What do Boober Fraggle and Ma Gorg have in common? ***** A Spicy Storyby Kim McFarland ***** It was a dark and stormy night. Rain pattered on the roof of the Gorgs' barnlike castle, occasionally dripping through to make little puddles on the kitchen floor. Ma Gorg marked those spots so Pa could fix them in the morning. And he would fix them. She was not going to cook in a rainy kitchen! The fire was burning strongly. She hung a pot on the metal arm set into one side of the fireplace, filled the pot halfway with a bucket of fresh well water, and swung it over the fire to heat. Then she took some vegetables out of a basket on the table. It contained culls from the vegetable garden. Some were small, some were misshapen or off color or otherwise unlovely but still fine to eat, so she had saved them. Now she began chopping them up. Boober, standing in a hole in the wall, gulped. He had counted on the Gorgs being asleep by now. He had stayed up late, nerving himself for the task at hand, not suspecting that he'd have to face more than a huge, empty, dark, spooky room. He hadn't let the others know what he was planning; they'd have wanted to come along, and then they'd turn it into an adventure, and he hated adventures. Even more, he hated the thought that his friends might get the idea that he didn't hate adventures. He smelled the vegetables she was slicing up. She was cooking, and from the look of it she was absorbed in the task. Of course she would be; cooking was a fascinating job. Looking around the room, he saw that the flickery fire cast more shadows than it did light. She wouldn't notice it if he snuck across, close to the wall, moving slowly to avoid attracting attention. Ma lifted a cutting board loaded with chopped turnips, radishes, potatoes, winter squash, long beans, and onions, and scraped them with the knife into the bubbling water. Then she took out some more vegetables and continued cutting. Unconsciously she began singing to herself. Boober cringed. One more annoying thing about the Gorgs was that they didn't sing, they just made a racket. Her shrieky voice set his fur on end. Or even more on end, as climbing Gorg shelves while one of the monsters was in the room had him wanting to give in to panic. Only one thing could make him take this insane risk. He had once, thanks to a bout of amnesia, thought himself a Gorg, and somehow Ma and Pa had believed he was Junior. As a result, for a little while he had had the run of the Gorgs' pantry. They kept an enormous volume of food in there, some of which had been picked days ago and thus was not, in his opinion, fresh. But the spice shelf had things that he could only dream of! He still remembered the smells coming from the various bottles. He had a recipe that was crying for something as piquant as one particular spice. He didn't know its name or even what it looked like, but he remembered its odor vividly. Ma scraped the last of the vegetables into the pot and stirred it, watching the vegetables bob around in the water. There was enough to make a good stew, she judged. It would, of course, need some spicing up with garlic. She took down one of the many strings of bulbs she had hanging around the kitchen and began peeling. Boober hauled himself up onto the shelf full of bottles and jars. The odors here were rich. He sniffed the seal of each container, searching with his nose for the spice he remembered. The mixture of smells complicated the task. Soon he found the container that he wanted. His mouth was practically watering as he thought about the kick this would add to his cooking. All he had to do was open it, scoop a little bit out, and close it up again. The Gorg would be none the wiser. He took off his shoulderbag, then gripped the lid with both hands and tried with all his strength to turn it. Ma dropped a double handful of minced garlic into the pot. The vegetables were giving up their juices, and with the addition of the garlic it was starting to smell just heavenly! But it still needed something to make it perfect. She turned to the pantry, pushed a few containers aside, and saw a Fraggle wrestling with one of the jars. They looked at each other. For a second there was silence. Then both screamed. They screamed at each other until they ran out of breath. While Boober coughed Ma Gorg exclaimed, "How dare you invade my pantry, you nasty little Fraggle! Isn't it enough that you take food from the garden!" Boober held up his hands and cried, "Wait! I can explain!" "Oh, can you?" She folded her arms. Boober was quite aware of the wooden spoon in one of her hands. She could swat him with that from where she stood. He could only hope that she wouldn't risk breaking all the jars in her own pantry. "I-I only need a little