A Recipe for the Last of Days
Don't look over your shoulder. Don't even try to turn your head. Behind you, in the window frame, the sky boils and burns. It thunders with the hooves of a thousand horses. Black manes, blue manes, manes the color of hurricane. The world is ending in the boiling froth on the mouth of a horse in full gallop.
Have you always wanted to make homemade bread? Warm, crusty, chewy, delicious loaves? This is the perfect time to start. You only need four ingredients and no special equipment. Trust me on this.
While you can use that all-purpose flour from a two-for-one supermarket sale, I strongly recommend leaving it abandoned on the cupboard shelf. Instead, go down into the cellar. Move aside those bulky canvas bags with last year's potatoes. Behind them, hides a little door. Didn't know the house had a cellar? Well, what do you know?
Bend at the waist, make yourself small, pliant. You know what I mean. Climb inside that minuscule doorway and make a deal with the ones that live in the walls. Try not to bargain away your firstborn—a rookie mistake. Remember, wheat flour bought with the memory of your first kiss produces stronger, chewier bread and that's what makes all the difference.
Yeast is key to the success of this recipe. Yes, you can use the active dry from a crumpled plastic packet found in the back of the pantry closet, but I don't think you should. Take one of your kitchen knives. That one with the chipped handle will do. Pierce your finger and stick your hand into the soggy darkness underneath the sink. Don't mind the cat hissing. Buy the strength for this bread with your own blood, with the years of your precious life. If this recipe doesn't work, you won't be needing them anyway.
You cannot make good bread without salt, and for best flavor I recommend the coarse sea grains stuck to the keels of the ships gone missing in the Bermuda triangle. Don't know where you can get hold of those so late on the last of days, but I find the bread's flavor lacking with regular table salt. Make an effort.
Do not insult your bread with that lukewarm milk. Steal a dozen ounces of freezing water from the well of Tiamat herself. The deeper you dive, the colder the water you bring back to the kitchen table, the longer the dough will take to rise. This considerably improves the bread's taste and texture, even if you'd never again be able to expel the bitter, icy dread from your bones.
Optional: dusting the pan with the ash of a phoenix. If you don't have it, don't worry. There are so many things making you anxious. Let this one slip.
Consider adding herbs and seasonings such as garlic, rosemary, dill, clover, sweat, tears, and the shavings of a mandrake root.
Mix the ingredients together. At first, the dough will seem dry and you'll question if it will ever come together. Have faith. Use a spatula first, then switch to your hands. Give the dough the warmth of your beating heart, the softness of your dreams.
Let it rise.
Shape into loaves.
Rest as the oven preheats.
Bake until golden brown.
Gently tap the loaves. If they sound hollow like your soul, they're done. Now turn your head. Check if you've managed to avert the end of the world. For now.
Laila Amado writes in her second language, lives in her fourth country, and cooks decent paella. Her stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Rejection Letters, Milk Candy Review, Porcupine Literary, and other publications. In her free time, she can be found staring at the Mediterranean Sea. Occasionally, the sea stares back. You can follow her on Twitter at @onbonbon7. "A Recipe for the Last of Days" was inspired by a painting: "In the Distance" by Andrea Kowch.