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Authors: Kathryn Littlewood

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BOOK: Bite-Sized Magic
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“They aren't my family,” said Rose, feeling slightly defensive—only there wasn't enough time to explain the Bliss family tree, and how a never-settled feud between two brothers—good-hearted Filbert and dark-hearted Albatross—led to two kinds of kitchen magic. There was helpful magic worked by Rose's mother (and by Rose, too, she reminded herself). And there was the dark magic Albatross and his descendants performed.

“But never mind that. Even though these are awful”—Rose pointed at the various bowls in front of her—“they're nowhere near awful enough.”

“What do you mean?” said Gus, hopping up onto the table. He shivered and all his hair stood on end. “I really
hate
bugs.”

“This recipe only makes the Glo-Balls irresistible from the outside,” Rose explained. “They need to be irresistible from the
inside
.”

Just then, Gene waddled over to the group. Rose ran her finger across her mouth, as though she was zipping up a zipper, and motioned for Gus to be quiet.

“She really knows her stuff!” said Gene, patting Rose on the back.

“Indeed!” Melanie and Felanie said simultaneously, staring into one of the frosting bowls.

Rose beamed as she flipped through the pages of the Apocrypha and found this recipe, which seemed
perfectly
awful.

 

FAMINE CAKE: For the terror of the towns

 

It was in 1742 in the Irish Town of Ballybay that the nefarious Albatross descendant Callum O'Frame did bake tiny cakes that, when eaten, did cause the folk of Ballybay to feel a great emptiness in their bellies. They did eat as much food as they could, but nothing did cure the hunger. They ate up all of their own food, then did rove about the land in search of food, murdering their neighbors for boiled potatoes and shepherd's pie. The Ballybayans did transform into ravenous beasts.

 

Sir Callum O'Frame did mix two fists of
flour
with one fist of
chocolate powder
and one fist of
white sugar
. He did add one staff of
cow's butter
with two
chicken's eggs
and one fist of
milk
, one acorn of
vanilla
, and the
howl of a Hag o' the Mist
, which surpassed even the howling stomachs of the villagers.

 

“So, if we make this recipe, then we'll become beasts?” Marge asked. She pulled off her chef's toque, which was no longer white, exactly—it was dirtied with bits of food coloring and brown sugar. “I don't want to become a howling hag.”

“This'll cure you,” said Rose, pointing to the fine print on the back of the page.

 

BUNNY BUNS: To cease the effects of the FAMINE CAKE

The traveling baker Seamus Bliss did witness the murderous starvation of the perfectly well-fed Ballybay villagers and did fix for them sweet buns that did cause them to feel perfectly satiated whenever they touched the fur of a pure and sweet rabbit.

 

Sir Bliss did mix three fists of
flour
with one acorn of the
yeast
, one fist
cow's milk
, one
chicken's egg
, and one fist of sugar. He did add the
blessing of the Benedictine Bunny.

 

Thereafter, the townsfolk did wear preserved rabbit's feet around their necks—garnered from rabbits who had died of natural causes, of course—so that they would always be touching the fur of a pure and sweet rabbit.

 

“Wow!” Gene exclaimed, his eyebrows spiking nearly to the top of his head. “Maybe that's the origin of rabbit's-foot key chains! I love those! I have a whole box of 'em under my bed!”

“But where are we going to get the Benedictine Bunny?” Rose wondered aloud. “Let alone a Hag o' the Mist?”

While the bakers stood around and thought, Gus hopped into Rose's arms and whispered into her ear. “It looked like they have every possible ingredient in that cake-shaped warehouse,” he said softly. “The one with the robots. I'm sure they'd give you the Hag o' the Mist. The Benedictine Bunny, on the other hand, might cause some suspicion. You'd probably have to steal that one.”

“Good idea,” Rose whispered into the cat's ear. She let Gus hop down onto the floor, and then repeated his idea word for word.

“I'll go,” said Gene after Rose had finished speaking. He puffed out his chest. “I used to do some heavy-duty shoplifting when I was a teenager, before I straightened myself out and found baking. I'm sure I could make that Benedictine Bunny disappear like a rabbit in a top hat.”

