Authors: Kathryn Littlewood
Rose gave a trembling sigh. She just wanted to go home. She missed her sister and her parents, Balthazar and Chipâshe even missed her brothers! “I wish I'd never made that wish,” she muttered. “To stop baking. Then none of this would have happened.”
“This isn't happening to you because of a little wish,” the cat said, “so don't go beating yourself up over it. Just get a good night's sleep. That's a cat's solution to everything, you know: sleep. The right thing to do is always obvious in the morning. Oh, and by the wayâhad you considered sharing your milk?”
Rose stared at the half-empty glass. “I'm sorry, Gus. How rude of me.” She tipped the glass over on the floor and let Gus lap up the rest of it with his tongue.
“Oh no,” Rose moaned, staring at her clothes. “I don't have any pajamas.”
“Neither do I,” Gus said, looking up at her. “But you don't see me complaining about it!”
Rose rolled her eyes and went to the dresser and tugged open the drawers. They were stuffed with white linen pants in all sizes, white chef's coats, white chef's hats, and boy's underwear.
“Seriously?” she said, holding up an unopened package of briefs. “I have to wear
Gus did his best to twist his head around so that he could clean his back. “Ugh! Out, out, spot! I've been cleaning since we got here, and there is
flour stuck in my fur.”
Rose sat down again on the bed, right next to Gus. The two of them huddled against each other, and Rose thought about what her family would be doing right about now if she'd been at home.
Leigh would have been pulled out of her filthy pants and T-shirt and been loudly unhappy until she was zipped up into her pajamas. Sage would be using the head of Rose's desk lamp to create a spotlight, and then performing in its beam, telling the jokes he'd written and then raising his hands to quiet the nonexistent audience. Ty would be making plans for what he called “the Grand Finale”âthe stunts he hoped to pull off during the last week of school. And her parents .Â .Â .
It was too much. Rose blinked back tears. She knew her family wouldn't be doing any of these things. They'd all be awake, so worried about Rose they'd be unable to eat dinner, let alone sleep. She had to find a way to contact them.
Through the curtains, Rose gazed down at the shadowy appliances looming in the test kitchen and looked in vain for something she could use to get help.
“Something is seriously wrong with this place,” she said.
“I'll say,” Gus replied. “Linoleum flooring with stainless steel prep tables? Dreadful.”
“Besides that,” Rose said, scratching beneath Gus's chin so that he purred and closed his eyes. “Those bakers are terrified of that Mr. Butter. And the things they make here: Food-
Consumer Products? A baked good is natural, wholesome. It's food. Not a consumer product that's
“To say nothing of the fact that they kidnapped us,” Gus reminded her.
“I don't want to fix their stupid FLCPs,” Rose said. “We need to escape. Maybe if we find the button for that elevator, we could get down to the ground floor.”
“And then what?” said Gus. “I suppose you intend to climb that barbed-wire fence in the distance?” Rose fell silent as the cat opened his eyes and resumed cleaning his back. “Would you mind turning on that lamp, Rose? I can't see what I'm doing over here.”
“I thought cats could see in the dark!” Rose exclaimed.
“That's just something we say to impress people. My night vision is actually just as poor as yours,” Gus admitted.
Rose switched on the lamp, then peered out the window. It was now pitch-dark outside.
“My parents must be flipping out right now,” Rose said. “They probably think I'm dead.” She rolled over and buried her head in the pillow. Gus stopped his cleaning and sat on her head, which was his way of saying that he didn't know what to say.
Then, after a moment, he leaped across the room and landed on the dresser.
“The Caterwaul!” he exclaimed.
“What?” Rose asked, rolling over.
Gus sat back on his hind legs and clapped his front paws together. “I can't believe I forgot about the Caterwaul! It won't get you out of here, but it will get word to your family that you are safe. Trapped, but safe. So they won't worry.”
“Good!” Rose said, feeling relief wash over her. “But what
“The Caterwaul is a network,” Gus explained. “At some point in our feline history, all the breeds came together and decided that while we each may privately feel that our own breed is the bestâwhich is silly, given that the Scottish Fold is objectively the superior breedâin times of crisis we ought to unite for the common good. Long before Facebook, we formed the world's first social network. And we named it the Caterwaul.
“If I tell any cat a message,” Gus continued, “he will carry it to another cat, and the message will be passed from cat to cat until eventually it falls on the correct ears. It takes a little while to get information back and forth, but it works.”
Rose feared that Gus might be making this up just to soothe her, but soothe her it did. “I thought you were the only cat who can talk,” she said suspiciously.
