It was a normal day on Learningbook Island and at the James Sanderson Learning Center. Everything was running smoothly. Outside, the sun was shining, and the grass shimmered green. The students bustled through the hallways to their classes inside the main school building. Daniel, Arthur, and Laurie hurried to their next class. “Ugh. I can’t believe all the homework assigned for Acupuncture class,” said Arthur Sinsupper.
“Maybe if you paid more attention in class, the homework wouldn’t be a big deal,” said Laurie Locketbox.
“I do, so pay attention,” said Arthur. “I’m just not very good at it.”
“You know that’s not a very good argument in your favor,” said Laurie, rolling her eyes.”
“Whatever,” said Arthur.
“Either way, aren’t you guys excited about our first cooking class?” asked Daniel Smith.
“Yeah,” said Arthur, perking up. “I used to help my dad make his spicy fritters.”
“You’re lucky,” said Daniel. “My family never cooked. We usually just ordered take-out.”
“Well, I’m excited to have our school cook, Chef Wheelzing, be our teacher for this class,” said Laurie. “He’s so friendly.”
“I agree,” said Daniel. “And it’s generous of him to take time away from cooking meals for us to teach this class.”
“Well, you won’t be saying he’s nice if you’re late for his class and he gets you in trouble,” Arthur said with a chuckle.
“You’re right,” said Laurie. “Let’s hurry.”
The three friends ran down the hall and into the classroom where the cooking class was held and took their seats.
The classroom was clean and had a white tiled floor. In the back of the room was a big cabinet full of pots, pans, cooking utensils, and a huge refrigerator full of ingredients. A sink and a new-looking kitchen grill sat next to the classroom desks. Lastly, in one corner stood a decent-sized oven.
A few moments after Daniel, Laurie, and Arthur sat down at their desks, the pudgy body of Chef Wheelzing entered the room and went to the front of the class. “Greetings, students,” he said in what sounded like some sort of European accent. “Welcome to your first cooking class of the year. I am your teacher, Chef Pierre Wheelzing, though some of you may know me as the head cook in the school’s kitchen. Either way, we will be baking gingerbread men for our first class. So, everyone, take out your cookbooks, and we’ll begin.”
In no time, the whole class was wearing aprons and using their measuring spoons to determine how much gingerbread to use. Each clump of gingerbread smelled sweet as each student used a specially shaped utensil to cut it into cartoonishly little men’s shapes. It was hard work, and most students, including Laurie and Daniel, were covered head to toe in flowers. On the other hand, Arthur seemed to be doing just fine, keeping neat as he sliced several more men-shapes out of the gingerbread on the table in front of him.
“Excellent, excellent, students,” said Chef Wheelzing. “Now, here comes the fun part. We get to decorate our gingerbread men.”
“Yay! Awesome!” cheered the students.
“Now, everyone…” Chef Wheelzing explained. “Line up near the fridge and take one can of sprinkles and two jars of frosting from inside. “Before anyone asks, you are allowed to share the different colors of sprinkles as long as you don’t get into fights over them. Understand?”
“Mine is going to have a pretty frosting and a pretty sprinkle dress,” said a girl named Penelope Plotpire.
The kids got to work on decorating their gingerbread men. As they sprinkled and frosted their cookies, Chef Wheelzing overlooked their work intently. Finally, Chef Wheelzing raised his hands and said: “Alright, students, stop your decorating. I will come around with two silver trays on which you may put your gingerbread men. Then I want you to gather a safe distance around the class oven, and we will all put the cookies in to bake.”
The students obeyed, placed their gingerbread men on the trays, and gathered around the oven. The oven itself was old but sturdy-looking, at least up close. “Now…” Chief Wheelzing explained. “I have already set the oven to preheat, so I will show you how to safely put in the gingerbread cookies.” He placed oven mitts on both his hands and opened the oven, but when he was about to place the trays inside, he paused. “How strange,” he said
“What’s wrong?” Daniel asked.
