For the rest of the story, go the to Hansel and Gretel Page.
And now for Episode 10…..
“She always has breakfast in her chambers,” Anna explained, although Gretel already knew that. Anna had developed a habit of repeating instructions, like an old grandmother who tells the same story again and again as if it was the first time.
“Thank you,” Gretel said, keeping her eyes down. Whenever she looked at the house mistress, all she could see was the face in the glass of the oven window.
The stairs were steep. Gretel watched her reflection in the silver dome that bubbled over Madame’s food. Even in the distorted ghost of her face, Gretel could see the dark circles under her eyes. Sleep was becoming a rare luxury, her nights littered with memories of Lilith’s cruelty and new uncertain fears.
Gretel now had a shadow. Dobbs followed her everywhere she went and watched everything she did. He always kept enough distance that he was never in her way, but stayed close enough that she could never forget he was there.
The hallway to Madame Avery’s chambers was wide, the walls covered in polished dark wood and rich tapestries. Carpet muffled Gretel’s footsteps as she reached the great double doors and knocked.
“No need to knock, girl,” Madame’s voice barely carried through the heavy wood.
Gretel turned and pushed one side open, balancing the tray as Anna had shown her so that not even the spoon wobbled on the napkin.
Madame lounged on her divan, a black velvet dressing robe tied loosely at her waist. Smooth breasts peeked out from the silk border along the robe’s collar, her skin milky white against the deep hue of the robe. A vial on a thin golden chain rested in the shadow of her chest. Gretel looked away and busied herself with arranging the tray on the round table the Madame used for tea.
“You do not look well,” the older woman’s voice was deep, silky. “Come, sit down.” She sat up and patted the cushion next to her.
Uneasiness tingled along Gretel’s spine. She hesitated.
“You do not like me,” Madame stated.
“I—“ Gretel searched for a lie.
“I have tried. It is rare that someone…resists me so strongly.”
Gretel stood still, avoiding those sharp, dark eyes.
“What is it you would like, Gretel? What would make you happy here? Jewels? A new dress? Your brother has been easy to satisfy, but you need…more. Come,” she stood, ignoring her robe as it fell open, “I have many things to give you.”
Following the Madame, Gretel passed through a bathing room with a giant golden tub and silk curtains, a small library with a writing desk, and a dressing room with a marble table and a large oval mirror. She glanced over her shoulder for Dobbs, but couldn’t see him. Maybe he figured she couldn’t get anywhere while she was with Madame.
Beyond the dressing room was a room filled with some of the most expensive items Gretel had ever seen. Dresses of every color of silk, lace, and fine linen lined the walls. Boxes of ebony, ivory, and rare woods spilled over with jewels; pearls, gold and gems winked in the light from a high window. Shoes piled on the floor, slippers and soft boots made to match each and every gown. Men’s clothes filled one corner of the room, vests and coats hung with trousers, shiny buttons gleaming in the thin light.
“What would you like? I think you would look lively in this,” she pulled a dress from the front of the room, its yellow silk and delicate lace somehow familiar. Gretel gently took the gown from Madame’s hands and stood mute, gazing at all the pretty things.
“Where did you get all of these?”
Madame dug through a box of jewels and pulled out a string of pearls and deep blue sapphires. “I collect them, dear girl.” She pulled Gretel into the dressing room and stood her in front of the mirror. She slipped behind the girl and wrapped the necklace around her throat, fastening the clasp beneath her long, dark braid.
Gretel stared down at the yellow silk. I’ve seen this somewhere…
“Take a look, dear girl. You could be everything you’ve always wanted.”
Fingering the gleaming gems, Gretel looked into the mirror.
Madame Avery’s face melted into the hollow bones of a corpse, gray strips of flesh hanging from stringy cheekbones. Sharp teeth widened in a grin, dried blood clinging to her chin.
Gretel screamed and dropped the dress. Pushing the Madame into the marble table, Gretel ran through the library and the bath and sprinted for the door. One side still stood open, waiting.
A strange grunt escaped as Gretel smashed headlong into the round breakfast table and then the floor. The silver tray and dome lid crashed down on her head before they rolled into the wall. Strong hands grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her to her feet.
Dazed, Gretel fought for air.
A deep growl rumbled behind her. Dobbs, her overgrown shadow. Gretel pulled in a few shaky breaths, her lungs frozen.
Her robe flowing behind her, Madame’s eyes burned as she stormed into the bedroom. She hit Gretel with a cold, calculating gesture and it landed hard and sharp, cutting Gretel’s cheek against her teeth.
“You ungrateful little bitch,” Madame’s eyes flared and her face flamed.
“I know what you are,” Gretel threatened in shallow gasps.
“What I am?” Madame stood tall, her anger dissipating into a cold amusement. “I am your fairy godmother, Gretel, and I offer you a life of wishes. Gowns, jewels…” Madame stepped close and slipped her fingers beneath the necklace of pearls and sapphires. Gretel pulled against the tight grip on her arms.
A trickle of blood welled out of the corner of Gretel’s lips and ran thinly down her chin. Madame traced it with her finger, softly. “I have a secret, Gretel. I have discovered how to live forever. Do you know how old I am?”
Gretel knew the game, understanding that she was supposed to guess wrong, supposed to gape in awe at how youthful Madame appeared. Lilith played the same game, and Gretel hated it. She peered up through her eyelashes, “Five hundred and seventy-eight.”
Madame smiled satisfactorily and put her finger in her mouth, sucking at the blood. She traced her other hand down the fine gold links that hung between her breasts, cupping the small glass vial filled with a dark liquid. She pulled out the stopper and waved the open bottle beneath Gretel‘s nose. It smelled tangy, metallic.
“Five hundred seventy-nine next week.”
“Congratulations,” Gretel offered.
Madame replaced the stopper in the vial and dropped it between her bare breasts.
“It used to be simpler. One virgin every few years, an occasional blood bath. As long as I kept the vial fresh, I could drain a young lad’s blood until he was almost dead. Now…”
Gretel closed her eyes and shivered at the rows and rows of dresses, the image of Madame’s face in the mirror. “You collect them. Their clothes, their jewels…their bones.”
“The young ones keep me alive. Their parents, well, they are good for some sport.”
“Do your victims have any special qualifications? Dark hair, blues eyes, two legs? Or do you just slaughter who’s available?”
“Let’s just say you don’t have the qualities I’m looking for…” Madame paused, “but your brother…”
“Stay away from Hansel.”
“Hansel is special. He has an unusual optimism in difficult situations.” Madame tied the satin belt of her robe and smoothed the velvet. “I find him…very appealing. He is hopeful, untainted, but not as foolish as you. He understands, at least, that your father is not coming back.” She held up her gnarled hands, the hands that didn’t fit her smooth face and full breasts. “I believe he is enough to fix these.”
Gretel’s eyes widened. “What have you done with him?”
“Nothing, yet. Hansel still believes in happy endings. Why would I change that?”
“Because he’s about to find out that great-great-great Granny Avery has some naughty habits.”
The slap came quickly, and the grip on her arms tightened painfully.
“Silly girl. You think you’re funny.”
Click on the biz card below to see how this chapter ends in the revised, published version!