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Authors: Kathryn Littlewood

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BOOK: Bite-Sized Magic
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After the ganache cooled, Rose cut the Moony Pye into pieces and passed them around to the other bakers.

Ning took a bite with his fork and shouted for joy. “Celestial!”

Melanie and Felanie tasted it, and tears started rolling down their cheeks. “How have you done this?” they whispered at the same time.

Marge took a big bite and her eyes flashed a strange shade of purple. “It's like nothing I've ever eaten,” she insisted. She licked her lips, running her tongue around them once, twice, and a third time. “I must have more.”

“No,
I
need more!” shouted Gene, rubbing his mole vigorously. He and Jasmine shoved each other, reaching for the final bite.

Rose grabbed the plate away before anyone could reach it. “Guys! That's no way to behave!”

“We're sorry, Directrice!” Ning cried.

“We are not worthy of your attention!” Melanie and Felanie said together, bowing their heads in embarrassment.

“Of course you are right,” Marge said. “The final bite must go to the genius who leads our kitchen, Rosemary Bliss!”

These six are loony,
Rose thought. Then she took her fork and stabbed the remaining piece of Moony Pye. The whole Moony Pye was transformed, and the texture of the Marshmallow Cream itself was perfect: soft, dense, moist. She let the pie melt in her mouth.

Her feet began to tingle.

Then the tingling spread throughout her body—her arms, hands, legs, toes, and even the tip of her tongue were full of a fizzy,
alive
sort of feeling. She wanted another bite, but there was nothing left on the plate, not even the tiniest piece. The bakers had already siphoned off the final crumbs, bending down and pressing their lips against the ceramic, making loud slurping noises.

“I can't believe we only made one!” Rose said, her mind swimming with visions of the heavenly Marshmallow Cream. “I could eat a dozen of those things!”

She looked at the six bakers and they stared back at her. All she could think about was the particular texture of that bite of Moony Pye. She poured herself a glass of milk and gulped it down, but even after her mouth was clear, a perfect Moony Pye remained in her mind. It seemed to hang in the air in front of her no matter what she looked at, a devilishly good treat like a magical new moon in the sky.

She tried to count to ten in Spanish, but ended up thinking
uno Moony Pye, dos Moony Pyes, tres Moony Pyes
. . . She tried to remember the name of her first-grade teacher,
Mrs. Ginger . . . Pye?
That couldn't be right. All she could think of was Pye.

“We must make more of them,” Rose announced, salivating at the thought, then got hold of herself. “So . . . Mr. Butter can see that we fixed the recipe.”

All of the bakers started chortling. “Oh, Mr. Butter doesn't eat sweets!” said Marge. “He's never once touched them. Never! He subsists on a diet of plain boiled potatoes.” She planted her thumb against her round chest and said, “I am the taster who determines if a recipe has been perfected, and I say that it has!”

Marge fixed the amended recipe card to the surface of the stainless steel fridge with a magnet, then turned to the team of bakers. “Make a dozen Moony Pyes! Right away!”

 

That night, after the bakers had finished icing the Moony Pyes and stored them in the fridge, and Marge had warned her fellow bakers off from devouring them, wielding a rolling pin and promising to hurt anyone who disobeyed, Rose retired to her little room above the test kitchen. A fat, round Moony Pye—
moon
, rather—had risen over the sea of factory buildings and cast a bright light on everything, and faint starlight poured in through the small, square window.

She still couldn't stop thinking about the Moony Pyes.
What if I snuck down to the kitchen and had just one?
she asked herself.
Or two? Or five?

“Rose!” wailed a voice. It sounded like it was coming from outside.

Rose peered over the ledge of the tiny window and saw something small and gray pacing back and forth at the bottom of the building, with green eyes that shimmered in the dark.

“Gus?”

“Who else? Are you expecting another feline visitor? Are you seeing another cat behind my back—”

“Gus!” Rose cried out. “You're back!”

“Yes, yes, I've returned. Rosemary Bliss, Rosemary Bliss, let down your hose!”

Rose gathered the fire hose from the dark test kitchen, tied it to her backpack, and lowered it to the pavement. “Thank you!” Gus called as he jumped into the backpack.

She hoisted him up, thinking,
Gus can sneak down and get a Moony Pye for me
.

When the backpack reached the window ledge, Gus leaped through the air and landed squarely in Rose's lap, where she hugged him until he nearly stopped breathing.

“Rose!” he gagged. “I know you've missed me, but please, be careful. My ribs aren't made of iron.”

Rose kissed Gus on the head and loosened her grip. “I'm sorry. I'm just so happy to have you back. When you weren't there this morning, I almost worried you'd invented the story about the Caterwaul just to have an excuse to get out of here.”

