A Baker’s Dozen, A Musician’s Dream
A chill wind blew through the thicket of the Haunted Woods, causing Fablar, a Royalboy Cybunny, to shiver and clutch a small written note closer to his chest. Although the woods were filled with trees and foliage, it managed to stay cold and foreboding. Fablar sighed, thinking to himself about how he even got here. Of course, his bad luck would kick in at the most inopportune moment…
The day before, Fablar was wandering the streets of Brightvale, his hometown, when he realized he had just enough neopoints on hand to spin the Wheel of Knowledge. Although 400nps doesn’t sound like a lot, constantly hanging out with his best friend Gley, a Royalgirl Blumaroo, was starting to really take a financial toll on him. She was practically Roo Island royalty, as she was the land’s coveted Beauty Contest pageant princess. Gley and Fablar had been childhood friends, so although she would never stop being his friend, he was far from the glitz and glam she was used to.
Fablar walked up to the Green Draik that ran the Wheel of Knowledge. “One spin, please,” he said, embarrassingly sliding over the last of his neopoints.
The Green Draik stepped aside, letting Fablar have a go at the wheel. Fablar grabbed the top of the wheel and gave it a big push. The ticker was being to slow down, about to land on the fruit space, but at the last moment landed on the scroll space!
"The wheel has stopped spinning!” the Green Draik exclaimed. “And your prize is…” he handed Fablar a rolled-up piece of paper. “A Green Brightvale Job Coupon! Congratulations!”
Fablar’s eyes grew wide as he accepted his reward. This was actually quite a valuable prize! It was worth quite a pretty neopoint on the marketplace, but he had better ideas. He would go to the Faerieland Employment Agency, get a high tier job, and make even more neopoints! And with that, he skipped away, heading toward the land in the purple clouds.
Upon reaching Faerieland, Fablar beelined to Faerie City, where the Employment Agency was located. He walked through the main entrance, dodging busy Neopets along the way, and finally arrived at the receptionist desk.
Fablar slammed his rare job coupon down proudly. “One job, please!”
A kind-looking Rainbow Lenny looked up from her paperwork. “Hello, dear,” she said in a slow drawl. “What kind of job would interest you, son?”
“Well…” Fablar trailed off. He hadn’t really thought of it! A job that would make him plenty of money, ideally, and help him be able to spend more time with his best friend Gley. “Well, I don’t really have very many skills. I enjoy playing the trumpet but I’m not a professional in any way,” he blurted out.
The Lenny smiled, clearly used to inexperienced job seekers. “What about working at a bakery?” she asked sweetly. “There is a new opening at one and your job coupon fits the bill perfectly.”
A bakery! The thought of being surrounded by freshly baked breads and pies made Fablar’s mouth water. He and Gley would often go to the Bakery in Neopia Central, chatting with the Breadmaster and sampling this and that. He would love to be a part of something that brings people so much joy!
“That sounds perfect, thank you,” Fablar said with a big grin. “How can I apply?”
“Well,” the Lenny started, sliding over a short application form. “Fill this out and return it to me and, in exchange for your job coupon, we can get you started right away.”
“Of course!” Fablar exclaimed. That sounded easy enough. He grabbed the application and went over to the sitting area to fill it out. It was simple, asking for his name, species, and date of birth, among a few other things. After he finished signing a waiver, he went back to the receptionist desk and handed over the paper, along with his job coupon, to the Lenny.
She looked over it briefly before nodding. “You’re all set! I’ll input your information right away. In the meantime, you better get over to your new job!” She scribbled an address on a small sticky note and handed it to Fablar. “Best of luck, and thank you for choosing the Faerieland Employment Agency!”
“Thank you!” Fablar replied with a smile. He took the note from her and looked down at it, hardly unable to process what it read: “The Crumpetmonger, Neovia, Haunted Woods.” But… but that wasn’t the Bakery in Neopia Central at all! He turned back to the receptionist’s desk for answers, but the Lenny was nowhere to be seen. What had he gotten himself into?
Back to the present now, Fablar finally navigated his way through the worst of the Haunted Woods and entered Neovia. Neovia, a formerly badly cursed land, was now the brighter part of the woods. The permanent chill of before had faded into a nice breeze, which Fablar was thankful for. He walked through the cobblestone streets and stopped in front of The Crumpetmonger. It was not the Neopia Central Bakery, but there was still a warm, sweet, and also savory smell coming from the store. Fablar took a deep breath before pushing open the front door.
