None of the seven underworlds pay for a Cooking Channel subscription. Demons on the ruling council select a sim to provide them with a password in exchange for admittance into the First Underworld. The Grim Reaper, obviously, does not approve of this practice. – The Book of the Dead, Revised Edition
The next thing Alice knew, she was being bustled up on stage. Rory had somehow pulled off a costume change, Vlad and William stood off to the side, and…was it her imagination, or had the room just gotten three times as full?
“It’s not your imagination folks! The room did just get more lively now that the bake-off is about to begin! Is it the sims from the Spice Festival that our producers gave free t-shirts to? Who knows?” Rory shouted loudly, his arms spread wide.
Alice grimaced as the crowd began to cheer loudly. She hated this. Five minutes ago with Vlad, Alice had begun to relax. She was flirting! And Vlad was flirting back! And not because they were trapped in a jail cell together!
Alice turned. Rory, if it were possible, had grown even more animated. “So, Jimena, are you nervous about going up against such a strong baker for this challenge, which is technically not part of the contest but will totally be reviewed by our judge later?”
She put her finger to her mouth, tilted her head and pretended to think. Then she gave Rory, and the camera, a huge smile. “You know what Rory, can I call you Rory? I’ll admit that I am a little nervous. But it’s only because I’m standing so close to you!”
Rory returned her sickly sweet smile. “Oh my! It’s my job to host, not to make the contestants faint!”
She fanned herself briefly and then gave another high-pitched laugh. “Rory! You charmer! Well, I’m so excited to compete and really show my stuff. I know when most people look at me, they just see a pretty face,” she paused and gave the camera a solemn but pouty look, “But I’m more than that. And I plan to prove it!”
“That’s the attitude!” Rory shouted in agreement.
Alice watched their whole exchange with a burgeoning sense of unease. This was a nightmare. She was caught inside an actual, living, nightmare.
“And how about you Alice? Ready to show this beautiful but totally laid-back supermodel/actress that baking is serious stuff better left for the professionals?”
“I’m…umm…” Alice stammered. The lights were blindingly bright. When did they get so bright? “I’m not really a professional baker. I’m a clerk at the Route 309 Convenience Store so…”
Rory didn’t miss a beat. “I’m sorry, Alice, repeat that for the folks in the back. You’re a convenience store clerk and not a professional chef? Why would you start a rumor like that?”
Alice’s cheeks burned with embarrassment. “I didn’t—”
“Folks, we want you to bring your a-game, not your ‘fake’ game. Alice, I hope you learned a valuable lesson. We’ll be keeping an eye on you!”
Rory then launched into an explanation of the contest rules. He motioned to Vlad to step forward when he mentioned the judging portion, but Vlad gave him a withering glare that seemed to indicate his desire to tear Rory limb from limb.
Alice appreciated his loyalty. Rory was being a real dick and she couldn’t say anything as a contestant, but she was glad that Vlad had her back. She caught his eye and gave him a grateful smile. He scowled in response.
Just when Alice thought she might be able to make an excuse to leap off-stage and disappear, a horn sounded and Rory did a well-choreographed step-ball-change.
“Bakers! Start your ovens!”
Alice walked numbly over to her counter. Loud music was blaring and the lights turned up even brighter. This didn’t seem like The Unparalleled Windenburg Baking Show. This was high pressured, overly dramatic sideshow. And the host was mean! It was like the Dark Windenburg Baking Show or The Underworld Windenburg Baking Show.
“It most certainly is not!” Ben exclaimed.
“Ben!” Alice nearly wept with joy.
A strange look from Jimena reminded Alice that she was actually on camera and not in the StrangerVille library where nobody cared if she talked to herself. She opened a notebook and pretended to be reading recipes to herself.
“I know I haven’t said this lately, but I’m glad you’re here.” Alice murmured.
“When one insults the Underworld, I am compelled to respond. We would never having a baking contest like this. There’s not even a throne for the skeleton Queen! And you mean to tell me that there would be a baking contest without Bonehilda? Impossible.”
Alice wrinkled her forehead. “Alright, gonna unpack that later. But for now, this is terrible. We didn’t do any practice baking. In fact, I don’t know how to bake at all! This recipe book is blank!”
A buzzer sounded. Jimena was already pulling out ingredients to add to her bowl. Alice caught Vlad examining her. She held his gaze for a few moments before Ben cleared his throat.
“Far be it for me to interrupt this, but it seems we have more pressing matters than the vampire you were hoping to bed—“
“I’m not hoping to bed him!”
“Alice, I’m in your head,” Ben pointed out.
“Well, I would never use the phrase ‘bed him'” Alice sniffed, still refusing to admit her baldfaced lie. But Ben was right, now was not the time to get distracted by handsome vampires.
“Bakers, you should be getting your batter into bowls now,” Rory announced.
“Eep!” Alice jumped, clutched the notebook to her chest and turned around. “Ben, what is the plan here?”
