Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Djinnjerbread Man

The Djinnjerbread Man is a story I've written especially for this holiday season. It's featured on Episode 65 of Inciting A Riot: the Podcast. Below is the full text of the story.

Joyous Yule to you and yours!

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte



Once, a very long time ago in the court of Queen Elizabeth I, there was a vast kitchen made of cobbled stone and filled with beautiful wooden tables and shiny tools. It is important to note the kitchen first in this story, because the Queen loved to eat. Royalty from around the world would come to the festivals put on at the court of Elizabeth, and her famous chefs never disappointed. And while Pierre the Royal Roaster and Antonio the Royal Sauce Maker would get much of the praise from the guests, the Queen’s favorite food came from neither of them.

The Queen’s favorite food came from a man named Helmut. He was the Royal Baker and a very gifted one at that. Helmut had a son named Fritz, who wanted nothing more than to become the next Royal Baker. And, he was well on his way, too, except for the little problem of his father not allowing him to help in the baker’s kitchen. It never stopped Fritz, though, as he would go in after all the cooks and chefs and bakers were through with their day’s work and practice his baking from the recipe books conveniently left on the counter.

In the late summer, when Fritz was 10 years old, a great caravan arrived at the palace bringing the Grand High Emperor of Indasia to meet the Queen. He brought along his jugglers and fire breathers and an array of beautiful princesses and handsome princes. Fritz was amazed, even though he wasn’t allowed to meet them. He stared at them out of a window, watching them set up their temporary castle of tents. Of course, this meant that the cooks were working overtime in the kitchens and that his father, Helmut, had to bake up his most special goodies for the guests and royals.

The Grand High Emperor of Indasia’s court stayed for days, showing off the wonders of the part of the world the mapmakers dared not draw. There were court jesters who could turn invisible and women who called up spirits with their singing just to dance with them. But the greatest of all was the Grand High Emperor’s Royally Appointed Wizard. The magic he could do put all of the rest of the wonders to shame. He could call up storms and also calm them down. He could turn one thing into another, make people fall in love, and there were rumors he could raise the dead. Though, nobody saw him do it. Fritz loved watching him most of all, in between chores and helping around the castle of course.

Toward the end of the Emperor’s visit, Pierre the Roaster and Antonio the Sauce Maker were not having the best of days. Each of their dishes was striking out with the guests. The appetizers weren’t appetizing. The soups were bland, and the chicken…well, we shouldn’t even discuss the chicken. The whole meal was riding on Fritz’s father to prepare an extraordinary dessert.

He had mixing bowls and sheets of dough rolled out, and he was pacing back and forth trying to figure out just how to put the whole thing together. As he paced out of the room, Fritz peeked his head around the corner. Wanting to help his father, he sniffed the bowls and poked his finger into the mixture. Tasting it he thought to himself, Hmm… Something’s missing. He looked around at the small bowls of herbs from the Royal Garden. He picked a familiar herb, ground it up a bit, and put a few small pinches into the large mixing bowl and gave it a stir.

Luckily for everyone in the household - especially Pierre and Antonio - the dessert was a hit. The pastries were delicious. The puffs were filled with fluffy creams and the cookies had the perfect amount of chocolate. The best of all, however, was the cake that Helmut had made 5 tiers high. With buttercream frosting and moist chocolate cake, it was the most wonderful treat the guests had ever eaten. The Grand High Emperor was quite pleased and rubbed his belly. He nodded his approval to the Queen and raised his glass towards the kitchen with the rest of the table following suit.

Later that night, after the going away party had ended and the caravan was just finishing loading, Helmut and Fritz heard a knock at their apartment door. Grumbling, Helmut lumbered to the door and opened it then gasped and bowed immediately.

“Hello, Good Sir!” said the Queen, who never appeared at the door of a cook, or anywhere near the kitchens for that matter.

“Hullo, m’Lady,” said Helmut with his head lowered.

“I was hoping I could extend my gratitude to you for the marvelous dish you prepared this evening. Without you my party would have been a dismal failure.”

“Oh! Mum, you are most gracious in your thanks, but really I love to bake. It was my pleasure.”

“Do stand up, sir. Nobody is here, and we don’t have to do all that silly Queen/servant stuff.”

“Thank you, mum,” said Helmut, kissing the Queen’s outstretched hand and standing.

“By the way, is your son here? He has a visitor.”

“Yes, mum,” Helmut said. He quickly walked to the 2nd room of their two-room apartment and told Fritz he had a royal visitor.