Gus gasped. “How could you even think such a thing! You silly kitten.”

“So . . .” Rose stared into his bright-green eyes. “Did you find another cat?”

“Of course I did,” Gus said, licking his paw with feline nonchalance. “Across the great black sea of asphalt, I traveled. The rising sun did not stop me, nor did hunger. No, I was single-minded in my determination. But the fence I found was too high even for a cat of my famous agility to leap over. I had no choice but to wait.”

“And a cat came by the fence?” Rose asked.

“Don't rush me,” Gus said with a twitch of his whiskers. “A tale, like a tail, should be long and strong and interesting. Now where was I?”

“Fence,” Rose said. “Waiting.”

“Oh yes! The night had passed, and I waited there all day in the hot sun. With each passing hour, my energy waned. I needed a fat piece of tuna, or a can of chicken. But I could not forsake my duty!

“Finally, as I was beginning to doze off into what might have been my final rest, a lynx appeared from the surrounding grasslands.”

“Grasslands?” Rose repeated.

The cat made a tiny shrug. “He stepped out of a bush, if you must know.”

“Gus, did he agree to pass on the message?”

“Eventually.”

“And that's the end of your story?” Rose said.

Gus turned several tight circles on the bed before settling down. “Minus the part where I came back. It was much easier once I knew where I was going, of course.”

“Thank you,” Rose said. “At least my parents will know where I am.” But the cat was already asleep.

Rose tucked herself into bed and tried to ignore the train engine sound of Gus's purring.

She tried to think about what her family might be doing at that moment—crying at the police station, no doubt—but her thoughts drifted once again to the Moony Pye. She didn't want to gloat, but it was pretty impressive, the way she'd adjusted the recipe to make a Marshmallow Cream so decadently delicious, so spellbindingly scrumptious, that even she couldn't stop thinking about it. It was sheer kitchen sorcery of a sort even her mom would have admired.

Magic!
Suddenly, she thought of how Marge's shrieks of pain seemed to soften the Moon's Cheese. There seemed to be a connection there, but hard as she tried to puzzle it out, it slipped out of reach.

Gus awoke and whined, “Please, cease your sobbing. I can't sleep.”

“I'm not crying!” Rose retorted.

“Then who is?” Gus asked. “My folded ears detect the sounds of distress.”

Rose left her bed and looked out over the starlit darkness of the test kitchen. Sitting on a stool at one of the prep tables was Marge, her face and hands smeared brown with melted chocolate.

“No more!” Marge wailed. “What will I do? I've eaten them all. There are no more!”

CHAPTER 5
In an Apricot Jam

“M
arge?” said Rose, tiptoeing down the steel spiral staircase and into the test kitchen. “Are you okay?”

“Moony Pyes!” wailed the Head Baker. “I need more Moony Pyes!”

“Why don't you put on a light so I don't trip,” Rose said, “and then we'll talk about Moony Pyes.”

Sniffling, Marge rolled off her stool and waddled over to the wall, where she switched on a single overhead lamp. It left most of the kitchen dark except for the area around the prep table. Marge's fingers were coated in chocolate and cookie crumbs, and soon everything she touched—the light switch, her mouth, her apron, her hair, and underneath her eyes—was coated as well.

Rose sat at the table and patted Marge on her round shoulder. “Now, Marge, what happened to the dozen Moony Pyes that we made before everyone went to bed?”

“Absolutely gone,” Marge answered with a smack of her lips. “One hundred percent in my stomach right now. Ate them. All twelve. Took about three minutes.” Marge drummed her sticky fingers on the table. “I tried to make more, but I couldn't get the Moon's Cheese to melt like you did! You truly are a rare genius, and I will serve you forever if you'll just make me a few dozen more Moony Pyes.”

Rose eyed the Moon's Cheese in its jar. What was left had solidified into a dense stony layer. Rose didn't know if she could get it to melt again.

“I feared this would happen,” said Marge. She stared at Rose, her eyes enormous, teary disks.

Rose furrowed her brow. “Feared
what
would happen?”

“That Mr. Butter would find a way to make Mostess treats so perfect that they'd . . . enslave people who ate them! They always had a secret ingredient in them that made you want to eat more,” said Marge, patting her belly, “but now . . .
wow
. Who will be able to eat anything else? One bite and you're hooked. America really is in trouble.”

“Hold on,” said Rose, placing a hand on Marge's broad damp wrist. “Mr. Butter is trying to create baked goods that you actually
can't
stop eating?”

“The only thing that will stop the hunger . . . ,” Marge began, glancing around.

“Is another Moony Pye,” Rose finished.

“Yes! But I've said too much!” Marge leaned forward and said, “We're not allowed to talk about it.”

“What if I told you I'd make more Moony Pyes?” said Rose. “
Then
would you tell me?”

