this is not that Hansel and Gretel
Theirs was neither an uncommon nor a happy beginning. Irish twins, Hansel and Gretel were born addicted to the crack their mother ingested while pregnant. Their first few months of life were, fortunately, a blur to them, since the theme was constant pain. Sadly, this did not end upon leaving the hospital, since the courts endeavored to keep families together, they kept themselves willfully ignorant of the disinterested dealer who was their father and the “I’ve got myself together this time, I’m gonna take care of my babies” mother who always ended up selling her soul for another hit.
Until her soul was in tatters and she sold her children.
The last time they returned from foster care, she managed to work a whole month at the job the state had helped her find. Her boss was a tyrant and seemed intent on making her life miserable. He was not a fan of the rehabilitation job program. He felt, once an addict, always an addict and he wanted no part of them. He criticized every thing she did, Stood over her while she did the most menial tasks which made her nervous and mistake prone even though she could do anything he asked with her eyes closed. She graduated from Saint Catherine’s first in her class and made it through three years of college as a physics major. I’m not stupid she told herself repeatedly as she tried to ignore him and concentrate on doing and keeping her job.
There was an onsite day care for the children where they fed them breakfast and lunch. She only had to worry about dinner. The first week she tried her hand at making dinner. Fried chicken like her grandma used to make. Meatloaf. Fried whiting. Beef stew that lasted two days so she didn’t have to worry about cooking on Friday night. She burned a lot, but they didn't starve.
Saturday, she took them food shopping and bought more ground beef, powdered onion soup, stew beef, potatoes, carrots, bread, peanut butter and jelly as well as some cans of tuna. They had hot dogs from the food truck outside the supermarket as a special treat. She took them to the park and watched them play from a bench.
“So you got them back again?”
“Forever, this time. They’re my babies. Our babies, Jerome.”
“Not my problem. Listen, I got some good stuff. You working now, I hear. You buyin’?”
“Jerome, you need to leave me alone. If you’re not gonna help me raise them right, you need to go. I can’t anymore. They’ll take them away for good this time if I mess up again.”
“Don’t you think they’d be better off without a crackhead for a mother?”
“I’m not doing any more, Jerome. They need me. Please leave.”
“You keep singing that song, baby. I’ll be here when you ready.”
The conversation with Jerome drained her so she bought happy meals for the children on the way home.
Sunday, she asked the children what they wanted for breakfast. They’d developed a love of pancakes at their last foster home and so said in unison, “Pancakes, please!”
Lina was a mediocre cook when she knew what she was doing. Pancakes were not her thing. She tried. As she scraped the black disks onto plates. She burst into tears.
“Don’t cry, Mommy. We like them crispy,” said Hansel.
“Can I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead, Mommy?” asked Gretel quietly.
Lina ran out of the room. Hansel threw the pancakes in the garbage and made them both sandwiches.
After they’d eaten, they went to find their mother. She was crying on the bed.
“Mommy, don’t cry. “
“I can’t even make pancakes right,” she wailed.
“We don’t need pancakes, Mommy.”
She dried her tears, hugged her babies and prayed to stay strong.
Monday, her boss screamed at her in front of her children.
“You’re late, Ms. Littleton. We frown upon tardiness here.”
“I’m sorry Mr. Charles. The bus broke down and we had to wait for another to come.”
“No excuses. Don’t linger at daycare. I expect you to be at your desk in two minutes.”
“Yes, Mr. Charles.”
She made hot dogs for dinner. By Friday, it was peanut butter and jelly by Hansel.
Saturday, she did the food shopping: bread, milk, peanut butter, jelly, tuna, hot dogs.
Jerome showed up at the park and she gave him half her pay.
Hansel made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Sunday.
She was able to get through another week and get another check. She skipped the tuna this week and gave Jerome a little bit more of her check.
After the fourth week, she woke up Sunday in one of Jerome’s flop houses, shaking. She went looking for him.
“I’ll give you my whole check, I just need a little more.”
“You gave me your whole check yesterday when you showed up, kids in tow. You don’t have anything else I want, Lina. Go home.”
“Please, Jerome, just a little something to tide me over till I get paid again.”
“Baby, I don’t mean to burst your bubble, but no one’s gonna be paying you to do nothing.”
“I have a job!”
“And you going there feeling like you are right now? You look like shit. Tomorrow will only be worse.”
Lina started crying.
“Stop your bawling. Tell you what. I can help you and get those kids off your hands so you don’t have to worry any more. You can’t take care of them. You can’t even take care of yourself. I know someone who will buy them off you. Take real good care of them.”
Lina knew it was wrong somewhere in the depths of her crack-hazed brain, but it was too much to recall why.
“How much do you think I can get for them?” she asked, eyes half-closed, hands trembling.
“Go see Miss Abby. She’ll take care of you. When you get the money, you can come see me. I got what you need.”
“Miss Abby? No one goes near her house. She’s cray-cray.”
“Up to you. I’m outta here.”
“Get off me,” he said, throwing her off his arm. “Your best bet is to see Miss Abby. Then come back. I’ll hook you up real good.”
Jerome left. Lina sat crying and shivering on the floor.
“Mama? Can we come out now?”
Part of her was mortified she’d brought her children to a dirty, run down house and hid them in a closet so they wouldn’t watch her lose herself. The other part was glad she’d not left them home alone. And that she had kept them from watching what went on in the house.
Lina wiped her eyes and stood up. “Yes, baby. C’mon. We have somewhere to be.”
Miss Abby lived in a house on edge of town. It was the oldest house in town but it was in perfect condition. Everyone considered it a bit of an eyesore since it was painted the colors of the rainbow. Every few years she would hire a bunch of teenagers to paint it their favorite colors. Presently it was purple, yellow, green, orange, red, blue and fuchsia. There was always fuchsia. That was Miss Abby's favorite color.
