The Gingerbread Man

Emilia lives deep under the sea.

She lives in a metal dome.

It is round but not too round. It has a carpeted floor. It is warm. Inside and outside it has lights.

Every day Emilia looks out the porthole, through the clear strong superglass, at the heavy depths of water all around.

Sometimes she sees a shark.

Sometimes she sees a giant octopus. It will squeeze her house but it can’t do much compared to the pressure of the sea.

It is angry because Emilia is still alive.

“Bii,” Emilia says to the octopus. “I wanted to live alone.”

The octopus swishes its tentacles and flies away through the sea.

Emilia has a chimney. It is totally stopped up but Santa Claus still finds his way there every Christmas. He doesn’t bring her toys any more. He hasn’t since she was a little girl of seven. These past few years he’s brought her supplies instead.

Food.

Water.

Tools for repairing things when they break.

Books with instructions on the use of tools.

Every day Emilia looks out the porthole, through the clear strong superglass, at the heavy depths of water all around.

Sometimes Emilia makes gingerbread. Usually she just makes a loaf. But sometimes she makes gingerbread men.

She’ll give them raisin eyes and cherry noses.

She’ll trim them down to their fingers and their toes.

Today she checks in the oven on the gingerbread men. She’s supposed to just press the button that says “Light.” But instead she opens the oven up and lets the heat out. That’s her mistake!

It’s also the gingerbread men’s opportunity.

There’s only one gingerbread man who’s smart enough to act when his moment comes. He’s a wily old rogue of a gingerbread boy. His name’s Raisin Jack.

Raisin Jack, he shakes himself out.

Raisin Jack, he’s up and he runs.

The gingerbread man!

He’s out of the pan!

With a grin on his face like the devil’s only son’s!

Once he’s put some distance between himself and Emilia, Raisin Jack thinks about where to go next. He’s standing there thinking when the Roomba 2500 trundles in.

It bumps into Raisin Jack. Its suction engine vrums.

“Oh, no,” says Raisin Jack.

He runs, runs, runs, like the devil’s at his back.

“Run run run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!”

Somewhat to his disappointment, the Roomba isn’t trying to catch him. It’s actually been kind of intimidated by the bumping and it’s now circling off to harrass the bookshelves.

So Raisin Jack stops and he thinks. He’s standing there thinking when Emilia comes along.

“Please,” she says.

Her face is as white as a sheet.

“Please, no.”

The gingerbread man, he’s out of the pan!

Raisin Jack runs, like the devil’s at his back!

“Run run run, as fast as you can! You can’t catch me! I’m the gingerbread man!”

And he runs runs runs and he’s at the door.

And Emilia’s not behind him any more.

She’s running for the bedroom.

She’s rooting through her trunk

She’s looking for a picture

Of the world before it sunk.

She’s looking for a picture

And she finds it just before

The gingerbread man

Raisin Jack

He

Opens up that door.

Important Facts about Egypt

Egypt is not the only country where gingerbread men have taken over the afterlife. In fact, swarms of gingerbread men have taken over just about every afterlife in every major religion. This makes things very different!

In Western Hell the gingerbread men put little hats on people. They also dip them in boiling brimstone. The people often escape their gingerbread masters. The people shout, “Run, run, little gingerbread clods! You can’t catch me! I’m forsaken by God!”

The gingerbread men give chase. “Your conclusion does not follow from your premises!” they shout.

This is correct.

In Chinese Hells, things are different. Chinese Hells are not about being forsaken by God. They’re about working out a burden of karma. The gingerbread men like to help people work out their karma by strapping them to white-hot iron pans. Then they stuff raisins into the victim’s eyes and cherries up the victim’s nose. This isn’t much better or worse than a typical pre-gingerbread takeover Chinese Hell.

Chinese Heavens are pretty cool. There’s the Heaven of Getting Lots of What You Want. There, people want gingerbread men! It’s not so much a consequence of the gingerbread takeover as an inevitable accompaniment—it’s part of the metaphysical structure of that Heaven that if the gingerbread men are going to take over, people are going to have to want them to!

