(continued from this story)

Jesse glanced at the bakery display window, nearly empty except for some brownish muffins and a lot of fresh crumbs. Then he opened the door and stepped across the threshold.

SMACK! Jesse’s cheek stung as a fowl smell sucker-punched him from the side. It had obviously been waiting for him.

“Ouch!”

“Oh, hello dear!” A short-statured woman with curly black hair looked up from behind a glass bakery display case. “Are you okay?”

“I . . . uh . . . well . . . I smelled . . . and . . . never mind,” muttered Jesse.

“Deary, I see you’ve noticed our chicken-corn muffins. They’re today’s special. How about a taste, hmm?”

Jesse blinked and the woman reappeared directly in front of him. She pushed a warm morsel of crumbly muffin into his mouth.

“Mmmmmm.”

Jesse tasted roasted chicken with crackly skin and scorched herbs. And fresh-shucked sweet corn with juicy kernels that tasted like sunshine. And warm wheat bread slathered in creamed butter.

“Mmmmmm.” Jesse opened his eyes to the expectant gaze of the dark-haired woman. He had not realized that he had even closed his eyes.

“Well?”

“Mmmm-hmmm!”

“Oh!” Her face took on a concerned look, “Can you talk sweetie? Say something! Did a cat get your tongue?”

“Mmmm . . .I . . .”

“Open up!” The woman squeezed Jesse’s cheeks together and stood on her tip toes to peer into his mouth.

“What? Huh? Oh. Yeah. I’m fine.”

“Well, it looks like you still have a tongue. It happens sometimes, those wily cats get your tongue!”

“Wow, that tastes so fresh!”

The woman smiled, and her face broke into dimples. “We only use fresh-roasted chickens. I’m sure you’ll want a dozen. Let me go pack them up.”

She bustled behind the counter and ducked her head to look in the display case.

“Finn!” she squawked, “We only have eleven chicken-corn muffins left!”

“That’s okay, I don’t really need . . .”

“Don’t you worry, deary. I won’t let you leave here without your muffins. We’ll make a new batch, and they’ll cook up in no time!”

“My name’s Jesse.” He felt awkward introducing himself after the woman had already performed the intimate gesture of feeding him a muffin, but she beamed with excitement at his words.

“Jesse! What a wonderful name! I think we’ll name our next cat ‘Jesse’! You’re so scrawny, dear, have another muffin while you wait.”

She pointed to a shiny red vinyl chair against the wall, and Jesse obediently sat. She reached into the display case and brought out a yellow-frosted cupcake for him. He took it and continued his introduction.

“I’m Jesse James, no relation of course to anyone famous, and I’m a food blogger.”

“Oh ‘Jesse James’! What a splendid name for my next cat! I’m Ada and I bake muffins and take care of the stuffings. So what exactly do you do for the loggers, deary?”

“Not ‘logger’, ‘blogger’. I visit restaurants and stores and bakeries like yours, then write about them on my blog.”

Ada’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Okay, deary.”

“What I mean is, I write an article and put it on the internet so that people can read about the food I eat and the places I visit. I saw your grand opening photo in the Gloaming Gap Penny Paper and decided to visit.”

“Oh, the Internet!” She breathed with a capital “I”. “That’s the World Wide Web! People from all over the world will be crawling in here to sample my treats! I had better start baking!”

Jesse smiled. This petite dark-haired woman’s naïveté about modern technology was rather charming.

“I kind of doubt that, uh, Ms. Ada.”

“Just called me Ada, deary; Ms. Ada’s my much older sister.”

Jesse opened his mouth to ask what that meant, then decided just to stick to the topic, much as he imagined a real journalist would.

“I only have seven subscribers so far, but there’ve been 128 visits to my site this year. That’s not a lot of people yet, but with interesting stories about wonderful places like your ‘Muffin and Stuffin’ bakery, I’m sure it’ll get bigger. So tell me more about ‘Muffin and Stuffin’ – how long have you been making muffins? Where did you get the idea for the name?”

“128 people!” Ada exclaimed.

