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Authors: Kathryn Littlewood

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Rose read the remainder of the recipe:

 

*The townsfolk of Dragomiresti, thence addicted to Sir Tempestu's pastries, did demand more and more, until he could no longer meet their demand, and they did descend upon his bakery in a starved furor, clawing him to death and setting the bakery on fire. Only the wolf Dracul survived.

 

As Rose read, Marge's head poked through the floor. She had ascended Rose's private staircase. She was sweating and scratching her arms. “I need my Moony Pyes! MOOONNNNYYYYYY PYE-PYESSSSSSSS! If I don't get that sweet marshmallow in my belly NOW, I'm going to claw out somebody's EYESSSSSSSS!”

Gus froze in terror, pretending to be a Scottish Fold statue.

Thanks for the help
,
Rose thought at him. Then she smiled at Marge's wild-eyed face. “Okay, Marge,” she said. “Why don't you go bake two dozen sugar cookies according to the recipe, and prepare the chocolate coating, and I'll make the Marshmallow Cream.”

Marge nodded, then immediately vanished, her feet clomping down the stairs sounding like a whole troop of bakers.

Gus hopped atop the dresser. “Is she gone? My goodness. What a loon. A loon for a Moony Pye.”


Everyone
in the
country
is going to be acting like that if Mostess puts that recipe into production,” Rose said to Gus. “This could be bad.
Really
bad.”

“I think you ought to just worry about fixing
her
first,” Gus said, pointing a puffed gray paw at the window. Below, Marge was skipping around the kitchen, shaking ingredients into bowls and dashing to set them all in a row on a prep table.

“How?”

“If I remember correctly from overhearing Balthazar's mutterings during translation,” Gus said, “antidotes are always there. Just look on the back of the page.”

Rose flipped over the page and saw, in extremely fine print, another recipe:

 

DRAGOMIRESTI'S APRICOT JAM: To cease the effects of the PERENNIAL PATRONS' PASTRY CREAM

 

The good baker Nicolai Bliss did fix an apricot jam that he injected into Bogdan Tempestu's fruit tarts, after the townsfolk had murdered Bogdan Tempestu and set fire to his bakery and other portions of the town. The jam had the miraculous effect of causing the townsfolk to yearn, instead of for Tempestu's pastry cream, for apricots. After rebuilding their beloved town, the people of Dragomiresti became Romania's prime exporter of apricots.

 

Sir Bliss did stir in a copper saucepan two fists of
fresh apricots
with one fist of
white sugar
. He did then add ONE
tale of one who has known the most fiery love, TOLD BY THE LOVER
, then stirred, and cooled the preserves.

 

“This is worse than useless,” Rose moaned. “Who has known the most fiery love? I sure haven't.” The most torrid exchange that she and Devin Stetson had ever had was when he accidentally touched her hand while giving her change at Stetson's Donuts and Automotive Repair.

“I have,” said Gus with a gentle lick of his lips. “Grab a jar.”

 

To the soft sound of the snores that came from the Bakers' Quarters, they labored through the night. At one point, Rose found her stomach grumbling and nearly crying out
Feed me!
but then she found a package of the cookies that had been left out for her on her first night.
KATHY KEEGAN KRISPIES,
it read. She took one out and had a nibble and was surprised to discover that she liked the taste. Could use some milk, but this little cookie was better than anything she'd eaten made in the Mostess factory. She gobbled down two and that took care of her hunger.

In a storage closet in the prep kitchen, Rose found an empty red mason jar. She coated it inside with a fine film of almond butter and brought it over to Gus, who proceeded to recount—into the jar, of course—the story of his first love affair.

“Her name was Isabella,” he began, “and she was an Italian Manx with brindled fur that was mesmerizing. That feline temptress turned many a tom's head, but left only her claw marks on their hearts. I espied her one afternoon lying in the sun astride the bricks of a Roman church, and I fell head over paws in love. I would make her love me even if it killed me.” Pausing dramatically to scratch at his neck, he added, “And it very nearly
did
.”

