"Elli, They're out there again."

Elli looked up from her mixing bowl and out the window. Sure enough, They had returned. Dressed in black robes, marching around the bakery, and chanting horribly, fifty or more of Them.

They wanted their annual offering.

"Do what you can to stall them please, Jeff." Elli said, returning to her work. She had a lot to do if she wanted to appease them, and she was not going to dissapoint.

The Bakery Master, heading outside, worried. He and Elli had managed to appease Them last year, but last year there had only been half this many of Them chanting outside, and Elli's grandmother had been alive to deal with Them while the offerings were prepared.

But Ellen had died that spring. And judging by the few faces he could find under those robes, it seemed to be the trend everywhere. Those who knew how to appease Them were disappearing, dying off or going out of business.

Jeff shuddered at the thought of what might happen if They couldn't be appeased. If all who could satisfy Them disappeared from the world.

It would be the end of all human civilization, he was sure.

Outside, They were still chanting. Their eyes, when visible, were glazed over in a hypnotic state, and no matter what Jeff said, he knew only the offering could snap Them out of it.

Then, Their leader stepped forward. He was much bigger than the others, a majestic figure of an enormous girth. He wore, in addition to the black robe They all wore, a purple overrobe.

"Where is the offering?" The leader asked. From the tone of his voice and the stance he'd adopted, Jeff could tell that only one answer would satisfy him.

"We're preparing it now, Great One. Please, be patient."

The Great One seemed to inflate. "I will not wait much longer, Bakery Master, and neither will my followers. We can smell the offerings already, and We require them as soon as they are available."

Jeff bowed. "Yes, Great One. Elli's working on them as fast as she can. The first offerings should be ready in a few minutes."

The Great One nodded, and returned his followers to Their chanting. Jeff shuddered. Numbers shouldn't sound that terrifying, he thought. Each one sounds more and more final, as if they're counting down to my demise.

We've got to hurry.

As Jeff ran in the door, he was relieved to find Elli putting the finishing touches on the first offerings.

"They're getting restless, Elli. How are the others coming along?"

Elli, relatively calm in this storm, told him that the last one had just come out of the oven.

"Good," he replied, "I'll get these out then."

Outside, They were waiting. Some were secreting an enzymic substance in preparation. Others gripped multi-pronged spears with both hands. And above it all, the chanting continued.


Jeff laid the offerings out on the table that They had brought. But before They could devour the offerings, the Great One spoke.

"No, bretheren! Not yet! Too often of late, the offerings have been tainted. Before you partake of our sustenance, I must ensure that it is pure."

And then, Jeff saw the Great One remove his hood. Beneath, his monocled eye, oversized lips, and bloated face made him a sight grotesque to all but the bravest of men.

The Great One took the center offering, still warm from the oven, and cut it open. Taking a slice, he then tasted it carefully.

Suddenly, his eyes widened. They put Their guard up, in case the offerings had indeed been tainted, but the Great One put up a hand.

"No, bretheren! It is pure! Partake of it, that you may be free once more!"

Jeff only just got out before the swarm. Elli, coming out with the rest of the offerings, was also nearly trampled in Their rush to feed.

From inside the bakery, Jeff and Elli watched the feeding with a mild sense of horror. It seemed to get more desperate every year, as more and more sought to recieve their share of the offerings.

Finally, the offerings were reduced to a pile of disposable foil pans, and only the Great One remained.

"Utterly delicious," He said. "Your lemon meringue in particular is something out of legend. I'll definitely be recommending you in the future."

And with that, the Gourmet Man walked off. Jeff, folding into the nearest chair he could find, sighed.

"Honestly Elli, The Pie Festival gets worse every year."