Hester Meadows stole another peek in the mirror. Her hair was seamlessly straightened, her lips perfectly pouty, and her figure so shapely it could make a woodcutter forget about trees. She smiled, revealing a set of dazzling white teeth unblemished by plaque or decay. In 500 years she had never had a cavity. It was good to be magic. Putting a delicate finger to the dimple in her chin, she turned her attention to the room before her, surveying the progress. Pots boiled and cauldrons brewed as seven chubby children peered out from between the bars of their gilded cells.
“Children,”she clapped twice to gain their attention. “Children. It’s almost time!” She waltzed through the room stopping at each cage for a quick inspection. “You, Number Four, present your ring finger please.”
A girl of about eleven years of age rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “No way,”she said, taking a step backwards.
Hester sighed. “If you don’t let me see your finger you will not get any more gumdropsor lollipops.” This was met with a click of the tongue, followed by a hesitant pause, and further followed by a resolute no. Hester thought that maybe she should stop nabbing girls. They were always on diets. She moved onto the next cage.
“Number Seven. Present your finger please.” Number Seven, a ruddy lad in overalls so tight they threatened to pop, stepped forward. He seemed dizzy and wobbly as he made his way towards the front of the cage, like a hamster on a tightrope. Too much sugar could do that to a kid, especially if they were used to a diet of lima beans and Brussels sprout.
“Here ya’ go, Miss Hester,” he said, proffering a plump little finger for her to examine. Hester pinched and poked the appendage and nodded that all was satisfactory. She then opened the cage door and he rolled out, rubbing his hands together and leaving a trail of drool behind him.
“You are an eager little fellow,” she said, glancing towards the plate of Fatty Bars she kept on the counter. The last batch was good, but the next, with the help of darling Number Seven, would be her best yet.
“Can I have a Fatty Bar?” he asked, eyes wide and hopeful.
“No, the Fatty Bars are for guests only.” Hester looked around the room. Though she was about to cook him up – and serve him to a very charming prince – she still wanted to give the boy a final treat. He had always been helpful and she had grown fond of the little butterball. “Here you go. A great big Yummy Cake!” Hester produced a mountainous monstrosity made of sugar, sprinkles and glue. “If you hurry you can even take a nibble off the wall before you enter the pot. I just applied a fresh coat of frosting.” She pointed to the north wall and the boy nodded obligingly.
Hester stirred the pot that Number Seven would be going into, adding herbs and spices that would mix well with his body chemistry, when a loud knock on the door shook the house. Graham cracker crumbs fell from the ceiling and several children stuck out their tongues to catch them before they hit the ground.
“One moment,” she said to Number Seven, as she wiped her hands on her apron and hurried towards the door. Her date wasn’t set to arrive for another hour so she was hoping that the visitor was a lost child. She was due to replenish her stock.
“Hester Meadows?” said a gruff looking man with more belly than smile. Hester nodded, looking past him at the large yellow bulldozer parked on her marshmallow lawn.“I’m here to tear down this house. I’m sure you got the letters we sent you.” Hester shook her head. One of the pitfalls of having a candy house was that the children ate everything. Including the mailbox.
“Anyways, this dwelling isn’t zoned for this area. It’s a business district.”
“But there aren’t any businesses for miles.” Hester argued.
“About to be. New developer is putting up a strip mall.”
“I won’t let you kick me out of my home!” Hester stood in front of her door,intending to chain herself to the house if necessary. “You wouldn’t run over a woman with 7…” Hester glanced through the window as Jeremy toddled towards the pot…"6 little children to care for.”
The man made a note on a clipboard. “No, I wouldn’t. But I have a crew of hungry workers who would gladly eat you out of house and home instead. One way or another,these walls are coming down.”
Hester assessed the land around her. This had once been a magical forest filled with fairies, dwarves, and orphaned children. But since the Gnomes had moved in - buying up the trees for cheap and clearing out the woodland folk - nothing but talk of department stores and coffee houses.
“What shall I do?”
“Well, it’s a business district. Start a business,” the man said, making a final note and taking a gumdrop from a shingle.
Hester Meadows caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Her hair was frighteningly frazzled, her lips stained with ink, and her figure so round she could body double as a snowman. She turned to survey the room. Pots boiled and cauldrons brewed as seven children rolled out dough on a granite countertop.
“Children,”she clapped twice, her hands sending billows of powdered sugar into the atmosphere.“It’s almost time.” Seven slim children paused from their work as Hester strode through the room. “You there, Number Six…”
“Bethany…Did you order the vanilla?” Bethany nodded and Hester made a note on the clipboard.
“And you, Number Sev…Jeremy. Is the oven pre-heated?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He said, giving her a toothy smile.
“Good.Want a Fatty Bar?”
Jeremy tilted his head, a golden lock of hair falling across his thoughtful forehead.“I thought Fatty Bars were only for the guests, ma’am.”
Hester tapped her pen against the clipboard. With all the new sugar substitutes out on the market no one seemed to notice that the special secret ingredient wasmissing. “Fatty Bars are for everyone now. Would you like one?”
“No thank you Miss…”
“Mrs.,”Hester corrected him, twisting the cubic zirconia ring on her finger. The last thing she wanted those khaki wearing gnomes to think was that she was a single mother!
“Sorry about that. Can we talk real quick?”
Jeremy stepped forward and took her gently by the arm, ushering her away from the others. “The kids and I have been talking. We were happy to get you going, and grateful to not get eaten, but we think it’s time you go this alone. We need to find parents and go to school. The online classes at night are okay, but they aren’t contributing to our social skills.”
Hester looked thoughtfully at the others behind her. Little Number Four was stirring batter and talking to a sugar cube.
“I understand. But who would make the Fatty Bars?”
“You could hire adults. Then you wouldn’t have to hide us in the cupboards whenever Child Labor comes around.”
“True. Okay, I will remove the obedience spell. You know, I never put one on you?”
Jeremy nodded. “I know.”
“If you want to go big, change the name of the Fatty Bar to something more appetizing.Folks will eat fat but they don’t want to be reminded of it. Maybe just call them cookies.”
“That would be a lie, and I don’t think it would work. No one wants healthy cookies either. Maybe just cookies.”
“Will do,” she said, giving him a squeeze. He had lost so much weight in the last year he was drowning in his overalls. “I’m sure glad I didn’t eat you. You have helped me find my bliss.”
And so it was that the Mrs. Meadow’s Cookies empire was born, appealing to disenchanted housewives, church secretaries, and Gnomes everywhere. Sure, Hester had some competition, but never for long.Whenever Mrs. Meadows moved into a mall, the opposing cookie operators mysteriously vanished. And the cookies somehow got even sweeter.