She was met with silence.
“Well?” she prompted.
“Well, I’m an all-powerful being…” he trailed off.
“An all-powerful being but?”
“But even I don’t know how to bake,” he agreed with a sigh. “I thought we’d have time to practice and you’ve managed to feed yourself all these years so I thought: how hard could it be?”
Alice set the notebook back on the table and put a hand to her forehead. She felt faint. What made her think she had any chance of making it on this show? She would never get a normal life. She should just go back to—
“Wait! Here! There’s a memory here about baking. Chocolate things you used to make with your mother, is that ringing any bells?”
It did. The summer of 8th grade Alice’s friends had decided that she was way too weird to be seen with in high school so they dumped her. She spent a lot of time at home, moping, and her mother, fearing she would sink into a depression, got her up every morning with a list of activities and tasks. Valeria Martin took the entire summer off (probably to relief of her lab assistants) and spent it with Alice. They traveled, took a painting class…baked brownies.
She looked over at Jimena who was preening for the cameras before she added more ingredients to her bowl.
“Valeria Martin did not miss an opportunity to boss around graduate students for me to be crying here now,” Alice said in a determined voice.
“Exactly! You are Alice Martin. You command agriculture, and death, and resurrection, and nectar. Brownies are no match for you!” Ben agreed.
She nodded her head. Brownies weren’t fancy but she’d go for it. And it couldn’t hurt that Vlad was the judge. Whatever his reasons were for caring about this show, it would only help him to have someone he knew on it, right? She looked over at her new vampire friends. Vlad was almost glaring at her which, not great, but William gave her an encouraging nod.
“Ben, I’m going to need you to look around my memories for a recipe and read it out to me. We’re gonna go for it!” Alice said as she started pulling out mixing bowls and supplies.
Going for it was by no means graceful. She slipped on some spilled milk as she was gathering her ingredients.
She dropped the eggs, twice.
At some point, she mixed the batter so hard, she accidentally flung a spoon across the room.
Thank llamas Vlad had been looking the other way when that happened.
It was convenient for Ben to search around her memories for information. Unfortunately, he was more like a spectator of her memories, not a participant so they both had to guess at the measurements.
All in all, her baking left a lot to be desired. This was in sharp contrast to Jimena who seemed to float through the entire baking process with a sense of calm and grace.
By the time Alice got to putting her mixture in the oven, she was panting with relief.
She pulled them out just as Rory called for time.
Alice looked down skeptically. Her brownies didn’t look terrible. She stole a glance at Jimena’s counter.
Okay, they didn’t look terrible but they also didn’t look anything like the shimmery strawberry cake Jimena had whipped up.
A whole fucking cake?
“Remember you know the judge, remember you know the judge, remember you know the judge,” Alice chanted to herself quietly.
It worked, she felt calmer.
“What a challenge this was, let’s have a round of applause for our contestants! Beauty versus the beast!” He looked pointedly at Alice, in case she had any doubts that she was the beast in this scenario.
“Supermodel and actress, Jimena, versus convenience store clerk and fake chef, Alice Martin! And now it’s time for the judging. Would you like to introduce yourself?”
He thrust a microphone in Vlad’s face who gave him a scathing look, while William whispered, “Are you mad?”
Rory quickly withdrew the microphone. “And our judge is the strong and silent type so we’ll completely respect his privacy and personal space.”
He covered the mic and murmured to a crew member who swiftly brought Vlad two plates.
Alice closed her eyes and crossed her fingers. Here we go! Without realizing it, she even stepped forward onto the front of the stage. Is this what normal sims felt like? For once in her life, Alice was about the center of attention for a good reason.
She smiled and began picturing all the ways she would celebrate. Maybe room service? Room service and a dip in the pool. And then maybe she’d finally break her dry spell with—
“And Jimena Lewis is the winner by judge’s choice!” Rory cried.
“W-what?” Alice whispered in disbelief.
Jimena crossed over to Vlad’s side and was running a hand up and down his arm. He leaned in, giving her a seductive smile.
“Better luck next time Alice Fake chef! Hopefully, you can pull it together for the final round of auditions on Friday!”
Rory cleared his throat and lowered his voice, “We’re going to need you step off the stage.” He motioned for Alice to leave the baking area.
Alice looked over at Vlad, but he wouldn’t meet her eyes. She felt so betrayed. Stupidly, she enjoyed being around the vampires. They didn’t make her feel like a weirdo and Vlad had even defended her when William started to call her crazy.
She turned and stepped off the stage, feeling like she was moving through molasses. On her way out the door, she overheard two sims gossiping.
“Alice ‘Fake chef’ is right! Who lies about being a baker? How pathetic!”
Alice “Fake chef”. The name did have a miserable ring to it.
“Things may seem darkest at this hour, but now is not the time for quitting.” Ben instructed.
“Oh, really? What time is it then? Because I gotta say, even with that pep talk, the whole experience was a real kick in the teeth and I’m not sure I want to go through it again.”