Gus's tale involved a voyage to America, a wealthy but brutish Siamese to whom Isabella was engaged, and plenty of stolen glances on a moonlit poop deck. When the story was over, Rose just stared.

“Wow, Gus. Whatever happened to Isabella?”

“Oh, we lived together for a time. But it was not to be. A Manx and a Fold can never get along. We're both too stubborn, too proud. But it was beautiful while it lasted. Our love was like a pizza oven: full of flame during the day, but cold and unused at night. Loving Isabella made me the heartsick Scottish Fold you see before you today.”

Rose snapped the mason jar closed and, tucking it underneath her arm, dashed over to the metal counter where the bowl of apricot preserves sat—sad and goopy and still. Rose stood, staring down into the orange mass, then carefully opened the red mason jar and let the essence of Gus's fiery love for Isabella seep into the dish.

And then she waited.

“Oh gosh!” Marge cried out as she raced around the kitchen preparing the sugar cookies, her cheeks flapping as she ran.

“What's wrong?” Rose asked, looking over at Marge, who was wiping wisps of hair off her forehead.

“Nothing!” Marge cried out. “I'm just so excited! Baking gives me such a rush! I feel like . . . a little girl on Christmas morning about to open up all the presents—and all I want is a new Barbie, and I just
know
there's a new Barbie hiding in one of those boxes, somewhere . . .” Marge stopped in the middle of the kitchen, holding three eggs and a cup of sugar. Her lower lip began to tremble. “Only there never was a Barbie. Not for me, Rose. Not for me.”

“Oh, um, I'm sorry about that, Marge,” Rose said, glancing back at the bowl of apricot preserves.

When she did, her eyes nearly popped out of her head.

The preserves were no longer mushy and still. Gus's fiery love had thickened them and turned them bright red. The mixture was heating up in the bowl, bubbling and hissing, bubbles nearly rising over the sides of the bowl.

Pop!

The preserves looked angry. They began to swirl in tiny circles, faster and faster like a miniature tornado. Within seconds, the preserves took on the shape of a gigantic red heart. Rose glanced over at Marge, who was busy stuffing a tray of sugar cookies in the oven.

Soon the heart morphed from red to orange to yellow, like one enormous flame—and then, as quickly as it had erupted, the preserves seemed to calm and drop back inside the metal bowl in one loud
gloop
.

“Whoa,” Rose whispered, staring at Gus. He only smiled and gave a gentle purr.

When it looked safe to touch, Rose grabbed the bowl with an oven mitt and stuck it inside the refrigerator to cool.
That Isabella must have been some cat,
she thought to herself.

 

“That looks awful
orange
for marshmallow cream!” Marge noted suspiciously. The windows of the kitchen had gone from pitch-black to a warm gray: The long night was nearly over.

“Do you want the Moony Pyes or not?” Rose asked, exasperated. “Because I can just throw this mixture out and—”

“Nooooooooo!” Marge cried. “Please don't stop, Master Directrice Rose!”

Finally, just as a fine blush of sunrise bled through the high panes of the Development Kitchen windows, Rose sandwiched the Dragomiresti's Apricot Jam between Marge's sugar cookies, coated the sandwich in chocolate, and presented the antidote Moony-Pye-in-Disguise to Marge on a white plate.

In every respect, it looked like the Marshmallow Cream Moony Pyes that Rose had made the day before. Still, Marge sniffed it skeptically, her nostrils flaring in and out. “It doesn't
smell
like a Moony Pye!” she said. “I want a REAL Moony Pye!”

“It's the same thing, Marge. JUST EAT IT.”

“No!” Marge crossed her arms.

“Yes!” Rose said.

Marge clamped her lips shut and violently shook her head, so Rose did what she had to do: She stomped on Marge's foot.

“Owwww!!!!!! Ow ow ow owwwwwww!!!!!!!” Marge howled.