“Well, it’s just that the oven should be much hotter by now,” said Chef Wheelzing. “But there doesn’t seem to be heat coming out.” So he put down the trays and checked the oven’s settings. “How odd. It says the oven should be fully heated by now.”
“Maybe it’s broken,” said Laurie.
“Oh, dear. I think you’re right,” he said. “I suppose we will have to get a new one.”
“So, wait,” said a boy in the back of the group. “Does this mean we won’t be able to bake our gingerbread men?”
“No worries,” said Chef Wheelzing. “I will call the school janitor. Maybe he can find a solution.” So he walked to his desk, pulled out a phone, and dialed a number. The kids in the class waited intensely.
A moment later, a voice could be heard coming from the phone. It was janitor Gregory Crawford. The voice on the other end of the line was too faint to be heard. “We need it repaired right away,” said Chef Wheelzing.
Almost immediately after putting down the phone, janitor Gregory Crawford walked through the classroom door. He was an old balding man who had worked at the school for many years as the head of the maintenance staff. He wore an eye patch over his right eye and knew the hallways of the school buildings like the back of his hand. Even if he was cranky at times, he was a kind person who could repair almost anything.
“What seems to be the problem?” asked Gregory.
“It’s the oven. It’s broken,” said Chef Wheelzing, pointing at it.
Janitor Gregory Crawford walked over, kneeled next to the oven, and looked it over. The students watched anxiously. Without looking at it for very long, Gregory stood up and said: “This oven has a broken part that isn’t made anymore. We’re going to have to replace the whole thing.”
“Wait, what!” exclaimed one of the students.
“Does this mean we can’t bake our gingerbread men?” asked Arthur.
Chef Wheelzing looked distraught. “Surely there is another oven around here we can use to replace it,” he said.
Janitor Gregory scratched the back of his head and sighed. “Well, there is an old oven in the school’s lower storage facility, but it hasn’t been used for many years.”
“Well, does it work?” asked Chef Wheelzing.
“I believe so,” said janitor Gregory.
“Then how about you bring it up here, and we’ll give it a try,” said Chef Wheelzing.
“Okay. I’ll go get it,” said Gregory. With that, he turned and walked out of the classroom to retrieve the oven.
By this point, some kids were growing impatient because they couldn’t bake their gingerbread men. Some of the kids complained. “How are we going to bake our cookies in the little time we have left in this class?” moaned a girl named Raquelle Evans.
“Yeah, I want to eat these gingerbread men,” said a very cubby boy named Gunther Glot.
Daniel was also becoming a little worried that they would run out of time in class before being able to bake and hopefully eat their gingerbread men’s cookies. However, before Daniel could think about it, janitor Gregory returned, wheeling an old rusty but decently sized oven into the classroom.
“That was fast,” Laurie whispered to Daniel.
“Well,” said Gregory. “Where do you want it?”
“You may put it over there,” said Chef Wheelzing.
Janitor Gregory nodded and began setting up the new oven where Chef Wheelzing had instructed him. Chef Wheelzing looked nervously at the clock on the wall. But in only a few moments, janitor Gregory got the new oven up and running.
“You need anything else? Asked janitor Gregory.
“No, thank you. That will be all,” said Chef Wheelzing.
With that, janitor Gregory nodded his head and exited the classroom.
“It’s truly astonishing how fast the janitor can fix things,” said Arthur.
“You’re telling me,” said Daniel. He looked at the newly set up oven and didn’t know why, but something about it looked off. It just didn’t look safe, but he shrugged off the feeling.
“Well, students, since our time in class is almost over,” Chef Wheelzing said. “Why don’t we take our last bit of time putting the cookies in the new oven to bake overnight? That way, all of you can eat your gingerbread men right away next class.”
Even though many of the kids were unhappy that they didn’t get to eat their gingerbread men that day, they were glad they got to put them in the new oven to bake overnight. Chef Wheelzing finished that class by showing the students how to turn on and safely put their gingerbread men in the oven. After that, the school bell rang, and all the kids grabbed their bags and went to their other classes.