“The narrowness of your perspective is endearing. Most cats do not speak
, as I do,” said Gus. “But all cats speak
. You can't hear it, but it is being spoken.”
Rose was too happy learning about the Caterwaul to feel embarrassed. If she couldn't get out of this dreadful prison of a factory, at least her family would know she was safe. “How will you get word to other cats?” she asked. “Where are you going to find one in this place?”
“I shall have to leave this place, obviously.”
“But how are you going to get out of here?”
Gus hopped onto the window ledge and looked down. Then he moved over to the glass wall that overlooked the test kitchen. “Down there!” he said. “Do you see that hose?”
Rose peered out onto the darkened floor of the test kitchen and saw that there was, indeed, a floppy white fire hose coiled on one side of the wall.
“You want me to dangle the hose out the window, and you'll climb down it?” she asked.
“No!” Gus exclaimed. “I'm not climbing down a hose! I'd break a claw. You are going to tie the hose to the strap of your backpack, and gently lower the backpack to the ground with me in it!”
A short time after Gus laid out the plan, Rose found herself peering over the ledge of the tiny window, watching him hop out of the backpack and slink off into the darkness, his tail held high.
She wished he hadn't left. Gus usually slept with her little sister, Leigh, but his nighttime purring was so loud and guttural that Rose could always hear it across the room like the calm lapping of the nighttime ocean. There was no need for a white noise machine with Gus in the house.
Maybe I should try to climb down the hose
, Rose thought.
But the building she was in was awfully tall, and the entrance to the compound was far away. Which way should she go once she got outâ
she got out? She didn't even know where the compound was located. Was home to the south? The west? All she had to do to win her freedom was to perfect a few recipes. How hard could that be? Maybe she could even make it happen in less than five days.
Rose pulled the hose up through the window, brought it back down to the dark kitchen, and threaded it back around its hook, praying that none of the bakers would wake.
Her stomach grumbled. She was in a kitchen, wasn't she? There must be
thing here to fill her belly. But a quick search turned up only the ingredients for sweet treats, and she didn't want dessert for dinner. She was briefly tempted when, in one corner of the dimly lit kitchen, she came upon a pyramid of individually wrapped Dinky Cakes. There must have been a hundred in the pile.
But the more she looked at how identically flawless they were, the more she realized she didn't want to eat one. There was something deeply eerie about such machine-made perfection, something that made Rose think of Mr. Butter and shiver with disgust.
She climbed back up to her room, crawled into bed, and went to sleep hungry.
ose was awakened the following morning by an unpleasant greenish-yellow light that filtered through the glass walls of the bedroom.
She stumbled out of bed. “Wake up, Gus,” she said automatically. Rising up from below was a sound of banging metalâthe bakers bustling around the kitchen and frantically scrubbing all of the metal surfaces, which, if she wasn't mistaken, were still sparkling clean from the night before.
Gus didn't answer. And then she remembered: He'd gone out to pass a message along to the Caterwaul. She sneaked a look out the window, but there was no sign of the gray Scottish Fold on the asphalt below. He hadn't yet returned.
Somehow, Gus's absence made Rose feel all the more sad and alone.
She turned her attention to the kitchen. Peering through one of the glass walls of her room, Rose saw Melanie, Felanie, and Gene scrubbing the basin of an enormous deep fryer, one big enough for three adults to swim in comfortably. Jasmine and Ning were wiping down the fronts of the ovens.
“Whistle while you work!” commanded Marge, smiling broadly as she darted back and forth between them.
And on cue, all of the bakers began to whistle cheerful tunes. Periodically they'd stop and clap in unison, and then they'd take up the song once more. Rose looked from face to face, and all of them wore an identical wide smile: teeth slightly parted, lips stretched. Why would people who were living in a factory be smiling so hard?
Rose selected the smallest chef's coat and the smallest chef's pants. Since the pants were so large, she wore her own shorts underneath them as a secret reminder of home.
She felt weirdâlike a child playing dress-up, instead of a proper Food-Like Consumer Product Director. Still, she had never actually worn a chef's toque before, and she felt the puffy white cap endowed her with a certain power, almost like a wizard's hat.
Rose stepped delicately down the spiral steel staircase, careful not to trip over the cuffs of her pants, which were too long.
“Ahhhhh!” Marge cried. “The Director is coming! Ready yourselves!”
Melanie and Felanie ran to meet Rose at the bottom of the staircase, and with a bow and extended arms, led her to a prep table. It was an enormous, empty stainless steel expanse, as big as a church door. Ning and Jasmine brought her a tray with coffee, a copy of the
Wall Street Journal
, and a scone with butter and jam.
