The Devil’s Cinnamon Cookies.
2 per serving.
Ingredients: flour, cinnamon, brown sugar, raisins, and a secret extract. The essence of the extract will not be revealed, as certain ingredients may be found revolting. (Baker’s note: Extract contains no known allergens, so not to worry. Besides, you’re not going to eat it yourself!)
Product Details: Give the cookie to someone you don’t like. The cookie will mentally incapacitate the recipient for an average of two hours so that the person will fail in all endeavors, no matter what they may be. If recipient is giving an important presentation or making a speech, subjects and predicates will not match. Recipient will ramble and appear idiotic to anyone present. If consumed on a full stomach, recipient may fail to control a bowel movement. If consumed on an empty stomach, recipient will experience continuous vomiting. Legends say that one infamous lawyer who ate this cookie during court recess was thrown out of court and disbarred!
Directions: Keep product wrapped in the brown wax paper it came in. Please note that product potency wears off if stored in another container. At approximately 5 a.m. on the day of use, hold up the product facing west before the sun comes up and say, “With all my fury and hatred, I wish upon ______ what he/she deserves.” (Note: All spells that come with Wizard Bakery products are original Latin or Ancient Greek spells translated and made user-friendly. The potency of the spell, therefore, may be weaker, so please do not take the recitation lightly. Say it from your heart and be sure to enunciate.)
The web address of the wizard baker’s online store was wizardbakery.com.
This Web site sold various mystical and questionable products both tangible and intangible. Given the nature of these products, I imagined the store would be small and underground like the businesses run on Internet message boards, but many people had placed orders, posted comments, and left product ratings on the review page. Although some of the products were on the pricey side, there was no credit card payment system. Credit card payments meant the transactions could be traced. Were that to happen, the store would be shut down instantly and the wizard would be arrested for selling “love potions” and “voodoo dolls” that actually worked. He used an offshore account for his business, just in case he ran into trouble with the law.
There were plenty of strange, politically incorrect products people sold and bought on auction sites, the ads for which read, “Use my forehead as a billboard,” “Adopt the ghost that lives in our house for 1000 won. Free shipping. You won’t need A/C at night ever again,” or “Physically healthy, gets excellent grades, cultured. Seeking someone to buy my body.” However, the products sold at the wizard’s online store were fundamentally different from those sketchy, ridiculous items.
“By ‘managing’ the Web site, I don’t mean anything fancy. Just check the site on a regular basis and let me know when something comes up in the comments section or if someone has placed an order. You won’t be able to answer any questions regarding products unless they’re about payment and shipping, but let me know right away when an order comes in. It’s a bit of a hassle, but it saves time. So far, I’ve been making all of the orders all at once every night. It keeps me on my toes.”
Here’s what the wizard sold on a daily basis:
First of all, there were the mysterious pastries. They didn’t look all that different from the ones sold in regular bakeries, but the ingredients were a little different. None of the pastries on display contained the ingredients he had named that first day when I had asked him what was in the bread. Pastries that contained foul or freaky ingredients but were otherwise indistinguishable from the ones found in regular bakeries were carefully wrapped and shipped off to various people who wanted them.
Who would want these?
Each pastry was listed online with a close-up image, partial list of ingredients, and the effect it would have on whoever consumed it. The last line was an elaborate list of possible side effects. After the product details section was a review section where people rated and commented on the products. There were stories of people who bought these pastries just for fun and were pleasantly surprised, whether the intended effect was a coincidence or the result of a heartfelt wish. Most products had been given three and a half to four out of five stars.
The effects they described ranged from gaining confidence or composure to closing an important business deal (“I don’t care if it was a placebo effect—I got what I wanted!”), or someone’s jerk boss messing up a presentation of a new product as a direct or indirect result of the pastries, to reciprocated affection from someone who wouldn’t give them the time of day.
The products, of which there were twenty in total, had a wide range of effects—positive, negative, neutral. These are a few I found interesting:
Willpower Custard Pudding (Top Seller!)
An edible talisman against bad luck for when your nerves are shot during exam periods or important business trips.
Peacemaking Raisin Scone
Give it to someone as an apology. Your apology will be accepted, 100% guaranteed. But if you are apologizing out of duty rather than genuine remorse, it will not work.
Broken-heart Pineapple Madeleine (Top Seller!)
Helps your broken heart heal faster. As its baker, though, I do not recommend it. If you are too eager to “get over it,” you may end up in a meaningless rebound relationship.
“No, Thank You” Sablé au chocolat
Trying to spurn someone’s advances? Give him this in lieu of an answer. He will eat this instead of eating his heart out.
