floor and listen to her tell him stories of her youth. He hunched himself over and was halfway out the front door when Anette hopped from her seat so fast he thought for sure she had broken a bone on impact, “Wait right there, Toddy! You can’t leave without your dessert!” Todd nodded and waited for the old woman to shamble back through her house to the kitchen, Honey fast on her heels. Todd couldn’t help but smile at the sight. Most people would’ve been running from a Hound of Hell sobbing for their life, Mrs. Martin was likely going to ask the thing to take the cinnamon rolls to Todd since she was so slow moving these days. Indeed, Honey came bounding back through the house with a paper bag filled to the brim with a stock of cinnamon rolls that would be replenished the next week. Anette yelled her goodbyes as she shuffled back in from the kitchen and Todd carefully closed the front door behind him, making sure he had latched all the locks as he left. Good thinking, Anette, he thought to himself, They never can resist your baking.