Meridell, the kingdom of lush meadows, thick forests and magnificent castles. A truly beautiful place all year round, even in the winter months. It was the month of Celebrating and everyone was getting ready for the Day of Giving. There were songs in the air and lights on the trees. On the ground there was a fresh blanket of snow, and Claare the white Aisha was just about to go for a swim.
"Isn't it too cold for swimming, Claare?"
"Nonsense! It's never too cold to swim. As long as you're in an indoor pool."
Zaminiae the baby Xweetok and her friend Claare were at the recreation center, at the public pool that offered free winter swimming to Neopians who were willing to brave the chill.
"It's not the water I'm worried about. It's getting out."
If there was one bad thing about Meridell, it was that it was cold in winter.
"You worry too much, Zami. I'm not gonna freeze."
Claare looked at her bright green waterproof watch. "Hey, it's 12 o' clock! They'll let me in now. See you in an hour!"
"Uh, okay. Have fun."
Claare went into the pool room, leaving Zami alone in the lobby.
"She didn't even bring her hair dryer," the pinkish furred Xweetok mumbled to herself. She wandered over to the window to watch the snow fall, got bored of that quickly and sat down in a chair, wondering what she would do for the next hour.
She noticed the bulletin board on the back wall and unconsciously made her way over to it. She didn't often look at the bulletin board, as it rarely advertised anything she found interesting. Today, however, she saw a poster for something right up her alley: A Day of Giving cookie contest!
Zami gasped. Baking was her favourite activity in the world, and a baking competition seemed almost too good to be true! She scanned the sign for an age requirement. She didn't know why, but it seemed like nobody believed an eight year old could use an oven. When she saw that the sign said 'All Ages Welcome', she literally ran to the reception desk and asked for an entry form.
"The contest is a week from today." the yellow Gelert at the desk told her.
One week? That meant she didn't have much time!
The rest of the hour went by quickly for the little Xweetok, as she thought about what she might bake.
After Zami got home from the rec center that day, she went right to her kitchen. She looked through every recipe she had, tried a few, and still came up with nothing she deemed prize-worthy. Her friends thought all her cookies were good, but she wouldn't settle for just good. If she wanted to win, she would have to come up with something perfect. Now there were only two days left until the contest, and the Xweetok was beginning to feel discouraged.
"ACHOO! Why don't you make those triple chocolate cherry cookies you made last Day of Giving?"
"Me and you were the only ones that ate those. Everyone thought they were too sweet."
"How about almond bars? Those aren't too... too.. ACHOO!"
"I knew you shouldn't have gone swimming in the winter."
"My cold has nothing to do with swimming, Zami. It's simply the time of year."
Claare had spent every evening that week in her friend's kitchen, helping her decide what to bake for the contest. Because three heads were better than two, tonight the girls' friend Mizuuneko was also there.
"The marshmallow rolls you made for the neoschool bake sale were delicious," said the blue haired baby Aisha.
Zami opened her mouth to say something, but Claare cut her off.
"Let me guess, they're too marshmallowy, right?"
The two Aishas giggled. They'd suggested a dozen different recipes and so far nothing was good enough for their friend.
Zami was silent. Claare hoped they hadn't offended her.
"Aw, sorry Zami. We're just kidding," she apologized.
"No, you're right, I was gonna say that. And triple chocolate cherry cookies are too sweet, and almond bars are too crunchy. But I was thinking, what if we took the best ingredient from all those cookies.."
Mizuuneko understood where her friend was going.
"What if we put them all together and.."
"And make.. ACHOO!"
"Yeah!" the three of them chimed.
After a great deal of mixing and chopping and rolling, the girls finally had cookies that, in their opinion, could win any competition.
"Now all we need is a name. Let's see, they have cherries in them, and marshmallows and almonds, and lots of chocolate chips..." said Claare.
"There's too much in them to call them something to do with that," said Mizuuneko.
"Let's name them something festive! They're supposed to be for the Day of Giving, after all," reminded Zami.
"Ooh, that's right! We should ice them in red and green to make them look extra holidayish."
"That might make them too sweet for everyone. Besides you Claare." laughed Mizuun.
"They should be decorated, though. Why don't we roll them in icing sugar?" suggested the pink clad Xweetok.
To this they all agreed.
"Now they look like snowballs!" the baby Aisha pointed out. "Snowballs that have been on the ground for a few days."
Zami had an idea. "I know! Why don't we call them dirty snowballs?"
Now that they were covered in icing sugar, the round cookies did look sort of like dirty snowballs.
"That's a wonderful... ACHOO!"
The girls were so satisfied with their creation, that there wasn't a doubt in their minds that Zami would win. Two days later, however, things weren't looking so good...