Little children stayed far away. Unless dared. For as long as Lina could remember, no one under 16 ever went to her house without being dared first. Everyone said she was a witch that ate little children.
That was just ridiculous, of course. No one eats children.
Not finding a bell, she knocked on the door. Loud footsteps approached. A heavily made up face peeked through the curtain then opened the door. Lina, Hansel and Gretel all looked up, mouths gaping. It was the tallest woman they had ever seen.
“Now who do we have here?”
“Um, hello, Miss Abby. My, uh, friend, Jerome..."
“Say no more. Are these beautiful creatures yours?”
“Yes, ma’am. This is Hansel. He’s 5. This is Gretel. She’s 4. Say hello to Miss Abby children.”
“Hello Miss Abby,” they said in unison. Eyes huge in their small, hungry faces.
“And so polite, too. They’ll do just fine. I was just hankering for some little ones recently,” she said, smiling like the Cheshire cat. “Run to the kitchen children, it’s straight ahead down the hall. There are some cookies on the table. I just baked them. I’ll get you some milk when I get there.”
The children’s empty stomachs answered. Taking each other’s hands, they ran without looking back.
She reached behind the door. Lina could hear a drawer open and close. Miss Abby came back with money in her hand.
“Here’s $1000. Don’t return. You won’t be welcome.” Miss Abby closed the door in Lina’s face. But Lina didn’t notice. Stunned by her sudden wealth, she was already hastening back to Jerome and oblivion.
The garbage collectors found her a few days later in the alley behind her building, tossed between the trash cans. The Coroner’s report said her last hit was tainted with a deadly dose of fentanyl.
Meanwhile, Miss Abby was like the grandmother Hansel and Gretel never had.
After Lina left, Miss Abby made her way to the kitchen. Hansel and Gretel were each eating one cookie, slowly, trying to make it last. As Miss Abby got a couple of jelly jars from the cabinet, she said, “Don’t be shy, children. Go ahead and gobble them up. I know you want to.”
They looked at her then at each other then at the plate of cookies.
“Go on. We can make some more after lunch. Would you like tuna sandwiches or peanut butter and jelly?”
“Peanut butter and jelly, please,” said Gretel.
“Me, too. Please,” said Hansel. “I know how to make them. I make them for Gretel and me all the time.”
“Here’s your milk,” she said, placing the glasses in front of them. “Peanut butter and jelly is my favorite, too. “I’m partial to sweet things,” she said, smiling at Hansel.
She gave them a room to share with clean sheets. And in the closet were clothes that, oddly enough, fit perfectly.
For a month, she fed them, bathed them, told them stories. She taught Gretel how to bake cookies and cakes that Hansel in particular loved. She taught Hansel to wash the dishes and stoke the fire in the old-fashioned wood oven in her kitchen.
No, not big enough for a small boy or a big witch. This isn’t that Hansel and Gretel.
More’s the pity.
"I have a surprise for you two today!"
On their one month anniversary, Grandma Abby, for that is what Miss Abby asked them to call her, led them upstairs. She opened the door to a room they'd never entered before.
"This is Hansel's new room." It was a little boy’s dream with lots of toy cars and trucks, an erector set, as well as some stuffed animals and books about little boys on grand adventures. There was a slide, and a train set, too. Hansel ran straight to the books.
"Will you read to us, Grandma Abby? I can't read very well yet although when Mommy was well, she was teaching me…that was a long time ago though."
"Is Mommy coming back, Grandma Abby?"
"No, my dear."
"Will you take care of us?"
"It is my great pleasure to do so. Come give Grandma Abby a hug." Both children ran into her arms. She held them close, burying her nose in Hansel's neck and sighing.
"Come along. We mustn't leave Gretel out of the fun."
She led them up another set of stairs to the attic. She opened the door and it was the perfect room for a little girl. Pink and white with a frilly canopied bed. Princess costumes in a toy chest, baby dolls, a play house, a small table with chairs set up for tea, and myriad books about princesses that lived happily ever after. It lacked only windows.
And it locked from the outside.
That night, the door to Hansel's room slowly opened. The light from the hallway shone upon his face. He looked like an angel. Grandma Abby closed the door and approached the bed.
"Hansel?" she whispered, caressing his arm gently.
"Is Gretel okay?"
"Gretel is fine." She sat down. "You like it here, right baby."
"Yes." Suddenly wide awake, Hansel sat up. "Are they coming to take us away? We don't have to go, do we?"
"No, of course not, baby. You belong to me now." She took his hand. "Grandma Abby needs you to do something. It will be our secret. You can't tell Gretel."
"We tell each other everything."
"If you tell, I will have to make you both leave."
"Please don't make us go, Grandma Abby."
"There, there now, don't worry. Grandma Abby is going to take good care of you. Promise you won't tell?"
"I promise," Hansel quickly agreed.
"Good boy," said Grandma Abby, kissing him on the forehead and standing. Pulling the sash on her robe, it opened.
"Grandma Abby?” Hansel looked confused. “You're a Grandpa?"
"Hush, sugar. Grandma Abby is gonna take good care of you."
.the Grimm truth.
Years 1315 to 1317 saw almost nothing peak out of the earth
As the Baltic world bathed in a soaking wet dearth.
Soon youngsters rested on tongues as their bones rested in matryiums,
They had been haunted by hunger and devoured by familial delirium.
Sacrilegious acts or purely primal,
Parents took their offspring into woodlands for survival.
Ever-ailing gardens led to a second attempt,
The siblings took each other's hands feeling their maker's contempt.
