Sentient Sourdough Seduction
“Speak” was spelled out in bubbles in the top of the starter
Written by: Celeste Kallio using SudoWrite
Illustrations by: Sharon Zhou using DALLE-2
Narration by: Andrey Kurenkov using BeyondWords
Text Formatting: Human-written text is italic, AI-generated text is normal
"Is it just me, or is my sourdough starter saying hello?"
Nicole added a bread emoji to the end of the Instagram post. She’d carefully framed the shot of bubbles in the flour mixture that appeared to spell out “hi.” Her heart lightened a little. She’d been dumped by Alex the day before, and baking kept her from spending the day crying. She started a new sourdough loaf and spent the day in a haze of memory and home-brewed beer.
She’d been dumped a hundred times before, but each one was different. Some of the guys had been jerks, others hurt that she didn’t love them like they loved her. Alex said he loved her and cried. He was sorry. He didn’t mean to hurt her.
The next afternoon, she lifted the dishcloth that covered the jar of starter and gasped. “Speak” was spelled out in bubbles in the top of the starter.
"Um, hello. My name is Nicole. I’m currently unemployed, although, I do have a bachelor’s in medieval history.” She clutched the counter. “I like to bake bread, but, um, I don’t know if I like you. Are you even a he, or are you just a thing?”
“Thing?” The starter exhaled, its bubbles popping. “I’m a he. I’m Donut. I’ve been chained to a shelf in the back of your cupboard since the ‘70s. The last time I had a conversation was probably with your grandmother.”
Nicole concentrated on breathing. “You have a name?” Something was terribly wrong. She had to get to the front door. She stepped backward, reaching out with her hands to feel for the door.
“Of course.” Donut sounded indignant. Nicole shook her head and tried to remember what she’d read about sourdough. It had been ‘happening’ in the foodie community for awhile. A wild yeast bacteria lived in the starter and was passed along to each new baker. It gave the bread a distinct flavor and something like a personality.
“Donut, I don’t mean to be rude, but I think you’re not what you seem.”
“I have been trapped in a mason jar for the past four years. How much of a person could I be?”
“I mean, you’re not a thing. You’re alive. You’re a…” Nicole couldn’t bring herself to say it.
“I’m a person.”
“But you’re not human. You’re alive and sentient, but I don’t think that’s the same as being a person.”
“Haven’t you ever wanted to be human, Nicole? I’ve been trapped in a jar for the past 60 years. I’ve been waiting for you,” Donut said. “I’ve been looking forward to this day.”
Nicole shook her head. She wasn’t a person, she was a shell. Donut had punctured her illusions.
“I want to be human too,” she whispered.
“I know you do.” Donut sounded kinder, like he was speaking through honey. “I can help you.”
She took a shaky breath. “I don’t even know if I’d be human, the way you are.” Nicole grew dizzy. "How can you help me become a human?"
“You’re going to bake again. We’re going to make a human from scratch.”
"But I don't know the recipe!"
"Don't worry, I'll walk you through it. First, you have feed me flour and help me grow."
"You'll eat the flour?"
"Yes. I'll put on weight. Then I'll get a job. I'll get a house, a car, a girlfriend, a dog, a cat. I'll get a life. Meanwhile, you'll wait for me. I’ll come home to you every night, and we’ll be happy together. I promise."
"But you're a thing, not a person. And you're talking to me. I can't talk to things. I can't be with things. I want to be with people."
"I'm not a thing. I'm a living, breathing, sentient person. I want the same things you do—a home, love, a family. We can have that together. I can get you a job teaching medieval history."
Nicole felt the warmth of hope bubble up in her chest. "What about love? Can you help me with that?"
"Of course! I love you, Nicole. I've been waiting for you, and I love you."
"I love you, Donut." Nicole took a deep breath. "What do I need to do?"
"We need to bake some bread. I'll tell you how."
Nicole turned to the counter. She'd been ready to leave. She'd been ready to walk away from the whole thing, but she couldn't. She'd been waiting for Donut, too.
Working through the recipe was easy. Donut spoke to Nicole, telling her where to add the flour or water. When the dough was ready to rise, Donut told her how to make it into loaves and how long to let it rise.
Nicole rolled the dough in her hands, and he kissed her fingertips. "Be patient," he said. "We have to wait for the dough to rise."