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Authors: Kathryn Littlewood

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“Eyes on the prize,
hermana
,” said Ty. “Let's pump these bakers full of Mother Love before they tear down the building.”

 

The recipe called for a batch of the same chocolate batter they'd used for the King Things of Revulsion, but when it came time to add the Object of Revulsion, Rose instead added a heaping scoop of the creamy pink Mother's Love from one of the red mason jars. Instantly, the batter smelled like roses and clean laundry and hot muffins just out of the oven.

“I have a good feeling about this,” Rose said, inhaling the comforting smells of home.

“I miss Leigh,” Sage said, tears in his eyes.

“I miss my hair gel,” Ty said, his voice thick, touching his drooping spikes.

“Come on, guys,” Rose said. “Let's get this done.”

They baked the King Things at a heat of six flames for the time of seven songs, and for the first time since arriving at the Mostess Corporation headquarters, Rose and her brothers actually sang the seven songs—Sage insisting on singing “My Way,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” and five other Frank Sinatra songs, all the while performing the Gangnam Style dance. “
This
is how you dance, bakers!” he cried.

When the hot chocolate logs were finished and had cooled for a few minutes, Rose and Ty and Sage untied the napkins from the faces of the bakers.

Marge screamed in a rage. “That nasty cat tied me up! That rotten Keegany cat!”

Rose shoved the warm King Thing in her mouth. “Here, have some dessert.” Ty and Sage did the same for the other bakers.

As Marge chewed on the log of chocolate cake, her brown eyes softened and her eyebrows lifted to the heavens. Her chin wrinkled and quivered. “I can't believe it!”

“What?” Rose asked.

“Angels in my stomach!” she gushed. “I feel like someone just wrapped my heart in a warm towel! I feel as if my limbs are made of love and porridge, and my brain is a nest in which only the most beautiful doves make their tender home!”

“Just a minute ago,” said Rose, “you wanted to murder Kathy Keegan.”

“Bite your tongue, Rosemary Bliss!” Marge snapped.

Laughing, Rose untied the twine that bound Marge's feet and ankles.

“How could I ever say anything unkind about Kathy Keegan?” Marge said in disbelief. “Why, she is one of the finest women in the world!”

“How do you know?” Rose said. “I thought she was just a cartoon.”

“How dare anyone speak ill of Kathy Keegan, Kitchen Goddess!” said Gene, undoing the last of the twine from his wrists.

“It's scandalous!” cried Melanie and Felanie, shaking their matching blonde bobs. “She is a paragon!”

“Keegan lets people
think
she's just a figurehead because she is too modest to appear in public,” said Marge. “But I know the truth. My mother's best friend's cousin was her personal assistant. I know the whole deal.”

“And what
is
the whole deal?” Rose asked, settling down on a stool next to the prep table, as her brothers untied the rest of the bakers, most of whom were now openly weeping and wishing for home, for their mothers' embrace, and a nice warm blanket by the fire.

Marge marched around behind the prep table. “The Keegan family lives in the same small town where they have operated their bakery for generations. It was the late 1930s, the height of the Great Depression, and times were difficult for most bakeries—but not for the Keegans. The demand for Keegan Koko Kakes was so large that they had no choice but to expand.

“The Keegans would never sacrifice quality by stuffing something with preservatives and shrink-wrapping it in plastic,” Marge said. “So they gave their recipes to hundreds of local bakeries across the country that were struggling to stay open. The bakeries got to use the Keegan name and their perfect recipes, and thanks to the business were able to survive and flourish.”

“Kathy Keegan has been alive since the 1920s?” Sage asked. “That would make her really old. She looks so much younger in the cartoon.”

Marge laughed. “No, no! The
Kathy
is actually a title given to the most talented baker in every generation of the Keegan family. Sometimes it's a man, which is sort of weird, to be honest. But the current holder of the title is a woman.
The Kathy
.”

“Sort of like the Dalai Lama?” Ty asked.

“Yes,” Marge replied, “only with hair and a sweet tooth.”

“So Kathy Keegan is just a regular woman who loves to bake?” Rose asked. “She's not a fake cartoon owned by a corporation?”