And while she was howling, Rose stuffed the antidote Moony Pye into Marge's open mouth.

Overcome with her need for a Moony Pye, Marge chewed and swallowed. She wiped her mouth free of chocolate and then let loose an enormous belch—a belch so strong that it blew Rose's hair back like a fan and rattled the glass in the windows.

“Oh my goodness!” Marge exclaimed. Her eyes flashed orange with a sudden clarity. “What happened to me? It's like I was gaga for Moony Pyes! And they aren't even
good
!” Marge ran her tongue around the inside of her lips and belched again, more like a tiny little hiccup this time. “I could sure go for some apricots, though.”

“Welcome back,” said Rose, smiling. Her hard work—and Gus's memory—had paid off. “I made you an antidote to the Moony Pyes. You may crave apricots for a while, but otherwise you'll be okay.”

Suddenly, Marge enfolded Rose in her flour-coated arms, and though it was hard for Rose to breathe, the hug felt good. Somehow it reminded her of her mother—which made Rose miss her family all the more.

“You . . . you
saved
me!” Marge gasped and dropped Rose, backing away in panic. “Wait! If they know that you changed the recipe, they'll never let you go home!”

Oh no,
Rose thought.
That's not good.

Then an idea came to her. “We won't tell them about the antidote,” Rose said. “As far as they know, there aren't any Moony Pyes left because you ate them all. You're proof that the recipe works. Mr. Butter will have to be satisfied with that.”

“But I no longer crave Moony Pyes!” Marge made a face. “I ate a dozen of those things. I think I'm going to be sick.”

“They won't
know
that you're cured,” Rose said. “Just be . . . loony.”

“You want me to lie to Mr. Butter? Pretend I'm still in a pickle over those Pyes?” Marge said. “Why, I have never lied in my life.” She placed her hands firmly on her wide hips and blew a stray wisp of hair away from her face.

“Not even once?” Rose asked.

Marge thought for a second, then cringed. “Oh goodness! I just lied about never lying! I
have
lied. Once. As a young girl, to my mother. She did my hair in braids before a Sadie Hawkins dance and asked whether I liked them, I said
yes
even though I really didn't! I hated them!” Marge sucked in a long breath of air. “I'm a terrible person.”

“No, you're not,” Rose said, placing a comforting hand on Marge's shoulder. “There's nothing wrong with a tiny white lie.”

Marge blinked. “There isn't?”

“Not if it's going to help someone,” Rose said. “And if you tell Mr. Butter that you're obsessed with Moony Pyes, he'll think I did what he asked. Then there's only four recipes left and he'll let me go home. To my family.”

Marge nodded dutifully. “I shall accept the challenge,” she said, speaking in a strange sort of British accent. “It will be a
role
. A portrayal such as the stage has never seen. The performance of a lifetime!”

“Sure,” Rose said, cutting a piece of another antidote Moony Pye and eating it as well. She couldn't be too careful.

Gus trotted down the staircase from Rose's room and leaped onto the table. “I thought you'd want to know: They're on their way! I saw them through the window.”

Marge stared at Gus, dumbfounded. “Is one of the side effects of the antidote Moony Pye that I hallucinate talking cats? It's fine if it is; I always wanted a talking cat, I just want to be prepared for it.”

Rose immediately shot Gus a glare that said,
Why did you speak in front of her?

Oh well—she'd have to tell Marge the truth now. “No, this cat actually does talk,” Rose admitted. “But don't tell anyone, not even the other bakers.”

Marge gleefully swept Gus into the air, holding him aloft like a doll. She pressed her face into his belly and rubbed it back and forth, making cootchie-coo noises. “How is this possible, young cat?”

“I am a very
old
cat, one who ate a magical biscuit when he was young,” said Gus. “Please put me down.”

Marge set him on the table and rubbed the underside of Gus's chin. “What a naughty kitty you were.”

