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Fiction #113
(published December 19, 2002)
The Gingerbread Man
by David Erik Nelson

Once upon a time there was a very old man and a very old woman, each of whom was terribly old and terribly lonely and bore terrible regrets over never having had children of their own: They were both growing feeble in their old age, and there was no one to care for them.

Then, one day, the old man died, leaving the old woman a widow, entirely alone and un-moored, without the first clue as to what she might do. One afternoon, bleary eyed with sorrow, the old woman took to baking hoping to find some brief solace in flour and eggs, whisks and rolling pins. She searched high in her pantry, deep in her cellar and far back in her cupboards, only to find that she had scarcely enough flour, sugar, ginger and confections to make a single gingerbread man. In the depth of her sorrows, this last disappointment was quite nearly enough to destroy her altogether, but she carried on nonetheless, and using her smallest mixing bowl and tiniest spoon to make that single-serving batch of dough, which she then lovingly rolled out and cut into the form of a tiny gingerbread man, using the scraps from the edges to make him a cocky gingerbread hat, with a fine set of cuffs and collar to match, and a sturdy pair of gingerbread boots.

As the old woman slipped her little man into the oven, she wished and prayed that somehow the good Lord might send someone— something, even— to soothe them and keep them in their dotage.

Perhaps there is a God, for no sooner had the old woman finished her little prayer then she heard a tiny voice from within her hot oven exclaim "Good Lord, is it stuffy in here! Let me out!"

Shocked, the old woman threw open her oven door, and there sat her gingerbread man, toasty warm and as lively as you or I.

"Good Heaven, little gingerbread man! Has the good Lord sent you to care for me, now that we are old and lonely and adrift in the world?"

"Not a chance!" The gingerbread man cried, "I'm free and lively and care for no one!"

"We'll see about that," the old woman replied, growing cross, "Mayhaps I'll snatch you up and *make* you care for us!"

"Fat chance, fatty!" said the gingerbread man, jumping to his feet, and with a hip, hop, hippy to the hippy to the hip hip hop he was up and out the open kitchen window and gone, laughing over his shoulder "Run, run, as fast as you can, you can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!"

And there could be no doubt about that, as the gingerbread man raced toward the horizon. But the old woman, perturbed but calm, simply smiled, shook her head, and began digging through her front closet, searching for her boots and walking stick.

The gingerbread man ran far and wee, hard and long, all afternoon, until he came to a pasture where there stood an old moo cow.

"Hey," the gingerbread man yelled, "I'm a gingerbread man, and I'm lively and free and don't owe anyone anything!"

"That's fine," the cow slowly replied, chewing her cud, "I'm a milk cow, and don't suppose I owe anyone anything, save the dairy farmer. I owe him milk, for he keeps me fenced into this field, where I can chew as much of his lush green grass as I want."

"You're a sucker!" the gingerbread man screeched in his tiny gingerbread voice, "you owe him milk because he gives you the honor of being caged in his field? What a jerk you are!"

"Well," the cow moaned, swinging her large head around to face the gingerbread man, nose to nose, "I suppose you're free— if I ate you, I'd owe no one anything at all."

"Eat me? Fat chance, fatty!" And with that the gingerbread man sprang off, shouting over his shoulder "Run, run, as fast as you can, you can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!"

And it was true: the cow could not catch him, but she had some thinking to do, anyway. By evening she had found a break in the fence, and the moo cow set off towards the trees across the field.

All through the afternoon the gingerbread man ran, far and wee, high and low, off through the pastures and into the deep, dark forest. He didn't stop until late in the night, when he met a fox.

"Hey jerkass!" the gingerbread man yelled at the fox, "Yeah, you! I'm the gingerbread man, and I'm lively and free and fast: I ran away from a fat old woman and a slat-sided cow."

"That so?" the fox asked, raising an eyebrow.


"Super. You know, around here, I'm considered to be a quick one."

"Maybe so, but not quick enough! Not by a long shot!"

The fox smiled and nodded, "Maybe so, sweet little friend, but you're failing to recall—" and at that the fox sprung at our littler gingerbread hero. But, true to his words, the gingerbread man was indeed fast, and he sprang off, laughing. "Fat chance, fatty!" he cried, running circles around the fox, and then bounded off into the night singing "Run, run as fast as you can, you can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man!"

And, indeed it was true, the fox could not catch him. But the fox hardly cared. After a brief nap, he stretched, shook himself limber, and began trotting out towards the forest's edge.

All through the night and into the wee hours the gingerbread man ran, over hill and dale, hither and thither, out past the edge of the forest, until he came to a quick little stream. It was too wide for the gingerbread man to jump, and he dare not forge it, he being crispy baked and hardly suitable for watery travel. He was truly in a pinch, until up wandered a rolly pink pig.

"Hey, fucknozzle!" the gingerbread man hollered, "I'm a goddamn gingerbread man, and I'm lively and free and don't owe no one nuthin! I out rant a fat ole bag, and dumbass cow and a faggotty fox! I'm the king fucking shit! I'm the goddamn Pope of Chilitown!"

"So it would seem," the pig grunted, shaking his head, "so it would seem."

"Yeah, and what are you going to do about it, asshole?"

"Nothing at all, nothing at all— though such are strong words, for such a sweet little gingerbread man, with his back to the water and nowhere to run."

And the little gingerbread man's face fell, and he looked around, and saw it was true: He was cornered in an oxbow along the swift stream, and his fast little legs would do him no good there. The rolly old pig licked his chops and smiled.

"Worry you not, worry you not, little gingerbread man. I have no stomach for sweets, but hunger for company. Perhaps, we could make an agreement, and pass the time pleasantly together, and then I shall carry you across our dear friend, the brook so swift?"

The gingerbread man wrankeld at having to make any sort of deal, of owing anyone anything, but he could see he had no option, and thus conceded. The pig and the gingerbread man then sat on the bank, and passed many a pleasant hour— pleasant for the pig, at least. The fast-paced gingerbread man found the ordeal excruciatingly boring.

Finally, it was time to leave. "Now I know," the rolly pig began, advancing toward the tasty little gingerbread man "I know this stream well, know it well. She's as deep as she is swift, and I swim poorly. But if I walk, if I walk carefully, then I can just keep my snout above water as I go upon my tippy toes, upon my tippiest toes." The pig smiled broadly, having backed the gingerbread man right to the banks of the stream, "Why not then climb up upon my snout?" the pig asked, his eyes sparkling, "Climb up upon my snout, so that we may travel across?" And he licked his chops "Travel across, little friend?"

"Fat chance, fatty!" the gingerbread man cried. The rolly pig lunged at him, and at that the gingerbread man pulled out a tiny gingerbread gun and shot the pig in the fucking face.

But, of course, then he had no way to get across the river, and a small man with such a disposition can make so many enemies so quickly . . .

Night fell, as it always does, but that could not slow the progress of the fox, the cow, or the old woman.

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