“Gene, my friend, we've all done things we aren't proud of,” said Marge, patting him on the back. “I once stole a horse from a racetrack. It's a long story.” She grinned broadly. “Point is, I'll be your wing-woman.”

“No!” Felanie cried out. “It's too dangerous!”

“Steal a bunny?” Melanie asked. “It's too sweet a thing to steal!” She turned to Jasmine, who was breaking up a chocolate bar and feeding the pieces to Ning. “Did you hear this, Jasmine? Marge and Gene are going to steal a bunny!”

“Hmm?” Jasmine said, looking up.

“Never mind all that,” Marge said. She walked right up to Jasmine and took two pieces of chocolate out of her hand. With one of them, she drew dark lines underneath her eyes—like a football player would do. With the other piece, she did the same thing for Gene.

“There,” Marge said. “Now we're basically unrecognizable. Come on, Gene.” She popped the nubs of chocolate into her mouth and winked at Rose. “Duty calls.”

 

Rose and Gus and the rest of the bakers stayed behind in the test kitchen preparing two versions of the revised Glo-Balls chocolate cake recipe: one for the Hag o' the Mist's howl, and one for the Benedictine Bunny's blessing. They made giant portions of the batter in two metal mixing vats the size of timpani drums that Jasmine wheeled out from a storage closet.

“Poor bunny,” Melanie kept muttering. “Poor, poor bunny.”

Poor, poor me,
Rose thought. If it hadn't been for Felanie, Ning, and Jasmine pitching in, she would have ruined both batches of mix. No matter how much she tried to focus on the recipe, she kept making mistakes. She kept seeing her parents and Balthazar in that hotel room, surrounded by Mostess treats. And she kept hearing Mr. Butter say, “Or else!” What would he do to them if she failed?

“Maybe you should do cleanup on this recipe?” Jasmine gently suggested, handing her a bowl filled to the brim with goopy implements.

“Good idea,” Rose said.

Just as she was washing the thin chocolate cake batter off of a giant mixing spoon, Marge and Gene returned. They looked a bit tired, but happy grins were stretched across their faces. The chocolate lines under their eyes must have sweated off, leaving their cheeks a bit muddy-looking. But one thing was clear: they were excited.

“How'd it go?” Rose asked.

Marge was pushing a cart that held two red mason jars. One was four feet tall and two feet wide. Through the translucent red glass, Rose could see a ghostly old woman lurking inside. The other jar was the standard size and contained an adorable cream-colored bunny wearing a black-and-white collar.

“Success!” Marge cried, pumping her fist in the air.

The other bakers crowded around the cart, oohing and ahhing at the mason jars. While they were distracted, Rose crouched down and had a brief conversation with Gus, who'd been tugging at her apron with an extended claw.

“I'd be careful with that Hag o' the Mist,” Gus whispered as Gene strained to push the jar toward the prep table. “I hear they're very . . . unruly.”

“What
is
she?” Rose asked, squinting at the ghostly woman in the jar. She had stringy gray hair, wrinkled white skin, and a long, pointed nose. Rose couldn't tell whether the Hag was staring past Rose or straight at her. It was unnerving, to say the least.

“Hag o' the Mist,” Gus began, clearing his throat, “is mostly a Welsh phenomenon. They are creatures of hollowness, made of mist. They're said to prey on the hearts of the innocent. They howl because of the terrible emptiness in their bellies and the terrible ache in their hearts, an ache that can never be filled, no matter how many souls they eat.”

“That doesn't sound good,” Rose said, then stood up. She repeated this new information to the group.

“Sounds like my ex-husband,” said Marge with a low moan.

Rose covered one vat of chocolate batter and slid the other vat forward.

Opening the large jar containing the Hag, Marge said, “It's all yours, Haggy!”

The Hag burst from the jar, growing to full size in moments. She was as large as the bakers, though nowhere near as fat. Her black eyes darted around the room. She raised her claw-like hands to the ceiling and let out an ear-splitting howl.

The stand mixers rattled and the linoleum floor tiles curled at the edges. Crumbles of plaster fell from the ceiling. Rose plugged her ears with her thumbs, but the Hag's unholy shriek seared her eardrums like a hot poker.

