The Wicked Baker of the North
Martha was a marvelous baker, of course. Everyone in her little town knew she would grow up to be a baking prodigy by the time she was five and selling masterful macrons at a roadside stand when the other children were selling lemonade. Her petit fours were winning competitions just a year later, and Martha dreamed of someday baking for kings and presidents before retiring to write a bestselling cookbook and starting a legendary culinary academy.
Unfortunately, when she finally opened her own bakery, business was slow. People in town did their own baking, unless it was for an important occasion. And when those occasions arrived, they all wanted a nice, big vanilla cake with buttercream frosting and some kind of filling.
Martha liked cake, but she wanted to create crusty croissants, buttery brioche, and sugar-dusted scones. When the grocery store opened a bakery and started selling cheap baked goods that tasted mostly of flour, her customer base was cut in half. Things had reached a crisis point.
Something needed to change. But what could she do? If only she could move to a bigger city where more people might appreciate a well-crafted croquembouche or an elegant eclair. Yet, in order to move, she needed funds, and money was in short supply.
Martha would not accept defeat. She had known since she was three years old that she would grow up to be a world famous baker. Those strange dreams of dancing sugarplums had to mean something, after all.
And so, she cooked up an amazing plan. She would do some sort of newsworthy publicity stunt. People would come to her bakery to see whatever it was and spend money. Once she had enough money, she would move her bakery to somewhere much more bakery-friendly and live happily ever after.
All she needed was that publicity stunt. One day, while she was biting the head off of an unsold giant gingerbread man, the idea came to her. She could build a life-size gingerbread house, one big enough to live in. If she lived in it for a week or two, surely that would break some kind of record, and the world would beat a path to her door.
Now that she had a plan, all of Martha’s considerable focus was directed to building a gingerbread house, one cookie brick at a time. She went all out with frosting décor and giant gumdrop furniture. It was the house of her dreams, if she’d been dreaming of cookie houses instead of dancing sugarplums.
The townsfolk watched in wonder, uncertain whether Martha had finally gone crazy. A kind looking woman walked up one day to warn her that cookie houses weren’t very practical. A well-meaning doctor asked if she’d been feeling overwhelmed or stressed lately.
Martha persevered. She had a plan. And when the house was nearly complete, she alerted the newspapers in all the big cities and sent invitations to every celebrity she could think of. This was going to be big. She baked superb snicker doodles and beautiful baklava in anticipation of the crowds.
The night before she was going to move into the completed gingerbread house, she was in her bakery working late. The moon was full, and the kitchen windows overlooked the nearby forest that towered over the cookie house at the edge of the bakery lawn. It was picturesque.
Or, it would have been, if not for the mob of small children devouring the gingerbread house by moonlight. Martha thought that werewolves or vampires or zombies would have been preferable. People were willing to travel long distances to hunt for supernatural monsters, and that might be an even better publicity stunt. The gumdrop bed wasn’t very comfortable, after all.
But no one would travel any distance to see a gang of kids with a sweet tooth. Those were not rare at all. Martha stood up straight and reached into the nearby closet. She would not stand by and watch her amazing plan get gobbled up.
She burst out of the door shrieking and waving a broom. The children screamed and scattered, running away as fast as they could. The damage wasn’t easy to repair, and the house was still unlivable when the reporters and celebrities arrived. Her tales of ravenous hordes of children were met with confusion.
“But where are the children now? I would have expected an army of children with such delicious delights on offer.” The reporter gestured to the table of sweet samples Martha had prepared for her guests.
“They’re probably afraid I’ll bake them in my giant commercial-grade ovens,” she joked. The reporters all nodded and wrote her response. “That was a joke,” she pointed out. “I’m not a wicked witch. Maybe just a wicked baker.”
Everyone looked at the table of tasty-looking treats. “Are they poisoned?” A famous author asked, sounding oddly hopeful.
“Of course not, who do you think I am?” Martha asked angrily.
She found out soon enough. The tale was twisted and told out of context. Some local children named Hansel and Gretel told some outrageous fairy tale to the reporters after her interview. They called her the Wicked Baker of the North.
The locals steered clear of her bakery after that. Luckily, out-of town visitors swarmed the bakery, hoping for glimpses of the witch. Martha pretended to be her assistant and told everyone they’d just missed her.
Within a year, she was able to close her bakery and move to a larger town under a new name. There she proficiently peddled profiteroles and never looked back. In fact, whenever she saw Hansel and Gretel’s tell-all tale in bookstores, she hid the books behind a nice cookbook and pretended she hadn’t seen them. She lived happily ever after.