"What do you mean you can't go?!"
Claare should have known better than to go swimming in the icy Meridellian winter. She could at least have not spent so much time around her friends when she had a cold. She passed it on to Zami who got it much worse then she had, and the little Xweetok was now sick in bed.
"My mom doesn't want me getting sicker. Or passing on my cold."
"I'm so sorry, Zami, this is all my fault!"
"It's okay, Claare. You were just trying to help me, and you did. We made the perfect Day of Giving cookies."
Maybe they did make award worthy cookies, but what good would that do now that they wouldn't even be competing? Claare knew how excited her friend had been, and she couldn't have felt any worse for doing this to her. Despite feeling horrible though, she was still capable of coming up with some pretty good ideas..
"Zami, your cookies are going to be in that contest, and they're going to win."
The Xweetok was puzzled. "How? I'm not allowed to leave the house, and to be honest with you, I don't even feel up to baking."
"I'll make them for you! You created the recipe, so they'll still be your cookies."
Zami was flattered that she was willing to do that for her, but she wasn't sure it was such a good idea. The Aisha did have a history of blowing up ovens.
Claare knew what the girl was thinking. "I'll call Mizuuneko over to help too, if that's okay."
That made Zami feel better. Mizuun was generally good at keeping things, including Claare, under control.
She nodded eagerly. "You're the best friend in the world!"
Claare laughed. "Now don't worry about a thing. We'll make the best cookies the judges will ever taste! ..And we won't make a mess, I promise."
And with that, Claare cheerfully skipped down the many flights of stairs, wavy orange hair and uneven antennas flying behind her. She was determined to keep her promise. She only had three hours to make the same cookies she'd made with Zami and Mizuuneko two days before. After they had thought of the recipe, the actual preparing of the treat had been relatively easy. Of course, then they had Zami, who was an experienced chef. She had a lot of work to do, and the first thing on her list was to find Mizuuneko.
She found the Shenkuuvian girl in the exact place she thought she would, her backyard garden. There weren't any plants to attend to in the winter, so instead she was building a snowman. Her petpet, a dainty naleap named Yura, hopped along on the ground beside her. After complimenting the snowman, Claare broke the bad news.
"What do you mean she can't go?!"
"She's sick. She must have caught my cold."
The baby Aisha was disappointed to say the least. "Poor Zami, all that work for nothing."
"Maybe not nothing. Even though she can't be there, maybe her cookies can be."
Claare explained her plan.
"...and I need you to help me. Please?"
"Of course! That's what friends are for."
After Mizuuneko got her parent's permission, she and Claare ran down the street to Zami's neohome, went straight to the kitchen and started looking for the recipe book.
"I can't find it, Mizuun!"
"Doesn't she usually keep it in that drawer?"
"It's not in there!"
The white Aisha started to panic, but the baby one kept a clear head.
"Let's go ask Zami."
When the girls got upstairs, they were horrified to find she was asleep.
"What are we gonna do now? We can't wake her up."
"We'll just have to try and remember what we used. Let's see.. cherries, chocolate chips.."
Claare remembered her favourite ingredients. "Sugar! And they were rolled in icing sugar!" "We can't forget that."
They spent hours experimenting with different ingredients, trying to make the batter taste the same as it did the first time they made it. When they finally succeeded, they discovered another problem.
"Do you remember what temperature to bake them at?"
Claare shook her head. "Zami did all that."
They realized they didn't have a lot of time. The competition started in half an hour!
"Let's just make it hot. We've got to be there soon." Claare set the oven for 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
A game of Cheat! made twenty minutes fly by, and before they knew it it was time to go.
"Are they ready, Claare?"
"I'm not sure. They look ready."
"Let's eat one. We have to make sure they taste good anyway."
Mizuuneko took a bite of the strangest cookie she'd ever had. It was hard on the outside and chewy on the inside. They were only half baked! The chocolate was still hot and gooey and it squirted all over the baby Aisha's sweater.
"Oh no! They're not done," exclaimed Claare, handing her friend a napkin.
"We don't have time to put them back in. We should be leaving now."
"Even if we did, they would never bake properly." The white Aisha held a cookie up to her giant blue eye. "You know, this one looks like it could be done on the inside."
Mizuun tried another. "This one is fine! Maybe some are baked and some aren't?"
"But how can we know? We can't test them all."
They thought about it for a moment.
"We'll just have to bring all of them, and hope the judges get baked ones," Claare said at last.
"If they don't we'll be the laughing stocks of the contest!"
"We have to try, Mizuun! I promised Zami her cookies would be in the contest."
Claare started rolling the round treats in icing sugar. "We have to try. Come on, help me."