Gaunt birds probably ate those crumbs as they went on ahead,
Thinking a rickety wooden house was made of gingerbread.
Trust me when I say,
Hansel and Gretal did make it back home that day,
But blame the famine for the illusion
For even mothers can seem like witches when they attempt to feed on their only children.
Hansel and Gretel Are Dead.
Hansel and Gretel are dead. The nearby town is littered with posters, amassed in gutters and garbage cans, carefully taped in shop windows and tacked onto trees. A photo of the siblings smiles eerily beneath two words, written shakily in block letters: “missing children”.
The kids in the town, schoolmates of the late Hansel and Gretel, whisper on playgrounds and in classrooms in soft somber voices: “a witch took them” and “they got lost in the woods, following a trail of sweets” and “they’re trapped in a house made of candy”. The stories spread quickly, insidious.
Hansel and Gretel lay hand in hand, cold and beginning to rot, in the basement of a cottage deep in the forest. The cottage is not made of candy. The woman standing over them, her dress covered in smatterings of dark blood, is not a witch.
It is easier to make believe, to live in a fairytale. It’s easier for the weary police chief to sigh heavily and dismiss the children’s mother with “they’re just runaways. They’ll come back in a couple of days time. No need to make a fuss.” It is easier for her to go home, repeating those words to herself like a prayer as she lays quietly in bed, not sleeping, in a house unusually void of bickering and laughter, until the sun rises.
It is easier too for the woman who is not a witch, beads of sweat building on her forehead as she drags two small bodies towards a hot wood burning stove, to know that she will never be found out. The eventual police report will be put on a shelf reserved for the town’s many runaway children and never opened again, becoming colder as the years drag on. Hidden deep in the woods, her unassuming little cottage that is not made of candy will never be searched. The fire that reflects in her dark eyes will never give up so much as a shred of evidence.
And in the nearby town, Hansel and Gretel’s posters will soon fade and fall, to be replaced by new children’s photos. The other kids will make up silly rhymes and sing songs about a candy house and a wicked witch. Their parents will warn them to stay out of the woods. They will exist in the ignorant bliss of their fairytales, all while breathing in the sickly smell of smoke that drifts into town on a breeze from a chimney deep in the forest - all that remains of their lost children.
Hans and Grits
“Hans” was named by Darrel Dan, who found him in the trash. His Mama'd up’n’ left him there ’coz she was strapped for cash. His mewlin’ was all weak and thin, much like his shabby frame. Darrel Dan done bundled him. He cooed and said “for shame...”
But, (doin’ right,) Dan turned him in; Back home our Hans was sent.
Back home to Mama’s one-room sty where she turned tricks for rent.
She never bothered naming him, nor feeding him, nor bathing him. Though now’n’then she’d cuss at him when she wanted to vent.
Darrel Dan brought Hans some food whenever he found chance. (He's always shooed away though when Hans’ Mama caught a glance.)
Then Mama’s gut swelled up again. This time she had a girl. But soon after the lass ’bin born, Mama started to hurl...
Hans remembered blood and guts, and Mama’s frothing mouth.
The cops found Hans holding his sis, both near dropped dead from drouth.
Hans, then 5, named baby “Grits” after his fav’rit dish. The C.P.S placed them apart, against Hans’ only wish.
Both were fostered out to creeps who took ’em “temporary.” No-one wanted ’em for keeps. (And some was downright scary.)
Hans started to run away as soon as he was able. He checked on Grits mos' every day; A stringy gal, but stable.
When Grits was 4, she followed Hans to an abandoned school. The windows were all broken in, but Hans said it was cool. Hans and Grits done found some pets; Roaches, bats and rats. Much better than the dommie things, like goldfish, dogs or cats.
Sometimes Hans could spin it so they even had a meal; A salvaged bag of ’tater chips was transformed into veal...
Darrel Dan done found ‘em then, when both was skin and bone. He took ‘em in, and fed ‘em up, till they was almos’ grown.
But “Double D” was workin for a pretty shady fella. Men come one day to make him sing ('tweren’t no acappella.)
Hans and Grits were took away. This time inside a van.
They's bound and gagged with duc tape, but Hans’ hands found a paint can. He sprayed out dots of yellow paint through rust-spots on the floor.
Van stopped. A hooded thug got out and rolled open the door. As they was being lead out ’twards some middle-nowhere stalls, Grits turned round and bit thug’s hand then kneed him in the balls.
Hans and Grits ran fas' away pas' shot-out window shard. They saw hans' paint (thank breadcrumb-saint!) but rain start’ pourin hard. So they ducked into a bus stop in an alley kinda steep; sat there wait’n rain to stop. They soon was fas’ asleep.When they woke up all the paint was damn near washed away. They wandered round the street ends, lookin for a place to stay.
’Twas then they jumped an old stone fence and happened there to find a ginger colored house with an old lady looking kind. She ushered them in through her door for a sweet glass of tea. She served them up some candy cakes and watched 'em carefully.
“Thanks so much.” The two beamed up, with voices weak and weary. The crone grinned as they bit brownies, “You’re very welcome deary.”
But ’soon as they were finished eat’n up their tasty feast, the lady started changing. She transformed into a beast!
“You’re only skin and bones my dears, but bones make lovely stock!” She grinned with her new wolfish snout. They stared at her in shock.
Grits, (who always kept her wits,) whacked wolfie with a plate. She grabbed Hans’ hand and dragged him through the giant palace gate. Stumbling into fairy woods, they came upon a closet. And then the bank teller replied: is that a cash deposit?...
“I think there mighta bin somethin’ cooked into all them cake..” Hans mumbled as they stagger-ran, grin-frightened, half awake.