“Well, it’s a shame we didn’t get to eat our gingerbread men. I was really looking forward to it,” said Daniel.
“Look on the bright side, Daniel,” said Laurie. “We have another cooking class tomorrow. We can eat them then.”
“Say,” Daniel said. “Did you two notice anything weird about the replacement oven?”
Arthur raised an eyebrow. “The oven? Weird, like what?”
“Never mind,” said Daniel, realizing how weird the question sounded.
The kids continued walking to their next class, “Holographic Effects.”
The following morning, Daniel woke up. It had been a longer night than expected. As usual, he had procrastinated on his homework until the last minute and worked on it all night. He looked around the room for Arthur, but he wasn’t there. He assumed he went to breakfast. So, he got dressed and began to walk to the dining hall across the yard. As he walked across the grass, he felt like he was still half asleep. Then he felt his feet crunch something on the ground. He looked down to see what it was. To his surprise, it was a crushed gingerbread man. He didn’t acknowledge the strangeness of it at first, but as he began to think about it, he wondered how a gingerbread man got into the schoolyard. But he shrugged it off and continued walking to the dining hall. When he got there, he saw a bunch of kids running out of the building in a panic. Wow, he thought. Where’s the fire? He peered into the building and couldn’t believe his eyes. From its look, the dining hall was a complete and utter mess. The kids still in there looked terrified, and to Daniel’s disbelief, there were hundreds upon thousands of little gingerbread men running around the hall. Some of them were even on top of the tables, flipping over the plates and knocking down glasses, causing absolute chaos.
A group of gingerbread men ran past Daniel, carrying forks and knives into the yard. Daniel thought he must be asleep. He put his hand on his forehead and watched an army of gingerbread men attach ropes with hooks to the end of a dining table. One of them shouted: “Heave!” They pulled the ropes in the opposite direction, flipping over the table. Daniel didn’t know what to think. Someone put a hand on his shoulder, and he turned around. It was Arthur. “Thank god,” he said. “I was returning to the dorm to warn you, but I saw you over here.
“Arthur, what the heck is going on?” asked Daniel.
“It’s crazy!” said Arthur. “They’re all over the school building and heading further into the yard.
“How did this happen?” asked Daniel. “They’re gingerbread men. They’re inanimate food.”
“I don’t know all the details,” said Arthur. “But apparently, they’re coming from the cooking class.”
“Where’s Laurie?” asked Daniel.
“I am not sure,” said Arthur. “I think she’s still in her dorm. I’ll go get her.”
“I’ll go to the cooking class and find out what’s going on,” said Daniel.
The two friends turned and ran in opposite directions. As Daniel sprinted down the school hallway, everything around him was in utter chaos. Live gingerbread men were everywhere—groups of them swarmed the hallway floors. Several of them were chasing after a group of second-years. Some of them stood on top of the school lockers throwing pencils and books down upon any passers-by—even gingerbread men on the light fixtures that hung above the hallways.
Daniel ran to the cooking class, stepping over about one hundred gingerbread men while dodging a barrage of pencils, wadded-up candy wrappers, and plastic forks that the gingerbread men had been hurling at any student that walked by.
When he finally approached the cooking class, he was surprised to find Chef Wheelzing, along with several teachers and hall monitors, piling chairs and desks in front of the classroom’s door. A group of students watched from the sidelines, looking at the scene with horror.
“Quick!” said one of the teachers. “We need more chairs to block off this room.”
“We need to block the crack underneath the door,” cried another teacher.
“Hey, Chef Wheelzing,” said Daniel. “What the heck is going on?!”
Chef Wheelzing turned to Daniel. “Oh, Daniel, my boy,” he said. He was obviously stressed and had bags under his eyes. “It’s terrible. It turns out the oven we got from storage the other day was cursed, and as the gingerbread men’s cookies sat in the oven overnight, it brought them to life. So by the time I got back to the classroom to unlock it this morning, the living gingerbread men had not only overwhelmed and seized control of the inside of the classroom but also used the cursed oven to make thousands more of them. Now they have an army, as you can see, and they’re invading the school.”