Rose was about to take a bite when she realized the six bakers were staring at her, the same smiles plastered on their faces.
“You don't have to smile for my benefit,” said Rose.
Instantaneously, the bakers dropped their smiles into identical grim frowns.
“You don't have to frown, either,” Rose said.
Some of the bakers went back to smiling, others smiled and then frowned, but all of them looked confused.
“You guys!” Rose said, exasperated. “Smile if you want to! Or frown if you want to! Or don't have any expression at all. It doesn't matter to me. Honest.”
The bakers looked at one another and relaxed. A few smiled easily, and the one named Ning wagged his eyebrows. For once, their faces looked normal, like the faces of regular people.
“That's better,” Rose said. She bit into the scone and wincedâit was so dry that it sucked all the moisture from her mouth. She grabbed the mug of coffee and took a big sip, then made herself swallow. So much for breakfast. “I'm twelve. You should be giving me milk. Or juice. Not coffee.”
“Oh!” said the curly-haired one named Gene. “My bad.” He frowned again.
“It's okay,” Rose said, pushing the plate away. “We should get to work, anyway. Marge, what are we supposed to do first?”
“Here,” said Marge, handing Rose a colorful box labeled
with the signature Mostess cow grinning in the corner. “This is the first FLCP on our list: Moony Pyes. Sales have gone down over the years, so we've been tinkering with a new recipe, but it's unfinished. This is what we have so far, left to us from the former directrice.”
The description on the side of the box read,
MOONY PYE! A MARSHMALLOW AND SUGAR COOKIE SANDWICH, COVERED IN DELICIOUS CHOCOLATY FROSTING!
The top of the box had a moon-shaped cutout in the cardboard, which was sealed with cellophane. Rose opened the box and pulled out the Moony Pye. Immediately, flakes of chocolate frosting coated her fingers.
She held the Moony Pye in both hands and dove in.
It tasted like .Â .Â . wax. Like a waxy reminder of what chocolate was supposed to taste like. And under that taste? Stale sugar cookies. Then her teeth and tongue reached the marshmallow center, which tasted like .Â .Â . clay.
She spat the mouthful of Moony Pye into the garbage and wiped her tongue with her hand.
“Ugh!” she exclaimed. “I'm sorry, but that is
And yet, as she wiped the last bits of chocolate coating from her lips, she found herself craving another bite. There was something about that Moony Pye that made Rose want to dive in for more. “Weird,” she said. “It was awful, but I still kind of want to eat it.”
“I love them,” Marge said gravely, that creepy smile returning to her face. “But I could love them even more. That's where you come in, Rose. It is for
to make them
.” At the word “better,” she clasped her hands together.
“Better?” Rose said, flabbergasted. How was she supposed to make this
better when it wasn't even good to start with?
“Our previous director of the FLCP Development Kitchen,” said Marge, “she liked to be called the
âwas in the middle of tweaking the recipe. But tragically, she never finished!” Marge took a rubber-banded stack of recipe cards from her pocket and handed the top one to Rose. A recipe had been handwritten on it in a beautiful cursive using a rich purple ink. “This is as much as she was able to do.”
In the corner of the card was an embossed picture of a rolling pin, with beams of light radiating out from the center. It looked familiar, but Rose couldn't think where she'd seen that radiant rolling pin before.
But the handwriting she recognized immediately: Lily. As she suspected, the “Directrice” and her wicked aunt were one and the same.
The recipe on the card was divided into three sections.
1. Sugar Cookies
cups flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 cup butter, 1
cups white sugar, 2 eggs, 1 tsp vanilla. Bake at 375 for 8â10 min.
Nothing special there,
Rose thought. Nothing unusual, either. Nothing that would cause the Moony Pye to taste so
Dark Chocolate Icing
lbs of semisweet chocolate with 2 cups milk and 1 cup paraffin wax.
Rose thought. Paraffin wax in the coating instead of butter. No wonder it was so shiny. But still, that didn't explain the peculiar taste. The third section, though, made Rose gasp.
MARSHMALLOW CREAM: For the townsfolk of Delhaney Square did boil three fists of
with three fists of
, then did cool this mixture and pour it over whipped whites of twelve
, then did whip them further until a marshmallow cream had nearly emerged.
She did add four acorns of the
Rose put down the card and stared at Marge, speechless. This Marshmallow Cream recipe had been taken from the Bliss Cookery Booke! She'd seen it there herself.