Business Egg Muffins
A nice gift basket for people who are starting a new business. It may not bring them monumental success or wealth, but they will stay in business for a long time. At the very least, they won’t go bankrupt. Doesn’t work for greedy people who keep expanding the business beyond their means.
Memorial Almond Stick (Top Seller!)
Eat this and meditate. You will be revisited by a very vivid memory that you’ve lost or you least want to remember. What’s in your subconscious? What memories are you repressing? For the adventurous and curious.
Forget-Me-Not Mocha Manju
Give it to a friend who is going away—transferring, going abroad for school, emigrating, etc.—your friend will never forget you. Your friend will think of you every time he or she is sad or happy, and won’t be able to resist looking you up.
Depending on the spell, if you eat this before going to bed, your doppelgänger will go to school or work in your place the next morning. Kick back and relax at home, or play hooky somewhere. Please note that you must never show up at school or work to make sure that your doppelgänger is really filling in for you. If people see the two of you together or if you make eye contact with your doppelgänger, one of you will disappear forever. Guess which one.
On the last line of each product detail was an interesting warning:
The changes that take place as a consequence of your wish, whether positive or negative, affect the order of the physical and metaphysical world. Therefore, do not forget the magical forces you used today may circle back to you some day to return the favor.
Was he trying to discourage people from using these products? There was also something similar in the “Terms of Agreement” on the Web page:
All magic spells are cast with the understanding that the effect may return to you. Please use products responsibly.
At the bottom was “Yes, I accept.” and “No, I do not accept.”
Basically what he was saying was that if you were planning on strangling someone, then you’d better be ready to feel your own eyes popping out of your head. I’d been considering using some of these products on Mrs. Bae, but the thought quickly vanished.
Anyway, there were at least twenty orders of “The Devil’s Cinnamon Cookie” every day, which was just one of many items on the menu. If I didn’t know better, I would have wondered about the people who had nothing better to do than believe in casting spells and such, but after seeing what was inside the wizard’s oven, I could no longer be cynical.
The overwhelming majority of our clientele were teenage girls deeply interested in tarot readings and fortune telling based on blood type. The next largest group were women in their twenties. And then there were also the occasional male clients from all age groups and people in their fifties, although those were probably cases of identity theft.
From the online gift shop, people bought things like voodoo dolls or “The Red Notebook of Doom” (which one could use to lay a curse on someone by writing his or her name in the notebook) as if they were nothing more than cute stationery or novelty items, but the products here were in a completely different league from those mass-produced, just-for-fun items. Considering that we lived in a society where market value is everything, whether you were selling matter or soul, I supposed it wasn’t that surprising that these items were bought and sold.
There were about twenty products divided into four categories, but I didn’t have time to read about each one in detail. When I had a little free time here and there, I skimmed over the product descriptions and spent most of the day printing out orders as they came in, passing them to the baker who was an oven door away. It helped him prepare ingredients or doughs in advance if he knew what he had to make.
In between these tasks, I sometimes wondered if Father and Mrs. Bae had stopped looking for me, their missing child who was actually hiding in a neighborhood bakery that didn’t look like anything special from the outside.
Back to that night when I first walked into the wizard’s oven.
The oven led to a cave of unending darkness. I could simply curl up instead of crawling forward and still be devoured by the darkness. I wandered further in, not knowing whether it was safe. I had no choice.
If I kept going, would I end up in some place I once saw in a movie? Like Narnia on the other side of the wardrobe, with its thick, magnificent, medieval forest, white snow no one in the world has ever trod upon, talking animals, centaurs, vines that coil around everything within reach, people made of sand?
I heard him close the door with an unfeeling clank behind my hunched back. I closed my eyes and felt my way forward. Instead of an empty space of boundless depth, I felt something hard as glass against my hands. I pushed and saw another space open up before my eyes.
Where was I?
It was a studio that seemed about twenty times larger than the bakery. A room of these dimensions . . . couldn’t possibly exist in a building this size. I stepped down onto the floor and heard another door shut behind me with a clank. I turned around and saw another oven. Is that what I just crawled out of? That oven? I carefully opened the oven door. I reached in as far as I could. I couldn’t feel anything in there, as expected, except a primordial, chaotic darkness filling every corner.
There was nothing magical about the studio itself, and it didn’t have an otherworldly feel to it, either. It seemed like a very down-to-earth but larger-than-average home. The large, burgundy lab table in the middle of the room caught my eye. The table was full of intricate lab equipment whose names I didn’t know, and all the flasks and beakers contained unidentifiable liquids in pretty colors, smelling of peppermint and simmering over burners. Is it OK to leave them unattended? Won’t they explode?
