Mary took the cake from the oven and stood it on a wire rack to cool. She set about laying the table while the kettle boiled. She was interrupted by the doorbell. Her guests at last! They would barely have time to wipe their feet before the tea was brewed to its optimal strength and flavour.
She undid the bolts, unhooked the chain and opened the door. Her face fell to see there was nobody there. Fastening the locks again, she cast a glance at the hall clock. Her visitors were about to be late. The tea would spoil. She went back to the kitchen to turn off the kettle.
The cake was gone.
Mary stared blankly at the wire rack, seemingly incapable of registering what had happened.
She stirred herself and shook her head. I’ll have left it in the oven; that’s what I’ve done. Best get it out now before it’s charred to a cinder.
She yanked open the oven door. A waft of warm air sprang out to lick her face like a friendly dog. But the oven was empty.
She turned back to the table. A solitary crumb was in evidence under the shadowy lattice cast by the rack. Mary pressed her finger onto the crumb to pick it up. She held it before her nose, squinting to examine it at close quarters. Yes; it was from her cake all right.
But where was the rest of it?
She lowered herself into a crouch to peer under the table. Perhaps in her haste to open the door, she’d knocked the cake to the floor… But no. There was nothing there. Perhaps the bloody cake fairies had had it!
The doorbell startled her. She banged her head on the underside of the table.
“Hello,” said her visitors, relieved to see her open the door. They thought perhaps she’d gone out or was lying with a broken hip at the foot of the stairs. She wasn’t good on her own, was Mary; tended to get a bit confused.
They stepped inside and wiped their feet, pulling arms from sleeves and hands from gloves.
“Kettle on?” The man one rubbed his hands.
“It was…” said Mary with a pained expression.
“Are you all right, Mary? You keep rubbing your head,” said the lady, pouting to show how much she cared.
“Um…” said Mary, glancing over her shoulder at the kitchen.
“Cup of tea and a slice of cake will do me,” said the man, breezing through to the living room, but not before he’d made a significant mark on his clipboard.
“Mary?” said the woman, placing a concerned hand on Mary’s forearm. “Why are you crying?”
And somewhere underground, the cake fairies wiped crumbs from their chins and laughed.