On July 9, 1997, the state of Massachusetts declared the chocolate chip cookie to be their official state cookie.

It replaced the previous state confection, the barley-and-oat cookie, which had been adopted in 1697 by the legislature of the Province of Massachusetts. The barley-and-oat cookie was a deliberately bitter and unpleasant-tasting baked good, with the whole oats providing a particularly unpleasant mouthfeel.

This was deliberate, as the Puritans who had invented the cookie thought that its poor taste and texture would present “a bulwarke againste Idleness” and that sweet treats were “tooles of the Devil and temptations to Sinne.” By limiting themselves to unpleasant cookies, the Puritans thought, they could resist sin and temptation.

It is worth noting that a contemporary account, from 1698, notes that “as poore as these Cookys are” that they are still “bettere by a League than thee usual Fare” at a Puritan dinner table.

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“You understand me?”

“I understand all tongues.” The great being heaved a deep breath as it spoke. I saw no tremble other than breath upon its lips, and I knew not how it spoke.

“You have not eaten me.” It was an obvious statement, but it was all I could think of.

“I am not hungry, and you have been polite so far,” it said. “I hope that you do not begin to bore me, though. One need not eat to silence an annoyance.”

“No, no,” I said quickly. “I come with a request, o great one.”

“Spare me your flattery,” the beast said again. “I will hear your request, but mind that you do not ask too much. Many have come and done the proper obescience only to ask too much and then balk at the price.”

“I wish only to pass through your wood unharmed to the Crystal Grove beyond.”

“Hmph. Then why not do so? Passage is free to all those who do not annoy me.”

I chose my words carefully. “There have been…others…who have not returned.”

“I have eaten or slain many of your sort,” was the reply. “Some had the misfortune to meet me hungry. Others asked for impossible favors. Still others returned having disturbed the Grove, tracked by its defenders. None of those I can abide.”

“Allow me to pass through unmolested, and bear one hence who is pursued,” I said.

“Ah, now that is more of the sort of request I have become used to.” A pause. “Bring me a fitting repast, a thinking being to consume and so build my legend. If you do this for me, I will not only allow you passage, but I will block your pursuers, whoever they be.”

I gasped. “A…thinking being?”

“As I say, many balk at the price I demand. If you see fit not to provide it, that is your concern. But if you appear before me again, or walk more than an arrow’s shot deep in my woods, without what I ask…I will slay you and set your body out to rot, so that my purpose will be accomplished anyway.

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When they came upon the settlement, it was only ashes. Dead men lay where they had fallen, and those few homes that remained were empty. The Nomarch of Ament had taken the surviving inhabitants of Khaset, presumably as slaves or trophies of war.

“This is inexcusable,” said Zau. “We must write to the Pharaoh at once, to inform him of this barbarity.”

“Why bother?” said Apis. “The pharaoh is a useless old fool. He married the great-aunt of Ament to his second son.”

“That is not a license to murder,” Zau replied.

“It is when the pharaoh sits about playing with his favorites and doing nothing to restrain the nomarchs,” Apis said. “He is too busy dallying with his favorites like Sasenet to challenge someone upon whom his power rests.”

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“Bring them forth.”

The cultists shoved John and Mary forward, bruised and bloodied from where they’d been torn from their station wagon.

“Bow before the Gourd God!” one of the cultists snarled.

“Why have you come to this place?” cried the apparition in the center of the field, a pumpkin-headed man in a scarecrow’s vestments that was not consumed by the flames that encircled it.

“We…we just wanted directions,” John whimpered. “We were going to Gatlinburg and got lost.”

“Oh, well that’s easy,” said the Gourd God. “You get back on 33 and follow it east until it meets up with I-32. Just make sure you get off at Exit 185, or you’ll get caught up in construction.”

John looked around, confused. “Can you…can you write that down?”

“Sure.” One of the cultist’s eyes glowed and they scrawled out the directions, in their own blood, on a page torn from a holy book.

“T-thanks,” said Mary.

“Hey, don’t mention it,” said the Gourd God. “I’m sorry about the kids roughing you up, they have a little more passion than sense sometimes. Safe travels!”

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“The mega-pigeon! The mega-pigeon! The mega-pigeon returns!”

The birds fluttered about excitedly. Surely, the long-vanished mega-pigeon, largest and strongest of pigeon-kind, would lead them back from the brink of destruction.

A dodo emerged from the summoning circle. “Hey there!” it said. “How’s it going?”

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The rules stipulated that no competitor or any of their agents could interfere with the racing pigeons. But it also held that birds lost due to “accident, predation, or misadventure” were disqualified from the prize purse.

So the problem facing Rotelli was, basically, how to do a 32-bird hit and make it looks like an accident. He’d had challenges before working for Carmine, but he quickly decided that this job was for the birds. But that six-figure payday was just too much to turn away.

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“Tell me,” Schmidt said. “How did you get your automatic car to drive itself so well?”

“That’s for me to know,” Ellen said. “And you not to know.”

She returned to the garage where the Silver Torpedo was sitting idle. Opening the control panel, she revealed a pigeon strapped in to an old pigeon-guided bomb control.

“Mommy’s little chickie did good today,” she cooed. “Who wants some nummy seeds, huh?”

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