On the other side of the wall was a luxurious bed like Scheherazade would have lain upon to serve the king in Arabian Nights, and a desktop computer with a 21-inch LCD monitor in a quaint, polished antique design frame. The entire wall to the left was taken up by a heavy, solid-looking, built-in walnut bookcase. The shelves were mostly filled with old hardback books that had what may have been Latin or Hebrew titles on the spines, but there were a few with English or Korean titles.
On the ceiling, so high I wouldn’t be able to reach it even if I tried standing on the bed, were a breathtaking number of constellations etched into the black surface. How did he manage to create such a realistic replica of the galaxy with only manmade lighting? Even the tail of the comet whizzing through the stars looked real.
On the right side of the room, a velvet easy chair faced the fireplace. It was electric, not the romantic kind where you could coax a pile of kindling with a match, but it did produce heat and pretty strong flames that caressed and licked the large cast-iron cauldron hanging from two hooks on each wall inside the hearth. A cast-iron cauldron! Seeing a cauldron, commonly known as the witch’s womb where things fester and rot, I felt I was indeed in a wizard’s house. White smoke curled out of the cauldron and dispersed through the air. I peeked inside the pot to see what was boiling in there and was disappointed to find plain water.
But the cauldron corrected my previous judgment of the baker as a nutcase. I honestly didn’t know what to make of this situation, but the cauldron felt like the most natural explanation. I had never thought about what I would do if I were to meet some mythical creature or a wizard, but instead of panicking or pinching myself, I felt strangely relaxed and optimistic. People believe in invisible things like gods and souls, so why shouldn’t I believe in something right here before my eyes?
Once I accepted what I saw, I was able to guess what the large circular diagram on the floor with straight and curved lines must be. It was a magic circle. There was a small six-pointed star inside a larger twelve-pointed star, and an inscription in the spaces between the lines that appeared to be Hebrew and some mathematical equations. Two large concentric circles framed the entire thing.
In the corner next to the bookcase was a wooden cabinet with eight drawers. It looked like a file cabinet you’d find in an office furniture catalogue. Each drawer had a label written in a language I couldn’t identify.
In stories, the protagonist is guided by intense curiosity about what lies behind ominously closed doors, which compels him to turn the doorknob or pull the handle. The door appears to be locked at first, but he finds himself unconsciously turning the knob, and another world opens up . . . or there’s something horrendous inside . . .. Or this is the general idea, anyway, and the recurring theme in these stories is “the trap.” Open the forbidden door and become the newest addition to the Bluebeard Collection.
My knowledge of this storyline did not stop me from reaching for the drawer handle like a by-the-book fairytale character. The second my hand touched the handle, the bird who was quietly perched on top of the cuckoo clock flew down and slapped my hand with her wing.
I recoiled and looked at the bluebird, nursing my hand. I’d thought it was an ornament on the cuckoo clock, but there it was, flapping in the air and looking at me.
“Sh-should I not o-open this?
The bluebird turned and flew up onto the top of the cabinet instead of answering. It looked somehow familiar. The bird’s stomach was orange and its shoulders blue, the same colors the cashier girl wore. She’d been wearing a blue shirt and jeans with an orange apron. Even her little blue ribbon was in the same place as the spot on the bluebird’s head, placed there as if to make a point.
So you’re the girl.
Bluebird bowed its head as if to nod and went back to its place on the cuckoo clock.
Before I had time to wonder what I was supposed to do now, the oven door clicked open. The baker leaned in from behind the door.
“Uh . . . what are you doing standing there?”
“Ah . . .”
That is, I’m . . . I was trying to come up with an excuse, but I was a regular at the bakery so he knew that I stuttered. No point in tensing up my throat and tongue muscles trying to talk, then, right? The person standing before me, whatever he was, was special. I had a feeling he’d understand a lot of things without my having to say a word. At this thought, I felt a rare sense of lightness spreading in my hands and feet.
“Oh, you were curious about what’s in there?”
See? I didn’t have to say a word. He untied his apron and hung it on a hook by the fireplace.
“You’ve cut your hand. I’ll bet it was her, the bluebird. There’s nothing special in there. Just herbs, leaves, mushrooms, some dried things. The third drawer, however, has animal fur organized by species, and the fourth drawer contains chemically treated animal entrails, also organized by species. She probably stopped you so you wouldn’t pass out when you saw them. Don’t mind her.”
As curious as I was, entrails weren’t my cup of tea, so I nodded emphatically. I had few complaints now that I knew it wasn’t some door of fate that I shouldn’t open (but really must open to keep the plot moving).