There’s also Million Zany Prophet Heaven. Million Zany Prophet Heaven is filled with one million zany prophets who preach various futures all the time. It is a good heaven with many pleasures but more cacophanous than the Endless Perfect Sea Heaven. Now seven hundred thousand zany prophets are gingerbread men and they take turns predicting the ultimate destiny of runaway gingerbread men on Earth.

“The fox’ll get ‘im,” preaches one zany prophet.

I think he’ll bring peace to the Middle East,” suggests another.

At this point, one of the human prophets tries to speak up. But the gingerbread men just talk right over the human prophet! That’s one of the rudest habits gingerbread people have.

Like Really Good Chocolate Heaven is like really good chocolate. Souls who come to Like Really Good Chocolate Heaven often say, “Wow, this is better than sex.” White chocolate is not really chocolate and so there is no Like Really Good White Chocolate Region in Like Really Good Chocolate Heaven. Gingerbread men cannot really improve Like Really Good Chocolate Heaven, but they also don’t hurt it much, so, like the Chinese Hells, this is pretty much a wash.

Gingerbread men cannot really take over the Dominionist Heaven because it is run by a notionally omnipotent God. However because they are in a state of entire sanctification they can do whatever they want there and no one can really protest. They often draw fake moustaches on the saints and slur the tetragrammaton to YV, which drives seraphic grammarians positively insane.

In Hades people shuffle around. Everything tastes of dust. Even for the gingerbread men it is very sad. That is why they host the gingerbread gala there every year—it’s so boring being dead! What else are they going to do?

In the Egyptian afterlife the gingerbread men weigh people’s hearts against feathers. But they’re not entirely sure where to go from there. So they stick the heart on a stick and roast it. Then they put it on a graham cracker and remove the stick. They put a Hershey’s chocolate bar on top and then another graham cracker. This makes a delicious s’more. “Mm, mm,” say the gingerbread men. “Let’s have s’more!”

They make another s’more out of the feather. They eat it. The soul watches them in a kind of dumbfounded horror. It’s entirely unsure of whether it’s passed the test.

“Well, go on,” say the gingerbread men. “Go to . . . an eternal reward or something. Git!”

The Egyptian gingerbread men don’t care as much about people as the gingerbread men in other afterlives because in Egypt the gingerbread men have their brains and hearts pulled out through their nose during the baking/mummification process. Also, in Egypt, cats are considered sacred!

The Farm

Old MacDonald is a gingerbread man. He is very old. But not as old as an old human would be.

Old MacDonald has a farm. On that farm he has a duck and a cow and a sheep and a goat and an unidentifiable animal that might very well be a lemur. They are all made out of gingerbread.

Next to old MacDonald’s farm is a river of molasses.

“It’s rising,” says old MacDonald, one day, after some measurements.

“Quack,” says the duck. “Quack quack.”

“It was all the rain in the candy mountains,” old MacDonald says. “It’s flooded the river.”

The molasses rises. A few days pass.

“It’s still rising,” says old MacDonald. So he builds a fence around the river. It’s a lovely white chocolate picket fence.

The molasses rises. It seeps through the fence. It sweeps up the duck. The duck quacks piteously.

“Duck!” cries old MacDonald, later that day. “You’re stuck!”

But there’s nothing he can do.

Molasses is cruel.

Old MacDonald thinks. Then he sets out sandbags. He sets out sandbags all around the river. They’re full of sugar. He could call them sugarbags. But he doesn’t. He calls them sandbags.

“Moo,” says the gingerbread cow. “Moo!”

It’s trying to warn him.

“Moo!” it says here.

The river rises. It seeps through the sugarbags. It swirls slowly into the cow’s barn. It carries the cow away.

“Moo!” it says there.

“Oh no!” cries old MacDonald. “You’re my best milking cow ever. Because there’s a little bit of milk in you!”

Milk makes a gingercow sweet.

