The Jinjahbread Man
Jade nervously gave herself a prep talk. “Alright, Jadey, you can do this,” she said. “This is not gonna be like the last twenty-six times. This is going to WORK!”
She looked away and squeezed her eyes tightly closed as she turned on the electric beaters. Whir, whir, whir... the batter went smoothly through the beaters and blended all the ingredients beautifully together. Jade looked at it proudly. Yes, this time she would resist doing... what she normally did.
The Kacheek took a whiff of the cookie dough. It was dreamily creamy and smelled like vanilla.
“It just needs... some cinnamon!” Jade decided, forgetting her goal not to add anything extra. She grabbed the jar of finely ground cinnamon and added so much to the dough that it turned brown. It of course smelled heavenly. Jade was proud.
“You know what would go with this?” Jade asked herself, now unable to stop thinking about extra ingredients. “Some mint extract would be GREAT!”
Jade opened the spice cupboard and grabbed the jar labeled Mint Extract. Another jar of the same make labeled Lemon Extract sat next to it.
“Ooh, I bet that would taste good, too!” Jade thought excitedly and dumped half of each of the bottles into the brown dough. She added random spices and extracts to the dough next, raiding the spice cupboard until she felt satisfied. She sniffed the strange-colored concoction.
“Smells... interesting.” Jade thought. “I bet this is better than the recipe, too. Uncle Carl will LOVE this.”
Jade took out the rolling pin and rolled the dough out. She cut out the cookies with an Aisha-shaped cookie cutter and put the tray in the oven. An indescribable scent wafted from the oven as Jade prepared the strawberry icing that she would use to frost the cookies.
Jade used much the same procedure for the icing as she did the cookies. She added strange ingredients that didn’t belong in it until she felt that it was ‘perfect’. The strawberry icing was not smooth but had chunks in it (probably from the dried raspberries she had added). The oven beeped (signaling that it was done). Jade let the cookies cool on a rack and then frosted them with her icing.
“The Strawberry Aisha Cookies are done, Uncle Carl!” Jade called.
“I’ve told you time and time again, Jade; you’re to call me the Breadmaster!” Uncle Carl shouted back. He came into the Bakery’s large kitchen and smelled the cookies. He glared at Jade angrily. “Jade Pfeffernuse, if you went against the recipe again, I will feed you to the Swamp Ghoul!”
“Oh, Uncle Carl, I’m sorry!” Jade burst into tears. “I didn’t mean to! I forgot!”
“Again,” the Breadmaster said. “You forgot AGAIN. You never HAVE remembered to stick to the recipe.” He sighed. “You’ll be the death of my business, Jade. Let’s see how these turned out.”
He picked up a cookie. Jade willed him to like it. He took a bite, then coughed and sputtered.
“Jade, I can’t serve these to the public!” the Breadmaster cried. “What did you add that could make them so horrible??”
Jade listed timidly all the contents of the spice cupboard.
“Well, no wonder!” the Breadmaster fumed. “These are barely even Strawberry Aisha Cookies! I’ll make another batch... CORRECTLY.”
“I’ll help,” Jade offered eagerly.
“No, Jade, just...” her uncle sighed. “Just take a break.”
Jade felt her tears coming back as she left the kitchen. She took off her apron and glumly walked out the Bakery door.
Uncle Carl (a.k.a the Breadmaster) had always been her favorite uncle. That’s because he owned the famous Neopia Central Bakery, and Jade loved to cook. But there was a problem – there is always a problem. Jade couldn’t stand to stick to the recipes. There was always an urge to add something extra that she thought would make it taste “good”. However, that leads us to Jade’s other problem: She couldn’t cook.
Jade came to the Bakery every weekend to help out. It was a long trek from her home in the Lost Desert, even riding Nuk-back. What’s a Nuk? It’s a desert petpet, and according to its description, very feisty and hard to keep happy. That’s exactly how Jade’s Nuk, Julie, behaved. Which was one of the reasons Uncle Carl did not like Jade in the kitchen.
Uncle Carl, though seemingly stern and cold-hearted, really did have a soft spot for his niece. He couldn’t find it in his heart to turn her away when she showed up each Saturday, smiling eagerly. He had offered, of course, to give her cooking lessons, but Jade’s mother had refused, saying she didn’t have enough time. So Uncle Carl had been stuck with Jade for nearly a year with her ruining his various cookies and cakes every weekend. And yet, he still couldn’t turn her away.
