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The detectives picked their way carefully but quickly through the crime scene. There was rubble everywhere- the house had mostly been destroyed. The investigation had already been delayed while engineers shored up the structure enough to ensure its safety, and the detectives were keen to get started.

The younger one paused in the middle of what had once been the kitchen, his hands in his pockets, looking around at the devastation.

“What did this? A bomb?”

The older man shook his head. “No, Max, we don’t think there was an explosion. We’d have heard about it sooner. No, we think this damage was all done by hand.”

Max’s eyes widened. “By hand? But this must have taken days!”

At the other side of the room, the coroner stood up and looked over to catch their eye, his initial report apparently finished. They made their way over to him.

“We’re going to have forensics transport the entire oven to the lab,” the coroner said. “It’s going to be impossible to get all the, uh, evidence out otherwise.”

The senior detective nodded. “Do you have a cause of death for me?”

“I won’t know for sure until after the post mortem but it looks like…” The coroner gently opened the oven door, indicating the scratch marks and blood on the inside. “It looks like she was burned alive.”

“Alive?” Max spluttered in shock and outrage. “What kind of monsters are we looking for?”

One of the forensics specialists nearby cleared her throat. “Small ones, sir.”

Max hopped nimbly over a pile of rubble to kneel next to the woman. “What have you got?”

“Shoe prints, sir,” she replied, showing him the two footprints she had just lifted. “Looks like two distinct pairs, both small.”

The senior detective looked over towards them. “How small? Are we talking about men with dainty feet? Women?”

The forensics specialist took a deep breath. “Children, sir. They’re definitely child-sized.”

Max stared at her. “You’re saying that two children pushed this defenseless old lady into her own oven?”

The senior detective nodded slowly. “Then stayed here for days picking apart her cottage. Tell me, Max, are there any dentists nearby?”

Max frowned. “There’s one at the edge of the forest, sir. Why?”

The senior detective glanced around the devastated remains of the candy cottage. “Because, Max, we’re looking for two naughty children with a very sweet tooth.”

© Kari Fay