Old MacDonald reaches from the river’s edge towards the cow. He risks his life against the molasses. “Take my hand!” cries old MacDonald. But the cow has no way to do so. It is swept slowly away.

“Moo,” it says, in the distance.

Molasses is cruel.

Old MacDonald builds a metal fence. He builds it with love so it’s extra strong. It surrounds the river on every side.

“Baa!” says the sheep.

“Bleat!” says the goat.

“Baa,” corrects the sheep.

“Bleat!” the goat declares obstinately.

The sheep sighs. “I leave you to your obviously incorrect sentiments,” it says, and stomps off to the other side of the pen.

“Bleat,” says the goat. It feels that it has won this confrontation. But then the molasses seeps deep into the ground. It seeps under the wall. It seeps into the pen. Now the goat does not know what to do.

“Bleat!” cries the goat. It attempts to eat the molasses. “Bleat!”

“Baa,” says the sheep.

The sheep does not help the goat eat against the tide. So the goat is swept up in the molasses. Then the sheep is swept up.

“Baa,” says the sheep again, only this time the sheep is not here but there.

Molasses is cruel.

“I will set fire to it,” says old MacDonald.

“Bam!” says the unidentified animal. It sounds nervous.

“I will set fire to it, and burn it away.”

So he does so. But the molasses is sluggish to burn. Mostly it caramelizes.

“I will rain nuclear devastation upon it,” says old MacDonald, as a form of escalation.

“Bam!” whimpers the unidentified animal, which is caught up in the molasses now and a likely incidental casualty of any nuclear barrage.

“But it’s the only way.”

“Bam…”

Old MacDonald looks into the unidentified animal’s pleading eyes. He realizes that he cannot do it.

Slowly, his shoulders sag. Some of the icing fades in his eyes.

He retreats. He goes to the hills. He watches from the hills as the molasses takes his farm.

The flood recedes, taking the animals and much of his furniture with it.

MacDonald returns home.

He has survived.

But molasses is cruel.

Old MacDonald is just one gingerbread man, and the world soon forgets his story.

But the children remember. And the gingerfolk remember. And the duck remembers, as it swirls slowly out to sea.

They’ll tell you, if you ask.

Molasses is cruel.

Pseudo-Dionysius’ Cookbook

The early Church treasured its sacred mysteries. Belief in Christ and a sincere wish to join the Church did not suffice for admission; the petitioner, or catechumen, was first required to undergo initiation. Many philosophers and theologians, not the least among them Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, discussed the reasons for this in depth.

It is 2004. The air is clean. The birds are singing. The sky is full of clouds. On such a day, the words of the ancient theologians seem harmless enough—until their philosophy leads Jane into error!

“I have a stomachache,” admits Jane.

Martin looks up from cooking. He’s making finger and toe sandwiches. The name is colloquial, and they don’t have real fingers in them.

“You were supposed to leave room for dinner,” he says.

“I just ate one small catechumen,” she says.

“They’re usually pretty big.”

“This one was small.” Jane indicates with her hands. “And made of gingerbread.”

Martin scratches behind his ear. “If it was just a tiny gingerbread catechumen, you should be fine.”

“Well,” Jane says, “He was lonely. Because catechumens crave baptism into the Christian faith, and he couldn’t do that in my stomach.”

“It’s a paradox,” agrees Martin. “If you eat a gingerbread catechumen before his baptism, you’re dooming him never to achieve the inner mysteries. But if you wait until he’s baptized, he’s soggy, and not really a catechumen at all! Still, even progressive Churches are likely to reject gingerbread men.”

“Well,” says Jane, “it’s just that I ate a gingerbread deacon and drank some holy water. To help him out.”

“Ah.” Martin frowns. “Do we have holy water?”

“It is the grace of the spirit that makes it holy,” Jane says, “so I figured that tap water would be okay.”

“Well, then,” Martin says. “Two cookies.”

“And then I had to eat a gingerbread priest,” Jane says.

“Why?”

