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Authors: Kathryn Littlewood

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BOOK: Bite-Sized Magic
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“Shhh,” Ty whispered.

“Thanks to this law,” Eva continued, “our competition is out of business. Our agents—such as the Mostess Corporation—no longer have to compete with small bakeries for the taste buds of the American people.”

The crowd roared its approval.

“Correction,” Eva said tenderly, cutting them off. “
Almost
all of our competition is out of business. A
single
other thousand-plus employee bakery remains, and it is the only thing standing in the way of Mostess's—and our—total magical sovereignty over this nation. I am speaking, of course, of the insidious Kathy Keegan Corporation.”

A loud chorus of boos floated up from the audience as a cartoon drawing of Kathy Keegan popped up on the video screen. She was depicted as a spritely woman with red cheeks and short blonde hair. She held a piping-hot pie and wore a blue apron.

“No one knows what the real Ms. Keegan looks like,” said Eva, “but we know her products, don't we? They boast that Keegan Kakes are made using only natural ingredients, made by a network of smaller bakeries. Her customers are loyal, her cakes are wholesome.” The boos nearly drowned Eva out, but she silenced the room with a sharp rap of the rolling pin. “In other words, Kathy Keegan must be eliminated.”

“I thought Kathy Keegan was just another big industrial factory,” Rose whispered to her brothers. “I didn't know she employed small bakeries to make her stuff.”

Eva raised the Golden Rolling Pin. “Here to discuss the problem of Kathy Keegan and her devilish wholesomeness is our proud host, Mr. Jameson Butter.”

Mr. Butter took the podium, and Eva handed him the Golden Rolling Pin. The audience applauded.

“As you are aware, we have spent the past six months perfecting our five key recipes,” Mr. Butter said, adjusting his white silk handkerchief in the pocket of his impeccably starched black tuxedo jacket. “For all too brief a time, Mostess employed the talented and beautiful Lily Le Fay, one of the only masters of the dark recipes contained in the fabled Bliss Cookery Booke. Unfortunately, after her surprising loss at the Gala des Gâteaux Grands this year, she chose not to return to our employ.” He cleared his throat. “She disappeared and took with her the magical expertise we so desperately needed.

“But there was another baker at the Gala who caught our eye, one with a true understanding of the principles of kitchen magic. She was kind enough to come join us in our work. Thanks to her efforts, in three days, we will have achieved the impossible! Five perfectly addictive recipes! And thanks to the Big Bakery Discrimination Act, there will be no other baked goods on the market! Nothing and no one will be able to stop us!”

“Brava!”
shouted a man who looked suspiciously like a famous opera singer.

“No one, that is, except for Kathy Keegan.” Mr. Butter coughed, pushing his glasses further up the skinny bridge of his nose. “But we have a plan to take care of her, too. Kathy Keegan has already accepted an invitation to visit our factory in three days' time for a joint press conference. There we will each try the other's baked goods as an act of friendship . . . and our first customer for our perfected recipes will be none other than Kathy Keegan herself!”

The room twittered with confused murmurs.

“Once she has eaten these treats,” Mr. Butter explained, “she'll become a Mostess-obsessed zombie! And then we will take over her business and destroy it!”

The audience erupted into wild applause.

“Oh no!” Rose said to her brothers in a harsh whisper. “We have to warn Kathy Keegan!”

“I thought you said she wasn't real!” said Ty, whispering just as harshly. “And you told us you wouldn't do her commercial because the Kathy Keegan Corporation was run by a group of businessmen!”

“I guess I was wrong,” said Rose. “If she's real, we have to save her, or there'll be no one left to fight against Mostess.”

Mr. Butter handed the Golden Rolling Pin back to Eva Sarkissian, who smoothed the folds of her sequined gown.

“Now, Jameson has generously invited us all on a tour of this laboratory facility this evening, where he has recently acquired all of the magical ingredients used in Albatross's Apocrypha. If you'll all make your way up the ramp toward the top of the building, the tour will commence.”

Cheerful chatter filled the room as the crowd filed up the curving ramp, toward where Rose, Ty, and Sage were crouched on the second floor. Mr. Butter and Eva Sarkissian led the pack.

“We have to get out of here!” said Sage.

“Where?” Ty wheezed.

“The only way to go is up,” said Rose, leading her brothers farther up the spiral ramp.

They ran as fast as they could, until they finally reached the top floor, where the ramp opened up onto a short hallway with three doors. One was a bathroom, one was marked
LABORATORY: EMPLOYEES ONLY
, and the other had a sign that read
DONUT HOLES
.

“What do you think this is?” said Ty.

“It can't be what it says it is,” Rose said, placing her hand on the knob. “Who'd save donut holes?”

