[Continued from Episode 2: La Dolce Vita]
Day 100: For some reason I cannot explain, I have the feeling that I’m being watched… Well, more-so than usual; each day that passes by, I can feel the red-hot gaze of the grannies on my back. When I turn, I rarely make eye contact with them, but when I do, they offer me a plastic smile and well-fabricated friendliness, almost too perfect to be real. I know that some, if not all, are watching me, waiting for… something. I busy myself with research and acquisitions to keep it from creeping in my thoughts.
Day 111: After acquiring a tall, imposing and ancient tower, several grannies I’d never seen before appeared. They wore long, hooded robes and bore odd runic tattoos on their arms, faces and legs. The Round-Faced Grandmother, Noralina, met their group the day they appeared, flanked by two of the Strong-Arm grannies. The Hooded ones spoke briefly in whispers, bowed to Noralina, then entered the tower. When I questioned Noralina, she offered me a plastic smile and cheerily said, “Helping things along, my dear. Never you mind.”
Day 116: The celebrity in rehab still appears on TV on occasion. They claim they see cookies in their dreams and hear the chanting call of the “Baker in the Sky“. After a few days of conveying their “visions” to every TV station that would listen, the celebrity left rehab and converted to what I had thought at the time was a made-up religion: Cookieism. It doesn’t take long for several of their fans to follow suit. When I retell the story to the grannies, they all laugh, tickled by the silliness of it. I’m relieved to hear their innocent laughter lacks a derisive tone, though I can’t help but feel something is off about the intent.
Day 120: A researcher claims that cookies began the world and will end it. The article was a tiny blip on my radar; there and gone in a matter of minutes. I don’t share knowledge of its existence with anyone, and I find myself unable to find it ever again. I wonder if the researcher will end up like the economist, and I shudder.
Day 122: Another white van is parked outside of the 1st bakery, where I now sleep after long hours of work make me too drained to return to my family. When I leave by car, it follows; when on foot, someone exits the rear door and walks a few yards behind me, stopping when I stop and pretending to check their cellphone. Frightened, I run, and my shadow jogs behind me, never closing the distance. Reaching for my phone, I unconsciously speed-dial the first number that comes to mind. I call Noralina in a panic and barely manage to sputter out the word “Stalker” before a pair of Strong-Arms jump out of the bushes and tackles my would-be assailant. They’re dragged away by the Strong-Arms, and I sit down upon the curb, shaken by what has just occurred. I don’t get up until the Strong-Arms return and escort me back to the bakery.
Day 129: After a week of being too afraid to leave my room, I look out the window. Another white van out front. They’re not even trying to be subtle anymore.
Day 133: A commotion draws me from my office. The production line grannies are pinning down one of their own… Or, so I thought, until they ripped the struggling granny’s wig off. A man, somehow, had gotten into his head to attempt to infiltrate the ranks of the granny collective and had been caught. More shouting occurs, and another outsider is restrained. More Strong-Arms appear and haul both trespassers (whom I can only assume have something to do with the white vans) into a back room. Someone had the foresight to label this the “interrogation room” and to frost over the window on the door. No amount of curiosity could compel me to enter here, so I return to my office and leave matters to Noralina. I bury myself in my work for hours, and when I reemerge for lunch, I find the female interloper dressed in a granny smock and silently working alongside the other grannies. Surveying the work room floor, I notice that the male intruder is nowhere to be found. I hope that he was simply removed or arrested, but I know better now.
Day 134: In my darkest moments, another golden cookie appears to me, filling me with hope.
Day 137: A group of teens tried to steal from the 1st farm last night. From my office on the 3rd floor, I saw the warm glow of a lantern slowly creep across the field, leading 5 shadowy figures to a near-ripe harvest of Do-Si-Do’s. At first, I was afraid that the people in the white vans had grown bolder, but then the excited musings of adolescents rose from the group and broke the silence of the night, letting a wave of relief wash over me. My relief was soon replaced with panic; from my safe perch above, I spotted the unlit, hulking forms of Noralina’s prefered enforcers zeroing in on the group. I wanted to warn them, I wanted to save them, but as I drew in breath to shout to them, a soft, wrinkled hand smelling of sugar cookies pressed over my mouth and I heard a light, exhaled “Shush” in my ear. The skirmish was over in seconds: overpowered and taken by surprise, the teens could neither defend themselves nor escape. Strong-Arms threw the battered and bruised boys out onto the street, and dragged the 2 teenaged girls kicking and screaming into the interrogation room. The next day, the quiet and well-behaved girls (who are introduced by Noralina as “Gertrude and Dorothy”) joined their equally quiet predecessor (“Sophia”) on the production line. They are dead silent and possessed of a laser-guided focus to work ceaselessly. Their breathing is shallow and their blinks are few and far between. When a group of people, including the girls’ parents (led by their male friends), show up and try to force them home, they shrug them off and refused to meet them again. Noralina explains to the loved ones of our new workers that, as legal adults, they’re free to do as they like; pressing the matter will only incur the wrath of the bakery’s team of brutal but efficient granny lawyers. Hesitantly, all but one of them left; the one remaining, a young man with a scar on his chin, calls out to “Sophia” (whose real name is apparently “Amy”) and receives no response. “I’ll be back,” he growls at Noralina. He turns to leave and regards me with disdain. “I’ll be back.”
Day 144: A major news station will be airing a biopic of the bakery’s rise to fame. Previews of the clip star several of the grannies, happily toiling away at assembly lines and mixing bowls. It feels surreal seeing them act so normal… Almost as surreal as seeing myself during the interview, my ear-to-ear grin shimmering in the light, my eyes twinkling with glee. Noralina’s standing by my side, and she readily fields questions when I interrupt the interview to nibble away at a glowing, golden cookie. I don’t remember this. I do not remember this interview. In the clip, once I’ve finished a cookie, Noralina hands me another as I, in a hamster-like trance, stuff my mouth with my golden prize. I smile like a child and pipe up eagerly, “Praise the Baker!” as the scene fades out.