Just then a large, square-jawed man filled the doorframe behind the bakery counter. He held a large glass jar in his left hand. Jesse realized how large the man’s hand was when he caught a glimpse of an entire chicken floating in the jar.

“Finn, deary, this is Jesse,” Ada introduced. “He’s come to put us on the World Wide Web!”

Finn nodded silently and carefully set the large jar on the counter. The jar looked like a huge specimen jar, the kind that scientists use to preserve animals. An entire brown and white-feathered chicken bobbed peacefully in the liquid.

“Isn’t she beautiful! Thank you, Finn! You’d better get some more corn, deary, because our new friend here is inviting 128 people over.”

Finn turned and walked soundlessly back through the door behind the display counter.

“He’s such a dear! I honestly don’t know what I’d do without him. Give me a minute, deary, to get this into the oven. All our chickens are fresh-roasted, you know.”

Ada bustled to the double oven at the back wall and opened the top door. She hopped back to the chicken-in-a-jar and rapped her knuckles twice on the edge of the metal lid. The lid sprung open and fell onto the counter with a clatter. Ada reached in the large jar with two hands and grabbed the chicken by the neck and the feet.

Jesse was sure he saw the chicken’s eyes blink as Ada lifted it out of the jar and flung it, feathers and feet and all, head first into the oven. It landed with a thud, and Ada slammed the oven door shut with her elbow while her other hand was already turning on the large stand mixer. Flour dust fogged the air, and Jesse caught glimpses of Ada the Baking Tornado, pouring and dumping ingredients into the spinning bowl. The dust started to settle and Jesse saw a bucket of golden corn kernels pour into the batter right before Ada whipped open the oven door and stuck a large fork into the oven. Out came the chicken with blackened feathers and charred feet. Jesse recoiled in revulsion. Into the mixer it went. Less than a minute later, Ada was scooping batter into muffin tins and sliding them into the oven.

“It won’t be long now, deary. You be sure to tell your friends all of our chickens are fresh-roasted.”

The glass entry door opened and in stepped a tall, sandy-haired man with freckles.

“Servus, Frau Ada! This veb is a vonderful thing, ja? I read about your bakery on the line. Vhy do you not open your shop in Vienna, my darling? It is the city of bakeries and cafés, of the Sachertorte and the afternoon coffee hour. But I have hunger. Can I taste your mini-cakes? Such a long flight!”

“Oh, Rud

"Muffins!" by Lizard10979 on flickr.com

i, what a dear you are to come all this way to see me! Of course you can have a muffin. Here, take this one for now and these for later.” She quickly packed an assortment of muffins into a small box and came out to greet the man with a kiss on the cheek.

“Rudi!” She whispered loudly into his ear.

“My dear Ada, . . .”

“Rudi! Listen! Achtung, deary! You are so sweet to come all the way from Austria, but this young man has not invited the World Wide Web yet. You are about a week too early! Have a good flight, and come back next Tuesday!”

“But . . .”

“Out with you, deary! Say hello to Max!” Ada moved the gentleman towards the door.

“I apologize, my dear Ada. Auf Wiedersehen!” He opened the door and was gone.

“How did that man know I publish my weekly food blog every Tuesday?” wondered Jesse aloud.

“Oh, my! The whole way from Vienna! The World Wide Web is so useful for keeping in touch. Maybe he can bring Max next Tuesday.”

“Who is Max?”

“Oh, his cat! What a wonderful specimen. One of the first I ever stuffed.”

“Stuffed?”

“Why, yes, of course, I guess you could call it ‘taxidermy’ but that’s ever so formal. ‘Stuffing’ sounds ever so much nicer and ‘taxidermy’ would not rhyme very well with ‘muffin’. Imagine that! ‘Muffin and Taxidermy.’ Who would ever come to a shop with a name like that? ‘Muffin and Stuffin’ has a much better ring to it.”

Taxidermy? Bakery? Jesse sat stunned as Ada prattled on. What kind of person operates a bakery and a taxidermy shop? Did the town’s mortician also run a diner out of the funeral parlor? This week’s food blog was going to be less than prosaic. “Fresh-roasted chicken” indeed!