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Authors: Kathryn Littlewood

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BOOK: Bite-Sized Magic
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“Yes,” said Mr. Kerr, unaware that it was the cat, not Rose, who had spoken. “It
is
marvelous.”

“But that was old footage from our last cheese run. Where are we now with the current launch, Mechanico?” asked Mr. Butter.

“All systems go,” answered Mr. Mechanico, and he reached down to the control board and pulled a green lever.

At first, nothing seemed to happen.

Then, on the enormous video screen, Rose saw the cake-shaped building from the outside. From its top, swirls of white smoke curled into the air. “What's that?” she asked.

“A launch pad,” Mr. Butter replied.

“For what?” Rose asked.

Mr. Butter eyed Rose with faint disdain. “For the rocket ship. Which we are now launching. Which will go to the moon. And fetch us more cheese.” His broad, thin smile reappeared. “Easy. As. Pie.”

Rose clutched Gus in her arms. The mason jars began to rattle on the shelves, and there was a whirlwind of noise. The smoke on the screen thickened, and the rattling grew fiercer and fiercer and then—

All of a sudden, it stopped.

For a moment, Rose thought she could make out a tiny rocket ship soaring into the dark-blue sky on the video screen, but she wasn't completely sure.

“There it goes,” said Mr. Butter with an elated sigh. He pinched his own cheeks and smacked his nonexistent lips together. “We should be all cheesed up in two weeks or so.”

Rose's heart sank. With her help, there'd be no stopping the unholy alliance of the Mostess Snack Corporation and the International Society of the Rolling Pin.

“Come along, Rose,” said Mr. Butter. “That's not even the main attraction. There's still more!”

“More?” Rose repeated weakly. “Isn't that enough?”

Mr. Butter wagged a stick-thin finger. “There's something else I need to show you. Something very important.” He folded himself back into the front seat of the golf cart, then scowled. “Don't look so down in the mouth! We'll have your Moony Pyes out there in the world lickety-split!”

That's what I'm afraid of,
Rose thought to herself. But she got into the back of the cart without another word.

 

It wasn't even noon yet, but Rose could see heat waves piping up from the road as Mr. Kerr pulled up in front of another building. This one was in the shape of a giant pastry bag, plumped up at the bottom but narrowing to a fluted glass tip at the very top.

“You're going to like this one, Rose,” said Mr. Butter as Mr. Kerr parked outside the towering glass doors.

“If you say so,” Rose muttered, following Mr. Butter and Mr. Kerr through the building's grand lobby. In place of flower arrangements, there were bouquets of candies and cookies. “This looks almost like a hotel,” she said.

“That's because it
is
a hotel,” said Mr. Kerr.

“And people say children aren't observant!” said Mr. Butter.

“A hotel for who?” Rose asked. “The families of the bakers?”

“Certainly not,” said Mr. Butter. “This is a hotel for guests to the compound.”

They boarded a glass elevator on the far wall of the lobby. “To the top!” Mr. Butter announced, fishing a key from his pocket. It was a silvery miniature rolling pin with teeth and notches carved into it. He slid it into a waiting keyhole, turned it, and then pressed the highest button.

The glass box immediately began to rise, slowly at first but gaining speed. One wall looked down upon the hotel lobby, but the other looked out upon the world. Rose could see the whole expanse of the Mostess compound, the rocket launchpad atop the warehouse building that Mr. Butter had called a laboratory, the desert of gray warehouses, the jungle of marketing buildings and ingredient laboratories, and acres of delivery trucks parked in rows.

At the farthest corner of the compound, she spied a curiosity, something completely out of place in the whole industrial mess: a small red cottage, with a brick chimney and a dilapidated front porch, sitting on a bit of grass the size of her own backyard back in Calamity Falls. It was as if Mr. Butter had cut something from the pages of a fairy tale and planted it in the corner of his space-age empire.

“What's that?” Rose asked, pointing toward the cottage. “That little shack back there?”

Mr. Kerr looked nervously at Mr. Butter. “What? I don't see anything.”

“It's nothing,” Mr. Butter said stiffly, adjusting his glasses. “Been so long since I've been over at that corner of the compound, I forget what's there.”

