Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Christmas Cooking/Baking (not recipes) (10/16/08)
TITLE: Nine Hundred Ninety-nine
By Loren T. Lowery
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“Bah, humbug,” he was sometimes heard to mumble. The villagers considered him a grump and even referred to him as Grumpy George in private conversations.
One day while shopping, George overheard someone whisper his nickname to another and was surprised. “I am not a grump,” he said to himself, and hurried home to look in the mirror to see if it were true.
But alas, he was astonished to see a grumpy old man with a sour face looking back at him. “This can’t be me,” he said to his reflection which mouthed his words back. He then touched his chest. “I’ve a good heart.” But the mirror only mimicked his hands. Its silence bothered him in way that he had never been bothered before.
George sat down and put his head in his hands when an idea came to him. “Cookies, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll bake cookies, give them away and everyone will see I’m not a grump – grumps are stingy - not giving like me.
“I’ll even add secret ingredients to make it special. An extra pinch of sugar, a splash of vanilla and a nudge of nutmeg will do the trick.” He smiled broadly at his cleverness, adding, “It’s just before Christmas, the perfect time for giving presents.”
He started right away; and, as the days before Christmas got closer, he worked even harder baking his cookies.
Soon he realized he’d need colorful tins and white waffle paper in which to wrap his gifts. It meant a trip to town and he glanced the mirror to see if he still looked grumpy. Do his dismay, he did.
A thought occurred to him and he put a sprinkle of sugar crystals over his suit jacket above his heart. “Now they’ll see my goodness,” he said. Excited by his cleverness, he didn’t bother to drive into town, but ran on the sidewalks instead.
As he ran, he stepped on cat’s tails, shooed puppies out of his way and when he arrived at the store, he even bumped into a display of Christmas ornaments toppling them all to the floor.
Shoppers looked aghast, but he never offered to pick them up or even apologize. “Can’t they see I’m too busy for such frivolous things as cleaning up messes and saying I’m sorry.” He stuck out his chest for all to see the sugar crystals on his chest. “I’ve special work to do. Everyone will be surprised and pleased when they receive my gifts.”
George ordered countless tins and white waffle paper to be delivered to his home. After they were delivered, he began to fill each tin with his wonderfully prepared cookies wrapped in special fluted paper.
His home was filled with the colorful tins. They were stacked from floor to ceiling, in corners and closets and even under his bed.
“There must be thousands of them,” he said. But, to make sure, he counted; after which he shook his head. “Only nine hundred ninety-nine; there are well over that many people in town. This won’t do if I’m to give everyone cookies for Christmas.”
George went back to work’ but, this time, just to make sure his gifts were as delicious as he supposed, he tasted them as he went along. Yet to his dismay, between the busyness of his baking and eating, his count remained the same.
George was so busy in fact, that Christmas came and went without his noticing; and when he heard the news, he merely shrugged. “Christmas will come again next year. I’m sure.”
Convinced he was right, he sprinkled sugar crystals over his chest and rushed into town to purchase more tins and paper. Cats and dogs had learned to keep their distance, but an Easter display that had replaced the ornaments from the season before was not so lucky. He bumped it and things came toppling down.
“Fat ole stingy, grump,” he heard whispered. “What's he need with all those tins anyway?”
Aghast at their words, he ran home to glance the mirror again. It was true, nothing had changed – the evidence obvious and everywhere. He brushed the sugar crystals from his chest, the colorful tins shadowing him in nine hundred ninety-nine gifts of what might have been.
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