The boy didn’t know what to do. He’d never been allowed to meet any of the Dukes or Lords, let alone the Queen. This was a very special visit, and he needed to look his very best. Fritz had one good shirt that had three shiny buttons and large cuffs around his wrists. He put it on, tucked it into his pants, and smoothed his hair. Walking to the front door, the Queen smiled at him.

“What a lovely child!” she exclaimed.

Fritz stood politely and took the Queen’s outstretched hand, giving his best greeting. Then, into the doorway came a man, tall and thin. He stepped into the room and immediately frightened poor Fritz. He was dark-skinned with a scraggly beard and long robes bedecked with jewels the color of oceans and balefire and forest moss.

“Hello, young lad,” said the strange man.

“This is the Grand High Emperor’s Royally Appointed Great Wizard. He wanted to speak to Fritz,” the Queen said, smiling. Helmut looked a bit confused, but gracious that the Queen was visiting his little apartment. Fritz bowed to the tall man.

“Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Great Wizard,” said Fritz.

“Well,” said the Queen. “I really must be going. I’ll leave you all. Thank you so much again.”

Helmut replied, “It was my great pleasure and honor, my Lady.”

“By the way,” she said. “What was that marvelous taste in the cake?”

“What do you mean?” asked Helmut. “It was my finest chocolate cake with buttercream frosting.”

“Yes, and it’s always delicious, but there was something different this time. Whatever it was, keep it up. Simply marvelous!”

And, leaving Helmut rather puzzled, the Queen whisked herself off to her large Royal Bed in the Royal Apartment in the Royal section of the castle. Helmut went off to bed leaving Fritz alone with the Great Wizard.

“I just wanted to say thank you for your quick thinking and ingenuity,” said the Wizard.

“My what?” asked Fritz, quite taken aback.

“Your secret ingredient that you added to the cake. It truly was delicious and very thoughtful of you. Such a kind young boy to help out his father like that.”

Suddenly Fritz was blushing and said, “How did you know?”

“Oh, a Wizard has his ways,” said the Wizard winking, which put an ear-to-ear grin on the boy’s face. “The caravan is taking us all back within the hour, but I wanted to leave you a present. I hope you enjoy it. He’s been in my Wizarding family as far as anybody can remember, but I think you might just need him soon enough.”

“Him?”

The Great Wizard of Indasia handed Fritz a brightly colored package with a gold bow on it. The tall man then left in a swirl of robes with the boy marveling at his new present. He slowly walked back to the doorway of the second room in their apartment to see if his father was still awake, but didn’t need to peek in as he could hear the snoring from the outer room. So, Fritz tiptoed his way down the hall and into the baker’s kitchen.
Unwrapping his present with fury and glee - Fritz did not typically receive presents, you see, especially from Royal Appointees - he was surprised to find a small brown box tied with string and fixed with a bronze seal. The metal was embossed with strange markings and seemed to Fritz to shine a little more than the light should have allowed. Carefully, the boy popped open the seal and pealed apart the paper.  Inside the box was something he never expected.

A cookie. A dull, brown cookie. It didn’t look very tasty; it didn’t even have any chocolate in it! The boy dropped on to the chopping block table top next to some of the day’s leftover baked goods: crusty breads, flattened pastries with jams and fruits on top, and a few sweets that had been passed over throughout the day.

Staring at the cookie, Fritz became a little disenchanted with the whole business of being in the Royal Household. Sure, it beat being out on the street or in a run-down shack in the village below, but since his mother died nobody ever really paid him any attention. And, the one time he was actually singled out for reward, he was given an ugly brown cookie. Probably burnt or leftover from the Royal Goodybags.

“Just once,” he said, “I’d like someone to play with me, to be my friend.”

Just as Fritz was sliding away from the table, glum and despondent, he heard a voice.

“Hey you!” said the voice. “What did you say?”

The boy whirled around, scared that he was going to be caught by one of the Royal Guards where he wasn’t supposed to be, especially past his bedtime. But, Fritz didn’t see anybody. Thanking his lucky stars, he turned around and headed for his bed in the adjacent apartment.

“I’m talking to you, and you’re being very rude by ignoring me,” said the voice. This time Fritz definitely knew this was not one of the guards.

“Who’s there?” asked Fritz, quite afraid.

“I should be asking you the same question!” exclaimed the voice. “You’re the one who dumped me out on this table and set about ignoring me.”

