The collective gasp was lost in this room. It was larger than The Oven by at least fourfold. And it was even more spectacular.
“Welcome to the Room of Wheat!” proclaimed Danny Dootley.
“Wow,” said everyone else.
Row upon row of gold colored wheat stalks ran the length of the room. It smelled fresh and crisp. You could almost hear the wheat calling out, asking to be made into delicious bread. A room like this, an interior field, could only exist in the Bakery.
“A room like this, an interior field, could only exist in the Bakery,” said Danny Dootley. “Why would I keep my wheat outside where it could be exposed to the elements?”
“But Mr. Dootley, what about the sun? How can the wheat grow without the sun’s awesome power?” asked Billy.
“Well, little boy, that is precisely why I have installed my own artificial sun in this room.” He pointed straight up. “But don’t look at it! It’s the same strength of the sun, just compacted into an environmentally friendly CFL. I hope you remembered to put on your sunscreen.”
Billy and Grandpa Sam looked at each other and smiled. The Crumpettes were always a prepared family. Natasha Pumpanik had also applied a coat before coming. Her mother knew what was best for her. Carla Rhy on the other hand, had not put on sunscreen. She had been too busy devouring bread for the first time. She shook her head in embarrassment.
Billy took out a small bottle and handed it to her. “Here you go Carla. It’s SPF 50.”
“Thanks, Billy,” she replied.
“You must get your niceness from your parents, Billy, since you certainly don’t get it from me!” said Grandpa Sam.
Billy just smiled. He was not only nice, but modest also.
“I appreciate the sentimentality, but we really must get going,” said Danny Dootley. He began to walk through the wheat field.
“Mr. Dootley, I have a question!” shouted Natasha Pumpanik.
“I was wondering when you were going to speak up again,” Danny Dootley mumbled, but still loud enough for Natasha to hear.
“My mother says kids can only speak when spoken to. Except for me. I can speak whenever I please.” Natasha looked smug and content with herself.
“And my mother told me to never talk to children like you. ‘They’ll only get you into trouble,’ she said. Looks like I’ve broken that rule. Sorry, mother.”
“And you’re a brat. So what’s your question?”
“You’re mean, too. I’m not going to tell you my question anymore. You’ll never know what I was going to ask.”
“Oh me, oh my. My life has no meaning now.” His reply had more than just a hint of sarcasm. “Let’s get walking.”
“Actually, I have a question,” Grandpa Sam said.
“What can I help you with, sir?” Danny Dootley was fond of Grandpa Sam for some reason. He couldn’t quite place his finger on it. Maybe he reminded Danny of his own grandfather, the man that encouraged Danny to follow his dreams and become a baker. Whatever the reason, he was happy to answer any of Grandpa Sam’s queries.
“Who works the fields? You have acres of wheat, but I don’t see anyone picking them.”
“The workers are on break. They’ll be back right…about…now.”
Suddenly, a gigantic flock of storks flew through a shaft in the ceiling. They swarmed the fields and began dutifully performing their work.
“Are those storks?”
“Yes, they are. They are the best workers any man could ask for. They know when the wheat is ready to be picked, they sort it and bring it to the assembly rooms for each type of bread, they—”
“Do they deliver the bread?” interjected Billy curiously.
“Why yes, of course they do. Who else could deliver bread so efficiently and precisely each and every morning?”
Billy turned to Grandpa Sam. “I was right! I knew that storks delivered our bread! My parents and you said that storks delivering bread is ‘preposterous,’ but they do it!” Billy sat down in shock. “Wow.”
“Never doubt the capabilities of the Aves,” said Danny Dootley.
“They’re very pretty birds,” said Carla.
“Thank you, Carla. The birds and I appreciate your complement.”
“No they’re not,” chimed in Natasha. “They’re ugly things. And they must be filthy. I can’t believe you let animals touch our food!”
“I wouldn’t say that if I were you,” began Danny Dootley. “The storks are easily offended, especially by obnoxious girls.”
“They don’t know what I’m saying. How can they understand English? They’re just stupid birds!”
By now, all of the storks had stopped working and were staring directly at Natasha Pumpanik. They weren’t staring curiously; they were gazing at her with piercing anger. They did know what she was saying, they could understand English, and they certainly weren’t stupid birds. As the foolish girl continued, the birds began advancing toward her. The rest of the tour group noticed this and began backing slowly away from the trouble-causing lass.
“There are probably bird droppings in the bread. I can’t believe you force everyone to eat your nasty bread with bird germs every day! We’re all going to catch the avian flu now, and just when the epidemic ended.”
The storks were surrounding her, poised to attack. Natasha remained oblivious.
“People would be way better workers than storks. Only an idiot couldn’t see that.”
The storks had had enough. The first one made the move and leapt directly at Natasha, talons extended in front of its body.
“Stupid, stupid bi—”
Before she could finish her sentence, and before the stork had reached her, Natasha fell to the ground. The stork whizzed above her head. After a moment of silence—blessed silence—Danny Dootley, the tour group, and the storks curiously walked up to Natasha.
“Is she dead?” asked Carla worriedly.
“I don’t know,” said Billy with a slight quiver in his voice. Two deaths in less than an hour is a lot for anyone, but especially for innocent children.
“Let me check,” responded Danny Dootley. “I had a little medical training in my younger years. My father wanted me to be a doctor, but I knew that wasn’t for me. My decision to become a baker created some stress in our relationship, but that healed with time.”
“Mr. Dootley, I’m happy that you and your father are on speaking terms again, but now is not the time for enlightening us about your life story. Please give us a verdict about this girl.” Grandpa Sam could be curt, but he knew when things had to get done.
Danny Dootley pulled out a stethoscope—a strange thing for a baker to carry around—and knelt next to Natasha Pumpanik. After a moment:
“Yup, she’s dead.”
After a long pause:
“From what? The storks never touched her,” said Carla.
“She was sick of her own voice. That’s what did her in. She had been dealing with this sickness for several years now, so it was just a matter of time. It was pure coincidence that she died moments before she was viciously attacked by my otherwise peaceful storks.”
“Sick from her own voice. That does make a lot of sense,” said Grandpa Sam.
“Well, I apologize that this tour has taken a somber turn, but I hope I can fix that in the next room. Everyone ready to go?”
“What about Natasha? Are you going to just leave her here?” asked Billy.
Danny Dootley thought for a moment, then motioned for one of the storks that had been hanging back to come over.
“Can you take care of her? And give her mother a ring. Thank you.”
“Where are we going now, Mr. Dootley?” asked Carla.
“Since there are only three of you now, I think we can go to the Room of Rising.”
Now filled with anticipation for what lay ahead, the tour group followed Danny Dootley through the fields of grain and to the door leading to their next destination. Behind them, a team of storks lifted Natasha’s body up and out of the wheat fields. The rest of the storks went back to work, making the world’s best bread.