Marge nodded and immediately launched into a gossipy whisper. “Once the recipes are perfected, the new Moony Pyes will go into factory-wide production and be shipped everywhere. There will be so many Moony Pyes! Just imagine!” She gazed blankly at the empty cupboard.

Rose snapped her fingers. “Stay with me, Marge.”

With a gulp, Marge continued. “And people will eat and eat and eat them, and then all of the country will be ensnared. They'll
have
to keep buying Mostess treats—starting with the Moony Pye that you perfected into the most divine form of enslavement ever imagined!”

“Wait!” said Rose. “That's not what I did! I just fixed the proportions in some marshmallow cream!”

“Yes,” said Marge. “A marshmallow cream
of mass destruction
!” She let out a tiny burp. “Yum!” Marge's gaze returned to the almost-empty jar of Moon's Cheese. “Don't you think you ought to preheat the oven, if you're going to make more?”

“Sure.” Rose sighed as she moved to the row of ovens. She'd have to make a fresh batch to show Mr. Butter—otherwise he'd never let her leave the factory. “Why did the Directrice want to help Mostess, anyway?” What was in it for Lily?

“The Directrice—may her cakes never fall! May her pie crusts always be the flakiest!—worked for Mr. Butter, and Mr. Butter works for—” Marge stopped herself. “I can't say any more!” she cried, shoving a fistful of flour into her mouth. She plumped down onto a stool and sat silently.

“Marge!” Rose said sharply. “If you want any of the Moony Pyes I'm about to make, you better keep talking!”

Marge spat the flour into the sink. Her face dusted in white, she blurted, “Mr. Butter works for the International Society of the Rolling Pin!”

Rose had heard that name before, but where? “The International what?”

“The International Society of the Rolling Pin,” explained Marge fearfully, glancing around the kitchen to make sure no one else was listening. “The dark order of bakers who rule the world through what we eat. Obesity? Their evil work. Diabetes? One of their secret plans. Cavities? Never known until they got busy. They've caused kids to drop out of school, incomes to fall, and nations to go to war.” Marge blinked at Rose. “Shouldn't you be preparing the Marshmallow Cream?”

“In a moment,” Rose said. “But how do these Rolling Pin guys connect up with Mostess?”

“Mr. Butter and Mr. Kerr work for the Society, and they're using Mostess to create a nation of Dinky-addicted zombies.”

Rose thought there could be no one worse than her scheming, self-serving Aunt Lily, who was the worst kind of kitchen magician. She used the recipes and spells in the Bliss Cookery Booke to make people adore her and to make herself rich and famous. But what Mr. Butter and the Mostess Corporation were doing was far, far worse: They were trying to enslave an entire nation.

It was a horrible vision—a country full of obese, Moony-Pye–eyed drones who ate only Mostess Snack Cakes. Mr. Butter and his Society had to be stopped, and Rose knew she was the only person who could do it.

“Marge,” Rose said, squeezing the older woman's hand, “I am a baker.” Saying it, Rose felt it to be true. She
was
a baker—and a kitchen magician—down to her bones. “I come from a long line of bakers, who try to improve the lives of people through our . . .
special
baked goods. That Moony Pye recipe today, it reminded me a lot of one of the recipes in my secret family cookbook. Now, are you sure that that Directrice didn't use a book?”

Marge looked guilt-stricken once more. “She
did
use a book,” she whispered. “Not a whole book, more a book
let
. A skinny book. A book of old paper and smudgy writing. One night I glimpsed her through the windows up in that room, flipping its delicate pages, reading the recipes aloud to herself.” Marge mimed tiptoeing. “I tried to get closer to see what it was, but I was walking in the dark and bumped into a stack of metal bowls. Such a clatter!”

“What did she do then?”

“She fussed about with the dresser and then came downstairs and told me to go to sleep.”

Rose's heart thumped in her chest. “I'll be right back,” she said and hurried up to her room.

 

“What's wrong with that chocolate-covered woman?” asked Gus, yawning.

“She's addicted to Moony Pyes,” Rose muttered, distracted. “Because I fixed the recipe for Mr. Butter, who is trying to enslave America on behalf of the International Society of the Rolling Pin, which is evil.”

As she talked, she opened each drawer in the dresser, checked under the clothing, and felt the bottom. Nothing. “I think they might be using magic, but I don't know what kind. Other than that, Marge is
fine
.”

“Rolling pins,” Gus grumbled, licking at his left paw and dragging it forward across his ear. “Balthazar used to talk about that in his sleep. ‘Beware the Rolling Pin!' he'd cry. I always thought he was having nightmares because he baked too much.”