After a while, summer ended, as it does every year to the dismay of the Neoschool-age pets. Jade had to go back to Neoschool too, of course, but Uncle Carl suspected that she would still come to the Bakery every weekend. But the Breadmaster received a letter from the Lost Desert just a week into the new school year. It was from Jade.
Dear Uncle Carl, it read.
As you know, the school year has started, and with it there’s Gormball practice, flute lessons, and lots and lots of homework. I really want to come to your Bakery, but my mom says I am just too busy. Oh well... I suppose when Neoschool lets out again for the summer I may be able to come back. Or even on the break we get near the Day of Giving! If it’s ok with you, I would like to come then. You may need help with all the holiday baking!
Sincerely, your niece,
Uncle Carl couldn’t believe his eyes. Jade was to stop coming to the Bakery? He didn’t know weather to be relieved or disappointed. He decided that as for her cooking, he was relieved that she couldn’t visit. But as to her company, he was disappointed. Jade usually gave the Bakery a relaxed and cheerful air.
It was the Week of Giving. Everything was heating up, and no place was busier than the Bakery. Uncle Carl was making gingerbread men by the gross (144) and as many green-and-red cakes as he could make at one time. He also had to man the cash register on the public side of the Bakery, where most of Neopia Central’s citizens were impatiently lined up. Uncle Carl was almost relieved when Jade arrived.
“Alright, Jade, there’s no time to lose,” the Breadmaster said as soon as she’d walked in the door. “Here’s your apron. Now I need you to start making gingerbread men as fast as your paws will allow.”
He led Jade into the kitchen and gave her a premade lump of dough. He smacked his forehead. “Oh, Queelas!” he groaned. “We’re out of frosting; I forgot! Jade, can you go across the street to the Chocolate Factory and ask the shopkeeper for some more?” He handed his niece a few thousand Neopoints.
Within minutes, Jade returned with an armload of bins full of white frosting. She calmly cut out the gingerbread men from the dough and baked them perfectly. She wordlessly frosted them and put on the gumdrop eyes and buttons. The Breadmaster had never seen Jade do things this well.
“Why, Jade, when did you learn to cook so fantastically?” he asked her, delighted.
“I quit the Gormball team, and my mom decided that the cooking lessons you’d mentioned seemed like a good idea,” Jade replied blankly, not looking up from her work. “I took them at the Lost Desert’s Food Stall. The chefs there are amazing. They can sculpt sand into fruit shapes without a mold or anything!”
Uncle Carl remained silent. He went about cooking more cakes and serving them, but Jade was not chatty as she had been. She had not said anything other than what she told him about her cooking lessons. She seemed fully absorbed in the gingerbread men, which Uncle Carl sold out of regularly.
Then something strange happened: a Gnorbu came in, looking shocked and shaken. He asked Uncle Carl for the chef of the gingerbread men, which he had bought three of. Jade came out of the kitchen.
“You’ll never believe it!” he said. “It was so strange! I was about to eat one of the gingerbread men when it hopped right out of my hand and ran away! I thought I was seeing things, but the same thing happened with the other two gingerbread men!”
“That’s ridiculous,” the Breadmaster scolded. “Gingerbread men do not just grow legs and walk away.”
“It didn’t need to grow legs,” the Gnorbu pointed out. “It already had them.”
“I will not have such jest in my shop!” the Breadmaster declared. “We are overworked as it is, and we do not have time for silly and preposterous jokes. Be gone, if you have no business here!”
The Gnorbu muttered something about not being crazy and trudged out of the shop.
“What was all that?” Jade asked, blinking.
“That, my niece, was a Gnorbu trying to have some fun,” Uncle Carl. “But he is sadly mistaken if he thinks he can try his silly pranks out in the Bakery!”
“Oh,” Jade said. “It actually was kind of funny.”
“Perhaps, perhaps,” Uncle Carl sighed. “But we really are pressed for time. We need to keep baking and – speak of Jhudora, here’s the next crowd now!”
Jade hurried into the kitchen just as a slew of Neopets burst through the door.
“Yes, please, yes,” Uncle Carl strained to be heard over the commotion. “Please, everyone, settle down. Now, sir, may I take your order?”
“I’ll tell you what my order is,” the Grarrl growled angrily. “I demand to know what you mean by this prank!”
