“Sorry,” they both exclaimed at once.
The girl’s cheeks flushed a delicate pastel pink and she quickly looked away.
“Did I hurt you?” asked Joey.
“Please,” said the girl, “look away.”
“But I, …” Joey began.
“Nurse, I insist you take me away,” the girl said.
The nurse and the beautiful creature gathered themselves and wheeled away without speaking another word. Meanwhile, Nurse Schlimm had sprung up like a cheetah and was glaring after the receding pair. Clearly she did not think the collision was her fault. Joey was surprised to find himself standing too. He didn’t remember getting to his feet.
“Who was that girl?” he asked.
“Another refugee from the storm,” said Nurse Schlimm.
“How did she get here?”
“A fisherman found her on one of the banks and brought her to us. We think she was badly bleached in a sugar explosion, but she won’t talk about it,” said Nurse Schlimm.
Joey had heard of such things, but they rarely happened nowadays. Great clouds of sugar dust float in the factories where they make sugar plums, gumdrops, and candy canes. If a match is lit, it can cause an enormous explosion resulting in a wicked fire. He wondered if the girl was from Gingerbread Village, and if the explosion had happened there. He had never seen her before though, and he thought he knew all of the magical families in the village.
Nurse Schlimm bumped the wheelchair through the now familiar door to the corridor. The narrow hall was black after the bright sunlight. They entered Joey’s room and with no help, he crawled back into his hospital bed. He was exhausted and his head was beginning to throb.
He had just laid his head down when Dr. Delicious breezed through the door.
“What a gorgeous day!” he said, brimming with enthusiasm about the sun’s appearance.
“Good to see you awake and alert again. Let’s take a look at that head of yours. Time to take off those bandages.”
Joey swore he caught a slight smile on Nurse Schlimm’s face. She must like seeing people in pain, he thought. The lovely feeling that had pervaded his being after seeing the girl had vanished. What would his head look like, and worse, what would his eye look like?
The doctor unwrapped the molasses – stained bandages and dropped them into the steel pan held by Nurse Schlimm. Using a pair of tweezers, he delicately removed the final gauze patches. The crusty molasses resisted at first, then broke free. Dr. Delicious gently daubed the wounds with something that had that distinctly doctor’s office antiseptic smell.
“Not bad,” he said, “not bad at all. You look a little tougher than you probably used to look, my boy. Pretty darn good though.”
He handed Joey a mirror. Joey raised it to his good eye. He had never been the most handsome boy in class, but he wasn’t the least attractive either. A molasses tear welled up in his left eye as he surveyed his new face. His right eye was sewn shut. The scar looked like a letter ‘C’ lying on its back. Just above his eye, a rectangular metal plate was bolted to his gingerbread forehead.
“I’m afraid whatever you hit took quite a bit of gingerbread with it,” said Dr. Delicious. “It plunged right through the crust layer and into the soft gingerbread. That’s why we were so worried about you waking up. The plate should keep everything nice and stable.”
Joey was barely listening. Inside he felt like himself, but what stared back at him was a stranger.
“Joseph,” the doctor cleared his throat. “When you said you were Joseph Jacob Gingerbread XXIV the other day…well, son, we need to know your real name.”
Joey pulled his eye away from the mirror. “That is my real name Dr. Delicious. The one-eyed, plate-headed monster you see before you is heir to the Gingerbread Kingdom.”
- Molasses is a thick, sticky liquid used to make gingerbread cookies and gingerbread houses. It is the ingredient that gives gingerbread its rich, brown color.
- Sadly, sugar dust really can explode. People have to be very careful about lighting a match in places where they produce sugar.
Follow along tomorrow when Joey meets some new friends…
By J.P. Farrell