Prodded by the scream, the chocolate batter rippled up from the mixing bowl and began to revolve in the air, spinning itself into a giant tilting sphere. It spun wider and wider, creating a hollow shell, the chocolate turning at such an intense speed that it barely looked like it was moving at all.

A moment later, the Hag hiccupped and stopped howling.

Wow,
Rose thought.
That was ten million times worse than Marge's shrieks. And I thought
those
were bad
.

At the same moment, the batter stopped spinning, and in the blink of an eye, it settled back into the bowl with a loud
sploosh
. A stink of rot and the particularly nasty breath of a cafeteria full of hungry people rose from the bowl.

“Yech!” Ning said, fanning the air from his face.

The Hag o' the Mist sniffed around the room, searching for something, and her black, empty eyes fastened on Rose.

An innocent heart,
Rose realized.
She wants to devour my heart.
“Grab the jar!” Rose cried. “Help!”

CHAPTER 8
Gorging on Glo-Balls

R
ose hid behind the six bakers as Marge turned the mouth of the jar toward the Hag.

“Keep it away from me!” Rose called out. She closed her eyes but all she could see were the beady black irises of the Hag. Focused on her. Wanting to devour her.

“Don't worry, Rose,” Marge said. “We'll protect you!”

“Just try it, Haggy,” cried Felanie, crooking a finger.
“Just try.”

“Yeah, come and get it,” Melanie purred. “Get. It.”

The Hag o' the Mist growled so long and so deeply that the floor rumbled. All the hair on Rose's head seemed to stand at attention as the Hag surged toward her.

But the bakers never moved. They stood their ground and thrust out the mason jar, snapping the Hag out of the air in front of Rose at the very last second. Felanie snapped the lid shut, and Melanie locked the clasp, trapping the Hag, who smacked her face on the bottom so hard that she dissipated into mist again.

“Phew,” said Rose with a shiver. “That was close.”

Gus raised his head from behind the bowl of one of the big stand mixers. All of his hair was standing on end, as though he'd been charged with static electricity. “Is that thing trapped again?” he asked softly.

“All locked up,” Rose said, relieved.

The bakers set the jar in a corner of the room. As they all watched, it rattled for a few seconds, then went still. “Phew,” said Ning. “That thing was scarier than my own grandmother.”

Once everyone had settled, Melanie and Felanie began spooning the altered chocolate batter into little Glo-Ball-shaped cake tins. Meanwhile, Marge uncovered the other vat of chocolate. “Now for the antidote,” she said.

Rose pulled over the other mason jar. “Anything I need to worry about with this one?” she asked the cat.

Gus shrugged. “That it is too dumb to help, perhaps? It's a rabbit, after all.”

Rose unclasped the lid of the second jar and drew out the Benedictine Bunny. She stood holding him, stroking his silky fur.

His eyes, like the Hag o' the Mist's, were pitch-black, yet instead of a hollow coldness, they radiated warmth and innocence and light. He was the sweetest thing she'd ever seen, and Rose was overcome with a desire to cradle the Bunny in her arms forever. All of the bakers stopped their work and stared, entranced by a feeling of utter peace and calm.

“Wowie zowie,” Jasmine said. “That is the most beautiful bunny I've ever seen.”

“It has—” Ning struggled to finish his sentence. “An otherworldly tenderness!”

“It's fluffy!” Melanie whispered.

Everyone was so busy staring at the Benedictine Bunny that they didn't see the Hag o' the Mist sniffing frantically within her jar, her empty eyes boring through the scarlet glass and straight at the innocent bunny.

Rose dandled the bunny near the chocolate batter. “Now what?” she whispered, not wanting to disturb the perfect creature.

“You're in luck,” said Gus. “I'm familiar with basic conversational Rabbitsch. I'll ask him to bless the batter.”

Gus purred a series of long and short purrs, something like Morse code. The Bunny seemed to smile and nod, then he hopped over to the edge of the prep table and sat on his hind legs, raising his soft paws in the air. He closed his eyes and uttered a series of squeaks, which sounded to Rose like the sweetest music she'd ever heard.

Behind her, the red jar containing the Hag o' the Mist began to rattle. It shook and shook and then clattered to the floor. The glass cracked and a tiny chip tumbled out. The Hag o' the Mist squeezed triumphantly through the tiny hole in the glass and, with a howl, rushed at the Benedictine Bunny.