They woke up on an empty street. Grits pointed to the road. There was a speck of yellow the rain failed to erode. They followed keenly footed and still even keener eyed, till they were back at Darrel Dan’s!
...They found him cable-tied.
He was cold.
Covered in blood.
They knew they couldn’t stay.
They kissed his head and closed his eyes and tore theirselves away.
“Well.” said Hans, defeatedly, “Where ’heck do we go now? We’ll have to get some money. But I’m damned if I know how...”
Then Grits saw paper envelope out corner of her eye; cash wad inside, and both those chil'n started for to cry. They beamed through tears. Ten-thousand! And a message at the top:
“For Hans.” it said. “Keep growin’ boy, and don’t you ever stop.”
Mmmmm...i smell something sweet
Gretel was the vicious one,
the vindictive one,
Hansel found her charming,
if not somewhat alarming.
The old woman kept a secret,
close to her heart,
She had one, that didn't look like her,
ragged and torn apart.
They drew a hex,
whoever was in the circle wept,
forever and ever and ever.
Hansel wondered at the rapt
attention that Gretel kept
focused on the old woman
and her gentle pet,
the gingerbread cat.
It came to pass,
as everything does,
that the old woman in question
was none other than,
Gretel herself; Hansel the cat.
For as everyone knows,
You become what you eat.
And for all eternity, Hansel lay at the feet
Of the old women who did nothing
but weep and weep and weep.
Die Geschichte Der Zwillinge
The young man took a deep breath in, and smiled at his family. He was not certain of what this new place had in store for them, but he hoped that they could put all their troubles away and make it their new home. They had packed everything they owned into giant cardboard boxes, hoping that it would all remain intact at the back of the moving truck that the man of the house decided to drive. He did not like the business of trying to contact movers- playing phone tag with them to determine when their belongings would finally arrive at their final destination.
The twins smiled back at their father, and stared at the bags under his eyes. As their solo guardian, he made sure to strap his kids into their seatbelts even as they tried to worm their way out of his firm grasp. For a pair of tiny squirts...they sure were quite strong, as well as determined when they set their minds on something. They had tried to push, even pull with all their might at their father's necktie- close to nearly choking him as they tried to get out of being placed in a safe position. Their father had wiped the beads of sweat that had collected along the top of his shiny, hairless, bald head using a dark navy-blue handkerchief from the front of his matching navy-blue coloured jetted pocket.
As soon as he arrived at the brand spanking freshly renovated house, he unstrapped the little humans and led them into the massive home. The kids mouth opened wide at the sight of the beveled glass that whenever the light hit it at the right angle, it made it seem like there was a reflection of a range of colours of a rainbow across the window.
He yawned, and stretched his arms. It had been such a long day: with setting out a time to hand over the old home to the new owner (who wished him well seeing that he had his hands full), later planning out the best (and fastest) route to use to get to the neck of the woods, and then thinking of how he would manage all by himself (not to mention figuring out who would take care of his children while he was at work).
His thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of laughter from the two kids. He laughed, too, seeing them bump and maneuver themselves from a section of the stairs to a lower part- like it was a slide.
The evening arrived with a slight drop in the temperature. He rushed to prepare a fast meal for his kids. Checking one of the boxes he had packed and already opened up in the kitchen, he found a box of noodles. He quickly rushed to put the kettle on...not for tea, tea-time had already passed.
The whistling sound of the kettle alerted him that the water was ready. He poured it into three noodle bowls, waited for the noodles to steep for a bit just like tea, and when they were ready he served them.
After their bowl of noodles; he prepared the kids for bed. They jumped right onto the air mattress (that their Dad had remembered to pack). He tucked them into bed. They whined for a couple minutes informing their Dad to read them a bedtime story before they went to dreamland.
He nodded his head. Tossing it back, a story came to mind.
"There was a young man who met a beautiful young lady. He wooed her, and cooed to her near her cottage. All the kingsmen, and other knights were not amused. They did not like seeing the princess with this young dude.
"They gathered together, meeting at the Olde Tea and Spice grand bazaar. One of them informed the others of a fine plan to get rid of the princess' swain. They had conspired with one of the sages who provided them with the ancient spells of ages.
"The young man happened to stop by the bazaar that day. As soon as he walked right into the bazaar, various kinds of powdery substances were tossed onto his body. The powders made him sniff, and as he sneezed his body changed. His eyes bulged like a tomato...his neck swelled with scales forming around them making his entire body look alien.
"With an oink here, and an oink there...everywhere he went the oink sound could be heard. The group of the kingsmen, and knights were proud of their handiwork. They did not tell the princess what happened to her beloved.
"At the stroke of midnight, she fled into the woods and whispered to the trees there. Her cries were heard by two spirits that appeared to her in the form of children.
"She smiled slightly at them before they gave her a hug. They promised to find her sweetheart.
"They traveled near and far. Into the heart of the woods was their final pace to search, inside the depth of the forest mage's hearth. They knocked on the mage's door.
"The mage told them to enter her humble abode. Seeing the familiar faces of the two beings, the mage said, 'Oh...to what do I owe the pleasure of having Hans and Gretah in my presence in the rosy-pink light of dawn.
"Hans and Gretah both asked, 'Where is he?'
"'Where is who?'"
"Hans and Gretah plunged with full force at the mage. The mage scurried into the shadows, with a snicker coming from the void.
"They blew with lots of force at the spot the mage had beetled to. Their breath circled in a forward rush forcing the shadows to reveal the mage. The mage had his back turned, not realizing his body had been revealed.
"Hans and Gretah flicked their fingers and chains sprung out from their palms. They swiveled around the mage.