“But does someone live there?” Rose asked.

“I said, never mind!” Mr. Butter hissed, his eyes bulging and wild. He clenched his fists tightly, as though he were upset, and Rose didn't ask any more questions.

 

The elevator dinged at floor 34.

“We're here.” Mr. Butter smiled and smoothed out the creases in his pants. “Aren't surprises exciting?” He seemed overcome with glee, completely recovered from his sudden anger about the strange little cottage.

The doors opened on a plush corridor, carpeted in gold-and-red-patterned carpet and lit by golden wall sconces. Soft music tinkled faintly in the air, accompanying them as they knocked on the door of room 3405.

Rose yawned. Baking all night had left her too exhausted to worry about what Mr. Butter had behind the door. At this point, what could one more surprise from him matter? He couldn't be any more evil than he already was.

And then the door flew open, revealing Purdy, Albert, and Balthazar, looking as surprised as Rose felt.

“Mom. Dad. Grampa.” Rose stood in the doorway, unsure what to do.

“Go on,” Mr. Butter said. “Talk to your family. We'll give you a moment of privacy.” With a sharp push, he shoved her inside and pulled the door shut.

Rose's shock gave way to sweet relief as her family surged forward and surrounded her, embracing her in turns and together so that she could barely catch her breath. “I can't believe you're here!” Rose cried, dropping her backpack to the floor and hugging them back. “I thought I'd never see you again!”

Gus crawled out of her backpack. “You
dropped
me,” he said.

“We were so worried!” said Purdy, hugging her daughter so tightly that Rose could barely breathe. “We had the police searching. Everyone was a mess. Then Jacques came running in from the backyard saying that he'd had a conversation with the neighbor's Persian cat, and the cat had heard a story about the Bliss girl of Calamity Falls being held at the Mostess Snack Cake Corporation.”

“The Caterwaul!” Gus proclaimed. “I told you, dear Rose. Never doubt the organizational skills of a herd of cats.”

“At first we thought Jacques was just being French,” said Balthazar.

From his pocket came a small voice, “Oh, you are a rude man to insult my people in such a way after how loyally I have served you!”

“Sorry, Jacques,” Balthazar muttered. “But even you'd admit that you are one gullible mouse.”

A soft
“Oui”
came from his pocket.

“We decided it was our only lead,” Albert continued. “The police weren't having any luck tracking you down, so we all piled in the van and drove two hours, and here we are. We left your siblings safe at home with Mrs. Carlson.”

“Mr. Butter has been very nice to us,” said Purdy, whose hair was so disheveled with heat and worry that it looked like an angora rabbit. “But he hasn't quite explained why you're here.”

“Rose has been wonderful,” said Mr. Butter from behind them, as he swung open the door again and stepped inside the room. “Giving of herself and her talents. Aiding us in our time of need. Doing the work that only she can do.” He cleared his throat. “Speaking of which, it's back to the test kitchen for her. The day is wasting away!”

“No!” Rose snapped. “I'm going home with my parents now, thank you very much.”

“Oh, actually,
no
one is going home,” said Mr. Butter. “Everyone will receive these luxurious, free accommodations until Rose finishes formulating her recipes.”

“And what recipes are these?” said Purdy.

Rose looked over her parents' shoulders at Mr. Kerr, who smiled at her and drew a finger across his throat.

“Um,” Rose said. “Just some recipes. For Mostess treats.”

“May I have a word with you outside, Rosemary Bliss?” Mr. Butter said, ushering her out into the hall again with a shallow bow and a swish of his arm.

Mr. Kerr held back Rose's parents while she and Mr. Butter went back out into the plush hallway. On the soft, soft carpet, Mr. Butter said, “It's a curious thing, Rose. When these fine folks showed up at our door, I first considered telling them I had no idea who you were and sending them back home. But then I realized that their presence gave me a unique tactical advantage.”

“Tactical advantage?” Rose repeated with a gulp.

“I have in my captivity,” said Mr. Butter, “the one thing that Rosemary Bliss cares most about in the world: her family. Now, if you fail to perfect the remaining recipes, I have the power to take that family away.”