A bell hanging over the door made a small chime and a Yellow Meerca bustled out of the backroom. She was wearing a frilled and striped mauve dress and had a high, white pompadour for a hairstyle.
“Why, young man,” the Meerca cried out, brushing out her apron that was covered in flour and batter mix. “The store is closed for today! No more pastries!”
It WAS getting a little late. Getting from Faerie City to Neovia had taken Fablar a lot longer than he thought it would, but he was told by the Lenny receptionist to get over to his new job right away, so he did.
“I, um,” Fablar started, stuttering a little. “I was sent here by the Faerieland Employment Agency.”
“Oh,” the Meerca said, furrowing her eyebrows like she was trying to remember something. “Oh yes! I put in a job listing a few weeks ago requesting some help, but I never expected them to fill my request. Faerieland doesn’t think very highly of the Haunted Woods, you know.” The Meerca waved her arms around. “Well, better late than never, I suppose. What’s your name, then?”
“Fablar, it’s Fablar,” he stuttered again, still a little caught off guard by everything that had happened that day. “What shall I call you, ma’am?”
The Meerca scoffed lightly. “Don’t call me ma’am, I’m still young, you know! You can call me Sally.”
“Thank you for having me, Sally,” Fablar said. “What can I do to help?”
“Well…” Sally said, tilting her head to the side. “What CAN you do?”
Fablar blushed. “Well, I admit that I don’t know much about baking…”
Sally waved a hand at him. “I already knew that. Look at you, you’re green! Looking at these pastries thinking they just rise when you command them to. Why don’t you start cleaning up in the front room?” Without waiting for a response, she reached over to hand a broom and dustpan to Fablar. “Come to the backroom when you are done.” With that, she opened the swinging doors to the kitchen and disappeared, leaving Fablar alone.
Fablar exhaled deeply. This job wasn’t so bad at all! In fact, Sally was quite pleasant, even though Fablar had barged in afterhours. He began sweeping the floors, collecting crumbs and powdered sugar that had been dropped throughout the day into the dustpan. He was used to doing chores at home, so this wasn’t much different. After the floors, he moved onto the countertop and display cases, washing and polishing them diligently, making sure not to leave any streaks. Although Sally hadn’t been specific, he knew she was definitely concerned about cleanliness.
“Uh, Sally?” he called out. “What would you want me to do with the leftover pastries?”
At his voice, Sally emerged out of the backroom again, covered in more flour than before. She was still kneading a circle of dough in her hands. “Well, of course we never reuse old baked goods. Volunteers from the Neopian Pound usually come by later to collect anything that hasn’t sold, since it’s still good food. Help yourself to something and then come to the kitchen and help me out with the Big Bake!”
At her words, Fablar’s stomach grumbled. He hadn’t eaten all day! “Sure thing, Sally, thank you,” he responded. “But, what is the Big Bake?”
“Well, you didn’t think cream puffs and cakes were made overnight in our sleep, did you? Like some kind of baking faerie?” Sally asked, still kneading the dough. “I bake all throughout the night, either prepping ingredients or preparing custom orders. This is your first shift and I’m happy to have an extra set of hands, so eat quickly and chop chop!” With that, she went back into the kitchen.
Fablar smiled. The Crumpetmonger was no Neopia Central Bakery, but working here wasn’t so bad. He reached into the display case for a Jam and Cream Scone and a Chocolate Bearog Claw. Even though Sally had said they were not to be sold, the two pastries were still amazing! Fablar ate quickly and was ready to join the Big Bake.
He pushed the swinging doors to the backroom of the Crumpetmonger, ready to join Sally in the kitchen. It was well into the night now, which was the perfect time for bakeries. It was when the magic happened, when the bulk of the day’s pastries and pies were prepared.
“Just in time!” Sally called out. She was standing next to a large, industrial oven. “I just started preheating the oven, to 375 F, mind you, so we can begin preparing the pies. Our most popular ones are the Steak and Kidney Pie and the Chips and Curry Pie, so I always make sure to make enough of those two to cover the demand.”
Fablar nodded, trying to remember everything. “What can I do?” he asked.
Sally gestured to the wall next to him. “Put on an apron first, you don’t want baking material all over your clothes now, do you?”