“To illuminate the mysteries into which the deacon had initiated him. And a gingerbread hierarch, to sanctify the priest.”

“I see.”

“And then the gingerbread angel practically leaped into my stomach to convey the message of revelation between the gingerbread archangels and the hierarch. That’s how the hierarchs are purified, you know.”

Martin sighs. “Jane,” he says, “I told you not to read Pseudo-Dionysius’ cookbook.”

“I was expecting it to be a bit more like Emeril,” Jane admits.

See also: and Pseudo-Dionysius

Ink in an Interlude

The candy-cane pillars are rotting. There are bugs crawling over the spun-sugar castle. The lake of molasses issues forth a foul stench. A 12-year-old girl trips over the body of a gingerbread man. She falls. With a sharp snap the corpse’s arm breaks off. Caramel flies rise from the bone in a buzzing, angry cloud. Her hands come down in dark muddy chocolate. In the corpse’s wound, a white marshmallow larva writhes.

“Ew,” the girl says.

Floor 93-B: Nothing of note.

Floor 93-C: Above me in the sky, I can see a beautiful enchanted queen, made of mist and gossamer. I called out to her. She ignored me. I yelled more, and finally she turned, and said, with every sweetness, “You must be quiet, child. The echoes of your words will tear me apart.” And I saw how she was fraying at the edges, torn by my intemperate voice, and with a gulp of horror I went through the door.

Her name is Ink Catherly. Named because she loves her books, she’ll tell you, and maybe that’s the truth. She’s wearing a backpack. She’s carrying a journal.

She walks along. She walks on yellow, then blue, then orange, then green, then red. The colors are a patina of some scummy liquid over the candied swamp. Her feet sink into them. Tigers ate Ink’s shoes three days ago, in floor 93-G, and her toes are caked with thick black gunk.

There’s a scurrying all around her. There’s a rustling in the reeds. Then she sees the war party. They’re gingerbread men. They’re haggard. They’re as tall as she is. They look like children have been nibbling on them for months. They’ve got red and green streaks on their face and sides. Ink can’t tell if it’s war paint or blood. They’re holding bits of candy corn, knapped by a candycutter until wickedly sharp. They rise from the swamp and surround her.

Ink brushes her hair back behind an ear. “What are you?” she says.

“Killer,” one says, as if introducing himself. He shuffles forward, icing mouth sprawled unnaturally wide. His candy corn knife extends towards her chest.

“Thug,” says another. And “Horror. Beater. Thrash. Knife.” And “Hook.”

“I found one of yours back there,” she says. She gestures backwards.

“Morbid,” Killer says.

“My name is Ink Catherly,” she says. “And I’m going to the gingerbread house. I’m an explorer.”

Killer’s shuffling advance hesitates. “Don’t like the house,” he says. “Evil house.”

“Evil,” mutters Thug.

“Bad. Bad place!” adds Hook.

Ink tilts her head to one side. Her hair falls in long locks past her ear. “Tell me,” she says, “Why is it bad?”

“Fiends,” Killer says.

Floor 93-D: Nothing of note.

Floor 93-E: Poppies. They exuded a sweet stench and made me sleep, then crept up all around me to feed upon my dreams. Poor things; they had tempered themselves to the tiny minds of butterflies and ants, and I woke to find them vomiting up shards of my fancies, too rich for them by far.

“Fiends,” Killer says. It looks her up and down. “You fight fiends? Or work for them?”

Ink reflects. “I don’t work for them,” she says.

Killer’s eyes widen. Then he grins. It’s a slow, smug grin. “You go to fiends. You fight fiends. Then they spit out your pieces. We feast. No work.”

He turns to the others. “No work!”

“Hungry,” grumbles Hook.

“Scary girl,” Thrash points out. “Got heavy backpack. Crush gingerbread like butter. We eat her, two, maybe three gingers die.”

“I don’t know if I want to fight them,” Ink says.

“That’s okay,” Killer says. “You want jelly?”

He holds out a jelly bean. It’s red and green. Ink, a bit hesitantly, takes it.