The Bunny continued his incantation, oblivious.

Rose covered her ears and threw herself in front of the Hag, but the misty white figure passed right through her. Jasmine jumped in front of the Bunny, but the Hag shot through her, too, like a nearly invisible arrow.

“The Bunny!” Melanie cried.

“What?” Felanie called out over the Hag's howl.

“THE BUNNY!”

The Hag stopped short right in front of the Benedictine Bunny and opened her mouth, wider and wider, until it was a round black pit as big as the rest of her body. She began to inhale with a sound like an industrial vacuum.

The Bunny slowly slid across the cold steel of the prep table toward the Hag's mouth.

“No!” Rose screamed. “Stop!”

Gus leaped atop the table and grabbed the Bunny's cottontail, hitching himself to the edge of the table with his paws, but the Hag was too strong. Gus, too, slowly slid forward.

Rose looked frantically around the room and her eyes settled on the tank of preservatives. “Gene!” she shouted. “The hose!”

Gene's eyes widened in understanding. Quickly, he grabbed the long needlelike nozzle and tossed it to Rose, who caught it and shoved it into the Hag's wide-open mouth.

Then Rose squeezed the trigger.

As the mucousy preservative shot into the Hag, her blank black eyes widened—

With fright,
Rose realized. The Hag was scared.

The gloppy preservative seemed to congeal inside the mist, creating a solid figure of gray terror. The Hag grew more and more solid, finally sinking to the ground under her own weight, until finally she burst in an explosion of gray gunk that coated the walls, ceiling, and all of the stainless steel appliances. Marge covered the second vat of chocolate batter just in time to protect it.

“Eww!” cried Felanie. “Disgusting!”

The Bunny finished his blessing and opened his eyes, a clueless smile on his face. Then he sat back on his haunches and twitched his nose.

“Thank God,” Melanie said. “Thank God the Bunny is safe.”

Gus sighed and looked to Rose. “Looks like they're going to need a new Hag.”

 

By five thirty that evening, the Benedictine Bunny was back safe in its jar and the two different versions of Glo-Balls sat in trays on the prep table, frosted with four kinds of neon frosting.

Rose lifted the tray of antidote Glo-Balls. “I'm going to hide these somewhere in the kitchen,” she said to the team of bakers. “If the sinister Glo-Balls work like they're supposed to, you'll be so desperate for more that you'll search the entire kitchen until you find them. That will be the test. Now don't look!”

The bakers obediently closed their eyes while Rose hid the antidote Glo-Balls underneath an overturned metal bowl on the farthest prep table. When she was done, she climbed the staircase to her room and left the bakers hovering over the tray of dangerous Glo-Balls.

“Dig in!” she shouted.

It was a Glo-Ball massacre.

The bakers fell upon the tray of neon Glo-Balls, pushing one another out of the way, and shoved one Glo-Ball after another into their mouths until their cheeks were so plumped out they looked like chipmunks. Smears of filling and flecks of neon frosting and coconut decorated their faces like confetti.

“I feel sick just watching them,” said Gus.

“You're one to talk,” said Rose. “I've seen what you do to cans of tuna.”

“That, my dear, is a connoisseur savoring a fine meal. This . . . This is a frenzy.”

For her own sanity, Rose was glad the Glo-Balls were out of reach. If they were anywhere near as addictive as the Moony Pyes, she'd be in trouble with even a taste.

After the chewing stopped, Marge and the rest of the bakers lay on the floor digesting, smacking their lips.

Then the rolling began.

Marge clutched at her belly. “I'm starving!” she wailed. “I need more Glo-Balls! My stomach is a black hole that nothing can fill!”

Ning huffed himself to his feet and waddled around the kitchen, crying out, “I call dibs! First I fill the emptiness in my tummy, and then we'll talk about yours, Marge.” He looked in and under everything he found—cabinets, bowls, paper towels. “I know that the Directrice made more of those wondrous, sweet Glo-Balls—where are they?”

Jasmine and Gene were too full to stand, so they crawled along the floor, sniffing the tiles and underneath the stainless steel appliances like bloodhounds.

Melanie and Felanie merely contented themselves with licking the crumbs off the baking sheets, blubbering all the while. “No more! No more! Oh, why are there no more?”