He swiveled the purple velvet easy chair that was facing the fireplace, and said, “Sit.”
Sit? Why? Well, OK. I probably looked like a constipated cat with how I kept pacing nervously around his room, and that was bad manners. I forgot all about everything that happened to me only twenty minutes before and sat in the chair he’d offered.
Once I was settled, he extended his hand toward me.
It was like he was training a puppy—Paw.
“Show me your hand. You’re hurt.”
Oh, that. It’s just a little scratch. I extended the hand Bluebird’s wing had grazed. The spine of one of her feathers had broken the skin and drawn a little drop of blood.
He placed a piece of cotton on the back of my hand, chose the seventh test tube from the left among a row of test tubes, and poured a few drops. His touch was like warm water.
The potion seeped into the cotton and stung my hand. When he removed the cotton, the stinging stopped and my hand was healed. From then on, I was ready to be unsurprised by anything else that happened here.
He took another piece of cotton and did the same on my busted lip. I’d forgotten about it.
“And now, we talk. The police were here.”
I carefully pressed my hands against my stomach. If I didn’t press it down, I felt the dam I’d built up bit by bit would come crashing down and release a river I wouldn’t be able to hold back.
“They wanted to know if I’d seen a boy, late teens, average height. Wasn’t surprised. This is the only place open at this hour, so naturally they dropped in. Today’s not the first time the police have popped in for a questioning. They drop by to ask about bar brawls, hit-and-runs, etc. I see those gentlemen pretty often. I thought it’d be more suspicious if I told them I didn’t see anything, so I said I saw someone who kinda fits the description running down the street past the bus station. They didn’t ask much else.”
“They won’t be back. They looked like they couldn’t care less. Well, it’s late. Why don’t you get some sleep? Or are you hungry?”
He gestured at the extravagant bed. I shook my head. The bedroom décor was a bit much for me, and as a fugitive seeking refuge at his place, I didn’t dare take over my host’s bed. I pointed at the floor by the magic circle and gestured that I would be happy to sleep there.
He grabbed me by both shoulders and declared, “No! Children should be in bed at this hour! And I work at night, so if you’re tossing and turning on the other side of the door, I can’t get work done! I could put you to sleep with magic dust, but I’m giving you the option of falling asleep on your own, so do as I say.”
And then came the disheartening words: “Sleep, have breakfast, and go home.”
There is no permanent shelter. I can’t depend on a stranger forever. I knew that. Even if they knew the truth about what happened, they’d think of this as someone else’s family business. There aren’t that many people in this world who would be meddlesome enough to get involved. So all I was really doing was delaying the unavoidable despair by a few hours.
The composure that I’d wrapped tightly around my shoulders began to slip. I loosened my fists. A thin crack ran down my heart. The crack split, and a muggy, unpleasant air slipped in. A river flowed out through my eyes. The image of Father averting his eyes and standing with his hands behind his back floated before me and turned into Mrs. Bae shaking me by the collar, which turned into Muhee’s eyes looking slightly guilty—oh, man.
I bit my lips but couldn’t stop the sobs from leaking out.
“Cry. It’ll make you feel better.”
Already crying, thanks.
“Look, you can cry out loud. Don’t cover your face with your arm. Lift your chin.”
I lifted my head, and he put a glass test tube under my chin. I blinked, puzzled. A tear rolled down my chin and plopped into the test tube.
“Wh-what . . . are y-you doing?”
“Children’s tears are very useful.”
Who’re you calling a child? I’m sure this was just his wizardly way, but he was being too true to his profession. Wouldn't a tissue be more appropriate under these circumstances?
“Happy tears . . . sad . . . angry . . . sentimental . . . undeserved scorn . . . They all contain different elements, so I can make a pretty wide range of potions with them. Excuse me—chin up!”
He held my chin with two fingers and moved it left and right to collect my tears. He was as swift as a nurse drawing blood. On the one hand, I had a feeling he was making fun of me, but I was also grateful that I was too baffled to cry anymore.
His tear collection was almost complete when Bluebird fluttered over and landed on his shoulder. She nuzzled her head against the side of his face, as though she was saying something in his ear.
“She must like you. She’s saying you look like you’re down on your luck and that we should keep you.”
That’s right. I remembered that the girl at the counter was much kinder and friendlier with the customers than the baker had been.
“We can’t do that,” he continued, stroking her head. “It’s every man for himself. Things will work out for him if he’s lucky, or maybe things will get worse. I hid him temporarily only because he’s a regular. If he hides now, he’ll keep hiding every time he’s in trouble.”