Just then, red lights flashed from every corner of the room, and an insistent buzzing siren began to wail, on and on, like the world's loudest alarm clock.

Marge gulped. “They're here.”

CHAPTER 6
Cheesy Home Videos

A
s the golf cart with Mr. Butter and Mr. Kerr appeared through the floor, the five other master bakers marched out from their quarters at the back of the test kitchen.

Rose glanced up at the clock on the wall. It was seven a.m. She and Marge had baked all night. This was officially the morning of the third day she'd been at the Mostess compound. “Best not let him see you,” Rose whispered to Gus, who skulked off behind one of the ovens.

“It is a new day!” said Mr. Butter as he slid from the passenger seat of the golf cart and moseyed over to the prep table. “How comes along recipe number one—the Moony Pye?” (He actually said
Mooooony
Pye
.)

“They're, um, perfect,” Rose said, stifling a yawn. “They're perfected. The best Moony Pye the world has ever seen!”

Mr. Butter gestured at the empty prep table. “Funny, Miss Bliss, but I don't
see
any Moony Pyes. Where are they?”

“We don't have any left,” Rose answered. It was the truth.

“I don't understand.” Mr. Butter scratched his bulbous bald head with exaggerated care. “I thought you wanted to get home to your family as soon as your little feet could carry you. But we agreed that you wouldn't leave until you perfected those Moony Pyes. So where are they?”

It was then that Marge emerged from behind the rest of the bakers with her arms spread wide. Her cheeks were covered in chocolate, her lips were covered in chocolate, even her eyelids were flecked with chocolate. Chocolate coated her tongue and sat in the spaces between her teeth. Her formerly white apron was dotted with sugar cookie crumbs, and each of her fingers was topped off by a white cap of hardened Marshmallow Cream.

Apparently, this was what Marge considered
getting
into costume
.

“The Moony Pyes are gone!” she thundered in an operatic vibrato. “There are no more—because I ate them all!” Marge clasped her hands together and swayed on her feet as if she were preparing to launch into a Shakespearean monologue. “They were the finest things I have ever shoved down my throat! I can't stop eating them!
Yum yum yum yum yum yuummmm!
” Now Marge was actually singing, in a high falsetto. “I will die if I can't have another right now! Fire me if you must, but I regret nothing!”

Nervously, Rose glanced at Mr. Butter. His expression was hard to read, mostly because, well, his face was so strange. Was he buying it?

After a few seconds, Mr. Butter turned to Mr. Kerr with a sour look, which dissolved into an unnaturally wide smile. “This is really something,” he said quietly. “This is really remarkable. Didn't I tell you she could do it, Mr. Kerr?”

“Actually,” answered Mr. Kerr, “if I remember correctly,
I
told
you
she could do it.
Cook
not
book
.”

Mr. Butter cleared his throat and squinted, his eyes looking extra glossy behind his spectacles. “Miss Bliss, you've done yourself very proud. We'll go into production on the new Moony Pyes immediately. May I have the new recipe card?”

Rose stiffened. The recipe card was still tacked to the front of the fridge. If Mr. Butter had it, he could begin production on the dangerous Moony Pyes, the kind that had ripped the village of Dragomiresti to shreds.

“Oh, there it is,” he said before Rose could think of a response. Mr. Butter floated over to the fridge and snatched it up. “Interesting,” he said, reading over Rose's notes.

Rose turned frantically to the red mason jar of Moon's Cheese.
It's almost empty!
she privately rejoiced.
They can't make more because it's almost empty!

“I'm
so
sorry, Mr. Butter,” Rose said, “but I actually used up the last of the Moon's Cheese making those Pyes. There's no more. I'm afraid you'll have to halt production.”

Mr. Butter let a sneaky little laugh out between the tiny spaces in his closed grin. “Rose, my dear,” he said, “we here at the Mostess Corporation never
ever
run out of ingredients. Do you think I'd let a little thing like an empty jar of Moon's Cheese stand in the way of Americans everywhere enjoying the taste of your perfect Moony Pyes? I don't think so. Follow me.”