“Of course not, thank you,” Fablar said, reaching for a spare apron that hung on a wall hook. He put it over his head and tied it behind him. “Now what?”
Sally laughed. “You sound so clueless. Now it is time to enter the world of baking.”
“Sorry,” Fablar said. He was really new to working, and baking was definitely a new world entirely to him. But looking over to the mixing bowls, spatulas, and whisks, he felt encouraged. There was always something so endearing about cooking for other people. It was a universal way to communicate, through the stomach. To Sally, he said, “I suppose I’m just trying to be a good employee.”
“Well, watch out, you might end up enjoying working here,” Sally replied lightheartedly. “Start by measuring out flour for the pies, I have the exact amounts written down in a master recipe book on the table. Normally, I keep this book in a safe, under multiple locks and keys, but I pulled it out for you. It is invaluable, dear boy, so please treat it with the utmost respect.”
Fablar nodded, walking toward the tattered book. It was an old, thick grimoire full of worn pages, with notes sticking out here and there. The cover was worn down but Fablar could still see, “The Crumpetmonger” stamped proudly on it.
Sally noticed Fablar examining the book and spoke up, “It was passed down along my family, as are the recipes. All originals too, created and perfected by my grandparents and their grandparents before them. Now, are you going to open it or just stare?”
Fablar laughed. “Of course, sorry. It’s just… amazing to put so much effort put into a craft, you know?”
“No, I don’t know,” Sally replied with a smile. “This has been my life and how I was raised. What do you mean?”
“I just… I’ve been trying to play and learn the trumpet as long as I can remember. And truth be told, I’m uh, not great at it,” Fablar admitted.
Sally put her hands on her hips. “My family always said, ‘no excuses.’ Whatever is holding you back, you can’t let it. Fight it, it’s the only way to get better at anything,” she said. “But first, the Big Bake, non?”
Fablar smiled. “Let’s start!”
Following the detailed instructions in the cookbook, Fablar spent the next few hours measuring out flour, sugars, baking soda, and more to a tee. He would pass them along to Sally, who nodded her appreciation and approval and went off to mix. In addition to making dough for breads, crumpets, and pastries, the two had to make pastry toppings, buttercream, and pie fillings. It was Fablar’s first time for all of these, but Sally kept a close eye on him, adjusting his measurements and making sure he was kneading the doughs and icing the crumpets just right.
As the sun came up, the two stood surrounded by a mountain of baked goods, basking in the delicious smell of their hard work.
“Well,” Sally started, breaking their proud silence. “I suppose having help isn’t so bad,” she said with a small smile. “What do you think about coming back and working tonight, too?”
Fablar grinned. “I would be happy to! Thank you for having me, I am honored to work with someone with so much experience in her craft.”
Sally nodded. “Thank you for your kind words, but it is the least I can do for such a wonderful thing as baking. To practice and perfect it, that is how you show respect.” She handed him a Chocolate Kaussant. “Breakfast,” she said with a smile.
“Thank you,” Fablar replied, accepting it graciously.
As Fablar reached the front door, Sally spoke up. “Fablar,” she said, her voice pensive. “What you said about playing the trumpet before, non?”
Fablar shrugged. “I said that I’ll never be that great at it.”
Sally sighed. “Boy, you think that anyone who is great at anything thought they would be great at it, even good at it? It is a sign of respect for the craft, a sign of understanding. Which is a good thing, a good start. But you must also overcome this fear. Continue to respect it, but know that it is, that the trumpet is approachable.”
“Hmm,” Fablar pondered her words. “I’ll… I’ll remember what you said. I’ll see you tonight for my second shift, Sally,” he said with a wave goodbye.
When Fablar returned to him home in Brightvale, he was almost too exhausted to get ready for bed, but he had other plans. With newfound strength, he brushed off the last of the flour on his clothes, went over to his bookshelf, and took a sizeable case down from the top shelf. It was slightly dusty from neglect, and Fablar quickly brushed it clean before opening it.
Although the outside case was dusty, the gold trumpet inside was gleaming and polished. To study and perfect a craft, it was nothing more than showing respect to the craft itself. He had always thought it was offensive, not being able to play the trumpet well and making disharmonious sounds, but what was actually offensive was to approach the trumpet thinking it was easy. Fablar had gone to the Crumpetmonger to find work, but what he also found was a deep appreciation for honing a skill, which was worth so much more.
And with that, Fablar picked up his trumpet and began to practice.