A swirl of oven-warm crumbs composed the cloud, spicy and pungent. In their coordinated roiling, they took on the vague contours of a man.
“I’m the Gingerbread Pox!” the cloud announced, all abuzz, as it hovered before its latest target. “You can’t avoid catching me!
“I’ve destroyed a Fairy Godmother, and an Emperor who had no clothes, and an old woman and her seventeen children, all living in a shoe! And seven dwarfs, and a peasant girl in a pumpkin coach, and a grandmother and her granddaughter, dressed in a red cloak! And three little pigs, and three blind mice, and an evil witch, and a Big Bad Wolf!
“And I’ll destroy you too!”
Then, with one jittery, diaphanous limb, the Pox gestured behind it, to where, as far as the eye could reach, there were abandoned fields and silent villages. To the stacks and stacks, too, of unburied dead: all phlegmy lips and abscess-swollen skin.
But the fox — for whose benefit this speech had been delivered — simply leaned forward, feigning infirmity.
With a casual motion — whose meaning went unnoticed — he brushed a paw against his left forelimb, where a tiny scar memorialized the puncture of a needle. And he remembered that childhood afternoon, long ago, when his sly, medically-savvy mother had prepared a protective potion from the pus of dead Pox victims — a magic called “vaccination.”
“I can’t quite hear you,” the fox said, shaking his head. At the spicy smell of gingerbread, he secretly salivated; on the inside, too, his immune cells thrummed, waiting to assist with the digestion.
“Do come closer,” he invited.