of one spice! My casserole won't be complete without it. I was only going to take a teensy-weensy bit. See?" He opened his shoulderbag and took out a fist-sized, empty jar. Surprised, she said, "Fraggles can cook?" "Of course. Do you think we live on salads?" "But how do you cook in those dark, damp, dirty little caves of yours?" In as miffed a tone as he dared, he said, "Our homes are as bright and comfortable as yours. I have a stove, and several ovens and fire bowls, and I can bake a delectable radish soufflé, I will have you know." "So can I," she told him, becoming interested despite herself. Then she leaned closer. "Say, are you the Fraggle we thought was Junior?" "Yes, That's when I first saw your pantry," he admitted. "You did help me cook back then," she mused. "And all you wanted was quozl seed powder?" So that's what it was called? "Yes. Just a tiny smidge." He held up the empty glass jar. Ma carefully took his jar between her thumb and forefinger. It was too small for her to open. She handed it back and said, "Very well. You can have it. But then you must go and promise you'll never steal from my pantry again!" He was going to get out of this alive and with the spice! "Yes, I promise!" They both paused. Ma said, "Well, what are you waiting for?" "Er...I can't open the jar." "Oh." Ma picked up the jar and twisted the lid, then set it down in front of Boober. Boober scooped up a Gorgs' teaspoon worth of spice with the jar, then put its lid on tightly. "Thank you!" "You're welcome," she said half-grudgingly. "Why don't you make it yourself?" "How do you make it?" "It's simple. You just find some quozl fruit—don't eat them, and they're much too sour—and roast the seeds, then grind them up." "Do they grow in the garden?" "No, they grow in the swamp. Why would we plant them here when they grow wild?" Boober nodded thoughtfully. "We've only gone into the swamp once, when we had to rescue a friend." He looked at the pot. "What're you making?" "I'm making hunter's stew. I started it now so it can simmer overnight. I'll serve it for breakfast. Doesn't it smell wonderful?" "I can't smell it. All I can smell are the spices here." "Here." Without warning she picked him up and held him over the stewpot. He clutched his hat with one hand and his shoulderbag with the other and tried not to scream as he stared into the bubbling fluid. But, he realized, it did look appetizing if you ignored the gruesome scale. "Yes, it looks very good," he gasped when she withdrew him from the steam and set him on the table. He took a breath to nerve himself. "Maybe it would taste even better with some nook grass." "What's that?" Ma asked. "It's a kind of red grass that grows in Fraggle caves. It has a spicy taste. We chop it up and sprinkle it on things." He opened his bag and took out a clump of grass he had picked on the way up and tied together with cave cotton string. Ma Gorg accepted it. She examined it as best she could, considering it was no bigger than a lima bean. Knowing that Gorgs favored spicy foods, Boober said, "Try it with some stew. Sprinkle it on top." Ma put down the bundle of grass and dipped a wooden spoon into the stew. She blew on it, then lowered it to Boober. He sprinkled some leaves over it. Nervously he watched as Ma Gorg lifted the spoon to her mouth and slurped. Ma's eyes widened. She exclaimed, "Oh, that's wonderful! I must have more for this stew!" Boober's legs went weak with relief. He said, "I can bring you more, if I can have some other spices?" "It's a deal," she said. "Fetch me more of that grass and bring more jars to fill." She picked him up again—in a hand that reeked of garlic, he could smell now that he was away from the spices and steam—and placed him on the ground. He gulped queasily, then said "Thanks!" and ran for the hole on the wall. Once in the safety of the tunnel, out of the reach of a Gorg's arm, he slumped against the wall and panted, his heart pounding. Had he actually been talking about cooking with a Gorg? And promised to go back to her? With nook grass? He had promised, and Fraggles didn't break promises, even to Gorgs. And...he wanted more of those spices. If he could get them without the risk and terror of breaking into their pantry, and just for a little of the stuff that grew in so many tunnels, why not? And maybe they could swap soufflé recipes. But first, he thought, smelling the garlic juice her hand had smeared on him, a bath. ***** Fraggle Rock and all characters are copyright © The Jim Henson Company. All copyrighted properties are used without permission but with much respect and affection. The overall story is copyright © Kim McFarland (firstname.lastname@example.org). Permission is given by the author to copy it for personal use only.