"They searched the back of the mage's chambers, and found a room that had a smell reminding them of a mix of rotting eggs, spoiled beef/chicken, decaying flesh, and flies buzzed around the tiny room. Hans and Gretah covered their mouths, had they been mortals they felt as if everything in their bellies would have been regurgitated.
"They projected the emotion felt by the princess and linked it with that of the young man's heart. From the corner of the room they heard an oink.
"By the edge of the Black Forest, the two reunited the lovebirds. Their hearts were glad to be back in each other's embrace."
The story had come to an end, and the twins lay asleep on the air mattress. Their gentle snoring made their Dad give a slight chuckle.
He kissed their foreheads and said, "Good night Hansel. Good night Gretel. Do not let the mage loose; that silly goose."
#DieGeschichteDerZwillinge. (c) 24th Oktober, 2022.
The Black Moon’s Shine
Under the black moon's shine, sugarcoated lies were told.
The truth carried the stench of blood and death, as the innocent fell into evil's claws.
Prey get easily caught under the black moon's shine, clouding one's judgement.
The hunter prepares to tear into juicy flesh, ready to satiate the hunger.
That's the beginning of the hunter's downfall.
Under the black moon's shine, the roles were reversed.
Under the black moon's shine, the hunter becomes the hunted, deceived by prey.
The ashes paved the way to victory under the black moon's shine.
A new hunter emerged, under the black moon's shine, more evil and lethal.
A menace guided by the wicked energy of the black moon's shine.
Hansel and Gretel and Hansel and Gretel
Twice upon a time, a poor woodcutter's first of two wives had two sets of identical twins. First came Hansel and Hansel. One Hansel was named after the poor woodcutter's father, Hansel; the other Hansel was named after the poor woodcutter's grandfather, Hansel.
About 2 years later came Gretel and Gretel. Gretel was named after the poor woodcutter's mother, Gretel; and Gretel was named after the poor woodcutter's two sisters, Gretel and Gretel.
And it came to be that a terrible famine befell those who lived near the forest, and Hansel's, Hansel's, Gretel's, and Gretel's mother died of double pneumonia due to her heart complications from beri beri. The remaining five of the household tried as best they could, but times grew doubly tough.
One day, the poor woodcutter came home with a surprise announcement. He had met someone who wasn't named Hansel or Gretel, but who was called Lisha. Unlike their fair mother, Gretel, Lisha was, first--dark of hair and had a ruddy complexion; and second, again unlike their fair mother, Lisha was alive.
But Lisha was a cruel and petty stepmother, just two criteria away from wicked, according to the Grimm-Göttingen Wickedness & Loathsome scoring system.
...until one day, when criteria fell like double-dog dares.
Lisha began questioning why she had combined her own meager resources with a household of five others during an unrelenting famine, and simple arithmetic gave her the answer. Imagine what they had now, she reasoned, divided by two rather than by six! Although she had not been properly schooled in ratio-and-proportion, she intuited that there would be more for her and her poor woodcutter husband. Half for her, at least; and half for him. Maybe.
"Janus," she called, for that was the poor woodcutter's name. "Open up the fingers of your right hand." He readily obeyed, for Lisha was not someone to be kept waiting. She eyed the poor man's fingernails whittled down to the nailbeds under them. No wonder, she thought to herself, I won't let him put his hands on me. "Now your second hand, please."
"My left?" he asked, to confirm, for he had well-learned to be careful not to make any move without a guarantee he was doing everything perfectly and to her liking." She nodded but thought very judgmental thoughts.
She grabbed his right hand. "See all these fingers?"
"Of course," Janus answered.
"If all of us here--you, me, Hansel, and Gretel--"
"Yes, and Gretel...were to want to eat fingers and we divided up your fingers, there wouldn't be enough fingers to go around."
He thought for a moment. "What about the other hand?" he asked.
"That's us," she answered sharply.
He thought again, regarded his left hand, and began counting in his head. "There are," he said hesitantly, tentatively, "six of us." She grabbed his left hand firmly.
"That's not the point, buffoon!" She picked out two fingers on that hand and gave him a challenging look. "Get it?"
He didn't. She grabbed the first finger on the "us" hand.
"One, right?" she asked. He nodded. She grabbed a second finger. "Two, right?" He seemed perplexed. "Right?" she asked again. "You can count to two, too, can't you? The point is, my poor imbecile Janus, is that two eating five fingers is a lot better than five."
"Or six," he corrected her, then quickly regretted it.
"Yes!" she screamed angrily. "Exactly. What an intellect! I married a genius."
"That was a good game, my love," he said, hoping to defuse the animus.
"Oh, fie! It wasn't a game. It was a parable. An allegory. It was symbolic."
"Of what?" he asked.
"Of just you and me eating more than what six would have to eat."
"Fingers?" he asked, bewildered.
"Anything, idiot!" She paused, unfurrowed her angry brow, and then smiled, beguiling him like she always could. "You and brains," she mused, "the twain shall never meet." Now she looked him in his two eyes. "Just you and me in the household, Janus. No one else. More for you and more for me. I am tired of being hungry.
A realization slowly crept on his face from his eyes downward. "Our children," he said.
"Your children," she said. "And it's gotten to the point that some pruning is needed here or we're all going starve as surely as the next winter will come." She waited for his response, but she lost patience. "How the deuce are we gonna have enough to eat with all these children alive," she blurted.
"Around. I meant around."
"I may be simple, but I see your plan. You have a black heart, Lisha."
"No," she said, "just a hungry one. And your love is not enough for it." She chortled when she said the word "love." "The children are thin, but they're fine children. Many folks would love to have children like ours." Now she whispered emphatically. "We can thin out the herd a bit, y'know. Get rid of one Hansel and Gretel or two Hansels or the pair of Gretels. Or the whole lot. The options are many."