“But they can help me!” said Rose. “We're all magical bakers!”

“I don't think so,” said Mr. Butter sourly. “I want enough brainpower in that kitchen to fix the recipes—not enough to outsmart me and sabotage the company.”

“I knew it,” said Rose. “What happened to all that junk you told me about trying to brighten people's lives with baked goods? I believed you. I would have helped you! I would have helped you make better snack cakes!”

“I want
more
than better snack cakes,” said Mr. Butter with a snarl. The lines of his face seemed to deepen, and the corners of his barely visible lips turned down. “It's not enough to have a better snack cake. I have bigger plans, a grander vision.” He spread his arms wide. “Mostess Snack Cakes need to be so good people will
kill
for them.”

Something dark flashed in his eyes, and Mr. Butter pointed a crooked finger directly at Rose. “And you're going to make them that way—or else.”

CHAPTER 7
The Bunny and the Hag

A
fter Mr. Kerr and Mr. Butter took Rose back to the Development Kitchen, she silently climbed the stairs to her room, ignoring the questions from Marge and the other bakers, even ignoring Gus, and slept until three that afternoon. She generally disapproved of people sleeping during the day (and by
people
she really meant
Sage and Ty on the weekend
) but what with preparing the antidote for the Moony Pyes and saving Marge from tearing out her own hair, she hadn't slept at all the night before.

And she was upset at seeing her parents held captive.

It was bad enough that Rose was being forced to help the evil Mostess Corporation take over the country—but the fact that her family was now in danger because of her was too much to bear. If Rose didn't do exactly what Mr. Butter wanted, exactly how he wanted her to do it, who knew what he would do to her parents and to Balthazar?

She was groggy and confused when she finally woke up, and her pillow was wet with drool. As she rubbed her face and sat up, she remembered everything. She had to rescue her parents
and
stop the Mostess Corporation
and
somehow fix Calamity Falls.

Rose shook her head. It was too much to think about.

Just then, the sound of Marge's voice from the test kitchen reached Rose's ears.

“Rose!” Marge was calling out in a sharp, loud voice. “Please come down and get started! These Glo-Balls won't fix themselves!”

Through the glass window of her bedroom, Rose could see Marge holding up a tray of Glo-Balls, which were tiny puffs of chocolate cake covered in coconut that glowed in different colors: neon blue, neon green, neon orange, and neon pink. Rose thought they looked more like signs in the window of a seedy diner than things people should eat.

“I don't want to,” said Rose, looking around at the glass walls of her room, which felt more like a prison every second.

Just then, Gus jumped down from the windowsill. “Well, well, well,” said the cat, swishing his tail. “Look who's awake.”

Rose folded her arm across her eyes to block out the world. “I don't want to fix the recipes, Gus. I don't want to help Mr. Butter and his Rolling Pin people. I want them to let Mom and Dad and Balthazar out, and I want to go home.”

“Ugh.” Gus sighed. “You're just like Moses.”

“Moses?” Rose asked. “Like, Bible Moses? From the Old Testament? How?”

Gus sat on Rose's chest, and his heavy, furry warmth felt like a balm on Rose's worried heart. “Moses was a Hebrew slave born in Egypt,” the cat explained. “But his mother sent him down a river in a basket, and he was found by the pharaoh's wife and raised as a son of the pharaoh instead.”

“How is that like me?” Rose asked. She loved the cat—honest she did—but sometimes she tired of how long it took him to say anything.

“Hold on, Rose,” said the cat, pressing a paw to her lips. “Moses was next in line to become the pharaoh, and he was thrilled, I tell you,
thrilled
—until he learned that he was in actuality a Hebrew slave.”

“Again,” said Rose, “feel free to wind your way back to how this relates to me.”

“Patience!” Gus protested, holding out one of his paws. “Now, of course, being a Hebrew slave himself, Moses wanted to free the rest of the slaves. So he wandered into the desert. And he came back to Pharaoh's court a long while later, begging Pharaoh to free the slaves, and he had to go to all sorts of trouble to do it. There were frogs and locusts and boils and the Red Sea split in two and a forty-year journey, and frankly the whole thing was a big mess.” Gus twitched his nose and scratched behind his ear. “Do you see my point?”