She wrenched open the door and was thrown back against the wall by a torrent of sweet, deep-fried balls of dough. If not for her hand holding tight to the knob, and Ty holding tight to her other hand, and Sage clutching Ty's leg, the three of them would have been swept away.

Thousands upon thousands of little balls of vanilla and chocolate and fruit-flavored dough came tumbling out from behind the door, an endless stream as high as the doorway and as wide. There were plain donut holes and glazed donut holes and holes that were bright with powdered sugar. They flooded out the open door and bumped down the ramp with a long, low rumble, like raging whitewater rapids.

“Hold on!” Rose cried as she felt Ty's grip loosening. His hand slid and he caught the strings of her apron.

After a good five minutes, the rush of donut holes had thinned to just an ankle-high trickle, and they were able to get back to their feet.

“I didn't expect so many,” said Rose. “And why would they just be piled behind a door?”

“Who cares why they're here,” Sage cried out. “They're here!”

He reached for a powdered donut hole and popped it into his mouth at the very same time that Rose said, “Sage, don't eat those!”

“Why can't he have one,
hermana
?” Ty asked.

“Because,” Rose said, “they're probably old. Years and years.”

“Hmm,” Sage said between chews. He licked his lips. “They taste like they were made yesterday!”

“The power of preservatives,” said Rose as Sage stuffed a couple dozen of the donut holes into the pockets of his khaki shorts.

“Sage!” Rose said, thinking of the tank of preservatives back in the test kitchen. “Stop! You don't want to eat those!”

“I'm starving,” said Sage, continuing to munch on the donut holes. “We haven't eaten a proper meal in days. You know what Mrs. Carlson's cooking is like!”

“Es la verdad, hermana,”
Ty said, shrugging. “That means, it's true, sister.”

By that time, the tsunami of donut holes had rolled down to where Mr. Butter, Eva Sarkissian, and the rest of the Society of the Rolling Pin were making their way up the ramp. They heard the donut holes before they spotted them—“What is that noise?” sang the opera singer—but by then it was too late. They were engulfed.

The crowd was too thick and the ramp was too narrow. The donut holes filled the space from wall to wall at chest height.
“Mama mia!”
sang the opera man, until he was overwhelmed by the flood. The Society members disappeared under the donut hole deluge, screaming and shouting as they were all pushed and rolled back down the ramp.

From the top floor, Rose, Ty, and Sage peeked down and watched as the raging river of guests and donut holes flooded out across the ground floor. “So embarrassing!” someone cried. “So delicious!” someone else shouted back, his mouth full.

“Come on,” Rose said, thinking again of her parents. “We have no time to lose.” She pulled her brothers through the door marked
LABORATORY: EMPLOYEES ONLY
. “We have to find those Capsules of Time before Mr. Butter finds us.”

CHAPTER 12
On the Wings of Squirrels

R
ose shoved Ty and Sage inside the dark laboratory, which fortunately was unlocked, then followed, bolting the door behind her. The only light in the room came from the dim glow of the various red buttons on the control board, and from an occasional crackle of lightning, visible through a skylight far overhead.

Rose could hear the incessant pounding of the rain on the roof and the humming of the control room. She could barely make out the imposing, deep-sea form of the octopus-like Mr. Mechanico, who appeared out of nowhere, his eyes glowing a dim red.

The robot floated toward Rose and her brothers. “Directrice Bliss,” he said. “Good evening.” He rippled all eight of his segmented arms, which clicked and clacked in sequence like rows of stainless steel dominoes.

“What
is
that thing?” Sage asked.

“I could say the same of you,” Mr. Mechanico replied. “I am Mr. Mechanico. I am in charge of Red Mason Jar Acquisition and Organization here at the Central Laboratory. And who might you two be?”

Sage cleared his throat and adopted a clipped, guttural German accent. “We are the German ambassadors to the International Society of the Rolling Pin, of course. I requested that Directrice Bliss give us a private tour of this laboratory.”

“Of course,” said Mr. Mechanico, his glowing eyes taking in Ty's spiked hair and Sage's cargo shorts. “I was confused because you are both dressed like low-level employees at a country club.” Mr. Mechanico turned to Rose. “Directrice Bliss—how may I help you this evening?”

Rose was on the verge of asking for “Capsules of Time,” when Mr. Mechanico said, “You are perfecting the Dinky Doodle Donuts, are you not?”

“That is correct,” Rose replied, thinking furiously. Mr. Mechanico knew way too much about the recipes she was working on; if Rose asked for the Capsules of Time straight out, he might suspect that she was concocting an antidote. Best to distract him.

“I have come up with a bold change to the recipe,” she told the robot.

“Yesssss?” he said in his monotone voice, floating lower. “Tell me which ingredient you require, and I will fetch it for you. As well as help you calculate the correct proportions for your recipes.”