“Well, I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t know what you’re talking about I’m sure.”

“Oh really? Then why does my bum hurt from being dropped a whole 8 inches? Hm?!”

Fritz slowly made his way back to the counter, and there, right where the cookie had been, was a little brown creature about 4 inches tall. He had two tiny little horns and was slightly chubby. He was the color of red mud and was naked except for a little cloth hung round his waist.

“So,” the tiny creature began, “as I was saying, who are you, and what were you saying before you walked away?”

“Forgive me,” said Fritz. “I didn’t mean to offend you. I didn’t see you, nor do I remember dropping you. But, my name is Fritz, tiny sir.”

“Hmph. Tiny my red bum! Better watch what you say. You don’t know just how big I can get.”

“Well, sir, I’m sure I’ll be more careful in the future. If I might ask, what are you? Are you some sort of brownie or, perhaps, a pixie?”

“First things first, what was that question you were asking earlier?”

“Oh, I was just wishing for someone to play with me. I didn’t mean to bother you if I was too loud or prattling on. I’m told I do that.”

“By whom?”

“My father and the other cooks.”

“Well, don’t worry, kid. You didn’t bother me. Now, to answer your question: I’m a djinn. I’m actually from a long line of Wisher Djinns back home in Indasia.”

“What’s a djinn? Is that like a brownie or leprechaun or something?”

“Nothing of the sort! We djinn don’t dare compare ourselves to such dirty little Mushroom Hoppers.” The way the djinn said this sounded like Mushroom Hopper was not a very good thing to be at all.

“My name’s Fritz,” said Fritz. “What’s yours?”

“Oh my name’s changed so often over the years, I don’t quite remember. But, my friends call me Jer. Jer the Djinn.”

“Jerry the Genie! How--”

“NOT A GENIE! I don’t parade around in silk and call people master and bob my head up and down. I’m a djinn, pronounced like ‘gin’. Get it right if you want your wishes.”

“Wishes! I get wishes?”

“Yeah, a few of ‘em.”

“How many wishes can I have?”

“Oh… I don’t know. I’ll tell you when I’m done giving them to you.”

“But I thought…”

“Remember, kid, I’m not a genie. I’m a djinn! There’s a difference. I can come and go as I please. I’m doing this as a favor to you. We’re gonna be good buddies. The Wizard told me so, and I’ve learned to trust him over the years.”

“You’re friends with the Wizard?”

“Yep, taught him everything he knows.”

“Well, Jer, do you want to come back to my room? It’s past my bedtime, and I’m very sleepy.”

“Nah, kid. I’m staying right here. I like being in kitchens. They have the best food.”

And with that, Fritz went back to bed. You might be wondering why the sudden transformation of a cookie into a djinn wouldn’t cause alarm in young Fritz. That question is easily answered, because, as everyone knows, children see faeries and sprites and brownies everywhere. It is only when they are older that they are taught they are not real. This was hardly the first member of the faery folk Fritz had ever seen.

The next day Fritz awoke a little earlier than usual, with the sun shining a bit brighter than usual. It seemed to the young boy that good things might be coming, but you would feel the same way if you had just met a magical djinn down in the kitchens. Luckily for the little boy, it was the weekend, which meant that he was allowed to have most of the day off to play once he got the morning chores done. The Queen was nothing if not kind to her castle staff, and she knew that a happy staff made for a happy castle.

Fritz rushed through his morning chores, taking water to the kitchens and stoking the fires in a few of the Queen’s Royal Hanging Out Rooms. These rooms were where the Queen and her friends would spend hours drawing or knitting or talking about boys, at least that is what Fritz assumed. His chores were cut even shorter than was normal on the weekend, because there were no vegetables to be brought in. It had not rained much all summer, and the castle’s gardens were pretty sparse. So, he went straight to the baker’s kitchen to find Jer.

The kitchen was empty, as it was still a few hours before dinner had to get started. He went straight to the table where he’d laid the cookie the night before, but could find neither the djinn nor the cookie. He began to look all over, becoming worried for the first time that the whole experience might have been a dream. Finally, as he was just about to give up, he heard a voice.

“Hey, pal!” exclaimed the voice of Jer the Djinn.

“Jerry? Is that you? Where are you?” called Fritz, unable to figure out where the voice had come from.

“Over here!”

Fritz swirled around, still unable to find the source of the voice.

“Where?” asked Fritz.