Rose couldn't move. All that work creating an antidote, and she'd let the evil recipe fall right into the hands of this evil man.

“Come along.” He walked to the golf cart and beckoned with his pointy finger.

Rose saw a gray head disappear into her backpack, hooked her arm through it, and then climbed into the golf cart.

“Oh, and Marge?” Mr. Butter said to the frazzled, chocolate-covered Head Baker. “Marge, honey, clean up yourself and this kitchen. You know how I hate a mess.”

 

Mr. Kerr drove Mr. Butter and Rose between the warehouses for what felt like miles. The rising sun threw its golden color on everything, and Rose felt a bit of hope worm its way through her despair. It was a beautiful morning, and Mr. Butter hadn't put the recipe into production
yet
.

At first, they passed gray box after gray box, like the test kitchen warehouse, but after a while different sorts of buildings began to appear. There was a sleek office building where Rose could see men in the windows scribbling away at drafting boards—the front entrance was in the shape of a giant Mostess cow.

“Those are our graphic artists,” said Mr. Butter. “They weren't the ones who originally came up with the cow, of course. We've hired all new ones. We're working on some other packaging ideas, something . . . more modern.”

They passed another office building covered in billboards with Mostess slogans splashed across the front.
MAKE THE MOSTESS OF YOUR DAY—EAT A DINKY CAKE!
and
LAUGH AWAY THE DAY WITH A TEE-HEE!

“With the right marketing,” explained Mr. Butter, “you can make a person do something they don't even want to do—such as eat a Dinky Cake. It's like . . .
magic
! But it's magic that makes money!”

Rose gritted her teeth and stayed silent. She should never have helped with the Moony Pye recipe. Then again, Mr. Butter hadn't given her much of a choice. She briefly wished her mom were there—Purdy Bliss would know what to do.

But on second thought, Rose was happy her mom didn't have to see what Rose had done. Her disappointment would have been too much to bear.

“Ah, here we are,” said Mr. Butter as the golf cart pulled up in front of a building shaped like a wedding cake. “The Mostess pantry, if you will.”

It was a stack of round floors with tinted windows, each floor progressively smaller than the one below it. Atop the highest, smallest story was a giant statue of a smiling cow. Mr. Kerr drove the golf cart into an enormous revolving door, which rotated until the golf cart was safely inside the lobby.

Rose thought she had stepped into the future—or someone's nightmare of the future. Instead of something that looked like the Bliss Bakery pantry, only larger, there were, she saw, men in white lab coats standing at a giant control board in front of an enormous wall of dark-red mason jars. The wall was at least five stories tall, with a rolling ladder that ran along the top—to access the jars from the upper levels, Rose figured.

“This is what we refer to as the laboratory,” said Mr. Butter proudly. “It is where we store all of our ingredients.”

“Isn't it more of a warehouse, then?” Rose asked. “You store things in a warehouse. You create things in a lab.”

Mr. Butter waved away her comment. “You say poe-
tay
-toe, I say poh-
tah
-toe. We also do experiments here—how to get the recipes just right, this and that, and more. Plus, laboratory sounds much fancier than warehouse, doesn't it?”

Rose couldn't disagree with that. Instead of arguing with Mr. Butter, she turned her attention back to the wall of jars: There were too many of them to count, but Rose estimated that it must have been at least one thousand. It was hard to see inside the jars, but their contents were bobbing and glowing and growling and screeching.

“Doubtless you've realized by now, Rose, that ours is no ordinary factory,” said Mr. Butter. “You probably thought yours was the only kitchen equipped with magical mason jars, but no. We, like you, use
special
ingredients.”

So Lily had betrayed all the family secrets. Rose had figured as much, but it was still mortifying to hear it said so plainly by Mr. Butter.