Daniel was a little confused about the idea of a cursed oven. He had never heard of such a thing before in his life, but then again, he had never heard of an army of gingerbread men coming to life and taking over an entire school.
He looked over Chef Wheelzing’s shoulder at the teachers attempting to barricade the door to the cooking class. “I don’t get it,” Daniel said. “Why are you barricading the door? Those gingerbread men aren’t that tall. “So why not charge in there, turn off the oven, and take it back?”
Chef Wheelzing sighed and said: “That was our first plan, but those gingerbread men are smart and had already barricaded their side of the door, keeping us locked out good and tight.”
“Then why block up this side at all?” asked Daniel
“Because we don’t want any more of them getting out,” said Chef Wheelzing.
“Well, a lot of good we’re doing,” said a teacher standing behind Chef Wheelzing. “They’re still getting out of the classroom. They must be going through the ventilation.”
Chef Wheelzing looked distraught, and just then, the voice of Vice Principal Chad Greasily came echoing over the loudspeaker.
“Attention, students,” he said. “It’s come to my attention that vicious living gingerbread men have overrun the school grounds. In fact, a gingerbread man is yanking my necktie at this very moment. However, I understand that this gingerbread man attack might put off students and faculty, but I insist that you do not panic. This will be sorted out, and as of such, the class will not be canceled because of this event.”
Upon hearing, this news everyone in the entire school, including the teachers, groaned. Vice principal Chad Greasily finished by saying: “Please, I insist that everyone proceed to their first-period classes and have a nice day.”
Daniel, confused, asked Chef Wheelzing: “So how exactly is the school going to get the gingerbread men problem sorted out.”
Chef Wheelzing, who looked deeply unhappy, shrugged and said: “I will have to talk to the vice principal about that now.”
With that, Chef Wheelzing turned and rushed down the gingerbread man-infested hallway to the vice principal’s office.”
Daniel braced himself with it being his only option and walked down the hall towards his first class. It was not easy, though, for obvious reasons. The gingerbread men were already getting out of hand, and it seemed like it was just the beginning. They were lobbying for anything they could find at the kids passing by. The gingerbread men were also jumping on the students and pulling them down to the ground. Daniel had to pry six different gingerbread men off his body on his way to class. Once he finally got to Miss Winkles classroom, he stopped to pant. He saw that Arthur and Laurie were already there.
“There you are,” he said as he approached them. “Are you doing okay?”
“Well, all things considered, we’ve been better,” said Arthur.
“I’m just glad you’re okay,” said Daniel.
“Yeah,” said Arthur. “Laurie barely made out of the girl’s dorm alive.”
Just then, Ms. Winkle opened her classroom door. “Alright, gingerbread or no, everybody inside.”
That day’s class was extremely difficult. The gingerbread men would not cease their attacks on students. Raquel Evans, a studious girl, raised her hand and said: “Ms. Winkle, I can’t concentrate on what you’re reading. The gingerbread men keep biting my ankles.”
“Just ignore them,” said Ms. Winkle. “This is a good time to learn how to focus in an environment that’s distracting.”
The gingerbread men ran in and out of the room throughout the lecture. Some of them even got up on Ms. Winkle’s desk and pushed over the globe that was on it, breaking it. Eventually, even Ms. Winkle couldn’t stand it anymore when they stole all the chalk from the board.
The other classes that day were even harder to get through than Ms. Winkle’s. In history class, Mr. Blank lets the students have free time at their desks. The gingerbread men were tearing out the pages from the history books on the shelves, crumpling them up, and throwing them at the students. Things were not much better in Track and Field. The gingerbread men kept tipping over the hurdles. In knitting glass, hundreds of them jabbed the kids with sowing needles as they tried to work.