Rose furrowed her brow. “Slavery is the greatest evil of civilization, justice is hard-won, and cats are long-winded?”

“Yes,” Gus said, baring his sharp teeth. “All that is true. But my point is this: Don't you think it would have been easier for Moses if instead he had just worked
within the system
? Isn't it easier to free the slaves after you yourself have
become the pharaoh
?”

Rose sighed and curled into a ball, dislodging the cat, who scrambled atop her hip. “I am not a pharaoh, and this is not Egypt, and I don't see what this has to do with me.”

Gus stalked forward and sat on Rose's head, which he did when he wanted to truly make a point. “If you want to take down the Mostess Corporation, you have two options. You can try to rescue your family and leave, like Moses, risking your own life and the lives of everyone in your family.
Or
, you can pretend to cooperate while planning your attack, making the recipes Mr. Butter wants
and
their antidotes, then sneak up from behind and ruin their entire operation.” He paused. “Which sounds like the better plan to you?”

“The second,” said Rose, removing the cat from her head and placing him at her side. She sat up. “I've got to do it.”

Gus put a paw on Rose's forehead. “You must, it's true. You don't have a choice. Not if you want to keep your family safe.”

“Rose, please!” Marge shouted up. Her voice sounded worried and thin. “The Glo-Balls!”

Rose looked to Gus and grumbled. “Okay, let's go make some evil Glo-Balls.”

“And?” said Gus.

Rose turned up a corner of her mouth. “
And
the antidote.”

 

Rose and the bakers stood over the prep table and stared down at the tray of chocolate Glo-Balls, which were the exact same colors of the highlighters Rose used at school.

“Man, do I want one of these,” said Gene, salivating. “They look way better than those Moony Pyes.”

“Moony Pyes are gross,” said Felanie with a shudder.

“Grosser than gross,” said Melanie. “They're . . .
grewse
.”

Rose looked to Marge, confused, and rolled up the white sleeves of her baker's uniform. “They're not still under the Moony Pye spell?”

Marge pointed proudly toward the stove. “I made them some Dragomiresti's Apricot Jam! We all had scones with apricot jam for breakfast, and now we're feeling a lot less Moony, if you know what I mean.”

“Though I
am
craving apricots,” said Ning, patting his round stomach. “Sweet, delicious apricots!”

“It's a trade-off, Ning,” said Marge. “Go with it.”

“But even more than that, I'm wanting some of these here Glo-Balls,” Ning said.

“Me too,” said Jasmine. She blinked, and her eyes seemed to grow. “Something about the way they
glow
. . . I really want them.”

Rose noticed that she, too, felt a strong urge to eat a Glo-Ball, even though she knew they were just dressed-up pieces of brown junk. Still, up close, the coconut-covered pastries seemed irresistible. The colors were so bright—the blues so blue, the greens so green—that each Glo-Ball looked like an enormous neon jewel.

“Pretty
,”
Felanie said underneath her breath.

“As the, erm, Directrice,” Rose said, “I will sample the Glo-Ball.”

“Lucky,”
Melanie whispered.

Rose reached toward the neon-colored balls and popped a piece of an orange one in her mouth. The frosting tasted like shredded tissue paper, the chocolate cake tasted like gluey ash, and the creamy filling tasted like frothy, warmed-over saliva. And it was all sickeningly sweet.

“Ugh!” said Rose, spitting it into the sink. “I hate it,” she said, perplexed. “I really hate it.” She rinsed her mouth, then rinsed it again. “But I want to eat another one right now. Maybe.”

“That's why the recipe needs work,” said Marge. “It's not
perfectly
addictive.”

Rose shuddered at the thought of what might happen if they were. “Okay,” she said. “Show me how you guys make these.”

 

Gus sat on Rose's shoulder as she watched the bakers re-create Lily's Glo-Ball recipe.

Marge held out another of Lily's creamy-colored, beautifully copied-out recipe cards and hollered out orders. Jasmine made the fluffy balls of chocolate cake, while Gene, the Vice President of Fillings, pulled a fire hose from the wall and attached a long metal wand to the end. It looked like an enormous hypodermic needle.

