Gretel and Hansel is a subversive short story I wrote midway through last year. Recently, I did a little bit of editing, cutting down the story to under 1500 words to make it eligible for a short story competition. This story has also been published on Aubade Rising, as well as Protagonize. If you find any typos in the story, or think of anything I could do to improve it, don’t hesitate to tell me :). Hope you enjoy!
Gretel and Hansel are two poor children living in the midst of a busy, dark and dangerous city. They live with their father and their stepmother, who has nothing but contempt for them. So when she takes them out for a family outing, the two children know that something’s amiss.
A subversive take on the traditional Grimm brothers’ story.
Gretel and Hansel
There were a lot of things in Emergan that could wake you up in the middle of the cold, snowy night. If it wasn’t a police siren or gunfire, it was the soft, graceful shattering of distant glass or the sound of squealing tires close by. Tonight, though, it was the sound of their parents arguing that woke fourteen year-old twins Hansel and Gretel from a deep slumber.
“We don’t have a choice!” They heard their stepmother yell. “We’ve barely got enough food for us until our next pay check, yet alone enough for two hungry kids!”
Since three nights ago, their hot water system had gone, cut by the gas company until they payed up. Right now, they were in danger of losing their electricity and with it, their television, their only means of escape from their lives.
“I’m not too sure about your idea,” their father responded, raising Hansel and Gretel’s hopes. “I’d feel guilty, dumping them at the train station.”
Their stepmother sighed.
“You don’t have to dump them at the station, just lock the doors to the house so they can’t get in after school. It’ll have the same result.”
To their horror, their father agreed.
“I … I suppose that’ll be fine.”
“Of course it is,” their stepmother assured him.
At this, Hansel began to sob silently. Their father was a nice enough man, but their stepmother seemed to have this unnatural hold over him. Whether it was because she earned far more than him, or if it was some other sinister reason, the twins had no idea.
Gretel moved to comfort him. “It’s okay Hansel. I’ll figure something out.”
When they arrived home from school the next afternoon, they were both unsurprised to find their front door locked. Gretel, however, true to her word, had prepared for this. She led Hansel around to the side of their house, where the window into their bedroom was unlocked. She climbed inside, locked it, and beckoned for Hansel – who was too weak to climb up to the second story – to go back around to the front door.
From there, she moved silently along the hallway, opened the front door and let him in, a broad smile on her face. They gave each other a big high-five.
Their stepmother was furious that they had managed to get in, but managed to conceal it well. She retreated to her office as soon as dinner was finished, where they heard the sound of a keyboard being thrown across the room. Their father arrived home, joyous, as the decision to lock his children outside had weighed heavily on his conscience.
The next morning was a Saturday. Hansel and Gretel, who usually had to get up well before six to make it too school on time, were taking the rare opportunity to sleep in late when they were roused by a knock on their door and the sound of their stepmother’s voice.
“Rise and shine, children!” she shouted. “We’re going for a family picnic.”
Ten minutes later, they were in the back of their family’s only car, heading out of the suburbs and into the country. The traffic around them faded away like water in the desert, until they were alone on the long, grey road.
Their car slowed down beside a small clearing; more a truck bay than a park. Their stepmother led them off into the bush and down a path. The path was clear and straight for the first few hundred metres, but then it became twisted and dense, until they could barely see two meters in front of them.
After trudging along the winding pathway for what seemed like hours, they emerged into small clearing. There were several other pathways, equally warped, leading off into the distance.
Their stepmother slapped her knee. “I forgot the food!”
She turned to her husband. “Come on, come and help me get it.”
The children went to follow, but their stepmother gestured for them to stay.
“We’ll only be a few minutes. You stay here, alright?” She told them, feigning care.
Then she and their father walked off back along the path, the latter with an unhappy expression on his face.
Hansel and Gretel waited for a few minutes, and then a few more, until it became obvious that they weren’t coming back.
“Wow,” Gretel said sarcastically, “I wasn’t expecting that. If we run along the track, we can probably catch them. Come on!”
They broke into a jog, heading along the track. Ten minutes later, though, when they should have arrived at the road, they were still plundering through thick bush.
“There’s something wrong, Gretel,” Hansel told her, puffing.
“Nonsense,” she replied, continuing along.
The path began to thin on either side, and a clearing was visible ahead.
“See?” Gretel said smugly. “Right path.”
It became clear, however when the emerged into the glade, that it was the wrong one. There was no long, straight road alongside it. Instead, bush stretched out all around them and a tiny, old-fashioned cottage with a stable rested in the centre of the clearing.
“Or not,” Gretel muttered.
“I guess we should ask for directions,” Hansel suggested, gaining an odd look from Gretel. “What?”
“Nothing,” she replied, striding up to the wooden, brass-studded door, and knocking.
The door swung open immediately, a little old lady pulling it inwards like she’d known they were going to visit.
“Come inside,” she said kindly.
Hansel looked like he was going to protest, but Gretel cut him off. They needed to be nice to this woman if they wanted to get anywhere.
Hansel and Gretel, the latter in the lead, followed the old lady into a sitting room, which seemed to be one of the only two rooms in the house. There was a stable connected to the room, which was empty.
“Um, we were just wondering if you-” Hansel began, only to be cut off mid-sentence by the old lady.
“Oh don’t worry, I have plenty of food to spare. Do you like pies?” she asked.
Gretel looked at Hansel. “Uh… yeah, we do.”
The little old lady pulled a huge saucepan out of a cupboard, filled it with pastry, and placed it into a gigantic oven, large enough for herself to fit into. After a few minutes, she lent down, peered through the oven door, and nodded to herself.
She opened the door, and steaming heat erupted out of it. She grabbed two large tea towels, pulled them on, and tried to pull the huge pan out.
“Could you please give me a hand, dear?” she asked, looking at Gretel.
Gretel stood up, and walked towards the oven. “Sure.”
She grabbed another tea towel, leaning down to the oven, and took hold of the pan. The oven was so hot it felt like her face was blistering.
“It’s heavy, all right,” Gretel agreed, straining to move it out of the oven.
“Yes.” The little old lady moved towards her. “It is.”
And with that, she rushed forward at Gretel, and pushed her into the pan.
Or, at least, she tried to.
Gretel, suspicious of the kindness of the old lady the minute they had been invited into the house, twisted the moment she felt the old lady’s hands upon her back, grabbing those same hands, and pulled instinctively.
The old lady fell into the oven, the clear glass door closing with her. Then she began to change from a harmless, stooped old lady to a withered hag, the heat of the fire melting her skin and bone.
Hansel and Gretel looked away, and, as they did so, caught sight of a plump boy peering out at them, mouth gagged, from the stable. He said something unintelligible, eyes wide with excitement.
Gretel walked over to him, carefully peeled off his gag and unlocked the stable door. The boy took a deep breath before speaking.
“Thank you for freeing me, I’ve lost track of how long I’ve been trapped here,” he said in a rushed voice, looking towards the oven. “Don’t feel bad about killing that old witch, she traps children here, feeds them, and then eats them.”
The boy walked over to a cupboard and opened it. Inside was a safe. The boy fiddled around with the door for a few moments, until, with a sliding screech of metal, the door opened. A tidal wave of jewellery and gold flowed out, hitting the floor at the same time as Hansel and Gretel’s jaws.
It took them a few hours to get home. They had no problem getting a ride home from a friendly trucker, who they rewarded handsomely. Their reception when they finally reached home was, to say the least, grateful. Their father scooped them up into a huge hug, which was, surprisingly, followed by an even larger one from their stepmother.
They sold their home and moved into a veritable mansion in the country, where they lived carefree, long lives, happily ever after.