“Next to the oranges. I was hiding from that guy that makes the sauces. He smelled like garlic, and I can’t stand that stench.”

“Oh…” said Fritz, walking over to the bowl of oranges. “Is that because djinn are afraid of garlic?”

“No,” said the still invisible Jer. “It’s because it stinks!”

Fritz laughed. Suddenly, the little red djinn appeared out of thin air!

“There you are!” exclaimed Fritz. “How do you disappear like that?”

“Oh, it’s easy,” said Jer. “That’s an old trick I learned from a banshee when the Grand Wizard took me to Ireland a few years back. You could do it, too. Do you have any spare baby teeth? They’re part of the spell.”

“Baby teeth?” asked Fritz. “No, I don’t have any baby teeth.”

“Pity. Without baby teeth, it’s almost impossible to turn invisible.”

“Oh well. So! What should we do today?”

“Whatever you want. But, first, I’m a little hungry. You got any vegetable soup around here?”

“No, Mr. Djinn, we sure don’t. Perhaps you’d like some of the leftover pastries instead?”

“Yuck. No. And call me Jer, won’t you? Do you have any lettuce or anything for a salad? I’m getting a little bit rounder than usual and could use a lite meal.”

“Sorry, Jer. We haven’t had many vegetables at all lately. It’s been so dry this summer, you see, and the garden hasn’t produce much at all. If not for the surrounding kingdoms, we would only have bread and meat.”

“Really? That’s no good. I’m trying to slim down to impress this field nymph I met a while back. Can’t go skipping through a field when your belly is so big you can’t see your feet.”

“That could be a problem. I wish it would rain, too, because it’s nearly time to pick the last of the summer berries. Without rain, they won’t get ripe enough, and we won’t have strawberry cake or blackberry pie or blueberry pancakes!”

Jer the djinn licked his lips and rubbed his belly. “You wish that, eh?”

“Yeah,” said Fritz, day dreaming of all the ways one could eat berries.

“Wish granted, then!”

“What?” asked Fritz, coming back to reality. “What wish?”

“The wish for some rain! But you’ll have to help me.”

“How can I help you make it rain?”

“Well, I’m gonna need a few things. First, I need a teacup and some water.”

“Okay!”

Fritz ran to the cupboard and took out a teacup, filling it with water from the sink’s pump. “Now what?”

“Next, you’ll need to add some sea salt.”

Fritz grabbed the canister of sea salt and sprinkled a healthy portion into the teacup.

“Finally,” said Jer, “you’ll want to pick it up and give it a good swirl.”

Fritz picked up the teacup in both hands and started swirling it around.

“Like this?” Fritz asked.

“Yeah, but a little more. We need a good solid rain,” Jer answered.

“Like this?” asked Fritz, swirling the cup even more until some of the salt water began sloshing over the edges.

“Whoa there, buddy,” said Jer, rushing over to the teacup. “Not quite that hard. We don’t want to flood the place.” The little djinn put his little hands on Fritz’s and showed him the proper level of swirl necessary. “Now keep it like this while I do my thing.”

The little djinn raised his hands over the teacup, mumbling in a language Fritz could not understand. After a few moments of this, Fritz thought he could hear thunderclouds rumbling in the distance.

“Now,” said Jer in a hushed tone “take the cup to the window and throw the water into the breeze.”

“When?”

“Now! Go now!”

“Okay!” said Fritz excitedly. He scampered to the kitchen window overlooking the gardens and tossed the salt water into the air. “What happens now?”

“Just you wait.”

Fritz and Jer sat next to the window, looking at the clouds. They were white. They were fluffy. But, they weren’t pouring any rain. The pair waited…and waited…and waited…until finally it was time for the cooks to prepare dinner. Fritz waved goodbye to the little mud red djinn, who instantly disappeared behind a copper pot, and went off to his room.

Helmut brought up Fritz’s dinner shortly and went back down to the kitchen to finish the evening’s dessert. Fritz sat pushing his food around on his plate, until he heard a sound in the distance. A sparkle of glee came to his eyes as he saw big gray clouds moving in on a moist breeze. By the time the Royal Court was finishing their honey tarts in the Royal Dining Hall, there was a full out summer rainstorm pouring its much needed water into the castle grounds.

Fritz jumped up and waved his arms, cheering and dancing. Jer had done it! He had actually done it! Not that Fritz had ever truly doubted the djinn. Sure, it had taken all day, but there it was! He’d helped make it rain, and now he would get to have strawberry cake and blackberry pie and blueberry pancakes! He made a mental note to make sure Jer got a big bowl of the first batch of vegetable soup.