“Yes, we too use magic,” Mr. Butter said, rubbing the top of his perfectly bald head, “but unlike the Bliss family, we maximize the effects of the magic through the power of technology.”

Mr. Butter moved to the giant control board and picked up a megaphone. “Mr. Mechanico! We need more Moon's Cheese. Enough to produce ten million Moony Pyes!”

Just then, a lavender-colored robot whose shape could only be described as “octopus-esque” floated through the air and hovered above Rose's head. Its mechanical arms writhed and clinked as it moved, like eight strings of metal cans. “At your servissssss,” the thing whispered through a silver-mesh metal grill.

“Here is the recipe,” Mr. Butter said, holding out the card with Rose's notes on it. One of Mr. Mechanico's segmented arms clanked and telescoped, reaching down toward Mr. Butter. With a strange slurping noise, the card stuck to one of hundreds of tiny suction cups underneath the mechanical tentacle. The robot curled the tentacle under its belly and appeared to swallow the recipe card whole.

“Received,” said Mr. Mechanico. His voice was higher than Rose would expect from a flying octopus robot. It sounded frighteningly real, like a human voice.

“Where are they going to get all that Moon's Cheese?” Rose asked. “What
is
Moon's Cheese, anyway? I mean, I know it's a magical ingredient, but what
is
it?”

Mr. Butter slapped Mr. Kerr on the shoulder and laughed. “‘What is Moon's Cheese?' she asks! She never heard about Moon's Cheese! Oh, these poor country bakers. Why don't you explain, Mr. Kerr?”

Mr. Kerr knelt down next to Rose on one massive knee. His head was as thick as her entire body. “The moon,” he said in his deep voice, “is made of
cheese
.”

Rose tried not to giggle. “Mr. Kerr, with all due respect, I believe the moon is made of rock.”

“Nope! It's
cheese
,” said Mr. Kerr. “A green cheese, actually.”

Gus curled his whiskers with his paw. Rose could tell that he also disagreed.

“It isn't
actually
cheese,” Mr. Butter said, correcting Mr. Kerr. “Not in a made-from-curdled-cow's-milk sort of way. Rather, it's a cheese-like substance with powerful magical properties. These magical properties have been known to descendants of Filbert and Albatross Bliss for quite some time, due to the occasional piece of broken moon rock crashing onto Earth. But no one has had the technology to harness the magical properties of Moon's Cheese on a grand scale—until now, that is.

“Mr. Mechanico,” continued Mr. Butter. “Why don't you show Miss Bliss the cheese video.”

Mr. Mechanico reached over to the control board with one of his tentacles and pulled a red lever. The giant closet of red mason jars parted down the middle, revealing a movie screen as tall as the building itself. Mr. Mechanico pressed a series of buttons, and a video started to play of a trio of octopus-shaped robots making grilled cheese sandwiches over an open campfire. A faint soundtrack of classical music played softly.

“No,” said Mr. Butter, exasperated. “The other one.”

Another series of pushed buttons and a new video came on the screen—this time it was of another octopus-shaped robot dipping a crouton into a pot of fondue.

“The
other
one, Mechanico!”

A third video clicked onto the screen—a view of the moon through the windshield of an approaching spaceship. The moon grew larger in the image as the ship drew closer to the moon's surface, and Rose could see that it wasn't the dull-gray rock she'd expected. Instead, it seemed to jiggle like a vast grayish-white sea of Jell-O.

Then the view changed to a camera mounted under the ship. As the craft flew close to the surface, something extended from its belly—a massive robotic arm with a scoop on the end as big as a school bus. It plunged beneath the surface and pulled up a wedge of thick white cheese.

“You see, Rosemary Bliss,” said Mr. Butter, “there's plenty of Moon's Cheese to be had—more than enough to feed every person in the nation one of your marvelous Moony Pyes.”

“Great,” Rose said, feeling sick to her stomach. “That's just great.”

“Marvelous,” Gus muttered under his breath, dripping with sarcasm.

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