But in the Bliss Cookery Booke, the Marshmallow Cream had the magical effect of making a person perfectly buoyant in the ocean, and the magical ingredient was the breath of a mermaidânot Moon's Cheese, whatever that was. Purdy had made the marshmallows once when the family took a trip to the coast, so none of the kids would be in danger of drowning.
Not only had the Bliss recipe been stolenâit had been tampered with as well.
“This is from my family's Cookery Booke!” Rose said, shocked.
“It couldn't be!” Marge fretted, pressing a stubby hand over her heart.
“Where did you get this?” Rose demanded. Either Lily had copied out the Cookery Booke and left a copy here, or .Â .Â .
Marge ran her fingertips over the surface of the card like it was a precious object. “This recipe was created by our previous director, our dear Directrice. It was
“Wait!” Rose called out. Marge's out-of-control praise was familiar. Rose's sister, Leigh, had suffered a similar fate after eating one of Lily's concoctions. “Was this Directrice called .Â .Â . Lily?”
The bakers looked at one another in confusion. “She was called Directrice, of course!” Marge answered. “If she had any other name, we certainly didn't know it.”
“Perhaps it was âGlorious One,'” Felanie suggested with a sigh.
“Or âMost Beautiful,'” Melanie added softly.
Rose stared at the card, befuddled. The Bliss Cookery Booke was supposed to be impervious to attempts to copy it. Unraveling the binding would destroy the recipes, and photocopying didn't work. Had Lily copied out a bunch of recipes before returning the Booke? If so, why weren't the recipes working? She tapped her finger against the card. Maybe it had to do with these weird ingredients Lily had substituted.
“What the heck is Moon's Cheese?” Rose asked.
Marge snapped her fingers, and Jasmine and Ning reached into the refrigerator and brought forth a small jar of gloppy white stuff.
Instead of a blue mason jar, the Moon's Cheese was sitting in a square red jar with chicken wire embedded in the glass. Rose had seen a jar like that somewhere before but didn't remember where.
Rose reached in and poked at the Moon's Cheese with her finger. There wasn't a whole lot in the jar, just a thin layer in the bottom. It was denser than any cheese she'd ever seenâalmost like a drying wad of mud.
She glanced back at the recipe card. She knew instinctively that four acorns of this stuff, whatever it was, was
too much for the Marshmallow Cream. No wonder it had tasted like a chalky rock. She absentmindedly took a red pen to the recipe card, crossed out “four acorns” and scribbled “one acorn.”
“I don't know what factory you guys got this cheese from,” said Rose, shaking her head, “but you only need a little bit of it for the marshmallows. I think I know how to fix this.”
“Oh, heavenly day!” Marge exclaimed, her eyes as wide as saucers.
All of the bakers leaned together and gazed at Rose unblinking, their smiles returned, all of them beaming down on her.
“Guys!” Rose said. “Stop it already! You're seriously creeping me out.”
Later, without saying a word, Gene set a tray of orange juice and toast in front of Rose. He winked and joined the rest of the bakers as they set to work.
Ning and Jasmine started on the sugar cookies, while Gene and the twins prepared a chocolate ganache for the coating with butter, not paraffin. Lastly, Rose and Marge worked together on the Marshmallow Cream.
First Marge beat a dozen egg whites while Rose made a simple syrup. Then Rose poured the cooled syrup over the egg whites while Marge whipped, until they were almost marshmallowy. “Moon Cheese time,” Rose said.
Rose attempted to remove just one acorn of the Moon's Cheese from the red jar with a measuring spoon, but the spoon got stuck inside. “I need to thin this out,” she said. She poured a bit of water into the jar and tried to stir, but the Moon's Cheese stayed as dense as ever. As much as she dug into it with her spoon, the cheese wouldn't budge.
Just then, a stack of empty metal mixing bowls fell from the prep table and landed right on Marge's foot. All the other bakers stared on in horror as Marge grabbed her foot and howled.
“Owwww!!!!!! Ow ow ow owwwwwww!!!!!!!”
Rose was about to run to Marge's aid when she noticed that the Moon's Cheese had suddenly melted, as if by magic. It had taken on the consistency of a perfect cream cheese frosting.
“Ohhhh,” Rose said quietly.
“What?” Marge asked, wincing in pain.
“I .Â .Â . never mind.” It was too silly to say out loud. Had Marge's wailing somehow melted the cheese? She scribbled
on the card near the mention of Moon's Cheese.
Rose stirred one acorn of the softened Moon's Cheese into the Marshmallow Cream, then sandwiched the mixture in between two completed sugar cookies. Finally, she instructed Gene to pour the chocolate ganache over the entire thing.