Moosette’s bakery was even busier than usual. The fire salamander who generated and regulated the heat for the ovens had several relatives visiting, and they all helped. Half a dozen assorted mooses, frogs, bunnies, and other friendly volunteers busily measured, mixed, molded, loaded and unloaded cookie sheets in and out of the wide stone ovens, or on and off the cooling racks along with Moosette and her usual helpers. Mint, chocolate, cinnamon, sugar, ginger, butter, and a host of other mouth watering scents danced in the air as the fresh cookies were carefully slipped into waxed paper envelopes and sorted into baskets.
In the ever shifting but carefully coordinated bustle that filled the bakery it was hard to notice just how, but none of the baskets ever got entirely full, no matter how many batches came out of the ovens. A careful observer, with a will strong enough to resist the cookie lures and other distractions, could just make out the tiny parade of figures popping into existence around the baskets, just long enough to grab a packet, often bigger than themselves, in both arms then vanish again.
As the baking wound down and the cleaning up carried extra bodies out the back door, Moosette settled on a tall stool with a mug of tea by the long table full of baskets and watched the little teddy bears pop in and out of the room. One of them, a particularly small but neatly dressed gentlebear with his topcoat, waistcoat, and tiny watch chain struggled to pull a gingerbread bunny twice his size out of the basket. When Moosette asked, “Would you like some help?”
The Pocket Bear automatically started to shake his head no, all set to assure the lady moose that she had done more than enough already. The Pocket Teddies, that band of staunch moose friends, were so devoted to helping others, it did not always occur to them that sometimes they could use help, too. However, just as he started to shake his grey furred head, he lost his grip on the waxed paper envelope, and then his footing on the edge of the basket. He went tumbling down among the carefully wrapped packages but his slight weight was not even enough to break the cookies upon which he landed.
With a soft chuckle, the tiny bear pulled himself into a sitting position, and looked up at the broad, brown face of the baker moose. “I believe that I might need the assistance no matter my preference,” he said, waving to indicate his predicament.
“Allow me to introduce myself.” The little bear stood up carefully on the waxed paper and bowed smoothly to Moosette. “I am Archibald Wilfred Arthur Crowhurst the third, but you may call me Archie. I would deem it an inestimable favor if you might rescue me from this delectable nest of baked goods in which I find myself. I am overdue on my next delivery, and there are quite a few left after that one.”
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Archie.” Moosette set aside her steaming mug and curtsied with a gentle smile. With great care, she lifted Archie and the cookie he stood upon from the basket to the table top, so gently the tiny bear did not shift at all on his slick perch. Moosette watched him dismount and start trying to crawl under the packet, probably with the idea of carrying it balanced on his head. Poor little Archie could not seem to get the whole thing off the table at once. As soon as he got one side up, the other would tip back down again.
“I could help you with your deliveries, too,” Moosette offered. “Or you could deliver one of the smaller cookies instead.”
“The young man next upon my list has a particular fondness for gingerbread,” Archie said sternly. The expression on Archie’s face made it clear that delivering anything less, no matter the difficulties, would be a dereliction of his duty, and therefore unthinkable. Then his feet slipped and he fell back with the cookie on top and a surprised “Oooph,” that quickly transformed into a laugh. “You do not have to worry about me. I will find a way. Contrary to the current evidence, this is hardly my first cookie drive.” Archie started wiggling his way out from his predicament, and added mostly to himself, “Besides, you are far too big to fit where I am going.”
Once again, the pocket teddy tried to lift the cookie and balance it on his head. Just as it started to tip backwards, something caught the edge and steadied it, wholly off the table at last. Very slowly, Archie turned in place. The cookie did not move.
Archie nearly dropped the cookie again when he saw Moosette standing on the table even smaller than Archie himself, holding the edge up over her antlers. She adopted a more upright, humanoid figure than usual for the job. From somewhere along the way Moosette acquired a World War I nurse’s uniform to wear for the adventure, as well.
“Shall we get going?” Moosette asked with a slow, warm smile. “This is not my first cookie drive for your organization, either.”
“But…how…but,” Archie stammered.
“Size and shape are largely just states of mind when one knows how to approach them properly,” Moosette’s eyes twinkled.
Archie shook himself briefly. “Right. Okay. let’s get this operation back in gear.” He turned again to face away from the new volunteer and said clearly, “Forward March.”
Between the first step and the next, Moosette’s bakery table vanished and the two cookie bearers were pacing in a dimly lit forest with trees made of uniforms of every shape and color. Trousers tangled with the occasional serious skirt and kilt to form the trunks while coats, jackets, blouses, t-shirts, and dress shirts formed the bigger branches. Lanyards, blousing straps, socks, and garters formed the smaller branches. Badges, patches, and medals made the leaves while caps, covers, helmets, hats, berets, and some even stranger things hung as oversized fruit.
Archie took them straight to the bole of one tree, mostly brown and tan, with pairs of suede boots and corframs for roots. As soon as the leading edge of the cookie touched a hanging branch, the forest contracted until the moose, bear, and cookie all occupied one large (to them) pocket.
The slow, steady thumping of a heartbeat bigger than them both at close range made conversation nearly impossible, so Archie patted Moosette’s shoulder. When he had her attention, he used crude sign language to indicate he wanted her to lift the cookie when he gave her the wave.
With the ease of long practice, Archie climbed up to sit on the pocket’s edge and waved down at her. Between the two of them, they quickly got the gift out and onto the metal desk in front of the pocket before they made a quick retreat. Back under the uniform trees, Archie explained, “They always fill in some plausible explanation where the cookies come from with little input from us, usually someone’s most recent care package. In addition to the little taste of home, Murphy has found a way to use the little bit of your Valley in their systems as a focus to bind their dreams tonight to their families’ so they can visit together for the holidays even though duty keeps them apart.”
“Really?” Moosette said. Faint amusement warmed her tone.
Archie paused just before the well lit stone arch that formed the way between the forest and Moosette’s bakery table. “You knew that already, didn’t you?” he asked, looking over at the lady moose. She just nodded.
“You helped make all the cookies.”
Moosette smiled. “Archie, it is my bakery. I am the one who added the little bit of the Valley for Murphy.” She patted his arm gently. “Now, we have a lot more soldiers and other heroes far from home to visit. Make it march.”