“I need . . . ,” Rose said, thinking furiously. Where would she find a big enough distraction for the robot assistant? The dark room flashed electric blue from the crackle of the thunderstorm outside. “Lightning, Mr. Mechanico. I need lightning.”

“A bold choice, indeed.” The robot's red eyes seemed to glow even redder. “This will not be a problem. I can get you some fresh lightning right now.” He raised his eight arms and the tips glowed at the same time as an ear-splitting whistle sounded from a steel mesh speaker grill under his eyes. “Time to get to work!” he said.

Slots in the wall opened, and five other octopus-like robots drifted into the room and set to work. Surprised that Mr. Mechanico didn't question her further, Rose strolled over to the rows of red mason jars, her hands behind her back, reading the labels as quickly as possible.
BASILISK GAZE
.
HEART OF A COMET
.
INCHWORM OF LOVE
.
TOEJAM OF DESTRUCTION
.

Eew
,
Rose thought after reading the last one. Definitely
not
what she was looking for.

“You have such a big collection!” she called over her shoulder.

“The greatest in all the world.” Mr. Mechanico floated away to a control board, making a series of tiny clicks and clacks as he moved. It was packed with large, glowing labeled buttons. One read
ROCKET LAUNCH
.
DEFENESTRATION PORTAL
read a second.
ARMED RESET
and
COUNTDOWN
read a third and fourth. Around him, the other robots hovered just over the floor, as if held up by invisible strings.

“There are too many of them,
hermana
,” Ty whispered, grabbing her arm. “If they turn on us, we're—”

“Shhh!” Rose said, pulling herself free. “I've got a plan. Sort of.” She continued along the row of jars. Where were the Capsules of Time?

BLEAKEST TIME
, read another jar, in which sat a tiny little man as big as her fist, who appeared to be weeping into his hands.
SOARING SQUIRRELS
read the next jars, each of which held little balls of fur.
KRAKEN SCALES
seemed to be in the next, though all she could see was a massive clawed fist flexing again and again. It seemed to rise right through the bottom of the jar. Rose shivered and moved on.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mechanico pressed a fifth button on the control panel, this one marked
ELECTRICITY HARVEST
. Rose stopped in her tracks as the room filled with a screeching noise: Thirteen long metal rods telescoped down into the room from a ring around the skylight, just as thirteen antennae extended from the roof into the thundering sky.

Mr. Mechanico and the other five octopus robots gathered red mason jars—two to each robot, except for Mr. Mechanico, who held three. They floated into a loose circle around the convergence of the thirteen antennae and raised the open mouths of the jars. “This may take some time,” he said.

“This is, um, very kind of you,” said Rose. Ty shot her a glance, as if to say,
What does lightning have to do with Capsules of Time?

“It is no problem whatsoever,” said Mr. Mechanico. “We happened to be running low on lightning.”

“Whoa!” Ty said, stepping back and pointing a finger at Rose. “Your hair! It's standing straight up!”

“It is?” Rose said. Ty's hair looked perfectly normal—then again, Ty's hair always stood straight up. But as Rose checked her reflection in the darkened skylight, she saw that her hair was standing straight on end, like the fluff surrounding a dandelion.
Weird
.

Sage was poking around a set of metal file cabinets in the perimeter of the room. He'd pulled out a pair of firm white gloves dotted with patches of metal at the joints. The gloves stretched to encompass the wearer's entire forearm, and the word
MASTER
was emblazoned across the arm in bold black letters.

“What's this?” he said, then reached to shut the drawer—when suddenly there was a bright spark of light. “Ow!” Sage tumbled backward. “That file cabinet shocked me!”

“It is just a little static electricity,” said Mr. Mechanico. “Nothing to worry about, Ambassador. It always happens when we do a lightning harvest.”

“Erm, yes.” Sage patted his own chest. “Ambassador. That is me.” He gave a throaty laugh, tucked the gloves into a pocket, then dragged his feet as he walked toward his siblings. He gleefully reached toward Rose and put his finger an inch away from her arm. A bright-blue ribbon of electricity arced from Sage's finger to Rose's shoulder.

“Ow!” she cried, backing away. “Cut that out!”

“Lighten up,
hermana
. I mean,
Schwester
,” said Ty, remembering to stay as German as possible. “It's just static electricity.”

Sage rubbed his feet on the blue industrial carpet, then aimed his electric finger in Ty's direction. A tiny bolt of lightning zapped from his finger and landed inside the forest of Ty's spiked hair.

“Ow!” Ty cried, falling to the ground. “Watch the hair!”

Sage cackled like a young wizard, rubbed his feet again, and aimed his electrified finger in the direction of Mr. Mechanico and the other mechanical octopi. Mr. Mechanico saw what was happening just as the bolt of light arced from Sage's finger.

“No!” Mr. Mechanico said sternly. “Not while we're gathering the lightning. It generates a dangerous level of electricity—”

But it was too late.