Shouts of agreement rang out from the crowd. “YEAH! WHAT’S THE BIG IDEA?”
“I am afraid I do not know what you are talking about!” Uncle Carl replied calmly.
“You know EXACTLY what I mean!” the Grarrl raged. “What did you put in those cookies that made them run away? We regular Neopians actually like to enjoy a regular Christmas cookie here and there!”
“Cookies? Run away?” Uncle Carl scratched his head. “I had heard this complaint once before, but I am afraid it is quite difficult to believe--”
The Breadmaster stopped as his eyes wandered to a silver platter that sat a few feet away on the counter. It was labeled ‘Free Samples – Take one!’ and had about a dozen fresh-baked gingerbread men on it. But that was just it – the gingerbread man was blinking.
The Neopets in the crowd followed his gaze and jaws dropped. They watched in awe as the gingerbread man stood up, stretched, and hopped off the counter. He scurried across the floor, hopped onto a small café table, and jumped out the open window. He could be seen running down the street. A few pedestrians rubbed their eyes at the sight and some dropped the brightly-wrapped packages they were carrying.
“...see?” the Grarrl said at last. “See? What did we tell you? Those gingerbread men are alive!”
“I... I...” The Breadmaster was speechless. “I... am in shock. But I did not make those gingerbread men.”
“Who was it then?” the Grarrl asked. “Everyone knows the Breadmaster works alone.”
“It was my niece, Jade,” the Breadmaster said, his face pale. “She’s here visiting me, helping me with the holiday rush.”
A few people murmured to each other saying, “Oh, the niece... she used to come here often.”
“Well, we want to have a word with her!” the Grarrl said, furious. “Get her out here, now!”
“E-er... fine,” the Breadmaster agreed quietly. He walked to the kitchen doors, trying to be calm, but he was trembling. He had not gotten over what had just happened. He opened the white doors.
“J-Jade?” he called. “Jadey, there are some, um, customers that would like to talk to you.”
“Coming, Uncle Carl!” Jade replied, trying to be upbeat. The Breadmaster could tell, though, that she had seen everything from the kitchen window. She was sweating and as nervous as her uncle.
“Hello,” she said to the crowd. “Welcome to the Bakery. Can I help you?”
“That isn’t gonna cut it!” the Grarrl roared. “Now tell us what you meant by that prank! It was NOT funny in the LEAST!”
“I-I...” Jade began. “I saw what happened. And I don’t know what to say. I followed the recipe, honest I did! But those cookies... they really were alive.”
“What ingredients did you use?” a Gnorbu asked. It was the same one from before.
“I used Kau-Kau Farm Milk...” Jade started. “I used eggs, sugar, flour, baking powder...”
She listed all of her ingredients.
“What did you put in the frosting?”
“I don’t really know,” Jade realized. “I bought it from the Chocolate Factory.”
“They don’t make frosting there,” the Gnorbu explained. “They buy it all from different manufacturers. Candy is their specialty, not icing.”
“Jadey, please go in and fetch one of the frosting bins,” the Breadmaster said steadily. Jade nodded and disappeared into the kitchen. She returned with one of the empty white bins and started to read the print on the bottom.
“Um, Neopia Central Chocolate Factory,” she began. “White Icing #6, exported. Made in the Haunted Woods. Manufacturer...”
She stopped and her voice trailed off. “Well?” the Grarrl asked. “Who’s the manufacturer?”
“I...” Jade stopped. She swallowed. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s no answer!” the Grarrl protested. “Read the print!”
“...Manufacturer... Edna the Witch.”
There was a collective gasp from around the room.
“Edna!” somebody said. “So that’s what’s doing this to the cookies!”
“Stop using the frosting, then!” the Gnorbu resolved.
“We most certainly will,” the Breadmaster assured them. “And we will also warn the Chocolate Factory owner, Mr. Canes, of the manufacturer of this product.”
The crowd nodded and praised the Breadmaster’s choices and they filed out of the shop. Jade was looking with wonder at the plate of free gingerbread men. One got up and started to walk around. Jade offered him her index finger. The little cookie shook it and Jade laughed softly.
“What do we do?” she asked her uncle without looking up from the cookies. “We’ve already made so many... what do we do with them?”
“Destroy them, of course,” the Breadmaster replied, going in and out of the kitchen with the white bins of frosting. He was labeling them ‘DANGEROUS MATERIAL’ and stacked them by the door.