They finished decorating the cookies and put them in a container to take to the rec center. When they got there the judges were surprised to see the two Aishas instead of the pink furred baby Xweetok.
"Zami was unable to be here," Claire explained. "She has a cold, so we're here in her place."
Mizuuneko put the container down on a table.
"She made the cookies; we've just brought them."
It wasn't really a lie. It was Zami's own recipe. Besides, nobody ever said having a proxy wasn't allowed. The judges seemed to be okay with that, and soon the contest began.
It was being held in the gym, where there were many tables set up to hold the entries. A speckled Blumaroo and the yellow Gelert who accepted Zami's entry form, went around to all the tables trying cookies and writing things down on clipboards.
"It's looking good!" Mizuun whispered to Claare. "Our cookies look better than a lot of these."
"I know! It doesn't matter what they look like, though. It's how they taste."
The baby Aisha nodded in agreement. "Oh how I hope they get baked ones..."
"Here they come!"
The Blumaroo and Gelert were now at their table.
"And what do we have here?" asked the Blumaroo.
The white Aisha's short left antenna twitched, a nervous habit of hers. "They're called dirty snowballs."
They seemed impressed.
"Very nice," said the Gelert, taking a cookie.
The girls crossed their fingers.
The evaluator gasped as melted chocolate squirted on her red and green dress. Mizuuneko cringed, and Claare covered her big eyes.
"These cookies are only half baked."
We failed... Claare thought miserably to herself. She was snapped out of her sorrow when she saw both judges were smiling.
"How creative!" exclaimed the Blumaroo. "These cookies are delicious and truly unique. I've never tasted anything like them."
Mizuuneko and Claare were shocked.
"Uh... Thanks," was all Claare was able to say.
Mizuun wasn't as tongue tied. "We're glad you like them. Our friend worked very hard on the recipe."
"Well," said the Gelert. "Her hard work certainly paid off."
Each judge wrote something down on their clipboards and went on to the next table.
Now Claare wasn't at such a loss for words! "Ohmygoshwemighthavewonwow!"
"We shouldn't get our hopes up too soon. We don't know who won yet."
Mizuun was just glad they'd made it this far. Even if they didn't win, they had kept their promise to their friend and made cookies that the judges loved.
After what seemed like an eternity, the winner was finally about to be announced. The room fell quiet as the judges got up on the podium and tuned on their microphones.
The Gelert was the first one to speak. "Before we announce the champion of this year's Day of Giving cookie contest, we would just like to say that all of you have done very well. There isn't a single one of you who doesn't deserve a prize."
"This is the closest contest I've seen in years," said the speckled Blumaroo. "But unfortunately there can only be one winner..."
The girls held their breaths.
"And the winner is Liliah and her coconut star cookies!"
The Aishas sighed. Zami didn't win, and it was their fault. Claare was heartbroken.
"It's alright, Claare. We did our best."
The Blumaroo started to speak again.
"And this year we're giving out a special prize for the most creative entry. And that goes to Zaminiae and her dirty snowballs!"
The Gelert came down from the podium and attached a ribbon to the cookies' container. "Well done girls. You and your friend should be very proud."
Mizuuneko resisted jumping up and down. "Thank you, so much!"
Claare was speechless (which was a rare occurrence) for the second time that hour. Could this really be happening? She pinched herself to make sure she wasn't dreaming. When she let out a sharp cry, she knew she wasn't. She squealed and hugged her friend, and then the judge, and then her friend again. Who cares if they didn't win? They got a special prize just for their creativity! "How perfectly WONDERFUL!"
When all was said and done, the girls took the leftover cookies along with the sparkling red ribbon back to Zami's house. The baby Xweetok was awake and looking much better, and the three friends sat upstairs in her bedroom, talking and laughing and celebrating their success.
"I propose a toast," said Claare, holding up her glass of neggnog. "To Zami's award winning cookies!"
"They're not just mine. The ones that won the award were made by you guys."
"We wouldn't have made them if you hadn't entered in the first place," the white Aisha argued.
It was all true.
It was Mizuuneko's turn to raise her glass. "To our award winning cookies."
"To our cookies!" they said in unison and clinked their glasses together.
Zami reached for the container for a fifth time. "Who would have thought half baked cookies could be so good? And you didn't even mean for them to be like that."
"Lots of great inventions were made by mistake," said Mizuuneko.
Claare giggled. "We'll have to be sure to make mistakes again in the future." "Not until after the Day of... ACHOO!" Another giggle. "Well, I guess I can wait that long."
And the moral of our story is: When in Meridell, never go swimming in the winter unless you're prepared to half bake cookies.
Thanks so much for reading! Feedback is always appreciated!