The summer storm turned into gentle summer rains that came and went throughout the next several weeks. The castle’s garden produced so much food, that the castle was able to help feed the villages in the surrounding area, and help to pay back the surrounding kingdoms for the food they had supplied. Everyone was happy, especially Jer, who finally got his vegetable soup. The djinn and Fritz became fast friends. At every available moment, the two met in the kitchen to play games, talk about what was going on in the kingdom, and sneak bites of leftover sweets whenever possible. Jer knew all the best castle secrets, because he could wander around completely unseen by the courtiers.

Soon it was fall in the court of Elizabeth I, and a new cook had been added to the kitchen staff just in time for the harvest festival. A lovely young woman named Regina had joined the baker’s kitchen as help for Helmut, the chief baker. The castle was decorated with hay bales and beautiful garlands of fall leaves and dried berries. Pumpkins and gourds poured out of cornucopias on the center of every table in the castle. Everyone was very merry with preparations for the Hallow’s Ever Masquerade, an annual event put on by the Queen. Even the staff was allowed to dress up for the occasion. The whole castle was buzzing with happiness. Everyone, that is, except for Helmut.

Fritz, noticing his father’s lackluster mood, asked, “Papa, is everything all right?”

“Hmm…?” replied Helmut, staring out of their apartment’s window listlessly.

“Papa?” asked Fritz again. “Papa, you don’t seem to be very excited about the Masquerade. Are you feeling well?”

Coming out of his daze, Helmut responded, “Oh, my Fritz, don’t you worry about me. Of course I am happy about the Masquerade. I just get a bit sad this time of year.”

“How come, Papa?”

“It was about this time of year, when you were very little, that your mother passed. Each year, this festival always reminds me of her. I miss her so much, but I am happy to have you! Don’t worry about your old pa. I’ll be just fine. Run on down to the kitchen. I left some of the raspberry tarts on the counter that you like. I’m going to take a little nap.”

Fritz left his father and went to the kitchen where he found Jer munching on one of the raspberry tarts.

“Hiya Jerry!” said Fritz.

“Hey there, Fritzy.” said Jer, who had come to accept being called Jerry. “What’s up? You look a little blue.”

“I had too many pancakes this morning.”

“No, I mean you look sad. But, you could stand to wash your face after eating those pancakes.”

Fritz wiped his mouth across his sleeve. “It’s nothing. It’s just Papa. He’s always sad this time of year, because that’s when my mother died.”

“That’s rough, friend. Losing someone you love is never an easy thing, but this time of year is when we remember those we’ve lost, honor their lives and think good thoughts about them.”

“I know, and I’m not sad, but I just wish Papa could fall in love again. I am always sad to see him look so lonely, and I wouldn’t mind a new mother, someone who would mend my clothes and tuck me in and give me big warm hugs.”

“You wish that, do ya?” Jer had a familiar gleam in his eyes.

“Of course!” Fritz got excited. “What did you have in mind?”

“I’ll need your help again…”

Fritz became incredibly excited. “What can I do? Am I going to get a mother? Really?! What are we gonna do, Jerry?”

“Calm down, buddy. We’re going to make some cookies.”

“Cookies? That doesn’t make any sense. How are cookies going to get me a mother?”

“Just you wait and leave that up to me.”

Jer began reciting ingredients to Fritz who took them down from shelves and out of cabinets and lined them up on the counter. The djinn wiggled his fingers, and the mixing bowls danced out of their hiding places and came to rest on the countertop. Fritz stoked the oven, and the boy and the djinn then began mixing and singing and making a right mess of the kitchen.

“But, we must put one final ingredient in before these can go into the oven,” announced Jer the djinn.

“What’s that?” asked Fritz.

Jer pulled out a bag with a very familiar smell, and Fritz looked confused. “But, why that? We don’t put that in cookies.”

“Trust me,” said the mud red djinn, “this batch will work like a charm.”

With that, the little bag’s contents were dumped into the mixing bowl, and the dough was formed into balls, which went into the oven. After a few minutes, they had a dozen flat, brown cookies. Fritz recognized the cookies as being the same kind as the one the Grand Wizard of Indasia had given him.

“These look pretty familiar,” said Fritz with an accusatory look on his face.

Jer looked innocently at the boy, “Just an old family recipe. Trust me. Your papa is going to love them.”