Bluebird nuzzled harder against his neck. I felt grateful for her efforts, but he was probably right. But that didn’t mean I could immediately work up the courage to go home and face Mrs. Bae’s cold gaze, Father and his shifty eyes, and the cops uncomfortably stuck in the middle of a family matter. I needed time, at least until the cops filed this case as a regular runaway, and Mrs. Bae calmed down enough to let me defend myself. If not that, maybe just enough time for me to compose a long letter arguing my innocence. If I tried to talk my way out of it, I would be cornered and trapped.
After conversing with the bird in some mysterious way, he seemed to have reached a conclusion.
“. . . Hmm. I see your point. You’re saying that we should grant him a grace period until he can stand up for himself. I hate to be bothered with things like this, but if you feel that strongly about it, fine. But you’re cooking his meals and assigning him tasks. As you know, nannying is not my forte.”
As I watched Bluebird nod, I felt torn between my situation and my dignity. Words like “bothered” and “nannying” gnawed at my heart, but he was right. I was too old to be constantly looked after, but lacked the last bit of confidence necessary to stand on my own two feet. I was fifteen, the most pathetic age in the world.
Perhaps we could arrange this so that it doesn’t turn into “unconditional protection?” Was there anything I could do to help?
“N-not . . . g-going . . . to ask . . . what h-h-happened?”
“I don’t have to.”
Ah, that’s right. All wizards come with a crystal ball or a magic mirror. (So why isn’t there one of those in this room? Does he look at the water in the cauldron instead?) He could probably see things happening far away by looking into the palm of his hand.
“S-so . . . you . . . a-already . . . know ev-ev-everything?”
“Nope. Not a god or a psychic.”
His answer was a little disappointing. He plodded over to the lab table, the tear specimen in hand, and carefully put a stopper in it. Wasn’t he even curious?
“When it comes to humans, I’m not even curious.”
If my assumption was correct, if he really was a being from before there were beings, or a being greater than average beings, he probably had lived for a very, very long time. So it wasn’t surprising that he’d lost interest in human affairs.
“Although I’m not curious,” he continued talking at the lab table, his back to me. “I did notice a few things. A boy just barged into my store panting, shoelaces undone and shirt buttons torn off—I can tell that he’s probably having a rough night. Judging from the red swelling around his neck and the busted lip, he most likely got into a row with someone, and if the adversary were someone his age, he could have gone home, but he came here instead, which means there’s a good chance it was one of his family members, or that he’s not safe in his house. The absence of any scratch marks on the backs of his hands or a single piece of dead skin or hair underneath his fingernails suggests he couldn’t fight back, which either means the opponent was someone older he wouldn’t dare fight, or that he’s no good at hand-to-hand combat. The fact that a boy of his age and metabolism picks up bread at our store every evening suggests he doesn’t eat dinner at home, which means he is either on bad terms with the person who cooks his meals, or that there is no one to cook for him. Conclusion: trouble at home. I think that about covers it, so why should I pry?”
In the few, brief moments he’d seen me from behind the bakery counter, he’d managed to figure out this much about me. My jaw dropped and wouldn’t shut. Had he ever considered a different line of work?
“Anyone can tell that much. But then again, one does tend to pay closer attention to regulars.”
Bluebird flew back up on the cuckoo clock, perched on the ornament, and tucked her head under her wing.
“If you really want to sleep on the floor, suit yourself. But keep far away from the diagram on the floor. If you’re too jittery to fall asleep, try taking two kinds of potions. That clear thing there will help you fall asleep—it’s not a narcotic, don’t worry—the purple potion is for good dreams. Well, it doesn't guarantee you a good dream, but it at least protects you from the succubi. They both just smell faintly of herbs, so you can take them without water.”
“Wh-why are y-you h-helping me?”
“What do you mean? You’re the one who came to me.”
“Y-you w-would do th-this for a-anyone wh-who w-walked in h-here?”
“Like I said: Regulars’ Prerogative. Lots of people come into our store, but you’re the first to make it all the way into the oven.”
His words were cold and businesslike, but the blanket over my shoulders was fluffy and soft, and the potion in my hand was warm. I sincerely wanted to be of use to the baker instead of just being taken in like a stray dog. But what use would a wizard like him have for a child like me?
“Hmm . . . I . . . I . . .”
I didn’t think I should take his hospitality for nothing in return, and I wanted to ask him how I could thank him and Bluebird. I wanted to express my gratitude even though I had nothing on me. But my lips were too slow. Thankfully, he suddenly asked, “Can you manage Web sites?”
And that’s how I came to be the webmaster of www.wizardbakery.com.