“Apparently, there was more to it than that.” Rose peeked behind the dresser, then leaned her shoulder against the side and pushed it away from the wall. “Ah ha!” she said.

Wedged in the space behind the dresser was a ribbon-bound stack of gray papers, thickly coated in dust. Rose cleaned them off and stared at the papers, her stomach churning. She knew exactly what they were, and where they were from.

“What is it?” Gus yawned.

“It's Albatross's Apocrypha,” Rose said faintly. Just as she'd suspected. She turned the sheets over and found a horrible inscription in purple ink across the back:

 

Property of Lily Le Fay,

Novice

International Society of the Rolling Pin

 

That's
where she'd heard of the International Society of the Rolling Pin: Lily had left the same inscription in the back of the Bliss Cookery Booke, in the pocket where the Apocrypha was usually kept. The family had only discovered Lily's note after she'd returned the Booke and disappeared. Balthazar had warned Rose then of the dangers of the International Society of the Rolling Pin, but Rose had still been too much in shock to quite hear him.

They'd thought Lily had taken the Apocrypha that night, but maybe it hadn't been in the back of the Booke at all. Maybe Lily had hidden the Apocrypha here so that she'd still have some recipes in the unlikely event Rose won the Gala.

Rose smiled to herself. Her aunt Lily had worried about losing to Rose, even with the Cookery Booke in her possession.

Then, after she lost, Lily must have been too ashamed to return to the Mostess Corporation. She'd left her work here undone, not even bothering to come back for the Apocrypha.

“Aunt Lily,” Rose muttered.

Gus looked around the room with slitted eyes, his newly cleaned claws extended. “Where?”

“She worked here, at Mostess. Sometime long before they kidnapped us.” Crouching against the wall next to her tiny dresser, Rose turned to the first recipe in Albatross's Apocrypha, something called Lack-a-Wit Black-Bottom Cupcakes. Invented in 1717 by Albatross Bliss in order to ruin his brother's wedding on the tiny Scottish island of Tyree, the cupcakes were clearly sinister and required drops of Tears from a Warlock's Eye.

She'd used the Tears of a Warlock's Eye before. She remembered the sickening sight of that preserved eyeball floating around inside a mason jar that had been reinforced with chicken wire.

“Chicken wire!” she said.

“What?” grumbled the cat, mid-lick. He'd finished cleaning his left ear and was working on the right.

“In our secret cellar, back home,” Rose said, “all the really nasty ingredients were in green jars reinforced with chicken wire!”

“So?”

“The Moon's Cheese was in a red jar reinforced with chicken wire!”

“Green and red,” mumbled Gus. “Put them together and you get Christmas.”

Rose gently flipped through the Apocrypha's pages, which were cracked and creased with age. In the corner of one, something caught Rose's eye: an engraving of a half-moon, with a tiny man digging into the surface with a shovel. The recipe read as follows:

 

PERENNIAL PATRONS' PASTRY CREAM: For the magical assurance of Customer Loyalty

 

It was in 1745 in the Romanian town of Dragomiresti that Albatross Bliss's distant cousin Bogdan Tempestu did notice his bakery's popularity waning after he had begun to substitute sawdust for flour in order to increase his profits. He did create this pastry cream and inject it into all of his fruit tarts, after which his patrons did become violently addicted to his pastries.*

 

Sir Tempestu did stir in a copper saucepan two fists of the freshest
cow's milk
with one fist of
white sugar
. He did stir in the yolks of six
chicken's eggs
and three acorns of
white flour
. When the mixture had almost cooled, he bid his caged wolf, Dracul, to
howl at one jar of the Moon's Cheese
, then did stir four acorns of the melted
Moon's Cheese
into the pastry cream.

 

“This must be the recipe that Lily was adapting from,” Rose said. “Instead of using the Moon's Cheese in pastry cream, she stuck it in Marshmallow Cream. But she got the proportions all wrong.”

So Moon's Cheese wasn't some kind of processed factory cheese after all—it was a Bliss family magical ingredient. But it wasn't a gentle ingredient, like the first wind of autumn, one that could be stored in a regular blue mason jar. The Moon's Cheese required a reinforced container, something suitable for an ingredient that could only be activated by the howl of a wolf.

Or a baker with a stubbed toe.

In the margins was a note written in Lily's unmistakable calligraphy:
Tried to insert four acorns Moon's Cheese into Marshmallow Cream. Texture all wrong. Had no howling wolf—had to microwave instead. Cheese was chunky and rancid. Yuck-o!

Rose smiled in spite of herself. She had done what Lily could not—adjust the amount of Moon's Cheese, recognizing that four acorns would be too much for Marshmallow Cream. And it was just a stroke of sheer luck that Marge's howling had triggered the Moon's Cheese to melt.

BOOK: Bite-Sized Magic
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