“So, do we give them to Papa?” Fritz started gathering the cookies into a cloth to take to his father.

“Yes, but not all of them. You take half, and I’ll take care of the other half dozen.”

“Ok. You’re not going to eat them, are you?”

“Me? I would never.” Fritz gave the djinn a knowing look. “Fine. I promise. I won’t eat any of the cookies. Now, run back to your dad, and make sure he eats all of them before tonight.”

Fritz did as he was told. His father, surprisingly, loved the cookies. He ate them all almost immediately. Fritz looked on with excitement, and wondered, fleetingly, why his father had not asked him where the cookies had come from. But, he knew not to question the work of his djinn friend. Fritz and his father began preparing for the masquerade ball, and the boy noticed his father’s mood improving dramatically.

“Oh, ha ha ha!” exclaimed Helmut. “It’s going to be a wonderful celebration tonight! Aren’t you excited, Fritz? Can’t you just smell the fun in the air?”

Fritz had the idea that the cookies might have had some spoiled ingredients, and he rolled his eyes at his father’s sudden joviality. He could not deny, however, that this was a definite improvement. Fritz had dressed up as a horse and Helmut wore the mask of an old sea god, complete with broomstick trident. Just as the chief baker was ready to head down to the kitchens to help prepare the feast, there was a knock at the door. Fritz went to open it and was shocked by what he saw.

“Well, hello there, little sir,” said Regina, the newest addition to the baking staff. “Is your papa still here?”

“Yes, miss. He certainly is. May I show you inside?”

“Why thank you! You are too kind.”

Regina was also dressed as an old sea goddess, carrying a conch shell and wearing gold threads in her braided hair. When Helmut came into the room, he stopped in his tracks and stared at Regina. His mouth was agape until Fritz cleared his throat, waking him from his daze.

“Hello, miss…ma’am,” started Helmut. “So pleased to see you. Here. In my -- er…our -- home. How can I help you?” Fritz’s father was obviously blushing, which made Fritz’s stomach jump with excitement. Jer seemed to have come through again!

“I wanted to say thank you,” said Regina.

“Thank you?” asked Helmut, obviously puzzled. “For what?”

“For the beautiful package of cookies you left on my doorstep. They were just delicious! What do you call them? I’ve never tasted anything like them!”

“Cookies? What…what do you mean?” asked Helmut, though his voice did not sound as though he much cared, as he was too busy being enamored by how lovely Regina looked in the fall dusk light.

“The package…on my…doorstep…?” Regina trailed off. Fritz noticed Helmut and Regina looking at one another, seemingly forgetting the conversation about the cookies.

“Miss Regina, may I escort you to the kitchens for the Masquerade?”

Fritz smiled, knowing that Jer had pulled through for him again. At least, it seemed that way. The Masquerade was beautiful, and Helmut and Regina, you guessed it, fell immediately and deeply in love. As the fall began to turn to winter, Fritz and Jer would watch from the kitchen windows as Helmut and Regina took long walks in the Royal Apple Orchard and held one another watching the sunset. The baker’s kitchen became a place of life like it had not been in years. The two adults were like children, falling in love in a playful, innocent way.

Fritz and Jer reaped the benefits of this new union, too, as Regina kept Helmut’s son stocked with apple tarts, chocolate cookies, and pumpkin pie, which Fritz shared with the djinn who had made all of this possible. The first snow fell, and everyone’s eyes turned to the upcoming Yuletide festivities. The decorations around the castle were changed from pumpkins and leaves to holly and mistletoe. Everyone had a holiday to look forward to, including Jer the Djinn.

Jer and Fritz had to part for the first time since the summer, because the djinn had to be in attendance at the faery court for the Solstice Celebration. Unfortunately, about his time a terrible illness had begun sweeping the villages below the castle. The cold of winter was more bitter than most had remembered it being in half a generation, and it creeped its way into people’s lungs. Fritz and Regina were deeply distraught when Helmut, too, came down with the coughing illness. Regina had to pull double duty in order to keep the baker’s kitchen running during the one time of year where butter, sugary treats are the most requested food group. Fritz, though, could do very little except keep his father warm and bring him chicken soup and watch as he got worse.

“How is he?” asked Regina during one of her multitude of daily trips up to the apartment of Fritz and Helmut.

“He’s still sick, but he always likes it when you bring him soup,” said Fritz, trying to make Regina feel better.