"My children," he cried.
"We can get them back after a while. Take them to the forest. I have kinsfolk there who will find them and feed them and take care of them. Even so, it's easy to make more children." Janus allowed his hunger to cross a red line, and she knew it. "In any event, it's either them or me." Now the gauntlet had been thrown.
"You have kin there?
"I believe I do."
"And we should just drop our children off and hope for the best? Is that really a good plan?"
"Just temporary. Take heart, the children will be found."
"Not drop all of them off, right?" he asked timidly.
"Sure. Some of them's a good start."
Hansel and Hansel had heard every word through the thin wall that separated the two rooms of their meager dwelling, in spite of being bedecked generously with woodcut ornamentations.
"We've got to tell Gretel and Gretel," Hansel told Hansel.
"Yes," agreed Hansel. "I've never heard of kinsfolk in the forest.
The parental scheming went on into the night, and each of the two sets of twins took turns listening while the others doubled up, pretending to sleep. Once the plans seemed to gel, they whispered counter-schemes, wrenches for the works, anti-machinations, and sabotage, subterfuge, and duplicity. In the end, however, hunger superseded all their conniving, and they fell asleep hopelessly like they did every night.
It would be a fortnight before Lisha felt the timing was right. The snow had finally melted, and the outside environs would be less cruel for what had been planned. That's when Janus prepared the empty wagon and instructed Hansel and Gretel to join him on the ride through the forest where he had planned on felling some trees.
"You've never needed us before," said Hansel.
"Yes, father. Why this time?" asked Gretel.
"What about me?" asked Hansel.
"And me?" asked Gretel.
"You two will have your turn," Lisha explained.
"To help Papa?" asked Hansel.
"Yes," Lisha answered.
"We want to help him now, with Hansel and Gretel," Gretel complained. "He'll have twice the help," she added.
"Maybe," Lisha said, "but I only had enough provisions for them. I wouldn't want you to go hungry."
"You mean we have food for us to eat here, instead?" Hansel asked.
"Then why not pack it for us to go with them now?" Gretel asked.
At this point, Lisha beat them both with a stick and they complained no more. Lisha just wasn't clever enough to disguise her plan that they would be backup if the nefarious delivery of Hansel and Gretel to the wicked witch went awry.
It should be noted that Janus knew nothing of a wicked witch. His understanding was that he could drop off Hansel and Gretel and promise to return a little later, but never return until Lisha felt their fortunes had turned enough to allow it. He depended on Lisha's assurance that some kind of forest kin she claimed to have would take them on during their time of need. Of course, she knew better. She knew all about the witch of the forest.
By the time the day was half over, Janus was already on his way back, without the children with whom he had begun.
"Hello, children," the wicked witch of the forest soon was greeting Hansel and Gretel. She could smell children easily from her unique house in the forest.
"Hello," said Hansel.
"Hello," said Gretel. "Who are you?"
"My name is Twila," she answered. "What are your names?"
"Hansel," answered Hansel.
"Gretel," answered Gretel.
"God is gracious," said Twila to Hansel. And to Gretel, "A beautiful pearl you are." Hansel knew God had been doubly gracious with him and his brother; Gretel knew beautiful pearls sometimes come by the pair.
Hansel counted the bumps on Twila's crooked nose. Gretel counted the hairs on her unsightly chin wart. They were somewhat familiar with the Grimm-Göttingen Wickedness & Loathsome scoring system and couldn't really remember if only two bumps or two hairs met the criteria. Lisha had had one each.
"Hungry?" the wicked witch asked.
She had said the magic word, the one thing that could cause all reason to escape the higher executive centers of their famished brains. From then, they were duly hypnotized, temptation wafting toward them from Twila's gingerbread house with candy trimmings. For they could smell sweets easily from anywhere.
Hansel ran up the path toward the smell. Greta raced him. Twila cackled.
At the house, Hansel and Greta began deconstruction and salvage operations, hog-bellying every edible edifice esculent. They ate and ate until they slipped into a sugar coma. Twila smiled, for she would eat like a queen that night!
She had a double oven, a construction she had invented for such purposes, for often children came in pairs or even more. She kept the ovens burning, each plume of cooked remnants coalescing into a common chimney stack.
She walked the groggy Hansel into the kitchen, where the bottom oven was open. Before he could resist, in he was shoved, the door slamming shut. The screams ended quickly enough, and Twila turned her attention to child number two.
Gretel was snoring quietly when Twila awoke her.
"Huh?" she mumbled.
"Come to bed, honey," she offered and led her into the kitchen.
"This isn't the bedroom," Gretel said meekly. "It sure smells good in here. What are you cooking?" she asked.
"Would you like to see, child?" Twila responded. She walked Gretel toward the ovens and opened the top one, which was a little too high for her to peek inside. Twila herself was very tall and had no trouble opening its door. "Here, use this stepstool," Twila offered.
She placed the stepstool in front of the ovens, and Gretel stepped up to the top step. Still, she needed tiptoes, which she eagerly engaged. With Gretel teetering precariously, a simple push was all that was needed.
"They do it every time," Twila hacked a laugh, as she threw the bolt that sealed the door. The screams ended quickly enough.
Indeed, Twila ate like a queen that evening. She even went back for seconds!
Back at the poor woodcutter's thatched dwelling, Lisha wasn't satisfied. Even with two less mouths to feed, she realized she'd still leave the table hungry. She looked at Hansel and Gretel. Then she turned to Janus.
"Janus," she said with a wink, "did you drop off Hansel and Gretel with their kinsfolk?"
"We have kin?" asked Hansel.
"We have kin?" asked Gretel.
"Yes," Lisha answered. "Hansel and Gretel are visiting them right now. I believe they have lots of food, too."