The ribbon of blue electricity crackled from Sage's finger to the circle of robots, enwrapping Mr. Mechanico like a bright-blue net, then leaping off in a series of arcs to each of the other five.

“Stop!” Mr. Mechanico cried, his voice getting higher and higher. “Stop! Stop! Stop! Stop!” until it was just a tiny squeak.

The six robots fell gently backward, still holding the red mason jars, and landed on the floor in a pile of twisted, smoking metal. They let out a loud, collective hiss—like a teapot just taken off the stove.

“Sage!” Rose cried. “You broke the robots!”

“Whoops. I guess I did. But wait!” he gasped. “Not necessarily!”

Sage dug the strange white gloves out of his pocket. “Maybe
these
control the robots!”

He slipped one of the gloves over his arms and moved his hands slowly in an upward motion, as if he were a conductor preparing for the downbeat of a symphony. “Rise from the dead!” he intoned in a creepy voice. “Rise up, my robotic army!”

Sage moved his arms in wild circles, but the robots just continued to smoke and crackle, frayed wires exploding from their tentacles like bones from a broken arm.

“Doesn't seem to be working, bro,” Ty said.

“So they don't do anything at all,” Sage said. He peeled off the gloves, wadded them into a ball, and stuffed them into the side pocket of his shorts.

Suddenly, there came an urgent knock from the other side of the door. “Mr. Mechanico?” shouted a voice. Rose recognized the Southern drawl as that of Mr. Butter. “Did you let open the donut hole portal?”

Rose and her brothers froze, staring at the bolted laboratory door.

Mr. Butter pounded harder. “Mr. Mechanico!” he insisted. “Why did you lock this door? You know you're not supposed to do that!”

“We have to get out of here,” whispered Rose.

“But we didn't find any Capsules of Time!” Ty said, panicked. “Isn't that why we came here?”

“Yes, but it's too late,” said Rose. “We have to leave.
Now
.”

“How?” asked Sage. “The only way out is the door. The one that Mr. Butter is pounding on.”

“Not the
only
way,” said Rose with a determined grimace.

She pushed the button on the main control board labeled
DEFENESTRATION PORTAL
, and, as she'd hoped, the large panoramic window that spanned the front of the room, like the dashboard of a starship, parted down the middle. A cold, wet wind blew into the room, chasing away the stink of electricity from the burned-out robots.

Rose handed each of her brothers a red mason jar that held what looked like a chipmunk.

“What are these?” said Sage.

“Soaring Squirrels,” Rose answered, gingerly scooping her own Soaring Squirrel from the jar and heading toward the window.

“Wait,
hermana
,” said Ty. “You want us to jump out that window and fly on the wings of this little rodent? It's the size of a deck of playing cards! Flying squirrels don't meet FAA regulations, last time I checked. They're not
licensed
,” he added, patting the pocket with his driver's license.

“They're not
flying
squirrels,” said Rose, “they're
soaring
squirrels. There's a big difference. I think you'll find that the wingspan of these little guys is bigger than you'd guess.”

Mr. Butter rammed into the door, possibly with his shoulder. “Mr. Mechanico!” he screamed. “What on earth is going on?”

“There's no time,” said Rose, brushing her hair out of her eyes. “You guys have to trust me. Mom told me about this one time when she and Dad were in the Amazon, and they had to climb a tree to escape an anaconda, and they hitched a ride with some Soaring Squirrels. I have to admit I always thought they'd be a little bigger, but it doesn't matter. Right now they're our only option.”

“Okay,
hermana
,” Ty said. “Whatever you say.”

Sage nodded in agreement.

The three of them swung their legs over the ledge and sat on it. Rose's heart pounded as she contemplated the danger of leaping out the window of a six-story building holding nothing but a tiny ball of fur. She couldn't even see the ground, it was so far away. As the rain soaked her hair and pelted her face, she began to wonder whether this actually
was
a good plan after all. She wasn't going to get them all killed—was she?

“How do we use these things?” Sage asked, holding his squirrel so tightly that only its tiny alarmed head was visible. It chirruped. “Where do we hold on?”

“I don't know,” Rose said. She opened her hands and the squirrel stretched itself like a person awakening from a long nap. Around its neck was a thick ruffle of loose fur. Rose tugged at it and the squirrel didn't seem to mind at all. She dug her fingers into the fur and it chirruped and seemed to nod. “The neck ruffle,” she said.

Suddenly, the tiny Soaring Squirrel unfurled its forelegs. They seemed to go on and on, and with a loud
fwap
they unfurled into a pair of giant wings—as white and as wide as the sail of a pirate ship. The squirrel took to the air, Rose astride its tiny back, her knees snug against the base of the wings. Rain lashed her face, but she didn't mind, because she was flying.

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