“She doesn't just
love to bake
,” said Marge, fanning herself with her hands. She was clearly getting excited. “She
is
baking. It is in her blood. I met her once. She was on the shorter side, like me, with strong hands. She accidentally touched me here, on my arm. I never washed it.” Marge lifted her sleeve and pointed to a black smudge the size of a fingerprint.

“I though that was a birthmark,” Rose said.

“Nope,” Marge answered. “It's soot from a pan of cookies I'd burned because my oven was broken. Kathy opened it up and helped me fix it. That's just the sort of person she is. She has brown hair, too—not blonde like in all of the cartoon pictures.”

There was a moment of silence while everyone thought about the sort of person who not only bakes but fixes ovens, too.

“We've got to protect her,” Sage said.

“Mark my words,” Marge said, raising a thick finger. “If Kathy Keegan comes here and eats the perfected Mostess cakes, bakers everywhere will lose a national treasure.” She paused.
“A treasure.”

“Don't worry, Marge,” said Ty, standing with his fists on his hips like a superhero. “That's not gonna happen. The Blisses are on the job.”

Marge looked at Rose and raised one of her eyebrows. “That's supposed to reassure me, right?”

CHAPTER 15
A Dinky Bit of All-Consuming Greed

“O
kay,” said Ty, rubbing his hands together. It was early afternoon, and they had only a few hours left for the final recipe. “What have we got?”

“The final FLCP is the one that started it all: the Dinky itself,” Marge said, pulling a tray of Dinky Cakes from the fridge.

The Dinkies looked just like the ones Rose had seen in the glass dome in the room above the production factory: two disks of a chocolate cookie-like substance, with a layer of white frosting in the center. “When we baked these with the former Directrice, they made us all fall to the floor. We couldn't stop kicking; it's like our legs weren't under our control. It was bad, but it didn't seem like the right kind of bad.”

“Let's see the magical ingredient that witchy witch used,” said Sage.

Marge dug through a pantry closet and produced a red mason jar with a knotted old piece of wood inside. “She brought it here herself,” Marge said. “Made us be very careful with it. Said it was very old and delicate.”

Rose peered into the jar. The knotted piece of wood looked as black as a chunk of coal. And it almost seemed like it was moving. The longer Rose stared at it, the more the wood seemed to pulse as if it had a heartbeat. As if it were
alive
.

“It looks like it's from a tree,” said Sage. “An evil tree.”

Ty nodded. “Let me see if there's anything in the Apocrypha about bark or twigs or wood.”

With her brothers looking over her shoulders, Rose flipped through the Apocrypha until, on the final page, she spotted something. “It's not wood,” she said. “It's some kind of ginger root.”

 

IN THE BEGINNING: THE THRUMPIN'S CURSE

 

It was in 1699 in the ancient Scottish town of Tyree, where the brothers Filbert and Albatross, from the long line of magical bakers called Bliss, did, while playing in the forest, meet a Thrumpin. This was the most rare and dangerous of the forest creatures, for he was a spirit of death. He did greet the boys, who both had flaming red hair, by saying, “Here is a ginger root, for ginger brothers.” He did hand the boys a bit of gnarled ginger root and say to them, “Whatever you do, do
not
grate this into a batch of gingerbread.”

 

Filbert did awake in the middle of the night one week hence to find Albatross in the kitchen, grating a bit of the gnarled root into a bowl of gingerbread batter. “The Thrumpin said not to!” cried Filbert, and he grabbed the root and hid it in a place where Albatross could never go, which was at the bottom of the pond, because Albatross was afraid of water. As of this writing, the root has ne'er been recovered from the lake, and the Thrumpin's warning still stands.

 

It is said that Albatross did eat of the gingerbread, but he never spoke of its effects, and they remain unknown to this day.

 

“Looks like pairs of redheaded brothers run in the family,” Sage said, puffing out his chest like a proud red robin.

“That's not even a recipe!” Ty complained.

“Weird,” Rose said, scratching her temple. “Ty is right—it's
not
actually a recipe. It's more like a warning. But clearly this Thrumpin thing is dangerous.”

“What does this have to do with the Dinky, though?” Ty asked. “It's chocolate. Not ginger.”

“You're right,” Rose said, shrugging. “I'm not sure.”

“Should we use the recipe anyway?” Sage asked tentatively.