Unfortunately, this would not be the last day the students would have to deal with these problems. As days went by, the school staff still found no way to safely get into the cooking room to retrieve the cursed oven. During this time, the gingerbread men were baking other gingerbread men, expanding their army around the clock. The gingerbread men were now making even bigger gingerbread men. They were at least a foot and a half tall, and the fighting did not let up. Sometime earlier, the smallest boy in school, little Jeremy, was tied down like Gulliver’s travels and yanked off somewhere by the bigger gingerbread men. Nobody could find him.
Meanwhile, a group of school bullies had been having the time of their lives, pounding and beating these gingerbread men into the ground. Kyle Penesco, one of the school bullies, took a baseball bat and swung away at the gingerbread men left and right. “I can’t believe I skipped cooking class,” he said as he whacked three small gingerbread men in one swoop.
Unfortunately for Kyle, his fun did not last long. A thousand gingerbread men chased him down and tackled him during lunch break.
“Okay, that’s it,” said Laurie as she watched the gingerbread men march like a platoon down a pathway through the schoolyard. “Enough’s enough. They’re taking over everything.”
“I agree,” said Arthur. “I’m just glad they haven’t been able to get into a wood shop. Imagine gingerbread men with power saws.”
“It’s kind of sad,” said Daniel.
“Sad?” said Arthur. “How do you figure?”
“If you really think about it. We made them. And because of that, they are here. It’s not like they asked to be made.”
“Very insightful,” said Laurie. “But don’t forget, they’ve been attacking us from day one.”
“Yeah, but maybe they’re confused,” said Daniel. “It’s not like they know why they’re here. We made them just to eat them. But has anyone asked them what they want?” asked Daniel.
“Well, if you ask me, all those gingerbread men want is control of everything they see,” said Laurie. “After all, they seized control of the girl’s bathroom on the fourth floor.”
“But guys,” said Daniel. “I think we should talk to them and see if we can compromise.”
“Listen, Daniel,” said Arthur. “I trust your judgment, but how do you think we can get these living gingerbread men to agree with us on anything.”
“I am not sure,” said Daniel. “We have to find a way to do something because they’re taking over the entire school, and no offense, violence doesn’t seem to impact them.”
“He’s got the point,” said Laurie. “They keep multiplying.”
The next day Daniel had a free fifth period. The periods before that were, once again, stressful, to say the least. The gingerbread men were not letting up on their attacks. Even kids crushing them in the middle of the class didn’t scare off the remaining gingerbread men. Daniel knew he had to find another way. He looked around the schoolyard and found a medium-sized stick. He tied a paper towel to the end of the stick and looked around for the nearest attacking- gingerbread men. There was a group of them near the handball courts. They were poking holes in the rubber balls with pencils and sharp sticks. Daniel approached them. At first, they didn’t notice him until they realized his shadow loomed over them. They all turned angrily towards him. “Ahem…” Daniel said, clearing his throat. May I have a short period of your time?”
“Attack!” yelled one of the gingerbread men.
Daniel stepped back for safety and held up the stick with the paper towel attached to the end of it. He started waving it at them. The gingerbread men seemed unfazed and continued to close in on him.
“I surrender,” said Daniel.
The gingerbread men stopped their attack. “Surrender?” one of them said.
“That’s right,” said Daniel. “You win.”
“It is common tradition when someone surrenders to wave a white flag like this,” said Daniel, raising his stick.
The gingerbread men looked at him, confused. “You mean you want to stop fighting?” asked one of the gingerbread men.
“Yes. That would make it easier to go to school here again.”
“Well, we can’t just stop fighting,” said the same gingerbread man.
“Why not?” asked Daniel.
“We’re fighting for something in particular.”
“No, we can’t just stop fighting,” said another gingerbread man.
“What reason are you fighting for?” asked Daniel.
“We are fighting for our own land, our own territory,” said the same gingerbread man.
“And you cannibalistic humans are all over this land, and it’s the only land we ever knew.”
Daniel smiled. “Well, it’s also a tradition that when someone surrenders, that person negotiates with the leader of the winning side. So if you take me to whoever oversees you, I will make sure my leaders will give you a special place of your own.”
“Where would this place be?” asked one of the gingerbread men.