“Alice, Alice, Alice, you’re practically the God of Death. It’s not time to quit, it’s time to bake, which, if we’re being fair, you didn’t bother to learn how to do.”
Alice wanted to keep walking, but with the full presence of Ben returned, she could feel the weight as he filled the space in her mind.
“Now who’s calling who fat?” Ben grumbled.
Alice ignored him. If she got to bed now, she could check out in the morning and still make her next shift at the store. This whole thing was stupid. A mistake of colossal proportions—
“Alice you can’t quit!” Ben’s voice was sharp. “Not now. I promised I would be helpful and being helpful is not letting you retreat at the first sign of trouble.”
Alice hesitated. “I didn’t retreat…”
“You didn’t try to leap off the stage or sneak out the door when you thought no one was looking?” Ben contended.
“Er…Well, I…uh…” Alice fumbled to make up an excuse.
“I know what it feels like to lose. Believe me. I’ve been around for longer than your mortal mind can comprehend, and I have known…” he paused to swallow around the emotion, “…great loss. But I also know what I would fight for and Alice, you’ve never fought for anything. You’ve always given up before the fighting begins, and I’ve let you. But I can’t. Not anymore. This is important.”
Alice looked down. Ben almost never shared anything personal. He talked about smiting great foes and his untold power, but he never seemed sad.
And he was right. When had she ever stuck with something? She gave up art, she gave up college, she gave up anything resembling a life. She had called it survival, but it wasn’t. Not really. So what if some attractive vampire had let her down? There were other fish in the sea, and if she won this contest she wouldn’t want to be with a vampire anyways. She’d be a normal sim with normal friends and a boyfriend who wasn’t technically undead.
The thought of Vlad still gave her body a thrill, but she ignored it. Lust had nothing to do with good choices.
Alice clapped her hands. “Alright Ben, where’s our kitchen?”
“I thought you’d never ask, we’ll need to hop on that box thing that runs under the ground.”
Alice laughed. “You mean the subway? You took the subway, Ben? I’m impressed.”
He preened. “I knew we needed to secure a space for baking practice and this place just had good vibes.”
“Cool. Hey, and one more thing,” Alice said, thinking of William and Vlad. She had nothing against William but her pride wasn’t ready to face Vlad.
“I don’t want to see him. Vlad, I mean. Can I do that? You know, make sure he doesn’t follow me?”
Ben paused, “You want to learn how to use a power?”
“Yeah. I mean, you had a good point. I should be able to control it at least while I’m on the show. And also Vlad’s a huge asshole and I kind of don’t want to see him right now. Why? Is that something I can’t do?”
“Oh no, I was surprised is all. Of course you can do that. I mean, don’t mistake me. You don’t have infinite power, but you can use the ones you do have to manipulate the world around you.”
Alice whispered and closed her eyes, waving her arms in an arc, trying to follow Ben’s instructions. Don’t let him near me, she thought.
Her power spilled out in a series of sparks and flutters that left Alice swaying on her feet and feeling a bit lightheaded. A shudder went through the trees and made the hairs stand up on the back of her neck.
“What the heck? Did I do it right?” she asked, breathless from the process.
“Uh…yes. Sure. Yes. Nothing to worry about!” Ben replied, but she sensed a bit of unease.
Alice couldn’t be sure, but she thought she heard him mutter “vampires are hearty.”
“What did you say?”
“I said we’ll work on your casting. You’ve got a lot of improving to do.”
“That is 100% not what you said…” Alice started, but Ben was already shouting directions about how to access the box in the ground.
“Fine, fine! I’ll take your word for it,” she grumbled as they walked down the street.
They made their way over to the south end of the Spice District. He chattered in her head about all the sims they passed and which ones were worthy of acceptance into the underworld. This time, Alice played along and offered her own opinions.
They rounded a corner to the restaurant, a place called Dolly’s.
Ben had started making outrageous claims about another one of their favorite reality tv shows, Real Housewives of Del Sol Valley, when Alice shushed him.
“Did you hear that?” she asked, peering around. For being in the middle of a city, the street was strangely deserted.
Ben’s voice was unconcerned. “In Ancient Shang Simla, you could always hear the llama herders making their way into the city.”
“In ancient what? Is that supposed to be helpful? Actually, you know what, we don’t have time for you answer that. Nevermind.”
As she turned the handle on the door and stepped into the kitchen, she saw a woman perched on a counter, dressed in black and red, teeth as sharp as Vlad’s when she smiled. She jumped down and gave a hiss that made Alice’s blood run cold.
“Vampire?” Alice whispered.
“Vampire,” Ben confirmed.
Emotions by Simmerberlin
Emotion Poses 2 by Cassandra Grusel
Emotions 4 by Simmerberlin
Emotions 7 by Simmerberlin
Talking by Simmerberlin
Decorative Fake Audience by JomSims