"Really?" asked stupid Janus, but Lisha kicked his shin under the table. "Oh!" he said.
"Oh, yes," Lisha answered. "They are very wealthy. They eat a fatted pig every night." Hansel and Gretel marveled. A fatted pig. Every night. Heaven.
"Say," Lisha offered." Janus looked at her severely. His look was answered by another swift kick. "Would you two like to visit them, too?"
"Yes!" said Hansel.
"Oh, yes!" said Gretel.
"What do you think, Janus?" Lisha asked her husband.
"Oh, my love, I don't know."
"I know," Lisha said sternly as she regarded her barren table, settling the matter.
The next morning Lisha could hardly contain herself, knowing she would be dividing the day's provisions by two now instead of by six or even four.
And it turned out that Hansel and Gretel were dropped off by their papa at the same spot he had dropped off Hansel and Gretel. And it turned out that Twila had smelled their telltale pheromones all the way from her gingerbread cottage. She immediately made out for the spot.
When she saw Hansel and Gretel, she started and took a double-take. After all, weren't these the same two she had cooked up and eaten? Whatever this evil magic was it was doubly deviling.
"What are your names, children?" she asked hesitantly.
"Hansel," answered Hansel.
"Gretel," answered Gretel.
Twila gulped. If she was seeing double before, now she was hearing double. This was impossible, she knew. The Hansel and Gretel from the night before were leftovers now, fodder for opportunivores. She looked like she had seen a ghost.
These are ghouls, she thought, as a panic began accreting in her mind; each time the names Hansel and Gretel earwormed through her head, the panic doubled. Wraiths. Furies, here to dispense justice. Hansel and Gretel, Hansel and Gretel...
"Why so unsettled, kindly woman?" Hansel asked.
A trick question, Twila realized. They either want me to confess my crime or deny it with punishable dishonesty. This is the way the gods trick you into condemning yourself. She turned and ran, shrieking.
"What have we done?" asked Gretel.
"I don't know, sister. Perhaps we should follow her."
"We'll have to run, brother. But let's. We can't have troubled her so and then allowed her to escape whatever this torment is, unrequited."
They ran down a well-worn footpath until they came upon a house made of gingerbread, and whose finish "carpentry" was of candy. Twila's torment and the children's altruism were quickly converted into the calories they consumed so vehemently. For they were even hungrier than the Hansel and Gretel from the day before.
The witch knew demons were nibbling on her home. Previous temptation for wayward children who ended up on her table, it was now sustenance for the very ones who were here to condemn her and send her to her rightful reward in Hell. She grew another hair on her chin wart.
Hansel's and Gretel's hyperglycemia rendered satiety, finally, when they remembered their mission. Hansel began knocking.
"Be gone, ghouls! Fly, Furies!" Twila called out. Greta found the door open and peeked in. When Twila saw her, she screamed.
"No, no!" shouted Gretel back at her. "Don't be alarmed!"
Goodwill that rots as quickly as it is uttered, Twila thought. They mean to seize me and bring me to the seated jurors of Gehenna. Of the abyss, the inferno, Perdition.
She ran into the kitchen, where both oven doors were still open from the night before. The fires in them still burned, for Twila used them to heat her home. Hansel and Gretel followed her. She backed away from them, facing them the whole time.
"Have mercy, phantoms! Spare me, demons!" she continued distancing herself until she tripped back over the stepstool that had doomed Gretel the night before. In she went, backward, heels-over-head, and the force of her thud on the grille snapped the door closed fast.
Hansel and Gretel were dumbfounded.
"What have we done?" asked Gretel.
"This tragedy, we caused, confessed Hansel.
"We must run home and tell Papa and mother and Hansel and Gretel," Gretel said.
That's when they heard the door in the other room creak open. They looked at each other. They weighed the options for how they would explain this.
"Twila!" someone called. Hansel and Gretel looked at each other saucer-eyed.
A woman came through the door. It was Twila! A chill ran down two young spines simultaneously.
"It's you!" Gretel cried. Hansel took her under his shoulder.
"Where is she!" the woman shouted.
"Wh- Wh- Who?" Hansel stuttered.
"Twila," the woman answered.
"But that's you," Gretel shrieked.
The woman cackled. "You think so, do you?"
"Twila, twice spun, that's me, if you insist, ha! Yes."
"Her ghost!" said Hansel.
"Her spirit here to vex us so," agreed Greta.
She realized that looking just like her identical twin had spooked the children fatally. The top oven door was still open, and she considered which one to push in first. They really had nowhere to run.
Have you seen this boy?
The flyers are plastered so closely to the telephone pole that their edges bleed into each other, fraying in the wind. Hollow-eyed children, bleached by the sun, seem to stare into the woman's soul as she walks past.
It's always been a sad town, thinks Gretel. From the first time she saw it, holding her twin's clammy hand from the safety of the backseat, she'd known; this is a place that crushes happiness into powdered sugar, dissolves dreams like cotton candy in a hurricane.
Her heels click steadily over the cement, missing a beat here and there as she navigates over debris and around the stubborn prickers that insist on reaching to the sky from every gap in the sidewalk. The wind whips her skirt into the nearest clawing plant. She turns to untangle herself, hissing at the sharp pricks on her hands and the new holes in the dark fabric, when she sees it.
"Don't leave us here," Hansel cries. All Gretel can do is watch, tears pouring down her face, as Stepmother rolls up the windows. Hansel is banging on the car now, his hands still smeared with chocolate from the sweets Stepmother gave out to keep the children quiet. "Please-"
The old, blue-green car lurches forward, sending Hansel stumbling into the street. He doesn't make a sound as his hands scrape the pavement. As she drives away he stays on all fours, tears and snot dripping off of his face. All Gretel can do is stare after her, blinking away tears as she's blinded by the sun's glare off the back windshield.