“Maybe,” Rose said. “But we don't know what it does. If Mom and Dad were here, they might know . . . but I—I don't have any idea.” She stopped, feeling deflated.

But then a thought came to her: Maybe she could just substitute the all-purpose Follow Your Bliss Bakery chocolate-gingerbread recipe for the chocolate cookies in the Dinky. As for the Thrumpin ingredient, she didn't like that she didn't know what it would do, but she didn't feel like she had another choice.

Rose turned to the bakers. “You said that when Lily used this ginger root, it made you guys roll on the floor kicking your feet?”

“Yes,” Gene answered, “but she didn't use a lot. She seemed nervous. She just sprinkled a pinch in.”

Rose winced. “This could be bad. Like, really bad. This might be the thing that turned Albatross into a bad seed in the first place!”

“Nothing could penetrate the good vibes I have going right now,” said Marge. “Certainly, not some gnarly dried-up old root. That Mother's Love has really got me riding high.” She threw up her arms and shimmied. “Come on, Rosemary Bliss! We can do this!”

Gene led the bakers in whipping up the white frosting for the filling, while Rose opened the mason jar that held the Thrumpin's root.

As soon as she unscrewed the lid, a foul smell filled the entire room—it smelled like a mixture of gingerbread and rotten eggs. Rose immediately pinched her nostrils closed with her fingers.

“Gross,
hermana
,” said Ty, doubling over.

Rose unpinched her nose and breathed through her mouth instead, sticking her hand inside the jar and pulling out the knotted wood. It jumped in her hand.

“Quick,” she said to her brothers, tossing it onto one of the prep tables. “Grate a bit of it before it . . . well, before it does whatever it does.”

Their eyes watering, Ty and Sage grated the entire Thrumpin's forbidden ginger root into a pile of fine ginger dust. The smell grew worse and worse until everyone had to pinch their nostrils shut while they were working.

Marge and Rose prepared two batches of chocolate-gingerbread batter: lobbing industrial-sized bricks of butter, ten-pound bags of sugar, five cases of eggs, enough flour and cocoa powder to fill a sandbox, and a soda-bottle-sized jar of vanilla into the two enormous stainless steel mixing vats.

It had only been four days that they'd worked together, but Rose and the Development Kitchen Bakers were a perfect team now. Gone were the frightened smiles they'd once worn for Mr. Butter's benefit. Gone, too, was the maniacal neatness. They were messier now, but they were also more efficient bakers. They knew what to do and didn't get in one another's way. They were relaxed and focused on their work and . . . Rose felt herself grin.

“What is it?” Marge asked, pausing with a rubber spatula in her hand.

“I just—it's just—everyone looks sort of happy.” Rose shrugged.

“Of course they are!” Marge said. “And it's thanks to you. All any of us ever wanted was to be able to do what we love and to do it well. You're the first person to let us be who we want to be.”

To do what you love and to do it well
—that was all Rose had ever wanted, too.
It was why she'd fallen in love with baking in the first place—creating goodies that made people in Calamity Falls happy made
Rose
happy.

As the vats churned and lurched like cement mixers, Rose noticed fat tears streaming down Marge's cheeks.

“Oh, Marge! What's wrong?” Rose asked.

“It's what's
right
, Rose,” said Marge. “After eating those King Things with the Mother's Love, I feel light as a feather. Finally, something's clicked in my head. At first, I thought it was a filling cracking in one of my molars. But then I realized that it was a
mental
click.”

“And what was the mental click?” Rose asked.

“I don't want to be here,” Marge said. “Not at all. This place, this job? It is not my dream. I
like
baking and all. I have nothing against baking, and you're wonderful at it—but working here is more like being a factory worker than a baker.”

Rose smiled—it was true: the Mostess factory wasn't exactly her idea of a perfect kitchen.

“But even that is beside the point,” Marge continued. “The point is that my heart belongs, now and always, to the sky.” She looked up at the ceiling and frowned.

“The sky, Marge?” asked Rose.

“I should have followed my girlhood dream of becoming a hot-air-balloon operator. Sailing over the trees. Taking people out on their honeymoons. Sucking in the pure air of the mountain skies. That's where I belong, Rose. Up there. Not down here.”