“Good girl,” Killer says. Then the gingerbread men are gone.

Floor 93-F: I found a poem carved onto the wall. It read:

Once, this was a world of endless promise.
Rivers flowed with joy and the sky was full of rainbows.
Yet bit by bit it was unmade
By those who loved their pain too well.

Now there is emptiness.
And we are not real.
And we fade even as we write these words.

The walls were porous and hollow here, and I walked through them and made my way on.

Ink reaches the gingerbread house. She knocks hesitantly on the door. It opens gently and she sees a fiend. It has the overall shape of a gingerbread man, but its face is as textured as a human’s, its body is shrouded in shadow, and its eyes burn red. “Come in,” it says.

“Thank you.”

She walks into the house, and sees them all around her. There’s a fiend creaking in the rocking chair, and a scurrying shape in the window above, and two conversing in low tones by the fire. She is surrounded. She turns back towards the door, and asks the doorway-fiend, “What is this place?”

“This is the land of Rot and Cavity,” the fiend behind her says. “It is the dark reflection of Candyland, forming whenever children are poor sports at the game. We are created by cheating. By crying. By the sharp and swift upending of the board. We are the hungry gingerbread fiends of hate.”

“But what does that mean?” Ink asks.

The fiend tilts its head to the side. “Why do you ask?”

“I’m an explorer,” Ink says.

Floor 93-A: I cried to the sky to open me a path to Hell, and a hole in the sky yawned wide; and it said to me, “I will let you pass through into the realm beyond; but such pain as you know there is at my sufferance, and of my possession.”

I did not like the condition, but I went through; for it is my mission to explore.

There’s a pause after Ink speaks; and then the doorway-fiend sighs, “Ah.” It considers, then gestures her to a chair. She sits down. It creaks dangerously, and the fiend sits down opposite.

“People find many answers to pain,” the fiend says. “One of them is rejection of the world in which they live. They do not want things to be as they are. And, understanding that they cannot change it, that they have no escape by the terms of their own lives, they dream of the world’s breaking. Of the stalking horrors of madness. The shattering of the edges of the world. The destruction of law. The twisting serpent of agony turned back on those who gave it form. This is the wish that gives rise to fiends; and thus, we in the Gingerbread House of Rot and Cavity are the fiends of children’s hate.”

Floor 93-G: I can no longer say that I am entirely positive on the issue of tigers.

Ink looks a bit uncomfortable as she broaches the next question. “And how can I destroy you?” she asks.

“Why would you wish to?”

“Because you plan to eat me,” Ink says, “or at least turn me rotten and spit out the chunks. And also, I see no exit from here, so I think I have to; because there was a hole in the sky at the top of the tower, and a gap in the wall around 93-A; and so forth and so on through all the days and the worlds, but I think that my exit from here is your ending.”

The fiend leans forward, and its eyes are bright. “If I try to rot you,” it says, “and fail, then, by inevitability of corrosion, I myself shall be unmade.”

“Why might you fail?”

The fiend smiles with a certain intensity. “You are a child,” it says, “possessed of a certain amount of pain. If you release that pain, and take up the practice of happiness, then I and all these things shall rot to dust around you.”

Ink frowns. “Pain is important,” she says.

“Or,” the fiend says, “perhaps that is a construct of your conceptions, and you could find happiness simply by choosing to value happiness instead.”

Ink stands up. She slams the journal down on the table, which crumbles into a thousand crumbs. “You’re trying to tempt me,” she says. “I won’t have it. I will not be cheerful. I will not be happy. I will not stroll in lands of rainbows and clean pure candy and dreams! There’s nothing there to explore!”

She rises to her feet. Her fists curl tight.

“Then you shall rot,” the fiend says, and turns his power on her; but Ink Catherly does not rot, for her pain is spoken for, and she is not one of those permitted to know Hell.

Dedicated to Chrysoula Tzavelas, on the occasion of her birthday; and with some apology to certain others of my friends for whom, in the matter of birthday presents, I am sadly behind.