“What are you doing with that fire hose, Gene?” asked Rose.

“Fire hose?” Puzzled, Gene looked at the object in his hand. “Oh man,” he said. “You thought this was a fire hose? No, this is a Preservation Nozzle.”

Rose saw that the hose was connected to a churning tank of a thick clearish substance that looked a lot like mucus, which she hadn't noticed before.
Yech
.

As if he'd done this a couple of thousand times before—which he probably had, Rose thought—Gene brought the hose to the tray of hot chocolate cake balls and injected each one with a small dose of the churning white goop.


That's
the filling that goes into the Glo-Balls?” Rose's stomach did a gentle flip. “That weird snot?”

“No no, those are the preservatives,” Gene explained. “It's an FLCP must. A dollop of this ensures that those Glo-Balls won't go bad until after the earth has been inherited by zombies and cockroaches. Keeps them tasting as good as the day they were made—even a thousand years from now.” He smiled proudly.

Rose thought of the Prohibition-era Dinky Cake sitting under the display jar in the main production facility.

“Some things just shouldn't be possible,” she said to Gus, who sat next to her on the spotless stainless-steel prep table. He nodded in agreement.

After Gene had filled all of the Glo-Balls with their preservative snot, Ning and Felanie prepared four separate bowls of plain white vanilla frosting. Then they produced a red mason jar that contained a large black beetle. The beetle was turning circles inside the jar, as if looking for the exit. It looked more gross than magical; but then again, so did the Moon's Cheese.

“What is
that
?” Rose asked.

“The Blinding Beetle,” said Marge, handing out black welding helmets to Rose and the rest of the bakers. “You'll want to put these on.”

Rose had seen helmets like these on the faces of construction workers joining steel beams with white-hot sparks outside the Calamity Falls Library. They looked a little heavy-duty and out of place for a bakery.

She pulled hers over her head. It was like someone had turned out the lights. “I can't see anything,” Rose said, “and I can barely breathe. Is this really necessary?”

“Yes,” said Ning, opening the jar and dumping the Blinding Beetle into the mixing bowl.

Rose stood in the pitch dark, listening to her own breath, until suddenly the beetle began to glow like a firecracker, running around the sides of the bowl and spraying a trail of crackling orange sparks from its wings. It sounded like the sparklers that she, Sage, and Ty would light in the backyard on July fourth—all hisses and crackles and pops.

Ning spooned it over to the next bowl, where it began to glow neon green, shooting streams of green sparks. And then another bowl where it was an electric pink smudge in the dark. And then a final bowl, where it burned orbits of metallic blue. Even through the welder's mask, the glow was almost too bright to look at. Trails of light snaked across Rose's vision, so that she had to blink and look away.

When the beetle had gone dark again, Ning trapped it and dropped it back into the red jar, then snapped on the lid.

Rose took off her mask, wiping beads of sweat from her forehead, and saw that the four bowls of frosting were now neon orange, green, pink, and blue. Inside the mason jar, the unassuming black beetle crawled about looking exhausted.

“My my,” said Marge, who was blinking rapidly. “My my.”

“Interesting,” Rose said, flipping through the Apocrypha. She searched for any mention of the Blinding Beetle, and at last landed on this page:

 

It was in 1832 in the Thai village of Songkram that the visiting British trader Deveril Shank, a descendent of Albatross Bliss, did discover the Blinding Beetle in the wild jungles of Southeast Asia. He did use the magical sparks produced by the Blinding Beetle to color the frosting of a poisoned cake that he fed to the royal family of Songkram, who had threatened to expel him. The royal family ate the cake, even though it was poisoned, because they were so entranced by the icing.

 

“That's awful!” said Marge, who had been leaning over Rose's shoulder and reading the Apocrypha, too.

“I know,” Rose said.

Marge glanced back down at the recipe card that had been left to her by Lily. “I never saw the original recipe, only the version that our former Directrice gave to us.” She sucked in a large, dramatic breath and shook her head. “Albatross Bliss
poisoned
people! What is wrong with your family?”

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