“That’s sweet, but he is always asleep, Fritz. How could he know I’m here?” She put her arms around the young boy and held him close.

“Because, when you come, he stops shivering and seems to smile in his sleep.”

Regina smiled, kissed Fritz on the forehead, and went back down to the kitchens. He was so happy to have Regina, because it gave him someone to talk to. He hadn’t seen Jer in weeks, and he was beginning to get scared that his father would never get better. Sitting at the window one day, after helping with the morning chores and making sure his father was comfortable, Fritz decided he would go back down to the kitchens, just in case the djinn had returned.

The boy peeked around the corner of the baker’s kitchen, making sure the coast was clear, and then he went inside.

“Hullo? Jerry?” called Fritz. “Jerrrry! You can come out now. Jerry? Are you back, yet?”

No answer. He had come down here every day since his friend had gone to the faery court, hoping for the djinn’s return.

“Jerry? Please come back. I need a friend. Papa is so sick, and I don’t know if he’s going to get better. Jerry, please, I wish you would come back!”

Fritz had begun to cry. He was strong for a boy so young, and he had been able to put on a brave face for his father, but the emotions were too much for him now. Sniffling, he turned to leave the kitchen and go back upstairs. Then, he heard a familiar voice.

“Granted,” came the voice of Jer the Djinn.

Fritz whirled around to see his mud red little friend appear on the countertop, but something was very different about him. He was all dressed up in a proper coat with shiny buttons and polished boots. Even his stubby horns looked extra polished. For the first time since his father had gotten sick, Fritz smiled. Then he laughed. Then he doubled over, pointing at the djinn and laughed until tears came to his eyes.

“What?” asked Jer. “You don’t like the new get up? I thought it was quite nice, given the season.”

“You…gasp…just look…giggle…so different,” said Fritz, calming down.

“Well, this time of year is pretty special for my folk, so we like to look nice.”

“Sorry I laughed. You do look nice. Respectable, even.”

“Now don’t go using words like ‘respectable’ with me, little Fritzy. I’m still the same ol’ djinn.” With a snap of his fingers, Jer caused a sack of flour to burst in Fritz’s face. The two laughed again, and laughed even harder when Fritz splashed water from the mop bucket onto Jer.

They were having a pretty good time messing the kitchen up when all of a sudden they heard, “Fritz! What. Is. Going. On. Here?!”

Turning around, slowly, Fritz saw the figure of Regina standing in the doorway. Jer had been caught by surprise and had not had time to disappear before the woman saw him and screamed.

“What is that?” cried Regina.

“What? Who? Where?” asked Fritz, trying to grasp onto the illusion of innocence.

“That…that thing over there. The little brown devil!”

“Pleased to meet you, ma’am,” said Jer the Djinn. “I’m Jer. I’m a Djinn. You can call me Jerry if you want. Fritz does.”

“Wh-what? Huh?” Regina looked confused and like she was about to faint.

“He’s my friend!” said Fritz, as though that made perfect sense and everyone had a djinn as a friend. “We met during the summer, and we play together here in the kitchens every day.”

Coming to her senses, Regina took a moment to breathe and assess the situation. She eyed the little boy and the littler djinn for a long minute. Then, she looked the djinn in the eyes and said, “Do you mean anyone in this castle any harm? If my mother was right, djinn cannot lie if asked a direct question.”

“No, miss,” said Jer with a little bow. “I mean no one in this castle any harm.”

“And are you a true friend to Fritz and his family?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Fritz smiled at the reply.

“Good. Then I trust you, but we have to do something about this mess. Can you help with that?”

“Of course, miss,” said Jer, snapping his fingers. The kitchen was instantly put back in order. The look of cool that Regina had worn began to turn back to worry.

“Now, Fritz, I came to bring you back up to your apartment. Your father seems to have taken a turn for the worse. The castle physician is in there now with him, but I think we should go as quickly as possible.”

Fritz gave a quick glance to Jer and took off like a bolt towards the stairs leading to the staff apartments. He took them as fast as his legs would carry him. He beat Regina there by a full minute and burst into the front door of the home he shared with his father. Helmut was on his bed with the physician standing over him looking grave.

“I’m sorry,” said the physician. “There isn’t anything else I can do.”

Fritz burst into tears and ran to his father’s bedside. Helmut’s eyes opened just a crack, and he turned his head to look at his son. The boy’s father smiled weekly and put his hand on Fritz’s. Then, he closed his eyes again and his face fell lax. The boy and the woman were beside themselves, sobbing into one another’s arms. The physician left the family alone, seeing himself out. Then, out of mid-air, Jer appeared, and he was chewing on something, a familiar herb with a familiar smell.

