I’ve always wanted to write for a living. Really, I think I write so that my writing can live. For several years I taught high school English, with a lot of focus on essays and structured writing, and some gem time teaching more creative nonfiction and fiction.
I always believed in doing my own assignments. Admittedly, I didn’t do all of them, but I tried. I started with those I thought would be the most fun. Hansel and Gretel started as my version of a fairytale rewrite assignment that was part of my Genre Writing class and an assignment I gave a group that was reading The Thirteenth Tale. It was for fun. I didn’t consider it a viable ‘publishable’ manuscript until I went to a writing conference a couple of months ago and learned more about ebook publishing and a current trend in novelette and novella length writing. My vision is still a volume collection of probably five of these per volume, but this one is pretty well finished.
I know I still have some edits to make in my word choice, etc. I would love feedback on it. I would also love for you to just enjoy the story. I learned from Lehua Parker that these are called ‘fractured fairytales,’ and it’s a strong trend right now. I’m not sure that I stand out from the crowd writing Once Upon a Time, but like I said, it’s fun and that’s what writing should always be for a writer.
The Grimm Chronicles–Hansel and Gretel
Gretel threw the ladle, the scoop spinning over the handle in a neat line to the far wall. She missed the rat by a hair, the scuffle of its retreat into the wall drowned out by the clatter of the ladle on the smooth stone floor.
Gretel sighed, a frustrated puff of air stirring against the damp heat of the tiny log cabin. She hated cooking in the late summer. Steam from the pot collected on her cheeks and the back of her neck, mixing with her own salty sweat and running down her spine. Her thighs chafed as she crossed the room and snatched up the ladle, crusted in dirt from the floor. She wiped it off impatiently with her apron and crossed back to the pot.
As she lifted it, her face stretched in a dim reflection off the clean surface of the scoop. Her father told her once that she looked like her mother, dark brown hair and blue eyes so dark they were nearly black. He said her mother had been beautiful, mysterious, and kind. That sounded nice, but all Gretel knew of her mother for sure was that she had died in childbirth at the age of fifteen.
Gretel stuck her tongue out at herself and splashed the ladle into the thin broth bubbling over a low fire.
The surface of the soup puckered as the ladle ran through the bubbles. Gretel stared at the unsteady liquid, watching sparse bits of carrot and leek turn in the broth. Her stomach complained loudly even though the brew had a weak smell, only qualifying as soup because it was wet and hot.
Maybe she should have caught the rat and dropped it in the stew instead of scaring it back through its hole. She had eaten rat soup before; it tasted like rabbit.
Gretel looked back at the rat’s hole. Shadows drew a thick line in the crevice where the weathered log wall met the stone floor. She watched it while absentmindedly stirring. She caught a flicker, a pink paw or part of a long tail, and pulled the ladle out of the soup and hung it on a nail jutting out of the wall.
Gretel tiptoed across the room, hugging the wall away from the door so that she wouldn’t disturb the shadows. There it was again, a flicker of furless flesh. This time Gretel was sure she saw whiskers draw fine gray lines against the uneven opening. She braced one leg into the corner and settled her other foot a few inches from the hole. Gretel leaned over, her hand hovering, ready to snatch the rat by the tail.
She waited, still and tense, for the span of a heartbeat, then two…three…
“Hey, Sis!” the door opened so hard and fast it slammed into the wall behind it.
Gretel jumped back and her hands startled into fists.
“Whoa,” Hansel grinned at her, putting his hands up in submission. “I come in peace, oh Princess of the Boiling Pot.”
Gretel lowered her hands and glared at her brother. “Hansel,” she dropped her face and stomped her bare foot on the stone. “I almost had a rat for the soup.”
Hansel’s grin fell at the pout in her voice. “Sorry, Sis. I know how much you like chewy rat tails, and their squishy little eyeballs,” his shoulders slumped forward and he dropped a heap of fur and blood at her feet, “but I guess you’ll have to make due with some fresh rabbit.”