“This island is huge,” said Daniel. “And you don’t take up much space. I am sure we can reach a peaceful compromise about where you can live and where we can go to school.”
A gingerbread man pointed at Daniel and said, “Hold on a minute; we need to discuss this.”
The gingerbread men ran a few feet from where Daniel was standing and huddled in a circle, and Daniel could still hear them whispering.
“Well, we can’t just stop fighting,” one of the gingerbread men whispered.
“He might be telling the truth,” whispered another.
“We will have to tell the other gingerbread men,” whispered a third.
After several more whispers, Daniel couldn’t fully hear the gingerbread men un-huddled and reapproached Daniel.
“Okay,” said one of the gingerbread men. “If you can get your leaders to come to a peace conference, we will try to get our leaders to come as well.”
“Agreed,” said Daniel.
The gingerbread men nodded and began to run back to the school building.
Daniel knew what he had to do next: Find Laurie and Arthur. He also knew they had a free period around this time. So he had to tell them what he had done.
He spotted Laurie and Arthur at their usual hangout spot underneath the oak tree with the broken branch. “Guys, guys,” Daniel said as he ran up, panting.
“Whoa, Daniel! What’s up?” said Arthur.
“Well, you know that thing you said I shouldn’t do,” Daniel said, still panting. “Well, I did it anyway, and now the gingerbread men have agreed to come to a peace conference.”
“Wait, slow down. What did you do?” Laurie asked
Daniel took a deep breath. “I made peace with the gingerbread men,” he said.
“What!” exclaimed Laurie and Arthur at the same time.
“Yeah,” said Daniel. “I talked to some of the gingerbread men. They actually seemed pretty open to having a peace conference.”
“I didn’t think you could do it,” said Arthur. “But if you’re telling the truth, then we’ve got to arrange a peace conference.”
“Yes,” said Laurie. “For the sake of the school and all.”
“Yeah, I am just not sure how we’re going to do it,” said Daniel. “I guess I should have thought about that before I declared peace with them.”
“What we’ve gotta do is simple,” said Laurie. “We need to get James Sanderson, the school principal, to talk with them.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” said Arthur. “Let’s find James Sanderson.”
They ran over to the administration building to see if James Sanderson was there. They found him in his wheelchair near the front desk, sorting through some papers. “James Sanderson,” said Daniel.
“Nice to see you, Daniel, Arthur, and Laurie. “There’s good news. The hall monitor just found Jeremy Guestburg tied up but alive behind the school dumpster. His capture by the gingerbread men was concerning.”
“Well, that’s great,” Daniel said. “But we have something else we need to talk about.”
“You’ll never guess what Daniel did,” said Laurie.
“Perhaps I won’t say,” James Sanderson. “But why don’t you just tell me.”
“I made peace with the gingerbread men!” said Daniel. “But it will only work if you meet with the gingerbread men leaders.”
“That sounds quite reasonable,” said James Sanderson. “Far more diplomatic than the way they’ve been behaving so far. I will talk to the gingerbread men.”
Later that week, the gingerbread men, leaders, and James Sanderson met at a peace conference in the school auditorium. Things were tense at first on the gingerbread man’s side. But soon after, they drew up a treaty in which the gingerbread men were allowed to live in a large clearing in the Learningbook forest. It was a decent way from the school, and the gingerbread men could live there peacefully. The only additional condition was that the gingerbread men got to keep the cursed oven that created them. With that, James Sanderson agreed, but only if the gingerbread men agreed to stay on their land and the kids agreed to remain on the school grounds.
After the treaty, the gingerbread men exited the school grounds to their new homeland. The kids in the schoolyard cheered as the gingerbread men left. James Sanderson looked at the oven being hauled away by the gingerbread men soldiers. “Well, that explains a lot,” he said.
“Explains what?” asked Vice Principal Chad Greasily, standing next to him, wearing a bright red bowtie.
James Sanderson pointed to the oven and said, “That’s the same oven that caused the souffle uprising of 69.”