Fritz and Regina stopped sobbing and looked at the little mud red djinn standing on top of Helmut.

“What are you doing?” asked Fritz, wiping his nose. But, the djinn just sat there chewing, his eyes closed as if in deep meditation.

“What’s that he’s chewing on?” asked Regina. Taking a closer look she said, “Why, that’s ginger! Whatever is he doing?”

Then, Jer the Djinn, looking as nice and respectable as he ever had, opened up Helmut’s shirt and spit right on the man’s chest.

“Gross!” cried Fritz. “What are you doing to him?!”

“Just wait…” said Regina, watching intently.

The djinn began to chant in that same strange language Fritz had heard many times before. Jer put his hands over Helmut’s chest, continuing the chant. Regina bowed her head in prayer, asking that her beloved be healed of his illness. Fritz just watched his friend trying to heal his father. Under his breath, so quiet you wouldn’t have heard it, he said, “I wish my father was healthy.”

Jer stopped chanting. Regina stopped praying. Everyone opened their eyes and stared in awe as Helmut began to cough. He sputtered and he fidgeted, and then he opened his eyes. He didn’t crack them open; he opened them all the way. The look in his eyes told the family everything they needed to know. He was well.

Everyone rejoiced. The three embraced, as tears rolled down Regina’s cheeks. She and Helmut kissed and Fritz hugged his father tight. The three had become so caught up in their happiness, they had forgotten about Jer. That is, until Helmut looked at the foot of his bed and saw the little djinn, all dressed up in his finest. Before he could get ask, Regina and Fritz explained all about the djinn and how he had brought Helmut seemingly back to life.

Jer the Djinn was welcomed into the family. Of course, Regina and Helmut got married at Yuletide, with the entire kitchen staff contributing to the feast. Queen Elizabeth herself even made an appearance, allowing her favorite baker to use her grand hall for the joyous occasion.

Time passed, and Fritz became a big brother as Helmut and Regina welcomed a new baby into the family. Eventually, Fritz left the castle and opened his own bakery in the village below the castle. It became famous for having the most delicious treats in all the known lands. The first Yuletide his bakery was open, he put a special treat in the window. One by one, villagers came to sample his new treat. It was so delicious, and nobody had ever had anything like it before. Soon, other villagers from other villages and towns were coming to order a dozen, three dozen, a dozen dozen of his marvelous new treat.

Even the Queen heard of his new treat and paid a special visit to Fritz’s bakery. She brought along Helmut and Regina to see their son. Elizabeth eyed the selection on the racks of desserts and selected one of the baked goods from the window. It was flat and brown and shaped like a little man with a jacket and boots made of frosting with nuts as buttons and candy eyes. The Queen bit into the cookie and closed her eyes with please.

“This is the most delicious thing I have ever tasted,” said the Queen. “Whatever do you call it?”

“Thank you, mum,” replied Fritz, beaming with pride. “I call it a Djinnjerbread Man.”

“A Gingerbread Man, you say? Why, is that the flavor I taste? It’s so distinct. Truly a marvel.”

“Thank you, mum.”

“What gave you the idea for such a treat?”

“It’s in honor of a good family friend. He taught me a lot and used ginger in many of his…um…special recipes.”

Fritz shared a look with Regina and Helmut, who chuckled. The Queen looked around and said, “Well, I simply must know this friend who has inspired my new favorite cookie.”

“His name is Jerry. Unfortunately, he is not available, but I will pass a message to him with your kind regards.”

“Do that,” said the Queen. Then, with a smile, she added, “And have a very large batch of these sent to the castle. They have a meeting with a nice glass of milk.”

When the Queen and her courtiers left, Fritz gathered some dirty dishes and went to the back kitchen. He looked over to the counter where a little man with stubby horns was leaning on an orange, chewing on a piece of ginger root. He was wiggling his fingers and directing ingredients to mixing bowls through the air.

“Well?” said Jer, inquisitively.

“She loved them!” exclaimed Fritz.

After that, the fame of the Gingerbread Man cookie spread throughout the world. It is still enjoyed every year at Yuletide by families in every country and every continent. But, this year, when you bite off a piece, remember little Fritz, and keep an eye out for Jer. You never know when he might just show up in your kitchen. 

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