Upstairs in the bedroom she shared with Hansel, Gretel planted herself in the middle of the floor and faced Lilith coming in the doorway.
“You can’t do this.”
“What, exactly, is it that you think I’m doing?” Lilith gently closed the door.
“How will Father find us when he comes home?” Gretel pleaded, “Please, Lilith, he has to find us.”
Lilith reached up and smoothed Gretel’s hair. “Sit down. Let me fix this.”
Gretel hesitated, “Please.”
Lilith took her shoulders and pulled her to the dressing table, firmly but gently enough that Gretel only resisted slightly. Gretel sat on the stool and watched her stepmother in the mirror. Lilith’s flush quickly paled and a sadness drew at the corners of her mouth.
“I mourn for you, Gretel. Such a child. You really do believe that he will come home someday, with gifts in his arms and stories of grand adventures.” She brushed Gretel’s long, dark hair as she spoke. “Do you think you are the only one he left behind?”
Gretel watched as Lilith pieced her hair into a braid, each sentence punctuated by a tug and pull.
“I was not supposed to be the stepmother. I was supposed to marry a good man and have babies, keep a warm house and watch my children grow up while I grew old in the arms of my husband. I was supposed to have a happy ending.” She pulled a cotton scrap off of the table and tied it on the end of Gretel’s hair, then pulled her own dress down, exposing her breasts below the line of lace. Dark bruises mottled her pale flesh, cruel evidence of Lilith’s most recent visitor. “He’s not coming back, Gretel. And I will not suffer this for you any longer.”
Uneven light from Lilith’s candle twisted her features into a mask of apathy. Gretel gripped the edge of the hard stool, the muscles in her arms tensing.
“Nobody wants me because of you,” hardness crept back into Lilith’s eyes and her mouth turned up in a wicked grin. “The money that pretty man is about to pay for you and your brother will free me from this nightmare. I will be worth something, without the baggage of orphan twins to feed and clothe.”
“Witch,” Gretel growled. “Father never would have married you if he knew who you really were, what you would do.”
Blue eyes turned up into a surprisingly lovely and genuine smile. “Oh, no, my dear girl,” Lilith purred, “I’m not a witch.” She left the room.
Gretel faced herself one more time in the mirror. Her cheek was red and swollen where Lilith had slapped her, but the braid was neat and tight and her blue eyes looked black.
I don’t imagine any place could be worse than here. Maybe Hansel was right. Maybe Father was never coming back and their only chance was to go with the man in the maroon velvet waistcoat. She grabbed the last dress left in her mother’s trunk and stuffed it in the burlap knapsack Hansel used for his lunch when he foraged for berries and small animals. Orlick, Lilith, and Hansel waited downstairs in the dining room while Gunther lurked in the doorway to the kitchen.
“Let’s go,” Gretel slid next to Hansel.
The handsome stranger twitched his fingers, and two large shapes melted out of the uneasy shadows. They were as large and as brutish, if not as ugly, as Gunther, and each of them locked meaty hands on the twins.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like some dinner first? It is a bit of a journey, and I wouldn’t want their whining stomachs causing you any distress,” Lilith laid her hand on the stranger’s arm and squeezed her fingers, just slightly, around his firm bicep.
The man smiled and brushed his fingers over the velvet of his waistcoat, the motion dislodging Lilith’s grip. “Where they are going, I assure you, madame, they will be very well fed.”
Lilith offered him a tight smile and nodded as she stepped back into a perfectly ladylike pose, her long, thin fingers clasped gently at her waist. She glanced at Hansel, the boy’s eyes hiding fear, then at Gretel.
“Good bye, my little birds.”
Like Gretel? Get more of her in the complete version.