“No!” Jade cried. The gingerbread man squeaked in fear and hid behind the cash register. “Uncle Carl, you’re scaring the poor thing. No, we can’t just destroy them. They have feelings now. They’re alive. You saw so yourself.”
“But Jade, what is there to be done with living gingerbread men?” the Breadmaster asked his niece.
“We can’t call them ‘gingerbread men’, for one,” Jade said, ignoring his question. She patted the cookie on the head. “If anything at all, it needs a different spelling. These can’t be eaten, so they have to have a new name.”
“Jadey, you must understand,” Uncle Carl said softly. “We cannot do anything for them. They have no use and they have no place. Not here, not anywhere.”
“But they DO!” Jade protested. “They have to!”
“Jade, you will have to find the purpose yourself,” Uncle Carl told her.
“Oh, I think they may have one use...” Jade said, a smile spreading on her face. “Yes, I think we could make this work.”
“Step right up, step right up!” Jade called from outside the Bakery. She was wearing a top hat and swinging a black-and-white cane. “Come and buy the world’s most unique petpet, the Jinjah!”
Spice the Jinjah stood on a cardboard box beside his owner. Customers looked on unbelievingly as a little gingerbread man hopped and danced around on his tiny stage, wearing his own top hat and swinging his own cane.
“Are you sure that these are safe?” a little Acara asked.
“Oh, they’re really quite docile,” Jade promised. “And they seem to be very athletic, too, so they’re fun to jog with.”
“Ooh, they’re adorable!” the little girl squealed as Spice shook her paw. She skipped away and joined her siblings who were drinking Borovan.
Her mother lingered behind and asked Jade, “I’ll take one please. It will make a nice Day of Giving present, and she doesn’t have a petpet yet.”
Jade nodded, collected her 300 Neopoints, and picked up Spice. She put the Jinjah on her shoulder and opened the cardboard box. She gently picked up one of the other Jinjah and handed it to the mother. She put it in her purse, thanked Jade, and left for her home so she could make it a temporary bed in her closet.
Jade waved goodbye just as a Christmas Bruce approached her.
“These are magnificent petpets!” the Bruce exclaimed. “Hello, my name is Holly, and I own the Happy Valley petpet shop. These petpets would be perfect for my shop. I’m sure they’d sell wonderfully and would fit right in on Terror Mountain. If I may ask, would you be willing to sell me these petpets?”
“Well,” Jade looked down at the cardboard box. “I guess. They really do enjoy the cold. And I won’t be here to sell them when Neoschool starts again, and Uncle Carl is much too busy to look after them all...”
She thought it over a moment. “Yes,” she said. “I think I will sell you these petpets. But you must take my gingerbread man recipe and the magic icing that makes them Jinjah. Edna makes it, so you know where to find more.”
“Fantastic!” Holly cried. “Thank you so much.”
Jade went and wrote down the recipe and came out with the last of all the icing from Edna’s Tower. Holly was ready to go and picking up the cardboard box when she looked at Spice and said, “And him? Is he going too?”
Jade held Spice in the palm of her hand and looked at him. “Spice,” she said. “All of your friends are going with Holly to Terror Mountain. Do you want to go as well?”
Spice looked right into the Kacheek’s eyes and shook his head.
“I’m sorry, Holly, but Spice will remain here with me,” Jade apologized.
“I understand,” Holly nodded. “Well, thank you again. I will keep in touch to tell you how they get along. Do visit often!”
“Thank you, I will!” Jade called as Holly headed off to Terror Mountain. After she could not be seen on the horizon, Jade went inside the warm Bakery, found Uncle Carl, and explained what had happened. He nodded.
“Yes, that seems best,” he said thoughtfully. “Though I see you kept Spice.”
“Yeah,” Jade said. “It was his choice, but he decided to stay.”
She set Spice down on the counter. “Well, Uncle Carl, I leave soon for Neoschool again.”
“Yes...” Uncle Carl said regretfully. “And I have enjoyed your company. But I am sorry that we could not have had a normal Week of Giving.”
“Don’t be sorry at all,” Jade said. “Wait till my friends hear that I created the first Jinjah-bread man!”
The Breadmaster smiled. “Happy Day of Giving, Jadey.”
And despite all that had happened, the Breadmaster could not have wished for a different niece.