It's not the same car. Gretel pulls herself out of the memory, yanking the fabric of her skirt the rest of the way out of the bushes for good measure. The holes at the hem are noticeable now, but that's fine. This skirt used to be her favorite-- the deepest sable black, deep pockets and an adjustable waistband, matching perfectly with her good white blouse.
That blouse is long gone, just like Hansel.
Gretel passes another pole. This one has a little boy's face on top, maybe seven or eight. His hair has a cowlick in the front, freckles shining dark on his cheeks as he beams his gap-toothed smile at the camera.
If she had been able to make posters, would it have helped? If she had gone to the police office when she first realized he wasn't right behind her? If she had had a picture to show people, if she had asked "have you seen this boy?" with an actual photo of him, would anyone have answered differently?
Gretel feels her throat tighten, her eyes burn. She can't breathe. Almost there. Her right pocket feels heavier, somehow.
She passes by the intersection where she lost him without looking. It's as though his ghost is still there, her eight-year-old brother begging to look through the window at all the brightly colored candies even though they couldn't afford dinner that night. Why, why, had she walked away without taking his hand first? Why hadn't she been just a little more patient?
The next block passes by in a blur of faded sepia memories; first with her brother, stealing what food they could, sleeping in whichever corner was darkest, then those three days of frenetic searching. Have you seen this boy? Another sepia door slams shut. She jumps.
She slips her hands into her pockets, feels the paper in her left hand and the metal to her right. What was that address again? She checks it, leaving a new batch of sweating fingerprints on the threadbare scrap of paper, then puts it back in her pocket.
The house was probably painted a deep mustard twenty years ago, but now it's a lightly caramelized pastel. The door is candy-apple red, red licorice where it's been chipped. Gretel takes a deep breath, puts her right hand in her pocket, and rings the doorbell.
The woman who answers looks like she was born old. She grins at Gretel with three teeth the color of butterscotch, wrinkles crinkling behind her glasses, spun sugar hair desperately clinging to her mottled skull.
"Would you like some candy?"
Gretel takes the gun out of her pocket.
Hansel and Gretel vs. The Witch
"That's her! That's the witch that tried to kill us!" Cried the children as they pointed to the old woman in the courtroom. Agnes couldn't take their lies any longer.
"You little brats! I am not a witch!" she yelled as she stood up and pointed her boney finger back at them. Those little shits wouldn't get away with racking her name through the mud.
"Order! ORDER!" shouted the first red-faced judge. He wiped away the beads of sweat that were collecting at the top of his forehead. This case was getting out of control. It was now time to hear from the accused.
As the kids were escorted out of the box, they stuck their tongues out at the woman, taunting her. In response, Agnus flipped them off. She was finally going to be able to share what happened. What really happened. She didn't have much hope though. Most of the seven judges were already on the side of those punks. As she walked to the stand, she wondered when the words of children were taken more seriously than the words of adults.
"Agnes, you stand accused of being a witch. What do you have to say for yourself?" asked the second judge, with a harsh look on his face. Either he believed the children's ridiculous story or he was just plain grumpy. Perhaps a bit of both.
"Um, I'm fucking not! What else do you want me to say?!" she was getting annoyed now.
"Order! Now, the children claim that you lured them to a candy house in the middle of the woods, is this true?" yelled judge three.
"No, I have a CABIN in the woods. And no, it is not made out of candy. Do you know how impractical it would be to have a house made out of candy? It would rot and you would have to replace it all the time! Plus the number of bugs it would attract? That would be disgusting!"
"Perhaps you used your witch powers to change it back to a normal house!" accused judge six.
"What the hell? Aren't you supposed to be impartial? Who's side are you on?"
"Moving on. You're on thin ice, Agnes. The children say you enticed them into your house with the promise of food and shelter." said judge one, getting the trial back on track.
"First of all, these little kleptos broke into my house and stole from me! Does no one care about that fact?! Also, yes, I did offer them food because they said they were lost and hungry. Is it that crazy to think that I would help children out of the kindness of my heart?" asked Agnes.
"With a face like that, yes." murmured judge six. This bastard..., thought Agnes.
"Hansel says that you locked him in a cage and fattened him up to eat him, while his sister became your personal maid." accused the seventh judge.
"I made the kids clean up the mess THEY caused! They tore up my house for fuck sake! And I'm sorry, but that Hansel kid didn't need any help from me getting fat!" With that remark, the judges gasped. Shit, her fiery temper was going to be the end of her.
"Control yourself witch!" yelled judge six.
"I am not a witch you unbelievable oaf of a man!"
"ORDER!" yelled the first judge. "Now, the last claim from Hansel and Gretel is that in self-defense, they pushed you into an oven, killed you, and ran home." Agnes stared at the group of judges in disbelief.
"You have got to be kidding me?! Those punks ran off before cleaning up their mess or before eating any of the food they BEGGED me for! They also stole all my money and jewelry! It wouldn't surprise me if they were from a family of con artists. Little shits! Also, they obviously lied because I am clearly not dead!"
"You could have healed yourself with your witch powers!" said judge six, leaning back in his chair with a smug smile on his face.
"This is ridiculous! You can't be trusting the words of children!"
"Oh, but we are, Agnes. We have reached a decision. Agnes Flentch is indeed a witch and will be burned in the center of town at midnight! This trial is now over!" The seven judges got up and walked back into her chambers. Agnes sat in the witness box, looking at the children who had just won their case. They had a sick look of excitement as they made their way toward the exit of the courthouse.
She knew she should have never moved to Salem.