Clove Encounters – V. Nicols

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Gingerbread cookies are not finicky when it comes to taste—when in doubt, add more cloves. Or ginger. Or espresso and chili powder. The point is—and expert home baker Rev. Archer Kent was well aware of this fact—gingerbread cookies are supposed to have a noticeable spice, so adding zing isn’t that difficult.

Trickier to master, though, is the consistency of gingerbread cookies, for truly great gingerbread cookies are supposed to be neither soft nor hard. For a soft spiced treat, molasses cookies are really the better option. Not only are they delicious, they’re also foolproof when it comes to the execution—there’s a great deal of leeway in the baking time, so even an amateur can perfect the cookie’s softer consistency. As for a hard spiced cookie? Just make biscotti. No, rather, gingerbread cookies are supposed to walk the line—just hard enough to hold their shape when tossed about on a tray, but not so hard that they hurt to bite into.

Archer liked to think of gingerbread cookie consistency as good when bitten into, but better when briefly dunked in coffee. And for this, Archer had to practice—he had a touchy (Archer preferred ‘cursed’) oven.

Putting on his beloved Kiki’s Delivery Service apron, Reverend Archer Kent preheated the oven to 340°F; it tended to run hot, and 350°F would burn the cookies. Then, looking up toward his cabinets, he pulled down the necessary ingredients: flour, brown sugar, molasses, and, well, as for spices, Archer just took his entire spice rack out of the cabinet—he figured he’d need most of it.

Mixing the dough together, he soon had the consistency he desired, so he removed the silver bowl from the mixer and brought it over to the countertop where he had already spread some flour. Using a long wooden rolling pin, he rolled out the dough. Then, rather than use pre-fab cookie cutters, Archer instead removed a miniscule utility knife from one of the kitchen drawers. Then, painstakingly, one-by-one, he cut the dough into unique, usually androgynous—he liked to be as gender-neutral as possible—person-shaped cookies.

Archer sprayed down a baking pan, and he carefully placed each of his gingerbread citizens (and non-citizens—Archer acknowledged some of his gingerbread people were perhaps not naturalized, if they even wanted to be) onto it. Sticking them in the oven, he set the timer.

As Archer began cleaning his workspace, he broke out in quiet song, a familiar tune from The Muppet Christmas Carol.

“When a cold wind blows it chills you

Chills you to the bone

But there’s nothing in nature that freezes your heart

Like years of being alone

“It paints you with indifference

Like a lady paints with rouge

And the worst of the worst

The most hated and cursed

Is the one that we call—”

whhooOOOSH—a towering pillar of green flame appeared from nowhere in the middle of Rev. Archer Kent’s kitchen, followed by a billowing puff of black smoke.

As the smoke dissipated, Archer found himself confronted by an enormous, fearsome Satyr with broad, onyx horns. Its eyes glowed red, and its white fangs shimmered. Looking down at the confused, terrified Reverend, the Satyr spoke in a booming voice.

“GREETINGS HUMAN. I AM THE FEARSOME KRAMPUS—HOLIDAY DESTROYER. TELL ME, IS IT YOU HAVE SUMMONED ME?”

Archer responded by standing completely still while continuing to stare at the Satyr with wide, flabbergasted eyes.

“WELL?”

“Oh, um,” said Archer, searching for any words that might prevent him from being eaten. “Maybe…?”

“MAYBE!?”

“Well, I don’t know. How does one go about summoning you?”

The Satyr—Krampus—sighed, then rolled his eyes as he began explaining himself to the clueless Reverend.

“IT IS A THREE-STEP PROCESS. FIRST, YOU MUST WAFT THE ROOM WITH CLOVES, CINNAMON, AND OTHER HOLIDAY SPICES.”

Archer glanced about the room, pensive. “Yes,” he said, nodding, “yes I suppose I did do that.”

“SECOND, YOU MUST SACRIFICE A WIDE AND DIVERSE GROUP OF HELPLESS SOULS.”

Archer’s faced scrunched in a mixture of confusion and disgust. “Well,” he said to Krampus, “I certainly did not do that.”

“WHAT ABOUT THE CREATURES BURNING IN THAT OVEN?”

“Oh shoot! Are they really burning?!?” Archer asked, panicked as he dashed dismissively past Krampus to check on his gingerbread cookies. He opened the oven to get a clearer view.

“FINALLY, YOU MUST—”

“Oh finally what? Sing a dreary holiday tune? Sure, whatever, just—blast it all, look at these cookies. They’re terribly overbaked.”

“I, WELL—”

Archer took the metal baking sheet out of the oven and slammed it angrily on the counter.

“I, I’M SORRY…”

Archer sighed. “Oh, it’s not your fault. I shouldn’t have gotten so distracted by your presence. I mean, weird stuff happens all the time here, so this really shouldn’t have startled me so much.”

“WELL, YOUR APARTMENT IS A UNIQUELY ACCESSIBLE GATEWAY.”

“Is it really? I suppose that would explain things.” Archer sighed again as he stared at his burned gingerbread cookies. “Well,” he said, “I guess it just means more treats for the birds.”

“IF YOU DON’T MIND…” Krampus began, rather hesitantly.

“Yes?” asked Archer, turning to look at the Satyr as he began rounding up the burned cookies on an old plate.

“I, UM—I DON’T GET OUT A WHOLE LOT, AND IF YOU WOULDN’T MIND, PERHAPS I COULD HELP YOU MAKE ANOTHER BATCH?”

Krampus leaned forward hopefully and eagerly tapped his knife-like fingernails together.

Archer looked at the enormous Satyr, then back to his burned cookies, then back to the Satyr. He sighed and let slip a small smile. “I suppose,” he said, “you can stick around.”

Krampus gasped excitedly.

“After all,” Archer reasoned, “what with these atrocious cookies, you’re no longer the most fearsome holiday terror in the room. And what kind of Reverend would I be if I didn’t give you a chance to redeem yourself?”

“HOORAY!”

Happily, Archer nodded, and went to the cupboard for the spices.

 

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