Marge sat down next to one of the vats of chocolate batter and cradled her chin in her hands. Her baker's hat fell to the ground with a soft plop.

“Well, why didn't you try to become . . . a hot-air balloonist?” Rose asked, crouching down next to Marge.

“Because I'm not built for it,” Marge said. “I'm a round gal. Always have been. When I was young, my parents put me on a diet of string beans and boiled turkey. Didn't lose a pound. I told them I wanted to be a hot-air-balloon operator. They laughed and said that the people in the balloon with me would probably never leave the ground. I was six years old, but I got the hint. Started working here as soon as I finished high school. I figured I'd fit in around cake, 'cause it looks like I eat a lot of it.” Marge paused, her lips quivering. “I don't even like cake that much,” she said.

“Why don't you quit and go become a balloon operator now?” Rose said.

“Nah, I could never quit! I'm too old and too afraid of Mr. Butter,” said Marge. “He told me I belong here.” She sighed deeply. “And he's probably right.”

“I think you belong wherever you want to be, Marge,” Rose said, kissing the baker on the cheek.

“You know what, Rose?” Marge said, patting Rose on the back so vigorously that it nearly knocked her to her knees. “You're a friend. You're a good person. And I'm proud to know you.”

“Thank you, Marge.” Rose considered what these past few days would have been like without Marge—then pushed that thought out of her mind because it was too awful to imagine. “I'm proud to know you, too.”

Marge cleared her throat and wiped her face with her sleeve. “All right. Good talk. Now boys, time's a-wasting, and we've barely an hour and a half to finish this recipe. Can we get that ginger root over here?”

Ty and Sage traipsed over to the chocolate vats carrying a measuring cup full of something that looked exactly like sawdust.

“I wonder how much we should put in?” Rose asked. “It should be more than a pinch, since that's what Lily used, and it didn't really work.”

“I say we go all in.
Todo el jengibre,
” said Ty. “That means,
all the ginger
.”

Before Rose could protest, Sage had dumped the entire cup of ginger sawdust into one of the vats of chocolate. The ground root disappeared in a swirl of beige as the vat continued to churn.

“I guess we used more than a pinch,” said Rose. She only hoped that this was the difference that explained why Lily's recipe didn't work.

 

A half dozen songs and some cooling time later, the first batch of Dinkies was ready to be frosted. Ty and Rose spread white cream over six of the cookies and placed six more cookies on top.

“I guess it's now or never,” said Rose. She pictured the six bakers erupting into flames or turning into dust or just plain keeling over and dying.

“Wait!” cried Sage. “Maybe they shouldn't
all
eat it. 'Cause we don't know what it does.”

“Yeah,” said Ty. “Maybe only one or two of you should eat it.”

“Count me out,” said Marge. “I never liked ginger.” Her stomach churned audibly. “Also, I'm terrified.”

“We'll do it,” said Gene, stepping forward and pulling Ning with him.

“We will?” Ning gasped, throwing his hand over his mouth in fear.

“Yes,” said Gene, pounding Ning on the back. “Of course we will. We're bakers, right? Let's act like it.”

And before Ning could protest, Gene stuffed a piece of the nefarious Thrumpin's chocolate-gingerbread Dinkies into Ning's mouth, and then another into his own.

The two men stood still a moment, chewing the cake. Rose, Ty, Sage, and the other bakers looked on, dumbfounded. Rose couldn't hear a sound in the room except for the heavy beating of her own heart.

Then just as Gene proclaimed, “I feel fine!” he buckled to his knees and began to writhe on the ground in a frenzy. A moment later, Ning did the same. Neither one let out a word, but their eyes were open, their faces contorted in a grimace. Suddenly, their right arms flew up into the sky and began to shake. Then their
left
arms flew up in the air, like they were doing some strange sort of dance.

And then they toppled to the floor and began to shimmy around like snakes.

“What's wrong?” Rose cried, running to where the two bakers lay knotted in agony.

Gene and Ning went limp.

“Help!” Melanie cried out. “They're like wet spaghetti!”

Rose fell to her knees and shook the fallen bakers. This is why her parents should have helped her, she thought. None of this would have happened if she'd brought her parents back.

BOOK: Bite-Sized Magic
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