Slim, sweaty arms squeezed the breath out of Hansel as Gretel hung on her brother. After a moment, she slid back to the floor and squatted by the pile of rabbits. Three of them with thick, gray pelts.
“Where did you—“
“It doesn’t matter,” Hansel’s gaze warned her not to press. “Just put them in the pot. Here,” he picked one up by its feet, “I’ll help you skin them.”
Gretel’s heart sank and her stomach complained, “But what about—“
“I said,” Hansel looked at her meaningfully, “that it doesn’t matter. She‘ll eat them, and she‘ll be careful not to ask.”
Gretel grabbed a knife from the kitchen’s chopping table. “You mean she’ll eat one and then give the rest to Gunther and tell him he’s been her good boy.” Gretel picked up one of the rabbits by the feet and punched the blade through its belly.
Blood stuck to her fingers like jelly. Gretel pulled the skin back from the muscles along the rabbit’s spine. Hansel already had his first skinned. He made quick work of the next one and came over to help Gretel finish peeling her skin off the ridges of the spine.
The flesh hung limp, tendons wrapping like white cords around the muscle.
Gretel’s mouth watered and her stomach clenched.
Food. Real food. Not watered down carrots and leeks, but meat.
“Save these,” Hansel gathered the skins carefully, laying them out one on top of the other and rolling them up like a thick stack of parchment. He pointed to her feet, smeared with dirt and blood. “You’re going to need some shoes before it snows. A couple more of these and I can probably piece together a pair.”
Gretel looked down and watched the jellied blood slip around on her fingers. Her last pair of shoes had been her mother’s, left behind in a trunk of clothing that Lilith saved so that Gretel could wear the clothes when she was grown. They had been silk slippers, yellow with small roses embroidered on the toe, shoes for dancing and not cooking. When Gretel turned fifteen, Lilith declared her of age.
The shoes were abandoned under a bed at the tavern, left behind when Gretel learned what it meant to be ‘of age.’ That had been last summer. Lilith took her to town with the promise of work and prospects. Gretel came home with bruises and nightmares, and without her only pair of shoes. Lilith punished Gretel for that, too, with twenty lashes from her lapdog Gunther.
“You’d think the witch would at least buy me shoes,” Gretel wiped the blood on her apron. “Even Gunther has shoes.”
“You’d better not let her hear you say that,” Hansel leaned in, whispering harshly. “You know what she’ll do.”
He had dark blue eyes like her, his hair a scant half shade lighter, but noticeable only when they stood next to each other in full sunlight.
Her brother. Her twin brother.
A lock of long bangs slipped out of Gretel’s braid and caught in the sweat next to her eye. She brushed it aside with the back of her hand.
“I don’t care anymore what she’ll do,” Gretel spoke defiantly. “When Father comes home, he’ll know what she’s done to us and he’ll–”
“Why do you always have to make her so mad?,” Hansel challenged her. “And Father’s not coming back, so there isn’t ‘when.’” He knew Lilith scared her, more than she would admit to him.
“He’s coming back, Hansel. He left because of us, because the money’s all gone. The only job he could find was on a ship.”
“That was three years ago, Gretel. And he didn’t just leave us, he left us with her.”
“He’s coming back,” she insisted.
“Yeah, well, until then, watch your mouth and watch your back.”
Gretel flinched. The scars tingled, remembering all too well the bite of fresh lash wounds. Hansel had watched Lilith whip her once, Gunther holding him back as Lilith splayed her back with twenty lashes.
Even through the screams and pain, Gretel remembered most the metallic smell of her own blood as it traced a web down her back and soaked into her dress.
With a defiant sigh, she picked up the fattest rabbit from the pile and stuck it through with a spit.
“That one’s for us. If she finds out, well, I’ll be sure to tell her how good it tasted.”
Hansel didn’t know it, but getting whipped was not the punishment Gretel feared. Getting whipped was easy; after the pain, it ended. Lilith had discovered other ways to keep Gretel in line, ways that crawled in her head and kept her up at night.
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