Rose watched the bakers in horror. If these Glo-Balls were unleashed on the country, there'd be no stopping the Mostess Corporation. The false feeling of starvation that the Glo-Balls created would lead to people looting stores, willing to do anything necessary to get more Mostess goods. Anything that Mr. Butter—or the International Society of the Rolling Pin—wanted them to do.

“This is terrible,” Rose said.

“Seems the Hag o' the Mist has done her worst,” Gus whispered.

“I hope those antidote Glo-Balls work,” said Rose. “Come on, Benedictine Bunny—don't let us down.”

Jasmine knocked her head hard against the prep table where Rose had hidden the antidote Glo-Balls. The prep table tipped over and fell to the ground, spilling the hidden Glo-Balls across the floor. They rolled across the tiles, a dozen balls of bright color, and the six bakers gasped and froze in place.

“They're
mine
!” Marge screamed, leaping atop another prep table and sliding down its length.

“Over my fat body!” Gene cried, rolling himself forward.

Melanie and Felanie just roared incomprehensibly and scrambled across the floor, crying and laughing at the same time.

Everyone met in a headbutting crash atop the antidote Glo-Balls, and the screaming and shouting was such that Rose had to cover her ears and turn away. She looked to be sure that each baker got at least one Glo-Ball, then waited for the antidote to take effect and for her sweet-natured team to come back from whatever evil place the sinister Glo-Balls had taken them.

And then? The fighting stopped.

The bakers looked at one another while they wiped their faces of crumbs and licked the last flecks of frosting off their fingers.

Marge was the first to speak. “I need more,” she whispered. “If you little piggies hadn't eaten it all, there would be more for me!” Then she lunged.

“You're the piggy!” Ning shouted, throwing himself at Marge. Soon Jasmine was pummeling Ning with a pair of eggbeaters, Gene was smacking Felanie with a sheet pan, and Melanie was pulling people's aprons over their heads and beating them with a wooden spoon.

Rose turned to Gus in terror. “What happened?” she cried. “I followed the recipe just as written! Why are they still going crazy?”

She took out the card and reread it quickly. “Oh no,” she said, and read aloud:
“Thereafter, the townsfolk did wear preserved rabbit's feet around their necks . . . so that they would always be touching the fur of a pure and sweet rabbit.”

“It's never going to work if they all have to hold on to that spaced-out rabbit,” Gus said. “There's not enough rabbit to go around.”

Rose shook her head. “Gene said he has a box of rabbit's-foot key chains, remember? Those should work. I have to get them!”

Rose began down the stairs, but Gus galloped out in front of her and blocked her path. “No,” he said. “It's too dangerous. They'll rip you to shreds.” He crouched down low, saying, “This is a job that only a cat can do. Allow me.”

He turned and flowed down the steps like a furry gray streak, darted around the edges of the room, and disappeared into the Bakers' Quarters.

 

Five minutes later, by which time Rose began to fear that the bakers might actually hurt one another, Gus zoomed out from their quarters, toting six rabbit's-foot key chains in his mouth. He ran straight into the wrestling knot of bakers.

“The cat has more Glo-Balls!” Rose shouted. “The cat has Glo-Balls!”

For a moment, nothing happened—the bakers just continued their slow-motion tussle on the floor. But then, slowly, the heaving and shoving eased until the six bakers untangled themselves and lay scattered across the tiling, panting heavily, each clutching a rabbit's foot in their frosting-coated fingers. Gene belched loudly enough to rattle the pans on a nearby prep table, and suddenly all the bakers were moaning aloud.

The cat sat in the empty center of the floor, examining the smears of frosting on his fur. “Rose, you're going to have to clean this poisonous stuff off me. I wouldn't want to lose control of my claws. No telling who'd get hurt.”

“I will never eat again,” said Marge. “This is it. This is the last time.”

Suddenly, the red lights in the corners of the room flashed, and the siren wailed. “Mr. Butter is coming!” Rose shouted, dashing down the steps to the kitchen floor. “Everybody, remember: You are still addicted to the Glo-Balls! You have to pretend.”

“I can't!” Jasmine groaned. “I can't even
pretend
to want to eat!”

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